FORT KENT — Ominous gray clouds filled the sky at Fort Kent early Monday morning but the threat of rain didn’t keep two local men from setting out on a 33-day, 3,005-mile bicycle trek to Santa Clara, Calif.
“We haven’t done anything like this yet,” said Andrew Paradis when he was asked why he was attempting such a grueling cross-country journey. Besides that, he said, he wanted to visit a friend in Santa Clara.
His partner Robert Ouellette was equally nonchalant.
“I’m going to college in Oregon next year and it just seems like a good way to get there,” he said.
Both Paradis 27, and Ouellette, 26, are physics majors who just completed their junior years at the University of Maine in Orono.
Shortly after 9 a.m., the two were pedaling down Main Street, flashing big smiles as they headed off on their adventure.
There was little fanfare as the only people to see the two off were their parents — Mr. and Mrs. Ervin Ouellette of St. Francis and Nancy Paradis of Fort Kent — and John Robichaud, owner of John’s Convenience Store in Fort Kent, their lone business backer. The two men did get some other financial support from the sophomore class at Fort Kent Community High School and they hope other supporters will come along as word of their trip gets around. Donations can be channeled through the high school, according to Paradis.
“He’s always been a little funny, but when he mentioned this trip, I thought he had completly lost it,” said Nancy Paradis of her son. “After raising five boys, doing things like this, you can see why my hair is all white.”
Paradis has been planning the cross-country trip since last September. Ouellette just bought into the idea at Easter. Shortly afterward, the two went to Portland, where Ouellette purchased a 21-speed road touring bike for the trip. Paradis is using a 16-speed road racing bike.
Their longest training ride since then has been 50 miles in a day. Paradis said his previous longest distance trip was for two days from the University of Maine to Boston. That roughly 280 mile trip was also made to visit a friend.
“My Boston trip was very successful and I thought why not. Bob, well he was Shanghaied along the way, over dinner,” Paradis said.
Ouellette has never done any long distance bicycling before, but a year ago, the former Army medic completed a 13-day trip on the St. Lawrence Seaway in a kayak.
During the trip, the men plan to average 111.3 miles a day, doing 131 on the longest day and 70 on the shortest when they hit the mountains of Colorado. Monday, they expected to travel 125 miles before stopping.
The pair’s itinerary will take them into Canada where they plan to follow the Trans Canada Highway west through New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario. After following the Great Lakes, the bikers will come back into the United States at Sault Sainte Marie, Mich. From there they will bike through Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and finally into California.
The bikers plan to take every fifth day off, until they reach Colorado.