Posted by: Ian | April 2, 2010

Activity Holidays

This week Paula, Zoe, Heidi and I are skiing in Mammoth, California. There’s plenty to like about a skiing holiday: it’s scenic (and particularly change-of-scenic for us Brits); you don’t have to fret over what to do every day (you go to the slopes and you ski); and it’s active. For anyone who doesn’t fancy a skiing holiday, though, there’s much to prefer in a cycling holiday: you can cycle anywhere; you can make up your own route; you can travel from place to place every day; cycling is much better exercise (skiing is downhill!); cycling is much cheaper; you’re less dependent on the weather on a bike – for the best skiing you really need it to have just snowed and now be sunny; and cycling presents a far lower risk of injury (notwithstanding our poor record in sportives).

The enhanced risk of hospitalisation seems to apply to boarding as well as skiing. Yesterday afternoon Zoe was trying to persuade us that we should switch her ski gear for a snowboard and boarding boots so that a boy Heidi and she had met here could give her free tuition. Before the ensuing discussion was concluded we learned that one of his jumps didn’t come off so well and he’ll be spending the next few weeks watching DVD’s.

I suspect that, on average, cyclists are more intelligent than skiers. One data point here is that in the sport of cyclocross, which is not yet especially commercialised, the jerseys that participants wear typically have padding sewn into one shoulder to make it easier to carry the bike, and the bikes themselves have ovalised top tubes for the same reason. In contrast, skiers to this day routinely balance their pairs of skies on the binding across their chichi Helly Hansen jackets and no-one, over the decades or centuries of specialised ski-attire production, has thought to make it less uncomfortable.

All of the comments above apply only to regular downhill skiing. I have nothing to say about Milk Tray skiing, in which rich Swiss and Canadians get taken by helicopter to remote mountain tops from which they make their extravagantly un-pisted descents. On the other hand, cross-country skiing strikes me as very interesting and has none of the drawbacks I alleged relative to cycling. One day I’d like to try it.

Until then, I’ll be doing (Deo volante) much more cycling. I’m not quite sure, though, whether or not I’ll have too many opportunities to do it in Cycling Holiday format. When I think of a Cycling Holiday I picture maybe 10 days away in a quiet corner of Europe doing around 100 miles per day and taking in some decent climbs. While it’s important to be accompanied (unless I do it alone, which is not unappealing) by riders who are at a similar level of fitness and who are equally unafraid of having a bike problem in the back of beyond, there is no part in my Cycling Holiday idyll for Organisation by someone else. Going on a bike trip from the back pages of Cycling Plus may be all sorts of fun but it’s not my dream.

I’ve seen photographs of some of the places (in Switzerland and Italy) that Emily has Cycle Holidayed to and they look about right, though I’d probably pick somewhere around Europe’s periphery (say Belgium or Scandinavia) rather its centre for my first such if I did one. Outside of this fantasy, which is probably over-inspired by Rouleur photography, I have had two or three hols that prominently featured the cycling theme.

The first was my trip from Somerset to Padstow with Zoe in late 2008. I included a photo from this holiday on the very first post on this site; here’s another:

More photos from this trip can be found here. We did around 25 miles a day for eight days, and what we lacked in distance we made up for in hills. Initially, we had planned to spend several nights under canvas. We took a tent and camped out near Exmoor on the second night. Unfortunately, it rained so much that where we pitched became swampy and although we enjoyed that night the tent was unusably muddy from then on. On the upside, we found some great inns and B&B’s to stay at thereafter. On any future cycling holidays that would be my plan from the outset.

The next vacation that featured cycling as an important theme was our trip to Vietnam and Cambodia early last year. Here a tour operator put together our itinerary and included some days in which we went on bikes to access places that would be less well approached in other ways. This included rural areas that we could meander through at a better pace than we could in a car or van, and see more of than if we walked. Less obviously, perhaps, cycling turned out to be the perfect way to explore Angkor Wat – I’d strongly recommend it. We did the same some years before when we were travelling – here’s Heidi at Sukothai:

Great though these experiences have been, the one that comes closest to a pure Cycling Holiday was our villa hol in Corsica last year when we hired bikes and used them when we felt like it. Paula and I in particular ventured along the coast road quite frequently as part of a run/bike/swim regime. Then when I wanted a long excursion I headed off on my own making loops through the island. The plan for Maui next week is similar.

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