Sixteen years ago, a group of nineteen men set out to cycle 100 miles in southern Aroostook County to raise money for a small K-12 Christian school. The event became known as the GHCA bike-a-thon. It also came to be the best fundraiser, year in and year out, that the school has ever known. The Greater Houlton Christian Academy has a good thing going.
Southern Aroostook is located in a sparsely populated region of northern Maine, nestled next to the Canadian border. The people may be small in number, but “The County,” as locals call it, is anything but small. Any of those locals will be quick to point out that Aroostook is the largest county east of the Mississippi River. When you combine low population with a large geographic area, and then toss in some temperate weather and moderate terrain, you’ve just discovered the formula for a great cycling experience. But if you stop for a long break in the Haynesville woods, you may not make it out without a few blood-inducing, finger-scratching insect bites.
In the first annual GHCA bike-a-thon, those nineteen guys who believed in their cause raised $11,000. Fifteen years later, the mission remains. The event has been expanded over the years to focus more on the students. That’s cool. Let those who benefit directly raise the funds. Shorter bicycle ride options and a walking route were added to expand participation, but the spirit and success continues. Sixteen bike-a-thons later, more than $300,000 has been raised for this nonprofit education institution. Couple a worthy cause with an enjoyable activity in a tight-knit community, and you have a winning formula. The fundraising becomes light duty.
I was one of those nineteen riders in 1998. For 2013’s edition, Debbie and I were invited back to my hometown, Houlton, Maine, to participate in a different way. So, we cut our riding short at 56 miles, and returned to town for a book signing at Country North Gifts and Crafts. An hour after this event, we rejoined the GHCA festivities, at their annual bike-a-thon benefit supper, to sign more copies of Two Are Better. There’s nothing quite like a celebratory homecoming. We gladly shared the book sales proceeds with the school.
Thanks to Country North Gifts and the leadership of the Greater Houlton Christian Academy for hosting us. And thanks to those who dropped by to chat or buy a book. If you were unable to join in the fun, the following 11-minute video spotlights some of the fun along the 60-mile bicycle route.