Discovering northeastern Scotland’s moors, glens and tearooms
When we turned 60, my friend Frank Roach and I started a tradition we call the “Birthday Ride” in which we ride our bicycles the same number of miles as we are years old, on or around the time of our birthdays. The rides also celebrate the fact that we have been friends since the age of five.
This year the target was 62 miles and we chose a route in the county of Sutherland in the Scottish Highlands, starting and ending in the village of Rogart, where Frank and his wife Kate live next to the rail tracks in the historic Rogart Station buildings. The convenient location made it easy for Kate, who is also an avid cyclist, to pedal with us this year.
My friend Steve and I have been traveling together for about two decades. We met when I was running a home beer and wine supply store in Austin, TX and he came in wanting to get started brewing. Unsurprisingly, much of our travel has revolved around places with good beer and wine, like Belgium and Bordeaux, Oregon and Oktoberfest.
In 2016, things changed. He was settled into a relationship with Laura, who owned more bikes than me and had been touring for decades. We started talking about combining our annual trip with some bike touring.
I had never done an organized tour, and it sounded intriguing. We agreed it should be somewhere in Europe. None of us had spent much time in Italy, so we focused on tours there, eventually settling on a bike and barge tour of the northern part of the country. It would follow mostly flat terrain, starting in Bolzano, near the Austrian border. The first few days would follow the Adige River to Lake Garda, then the Mincio River to Mantova. From there, a canal barge would follow us through small towns in the Po River Delta, eventually reaching Venice. The Bolzano-to-Mantova section would be self-guided with hotel stays. The rest would be guided with lodging and dinners on the barge. The tour price was just over $2000 per person, including bike rental, lodging, luggage transfer, and meals on the barge. The total riding distance would be about 250 miles.