Like others, Maureen Fagan came to cycling after an injury had her itching for a way to keep active when she wasn’t running. Three years ago, Sylvie invited her to join Higher Gear’s Women’s Ride. While not ready to hang up her running shoes, Maureen found that cycling was a great way to stay fit, meet other active people and enjoy the outdoors. She participates in our group rides and has done the Wrigley Field Road Tour twice.
This year, after running a Boston qualifying time at the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon in June, Maureen had some downtime. She decided that she should set a non-running goal and looked to her bike. A friend who had ridden his bicycle across the U.S. back in his 20’s discovered the Bon Ton Roulet – a fully-supported, seven-day bicycle tour through the beautiful Finger Lakes Region of New York State.
Maureen’s idea of fun might be a little different than others. After three years of running and coordinating a team for RAGNAR – an overnight team running relay event – Maureen still finds herself having to explain it to friends. “They ask me, ‘What part of this is fun?’ What part of it isn’t fun? It’s an adventure. Twenty eight hours of living out of a van…”
Adversity? Adventure? Challenge? These are words that entice Maureen. “It’s my personality. Give me an adventure and I’ll do it. This was just an adventure. I’ll never say no to adventure. And this was a challenge. I’ve never done a six-day bike ride.”
So, with two century rides under her belt, a great deal of fitness and absolutely no camping experience, Maureen registered for the Bon Ton Roulet. “A challenge of a week of cycling? With a century in the middle? Nobody can tell me I can’t do it.”
To get ready for her summer adventure, Maureen didn’t worry too much about mileage. Instead she just concerned herself with “saddle time.” Wanting to get comfortable with riding her bike day after day, she used her bike for running errands around town.
She managed to get in two long solo rides over the summer – a 60 and a 70-miler. For one of them, she followed the lakefront bike paths south, through Chicago, and into Indiana. In Whiting, she stopped at the Dairy Queen and then headed back for what would be a 70-mile trip.
Riding through the refineries that day in Indiana, Maureen experienced her first flat tire. “Thank God for Higher Gear! I knew they had the video on their website.” Maureen had practiced fixing a flat at our Women’s Clinic. “If you’ve never done it, you just don’t know what you’re doing. But I had done it. I took the class and I knew the video was on the website.” So Maureen cued up the video and repaired her flat tire.
In preparation for her adventure, Maureen also practiced how to set up her tent, the one she borrowed and would be sleeping in during her week in NY. She set about testing and choosing bags that she would use to carry all of her gear for the week.
On Friday, July 19th, Maureen rode her fully loaded Specialized Dolce Elite and headed to Chicago where she would take an overnight train to Syracuse, NY. Once in New York, Maureen took a shuttle to Cortland, NY, where the ride started Sunday.
This region in New York owes its beauty to a one-mile thick glacier that, 10,000 years ago, carved its way south, forming the deep valleys of the Finger Lakes. Each night, Bon Ton Roulet riders would camp out next to the lakes. Anyone who understands the nature of glacier formed lakes realizes that this means a quick descent each evening, but a climb out and away from the lakes each morning. “The first night, coming into Ithaca, there was a great downhill. All I could think about was that the next morning, I would have to climb that hill.”
In addition to the climbs out of the campgrounds each morning, there are plenty of hills dispersed throughout the route. “The first day, with the hills, I was thinking, ‘Maybe I can’t do this.’” But, give Maureen a challenge and she will conquer it. “Here, we don’t have hills. We have overpasses! The first day, I had to get off and walk. As the days passed, I found I could actually make it up the hills. By the end of week, I could do it. And I could do it with my packs. I learned how to use my gears.”
And those uphills paid off – with downhills. “That was the best thing. You would work your butt off to get up the hill. The downhill was like the carrot at the end of stick.” While the speeds you can hit downhill “take some getting used to,” Maureen proudly recalls a descent where she was exceeding the posted 30mph speed limit.
This was the 16th year of the Bon Ton Roulet. Sponsored by their respective YMCA’s, the ride always starts and ends in Cortland and Auburn, NY, but the route will vary. The tour is referred to as a “luxury” one because of the conveniences provided along the way. (“Bon ton” refers to “a sophisticated manner or style.”) Breakfast, rest stops and dinner are all included. Bags are carried from campground to campground, so riders don’t have to haul their gear day after day. (Maureen only carried all of her packs to get to the start, on her last day to return to the train and to/from the train in Chicago.) A shower truck was available and, according to Maureen, it had even better water pressure and hot water than the high school or college locker rooms that were frequently available.
A company called Comfy Campers is on hand to provide campers with add-ons (for an additional charge) to their experience – like tent set-up and take-down service, air mattress rental, cell phone charging stations, coffee service and towel service. Maureen highly recommends the latter. Not having to haul a wet towel on the ride every day and, more importantly, having a clean, dry towel after a long day of cycling, goes a long way. “That was the best five dollars I spent – just to have a dry towel every day.”
This year, Maureen was one of 480 cyclists on the ride. “I saw it all: folding bikes, recumbent bikes, tandems…” Participants rode with a “license plate” that would say where they were from, so as you rode around, people would strike up conversations with you. “You meet interesting people. There’s a whole culture of people who you don’t know unless you do a ride like this.”
The ride around the Finger Lakes took them through Amish country and to several wineries along the route. Maureen saw Amish horse-and-buggies and a bike shop owned and operated by an Amish man. One day along the route, Maureen saw a huge, sprawling pear tree. “It was growing in the middle of nowhere. I had never seen a pear tree before.” So Maureen stopped to take a picture. That’s the beauty of a ride like this, you can stop as much or as little as you want. “You have the whole day to do the miles. You could do it as fast as you want. You have the whole day.”
Each day, there were two routes to choose from – a long and a regular route. The regular route was typically 45-50 miles per day, while the long route challenged riders with 65-75 miles per day. The long route included an optional century mid-week. Did somebody say challenge? Of course, Maureen had to give the century a try!
She found herself one of 70 (out of the total 480) riders who chose the century challenge. She recalls the hill that she encountered on that route – a 12% grade. She was determined to make it to the top.
“Even after the century, I remember thinking later that night that I felt fine. I had done the Wrigley Field Road Tour two years before. There’s no way I would have gotten my butt on the bike the next day after that century. But here, I felt fine.”
“I would totally do it again. Where’s my next one? Finding the next place to do it is my next challenge.” Inspired by Christy and Adam Coppola of Give A Bike, Maureen dreams of doing a long bike tour in Europe. She would love to do one with her family. If she can’t get them on board with a long bike tour, she’ll wait until her three children have grown.
“I’m grateful to Sylvie for introducing me to this fun sport. Anybody can do it.” The first day of the Bon Ton Roulet, Maureen noticed a lot of older people, people in their 80’s. “I love lifelong sports. The thought of continuing to do bike tours gives me incentive to stay in shape, to keep fit.”
To do a bike tour, Maureen has the following tips:
- “Get the right gear, rain gear and a good map.” She likens it to winter running, “You’re fine in any weather, as long as you have the right gear.”
- “Find a ride that is well supported. There are lots of companies who do bike tours. Take recommendations from people who’ve done it.”
- “You have to try it. Once you know how to do it – it’s like camping – once you know how to do it, it’s easy. You figure out your system. It’s like having a baby. You don’t know your system until you do it.”
- Above all, Maureen recommends: “Be flexible. If I had any reservation about camping, I wouldn’t have done this trip. Keep an open mind. Have an adventurous spirit.”
- “Oh,” she adds, “and get your bike tuned up.”
Before doing another bike tour, especially one where she would have to carry her own gear the entire length of the trip, Maureen realizes she needs a touring bike – one that is capable of carrying heavier loads.
For now, Maureen will continue running. In fact, now she’s training for the 2014 Boston Marathon.
“I like biking, but I don’t know if I could ever become a competitive biker.” That’s the beauty of a bike tour. Anyone can do it. “A bike tour is a great way to see parts of the country that you would never see. It’s a fun way to travel. You get to see everything. You’re outside.”
And, for Maureen, “A bike tour is more of a vacation.” Not everybody’s idea of a vacation, granted. “It’s my personality. Give me an adventure & I’ll do it.”
Higher Gear customers recommend seeing the world by bike. Check out their stories:
- Phil Adams attempts his first bicycle tour in his 70’s.
- Dr. Tony Breitbach finds, “There is no better way to see a country than by bicycle.”
- John Garcia, the Running News Guy, does the Wrigley Field Road Tour.
- Glenna Lampner also came to cycling after a running injury.
We met up again with Maureen as she was preparing to travel to the 2014 Boston Marathon.
These and more customer stories can be found under Featured Cyclists.