Jennifer Weiner’s name may be synonymous with hard-to-put-down beach reads, but while promoting her most recent bestseller, That Summer, the acclaimed author also became an avid proponent of bike vacations. She even hosted an in-person book tour on Cape Cod, where she cycled all over the peninsula meeting readers and signing books.
Set partially on the Cape, That Summer is an engrossing story about the power of friendship, trauma, and healing—themes that were evident in Weiner’s journey to the bike, too. Weiner has been an on-and-off cyclist her whole adult life and biking became a pandemic hobby this winter when she began going for socially-distanced rides with a club in Philadelphia, where she lives. But when her mother died a few days before That Summer was published in May, Weiner began using cycling not only as a form of exercise but also as a way to grieve and escape the real world. Her first solo excursion was a 75-mile day trip to the Jersey Shore, which gave her the confidence to seek out overnight cycling adventures on well-trodden paths.
Soon after, she set out to bike the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) Trail that runs from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Cumberland, Maryland. “People talk about it as a perfect entry-level bike packing trip, because you can't get lost,” she says. “There are mile markers, shelters, water stops, campsites. There's towns you're riding through. It sounded very safe to do as a single female traveler.”
Things didn’t quite go as planned thanks to a rainstorm, but after one night at a bed-and-breakfast and one at Nemacolin Resort, a luxury spot featured heavily on the 25th season of The Bachelor, Weiner was sold on the idea of solo bike trips as a way to recharge.
“Cycling has saved my life a little bit,” she says. “You have to use all your senses—you have to look and listen and feel what’s going on. It requires your attention and lets me turn my brain off. I have been joking that I just go out and pedal till I can't feel anything anymore.”
Below, Weiner shares how she fell in love with cycling trips and why it’s so important to have solo vacations that revolve around physical activity—even as the world opens up to group travel.
How did you put together the itinerary for your first solo bike trip, on the GAP Trail?
I took the train from Philadelphia to Cumberland, Maryland, and I was planning on doing a different ride. But everybody says it gets completely impossible if it rains. Of course, I woke up in the morning in a hotel in Cumberland, Maryland and it was dumping down rain.
I had to make a really impulsive decision and be flexible in a way that is really hard to do when you have kids and a job and a schedule. You can't just say, Okay, instead of biking to Washington, I'm going to bike to Pittsburgh, but because I was on my own, I was able to do that.
I didn't get to finish [the trail] because my father-in-law died right when I was halfway through. It was an incredible one-two punch after my mother’s death. But it was two of the most perfect biking days I've ever had. The first day, it was raining and it was uphill, but I almost felt like I was a kid again. I felt like I was just playing in the rain. It was a 45-mile ride to my B&B. When I got there, I took a shower and I ate an entire pizza by myself. And then the next day, I headed to Nemacolin, this luxury resort in the middle of nowhere. That was 28 miles and the hotel sent a shuttle for me, so I could get in the river and go tubing that afternoon.
To float down a river and look at the sky, then get picked up in a van and get whisked to this amazing, totally fancy resort, and just have this incredible dinner, it was so great.
Incorporating some sort of luxury into even the most basic of trips seems like an ideal way to feel like you are truly on vacation. Is that something that you were looking for on this trip?
I am a firm believer in self-care. Any time you’re pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, it's always so great if you can pair that with something really relaxing and wonderful, whether it's tubing or getting a massage, or having a really delicious meal, or having a cocktail and sitting out on a deck and looking at something. If you link that exertion to these fantastic rewards, I think it makes you want to keep doing them. It's how you fool yourself into a 70-mile bike ride. There's got to be good food. There's got to be treats.
What have you discovered about this kind of travel that excites you?
I used to ride a lot before I had kids and I did a couple of bicycle camping trips then, but this is all new again. Now that it's 18 years later and my kids no longer need me—or in some cases want me—I feel like I can just get up and go. And there are more places to do it. There's more rail to trail paths. Airbnb was not a thing 18 years ago, and now [there's a bicycle community] called Warmshowers, too. It's basically an app where people can offer up things like warm showers, or campsites in their backyards, or garages to store a bike. That did not exist when I was riding 20 years ago. Everything's new and wonderful.
I'm curious why you decided to do a solo trip, when so many people are looking forward to big group vacations after so much isolation during the pandemic.
When I took the trip, I'd been with my mom and her wife for the week before she died, when she was in hospice care and she was dying at home. There were nurses and friends coming to check on her. My mom needed me and I was so glad I was able to be there, but when it was over, all I wanted to do was just be in a place, even for two or three days, where nobody needed me and I didn’t have to answer to anybody but myself.
As much as people are excited to connect again, I think a lot of women who are mothers, who are daughters, who are caring for aging parents… we've all been leaned on. A lot. Being out in the world and just being totally solo is just a really, really freeing thing.
Originally Appeared on Condé Nast Traveler