Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

When Nancy was 13 and Walt was 11, several...

When Nancy was 13 and Walt was 11, several people encouraged us to make a European trip.

“We couldn’t possibly afford it,” I said. But a colleague at Christian College, Miss Geneva Youngs, looked serious as she said, “Sue, go anyway!”

A friend who was the college’s French teacher said, “Come over after my Fulbright year is completed, and we’ll travel the continent together.”

Her son and Walt had been friends since they were toddlers. What a great offer, to have a language teacher educated in France go with us through countries where we’d not be able to communicate!

Then, Ann Williams, a young farm wife in Sussex who was our guest in 1960, insisted we visit her, too. The fourth person to reinforce Geneva’s admonition to go was Miss Sheila Walton, a Fulbright exchange teacher from Lancaster, England, who taught at Christian one year. I secretly wondered: What can we do without? How much could we take from savings? How much can we earn before leaving on such a trip?

Then I remembered about youth hostels. They accept group leaders of any age if they accompany young people who seek “a greater love, care and knowledge of the countryside.” The youth hostel movement began soon after World War I, in Germany, and spread through Europe and to America. Hostels make it possible for young people of limited means to have inexpensive places to stay. They give priority to travelers who go under their own power as by hiking or bicycling. Bicycling and youth hostels would make our trip possible!

When I suggested to my friend, Jean Cronan, that she and her boys, Mike and Patrick, go along, they were eager to go. This gave me courage. Chub agreed that it was a great idea. We six prospective travelers took a trial run at bicycle touring by hauling our bikes to Hermann, cooking in the park, sleeping in the Commercial Hotel and riding our bikes about 15 miles. It was a great learning experience, and our enthusiasm mounted to new heights.

After months of planning, conditioning, earning and doing without, we drove to Montreal and sailed on Holland-American’s Ryndam, to South Hampton, England. The ship anchored as we waited till dawn to move into the dock. We were in England!

We learned a lot about bicycle touring our first few days out. Mike and Patrick had two bags, one for cycling togs and one with dress things. They would ship the dress clothes ahead to Sheila Walton, our hostess late in the tour. But they shipped the wrong bag. They bought new cycling things, shipped the dress clothes and we were ready to pedal along England’s southern coast. Two ladies at a sweet shop helped us find back roads through charming villages because they feared for our safety on the highways.

We learned the importance of each person having our printed itinerary and some symbol of identification. When our group became separated on the road, police located Mike and Patrick on Brighton’s beach, saying, “It wasn’t hard to find an American cyclist in a bright red hat!”

And we learned about hostel plumbing. “The toilet won’t flush,” Jean said. “This one, won’t either,” I answered.

When I reported that to the “warden,” he came without a word. He gave each chain a quick yank and they both worked perfectly. He smiled, put his hand on my shoulder and asked, gently, “Now, would you like me to wipe you up, Luv?”

Thus began a 69 day experience, which enhanced all our lives.

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