The first thing we learned about touring by bicycle was that
each person should have a written itinerary in his pocket at all
We were two mothers and our four youngsters, fitted with
rented bicycles and going from Portsmouth, England, to Hastings
on our first day out. Pat and Mike Cronan were 14 and 16 years
old. My Walt and Nancy were 12 and 14.
The first bike tour was in Missouri a few weeks before we
sailed to England on Holland-America’s Ryndam. As a
shakedown trip we cycled, cooked over a campfire, stayed in the
Commercial Hotel in Hermann and cycled again the next day.
The hotel, like many youth hostels, was a lovely old home,
converted to a place for travelers to spend the night. The
elderly lady who owned the hotel allowed us to put our bikes in a
shed for the night. We were thrilled with the idea of bike
touring and eager to sail off to Europe.
The Cronans lived in Vandalia and Jean and I talked often,
each conversation ending, "And how much money should we
take?" Advice from a well-traveled friend was, "Take
half as many clothes as you think you’ll need and twice as
We received confirmations for our hostel reservations for
evening meals and lodging at youth hostels about a day’s
ride apart. We would cook breakfast in the hostel’s
After five days on a "glassy sea" we were ready for
the adventure ahead. Lester Ward’s Ltd. of London delivered
our rental bikes to the Portsmouth Youth Hostel, adjusted to our
The hostel, once a beautiful old home, was converted to
accommodate "young people of limited means who travel under
their own power" and their trip leaders of any age.
We helped with the housekeeping chores, filled water bottles and
strapped our saddlebags in place.
Looking like the green American tourists we were, we wore
decorated straw hats for most and a bright red golf hat on
Patrick, the oldest of our four kids.
We traveled the highway nearest the coast and encountered
heavy holiday traffic. For safety’s sake we rode single file
and not in a group. The two Cronan boys, strong riders, were soon
ahead of the rest.
Noon came and we expected to find them waiting for us, but
didn’t. Soon we were apprehensive and asking travelers we
met if they’d seen two American bicyclists up ahead,
"One wearing a bright red hat." No one had seen them.
By mid afternoon Jean Cronan visited with the police and no
cyclists of their description had been reported but they’d
look for them. On we went, worried and keeping in touch with the
police. No boy in a red hat!
When the four of us arrived at the youth hostel the boys had
been located and told to "stay where you are, awaiting
instructions." They had gone to a sunny beach and enjoyed it
so much the time passed rapidly and they didn’t realize that
they were "lost," or that it would be dark before they
could get to the hostel. We had been riding ahead of them all
afternoon and didn’t know it.
The hostel houseparent, called a warden, went to pick them up
in his van over and beyond his call of duty, of course.
From that time forward, we were certain that each cyclist
carried written information about when and where we would meet
and the address and telephone number of our overnight
And Patrick kept wearing that red hat.