My husband loves bicycling, but I’m not a fan. He enjoys biking for several miles at a time, but I’d rather run several than sit on a bike seat for more than a few minutes. So when he told me one of his friends was going to be biking across part of Europe with his wife and several other cyclists, I thought, I have to meet these crazy people!
They’re not crazy of course, but Jason and Jamie Astrup appreciate adventure. They shared their experience of their bicycling trip—a story that was published last week in the paper. Because newspapers work in inches, I had to scrap some details. Here’s what you didn’t read:
When Jason and Jamie Astrup learned about a summer bike tour organized by Great Rides Fargo, they were the first people to sign up for the cycling trip that would take them through Paris, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands.
“We knew we needed an adventure trip instead of a lying-on-the-beach trip,” Jamie Astrup explained.
And an adventure it was. From preparing gear beforehand to assembling a bike in a train station to high-fiving children who’d lined the streets, the trip offered many amusing experiences for the couple, who celebrated their five-year anniversary in July.
For Tom Smith, the organizer of the trip and owner of Great Northern Bikes, getting ready for the trip involved finalizing the itinerary, determining routes and lining up lodging. Great Rides Fargo, the non-profit organization of his bicycle store, offered two different options: the “high road” through the Swiss Alps and the “low road.”
The Astrups opted for the low-road option, though other riders created a hybrid trip that included spending time on both routes, Smith says.
In addition to packing, the Astrups knew they’d need to get a few long rides in to prepare for the six-day cycling trip. Once they were actually on the trip, they realized that Fargo “flat” and Europe “flat” mean two different things.
“Many of the rolling hills were long enough to make you feel completely exhausted by the end of the day,” Jamie Astrup says.
Cycling across Europe
The Astrups’ adventure began in Paris then took them to Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, before ending in France again. Traversing the European countryside required the 15 cyclists to take a few roads not exactly on the beaten path.
At one point, they found themselves on the famous cobbles in the Forest of Arenberg near Roubaix, France, which is picturesque, but it’s not exactly comfortable for cyclists. “When you’re riding on a bike down the path, your bike is just shaking,” Jason Astrup says.
Another time the path was a bit softer but the surrounding environment created a scene more typical of a horror movie – narrow, desolate path, thick, suffocating brush, quiet river and swampy water. “We were on that path for about 2-3 miles, and even though it started out looking like a quiet gravel road, it quickly grew into a deeply rutted and muddy jeep path,” Jason Astrup says.
Smith admits the biggest challenge was finding appropriate routes to take. “Many were considered ‘no-stripe roads,’ and it’s what you would expect of bike riding through rural France,” Smith says.
While those singular paths stuck out to the Astrups as somewhat trepidatious, both say the overall trip was enjoyable. They recalled the crushed limestone paths and the people riding horses as they biked past. It was a side of Europe many people don’t see, and several small towns welcomed the group with open arms.
At one point, the tour stopped to have lunch and discovered a local bakery had created a special treat for the group. “They took a picture with us and posted it on their Facebook page,” Jamie Astrup says.
Most of the lodging accommodations included hotels, but in Maastricht, Netherlands, the tour spent the night on a botel – a hotel in a boat. Space was limited, and Jamie Astrup admits she had some anxiety about the close quarters. But the next morning, an Ironman competition got underway and the Astrups’ group was able to watch as 2,000 swimmers began the race next to their botel.
Another highlight of the trip was the sight – and smell – of a massive strawberry field. “You’ve never smelled strawberries like that,” Jamie Astrup says. Other food highlights included authentic German schnitzel and beer as well as delicious pastries.
Like documentation. They had their cell phones and a high-powered camera, but a small point-and-shoot, or even a GoPro, may have been easier to use.
Packing involved another learning curve. And that’s not because they didn’t pack enough necessities – the opposite, actually. The couple packed 24 pounds of gear and are pretty sure they could trim that amount down to 20 or lower. Jamie Astrup described it “living like a turtle with your home on your back.” If she did it again, she’d scale down the items she took, including biking shoes meant to clip into pedals. “I ditched those after the first 20 miles and just wore tennis shoes,” she says.
One item Jamie was happy to have used a biking bag for transporting her bicycle because it ended up serving as her bed cover because the heavy comforters and duvets just weren’t conducive for sleeping in humid weather, she says.
By far the biggest lesson the Astrups learned involved their bikes. If they ever embark on another cycling adventure, Jason and Jamie say they’ll rent rather than bring their own. That’s because they spent hours disassembling their bikes to pack and fly them, only to put them back together
once they arrived.
They mused about the scene the group must have been in the Gare du Nord train station in Paris, one of Europe’s busiest railway stations. The language barrier for explaining what they were doing didn’t help, but after an hour and a half using Allen wrenches to assemble the bikes, the group was able to embark on their adventure.
“After dealing with transporting our bikes, I’d be okay with adjusting a seat (on a rented bike),” Jamie Astrup says. Not to mention they had to locate new boxes to get the bikes home, and unfortunately the ones they were given did not exactly fit, so modifications were required.
For Smith, both trips were successful because they showed the riders how accessible independent travel is while on vacation. “I hope it opens doors for people for their future travels,” he says. “It’s amazing to be a bicyclist in a transportation system that is so respectful of bicycles. I’m a bicycle advocate, so I think it’s important for people to see parts of the world where bikes have become an important part of the culture.”
The Astrups’ biking tour ended Aug. 3, but they stayed in Paris for a few days to check out the local attractions like the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and Disneyland Paris. They returned to Fargo on Aug. 8 and resumed their everyday lives as an attorney at Astrup Law Office and a nurse at Essentia Health.
Sure, a beach would have been relaxing for a trip, but the experience of biking through the old European countries was one-of-a-kind. And that’s exactly what the Astrups wanted.