No matter how hard core of an adventurer you are, sometimes it’s nice to let someone else do the planning, the researching, the relationship-building, and lugging of all your stuff around so that you can go along for the ride without a worry weighing you down.
Originally published in Big Life Magazine
There are a number of reputable bike tour companies with year-round national and international bike adventures for all levels of ability that are sure to light your fire. For the sake of stoking your spring fever, we talked to Trek Travel’s Rebecca Falls (AKA “Bama”) to learn about the benefits of traveling with an experienced outfitter. As both a guide and a trip design coordinator, Rebecca gets the best of both worlds, a hand in planning the trip and the chance to be out there, pedaling with clients.
Founded on the philosophy that the world is best experienced from the seat of a bike, Trek Travel has been showing active travelers some of the world’s most interesting cultures and best rides since 2003. Led by world travelers, bike enthusiasts, and cultural adventurers, Trek Travel’s trips offer great spring getaways no matter where you want to go.
REBECCA FALLS: Bama. When I first came to work for Trek Travel there was no one else on staff from Alabama. I’m not sure who said it first but it definitely stuck! Some of my closest friends, whom I got to know as co-guides, haven’t called me by my real name in years!
BIGLIFE: What’s your Trek Travel origin story (AKA, how did you land a job with TT)?
RF: All through college at the University of Alabama, I worked at a bike shop—the sadly-no-longer-in-business venerable Cycle Path. When Trek Travel started running trips in 2003 I was finishing my senior year and our Trek rep told me about TT and suggested that I apply after I graduated. I did, never thinking I would actually get the job, but here I am. I worked as a seasonal guide for four years while also working part-time as an environmental consultant. After two years spent getting a masters degree from the University of Tennessee, I came back to Trek Travel as a project manager for charity rides and a trip design coordinator, and now I work in all three roles—trip designer, guide, and charity ride director for Bo Bikes Bama, a ride started by Bo Jackson for victims of the 2011 tornado that devastated Alabama.
BL: What’s your ride of choice, as in the bike that you ride?
RF: Ahh, now THAT is like trying to choose a favorite child! I live in Asheville, North Carolina, which has some of the best roads in the country for riding, both paved and gravel—so I spend a lot of time on my road and cyclocross bikes (Trek’s 7-Series Madone and Boone, respectively). We also have really fantastic mountain bike trails in western North Carolina, and I recently got a Fuel EX, which I am excited about riding more if the trails will ever dry out—it’s been a wet, cold winter.
BL: What’s your process in designing a trip? What kind of research do you do?
RF: We decide on new destinations as a team—the Trip Design Department and Sales Department, taking into consideration things like guest requests, guide ideas, travel trends, and whatever generally gets us excited. We want to plan trips that we would want to go on, after all.
Once we decide on a destination there is a process for putting a trip together, but there is also room for taking a creative approach. I like to start by gathering input from the most knowledgeable people I can find from the region—this is often someone who works for Trek Travel, as our guides live in pretty cool places. But it could also be staff from the local bike shop, former guests, or other contacts.
Once we have an idea of the signature rides and local activities we want to include, we look for the best hotels and restaurants in the area. Then we try to put it all together in a way that has a nice flow—our guests want to feel like they saw the region, but not be exhausted by too much moving around. We also try very hard to work with smaller, locally-owned businesses that we can forge and grow relationships with. A great example of this is Summit Lake Vineyards, a very small family-owned vineyard and winery in Napa Valley that we have worked with for over a decade. Our guides happened across this tiny operation when doing the initial trip research, met the family and decided it would be good to bring our guests to meet these amazing people and hear their story, while also tasting great wine, petting their goats, taking in their views—all mid-route on a great ride through the Pope Valley. In a perfect world, these are the types of places we want to take our guests—to have experiences they couldn’t have on their own, and to see a place through the eyes of the people who live there.
BL: Can you change your own flat? Tune your own bike? etc.
RF: Yes and yes—all of the guides have to pass a mechanic certification test so being able to do this stuff is required! I don’t always have the tools or the expertise for the more complex repairs—I won’t be rebuilding a shifter anytime soon—but I can do most things that are required for road and cross bike maintenance.
BL: Your favorite Trek Travel trip?
RF: The trip I usually recommend (to active cyclists) is our Bryce & Zion trip. It takes you to see some of the most extraordinary landscapes in the country—the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and the beautiful remote desert around Boulder, Utah (the last place in the lower 48 to receive its mail by mule), the unique and impressive amphitheater of the Bryce Canyon hoodoos, and the stunning, sheer walls of Zion Canyon. It’s an amazing week in the red rock desert and an unforgettable week on a bike.
BL: Your elevator pitch about Trek Travel trips?
RF: A lot goes into planning and executing a Trek Travel trip: 1) Finding the best rides, the best places to stay, and the off-the-beaten path things that make travel worthwhile. 2) Having a great bike to ride and a van to pick you up when you want a break. 3) Hiring a guide to show you where to go and tell you about their experiences in the region. Unless you happen to have a great friend with lots of time, a guest house, a fleet of spare bikes, and a support vehicle, you probably will spend a lot of time and effort to go on a great, stress-free cycling trip to a specific area. As an alternative, you can go on one of our trips and have everything set up for you—just book your plane ticket and pack your bag—and we do the rest. You’ll never have to find out what a pain it is to fit your bike in one of those cases.
BL: Biggest “Oh-No Moment” on a Trek Travel trip you’ve been on or involved with?
RF: There was that time when we thought a lightning storm was going to prevent us from descending off L’Alpe d’Huez after the stage finish in 2014 (the storm miraculously parted and went around the mountain)… Or that fun moment when the turbo went out on the TT van (after just having the van fully serviced) on Day 1 of a sold-out trip at the start of a four-hour drive (hello, emergency box truck rental). If you do this long enough, you will have plenty of these. The trick, the hope, the goal anyway, is to always make sure the show goes on.
BL: One of the reasons Trek Travel exists is because you believe the world is best seen from the seat of a bike. Give us your best “view from a bike seat” moment or memory.
RF: It has to be climbing any of the classic mountain roads during the Tour de France, right before a stage. The sides of the roads are crammed with crazy cycling fans and roads themselves are packed with people of all sorts on every kind of bike—everyone is there to see their heroes and watch history unfold. You can watch the race coverage on TV but nothing does justice to the energy in the air before the racers come through.
BL: For a supported bike trip first-timer what trip do you recommend? For a seasoned bike traveler, what do you suggest?
RF: For the first-timer, I would suggest our California Wine Country Long Weekend trip. Travel to and from the region is pretty straightforward, and the time and financial commitment is less than the week-long trips. The wine country is a great place to be guided around too—there are a lot of hidden spots that may be your favorite memory from the trip that you would ride right past on your own. It’s a great way to find out if a group trip suits your traveling style without biting off a whole week.
For the seasoned bike traveler, I recommend the Asheville to Highlands. This region is more off the beaten path of guided bike travel (only a handful of operators have trips to the area currently), but that doesn’t mean it isn’t the greatest place to ride that you may never have thought about. It’s a bike-, creative food-, and beer-lover’s paradise that’s perfect for the seasoned bike traveler who’s been on several trips already and is looking for a fresh, different type of destination.
BL: You must be a pro packer for trips like this. What packing tips can you give a would-be Trek traveler?
RF: Friends, bring your saddle. If you have one you like to ride, that is the saddle you should bring on your trip. Even the greatest saddle in the world, well-suited for your anatomy, will probably have a little break-in time on your sitbones, and that’s not something you want to work through on your vacation.