SOUTH PORTLAND – There were sheer curtains of fog drawn across the bay last Sunday, the sort of morning that makes you want to stay in bed. Not so for the over 100 people gathered by Spring Point Light in South Portland, chatting, adjusting helmets, and hailing friends as they waited for the go-ahead to begin a 100-mile Century bike ride.

“We’re going to go off in groups of 50,” a volunteer instructed by megaphone, “don’t be shy, feel free to come right up.”

“Don’t tell anybody we’re not really doing the 100-miler,” confided two older women dressed in matching neon yellow windbreakers, “We’re trying to beat the rain.”

Two teenagers, conspicuously wearing shorts and T-shirts despite the chill, wanted to be quoted in the paper. “My names Noland,” said one, “and my name’s Ian,” added the other – and then said, in unison, “and we’re both excited for the 100-mile bike ride!”

Sept. 10 was the 20th anniversary of the Maine Lighthouse Ride, first completed as a 40-mile route by 40 determined riders in the rain in 2003.

“We were actually following the riders around with hot coffee and hot soup,” said Bob Bowker, the ride’s founder. After four or five years, Bowker recounted proudly, “We were up to 300 or 400 riders. It was mostly word of mouth, it just kept growing and growing.”


The Maine Lighthouse Ride is an annual fundraiser to support the Eastern Trail Alliance, a nonprofit founded in 1998 with the aim of turning sections of the old Eastern Railroad Corridor, discontinued since 1945, into a continuous route for bikers and hikers to enjoy. The Eastern Trail now covers approximately 65 miles, from the Piscataqua River in Kittery, near the New Hampshire border, to South Portland, Maine. Bowker said proceeds from this year’s ride will go towards maintaining the route, improving kiosks, and paying staff.

This year, over 750 participants travelled from as far as Ontario, Canada, to ride 25-, 40-, 62-, and 100-mile routes along the Southern Maine coast, paying a registration fee to support the Eastern Trail. They ranged in age from 7 to 89 years old, hailing in equal numbers from Maine and out of state.

The bike route brought riders along the coast, past Scarborough, Higgins, and Old Orchard Beach. Luna Soley photo


There was a sense of comradery amongst those present Sunday morning, without the charged anticipation of a race. Many of them were locals.

Leah Day, of Peaks Island, seemed to speak for everyone when she said, “There’s no better way to spend the day than doing the Maine Lighthouse Ride!”

Day is the owner of Lighthouse Bikes, in South Portland. She left a 25-year career in counseling to start the company after riding cross country with her high school son in 2019. She did the 100-mile ride on Sunday alongside a group of Peaks Island women, one of whom said she hadn’t ridden this far since before her children were born.


When asked whether he was nervous before the Century start, one man replied “No, no I love it.” Then, after a minute – “At risk? Is that what you said? No, I’m excited.” His friend interjected. “He’s definitely at risk,” he said, laughing.

Less than five minutes later, their jersey-clad backs, cantilevered over their bikes at a matching angle, disappeared around the first turn.

Despite winding roads through Cape Elizabeth, frequent spurs leading, suddenly, to an open coast, and the not-so-welcome interruption of 2.5 miles of gravel road across the Scarborough marsh (repeated twice for 40-, 62-, and 100-mile riders), nobody seemed to lose their way. As promised, neon orange circles – with a line pointing in the direction of the next turn, were spray painted at frequent intervals along the route.

Scenery from the ride near Prouts Neck in Scarborough. Luna Soley photo


A rest stop at Cape Elizabeth’s Kettle Cove, provided by Trader Joe’s, seemed to have read rider’s minds. Between predictable slices of watermelon and a heap of bananas, trays of pickles and a big bowl of chocolate peanut butter cups were disappearing at time-lapse speed. The contents of the trash can were flecked with gold foil. This was not a day to eat just one.

The Trader Joe’s rest stop at Kettle Cove was stocked with fruit, pickles, and peanut butter cups. Luna Soley photo



A mere two miles from the finish, riders climbed a steep hill and stopped to admire the view from Portland Head Light. “There’s a lot of interesting history and symbolism in these lighthouses,” said Reed, a senior at Bowdoin, “but mostly I’m just glad to be along for the ride.”


Portland Head Light beckoned less than three miles from the end of the ride. Luna Soley photo


In theory, a handful of lighthouses were visible from each route – and a whopping nine lights marked the Century ride – but sometimes they were hard to make out in the fog. Throughout it all, there was the feeling of déjà vu.

“Have we been here before?” one rider asked at a turnout in Old Orchard, before being encouraged by a clump of other riders that she was on the right course.

Perhaps what was so quintessentially “Maine” about the ride wasn’t the lighthouses themselves, but the repetition of something picturesque until it became commonplace – another group of friends on a morning run stepping off the trail to let bikers pass, another beach where the waves went bowling with the plovers, another well-spent Sunday afternoon.

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