3 Favorite Journeys on a Bike

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For many cyclists, riding a bike is a kind of heaven. You're simply a body breathing clean air and having very few thoughts. That's the meditative side. It does not hurt that the sport is kind to the knees. That's the non-load-bearing, exertive side. Then there are the fans who like to mosey, the leisurely bike riders. No spandex or clocking speed for them. They don't pay attention to the miles. It's just the wind in their faces, and the tranquillity and peace that they feel. With the advent of fall, three writers tell us about their favorite bike journeys, from a beloved route along rolling fields and Lake Champlain in Vermont and upstate New York to a ride in the wild green countryside of western Ireland and a night ride in Paris.

'Road Closed'? Not to Me.

A "Road Closed" sign is always a gamble on a bike ride. Ignore it and be rewarded with miles of tranquil, car-free riding. Usually the road damage is passable on a bike. Then there are the days when a dead end forces a retreat and a detour.

That was the choice we confronted in the lush foothills of the Adirondacks in New York. The sign blocked a scenic alternative to miles of riding on the shoulder of State Highway 22. Beyond it, a smooth dirt road passed beneath a ceiling of maple and hemlock branches that tinted the summer light green. After a brief consultation with my friend and riding partner, Sean Luitjens, we wheeled around the sign.

"I hope we don't regret this," I said.

Even without this hiccup, our trip around the midsection of Lake Champlain, which separates Vermont from New York, involved more logistical wizardry than usual. It would take three ferry rides to complete the seven-hour, 78-mile loop that began at my house in the college town of Burlington, Vt.

We started the ride cycling south, past suburban housing tracts into hills carpeted with hayfields, punctuated by the occasional McMansion and Vermont clapboard farmhouse. A swoop down to Lake Champlain and across the wooden slats of an 1870s-era covered bridge brought us to a ferry connecting quaint Charlotte, Vt., to the little lakefront town of Essex, N.Y.

A few miles north of Essex, Highway 22 kicked up for three strenuous miles. As it flattened, we came to Highland Road and that "closed" sign.

Once past it we rollercoastered up and down hills through a smorgasbord of classic views: a wooded pond, farmland and meadows with Lake Champlain in the distance, a weathered barn leaning on a massive, gnarled maple tree, and a cemetery with a sign declaring it open since 1812.

We reached the damaged section that prompted the road's closure. A chunk of the road had fallen into a creek, but more than half the pavement remained. Our gamble at the sign had paid off. We strolled across the gap and remounted our bikes. I pedaled away with extra verve, thrilled at having successfully thumbed my nose at the warning. As we reached Highway 9, there was another reward: a dizzying view of Ausable Chasm, where the Ausable River roars over a series of waterfalls. We skipped the advertised float trips and rappelling, taking it in from a bridge spanning the gorge.

We then sped down the flat highway, reunited with Lake Champlain and steered into Plattsburgh, a town of 20,000 that's home to a state college and a paper mill. That's where we lost our second gamble. We had planned to eat there. But on a Sunday at 11:30 a.m., the downtown looked abandoned. Sunday brunch apparently wasn't a popular meal. We resorted to a diner on the outskirts of town, where the hash browns resembled elongated Tater Tots, and the pancakes came with corn syrup -- a crime for any self-respecting Vermonter.

The dining disappointment was rinsed away on a ferry ride under a blue sky to Grand Isle, one in a chain of long, narrow islands in northern Lake Champlain. My legs now aching, we headed down the island's western flank on a dirt road smooth enough for our narrow-tired road bikes. We passed vacation cottages, farmhouses, a winery and beaches. Soon, a steady flow of cyclists streamed by the other way. We were approaching the final boat ride.

On summer weekends, a small ferry takes cyclists across a gap in a three-mile-long causeway topped with a gravel trail. The arrangement allows people to ride a bike path from Burlington to the islands. (Full disclosure, I'm a member of a Burlington-based nonprofit, Local Motion, that runs the bike ferry.)

After a three-minute boat ride, we were Burlington-bound, zipping down the bike path past kids on dirt bikes, a couple on a tandem and elderly riders on upright city bikes. My final destination: The Skinny Pancake, a creperie on Burlington's downtown waterfront. I wasn't going to take another chance with food. -- WARREN CORNWALL

On Track in Western Ireland

For more than 70 years, the Midlands Great Western Railway in western Ireland lay choked in weeds and forgotten. Now the 19th-century line is an emerald refuge where cyclists roam through dark woodlands and pastures fresh with heather and new lambs.

When I set off on a journey through this landscape of western Ireland, I gambled that I wouldn't share the well-tended path with the rain showers that are routine much of the year. My husband and I got aboard the trail on rented road bikes from an outdoor store in Westport on the shores of Clew Bay in County Mayo.

We were well aware that the renamed Great Western Greenway -- an off-road cycling trail of 26 miles from Westport toward the dunes of the Atlantic coast -- is a grand Irish experiment to turn a derelict railroad into an engine of bicycle tourism at a time when the nation is struggling through an economic crisis.

The transformation since 2010 has proved so successful that Ireland is planning a national cycling network, and other countries are pondering imitations.

If only they could also control the incessant rains of County Mayo.

Irish friends had urged us to explore the Greenway, assuring us that if we tired or the weather turned, bicycle rental shops offer pick-up service for less than $20. The terrain matched our moderate ambitions. Much of the trail was flat, with gentle hills that passed under hand-cut stone railroad bridges. We were gloriously free from the roar of car traffic and instead savored the rush of the Bunnahowna River.

Sometimes we dodged errant sheep that commandeered the trail. But they were part of the charm of the Greenway -- particularly the stretch between Newport and Mulranny -- which plunges through grazing lands of more than 160 farmers who have granted access through cow pastures and wheat fields. From a car, who notices the details? But on a bicycle, I was hypnotized by enormous clouds of pink and gray and a vast range of purple foxgloves (called fairy caps in Ireland), Queen Anne's lace and yellow thickets of gorse.

Along the Greenway, towns and neighbors have embraced this new resource with endearing touches. In a newly mown field, a farmer parked a cart with his folk art exhibition of rows and rows of red, blue and yellow tractor seats. Not far from the crumbling brick Mulranny rail station, we rested by a sculptured bench fashioned like a pile of old-fashioned leather bags. In the village of Aittireesh, a shingled Greenway "station" marks the trail entrance with a wooden bench and a bronze bell to announce arrivals. Nearby, a water pipe snakes to a blue tin cup, with a handwritten sign: "Drinking water."

The Greenway is so well organized that it's possible to sample it à la carte -- cycling up and down its length in a day or simply riding partway and calling for pick-up service. We spread our visit over two days because as we neared Newport the threatening clouds finally opened up with a downpour.

But rain has its benefits; we took refuge in a cozy, family-owned pub, the Grainne Uaile, with a chalkboard of lamb shank, baked cod and daily specials. A televised rugby match had reached the table-pounding point inside, and we immediately ordered pints of Guinness, asking where to lock our bikes. The bartender studied us quizzically: "No one ever takes bikes here."

We discovered that the Greenway is also a place to meet distinctive characters. In Newport we biked up the hill by Kelly's butcher shop, where we glimpsed Sean Kelly, in his signature apron and straw boater. Renowned for his sausage-shaped black pudding and seaweed, labeled with a Greenway map, he is a tireless trail promoter.

A few months ago, Mr. Kelly made his acting debut in a spaghetti Western video spoof, "Once Upon a Time in Mayo," featuring cowboys who speak in brogue.

Naturally, the butcher and his gang in duster jackets ride off into the Greenway horizon -- on bicycles. -- DOREEN CARVAJAL

City of Lights, City of Bikes

Any hopes I might have had for being mistaken for a Parisienne by taking a summer evening ride with Fat Tire Bike Tours were quickly dispensed with. Outfitted in a goofy yellow neon vest and helmet, I soon found myself waiting at every traffic light for the tail end of my group to catch up, like the front end of a school bus that had lost its rump. But so what? By the time I'd circled round one of the Louvre's inner courtyards, its symmetrical French Renaissance windows standing at attention, the sheer joy of soaking up so much of Paris at night was more than worth it.

Fat Tire Bike Tours, which also operates English-speaking tours in London, Berlin and Barcelona, gathers for its night ride in Paris at 7 p.m., just as other less-energetic travelers are heading out for a multicourse feast. Riders with or without reservations can either meet at the hulking south leg of the Eiffel Tower, or hunt out the tour's nearby headquarters.

Biking in any crowded city can be a bit nerve-racking at first. The initial tendency to focus on mastering three gears and weaving around traffic can distract you from why you are there in the first place. "Don't forget to look at the buildings," one rider shouted to her friends, who had their eyes fixed on the road as we headed down the curved Boulevard St.-Germain, with its luxury shops and crowded cafes.

Only a tiny portion of the four-and-a-half-hour ride involves traversing wide boulevards, however, so even the most inexperienced riders were soon feeling at ease. And though the tour is advertised as covering eight miles, the slow pace and frequent stops meant that I didn't even have sore legs the next day. The route takes in many of the city's grand sites: the Tuileries gardens, the Louvre Pyramid and the Flame of Liberty, a gold-leaf replica of the Statue of Liberty's torch at Pont de l'Alma, which became the unofficial memorial to Princess Diana after she died in the tunnel below the bridge in 1997.

Riding up behind Notre Dame Cathedral with its flying buttresses, our guide, Justin Dean, quoted that famed master builder, Joe DiMaggio, who supposedly said there are only two things that look better from behind: Marilyn Monroe and Notre Dame.

There was an overly long break as my group and others lined up outside Berthillon's flagship ice cream shop on Île St.-Louis, reputedly the city's best ice cream. The group then threaded its way through less-crowded streets and crisscrossed the Seine until we arrived at the Pont des Arts, the metallic footbridge to which couples attach locks as a symbol of everlasting love. From the bridge, one can see the Académie Française, where 40 official custodians of the French language -- known as Immortals -- guard against foreign linguistic interlopers like "e-mail" (courriel) and "hashtag" (mot-dièse).

Exploring a city by strolling its streets can be like tasting an exquisitely delicious petit four, one nibble at a time, but biking through Paris, sailing down the quai in twilight under a canopy of trees, allows you to gobble the city's buffet of delights in giant gulps. One of the world's most beautiful capitals pours over you in a blast of wind.

The 30-euro (about $38 at $1.28 to the euro) tour, which includes an hourlong cruise down the Seine and plenty of wine, may be one of the best deals in Paris. Sure, the 20-person group can be a bit unwieldy and the fluorescent-lighted tour boat has about as much charm as the Staten Island Ferry. But none of that matters much when you've got a paper cup full of wine in hand and are floating past the brilliantly illuminated Musée d'Orsay.

The short return ride goes by the Eiffel Tower. Seeing the dazzling electric light show that resembled hundreds of flashbulbs popping off at random, I wished the cycling was just beginning. -- PATRICIA COHEN

travel

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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