This is the first post in a series.
It all started when I was 14. One day, my mom handed me a catalog of adventure travel for teens and told me to have a look and see if I was interested in any of the trips.
Given the poor choices I had made that school year, I was surprised she was making such an offer. Perhaps, she was looking for a little break from my eye rolling and heavy sighing. Whatever her motivation and whether or not she knew it at the time, her choice to show me that catalog led to an experience that l believe saved my life.
I browsed through the catalog. Most of the trips included traveling in a van with other teens and participating in activities like kayaking, backpacking, rock-climbing, minstrel theater…and then something caught my eye.
“ROME TO PARIS CYCLING”
Ooh. la. la.
“This one, Mom!”
A little disappointed, but not surprised by her response,I accepted her suggestion to choose something closer to home. I thumbed through the catalog again and found a 4-week cycling trip from Vermont to Connecticut.
She signed me up.
The trip was a self-supported cycling tour, which meant no support van and all the gear had to be carried in panniers on our bicycles.
To prepare for this wholly new experience, our next stop was Metropolis Bikes in DC where we picked out my Nishiki, a sturdy touring bike ready to carry the 40 pounds of gear I would strap to front and rear racks.
I arrived at the airport in Burlington,Vermont to meet with the group which included kids from all over the US. The group consisted of nine 14-year olds and two counselors in their mid-twenties. We made fast friends. The photo below is my favorite because we look so happy. It was the message of the sign that brought us so much joy after a long climb.
We rode from Grand Isle, Vermont to Hartford, Connecticut.We averaged around 30 miles/ day zigzagging across New England. We saw the New England country side from the seat of our bicycles.
We learned how to work together to move on the road safely and keep the group together. We learned how to set up our campsite and shop for and cook our meals on a camp stove. We learned how to change flat tires as they happened. It wasn’t always easy but it was exhilarating and we were in it together.
Saved my life? I know that sounds extreme. But, I really don’t think it is overstating the fact that my first bicycle tour woke me up in every way that I needed to be woken up.
Before the summer of 1986, I was that kid whose parents were called into to discuss how I wasn’t living up to my potential. I actually had a competition with the boy I sat next to in Ms. Bartlett’s freshman English class as to who could turn in the least amount of homework.
After cycling 700 miles carrying my own gear, I was energized and felt a sense of myself that I had lost somewhere in those years of hormone poisoning. I made the honor roll, ran cross-country and track and began to contemplate my life’s purpose.
It changed everything & I found a new love, bicycle travel. Between 1986-1999, I went on 8 self-supported bike trips totaling over 10,000 miles.