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Naomi  The Biking Life

 by: Naomi Bloom  2/1/2005

I Need A Vacation!

It's that time of year again. Besides Birthdays (Lincoln's, Washington's, Jim's, the dog's) and Valentine's Day, it's time to start planning for this year's bicycling vacation.

Why would I choose a bicycle vacation over, say, a Hawaiian cruise? Because I'd much rather spend 10 days riding 500 miles through country I've never seen before than lolling around on a pitching and yawing 10-ton feeding machine.

There are at least half a dozen motivations behind my reasoning:

  1. I get to ride my bike! ('Nuff said.)
  2. I have a goal that makes me get out and train -- and therefore stay in shape.
  3. I get to see the lay of the land I'm visiting up close and personal.
  4. I get to meet locals on a personal level.
  5. I get to sample the local cuisine guilt-free.
  6. I come home with fabulous stories (or maybe horror stories) to tell.

The only problem is that if I pick the tour I want today, I may not get to go. Got to get those resers in early or I might miss out. A highly representative for instance: Outfitter Tours already has their Alps/Tour de France tour just about filled up. Their new Dolomites Giro tour is rapidly reaching capacity as well. And the fall Provence tour is already full.

Bicycle Adventure Club tours also typically fill up as much as a year in advance. So do club-sponsored tours like Almaden Cycle Touring Club's Sierra to the Sea. Believe me, the time to act is now.

Tours I have loved

In the last (gasp!) 25 years I've been privileged to ride some really fantastic tours. Here's a small sampling of the ones I was ready to do all over again before I got home:
  • Redding to the Coast on Five Meals a Day
    This was my first bike touring experience and it was wonderful. It was a club activity with about eight riders who took turns cooking, driving the sag and other various and sundry daily chores. We rode over the Trinity Alps from Redding and then down the coast to the SF Peninsula. We camped every night, sometimes in primitive Forest Service campgrounds. And we consumed nearly everything edible in sight (hence the five meals a day).

  • Aspen-to-Telluride Mountain Bike Tour from Timberline Tours
    Too bad they're not doing offroad trips like this one anymore. But their "San Juan Adventure" road tour hits some of the same stopovers.

    Custom solo tour of Vermont arranged by Vermont Bicycle Tours
    Originally my New Englander brother was supposed to be my riding partner but he backed out at the last minute. So he drove me to the start in Putney and picked me up there a week or so later. I rode self-contained and bunked in B&Bs every night, where I got to watch the 1988 Olympics and meet fellow travelers. I had a blast!

Tours I would love to learn to love

Of course, there are still quite a few places I still want to visit by bike. Some fantasies I often indulge in:
  • The French Pyrenees
    Jim has been there several times supporting Outfitter Tours. I have yet to get further than Carcassonne (that's a nostalgic story for another time). How I long to experience the villages and mountain passes he's told me about -- Luz St. Sauveur, Plateau de Beille, Le Tourmalet. Not to mention the chance to follow the Le Tour through these amazing mountains.

  • Provence
    First I read Peter Mayles's book "A Year in Provence." Then I saw the PBS mini-series. Now I too want to immerse myself in the quintessentially Provencal Luberon. Last September some friends from ACTC did Provence on two wheels but I couldn't swing the fare. Tiens! La lavande aux champs . . .les tournesoles . . .les vins . . .les grandes collines. . .la grande cuisine!* It's too much for a Francophile like me to miss. Maybe next year?

  • The Enchanted Circle of New Mexico
    This is essentially the tour I described in Dave and Pete's Excellent Adventure. It may be a bit much climbing for me but I'll train, I'll train!

    Prince Edward Island
    It's flat. It's "foreign" (well, if you count the Canadian Maritime Provinces). And all the photos look so cutely quaint. If I'm not up to the climbing in New Mexico, I'll take the winds and teeny rollers of PEI.

Tours I wish I'd done differently

There were only two trips in my many years of cycletouring that I'd never attempt again. Both of them were pretty much done in by the weather.

I toured Tuscany in 1997 prior to spending a couple weeks in France. It rained every day, some days torrentially. I came down with the flu. And although I was in great shape then and had trained assiduously, the rest of the group was much stronger than I. Still, I'd go back to Tuscany in a pinch -- especially to Siena, where it was raining so hard then that I hardly saw a thing. (But the shopping was outstanding!)

Then there was my Tour de Nostalgia, six days across my home state of Pennsylvania in 100-plus degree heat and humidity. Never again!

Some free advice

So be warned. In addition to plunking down your deposits early, be sure you're signing up for the trip you really want. Love climbing high passes? Go for the Rockies, the Alps or Pyrenees. Willing to pedal mega miles per day? Steer clear of tours that accentuate local color and culture or you'll end up making more stops and therefore covering fewer kilometers than you'd hoped.

OTOH, if you want to visit exotic climes, mix with the natives, sample the local wines, beers and other fruits of labor, you should probably eschew the long miles and arduous climbs in favor of cultural exposure and gastronomic delights.

Got your own group or just want to explore on your own? Or do you want to join a group and make some new friends? Don't mind carrying your worldly possessions on your bike? Or camping out in the open? Or would you rather have your luggage transported separately and waiting in your luxury hotel room/B&B/hostel? Any and all of these options can be arranged.

In the world of biking vacations, there's a tour meant for just about everyone. An interesting place to start checking out the possibilities is BicyclingWorld.com, with links to many different types of tours.

Or try some of the links from my personal bookmark file:

  • Adventure Cycling Association - Nonprofit
    Week-long North American "event" tours and "excursions," touring expeditions like the Transamerica Tour, as well as training, maps and publications.

  • Adventure Velo
    Tours all over California, including "cooperative" tours much like my "Redding to the Coast" trip, designed to keep costs low by participants' sharing chores.
  • Backroads
    The great-grandaddy of tour outfitters - bike and other trips all over the world, from close to home in wine country to some far reaches of the globe.
  • Bicycle Adventure Club - nonprofit
    Group tours in North America and overseas, often self-contained and always participant financed. Membership required. Tours fill up fast!
  • Easy Rider Tours
    Groups tours in Ireland, Portugal/Spain, the Maritimes, New England
  • Europeds
    France specialists, including Tour de France, Dordogne and Provence
  • Outfitter Tours
    Group tours in Provence and Italy, as well as groups following the Tour de France in the Alps and Pyrenees and following the Giro d'Italia in the Dolomites. Also self-guided tours in the Dordogne and Lot in southern France.

    Randonee Tours
    Self-guided tours in Canada, France, Ireland, Italy, Switzerland and Holland. A Canadian company with a sterling reputation. Start now and you too can come back from a grand tour with a biker's tan and tales to tell.

*"Lookee! Lavender in the fields . . .sunflowers. . .wines . . .big hills . . .great food!"

Naomi can be reached at naomibloom@earthlink.net

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