Skip to main content

A Long Weekend in Zion National Park

People smiling for a picture with Zion in the background

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul”

– John Muir

I am thankful to John Muir for being the “Father of the National Parks” and advocating for our environment. Our national parks are incredible, protected pieces of land. Their natural beauty is amazing and provides some of the most spectacular places to visit and experience in person – and on bike. In 2019, I was able to experience the beauty of Zion National Park firsthand from the seat of a bicycle.

Trek Travel Zion bike tour

Trek Travel’s Zion National Park bike tour is the perfect trip to receive the beauty and strength from nature, while playing in and enjoying your surroundings. Waking up and riding towards the east entrance of Zion National Park is awe inspiring. It is hard to keep your eyes on the road when you are constantly looking up and losing yourself in the nature that surrounds you. After passing Checkerboard Mesa, we had a chance to stop and watch the mountain goats graze on their morning meal. Just before the tunnel, our guides, Zack, Jake, and Griff, led us on a hike along Canyon Overlook Trail. This short hike gave us an astonishing view looking west over the park. From that vantage point, we could see Angel’s Landing and the Alter of Sacrifice. At the top of the trail, looking out over the park, I knew that this is a place that touches your soul and makes you keep coming back for more. I could not wait to continue exploring.

A deer at Flanigan's Inn in Springdale, Utah

Upon arrival in Springdale, Utah, we were greeted at our hotel, Flanigan’s Inn, by a new friend! Sighting our new neighbor was a fun little reminder that we were there to observe and enjoy nature’s beauty that weekend.

Zion Long Weekend Bike Tour

After settling in at the hotel, we started our ride from Springdale to the Temple of Sinawava. As we rode, the immense mountains hugged me around each turn and guided me towards the Temple as the sun rose over the fortress that protected us. Growing up on the eastern side of the country in the valley of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Angel’s Landing showed me the amazing face of the west. Trading in the green trees of the Appalachian Trail for the majestic red rock gardens was breathtaking. As I approached the Temple, I felt the thumping of my heart and realized how small I am in this massive world. The rocks around me continued to grow and jut towards the sky. This made me smile as I thought about all that Zion has experienced in the past century and what new stories the future will bring.

Enjoy a long-weekend getaway in some of America’s most stunning nature.

Head to Zion

My Days in Mallorca

I had been regaled for a few years by teammates about Mallorca and epic riding somewhat like riding the hill country around Fredericksburg, TX, but magnified by . . . 10 . . . 100? Something extraordinary. So, I went to see for myself.

Words by guest Loren Hettinger.

What if a person could find a place where they could cycle around a Mediterranean island on pristine roads, usually shared by a multitude of cyclists and often by drivers who understand cycling or know that to share the road is really not rocket science? And what if these roads coursed through aleppo pine, juniper (enebro), carob trees, tamarisk, and wild olive forests and scrub with the occasional large, sword leaved agave? And then wound their way up and down daunting cols through sun-drenched idyllic villages on narrow streets?

Overlay all this with a luxurious hotel (the Monnaber Nou Eco near Campanet , Mallorca), featuring a pool of turquoise water, a jacuzzi, and breakfasts of cappuccino, assorted juices, fresh fruit, carpaccio, muesli, scrambled eggs, sausages, bacon, assorted pastries and bread, and of course fresh olives.

Would you go?

That question deserves the old craggy cowboy response of, “Does a bear poop in the woods?” Most cyclists I know would be on a plane as soon as they could pack enough jerseys and shorts to support six days of riding.

Trek Travel arranged the tour and before we even arrived had disc brake, carbon Domanes with Di2 shifting already set up to fit each of our road bike measurements. Paired with a Garmin loaded with maps of each day’s route we were ready to roll. Our group of thirty-three (initially) was quite diverse, being comprised of cyclists from California, Alabama, New York, Canada (Vancouver and Ottawa), Switzerland, and of course, our Colorado contingent. Many like ourselves from the Schwab Cycles Racing Team were ex or current racers, although the majority of riders were veterans of long-distance tours. We had four tour guides who alternated with three riding among the group and one driving a van for support, including setting up lunch along the route. All three guides riding among us seemed inordinately fast; maybe a result of youth, innate athletic ability, and riding these mountain roads four or five days each week. The guides exemplified the international character of the riders, being from England, Mexico⁠—by way of Bolivia and Florida⁠—Barcelona, and of all places, Durango, CO.

At the end of the week, we asked each other, “Which ride did you like best?” That’s like asking a person, which is your favorite grandkid? It’s impossible to choose.

The week’s rides were divided into “long” or “short” options, and included:
• Buger (bike orientation ride; 13 miles, 961 feet)
• Puig de Santa Magdelena (self-guided ride; ~23 miles, 1,650 feet)
• Coll de Soller/Puig Major (66 miles, 7,820 feet; 40 miles, 4,182 feet)
• Sa Calobra (61 miles, 7,100 feet; 50 miles, 6,529 feet)
• Deia (and Soller) (86 miles, 6,929 feet; 59 miles, 6,000 feet)
• Cap de Formentor (lighthouse) (66 miles, 6,262 feet; 53 miles, 4,424 feet)

In viewing the ride schedule and routes, I had contemplated that I might graduate to some of the long options toward the end of the week especially in thinking how awesome I’d feel with the “nearly pure” oxygen at sea level. However, after the Sa Calobra ride of switchback after switchback and 6,500 feet of climbing, the vision of myself and reality became more aligned toward survival. Yet, the Sa Calobra route cemented itself as one of my favorites.

The Deia route, however, also became a favorite. With three climbs and a descent into and through an idyllic village. The allure was enhanced by a quaint bicycle accessories shop and a helpful, smiling clerk who assisted us as we pulled jerseys over the ones we already wore just to see if the new ones with a kit coordinated color and map of Mallorca would add to our stature as lithe, svelte cyclists or conversely, and more likely, enhance our midline bulges.

Yet the Formentor ride, which culminated in a series of sharp switchbacks to a lighthouse on a point extending into the Mediterranean, proved to be possibly the most interesting of all. Our rest stop reverie, in the view of the white stone constructed lighthouse and blue water, was broken by a gathering cloudbank. Its gray, then dark blue (darker than the sapphire Mediterranean) and increasingly black overtones spurred us to throw down any remains of espresso, hustle to our bikes and work our way through all the cars in the parking lot to the start of the return climb. I knew we had left it too long, and that the storm was in a hurry to make landfall. My weather-predicting ability seemed on point (well, it was obvious); several large flashes and immediate claps of thunder vibrated the landscape. Then the hail started in earnest (another reason to wear a helmet), followed by stinging rain. I stopped with four others along the wall to belatedly pull-on rain jackets. As we continued to ride through the wet from above and the wheel splash from below, the rain abated, but the wind had no mercy. Despite the group being various states of drenched, we opted to tackle the final 20 miles of the day’s ride. Once we got back, a hot shower at the hotel and a beer on the veranda put the storm into perspective⁠—just another epic day on the bike.

Ready for Mallorca Ride Camp?

See the trip


Trek Travel Recap: Biking from Lucca to Cinque Terre

After a week of epic descents, stunning views and decadent “apres-bike”, I am thrilled to report that my Trek Travel Italy bike tour was nothing short of amazing. The bike routes, wine tours, meals, hotels, and guides were all five star, and I’ve narrowed down the most memorable moments and biggest takeaways to give you a glimpse into a biking adventure with Trek Travel.

Day 1 Welcome to Tuscany – After a scenic lunch at an authentic hillside restaurant, we were introduced to our equipment for the week (more on this later). The afternoon ride gave us our first glimpse into the famous wine country, and the prelude was perfect. An evening tour/tasting at the Buonomico Wine Resort was followed by an open-air dinner. The food, wine and views got our taste buds prepped for the rest of the week.

Day 2 Ride into Fattoria del Teso – The morning ride was a fantastic climb through hilly vineyards, which was pure cycling bliss. For lunch, we cruised down the most beautiful shaded grove of trees into a centuries-old family winery for a traditional Italian meal – pasta heaven! The day concluded with a stroll through the picturesque town of Montecarlo and dinner at the Michelin starred Butterfly.

Day 3 Pietrasanta and Il Bottaccio – The hamlet of Pietrasanta is famous for its beautiful and unique marble, which Michelangelo used in his works. The roads to our mid-day destination were curvy, shaded, and perfect for riding through. During the afternoon, we caught our first glimpse of the Mediterranean Sea from high up in the hills as we made our way to II Bottaccio. This 18th-century mill has been converted into a breathtaking hotel. Every room featured a unique medieval style and charm (complete with an original olive oil mill in ours)!

Day 4 Climbing Passo Del Bracco – The pinnacle of today’s ride was the 3000 ft. ascent of this marquee Italian pass from the Ligurian Sea town of Levanto. A haven for cyclists, the route has been featured in the Giro d’Italia. Even though the climb was just a little piece of the pro stage, it was the most vertical I had ever attempted on a bike. Both challenging and gratifying, the long road up was rewarded with a thrilling descent into the beach town of Moneglia.

Day 5 Hike through Cinque Terre – Although it’s hard to imagine, the Cinque Terre region is even more stunning than the pictures let on. We spent the morning hiking the hills from Manarola to Corniglia, where I ate pesto gnocchi and gelato to my heart’s content. An afternoon of relaxing at the beach meant that lunch was a no-holds-barred experience.

Top 5 takeaways:

• Preparation will optimize your experience. This means not only means time in the saddle but also experience with how a road bike handles. We rode 30 to 50 miles each day with anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 elevation gain, which makes for some big climbs & long descents. Being comfortable on long and sometimes steep downhills is key for a safe trip.

•Since there is quite a bit of ground to cover within a five-day bike trip, the days are action-packed. Come into your trip well-rested, as the mornings are relatively early and in typical European fashion, the dinners start late and end even later.

•If you want to see or do more, don’t be afraid to ask your Trek guides if it’s possible. Although the itinerary is largely set, the guides work tirelessly to ensure you have the best trip possible. If you would like to go explore a town or clock some extra miles, they will find a way to make it happen.

• Equipment makes a big difference. Each Trek bike is equipped with a Garmin GPS which is programmed with your route for the day. It alerts you to upcoming turns and notifies you if you’re off route. From someone who has navigated other bike trips using paper instructions, the Garmin is definitely the optimal choice. As far as the bike themselves, Trek equips you with their latest and greatest Domane SL-7. An e-bike option is also available on most trips and can make the whole experience more accessible to a broader range of cyclists.

• To keep yourself in the saddle and feeling your best, nutrition is key. The never ending and delicious supply of wine, cappuccinos and food means that you need to stay on top of your water and electrolyte intake. The guides make this easy with drinks, electrolyte tablets and healthy snacks set out at every break point. Stay hydrated!

Would I do it again? Absolutely! Trek just posted their 2020 trip itineraries and I already have my eye on one…

Feel free connect with me on Instagram, @aneverydayfit, where I am sharing lots more pictures from the trip!

SingleThread: An unforgettable retreat in the heart of Sonoma

Trip memories can sometimes get lost in the fog of travel, jet lag, and fatigue. But when a month later you can still recall the hum of bicycle tires on Sonoma pavement, the slightly gamy and intoxicating taste of duck heart, the gentleman you dubbed “Carlo”, and what must be the world’s most interesting toilet, then you know the trip was truly special. So as it was with SingleThread.

Words by Trek Travel guest Adam Dingwall

The cycling in Sonoma is stellar, quiet roads, smooth pavement, and motorists accustomed to seeing cyclists make it amongst the best in the world. On day one we started at a winery we had ridden past on previous California Wine Country Trips, Hanna Winery. Heading northwest in the gentle loop that eventually landed us on West Dry Creek Road, home of Quivira Winery. Sitting out on the patio we were greeted by a gentlemen who could have been out of central casting for a middle aged Italian gentlemen. We decided to call him “Carlo” as he proceeded to guide us through a tasting of Quivira’s finest. We had seen the winery before at harvest time, it was magnificent to be able to experience the outstanding gardens at this time of year, the flowers were gorgeous. Only about seven miles remained to Healdsburg, so before the wine overtook us, we all saddled up and headed out.

Rolling up to SingleThread you first notice the elegance of the building, very understated in a California classic style. We all handed off our bikes to our guides Blake and Sarah and headed in to shower. The lobby and reception area is intimate and provides a large open window into what is the showpiece, the SingleThread kitchen. The staff was busy with prep work for our dinner that night, all of us being foodies, we watched with concentration and awe. A member of the prep staff came over and greeted us, presenting us with hot tea with lavender and welcoming us to the Inn. While we could have watched the Swiss precision of the kitchen for hours, we finished our tea and headed upstairs to our rooms.

[trek-fullwidth-img src=””]

A large origami chandelier in the shape of the SingleThread logo—a white multifaceted flower—hung from the ceiling. The entryway presented both an automatic pour-over coffee machine and an amazing tea set up. There was pre-measured, freshly ground coffee just waiting to be brewed and the refrigerator held unlimited Pliny the Elder included with our stay. In the main room a wall was dominated by a fireplace and in the center of the room was a bed that at first touch seemed too soft but made for some of the deepest and best sleep ever on a Trek Travel trip.

And then there was the bathroom. And if anything could top unlimited Pliny the Elder, it was the bathroom. If you’re lucky enough to enter bare-footed you notice the floor is gently warmed, just enough to be soothing. There’s a large soaking tub, a beautiful shower, and then the toilet greets you. Yes, the toilet greets you by raising its lid automatically just begging you to grab a magazine or newspaper and sit down. It was at this discovery that the text messages started flying, especially on our messaging app that included the rest of our traveling group who wasn’t with us.

“OMG, the toilet, it’s amazing!”
“The seat is heated,”
“There’s a control panel,” and the ultimate compliment,
“I’m having Mark get one of these when we get home.”

We felt a bit like Henry V’s comrades at Agincourt and our absent companions back east were “gentlemen now abed in England” thinking themselves cursed that they were not with us. And we hadn’t even had dinner yet.

Trek Travel SingleThread Cycling Vacation
Trek Travel SingleThread Cycling Vacation

Social hour on the roof offered cool breezes, wine and Blake and Sarah laying out the next three days for us. Soon enough we found ourselves heading down to the restaurant for dinner. The dining room was calm, quiet, and beautifully done in beautiful woods and Japanese inspired lighting. Eleven courses flowed over the next 4 hours complemented perfectly with wine and sake. Whether it was wild unagi with red kitten spinach, poached foie gras with dried and fermented beets, or the buttermilk and thyme sherbet, we realized that we were having a dining experience that no one else in the country, save for those in the dining room with us, were having.

When the Sonoma grains and bamboo arrived along with duck heart, the physicians in our group enjoyed a moment of dissection and discovery before savoring the wild, slightly gamy, flavor. We’ve all eaten at amazing places around the US and the world, yet this meal stood apart.

[trek-fullwidth-img src=””]

The next morning, following a breakfast that rivaled dinner, Blake and Sarah were happy to make an adjustment to our Armstrong Woods day. Several of us had been to the Woods before and while we didn’t want to bypass them, we also wanted to ride to the Pacific. After a spin through the Redwood Forest and a quick espresso and lunch order at Big Bottom Market in Guerneville it was “Westward Ho!”

The ride to the ocean from Guerneville is amazing, heading gently downhill along the Russian River you first sense, then see, the forest canopy opening up and you begin to smell the ocean. A quick pop up over a ridgeline and we arrive at Goat Rock State Park to enjoy a picnic along the beach. In true Trek Travel fashion the weather along the northern California shore is perfect and there are seals frolicking and feeding just feet offshore. Another unique moment in a trip filled with them.

At the end, we six travelers found ourselves sitting at dinner in a restaurant along the Embarcadero in San Francisco. The following morning will put us on planes back to Michigan and Tennessee, but at this spot in time we raised our glasses to another amazing Trek Travel experience. Salut to our guides, Sonoma, the food, the wine, the Inn, and yes, to the toilet.

We know that we will return to Sonoma and Healdsburg, as SingleThread has proven to be truly singular.

Trek Travel SingleThread Cycling Vacation

Visit the epicurean masterpiece that is SingleThread

See trip

Stronger, Faster, Better: Mallorca Ride Camp

Meet Jim. A Trek Travel ride camper who wasn’t sure, “how many Ride Camps I have left in my old bod.” Though the climbs of Mallorca felt discouraging at the time, it was when he returned home that he experienced a pleasant surprise…

“I wanted to give you some feedback from an older cyclist after he spent 11 days at your ride camp. In Mallorca, I always feel like my condition is hopeless, that I am so far over-the-hill that I must be deluding myself thinking I’ll ride strongly again. The climbs get longer and slower each year and I keep wondering how many more ride camps I have in my old bod. Don’t misinterpret, I enjoyed every minute of it, but when the only people I’m passing on the climbs are a few stray cyclists I just had to wonder what exactly I was accomplishing.

Then I came home. With getting caught up with life at home post-travel, it was a week before I could ride again. I set off with my usual group and BINGO!: I was so far off the front that I started to get embarrassed (it is a group ride, after all). Beth referred to me as in my Turbo mode. The difference in my strength and speed was so palpable that others asked me, “What did you DO in Mallorca?” On one stretch, with a tail wind, I led the charge up a long, gentle slope at -get this- topping out at 33mph! Everybody else said they hung on for dear life, and I was exultant.

I suddenly feel I have the perfect base fitness to hone in on speed work before the National Senior Games Time Trials in early June.

This sudden change in fitness was all because of TT’s Ride Camp, which you so wonderfully and cheerfully manage and conduct. I’m sitting here today on a rainy morning in PA thinking that it doesn’t matter how slowly I climb Orient, Soller, Puig, or even Sa Calobra. It truly is all good.

Thank you for everything. You truly are the best! I’m already planning to see you next year.”

Jim, a guest on Trek Travel's Mallorca Ride Camp


Train like the pros in Mallorca.

Book Now

Special Guest: Part 1 with Tracy Moseley

Don’t get us wrong, we love finding unbelievable roads to cruise along. But our fast descents, winding turns, big climbs and scenic mountain passes aren’t confined to pavement. The fun keeps going when we veer off into the dirt. This rider knows that all too well. Meet Tracy Moseley, mountain bike pro racer, downhill specialist, Worcester-native and special guest on our upcoming Norway mountain bike tour. We caught up with her to learn more about the real T-Mo behind the handlebars.


What are you excited about most in your Trek Travel trip to Norway?

I have always wanted to ride my bike in Norway as the pictures I have seen always look amazing, so I am just excited to get the opportunity to visit this beautiful country and to experience a Trek Travel trip!!

What have you been up to this winter?

I have had a really busy winter as I have been transitioning from a full-time bike racer into a brand ambassador for Trek Bikes and many of my other sponsors too. I have been doing more coaching, talking at events and shows and planning some fun adventures for 2017!

What does your 2017 schedule look like at the moment? Races, trips planned, special projects, etc.

I am going to be doing a great mix of races, coaching with the British Cycling XC team and some kids camps at home on my parents farm, alongside attending a number of events across the World for Trek and my other sponsors.

Ride incredible singletrack in Norway with pro racer Tracy Moseley

Tell us a little bit about your history with Trek?

I have been riding for Trek since 2009 when I joined the Trek World Racing downhill team. I had 3 amazing years winning the Downhill World Championship title in 2010 and the World Cup Overall in 2011. I then set up my own team T-MO racing with the support of Trek UK in 2012 as I retired from DH racing and wanted to have a go at some different disciplines. In 2013, I raced the first season of World Enduro and became World Champion. In 2014, Trek set up a Factory Enduro team and I joined back on a Trek Factory Team and won two more World Enduro titles in 2014 & 2015! I am now trying to retire from racing and have stepped into the role of ambassador for Trek to continue to be involved in the industry with product development and encouraging more people to discover the love for bike riding.

What bike are you currently riding most?

I ride my Trek Fuel EX 20 mostly as it’s such a great all round bike for the terrain I have close to my home.

Where did you grow up and where do you currently live?

I grew up on a dairy farm just outside Malvern, in the UK. I still live there!

Tell us a little bit about the time that you discovered that your life would be about riding mountain bikes.

I think that it has taken me many years to discover that my life would be about riding bikes as it was never my plan or dream, it just seems to have evolved from a kid that used to do a few bike races that her brother was going to, to someone who found a natural talent for a sport and decided to give it a go for a few years, to become someone who now loves riding bikes, far beyond the competition and now will spend the rest of my life with bikes very much at the centre and with such a passion for the sport that I want to share the amazing joy and life that bikes can bring to everyone. It’s been a 20-year journey that I feel has really only just begun…

Do you have a most memorable day on a bike or a most memorable ride?

My most memorable day on a bike for me will always be the day I won my first World Championship title in DH in 2010. Pulling that rainbow jersey over my head on the podium and listening to the National Anthem of Great Britain playing for me was just incredible…nothing will ever beat that, after so many years of dreaming of it!!

Ride incredible singletrack in Norway with pro racer Tracy Moseley

Rapid Fire!

Favorite ride snack?

My homemade energy balls.

Favorite riding destination?

Verbier, Switzerland.

Window or aisle seat?

Window always so I can take my pillow and sleep!

Coffee or tea or….?

Neither, can stand the taste of either.

Place you’ve never been that you want to go. Why?

Galapagos Islands, as I would love to see all the amazing animals only found there.

If not riding bikes for a living, what would you be doing?

A farmer…

Album you’re listening to right now.

I am terrible with music and just listen to whatever is playing on the radio!

Who should we be following on Instagram that we’re probably not?

Lorraine Troung – fellow enduro racer who is going through a long rehab process after crashing two years ago at a race and suffering from a traumatic brain injury…such an amazing rider, lovely person and someone who is going to go on to inspire and educate us all about concussion and its effects in our sport. @lorrainetruong

Trek Travel trip other than Norway that you’d like to go on.

Vietnam and Cambodia as they are places I have never had chance to visit and would love to, especially if I can take my bike!!

Ride with Tracy in Norway.

See the Trip


Ride incredible singletrack in Norway with pro racer Tracy Moseley

The Ultimate Game Changer

Why are some “scripts” so hard to change?

Words by Nora Linville, Trek Travel Guest

Two years ago I began training for the Trek Travel 2015 Cross Country USA trip from Portland to Portland to commemorate turning 60 when I discovered I have a heart arrhythmia. All is well, but a ride that strenuous is not in the cards. So I booked the May 2016 Croatia and Dalmatian Coast trip instead. Six months before the ride I tore my MCL and was off the bike for four months. I went on the trip knowing I wasn’t in peak shape for the route profile, but thought I’d be okay with simply riding as much as I could.
Trek Travel Croatia and Dalmatian Coast Bike Tour
As it turns out, I wasn’t ok with it at all. My internal “script” says I must ride every mile, even if it’s killing me. So I had three options:
Option 1: Continue to be miserable.
Option 2: Ride in the van to the top of each climb. No way, not me.
Option 3: Ask if one of the e-bikes was available. Heck no, that’s cheating!

Consequently, I was so stressed it was ruining my cycling vacation of a lifetime. One morning, our awesome guide informed me that an e-bike was available, so I decided to grow up and take advantage of the gift being offered. Whoo weee, what a blast! These bikes are amazing! You still get a great workout using your own pedal power, but the boost is available when you just need that extra oomph. And to think I almost let my pride get in the way of a fantastic experience.

I had to have one of my own, so I used the Trek Travel discount coupon and purchased the Trek XM700+. It’s a game changer for me and I absolutely LOVE it. I can now comfortably do climbs that I would otherwise struggle with and also use it to commute to work at 27 mph.
Trek Travel Electric-Assist Bikes

Available at no additional cost.

Learn More

L’Etape du Tour: Part III

Two years ago Julie Farrell was a self-described “non-enthusiast” with paddle pedals and a brand-new Trek Domane. This July she completed her first L’Etape du Tour. Follow along as she recounts the journey from training to the finish line in this raw and entertaining three-part series.

Part I   |   Part II

The Promised Land with an Order of the Phoenix Escort

No surprise. We were awake before our alarms. Leaving no detail to chance, our fabulous Trek Travel guides, Laura Lee and Celine, had arranged for Hotel Alpaga to open early to ensure that we riders were fully fueled before the race. Mason and I loaded up on our usual breakfast selections, but added a big serving of scrambled eggs for a protein boost.

Unlike the poor souls who had to stand inline with the other 15,000 race entrants the day before, our race bibs were delivered to our hands and our race placards mounted on our bikes. Mason and I managed to attach our bibs to our jerseys with the four safety pins without stabbing ourselves. We hoped this was a harbinger of a good day ahead.

Our group assembled at the meeting spot on time, slathered in sunscreen, our pockets loaded with Clif Blocks, gorp, and Chapstick. Several of the men were applying saddle cream to their hinter parts to stave off chafing. Mason decided to give it a whirl. The banter devolved to that of a men’s locker room. Everyone seemed to be in motion as the guides gave us their last snippets of advice. Not one of us was still as they spoke. We were rocking left-to-right with nervous anticipation, or fussing with some piece of apparel. Keep your line, pace yourself, stay with your riding buddy, finish both water bottles by the time you arrive at the next Trek Travel comfort station, and fuel-up when you get there. Watch out for wild men on the descents – you’ll see them again on the last climb. It will be a graveyard.

Huh. Graveyard. Those nasty headstone-shaped ascent signs loomed in my head. Our more seasoned friends had worked out a strategy for Mason and me. It followed the philosophy of the whole trip. This was about an experience of a lifetime. The goal was for everyone to finish – no individual heroics. We would employ the strategy during the first portion of the ride when the field was crowded, as well as on descents. The plan was to create an envelope of safety – primarily for me – to safely deliver the package to the finish line. I felt like Harry Potter being escorted by the Order of the Phoenix aurors. John’s biggest concern was that a crazy cyclist who was channeling Lance Armstrong would come charging down the descents and mow me down like an innocent squirrel crossing the road. Bam. Instant carrion.
Trek Travel Etape du Tour Citizen Bike Race
I like riding by myself. I know exactly where I am going to be. I also like riding with Mason because I have no qualms about letting him know if he’s making me nervous by riding too close to me. I do not love riding in groups. Our friends know this, so they had forced me to practice riding in the damned envelope. It was a smart move. I had actually become fairly comfortable with it over the past few days. Yet the anticipation of riding with thousands of other riders who didn’t give a damn about my envelope was making my stomach rumble.

We rode the short distance from the hotel to the race start line. The town of Megève had transformed overnight to a seething mass of Lycra-entombed humans. Because Trek Bikes is the lead sponsor of the race, our group was positioned with the highly coveted first wave of 1,000 cyclists. We jostled about in our corral for about 20 minutes. Like any self-respecting woman, after I watched a dozen or so men relieve themselves in the bushes, I thought I had better make a pre-emptive visit to the port-a potty. The line couldn’t possibly be long; after all, only 5% of the entrants were female. Wrong.

After making my way to the single port-a-potty, I saw that the line was 10 deep. I watched the Start Clock tick away. The line did not move. It occurred to me that only one other woman was in line. My gosh, all of these men need to do their morning business, or else they would do what any self-respecting man would do: use the bushes. No way. I was not going to risk missing the start of the race to be asphyxiated in that putrid port-a-potty.

Returning to our group, I did my best to hold my spot against the tide of bikes and humans that were trying to edge their way closer to the start line. At last the gun fired and we were off. Praise God I was not clipped-in. It would have undone me. I stayed right on Mason’s wheel, like a six-year-old terrified of losing sight of her mother in a crowded mall. I dodged a water bottle that came flying off someone’s bike. As we made our way out of town, blood began to return to my fingers. I relieved my death grip on my handlebars as I became increasingly comfortable with my safe little envelope.

The first climb was col des Aravis, which we had climbed just two days prior. I honestly have very little memory of it. The exhilaration of being in the race, amidst thousands of riders, combined with the desire to keep my pace and my position, completely distracted me from any physical discomfort. I was in the game – a contender – vying for the opportunity to complete an epic ride. That first descent went smoothly as well. Just keep your line Julie, and let Big John – Mad-Eye Moody – fend off the speeding demons to my left – and there were many speeding demons.

After that first descent, and at the foot of our next climb, Sully wanted to remove his windbreaker. I did too, plus by now, I was very interested in evacuating my bladder before beginning the next ascent: col de la Colombière. Secretly, I was happy that Sully called for the stop so that I didn’t have to be the whiny girl asking for a potty break. Ladies, this is where we once again lose a bit of our dignity because of our equipment down there. Like giving birth, there comes a time when function trumps form, and decorum and dignity must be securely holstered in your lipstick case. Tania and I attempted some level of discretion crouching behind a parked car, but skintight Lycra cycling shorts are not easy to whip down or up over sticky skin. I’m afraid the French have seen more of me than I (or they) care to admit.

With about 22 miles and the average 7% grade col de Aravis under our belts, we began our ascent up the more civilized 5.8% grade of the col de la Colombière. It featured long sweeping switchbacks, treating us to views of the thousands of riders ahead and behind us. Yes, you read that correctly. We were quickly overtaken by aggressive lead peloton from the second release group, then the third, and so on. You could hear them coming long before you laid eyes on them. A low-pitched whir like an enormous swarm of Barry White baritone bees sounded the alarm that another hive had cracked open and was about to sting from the rear. I focused, and held tight to my line as they whizzed past, serious and jockeying for position.
Trek Travel Tour de France Etape Bike Ride
It was near this point that I managed to attract one of those male drones. He slid in beside me and struck up a conversation. I glanced over, careful not to swerve into him as I averted my eyes from my military focus on my line. He was not terribly fit and he was quite tall. Not fat unfit, but certainly not the body type that you would expect to attempt this ride. I had to force myself to redirect my mind from the vision of this man in a mahogany library, sipping tea and milk, and eating crumpets, to digest the full sentences he was directing my way.

“Hello, are you American?”
“Yes. You?”
“British by way of South Africa.”

Did he one day see a ad for the L’Etape du Tour in The Times, pound out his entry form on an iPad, then just show up this morning?

The gentleman was actually quite interesting and we chatted about American politics and global shifts in political philosophies such as represented by the Brexit vote that had just occurred during our trip. And all the while he spoke in full sentences and was never short of breath. I wasn’t sure I could keep this up much longer, nor was I sure I wanted to. I managed to return a little more tightly to my envelope position. The great news was that I was so pre-occupied with Professor Slughorn and his uncanny fitness, that I hardly noticed the climb up col de la Colombière.
Ride the L'Etape du Tour Fully Supported with Trek Travel
At the summit, we stopped to once again pull on our windbreakers. The temperature was rising quickly, but after perspiring all the way up the climbs, the air became chilly during descents. We reformed our groups and started our descent. This one was my most frightening descent to date.

We had not ridden more than five kilometers when we began to see the carnage. In addition, cyclist after cyclist was changing out a tube at the edge of the road. I managed to croak out a query to my bodyguard John. He said that they were overheating the tires with their brakes and the heat was blowing them up. Pump the brakes Julie; pump the breaks.

Where was the end of this interminable descent? To my utter astonishment, guys were literally yelling at other cyclists to move over so that they could hurtle down the mountain. My top speed was 35 mph and it was on this descent – the col de la Colombière. I have little doubt that others were reaching 60+ mph. With no body armor. No seatbelts. Just a thin couple of dermal layers separating their internal organs and bones from the asphalt.

Fortunately, the col de la Colombière was followed by 30 km of relatively flat road, so we had time to gather our nerves. We hit our second Trek Travel hospitality spot, and I ate what will forever be the best peanut butter and jelly sandwich of my life. I had no idea I was so hungry. Desperate not to bonk, I shoveled in as much food as I thought wise. Our water bottles were magically filled with fresh cold water by the time we finished refueling.
Private Rest Stops and Full Support at L'Etape du Tour with Trek Travel
The route meandered through a number of small Alpine towns. The streets were lined by the exuberant townspeople who had turned out in droves. They rang cowbells, urging us on with kind words, and waving inspirational signs. The closest comparison I can think of is the New York Marathon. As I passed the well-wishers, like a good American, I smiled and waved back. I started to notice that they were absolutely delighted that I was a female and was still in the race. They shouted “Bravo Madame” and “Allez fille! Allez fille!” (Go girl! Go girl!).

Encouraged by the crowds, I now started to wave my hand in the air like a liberating war hero, and yell “Woo-hoo” or some other phrase from my youth. This elicited even more hoots from the fans. I was having my 15 minutes of fame. Just like that. Another bucket list item scratched off. Between the nourishment and all the excitement, my fatigue was numbed.
Trek Travel Etape du Tour Cycling Vacation
Cycling climbs are rated with numbers. To receive a rating, an ascent must be at least 500 m in length and have a grade of 3% or more. The ratings start at “5” (the easiest) and decrement to “1”, the hardest. Oh, and there’s one more category: HC which stands for “Hors Categorie” French for “above category” or in more colloquial language: “super frickin’ hard.” Our last climb of the day, the col de Joux Plane, was an HC climb. It lived up to its categorization. With 11.6 kilometers (7.2 miles) of an average grade of 8.5% and the last kilometers at 9% and 10%, the stage planners revealed their sadistic side.

Spurred on by waving flags and shouts from the crowd, we rounded a sharp curve leaving the town of Samöens. We were immediately met with a face of asphalt. I was working hard. Really hard. I looked down at my gears and realized that I was still in my big ring gear. Thank God. I went from thinking I can’t do this, to I can do this! Once again, I was relieved that I was not clipped in. Shifting with pressure on the chain sometimes causes the chain to derail. Mine didn’t, but as we rounded the next sharp bend, we saw others who were not so lucky.

People were barely rotating their cranks. I’m not sure anyone was ready for the incline after that first turn. And it didn’t relent. In my assigned far-right-of-the-road position, I was in the slow lane. There is a certain comfort in being on the far right because you know that there is no one on your right side. I wasn’t sure how the men in front of me, and I’m talking about inches in front of my wheel, were staying balanced on their bikes. It was too slow. I’m not a circus performer. I needed some momentum to stay upright. I carefully abandoned the safety of the far right side, and began passing people. One man fell in front of us and began fumbling with his chain in the middle of the cramped road. We asked if he needed help. He didn’t, but my God, move off the road Man. This portion of the ride became an exercise in recognizing riders who were about to topple over, and not becoming part of the yard sale that would ensue.
Trek Travel Tour de France Etape Bike Ride
By this point, it was hot. The weather had transitioned from foggy and cool, to 90+°F. People who had gone overboard playing Speed Racer below, were now paying the price. It was a classic Tortoise and the Hare fable playing out in real time. The further we climbed, the greater the number of bodies splayed out on the alpine grass. Some looked as if they had indeed met the dementors’ kiss. Having reached his limit, one man lay at the edge of the road, his bike supine much like himself only taking a full quarter of the road. “Move your bike!” thick French accents shouted at him.

We had agreed that on the climbs, we would not keep our envelope intact, but we would definitely stick with a buddy. John and I reached the final Trek Travel comfort station, perfectly located at about 5km below the summit. We downed water like elephants at the trough, then John introduced me to the climber’s secret weapon: Coca-cola. As I was draining my ice-cold mini-can, I scratched my arm and noticed blood on my finger. A nasty horse fly had the gall to sting me drawing blood – as if I had any to spare. Just as Mason was pulling in with Sully, we witnessed a man vomiting in the shade of a barn just below us.

Mason and I removed our helmets, put ice on our heads, then replaced our helmets on top of it. It worked magic. As we began to feel mildly refreshed, we both felt guilty as we watched parched, exhausted, cyclists looking longingly as they slowly passed our tent. It was the uncomfortable feeling one has after being upgraded to first-class on a flight. You sheepishly look down so as not to make eye contact with the envious passerby as they shuffle into animal class. One gal with a Trek bike very politely asked if she could just stand under the shade of the tent for a moment. The Trek Travel guide generously offered her an ice-cold Coke, which she graciously accepted.

For the final five kilometers, which bounced between 9%, 10%, and 11% grades, John and Mason would stick together, and Tania and I would be buddies. We chicks started out ahead of the boys. I swear that Coke had something in it besides caffeine. With renewed energy, Tania and I began weaving our way through the battlefield before us. Surprisingly lean, fit men were walking their bikes on both sides of the road, narrowing our path even further. One man, still on his bike, was grunting loudly with each revolution of his crank, desperately willing his body to do something it had no intention of doing. Everyone gave him a wide berth, petrified that they might be in his path when the inevitable collapse came.
Trek Travel L'Etape du Tour Bike Ride
As we were completing one particularly challenging hill, we noticed piles of people flopped on the ground surrounding the curve. It looked more like the Battle of Gettysburg than an alpine slope. It was just as John had predicted: a graveyard. Tania and I tackled the sheer, unpopulated part of the inside curve. It segued straight into an even steeper climb. That explained the human shrapnel. People saw that ominous grade and said the hell with it. I’m resting. Tania and I marshaled through it. I guess it must have been the steel will to complete the race, combined with the Coke and the anticipation that we were nearly there. I don’t know how else to explain my energy. It was just in me.

As the incline finally subsided ever so slightly, several bikers were on the roadside massaging their cramping quads and hamstrings. One gal was moaning loudly as she tried to walk out her cramping on the side of the road. At about this point, someone said in a rude, thick French accent, “Trek Travel, move over.”

We both immediately moved over to the side to allow a wiry, wizened Frenchman through. As I moved, I reflexively said, “Sil vous plait.” I saw no need to be ugly and impolite when we were all working so hard. Tania, being an extraordinary cyclist, was motivated to pass him immediately. I, being an unextraordinary, but now irritated cyclist, was motivated to stay on his wheel. Then, I too, passed him – with great satisfaction I might add. In fact, we dusted him. I never saw him again. I suppose I should thank him for that final boost of energy.

Tania and I both had something left in the tank and we could smell the summit. We managed to avoid the final swerving, falling riders, passing them one-by-one. Eventually, we could see the summit arches come into view, looming as enticingly as the Pearly Gates. The crowds of locals and fans were whooping and spurring us on. We yelped right along with them. We passed under the arches, emerging from our trial into the Promised Land.

We waited just below the summit for the rest of our squad. Sully and Mark arrived, then John and Mason. Mason had stopped next to a Brit he had chatted up earlier in the race. The poor bloke was sitting roadside looking spent. Mason asked if he wanted some water. Having just reloaded at the Trek Travel station, Mason offered him one of his bottles. The gentleman gladly took a couple of cold sips, and handed it back to Mason.

“No, keep it.”
“You mean the whole bottle?”
“Yes, keep it. I have plenty.”
“You’re a legend,” was his final comment as Mason departed.

We all road along together for a while, then Mason eventually went ahead as he is a far superior descender than I. As John and I descended, the crowds now growing as we approached the finish line. We proceeded carefully into town where Mason slowed for us. He felt strongly that I should cross over the finish line first, as I had conquered the climbs a bit better than he. We road across the finish line together.

I was completely overwhelmed with emotion as we crossed. I looked at him, and he at me. We were both tearing up. Neither of us expected any emotion aside from relief. We were caught off guard. It was as if 25 years of togetherness had just become a physical entity – something palpable in the air between us. Something we could feel and touch. Perhaps I was looking at my 20-something groom, and he at his 20-something bride, only deep inside was a quarter century of life and memories together. We had experienced one more daunting experience together and had overcome it together, spiritually and physically.

Finally, Mason received a lovely thank-you note from his newfound British friend. He thanked Mason for saving his race day.
And…I did see two other people who were not clipped in. #trendsetter

Trek Travel Tour de France L'Etape du Tour Cycling Race

Ride L’Etape du Tour

Learn More

L’Etape du Tour: Part II

Two years ago Julie Farrell was a self-described “non-enthusiast” with paddle pedals and a brand-new Trek Domane. This July she completed her first L’Etape du Tour. Follow along as she recounts the journey from training to the finish line in this raw and entertaining three-part series.

Part I   |   Part III

Take Me to the Chapel and the Last Supper

We arrived in Geneva a couple days before we met up with our Trek Travel group. This was intentional. At 53 and 51, sleep is important to us, and we wanted to get a head start on acclimating to the time change. Plus…Geneva is one of the most charming cities in the world, and we thought it would be nice to have a couple of nights to ourselves before meeting up with our cycling group. We managed one stint on the stationary bikes at the hotel gym if for nothing more than to settle our nerves about being ready for our adventure.

On Tuesday, the Trek Travel hired car picked us up right on time at the hotel, then we were off to the airport to pick up the rest of our group. Introductions were made and we began the journey across the border into the French Alps. Our destination was Megève, an alpine town that became popular as a chic ski resort when the Baroness de Rothschild tired of Saint Moritz in the 1920’s and christened Megève the new hot spot for well-heeled Europeans.

Upon arrival in Megéve, we received a warm welcome from our Trek Travel guides; Celine (a native French gal) and Laura Lee (a Southern Baptist minister brat, most recently from Brooklyn, and fortunately fluent in French). They enthusiastically showed us to our lodgings at the 5-star Hotel Alpaga and then introduced us to our sleek carbon frame Trek Domani bikes. Equipped with electronic shifters, Garmins, and Flare taillights, no detail was overlooked as they ensured form and fit for each of us.

When you go on cycling trips like this, you bring your own pedals. You don’t have to, but it’s customary. I sheepishly handed my 4th grader pedals to Celine, a mere 5’ 3” tall, but chock full of salsa. There was a brief flash across her countenance that was a mix of horror and humor, then that perfect guide smile swept back across her face. Celine didn’t really want to touch the pedals, but she took them anyway.

After a quick wardrobe change, we were off on a brief ride to sort out any kinks with our bikes and to get the quads burning. We rolled downhill to the village of Megève and then began our ascent up to the quaint airfield nestled in the green Alps above. It took a few kilometers to regulate my breathing and fall into rhythm, but mercifully, it came. As we reached the top of the climb, it was difficult to imagine a more picturesque setting. As if on queue, a vintage two-seater prop took off overhead. Brown and white cows dotted the lush verdant hills – broad brass cowbells announcing their presence. Patches of snow accented grey peaks poking along the ridge, as moody clouds wove between them. If I could paint heaven, it would look exactly like what lay before us.
Trek Travel Etape du Tour Blog by Julie Farrell
Returning to the hotel, we showered, then convened to watch the end of that day’s stage of the Tour de France for our social hour. Guides Celine and Laura Lee had arranged a beautiful presentation of fresh local cheeses (to die for – and explains my lack of weight loss on the trip), charcuterie, bread sticks, chocolates, and of course, ice cold beer. But when in Rome France…drink like the French. They also poured a lovely chilled Rosé from Provence – crisp and refreshing. Dinner that first night was at the Hotel Alpaga, with a variety of options from which to choose: from a more adventurous rabbit, to a familiar Kobe cheeseburger. A gentleman from another Trek Travel group had arrived a day early and joined our group for dinner. A native of Latvia (yes, I had to excuse my ignorance and ask him precisely where it was on a map), I sat next to him and was fascinated as he shared his country’s experience transitioning from a member of the Soviet Union to a democratic nation. It is this kind of informal interaction that accentuates travel for me – the opportunity to meet diverse people through a common conduit – in this case, cycling.

Each day of our preparation for the big ride followed a similar pattern, yet included its own unique elements. One constant was my stroll to greet what became known as “the girls” before each ride. A pasture about 50 yards from our chalet was home to about a dozen dairy cows during the daylight hours. They were the very definition of grass fed, and I couldn’t help but hear that Robert Louis Stevenson children’s verse in my head, “The friendly cow all red and white, I love with all my heart; She gives me cream with all her might, to eat with apple-tart,” as they gazed up at me – the alien in the odd clothes and helmet – cowbells tinkling as they wrenched loose clumps of grass. I would bid them good day, somehow feeling blessed for my ride to come.


Megève to Col des Saisies

Per usual, Mason and I started our day with a hearty breakfast at the hotel. We somehow managed to arrive just as the warm baguettes were coming out of the oven. With homemade jams and local honey for the bread, we filled the rest of our plates with charcuterie and cheeses, then added a bowl of granola with fresh rich yogurt and local berries. French coffee pulled away the lingering cobwebs of jet lag.

Following breakfast, we convened at our bikes at the civilized hour of 9:00 a.m. As Celine and Laura Lee described the day’s route, their eyes landed on me as they described the avid option and explained that one could easily opt out of the additional kilometers, and remain at the picturesque café at the top of the climb where we would eat lunch.

The climbing was challenging, but the breathtaking countryside and the villages festooned with flags for the Tour, provided ample distraction. While one guide led us, the other would drive the van and set-up a well-placed snack station. I was riding 20-30 yards ahead of Mason and another of our group, when we cruised through the tiny village of Notre Dame. One townsman had an animated French laugh poking fun at the guys being outpaced by a female. I think the only reason that I had passed them was because of their sudden lapse of energy when they came upon a rather scantily clad gal ascending on a pair of skating roller skis. There was a marked decrease in their pace for a couple hundred yards.

When we reached the café, all but three of us decided to go on to conquer the avid option. After a quick pain au chocolat and cappuccino, they were off. Mason, our newly made friend Sully, and I stayed behind, drinking in the view of Mont Blanc, and thinking it best to reserve some energy for the days to come.
Trek Travel Etape du Tour Blog by Julie Farrell
Naturally, I became antsy, and decided I would shoot down a few kilometers and then work my way back up for a little extra climbing. As I began my return ascent, down came Mason and Sully. They’d received a call from our friend John imploring us to take the descent down just to take in the amazing views. The van would then drive us back up – no additional climbing required. We took his advice and never regretted it. The scenery was indeed spectacular. We even decided to take a stab at a bit more climbing. All in, I logged about 45 miles and 5000 – 6000 feet of climb.
Trek Travel Etape du Tour Blog by Julie Farrell
The episode above perfectly illustrated the tenor of the whole trip. The group and the guides were encouraging, but there was never a feeling of guilt or of defeat if one decided not to embrace the avid option. Every step of the way was about pushing oneself, but never beyond one’s limits – about taking in the full experience, but understanding that that experience was unique to each individual.

After a dinner in town dining al fresco at La Brasserie Centrale (my fondue was c’est bonne), we paused briefly to watch the extraordinary sunset on Mont Blanc from our bedroom deck. Night had fallen on all the surrounding Alps, but the bright reflection of yellows, oranges, and purples emanated from her white peaks – one last show from glorious Mother Earth before we tucked in for a well-deserved night of rest.

Trek Travel Etape du Tour Blog by Julie Farrell

Megève to Col de la Forclaz and on to Lake Annecy

As neither of us had yet undertaken the full Monty, Mason and I committed to each other that we would attempt the avid option on this day. How bad could it be?

Uh, bad. Our newfound confidence after climbing col des Saisies was quickly put to the test. This nasty little gem of a climb – Forclaz – felt about like it sounds in English – like a Frenchman is digging his fore-claws into your muscles.

Okay, not quite that bad, but it was very challenging. Climbs that have been designated as remarkable are decorated with signs or stones along the route. Both bear an eerie resemblance to graveyard headstones, except in lieu of epitaphs they boldly state the percent grade that you’re attempting to survive. In your heat-stroked, exhausted state, you can almost see your name on the signs. RIP Julie Farrell 10%.

Trek Travel Etape du Tour Blog by Julie Farrell

A 10% grade means that for every 100 feet traveled, you rise 10 feet. To me this doesn’t sound like much, and it in no way helps me understand the difficulty of a 10% grade climb. Here’s how I do it. Think of the most annoying hill that you had to climb on your bike as child. Maybe it was on the way home from school or when you headed over to your best friend’s house. A 10% grade is 10 times harder than that. Or at least that’s what it feels like.

With that erudite explanation of grade complete, I’ll fast-forward to the summit, where we were treated to the spectacular panorama of Lake Annecy below. Paragliding must be France’s third national sport behind cycling and soccer. There were easily 100 colorful paragliders brightly dotting the blue sky above and the pristine aqua water of Lake Annecy below.
Trek Travel Etape du Tour Blog by Julie Farrell
After mainlining Orangina (beers for the stronger riders in our group), we descended to Lake Annecy where we were rewarded with a lakeside lunch of fresh trout, a romp in Lake Annecy’s glacial milk waters (punctuated for the men by a topless French female sunbather), a massage (well, we called it an oil rub…), and finally another delicious lakeside dinner where we speculated about which diners were with their wives and which were with their mistresses – all well informed by a lovely red Chateauneuf de Pape.

We did 42 miles and about 5,600 feet of climb that day and slept like rocks.

Megève to Col des Aravis

This was a confidence-building day – at least we hoped. The col des Aravis is a famous climb; 2016 marks the 40th time that it’s been featured on the Tour de France. It was also a preview for the L’Etape – the col des Aravis would be our first big climb on Sunday.

Soooo…there’s a reason it’s been on the Tour so many times. It’s hard. It’s steep. It’s relentless. As a remarkable climb, it’s littered with markers, and although they do look like gravestones, Mason and I both found them somehow comforting. You knew that the current grade would only last for a kilometer, and if you needed to stop for a respite, you could plan them.
Trek Travel Etape du Tour Blog by Julie Farrell
Without testing your patience with details of every (innumerable) switchback, I’ll finish this day with noting that the summit featured a tiny chapel. Our guides had recommended that we bring along a couple of euros to donate as we somberly requested a safe and successful ride from the heavens above. And let me tell you, after that climb, pray we did.

Trek Travel Etape du Tour Blog by Julie Farrell

Saturday – A Day of Rest and the Last Supper

On Saturday we lingered over breakfast and then Mason and I each indulged in another massage. In sharp contrast to her French sisters in Lake Annecy, our masseuse at Hotel Alpaga was fantastic. With our skin well moisturized from the previous days’ oil rub, she dug in to our tired muscles and kneaded away the lactic acid.

Feeling relaxed, we kicked around in town, purchasing a few mementos, and dining with our friends in Megève. That evening, we enjoyed a cocktail party with the other Trek Travel group who had been bussed over to our hotel for the Last Supper. Our guides teamed together to give final advice about the L’Etape. It felt a bit like kindergarten, only more ominous. “Make sure you have a ride buddy, keep your line during descents, keep hydrated and fueled, and above all pace yourself – the last climb will be a graveyard.” I think this is the closest I’ll ever come to what a soldier must feel like the night before battle – exhilarated, frightened, and anxious at all once.

We said our goodbyes and our bon chances then returned to our lodgings. We needed to set off on our bikes for the start line by 6:10 a.m., and wanted our bodies fueled, caffeinated, and well, functional in time for the race. So we crawled into bed early, our alarms set for 4:20 a.m., and prayed our sleep wouldn’t be haunted with nightmares of the climb profiles illustrated on the charts provided by our guides.

Ride L’Etape du Tour

Learn More

L’Etape du Tour: Part I

Two years ago Julie Farrell was a self-described “non-enthusiast” with paddle pedals and a brand-new Trek Domane. This July she completed her first L’Etape du Tour. Follow along as she recounts the journey from training to the finish line in this raw and entertaining three-part series.

Part II   |   Part III

Cycling Sacrilege and Old Testament Torture

Twenty-five years of marriage. For any of you involved in the sport of marriage, you know that like most athletic endeavors, it takes teamwork, loyalty, and a dose of luck to be successful. As with parenting, there’s no set of daily pills that one can take to ensure a smooth glide to the hallowed accomplishment of a silver anniversary. My husband and I consider ourselves fortunate.

So how to celebrate? We mulled over a number of options. As lifelong tennis players, a visit to Wimbledon was a serious consideration, as was a week in Tuscany drinking in Italian cuisine and history. Our honeymoon was in New Zealand punctuated with bungee-jumping and a ride on the Shotover speed boats, so we kept circling back to something with an element of adventure in it.

Training for the Etape du Tour Bike Race with Trek Travel

Having become cycling enthusiasts (note the choice of word there – “enthusiasts” as opposed to “avid cyclists”), we settled on a Trek Travel trip on the Normandy coast. What’s not to like? We’d get a good dose of history and culture, all the while pushing ourselves on daily cycling excursions.

We reported our decision to some friends of ours who countered with, “Great idea, but we’ve got a better one. How about you do the L’Etape du Tour Trek Travel trip with us instead?” Mason, my husband, and I discussed it, but quickly discarded the option. We hadn’t been training to that level. The L’Etape is legendary. Known for its brutal climbs and extended length, it is literally one of the stages of the famed Tour de France. The Big League. A Major. Nope, not this year, thanks.

There was a brief ceasefire in the exchange of ones and zeroes, then our friends shot back another email. “You know, this is a bucket list deal. A trip of a lifetime. One you’ll never forget. Normandy would be lovely, but this one is unforgettable. You guys can do it. Seriously.”

Had we been discussing this with just about anyone else, we would have stuck to our conviction and booked the nice, civilized Normandy trip. But our friends are both seasoned cyclists and they know our abilities and inabilities well enough to give us an honest assessment. Mason and I exchanged those same fateful expressions that we had when we agreed to bungee jump 143 feet off that bridge in New Zealand. “We’re in.”

That was May 1st. We looked up the details of what we had just committed to. Each day of riding was roughly 30-40 miles with 3500 – 4500 feet of climb. The final day, the L’Etape du Tour, was 91 miles and 10,000 feet of climb. It was a Sunday afternoon. Instead of taking a nice nap, we hopped on our bikes and did repeats on a small but steep hill near our home. After five, we called it quits. This was going to be tough.

Our son Cooper is an avid cyclist and participates on the CU Boulder Triathlon team. In addition, he had the good fortune to be a Trek Travel intern on the L’Etape a few years back. We texted him to see what he thought our chances were, and to lay-out a training schedule for us.

The good news is he thought we could do it. The bad news is that we needed to work our tails off. Cooper recommended 30 miles a days, with big rides (50-70 miles) on the weekends. Oh, and make sure you’ve got lots of climb in there too. Mason hadn’t been on a bike in three months, and though I’d been riding, it was no where near this level of intensity.

My husband works full time in the world of finance, but has the luxury of working remotely some of the week. I work as a consultant, and thus have some flexibility in my daily schedule. We began each day with working out whether or not we could ride together that day. Usually, we do our own thing during the week. It’s easier that way. This new goal, however, had us looking out for each other’s progress. We were partners in crime – doing our best to be flexible so that we could ride together and gradually extend and increase the intensity of our rides. The unexpected by-product was long stints of time together uninterrupted by phones, texts, emails, and other distractions. We talked about life, the future, and how it’s going to be when our youngest child is off to college in a year.

About three weeks into our training, our friends invited us to ride up a big climb in Santa Barbara– Gibraltar. I was unable to go, but Mason went. Gibraltar was the final climb in the Amgen Tour of California. It is not for the faint of heart. The day was hot, but Mason managed to stay with our pals, and had a newfound sense of confidence in his stamina. I, on the other hand, felt nervous. Though I’d packed in more miles than Mason during the year, I’d not yet faced a serious climbing challenge.

The next morning, Mason was off to work in LA, and I decided to assault the first portion of a steep climb called Figueroa Mountain in the Santa Ynez Valley. Our son confirmed that if I could make it to the gravel portion, it would provide solid climbing training for me. I was off. I had to stop several times, but I was feeling pretty good. The scenery was beautiful, and smells of sage and blooming wild flowers distracted me. I reached the gravel portion, and decided to push on. To my astonishment, I felt really good – I decided to continue. The Figueroa Mountain loop begins with a protracted steep climb, then shifts to an undulating gravel road, then to a steep paved descent. This is followed by a long, slow grind at about 4-5% climb before reaching another steep ascent. When I hit the long, slow grind, I began to wonder if I had made a rather stupid decision to do this alone.

It began to feel as if I’d somehow passed through a wormhole into some barren Old Testament locale. The temperature had climbed rapidly, and nasty horseflies were swarming my dripping, salty face. I realized that if I looked down, the flies were a bit less pernicious, but the trade-off was drops of stinging, sunscreen-infused liquid running into my eyes. As I looked down through my burning vision, I noticed several earwigs on my handlebars and top tube. How in the heck did they climb onto my moving bike?! I know I’m going slowly, but not that slowly. It was then that I wondered if the wrath of God was truly upon me. The other flying insects were in fact earwigs. They fly. I drank water. I was beginning to wonder if the heat was getting to me. I half expected to see a burning bush nearby or snakes of fire slithering across the asphalt. As I finally managed to make my way out of the shadow of the valley of death, I saw the summit before me. My trial was over, and my confidence boosted.

Training for the Etape du Tour Bike Race with Trek Travel

Our friends had recommended getting in one big ride during our training. A 70 or 80 miler with a good 6000-7000 feet of climb. Mason and I finally found a weekend day when we could dedicate six or eight hours to cycling. We took off for Jalama – a ride through Santa Ynez’s Pinot Noir growing hills in the Santa Rita Hills area and on to the majesty of the Pacific Ocean at Jalama Beach. The ride went well, though it was challenging. From about the 50-60 mile mark, Mason began to bonk. Though a seasoned athlete, he was not accustomed to the fueling and hydrating required to sufficiently manage oneself on extended cycling trips. At mile 60 we stopped and contemplated whether or not we would continue, or call our boys to pick us up. We decided to press on for another five miles and then make the decision. It was strange for me. I’m a relatively athletic female. Not great, but coordinated, and able to play most sports. But my husband has always been the strong one. And I was now actually worried about him. I mounted my bike, and he his – at least I thought so, until I heard the clash of metal meeting pavement, and Mason exclaim, “I broke my f&%^ing finger.”

Training for the Etape du Tour Bike Race with Trek Travel

I looked over, and as he disentangled himself from the bike, he raised his hand. There, at a nauseating angle, was his right ring finger. Instead of straight up, it pointed 45° right. He couldn’t ride, as he needed his right hand to apply the brakes, so we called 911. We called our boys to bring the truck, and meet us at the Lompoc Emergency Room. True to our family ethos, when they arrived, we all had a good laugh. Fortunately, the finger was just dislocated not broken. The trip would go on. And Dad was no longer infallible.

I’ve left out one little, teeny, tiny detail. I don’t clip in. This is cycling sacrilege. It’s like playing tennis with a wood racket, or playing baseball with one of those old Charlie Brown mitts, or using a wooden driver in golf. You’re handicapping yourself. You lose efficiency and power with each revolution of the crank. But here’s the deal. I hate being clipped in. I’ve had four knee surgeries, and it scares the tar out of me to be trapped in my pedals. And yes, I did ride clipped in for about two years – so I’ve tried it. I’ve managed to fall three times. All at slow speed – as in 5 mph or less, and it still hurts. So I decided to eliminate all that angst, and just ride in my golf shoes. Yup, my golf shoes. Not the kind with spikes, but the ones with nice little plastic nubs that grip my sweet mountain bike pedals. Voila. I can hop off any time I like.

Training for the Etape du Tour Bike Race with Trek Travel

On that note, I can tell you that for a brief period of time, there was a somewhat subversive campaign to coerce me into clipping in. Our friends told Mason, “You realize she will be the only rider on the L’Etape who is not clipped in, right?” Mason conveyed this to me. I said I wouldn’t rule it out. Then Mason and I did the Figueroa loop together the following weekend. I passed through a barely running creek overflow and yelped to be careful because it was slippery. Slick moss lay just below the surface. My sure-footed husband was once again embroiled in a slow-speed crash. Fortunately, he fell left, keeping his newly located right ring finger safe. Nope. I am going to continue to wear my golf shoes. If he can fall while clipped in, I’m sure to fall.

All in, I managed to put in 41 days of training in that two months leading up to our departure – about 1200+ miles and 94,000+ feet of climb. Mason had several business trips in his schedule and was thus unable to log as many miles. We had prepared as much as we could given our circumstances, and relished the private time together. Now D-Day was upon us.
Training for the Etape du Tour Bike Race with Trek Travel

Ride L’Etape du Tour

Learn More


If a date is marked as Private, it is reserved for a private group.

Looking to travel with a small group or looking for a custom date?
Call our trip consultants at 866-464-8735

What is the Difference?

Ultimate Luxury:

Savor some of the most spectacular, 5-star properties in the world. Exuding luxury and elegance, these one-of-a-kind accommodations offer the chance to rejuvenate at award-winning spas, dine at Michelin-starred restaurants, and more.


Enjoy luxurious accommodations handpicked for a refined experience. From signature spa treatments to delicious local cuisine, you’ll be more than provided for; you’ll be pampered.


These handpicked hotels provide relaxation and fun in a casual and comfortable environment. Delicious cuisine and great service mix perfectly for a memorable stay.


On select cycling vacations, you’ll stay at a mix of Explorer and Luxury hotels. Rest assured, no matter which hotel level you’re at, our trip designers carefully select every accommodation.

Activity Level

Level 1:

Road: 1-3 hours of riding. Up to 25 mi (40 km). Up to 1,000 ft (300 m).

Gravel: 1-3 hours of riding. Up to 20 mi (35 km). Up to 1,000 ft (300 m).

Hiking: 1-3 hours of hiking. Up to 5 mi (8 km). Up to 1,000 ft (300 m).

Level 2:

Road: 2-4 hours of riding. 20-35 mi (35-60 km). Up to 2,500 ft (750 m).

Gravel: 2-4 hours of riding. 15-30 mi (25-45 km). Up to 2,000 ft (300 m).

Hiking: 2-4 hours of hiking. 4-8 mi (6-12 km). Up to 1,500 ft (450 m).

Level 3:

Road: 3-5 hours of riding. 25-55 mi (40-85 km). Up to 4,500 ft (1,500 m).

Gravel: 3-5 hours of riding. 20-40 mi (35-60 km). Up to 3,000 ft (900 m).

Hiking: 3-5 hours of hiking. 6-10 mi (9-16 km). Up to 2,000 ft (600 m).

Level 4:

Road: 4+ hours of riding. 40-70 mi (60-110 km). Up to 8,000 ft (2,400 m).

Gravel: 4+ hours of riding. 30-50 mi (45-80 km). Up to 4,000 ft (1,200 m).

Hiking: 4+ hours of hiking. 7-15 mi (11-24 km). Up to 4,000 ft (1,200 m).

What are your trip styles?

Classic - Reserve:

Savor the finer things as you relax in luxurious 5-star accommodations and wine, dine, and ride in some of the most unforgettable destinations around the world.

Classic - Signature:

Explore beautiful destinations by bike, enjoy extra inclusions, savor delicious local cuisine, and enjoy the perfect mix of accommodations.

Classic - Discover:

Enjoy a casual cycling vacation with fantastic routes and comfortable accommodations.

Ride Camp:

Train like the pros in some of their favorite riding destinations.

Pro Race:

See the pros in action at the biggest cycling events of the year.

Cross Country:

Tackle an epic adventure that takes you point-to-point across mountains, countryside, and more.


Enjoy a bike tour on your schedule with just your chosen travel companions.

Single Occupancy

Sometimes it’s more convenient and comfortable to have your own room while on vacation. We understand and that’s why we offer a Single Occupancy option. The additional price guarantees a private room all to yourself