Woodbury couple ventures to Europe for the adventure of a lifetime.
One-hundred-eighty-four days in Europe in six different countries, traveling solely by bike, would be daunting for most people—even impossible for some. But for Woodbury’s Becky and David Carlson, it was a trip nearly ten years in the making and their longest, most challenging adventure yet.
The Carlsons, both in their 60s, are committed to staying active and exploring parts of the world they haven’t seen before.
“From our past experiences, we knew that bicycle touring had this special mix of low cost; consistent, doable, physical exertion for our mature bodies; and serendipity that is just right for us,” Becky says. Although the two currently reside in Woodbury, most of their long-distance cycling trips have taken place in other countries, like New Zealand. In the early 2000s, when their sons were younger, they even took four European bike trips as a family that totaled up to 15 months.
They decided they wanted to do this couples cycling trip together when Becky retired, so they began planning the trip ten years prior to actually taking it. “We wanted to do it all again before we got too old,” Becky says.
To successfully complete a trip like this, they say, the key is to stay flexible, since biking in so many different locations can be unpredictable. Factors like weather, sickness and accidents play a part. So the Carlsons began by purchasing plane tickets three months in advance and laying out a general map of the countries and a few places they wanted to visit.
“We have backup plans. We are resourceful. We took each day one minute at a time, and one challenge at a time,” Becky says.
Their journey began in France where they stayed for two and a half months. Then they took a ferry to Rosslare, Ireland where they biked until they reached Belfast. They went to Scotland and rode to England and ended their tour in the Netherlands and Belgium. Some favorite destinations? The French Riviera, Mont St. Michel, Blarney Castle, Stonehenge, the Roman Baths, Kew Gardens—and, of course, two world-class bicycle museums.
But the Carlsons’ favorite spot actually turned out to be a campground located on one end of the Dune du Pilat, which is the tallest sand dune in Europe. The view from their campsite allowed them to see the dune, ocean and paragliders who soared over their heads. They both share a love for the ocean, so they were happiest when they got to see the sea as they were cycling or resting after a long day. “We walked barefoot into the surf at the base of the 110-meter dune, completing the first leg of our journey from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic,” Becky says.
Their trip also allowed them to experience many aspects of local culture, including some great food. They ate oysters, cheese and bread in Noirmoutier-en-l’Île, haggis in Scotland and grilled mackerel and camembert in Cherbourg. They were also greeted with hospitality and warmth from strangers who offered them directions, places to stay and advice. At the end of all of this, they couldn’t possibly pick a favorite country. “The French know how to enjoy themselves. The Dutch are so, so sensible and do so many things right. There is no best, just different,” Becky says.