It’s an early morning for many, the culmination of months of preparation. Volunteers begin arriving just as the sun is rising before 6 a.m. They mark out parking spaces, set up tables and tents, prepare for more than 600 bikers to arrive for the seventh annual Tour de Lyme.
“We offer something for everybody,” with five road rides and two mountain bike rides ranging in distance from 59 miles to 8, said Kristina White, the race organizer and executive director of the Lyme Land Conservation Trust.
All proceeds from the event go directly to the Lyme Land Conservation Trust to support their efforts at conservation and maintenance of the town’s preserves. Together with open spaces, the preserves make up 54 percent of the town’s land.
The Tour de Lyme is a testament to the effort the Lyme Land Conservation Trust has put into uniting all users of the town’s land.
“Kristina is the biggest resource in the state for bringing together the community instead of putting us against each other,” said Kim Bradley of the New England Mountain Biker Association (NEMBA).
Bradley explained that conservationists and hikers often see bikers as destructive and poor stewards of natural land. The Lyme Land Conservation Trust is different. They have recognized that bikers are users like any other and care deeply about protecting more land throughout the state to enjoy for their sport. For the past six years NEMBA has been a presence at the Tour De Lyme and each year new riders from across New England come out to ride.
NEMBA’s goal is to create safer riding experiences for bikers across the state.
“There are a lot of single track trails in the forest that are not formally marked,” Bradley said. “We want to get safer access for our riders.”
Several mountain bikers at Tour de Lyme said they wouldn’t normally pay $75 for a ride and a beer – “but recognizing that the money is going back to things we use and efforts that are useful for Connecticut,” got them to participate.
The mountain bike course goes through a handful of private properties on Beaver Brook Road requiring by in from local residents to make the event a success. This year riders were able to take off on to 26 miles of drier trails recently leaf blown by NEMBA. Three professional mountain bikers joined the pack this year despite the fact that the ride is untimed and has no monetary prizes.
Riders of all ages come out for the Tour de Lyme. Jack Schroeder, a 13-year-old Madison native, was excited before his seventh mountain bike race and first time at the Tour de Lyme. Schroeder started riding when he was 10, at the time he knew nothing about bikes.
“The best part is the jumps,” he said. “I like the adrenaline rush.”
Other children – as young as toddlers riding in trailers – came out with their families for the 8-mile road ride.
The most popular course by far is the 59-mile challenge course which takes off with a wave of brightly colored jackets and tights at 8 a.m. The day doesn’t end once the riders cross the finish line. Four food trucks and several microbreweries come out to Ashlawn Farm to turn the event into a celebration.
Each year the ride raises about $100,000 before expenses.