Category: Events

One of my daily morning rituals is reading the digital NY Times. I seem to thrive on bits of wisdom and humour from the likes of Frank Bruni, Maureen Dowd and the other truth seekers and storytellers. On Wednesday, as I read an article about the restaurant Prune in NY City, I thought of those less fortunate, of the countless restaurateurs, small businesses, musicians, artists and everyone that is suffering through these times. The article left me feeling a little low so I decided to do what I often do to pick myself up. I went for a bike ride!

Our office is in Vancouver just south of Granville Island and from there, I rode over the Burrard Street bridge on a dedicated bike way that an enlightened mayor pushed through in better times. From the bridge, you can see the amazing network of sea-side walking and biking paths all the way out and around False Creek to the east and to Kitsilano and Spanish Banks to the west. I turned left once over the bridge and picked up my pace along English Bay. The city recently set up traffic cones to give bikes an entire lane along this stretch of road and as I gazed down over the beaches and out into the Pacific I experienced a feeling of awe at the view. I continued along the oceanfront and into stunning Stanley Park passing the cedar grove where my wife and I exchanged vows. I felt the energy of the forest, with thick and moss-covered western red cedars and a precious few Sitka Spruce trees stretching for the sky. Halfway around Stanley Park I ascended to the Lions Gate bridge, an architectural gem with a separated bike lane. I quickly gained the bridge summit and coasted down the other side and behind Park Royal and into West Vancouver. They too have wonderful parks, and bikeways that border Ambleside Beach. I took in the magnificent view and turned off to ride westward on Marine Dr.

This part of the ride is my favourite – this twisting, rolling spectacular road. Yes, it’s narrow but that slows vehicles down, and with each hill, as I stand on the pedals and push, the cars behind me usually wait until the coast is clear. Between a mix of dreamy architectural mansions and old-timers, the undulating road reveals stunning views of the wild Pacific. One section of road I call the three humps always tests my mettle but by this time, I am warmed up and ready for the challenge. By the time I arrived at the entrance to Horseshoe Bay, I felt energized and happy. I continued along a brilliant coastal section to Whytecliff Park, where a final loop is the piece-de-resistance, and then I retraced my route along Marine Drive, always surprised at how different the view is in reverse. Feeling ambitious, I turned up 25th and made my way from sea-level up to the Upper Levels Highway, through the British Properties and finally up and up to the ski village at Cypress Bowl at about 900m. This road up to Cypress is closed to cars now and to ride it alone is a treat. Looking up at the ski slopes, I stopped and reflected on a season cut short, and then began a glorious descent giving a little nod to any cyclists on their way up. I rode back over Lions Gate, through car-free Stanley Park via Prospect Point and then back along English Bay and home to family. I felt refreshed, strong and capable, grateful for the moment, for having the energy and health to ride, and happy to escape thinking about Covid-19, if only for a time.

As I was riding, thinking of the NY City restaurateur and all of the other needy people there must be, I had an idea. What if we invited cyclists to do one solo bike ride to raise money/awareness for someone/organization/business in your community. Here’s how it works:

You choose a route – how far, where to go – you can easily GPS it using an app such as RideWithGps or Strava etc. Set an achievable goal and be safe. Sponsor yourself for any amount you like or ask a friend or family member to help out. No amount is too little, no amount too much. Perhaps $1/km? Tell us about the people, charities, or organizations in your heart and we’ll post it on this page (with a link to recipient if you wish so we can give a shout out to charities in need). Or you can choose to stay anonymous.

If you decide to provide us with your name via the form below, we’ll only post your first name and last initial. Tell us where you live, who you are riding for and why, and we’ll keep track and post entries on this page. Send a selfie if you wish or post on Instagram with hashtag #RideDonateNominate. Ride your route sometime between now and the end of June. Donate the funds directly via whatever means you wish. Encourage others to ride also – nominate 5 friends and encourage them to also. 100% of the funds go to the recipient, directly from you to those in need.

Great Explorations and Randonnée Tours will match the donation (up to $100) that participants make – in travel credit* –  to use on any of our trips anywhere during when normality returns and you might be ready to consider traveling again. Simply let us know the amount donated by June 30, 2020 and we’ll set up the voucher – *this is for new bookings only made anytime during 2020 or 2021.

If you want to write a short description of the ride and why you love(d) it, we’ll post these (we can include the GPS link if provided).

Robbin McKinney, Owner of Great Explorations
May 2020

Great Explorations and Randonnée Tours exist to empower people to ride their bikes, usually in exotic places. While that is off the table for the moment, we hope that this initiative will inspire people to stay active, while raising funds for worthwhile causes. Join us.

Contact Us

What inspired your first (long distance) cycling trip?
After graduating from university (and a French immersion program), I decided to take a year off, took my bike to Europe and cycled for 6 months. I was inspired by seeing photos of Europe and thought that seeing it by bike would be amazing. It was.

Where was it?
On that first trip it was mostly through France which absolutely astounded me.

How did you end up as a cycling tour guide?
On that first cycling trip I met another traveler in France who was a bicycle guide for a tour operator and so applied, got hired and the rest is history.

What is the best thing about guiding trips around the world?
For me, travelling (especially by bike) is like an awakening of the senses which gives me new perspectives and insights into the region I am travelling in. The best thing is often the people one meets, including those we as guides get to travel with and also the locals – whether they be people we are meeting for the first time, or locals we have come to know through travels.

What is the most challenging thing about guiding trips?
Guides usually have many roles: logistics coordinator, bike mechanic, sage, teacher, psychologist, sometimes chef. It’s the most challenging (but most rewarding) occupation I can imagine.

What has been one of the most memorable trips you have had?
I designed and co-guided our first trip to Japan this spring. It was one of the most memorable because of the scenery, food, culture and was so very different from anywhere else in the world I have biked. I can’t wait to go back.

Where was the most surprising place you have visited?
Morocco would have to be on the list. It feels like an Indiana Jones movie sometimes. It has to be one of the most exotic places on earth.

If you could only return to one country to cycle, where would it be?
France is one country that has fabulous cycling and so much variety and everything else that we look for in a great trip. I lived in Provence with my family for 6 months and return almost every year to travel and ride. [I’m returning in March, 2020 with my wife and children (ages 12&14) and this trip is open to other families. Anyone out there with kids who like to ride?]

What has been your least enjoyable destination for biking and why?
When I first cycled in SE Asia, I used the Lonely Planet guidebook called ‘Cycling Vietnam’ which recommended the ride from Hanoi to Saigon all on the main highway that traverses the country. I did this route and found it noisy, dangerous and not enjoyable in any way. The good news is there is, in fact, great cycling in Vietnam but it isn’t on Highway 1. We took the time to find safe, scenic and enjoyable routes that make much more sense to do.

What do you love about cycling?
I like physical exercise and biking is easy on the joints etc. I also love the adrenaline rush and sheer joy of experiencing the speed that two legs and a simple machine can produce. Plus when you meet people in a foreign land on a bicycle, you are usually welcomed warmly. I also love that biking is good for the planet. If we could get people out of vehicles more and onto bikes, we would be all better off.

What keeps you inspired to keep guiding and running worldwide trips?
I have found that inspiring people to cycle and travel gives me great joy and is fulfilling. Having guided trips for 37+ years, I feel I have some wisdom, experiences and stories I can share that will help others.

If you weren’t a cycling tour guide/operator what do you think you would be?
I truly can’t imagine doing anything else.

Interview with founder Robbin McKinney on October 31, 2019.

Vancouverites, want to know more? Come and join us at our Slideshow on Nov 13th!

As many of you know, we have been organizing the annual Sunshine Coast Mountain Bike Trail Challenge, combining our love of BC trails, biking in some of the incredible nature we have right at our doorstep (across the bay), an opportunity to meet and catch up with our fellow mountain biking community and just a weekend to be outdoors, camping and of course, the delicious BBQ and live music enjoyed with a beverage of choice in hand.

We can’t quite believe that it has been nineteen years since our first Sunshine Coast Trail weekend. We have loved each and every year, got to meet new people – some briefly, some have returned again and again.

It can be hard to end something that you love and enjoy hosting so much, but also it seems fitting to acknowledge the almost two wonderful decades we have had with this event – and to honour it by going out with a bang and making it the best year yet.

The inspiration for this event, way back when, was to highlight and encourage bikers to ride the amazing trails on the Sunshine Coast and to raise awareness to the value of these trails. With this in mind we wanted a weekend that would have a point to point ride and add some festivities, fun and a chance to actually catch up and get to know our fellow riders.

This amazing trail network that we have for our biking pleasure is thanks to the hard-working trail builders and maintenance volunteers, events such as these and all of the riders who come out to participate and support (our Sunshine Coast Trail Challenge has donated over $5,000 dollars to trail building on the Sunshine Coast.) and also increased awareness and use of what we have available to us really helps the biking community, the Sunshine Coast community and benefits the future generation of mountain bikers (we have had riders from the age of 9 at our Sunshine Coast event – and some young, aspiring riders joining us this year!)

As well as our riders we have an amazing team of volunteers who come along to ensure that you have to do is enjoy the ride!

The delicious food, the encouraging and well-stocked rest stops on route and all the other behind-the-scenes are a huge part thanks to the busy team of volunteers who know that they are going to be around a fun and passionate group of people and we love that!

We have a particularly environmentally conscious team this year and are working on doing our very best to make this year our most eco-conscious yet. As cyclists, we already know that we reduce our carbon footprint the more we choose biking over other forms of transport.

We will be working towards efficient and proper recycling and we ask all of our attendees to bring a plate, cup, cutlery and anything else that you will need for eating at mealtimes.

This is what is at the heart of events like these, and ultimately at the heart of why we do what we do – firstly; we love to ride. We love any opportunity to get out on the road/trails with like-minded folk.

With that we value and respect nature, our environment and ensuring that we are giving back to it as much as we are getting from it.

The community; as a cycling tour company which has been providing trips and tours all over Canada and the world for over 35 years, we know the importance of community.  Whether it be the people you bike with or the advice and tips you get from friends or strangers all over the world. We love to meet new people, hear stories of cycling adventures and maybe even make some new friends to hit the trail/road with.

This is why we do what we do, this is why we have run the Sunshine Coast Trail Challenge for 19 years and we could not be more grateful to all of you who have supported, encouraged and shared your wonderful feedback (and company) with us.

We are very proud and happy to be able to offer something special like this weekend with you all and although we are sad to let it come to an end, we know that there are new and exciting things to come.

We really hope you can come and be part of our final installment of The Sunshine Coast Challenge, if not we want to say a big THANK YOU from all the Great Explorations team.

After 5 days of glorious sunshine, riding through some of the most spectacular scenery in Europe, I was leaving the town of Kobarid, Slovenia, when the skies darkened and a downpour began. My luggage had been sent ahead to Cividale, where I had intended to reach late afternoon, but I thought to find some shelter to let the storm pass. As luck would have it, I pulled into a charming Inn, called Hisa Franko, owned by Slovenian couple Valter and Anna. I later learned that this Inn and famed restaurant were known throughout Slovenia and Europe. I was met by Vander himself at the door who ushered me quickly inside, taking my bicycle and offering me a table in the glass enclosed dining room, where I could sit and decide on a plan. He suggested I stay the night but I responded that I didn’t have any clothes, just the wet bike kit I was wearing. He disappeared into his house and came back with an Armani shirt, pants, socks and shoes and with that, I decided fate required me to stay over. After reading, and a wee snooze, I came down to dinner for what was to be one of the most memorable meals of my life. Before dinner, Valter showed me the kitchen, which was presided over by Anna, the chef de cuisine extraordinaire. And then it began – a 9 course tasting menu. Valter is a master sommelier with an extensive wine cellar and I lost count of how many bottles he opened to serve. Each was the perfect compliment for the perfect course. I rarely dine alone but the service and soul in this sacred room was such that boredom was impossible. After the last course, I was invited to the next table by a group of visitors from Denmark  on a fly-fishing trip and Vander joined us with a bottle of Prosecco we which we enjoyed until after midnight. It was an extraordinary dinner and evening that I will not forget. But this was getting ahead of myself…

 

I was in Slovenia to develop a new cycling trip as the country has been getting some press lately about its attractions (NY Times, National Geographic Traveler and others). I knew the cycling was great from our guides who had traveled there extensively and I had an overview plan of what we wanted to do. We clearly wanted to start from Ljubljana and finish in the Friuli region of Italy, combining two countries. It made sense to us to begin in Slovenia because the prevailing wind is from the north – who likes riding into the wind? The other important reason is Vrsic pass, which has cobblestones on the hairpin turns on the north side, which are not a problem to ride up, but potentially dangerous when descending – there are no cobblestones on the southern descent, and this days’ ride, descending the Soca valley ranks as one of the best all-time rides of my life. The scenery is that good.

 

When we research a new trip, we look to see what others are doing and obviously try to come up with something that is unique and better than any other trip. I think we have done it and if you read on you’ll see how. The first question to ask a tour operator is how they (and their tour) differs from what is out there.

How are we different?

 The first thing to note in Slovenia, is that quality local bikes are simply not available, so we have brought in our own line of light-weight bikes with proper gearing (shimano 105 with 11-32 and triple). Lance Armstrong was wrong about a few things, and when he said ‘it is not about the bike’ we think that on a bicycle tour, it is, perhaps for many, ALL about the bike. We know that if you don’t enjoy the ride, you won’t enjoy much else.

The second thing of importance here is support. On our guided trips, our guides are simply the best, with proper training and local knowledge that will make the difference in your trip experience. Hotels are obviously a key determinant in the quality of your trip. We don’t hide the names of where we stay. Our Classic trip stays at the charming Lesar Hotel Angel in Ljubljana, the Hotel Astoria in Bled, Hotel Mangart in Bovec and Al Pomo D’Oro in Cividale. On our luxe trip, we use the Antiq Palace Hotel & Spa in Ljubljana, 5-star Grand Hotel Toplice in Bled; luxurious Dobra Vila in Bovec and at the 4-star wellness resort, Al Castello in Cividale.

Our route begins in Ljubljana – we don’t think a trip to Slovenia should skip this city, which New York Times describes as having “ its fair share of charming Old World Plazas, baroque churches, and dramatic castles, and having a rich cultural scene that would be impressive in a city twice its size”. We have carefully researched the quietest routes in each of Slovenia and Friuli, Italy and with our extensive list of local contacts (you’ll meet some on tour), share our secret viewpoints, wine tasting opportunities, castles and more.

We don’t like to start comparisons by highlighting the value of our trip, but compared to the $4,000+ that, for example the another company charges, our trips offer superb value. We make this promise: you will love your bike and the riding and you will experience Slovenia and Friuli in a way that only this kind of travel can.

If you go

Great Explorations offers guided 7 day/6 night trips beginning in Ljubljana and finishing in Venice.
Classic: Departures May through October
Luxe: Departures May through October

Partner company Randonnee Tours offers 6, 7, 8, 9 day self-guided trips that can start any date.