Bicycle Touring

[Image: group of women in a circle holding onto bicycle wheel and leaning back]

Photo courtesy WomanTours

"It's hard to explain what it makes you feel like because it's kind of like the adrenaline flows and it's like medicine. People who don't cycle can't understand it. They look at you and they think, "You've got to be crazy!" And I said, "Well, you don't have to be, but it helps!"

––Frances Ashcroft, 69, Pocatello

For women interested in long distance touring, one option is WomanTours. The Driggs, ID company was started in 1993 by Gloria Smith, who began biking in 1984 after she went through treatment for breast cancer.

[Image: Gloria Smith]

"I think women look at cycling much differently than men do," says Gloria Smith. "Men are much more competitive. Women go out for the camaraderie of other women, to enjoy the scenery, to just feel their bodies. If they're fast, that is fine. If they're slow, that's fine too. And we're very supportive of one another."

The actual founding of WomanTours was by accident, after Smith had taken a cross country bike tour with some friends.

"When I finished that tour I knew I had to spend the rest of my life on a bicycle," says Smith. "So I just started advertising bicycle tours for women and adventure cycling and coming up with new friends who cycle. That's what I wanted to do; I just wanted to bike with some other women. But it has just grown ever since. I had no idea it would come to this."

Today, WomenTours is the only company in the United States that runs trips exclusively for women, and it arranges tours all over the world. The company still operates out of modest offices in Driggs, ID, at the base of the stunning Teton Mountains. For long trips, the company carries their clients' gear and food, and provides a van should someone want to rest for a while.

[Image: Frances on the beach with her bike giving a thumbs up to the camera]

Frances Ashcroft

WomanTours trips completely transformed 69-year old Frances Ashcroft. Ashcroft, who suddenly lost her husband of nearly 50 years to cancer, was bereft until her daughter encouraged her to try cycling.

Although she had not been on a bicycle in decades, Ashcroft went on a WomanTours trip to Hawaii. After cycling several hundred miles, she decided to go for the brass ring: a bike trip across the entire United States. Ashcroft has now biked across the country twice. Besides dropping several dress sizes, she says bicycling has changed her life.

"I changed the way I eat, I changed the way I live," says Ashcroft. "And I owe it all to cycling. It's kept me sane. It doesn't matter how old you are. You can still do whatever you want to do if you make your mind up to do it."

[Image: the group of women who went on the tour to the Teton Valley]

Photo: Marcia Franklin

"Cycling Idaho" spends time with a group of WomanTours participants enjoying the Teton Valley on their bikes. Their particular tour also includes yoga classes and classes in bike mechanics.

[Image: Michelle Santos]

"I just learned how to ride a bike three years ago. I really wanted to do a biking tour before I started school. I saw this one and it had bike mechanics, it had yoga, and also went around the Tetons, and I always wanted to go up here."
–– Michelle Santos, Louisville, KY

[Image: Heather O’Conner]

"I just go for the pleasure of going new places and this has been a great one. I love riding with a group. It keeps me going. It really does. I don't think I'd do this totally on my own."
––Heather O'Connor, Bucks County, PA

[Image: Jane Dwire]

"I feel like I can go home now and take my bike apart, clean it and put it back together again. I'm so excited. There's so much green, the trees, the mountains, the Tetons. I've never seen so much wide open space."
––Jane Dwire, Ventura, CA

[Image: Berlinda Saenz]

"I can't believe that I'm actually here. I wouldn't have ever dreamt that I would see the scenes that I've seen, especially the Grand Tetons as a backdrop. And sometimes when I've just been so tired and I've thought I can't go on, and I happen to glance over and see the view. That just sparks up a little bit more energy to keep going. I keep wondering, "What's on the other side? What's on the other side?"
––Berlinda Saenz, Greeley, CO

[Image: Susan Hutchinson]

"We are so lucky. I felt like this was just a privilege to be able to be out here and be healthy enough to enjoy this in a way that people who don't bike-I don't think they enjoy it as much. I mean, you can be in a car and you can enjoy the scenery, but in a sense you feel like you are earning that view at the top of the mountain."
––Susan Hutchinson, Greeley, CO

[Image: Jen Stutesman]

"This is my 40th birthday gift to me. I'm looking to get in better shape and feel good and get empowered and put bicycle guys in their place when they tell me what I need! It's kind of like the nicest thing I've done for myself, really."
––Jen Stutesman, Walla Walla, WA

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