Posted by Kristin Jackson
Hey! That’s the road I take when I go to the beach, pedal to the metal with both the air conditioning and radio blasting. And look! That’s the ice cream store I usually stop at after an exhausting beach day, crisped from too much sun and not enough sunscreen. Over there! That’s the racetrack where I once lost a few too many dollars carelessly betting on a horse that didn’t win, despite having the coolest name. And that there is the gas station I’ve filled up at again… and again… and again.
As we start biking through southern Maine, increasingly familiar streets, venues and locations begin to reveal themselves. Every corner, every block I see something or some place, with some story I could yell out to my fellow riders, but due to breathlessness and distance I rarely find a way. These are the places I grew to love, grew to hate, simply grew to know.
I spent all of my youth essentially within a 20-mile radius of this area. You would think I’d feel welcomed by the recognizable sites after spending 3 weeks in unfamiliar places, with unfamiliar people. Yet although I know the street names and where to get a good slice of pizza, each day I learn something entirely new about my home state.
Did you know that 1 in 5 families in Maine uses some type of government benefit, such as food stamps, to put food on the table? Or that now these food stamps can be converted into tokens to use at farmers markets, making local food accessible to a wider range of people? Or that there are now 200 community garden plots scattered across Portland, rented by individual families to grow their own food? Maybe you did. But I, a Maine resident for a solid 21 years, am just learning these things now. Those facts were from Craig Lapine, executive director at Cultivating Community, an organization based around sustainable agriculture.
But that’s just a small sample of facts from an even smaller sample of people that we have encountered so far in our journey. Despite the comfort of the familiar surroundings, everything we are doing is foreign to me. I am learning a whole new side of the state I grew up in—from the organizations to the activities to the terrain. The journey that used to be a 40-minute car ride has transformed itself into a full day excursion. It’s rewarding to find out how my state is becoming more sustainable, and even more rewarding to realize that for once, I don’t have to stop at that gas station—because unlike my Ford Escape with 22 miles to the gallon, our bikes have infinity MPG.