By Katie McElveen
In 1979, when Middlebury College history professor and VBT founder John Freidin took his first group of cyclists though the rolling hills of Vermont, VBT (or Vermont Bicycle Tours, as it was then known) was a one-man operation that Freidin ran from his home. Today, as the company approaches its 50th anniversary, cyclists can choose to pedal through nine states — including Vermont — as well as nearly two dozen countries. Launched two years after VBT, Country Walkers offers the same level of exploration and service for guests who prefer to walk or hike through some of the world’s most compelling destinations.
For energetic travelers, Country Walkers and VBT are a way to take in the details you might miss during a more traditional vacation — the sound of barking seals as you pedal through British Columbia, the first glimpse of the ocean as you climb to the top of a rise in Maine or the sight of a golden marsh cut by ribbons of blue water in South Carolina’s low country. Here’s what to expect.
Whether you want to delve into Zion’s slot canyons and waterfalls, ogle the dramatic peaks of the Rocky Mountains or cycle along Cape Cod’s storied shoreline, VBT or Country Walkers can make it happen. They’ll also enrich your visit with local lore, insider tips and regional food. New cycle itineraries for 2021 include Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park in Maine, where you’ll pass through classic fishing villages and take in the stunning scenery from the top of Cadillac Mountain, the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard. In Northern California, roads and trails wind through miles of vineyards and past massive, centuries-old redwood trees on their way to the Pacific Ocean. Along the way, sample world-famous chardonnays, cabernets and pinot noirs; dine at chef-centric restaurants and, in the old-west town of Calistoga; revive in a mineral-rich mud bath. In Glacier National Park, Country Walkers’ trip leaders guide you into an alpine landscape filled with sapphire-blue lakes, snowy glaciers, meadows bright with wildflowers and rocky mountainsides that are accessible only by foot. Wherever you go, you’ll discover the hidden trails, dining experiences and cultural marvels known only to locals. You’ll hear the stories that go with them as well. Your guides are notable historians, photographers, professors, naturalists and culinary artists who are passionate about sharing their knowledge.
Choose your pace
Regardless of the activity level you prefer, it’s easy to choose just the right vacation — tours are organized by the difficulty of the terrain, miles between stops and elevation gain. Since some days are more challenging than others, guided tours have a full-service support van on hand to transport tired or injured guests to the next destination. Besides being a convenience, the van makes it easy for groups of varying levels of fitness to travel together. Cyclists can choose from a full range of bikes, including (in most destinations) stable hybrids, speedy road bikes and motor-assisted E-bikes that will make hill climbing a breeze.
Full planning and support
The only surprises you’ll experience on a Country Walkers or VBT vacation are the delightful kind. Each tour is planned down to the last detail and nothing is left to chance. You’ll find that all of your hotel reservations have been made and confirmed, meals booked, transfers set, luggage delivered on time and your route mapped out mile by mile. Guests booking flex or self-guided journeys will find curated recommendations for, say, the best lobster roll in Maine, where to watch the sun set in San Francisco and the hidden cove in British Columbia where you might catch a glimpse of a whale. To make sure guests stay fueled and hydrated in style, drivers leading guided tours will set up an elegant picnic each day at varying points along the route. Local assistance is always just a phone call away.
In their nearly 50-year history, Country Walkers and VBT have forged relationships within the communities they visit. Paired with the knowledge of expert guides who know their communities inside and out means that guests have access to events and encounters not available elsewhere.
In Napa Valley, for instance, your group will enjoy a private wine tasting at a top vineyard. A guided tour of Bodega Bay in Sonoma County reveals secrets from Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film, The Birds, which was filmed in town. In Maine you’ll picnic in the cool forest and hear about the history of the region. At a Massachusetts creamery you’ll taste award-winning cheeses with the farm’s cheesemaker. Hikers on Vancouver Island learn about edible plants and traditional, botanically-based medicines from a First Nations guide as they explore the forested coastline. Independent travelers will also feel like locals thanks to recommendations for farm stands, cocktail bars and other tiny venues that might otherwise be missed as well as tips for timing expeditions based on crowds and traffic.
AAA Club Adventure specials
AAA Club Adventure members receive special pricing on select journeys including VBT tours through South Carolina and Georgia (fully guided); Mississippi’s Natchez Trace (fully guided) and Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts (fully guided). Walkers and hikers can choose from Savannah and the Golden Isles in Georgia (fully guided); Vermont during fall leaf season (flex guided); Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks (flex guided); Utah’s Bryce and Zion Canyons (fully guided) and, in Montana, Glacier National Park (fully guided). All tours include authentic, elegant accommodations; most meals and guided expeditions; fully guided cycle tours offer a support van for the duration of the trip.
Small groups and strict COVID-19 protocols
To ensure an intimate journey, Country Walkers and VBT have always limited group size. To reduce the chance of COVID-19 transmission, in 2021, both companies will further reduce the number of people traveling together. Expect temperatures to be taken on the first day, enhanced food safety at picnics and stops and large vans to offer more space between passengers. Everything — seats, handlebars, vans, picnic supplies — will be sanitized after each pickup.
Craving wide open spaces? Let Country Walkers and VBT lead the way. Call your local AAA Travel Agent at 800-750-5386 and book your adventure today!