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Friday, July 08, 2011

Bike Chicago

Last week, I had the chance to catch up with renowned Chicago biker, Fran Leavitt. Fran has taken at least one international bike trip a year for the past 20 years. These include jaunts on the Garden Route to Capetown, South Africa, on the winding backcountry roads that lead to the chateaus of Loire Valley, France, and along the Moselle River on a barge trip in Germany. Yet, it’s the maze of paved pathways in and around Chicago she knows best. For a stunning introduction to the city skyline, she first took me south on the Chicago Lakefront Bike Path. Starting at Navy Pier, we passed the flowing waters of Buckingham Fountain, the Shedd Aquarium, and Soldier’s Field, home to the Chicago Bears. However, it’s the jaw-dropping vista of the skyscrapers on our return trip that had me reaching for my camera. Next up was a trip she does every Saturday during the summer with her main squeeze, Saul. Starting from the Old Orchard street parking lot, we headed north through the Forest Preserve past lagoons filled with kayakers, eventually reaching the Chicago Botanic Garden. Talk about the perfect place to stop for bikers! The grounds were overflowing with flowers in bloom, you can dine al fresco on freshly made salads and sandwiches, and then fill up your water bottle with both ice and cool water. For my next warm-weather outing to Chicago, Saul wants to take me on the Fox River Trail, another one of his favorite bike paths. Staring at a Chicago bike map, where trails lead off in every direction like the spokes of a bike, the choices seem limitless.

Have a great weekend!

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 07/08/11 at 12:00 PM
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Friday, June 24, 2011

Bike the Illinois Prairie Path, Chicago

Once home to the Chicago, Aurora and Elgin electric railroad, this former line would still be collecting dust if it wasn’t for a forward-thinking teacher who pictured it as a gateway for recreation. Now the 62-mile trail in suburban Chicago is one of the longest paved trails in the rail-to-trail network. Snaking through Cook, DuPage and Kane Counties, the most scenic stretch is the 14-mile Elgin Spur. Heading southeast from Elgin to Wheaton, the trail snakes through forest, wetlands and an equestrian center.

I’ll be heading to Chicago next week to bike part of this trail and along the lakefront. I’ll be back on July 5th. Have a great July 4th Weekend!

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/24/11 at 01:00 PM
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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Bike the East Bay Bicycle Path, Rhode Island

All it takes is several miles on a paved path to leave a highly industrialized section of Providence and reach the sheltered coastline of Narragansett Bay. No wonder, locals would rather bike to the beach than deal with car traffic. The 14.5-mile long East Bay Bicycle Path, originally part of the Providence/Worcester line, heads southeast from Providence along the scenic shores of the Bay to the town of Bristol. Less than two miles into the ride, fishing trawlers and sailboats start to appear on the right and small inlets and wetlands can be seen on the left. In the warmer months, you’re likely to see locals clamming for littlenecks in the shallow waters along the route. That’s quite a contrast from the view of the Providence skyline that lurks behind you. 

Soon the trail becomes more scenic as cliffs line the bayside, home to pelicans, egrets, and the occasional swan. South of Riverside, East Bay feels more secluded as you head through forest. Prior to mile 6, you reach Haines Park, your first choice of beaches along the route. The trail then swerves inland through the town of Barrington and crosses two wooden bridges before reaching Warren. Just past the 10-mile mark, Warren is the best place to stock up on food and drink. South of Warren, the trail hugs the shoreline of Narragansett once again as the bay widens before reaching the ocean waters. Soon you’ll reach Colt State Park and Bristol Town Beach, the finest spot for sunbathing along the route. The trail ends in Bristol at Independence Park, near a handful of seafood restaurant choices that sell those freshly caught littleneck clams.

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/23/11 at 01:00 PM
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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Bike the Greenbrier River Trail, West Virginia

Easily one of the finest rural runs in America, this 78-mile delight borders the Greenbrier River as it weaves its way through thick forests, open fields, and two tunnels. Deep in the heart of West Virginia, the hard-packed gravel route introduces you to such relics of railroad history as restored depots and vintage mile markers from the old C & O Railroad that used the line to haul timber. It’s not unusual in these parts to spot ospreys, bobcats, even black bears in the woods.

Start at the northern trailhead in Cass for a good downhill cruise and plan on bringing lots of water and food, since there are few places to stop on the trail. Near Marlington, you’ll ride through Sharp’s Tunnel, a 500-foot-long passage hollowed out from stone in 1900, and emerge onto a wood-slatted bridge that hovers some 30 feet above the rushing river.  Stop in town to see the historic railroad depot (built in 1901) and the bright red caboose before pushing on to Watoga State Park, the trail’s halfway point. You can camp here overnight, go swimming, or fish on the river for trout and small mouth bass. South of the park, you coast through Droop Mountain Tunnel, riding along a remote river and its dramatic red shale cliffs. The final 34 miles from Rennick to Caldwall is a peaceful jaunt through deep woods and open fields, stopping to swim or picnic whenever you feel the need. 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/22/11 at 01:00 PM
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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Bike the Burke-Gilman Trail, Seattle

Known as the BG, this 14-mile (one-way) trail is the top destination for cyclists in a city that’s pegged by biking magazines as the best metropolitan area to ride in the nation. Skirting the blue waters of Lake Washington, the BG slices through residential neighborhoods just outside of downtown. At its northern end, you can hook up with the Sammamish River Trail that leads to the wide-open horse pastures of Redmond. But many bikers never make it that far, happy to stop for lunch at the Redhook Brewery in Woodinville.


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/21/11 at 01:00 PM
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Monday, June 20, 2011

Bike the Cape Cod Rail Trail

The small strip of pavement forms a straight line into the horizon like an express route to freedom. Astride my bike, I zip over bridges and through tunnels, past large ponds, salt marshes and cranberry bogs, all while breathing in the sweet smell of spring wildflowers and the far more potent brine of the sea. The hum of traffic is gone, replaced by the call of the red-winged blackbird and the yellow warbler. The only obstacles before me are runners, clumsy rollerbladers and other leisurely bikers. In the Cape Cod town of Orleans, I hop off my bike for a few minutes and take that quintessential New England snapshot of fishing boats bobbing in the harbor. Soon after, I’m in the shade of Nickerson State Park, pedaling straight through Brewster to a series of swimming holes that reward bikers with a refreshing dip.

Such is a ride on the 25-mile long Cape Cod Rail Trail on a corridor that, until 1937, was used to ship cranberries the Cape to Boston aboard the Old Colony Railroad. Today, the relatively level rail trail is a placid retreat that has quickly become one of the most popular destinations in the Northeast for biking, hiking, strolling, jogging and in-line skating.

Like so many of these paths proliferating across the US—from the 225-mile Katy Trail that stretches across most of Missouri to the 61-mile Illinois Prairie Path that snakes through the heart of Chicago’s suburbs—the Cape Cod Rail Trail was for many decades an abandoned railroad line. Far away from maddening congestion on city streets and the noise of rural highways, rail trails are beloved by outdoor enthusiasts and a focal point of renewal across the country. From 1965 to 1985, only 1,000 miles of trail were opened. Today, there are currently more than 15,000 miles of rail trails open across the country.

The Cape Cod Rail Trail takes you through the interior of the Cape from South Dennis to Wellfleet, or vice-versa. The salty air is a pleasant reminder that the Cape Cod National Seashore and its 40-mile stretch of pounding Atlantic surf is never far away. At the visitors’ center in Eastham, you can veer off the CCRT for two miles on a separate trail to lounge on the dunes of Coast Guard Beach. Continue on to Brewster to cool off in a series of kettle ponds (swimming holes). Nearby, a favorite picnic spot, the Pleasant Lake General Store in Harwich, was once a popular stop on the Old Colony Railroad Line.

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/20/11 at 01:00 PM
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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Bike New England and New York with Great Freedom Adventures

I love an outfitter who sticks to one region of the world and does it well, especially when the owner lives in that region and knows it better than most. Before founding Great Freedom Adventures, Jeanne Rummel ran the Mountains to Sea bike tour across Massachusetts, a successful fundraiser for the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America. Now the Mass native brings riders to her favorite haunts in Northeast, including the North Shore of Massachusetts, Block Island, Vermont, and the often overlooked Hudson Valley of New York. Rummel not only understands the salubrious benefits of a good day’s bike ride, both physically and mentally, but goes out of her way to show visitors a local cheese maker, a historic lighthouse, or the same incredible panorama painted by Thomas Cole and the Hudson River School painters in the mid-19th century. The daily itinerary includes a good dose of biking along with a chance to sea kayak, go on sunset sails, have lobster bakes, and take a necessary break at a local microbrewery. Not a bad way to push the eject button and de-stress!

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 04/26/11 at 12:59 PM
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Monday, April 25, 2011

Boston to Launch Bike-Share Program

Good news out of Boston last week when Mayor Menino announced that the city will follow in the footsteps of Montreal and Denver and initiate a bike-sharing program this summer. Set to open in July, the Hubway will feature 600 bikes in 61 stations throughout the city. Pay a yearly or daily membership fee and the cost of rental for the ride (trips shorter than 30 minutes will be free) and off you go. Alta Bicycle Share, the company that designed the bike-sharing program in Washington, DC, and Melbourne, Australia, has been hired to oversee the Boston network. There are already plans to expand to neighboring Cambridge, Brookline, and Somerville in 2012.

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 04/25/11 at 01:00 PM
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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Biking in Calgary

With a mind-boggling 286 miles of bike trails, Calgary lays claim to the most extensive biking network on the continent. If you want to see the city sites, stick to the Bow River Corridor. This popular 12-mile (one-way) route passes the Calgary Zoo, Fort Calgary, built to stop Americans from trading whisky with Blackfoot, Chinatown, and Prince’s Island Park. The island is a popular venue for outdoor concerts and Shakespeare in the Park in the summer months. It’s also home to the top-tier River Café, featuring regional food for lunch and dinner like rainbow trout or an Alberta sirloin steak. Work off your meal on the Douglas Fir Hiking Trail in nearby Lawry Park. The shaded fir forest hides many vibrant wildlflowers in the summer months, like violet and dogwood.  Before you turn around at Edworthy Park, think about going on an exhilarating guided raft ride down the river. Bikers and joggers who want to get away from it all can visit Fish Creek Provincial Park in the southern part of Calgary, the only national park found in a metro area in Canada. 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 04/20/11 at 01:00 PM
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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bike the Texas Hill Country with Sojourn

Many of the people I meet who founded their active travel company have a genuine passion for the sport. Tom Hale spent over 5,000 miles on a bike the summer of 1979 prior to opening Backroads. When Susan Rand was in college, she would load her panniers witch camping gear and clothes and hit the road. Then she became athletic director at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont, and worked for four years at Vermont Bicycle Tours prior to starting her own company, Sojourn, in 1995. Her fall foliage trips along the shores of Lake Champlain in her native Vermont are still the most popular weeklong jaunts. Yet, it’s the itineraries I don’t normally see in a catalog that I find most intriguing. In the summer, Sojourn heads to the Columbia River Gorge to bike between glorious Mount Hood and Mount Adams. In late fall and mid-winter, Rand takes riders to the Sonoran Desert outside Tucson to bike, hike in Saguaro National Park, and horseback ride in John Wayne country at the Rancho De La Osa Guest Ranch. New this spring is a trip to Texas Hill Country, an overlooked biking region outside of San Antonio that I’ve written about for National Geographic Adventure. Rand personally tries all of the trips she designs and this has quickly become one of her favorites. You’ll be biking under tall cypress trees on lonely backcountry roads past large cattle ranches and fields of bluebonnets that are in bloom in early spring. You’ll also visit the Alamo and LBJ Ranch. So saddle up and get out there on your next sojourn.

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/16/11 at 01:00 PM
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about us
photo of Steve Jermanok
Longtime Boston Globe travel writer, Steve Jermanok, dishes out his favorite travel locales and provides topical travel information that comes across his desk. is an Austin-Lehman Adventure's Top 125 Best Travel Blog Semi-Finalist

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