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Take A Spin Into History And Hot Springs With Adventure Cycling
Montana Senior News, February/March 2013
With a motto like, “to inspire and empower people to travel by bicycle” it’s no wonder Adventure Cycling (AC) offers bicycle tours to suit every level of ability. Based in Missoula, AC is the largest non-profit cycle touring organization in North America. Since its beginnings in 1976, when AC arranged a bicentennial ride from Oregon to Virginia for over 3,000 participants, it has drawn cyclists from around the globe to pedal across some of this nation’s most majestic vistas.

For bicycle aficionados intrigued by intimate glimpses of Montana and Idaho, AC offers two fully supported tours each summer. Both feature spectacular views of countryside from the saddle of a Trek or Schwinn two-wheeler and both take about a week to complete. They include catered meals, luggage shuttling, and reserved campground sites. In addition, AC provides a sweep rider to assist when help is needed plus a roving mechanic with a fully equipped van to tackle emergencies of any magnitude. And that’s just the beginning of the services on which AC has built its well-deserved international reputation.

“Idaho Relaxed is the less challenging of the two tours and has been offered for the past eight years. You don’t have to be a strong cyclist to do it. As long as you’re physically active you can make these miles,” says Arlen Hall, AC’s Tour Director. “It covers around 125 miles with participants averaging 25 miles a day. We wanted to engage as many beginners as possible so we designed this as an easy tour. Since there are activities along the way such as ice cream stops and swimming, it’s also a great trip to take with teens.”

Riding by lush wetlands, lakes, meadows, and forests makes Idaho Relaxed especially enticing for novices or for experienced cyclists seeking a mellow tour. And because the tour route follows bike trails and old railroad beds, it is traffic free. Participants never have to share the road with cars or trucks. Nor do they have to deal with steep inclines or mountain passes as these routes meander across gentle terrain. Riders begin with the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes in the Silver Valley, which follows an old Union Pacific Railroad bed to Plummer, ID near Washington. The second half of the tour traverses the Route of the Hiawatha with its memorable railroad tunnels and trestles.

Cycle Montana, AC’s other local multi-day tour, has been attracting accomplished cyclists for 15 years. It qualifies as an intermediate-plus level expedition. This ride into history and hot springs starts in Missoula then moves on to the Bitterroot and Big Hole valleys. Next, riders pedal along the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway towards the Flint Creek and Blackfoot valleys.

“With five mountain passes to cross and 410 miles to cover in eight days, this is not an easy tour. Averaging 60 miles a day is not for novice riders but it is good for those who like to push themselves and enjoy a challenge. It’s a great way to stretch yourself,” observes Arlen, who has found that while the age range of participants spans from 21 to 75, men age 55 and over—most of whom are retired—comprise the largest demographic. Some 20 percent of the riders on each tour are repeats, who couldn’t resist coming back for more.

“Cycling and a healthy life style go together. So these tours attract people who want to stay healthy. Cycling is good for developing lower body strength,” adds Arlen. “It’s a non-weight bearing activity. There is no extra strain on your body but you do have to build stamina by riding more not necessarily by riding faster.”
While plenty of differences exist between these two tours, you will also find many similarities.

“You can ride at 8 miles per hour or 20 miles per hour. But you have to finish that day’s ride by 6:00 o’clock. If you don’t want to ride every mile of either route, you don’t have to,” explains Arlen. “You can always get picked up by the van at any point.”

He estimates that about half of the participants arrive solo and the other half show up with a spouse or partner. The cyclists soon find others who pedal at the same pace and who often ride together.  But they also tend to share a group consciousness. That means they watch out for one another and take turns keeping the slower riders company.

“People meet people that also like cycling. Many new friendships and even some romances result from these tours,” says Arlen. “I’ve seen people meet on these tours and come back for other tours. Sometimes sharing the same tent.”

Since Cycle Montana can accommodate as many as 75 riders and Idaho Relaxed up to 40, AC has found the only affordable way to quarter those kinds of numbers overnight in such remote country is by camping. However, participants who prefer to sleep one or all the nights in a motel, if one is available, can pay to do so. For those who camp, which are 90 percent of the riders, it doesn’t mean they miss out on life’s luxuries. If no showers are available at the campground, AC brings in a shower van. And all the catered meals are tailored to meet specific dietary requirements as well as the culinary tastes of each group.

Though the sign-ups for both of these tours opens in October, their rosters don’t tend to fill up till about two months before the tours are slated to begin. This year, Cycle Montana runs from June 22 to 29 and Idaho Relaxed runs from July 14 to 19. Both tours typically reach capacity though Cycle Montana often fills first and spills over with a waiting list.

So, if you have ever contemplated pedaling your way through Big Sky country or the Gem State, get ready to strap on your helmet. This just might be the year to take a spin into cycling paradise.
 
To learn more about Cycle Montana and Idaho Relaxed or other types of tours and services AC offers, visit www.adventurecycling.org or call 800-755-2453.