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Any reason to be outdoors is enough for David and Julie Boen. They share enthusiasm for bicycling along the nearby Mississippi River, as well as canoeing and kayaking.

The newly retired couple lives on French Island in the La Crosse area. “We love to ride along the water. It’s just gorgeous,” Julie explains. “Cycling is a great way to be together, exercise and smell the fresh air and flowers.”

“Going from La Crosse to Trempealeau along the Great River State Trail is a really nice ride on protected bike lanes all the way,” David says. “It’s a great ride to see wildlife.” That trail is part of Bike 4 Trails in west Wisconsin, along with the La Crosse River Trail, Elroy-Sparta Trail and 400 Trail. They combine to create a 101-mile connected cycling experience. Three of the trails are part of the 2023 Ride Across Wisconsin route, which starts in La Crosse and runs to Milwaukee August 19-20.

Julie on the Elroy-Sparta Trail at one of three tunnels.
David uses his bike to tow his kayak trailer. Twice the fun!

The couple’s love of riding near water led them to plan a barge and bicycling tour of the Netherlands and Belgium last spring. “We rented bikes there. They were simple Dutch granny bikes that allow you to sit up and see the sights,” David explains. “We started in Amsterdam. I always heard about Amsterdam being the place to see Urban Cycling and see what it’s all about, and boy, did we see a lot!” David and Julie found riding in Amsterdam was “incredible with some craziness.” 

“Julie has been to India and I’ve been to China,” David adds. “We found the comparison of the bicycling traffic in Amsterdam was every bit as fast-paced and wild! The Dutch have been riding bikes all their lives, so they ride with no trepidation. They don’t waste time because they ride in heavy bike traffic every day.”

“We didn’t see any accidents,” Julie adds. “But the huge number of cyclists going at high speeds, without any noticeable care, makes intersections and turns a thrilling ride.”

On the other hand, says David, “I noticed as you ride in Amsterdam, you can hear the birds and conversations because there’s so little automobile noise. There are moments of quiet you’d never experience in other cities.”

After a week in Amsterdam, David and Julie joined a bike and barge tour to explore the countryside from Amsterdam to Bruges, Belgium. “We rode from one town to the next while the barge would go up the canals and meet us at the next town,” David explains. “The barge was our floating hotel.” On the eight-day tour, cyclists ride 20 to 35 miles a day depending on the route they individually choose.

The group leaving the barge getting ready to start the day’s ride.
The travelers try unique bikes built by a local artisan.
David in yellow on one of the Dutch bike paths that run from town to town.

“I really enjoyed riding in the countryside,” Julie shares.

The couple will log more countryside riding in August when they take on the 2023 Ride Across Wisconsin (RAW) fundraiser for Wisconsin Bike Fed and its efforts to build a more bike-friendly Wisconsin. Julie, who did her first RAW in 2019, was disappointed when the 2020 RAW was cancelled due to the COVID pandemic. In its place, she completed her first JAW (Julie across Wisconsin) that summer. The solo cycling trip took her from La Crosse to Sheboygan in two days and then to Sturgeon Bay in the next two days. 

“As we age, we need to train more deliberately for the RAW challenge,” Julie explains. “We simply want to get through it safely while having fun with the ride!”

“Bicycling is so empowering no matter if you’re young or old. The Bike Fed does a marvelous job presenting that to people and providing opportunities. It’s an important message to keep putting out there how wonderful an opportunity cycling is, no matter your age.”

Julie Boen, Bike Fed member since 2022 (David since 2017)

Julie’s cycling life started at age seven when her dad bought her a police auction bike and fixed it up, including streamers and banana seat. She’s been bicycling all her life, and the trip to Amsterdam with David is a fitting continuation to the adventure that bicycling offers. 

“We’ll celebrate our 2nd wedding anniversary in September,” Julie says. “Since bicycling has been a huge part of my life, it’s been an important way for David and I to get to know each other.”

David’s serious cycling life started at age 60 when a friend invited him to join the ride across Iowa known as RAGBRAI. His friend suggested he’d need a better bike. With a new bike, his training began for RAGBRAI and the many rides he’s taken since, including long distance riding in the greater Yellowstone area in Montana and Wyoming, and around Wisconsin and Minnesota. 

“Bicycling has been a wonderful way to enjoy family time together and explore wherever we travel,” David shares. “I really feel privileged to see the world from my bicycle.”

– By Doug Freeman, Bike Fed volunteer writer of the “Wisconsin Cycling Lives” series and retired radio broadcaster and communications professional at UnitedHealthcare, Associated Bank and Advocate Aurora Health. Doug looks forward to chatting with more riders for future profiles.

Feature image at top: David and Julie’s European cycling adventure included stops at historic locations such as Laarne Castle near Ghent, Belgium.