By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
Day 5 on our BoatBikeTours eight-day Bruges-to-Amsterdam bike trip, we sail in the early morning from Antwerp in Belgium to Kreekrak and cycle 23 miles to Tholen (new harbor) in the Netherlands, where the ship meets us to sail on to Dordrecht – not places that I would bet most of us have ever heard of before.
We stop to visit to the Canadian war cemetery where there are 80 graves of Canadian soldiers who fought trying to free Netherlands from the Nazis. “They try to give the graves a face,” so each one is personalized.
Our lunch stop is at Fort De Roovere, built in 1628, the largest of four forts that formed the West-Brabantse Waterline, a water-based defensive fortification. Located along the edge of a sandy embankment between Bergen op Zoom and Steenbergen, it was built during the Eighty Years’ War (1568-1648) – the Dutch war of independence against Spanish rule.
After the fall of the French Empire of Napoleon in 1816, Fort de Roovere no longer had a military purpose and was reclaimed by nature. It was designated a national monument in 1975. The earthen-fortress was restored in 2010 as much as possible to its original state, along the same design configuration as in 1784, and today is a lovely park where I watch dragon flies on a lily pond, and climb an interesting modern tower to get a sense of how, in a siege, the approaching enemy forces could be bombarded from protruding bastions by batteries of cannon..
We bike into a charming village of Tholen which has a surprising windmill (converted to a restaurant), and have some time to explore.
Our ship, the Princesse Royal, meets us here and we spend a pleasant afternoon sailing to Dordrecht, going through locks which I learn are not to level the water (like on the Erie Canal) but to keep salt water separate from fresh so the reclaimed land can be farmed. Apparently, it’s also an interesting water defense system – areas could be flooded to stop an invader.
This day proves a nice, relaxing combination of cycling and sailing, but the highlight is yet to come.
We are supposed to dock at the historic city of Dordrecht, but there is an important steam-engine ship festival about to get underway and the harbormaster has refused to let us dock. So Captain Roy van der Veen finds a spot at a boat-building marina across the river.
Our leader, Corrie Stein, not to be deterred because we can’t just walk off the ship into the historic center, organizes a ride back into Dordrecht for her guided walking tour because this is a city that is not to be missed. Dordrecht, as I learn, is like our Philadelphia in 1776, and this place and this adventure proves to be a highlight of our trip.
Here we also get to see the extraordinary infrastructure for bikes – to get up/down the very high bridge, there is actually a track and even an escalator for the bike, as well as dedicated path on the highway bridge.
Dordrecht is 800 years old, the oldest city of Holland (not Netherlands), with a population of 120,000 and some 900 monuments. It has always been a garrison town.
At the main church we learn that they wanted to build a tower 120 meters high (to compete with another city’s tower), but the ground wouldn’t support it. So with the money left over, they built four clocks and a bell. But when the bell tolled, windows broke, so they stopped.
We see these “schooske” – special historic sailing ships that are iconic to Dordrecht (and why there is the special festival). They are allowed to stay in this marina for free.
The original, ornately decorated entrance gate to the town is where Napoleon entered Dordrecht, Corrie says.
Walking down a cobblestone street, I see stolpersteine (“stumbling stones”) – bronze plaques embedded in the sidewalk as a memorial to the Jewish families who were taken from their home during the Holocaust. There are stolpersteines to commemorate the victims of the Nazi regime in more than 1,100 locations in 17 European countries
On this street, Corrie points out a special Dordrecht style façade of buildings dating from the 17th century, which she says would have been designed by a mason in order to qualify to join a guild. “There were hundreds of these buildings but they fell out of fashion.
We come to what seems a simple courtyard of a 1275 Augustine monastery, but here, in 1572, a meeting was held to decide to revolt against Philip of Spain and to choose William of Orange as the leader. “The Netherlands was born in Dordrecht,” Corrie tells us.
“Netherlands formed after a revolt against Spain. It started with representatives choosing William of Orange as leader and agreeing to fight for freedom – a political moment – a thought out idea – freedom of religion,” which took place right here. (It sounds so much like the Continental Congress of 1776; Dordrecht in 1572 was Philadelphia in 1776.)
“William wanted their own church” not like Catholic churches, but rounded with 8 sides. And they wanted their own Bible translated in Dutch.”
In 2019, the King of Netherlands, a descendent of William of Orange, came here to Dordrecht with an original family bible, and computerized art projected the writings from the old text on the building.
By now, darkness has all but descended. We put on our bike lights, and ride back to the ship, everyone giggling over how we look like a line of fireflies.
By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
Our BoatBikeTours route on Day 4 of our Bruges-Amsterdam bike tour into Antwerp would normally involve going through an interesting 500-meter long tunnel. But our leader, Arnold Thurko, tells us that the 1930s-vintage elevators broke and they haven’t been able to find the spare parts to fix it, so we ride over a bridge and take a ferry into the city instead, which proves a delightful ride with gorgeous views of the city and a fun (quick) ferry ride.
We park our bikes (Arnold stays with them) and go off with our leader, Corrie Stein, for a guided walking tour of Antwerp’s historic city center.
Antwerp’s Golden Age was the 1500s (earlier than Amsterdam), largely because of the advantage its Suikerrui (canal) provided traders by connecting the city to the sea. (Today it is closed off but you can visit the De Ruien, the underground waterway. You get to walk along old vaulted ceilings, narrow canals, bridges, sewers and sluices, and see the city’s underbelly. You can visit The Ruien by booking a guided group walk, walk on your own with an interactive tablet at fixed times or navigate a small section of The Ruien by boat. Go to www.deruien.be). I have this on top of my list for a return visit to Antwerp.
Antwerp was apparently spared bombing in World War II. As a result, we can still marvel at the City Hall, which dates from 1560, and a magnificent square ringed with Guild Houses, one for each guild and each with its own decoration.
The square has as its center the Silvius Brabo statue, a mythical Roman soldier. According to legend, Corrie relates, a giant, Druon Antigoon, who lived on river, would demand a toll from people who wanted to pass the bridge over the river Scheldt. If they refused, the giant would cut off their hand and throw it into the river. Brabo killed the giant, cut off his hand and threw it into the river. This is supposed to have been the origin of the city’s name, Antwerp, translated as “hand throw.”
We walk over to the Cathedral of Our Lady, built 1550-1800 in Gothic style. The belfry, 1339 meters high is included in the Belfries of Belgium and France list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The cathedral possesses some major works of art: including three major works by Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens (two of which were confiscated by Napoleon and moved to France but returned to the Cathedral in the 19th century).
We get back on our bikes and ride to where our ship, the Princesse Royal, is tied up at the dock, and walk a few blocks away to the Red Star Museum, which BoatBikeTours has arranged for us to visit.
This is a fascinating museum that is a kind of bookend to our Ellis Island Immigration Museum in New York City. Indeed, Ellis Island is where 2 million Europeans who boarded the Red Star Lines at Antwerp to come to America would have wound up. But this museum does more – it tells the age-old story of migration through individual people, going back to the Neanderthal, and why migration is such a fundamental quality of being human.
The commentary doesn’t shy away from condemning phrases (that are factually true) – for example, describing the brutal, impoverished conditions these desperate people were escaping, or taken by force as slaves, or fleeing persecution, and up to modern day anti-immigrant policies and speech that has lead to the plight of so many undocumented immigrants.
Between 1892 and 1954, 12 million immigrants came through Ellis Island, with a whopping 1,004,756 entering the United States in 1907 alone. Of these, only 2% were turned away (and if were sent back, it was at Red Star’s expense, which is why, we learn, the line was so very scrupulous with their own medical evaluations)
Anti-immigrant fervor took hold in the United States after World War I; the Great Depression, effectively brought an end to migration to America. By then, almost 20 million Europeans had emigrated to America – settling the West, populating the factories of new Industrial cities. The Red Star Line ceased sailing in 1934.
The exhibits are candid about the difference in how the wealthy traveled in such luxury and style compared to those in steerage. You get to see how passengers in different classes were treated – ‘livid’ – don’t disguise how tough steerage was (but compared to what leaving?). The inescapable conclusion that steerage class was actually key to the company’s revenue and profit.
The exhibits are remarkably personal. It is amazing to see these old photos and recognize the buildings, to see postcards, passports, ID papers, and personal effects.
What I loved most is the display on the first floor which so vividly conveys the central theme: there has always been migration, from beginning of man – and they personalize with one representative person for each era – even Neanderthal.
They show what compels migration in a honest way.
Interestingly, for many, Antwerp became their final stop and today there are some 170 nationalities in Antwerp (another similarity to New York City). You can see it in the faces of school children on their outings, in restaurants that represent all nationalities.-Vietnam, Indonesia, Argentina, Italy, France.
This is the evening we are on our own for dinner. (I miss out on visiting the Red Building, which houses an important museum, but even though it is closed, you can take escalators up eight floors to see the photos of people, old and young, then climb two stories higher to the top for a view.
I go off to wander Antwerp myself and on my way back to the ship, find myself in Antwerp’s Red Light District.
I have a story to tell when we are all back on board.
The Oklahoma couple says they wound up at a French restaurant, Bistro de Pottenbrug. They saw steak on the menu and wind up feasting on flattened pig heads, escargots, eel soup in creamy base.
“On this trip,” Lindsey says, “I decided instead of saying ‘no,’ to say ‘yes’.”
She asks what others’ weirdest meals have been: Anne’s weird meal – bone marrow from buffalo; Janet’s was fish eye. Lindsey says, “Last night’s pressed pig head – but it could have been marketed better.”
What is so notable about Antwerp, which is still a major industrial city, is that in one view, you can see dozens of wind turbines, coal being shipped, even a nuclear plant billowing smoke, which we see as we sail out of Antwerp the next morning.
Antwerp is really worth a longer stay. The Antwerp City Card provides free entrance to the city’s top museums, churches, attractions and public transport; as well as some great discounts (www.visitantwerpen.be/en/antwerp-city-card).
We leave Belgium and continue on into The Netherlands.
By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
I have been wanting to do this bike tour from Bruges to Amsterdam (or reverse) for years, and like so many having come out of the trauma of a global pandemic, decided not to it put off any longer, but seize the day! I booked with BoatBikeTours.com.
Besides offering a great biking route, the eight-day/seven-night trip is by boat – so your room (and stuff) floats along with you (in fact, we see our boat frequently from the bike trail). The boat itself provides other marvelous experiences – a couple of afternoons relaxing (there’s even a hot tub!) while watching the gorgeous scenery go by, and the camaraderie on the ship. (Even better, as it turns out, the boat meets us to pick us up on two afternoons when a thunderstorm is expected).
I am surprised at how many Americans there are on this biketrip since BoatBikeTours is based in the Netherlands, but I am sure the other Americans, who are in the majority on this trip, are as delighted as I am in finding this bike tour operator.
The Europeans include a couple and a group of four from England and a family of four from Dresden (where I had just visited) which adds to the pleasure of this trip. The Americans come from all over – Oklahoma (who protest that they are not like those rabidly red Oklahomans), Michigan (actually Holland, Michigan), Seattle, Washington, Idaho, Colorado, California, New York. (Two couples who were expected had to cancel for COVID.)
Each evening, our guides Corrie Stein and Arnold Thurkow – as pleasant and personable as they are expert leaders – discuss what we will see and do on the next day’s ride, and typically, there is a short option for the longer ride.
Everything we experience is exactly as it is presented in the brochure – which is saying a lot. Each day is an absolute delight in every respect, and my longtime dream is realized even better than I imagined it would be.
We are quickly introduced to the fabulous bike trails, paths, roadways that we will follow from Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp all the way to Amsterdam in this most bicycle-friendly region of the world, where biking is a predominant culture. In fact, it seems we see more bikes than cars in the course of our trip.
We cycle through gorgeously scenic – and flat –western Flanders region of Belgium, famous for its medieval towns and castles, and Dutch countryside of Zeeland, a big river delta of the Rhine, Meuse and Scheldt Rivers. Among the highlights: we see Ghent by canal boat, tour the fascinating Red Star Line immigration museum in Antwerp, explore the iconic UNESCO World Heritage Dutch windmills of Kinderdijk, visit an artist’s gallery in a tiny village, and tour a Dutch cheese farm.
And then there are the serendipitous experiences – like the downpour while we lunch in a barn with cows and goats, and biking back to the boat from Dordrecht at night, our bike lights making us look like a line of fireflies, a highlight for everybody. We find something of interest around every bend, in towns, villages and landscapes you would otherwise never see – Dendermonde, St. Amands, Tholen, Breukelen (immigrants from here settled Brooklyn!).
In between cycling excursions, we cruise along these lovely canals and rivers, the scenery absolutely gorgeous. Each place we dock, we are able to get off and with marvelous narration by Corrie and Arnold that adds immeasurably to the experience.
Importantly for me, we generally spend sufficient time in places to get a sense of them – I don’t feel hurried away – like when we visit the Kinderdijk windmills and Antwerp (though this is a city I would definitely come back to, to really explore). Our route takes us passed privately owned castles (just look, don’t visit), a very unexpected farm museum, a Canadian soldiers’ war cemetery.
Our ship, the Princesse Royal, is extremely pleasant – just the right size, marvelous fun and comfortable for our travel.
Its hull is constructed along the lines of a seagoing sailing vessel, giving it a somewhat unique shape, but the vessel has been converted to a passenger barge for inland waterways. The boat was restyled and refurbished in 2010 and during the winter of 2012-3, extended by 14 meters. There is a very pleasant dining room/lounge area as well as outdoor seating area (even a hot tub!). There is even WiFi (free).
The Princesse Royal, which sails under the Dutch flag and management, plies the inland waterways of the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany with an crew of seven, led by Roy van der Veen who is the owner and captain of the ship and not above hauling in lines himself; a mate, a chef, housekeeper, host and two tour leaders. The crew all speak Dutch, English and German.
The Princesse Royal accommodates 33 passengers in 16 comfortably appointed cabins. All cabins have portholes (which are fixed for safety reasons), shower, toilet, a washing bin, individually regulated air conditioning, flat screen TV (satellite), 220/230 Volt electric sockets, a small safe and hair dryer. The cabins are cleaned daily.
The meals are marvelous and wonderfully served – breakfast is a buffet with some special hot item each day and a selection of items laid out for us to pack a lunch to take along. In the evening the chef serves a three-course dinner – surprisingly exotic and diverse, always extremely flavorful, substantial and healthy. Though we don’t get a choice of entrée, accommodations are made for dietary restrictions with advance notice; more strict diets are accommodated at an additional charge. One evening (during our overnight stop in Antwerp), dinner is on our own (our guides offer helpful recommendations).
Coffee and tea are available all day long (there is a very sophisticated coffee maker). In addition, there is a bar serving beer, red and white wine and various kind of liquors which does a brisk business (they keep a tab that is paid in cash at the end of the trip).
It is important to also emphasize that travelling by small ship and bike is one of the most sustainable, responsible ways to travel, with the least adverse impact on environment or community, while also providing the economic wherewithal to sustain the heritage we have come to see. The tour company notes that wastewater is collected in a separate tank that is regularly emptied; we are provided a water bottle to refill with tap water (all the ship’s water is filtered) and we are given paper bags instead of plastic to wrap our lunch. In addition, the company makes a carbon offset payment to the non-profit organization Justdiggit.
Each day, we are given written cue card directions, as well as have the opportunity to download RideGPS to our smartphones (it operates just like your car GPS, with a map and voice navigation and a means of using it off-line). But there is no need, because we follow our leader (one of us volunteers to be the sweep), though I enjoy following our progress on the cue sheets.
We are also supplied with helmet, waterproof pannier bag, water bottle, and the tour includes the fees for ferries.
I’ve done some hard trails – like the five miles up Cadillac Mountain Road in Arcadia National Park last summer on Discovery Bicycle’s Coastal Maine (you’d think “coastal” meant flat, well you’d be wrong, but this part of the ride was optional); South Dakota’s Badlands and Black Hills with Wilderness Voyageurs which featured a five-mile straight up the road in Custer State Park; Albania with BikeTours (I had an e-bike for the first time, which opened a whole new dimension).
I was in the mood for something more relaxing and the Bruges-Amsterdam bike/boat trip is exactly that. Not only the comfort (and fun!) of being on the boat, but the itinerary is absolutely perfect – especially for first-time biketour goers, for families, and those looking for the most picturesque route you could imagine, with options for shorter or longer rides. And this route is incredibly flat and easy – the only “hills” involved riding over bridges – so that our 7-speed hybrid bikes are more than sufficient.
The daily rides are absolutely perfect – constantly scenic, endlessly interesting, very fun. Biking is the best – bringing you through villages, neighborhoods, even to people’s backyards and discovering places and their interesting stories – like Dendermonde, St. Amands, Tholen, Vianen, Dordrecht – that you otherwise would be unlikely to discover. You travel at a pace so you can really enjoy the view – slow enough to really observe, fast enough so there is an endless change in scene, almost like a movie. And you can stop for a photo or just to take it all in. And then there is the physical pleasure of biking – the endorphins that get revved up, the fresh air.
And everybody bikes in Belgium and the Netherlands (I’m told Utrecht has the largest bike parking lot in the world, accommodating 12,500 bikes but the one at Amsterdam’s Central Station is the most enormous I’ve ever encountered). You’d see a guy coming toward you looking like he was riding the Tour de France and realize as he sped by he was a wrinkled old yet incredibly fit man; little kids bike; families had their kids in Bakfiets (literally translates as “box bike,” a popular cargo bike that the Dutch use to carry almost anything, including children) from place to place.
The trails, paths, roads, and segregated bikeways, with their own traffic signs and signals and traffic-calming systems that keep shared roads safe for cyclists, add to the absolute delight and sense of security so you can just enjoy the scene. In fact, cycling accidents are rare – the Dutch don’t even use helmets.
Everything is set up for bikes. And the rules of the road are very specific. On our first afternoon Arnold reviews all the different signs and signals (shark teeth pointing at you means “take care, give priority to traffic”). “Don’t assume,” Arnold tells us finally. “Look in the eyes of the driver, if he stops and waves you through. Don’t take the right of way. Give it.”
Our first night’s dinner sets the table for the rest: the first course is shrimp fried in garlic and white wine; the main course is pork fillet with red wine sauce, green beans, zucchini, potato au gratin; and dessert is a puff pastry with vanilla cream.
It is followed by Corrie and Arnold leading us on a walking tour of Bruges which we enjoy measurably.
The next morning, we set out. Today’s ride takes us from Bruges to Ghent, 35 miles.
Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
When I finally reach the summit of Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park’s highest point at 1500 ft., having huffed, puffed and sweated my way by bike up the 3.5 mile long, ever-rising winding road, little kids come up with amazement. “We passed you on the road. You rode up here!” I must confess to beam with pride while also taking in the view. Looking down to the ocean, Bar Harbor and the Bar Harbor Inn at sea level where we started our ride some 20 miles and several hours earlier, I realize, “Wait a minute, We rode from there!” (In fact, the ride is mostly uphill from mile 12 to 20) The view is amazing, but having that physical, mental achievement is all the more satisfying.
That is what a bike tour is. The scenery, the attractions, the things you see and do are all amazing, but when you bike, there is that added component of being physically and mentally engaged.
Biking up Cadillac Mountain is the pinnacle of Discovery Bicycle Tour’s six-day Coast of Maine bike tour – and a peak of personal accomplishment – but each day presents its own series of highlights and delights. After all, this is Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park on Maine’s Mount Desert Island, with one of the prettiest seacoasts anywhere. The daily itineraries are outstanding – each day’s route so carefully designed for a great ride, interesting attractions, gorgeous scenery.
This means we ride at our own pace, stop for photos or take a breath, take in the view, hike a trail, or just smell the roses. The guides never pressure you to keep with the group or finish the ride at a certain time. One of the two guides rides sweep to make sure everyone is okay, and the other drives the van along the route (where possible). They make every accommodation for riders, so when feasible, even shuttling some to the top of a slope, or on one day, starting three miles further. The two toughest climbs – Day Mountain and Cadillac Mountain are optional.
Another aspect of the way Discovery designs its itinerary is that it adds a lovely mix of other activities to round out the experience: a sunset sail on the historic schooner, Mary Todd; sea kayaking, a hike (we choose to walk across the land bridge at low tide to Bar Island) and on our last morning, they arrange a 4:30 a.m. drive up Cadillac Mountain in the van (you have to get a reservation to drive up Cadillac) for the sunrise, considered one of the primo-supremo experiences in Acadia. (Unfortunately for me, I miss out when my phone dies and I miss the alarm, but I awake just as the sun is rising out my window and dash down to the Shore Path.)
Both our guides, Cindy Burke and Tom Walsh are long-time veterans and particularly of this Coast of Maine itinerary, and filled us with marvelous insights into the history and people of the island, as well as point out specific parts of that day’s ride. And they have a particular challenge, having to re-jigger the rides inside Acadia after June storms forced the closure of the Eagle Lake carriage roads.
Being able to ride at our own pace is key. At the most popular Acadia sights and overlooks – like Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, Bubble Pond, Cadillac Mountain (where cars now need a timed reservation even to drive up), I can just get off my bike and strut over and spend as much time as I like, as when I wait and wait to try to get a photo of a whale’s geyser-like burst of water we spot offshore at Thunder Hole (at high tide, it is said to sound like thunder, but Cindy says most of the time it is a gurgle). Or when I just stop along the road to watch a lobsterman collect the lobsters, throwing back the ones that did not meet the rigid bigger-than-3.5-inches-and-smaller-than-5-inches regulations, and when I just want to get a better image of the stacks of lobster traps and realize Tom is waiting patiently (no judgment!) on the road until I continue the ride.
On our first day, we are encouraged to arrive by 1 pm for an orientation, getting fitted to our bikes, and then an optional 9.9-mile “Schooner Head Overlook Warm-up Ride” on the Park Loop Road in Acadia – except that it is raining. We decide to do it anyway and even when the rain becomes a real downpour, it is wonderful fun (and so fantastic to go into the Bar Harbor Inn’s heated pool and hot tub after). And it shows us, yes, we can ride hills in the rain!
For our Day 2 ride, we are ferried in the van to the start at Seal Cove Auto Museum, where they have pre-arranged our admission. I walk in and am completely enthralled. The museum has an outstanding collection that includes automobiles that are the last of their kind (a 1913 Peugeot is worth $3-5 million; a 1905 Pierce Great Arrow is very rare). But what makes the visit even more fascinating is its special exhibit, “Engines of Change: A Suffrage Centennial.”
Here I learn that Bertha Benz, inventor, business partner and wife of Karl Benz, got fed up with her husband’s endless tinkering so on August 5, 1888, grabbed her children and became the first person to drive an automobile over a long distance (65 miles), field testing the Benz Patent-Motorwagen. Her trip brought worldwide attention for the vehicle and got the company its first sales. (We actually see the 1886 Benz Patent-Motorwagen in the exhibit.)
The notes for the exhibit are fabulous: “In 1873, Harvard doctor Edward Clarke claimed that stimulating a woman’s brain would enfeeble her reproductive organs. Later, when automobiles were invented, it was a common belief that they were far too complicated for women to operate.”
Indeed, by giving women mobility, independence and an opportunity to demonstrate their capability, bicycles and automobiles were the “engines of change” that directly resulted in liberating women and winning the right to vote. Indeed, automobiles were even used in petition drives (we see examples of these cars and photos in the exhibit).
“Before 1900, few women would have had Bertha Benz’s access to an automobile. They did, however, gain greater geographic freedom through the invention of the safety bicycle in the 1880s…Early suffrage leaders credited the bicycle with doing more for women’s emancipation than anything else in the world. Women could more easily go beyond the limited areas where they could walk. This glimpse of a larger world appealed to many women and paved the way for embracing the automobile.”
“A girl who rides a wheel is lifted out of herself and her surroundings,” Ellen B. Parkhurst wrote ca. 1890. (Bicycles also paved the way for new, liberating fashion – bloomers, bicycle pants, and pants that converted to a skirt.)
“The bicycle did more for woman’s equality than anything” and automobiles further bolstered that. On the other hand, the notes say, “the 1917 Spanish flu almost put suffrage out of business.
Meanwhile, automobiles were designed to appeal to women – the electric automobile was clean, noiseless, and slow, versus the fast, loud, gasoline cars oriented to men. (Seal Cove Auto Museum, 1414 Tremond Road, Seal Cove, Maine, 207-244-9242, sealcoveautomuseum.org).
I spend a fair amount of time in the museum before heading out for the day’s mile ride, which takes us to charming coastal villages. A stunning scene is at Thurston’s Lobster Pound.
Another highlight is the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, the only lighthouse within Acadia National Park (one of the most photographed in Maine). I walk a beautiful trail to a rocky area below the lighthouse where you have to scramble over the boulders to get any view at all of the Lighthouse (the best view here would have been to get further down to the water, but it starts to rain again).
I continue riding, stopping to hike the Ship Harbor trail, pass by the Wonderland Trail, and ride into the scenic Seawall picnic area, where, we are told, Nor’easters have been so powerful, they spray the rocks onto the road.
Our ride ends in charming Southwest Harbor, where the van returns us to the Bar Harbor Inn.
Almost all the rides include Acadia on the Park Loop road and on the marvelous carriage trails.
Built so that horses pulling carriages would not be strained (we even see one of the carriages as it returns to the stables in the park), much like rail-trails, they are not particularly steep but are a bit steeper and hillier than rail-trails. A good portion of the rides are also on the roads which can have longer, somewhat steeper climbs.
There are 45 miles of gravel carriage trails in Acadia – the gift of philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr. who wanted to travel on motor-free byways through the mountains and valleys by horse and carriage. Today, the opportunity to bike through forest is one of Acadia’s special draws.
Constructed between 1913-40, the roads were designed to preserve the line of hillsides and save trees, align with the contours of the lands, and take advantage of scenic views – hence the ups and the downs. Some 16 feet wide, they are in the style of broken-stone roads commonly used at the turn of the 20th century. Tom points out the magnificent architecture of the stone bridges that span streams, waterfalls, motor roads and cliff sides (there are 17 of them), the two gorgeous gate lodges, and the granite coping stones used as guardrails that line the roads (which Rockefeller complained were too precise, not natural enough), affectionately nicknamed “Rockefeller’s teeth.”
Tom and Cindy had to re-jigger rides almost on the fly because sections of the carriage roads (notably the Eagle Lake carriage roads) they normally ride are closed for re-construction after a major June storm (but we hardly noticed, though I had to almost sneak through a barrier to get a photo of picturesque Eagle Lake). Of the 47 miles of carriage roads, Tom estimates we bike almost half. (I try to imagine how I would have figured out where to go in Acadia without their route maps that say, “Sharp left onto Around-Mountain Carriage Road, Post #14. Stay right at Post #1, right at Post #20, left at Post #19, right at Post #18, Left on Post #13, Left on Post #11, straight at Number #6”)
Day 3’s ride also begins with us being ferried to the start – on the “quiet side” of Mount Desert Island, for a delightful ride along the scenic coastal Sargeant’s Drive, passing lovely “cottages” into Northeast Harbor, a quick visit to the Asticou Azalea Gardens before we enter Arcadia National Park and ride the Carriage Roads. We get to the renowned Jordan Pond House (famous for popovers, but the crowds are ridiculous) and here we can choose to take an 8.2 mile extension to Day Mountain, with a 694-foot elevation. (No one does the extension because there is some possibility of rain.)
Wednesday, Day 4, breaks up biking with a sensational day of kayaking and hiking. National Park Sea Kayak Tours does a marvelous job. We kayak about 6.5 miles, spotting harbor seals, porpoise, loons, bald eagles, and are back just in time for low tide which lets us walk the land bridge to Bar Island. (There is something very magical about a land bridge appearing every day, then disappearing back under the water, especially so when as we return, fog rolls in, blanketing the scene.). Walking back to the Bar Harbor Hotel, you see the same image as depicted in the historic photos, from the 1940s.
Day 6 (Friday), which is the getaway day, offers a mild 10-mile ride on the Duck Brook Carriage Roads, passing beaver ponds and the scenic Eagle Lake. I take my time, really taking in the landscapes.
But before, they have organized a ride up to Cadillac Mountain for sunrise, which means meeting at the van by 4:30 am (my phone dies and I miss the wake-up, but get up on my own at 5 am for sunrise, so walk along the shore path).
We have enough time each afternoon to really enjoy the historic Bar Harbor Inn (it dates from 1887), which hands down has to be one of my very favorite places to stay in Bar Harbor – luxurious but cozy, exquisitely landscaped, a stunning (heated) infinity pool with one of the prettiest views in the world, a spa, a dining room with picture windows out to the water where we have lavish breakfasts (and a choice to have continental-style breakfast in the pool house), magnificently poised on the point overlooking Frenchman Bay and the Shore Path, walking distance to Bar Harbor’s shops and restaurants, and all our rooms are oceanfront with a balcony (www.barharborinn.com).
Bar Harbor is bustling – some say it is the busiest summer in this popular tourist town since perhaps forever with people making up for last year and not taking a chance on putting off experiences – but we just breeze passed the crowds and the line of cars. Well, maybe “breeze pass” is an exaggeration. We pedal passed at whatever speed we can muster or choose. Also, because our lodging (in the absolutely gorgeous Bar Harbor Inn) and dinner reservations are booked well in advance, we have both when it is obvious that others, traveling on their own, do not.
Cindy, who is a history buff, regales us with wonderful insights into the places we ride: The interesting, if disturbing, history of American Indians on Mount Desert, the Wabanaki (“People of the Dawnland”), consisting of four distinct tribes—the Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy and Penobscot – who had come seasonally to Mount Desert Island for 12,000 years to hunt, fish, harvest clams, berries and sweetgrass for basket-weaving. In the early 1900s, they had encampments on Bar Island and at West Harbor and sold baskets and goods and performed as Western Indians for tourists at the hotels. “They were allowed to stay because they had stuff the whites wanted,” Cindy says. She recommends visiting the Abbe Museum, which has a partnership with the Smithsonian Institution and holds the largest and best documented collection of Maine Indian basketry and contemporary Wabanaki craft tradition (abbemuseum.org). (I regret not having the time to visit.)
And before we head out on the Day 5 ride, which starts with a turn onto Schooner Head Road, Cindy tells the story of a woman who perished on Titanic. Her house, High Seas, on Schooner Head Road, may be haunted, Cindy says, relating her personal experience.
Everything about the Discovery Bicycle tour is topnotch – on three nights, we enjoy wonderful dinners in some of Bar Harbor’s best restaurants and for two of our rides, we are provided box lunches we pre-ordered to take with us.
The ride is billed as “easier to intermediate,” but it is best if you do not expect the rides to be easy or expect that “coastal Maine” has anything “flat.” There are lots of ups and downs – mostly short – and the rides are definitely do-able if you have the right mental framework (“I can do it.”) and the guides do their best to accommodate riders’ ability.
Coast of Maine is a particularly relaxing bike tour – because as much as I enjoy inn-to-inn (or supported camping trips) so that every day you are moving forward to a new destination, this trip spends all the nights at the Bar Harbor Inn. That means we don’t have to pack up each morning to get our luggage out to the van and no matter how thoroughly wet we get, we can luxuriate and relax in a heated infinity pool and hot tub. (Boat/bike tours have the best of both worlds).
A bike tour is also one of the best ways to enjoy traveling in these times of concern over COVID-19.
Notably, Thistle Cone surveyed all the tour participants as to our COVID-19 vaccine status and reported back to us that we were all fully vaccinated (which I appreciated knowing). A bike tour also maximizes our time out of doors, socially distanced; our hotel rooms all had our own access and really, the only times we were gathered together inside was for breakfast (if we chose), the morning meeting and the dinners in restaurants, which, notably, were also following COVID restrictions of distancing and capacity.
They are also monitoring and reacting to changes in conditions, for example, recently asking guests to wear masks in the van and where social distancing isn’t practical. “The good news is that your tour deposits are completely refundable (with no penalties for changes) until the final payment date. So you can reserve with confidence.”
There are still several departures of the Coast of Maine bike tour this season.
Also, Discovery Bicycle Tours offers what may be the first to design an itinerary on New York State’s new Empire State Trail, from the tip of Manhattan to Albany (the trail continues north to the Canadian border, and connects with the 353-mile east-west Erie Canalway).
In addition, Discovery has bike tours to Cape Cod; Idaho; Mickelson Trail & Black Hills, South Dakota; Tucson & Saguaro National Park; Lake Champlain Islands; Crater Lake & Scenic Bikeways; Texas Hill Country; as well as abroad including Bike & Barge Moselle River; Catalonia Trails; Chile’s Lakes & Volcanoes; Cotswolds & Stonehenge; and New Zealand Trails.
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, when so much was locked down and out of reach, New York State parks and outdoors were a godsend, providing needed respite. Indeed, the state’s parks received a record number of visitors, even as measures were in place to control capacity. And throughout the year, the state consistently made improvements and found ways to be available to more people.
The improvements are part of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s NY Parks 100 initiative, which renews the historic commitment to investing and expanding the State Park system by committing at least $440 million over the next four years.
“This critical period of revitalization will culminate in the 2024 celebration of the 100th anniversary of the State Park Act, which first created our nation-leading State Park system in 1924 under Governor Al Smith. NY Parks 100 will continue crucial investments in park infrastructure while enhancing opportunities to reach the full range of New York State’s recreational and cultural offerings, including local parks and trails, regional flagship parks and historic sites, and vast wilderness parks. The initiative will focus on creating places to recreate locally, relieving overcrowded parks, welcoming new visitors, and protecting New York State’s environmental and historic legacy. This new plan will ensure people from all communities and across all ages and abilities can fully experience our outdoors, our culture, and our heritage,” the state said.
Here are some of the improvements that will welcome visitors this year:
New York State has formed a new public-private partnership for a new tent camping service with 45 sites at four State Parks in the Hudson Valley. Tentrr’s fully outfitted campsites are available to reserve at the Sebago and Silver Mine areas of Harriman State Park in Orange and Rockland Counties; Taconic State Park and Lake Taghkanic State Park in Columbia County; and Mills-Norrie State Park in Dutchess County.
The service provides tents, sleeping accommodations and an array of equipment needed for camping at each site. All items are set up and ready to use upon arrival for added convenience and sites are maintained by Tentrr staff.
All locations include a 10-foot by 12-foot, canvas-walled tent atop a raised platform. Each site is outfitted with a queen-sized bed and memory foam mattress, a propane heating source, a solar-powered “sun” shower, a camp toilet, water container, Adirondack chairs, a fire pit, grill, and a picnic table with storage and benches.
Guests have the option of single, double, and triple sites. Singles sleep up to six (two occupants in the main tent and four occupants in a provided pop-up tent). Double sites – or buddy sites – sleep up to 12 (two occupants in each of the two main tents and four occupants in each of the two provided pop-up tents) and triples can accommodate group camping.
Sites are $135 per night, with a portion going toward the maintenance and stewardship of New York State Parks.
While Tentrr’s sites are naturally socially distanced, Tentrr adheres to state guidelines for maintaining and sanitizing the sites. Tentrr will continue to keep sites clean and wiped down with high-grade sanitizers and encourages guests to follow recommended COVID requirements and protocols. For more details on Tentrr’s COVID-19 protocols, visit here.
To make a reservation, visit tentrr.com/nysp. Reservations can be made up to six months in advance.
Through the Reimagine the Canals initiative, Camp Rockaway, a New York State based outdoor excursion company, is managing the site at Lock C-5 on the Champlain Canal in Schuylerville between Memorial Day weekend and September 8, with possible extension through early October. The glamping site will offer vacationing New Yorkers an opportunity to experience the vast history and bucolic landscapes of one of New York’s oldest canalside communities by enjoying luxury camping on the banks of the Canal.
Reservations are now being accepted for a glamping experience on the Champlain Canal that will attract visitors to the State’s historic upper Hudson Valley and boost the local economy that is still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.
This new glamping experience is the latest innovation from Governor Cuomo’s $300 million Reimagine the Canals initiative that is revitalizing the Canal corridor as a tourism and recreation destination while simultaneously boosting economic development and the resiliency of canalside communities.
Parks & Trails NY is offering its sensational eight-day, 400-mile biking adventure along the Erie Canalway for a 23rd year in 2021, after a hiatus in 2020. Riders will leave Buffalo July 11 and reach Albany on July 18. Registration is open for spots, limited this year to 350.
The route follows the legendary Erie Canal passing locks and aqueducts and winding through historic villages and rural farmlands. Over the course of the eight days, cyclists enjoy stunning pastoral scenes, fascinating history extending 400 years in which the story of how America came to be unfolds, and some of the best cycling in the United States. Covering between 40 and 60 miles per day, cyclists travel along the Erie Canalway Trail, which is now more than 85 percent complete and the east-west axis of the statewide 750-mile Empire State Trail.
Designed as a supported camping trip, accommodations are provided with showers, toilet facilities, some with pools or lakes for swimming; eight breakfasts and six dinners; two daily refreshment stops along the route; evening entertainment including music and historical presentations; guided tours of the Canal, historic sites, museums and other attractions including the Women’s Rights National Historic Park, Erie Canal Museum and Village, Fort Stanwix National Monument and a boat tour through the Lockport locks; kick-off reception and end-of-tour celebration; Cycle the Erie Canal t-shirt; baggage transport; SAG wagon and mobile mechanical support; daily maps and cue sheets; painted and arrowed routes; pre-departure info packet including training tips. Other amenities available (at additional fee) include fresh daily towels, gourmet morning coffee, tent and air mattress rental and set up (for those who don’t want to pitch their own tent).
With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the safety of riders, volunteers, staff, vendors, and local community members is at the forefront of planning. With this in mind, the tour is limited to 350 participants and volunteers; all registrations will be for the full eight-day option; and to keep everyone safe and meet state and local COVID-19 regulations, registration fees have increased this year.
The price up until June 7 is $1200/adult, $650 youth (6-17); $290 child (5 and under); shuttle is $100.
The PTNY coordinators are following the guidance from New York State, and will be prepared to follow all regulations in place in July. Registrants will be notified of any updates or changes. Visit New York State’s COVID-19 Travel Advisory to stay abreast of restrictions that might impact your travel plans.
Can’t do the Parks & Trails NY’s Cycle the Erie ride? Among the bike tour companies offering the trip, Wilderness Voyageurs offers a self-guided inn-to-inn tour (https://wilderness-voyageurs.com) and Classic Adventures (https://classicadventures.com/) and Womantours (www.womantours.com) offer guided itineraries.
Another way to enjoy the Erie Canal is by boat – and bring a bike along. Erie Canal Adventures’ fleet of 11 custom-designed Lockmasters sail from Macedon, near Rochester, NY, and with enough time, you can cruise some 200 miles from Buffalo to Lake Oneida in Syracuse along the canal. Besides sailing along the Erie Canal (as far as , you can also sail on other waterways, taking spurs south to the Finger Lakes, or north up the Oswego canal to Lake Ontario. Erie Canal Adventures, 315-986-3011, www.eriecanaladventures.com.
With all these marvelous ways to enjoy the Canalway, the trail system was more popular in 2020 than any prior year, according to the 2020 Who’s on the Trail report from PTNY and the NYS Canal Corporation. The system saw a record 4.2 million visits in 2020, with 3.97 million visits made to the 360-mile Erie Canalway Trail between Albany and Buffalo and 288,000 visitsto the 90-mile Champlain Canalway Trail between Waterford and Whitehall.
And now, the 353-mile long Erie Canalway, from Buffalo to Albany is linked and part of the state’s Empire Trail Network – 750 miles of interconnected off-road and on-road biking and recreational trails and lanes from the tip of Manhattan to the Canadian border.
Empire State Trail Open
New York’s ambitious Empire State Trail, now the nation’s longest multi-use state trail, is now fully opened. The trail network spans 750-miles total, 75 percent of which is off-road trails ideal for cyclists, hikers, runners, cross-country skiers and snow-shoers. The new recreational trail means you can go from New York City north-south through the Hudson and Champlain Valley to Canada, and east-west from Albany to Buffalo along the Erie Canal on a safe and incredibly scenic pathway, discovering fascinating historic and cultural sites along the way.
The Empire State Trail website provides quick and easy access to trail information including segment descriptions, access points, trail distances, parking areas, restrooms, and nearby amenities and attractions. The website’s responsive and user-friendly design allows users to access interactive maps from mobile devices, zoom in to specific location of interest, and download/print maps of trail segments. Cyclists can print “cue sheets” with highly detailed directions for following a selected trail segment. The site also features information about the variety of activitiesand destinations on or near the trail such as campgrounds, parks, historic sites, and popular stops among the local communities. (empiretrail.ny.gov/)
To promote the opening of the Empire State Trail, the state has formed a partnership with the nationally-known Boilermaker race to create the “Empire State Trail Challenge” virtual race where participants can register and log their miles to reach milestones tied to virtual progress along the Empire State Trail, through July 31.
Participants can register now and begin logging their miles walking, running or cycling. Participants would complete the mileage of at least one leg of the Empire State Trail: either the Hudson Valley Trail: 210 miles (New York City to Albany); the Erie Canalway Trail: 350 miles (Albany to Buffalo); or the Champlain Valley: 190 miles (Albany to Canada Border at Rouses Point). Participants can sign up as teams or individuals. For more information or to register, visit the website.
Although people are encouraged to the explore the actual Empire State Trail, participants can run, walk, or ride anywhere geographically, on local trails and running/bicycling routes near where they live to log and complete the challenge.
Each entrant receives a t-shirt with their $25 entrance fee for a single leg of the trail. If interested, participants can register for additional legs at the time of registration or any time during the race period at $5 per leg. Challenge participants will enter their mileage on an online platform over the duration of the race window, reaching milestones tied to virtual progress along the Empire State Trail, and have the ability to share their experiences on social media.
State Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid said, “The Empire State Trail Challenge is one of the ways we are building back better at our state parks and trails. Our parks and trails have been safe and healthy outlets for everyone during the pandemic. Whether enjoying a fun nature break with friends and family, or truly testing their limits, the Empire State Trail Challenge offers participants of all ages and abilities a rewarding and socially distanced opportunity to enjoy New York’s outdoors.”
The Empire State Trail website provides quick and easy access to trail information along the 750-mile route including segment descriptions and an on-line map identifying off-road trails connecting on-road sections, trail distances, designated parking areas, restrooms, and nearby amenities and attractions. (https://empiretrail.ny.gov/)
Discovery Bicycle Tour on Empire State Trail
Here is what well may be the first bike touring company to come out with a guided, inn-to-inn trip along the recently completed north-south section of the Empire State Trail in New York State: Discovery Bicycle Tours’ has introduced a six-day itinerary that rides from the very tip of Manhattan, to Albany.
The six-day trip rides 200 miles of the newly completed Empire State Trail, which actually extends 750 miles from Manhattan to Canada and from Buffalo to Albany.
The Discovery Bicycle Tour goes through a wide variety of landscapes in New York State. Cycle passed the Freedom Tower and Manhattan skyscrapers, through forests, along lakes and rivers, with a triumphant finish in Albany, the state capital. You can be one of the first to enjoy this full section of the newly finished Empire State Trail, which allows cyclists to traverse the state almost entirely on dedicated hike/bike paths and routes.
Many miles are on dedicated rail-trail. And the riding is fairly flat with gentle hills. Look for vistas of the Catskill and Shawangunk mountains as you follow the gorgeous Hudson River Valley — favorite subject of Hudson River School landscape painters in the mid-1800s. As a bonus, you cycle across the Walkway Over the Hudson, the world’s longest elevated pedestrian bridge, and the iconic Rosendale Trestle.
Rated Level 1 (easier), daily cycling mileage ranges from 28 to 47 miles.
Accommodations are in casual and historic inns and a stylish boutique bed-and-breakfast.
The tour includes: 5 nights’ lodging, 5 breakfasts, 3 lunches, 4 dinners (you are on your own for 1 dinner in Rhinebeck), cycling routes with detailed maps and/or app-based navigation for those interested, plus bicycle, helmet, tour guides and van support, free week-long parking for guest cars in Hawthorne, NY. Free transfer on final day to either the Rensselaer Train Station (Albany) or take the van transit back to Hawthorne.
Meanwhile, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that the state has acquired 1,263 acres of land in the Warren County town of Johnsburg in the southern Adirondacks. The parcel includes Huckleberry Mountain, an elongated peak that tops 2,400 feet, with spectacular cliffs on the ridge’s south and southwest face.
“Through the Environmental Protection Fund, New York State continues to invest in land acquisitions that conserve open space and preserve the natural beauty of this great state for future generations to visit and enjoy,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said. “Preservation of the spectacular Huckleberry Mountain lands will benefit the region for generations to come, providing new opportunities for visitors to explore the outdoors.”
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation purchased this property from the Open Space Institute for $770,000 using resources from the State’s Environmental Protection Fund. Permanent conservation of this land will enhance recreational access in the region and offers opportunities to connect New Yorkers with nature, protect crucial watersheds, and improve important wildlife habitat in this part of the Adirondack Park. The newly protected land adjoins Wilcox Lake Wild Forest, which includes Crane Mountain, a popular, publicly accessible mountain peak that also provides access to exceptional cliffs for climbers. The Huckleberry Mountain parcel contains a wide range of wildlife habitats, including a high quality cold-water stream—Crystal Brook—that is excellent for brook trout, cliff faces that are a preferred nesting place for the endangered peregrine falcon, and a wetland complex home to an active heron rookery.
The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation oversees more than 250 parks, historic sites, recreational trails, golf courses, boat launches and more, which were visited by a record 78 million in 2020. To book a spot in a New York State campground, go to https://newyorkstateparks.reserveamerica.com/. For more information, call 518-474-0456 or visit www.parks.ny.gov.
by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
This time last year I was getting set for an around-the-world Global Scavenger Hunt which took me to places that I had always hoped to see – Petra, Jordan; Myanmar; Vietnam; Morocco, just to list a few. The coronavirus pandemic has made that experience impossible this year. But it just goes to show: Don’t put off experiences, especially not a trip of a lifetime.
These are uncharted waters for the travel industry, and for travelers.
With the worst of the crisis appearing to be coming under control, state governments are looking to gradually reopen and lift their lockdowns. The same is true for people venturing out of doors. People are burning with cabin fever but may be cautious.
Here is the antidote to cabin fever: I’m thinking outdoors, great open vistas, clean air. This is a great time for a throwback to the 1950s family road trip to enjoy the Great Outdoors. Instead of a station wagon, pack up the SUV and set an itinerary that revolves around national and state parks, wildlife areas, nature preserves. I’m thinking camping (koa.com) or glamping (glampinghub.com). I’m thinking hiking, biking, rafting, kayaking.
“It’s vital that people find ways to engage in physical activity during this time; the benefits to our immune systems and our mental health are significant. But it is critical that we do so in ways that will keep us safe and minimize the spread of the pandemic,” writes Ryan Chao, President, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.
Rails-to-Trails’ Conservancy has compiled resources, provides information on the latest on trails, walking and biking and the COVID-19 pandemic (Visit railstotrails.org/COVID19), and provides a trail-finder website and app, TrailLink.com, which is free for anyone to use to find particulars on more than 37,000 miles of multi-use trails nationwide, including trail maps, walking and biking directions to get to the trail, and contact information for local trail management organizations (visit railstotrails.org).
Here are more ambitious ideas:
An ideal trip (and also one of my favorite bike tours ever) which hits all of these criteria (driving distance, biking, camping) is the Cycle the Erie, an eight-day 400-mile, fully supported biking/camping trip, from Buffalo to Albany, operated by Parks & Trails NY. At this writing, the 22nd Annual Cycle the Erie was still taking place July 12-19, 2020. (they expect to make a decision on May 12; they have eased the cancellation policy and would transfer the registration at this year’s fee next year if they have to cancel.) For information on Cycle the Erie Canal, call Parks & Trails New York, 518-434-1583, email [email protected] or visit www.ptny.org/cycle-the-erie-canal.
Hopefully, other supported biking/camping rides that also support nonprofit organizations will also run, such as the BikeMaine 2020: Katahdin Frontier – a seven-night ride 340 mile-loop (17,455 feet of climbing), from Old Town, September 12-19, 2020 (www.bikemaine.org)
The next best thing is an organized bike tour – self-guided trips obviously have the fewest people to interact with, and guided – that utilize inn-style accommodations are our favorites. We have enjoyed trips around the world – the Danube Bike Trail, Greek islands bike/boat trip, Venice-Croatia, Slovenia, and Albania (Biketours.com is a great source), and I’m still hoping to take my family on a self-guided bike trip of northern Portugal in late summer – but there are fabulous trips within driving distance that can be done on rail-trails with camping, inns and airbnb.com, such as the Delaware-Lehigh trail in Pennsylvania and the Great Allegheny Passage which can be linked with the C&O trail that can take you from Washington DC all the way to Pittsburgh, PA, and the Erie Canalway.
Wilderness Voyageurs, a wide-ranging outdoors company with an extensive catalog of biking, rafting, fishing and outdoor adventures throughout the US and even Cuba, offers many guided and self-guided bike itineraries built around rail trails like the Eric Canal in New York, Great Allegheny Passage in Pennsylvania and Katy Trail in Missouri. Last year we thoroughly enjoyed the six-day “Badlands and Mickelson Trail” bike tour of South Dakota. Wilderness Voyageurs, 103 Garrett St., Ohiopyle, PA 15470, 800-272-4141, [email protected], Wilderness-Voyageurs.com.
Bicycle Adventures is offering 6-day bike tours of Oregon Columbia (riding and hiking); South Dakota’s Mickelson Trail; and Washington San Juan Islands. Bicycle Adventures, 18047 NE 68th St, Ste B140, Redmond, WA 9805 (425-250-5540, bicycleadventures.com).
Tour Operators to the Great Outdoors
Tour operators are in a position not only to have access to permits and accommodations in places that are likely to be overrun this year, but are better plugged in to what is happening on the ground, can move passengers around, adapt itineraries. Wilderness adventure travel companies so far are still offering trips this summer.
Based in Billings, Montana, Austin Adventures has spent over 35 years building an international reputation as a top provider of luxury, small group, multisport tours for adults and families to the world’s most captivating destinations. Austin Adventures has perfected the art of creating itineraries featuring exceptional regional dining, distinctive accommodations, incredible guides and exhilarating activities, all while keeping all-inclusive rates and services the norm. In addition to scheduled group departures on all seven continents, Austin Adventures has developed a reputation as the leader in customized trip planning and execution, all backed by the industry’s best money-back satisfaction guarantee. For information on Austin Adventures’ trips, cruises and distinctive accommodations on seven continents:800-575-1540, [email protected], www.austinadventures.com.
Western River Expeditions escorts more people down rivers on professionally guided rafting trips in Utah, Idaho and Arizona than any other company and is the largest licensed outfitter in the Grand Canyon. (866-904-1160, 801-942-6669, www.westernriver.com).
Moab Adventure Center, a division of Western River Expeditions and the largest single tour provider in Moab, UT, is a one-stop resource for a myriad of outdoor adventures that take you to Arches National Park and Canyonlands and river rafting. (435-259-7019 or 866-904-1163, www.moabadventurecenter.com)
Holiday River Expeditions hopes to be offering its river rafting trips from the end of June through the end of the season in October. The company, operating out of Green River Utah, offers trips on the Colorado, Green River, San Juan and out of Vernal, on the Yampa, in heart of Dinosaur National monument.
Holiday River has just put out The Complete Guide to Whitewater Rafting Trips in Utah, for do-it-yourselfers as well as people who are more than happy to use a commercial outfitter. This new resource for every kind of adventurer is offered free and online.
Here are the seven river trips chosen for inclusion in this new resource:
“Oar power is the most natural way to experience the river and the absence of motors makes high water trips as exciting as it gets. Rafters experience the rush of wind, a chatty raven or a churning rapid absent the drone and smell of a motorized raft,” said Tim Gaylord, Director of Operations and Holiday employee since 1978. (For information, availability, reservations or the catalog, 800-624-6323, [email protected], www.bikeraft.com)
A perfect corollary for any sojourn into the wilderness, instead of staying in a hotel, consider glamping – basically luxury camping that brings you into the most gorgeous and distinctive places, close to nature, in comfort but affording very distinctive experiences.
With the popularity of glamping surging, an array of glamping destinations have popped up around the world in recent years, offering everything from geodesic domes to Airstream RVs to tiny homes. For example:
Fireside Resort: By combining the amenities of a luxury boutique hotel with the atmosphere of a wooded campground, Fireside Resort offers Wyoming’s best glamping experience. The lodging options reflect the heritage of the valley’s original homesteader cabins, with cozy fireplaces, full kitchens, private furnished decks, and outdoor fire pits. Situated on wildlife-filled acres where moose, elk, red-tailed hawks, bald eagles and deer roam, Fireside Resort is just seven miles from Jackson’s bustling town square.
Kestrel Camp: The American Prairie Reserve in Montana is piecing together what will be the largest nature reserve in the lower 48 states, totaling 3.5 million acres, and restoring habitat and species in the process. APR’s Kestrel Camp offers five yurt-style luxury suites set around a central lounge and dining room serving chef-prepared meals, as well as a safari-style experience with special access to tour the reserve’s ecosystem with personal naturalists.
A great source to finding glamping accommodations is GlampingHub.com, an online booking platform for unique outdoor accommodations across the globe. With over 35,000 accommodations in over 120 countries, Glamping Hub’s mission is to connect travelers with nature in order to create authentic experiences in which travelers can stay in the great outdoors without having to sacrifice creature comforts—camping with added luxuries and five-star amenities. Guests can find over 27 different types of glamping accommodations to choose from on Glamping Hub from safari tents, tree houses, and cabins to tipis, villas, and domes. (glampinghub.com)
Or, think cottage on a beach (Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard are my favorites).
I’m thinking dude ranch: Duderanch.orglists 100 in Wyoming, Montana, Colorado and such, but there are also dude ranches as close as the Catskills and Adirondacks in the wilds of New York State, like the Pine Ridge Dude Ranch (30 Cherrytown Road, Kerhonkson, NY 12446, pineridgeranch.com), Ridin’ Hy, year-round inclusive ranch resort in the Adirondacks Preserve near Lake George, Warrensburg, NY 12885, 518-494-2742, www.ridinhy.com); and the ever-popular Rocking Horse Ranch (reopening June 12, 600 State Route 44/55, Highland, NY 12528, 877-605-6062, 845-691-2927, www.rockinghorseranch.com).
And while many will choose to venture within driving distance – biking, hiking (check out the Hudson River School Art Trail in the Catskills and camping at the North-South Campground, for example) – I will pretty much bet that traveling by air will be absolutely safe because of the regimen that every airline has imposed (going as far as to leave middle seats empty; sanitizing surfaces and utilizing hospital-grade ventilation/air purification systems). I would bet that the most dicey part of an airline trip will be getting through airport security.
Airlines are doing their best to allay passengers’ concerns – both from the point of view of health as well as easing up cancellation, change and refund policies. This from Delta is fairly typical of the major carriers:
“In the current environment, it’s important for all of us to travel smarter and more consciously. That’s why I want to personally update you on the situation with COVID-19 (the coronavirus) and the steps we are taking to ensure your health and safety in your travels,” writes Delta CEO Ed Bastian.
“For more than a decade, Delta has been preparing for such a scenario. As a global airline, we have strong relationships in place with health experts including the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and local health authorities worldwide. We are in constant contact with them to make sure our policies and procedures meet or exceed their guidelines.
“Operations are our lifeblood. We’ve learned from past experience with outbreaks like H1N1 and Ebola, and have continually refined and improved our ability to protect our customers. That includes the way we circulate clean and fresh air in our aircraft with highly advanced HEPA filters, the new fogging procedures in our cleaning process, how we sanitize aircraft between flights and how we respond if a customer is displaying symptoms.
“A full report on the measures Delta is taking to help you have a healthy flying experience..outlines our expanded cleaning and disinfecting at our airports and on board our aircraft; distribution of hand sanitizer and amenity kits to help customers stay clean; and the technology on our aircraft to filter and replace cabin air.
“A command center in Atlanta has been stood up to guide our response, leading our global team of thousands of Delta professionals dedicated to this effort. That includes our reservations specialists handling thousands of incoming calls, our flight crews and Airport Customer Service (ACS) agents taking extra care of our customers, and our TechOps and operations coordination teams keeping the airline moving. This world-class group of airline employees has your back, and I have never been prouder of the women and men of Delta.
“To ensure you always have access to the latest information and guidance, we have a website on the COVID-19 situation that is continually being updated with cleaning policies and actions we’re implementing to keep you safe, ways you can stay healthy while flying, and changes to our flight schedules and waiver information. Transparency is one of our core values, and we are committed to keeping you fully informed as the situation evolves.
“While we’re committed to providing you with information you need to make informed decisions around your travel, we also understand the need for flexibility based on your individual circumstances. To make sure you can travel with confidence, we’re offering flexible waivers, and we’ve also adjusted our network in response to guidance from the State Department.
“We understand that in today’s world, travel is fundamental to our business and our lives, which is why it can’t – and shouldn’t – simply stop. I believe Delta’s mission of connecting the world and creating opportunities is never more important than at times like this.”
Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
It’s our last
day of the Wilderness Voyageurs six-day “Badlands and Mickelson Trail” bike
tour of South Dakota, when we would have biked back a portion of the Mickelson
Trail that we cycled yesterday before visiting Mount Rushmore. But as luck
would have it (and it is actually lucky), it rains as we leave Deadwood. It is
lucky because the rest of our rides have been glorious and we did get to
complete the 109-mile long Mickelson Trail, in addition to riding through
Badlands National Park and Custer State Park. Our guides, James Oerding and
John Buehlhorn, offer us alternatives: instead of doing the Mickelson 18 miles
from Dumont to Mystic (the same trail we did yesterday but downhill) we go
directly to Mount Rushmore and see if the weather dries out.
Rushmore is such a familiar American icon, it may be a cliché. But seeing it “in
person” makes you rethink what it is all about.
sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, wrote “Let us place
there, carved high, as close to heaven as we can, the words of our leaders,
their faces, to show posterity what manner of men they were. Then breathe a
prayer that these records will endure until the wind and the rain alone shall
wear them away.”
Borglum also wrote, “The purpose of
the memorial is to communicate the founding, expansion, preservation, and
unification of the United States with colossal statues of Washington,
Jefferson, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt.”
National Park Service offers this about Mount Rushmore National Monument:
“Majestic figures of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt
and Abraham Lincoln, surrounded by the beauty of the Black Hills of South
Dakota, tell the story of the birth, growth, development and preservation of
this country. From the history of the first inhabitants to the diversity of
America today, Mount Rushmore brings visitors face to face with the rich
heritage we all share.”
The NPS posits that Borglum “selected these four presidents
because from his perspective, they represented the most important events in the
history of the United States. Would another artist at that time, or perhaps a
modern artist choose differently? As you read more about Borglum’s choices,
think about what you might have done if the decision was up to you.”
I stumble upon a
15-minute Ranger talk in the Sculptor’s Studio about Gutzon Borglum,
the carving process and the lives of the workers – how they
dynamited away 90 percent of the stone, leaving just 3 to 6 inches of material
to chisel off by hand, how they hang a weight to where the nose should be and
create the facial features from that reference point.
stands in front of a model of how a completed Mount Rushmore was envisioned by
Borglum. Who knew there was more? I’ve always taken for granted that what we
see was all that was meant to be. The model shows that it would have had their
jackets down to their waist and hands.
see the scale of the sculpture, it is hard to contemplate the challenge of
blasting away all that rock and carving that stone. But we learn that getting
this project underway was a challenge unto itself.
South Dakota historian
Doane Robinson is credited with conceiving the idea of carving the
likenesses of noted figures into the mountains of the Black Hills of South
Dakota in order to promote tourism in the region. But once Doane
Robinson and others had found a sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, they had to get
permission to do the carving. Senator Peter Norbeck (the man who created the
Needles Highway through Custer State Park) and Congressman William Williamson
were instrumental in getting the legislation passed to allow the carving. The
bill requesting permission to use federal land for the memorial easily passed
through Congress. But a bill sent to the South Dakota Legislature faced more
Robinson’s initial idea
was to feature heroes of the American West, such as Lewis and Clark, Oglala
Lakota chief Red cloud and Buffalo Bill Cody. But Borglum wanted the sculpture to
have broader appeal, so chose the four presidents, who would each symbolize an
important aspect of American history. (That might be why Robinson was not
chosen for the 12-member commission to oversee the project.)
Early in the project, money was hard
to find, despite Borglum’s guarantee that eastern businessmen would gladly make
large donations. He also promised South Dakotans that they would not be
responsible for paying for any of the mountain carving. Borglum got Treasury
Secretary Andrew Mellon on board, but only asked for half of the funding he
needed, believing he would be able to match federal funding ($250,000) dollar
for dollar with private donations.
Borglum worked on the project from
1927, the presidents’ faces were carved from 1933-1939, with his son, Lincoln. Meanwhile,
in 1929, the stock market crashed; in 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt placed
Mount Rushmore under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service.
In March, 1941, as a final dedication was being planned,
Gutzon Borglum died. This fact, along with the impending American involvement
in World War II, led to the end of further carving on the mountain. With the
money – and enthusiasm – running out, Congress refused to allocate any more
funding. On October 31, 1941, the last day of work, Mount Rushmore National
Memorial was declared a completed project.
explains that the death of the artist raised an ethical issue for anyone who
would take over the work. And, the Ranger said, “The country had moved on. They
were not as interested in presidents as they were in the 1930s; when Mount
Rushmore was a shrine to democracy. And what if the new artist made a mistake?”
I can see how
Mount Rushmore was a cautionary tale for the Crazy Horse Memorial and why
sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski, who worked on Mount Rushmore before being tasked
to do Crazy Horse, refused any federal funding, instead establishing a foundation
funded with private donations and admissions. Some 70 years after he began his
work, his grandchildren are involved in continuing to carve the memorial.
I walk the
Presidential Trail (just 0.6 miles long, 422 stairs, weather
permitting) to get up close and personal with the mountain
sculpture and perhaps glimpse some of the area wildlife.
million visitors come to Mount Rushmore each year.
Among the activities offered: the Junior
Ranger program (booklets are available at the information desks for ages
three to four, five to twelve and 13 and up), and the Carvers’ Café, Ice Cream Shop and Gift Shop.
Nakota and Dakota Heritage Village (10 – 30 mins., free): Explore
the history of the Black Hills and the American Indian tribes who have
populated this land for thousands of years. Located next to the Borglum View
Terrace for 2019, this area highlights the customs and traditions of local
American Indian communities. Open 10:30 am to 3 pm, early June through mid-August, weather
Youth Exploration Area (10 – 30 mins., free): Explore the natural, cultural and historical aspects of Mount Rushmore with interactive programs. Located at the Borglum View Terrace for 2019. Open early June through early August.
(30 – 120 mins; rental fee): Rent an
audio tour wand or multimedia device to hear the story of Mount
Rushmore through music, narration, interviews, historic recordings and sound
effects while walking a scenic route around the park. Available at the Audio
Tour Building across from the Information Center (rentals available inside the
Information Center during the winter months). The tour and accompanying
brochure are available in English, French, German, Lakota, and Spanish.
It had been gray
and drizzly when we first arrived making the monument look dull, but as we are
leaving, blue sky breaks through and for the first time, I realize that George
Washington has a jacket.
visit, the Visitor Center and amphitheater are closed for construction.)
(Just recently, the last living Mount
Rushmore construction worker, Donald ‘Nick” Clifford, who worked on the
monument from 1938-40, passed away at the age of 98.)
Even thought the weather has cleared up
just as we are leaving Mount Rushmore, because it is a getaway travel day, the
group decides not to bike (the trail James suggests is impractical because it
requires the guides to take off the roof racks in order to fit through the
tunnel). We decide instead, to go straight to Rapid City, our departure point,
for lunch before we all go our separate ways.
Our last lunch
together, in Rapid City, is at Tally’s Silver Spoon (best Reuben sandwich
outside of NYC!) – just across the street from the historic Alex Johnson Hotel,
where I began my South Dakota odyssey a week ago.
What I love best
about Wilderness Voyageurs’ “Badlands and Mickelson Trail” bike tour are the
varied experiences: Badlands – fossils – Circle View Guest Ranch – Black Hills
– Crazy Horse – Custer State Park – stone spires – wildlife – buffalo – Blue
Bell Lodge – Mount Rushmore – biking the 109-mile long Mickelson rail trail.
Guided bike trips are not cheap, but what I look for is value for money – my test is whether I could reproduce the trip for less out-of-pocket, to make up for the decided increase in convenience of having the itinerary already plotted out. I found Wilderness Voyageurs excellent value – in the services provided, wonderful accommodations (especially the guest ranch and the lodge), dining, creating an itinerary that was idyllic, entrances to attractions (Badlands National Park, Crazy Horse Memorial, Mount Rushmore), and also considerate, superb guides, a relaxed, unpressured atmosphere (“You’re on vacation!”).
The destination, South Dakota, is quite sensational and unexpectedly varied – spectacular scenery, nature and wildlife, fossils (!), culture and history – a microcosm of North America, really. Indeed, it is an ideal destination for international visitors to plunge into the American frontier west mythology of the past, but more interestingly, to see the American West as it is today. And frankly, even if I rented a bike and paid for shuttle services, I couldn’t have duplicated the itinerary, or the camaraderie, or the expertise and care.
Voyageurs started out as a rafting adventures company 50 years ago, but has
developed into a wide-ranging outdoors company with an extensive catalog of
biking, rafting, fishing and outdoor adventures throughout the US and even
Cuba, many guided and self-guided bike itineraries built around rail trails
like the Eric Canal in New York, Great Allegheny Passage in Pennsylvania, and
Katy Trail in Missouri.
Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
It strikes me as somewhat ironic, or perhaps appropriate, that
Deadwood, South Dakota, so famous for being the place where Wild Bill Hickok
was killed in a saloon playing poker, after being mining boomtown and a virtual
ghost town, has been reincarnated as a casino gaming mecca.
hotel, the Deadwood Mountain Grand Resort, actually reflects both
these traditions: it has one of the biggest casinos and the building has
repurposed what used to be a slime plant (slime is the waste left when they use
cyanide to decompose rock to release the gold), that was part of the Homestake
Mine. The Homestake Mine was the second-largest gold producer in the
United States and the longest continually operating mine in US history,
operating from 1885 to as recently as 2001.
We’ve arrived at Deadwood at the end of biking the 109-mile long Mickelson Trail, a bike trail converted from a former railroad line named to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Hall of Fame, which we have covered in three days of the six-day Wilderness Voyageurs “Badlands and Mickelson Trail” bike tour of South Dakota.
My day begins at the Blue Bell Lodge in Custer State Park, with a buffalo strolling up to the porch of my cabin. We then are shuttled in the Wilderness Voyageurs van to the Mystic Trailhead, to ride the remaining 34 scenic miles of the Mickelson Trail into Deadwood.
already about 3 pm, and armed with a list of activities that take place which I
have obtained from the concierge (the shootout on Main Street at 6 pm, for
example), I quickly drop my things to rush out to get to the Mount Moriah Cemetery which I remember
the Alex Johnson Hotel manager, Ross Goldman, telling me about. Though the
concierge and the visitor bureau guy discourage me from walking up there (there
isn’t a public bus and the bus tour which makes a quick stop at the cemetery
doesn’t make sense, I head out anyway – the hike, up 4,800 ft. to a high ridge
overlooking Deadwood Gulch – the highest point in Deadwood – proves no big deal
(especially compared to the hills we biked yesterday in Custer State Park) and
takes just about 20 minutes.
the entrance, they provide an excellent map with information and location of
the notable graves of the important people who are buried here for you to do
your own self-guided walking tour.
major lure – and why there is a line of people – is the side-by-side plots of James
Butler (Wild Bill) Hickok and Calamity Jane, whose legends continue to animate
Deadwood even today.
to the guide, James Butler Hickok was murdered in Deadwood on August 2, 1876.
He came, along with so many others, to the Deadwood gold camp in search of
adventure and fortune. But his true passion was gambling. While playing a game
of cards, he was shot in the back of the head by Jack McCall. “Wild
Bill’s colorful life included service as a marshal, an Army scout and other
tasks which called for a fast gun and no aversion to bloodshed.” (Later, you
can see the re-creation of the arrest of Jack McCall, and then a re-creation of
the hastily convened miners’ court, by the Deadwood Alive troop.)
“Calamity Jane” Canary (1850-1903) also had a colorful life, which she largely
created and which may or may not be true. “She worked on a bull train,
performed in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show and was a prostitute.” She claimed
to have been Wild Bill Hickok’s sweetheart (and even that they were married and
had a daughter). Her grave marker calls her Martha Jane Burke because she
married Clinton Burke after Hickok’s death. She is known for acts of charity
and willingness to nurse the sick. In 1903, Calamity Jane died in the Terry
mining camp, her dying wish, “Bury me beside Wild Bill” was carried out.
cemetery was established in1878 and actively used until 1949. There are some
3,627 people buried here including a children’s section with 350 who died in of
scarlet fever and diphtheria epidemic 1878-1880; a Civil War section, a Jewish
section (surprisingly large) and a Chinese section (there is even a Chinese
altar and ceremonial oven), and several notable and colorful characters who are
described in the guide with directions to their gravesites.
struck by the wrought iron gates at the entrance which have symbols
representing the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Freemasonry and the Star of
David. Indeed the name Mt. Moriah was chosen for its religious affiliation with
both the Christian Bible and the Jewish Torah (Mount Moriah is located within Jerusalem,
the site of Solomon’s temple.)
It takes about an hour to visit. ($2/entrance, 108 Sherman St., Deadwood 57732, 605-578-2082, www.cityofdeadwood.com).
it turns out, was named for the dead timber on the surrounding hills, not for
its shoot-outs. The discovery of gold in the Black Hills brought thousands of
new people to the area.
back down to the historic Main Street in plenty of time for the 6 pm “Main Street Shootout”, featuring a
fantastic Calamity Jane character.
There are free shows
throughout the day on Historic Main
Street (reminiscent of a theme park’s re-creation of a Wild West town):
Deadwood’s True Tales; a 2 pm Main Street shootout; a Rootin’Tootin’ Card Game
for kids and old-thyme musical show; Dr. Stan Dupt’s Travelin’ Medicine Show; 4
pm Main Street shootout; 4:30 Old Thym Hoe Down; 5:45 Deadwood’s True Tales on
the steps of the historic Franklin Hotel.
After the 6 pm
shootout, I check out the shops and grab a burger with another couple from our
bike tour who I meet up with on the street, and come back for the 7:30 pm
“Capture of Jack McCall” outside Saloon 10 (there is
the “original Saloon 10 where Wild Bill was actually shot).
there, we all march up the street to the Masonic Temple for the 8 pm “Trial of
Trial of Jack McCall” has been performed steadily, I am astonished to
learn since 1925, making it one of the nation’s longest
running plays. It began as an annual presentation during Statehood Days. The
script is based on news accounts of the actual trial which took place in the
mining camp of Deadwood after Jack McCall murdered James Butler
“Wild Bill” Hickok. Wild Bill was playing poker in Nuttal and Mann’s
Saloon No. 10 and was shot in the back of the head while holding Aces and
Eights, forever known as the “Dead Man’s Hand”. (People leave the
cards at his grave.). Though based on fact, it is done with great humor (if a murder trial
can be fun). “It has to be accurate,” any “Cookie” Mosher who plays John Swift,
Clerk of the Courts and Executive Director of Deadwood Alive, tells me because Deadwood Alive, a nonprofit, is supported in part
by Historical Preservation Society. (It reminds me of the “Cry Innocent,”
recreation of a Salem Witch Trial, in Salem, Massachusetts).
recreate the edition of the Black Hills Pioneer which reported the story of
Hickok’s murder, on August 3, 1876. “A dastardly murder was committed in
Deadwood gulch yesterday afternoon. The fiendish murderer who shot him in the
back is in jail. The dead man is Wild Bill Hickok, whose prowess with the
pistols is known far and wide. Single-handed, he captured robbers and trouble
makers in the south, at Dodge city, Abilene and Hays, Kansas, in Nebraska, in
all the south. Men feared him, feared his quickness on the draw, the deadly and
accurate aim which send more than one roustabout sprawling.
“But on this
terrible, bloodstained afternoon in the wild gold camp of the Black Hills, Wild
Bill never had a chance.”
This is a family-friendly show where the
selected members of the audience participate in the performance serving as
jurors in the trial- the jury of miners is made up of “minors” – kids who get
to wear various hats and sit on a bench). The show is held nightly Monday
through Saturday with the schedule as outlined below.
extremely entertaining as a trial for murder could possibly be.
Deadwood didn’t have a courthouse so the trial was held in Deadwood Theater
(the narrator/court manager explains they have to wait for auditions to finish
– so there is music provided by Calamity Jane as the audience files in. The
theater was tearing down from the previous week’s show and getting ready for
the next, so you see various props.The trial was held just the day after McCall’s
boy is given the role of sheriff; wearing an oversized cowboy hat, he seems
just itching to shoot the toy gun he hold on McCall.
call “witnesses” and John Swift, the clerk of Courts (played by Mosher) goes
into the audience and pulls somebody up – then after jokes (swearing on
“Bartenders Guide” instead of bible), “sneaks” them a script. He grabs a guy as
a witness who is wearing shorts so he puts shawl over his leg for modesty; he grabs
a woman to play McCall’s’ employer and pretends to flirt. (It’s very Shakespearean the way they go
in/out of character and talk to audience.)
witness says Wild Bill asked him to move his chair so Wild Bill could sit with his
back to wall, and he refused.
on the jury pretend to sleep during Defense’s summation.
in real life, McCall was found Not Guilty. Then, in an epilogue, the Clerk relates
that McCall was driven from town but bragged about killing Wild Bill over a
game of cards. The federal government said that because the crime was committed
in Indian Country the feds still had jurisdiction to try McCall without
violating the rule against double jeopardy. McCall was rearrested in 1877, got a
new trial, was found guilty and hanged.
Deadwood Alive has been entertaining visitors for over 20 years
with Main Street shootouts and regular performances of the Trial of Jack
McCall. The Deadwood Alive troupe of superb actors consists of over 10
characters and provide entertainment throughout the year including daily
shootouts, guided walking tours, musical performances and the famous Trial of
Jack McCall. Deadwood Alive is managed by a non-profit board of directors and
employs up to a dozen individuals each summer to re-enact several historically
accurate incidents of Deadwood’s past and make a visit to Deadwood so
entertaining for people of all ages (($6 adults, $5 seniors, $3 children,
enjoy the charm of the Main Street. I stop in to the Franklin Hotel, opened since
1903, a beautiful, elegant hotel, now with a casino in the lobby.
Deadwood actually offers a lot of history and attractions, which unfortunately, I do not have time to experience): The Adams Museum (554 Sherman St); Days of ’76 Museum (18 Seventy Six Dr), and Historic Adams House (22 Van Buren St.). (DeadwoodHistory.com, 605-722-4800).
More visitor information at Deadwood
South Dakota, 800-344-8826,www.deadwood.com.
Voyageurs started out as a rafting adventures company 50 years ago, but has
developed into a wide-ranging outdoors company with an extensive catalog of
biking, rafting, fishing and outdoor adventures throughout the US and even
Cuba, many guided and self-guided bike itineraries built around rail trails
like the Eric Canal in New York, Great Allegheny Passage in Pennsylvania, and
Katy Trail in Missouri.
by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate,
My first look at
Badlands National Park is not anything I expected or visualized. The Pinnacles
entrance to the national park, where the Wilderness Voyageurs guides have taken
us for our first ride of the six-day “Badlands and Black Hills” bike tour of
South Dakota, is aptly named for the spires that form this otherworldly
Badlands National Park is 244,000 acres of sharply eroded
buttes, pinnacles and spires and the largest, protected mixed grass prairie in
the United States. The Badlands Wilderness Area covers 64,000 acres, where they
are reintroducing the black-footed ferret, the most endangered land mammal in
North America. Just beyond is The Stronghold Unit, co-managed with the Oglala
Sioux Tribe where there are sites of the 1890s Ghost Dances. But as I soon
learn, Badlands National Park contains the world’s richest Oligocene epoch
fossil beds, dating 23 to 35 million years old, a period between dinosaurs and
The name “Badlands” was
intentional, for the earliest inhabitants and settlers found the extremes of
climate and landscape extremely harsh.
The American Lakota called this place “mako sica,” or “land bad” and early French
trappers called it “les mauvaises terres a traverser,” both meaning “badlands.”
Those very same French trappers would be the first of many Europeans who would,
in time, supplant the indigenous people, as they were soon followed by
soldiers, miners looking to strike it rich with gold, cattlemen, farmers, and
homesteaders recruited from as far away as Europe.
We get our bikes which
our guides –
James Oerding and John Buehlhorn – make sure are properly fitted, and outfit us with helmet, water
bottle, Garmin. They orient us to the day’s ride – essentially biking through
the national park on the road (“Don’t stop riding as you go over the cattle
guards”; when the van comes up
alongside, tap our helmet if we need help or give a thumbs up otherwise). We will meet up at the 8.2 mile mark where there is a nature walk and the van will
be set up for lunch.
And then we are off at
our own pace down an exquisite road (the cars are not a problem). That is a
mercy because the vistas are so breathtaking, I keep stopping for photos. And
then there are unexpected sightings – like bighorn sheep.
At the 8.2 mile mark,
we gather at the van where James has set out a gourmet lunch.
There is a boardwalk
nature trail (I note the sign that warns against rattlesnakes and wonder about
the kids who are climbing the mounds with abandon). I realize I am in time for
a talk with Ranger Mark Fadrowski, who has with him original fossils and casts of
fossils collected from the Badlands for us to look at and touch. We can see
more – and even scientists working at the Fossil Prep Lab – at the Visitor
Center further along our route.
no dinosaurs here,” Ranger Fadrowski explains. “This area was underwater when
dinosaurs lived.” But these fossils – gathered from 75 million years ago and
from through 34 to 37 million years ago (there is a 30-million year gap in the
fossil record), fill in an important fossil record between dinosaurs and
hominids (that is, early man). Teeth, we learn, provide important information
about the animal – what it ate, how it lived – and the environment of the time.
Shale, the oldest layer when this area was under a shallow sea, is yielding
fossils from 67-75 million years ago. He shows us a fossil of a Mosasaur, giant
marine lizards, an ancestor of the Komodo dragon, and one of the biggest sea
“We don’t have fossils from the 30-million
year gap – either the sediment was not deposited or it eroded.” Indeed, we
learn that these tall spires of rock with their gorgeous striations, are
eroding at the rate of one inch each year, and will be completely
gone in another 100,000 to 500,000 years. But the erosion also exposes the
environment changed from a sea to a swamp during the Chadron Formation, 34-37
million years ago. “That was caused when the Rocky Mountains formed, with a
shift in Teutonic plates. That pushed up and angled the surface so water
drained into the Gulf of Mexico.” It was formed by sediments carried by streams
and rivers flowing from the Black Hills, deposited in a hot and humid forest
lived during this time. The alligator fossils found here show that the animal
hasn’t changed in 30 million years. The alligators migrated when the
environment changed, so survived.
Brule Formation, 30-34 million years ago, this area was open woodlands, drier
and cooler than during the Chadron Formation; in some areas, water was hard to
find. Animals that lived here then include the Nimravid, called “a false cat”
because it seems to resemble a cat but is not related. The specimen he shows
was found by a 7-year old girl just 15 feet from the visitor center and is the
most complete skull found to date (imagine that!); there are two holes in the
skull that show it was killed by another Nimravid. Also a three-toed horse (now
extinct); and a dog.
In fact, it
turns out it is not at all unusual for visitors to the park to come upon
important fossils (there is a whole wall of photos of people and their finds
just from this year). In fact, one visitor, Jim Carney, a photographer from
Iowa, found two bones sticking up and reported the location. “They thought it
would be a single afternoon. It turned out to be a tennis-court sized field,
now known as the Pig Dig; the dig lasted 15 summers and yielded 19,000
specimens, including the “Big Pig.”
found at the beginning of the Brule Formation, when the area was drying out.
“We believe it was watering hole drying up. Animals caught in the mud were prey
for other animals.”
This is a
place of Archaeotherium, Oredonts, Mesohippus, Subhyracodon, Hoplophoneus,
Metamynodon, Cricid and Paleolagus.
Formation, 28-30 million years ago, is where they have found Oreodont fossils.
“The name means ‘mountain teeth’ because of the shape of its teeth, not the
environment.” Fossils are identified mostly because of teeth which are most
common to survive and reveal clues about behavior and what the animal ate,
which speaks to the environment.
He shows us
the fossil of an Oviodon. “It is weird, there isn’t anything alive like it. The
closest relative is camel – like the weird cousin that no one knows how related.
It is the most commonly found fossil – which means it was probably a herd
animal.” And a Merycoidodon (“ruminating teeth”), which he describes as “a
sheep camel pig deer”.
Badlands are eroding, so will reveal more fossils. Fossils are harder than
rock, so won’t erode as fast.” Interestingly, only 1% of all life is fossilized.
“We have to assume there are missing specimens.”
Badlands “is particularly lush for fossils – because of the types of sediment
that preserves them well.– 600,000 specimens have been collected from the
Badlands since paleontologists first started coming here in the 1840s. Just
about every major institution in the world has specimens that were originally found
here, including the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
provide clues to the “Golden Age of mammals – half-way between when dinosaurs
ended and today – horses, camels, deer.”
I had no
grateful that John (elected the sweeper for today’s ride) has not rushed me
away and, in fact, waited patiently without me even realizing he was there.
on, stopping often to take photos of the extraordinary landscape with its
shapes and textures and striations. I barely miss a dead rattlesnake on the
road (I think it was dead) and am too rattled to stop and take a photo.
I get to the
Visitor Center which has superb displays and an outstanding film (must see). Again,
no one is rushing me away, so I stay for the film, “The Land of Stone &
Americans have been in this area for 12,000 years; the Lakota came from the
east around 1701 following buffalo, their culture was so dependent on buffalo.
“They would pray for the buffalos’ well being” rather than their own.”
were signed that defined the borders, but they were broken. The white settlers
demanded more and more of the Indian land, especially after gold was discovered
in the Black Hills. (I later learn it was William Custer, the famous General of
Custer’s Last Stand, who discovered the gold.)
– so precious to the Lakota – were hunted nearly to extinction. The white men
put up fences for their ranches and farms, preventing the buffalo from migrating.
“What happens to the buffalo, happens to Lakota” – they were forced to cease
their traditional life, settle down and farm or ranch. Resistance led to
tragedy (Battle of Wounded Knee). (There is a photo of the Wounded Knee
Massacre at the Trading Post.)
By the turn
of the 20th century, the federal government was inviting
homesteaders to come out
and settle the West – they would get 160 acres if they could last five years on
the land. They advertised abroad, enticing immigrants to “the luscious plains
in the Dakotas.”
stone was rare in the Badlands, so the settlers built their shanties of sod,
hard; small-scale farming couldn’t succeed. They endured blistering summers,
cruel winters, extreme wind. Many left” especially in the Great Depression. I
think how ironic.
Lakota, before the dreams of homesteaders ended, paleontologists came here 150
years ago.” The layered landscape of the Badlands told the story of geologic
change, of climate change, that is still continuing. The Badlands are eroding
fast – at the rate of one inch per year, “so in 100,000 to 500,000 years, all
will be gone. The earth is a dynamic and changing system.”
is complex. This is a mixed grass prairie – it may look dry, but the tangled
roots store nutrients. Animals help sustain it –the bison churn up the soil, mixing
the moisture and scattering seeds; prairie dogs are critical to the ecosystem,
too – they also stir up the soil, and the burrows they dig are used by other
animals like owl and ground squirrel. The black footed ferret lives in
abandoned burrows and also eats prairie dogs.
attempt to eliminate prairie dogs resulted in the near-extinction of black-foot
ferret. They have been reintroduced; also swift fox, bighorn sheep.
mission of National Parks is to preserve and restore – but we can’t restore the
biggest animals that once were here – the prairie wolf and grizzly bear.”
to leave when I stumble upon the Paleontology Lab, which is open to the public,
where we can watch as two paleontologists painstakingly work to remove sediment
from bone – their efforts magnified on a TV screen.
working on a Merycoidodon, an oreodont, which is a group of hoofed mammals
native to North America,” the sign says in response to what must be the
zillionth time a visitor asks. “Although they have no living relatives in
modern times, oreodonts are related to another native North American mammal: the
camel. Oreodonts are sheep-sized and may have resembled pigs, but with a longer
body, short limbs and with teeth adapted for grinding tough vegetation. The
skulls of Merycoidon have pits in front of the eyes, similar to those found in
modern deer which contain scent glands used for marking territory. Oreodonts
lived in herds and may at one point have been as plentiful in South Dakota as
zebras are in the African Serengeti.”
paleontologists are happy to answer questions, too. One tells me she has part of an ear canal (very unusual) and ear bones.
“It’s unusual to have the upper teeth. This is a sub-adult –I can see wisdom
teeth and unerupted teeth.” She is working on a Leptomerycid – relative of
mouse deer – an animal the size of house cat.
taken her 170 hours to extract teeth from rock.
the second time anyone got an upper row of teeth for this species. It may
change scientists’ understanding. We’re not sure if it is a separate species –
it has a different type of tooth crown. But having a second fossil means we can
Just then, the
senior paleontologist, Ed Welch comes in and tells me that because teeth are used
to determine species, the work being done could prove or disprove whether this animal
is a separate species.
it so far looks like a species that was named in 2010 based on the lower teeth.
“Now we have upper teeth and part of the skull. The difference could be
variation by ecology (for example, what it ate). It was found at same site so
would have been contemporary. We looked at several hundred jaws. This one could
be an ‘ecomorph’ – just different because of what it ate.”
Badlands have some of the oldest dogs ever found, and the most diversity. In
the display case is one of only eight specimens ever found – the other seven
are at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City but they are not
displayed; this is only specimen that can be viewed.“It is the oldest one of
its kind,” 33-32 million years old – and was found by a college student
He says the
seven-year old girl who found the saber cat fossil that the Ranger showed, came
back this year, now 16 years old.
visitors to leave the fossil where it is and report to us, give us photos, a
GPS, so we can locate. Some of the fossils were found right on the trail, not
even in remote areas.
the most famous – a hero around the lab – is photographer Jim
Carney of Iowa who found two bones that ended up being a big bone bed that
so far has yielded 19,000 specimens.
wall of photos of visitors and their finds just in 2019 it would seem that
people have great odds and probability of finding important fossil. Add fossil
hunting to the hiking or biking adventure.
collected here since the 1840s are in every major institution. While fossils of
dinosaurs and early man might get everyone excited, these fossils – the middle
of the Age of Mammals – are important to fill out that story of ecological and
is in the middle of the earth’s transition from Greenhouse to Ice House – and the
fossils found here show how animals responded to the ecological change: “adapt, migrate or go extinct.”
Welch made the decision to open the paleontology lab so people
can see scientists at work. “We decided to do more than a fishbowl, to make it
a great education tool.”
The Fossil Preparation Lab in the Ben Reifel Visitor Center is typically open from 9 am – 4:30 pm daily from the second week in June through the third week in September.
ride through the Badlands National Park, I spot the major animals that are
resident here: bighorn sheep; American bison, pronghorn (also called antelope),
mule deer and black-tail prairie dog. The one I miss is a coyote (yet to come).
We have 12
miles further to bike to our accommodation for the night, the Circle View Guest
Ranch, which proves to be an amazing experience in itself.
Wilderness Voyageurs started out as a
rafting adventures company 50 years ago, but has developed into a wide-ranging
outdoors company with an extensive catalog of biking, rafting, fishing and outdoor adventures throughout the US and
even Cuba, many guided and self-guided bike itineraries built around rail
trails like the Eric Canal in New York, Great Allegheny Passage in
Pennsylvania, and Katy Trail in Missouri.
There are still a few spots left on
West Cuba Bike Tour departing onMarch 21.
I have joined a Vermont bike tour centered around Woodstock village, that takes place over Bike Travel Weekend in June. The popular itinerary offered several times during the year by Discovery Bicycle Tours is one of some 850 events around the world this weekend to raise awareness of the joys and benefits (and ease) of bicycle touring. No one has to convince me – I have long appreciated how bike tours provide everything I look for when I travel: the opportunity to discover, explore, immerse, photograph, encounter at a perfect pace– not too fast and removed as you are traveling by car or bus, and not too slow as hiking so you can cover just the right amount of distance – and, still have a physically exerting experience, a personal challenge, plus the camaraderie of a shared adventure. A bike tour is sight seeing rather than sightseeing; being a participant not an observer; a part of, not apart from, your surroundings; an experience rather than a scene. Bike tours are enriching and satisfying on so many levels.
But as I appreciate during the course of this short weekend, all of that doesn’t just happen. It requires knowledgeable and careful planning that we just take for granted as we experience it – how the route is designed for distance, topography, scenery; the choice of accommodations; the quality of the equipment; the attention, expertise and personality of the guides, not to mention having snacks and cold water readily at hand.
What is surprising to me about the Discovery Bicycle Tours approach is that even though this is a guided, group tour, it is really very individualized. Jim Ortuno, our expert guide, tells us at our first gathering that the goal is for each guest to have “a perfect day” whatever that is – and I contemplate what that actually means and how that might be achieved. So people who are relatively new to biking who don’t want to do the climbs can simply hop into the van (Jim, orients us in advance as to what the topography will be like and where he will be parked for those who don’t want to make the 3 ½ mile climb.)
It is fascinating to see this in practice: how with the two guides – one driving the van, the other biking at the back as the “sweeper” – they are able to accommodate everyone, regardless of age, physical ability, biking ability or interest. It is a guided, supported group ride, but we all go at our own pace, have our own interests and goals – some (like me) stop often for photos and don’t mind the physically exerting climbs; others are new bikers or really don’t want to climb; still others are intense bikers and want to cover the distance at a fast pace.
Indeed, Vermont provides an exquisite setting. Just crossing the border you immediately feel a sense of peace come over you. But these are the Green Mountains, after all. The trip planner has to be cognizant of the hills as well as the traffic situation, since we ride on roads, rather than bike trails.
Riding at our own pace means we can spend time without feeling we are holding up the group investigating an equestrian competition, watching glass blowing at Simon Pearce, or visiting the Billings Farm, or hiking down the Quechee Gorge, or shopping at an artisans market, or constantly stopping to take photos (guilty!) – but are being watched over to make sure nobody has any issues.
The bikes that are included in the program are top quality – Trek, Specialized – and we get to choose whether we want a hybrid or road bike. We have sent in our request and dimensions earlier so that they have our properly sized bikes ready for us at the inn. We can bring our own seats or pedals or clips if we want. They provide the helmets as well and water bottle, and the bikes have a carry-bag with a place to put the written directions and maps.
When I hear a flapping sound in my rear brake that I can’t figure out and Jim, who restores classic cars, can’t immediately fix it either, he whips out a spare bike, just my size, from the top of the van.
The advance preparation is also extremely good. We receive a complete itinerary and directions, packing list. Discovery also makes available the trip’s maps and directions on a Smartphone based GPS app, RIDE WITH GPS (as well as providing meticulously written directions and maps). By downloading the app which has our exact tour routes, we get turn by turn spoken directions, a map of the day’s cycling route, and a live plot displaying our progress throughout the day – how far we’ve gone, average speed, accumulated elevation. “She” gives us fair warning when the big climb is coming so we can get into proper gear, and at the top, gives a verbal high-five; “she” tells us when there is a good general store to stop at where we can take care of business, and even notes when we are coming to an attraction we might want to visit.
Despite the video that we are directed to, most of us can’t figure out how to download the app properly, but Jim and Kenzie Novak get it going for each of us before we set out.
We meet the first night at dinner at the delightful inn selected for this trip, On the River Inn, just about 2 miles outside the center of Woodstock, a quintessential New England village that is visual eye-candy.
After dinner, we meet for an orientation and Jim cleverly organizes an “Icebreaker” (think of one word to describe you:”adventurous”, “fun”, “embarrassing,” “easy-going”, “quirky”, “excited”). There are 11 of us on the tour – a mother and her son and daughter-in-law have come from Illinois and found the tour by a Google search; a fellow came from Miami; a couple came from Massachusetts; two ladies came from downstate (one had traveled the famous El Camino de Santiago in Spain with Discovery before). Three of us are traveling on our own. Cyclists are the most open-hearted, open-minded, open-to-new-experiences sort of people and within moments we congeal into a single group.
Jim suggests a trick for tackling the climb: just look down and directly in front, relax hands and shoulders, breath in once out twice, and sing or whistle (I find that’s exactly what I’ve been doing), and gives us riding tips.
35-Mile Pomfret Ride
On Saturday morning, we come down between 7 and 8 am to be properly fitted for the bike and helmet; we can attach our own pedals or seats if we like and if we bring our own bike, Jim checks that out too. The bike has a pouch which has a plastic holder for our written directions. We are given a water bottle and a bunch of goodies marking Bike Travel Weekend.
Safety is clearly the tour company’s top issue, so they give us their cell numbers, and let us know where the closest emergency medical services are located in our written directions.
Jim, who is driving the van on the first day, tells us the two places where he will be pulled over if anyone doesn’t want to do the climb, then passes us often to make sure we are all right – we can give a thumbs up sign or wave him on, but if we put thumbs down, he knows to find a safe place to pull over to give aid; he would put on his blinkers to acknowledge.
Kenzie, the second guide, is on the bike today and rides “sweep” – at the back of the pack, but as she comes upon us, also asks if we need anything, or makes helpful suggestion to be a better biker – like shifting gears more efficiently or choosing the right gear.
Saturday’s ride is 35 miles (a shorter, flatter option is available, or those who don’t want to do the 3 ½ mile climb can ride in the van to the top and sail down a 6-mile stretch with views of stunning countryside (Currier & Ives come to mind) that Vermont is so famous for. The first three miles are relatively gentle ascent; it’s the last half-mile that is a wonderful strain that gives you that endorphin-rush for having done it.
We bike along the road (as opposed to a dedicated bikeway) but as Jim has promised, the Vermont drivers are very hospitable.
We come to the charming village of Quechee, where we visit the Simon Pearce Glass Works. I am transfixed watching the glass-blowing and shaping process.
We continue on to Quechee Gorge (but Jim has put my bike with the flapping brake into the van and I ride the 2 miles to the snack bar where we have lunch). I will still get to bike this stretch because we will backtrack these two miles after lunch. The Gorge offers dramatic views from the bridge and I hike the half-mile trail down to the bottom (the view isn’t worth it).
We come down a short steep hill and the GPS lady notes the sharp turn-off onto a dirt road just before an absolutely marvelous Taftsville Covered Bridge (watch out for loose gravel!). I am really appreciating the care that Discovery Bicycle Tours puts into designing the route.
Who would have believed that Vermont still has unpaved roads! This part of the ride though is so beautiful, along the river, passing farms that go back hundreds of years. I stop off at a cemetery where I note one of the tombstones is for a veteran of the American Revolution; others from the Civil War. It is striking to see the family stones in a line.
Just before coming into Woodstock, we pass the Billings Farm and Museum, a Rockefeller institution, where we can stop and visit.
Soon we cross The Woodstock Middle Bridge, a picture-perfect covered bridge that takes us right into the heart of the village to the Woodstock Green.
We arrive here around 3:30 pm and have plenty of time to explore, shop (I love Gillingham’s General Store, which dates back to 1886 and offers everything from the practical to the whimsical to the touristic). The van is available for those who want to shuttle back to the hotel rather than tackle one last steep climb at College Hill (it turns out to be such a short hill that by the time you feel it, you are at the top).
There is time before we meet for dinner to swim in the inn’s gorgeous indoor pool – big enough (and just the right temperature) for lap swimming – the hot tub, dry sauna and fitness room. On the River Inn proves a superb choice for accommodations, that really rounds out the Vermont experience.
Jenne Farm Ride
The Sunday ride is shorter, 20 miles, to accommodate the fact that people are traveling back. We check out of our rooms but Discovery has arranged for two rooms to be available for us after the ride to shower and change before hitting the road.
The itinerary is basically 10 miles in and back on the same road – but it is remarkable that coming back is a totally different experience, it might as well be a different route.
It’s a beautiful ride that takes us south along Kedron Brook passing through picturesque South Woodstock (a good thing, too, because we avoid a major half-marathon event going on where we biked Saturday), visiting a charming country store and passing the Green Mountain Equestrian Association (where a cross-country equestrian competition is underway) before arriving at a vista overlooking the Jenne Farm, possibly one of the most photographed scenes in New England.
The 10 miles going is virtually all up – beginning with a gentle pitch to a gradual pitch, and only the last half mile of a steep pitch (the GPS “lady” gives the heads up when we are to prepare for the steep climb). But the challenge is made easier because we already know we can do it from the previous day’s ride.
At the very top we are warned to be careful as we start the descent and not gain speed because very shortly there is a hard-right turn off the paved road onto a private dirt road that begins very steeply. They have made sure to mark the place where we will turn. I choose to walk the bike up that sandy hill. This is actually the private drive to the Jenne Farm, which for good reason boasts being “one of the most photographed farms in the world” especially in autumn. The scene (which I recognize from the inn’s posters) has appeared on magazine covers, photography books, a Budweiser television commercial, and was used as the setting in the films “Forrest Gump” and “Funny Farm.”
Gradually, we all find ourselves gathered together beside a tree looking down at the classic country scene (we are reminded this is a private road and we are on private land).
In this and all the classic Vermont scenes we have seen (at one point I think to myself that the aging red barns and covered bridges have been put there for tourists’ benefit), serendipity makes the scene and the experience unique – the weather, colors, light, time of day, season, and myriad things that make it unique.
Returning, there is that short steep hill which we came down, and then pretty much downhill for the 10 miles. But even though we are traveling the same road, the scene is completely different – the return takes you alongside a creek. And because we are going at our own pace, I linger at to watch the equestrian cross-country competition underway at the Green Mountain Equestrian Association grounds and stop frequently for photos. I think I am the last rider back to the inn, happy as a lark.
Turning a Group Tour into a Personalized Experience
Discovery Bicycle Tours began offering inn-to-inn bicycle tours throughout Vermont in 1977. Larry and Dawn Niles have been running the business since 1991 and have expanded the tour offerings to include a variety of tours in the United States, Quebec and Europe. They range in length from our 3-Day/2-Night weekend tours to 11-Day/10-Night tours.(New this year is a 10-day/9-night Dolomites to Venice tour). Each tour is designed to provide a uniquely memorable experience for the rider and includes all accommodations, most meals, bicycles, helmets, detailed directions and maps, van support and tour guides.
“We continue to encourage a culture that values substance over flash, where our focus is on the individual guest’s experience rather than a preset ‘one-size-fits-all’ formula. We are all about treating people personally,” Larry says, and this becomes clear from the first moment we gather together.
It’s hard to envision, at first, what our guide, Jim Ortuno, means when he promises that the plan is that each of us have our own perfect day. And if it isn’t, it’s not for the lack of trying. They go over-the-top to be accommodating each person’s individual abilities, interests and goals.
Maryland (Eastern Shore Chesapeake Bay; Harbour Inn Weekend)
Quebec – Eastern Townships
Italy – Puglia; Tuscany; Dolomites to Venice
Ireland – County Clare / Connemara
Spain – El Camino de Santiago
France – Provence
Discovery Bicycle tours also offers private and family tours, as well as customized tours. Each is designed to recognize and encourage varying skills and interests of riders. The tours are flexible and most include easy-to-moderate riding, plus optional routes for the more energetic cyclist.
At this writing, Discovery was offering a $400 discount on the 6-day/5-night Coast of Maine tours, that includes all ferries and excursions, guided kayaking, 5 nights lodging, including three nights in premium rooms at the Bar Harbor Inn, each with a private balcony overlooking Frenchman’s Bay, 5 breakfasts, picnic on Swan’s Island, 4 dinners, bicycle, helmet, and free transfer provided from/to Bangor International Airport (July 23–28, July 30–August 4, and August 13–18).
There also was a recent “Teacher Appreciation Sale” of $250 off longer tours and $100 off weekend trips.