FORT KENT, Maine — With cancer, it’s all about hope.

Hope that you or a loved one is never diagnosed with the disease; hope that if there is a diagnosis it responds to treatment; and the ultimate hope that one day there is a cure.

On Thursday five friends who all have experienced cancer in one way or another began a bicycling odyssey they are calling Spokes For Hope, designed to bring attention and support to the battle against all forms of cancer.

“Our common link is cycling,” Melanie Stewart of Presque Isle said Thursday morning as the group made final preparations to ride south out of Fort Kent. “When it comes to cancer I can’t do much, but I can ride a bike.”

Together with Jeff Bennett of Bangor, Jonathan Kelley of Caribou, Stephanie Caverhill of Caribou and Kyle Washington of Presque Isle, Stewart will ride more than 400 miles to the Maine-New Hampshire border in Kittery.

On Thursday they pedaled 109 miles to Houlton. Today’s ride takes them another 114 miles to Bangor. On Saturday it’s off to Augusta, 67 miles to the south and another 60 miles on Sunday to Portland. The group will ride the final 51 miles to Kittery on Monday.

“From passion, dedication and inspiration, Spokes for Hope was established,” Stewart said. “It evolved into five cycling friends taking the challenge of riding from Fort Kent to Kittery with the goal of raising money for cancer.”

Each of the five has been affected by cancer, making the ride a very personal endeavor.

“I lost my dad to cancer,” Kelly said. “This summer my uncle was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and that was a real kick in the pants.”

In 2003 Bennett took a direct hit when he was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer.

“I learned two things,” Bennett said. “Cancer knows no boundaries, and I am one of the lucky ones.”

Bennett said he feels the “obligation of the cured” and as a cancer survivor wants to help others do the same.

“As one of the lucky ones I can never do enough,” he said. “That’s why I ride.”

Along the way friends and cancer awareness supporters will ride along for portions of the trip. Two support vehicles driven by Kelly Kelley and Denise Young will follow the entire route.

In addition to raising funds to fight cancer, the group is raising funds to participate in additional cancer support rides including the Livestrong Challenge in Austin, Texas, and the Dempsey Ride in Lewiston.

The fight against cancer is a battle all five take seriously.

“You know, we are all having fun but every once in a while it hits you why we are doing this,” Stewart said.

Bennett agreed.

“Consider 7,500 people will die from cancer over the period of days it takes us to complete this ride,” he said.

A link on the group’s Web site,, allows interested individuals to track their progress over the course of the ride and to make donations.

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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.