(photo courtesy of Jackie Marchand)
Meet Jackie Marchand. She is the owner/operator of WomanTours, a women-only bike tour company that offers fully-supported multi-day trips both in the USA and internationally, designed for women of all ages, abilities, and interests.
As a recipient of the breathtaking and inspiring WomanTours brochure for years now, I consider taking one of her tours (or twenty — as some of Jackie’s guests have done) Bucket-List*-worthy. In fact, it was a tour listed in the WomanTours brochure last year (the description of which I ripped out and is still hanging on my closet wall, pictured below) that was the tipping point for me finally applying for the Peace Corps.
That tour was an anomaly with its cause-oriented focus. Typical tours with WomanTours include the kind of bike-and-barge tours in Holland and France about which many of us dream, as well as immersive, idyllic rides that explore all corners of our country’s natural beauty. Take a look at the WomanTours website (but brace yourself — you’re about to fall in love). You may also enjoy this short video:
Let’s talk about when Jackie first fell in love. She bought a road bike as a way to explore when she was in college, and that was that. When she ran into the university president in a hallway one day and he asked her what she was going to do after graduation, she told him that she wasn’t sure but knew she wanted to travel. He said she’d grow out of that. She didn’t.
Jackie was the sixth hire of Terry Bicycles, the first company dedicated to serving women who ride bikes (started by Georgena Terry, who now has a company dedicated to building custom-fit bikes for women — that’s a whole other story. Stay tuned. I hope to tell it, too). After ultimately serving in the number two position, Jackie purchased WomanTours, founded twenty years ago this year, when she discovered the owner wanted to sell in 2004. She told me:
“There were really great guides with the company, and I knew I needed to keep them. Some of them are still with us to this day. I worry every day that they are going to retire!”
No worries, really — WomanTours has guides of all ages. It’s just that the guides feel like family (and Jackie, does in fact, work with several actual family members.)
Jackie says that women sometimes tap into the WomanTours site thinking they need to be fast and fit, but quickly discover that WomanTours offers support in whatever way they need it. They can rent an ebike to use, and they can ride part of a day or skip a day and ride in the van. Jackie said:
“We pride ourselves in meeting women where they are.”
Jackie explained to me how WomanTours is currently meeting women where they are as we continue to deal with the impacts of the global COVID-19 pandemic. So many tours were canceled this spring and summer, and this lost income could have devastated the company. However, hundreds of women allowed WomanTours to hold their deposits toward future trips and that helped the company keep the lights on and website going. To Jackie, it was more than the money that mattered to her — it was their belief in the company that helped Jackie hang in there. And now, WomanTours is rolling again. Jackie told me:
“We started up tours again a few weeks ago, just domestically for now as we wait for international borders** to open to us again. We were nervous at first, but we discovered we deal with small groups anyway and we’re outside on bikes, so that already fit the recommendations. Additionally, we now require masks, we eat outside as much s possible, and we’re taking even smaller numbers so that there are fewer people in the van. Women coming on the tours now are mostly our tried-and-true guests because they know we’ll keep them safe.”
Planning for the future, which is what tour companies do, is particularly hard right now as state and country regulations are continually changing. Jackie told me WomanTours (which was recently named a Bicycle Friendly Business at the Gold level — on its very first try — from the League of American Bicyclists) is adding what they call Hub and Spoke trips where guests stay in the same hotel each night to reduce risks from changing places. They then spend a few days touring specific bike-friendly cities such as Portland, Boulder, and Asheville. And then she added:
“I have always just done what needed to be done. I’ve had some down days, and I want to be part of the solution. That’s why I’ve additionally signed up to be part of a COVID-19 vaccine trial.”
Jackie, a woman of action, got her first vaccine trial inoculation this week.
Fun fact: This is my second story about Jackie Marchand. I mentioned her in an article I wrote for Unearth Women last year.
** I am waiting as well. I was scheduled to leave for Peace Corps Uganda June 4, 2020 but that has been delayed due to COVID-19 until August 2021. If interested, you can read this excerpt from my new book about it.
Tap in every day in August for my “You Go, Girl” series showcasing 31 Women in 31 Days who are making it more welcoming to ride bikes in the USA. If interested, you may enjoy my book, Traveling at the Speed of Bike. All proceeds from the sale of my book help more women and girls ride bikes.
The complete series:
10. Meet Irene Lutts
14. Meet Jenn Dice
28. Meet Megan Ramey
30. Meet Aly Nicklas