Sugar Todd has what many people would consider a dream job. The former Olympic speedskater has put her skates aside (at least in a competitive sense) for now, and is leading international bicycle tours for Backroads Travel.
As a trip leader, Todd takes on the full responsibility of connecting her guests to a region: handling trip logistics, maintaining all equipment, staying prepared and organized, and most importantly, “staying grounded, compassionate, and enthusiastic through it all while riding a bicycle.”
“I primarily lead cycling trips along the Danube River in Europe. Our routes take us through the Bavarian Forest in Germany; across Austrian hillsides (alive with the sound of music); through the Wachau Valley with its orchards and vineyards; into and out of the capital cities of Vienna and Bratislava; and finally ending in vibrant Budapest,” she says. “We get to experience immaculate bike paths one day and busy, pothole-laden roads the next. It’s great.”
But when she’s not pedalling across international borders in far-flung locales, Todd is biking for transportation in her newly-adopted home of Portland, Oregon, where the Pacific Northwest’s notoriously rainy climate is presenting new challenges for the seasoned rider. “When I tell people I get to ride bikes for work, they say that’s the dream job and where do I sign up?!” she says. “When I tell them I bike commute to school or yoga or the store, they just say yeah ok.”
But wet-weather aside, Todd is committed to using her bike as her primary means of transportation. “Every time I get back on a bike after some time away, I have the same ‘Ah’ moment – it just makes me happy,” she says. “I feel infinitely better on days I get to ride a bike. Especially getting on a bike first thing in the morning-my entire day is elevated. I feel better, stronger, more capable.”
While she’s always been active, Todd didn’t used to ride her bike for transportation or travel. The Utah native, who began skating when she was nine years old, first starting cycling as a cross-training for speedskating. But those rides were very different: much more focused on athleticism and fully supported by her team’s staff.
So while she could always ride, transitioning to biking for transportation and travel still presented challenges. “I felt the same trepidation I think anyone feels when they do something for the first time,” she says. “Being new brings out those classic insecurities, like worrying you’re doing it wrong or you look dumb and out of place. That’s just being human. And maybe we do look dumb, but we still belong.”
“Just bring it. If there’s a possibility I might need it, it’s coming with me. I’m never concerned with weight. If anything, I revel in hauling around the added pounds.”
Todd encourages anyone who may be curious about cycling to just give it a try. “Don’t shy away because you feel like you ‘don’t know enough about bikes,’” she says. “Bikes aren’t scary! You can learn! And you can learn from super friendly people who are just as excited about riding bikes as you are. Also, don’t feel self-conscious about how long it takes you to lock your bike up. Take your time.”
While many people in the cycling community are focused on always having the lightest possible kit, or packing the least amount of gear possible to reduce weight, Todd has the opposite approach. “Just bring it,” she says. “If there’s a possibility I might need it, it’s coming with me. I’m never concerned with weight. If anything, I revel in hauling around the added pounds.”
During the winter, the slow season for Backroads, Todd is at home in Portland where she’s attending college for the first time, and focusing on her latest challenge: training her recently-adopted Mexican street dog, Trout, to be her cycling companion. “She is already pretty professional about running alongside the bike, but eventually I want to invest in a pet trailer for her so I can bring her on longer rides/bike tours/camping trips.”
She’s throwing down roots in the Pacific Northwest and scheming up mini-tours so she and Trout can get out and explore the city and the region by bike. “Biking has allowed me to feel more connected to the spaces I occupy,” she says. “I have spent so much of my life in physical transit, and I think the best way to experience a place–its landscape, its people, its culture–is to slow down and literally ride a bike through it.”