By Julia Bayly, BDN Staff
Published Bangor Daily News June 24, 2011
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ST. AGATHA, Maine — Friday and Saturday afternoons were marked by severe storms in northern Maine, but two cycling sisters were not about to let a little bad weather dampen their trip.

After all, they’d just come from New York City and Bermuda for their first-ever road cycling trip.

It had been years since Johnna Schifilliti and Jordan Coursen had even been on a bicycle, much less a high-end carbon road bike, but on Friday the two were relieved to discover riding a bike is a very much like, well, riding a bike.

“When we were growing up [in Connecticut] I’d ride my bike in circles around the house,” Schifilliti, who lives in New York City, said. “I really enjoyed biking.”

The two had wanted to organize a “sisterly” vacation, and after Schifilliti served as Coursen’s maid of honor at her wedding last year, Coursen, now living in Bermuda, said she decided to make the cycling trip a gift to her younger sibling.

“She knew I liked it when I was a kid,” Schifilliti said. “So she started looking for trips online.”

Coursen’s online hunt led her to FreshTrails Adventures, a bicycling adventure company based in Caribou offering treks in Maine, Quebec, New Brunswick, Italy and Vermont.

“She sent me this little piece of paper in the mail with all these windows cut into it,” Schifilliti said. “And I was supposed to call her when I got it.”

Under each window was a description of a FreshTrails trip option.

“I got to look at all those and pick the one for us to go on,” Schifilliti said.

She ended up selecting the three-day ride around northern Maine, which took the sisters through the New Sweden-Stockholm region, around Long Lake and finally through central Aroostook County.

“Neither one of us had ever ridden a road bike before,” Coursen said. “But we thought it would be a fun bonding experience.”

Before starting out on their first ride Friday afternoon, Mark Rossignol, owner of FreshTrails, conducted a basic tutorial on road bikes — those feather-light machines with super-skinny tires and a dizzying array of gears — at the DOT parking garage in Stockholm.

“We rode around that lot in circles getting used to the bikes,” Schifilliti said. “It really brought back memories of riding around the house as a kid.”

“Just like riding in circles in our garage,” Coursen added with a laugh.

While both are athletic — Schifilliti plays tennis regularly and Coursen is a runner — both women were unsure if they had what it took to ride 20 or more miles a day along the rolling Maine countryside.

“We are a little sore,” Coursen said from a lakeside lunch stop Saturday in St. Agatha. “But we really are feeling pretty good.”

“My legs feel good, but my butt is hurting,” Schifilliti said.

The two said northern Maine exceeded any expectation they had and they had no regrets on traveling so far for a three-day bike ride.

For his part, Rossignol was impressed with the women’s attitude.

“They are doing really great,” he said Saturday. “I could tell they were a little nervous but I could see right away when they got on the bikes they would do all right.”

This included a challenging stretch in St. David known locally as Morneault Hill — a steep ascent from Route 1 toward Long Lake.

“I have a competitive side to me so that really helped to keep me going up that hill,” Schifilliti said.

“Mark does a really good job at keeping us distracted by talking or having us look around at the scenery,” Coursen said. “So you forget what you are doing is strenuous.”

The two said life in northern Maine is a bit different than what they are used to.

“The quiet at night is almost eerie compared to New York City,” Schifilliti said.

“And the people are just so nice, everyone has been great,” Coursen added.

As their trip wound down the two were left with only one goal unmet.

“We want to see a moose,” Coursen said.