Cycling, said Canmore’s Katrina Rosen, immerses the rider right into the land.
“One feels every dip and roll of the earth beneath the tires,” she said. “You become affected by sun, wind and rain. Locals, who you'd never see by car, suddenly stop you for a conversation, or invite you in.
"I love strolling through small villages, ones I wouldn't have noticed in a vehicle. But mostly, I love what is in between those small villages.”
In fact, Rosen loves all these aspects of cycling so much that three generations of her family embarked on a cycle tour of Europe over the summer. Beginning in Amsterdam in early April – to enjoy the legendary Dutch tulip season – with her parents, Tony and Donna Teunis, her husband, Mike and their six-year-old son, Zion, she spent the next 80 days cycling 3,900 kilometres through 10 countries across Europe to Budapest, Hungary, finishing with a tour of Ireland.
Their adventure included 60 nights sleeping in tents, five flat tires, four broken spokes, two broken rims, one broken bottom bracket, 22 swimming pools, 30 parks, 140 baguettes and 66 ice creams – for Zion, of course.
No stranger to long-distance cycling – Rosen’s newly released book, With You by Bike, published by Rocky Mountain Books, details hers and Mike’s year-long cycle trip through the US, New Zealand and Asia – she admitted cycling for three months with three generations of her family presented some new challenges.
While the temperatures were cold enough for them to wake up to frost in The Netherlands, by the time they reached Austria, Slovakia and Hungary they were waking up already sweating with 100 “ant friends” and countless mosquito bites.
Compared to the $6 a night accommodations and ubiquitous street food stalls they enjoyed in Asia, European prices left the family camping and cooking their own dinners most nights to stay within their budget.
“I love camping, but I had not anticipated the amount of time we would spend grocery shopping, cooking and setting up and taking down camp,” she said. “It really added up.”
To enable Zion to participate fully and to be comfortable, they had three different set-ups; his own bike which he could ride alone, or which could be attached and towed behind his mother’s bike via a tandem system, and Mike pulled a chariot behind his bike for Zion to sit in when he needed a break, or to escape rain and wind.
“It was really important to us that he could ride by himself when he wanted to,” Rosen said. “Zion actually had three choices every day to keep him happy and most days he used all three.”
Sharing the experience with three generations of her family also yielded plenty of blessings.
“Every sense is heightened while riding, but this time, I was also able to experience the land, the environment and daily interactions through my family’s eyes as well and that was very rewarding,” she said. “For example, when I was stressed about getting to camp, or where we were going three days from then, my mom would comment on the smell of the flowers or the river we were riding beside, which would bring me totally back to being present.
"And Zion, at six years old, always lived in the present moment. It wasn't always easy, and I felt more anxious than on other long-distance cycle tours by having my son along, but all the effort we put into doing it was totally worth it.”
One surprise came with the amount of energy needed not only for cycling, navigating and staying safe, but for playing with Zion. At those times, Rosen’s parents, who had previously joined them on shorter bike tours, but were experiencing their longest trip of any kind, were helpful.
“Having my parents along was great,” she said. “They just loved to bike and learn all about cycle-touring. Both of them were amazing at playing with Zion if Mike and I were too exhausted or busy with camp life chores. It did become a bit of a huge joke that my husband and I were only ever eight feet from my parents.”
Throughout the trip, Rosen learned to navigate the activity she loves so dearly while adjusting to another new challenge. After years of high-level, long-distance adventure racing and demanding backcountry adventures, last summer she began developing leg pains. It was the second time in her life with this affliction, and while doctors discovered she has an extra soleus muscle in each leg, which might be causing the pain due to inflammation affecting a nerve, there were no clear answers. Rosen and her family’s initial plan to cycle the Continental Divide mountain bike route from Banff to Mexico was nixed, as she can no longer push hard on the bike.
“My legs have been in pain for a year now,” she said. “On good days I can bike easier flat rides, while on bad days I can’t walk.”
But it was Mike who suggestion a solution – an e-bike.
“At first, I did not want to,” she admitted. “I was an athlete and sad that I had lost that part of myself. But when I finally tried the pedal-assist bike, it gave me so much joy to be riding again.”
They chose Europe knowing they could follow river paths which would also be relatively flat.
“The rest of my family were on regular bikes and most of the time, I totally forgot that my bike was a bit special,” she said. “I only had to remember to find electricity.”
In addition to interacting with the locals and being a healthier – for rider and environment – means of travel, Rosen pointed out that overall cycle touring is economical too.
“It's just way cheaper," she said. "But even if I had a limitless budget, I would still choose to travel by bike.
“Being a tourist while cycling, one might make it to fewer destinations, but what they see along the way will be a much richer experience.”
With that, cycling through Europe reminded her of the riches of her own home.
“Cycling in Europe made me realize – again – how lucky we are to live in the Canadian Rockies,” she said. “This is my dream home and I think this is one of the most beautiful places in the world. I know we have a lot of challenges with over-tourism and we will continue to struggle to find the balance between wild land and parking lots, but in comparison, we are so fortunate. I hope we will continue to fight for what we have here, but also remember how lucky we are. In 10 countries and nearly 4,000 kilometres, we only saw a few deer, two foxes and three rabbits. I see more wild animals on my way to work in Canmore and Banff.”