In just a few days, I start the first day of my vacation. It’s a vacation, mind you, that’s required me to train.
Last year’s adventure brought me to Napa and Lake Tahoe, where my sweetie and I fell in love with the idea of bringing our bikes on vacation. We saw so many out-of-the-way places that tourists don’t usually see. At one point, we even said we’d never vacation without them.
We’re making good on that. This year, we’re kicking it up a notch with a seven-day cycling tour through the Finger Lakes, New York. A cycling tour doesn’t just mean a few bike rides mixed into a trip of wining, dining and sight-seeing. It means, rather, that we’ll park our car at the meeting spot on the first day and use only our pedal power for the rest of the vacation.
We’re not alone in this adventure. We’ll be joining 650 strangers. By the end of a full week of cycling and camping together, I doubt I’ll refer to them as strangers.
It may seem a bit ambitious - biking 350 miles in seven days, camping in between stops. But with organized camp sites, prepared meals, nightly entertainment, showers and even traveling vans to carry our gear from place to place, it really is one of the more luxurious cycling tours.
My grandfather, I’m sure, would agree. Although I suspect he’d be excited and intrigued about my upcoming trip, I think there’s a part of him who would scoff at the plush conditions.
Nearly 28 years ago, Granddad set out on his own cycling adventure, a sort of race to check off another thing on the bucket list. He was 65 and had just been diagnosed with cancer when he decided to make the trek from Toronto to Cape Cod. Yes, by bicycle.
I was too young, just 8 years old, to fully comprehend what was happening. I knew Granddad was going on a long bike trip. That alone didn’t seem completely out of the ordinary.
Granddad was a bit spontaneous and eccentric, always running, cycling or kayaking. For a while, he worked as a bike messenger through the crowded downtown streets of Toronto, dodging traffic and asserting himself as - that kind of cyclist - that gives cyclists a bad name. My mom recalls that the first time she was going to meet her future father-in-law. When she and my dad saw him riding his bike in traffic, they honked and waved. My grandfather, assuming they were just more pushy drivers, saluted them with the middle finger.
Several years later, he was standing in our driveway on a heavy, aluminum 10-speed, packed up with a tent and other necessities.
Most of what I know about his trip I learned through a journal he kept along the way. Each day in a short entry, he noted how many miles (or being Canadian, kilometers) he’d covered, the people he met along the way and what he ate.
Just a day into the trip, he’d discovered that his tent had a hole. Of course, he discovered this during a rainy night. He also discovered that he severely under-budgeted for his trip and, before the days of ATMs, feared he’d run out of money. He started a diet of cheap canned foods, like baked beans.
Soon, he had another plan. Granddad spent the remainder of the trip meeting strangers and somehow convincing them to make him dinners and sleep in guest rooms or on sofas. Granddad was a friendly guy.
He kept a list of the people he met, along with snap shots to documents his travels.
He died just a few months after he returned from his 700-mile trip. My grandmother called all of the names scribbled in the back of his journal to let them know he’d passed.
I feel a special connection to my grandfather when I think of his personal journey. I think I understand him in a way that others don't. I wish I’d been old enough to know him better and that he’d been around long enough for me to talk about his escapades. Who knows, maybe we would have even gone on a cycling adventure together. He’d be in his 90s now, and somehow I think he’d still be riding.
Sometimes the idea of retracing his journey slips into my head. I’m not quite as daring as Granddad, though, and I’d be more likely to make hotel reservations and eat at restaurants along the way.
For now, I’ll take baby steps into the cycling tour world. I’ll enjoy the nightly cookouts, the clean towels, the maps and marked route, all of the luxuries.
But I also plan to completely unplug. No phone, no email, no computers, radios or televisions. Just my bike and, yes, a journal.