This Backroads Life

At Backroads, I´m called a leader. I much prefer chasing sheep on horseback, but that job doesn’t pay as well, and I’m deathly allergic to hay, so I’ll stick to Backroads leading.

Skaftafell National Park for a Backroads day

You can also call us glorified tour guides, where we’re capable of acting as babysitters or bus drivers just as well as we get to shine in the spotlight, but Backroad’s leaders are really one of a kind – a rare and spectacular breed of individuals that are capable of so much. There’s benefits to being an Icelandic leader in Iceland, but actually it means I get to spend extra time defending Backroads in Iceland, and doing extra work for the company since Im the local language expert and live here anyway, so I’m not really that special, on the Backroads global scale kinda measurement.

on Fjallsjokull glacier

The trips I lead are called multi-sport: we do sports, different kinds, one for every day. Its a 6 day trip, and we hike, bike, glacier walk, and sometimes, horse back ride. We go from Hofn to Reykjavik, in our Backroads vans, and are always atleast 2 leaders working together. We sleep at Iceland’s best hotels; Hotel Ranga and Ion Adventure hotel, to name a  few, and eat like kings and queens. It’s hard to stay fit, even as an active tour leader, since the food weighs me down, day after day, in addition to all the snacks we’re meant to offer guests, but really just end up eating ourselves, out of boredom, or guilt, or satisfaction, or all of the above… I don’t know.

biking around Thingvallavatn

The Iceland season is short, beginning at the start of June and ending at the start of September. I start and end the season, with a few weeks off in between, and our groups are anywhere from 9 to 26 people, almost always only Americans. They tip, so I love them, and speak English, which makes my job easy, but the few weeks I get off from Backroads to lead horseback riding treks are also a blessing. I may be surrounded by middle-aged German women, who were expecting a Chris Hemsworth kind of Thor as their guide, and barely speak english, but the horses are always worth it.

horseback riding in Hella

A couple of nights in the highlands, in mountain huts without running water or electricity, sharing bunk beds in one big room, and I’m immediately ready to go back to Backroads leading. My Fosshotel glacier room feels more like home than my own bed in Reykjavik does, and I’m not sure I remember what life was like before Backroads… *sigh*

my well-worn hiking boots at Hoffell

This Backroads life was meant to be, the dream job I never had and the perfect lifestyle to enjoy Iceland and traveling. If only my midriff agreed.

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Biking in Provence

Working for Backroads has been a rollercoaster ride, but the biggest perk is definitely Provence. With our head office and training happening every spring in Pernes-les-Fontaines, I have the perfect excuse to visit Provence in April every year. It’s the time of year when the weather is perfect, the lavender is about to blossom, and tourism hasn’t gotten busy so theres plenty of wine to taste and roads to cycle.

enjoing the Loire

I flew into Paris and visited a friend in Loire to warm up my bike butt, cycling thru the Loire Valley for some wine tasting and sunbathing. Then I was off to Provence to bike Ventoux, or atleast try…

its all about the kit…

There’s a kind of unspoken rule that cycling to the top of Mont Ventoux is part of the Backroads’ family right of passage – nearly everyone has done it, and they time themselves and do it again if they think they can get a better timer. I think the record in our community is 1hr36mins.

Kevin and I in Bedoin about to start our climb

I took a cool 3.5 hours, with lots of selfie stops and pee and snack breaks, but as the temperature dropped gradually with our ascent, the 1909m top was too cold to stay too long, so it only took 30 mins to fly 21kms back down to Bedoin. I was lucky to have Kevin with me, who had cycled Ventoux twice before, so he knew the best way and pep talked me most of the way up.

on the top of Ventoux!

I had all the right gear, thanks to Backroads, including a padded butt and a performance bike, so I didn’t even hurt the next day. I decided to celebrate the accomplishment with a little wine tasting in Beaumes-de-Venise with a couple of other Backroads friends, and finally learned how to use clip pedals. After that, I finally feel like Im qualified to be a bike guide… or atleast I can fake it til I make it since I look the part.

Winter is not coming

Today was the first day the nights are longer than the days. We had no summer in June or July, and finally it arrived in autumn. The first snow dusting the tops of Esja mountain Reykjavik fell last night, a month later than last year. But its still in the teens, and the sun has been shining more hours today than all 30 days in June.

looking for sheep in the highlands is easy to do when theres almost no snow

The sheep gathering has begun in most corners of the country. The north began rounding up the first week of September, but riding in a tshirt and getting sheep to waddle home one hundred kilometers in a wooly bunch is unusual. Wearing sunblock on a ride in the highlands when you know there’ll be frost at night seemed unconventional, but totally necessary.

some stubborn sheep have decided they wont be chased home and found an impossible place – a common problem when the weather is this nice

The northern lights, however, arrived much earlier than normal. This was the soonest I’ve seen them, August 15th, and again the 17th and 21st. The entire sky turned flickering shades of green on September 3rd, much to the delight of 29 Swiss tourists I woke up to see them.

biking by the Blue Lagoon on an extra sunny day

Biking around Reykjavik has been glorious, now that there’s finally good weather. Though its strange to remember that nightfall has crept up on us, and biking home at 9pm without headlights makes me feel uneasy, especially knowing that next week it will be dark by 8pm. It’s a shame that Nautholsvik, the local man-made beach with a hot tub and steam room, is open every day and free only during the summer season, which they’ve decided ends August 15th. That was probably the first day of summer, but now its only open 4 times a week and costs 650kr to use.

riding to the beach is a must on a sunny autumn day

Winter is not coming, since its finally summer in September. Autmn has yet to arrive, with the grass still green and the trees still full of luscious leaves. I hope autumn comes in winter, and winter gets skipped right to spring. But that’s pretty wishful thinking in a country that typically has 2 seasons – winter, and not winter.

Bike Training in Provence

Provence is a place where the name alone triggers the smell of lavender and dreams of endless vineyards. I’d never been there before, but thats exactly what it was, plus some. There were meadows of red poppies as far as the eye could see, olive trees and strawberry fields, and picturesque villages on hill tops seemingly unchanged for hundreds of years.

Vines, poppies and an olive tree

I stayed between Carpentras and Pernes-les-Fontaines, visiting nearby Avignon, Monteux and Blauvac to name a few. Dinners included red wines from nearby Chateuneuf-du-Pape and freshly picked, local asparagus and artichokes. I stayed with 23 amazing individuals in our own Chateau, with a courtyard fit for a regal wedding, and we were all given performance street bikes that weighed less than my right arm to use as transport.

Practicing my French Duck face

During the days, we had a combination of hard and “soft” skills training, everything from bike mechanics to public speaking. We were on our way to become tour Leaders, not guides, since “leaders” implies we also have co-leaders and teamwork skills. We had to learn to be interested, not only interesting, and speak about our regions and activities with passion that couldn’t be staged. We learned how to use an intraweb interface that takes me back to the days of the internet in 1999 – its extremely mind boggling to filter through html links, url sites that cant be reached, tens of thousands of pages of information, and other trip resources without google.

My training group, aka Missy Elliot

Our group was mainly European, plus a few dual citizen North Americans, and about two-thirds female. Everyone spoke two or more languages, and the collective travel experience and skills in that group made all of us feel individually inadequate. I made some lasting friendships, and others I’ll never see again, and two of us didn’t even make it thru training and returned home with an abrupt end to their Backroads career.

Just another picture perfect Provence town

It’s funny how France keeps calling me back; first, a spontaneous backpacking trip in Bretagne over New Years, and now, the opportunity to get paid to learn about bikes and cycling in Provence. I thank Backroads for the opportunity, and can’t believe I’ve started making money while traveling to new places in my favourite countries.