Can two suburban parents take a vacation on bikes and without kids and enjoy it? Yes, we say.
On a sunny Saturday afternoon last July my husband and I climbed onto our bicycles, rode out of our driveway in Greenwich, Conn., and headed north … to Canada. We were traveling without kids, car, itinerary, or hotel reservations – just an 8 ½” x 11” map printed off the Internet (late the previous night) of all that lay between our house and my sister’s cottage northwest of Ottawa.
After years of traveling with children, our daughters had chosen to go to sleep-away camp and my husband and I would be taking a vacation without kids. But why choose to travel on a bicycle? With the anxiety of no guaranteed lodging or meals? What if it rains all day? What if there’s nowhere to stay? What if my butt hurts? What if, what if, what if?
This vacation style was exactly what my husband wanted as an antidote to his hectic and over-scheduled work life. He wanted his holiday to be as unplanned as possible and filled with physical activity. So there we were in the driveway, without any hotel reservations (although I had plenty of the other kind), ready for all the “what ifs.” Off we went. And it was fabulous. We spent 11 days pedaling and enjoying all the people and places serendipity placed along the way.
Keeping in Touch
Our one essential piece of technology for this kind of odyssey was a cell phone with Internet access. We used it to keep in touch with family and to send emails to our daughters at camp. It was a fantastic way to search for a wonderful B&B or charming inn, no matter what bit of asphalt we might have been sitting on at 2 p.m. that day. It allowed us the flexibility to detour or linger if we stumbled across some hidden treasure.
Meandering on small local roads for 531 miles – without a windshield to filter out the sights, scents, sounds and bugs – our journey was rich with details of the road. Some days we breathed in the scent of wildflowers and freshly cut hay. Other days we breathed in the not-so-gorgeous odor of the cow manure on the dairy farms en route. Several times we hopped off our bikes and ate wild berries growing at the side of the road along the Hudson Valley.
Riding the Canalway Bike Trail along the Erie Canal brought us back to the time when canals, rivers, and lakes were the nation’s superhighways. We spent a happy hour with the keeper at Lock 17, watching him send boats up and down stream. We happened upon the Herkimer Home State Historical Site near Little Falls, N.Y. Costumed staff told us the story of Revolutionary War hero Nicholas Herkimer (one of the staff was a distant relative) and led us through the living history museum where that afternoon their day campers had been making rope and pewter spoons out in the sunshine on the banks of the Mohawk River.
We continued to contemplate the past, present and future as we rode past miles of modern windmills just southeast of Watertown, N.Y. Hundreds of turbines rise up along the horizon, providing a truly modern backdrop for the Amish farmers tilling their fields with horse-drawn equipment.
Toward the end of the trip we did have some rain along the shores of Lake Ontario. My $4 yellow plastic poncho ballooned out all around me as I rode, but it kept me warm and dry. The soft rain and misty morning only enhanced the maritime experience of crossing the lake on a tiny ferry, arriving in Canada on the other side.
My favorite bit of scenery was the view over the Catskills from Devil’s Notch near Hunter Mountain. We slogged uphill 3,140 feet that day, which made the view that much more satisfying. We were also richly rewarded by the 15 minutes of effortless downhill glide to the bottom of the valley.