In the ’70s when I was taking Columbia College students on European bicycle
tours, we had a few mishaps, but never a serious accident. The three tours
averaged 10 students each and we rode approximately 900 miles each summer. As
leader, I stayed behind carrying tools, maps, first aid and other necessary
Imagine my fright, one Sunday in England in 1971, when a tripper cycled back
to say, “Jan’s hurt!” As I sped up to where Jan had fallen, I heard an
ambulance siren wailing. Jan’s Peugeot was sprawled across the sidewalk, her
personal belongings scattered. She was sitting on the curb, her head in her
hands. Other trippers were around her as were local people who offered to
help. A plastic bag tied to her handlebars came loose, trapping the front
wheel, and she went flying over the bars. The ambulance crew stood by, wanting
to load her on a stretcher.
“Jan, where are you hurt?” I asked, bending low so she could whisper. “I’ll
be OK. Send the ambulance away. I’m just scared and shaken up,” she said,
“and so embarrassed!” A fellow who saw Jan’s damaged bike said, “I’ve a
friend who runs a bike shop,” he said. “He’ll open on Sunday and get me the
part we’ll need to fix it.” His wife said, “All of you will come to our
house for tea, while we wait for them to fix it.”
She called the hostel and asked them to hold our reservations because we’d be
a little late. In two hours we checked in at the hostel. What wonderfully kind
people, those British!
During the 1970 trip, several cyclists had said, “Be sure to see the new
velodrome when you’re in San Sebastian, Spain.” I thought it was strange that
no one said, “Be sure to ride in the velodrome.” When there, we hunted for a
bike shop that sold supplies to racing cyclists. With pantomime and sketches,
we asked, “Where is the velodrome?” The manager could not understand but a
customer sketched a map as his eyes said something that must have meant
“danger.” We found it to be a very steep oval bowl for cycle races --
dangerously steep for newcomers like us.
Millie Neill Kaiser -- owner of Columbia’s Silks and More -- was the most
daring of the college students on that first trip. She was the first to mount
her bike and speed off around the steep track. She kept the pedals spinning
fast and had a wild ride and a safe landing. Chris tried to ride it, but after
getting started, she chickened out and quit pedaling. Down she slid, following
her bicycle to the very bottom of that deep bowl. It was so steep one could
not even stand in it! Chris was so badly scratched that she needed a doctor
and a tetanus shot.
Brash, “wrong side of the street” traffic was tough to deal with our first
week in Britain. At the beginning of the second week in 1971, I warned,
“Don’t be too confident about those right-hand turns. The second week, when
we feel accustomed to them, is the dangerous time.”
But Janie forgot. She meant to turn right, and I held my breath as I saw her
do it wrong. Tires squealed and laid rubber as a small British car skidded and
bounced over a curb. Janie stood as if glued to the street. I ran to her and
held her close. Then she whispered, “Oh, Mrs. G., I think I’m going to wet my
pants!” And she did, right then and there, in the middle of the intersection.
That’s why I used a fictitious name!
Thirty cyclists, 9,000 miles of pedaling. I’m proud that we needed a doctor
only one time.