Archive for the ‘Bicycling’ Category

A new resource for cycling routes and services

May 22, 2015

One of my favorite things is spreading the word in high-profile publications about people, services, and destinations I think contribute something positive to the world. Here’s one of them, about Bikabout, a wonderful cycling-centric service for travelers founded by cycling enthusiast and tireless advocate Megan Ramey. A small article ran in the New York Times May 17. Here’s my original version, which includes a few more details. Happy pedaling! 

By Diane Daniel

Bikabout founder Megan Ramey with daughter Annika Ramey on Plum Island, Mass. [photo Kyle Ramey]

Bikabout founder Megan Ramey with daughter Annika Ramey on Plum Island, Mass. [photo Kyle Ramey]

Megan Ramey’s first bike-related vacation with her husband and their daughter, now 5, partly inspired her to start Bikabout, an online travel resource for everything bicycling, with information on bike-friendly lodging, traveling with bikes, renting them, and where to ride them around town along with tips on culture, etiquette and safety.

“When our daughter was nine months we took our Burley trailer on the Chinatown bus from Boston and had the most amazing five days biking around with her in Brooklyn,” said Ramey, who lives in Cambridge, Mass., and volunteers with several bicycle advocacy groups. “Our next trip was to the Netherlands, where one out of every two people bike, which was totally eye-opening. If I can help get the US halfway to where the Netherlands is, then I will have accomplished a great thing.”

The site, which launched last year, is this spring rolling out new guides on Washington and New York City, soon to be followed by Atlanta, Milwaukee, San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, adding to the 13 cities already available.

Bikabout founder Megan Ramey with daughter Annika in Madison, Wisc. [photo Kyle Ramey]

Bikabout founder Megan Ramey with daughter Annika in Madison, Wisc. [photo Kyle Ramey]

The downloadable homegrown local rides, provided by Bikabout “ambassadors,” have proven to be the most popular part of the service, she said.

“You can of course go on MapMyRide and find rides there, but most of those are for people going 60 miles a day. Ours are for everyone and are less than 20 miles. They’re designed to have people really see and support the real city, to get off the beaten path and into the nooks and crannies.”

For example, the 7-mile East Van Brewery Tour in Vancouver visits six craft breweries and a few food stops, while the 13-mile Charleston (S.C.) Coastal See Food Tour includes key dining spots and expansive water views. Ramey also has partnered with several Kimpton Hotels, including those in D.C., and will supply them with themed routes starting from each location to give guests.

“Someday I’d like Bikabout to represent every major city in the U.S. that can accommodate bike tourism,” she said. “I don’t have the goal of making tons of money on this. I’m doing this more as a change agent. I want there to be a direct correlation between the amount of money that cities realize in bike tourism and how much they invest in bike infrastructure and safety.”

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Bike tour in E. Germany, with pickles and ‘kraut

November 17, 2014

Now that we’re living in the Netherlands, I’m pondering all the awesome bike trips we can do here and in surrounding countries. We prefer to go the self-guided route, though I love to scour catalogs of group tour outfitters to see what they’re up to and get route ideas. One new offering from VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations caught my fancy so much that I had to spread the word. So I wrote a brief ditty about it for the In Transit section of the New York Times. Who doesn’t want to go to a gherkin pickle business or paddle through Spreewald, for crying out loud? Here’s the scoop:

The tour includes a boat trip in Spreewald. Photo by VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations.

The tour includes a boat trip in Spreewald. Photo by VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations.

 “Berlin to Dresden: Hidden Gems of Eastern Germany,” a new trip for 2015 from VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations, features connections with local residents, a lesson in sauerkraut making, and wine sampling at a local vineyard. Bicycling routes follow easy terrain with optional rolling hills. Stops along the way include the landscaped gardens of Potsdam’s world-famous Sanssouci Park and palace; the lush wetlands and tranquil waterways of the Spreewald, a UNESCO biosphere reserve; a visit to the 300-year-old Meissen porcelain factory to learn how the dishware is made; and a trip to the sandstone peaks of the Bastei, in Saxon Switzerland National Park.

The trip concludes with a walking tour of Dresden. Photo by VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations.

The trip concludes with a walking tour of Dresden. Photo by VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations.

Riders will having several opportunities to speak with local East Germans, including dining with a family on their cucumber farm, where a generations-old gherkin pickling business is run that was originally under the control of the East German state under communism and then purchased back after the fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago. The tour concludes in the cultural capital of Dresden, which travelers will explore on a walking tour.

This 10-day itinerary starts at $3,745 including international airfare, with a $200 discount for reservations made by Oct. 15. Add-ons include a pre-trip to Berlin and a post-trip to Prague.

Ciclismo Classico spins off into photo tours

August 19, 2014
Serrania del Hornocal in Jujuy. Photo by Ossian Lindholm

Serrania del Hornocal in Jujuy. Photo by Ossian Lindholm

I had fun catching up with Lauren Hefferon, who I’ve known through the Boston cycling community and through travel writing for many years. The company she started 25 years ago, Ciclismo Classico, has become a leader in bike and adventure tours in Italy.

Before that, Lauren even wrote and illustrated a little cookbook for touring cyclists. Called “Cycle Food: A Guide to Satisfying Your Inner Tube,” you can still find it for purchase online. I’m holding on to my copy!

Cuesta del Obispo Pass. Photo by Ossian Lindholm

Cuesta del Obispo Pass. Photo by Ossian Lindholm

So when I learned that Lauren had discovered a passion for photography and was spinning that into photography tours, I wrote that up for the New York Times In Transit section. Initially, when it was posted online, it was the only In Transit without a photo! For a photo-tour story! I was happy that Lauren’s peeps pointed that out to me. Turned out it was just an oversight and a photo was added.

Here’s the text, along with images from the photographer leading the first tours with Lauren. Oh, another fun part — Lina and I had traveled the very roads they’re taking in northwest Argentina and blogged about it. Definitely photo worthy!!

Here’s the news:

El Carmen church in Angastaco in the Calchaqui Valley. Photo by Ossian Lindholm

El Carmen church in Angastaco, Calchaqui Valley. Photo by Ossian Lindholm

The 25-year-old bike touring company Ciclismo Classico has created a spin-off that focuses on seeing as much as doing. The charter destination for a series of photography tours — called TravelVision Journeys — is northwest Argentina. The four scheduled Vision & Vine treks will explore mountain landscape, indigenous communities and high-altitude vineyards. They were developed by Ciclismo founder and enthusiastic photographer Lauren Hefferon, who will co-lead the nine-day trips with Argentinian photographer and documentary filmmaker Ossian Lindholm. Destinations include the salt desert Las Salinas Grandes, the small cities of Humahuaca and Cachi, and Los Cardones National Park.

Valle Encantado National Park Los Cardones. Photo by Ossian Lindholm

Valle Encantado National Park Los Cardones. Photo by Ossian Lindholm

“The trip will be physical, cultural and educational. The bicycle is a way to immerse yourself in a place and its culture, and so is the camera,” said Hefferon, who is personally planning, managing, and leading the tours. “It’s like another chapter opening up in my life, because so many of the elements are new to me.”

Each tour will include some kind of collaboration with the local community. Travelers in the first outing will work with a school group to create a photo book and hope to raise money for the school from book sales, Hefferon said.

Hefferon is developing future trips to Sardinia and the wetlands of Pantanal in Brazil and Ibera in Argentina.

Argentina Vision & Vine costs $5,200 per person and departs from Salta, Argentina.

Bicycling just beyond New York City

July 12, 2014

Thanks to Adventure Cycling’s “Bike Bits,” an electronic newsletter filled with tidbits for folks who love bicycle touring and sightseeing-oriented riding, I learned about a couple starting up overnight bike/camping tours from New York City. The three-day outings are geared toward city-dwellers, but anyone can participate. They make things as easy as possible for newbies, which I think is key. If I hadn’t had my pal Alice Charkes, a long-time Adventure Cycling leader, showing me the ropes almost 20 years ago, I’m not sure I would have tried bike touring. Thank you, Al!

I thought Gotham Bicycle Tours would be a great item for In Transit, the New York Times online and print travel feature I regularly contribute to. My editor agreed, and here’s my little item, which ran in June:

By Diane Daniel

Lukas Herbert takes a break during a bike ride through the Harlem Valley. The route is now part of the the Hudson Valley tour. (NOTE: this was taken a few years ago before the tours). Photo by Eric Wilson

Lukas Herbert takes a break during a bike ride through Harlem Valley, part of the Hudson Valley tour. Photo by Eric Wilson

As passionate cyclists and campers, Bronx residents Lukas Herbert and Laura Willis have introduced friends to their avocation and hope to see their fellow city riders discover the joys of multiple-day bicycle touring. But they know an impediment exists.

“While bike riding is becoming hugely popular here, a lot of people do not have access to personal vehicles, which poses a major obstacle for doing a bike tour,” Mr. Herbert said in an email.

Enter Gotham Bicycle Tours, which the couple started this spring to offer three-day, two-night bike tours just outside the New York City metro region.

“Fortunately, we have a mass transit system that permits bikes, so we are setting up these tours with 100 percent access to mass transit,” said Mr. Herbert, an urban planner with Westchester County, specializing in bicycle and pedestrian work.

“The idea is to remove as many barriers as possible to get people out on a bike overnight,” he said. “Then, if they do our tours, maybe they’ll graduate to a bigger, longer tour or strike out on their own. Regardless, the goal is to increase bike traveling, which is a good thing.”

Some of the cycling will be on car-free paths, including the Harlem Valley Rail Trail. Photo by Lukas Herbert

Some of the cycling will be on car-free paths, including the Harlem Valley Rail Trail. Photo by Lukas Herbert

Four tours are scheduled, two that traverse the Hudson Valley ($275 a person) and two along eastern Long Island and out to Montauk ($295 a person). The trips start at commuter rail stops outside the city.

Aside from not doing the actual pedaling, Gotham is making the outing as easy as possible for travelers by mapping scenic routes, planning meals and arranging accommodations (bed-and-breakfast options are sometimes available for noncampers).

Gotham staff will shuttle riders’ gear and even the cyclists themselves if they get too tired. Technical assistance is available for everything from a flat tire to tent setup (tent rentals are available too).

What if you try it but you still don’t like it? Push the “panic button” and Gotham promises to put you back on a train or bus to return home.

Partners of mountain bikers, this trip’s for you

April 29, 2014

This is one of those “why didn’t people think of this before?” ideas.

Sacred Rides, a Canadian-based outfitter known for its serious singletrack mountain bike tours for experienced riders, has launched a line of Bring-Your-Partner Rides that mountain bikers and their non-biking companions can enjoy together.

 If I were with a mountain-biking partner, I’d love this. The destinations are great and I like outdoors activities and road riding, so I think I’d like to come along, thank you!

The new partner trips include hiking, yoga, hot springs, spa time and introductory mountain bike lessons for the companion, while the mountain biker will enjoy single-track cross-country riding on moderate to challenging terrain in Fernie, at Nipika Mountain Resort and Banff National Park and Kananaskis Country. Activities for couples to do together include hikes, yoga (pictured here) and paddling on the Kootenay River. More locations are expected to be added to the partner program, in North America and beyond.

Personally, I‘ll skip the mountain-bike lessons. Been there, bruised that. I’m sticking to the asphalt, because nothing bad can happen there. (Kidding!)

Sacred Rides owner Mike Brcic told me, when I first contacted him for my little New York Times item, that idea for the trips came from conversations with more than 100 clients, the majority of them male.

“Most of them are longtime mountain bikers with high incomes, but who have partners that don’t mountain bike,” he said. “With limited vacation time, it’s hard for them to get away on the mountain bike trips they dream of doing. So being able to bring their non-mountain-biking partner along is a win-win for everyone.”

Makes sense to me, Mike. All in all, though, I’m just grateful that my partner and I love doing the same things. Makes life easier!

Paradise found at Florida park

February 2, 2014

I wrote this article, which ran on Feb. 2 in the Boston Globe, after a summer visit to St. Joseph Peninsula State Park in Florida’s Panhandle. It’s a super-special place and while it’s not really a secret, it kind of still is because it’s out-of-the-way location keeps the number of visitors down. Read on…

By Diane Daniel

The State Park includes 10 miles of untamed coast and 35-foot-high sand dunes

The state park includes 10 miles of untamed coast and 35-foot-high sand dunes

CAPE SAN BLAS, Fla. — Initially, Youngra Hardwick appeared eager to share her wisdom. She had succeeded where I’d failed by snagging a waterfront cabin at T. H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, and I wanted in on the secret.

“There are some tricks to it. Every day different spots come open. So you have to get up really early in the morning.” Just as she was advising me about opening several internet browsers, she stopped.

“Wait! I don’t even want to talk to you about it,” she said. She was laughing, but she meant it.

View of St. Joseph Bay from the Maritime Hammock Trail

View of St. Joseph Bay from the Maritime Hammock Trail

Hardwick, who traveled here from Columbus, Ohio, with her husband and two daughters, first stumbled upon the park, in Florida’s Panhandle and about 105 miles southwest of Tallahassee, while searching online for budget-friendly coastal stays.

“I look for places that are remote and isolated, and this sounded like paradise,” she said. “I was right.”

Many visitors, it seems, treat their time at St. Joseph as if it involved password-protected admission. During my three-day stay, several people asked how I had discovered the park. Check online travel forums and you can find users jokingly trying to dissuade others from visiting.

The real treats are the eight furnished cabins with a view of St. Joseph Bay

The real treats are the eight furnished cabins with a view of St. Joseph Bay

It’s not surprising that folks want to keep this spot along Florida’s “Forgotten Coast” to themselves. St. Joseph’s natural amenities include an unheard of (at least in Florida) 10 miles of untamed coast and 35-foot-high sand dunes, along with maritime forests and wildlife. The park’s 119 tent and RV camping sites are fairly standard, but the beach is just a short walk away over the dunes. The real treats are the eight furnished “cabins,” which look more like resort condominiums minus the television. And who needs TV when your back yard looks out onto the wide expanse of St. Joseph Bay?

Luckily for the non cabin-dwellers, water views are everywhere in this 2,716-acre playground. It sits at the tip of narrow Cape San Blas and is flanked by the Gulf of Mexico and the bay, giving visitors the opportunity to see sunrises and sunsets — only a few yards apart in some spots. Although the park has been anointed a “best of” by “Dr. Beach” and is frequently mentioned in national publications, its out-of-the-way location keeps traffic relatively low.

(more…)

Bicycle rides around the country, and the world

June 18, 2013

Here in North Carolina, our summer days are often too dang hot for bike riding, unless you get up at the crack o’ dawn (which we occasionally do). But in many parts of the country and certainly in northern Europe, where one of us hails from, this is the ultimate cycling season. To that end, some trips to inspire you.

201306_01_placestobikeFirst, check out the book “Fifty Places to Bike Before You Die,” by Chris Santella (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $24.95). Santella is more editor than author — he enlists advice from a hosts of cyclists, from advocates to tour guides to writers. It’s a great read, and for cyclists like us, it’s like reading a dessert menu that spans the globe.

For those of us sticking closer to home, I wrote a list of cross-state bike rides for the Boston Globe that I’m reprinting here. As avid cyclists know, nearly every state these days offers some kind of multiple-day ride. Many are staged by volunteers or advocacy groups and are quite affordable, though, yeah, you’re not staying at the Four Seasons. For you luxury-minded riders, I suggest a trip with a commercial tour company, of which there are zillions. For the rest of us, check these out or Google your way to rides in your favorite states.

Participants of the Ride the Rockies

Participants of the Ride the Rockies

RIDE THE ROCKIES

One of the most rugged cross-state tours, this year’s sold-out Colorado version (right), from Telluride to Colorado Springs, features three scenic mountain passes and 20,400 feet of climbing over 513 miles. June 8-15, http://www.ridetherockies.com (Some friends are about to embark on an awesome Colorado tour. I had to pass because of my work schedule. So sad.)

BIKEMAINE

Inaugural weeklong event kicks off Sept. 7 with a challenging 400-mile loop starting in Orono and including stops in Belfast, Castine, Bar Harbor, and Bangor, with a cumulative elevation gain of 24,000 feet. Routes will change yearly. http://ride.bikemaine.org/

201306_03_RAGBRAI

RAGBRAI

The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, an annual seven-day, 470-mile ride in July, is the oldest (since 1972), largest, and longest bicycle touring event in the world. Day passes available. July 21-27, http://www.ragbrai.com (I did this in 2005.  What a blast!!!!!!!! Make sure you train for it!)

RIDE ACROSS WASHINGTON

This year’s tour, themed “Pines to Vines,” takes 250 riders from near the Canadian border north of Spokane south to the Hood River with about 21,000 feet of climbing and spectacular scenery. Aug. 3-10, http://www.cascade.org

Logo of the 2013 Bike Florida tour

Logo of the 2013 Bike Florida tour

BIKE FLORIDA

The 20th anniversary ride, in early spring 2014, will showcase northeast Florida’s back roads, trails, and beaches. Dates and stops to be determined. http://www.bikeflorida.org

Fans of family entertainment flock to Branson

May 20, 2013

I was surprised by how many of my East Coast friends had never heard of Branson, Missouri, one of the country’s top tourism draws. I described it to them as “G-rated Vegas without the gambling,” but now that I’ve been, I need to amend that add “with a generous scoop of Christianity and patriotism.”

Photo ExploreBranson.com

A walkway runs along Lake Taneycomo in Branson [Photo ExploreBranson.com]

If you like family-friendly variety shows and if you don’t need a drink during said show, and if you are Christian and patriotic, you’ll love Branson. I was there for a travel writers’ conference last weekend and toured around a bit. Truthfully, I felt a bit like a donkey out of water, so to speak. But that’s OK. I appreciated Branson for what it offered its fans, of which there are many. (The fairly remote Ozark Mountains town of just 10,500 hosts more than 7.5 million tourists a year and generates nearly $3 billion in annual tourism revenue. Wow.) And I admired its resilience after a tornado destroyed many buildings just last year, including the Hilton Branson Convention Center Hotel, where I stayed. There was nary a sign of distress at the Hilton, one of the nicest I’ve stayed in.

Branson Airport

Branson Airport

The two-room Branson Airport, serviced by Southwest, is totally cute, with hillbilly décor befitting its locale. Tourists visit two areas – “the strip,” Highway 76, where the show theaters are, and downtown. In town, Main and Commercial streets are home to several “flea market” type shops and the famous Dick’s 5 and 10 (loved the linoleum and the merchandise). A block away on the waterfront is the newish Branson Landing development, an outdoor mall anchored by Bass Pro Shops White River Outpost. A walkway runs along Lake Taneycomo (which connects to Table Rock Lake), and the view is lovely. The main fountain area is a favorite gathering place for visitors. I also recommend Waxy O’Shea’s, where I had a most delicious Mother’s IPA, brewed up the road in Springfield, Mo.

Mother’s IPA is brewed up the road in Springfield, Mo.

Mother’s IPA is brewed up the road in Springfield, Mo.

The tourism folks took my group on a few side trips, including to Silver Dollar City, a longtime amusement park now boasting a giant wooden roller coaster called Outlaw Run. Also wild is the Powder Keg coaster, which launches passengers from zero to 53 miles-per-hour in 2.8 seconds. I had no idea that was its “thing,” and when I watched it from standing still to screaming speed, my jaw dropped.

We writers broke up into groups and toured different spots. I checked out Dogwood Canyon Nature Park, developed by the Bass Pro folks. This is nature lite, and quite manufactured at that, but it’s well done and I’m guessing introduces people to the great outdoors who might not otherwise venture out. Visitors can explore the 6-mile paved loop by foot, bike or guided tram, and only the tram will take you to the Elk and Bison pasture. I cycled, and it was quite pleasant. The chapel was particularly nice – I’m sure many people get married there.

Cycling at Dogwood Canyon Nature Park

Cycling at Dogwood Canyon Nature Park

Some of my writer friends on that trip went on to the Branson Zipline, which they described as soft adventure, but any zipline is too much for me, so I passed. Others went fishing with the Bass Pro folks. That sounded cool, but, again, not my thing. I wish I’d had time to kayak. Folks at Kayak Branson told me they were considering a kayak station right from Branson Landing, which would be wonderfully convenient. Another writer friend loved her tour of Christian-focused College of the Ozarks, aka “Hard Work U.,” where students work instead of pay tuition. They make their own everything, including clothing, furniture, and butter, and even run a hotel. Interesting! I wish I’d had the chance to see it. All the writers toured the Titanic Museum Attraction, fascinating in that inside the half-scale replica you feel you’re on the Titanic.

After my visit, I’m now very curious to see “We Always Lie to Strangers,” a new documentary billed as “a story of family, community, music and tradition set against the backdrop of Branson.” The film also explores how conservative Branson will change (or not) as the country becomes more socially liberal. Interesting points to ponder about this  intriguing place to visit.

Woodson’s Mill in Virginia keeps tradition alive

May 1, 2013
201305_01c_Roseland_VA

Diane cycles in the Tye River valley in rural Nelson County

While we were exploring the Brew Ridge Trail south of Charlottesville, Va., for a magazine article, we took a day off to bicycle. Lina created one of her trademark custom loops using Google maps and our collection of trusted DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteers. We did a 42-mile loop around rural Nelson County, and the scenery was just gorgeous. Lina mostly kept us in valleys and along rivers, though we did have a few challenging climbs and some long stretches on dirt roads (surprise!).

Woodson’s Mill in Lowesville, VA

Woodson’s Mill in Lowesville, VA

One of the many delightful sights we happened upon was Woodson’s Mill in Lowesville, a village that used to be an important stop along the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway. The building was so impressive that I stopped to take a look, and of course Lina snapped several photos. The gate was locked, so we didn’t poke around. Later, I was delighted to read on the mill’s website that it has been owned by only a small handful of families since its construction in 1794 and is operational! Read the full history here.

More info from the website: The late J. Gill Brockenbrough Jr. purchased the property in the early 1980s and started a massive restoration effort there. The mill served as the backdrop to son Will Brockenbrough’s childhood and formed his appreciation for history, architecture, and historic preservation. Will and his wife, Sarah, reopened the mill and now run it. How wonderful!

All-natural flours and meals are made at Woodson’s Mill

All-natural flours and meals are made at Woodson’s Mill (photo by Woodson’s Mill, LLC)

They make all-natural flours and meals in small batches, by hand, with stone-ground grains. All the power for grinding comes from the Piney River’s water, which runs the Mill’s overshot wheel and hand-dressed millstones, making the entire process renewable and sustainable.

And now, for the best part: Woodson’s Mill is open May 25 through October 26 on Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. If you can’t go then, contact the owners to see if you can make an appointment for a different time. Or, if you can’t make it to the Mill Store, their products are available online and at regional retailers.

What a happy story, and it’s not over yet!

FatCat Travel Charger is the cat’s meow

October 7, 2012

One of the themes of my last cycling/camping trip was the ongoing search for outlets to charge my iPhone. I couldn’t believe how many Massachusetts state forest campgrounds didn’t have outlets – even in the restrooms!. So every time we’d stop to eat anywhere, I’d plug in for as long as I could. It was stressful! A fellow rider had packed a portable travel charger, which I coveted all week. (He did generously offer to let me borrow it.)

FatCat Travel Charger recharges iPhone

So what arrives in my email a week later but an invitation to test a FatCat Travel Charger. This is an offer I couldn’t refuse! The series includes three options, the ChargeCard ($49.95), a 2-ounce card that gives a smart phone one full charge, a PowerBar 4200 ($69.95), weighing 4 ounces and good for two and a half smart phone or iPod charges, and a PowerBar 9600 ($119.95), made with iPads in mind and charging iPhones three and a half times. Of course it works on non-Apple products, too.

I tried the PowerBar 4200, and, yes, it works well (charge/usage lengths are accurate), and it’s even stylish (not essential but a plus). My challenge now is deciding where to keep it. I have chargers in my cars and at home, so I might keep it with my oft-used travel gear. I plan another bicycle/camping trip next summer, and you can bet that the FatCat will be along for the ride.