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CYCLING THROUGH MAINE

I spent 16 days this summer bicycling along the scenic Maine coast and camping with a group of teens I'd never met in my life through the Student Hosteling Program of Conway, Mass.

When I first arrived, I didn't think I was going to get along with the kids on my trip, but I soon realized how ridiculous first impressions can be. I made some really great friends. If you think it's going to be one big happy bonding experience though, you are in for a surprise.

The biking, for one, wasn't as easy as I thought it would be. There were times when it was hard not to just give up. And sometimes we all got a little irritable after being attacked by a zillion mosquitoes or missing our bus by 30 seconds and having to wait two hours for the next one. But "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger", as a wise person (or a T-shirt) once said.

On a typical morning we'd crawl out of bed at 7 or 8 -- earlier if we were on cook crew and had to make breakfast. (Each day two of us were assigned to a task, such as cooking, cleanup, etc.). After breakfast we packed up our bikes, with tents, sleeping bags and panniers (packs that attach to the sides of the rack on your bike) and set out. We biked from 11 to 42 miles a day, and the terrain was sometimes all uphill, sometimes downhill.

Around noon we'd stop at a grocery store, or whatever was available, for the cook crew to pick out lunch and dinner supplies. Meals were relatively modest, usually sandwiches for lunch. We'd arrive at our campsite around 3 p.m. and after the tents were set up, we'd venture to the pool or lake for our swim of the day.

Around 6, we ate supper. Sometimes we splurged (on steak, one night), but mostly it was something simple, like pasta. Some nights we cooked s'mores, but most of the time we just sat in a circle and talked about anything and everything. Around 10 to 11 we drifted off to our tents. Most of the time we were so tired we didn't even realize we were sleeping on rock-hard ground.

I don't think 10 more different people could have been placed together. You'd think that being with such different people for 16 days would get on your nerves -- and at first it did. But once you got past that, it was easier to notice that even the seemingly most annoying people really weren't so bad and maybe even had some good qualities.

Now for the real question: If I could do it over again, would I spend my money to go on this trip? There were times when I might have said no, like when we were bicycling up a steep hill or arguing about who would carry the group food. But when I look back on the overall trip, whether it was visiting Wal-Mart for the first time or getting lost in the rain and riding 42 miles, I can honestly say it was worth it.

The Student Hosteling Program also has trips in Britain and the Canadian Rockies. Trips range from nine to 60 days, cost from $1,465 to $5,690, and offer easy to challenging biking. Check the Web site, www.biketrips.com

Rebecca Walling is a sophomore at Hamburg High School.

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