Psst! I have a little secret. The very best watermelon you will ever eat can be found and enjoyed anywhere. If you don’t feel like reading a long post, skip ahead to the 124-180 miles: Waterville to Belfast Section, the inspiration behind this post and the context for the posted recipe.
This year, Chris and I biked our 2nd Trek Across Maine, a fundraising event for the American Lung Association (ALA). Since 1985, every year, over 1,500 cyclists pedal 180 miles from the mountains of Sunday River, a ski resort in Western Maine, to Belfast, a scenic coastal town ‘Down East’. Not only do cyclists raise over 1 million dollars each year for the ALA, but over 700 people volunteer to make the event possible. Everything about it is good.
While traveling to the mountains on Friday, Chris and I talked about how much we needed this event, for a couple reasons.
- In the midst of all the division – mean rhetoric, awful events, and bad energy of the past year – we needed something good. And I’ll tell you more about the good in just a sec.
- My dad, the apple of my eye since I was old enough to love, has a chronic lung condition caused by environmental factors from serving in the Vietnam War. War ravages the body – inside and out – and some of its effects rear their ugly heads long after a soldier makes it home. Since his diagnosis, the ALA’s work has become very personal to me. And for a weekend, biking in my dad’s honor was my purpose.
The 3 Day Ride
The night before the ride kicked off, we got to Sunday River to beautiful weather and high spirits. We had a picnic at the bottom of the ski hill and took a ride up the chairlift to get a better view of the mountains. It was beautiful; it reminded me so much of home. Looking out over the rolling hills, my heart ached for being in a different place and swelled for being in the place I was. It was a good night.
0 to 67 miles: Sunday River to Farmington
When we awoke on Friday, the weather had taken a turn for the worse. The fog hung low over the sloped peaks, the wind howled, and the rain poured. My stomach was in knots – I’d never ridden extensively in the rain before. The road juice wasn’t my biggest concern. Rather, it was 1) the safety of my husband (who’s more capable on a bike than me; it’s just…I tend to frantically worry about the people I love, more than I worry about myself) and 2) staying dry and warm.
It was 55ish degrees and the first many miles of the 67 mile ride was downhill. That doesn’t sound threatening until you throw steady rain, wet clothes, and hydro-planing into the mix. We left when there was a break in the clouds, and managed to make it half-way to the first rest stop when the rain started to come down heavy.
By the 2nd rest stop, people were wringing out their socks and wrapping themselves in foil blankets trying to stay warm. Pumping our legs was the only thing keeping us warm, so when we’d stop for a break, we’d immediately start shivering in our soaking wet gear.
Rain aside, we managed to avoid a potential disaster when we stopped at the 3rd rest stop and Chris noticed his back tire was set solely by the weight of his body. The quick-release that usually holds a bike wheel in place managed to bust along the way. He noticed his gears weren’t shifting quite right as we were going up steep hills (and subsequently flying down them).
When we got to rest stop, after a little insistence from a nagging wife, Chris met Derek from Maine Sport Outfitters at the bike mechanic’s tent. Like us, Derek was suprised that Chris and his bike made it to the stop in one piece. Thanks to LL Bean, for their donation of a new quick-release, and Derek’s handiwork and patience, he got Chris’ bike up to speed and both of us back on the road.
Long story short, we made it to Farmington safely. But covered head to toe in road juice.
We set up our air mattress, took lukewarm showers in university locker rooms, got dressed in dry clothes, stuffed our soaked shoes with paper towels, and prepped for the long day ahead. Prepping meant running to the local watering hole, Tuck’s Ale House, for a couple beers. It is a great bar with a great bartender, and it was full of Trekkers in high spirits.
67 to 124 miles: Farmington to Waterville
The next morning we awoke to clouds, but not rain. We scarfed down breakfast and hit the road by 6:30 am.
We followed the Kennebec River and passed over bridges with beautiful rapids.
Aside from one flat tire and a swarm of black flies gnawing on us, our 2nd day was enjoyable. The temperature was perfect and we reached Waterville in record time. There, we scarfed down pizza, ice cream, more beer and got massages from on-site massage therapists. Then, we ate more food.
I was in bed by 8:00. I read one chapter of The Light Between Oceans and was fast asleep by 8:15.
124-180 miles: Waterville to Belfast
We left Waterville around 7:00 am to humid air, mistier skies and sore asses. The route ahead was the hilliest of the three days. Despite eating constantly, our reserves were running low. We were physically and psychologically drained. The only thing that got me back in the saddle was the promise of the finish line. And the lobster rolls that awaited me there.
After we had about 140 miles under our belts, we started a very steady climb in Palermo. Knowing the day’s route was the toughest, we were doing our best to muster up the energy to make it from point A to point B. One hill in particular was long and steep and most of us were crawling at a snail’s pace, nearly smothered by humidity.
While ascending this hill myself, my muscles burned. My lungs felt heavy. My eyes watered. It was all I could do to keep my focus on the road and my mantra:
“This. Is. For. My. Dad. This. Is. For. My. Dad.”
You see, I’m stubborn. I refused to hop off my bike at any point during this excursion that wasn’t a rest stop or a finish line. As badly as I wanted to, I kept grinding, inch by inch, foot by foot, until I saw people peeling off to the right at the hill’s top. This wasn’t a scheduled rest stop.
As I got closer, about 30 feet from the peak, I saw a sea of lupine, a bigger sea of stopped cyclists, and this sign:
At the very end of a dirt road, there was an older man in coveralls and a neon-orange vest directing cyclists to park their bikes off to the side.
He had a small army of helpers, presumably his family, operating out of two pick up trucks. On one of the trucks, cutting boards lined the cab where two older women cut wedges of watermelon and cantaloupe. Another woman was hauling the pieces to the other pickup truck, where there were two buckets resting on ice in a trough. Cyclists swarmed to grab nourishing pieces of fruit.
This fruit was, and likely will remain, the best I have ever eaten.
This family, for reasons I don’t know, maybe just out of the goodness of their hearts, or maybe because the cause is close to their hearts, do this every year. They provide melon, bottled water, and nourishment to complete strangers. They are kind. Their kindness makes me viscerally believe in the goodness of people.
As it did for me last year – that goodness, that kindness, that selflessness and giving spirit – brought me to tears as I thanked the man and his wife for their generosity.
Because of all these things, I found myself believing in the good power of humans again, believing in kindness again, and believing in myself again…and that I could climb up any hill, figuratively or metaphorically, put in my path. Not because of willpower but because of the power of kindness.
I was brought to tears again as a mom and her two children sat in chairs by the road and serenaded us with fiddles as we slogged up yet another hill. I was brought to tears again when, on multiple occasions, children sat by the road cheering us on with their bikes parked close by, with a dream in their eye that they, too, would one day make their own trek. And then again when a family pulled a wagon to the end of their driveway with a bubble-making machine that blew bubbles in our path causing grown-ass adults to scream, “AHHH, BUBBLES!” when they were too exhausted to say or think anything else.
Sharing excitement for bubbles. There’s always enough energy.
And I teared up again when I crossed the finish line with my husband where hundreds of people I didn’t know from Adam cheered us on like we were their own.
For the first time in my life, outside of time spent with my own family, I felt like the luckiest person alive to be part of our human family. A belonging in which kindness raises a person up from their knees to stand strong. Where good still powers and rejuvenates the human spirit. And where simple, heart-felt gestures nourish the soul.
- 1 watermelon, ripe
- Slice melon.
- Set in fridge to cool.
- Go outside, preferably on a sunny day.
- Play. Play hard. Get dirty and sweaty. Do whatever it is that brings you joy outside, whether it's biking, running, hiking, or swimming.
- After several hours, or whenever your energy is spent, take melon from fridge.
- Grab a piece or two and enjoy.
- While eating, think about a way you can show kindness to another person. Make it a reality.
A trek to my favorite donut shop was in order after burning 9 million calories. The dark chocolate sea salt donut was everything. And yes, the thought of it got me through some tough moments.
Anyone can sign up to join the Trek Across Maine. Interested in volunteering or cycling? Message me! I’d love to have you join our team!