OK, not THE Boss, just the Sojourn boss. Sitting in the airport in Tucson, having just spent the past week enjoying our Arizona bike tour with a group of fantastic people from all over the world, I find myself reflecting back on our week together. I’m struck by our conversations, the warm embraces from returning Sojourn friends, and the friendships formed with those new to us.

 We are a wide mix of couples and singles from across the US and Canada, and as far away as Norway and Brazil who opted to leave cold dreary weather behind in search of warmer sunnier days. Two lifelong friends living thousands of miles apart chose this as a reunion trip. Some are veteran Sojourn travelers and for others this is their first trip with us.

As much as I enjoyed the cycling, these trips aren’t really all about the bike. Yes, we high-fived over fantastic rides and yet there were equally memorable times when we weren’t on our bikes but, I digress, the rides really were enjoyable. The cycling routes on our Arizona bike tour are some of the most strikingly beautiful rides anywhere. The contrast between lush forests of giant Saguaro cacti, expansive grasslands, and rugged mountains offer diverse scenery.

One of my favorites was the Cactus Forest Loop in Saguaro National Park. This twisting and rolling, one-way route is not only incredibly scenic but exhilarating and loads of fun, so much so that several folks rode it multiple times before lunch. It seems like a good approach – once to marvel at the scenery and once to ride it hard enough to experience the dips and turns at speed. Did I mention fun? Wow!

Realizing that I’d spent way too much time at my desk and not enough on my bike during the last couple of months, I made a conscious decision not to max out my miles each day. I also knew that I wanted to spend some time relaxing at Hacienda del Sol, one of my all-time favorite places to stay. After lunch that first day I opted for the van shuttle back to Hacienda to do just that.

 It’s difficult to find words that do justice to this lovely hilltop oasis nestled in the Santa Catalina foothills and offering distant views over the sprawling city of Tucson to the south and the towering peaks of the Catalina’s just to the north. The old adobe entry that welcomes visitors into the gardens at the front of the property marks the place where I leave my worries behind and enter paradise. The visual beauty of the entire setting combined with the unpretentious atmosphere can’t help but transform you from reality to some faraway place. As I lounge poolside, the warm sunshine feels pretty darn good too.

Following several days in Tucson, we headed south to the high country where the scenery changed dramatically from the cactus forest landscapes we’d been riding through to expansive grasslands that evoke a sense of almost endless vastness. The contrast in landscape to the previous few days was stunning. Full of visible emotion, a fellow US traveler exuded national pride. “It’s so heartwarming that I am witnessing such appreciation for our beautiful country and at the same time feeling overwhelmed by such beauty and vastness myself. This is something I will always remember.”

Our hotel in the remote frontier town of Patagonia was built to house the cast of John Wayne movies that were filmed nearby. It has undergone extensive renovation since those days of old westerns but retains its Wild West heritage. Our delightful hosts welcomed us for cocktails and dinner in the newly finished and tastefully decorated Sojourn Room, named for – you guessed it – the friendly and interesting people they have come to meet through Sojourn bike tours.

The banter of conversation flowed easily from economics to energy, from history to modern politics, and from favorite authors to natural wonders. We might all have continued with cocktails and appetizers for the rest of the evening had the chef not finally put her foot down and insisted we sit down to eat. A delicious meal was capped-off by huge pieces of mouth-watering Tres Leches. Rumor has it that the recipe had been passed on from the chef’s Mexican grandmother.

 Our tour leaders have done a wonderful job of guiding us throughout the week and as Rob describes the climbs over the Four Amigos to a remote mountain lake, I can almost feel my quads starting to knot. A handful of us ride the first 25 miles then jump in the van with Barb to avoid the succession of climbs to lunch. This provides me with the opportunity to find a good spot to shoot some photos of the cyclists as they conquer the hills.

Barb has put together quite a picnic spread and the warm sunshine invites everyone to sit back and soak in the views over the lake and surrounding peaks. With a bit of coaxing from fellow riders over lunch, nearly everyone resolves to tackle the climbs back out of the lake and over the Four Amigos. Sideline cheering from the van riders encourage everyone up the toughest of the climbs. After the long downhill run, everyone enjoys an easy spin along the river to Tubac. Several stop along the way to visit a historic mission whose white dome forms a striking contrast against the deep blue desert sky.

Our final day in Tubac found the group going off in different directions before reconnecting for dinner. Most chose to ride to a remote and funky coffee house that that features homemade pie. Coffee and pie midway through a ride – great incentive! A few ventured to town to wander through shops and galleries. My husband had always wanted to play a round of golf on the course where Tin Cup was filmed (at Tubac Golf & Spa Resort where we were staying) so I agreed to join him. For those who have seen the movie, I’ll spare you all the details but will share that we both shot par on that final water hole, unlike Kevin Costner.

That evening, as the waitstaff gently interjected to move our spirited conversation from reception mode to the dinner table, I noticed that everyone continued to make an effort to choose a seat near someone with whom they had not previously dined. I found it heartwarming to be surrounded by such an interesting group of people who so thoroughly enjoyed one another’s company.

As the evening wound down and toasts wrapped-up, several travelers new to Sojourn shared that their experience made them to feel like family rather than just a number as they had felt on trips with larger companies. Many remarked that they were sad the trip was coming to an end. Reflections upon our week together came with resolve to stay in touch and join one another on a future Sojourn tour. “The acquaintances made and friendships formed on Sojourn tours keep us coming back,” said one guest who was enjoying her 7th Arizona tour with Sojourn. “Yes, the rides, the attention to detail, and the whole organization is top notch but it’s the guides and the people you meet on these trips who really put Sojourn at the pinnacle.”

I feel privileged to have witnessed it all first-hand and will cherish the experience, and the wonderful people who helped make it all so memorable and fun.

Susan Rand is the founder and president of Sojourn Bicycling & Active Vacations