WATERVILLE — Judith Blanchard was geared up and ready for the 40-mile bicycle trek to Belfast.

“I feel great this morning,” she said. “There are some aches and pains I didn’t feel on Thursday, but I’m OK.”

It was 6:30 a.m. Sunday and Blanchard, 61, of Freeport, was standing among a sea of bicyclists about to launch off on the third leg of the Trek Across Maine to raise money for the American Lung Association.

They had pedaled 140 miles since Friday, when they kicked off the trek at Sunday River.

They slept Saturday night inside Colby College’s Field House, as well as in tents or dormitories, after arriving Saturday from Farmington.

Blanchard who is chaplain at Maine Medical Center in Portland, was smiling and raring to go.

“This is my ninth year doing the Trek and I was recruited by someone who I work with at Maine Medical Center,” she said. “It’s addictive. It’s wonderful. It’s the best way to see our glorious state.”

Blanchard and the other bicyclists were hoping to raise $1.8 million during the trek.

“I used to be development officer for the Bangor Theological Seminary and I don’t mind asking for money for this,” she said. “And there are a thousand ways to give.”

Jeffrey E. Seyler, president and chief executive officer of the American Lung Association of the Northeast, stood outside the field house, cheering bikers on.

“We have a record number of riders on the road — just under 2,100,” Seyler, of Waltham, Mass.,  said. “It’s gone very smoothly. Everyone’s happy; no major injuries.”

Riders who left Colby early were expected to arrive in Belfast around 9:30 a.m., and all bikers were likely to be there by 2 p.m., he said.

“We are on a course to raise $1.8 million,” he said. “We think we’re on target to meet the target.”

Trekkers came from 27 states and many are from Maine, he said. The youngest was 8 and the oldest, 80, he said. Some have lost family members to cancer, some are former smokers and some have children with asthma. Some trekkers even have asthma themselves, he said.

The funds raised during the trek are critical to the Lung Association’s mission, Seyler said. In addition to working with lung disease, asthma and tobacco prevention, the association is fighting hard to protect the federal Clean Air Act which is under attack in Congress, according to Seyler.

“We want to see those Clean Air Act provisions continue,” he said.

The Trek is now in its 28th year, according to Kathleen O’Neill, communications manager for the American Lung Association of the Northeast, which serves all of the New England states, as well as New York. O’Neill was at Colby early Sunday with Seyler.

“At our first Trek Across Maine, we had 106 cyclists and raised $41,000,” she said.

On Saturday night at Colby, O’Neill said cyclists arrived at all different times, as some bicycled faster than others.

“Things are going great,” she said. “There’s a lot of energy here.”

Sunday morning, Andy Greif of Kennebunk was about to leave Colby on a quad (four-seater) bicycle with three youths who are part of the Community Bicycle Center based in Biddeford.

Greif, 56, said the youth development program uses bicycles to work with participants, helping them develop life skills and learn about community service and other important activities.

People donate bikes to the after school program and the youths fix them up. They ultimately get to own a bike.

Mentoring is a big part of the program, which has raised $210,000 for the Trek Across Maine in the 13 years it has hosted a team, said Greif, the team captain.

Nine youths, ages nine to 16, and 25 adults, represented the program in this year’s trek.

You might say Greif has turned his love of biking into a lifelong mission to help others — and inspire youth to share his passion. He recalled pedaling 1,000 miles as a teenager.

“When I was 17, I bicycled across the Canadian Rockies,” he said. “That’s my youngest memory.”

The bikers left Colby via Mayflower Hill Drive and Gilman Street. They then headed downtown, where a police officer directed them over the Ticonic Bridge to Winslow.

Amy Calder — 861-9247
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