Anyone can sip piña coladas on the lido deck. Anyone can make three trips to the buffet line within the hour, sans guilt, and finish the meal off with a gentle steel-drum rhythm. While this type of vacation is full of a whole lot of relaxation and maybe a little bit of sin, too, for members Ed, Roger, Paul, Jane and Jean, it's just … boring.
The five were brought together many years ago in the Club's spin class. Ed Springman and Jane Hague are married, and Paul and Jean Wiegnand are married too. Roger Winter met Ed 40 years before, and they've been great friends since. They all have one very important thing in common: they love an adventure.
So, rather than spend a week surrounded by buffets, drinks and cozy cabins, they decided to take in a vacation by bike. Their destination: Croatia—the beautifully idyllic, small country next to Italy, on the coast of the Mediterranean.
Ed took two years to plan the trip, although he's had plenty of experience. He's done the same type of trip from Hanoi to Saigon, Bangkok to Phuket, the Lake District in Chile, across Scotland, across the Loire Valley in France, Prague to Vienna, across Budapest and across Morocco. As far as why he chose Croatia this go-around, "It's just a place I've never been," he said.
The group trained for the trip by attending spin classes on a regular basis, taught by Rose Nelson and Christin Tercek. "They kept us inspired," Jane said. They all keep active by working out regularly, so it was more a matter of embarking on a new challenge.
Since they were all bike enthusiasts, and had been for a quite a few years, the most difficult part was finding a guide who would take them through both the northern and southern parts of Croatia. But once they did, it was just the five of them, their guide Thomas, their bikes and an elusive van that carried their luggage from city to city.
Thomas, the guide, actually did the trip during his "vacation" time, to fulfill his desire to see southern Croatia, which made him as enthusiastic as the rest of the group. "It added to the fun, since sometimes we were sort of 'lost,' as Thomas figured out things on the fly," Paul said.
They started their two-week trip by flying into Slovenia. From there, they rode into Croatia, through 10 different cities and popped up their kickstands for the last time in Dubrovnik. "The trip was absolutely fantastic. The scenery was out of this world," Roger said. "There were so many views of the perfectly clear-blue Adriatic Sea that we almost got tired of looking!"
The coastal towns are what postcards are made of; to say the group enjoyed beauty during the arduous rides is an understatement. They spent four to eight hours each day on their bikes, and owe the most difficulty to the hills. One hill spanned 5.4 miles, with a grade between seven and 11 percent.
"The country is very hilly, as there are rocky islands jutting out of the sea, and it was very hot and humid," Paul said. "We all just proceeded at our own pace and met up periodically if we got separated."
Jane saw the bright side, though. "You're able to eat and not worry about coming back heavier," she joked.
That's exactly what they did, too. They ate, they drank and they swam, ending each day with a dip in the sea, cooling off from the 90- to 100-degree temperatures.
Croatia is a country dripping with history, which was evident with every town they passed through. Split, the second-largest city in Croatia, was erected by the Roman Empire; Hvar has monuments that have survived since the 15th century; and the unanimous group favorite, Dubrovnik, has 1.24 miles of preserved medieval walls encircling the city, which tourists can walk to get a sense of the purpose they served many years ago.
"It suffered such destruction and hardship during the war, but is completely restored today, yet they retained all its historical character," Paul said.
But the locals also helped make the experience special. "People were exceptionally friendly," Jane said. "They told stories of the shelling and the rebuilding of the city. For those of us who live in America, it was really compelling—to know that people had withstood such hardship and rebuilt their city."
With the slower pace, "you get to meet a lot of interesting people that you would otherwise not meet if you were traveling on a bus or traveling by car," Ed said. "Biking gives you an opportunity to get a better feel for the country."
They got to experience getting lost while trying to cross the Slovenia-Croatia border, and they got to immerse themselves in the sites, rather than just catch a quick glimpse. "You see things more thoroughly, and you can share it with your friends," Jane said.
"You stop and observe the beauty much more often at a slower pace," Paul said. "You interact with more locals and get out in the rural areas more."
But beyond the pace, it was the idea of having an active vacation—about really exploring a new country from a different perspective. It was a matter of deciding to turn the passivity that so often occurs during trips into action. The group depended on their own two legs to get them to the destinations they sought to travel, and with this there was a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment, unusual for most relaxing vacations—which are great, too, of course.
"Most of all, we had a great group of friends," Paul said.
The group is now looking into doing another bike trip in Eastern Europe, to see Poland and Hungary.
For Ed, Jane, Paul, Jean and Roger, adventure and athleticism are synonymous. There are plenty more bike paths out there just waiting to be ridden, and these five are ready to leave their marks.