Le Tour de Villes

I have friends who live in Berks County, Pennsylvania, in the Tulpehocken Valley. I live near Lancaster, about 35 miles from their very peaceful place, situated on a road that might see five cars a day. Great bicycling!

I began these weekend rides about three and a half years ago, following two major back surgeries in a year. I have been riding all my life, but after that I just wanted to get my legs under me again, and explore the possibilities of my dream of long-distance, self-supported touring. My friends readily agreed to allow me to stay overnight in one of their spare bedrooms, and I am very grateful for their hospitality.

My friend Hal is the one who came up with the name Le Tour de VILLES, stemming from the fact that on the ride up I pass through Neffsville, Brunerville, Brickerville, Kleinfeltersville, Bernville, etc. ... I even think I missed a few "villes."

The ride starts from my front door. After the first time I did it, when I rode the "main routes" to my friends' house, I mapped out a route to stay completely on back roads between our two homes. Following this route, not far from my place it becomes rare to see a car (especially on the ride home on Sundays).

It's a perfectly beautiful ride in the hills and mountains of southeastern Pennsylvania's Amish country. The route dishes up very challenging hills; it seems you are always either riding UP or screaming DOWN. It is on this ride that I have come to love climbing. You must, to enjoy it! There are some very steep gradients along the way, getting steeper as you head north. (I have been wanting to order one of those simple gradient gauges from Adventure Cycling, but have been holding off until I'm ready for a larger order.)

Since the very first time, I've been riding fully loaded, as if I were going self-contained for three months on the Northern Tier Route. I immediately fell in love with carrying everything I needed on my bike--it is pure freedom! I always say it cleanses the mind, body, and spirit. I always feel so much better after only two days of this. And those first few rides proved that I could do it, and not let those back surgeries get in the way.

The scenery is typical of that on many Pennsylvania back roads. Just 2 miles from my house the roads become lightly travelled and offer beautiful views. Lots of farmland, horse farms, rivers, streams, woods, and small villages out there, waiting to entice the cyclist to ride farther, to see what's around the next bend, or over the next climb. I have ridden this ride on gorgeous days with cloudless blues skies, in the rain, and, once, in headwinds gusting up to 60 mph. I have found reasons to enjoy each ride!

At about the halfway point there's a wildlife preserve called Middle Creek, a popular destination for wildlife viewing and bird watching. The lakes and ponds you ride past are major layover spots for migratory birds, with snow geese one of the most abundant species. There are also many birds of prey, such as hawks, bald and golden eagles, osprey, and owls. Great blue herons, knight herons, and other wading birds can be seen along the shorelines. Birdsong fills the air as you ride through, and the bird display at the visitor center is also well worth taking in.

After passing through the preserve, the real climbing (and descending) begins. Riding up these steep grades you hear nothing but the sounds of your breathing and your tires on the macadam. I always lose myself, mind wandering, during these climbs. When I get to the top it's like waking up from a good dream--daydreaming is one of my favorite pastimes on the bike. Somewhere in the back of your mind, though, you are always alert to the road. A car coming up behind, that stop sign up ahead, or simply taking care to not ride too close to that crumbling road shoulder.

Last year, I had another setback, finding out on January 2nd that I had kidney cancer. Surgery in February removed the cancerous portion of my left kidney. Luckily, they caught it early enough that only about half of my kidney was removed. The carcenoma was not very large, and testing showed that they had gotten it all. After recovering for two months (into April), the first doctor to tell me it was okay to ride my bike is now my favorite doc!

And so back out onto the roads I went. I had a lot of reconditioning to do, and support from all of my friends made things much easier. As I write this, in just a couple of days I'll be doing my favorite Bike Overnight for the first time this year. Because of the cancer I'm a little behind on the training, but I am alive and riding with two of my best friends. This will be Hal's first time to ride the trip with me. He has been training very hard and will have no problem completing the ride,I'm sure. My other friend, Joy, has been on numerous rides with me, including a 300-mile trip on the Great Allegheny Passage  and C&O Canal Towpath last fall, from near Pittsburgh to just outside Washington D.C. That was my first multi-day tour, and I loved it.

So, in two days we hit the road on Le TOUR de VILLES. At the end, we'll have good company to enjoy and a nice peaceful place to rest. I'm buyin' the pizza and wine.

Here's to Bike Overnights!

Get more information about bike overnights.

Tip for this adventure: There are no stores on this route, and only one eatery near the end of the ride. That's why I like it!

Favorite bike shop: Shirks Bike Shop, located just off Route 23 between Blue Ball and Morgantown. The service is friendly and the attitude second to none. They have earned my respect, after spending over an hour fitting me to a touring bike I bought there earlier this year. These guys are real pros.

13 responses so far ↓

Gina Saunders - Nov 1, 2011 at 11:25 AM

What a great story. I loved it's easy to read flow. I might have to see if I can join the tour one of these years!

Charla - Nov 1, 2011 at 1:41 PM

Amazing and inspirational......I SOOOOO want to do this...thanks for the tips and ideas!

Riley Kilmore - Nov 1, 2011 at 2:02 PM

This was an excellent article and a tour very enticingly described. Bravo! It is wonderful your have been able to use your love of cycling to face down and recover from so many personal challenges.

Duane - Nov 1, 2011 at 2:56 PM

Great Story I live in glad to hear your recovering well from your illness Lititz and would like to try your route can you post it ?

Dwight Siers - Nov 1, 2011 at 3:28 PM

EXCELLENT RIDE DESCRIPTION! I would love to have the route, as I live close.

Mike Diehm - Nov 1, 2011 at 3:55 PM

For those of you who live close: I will get my maps out and post this ride as a loop. It would be about 70 miles. I'm sure you could find a bed and beakfast, motel or campsite nearby the halfway point if you wanted to make a Bike Overnight out of it. I Will post a detailed route description this weekend when I have a bit more time.

Mark - Nov 2, 2011 at 5:57 AM

Great story. And, good for you coming back from your setbacks.

I live is Southeastern PA and can vouch for the great riding in the area... and the need to embrace hills. I've done a number of trips from my house and highly recommend www.ridewithgps.com for mapping out routes. It's a great way to map out and share routes.

Mike Diehm - Nov 3, 2011 at 10:03 AM

Thanks to all. @Mark - I am drwing the route on the website you suggested. Cool site. Just started. I have to see how to search on the site. Do you have any routes on the site?

Ginger - Nov 15, 2011 at 9:23 AM

Thanks for sharing your story... I had a couple of back surgeries this year too and know how great a feeling it is when the doctor says, yes, ride!

Mike Diehm - Nov 15, 2011 at 10:15 AM

Again, thanks to all. I put the route on www.ridewithgps.com You can look it up as "The tour de Villes". Look at an exploded view so you can see the notes i added where you should use extra, or extreme, caution. Not a member?: Sign up for the "free" account.

Susan Ammons - Apr 9, 2012 at 12:17 PM

Thanks Mike. I just moved to Lancaster and have really been enjoying the great roads around there. I will definitely check out your route on ridewithgps. I'm a big fan of that site. I also discovered Shirk's Bike Shop the other day. What an awesome place! I'll be going back there for sure.

Bill - Jul 20, 2012 at 4:51 PM

Hi. I live in Lititz. Just looked-up your great route. I go to Middle Creek, but not much beyond. Thanks for sharing the great route. See you on the road!!

Mike Diehm - Jul 20, 2012 at 5:14 PM

Hi Bill. I grew up in Lititz. Nice town. Glad you like the route. Depending on how much you ride it can certainly be done in a day. 70 +/- miles. Heading up to New England next month for 500 miles up through the White Mtns in NH then across Maine to the coast, then west again to our beginning point in SW Maine. Can't wait!

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