When I first decided more than 40 years ago that I was going to start an active travel company leading bike tours around the country, a lot of people thought I was crazy. Especially since, to be perfectly honest, I was more of a competitive runner than a biker at the time. Nothing felt better than lacing up my shoes and sprinting up a new trail to explore fresh ground and leave the noise and congestion of the city behind. It was this active connection with the natural world that motivated me to start Backroads. I knew that something special happens when you combine physical activity with exploring new and inspiring places. If I could start a company that got people outside and experiencing that unfiltered connection to the world, maybe I could have myself a new career.
Jump forward four decades and I can’t help but feel reassured when I see that, during this unprecedented crisis, we’re experiencing one of the biggest booms in biking anyone has ever seen. I’m reading headlines from London to Paris to New York City about record-setting bike sales, with some cities even converting car lanes to bike paths to meet the increased demand. And as restrictions start to lift, I’m seeing the same thing right here in Marin County, California, where more people of all ages are out on my favorite roads and bike paths (social distancing and all) than I’ve ever seen. Whether it’s commuters looking for alternatives to public transportation, families having fun together outside or people simply looking for healthy exercise and freedom, it makes me happy to see this growing appreciation for something that has been such an integral part of my life for so many years.
And it’s not just bikes. My original passion for getting outside on foot still burns strong, and I’ve been able to spend a lot of time exploring more of the hills and hiking trails near my home these past couple months. I recently spent a day walking with my family through the heart of San Francisco, and even in this urban environment I was struck by how much more we see and experience on foot, at a slower pace, than when we’re passing through at our usual hurried rate. From ornate home gardens to locals working in their yards and the micro-cultures found in the sounds and scents of North Beach and Chinatown, we all agreed after our walk that when you take the time to observe the world around you at an intimate pace, there are endless beautiful stories waiting to be told.
If there’s a silver lining to everything that’s going on in the world, it’s that people are gaining a new appreciation for biking and hiking in green spaces, open skies and fresh air. We’re rediscovering the simple pleasures of connecting with loved ones and slowing life down a bit. These are exactly the values that inspired me to start that small active travel company so many years ago. Whether it’s our neighborhood parks, the hiking trails of Southern Utah or the winding roads of Sicily, I still believe there’s something magical about seeing a new part of the world on two wheels or your own two feet.
I think it's important to look for hopeful signs in these challenging times. And, when it’s safe to do so, if more people are inspired to get outside and bike and hike in the sunshine, from their own neighborhoods and local parks to faraway places, we’ll all be better for it. Maybe starting Backroads wasn’t such a crazy idea after all.