Where do you lead VBT guests?
I just finished my 18th and final season in Acadia National Park in the glorious state of Maine. But I’ve had the pleasure of leading a total of eleven different Bicycling Vacations over my 20 years.
Where did you start?
In the year 2000, I started with VBT in Hawaii on the Big Island. That was my big return to the world of travel. I was just coming back from a sabbatical of sorts—I took some time off to raise my kids—and it was wonderful to share the island beauty of the area with people who had never experienced it. I remember my first tour very well. We rode among these towering volcanoes and I was filled with a renewed sense of freedom and purpose.
What have you enjoyed most about the past 20 years?
Without a doubt, the guests. VBT attracts an awesome clientele. I would happily travel with 99% of them again. And in some cases, I’ve done just that, because for a while I led several different trips! It was always a joy. Of course, they’re always in a good mood because they’re on vacation. As they settle in to the rhythm of the journey, I love finding a way to connect each and every one. They’re curious, well-traveled, well-educated, and ready to fully embrace their experience. I like to say that they have enriched my life as much as my state of Maine has enriched theirs.
Now I’m going to sound like a salesperson. But I mean it when I say that because VBT gives the best value out there, the company attracts a different kind of person. There’s no pretension with them. They are genuine and they don’t put on airs. They show a true sense of gratitude that has made every trip a pleasure.
Tell us about the most joyous moments you’ve experienced as a VBT trip leader.
Now you’re going to make me cry!
We’ve had a fair number of special needs guests on our tours. One in particular steals everyone’s hearts when he comes to Maine. He is in his late 70s and has the mental ability of a young teenager. This wonderful man works at a fast-food chain and saves every penny so he can come on his VBT trip every year for his birthday. He is such a gentle soul and his presence enriches the experience of us all. The other guests embrace him fully and it’s always a tear-jerker when he gives everyone a hug at the end of the trip. He wears his love of cowboys on his sleeve, so one year, VBT gave him a complimentary trip to Arizona.
More generally, though, it’s always given me great joy to teach. There’s lots of teaching. Some guests show up and they haven’t ridden a bike since they were eight years old. Some have never ridden at all! And so, I teach. “Here’s how to shift as you approach a hill climb. Here’s how you brake. Here are the rules if we’re sharing the road with traffic.” Through it all, safety always comes first and I know they appreciate that. And in a place like Acadia, where we’re bound to encounter some hills, they go home with the confidence to continue cycling.
Which leads me to another joyous moment in every trip—getting to the farewell dinner with my full supply of Band-Aids untouched!
What are some moments of cultural connection that stand out for you?
That’s huge in Acadia! We’re always rubbing shoulders with the locals, all of whom I’ve gotten to know and love over the years like family. There’s Stephanie Alley on Little Cranberry Island, who teaches us about the secret life of lobsters. She’s the real deal. We used to go the Stone Barn to see Harry Owen and he would share the history of the area. He was always the favorite moment of the trip, but he’s long since retired. I also like to include music on my trips, so on our final night I bring in a talented fiddler I know named Gus LaCasse. He and his friends play some Down East tunes and he talks about local music and history.
How do you think travel will change in the next several years?
I live in Northern Maine. There are more moose than people here. People want to come to places like this. They want to avoid those huge tourist meccas and all those overcrowded spaces. “Getting away from it all” used to be just an expression. But it’s taken on new meaning during the pandemic. I think this is the shape of travel to come.
That’s why people love VBT’s Acadia National Park trip. In a typical year, only 2% of Acadia visitors go to the Schoodic Peninsula. And there we are cycling through its quiet fishing villages! Not many people head out to Little Cranberry Island either. And there are some stretches of the carriage roads that don’t attract a lot of people. VBT is taking guests away from crowds more and more, so they can feel like locals.
You started leading VBT trips in 2001. What do you remember about the state of travel after 9/11 and how would you compare it to where we are now?
I have a favorite quote I share with all my guests: “We travel not to escape life but we travel so life will not escape us.” It’s sad when people aren’t free to travel. But in both instances, then and now, people have shown their resilience and they have shown that they want to travel. Do they take precautions? Yes. But so many are willing to take risks to experience what they cannot in their own backyard. We’ve always given them the confidence and the knowledge to make their own choices and, if they wish, to travel safely. People know they’re going to be taken care of on the road—especially now.
Care to add anything else about the past 20 years?
It’s been awesome. The experiences and opportunities I’ve had have been so enriching. It’s been a gift to do something I love so much for so long. It’s hard to put it into words, because being a trip leader is a very different kind of job. At first, it was just something fun, but it turned into a career. It’s been a true privilege…and it’s been a good ride!