Monday, March 23, 2009

Honk if you love life, and gorgonzola.

Many moons, and several pant sizes ago, I was working at an ad agency in Toronto and moonlighting as a bicycle tour guide for Butterfield & Robinson. It all sounds so exciting and glamourous to me now; debt ridden, lard assed, with a child who has been re-enacting the vomiting scenes from The Exorcist all day. But it was glamourous. Aside from of course, 28 hours of childbirth and all that followed, being a B&R guide was the happiest I have ever been. Ever. 

If you've never heard of Butterfield & Robinson, stop reading and go to, but grab a cloth to wipe up your drool. Cruising through their website is something I do, routinely. I get their monthly e-newsletter "The Slow Road" and put everything on hold when their exquisitely designed travel brochures land in my mailbox. Their trip descriptions are my escape. They stand for what is possible in life. They are my healthy addiction. 

George Butterfield guided his first bike trip to France in 1966, and never looked back. He has built a travel empire with a stellar reputation from a simple, but winning concept; exercise and the good life. Actually, biking and now hiking mostly, combined with princess-worthy accommodations, knowledgeable guides, regional gastronomic delights, and panniers packed with some form of alcoholic beverage. Bikers get thirsty. George's trips are decadent adventures, and boy those stretchy cycling pants come in handy after 6 courses of butter and Bordeaux.  

B&R followers are generally well-heeled, lean toward high-maintenance and were for the most part, memorable. One guest, Dottie Perry "The Whip" was in her 70's at the time, had plastic hips and knees, and should have had an act in Vegas. I tried to find her the last time I drove through Stowe, Vermont but apparently she was in a nursing home near Burlington. I didn't want to see her there, but wondered if she packed her feather boa just in case her inner Carol Channing surfaced at dinner. I guided several amazing people, like Dottie, who took 3 or 4 B&R trips every year. Let's just say, waking up in 1200-thread count sheets overlooking a private vineyard in Cisterna D'Asti or Puigcerdà doesn't come cheap. For example, six days of biking in Burgandy will set you back nearly $6000 (or the annual price of minor hockey) plus airfare. But if life were really, really fair, I'd be going regularly, and taking my stinky roommate.

Measuring happiness is a tricky thing. The older I get, the more thankful I am just to be here and breathing. My happiness is part and parcel with Jack's, and is fueled by dreams of trips yet taken. I am lucky to have memories of Jack feeding pigeons in Venice, or holding my hand as we succumbed to vertigo climbing the Eiffel Tower. We have hiked The Cinque Terre and sipped Pimms at Wimbledon. Ours are the 75-thread count versions of B&R travel but they amount to the same thing: adventure and bliss. While we have yet to cycle our way through Provence or Puglia, I have faith that we will. We just have to. It may not be on a B&R trip, but it will be with a tired-old B&R guide and the spirit of their slogan, "Slow Down to See the World". 

After all, once a B&R guide, always a B&R guide.

Start your week off right at Or, cash in some RRSPs and book though your favourite local travel agent. B&R have great trips for kids too, but you may have to sell the little darlings to pay for it.