Riding Maine’s Sunrise Trail

I joined my friend and next door neighbor Andy Hazen this weekend, on one of his two-day-long training rides in his preparation for the 2,745 mile Tour Divide race starting June 8th, arguably the most challenging mountain bike time trial on the planet.

Andy, ready to fuel up on Sunrise Trail

We were riding on the Downeast Sunrise Trail, an 87 mile section of old railroad bed that had been converted to a gravel rails-to-trails corridor.  Andy completed it up-and-back twice in this past three weeks after Tour Divide guru Matthew Lee Matthew Lee (Cannondale Factory Racing) and director of the unsupported race,  phoned him and encouraged Andy to train on as much gravel as possible. Two weeks ago Andy churned out 170 miles in 18 hours, riding a fully loaded camping/ parts/ tools rig.
Yesterday ( Saturday) I completed 50 miles on my Pugsley bike, outfitted with a rear rack, a pair of  panniers and a frame bag.

Pugsley- tent and sleeping bag go on the rack

Today we started humping back to Cherryfield at 6 AM, after walking up to 27 degrees inside the tents. Ice coated everything around us- the water in the ditches, swamps, and even the road under our tires. These were full-on winter riding conditions,  even though it is April 28.  Moving at 10 miles an hour creates a windchill equivalent to 19 degrees, and that is real cold, hour after hour. The best decision I made before I left was to grab my winter riding boots and insulated mittens. My hands and feet were not painful,  only mildly uncomfortable. I had 4 layers on up top.

Yesterday’s ride headed east was mostly fun, with 15-30 MPH winds at our backs.

Approaching bridge on Trail

We saw no other bikers all weekend.  There were no real hills, due to it being a railroad bed through mostly swamps and bogs.

There aren’t that many places to camp on the sunrise Trail, and certainly no promoted sites. Not too far from Cherryfield was a large cemetery where you could stealth camp. Then,  I spotted a place past a picnic table beside the Machias River. After mile 70 there is another place for 2 tents near 2 picnic tables over by Cathance Stream. We were lucky to find an elevated head piece of land near a field by a place called Robinson’s Camps at milepost 80.

Camping au sauvage

There is no need to carry much food.  We bought lunch the first day at Helen’s restaurant in Machias. Mileposts occur every mile, with marked gravel crossroads alerting you to lodging, grocery, and cafe options.

We saw quite a bit of wildlife this weekend, including partridges, snowshoe hares, a nesting osprey, various song birds, and a close-up sighting of a moose. We also saw bear scat in the road, but no bears.

We were up riding by 6 AM on Saturday, with no wind until we hit East Machias, where we made the bend around the river and turned due west toward Machias where the cold, strong headwind made pedaling more difficult.

Between East Machias and Machias

After breakfast and warming up at Dunkin Donuts, we continued to grind out more miles, trying to maintain a 10 mph pace, where you click off a mile every 6 minutes. We advanced against the cold wind and repeatedly moved to the side for more than at least a  hundred  scattered ATV’s that were out for their Sunday rides.

I was plumb done after my 53 miles to Cherryfield, where I had my car parked.  Andy wanted to keep going, so he continued alone the last 30 into Ellsworth, where I picked him up at the start of the Trail at the Washington Junction railway yard.

I really enjoyed bike packing. It is challenging and interesting to make so many miles in one day, on your own power.  Often you hear criticism about backpackers who like to walk quickly out on the trails- “Why walk so fast that you don’t have enough time to see anything?”  Well, biking is MUCH faster and you still see plenty- actually more.  On a backpacking trip I would have covered maybe 30 miles instead of over 100.  It’s all good!

I would definitely do this again, but not in June when the mosquitoes would be insane due to the constant flowage that surrounds the corridor. I would end my next foray on the Sunrise Trail by going into Dennysville, and then down Route 1 where  I would  camp at Cobscook Bay State Park, one of my favorite camping places in Maine.

Camping au savage

It’s 6:30 pm and I’m in my sleeping bag trying to warm up. I just finished the longest bicycle ride that I’ve done in at least 10, or maybe 15 years. I started at 9 AM in Cherryfield after dropping my riding buddy Andy Hazen in Ellsworth. He just finished 80 miles, I did 30 less. We are camping in the puckerbrush off the side of the Sunrise Trail, a rail to trails project that runs 85 miles of gravel hardpack from Ellsworth to up near Eastport, ME. I used my backpacking gear and was surprised at how easily it fit on a bike. I chose my Surly Pugsley for the ride, pumping up the Nate 4″ tires to max at 30 pounds. We saw no other bike riders but about two dozen ATV riders today. We ate a big lunch at Helen’s in Machias. Fifty miles was about it for me, and was only possible after riding 35 miles on Tuesday and 36 on Thursday this week. It was cold, sunny, and windy today, with winds 15-30 mph all day. I wore my winter biking boots and lined gauntlet mittens. My hands and feet are not warm yet. The wind has not let up, and has even found us at our sheltered spot. Nothing to do but hunker down and hope it doesn’t get into the low 20’s tonight.