Outside a rail depot-turned-tourist information center in the Canadian village of Nominingue, three cyclists in matching jerseys pulled off a paved trail to fill their water bottles. Nearby, a couple strapped helmets on children who chatted away in French.
I called out a quick "Bonjour!" as I rolled by, but I wasn't personally traveling by bike. I rolled through rural Quebec on eight wheels as part of an in-line skating tour from Zephyr Adventures.
Commonly called "rollerblading" after the popular skate brand, Rollerblade, in-line skating sometimes gets categorized as a 1990s fad. Though participation dropped 4.5% from 2012 and 2017, according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, more than 1.4 million Americans ages 13 and over still engage in the sport.
Allan Wright founded Montana-based Zephyr Adventures during the late-1990s in-line boom, launching a Netherlands trip that followed canals past the windmills and farm fields north of Amsterdam. The outfitter also leads a rotating selection of in-line outings in Florida, Idaho, Switzerland, Spain and elsewhere.
Zephyr has expanded with other adventures in recent years, adding Mount Kilimanjaro treks, cycling trips through Germany's Mosel Valley and multisport excursions in places like Colorado, Croatia and Chile. The company's spinoff business, Taste Vacations, specializes in food, wine and beer travel.
On five Zephyr tours over the past decade, I've tackled trails with both seasoned athletes and novice skaters representing a surprisingly wide age group. My fellow travelers in Quebec ranged from 13- and 17-year-old brothers to a 74-year-old retired teacher who rolled faster and farther than anyone on the tour.
Zephyr skaters travel as a group, but flexible itineraries let individuals customize the experience. Routes include short, medium and long options, which means that travelers can skate between 5 and sometimes 60 or 70 miles a day. Some guides cruise the trails with guests, while others shuttle luggage and short-route skaters between stopping points and overnight destinations. The tours typically include cycling options for nonskating spouses and friends, as well.
On Zephyr's four-night Montreal and Quebec Skating Adventure, my group explored a trio of paved rail-to-trail routes: L'Estriade and La Granbyenne, two flat, art-lined paved paths in Quebec's pastoral Eastern Townships, and Le P'tit Train du Nord ("the little train of the north"). One day included urban skating adventures in bike-friendly Montreal; we also skated on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve track, navigating the same sweeping curves where Formula One drivers compete.
Zephyr Adventures' skate tours include guide services, breakfast and dinner, shared accommodations, local transportation and luggage transfers between overnight destinations. For information, visit www.zephyradventures.com.