Where to Go
Examples of the Rides
Keeping it Local
Door County, WI and Illinois
Urban Cycling: Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and New York City
The Rides, Part 2: A Bit Fancier And Further
The Loire Valley and the Dordogne
Lake Champlain, the Best of Vermont, New York and Montreal, Canada, Summer 2002
Biking With a Tour Group
Biking in Ireland, Summer 1998
Banff, Canada, Summer 2000
Bike\Barge in Holland, 2004
Biking in Canada: The Gulf Islands, Vancouver Island, Summer 1997
Biking in Canada: Nova Scotia, Summer 2000
Biking in Canada: Prince Edward Island, Summer 2005
Biking in the Northwest: Oregon and Montana, Summer 2004
Where to Go?
Of the few places I have traveled overseas, I recommend France for cycling. Why? The country is beautiful, the extensive back roads are perfect for cyclists, the food is superb everywhere, the wine is top quality and inexpensive, and there is a small town every few kilometers and each small town has a bakery. Most important, the French people love cyclists and cycling. It’s the national sport. It will help dramatically if you can speak/read some French but lack of that should not deter you. France is organized for bikers. They produce wonderful, easy to read, detailed topographical maps, which are inexpensive and sometimes free. For more information, you can browse www.discoverfrance.com or www.trentobike.org, which is the Trento Bike Pages started by Andreas Caranti of the department of mathematics at the University of Trento, Italy. It has tours and commentary for bike trips in most European countries and beyond (eg, Israel, Morocco).
In Germany, there are bike/walk paths on both sides of the Rhine River. Since the Rhine ferries take bicycles, one-way rides are feasible. The paths are tree shaded and afford easy access to the many interesting, beautiful and historic cities along the Rhine. Also, there are more than 50 well-designed, multi-day bicycle tours which can be organized with luggage transfers for reasonable rates. For extensive information (maps, routes, description of area, see www.germany.travel/en/index.html.
If you want a foreign adventure but wish to drive there from continental U.S.A. or at least to stay in North America, I recommend Canada, a true travel bargain. I have had delightful trips in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, in Montreal for urban cycling, and in western Canada, which are described herein.
And certainly, there are many wonderful places in the U.S.A. to bicycle.
Examples of The Rides.
The purpose of this section is to give the reader an idea of what type of fun-filled biking is available for the older beginner. While specific areas and rides that I have taken are described, they should serve as examples, caveats, entertainment, and perhaps even the basis for taking the same ride someday.
Part 1, Keeping it Local
In your neighborhood, find a path or a route that you like which is an appropriate distance consistent with the time you usually have available. Use it for those moments when you need a break, a lift, a feeling of free spirit and release. In St. Louis, Missouri I recommend a ride in Forest Park, America’s second largest urban park, which opened in 1876. Designed in the Olmsted tradition by Maximillian G. Kern, and covering 1,300 acres, it is significantly larger than New York’s 840 acre Central Park. The well-positioned bicycle path will take you to all parts of the park including the world famous St. Louis Zoo, the Art Museum, the History Museum, the skating rink and other landmarks such as an authentic 1885 Victorian footbridge, all with a minimum of automobile traffic.
Bicyclists filled Forest Park in the 1890s, complaining about muddy roads. That led to the construction of a cinder bicycle path in 1898. The Forest Park Road Race of 1897 included almost 100 racers watched by an estimated 75,000 spectators! By 1911, interest in biking had subsided sufficiently so that part of the “seldom-used” path was converted to a bridle path. In 1968, it reverted back to a paved bicycle path, another example of the horse versus bicycle controversy. Forest Park was the site of the famous 1904 Worlds Fair (“Meet Me in St. Louis”) and hardly a week goes by that I do not bicycle in the park, which is close to my home.
I have happily biked in New York’s Central Park, mainly on weekends when automobile traffic is limited. It is crowded like most of New York City but provides some respite from the noise of the rest of the city. Much of my joy in biking in Central Park concerns being in N.Y.C. and yet isolated in a mini-world of trees, lakes and contented people moving casually.
Forest Park is far less crowded and can be cycled comfortably Monday-Friday. On summer weekends, it gets crowded with people, strollers, and joggers in addition to bikers. Forest Park has become a huge multi-use park that caters to many interests and patrons. It is still one of the most beautiful urban parks in the U.S. and an absolute joy to bike there.
A recent movement in bike/hike trail building has been the conversion of old railroad right of ways into trails, 1,177 of them and still counting. I have ridden on several of these and find those trips to be pleasant outings although they traditionally suffer from some drawbacks. First, they are not loops so one must usually double back or make other arrangements. Two, they are usually flat or have low grades since most trains required low grades. For many people the low grade is wonderful, however, I prefer rolling hills where I can get a workout climbing and a nice break by coasting. Third, they are usually crushed limestone which, after 20 or more miles, causes enough vibration to disturb even the hardened posterior of a biker. If there isn’t a rail-trail near you now, there will be soon. For more information on rails-to-trails, www.railtrails.org, and for the trails themselves, www.traillink.com.
The Katy Trail is a 225-mile rails-to-trails conversion in Missouri. Information about the crushed limestone surfaced trail can be found at www.katytrailstatepark.com. To bike one way and still make a loop, it is possible to utilize the passenger train. Amtrak makes stops at Hermann and Washington, MO which are cities close to the Katy Trail, but on opposite sides of the Missouri River! Amtrak also stops at Jefferson City and Sedalia, two cities on the Katy Trail. For example, to bicycle ride only one-way on the 27 mile stretch between McKittrick and Dutzow, take Amtrak from St. Louis to the wine-growing town of Hermann on the Missouri River. The town is worth touring by bicycle. This region was once the biggest wine producer in the U.S. There is much German culture to see both here and in nearby Washington, MO. Cross the Missouri River via bridge into McKittrick where you pick up the Katy Trail. Ride it to Dutzow (27 enjoyable miles) where you can get to highway 47 and cross another bridge to Washington, MO (do this 3 mile stretch carefully since highway 47 is narrow and has unpaved shoulders and fast traffic). The Amtrak station is along the river. There are several older buildings and a few good restaurants where you can enjoy a hearty dinner while you wait for the evening train ride back to St. Louis. Check Amtrak schedules first. A more adventurous ride is Sedalia to Jefferson City, the state capital, 84 miles of bicycle riding with Amtrak stations in both cities.
One of the nicest sections of the Katy Trail is near the town of Rocheport. A good one day ride is Columbia to Rocheport and return, approximately 40 miles. Columbia connects to the Katy Trail via another lovely bicycle path, the MKT trail. Columbia is the home of the University of Missouri’s largest campus and has many good restaurants. Rocheport is very small, has a winery, a few B&Bs and two good restaurants. Rocheport’s Les Bourgeois Winery has a terraced wine garden with breathtaking views of the Missouri River and its adjoining restaurant is worth a try. The trail near Rocheport has stunning limestone bluffs on one side and the Missouri River on the other.
An example of the advantages of combining a rail-to-trail with other local routes, is a trip I took with Jim Chickos in fall 1997. Jim and I drove to Rocheport from St. Louis, arriving before noon. We parked at the lot which was almost full and, starting at noon, rode west on the Katy Trail as far as Booneville. This stretch does not run directly along the Missouri River and you do not see the river until you reach Booneville. We did see several small snakes on the trail, sunning themselves and too shocked to move as we rode by. The last leg into Booneville, you cross the Missouri River along a walkway on the bridge. There were beautiful colors everywhere, the leaves had peaked and the weather was perfect. We had lunch in a cafe and met other bikers there. We had been riding into a headwind going west so the trip back along the Katy Trail was easy. We returned to Rocheport and went two miles further east which goes along the Missouri River and the beautiful limestone bluffs. It was by far the most beautiful stretch and is populated by walkers as well as bikers. We repeated that two-mile stretch by returning to Rocheport, pausing several times to enjoy the scenery. We had biked a total of 30 miles for the day. We drove one mile to the Le Bourgeois winery and watched a red-blue sunset over the Missouri River highlighted by brilliant orange-yellow coloration of the nearby trees while imbibing some local white wine. The winery has a restaurant for fine dining. There are few nicer ways to end a bicycle ride than that view at sunset followed by a sauna. We drove to Motel Eastwood in Columbia (13 miles) for a sauna and a whirlpool. We were the only two people using them (each could handle eight people) and it felt wonderful. Then we drove to dinner at a restaurant in Columbia. Sunday morning the weather was changing, cloudy, overcast and cooler but we decided to ride from the motel through Columbia streets (3 miles) to the Columbia MKT trail which connects to the Boone County MKT trail and then to the Katy trail (total of 9 miles of tree covered, shaded, park-like trail). We had coffee in Columbia and reached the first trail at 9:30 am. These shorter trails connect to the Katy trail nine miles east of Rocheport. On the way to Rocheport, we had head winds again and some light rain for 15 minutes. We were feeling the wind as we arrived in Rocheport just before noon but Abigail’s was open. It was a new restaurant, in a converted Baptist church, which was lovely, light, airy, and had very good food. We had a very tasty soup (ginger chicken) and salad (loaded with artichokes, roasted peppers, goats cheese, grilled chicken, etc.) and a glass of beer which relieved some aches (they had two British beers on tap). Abigail’s has since moved two blocks away and is still wonderful. With the wind at our backs, the return trip was easier. We stopped for several periods to walk the bikes and stretch other muscles. We returned to our car by 3 pm and decided to head directly back to St. Louis. We had logged 40 miles for the day.
For a more recent excursion on the Katy Trail taken by my neighbor, Dan Schesch, in fall 2014, including some wonderful photographs, go to http://jdr2.net/travel/MO/KatyTrail2014.htm.
Examples of The Rides. Door County, WI and Illinois
A beautiful biking area I have ridden frequently with never an errant dog is Door County, WI, a peninsula jutting into Green Bay and Lake Michigan considered to be the midwestern version of New England. It is midwest, definitely not New England, but wonderful summer cycling. There are free bicycle route maps available and, in one week, on bicycle, you can easily cover the towns, the parks, the beaches, and even a local theater event. Peninsula Players, located near Fish Creek, claims to be America’s oldest professional resident summer theatre. If you like lighthouses, there are several and also eleven golf courses. Bike rentals are available in Sturgeon Bay and in Fish Creek (www.nordoorsports.com), which has an entrance to Peninsula State Park. The Park has a wonderful bike path which is tree shaded and along the shoreline. You will see many families biking together and we took one grandchild on a tagalong (rental) with another being pulled in a trailer. Edge of Park is a hourly/daily rental location inside the Park (920-868-3344) and Nor Door Sports, on route 42 just north of the Park, is available for repair as well as rentals (www.nordoorsports.com). Continuing north through the towns of Ephraim, Sister Bay, Ellison Bay and Gills Rock is splendid riding even though it is on the main road. However, when you can, go off the main road onto quiet, scenic byways, which are shown on the free bike map. Further north, there is a short ferry ride to Washington Island, which is flat, sufficiently interesting for a one day tour and not crowded. The ferry takes bicycles for $4 round trip and riders for $9 (920-847-2546; www.wisferry.com).
Most of the bicycle riding in the peninsula is along the coast with good breezes and delightful views. Whitefish Dunes State Park is on the Lake Michigan side (east) and contains a beautiful ride through tree-shaded forests. Sturgeon Bay is the largest city in Door County and nearby is Potawatomi State Park, worth a visit on your bike. The small town of Egg Harbor, where we vacation in July, has perhaps 300 permanent residents but has The Main Street Market, a supermarket with one of the best, extensive wine sections you could imagine. It’s not just for the locals. Since the area is mainly a summer resort, there are few good restaurants but there is usually fresh cherry juice, cherry wine, cherry beer, cherry pies…you understand. If you are driving to Door County from Chicago or Milwaukee and you turn on Route 42 to Sturgeon Bay you will pass through Algoma, where we obtained some of the best smoked fish you can find anywhere (Bearcat’s Fish House, 920-487-2372). Also, you should tour the Von Stiehl Winery (920-487-5208) located there. It has a large, cheery old world, Bavarian tasting center where you can purchase cherry delights including a dry cherry wine and taste more than a dozen different fruit wines.
Speaking of errant dogs, you cannot bicycle back roads without meeting an occasional untethered dog, free to leave the confines of the yard. Often the dog will only guard his/her territory but just as they love to run and bark at cars, they may love to do the same with bicyclists. They can often outrun the bicyclist allowing your vulnerable ankles, both at canine eye level and at canine height, to be in reach. To ward off such errant, perhaps overly friendly but possibly vicious curs, there are dog sprays (never used), dog whistles (who has time to find it), and various suggested techniques involving air pumps (when they were longer) or water bottles (nah) but the typical technique is to pedal as hard as you can while yelling “NO!” and “GO HOME!”. On my first tour with Don in 1993 in Michigan, I had been unable to finish a 20 ounce steak one night and saved the remainder for breakfast. That didn’t happen but rather than discard it, I wrapped it in a sealed baggie and took it with me for the next day’s ride. My plan was to throw it to the first dog that came after me. Of course, none did that day and the meat’s deterioration forced me to dispose of my preventive bribe, but I still think it might work.
“There may be no better place to bicycle than in Illinois. From flat prairie land, to rolling hills, to towering bluffs to breathtaking river and lakefront views — Illinois has it all” says the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. They may be right. Illinois has some delightful bike paths and will soon have paths that go completely around the northern part of the state. It is called the Grand Illinois Trail and will be a 535 mile loop when completed. Much of it is already available. To get more information and maps contact the state at (217)785-0067 or via web at http://dnr.state.il.us/lands/Landmgt/Programs/Biking/BIKEGDE.HTM or the League of Illinois Bicyclists at www.bikeLIB.org. In addition to maps, one brochure lists bicycle repair stores, rentals, major attractions, lodging and camping. These bike paths are not just recreational but designed to ease the overburdened auto highways during commuter hours. Another list of more than 50 bicycle trails (most are in the northeast), called the Illinois Bicycling Guide, is available from the Illinois DOT in Springfield, IL (217-782-0834) or the Illinois DNR (312-814-2070; www.dnr.illinois.gov). In addition, the Illinois DOT has divided the state into 9 regions and has a bicycle map for each one showing not only the bike paths but the biking suitability of other roads.
One of my favorite Illinois trails is the Fox River Trail which is 35 miles long from Aurora to Algonquin along the Fox River and goes through the cities of St. Charles, Batavia, Geneva and Elgin, within easy driving distance from Chicago. To get a detailed map, ask for the Fox River Bicycle Trail Guide, produced by the local Convention and Tourism Council (800-477-4369). At the north end, it connects to the 25 mile long Prairie Trail, from Algonquin to Ringwood.
Examples of The Rides. Urban Cycling: Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and New York City.
Urban cycling is not for the faint of heart. Yet, each city has some wonderful areas to see by bicycle. I have already mentioned St. Louis and will dwell on Montreal later, but I also recommend the windy city.
Chicago has exceptionally good urban biking and a free Chicago Bike Map which has fabulous street detail (312-742-2453 or www.cityofchicago.org. There are also maps that show the location of 36 bicycle trails in 7 Illinois counties surrounding Chicago. Chicago published its first bike map in 1956 and boasts 125 miles of new or improved bikeways. The rapid transit CTA does allow bicycles on weekends and select holidays and many Chicago buses have bike racks (www.transitchicago.com) . Unfortunately, the Metra train system which covers 495 miles connected to Chicago, will not take bicycles. You can call and complain (312-836-7000; www.rtachicago.com). Among the most wonderful urban bike rides anywhere, is going along Lake Michigan on the Lakeshore Trail (18 miles) which runs through beaches and parks, and takes you to the Navy Pier, Field Museum, Soldier Field, Adler Planetarium, and the Museum of Science and Industry. At its northern tip, it connects to the North Branch Trail, which traverses 27 miles through Forest Preserve (wooded floodplain of the Chicago River) terminating in the Chicago Botanic Gardens, in Glencoe. That ride is terrific and allows you to spend some time in a beautiful botanic garden, which you can use as a rest stop and a place for lunch. Check online for a summer of bicycle events and information (www.bikechicago.org) In 2002, I went on one of the free bicycle tours joining a small group one morning on a beautiful ride to Northwestern University in Evanston.
Los Angeles is considered a city for cars, not bicycles. Yet, one of my all-time favorite rides is biking from the Westwood or UCLA section of Los Angeles down San Vicente Blvd towards the ocean at Santa Monica. From the Santa Monica pier we ride along the coast on the South Bay Bike Trail, through Venice Beach, Marina Del Ray, Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach and as far south as we have time before heading back home. Each time I visit Arthur, who lives in LA, I suggest this ride. Another very impressive ride in LA is along the bicycle paths in Griffith Park. By climbing the mountain roads you get to see wonderful views of LA from all directions and it is actually car-free. These and many more rides are described in “Bicycle Rides Los Angeles County” by Don and Sharron Brundige, ISBN 0-9619151-8.
Biking downtown along the Mall on weekends or early evenings in Washington, D.C. is delightful. You can take your bike on the rapid, efficient Metro transit but not during rush hour. The bicycle paths in Rock Creek Park are my personal favorite, especially on weekends. This queen of trails connects to the Capital Crescent trail, which is best traveled on weekdays. For a slightly longer ride, try the bike trail from Alexandria, VA to Mt. Vernon, almost 40 miles roundtrip. It is a beautiful ride and you can visit George Washington’s home. If you need to rent a bike, contact Bike the Sites.
Other than Central Park, New York City is not my favorite urban area for pleasure riding, mainly due to automobile traffic. Nevertheless, there are many safe, attractive places for cycling in the five boroughs and they are displayed in the free NYC Cycling Map, which is available in NYC by calling 311 or viewing www.nyc.gov/dot. The map contains information about taking your bicycle on trains, buses, etc. The route known as the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway is depicted and in September 2004, on the spur of the moment, I rode on it using my sister’s bike, which is too small for me.
Starting from the Stuyvesant Cove Park at E. 23rd St. and East River Drive, I rode south along the East River Esplanade to Battery Park, the southern tip of Manhattan, then north along the west side of Manhattan through Hudson River Park with a constant view of the Hudson River. Sometimes it was necessary to walk the bike because there are congested areas but it is a very good way to cover the perimeter of lower Manhattan Island. The Greenway is divided in most places with space for bike/rollerblades and separate space for pedestrians. You may be able to rent bikes at River Bikes 212-967-5444, just past the World Trade Center site at Pier 25 (near Moore St) just north of Robert Wagner Park. It was closed when I rode past but is open on weekends (10-7, hybrids rented for $10/hr or $40/day). There are wonderful views, especially from the piers, which jut into the water. You can take ferry boats to various parts of Manhattan and even Brooklyn, Queens and New Jersey. One way rides are $4-$6 (plus $1for your bike) depending on length of ride but one day of unlimited rides is $12-18 plus $3 for your bike (www.eastriverferry.com).
Continuing north, I rode past the formidable battleship Intrepid (44th St) and through beautiful Riverside Park South, which also juts into Hudson River near the Trump Tower buildings (near 70th St), offering a good view of the George Washington Bridge. I continued riding north to 125th St. This section was delightful because you really ride close to the Hudson River. I then returned south along the same route, going crosstown carefully at W. 22nd Street.
For a relatively short ride (perhaps 12 miles one way), you can experience much history. You pass under the Williamsburg, Manhattan, and Brooklyn bridges, ride by the South Street seaport, the Fulton Fish Market, Wall Street, the World Trade Center site, and the Chelsea Piers. From Battery Park, you can view Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty or visit several museums located there. NYC is still building the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway, which will be 32 miles upon completion. The riding is essentially flat, and although you ride along busy auto routes complete with car noises, there is always open water on one side, so the noise is dissipated. A wonderful scenic side trip is a ride over one of the three bridges which connects lower Manhattan with Brooklyn. The views are excellent and the short ride is exhilirating. The Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges take you to downtown Brooklyn, the Williamsburg Bridge takes you to Williamsburg, of course. Of the three, my favorite is the Brooklyn Bridge with its wide roadway and beautiful towers. One can walk or bicycle over the Williamsburg Br, which connects the lower east side of Manhattan with Brooklyn. The bridge has a slightly elevated walkway keeping it away from traffic so there are good views. Once in Williamsburg, which has a large Hispanic population as well as being home to many Orthodox Jewish residents, you can visit the many art galleries on nearby Grand Avenue and a small park on the waterfront at the end of Grand. If you are walking, you can take the #39 bus to return to Manhattan in a few minutes. The ride over the WB is not as nice as that of the Brooklyn Bridge with its elegant towers and magnificent views of Manhattan. If you are doing just one, definitely choose the Brooklyn Bridge.
The Rides, Part 2. A Bit Fancier and Further.
After my first week-long bicycle trip with Don in Michigan, we discussed the possibility of doing a similar trip in Europe the following year. We chose our dates and booked our flights. The trip was in the Loire Valley of France, which is a very popular location for bikers due to the marvelous scenery and relatively flat landscape. On a whim, we also traveled to the more hilly Dordogne region, a 3500 sq. mile limestone plateau crossed by 7 rivers including the Dordogne River and containing almost 1,000 castles and chateau. The famous cave paintings at Lascaux and Les Eyzies-de-Tayac can be found in this region. The Dordogne region, which is near Bordeaux, encompasses the area called the Perigord whose capital is Perigueaux. To give you an idea of the day-to-day activity, I present my notes from that trip which includes more than the daily routings. Hopefully, this will give you a better idea of the potential problems as well as pleasures of such travel in just a few pages of text. If you really want to follow the routings, it would help for you to have a map (or gps) available. However, the point is that we could visit many small, interesting towns in a single day while biking a reasonable number of miles. Like most of our trips, the only advance planning we had done was to rent a car at the airport, bring some maps and our bicycles and a bicycle rack. We didn’t even book the first night’s lodging although we do recommend that during busier seasons. We include positive and negative recommendations for the restaurants and accommodations we used. The costs are based on exchange rates at the time.
The Loire Valley and the Dordogne, France, late Spring 1994
Thurs 5/26 My plane is late by 4 hrs. Don is already at the Paris airport. Although my luggage comes up on time, I do not see the bike box. After about a half hour I am starting to panic. Everyone else from my flight has left the baggage area. Finally, after about an hour, the bike in the bikebox comes up. Whew! Don already has the rental car with his bike in it. We load my bike to join Don’s, and drive to Chateaudun (on the Loire) through a steady rain. We check into the Hotel de Beauce and they give us a space to store our bikes. The rain has now stopped. Weather is chilly. We walk around the town and have dinner at L’Arnaudiere in the old town section. It’s OK. We sleep late on Fri, 5/27, but we bike in the afternoon. I have not properly adjusted my handlebars, which I discover while going on a steep downhill. A tense moment. But we bike about 30 miles and it is lovely–what one thinks of as old France. That night we have dinner at Au Trois Pastaureaux, an unassuming superb restaurant in town. I have a fabulous $30 dinner with friendly French service provided efficiently and promptly. What is this restaurant doing in such a small town? It so happens that Chateaudun is a central point for exploring the Loire Valley. They promote their location and are very bicycle friendly. The town maps, provided free, include 3 bicycle routes and there are also free hiking maps. Why bike France? For one reason, they have wonderful back roads, which are well marked on very informative maps which are available everywhere at reasonable prices.
Sat, 5/28 We drive to Blois, which seems to be a mistake. It is a beautiful city but crowded. Perhaps it is the weekend. We stay at a small, recommended hotel called Anne de Bretagne (tel 54-78-05-38) and bike 30 miles. It is wonderful biking, which includes the city of Chambord. We have dinner at Le Medicis which is poor, especially in comparison to the previous evening.
Sunday 5/29 we bike most of the afternoon but cover only 20 miles. First we tour Blois and the castle. Then to a small chateau for a personal tour. Then to Cheverny with its unbelievable manor house which takes some time to explore. We eat at the restaurant next door, La Grand Chancelier and it is wonderful: salmon/prawn/avocado salad, lamb, baked cheese, passion fruit flan, cost about $30.
Mon 5/30 we leave Blois for Chenonceaux, early start. We have breakfast at the Hotel Ibis in town, 34 Francs ($7) but a great buffet. Best breakfast yet. We tour Chenonceaux on this beautiful cold morning. We decide to stay at the Hotel du Bon Laboureur- a slight rip off at about $80 for the double. After a full lunch we bike into the countryside. We notice some hand-written signs suggesting rental rooms in a nearby villa. Our eyes are drawn to the place where it states there is a heated pool and a sauna. The sign says it is close but does not give mileage. Five miles by car is close. Five miles on a bicycle is not. Nonetheless, we continue and come to another sign about a mile later. It suggests we are still close. This game continues until we do reach the villa. After meeting the hostess and having a brief tour, we agree to stay one night, the following night. The rate is about $100, a bit more than we budgeted but it has a sauna. By the time we return to our planned route and get back to our hotel we have biked 50 miles. We note on various monuments in each of the small towns, the names of the local townspeople who died in the 20th century world wars. There are many names on the World War I monuments, even in very small towns, but very few names on the WW II monuments. France fought the entire first world war but capitulated very early into the second world war. Although we do not normally think of that, the side-by-side monuments are a dramatic testament to the different roles France has played in those two world wars.
Tu 5/31 We drive to the villa which has recently been totally renovated. Our hostess is a charming Parisian who has moved to the country. She shows us our enormous room with an enormous bathroom. She only rents two rooms and probably more for the company than the income since the villa is magnificent. I ask about the heated pool and sauna which are not visible. Oh, she says. Walk over that little hill and you will see the double doors. We walk over a well-manicured lawn and down a little path. The pool is built into the hill with sliding glass doors as an entranceway. The pool is full size, the sauna is at the rear. This is heaven. This will be our reward when we return from our ride. We leave the car and start to bike. We ride past Francueil where we see a beautiful estate with an elegant sunroom. We spend some time chatting with the owner who invites us in and provides us with orange juice. It is a chambre d’ hote called Le Moulin Neuf (tel 47 23 93 44) but since we have already booked accommodations we can only note it for another time. We continue past Cere-la-Ronde where we notice some work being completed on summer cottages. The property is called Razay and the Scottish owner, Anne, invites us over for a chat and offers a drink. Don and I split a beer, take her card and dream of returning there to spend a week (Razay, tel 47 94 30 97). We continue riding into Montrichard, which looks like a nice town but we get lost going to the nearby Abbey and wind up taking a horse trail through the woods (Forest de Montrichard?). As we come out of the woods, we notice a trucker’s buffet restaurant. We are hungry and although it does not appear to be a choice restaurant, stop to eat. To our delight, the buffet is inexpensive and outstanding with lots of different herrings and creamed vegetable dishes. We return to our Maison by 6:30 pm after 63 km (37 miles) of riding. Our hostess provides us with a welcoming glass of kir. I feel strange sitting on her finely covered chairs with my sweat laden biking shorts and sit at the very edge. Don and I then go for a private swim and sauna. It was as good as you can imagine. Our hostess suggests that we dine at Le Cheval Blanc in Blere, a nearby town. We follow her advice. The hotel and restaurant has a garden and very good fish. The meal with wine is only 137 F ($27). We return and do lots of clothes washing in our huge bathroom. We agree to stay another day because it is too good to leave and so we can wash clothes and leave them to dry. I recall being impressed by the size of the shower and its complete wrap around glass.
Wed 6/1: we have a good breakfast at the Maison. We load the bikes and drive past Tours but get lost going to Villandry. We park the car and bike to Azay le Rideau and visit the chateau ($6 fee). We bike toward Usse then along the River Cher back to Villandry, a total of about 28 miles. Somehow we again get lost this time returning to the Maison. Once again, our hostess provides us with a welcoming glass of kir and then, as the conversation continues, a glass of wine. Finally, we leave for a swim and sauna. It is getting late so our hostess telephones the restaurant she has recommended for tonite and asks them to keep it open for us. We dine at 9:30 pm in nearby St. Martin-le-Beau at a restaurant called La Treilleres, I believe. I noted that is was a wonderful dinner for only $13 but the Beaujolais Villages wine we ordered was poor. We meet our hostess’ son and his lovely Vietnamese born wife. He is a professional boar hunter. First one I have met. I didn’t know there was such a profession.
Thurs 6/2: we have a long drive to the Perigord region starting in the AM. It is raining hard in the morning. We stop at Brantome on the way to Perigueux. Brantome is such a lovely little city that we decide to stay. Using the local accommodation service in town, we find a chambre d’ hote called Les Habrans (tel and FAX 53 05 58 84). It is run by an English couple, Eunice and Tony Doubleday. We book for the night including the meal that evening. I asked what they were cooking and they said, “Whatever we find in the market that looks good”. We walk through the city, which is a jewel. Called the Venice of the Perigord, Brantome is surrounded by a loop in the Dronne River and contains a wealth of culture including an 8th century Benedictine abbey. The weather improves in the afternoon but we have done no biking this day. We have dinner at our chambre d’hote. It is excellent and only $16 each which includes wine. Two British couples from the north of England are staying there as well and we converse over dinner. We are up early the next morning but it is overcast The room was less than $50 for a double, was comfortable, and we enjoyed Eunice and Tony’s hospitality, so we book for Sat and Sun 6/4, 6/5. We always worry about finding a place on the weekend when many visitors come touring.
Friday 6/3: we leave for Perigueux by car even though the weather is not good. In Perigueux it is wet and overcast so we do our touring en pied. It is a very nice, well off town. In the local store, I purchase my first pair of Mephisto shoes for $132. They wore wonderfully, became my favorites and were much better than a more recent purchase of Mephisto shoes in Paris. (In the U.S., Mephisto shoes sell for more than $300). We stay in the old Roman part of the city, at Hotel l’ Univers. We thought it would be $40 but somehow it became $56 so it was no bargain. To make matters worse, we later learned that the Hotel Ibis had a special for $42. We decide to have dinner at the Hotel l’ Univers restaurant, which is considered good or was at least recommended. But we are not impressed. At night, it was noisy in our part of town so I did not sleep well. After this experience, I strongly felt that the chambre d’ hote were much better sleeping alternatives.
Sat 6/4: the weather is overcast, so we do a local ride, which continues for 47 km (29 miles). It feels good to be on the bike again. We return to Brantome as planned for a wonderful duck dinner with a good Bordeaux wine. We have a smaller room now and notice that the towels are somewhat strange. They are polyester or something synthetic and have the magical property of repelling water. This means that you cannot use them to dry yourself after a shower, although we worked at it. Finally, we decided that the towels can be used to brush off the excess water from your body and then you simply air dry. Quaint but workable.
Sun 6/5: the sun is shining! it is a great day for biking. There are puffy white clouds, and a temperature of 65 deg F. Using a hand drawn map from Tony which includes Quinsac, Grottes de Villars, Chateau Puyguilhem, St. Jean de Cole and St. Pierre de Cole, we bike all over including hills with gorgeous views. We extend our stay for another night.
Mon 6/6: another beautiful day, we bike 55 miles. Again, we followed our host Tony’s suggested route: to Lisle- Montagrier – Grand Brissac- Paussac and back to Brantome. The Castle at Bourdeilles is fantastic. Actually, there are also bike routes on the maps we have. This was not one of them. Again we choose dinner at our B&B, which is fisherman’s pie with potatoes – yummy. In the evening, we walk into town for cash. Planning ahead for a change, we have booked Wed and Thurs nights at a nearby chambre d’hote which we discovered and which is lovely.
Tues 6/7: up to leave early. breakfast at 8, out before 9. We drive south with the idea of visiting the beautiful medieval town of Sarlat. Don is surly and anxious to bike. We usually look for a place to stay first. However, we cannot agree on a place to stay and bypass one hotel and one B&B. Finally, at 11 am, we find a perfect chambre d’ hote in St. Cyprien, near Sarlat (tel 53 30 37 76) . It is owned and managed by Ilse van Raemdonck, a young Belgian woman, and is only $41 for a lovely suite – 2 separate bedrooms – yay! We flip a coin to determine who gets the bigger room. I win. That may have set Don’s mood. We bicycle to Sarlat on the D25 – punishing hills and very hot. When we first arrive in town it appears crowded and Don curses the crowds and the situation. “This is what we biked uphill for?”.A young father pushing his child in a carriage says, in perfect English, “take the path that goes behind the walls and the crowd will disappear, the town is really lovely”. We do and it is lovely. After a few hours or touring, we return via the D35, which is a better route. We did only 40 km (25 miles) but it was hot and hilly. The ride nearly killed both of us and ruined our appetite for more biking that day. So just outside of Ilse’s farm, we stop at the studio of Pascal Magis – an artist in Meyrals. Apart from viewing his work, I am hopeful that we can get some cold water. Don is impressed with the paintings and wants to buy one to take home as a present to his wife or for their anniversary. After a pleasant hour, we arrange the sale and to have it shipped to the U.S. It is now a short ride back to Ilse in St. Cyprien and Don is well rested and happy with his purchase. We have dinner with Ilse and a Belgian couple who are also staying the night. Ilse is very energetic. She rebuilt the B&B (with some financial help) and does the cooking. Dinner at Ilse’s was delightful and was capped with a sample of a fascinating nut wine she makes.
Wed 6/8 For breakfast, Ilse offers crepes and we accept. Fabulous. The Belgian couple staying there are horrified. Ilse explains that Belgians are very conservative and they would never, never consider having crepes in the morning, only in the evening. Clearly, Ilse is not typically Belgian. We say our good-byes, drive to a convenient starting point and bike for 31 miles, which are fairly hilly but not as bad as yesterday. It rains at the end of our ride. It has taken longer than we anticipated to return to the car. We quickly drive to our chambre d’ hote called Doumarias near St. Pierre de Cole (tel 53 62 84 37). We had booked everything two days before and had not left a deposit. They didn’t want one. When we arrived barely before dinner, they had set a place for us at the table and , of course, our room was ready. That’s trust.
Dinner was served by our host, a middle-aged man with the appearance and dress of a count. Surprisingly, he serves the meal and does not join us for dinner. At dinner, we meet a US/Canadian couple from Milwaukee, Denton and Tessa. Another night of interesting conversation.
Thurs 6/9: it is beautiful biking weather, a bit cool. However, we bike only 28 km (18 miles). We have a lengthy, great lunch with many courses in the Hotel de France in a little town, St. Pardoux la Riviere. That night, dinner at our chambre d’hote is rabbit and also very good. We pay 80 francs each for these dinners or about $16 and it includes tasty local wines. And there is no additional tax or tip! We are ready to return to the U.S. I use my credit card to call St. Louis and speak with Peggy who asks me “Are you ready to kill Don?”. She knows me.
Fri, 6/10: we are on the road by 9:30 am for a long drive back to Paris. A few hours into the drive, while looking in the rear view mirror, I notice with horror that one of the bicycles (mine) is partly off the rack and hanging by only one arm of the bike rack. I immediately slow down and pull over. Fortunately, we have caught it in time. No real damage. In our rush to leave, we had not adequately tied the bikes to the rack and the vibrations had caused the second bike on the rack to edge out. A bump in the road could have caused the bike frame to flip off the rack. The same problem would occur 8 years later when we biked near Lake Champlain. Don and I arrive at the Hotel Ibis near Paris at 6 pm. We drive into Paris for dinner with Don’s friends, Nettie and John Claude, a routine we would repeat two years later on a trip to Provence. That night we box up everything. Don takes the airport bus for Orly on Sat morning and, a little later, David takes the car to de Gaulle airport. It takes an hour on well-marked roads. In the airport waiting area, I see June Allyson who looks terrific. I think of June Allyson movies, like “Good News”. It was a different world then.
Thoughts: We covered a very small area of limited parts of France. Much of our choice was random or suggested. By avoiding the high season, we could book accommodations as we traveled. We biked 300 interesting miles in 10 days of biking on this trip. There was no need to do more than that. We felt fit, we ate marvelously. We almost never followed established bike routes even when we had them but made up our own using superbly detailed maps readily available in France and often in the U.S. I have commented on the utility of websites and now, gps.
If you wish to bike in Paris and need to rent a bike, I suggest you try www.discoverfrance.com/gotoparis/biketour.htm. You can also obtain bike guides for the Drome area of France which we toured; go to www.cosfic2001.org/english/pochet_gb.htm where you can have routes produced for you from cities of your choice in the Drome which are rated for difficulty and distance or go to www.adcda.asso.fr/englsih/pochetcde_gb.htm. Guides are approx. $7 each. Another useful organization for France is the Federation francaise du Cyclotourisme in Paris, 8 rue Jean-Marie-Jego 75013 (tel 01 44 16 88 88; FAX 01 44 16 88 99). For a listing of chambre de hote see en.gites-de-france.com.
The chateau of the Loire are rich in history. The food is superb, people are very friendly, the biking is all you could hope for. The landscape reminds me a bit of rural Missouri in early Spring–many beautiful flowers.
Lake Champlain, The Best of Vermont, New York and Montreal, Canada, Summer 2002
Montreal has been labeled the most bicycle friendly major city in North America. Among smaller cities, Burlington, VT is also noted for its pleasure cycling and Vermont is a favorite biking destination in the summer. We decide to bike in both locations since Montreal is less than 2 hours by car from Burlington and northern VT. This was the trip for which I planned more than any other. Months in advance, I obtained all the information I needed free of charge from web sites and government agencies. Booking accommodations in advance was appropriate for the season. The day we arrived, we still had time to ride the Burlington Recreation Path–a delightful bike/hike path in a wooded area along Lake Champlain. The rental car allowed us to visit three different areas in one week.
Mon 8/5/02 Don and I meet at Burlington airport, a small airport a few miles from downtown. We rent a car from Avis for $250/wk and rent a bicycle rack from The Ski Rack for $30/wk (81 Main St, 802/658-3313; they also rent bikes for $75/wk). Don’s bike was shipped from Atlanta via UPS to The Alpine Shop in S. Burlington (1184 Williston Rd, 802-862-2714) which set it up, ready to ride when we arrived. I rented a Trek 7500 from Earls’ Cyclery (2500 Williston Rd, 802-864-9197). We put the rack on the car and headed for the Holiday Inn/Burlington (AAA rate was $110 incl tax) with large rooms, two queen sized beds and plenty of space for the bikes.
We bike one hour along the Burlington Waterfront Bikeway (Recreation Path)–a delightful bike/hike path in a wooded area along Lake Champlain, flat but energizing and very popular. Turning off the path, one can take the 10-mile self-guided historic bike tour of Burlington , meticulously detailed in the free brochure, Bike the City. To continue on the Path past mile 7, one must take a tiny lake ferry ($1) that crosses the Winooski River to Causeway Park, which is literally in Lake Champlain–sky blue water on both sides for 2.5 miles. This Causeway Park path combined with the Waterfront Bikeway is often called the Island Line Rail-Trail (13 miles total). The Causeway Park path suffers a 200 ft gap which, when completed, will allow you to continue to tour several islands in Lake Champlain.
We toured those islands the next day (Tu, 8/6) by taking Route 2 north of Burlington to South Hero Island (less than 1/2 hour by car). We parked at the Grand Isle ferry dock (ferry to Plattsburgh, NY, an alternate starting point) and biked around South Hero Island and Grand Isle. The roads along the shoreline were simply beautiful. With heavy clouds and the threat of severe rain, we returned to our car and drove to nearby N. Hero Island. During the 20-minute drive, it rained heavily and we thought we might terminate our biking that day. But after a quick lunch, the skies cleared and we continued biking into S. Auburg and into historically significant Isle La Motte, then back to our car for a total of 45 miles for the day. We had toured several small islands in the Lake, with an almost continuous clear view of the lake and mountains.
That night, to celebrate, we inquired in a wine store about the “best” restaurant in Burlington. The owner suggested “Smokejacks”, an unpretentious bistro on the corner of Church St. and Main. Our dinners were delightful although a little pricey.
8/7/02 My cousins, Phyllis and Mel Persichetti lived, literally, on the Canadian border in E. Richford, VT. Richford is the eastern end of a famous 26-mile rail-to-trail called the Missisquoi Valley Rail Trail. The western end is St. Albans. At their invitation, we drove the 60 miles to their house and began our travels on the Trail, completely detailed in a free map/brochure listing all restaurants, public telephones, bike shops, etc., in each town the trail crosses. Starting at Richford and aiming west, we had lunch in a diner in Enosburg Falls, then circled back towards Richford to ride one of the 24 loops listed in the Franklin County Bicycling and Walking Guide (available free). We chose #16 Covered Bridges, 17.2 miles of magnificent scenery with inspiring views of nearby mountains and passing four different covered bridges near Montgomery. We extended our ride into Montgomery Center where there is a local bicycle shop with a parts-and-repair shop (I purchased a mirror there). Returning to Richford on this loop, we had a long, eventful downhill. The scenery was breathtaking but a playful German shepherd greeted us just as we began our descent. Don spurted past me, having generated a surge of adrenaline at hearing a bark and seeing the size of the dog. “He’s really a sweet dog”, my cousins reassured us later. However, we were glad we didn’t do the loop in reverse since we would have encountered “Sweetie” on the way up, cycling at approx. 5 m/hr and totally unable to outrun him. On hybrid bikes, we got up to 35 mph on the downhill. We decided we prefer the up-and-down roller coaster route compared to the flat, you-always-pedal rail to trail. We had covered 37 miles, most of which afforded us spectacular scenery.
After a great Italian dinner cooked by Mel and some good California Zinfandel wine uncorked by Phyllis, we were ready to continue to Montreal.
Thurs 8/8/02 The border crossing was within walking distance of my cousin’s house and proceeded quickly. In 1.5 h we were in Montreal. We drove straight to the B & B, On the Park, and were greeted by Manon, since the owner, Nicole, was elsewhere (1308 Sherbrooke, 514-528-1308). We left our luggage, parked our car, and started cycling. We would not use the car again until we were ready to leave Montreal. The B & B is across the street from Parc La Fontaine where a bicycle path is readily available. That path goes downtown, less than 2 miles away. Montreal has been voted the most bicycle friendly city in No. America. Using the free and available Pole des Rapides bicycle maps, we had a wonderful choice of routes–more than 100 km! We rode through the Old City to the port, which is now a wonderful walking entertainment display center (St. Louis could learn from this), and onto the trail along Canal de Lichine. The canal was built in 1825 to bypass the Lichine rapids on the St. Lawrence River. It has been restored and, this year, opened to pleasure craft. The 8.7 mile canal path is very popular and we passed commuters, families on outings, and, to our delight, riders of all ages including people enjoying their 70s and 80s, on the lovely, car-free, level, mostly paved pathway. Our map showed exact positions for public telephones, car parks, cultural and historic sites, bathrooms, restaurants, public services, police, bicycle shops, Metro stations, and information kiosks. The routes have 6 such kiosks where information and assistance are available right on the path! We stopped for lunch at an indoor/outdoor cafe called L’American (or Cafe America, 20 Rue des Seigneurs) and had a delicious fixed menu lunch; pike with a tomato basil sauce, creamed potatoes, soup, dessert, coffee for $9.50 Canadian or $6 U.S. Fully fortified, we continued on the roadway beyond the canal path, along Lake St. Louis through Stony Pt. Park and Summerlea Park in the suburb of Dorval. We returned along the same route, noting how it always looks different going in the opposite direction and that, regardless, it was a wonderful route to be on. One clearly visible town sign emphasized this was a roadway to be shared with bicyclists: “Share the road. If you are in a hurry, take the Expressway”. We did a total of 37 miles. Dinner on Rue St. Denis beckoned with a remarkable number of ethnic restaurants. We chose one where we could eat outdoors and crowd watch.
Fri 8/9/02 After a full breakfast prepared by Manon, we decided to bike along the southern stretch of Montreal, an area called Verdun and a small island called Ile des Soeurs (isle of the nuns). Along the way, we passed through Ile St.-Helene with Parc Lean-Drapeau and La Biosphere, now a museum. We crossed the St. Lawrence seaway via a bridge now used only for pedestrians and bicyclists, much as the Chain of Rocks bridge has become in St. Louis. Most of our ride was along shoreline with clear views of water. New, architecturally stimulating housing is evident on Ile des Soeurs but did not interfere with the bike path. At one point, we pedaled through a wooded area, so seemingly isolated that only an overhead airplane pierced the sounds of rushing water, bird songs, and the peace of a forest. Midst the scent of flowers, it was difficult to believe that we were in a major city of several millions population.
In addition to all the amenities, if you tire, there is a taxi service. If you tell them you have a bike, they will send a taxi with a bike rack. The fare is only an additional $3 Can ($2 US) for the bike.
If you can find the time, there are more than 50 art galleries and museums to visit (ask for the Old Montreal Official Art Map, free of course and bilingual). I did purchase one map- Cycling Montreal, 2nd ed, which covers 29 municipalities (660 km) for $5 Can ($3 US).
We had lunch at a delightful small bistro, Le Frejus St.-Raphael Cafe, where the owner sat with us and discussed the history of the area, while his young daughter, Lea, played nearby. We finished with “the best latte in Verdun” and, again, lunch was less than $10 US.
After 32 miles, we returned early enough to shower and visit the Museum of Contemporary Art. Its collections were so fascinating we stayed until closing and then dined again off Rue St. Denis, at a Vietnamese Family Restaurant where you bring your own wine. Don chose an excellent French Brouilly from the nearby wine store and the terrific meal was only $32 US for the two of us (excluding the wine).
Our B&B room boasted two king sized beds with plenty of separation and, although we had shared bathroom facilities, two full separate bathrooms were outside our door. It was actually better than a private bathroom with only one shower. A non smoking, charming Victorian, the B & B offered a more modern kitchen, free parking, and full-cooked breakfast for less than $70 US for a double including extensive taxes. There are many such choices in Montreal. For us, Montreal was the ultimate in urban cycling–it never gets better. In Montreal, every Canadian we met spoke both French and English fluently and switched casually. Even though Don is fluent in French, when he spoke French they usually picked up the accent and responded in English. Trying to find some flaw in our Montreal experience, we noted that gasoline is more expensive in Canada than the U.S.
Sat 8/10 After breakfast, we left Montreal reluctantly, crossing into N.Y. state. To our surprise, the border crossing took an hour even though we were not asked questions or subjected to inspection. Too many cars, too few inspectors. We drove to our B&B in Willsboro, NY, only 3 miles from the Essex ferry to VT which we would be using two days hence.
At Champlain Vistas in Willsboro, a beautifully restored and furnished historic farmhouse (ca. 1860; 183 Lake Shore Rd, 518-963-8029), our hosts were Bob and Barbara Moses. Bob is an emeritus Professor of Engineering and both have strong ties to the area. Bob’s family built many of the “camps” (actually lake cottages) including a 3 bedroom 1924 cottage on Willsboro Pt, available to rent. Our double room had a “private bath” since no one else was on that floor, and a perfect view of Lake Champlain. We paid $105/night, including a full breakfast and taxes. Although on Rt 22, our room was very quiet. We began biking around noon, the temperature in the 80s. We did Tour 9, the Willsboro ride listed in the book “25 Bicycle Tours in the Adirondacks”. First we lunched at the Sportsman’s Diner because the very popular Turtle Island Restaurant closed that day at 1 p.m. It offered inexpensive local fare with courteous service and discussions with local patrons. Starting at Willsboro, we climbed 500 feet for wonderful views of nearby mountains and sites including Camel’s Hump, Mt Mansfield in VT, Sugarloaf Mountain and Long Pond. The bike route provided lots of ups and downs and was very well marked. After 22 miles, we chose not to do the optional Willsboro Pt ride, a decision we would regret. Instead we indulged in ice cream at Ethel’s Dew Drop Inn and returned to our B&B where we showered and relaxed on the porch. One of the guests at the B&B introduced himself as John Pierce. John delighted us with stories. He and his wife, Eileen, were both from this area. Eileen spent 8 years attending the 1826 octagonal schoolhouse we would visit the following day.
Everyone seemed to agree that the best local restaurant was the “Upper Deck” on Willsboro Pt. We wouldn’t argue. It was packed-no reservations. While appeasing our hunger and thirst with appetizers and beer at the bar, the owner and staff told us that it was only open for 13 weeks/yr. Cleverly designed to showcase Willsboro Bay and the marina, the restaurant was a local hit but profitability could not be sustained after the summer traffic subsided. The setting was superb and we had a beautiful sunset and fine food at medium-high prices for that region.
Sunday 8/11/02 We were so impressed with the Saturday ride that we decided to do Tour 10 from the same book the following day. The Westport-Essex Loop was billed as the “prettiest 24 mile workout loop”. We biked to Essex, a few miles away, to begin the ride on Lake Shore Road and totally enjoyed the day, even though it was warm. The Essex town beach on Lake Champlain was inviting us to leave our bicycles on the shore and go for a swim but we rode on to Westport. Following Rt 22 to Wadhams, I photographed a powerhouse/mill on the Boquet River (bo-KET), then rode into Whallonsburg, past a restored old octagonal stone schoolhouse (1826) still with desks and books. There are many small churches along these routes but we did not stop to view them more closely.
For lunch, we stopped at a general store, Everybody’s Market in Westport, and got huge sandwiches, which we ate voraciously, picnicking in a shady spot off Rt 22.
In Willsboro, we stopped at the Adirondack Art Association to view an exhibition of local artists. The docent, JoAnn Soloski told us about many of the artists and suggested that we visit the Shelburne Museum in Vt on our return to Burlington the following day. Stopping for a mid-afternoon cold drink at Pantouf, we discovered that the namesake is a Maltese dog belonging to the owner. In typical fashion, we chatted with her on the porch for 20 minutes while enjoying our iced coffees. While seeking a local restaurant, Le Bistro, Don saw a breath-taking expanse of colorful sailboats at the marina and blurted out “That’s it; I’m buying a boat”. We immediately heard the rejoinder; “I’ll sell you one”. Stopping short, we looked around and discovered a gentleman in his 70s sitting on the porch of a house with the perfect view of Lake Champlain. He was serious. He owned a boat he wanted to sell. Coincidentally, he was a retired executive formerly with TWA. At his recommendation, we dined that night at the Essex Inn but first drove to Willsboro Pt to see the area by auto. From end to end, it is a 14-mile roundtrip once on the Point and worth all the time you can devote to it. We were tempted to bike it the next day but very high temperatures suggested otherwise. We do recommend that it be done on bicycle.
After a 29-mile day, which was to be our last day of riding, we sat on the porch of our B&B sipping wine from a bottle we purchased at a nearby approved liquor store attached to a gas station before heading off for dinner. We enjoyed several local beers on this trip and I especially liked the Saranac Black and Tan which I had at the Essex Inn.
Mon 8/12/02 We take the ferry from Essex, NY to Charlotte, VT, just south of Burlington. I love small ferry rides and was sorry that this one only lasted 20 minutes. The fee for the car and 2 adults is $10. At the ferry station, I asked the purser if he could take a $50 bill. “Oh yes,” he quipped, “but that’s a heck of a tip”. The ride was delightful, on clean, quiet blue water. A few miles north of Charlotte are Shelburne and its famous museum. With temperature in the 90s, we decided not to bike but to spend a half-day there. Teachers and AAA members receive a discount but it is worth the full fare of $19/adult for two days. There is too much to see in one day. The museum is on 45 acres, contains 39 buildings, the 220 ft steamboat Ticonderoga (moved there 50 yrs ago) and a multitude of folk art and early American paintings, furniture, tools, toys and vehicles. We were fortunate to also enjoy a visiting exhibit of older recreational vehicles including tent trailers from the 1920s. The docent in Willsboro gave sound advice.
We drove into Burlington for our last night of the trip, returning the bikes (Don’s being shipped back to Atlanta via UPS) and the bike rack, which we rented for $30. Don was charged $20 plus the shipping cost of $30 but that is much better than taking it on the airplane ($80 one way plus $20 for the bike box!) which is outrageously expensive.
We toyed with the possibility of eating in one of the restaurants operated by the Culinary Institute of America (the other CIA). There is one on Church St in Burlington and one in nearby Essex Junction. Instead we found a local tavern and had a pub dinner, if Maine lobster and crab cakes can be considered pub fare (Rusty Scuffer, 148 Church St). We had driven more than 400 miles but more important, we had biked more than 200 miles.
For complete information on the Lake Champlain Bikeways go to www.champlainbikeways.org.
You will find directions, theme loops, links to sites where you can obtain free brochures such as:
Guide to the Missisquoi Valley Rail Trail; Adirondack Coast Bikeways, 14 loops which includes the Willsboro Point ride and others in the Essex, Westport area; Cycle the City (Burlington); Bicycling the Lake Champlain Islands; and a list of accommodations and services in the Chaplain Valley. Maps and books can be purchased and we highly recommend the Northern Cartographic Lake Champlain Region map ($3.95 + shipping), which includes bike directions for the entire 200 mile loop, 9 loop rides in Vermont and New York, and is essential for planning your trip. A wonderful free map with 13 biking loops in NW Vermont is the Franklin County Bicycling and Walking Guide (call 802-524-5958 or e-mail email@example.com for a copy). Although there are a huge number of rides in free brochures, we chose two rides from “25 Bicycle Tours in the Adirondacks” by Bill McKibben, Sue Halpern, Mitchell Hay and Barbara Lemmel, well worth its $13 price (Backcountry Publications, Woodstock, VT, 1995).
Amtrak has a Bikes on Board service on many east coast trains including several that service Vermont and Montreal (www.amtrak.com).
For Montreal, we suggest getting the wonderful free map describing the Pole des Rapides area (514-732-7303) called The Pleasures of a Great Escape. It shows all the routes we took and then some, with detailed listings of restaurants, public telephones, bike stores, cultural sites, and more. This is a model for bicycle maps. For bike tours and bike rentals, try www.velomontreal.com. For maps covering a larger area than Montreal, see the publications listed on www.velo.qc.ca. For a wealth of information, call the tourist office toll-free at 1-877-BONJOUR and ask for the Montreal Official Tourist Guide (lists and describes hundred of accommodations at all price levels with their web sites; maps of neighborhoods; museums and parks; literally everything you would want to know); the Montreal Official Map for Visitors; and, if you are so inclined, a map of the art galleries, museums, and cultural institutions. Their website is www.bonjourquebec.com.
Biking With a Tour Group
At some point you will want to consider using a tour group for your bicycle trip. There are a large number of commercial trips (see website section), which vary in cost dramatically. Few are truly inexpensive but you might want to have the security of a sag wagon, mechanic, guaranteed place to stay, and fellow riders. Accommodations do get tight during the high tourist season. On the other hand, you will probably surrender the ability to decide if you want to stay in a particular city or visit a place that is not on the itinerary. You also cannot totally divorce yourself from the fellow riders you have adopted for the week. I describe three commercial tours I have taken, two of which I considered to be very successful. One was a low priced tour in Ireland, another a higher priced one in Canada, and the most recent a mid-priced one in Holland.
Biking in Ireland, Summer 1998
Don and I talked about a bike trip in Ireland. Arthur told us about a good, low cost outfitter, Irish Cycling Safaris (tel 353-1-2600749; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.cyclingsafaris.com. I contacted them by e-mail and we reviewed several exciting options on their web site. The one week trips were an amazingly inexpensive $500 including bike rental but without dinners. ICS will even provide rain gear and helmets but it is always better to bring your own. And you will need the rain gear. Don and I could not agree on dates (always a problem) but my colleague, Jim Chickos, jumped in since he had to be in Europe in July. Using the web, we checked all of the ICS trips starting on July 4th and we quickly FAXED to find out if any tours were still available. After receiving an e-mail answer, we booked “The Highlands of Donegal” immediately. Don book a trip separately at a different time that summer, “The Ring of Kerry”. We compared experiences later. They were remarkably similar and basically positive.
I paid a premium to fly to London then Ireland, booking so late. However, we were able to book a B&B just outside of Dublin with only one week advanced notice. Jim and I decided to tour Dublin for 4 days before going to Sligo by train to start our bike tour.
Staying in Dublin: we decided to go outside of town (eg; Clontarf) and found many possibilities on www.family-homes.ie. I chose Catherine Kennedy’s “Slievenamon” on 302 Clontarf Road and called to make the confirmation (353(0)1 8331025). We paid $56/double/night in a beautiful Victorian House overlooking Dublin Bay. Another nearby possibility is the “White House” at 125 Clontarf Road which looked very nice and is in the same price category (353(0)1 8333196). The advantage to staying in Clontarf is that it is right on the water and has a bike path right at the door which goes all the way around the Howth Peninsula. The Howth Peninsula is just north of Dublin, affords great bicycle riding and hiking and history and is a lovely place to visit. In this relatively small area one can find salt marshes, cliffs, plants, birds, and historical buildings. There is an inexpensive ($5) guide book and map for the Howth Peninsula, available locally. One can pleasurably spend several days here.
Bike rentals are available within walking distance of our B&B at the Little Sport; 3 Merville Ave, Fairview; tel 8332405, for $10/day. Eamon Duffy was very courteous and we received inexpensive, new bicycles which were adequate although they had been assembled poorly. Almost next door to our B&B is Clontarf Sports and Cycles, 326 Clontarf Road (833 8611) which can do repairs, and did, on my new rental bike–a brake adjustment. The DART (rapid transit) goes to Clontarf and the #130 bus goes directly into Dublin city. Although available to us, we did not partake of the Irish breakfast and stuck to muesli, fruit, yogurt, bread and jam. Take your own decaf coffee and herbal tea if you want same because they can be hard to obtain. We were able to pick up some snacks for lunch at nearby stores. At the supermarket in Sutton Cross, we obtained pate, olives and bread and we were delighted with two ciders, Bulmer’s and Scrumpy Jack. One lovely ride was in nearby St. Ann Park and Rose Garden. Other recommendations nearby are Malahide Castle and St. Michan’s church, which we did not tour. We had good biking weather although it was breezy near the shore but a family staying in our B&B claimed that they had been there for a week and it only stopped raining when we arrived. In the evening, Jim and I went into Dublin proper to hit some of the pubs and to walk around Trinity College. We used either the DART or the bus, depending upon our whim and the hour. One night, at the Clontarf Arms Hotel Lounge (250 Clontarf Road) the World Cup was on the tele and we were surprised for the moment that most of the inhabitants were rooting for Argentina to beat Britain.
The Donegal Tour: We took the train to Sligo, the largest town in the Northwest, three hours ride from Dublin. Overlooking Sligo is Benbulben, one of the most dramatic mountains in Ireland. With some assistance, we found the meeting point, a restaurant/pub of course, not far from the train station. It was a nice, chatty evening as we discovered that we would be biking with a diverse group of twenty people. The leader was Johnny Daly, in his 30s, from Dublin and one of the principals of ICS. He is tall, blond, and has a very good sense of humor and a manner that got even the tightest of us to relax and laugh a lot. There was a military couple, stationed in Germany, who brought their own bikes. The bikes were top quality but Charles (or C.T.) and Robbie seemed to get lost more frequently than the rest of us. Two more Americans were from Wisconsin, two from New York, one from Philadelphia, two riders were from Ireland, one from Norway, one from Canada, two from Britain, and four from Switzerland. The good news for us was that the communicating tongue was generally English. Johnny gave out our room assignments, an itinerary, information and historical details of the towns we would visit and a very optimistic view to the week.
There are advantages to a bike trip with a group. The routes are organized, there is no need to find accommodations, the guide should have a good knowledge of restaurants and local history, your luggage is transported, there is van assistance and bike repair assistance. There are disadvantages too. You must go to the next location, you cannot stay behind, you cannot tour at a more leisurely pace, so choose your tour carefully. Many companies, recognizing the different skills and performance levels of their clients, offer slightly different routes each day, which differ in length and difficulty.
We chose an outfitter that was in Europe believing that there would be more diversity. There was. Half the group were Europeans and the Americans were from different parts of the country. The youngest was 12, the oldest 59 (me!) with the average age around 35-40. Five of the 19 clients were 50 or older by my estimate. Most of the group had similar abilities with only a few super-bikers.
The cost was reasonable, very reasonable in this case. We used their bikes. That can be a problem but it is usually satisfactory for a brief trip. That said, I can point out that on my bike the brakes needed adjustment, my center cog wheel was bent!, the tires were average. Among 20 riders over 6 days (120 rider days) there were three flat tires. They were fixed almost immediately and resulted in no real problem. The ICS bikes had very soft seats, which were remarkably comfortable. They also had fenders, which my own bike does not, and that was important. A front bike bag was provided which was useful for camera, snacks, and extra clothes. The bikes had a rear carrier for strapping jackets, etc. Gears were satisfactory (15) including a good low gear. ICS provided a water bottle and cage but I always prefer to use a standard plastic water container which is easily replaced by buying a bottle of water although they need replacement less frequently than you would imagine. It is useful to have a ratchet wrench with you for minor adjustments. The bikes are wedged into the van, which causes problems. If you take your own bike, it will be wedged in as well. Waterproofing my shoes with a commercial spray before leaving the U.S. for keeping my feet drier than otherwise worked wonders.
Accommodations were budget average to very good (cost is a factor). The routes were usually interesting and challenging. The weather cannot be avoided. The tour leader in my case was extremely talented and very good in getting people to relax. It was a very laid back group and everyone got along quite well. I cannot remember a dispute or show of anger.
I traveled with a friend so I had a known roommate. That was true of more than half the group but there was very little clique formation, lots of interaction, especially at dinner time. Most evenings, we all went to the restaurant suggested by Johnny and the food was worthy of that confidence. Instead of splitting the bill equally which is unfair to the frugal, we passed the hat and each person put in their share of the bill. Surprisingly, we never had a shortfall. Lunch was usually in smaller groups as people reached restaurants at different times and had different needs. The Brits and Jim would always find a pub early and drink a Guinness for fortitude. It seemed to work, they were the strongest bikers on the trip.
I took a disposable camera and obtained reasonable, but not good quality, photos. Recently, I obtained a very small, expensive camera, which I now take on trips. It’s a gamble. Once we were outside of Dublin, there was little fear of theft. Most of us did not have locks for the bikes. I took my own helmet and raingear although the organization did have that available for those who wanted same. I found that I did less walking and museum touring than I did on previous independent trips, put on more mileage, and did more socializing. Not everyone spoke English well but most were willing to try.
My notes from that trip suggest that I found the pubs far too smoky (but that has changed). The guest house in Sligo was very small for the two of us. We could barely move in the room. The sink was actually over Jim’s bed so I had to sit on his bed to use it. Jim is an easy travel companion, very generous and not disturbed by such trivial problems. Jim and I did somewhat better with accommodations on the second day in Glencolumbkille although I noted that there are never enough hangers for our wet clothes.
The first morning we are shuttled to Killybegs and we select our bikes. They are Raleigh bikes with the ICS logo on them. I find one that is my size and am happy to give it up by the end of the week. That first day, my bike brakes and gear shift needed adjustment regularly and my tires needed air. In general, the bikes were of poor quality and probably not trimmed or tuned. That changed the following season when ICS switched to using Trek bikes. The first day of riding is along the Donegal coastline and it had some roller coaster aspects to it. When we asked Johnny about hills he would often say they were “undulating” and “undulations” took a prime position in our Irish vocabulary, ahead of “bally” meaning waterside and “rath” meaning over water. We did 19 miles or 30 km that afternoon. On the second day of riding, Jim had two flat tires but it was a lovely day. There was a gorgeous beach where we did not swim (weather was typically in the 60s F) and fantastic scenery including the Caves of Maghera. The morning ride was 22 miles, the afternoon 20. We had clear weather from 1 pm on, arriving in Dungloe before 6 pm. We finally had a lovely B&B with a private bath and large closet. That day, I am one of few who skips the oysters and Guinness available, even though it sounds lovely. Johnny adds some new phrases to our vocabulary including “loose chippings” which we later learn is gravel and “it’s in the verbals” when we have difficulty with Gaelic or the maps or any pronunciation.
Our third day of riding was billed as 41 miles but there was an option of a side trip to Glenveagh National Park which a few of us decided to visit. So the Brits, Richard and David, and our lone Norwegian, a fascinating woman named Heidi who taught us a few Norwegian words, and Jim and I went there, including its fascinating castle. It seemed close enough but was a harder than expected 6 miles to add to our total and occurred towards the end of the day. I noted that I saw columbine, lupine, and fuchsia. Although I had fixed my middle cog wheel that day, the outer cog was slipping the chain. It was difficult to love this bike. Earlier in the day, we had a long uphill but followed by 4 miles downhill, which was terrific. It was cold and misty. Fortunately, we were staying in the elegant Arnolds Hotel in Dunfanaghy (074 36208) and the next day is a “rest day”. I take a hot bath and then have a good sirloin steak dinner in the Hotel Bistro. The next morning, breakfast is excellent, complete with Irish oatmeal. We eat so much that it eliminates the need for lunch. Instead of resting, we take the suggested bicycle trip to Horn Head, which has a “fantastic” beach and some of the finest scenery in Donegal. We are also invited to check out the Shandon Hotel, which has a pool, sauna and steam room for only $7.
The fourth day, we start by taking a group photo. A hotel resident offers to take it for us and is rewarded by being handed a dozen different cameras to take the same photo again and again. Finally, we put him in one of the photos. We put together a list of names and addresses for future reference, which few of us will use. But it feels right. We don’t want the mood to end. I actually do receive a Christmas card from Richard, one of the Brits, and am invited to join them in a ride the following summer, which Jim takes them up on. Richard’s annual Christmas card is a continual reminder of this trip. The fourth day of serious riding involves some steep climbs and downhills to Rathmullen, where we have lunch. After lunch, we go to Ramelton and note that we are close to the Northern Ireland border. In Ramelton we dine at the Bridge Bar where we discover some wonderful live music. For dessert that night, I order poached pears with raspberries and cream and the dish is so lovely that I actually photograph it before consuming it. Perhaps the Guinness was having an effect. Our last cycling day we are shuttled into Garrison which is on the border and part of N. Ireland and bike back over the border into Manorhamilton, then Dromahair and finally to Sligo. That night there is a farewell dinner.
Other notes I took are the difficulty of biking in a mist when wearing glasses. I usually wear sunglasses but took them off. However, for those who need glasses to see, it is a constant problem. The backroads, and almost all Irish roads are backroads, are inundated with sheep dip. When it rains, the sheep dip becomes very slippery and is kicked up by the wheels which explains the importance of fenders. After a while, you don’t even try to avoid it, just ride through. It’s part of the charm and doesn’t seem to smell too bad. The Irish never use the word “rain”. It is either a misting, dew, precipitation, drizzle, shower, or a downpour. I managed to get caught in one. I had my raingear on my rear carrier and it started to rain. As the rain got heavier, I kept thinking that I only had a half mile to go to our lunch stop and it would take me several minutes to stop, remove my rain gear and put it on and it would probably stop raining by then. I was very wrong. It poured and in a few seconds I was drenched. No need to take out the raingear now so I just rode to the museum and walked in soaking wet. Jim was so hysterical that he took my photograph and even now, looking at it, I feel wet. Fortunately, the sun came out and I could dry my shirt.
On Sat morning, 7/11, we took the train from Sligo to Dublin and from there back to London. We stayed at the Bedford Hotel on Southampton Row (0171 636 7822) which was good value and ate in the one elegant, local restaurant we felt we could afford, The Chambeli, 146 Southampton Row, (0171 837 3925), good Indian cuisine at a fair price. In the few hours I had before my flight, I rode on the top of a double decker bus (always a treat). It was an omen. Later that day, on my return flight to Canada, I was bumped up to the top deck of the 747, which I found delightful. I returned home feeling on top of the world. The success of this tour and Don’s similar experience, leads us to consider another organized tour two years later, in Canada.
Banff, Canada, Summer 2000
It’s February 2000 and Don and I are trying to get a jump on our summer bike trip. We decide to go to Western Canada — Calgary, Banff and Lake Louise. Don found an outfitter that did both camping and luxury bike trips. Don wanted the luxury and I reluctantly agreed. Fortunately, I could fly to Alberta using American Airlines advantage miles and Canada is a travel bargain. Might as well go for broke I thought. It was pre-stock market collapse and we were feeling flush. John Sigurjonsson, the owner of Canadian Trails Adventures was very helpful and e-mailed us information continually about the “Golden Triangle” trip (www.canadiantrails.com). He even booked our initial Calgary reservation for us. We scheduled our trip to coincide with The Stampede, of which I had heard much. It meant full hotels so early booking was critical. Best Western Calgary Centre Inn, 3630 Macleod Trail South got our business at $159 CAN/double/night + 12% tax or about $111 U.S. We did not need a car since there is public transportation and our hotel was on the line. The first time we used Calgary’s mass transit, we realized that we needed Canadian coins to get a ticket from the ticket dispensing machine. I tried to get change from someone on the platform who simply said, “Oh, I’ll just buy the ticket for you” and he did! That’s hospitality. Calgary is a wonderful city to visit even when stampede free. I still recall a delightful lunch in Prince’s Island Park. Calgary has beautiful parks, good restaurants, painted cow sculptures in the street exhibit which rivaled the heralded one in Chicago and clean, clean, clean streets and good bike trails and mass transit, and lots of street entertainment which seems to be endemic to Canada in the summer. We spent two days thoroughly enjoying those performances of The Stampede that we could get into. The coach and four event was surprisingly interesting and so significant that the Calgary Symphony Orchestra was playing music in the stands. Most of the events sell out months in advance.
Instead of taking the bus to our starting point in Banff, I checked on a one way one day rental from a nearby Avis and we rented their car for $73 U.S. It was a nice drive north to Banff with awesome views of mountains suddenly appearing. We stopped for lunch and somehow also shopped for outdoor clothes and got some good bargains. One long sleeved Polartec style undershirt was immediately put into use. When you go somewhere in July, you have a hard time expecting cold.
John had sent us information about both camping and luxury touring and was willing to arrange for us to do a little of both. Some of the campgrounds sounded spectacular. However, in the final analysis, having a hot shower, comfortable bed and dining in high fashion overcame our adoration for camp food, starry skies and wet tents. We never regretted that decision.
We were a small group, the younger crowd was camping and four of us were luxuriating. Jaime and Sue from Cherry Hill, N.J. joined us in the hotel portion and therefore for dinner. However, after some political dinner conversation, Sue and Jaime did not always join us for dinner. Jaime is tall and most of the bikes were not an appropriate size for his frame. Several bikes disintegrated under him through no fault of his. Through it all, he displayed remarkably good humor and I have many group photos of us gathering around his latest bicycle repair fiasco. Our tour guides, Greg and Melanie, on separate nights, dressed up and joined us for dinner. We found them to be interesting company and dedicated to the success of the tour. They were continually busy, either riding with us or setting up camp and cooking the camp meal. Apart from our guides, the campers were three Canadians and three Americans in addition to the four hotel participants.
The meeting point was Banff Cariboo Lodge on Sunday night, where we spent our first hotel stop. Monday morning we bicycled north on the famous Bow Valley Parkway and highway #1 and yes, it is a highway. We then went south into Kootenay National Park and over the Continental divide at 5400 feet through Vermillion Pass. Was it steep — yes! And windy and a hard rain in your face, not like the “soft” rain of Ireland. “What are we doing?” I thought. But it was our only bad day and we somehow laughed it off. There was no sun this day and we rode our 72 km in rain gear. The campers are at Two Jack Lakeside, which has flush toilets. We are at Kootenay Park Lodge, 19 km further, in a simple but interesting cabin. We see black bear, elk, and a baby moose. What else could you ask for? For starters, a Canadian beer and then a nice dinner and we are content.
Riding Day 2 looks overcast but soon clears. The campers need to catch up to us so the luxury crowd can get a later start. We go back up to 4800 feet and Sinclair Pass and finish with a hoot and holler downhill into Radium Hot Springs. Our stay is at The Springs at Radium Golf Resort which is beautiful and has washing machines.
Day 3 is a choice of bike ride or whitewater rafting. After much discussion, Don and I decide to ride and it is wonderful – into the Columbia River Valley – views of mountains everywhere. It is warm and we do almost 100 km (60 miles). We finish at Kapristo Lodge, which I recommend to all travellers (www.kapristolodge.com; 604 344-6048). Our fascinating host is Roswitha Ferstl. The Lodge is perfectly perched on the side of the Kapristo Mountains, beautifully designed, very comfortable with an outside Jacuzzi and typically $170 CAN/minimum. We dine alfresco. I cannot recall the menu but do recall enjoying it. Those who opted for the raft trip (the majority) also had a wonderful day.
Day 4. We are back on highway #1 with poor shoulders on stretches. There is a problem in the west in that there are few roads so not many choices. At one point, Don was worried that I was blown off the road or hit by a logger truck. Those trucks are very wide with a very heavy load and they do not move over an inch when passing bikers on the so-called shoulder. Yet, it is legal for bikers to be on that highway. We go over Kicking Horse River which is a whitewater river and which is dramatically racing downhill. After lunch near Tikkakaw Falls, we hike the area. Our afternoon ride into Lake Louise includes the Big Hill, our last major climb. Don and I opt to take the van to Lake Louise in order to have more time to tour there and to avoid leg muscle cramps. We feel we have nothing to prove after our earlier rides this week. By arriving early, we have time to hike in the area before dinner. We are booked into the Post Hotel, a relais! Also, for all of our dinners, we can order whatever we want, all is covered, except liquor. So we are eating well. The Post Hotel has a game menu and I try a few new treats including caribou strip loin. Yummy. The Canadian beers are fun to try and I explore continually.
Day 5 of riding is Lake Louise to Banff – only 60 km away and easy. It is a beautiful ride, but Jaime’s bike totally breaks down along the way. He had been riding in only one gear since the other gears were not accessible and that is difficult to do in this region.
In all, the trip was a good experience with some hard riding. I suggest wearing very visible vests since we share the road with cars and trucks, which are moving much faster and in overcast weather the bikers are not always visible. We could also have used better bicycles. The Canadian bikes were poor quality and not as adjustable as others we have used. Don complained sufficiently for the outfitter to find him an Italian bike to ride and I managed to get one which had a better riding position for me than the one I used the first day. The guides were terrific sports and very helpful. One rode with us each day while the other handled the van. In Ireland, we only had one guide for the van. With the quality of bikes we had in Canada, Greg was continually rebuilding them.
Don and I took a bus back to Calgary where we rented a car and spent another 3 days visiting in nearby Lethbridge and Fernie, where Don’s friend, Bryan took us on a killer hike. Is the fancy tour worth the price of $1130 U.S. for the five and a half days? Yes and no. The campers paid about half of that and enjoyed the same ride. Yet, we could afford it, it was about $200/day which is not too bad, and each of us was only paying for one person. If I were paying for a family of four, we might be camping. The Irish tour was less expensive (at $500 for 7 days plus our dinners there probably added about $180 to the cost of the trip) and it was as much fun. Certainly, Canada is a bargain and less than three weeks later I would go to Nova Scotia for a very different trip with Jim Chickos.
Bike/Barge in Holland 2004, but beware of guided tours.
Bike and barge touring is rapidly growing in popularity. You unpack your luggage once, and while the barge goes from one destination to another on inland waterways, you bicycle through the countryside meeting the barge at the next stopping point. Meals are on the barge and the bicycle rental and guides are provided.
Don and I did a one-week bike/barge tour in the Netherlands in June 2004 through a small U.S. company called Bike and the Like (www.bikeandthelike.com). While the Netherlands is flat, there are frequent winds and rapidly changing climate. We were unfortunate with stormy weather, lots of rain and fierce, continuous wind. Our Gore-Tex rainsuits got a workout. If we were touring with a car, we would have traveled to another location but when you book a tour, you inherit the weather.
Our barge, the Zeeland, was small and charming, carrying 18 passengers (9 rooms), the Dutch captain, Ari, his wife Linda, who is Danish and cooked delightful dinners, and one mate, Tim, who doubled as everything else. Our accommodation was cramped, like that on a sailboat. Our stateroom was approx. 6 x 8 feet, separated by a door to an additional very small space, which contained our private toilet and shower. But some barges are huge riverboats with motel-sized rooms and several dining areas.
It was my first experience with guided bicycling where the group bicycles together continuously and I did not like it. I much prefer cue sheets with directions whereby I can choose my own speed, and time and location of rest stops. With the guided bicycling there is no time to take a picture or explore some of the wonderful towns en route for fear of losing the group. We were surprised at the absence of cue sheets and suggest that you ask in advance, which we didn’t.
The Dutch countryside is delightful but not dramatic. There are cows, sheep, and horses grazing on lush, green pastures, which dominate the scenery. Private houses are attractive and very clean, even the farmhouses look photo perfect. It is as if the owners were expecting us to visit. There are flowers in the smallest spaces and added window boxes to produce even more. An occasional windmill catches our eye. No longer used for pumping water, some of them have been converted to living quarters. Newer wind machines can be seen from a great distance on the flat plains as they convert the constant wind to usable energy. There are bike/foot paths that lead to all towns of interest. The bike paths are often separate roadways running alongside the auto route and are well marked. Our trip coincided with the European Cup soccer tournament and we joined the happy, hysterical local inhabitants watching the games on huge outdoor TVs while consuming lots of beer and waving or wearing anything orange in color.
Biking in the city of Amsterdam is a challenge worth the effort. It is also a wonderful example of how the quality of city life improves when bicycles and electric trams are dominant in a city’s interior as opposed to automobiles. One sees people biking fearlessly while talking on cell phones, biking with children on special attached seats, wagons and carts often with windscreens (in one case with 3 children in attached seats). We even saw a woman cycling with her cello attached to her bicycle via a specially rigged device. It is common to see friends carried on the fortified rear rack of the bicycle, sitting nonchalantly, barely holding on. Biking in Amsterdam is the prime method of going to work, to shop, or to take the kids somewhere.
There were at least 1,000 bikes parked at the Amsterdam train station, allowing out-of-town commuters to go from house to train and back. There are bikeways throughout the city, along almost every street and special traffic signals for cyclists. The bicycles move freely and faster than cars, which are often caught in frustrating traffic. Moreover, there are few parking spaces for cars. Many locations in the city centers, especially shopping areas, are only available by bicycle or foot traffic. Hollanders start biking at an early age and peddle almost effortlessly through the flat city. They are aware of the movement of other bicycles nearby and what we perceive as near collisions turn out to be standard synchronized maneuvers by the experienced Amsterdam cyclist. While walking, we had a tendency to stop when confronted by an oncoming cyclist, an act that confused them to where they stopped as well. In traffic circles, there is a separate lane for bicycles and they apparently have the right of way. What a joy! Automobile drivers in Holland have also grown up seeing bicycles on the roads and treat them respectfully, waiting patiently to give cyclists passage.
To our surprise and distress, no one wears bicycle helmets, not even the bicycle police who were using Trek bicycles. When we asked, they laughed and said helmets were only used for racing. A few small children had bike helmets, but too few in my opinion. I have seen friends fall from a bike within site of their homes and, in the process, crack their helmet instead of their head, so I never ride without one.
The Dutch bicycles are sturdy, relatively heavy and ridden upright with handlebars significantly higher than those on American hybrids. There are few gears since the land is flat. Chain guards and fenders are standard as business people and other well-dressed individuals travel by bicycle. We had 21 speed Peugeot bicycles with surprisingly comfortable seats and a useful rear pannier bag, which held everything for us for the day including raingear, sandwiches, and camera. It was one of the best rental bikes I have used and I actually enjoyed riding it. Locks are essential as bike theft is prevalent. Most bikes are chain locked, some bikes have through-the-wheel locking devices attached to the frame. Almost paradoxically, in the auto parking lots of the Veluwe National Park there are many unlocked “white” bicycles of varying size. They are there for the free use of visitors to allow them to tour the extensive park by bicycle. When you finish touring, you simply return the bicycle.
Although the Netherlands are worth a visit by bicycle, Don and I prefer France and Italy with a drier climate, occasional hills and mountains, and a more interesting cuisine. However, the Dutch terrain is good for beginners and casual bikers, and most Dutch citizens speak some English.
Biking in Canada: The Gulf Islands, Vancouver Island, Summer, 1997.
My friend, Arthur, convinced me that we should ride in western Canada. In 1997, we met in Seattle, WA and traveled together to Victoria, B.C. and the beautiful, unspoiled Canadian Gulf Islands. We toured three islands in one week using ferries, averaging only about 10 miles/day on bike in the very hilly terrain. Even in season, it did not seem crowded. It was wonderful.
Arthur and I flew into Seattle separately, I from St. Louis and he from Los Angeles. We traveled with our bicycles and with all our necessary gear stuffed into our panniers. No car, we would carry everything we needed on the bicycles. In fact, I rode my bicycle to the St. Louis metro, took the train to the airport, purchased a bike box and proceeded to pack the bicycle into it. I felt like a pioneer.
Arriving at the Seattle airport within an hour of one another, we assembled our bikes quickly and rode them to the ferry that would take us to Victoria, B.C. You can obtain free maps from the Washington State Department of Transportation www.wsdot.wa.gov or www.tourism.wa.gov. There is a free route map to/from SEA-TAC airport from the Seattle DOT (www.seattle.gov/transportation/bikeguidemap06.htm). That airport route to downtown Seattle is only 15-20 miles but not charming. So, on the return trip, Arthur and I opted to share a taxi but you can put your bike on a Seattle bus from downtown to the airport for only about $2. We took the fast ferry to Victoria from Seattle (2 hrs) for which we had to book in advance (800-888-2535). We returned via the elegant, larger, slower ferry (4.5 hrs), which has more access.
We spent one and a half delightful days touring and biking in Victoria, which is on Vancouver Island. Then, in the afternoon, we biked to the Gulf Island ferry departure point, Swartz Bay. The most direct route is along highway 17, which actually has a bike lane! It is approx. 20 miles but easily done in 2 hrs. If you take this route, wear ear plugs. The scenery is lovely, good views from the built-up roadway but the traffic noise is annoying. Alternatively, if time allows, you can meander through local streets that hug the shore at times. Some routes are very hilly. While Victoria is more British than Gt. Britain, it is a beautiful city in which to bike and the auto drivers are extremely courteous. Rooms near the inner harbor are much more expensive than a few miles away. There is a free reservation service for Victoria, which is critical in season, and there is a great local bike shop if you need assistance, which I did. We stayed at the Ramada Huntington Manor (tel 250-381-3456), only blocks from the ferry ($135 CAN/double = 15,6% tax). We had two excellent seafood dinners in Victoria at “1218” located at 1218 Wharf St and superb Indian food at Indian Curry House, 506 Fort St. Additional rides on the North shore of Vancouver Island come highly recommended by people we met in Victoria. They also told us that in the summer, the winds tend to blow north to south. B.C. Ferries services the Gulf Islands from Swartz Bay, 888-223-3779; www.bcferries.com; fares are quite reasonable for people and bicycles.
The ferry to Pender Island took 40 minutes (tel 604-669-1211). We booked at the Arbutus Retreat B&B @ $85 CAN for a double (tel 250-629-2047). It is a lovely home owned by Andrea and David Spalding and we had a book-lined, smoke-free private suite on the ground floor. They FAXed us a map and information including the fact that there is no bank on Pender Island and most transactions are in cash- the old fashioned way. The bike ride from the ferry to our B&B was short but steep. The views are beautiful. It was a very enjoyable stay.
The following day, we took a 4 pm ferry to Galiano Island for two nights at the Cliff Pagoda B&B (tel 250-539-2260). When we arrived, no one was there but the door was open and there was a huge deck with a hot tub. The owners, apparently former hippies, are into health food. Our breakfasts fit that motif, yogurt, muesli, fruit and the hot tub was very relaxing and conducive to conversation. All this for $55 CAN/double/night. The B&B is up a hilly, dirt road that you will probably walk, not ride, but the views from the house are worth it. A major advantage is the French restaurant and an adjacent cafe just across the street to which you would probably walk, not ride. Less than one km from there is a lovely harbor with a small outdoor cafe and general store. Arthur tried to ride down the dirt road and took his only fall of the trip. It was too steep and too rutted but was easy enough to walk up and down.
After two days of touring the long narrow island, we took an 11:35 am ferry to Salt Spring Isle, which is also hilly. We were surprised by the severity of the hills because the nearby San Juan Islands, southeast in the same chain but U.S. territory, had gentler roads we were told. The inter-island ferries are very kind to bicyclists. No waiting and you are the first ones off. Bicycles are inexpensive to ferry. You do need reservations for the long haul ferries though.
We spent two nights at Harbour House Hotel in the town of Ganges, three miles from the ferry terminal at which we arrived, called Long Harbor Terminal, and nine miles with a big hill to our departure terminal at Fulford Harbor. Harbour House is owned by Ann Ringhorn and we had a new, non-smoking room with queen bed and queen deluxe sofabed for $80.50 CAN/double/night (tel. 250-537-5571).
On Salt Spring, we recommend eating at Moby’s on the water across from the Harbour House Hotel, which has a good wine store. The fresh seafood makes it a favorite of locals and they have Canadian microbrews on tap. As a break from biking, there are many places to try sea kayaking — a relatively safe, delightful way to spend a few hours on the water.
We took a morning ferry back to Swartz Bay and had a leisurely ride back to Victoria for our 7 pm boat ride to Seattle. We decided to take the side streets rather than the highway and met two other bicyclists from the U.S. We had lunch together and exchanged addresses. Since they live closer to L.A. than St. Louis, only Arthur got in touch with them later.
We arrived late in Seattle but had a reservation at the Sheraton Hotel, one mile from the ferry (6th and Pike, 206-621-9000, $122 US + tax). My bicycle was not handled well on the ferry and there was a bracket, which has broken loose. I taped the bracket, which held for the moment so I could walk the bike to the hotel. In the morning, I found a bike store in Victoria and while he was doing the minor repair, he pointed out that my bearings needed grease and did that as well, for a very fair price. He did this in about one hour while we were having coffee at a nearby shop. The next day, we took a taxi to the airport where I planned to remove my bike pedals. The pedal wrench I brought is one I had made from aluminum to save weight. To my horror, the aluminum bended and I could not remove the pedals. I asked the agent if he had anything that would work. Yeah, right! I ran to where Arthur was boarding his plane and asked him if he had his pedal wrench handy. He did, I used it, and all was well. So fair warning, take the heavy pedal wrench.
Biking in Canada: Nova Scotia, summer 2000
Two of the most dreaded words for cyclists are rain and wind. But if that doesn’t phase you and you want memorable bicycle rides, head to Nova Scotia. Friendly natives, coastal cuisine and all at a discount (thanks to the exchange rate of the Canadian dollar).
Jim had a chemistry conference in Halifax, NS in August 2000, and suggested that I meet him there to cycle the area. We could stay in low cost student housing at Dalhousie University, in the heart of Halifax. In addition, it was during the Buskers festival in Halifax and the Lunenburg Folk Harbour Festival in nearby Lunenburg- a very special city and UNESCO world heritage site. To my surprise, Halifax suffers a high rate of bicycle theft so I brought a good lock from home and rented a bike for the week from Pedal and Sea Adventures (902/497-3092; www.pedalandseaadventures.com). The Trek hybrid rental was only $115 Canadian or about $70 US. Colin, the manager, took the time to suggest some routes, especial the Aspotogan and they picked up the bike when the week was done. Halifax is easily handled by bicycle and there is much to see. The summer long Shakespeare by the Sea season is a must. I saw a bit of “Romeo and Juliet” and all of “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” in wonderful outdoor settings in Pt. Pleasant Park. And they are free and very well performed. Donations are accepted, $8 Can is suggested. There were ca. 250 people attending. Bring a blanket or a chair or rent a chair for a few dollars. It’s a treat. There were 5 additional shows (www.shakespeare.ns.sympatico.ca). I biked to Pt. Pleasant Park (1-2 miles) from Dalhousie and returned at night through well-lit, lightly-traveled streets.
Halifax has a splendid harbor area, good local beer, and good restaurants. They almost throw the fabulous fresh mussels at you during the summer. A huge bowlful in mouthwatering sauce is a $7 appetizer (and that’s in Canadian dollars!). The Busker festival is 10 days of street performers. The real fun is getting the pedestrian crowd into the act and these people are masters at it. Buskers are invited to participate based upon their reputations and they come from all over the world. (see www.region.halifax.ns.ca/tourism).
A well-known book for cyclists is called the Nova Scotia Bicycle Book by Gary Conrod. We found it to be of some use. In fact, The Aspotogan trip we took is Tour 17 in Conrod’s book. The loop is 51 km or 31 miles starting at Hubbards, a short drive from Halifax. The bicycle trip from Halifax to Hubbards adds too much mileage so with Jim’s car we drove out of Halifax and started the bike ride at Hubbards on St. Margaret’s Bay. We rode through Fox Point, Mill Cove, Northwest Cove, Aspotogan, Bayswater, Blandford, Upper Blandford and East River and back to Hubbards on Route 3. Although hilly, it is one of the loveliest rides on the south shore or anywhere as it continues on Route 329 around one of the many peninsulas. One goes through quaint fishing villages with colorful houses and fishing traps and clean, empty, coastal beaches, tempting one into taking a quick swim. The view of clean, wave filled sea is continuous. Wind can be significant and it changes as you circle the peninsula. There are a huge number of peninsulas on the south coast with beautiful homes and gardens.
The problem in getting out of Halifax by bike is narrow road shoulders heading to the popular southwest shore. Once there, one finds endless coastline winding and weaving into delightful coves. Nearby Peggy’s Cove with its lighthouse is too popular but worth a stop. It’s on the way to Lunenburg. Follow the coast road around St. Margaret’s Bay through Aspotogan and around Mahone Bay into the beautiful little town of Mahone Bay, a must-take-the-photo opportunity with its three churches. We had lunch there and shopped. A few km further we reached Lunenburg where we dined overlooking the harbor at Dockside Lobster. Lunenberg has four international festivals each year and I can vouch for the Folk Harbour Festival. For a fee of $18 CAN ($12 US) I had a full evening of folk singing and music by 6 different individuals/groups performing under a tent (it rains frequently in NS). During the day, performances are held at 5 different locations in the old town. The highlight for me was hearing Arcadian, Celtic, and Gaelic music from performing groups with names like Barachois, Cucanandy, and Off With Their Heads.
On a separate trip to the south shore later that week, we drove back to Mahone Bay and then cycled to Lunenburg and back with some side trips. After a wonderful 40 miles, we drove east to Hubbards and had a memorable dinner on a restaurant balcony at Dauphinee Inn (www.dauphineeinn.com; 902-857-1790 or 800-567-1790) on the shore of Hubbards Cove on a moonlit evening. One can easily cycle past 8 pm during the summer as the sun sets rather late that far north. There are many B&Bs in Lunenburg if you wish to use that city as a base (see PEI trip below).
On many days that week, the weather was foggy with awful looking clouds in the morning. The weather would clear a bit by noon with strong winds and threat of rain. By 4 pm there would be this golden sky and it would become even more beautiful into the evening hours. Like many coastal cities, the weather can change dramatically so it is important to bring rain gear.
To tour Nova Scotia with a group, I recommend contacting Atlantic Canada Cycling, which has inexpensive tours, which fill quickly. They are mainly camping tours from 4-10 days in length and individual tours include Prince Edward Island, Cape Breton Island, and the Cabot Trail. (www.atl-canadacycling.com/tours).
Another location for bicycle rentals and tours is Freewheeling Adventures (www.freewheelingadventures.com).
Bicycling in Canada: Prince Edward Island, Summer 2005
Prince Edward Island in Canada is a nice place to bike for all skill levels. The highest point is about 400 metres but there are rolling hills so you can get a good workout. Don and I went in mid-June 2005, flying into Halifax, Nova Scotia, renting a car at the airport, and driving immediately to Charlottetown, PEI via the Confederation Bridge. Information and highway maps for PEI are easy to obtain free of charge (www.peiplay.com).
The Confederation Trail is a rail-to-trails project and runs throughout the island. The surface is pebbled, drains well, but is relatively slow going. It is often tree canopied so shady in summer. You can ride side by side and converse but the scenery does not change in many places so it is less interesting than the beautiful coastal roadways. But certain stretches are very nice, e.g.; Morell to St. Peters in the northeast is along the water and in continuous sight of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and St. Peters Bay. Near St Peters is Greenwich, a PEI National Park worth a visit. In mid-June it was cool, wet and windy, especially along the coast. We biked every day anyway. The nicest stretch for us in the southeast was from Murray River to Cape Bear to Wood Islands on the Kings Byway Coastal Drive. It is very pretty and there are lovely views with Northumberland Strait always on our left. The only winery on the island, Rossignol, is along that stretch. As with many local wineries, price is ahead of quality although the ice wine derived from apples is worth sampling. We returned via a new portion of the Confederation Trail, which was less interesting than the coastal route. Our longest stretch of Confederation Trail was when we joined a group of 15 cyclists who were doing the entire trail, but in pieces each weekend. We caught the last leg, a 20 km stretch from New Zealand to Elmira. After accepting their offer to share in post ride treats, we were offered a car shuttle back. Instead, we decided to cycle back in the rain along the coastal road, stopping at Souris for some hot soup. The western end of PEI is considered to be less stimulating and has fewer restaurants. Some cyclists ride the Confederation Trail from end to end–several hundred kilometers. Arrangements can be made to have your luggage moved from accommodation to accommodation.
Charlottetown is the largest city on PEI and has an old town worth exploring for a few hours. We picked up our rental bikes there ($110/wk outfitted with a rear rack, lock and helmet) at Smooth Cycle (308 Queen St; www.smoothcycle.com; 902-566-5530) and rented a bike rack for the car. Charlottetown has the largest selection of restaurants and pubs on PEI. Our worst meal, and it was not inexpensive, was a tourist trap called Lobster on the Wharf, our first night. We were much more cautious after that and managed to eat well, especially fresh seafood.
After two nights in the Charlottetown area, we drove near the town of Montague and stayed longer than originally anticipated at a beautiful B&B called Roseneath www.rosebb.ca; 800-823-8933). Brenda and Edgar Dewar maintain a huge acreage in prime condition including absolutely lovely gardens. At $99 night/double with private bath, incl a full breakfast, it is an excellent choice. Their Victorian home is filled with antiques and treasures from their extensive time living abroad. In the evening, we enjoyed their home brewed chokecherry wine and conversation with our hosts and other guests. Many cyclists were either with an escorted tour or a self-guided tour where their luggage is transported from one B&B to another. The latter option often reduced their choice of dining facilities, which are sparse on PEI. Most parts of PEI are easily reached by car so we took several circular routes in that eastern region. Our favorite nearby dining spot was Windows on the Water Cafe in Montague (902-838-2080) overlooking the Montague River and harbor. In PEI, all items including restaurant fare, are taxed 7%, then 10%, so a $30 meal is 30 + 2.10 + 3.21 and then of course you leave a tip. Therefore, add about 1/3 to cost of the restaurant bill; the $30 meal becomes $40. Our favorite meal overall was a lobster dinner starting with live lobsters obtained from a local pound, Vuozzo’s (838-4934). All prices quoted here, except for tolls, are before taxes. We left PEI via a ferry from Wood Islands to Pictou, NS. You only pay a toll when leaving PEI, either by bridge ($45) or ferry ($55).
We drove to Lunenburg and stayed at a B&B owned by a delightful couple, Merrill and Al Heubach, who left N.J. in the late 1980s. They built Blue Rocks Road B&B (902-634-8033) and a bicycle shop behind the house called the Bike Barn (www.bikelunenburg.com; tel 902/634-3426). The rooms were cheery, comfortable, and reasonable ($75 double/shared bath, full breakfast). Breakfast by Merrill was outstanding including the best organic muesli we have had. Bike rentals are $20/day for Trek hybrids. We rode along a suggest route (332) taking a free short cable ferry to LeHave where a local bakery provided us with a very tasty lunch. Continuing on route 331 to Crescent Beach, we visited a small maritime museum nearby and then returned via the ferry and a shorter route (Indian Path Road). Before leaving Nova Scotia, we dined again at the Dauphinee Inn, overlooking beautiful Hubbards Bay (www.dauphineeinn.com; 902-857-1790). .
Riding in the Northwest: Oregon and Montana, Summer 2004.
Under the heading of friendly biking cities, list both Eugene and Portland, Oregon. Eugene for the ease of getting around town and the 6 mile long bike path along both sides of the Willamette River which makes a delightful 12 mile loop, providing access to all parts of the city. There are 5 bike/pedestrian bridges across the Willamette River so one can crisscross wherever necessary. The path connects to parks and in August the blackberries are ripe and luscious and growing wild everywhere. Picking them provided a healthy source of fruit and tasty past time along our ride. The views are magnificent especially at sunset.
Portland has a wonderful mass transit system with space for bicycles so getting around the city without a car is practical and inexpensive. There are bike paths and lanes throughout Portland and people and motorists appreciate and respect bikers.
Arthur and I flew into Portland with our bikes, loaded our panniers, and took the inexpensive and efficient mass transit (MAX) directly from the airport to downtown. The light-rail MAX system has hanging hooks inside the car for bikes, 4 for each car. After a 40 minute ride, we were downtown and biked the two miles to our hotel, where we had a spacious suite with a balcony for our bikes (Inn at Northrup Station, $119/double with breakfast; 800-224-1180; www.northrupstation.com). The hotel is near the trendy and exciting 21st and 23rd Avenues in the NW corridor. Portland is divided into sections with the Willamette River dividing east from west and Burnside Street separating north from south.
In general, the people we met were the happiest and friendliest I had seen in a long time. Portland has many microbreweries and vineyards, which may have something to do with it. Portland residents, Jere and Ray Grimm, hosted us for two evenings and taught us to play bocce at a unique public court recently constructed by thoughtful Portland residents in a downtown park.
The magnificent Columbia River Gorge, which divides Oregon and Washington, is located a few miles east of Portland. While it is possible to bike in the Gorge on the historic Columbia River highway (HCRH) on the Oregon side, there are stretches with little to no shoulder. The faster parallel Interstate 84 has a wide, paved shoulder but there is much more traffic. With less than one day to see the Gorge and its many outstanding waterfalls, and temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, we decided to rent a car for the day. The car rental from Avis was $35 for the day and we drove approx. 200 miles on both sides of the Gorge (Oregon and Washington). Avis even stored our bikes for us. We had lunch at the popular Multnomah Falls Lodge, located on the site of this very popular, magnificent 600 foot waterfall, the second highest year-round waterfall in the U.S.. Not a great lunch but what a view. However you visit the Gorge, it’s a sight not to miss. For more information on Oregon state parks and the Columbia River Gorge see www.prd.state.or.us (800-551-6949); www.odot.state.or.us/hcrh (503-986-3200).
In Portland, near the Union Train Station and Greyhound Bus Terminal is Portland’s Chinatown with its novel Classical Chinese Garden (239 N.W. Everett St.). Worth the $7 adult admission price, the garden is both beautiful and restful (www.portlandchinesegarden.org; 503-228-8131). There are a few free tours each day and the authentic two-story teahouse within offers magnificent rare teas and savory accompaniments for a reasonable price. In S.W. Portland, in Washington Park, is the better known, exquisite Japanese Garden (www.japanesegarden.com; 503-223-1321) as well as the Oregon Zoo (www.oregonzoo.com; 200 ft from a MAX light rail station) and the International Rose Test Garden (www.portlandparks.org; for “the city of roses”).
Portland is a good place to begin touring the Willamette Valley, a relatively flat agricultural N-S slice through Oregon. A scenic loop from Salem to Eugene and back is approximately 200 miles. Maps are available from the Oregon Department of Transportation (503-986-3556; www.odot.state.or.us/techserv/bikewalk). We decided to bike from Salem to Albany, via a 40 mile route.
We took the Amtrak bus! from Portland to Salem, Oregon’s capital and third largest city. Our bikes were stored on board for a $5 fee. In Salem, we rode on a path along the Willamette River and enjoyed the blackberry patches and bike paths in Minto Brown Island Park. The next day we rode south, the direction of normal prevailing winds, from Salem to Independence along the River Road, then to Albany following the Buena Vista Road. In the town of Independence, we stopped at a small restaurant, Beethoven’s Cafe, for a tasty lunch and iced coffee on a hot day.
Shortly after arriving in Albany, we biked to the Amtrak station and took the train to Eugene, one hour away. We reserved bike space ($5) in the special baggage car fitted with hanging hooks for six bicycles so it was not necessary to box the bike (there is a $10 additional charge for the box and it is a hassle).
In Eugene, we loaded our panniers and biked to our hotel less than 2 miles away near the University of Oregon (Best Western on Franklin Blvd; $85/double with an uninteresting breakfast). From our room balcony, we could pick blackberries growing alongside the building. Arthur found an unbelievably good Chinese restaurant called the Empire Buffet just down the street (1933 Franklin Blvd). For $9, we could eat superbly cooked food, as much as we wanted, including sushi. We biked to two evening concerts, one in Island Park in nearby Springfield, which was free and featured the U.S. Air Force Band of the Golden West. The other, in the Cuthbert Amphitheater in nearby Alton Baker Park, was a 1950s celebration with a doo-wop singing group, which had half the crowd dancing, including us. If you need a bike shop, I can recommend Paul’s Bicycle Way of Life in downtown Eugene (152 W. 5th Ave; 541-344-4105; www.bicycleway.com) near the popular 5th Avenue Market.
This was the first time I was able to combine two bike trips, the first week biking more than 200 miles with Arthur in Oregon and the next week with Don in Montana. I took Amtrak overnight from Eugene, OR to Whitefish, MT near Glacier National Park ($87 senior fare). Shipping my bike on Amtrak was an additional $10 for the box and $5 for the service. The train runs through the Columbia River Gorge on the Washington side. My train was a few hours late so we passed through the Gorge in late afternoon. It was a spectacular view from the Club car (sit on the right side of the train going East).
Don and his wife were living in nearby Bigfork, Montana for the summer and Don met me at the train station. One may not think of Montana as a biking state but Don and I took a ride in the Flathead National Forest, on the western edge of Glacier National Park, which was one of the most beautiful rides we have ever done. Leaving from the U.S. Forest Service Ranger Station in Hungry Horse (Hungry Horse District Office; 406-387-3800), we rode the east side of the South Fork of the Flathead River four miles to the Hungry Horse Dam and Power plant. It is an uphill ride with glorious views of the surrounding mountains. The Dam is fascinating–over 500 ft tall and 50 years old. We rode over the top of the dam to the west side of the Hungry Horse Reservoir, a 34 mile long lake created by the dam. Hugging the reservoir, our 11-mile ride on paved, tree shaded road provided inspiring views of the water with mountains rising in the background. There were continuous wildflowers along both sides of the road. It was idyllic, very few cars or trucks, only the sounds of birds and our wheels rolling up and down the undulating hills. The uphills were gradual but still afforded us some exciting downhill runs. It took us about 2 hours of riding time to reach the end of the paved road at Lid Creek and about 90 min back. The route from the Ranger Station was 31 miles roundtrip. A shorter trip would be the 22 miles roundtrip from the Dam to Lid Creek (avoiding the uphill to the dam). Simply drive over the dam and park. We did not see another bicyclist until the end of the ride. Wildflowers included bright red Indian paintbrush, exquisite purple lupine, pink pipsissewa, blue/purple larkspur, and wild strawberry. Trees included pine, fir, cedar, birch and aspen. If you plan to do this wonderful ride, check to be certain that there is no logging in the area, which would mean many wide trucks using the road. Otherwise, the quiet road allowed us to ride and chat side-by-side.
Don had a Garmin eTrex Vista GPS tracking system mounted on his bike (www.garmin.com). It displays movements and nearby map features, current elevation and ascent/descent information and topographic maps. In addition to accurate maps, it provided us with location (within feet), direction, elevation, speed and much more. On occasion, we would lose satellite connection but most of the time we had complete information. If you can learn to use this system, you will never need to buy a map. Just carry two extra AA batteries. During the week, Don took me on several other delightful bicycle rides and pointed out many more dirt road rides available if I had a hybrid or mountain bike with me instead of my road bike with narrow 23 mm tires. Maybe next year! As an added sweetener, apart from the fresh huckleberries we purchased, is the fact that neither Oregon or Montana have a sales tax. The money I saved was applied to flying my bike home with me, an additional cost of $80. At that time, only two airlines provided “free” domestic bicycle transport, America West and Frontier. However, to obtain this “free” service, you had to be a member of a bicycle club and book your airline ticket with Adventure Travel in Tacoma, Washington, which charged a $30 fee (800-274-4567). I did that for my flight from St. Louis to Portland and Arthur did it for his flights from Los Angeles to Oregon and return.