Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

European bicycle tour perfect retirement trip

Twelve Columbia College students and I had pedaled more than 900 miles in Europe and were at the Glasgow, Scotland, airport. That was August 1972, the last event of my 33 years of teaching. My assistant leader was in charge of the students, and their tour ended at JFK Airport in New York. My husband arrived the day before because he and I were celebrating my retirement with an additional bike tour of our own.

Chub and the two male students helped the girls disassemble their bikes and check them through with their saddlebags. After lengthy goodbye hugs, the students waved and disappeared into the airplane. Chub and I pedaled off on own tour without reservations or schedule. This was bicycle touring at it’s best!

The airport highways were being repaired, and all were closed to bicycles. The highways were not busy, so we rode past a "No Bicycles" sign and weren’t surprised when an officer pulled us over and said, politely, "No bicycles are permitted on this road." We explained our plight, and finally he said, "Because of the construction, ride on but go off at the first exit." Then he left. Relieved, we pedaled on but were stopped again 10 minutes later.

This older officer was a genial fellow who visited with us about our bikes, America and our destination. Finally he said, "The road toward the Hebrides is just around this corner. Get going or you just might get pulled over again."

We cycled in very heavy traffic on that beautiful sunny day. Then Chub yelled for me to stop; he had a flat tire. We walked our bikes to the nearest "lay by," which is a wide place at roadside. A young couple and two children were making tea with a kettle on a portable stove. Chub fixed his flat while we had tea and biscuits with this interesting family. They said this was the beginning of Britain’s late summer "shut down" when almost everybody starts on vacation at the same time! We stopped early to be sure we’d have a place to stay.

At Oban we ferried to the Isle of Mull and slowed our pace because of fresh oil the first day. At Tobermory we took an afternoon boat ride to see the old castle on Bara and then, on to other islands. When passengers got off at Loch Boisdale to attend a regatta, we got off too. The only room available was in a vacant house six miles away. We paid, got the key and hurried to make our beds and leave our saddlebags. We locked the house and rode back to a hilltop where crowds of people were watching the sailing maneuvers and races.

The next day we cycled 40 miles to Loch Maddy. The road was level, a narrow blacktop with no houses, fences, side roads or billboards but we dodged sheep crossing the road. The miles flew by, and in the four hours we saw only four vehicles! The ocean was sometimes in sight, and it was a great experience but a full day of monotony was enough.

At a Loch Maddy woolen shop I bought a length of Harris tweed, and the elderly saleslady said, "You and only six other persons will wear this plaid. Harris is the island north of here, and their weavers do not repeat patterns. Each bolt of wool is 29 inches wide and makes about seven garments." This retired missionary had toured by bicycle, and we exchanged letters several times.

On the Isle of Skye, we were waiting for a hotel dining room to open when we discovered a man riding off on my bicycle! I’ll tell that story next Tuesday.


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