Basketball Sophomore Lilly Bolen & Family Bike Across Croatia in Honor of Mother

MEDFORD - Ever since she can remember, Tufts University risiing sophomore Lilly Bolen and her family have taken vacations during various school breaks. These trips have provided some of the family's favorite memories, and Lilly often looks back on photos and remembers the amazing adventures.

"I've always been extremely thankful to my parents for giving my siblings and me opportunities to see different places and experience different cultures and regions," she said. "I've loved every place we have gone, and always looked forward to our yearly adventures. I bonded with my siblings over these trips, became closer with my parents, and learned many new things."

When she was in sixth grade, Lilly's mom Lauren was diagnosed with breast cancer. The family still managed to go on vacations, trying to maintain normalcy and make memories. Over the next six years, Lauren Bolen fought cancer with great courage, but it recurred during Lilly's junior year of high school. At that time, the family planned a trip to the Galapagos Islands, a place where Lauren had always wanted to go. Lilly, her mom, and her sister Kathryn went on this trip right before Lilly's senior year in high school, fulfilling her mother's dream of seeing the island's beautiful sights and wildlife. Lauren's health would decline during Lilly's senior year (2016-17), which made the Galapagos trip that much more special. She was very sick by the time of Lilly's graduation. Three days after her graduation, Lauren was put on hospice, and she passed away two weeks later.

"One of her wishes before she died was for our family to continue our family vacations," Lilly said. "She made my dad promise that we would take a trip once a year, and continue to have fun as a family, even if she could not be there with us."

The first of those trips was this summer when the Bolen's biked across Croatia. Lilly's father Michael's own father - Lilly's grandfather - is from Croatia. The family had never been to Europe together. They arranged the trip through DuVine Cycling + Adventure Co., and the adventure reunited the four of them - Michael, Kathryn Lilly and brohter Alex - for the first time in months to honor Lauren.

Now home, where she is working as a manager at a country club for the rest of the summer, Lilly shared the experience with GoTuftsJumbos.com:

Tell us about the route you took, how many total miles was it, and how long did it take?

LB - My dad, sister, and I traveled to Madrid first for three days to get accustomed to the time change, and to see an amazing city. We arrived in Split, Croatia, and spent two days there, then traveled to Brač Island, Hvar Island, Korčula, and then ended the trip in Dubrovnik for a total of six days of biking and 10 days of traveling. We biked a total of 153 miles - about 30 miles per day - and saw beautiful landscapes and many villages in the Croatian countryside, places we would probably not be able to see if we were not traveling by bike.

What was your plan on a day by day basis?

LB - The tour group we were with had mapped out the rides and were there to guide our group of 10 people throughout the trip. Before we started for the day, they would explain the ride, the mileage, and the grade changes (slope). There were many difficult hills that we had to tackle, but usually if you took your time and paced yourself throughout, you were fine.

Had you made any long bike trips before? Was this trip a physical challenge?

LB - I have not biked much or done many bike trips, but did bike outside with my brother's road bike in the weeks leading up to the trip. My brother has done many bike trips in the past when he was in high school, even biking across the United States from South Carolina to southern California. This could also potentially be how my dad got the idea of a bike trip vacation. It was a physical challenge for all of us, yet still managed to be enjoyable and amazing. I have been rehabbing my knee after tearing my ACL (which caused her to miss her freshman basketball season) so the trip was definitely a challenge, but I think it also helped with my recovery process.

What were some of the more memorable moments of the journey?

LB - I loved traveling on the coast of Hvar and Korčula Island. Both rides were very beautiful, but difficult. Also in Hvar, we traveled on a road that was surrounded by lavender. The region is known for its lavender fields and while riding the smell of the lavender was very strong. Seeing the cities in Croatia were beautiful, Split, Hvar and Korčula were all amazing to see. Each location was uniquely interesting and beautiful - different than any place we had been to before. It was a great experience learning about their long histories and seeing almost everything they had to offer.

Your trip coincided with Croatia's run to the World Cup final. Did you have any memorable experiences because of that?

LB - Our trip coincided almost perfectly with the World Cup. We were in Dubrovnik when Croatia defeated England to advance to the finals against France. During the England game, we were watching inside the old city walls surrounded by locals and other foreigners. It was an amazing experience. Croatia has a strong nationalistic pride, and it showed throughout our entire trip. Croatia ended up winning in penalty kicks, and the whole city celebrated for the whole night. Needless to say, my family was rooting for Croatia in the World Cup final, and were disappointed by the loss, but thankful we got to witness the pride and love for soccer in the country.

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Bolen Family Bike Trip Cross Croatia