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.
"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.
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."
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.