When Nancy was 13 and Walt was 11, several people encouraged us to make a
“We couldn’t possibly afford it,” I said. But a colleague at Christian
College, Miss Geneva Youngs, looked serious as she said, “Sue, go anyway!”
A friend who was the college’s French teacher said, “Come over after my
Fulbright year is completed, and we’ll travel the continent together.”
Her son and Walt had been friends since they were toddlers. What a great
offer, to have a language teacher educated in France go with us through
countries where we’d not be able to communicate!
Then, Ann Williams, a young farm wife in Sussex who was our guest in 1960,
insisted we visit her, too. The fourth person to reinforce Geneva’s admonition
to go was Miss Sheila Walton, a Fulbright exchange teacher from Lancaster,
England, who taught at Christian one year. I secretly wondered: What can we do
without? How much could we take from savings? How much can we earn before
leaving on such a trip?
Then I remembered about youth hostels. They accept group leaders of any age if
they accompany young people who seek “a greater love, care and knowledge of
the countryside.” The youth hostel movement began soon after World War I, in
Germany, and spread through Europe and to America. Hostels make it possible
for young people of limited means to have inexpensive places to stay. They
give priority to travelers who go under their own power as by hiking or
bicycling. Bicycling and youth hostels would make our trip possible!
When I suggested to my friend, Jean Cronan, that she and her boys, Mike and
Patrick, go along, they were eager to go. This gave me courage. Chub agreed
that it was a great idea. We six prospective travelers took a trial run at
bicycle touring by hauling our bikes to Hermann, cooking in the park, sleeping
in the Commercial Hotel and riding our bikes about 15 miles. It was a great
learning experience, and our enthusiasm mounted to new heights.
After months of planning, conditioning, earning and doing without, we drove to
Montreal and sailed on Holland-American’s Ryndam, to South Hampton, England.
The ship anchored as we waited till dawn to move into the dock. We were in
We learned a lot about bicycle touring our first few days out. Mike and
Patrick had two bags, one for cycling togs and one with dress things. They
would ship the dress clothes ahead to Sheila Walton, our hostess late in the
tour. But they shipped the wrong bag. They bought new cycling things, shipped
the dress clothes and we were ready to pedal along England’s southern coast.
Two ladies at a sweet shop helped us find back roads through charming villages
because they feared for our safety on the highways.
We learned the importance of each person having our printed itinerary and some
symbol of identification. When our group became separated on the road, police
located Mike and Patrick on Brighton’s beach, saying, “It wasn’t hard to find
an American cyclist in a bright red hat!”
And we learned about hostel plumbing. “The toilet won’t flush,” Jean said.
“This one, won’t either,” I answered.
When I reported that to the “warden,” he came without a word. He gave each
chain a quick yank and they both worked perfectly. He smiled, put his hand on
my shoulder and asked, gently, “Now, would you like me to wipe you up, Luv?”
Thus began a 69 day experience, which enhanced all our lives.