© Submitted photo
Prince Edward Islander Mary-Ellen Gaudet, Daniela Straub of Germany and fellow tour cyclist Ted Greenwood at the summit of Mont Ventoux in the Southern Alps.
Mary-Ellen Gaudet thinks ecologically about pretty much everything in her life.
In the summertime she lives off the grid in a little cabin on her Trout River Road property that she’s built mostly from recycled materials, and throughout the year she’s always keen on green.
So it comes as no surprise that when she wanted to take a combined month-long cycling and hiking tour of France in September, it was no run-of-the-mill, free-spending guided tour.
“It was supposed to be grassroots, that was key, and it was supposed to be environmentally friendly, physically active and very cost-efficient. So nothing fancy,” says this seasoned touring cyclist, for whom part of the ecologically and budget-minded vacation fun was the research and planning of it all.
Gaudet’s 27-day trip to France had three components: two weeks of cycling and camping in Haute Provence/Drome/Vaucluse region in the Southern Alps; a one-week hiking trip in the Nyons/Bédoin areas; a three-day hiking trip with a Lyon hiking club Touring Club Rhodanien in Menton in the Mediterranean area near the border of Italy and France.
For the cycling portion, she found a led tour through a company online called Breton Bikes that provided all of the camping gear and the bicycles, which are designed for mountain touring.
“It was great because I was going hiking (after) and if I brought my own bike I would have had to lug it on the train system. This way (the owner) comes with his big rack of bikes. We just tell him ahead of time what our measurements are. . . and I brought my own seat, clips and helmet,” says Gaudet, who was joined by 12 others from mainly Europe, to whom she became renowned for her consistent use of the word “awesome!”
On the third day of the 635-kilometre ride she befriended German cyclist Daniela Straub with whom she had more in common than just cycling.
“First of all we were both vegetarians and we both like to buy our food from grocers as opposed to spending it all in restaurants. Most of the 13 cyclists were very keen daily to eat at restaurants but I was on a budget and had to consider that I was already paying $50 a day to board my five precious rescued and special needs pooches back home on P.E.I. We also wanted to buy and make our own food and make it as natural as possible,” she says.
“Plus they had these two- to three-hour lunches, which in France it takes a while to serve, and Daniela and I preferred our picnics with our food and shorter times so we could get to the campsite sooner. So those guys would sometimes arrive at 6 or 7 at night and we would arrive at between 4 and 5, so then we’d have downtime to recoup for the next day.”
“It was supposed to be grassroots, that was key, and it was supposed to be environmentally friendly, physically active and very cost-efficient. So nothing fancy." Mary-Ellen Gaudet
For Gaudet there was a night at the beginning and end of the cycling trip where camping accommodations were not provided because the Breton Bike owner was enroute or had departed.
“I didn’t want to take a tent with me for just two nights so I planned to sleep under the stars for free. I brought my summer sleeping bag and my green (self-inflatable) Therm-a-rest. . . ,” she laughs.
“That’s what I did to keep it cost-efficient.”
For her one week of hiking in Vinsobres, a small village near Nyons, and Bédoin, a small village at the base of Mont Ventoux, she stayed at a gite, which was a fully furnished apartment located on the trekking company owner’s property, and she provided her own meals.
“To keep it cost-efficient I made sure I spent the same amount on food as I would here,” she says.
The owner provided two guided hikes for free and the rest she did on her own with transportation to and from the sites.
For the final three-day hiking jaunt in Menton Mediterranean area, Gaudet decided to hitch a ride with the Touring Club Rhodanien hiking club on their planned outing.
“I joined them on the Internet. I found their site and I said, ‘Hi, will you take a Canadian?’ and they said, ‘Yeah, we have one spot. Pay the membership fee and we’ll pick you up and we’ll spend three days in the Menton Mediterranean area and bring you back three days later,’” Gaudet laughs. “(First of all it’s) a hiking group so I don’t have to pay for a guide. And everyone got together so we spilt the cost of the bus when they came to pick me up. So it was just 200 Euros for the three days in the Mediterranean, all your food and you could pig out because it was buffet style, vegetarian everywhere.”
Her total for the three almost all-inclusive adventures, not including some additional food costs, was $1,040 Euros or just under $1,500 C for the month. Travelling in the off-season helped to lower the airfare cost. And rather than vacationing for only a week at a time, Gaudet plans for longer vacation periods to get more value for her flight dollars which also reduces her travel footprint impact on the environment.
“There are ways you can do things on a shoestring.”