We handpick the most scenic biking routes–from the Rocky Mountains to the Tuscan countryside. Our biking trip leaders know the least trafficked cycling routes and also the most terrific stops–the trattoria where you can lunch al fresco, the olive orchard perfect for a picnic, the best spot to pick wild blueberries. A Backroads bike tour is a dream vacation. Can you already feel the wind in your hair and the sun on your face?
As I pedaled along the riverside bike path on a clear and sunny day, I couldn’t let go of the feeling that something about this riding just felt different. I was leading our Rhine River Cruise biking trip last summer and the thought kept dancing in the corner of my mind, ever-present as the smile that wouldn’t leave my face. Finally, it dawned on me.
It isn’t just cool that we’re a group of chicks on bikes, it’s phenomenal that we’re a team of women riding vintage bicycles in a historically male-dominated Tuscan race. We’re five Backroads Trip Leaders who have each led trips in Tuscany, and we’ve been planning to partake in the famed L’Eroica vintage bicycling race together for almost a year. This is my second experience racing L’Eroica in Tuscany, and this time I feel like I belong.
Not a single complaint. Not even a sibling spat. Not while we’re biking in sweltering 100-degree weather. And not while we’re biking in a downpour. “I’ve never seen 30 people volunteer to bike in the rain, and smile about it,” said my daughter, Reggie Foldes. Anyone who has traveled with kids knows it’s rare–very rare–for such amiability on a family vacation. “We’re usually arguing about everything, even where to eat,” said Jenna Bronfman, 18. That’s one reason why her parents and the other families had signed on for this Backroads trip for families with “Older Teens and 20-Somethings” in Europe. “Backroads takes all that stress away,” explained Jenna’s dad, Matt Bronfman, noting this is his family’s fourth Backroads trip.
What happens when 65 Backroads employees take almost 600 DaVita staffers on vacation together? It’s called Tour DaVita and it’s the biggest deluxe camping and bicycling trip that Backroads runs! This annual event was extra special last year — not only did it mark Tour DaVita’s 10th anniversary and a return to Nashville where the bike trip originated, but it was also the largest with nearly 600 riders, almost 400 tents, 250 miles of cycling, one enormous catering operation, two mobile shower trucks, a mobile dialysis center, live country music and tons of Tennessee sunshine. Right now we’re gearing up for another incredible tour in Washington at the end of September!
Over the decades, we’ve learned a thing or two from our guests, our own excursions and our intrepid leaders. While I could write a book on our evolution, I’ll narrow it down to a brief(ish) list of my favorite improvements in recent years.
Backroads Trips aren’t cheap. We get it. As a Backroads leader, it’s not uncommon for me to hear (always from someone who hasn’t traveled with us yet) “I could go there and do it myself for half the price.” When I hear someone say something like that, I usually just smile and say, “Well, there are certainly a lot of ways to travel, but you’d be surprised at just how much you get from a Backroads trip.” And the reason for my smile is that, having seen firsthand what our guests experience in the course of their trip, the question of “Where is the value?” is hardly a question at all. I’ve lost count of how many guests have expressed to me how worthwhile their experience has been. So what is it? What makes a Backroads trip so well worth the price?
India is everything you’ve heard plus a million more sensations. The contrasts knock you to your knees, humble you and build you back up within a matter of moments. It takes “exotic” to the next level and stamps the reality that we’re from vastly different cultures but we’re similar in so many ways.
In May, my wife and I traveled to Tuscany & Umbria with Backroads. It was our 23rd trip with our favorite active travel company. A question often asked by fellow travelers is, what keeps you coming back? Simply put, Backroads is special. Backroads is family. Anyone can place you on a nice bike, take you to beautiful places and feed you good food. Backroads is an immersion experience in the sights, sounds, tastes, history and culture of a region. They do impeccable research for their cycling and hiking routes and their support is exceptional. Not only are Backroads leaders accomplished at their jobs, they are delightful, wonderful humans whom we have befriended on many occasions. Like minds are drawn to like experiences, so it’s not surprising that we have found some of our best friends on Backroads trips. Friends we still travel with, commune with, do life with.
Everybody loves a great hotel. And we all love that moment of discovery: walking into an elegant lobby or stepping into our luxurious room with a view out the window that reminds us we’re somewhere special–whether it’s a sweeping seascape or a snowcapped mountain peak. I’ve been fortunate to stay at some truly amazing hotels while leading trips for Backroads, and here are seven that stand out.
At the end of a typical Backroads day, I find myself well fed, happily tired and awe-inspired by what I just experienced. I drafted this blog from a hotel balcony in Dinard, just across an estuary from St. Malo, reflecting on yet another one of those wonderful days. What particularly struck me about the day was how much my kids learned without even knowing the trip was actually educational. I’m sneaky that way.
I just returned from a biking trip through Brittany and Normandy and hiking trip in the Alps with extended family and was once again reminded of the ways a vacation like this brings families together.
Backroads has been offering family trips since before I had kids (and my oldest is now 22). Why did we start them? Well, Backroads is just such a naturally positive, amazing environment for families to have a great time together that it didn’t take us being rocket scientists to see their potential. Once my wife, Liz, and I had our own kids, the beauty of designated family trips became even more obvious.
“We’re going up over that hill?” I said under my breath, looking ahead as the road went up, up, up and disappeared over a hill. It was a beautiful sunny day in Nova Scotia, Canada, ten years ago, and we had been riding on quiet, shady roads all morning. More talking than riding, I had slowly been getting tired during the ride, but I knew we were almost at our destination for the day, Lunenburg. I hadn’t been mentally preparing for this hill though.
I’m often asked how I found my job leading Backroads trips… Fate. Magic. Luck… Well, perhaps a combination of those things. It’s a unique story that involves a photography exposition, a small community in northern Chile and two random backpackers high in the Chilean mountains. And it’s a story that put me on a path to helping develop a brand new Backroads trip for this coming December in a corner of South American that is easily one of my favorite places in the world.