To be bewildered, amazed and humbled by nature is a phenomenon that most of us are familiar with. Nature in its purest form is a compelling force that provides profound lessons about our place on this planet. It pushes our boundaries. It challenges our definition of comfort. But most importantly, nature can help us realize what we’re capable of. The concept of personal growth through outdoor activity and the chance to share that experience with others is what allures many of us to become Backroads leaders. It’s also what inspires many leaders to volunteer to help make these experiences accessible to underserved populations.
I grew up in San Francisco and moved to Marin County (a stone’s throw over the Golden Gate Bridge) decades ago when I got married. Surrounded by so much natural beauty for so long, I’ve come to take the trees, the coast and the open spaces for granted. It wasn’t until I started traveling more that I realized how special this place is and how blessed I am to call it home.
In late December, my wife, son and I went for a walk to mark the 25th anniversary of the fall of the wall just outside our village. I grew up here, right along the border between East and West Germany. You might be thinking, “But the Wall fell on November 9th, 1989.” And so it did, in Berlin. However, I lived along the further westward inner German border–the 870-mile double-barrier of steel mesh fencing, anti-personnel mines, barbed wire, watchtowers and dog runs. The opening here began on December 22nd 1989, with just pedestrian access and only in specific towns.
Starting with the Danube, Europe’s second-longest river, we set out to see how Backroads-quality biking could be combined with a luxury floating hotel. We quickly realized that this is the perfect blend. The Danube is known for having the longest bike path in the world along its banks, known as the Donauradweg. But our job was to look for more than that, to find “backroads” so guests can get off the well-ridden path and really get to know the region via bicycle.
Have you ever wondered who answers the phone when you call with questions about a trip? Mark Vashro is one of our newest members in the Guest Services department at Backroads. He’s been a Trip Leader in New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, and Maine but has recently accepted this new position in our Berkeley office in order to have a more geographically stable life. Why? Mark’s in the process of finishing and releasing his documentary, Bike Against the Wind.
Trying to stay upright, I slowly place one foot in front of the other, and I focus on the encouraging face of my Malagasy guide. One false step and I’ll be in the drink with all my gear. I’m crossing a stream on a slippery log in southern Madagascar on my way to learn how to develop sanitation projects in remote communities. This is pretty incredible, considering that just 48 hours earlier I was staring at two male lions in the comfort of a Land Rover while leading one of Backroads’s most impressive trips: South Africa & Botswana Multisport. Now, here I am trudging through the lush green countryside of one of the poorest countries on earth: Madagascar.
I’m flying down the hill at 50 miles an hour. Trees blow past me as I rapidly descend in elevation. Suddenly, smack in the middle of the road, I see two grizzly bears. I slam on the brakes, skidding sideways on my road bike. Somehow, I maintain control and stop, a mere 20 paces away from the two grizzlies. Startled, one runs to the side of the road, but the other holds his ground.
Cycling in the ridiculously hot region of South East Asia for months on end with no support, camp assistant Brant Haflich and I figured we’d be spending a good amount of time in search of clean drinking water. We had just finished cycling across our own country and we wanted to continue our bicycle adventures while learning something along the way. We wanted a purpose for our pedal strokes and we had questions about global water issues.
It was springtime in northern New Mexico. The snow was melting off the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, the wildflowers were blooming and the bold colors of chiles rojos y verdes adorned my plate night after night. Our first Backroads Santa Fe & Taos walking tour of the season was infused with that ethereal ebullient light that has attracted many to reflect and interpret its artistic form.
Backroads Family Trips are packed with fresh air and outdoor activity sure to keep even the most energetic kids entertained. Our on-trip Kid Coordinators love to get kids playing with these fun variations on the classic game of Tag.
We at Backroads know bikes. Those of you who travel with us know bikes. We are bike people. We love our world on two wheels. They give us great joy and take us behind the scenes. We speed through the countryside along quiet trails. We feel empowered with the wind in our hair and the strength of our pedals.
Happy comfortable feet empower you to tackle indulgent adventures and find delight in every moment. Having proper footwear should be priority numero uno as you begin packing for your trip. Whether you are biking, hiking or dancing your way through your vacation, these are the best ways to take care of your most-used instruments of travel, your feet.
The wind is blowing in your face, which is usually a pleasant feeling but today it’s making the riding one hell of a lot tougher. Your head feels heavy and your eyes are fixed on the tarmac just inches ahead of your front wheel, the beautiful scenery stopped mattering a long time ago. As the sweat drips from your face, you struggle to find your breath and you wonder, “How in the hell was I ever talked into going on an active travel trip?”
The sun’s shining, there’s a white carpet of snow covering the ground, and the trees are heavy from the latest snowfall. Working up a sweat, I ascend a small hill and drink in the view. As far as I can see, forest covers the landscape…