Nonactuarial Pursuits of Casualty Actuaries
It must be gratifying and rewarding to combine vigorous exercise and inexpensive traveling. Our featured Fellow has been doing this for many years.
He made his first long bicycle trip while on summer vacation from graduate school. Starting in Madison, Wisconsin, he and a fellow student rode their bicycles to Los Angeles, passing through the Black Hills of South Dakota, Yellowstone National Park, Salt Lake City, the Bonneville Salt Flats, and San Francisco. They traveled as much as 132 miles a day, which is rather amazing considering they were carrying their own gear. They carried a backpacking tent, sleeping bags, air mattresses, clothes, and tools in special bike saddlebags called panniers.
Our Fellow (right) and cycling companion touring the French countryside.
Another trip during graduate school took our Fellow and three friends to Europe. From Amsterdam they cycled through Germany, Austria, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Italy, France, Belgium, and back to Amsterdam. As with the western trip, they mostly slept in tents outside at campgrounds, which our Fellow prefers to the usual hotel or hostel. Among the four friends, they could muster a little German and French, but found that sign language and pointing usually obtained what they wanted—even when confronted by armed soldiers. On three occasions during their journey from Hungary to Yugoslavia (both countries then under tight communist control), parties of armed soldiers in camouflaged uniforms emerged from the woods and ordered them to stop. After they showed the soldiers their American passports and pointed on the maps where they were heading, the soldiers allowed them to proceed.
Since then, our Fellow's European bicycle trips have been in France because of the great food and excellent roads. Larry Haefner, FCAS, accompanied him twice. Michelin publishes detailed sectional maps of France, showing every small road and town, which enables a cyclist to avoid the heavily traveled roads. The roads in the French countryside are paved, clearly marked, and well maintained. You can traverse most of the country on smaller country roads!
Cycling burns a lot of calories, allowing you to eat everything you want without putting on weight. In France there is plenty of hearty country fare! Each day he finds a boulangerie (bakery) for baguettes, croissants, raisin bread, and other tasty energy sources. Lunch is frequently a picnic at a scenic location. The charcuteries (delis) and markets offer plenty to accompany a fresh loaf of bread from the boulangerie. Dinner is usually a multicourse meal, along with wine from the region, at a fine restaurant. Although Parisian restaurants can be pricey, you can get excellent dinners for reasonable prices in the small cities and towns. Many of these restaurants have chefs worthy of their toques! Though the French can be shy about talking to strangers, they always wish you well while you are eating with a heart-felt "bon appetit."
Unlike the reputation of Parisians, the folks in the provinces are friendly and helpful. (Nowadays, even the Parisians are trying to be nice because they realize the importance of tourism for France.) They always seem pleased to meet Americans touring their country. In one town our Fellow's cycling group met a man who was forced into labor at a German factory during World War II. This gentleman was liberated by American soldiers and remained forever grateful. He insisted they join him at a local café, where he treated them to drinks and stories.
Though our Fellow plans the next day's route the evening before, he frequently finds serendipitous surprises. Once he passed a well-maintained castle where the English Black Prince had recuperated from battle injuries. Another day he came upon a small historic town founded by Charlemagne in the late 700's. On entering another town, he and his fellow cyclists saw large throngs everywhere urging them to "ride faster." Others were clapping and waving. They soon discovered that The Tour de France had ridden through town minutes earlier, on a route perpendicular to theirs, and the fans were cheering them on, tongue-in-cheek.
Our Fellow once passed through a small town that had earned "four flowers" (similar to Michelin restaurant stars) in the "Fleurissement de France" campaign, in which cities and towns are encouraged to plant flowers. There were beautiful displays of flowers in gardens, in flower boxes on houses, hanging on lamp posts, on traffic medians—everywhere he went in town. The French countryside is also being beautified, as old houses and historic structures are being restored. He has seen a definite improvement over the years.
Gary Dean finds that his brain works better after a week or so on the road, another advantage of a bicycle vacation. He doesn't know if it's from the extra oxygen pumping through his body or if it comes from being away from distractions of daily life, but it becomes much easier to concentrate on actuarial matters in Indiana.