Cyclists in this weekend’s Trek Across Maine will traverse a new course that starts and ends in Brunswick, and winds through the Kennebec Valley.

Hugh Sharp will attempt to become the first person to ride the 180-mile Trek Across Maine on a unicycle. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

For Hugh Sharp of Cape Elizabeth, it’s completely uncharted territory. That’s because he’ll try to become the first participant to complete the Trek on a unicycle.

“I’ll hear a comment (when I ride) like, ‘Hey, what happened to your other wheel?’ or ‘Oh hey, can you juggle?’ ” said Sharp, a 44-year-old nurse anesthetist at Maine Medical Center who took up unicycling seven years ago. “Actually I can (juggle) but they’re not related.”

Sharp’s ride will be no circus act. From Friday to Sunday, he’ll attempt to cover the 180-mile Trek atop his 36-inch-diameter, fixed-gear unicycle, one of the 12 unicycles he owns.

The rig he’ll ride reaches a top speed of about 18 mph, though Sharp said a reasonable racing pace is closer to 10-12 mph. That adds up to six to eight hours of unicycling per day.

The Trek serves as the largest annual fundraising event for the American Lung Association, with a fundraising minimum of $550 per participant. Over its 35 years, the Trek has raised nearly $25 million. This year’s event had brought in nearly $1.163 million in donations as of Thursday.

Tragedy provides motivation for Sharp, whose father died two years ago after suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease for nearly four decades. Two years before that, Sharp lost his mother to cancer in her lungs and liver.

“It works out pretty well with the Trek this weekend and Father’s Day on Sunday. I’ll be thinking about him,” said Sharp, who competes with a team of coworkers called the Heavy Breathers, who have raised $12,250.

In previous years the Trek began at Sunday River ski resort in Newry and ended in Belfast. This year riders will start and end in Brunswick, and pass through Freeport, Auburn, Belgrade, and Augusta, with overnight stops at Bates College in Lewiston and Colby College in Waterville.

“Coming into our 35th anniversary we thought it might be time to do something to breathe some new life into the event and refresh it a bit,” said Kim Chamard, manager of development for the American Lung Association in Maine. “(We’re) hoping to bring in some new cyclists and a new generations of people to ride wide with us, and making it more centrally located we’re hoping will do that for people.”

For the second year, participants can opt for shorter one- and two-day loops, options the Trek added to increase participation. In all, 1,675 riders are registered for this year’s event, about 100 more than last year. Chamard anticipates that between 1,300 and 1,400 riders will complete the ride.

If he makes it all the way, the ride would mark a personal milestone for Sharp, whose longest training trip measured 58 miles. The Trek’s second leg from Lewiston to Waterville spans 60.5 miles, and the third leg between Waterville and Brunswick is 61.9 miles.

“After 40 miles I’m really feeling it in my neck and my quads,” said Sharp. “Body Glide (anti-chafing balm) is a gift.”

Yet Sharp remains undaunted.

“I know he’s really confident and we’re just all super excited to see what he’s able to accomplish,” said Chamard. “It’s going to be pretty awesome seeing him crossing the finish line.”

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