Munich. 70 degrees and a sunny day. Silvia and Thomas are pushing their bicycles into the street. The bikes look a little bit like packed camels. With two wheels instead of two humps.
Everything’s perfect for a little bike ride. It just goes from Munich to Tarifa. Andalusia. Spain. The southernmost point of mainland in Europe.
Silvia has a catching and impish smile. The reddish brown hair is tied to a plait, the gray sports shoes are laced. Two months are laying ahead of them. In which they are crossing the painted landscapes of Swiss, French villages, mountains and Spanish old towns. Schaffhausen, Geneva, Valencia, Granada. Everything they are taking with them is strapped to their bicycles. With power in their legs and sun in their face they’re going down south a little bit further every day. It’s only 1800 miles to the sea. Chasing waves.
“It was my boyfriend Thomas who had the idea.” Silvia recalls. “For him, a long bike ride is nothing special. He’s gone all the way to China by bike before.”
Oh well, I need some time to collect my countenance.
“It was a challenge for me to see if I could manage to sit in a saddle every day, drive fifty miles and then even camp out afterwards.”
Silvia and Thomas are fascinated by the same things I love about road trips: One slowly approaches the destination. The path becomes the experience. The environment doesn’t change abruptly, but continuously. You have the chance to get to know people and mentalities very closely, instead of rushing over them with tons of kerosene under your butt.
“I was looking for adventure,” Silvia says. ”I wanted to experience something that wasn’t that easy. Something to get out of myself.” From Munich the couple starts off to Schaffhausen and to Geneva. Then to Lyon and along the Rhône to Montpellier. “We followed the Mediterranean coast to Spain, passed through Barcelona and Valencia and the across the mountains to Granada. Then we went back to the coast to Malaga and via Gibraltar to our destination, Tarifa.”
When Silvia and Thomas are leaving Munich she is not at all sure whether this trip is anything for her. But she says: “If you don’t reject something from the beginning, but you are just insecure, you should definitely try it!”
However, the trip is not intended to become a borderline experience. Not 150 miles a day through biting pain and scorching heat. “We always chose routes and distances that we could manage. In the mountains there were steeper tracks, but we made it.” Silvia thinks briefly. “That’s a really good feeling afterwards, of course!” Adventure power!
Something else is important to her: Getting out! Getting away from the computer. Into nature. “That’s the complete opposite of what we usually do all day. Sitting in offices. 40 hours.” Thomas quit just before the trip started and is starting a new job later after coming home again. Silvia took a month’s leave and took a sabbatical in the second month. Otherwise, she works full-time. On her blog Abenteuerzeilen (German only) Silvia writes, amongst other things, about the possibility to take such a sabbatical and everything you have to consider for it.
But how do you survive for two months with just a few saddle and carrier bags? “Since the bags have limited capacities, you can’t take as much with you as you would normally when you pack a suitcase,” Silvia explains simply. That means: Think about your stuff, clean out and reduce. Horrible? “Not at all.” Silvia laughs. “The advantage is, that you’re leaving at home the three pairs of shoes you wouldn’t wear anyway.”
However, for both of them, sport shirts, padded trousers, underwear, rain jackets, waterproof gaiters for shoes and a fleece jacket definitely belong in their cycling luggage. “We designed our clothes to be easy to layer. This is important in case it gets cold. You can always take something off.”
Fortunately, there is almost no rain during their whole tour. Only some days after they’d hit Barcelona the clouds start to burst into tears. “After we had a lunch break, the warmth and good mood were gone. We rode all day but rented a bungalow for the night instead of pitching up our tent.”
The tent is Thomas’ and Silvia’s mobile home during the trip. Mostly on campsites, a few times in the wilderness. “That was really beautiful. We put it up a little off the beaten track. So you couldn’t see it from the outside, because random camping is not allowed in Germany. We just lay in our tent. Around us the forest and an absolutely peaceful silence.”
The couple doesn’t experience severe breakdowns. However, tools, spare hose, air pump and chain oil are always included. But what would have happened if Silvia had suddenly felt that the whole thing was not for her? She’s pragmatic: “The good thing about the trip was that we could always have had the chance to turn back on the road. “We could have taken the train back at any time.”
Has there ever been a situation where everything just sucked and the way to the next train station crossed Silvia’s mind? She does not have to think long. “We had a moment relatively at the beginning of our trip. We arrived in Schaffhausen after five days. For the first time we lay in a warm bed and were totally tired from cycling.” The motivation was gone. “We talked about it and decided to go on. We did not just want to sit around at home and waste our free time.” Silvia thinks for a moment. “In fact, riding was really good and the motivation came back naturally after a while on a road.”
The experiences along the way also outweigh some sore muscles. Silvia is falling in love with Valencia. “I didn’t have this city on my screen, but I immediately liked the orange trees and the bright city center.” Thomas and Silvia also remember Granada very well. “We got up at four in the morning to get tickets for the Alhambra.”
Now I’m particularly curious, because I will be on a three-week-road-rip across Andalusia in August and also visit Granada, Tarifa and a lot more places. I have already reserved tickets for the Alhambra online – thanks to Silvia!
By the way, practicing a little bit in advance does not harm if you are planning on a long bike ride. “I used to cycle to work several times a week instead of taking the subway. That definitely helped me, because my butt could get used to the saddle. Otherwise, it would have been no fun at all.” Silvia laughs.
Being on the road for several months, free of everything and far away from 9-to-5, changes you. I experienced this after my four-month-trip. It can change the way you look at the world and it can be as powerful, depressing and overwhelming as a rock slide. Silvia feels a bit like that now. “Before my trip, the most important thing to me was my career. I wanted to achieve as much as possible in the shortest time possible.” Overtime was part of her everyday life and with it hopes that it would eventually pay off. Which it didn’t, of course.
After the trip Silvia sums up: “I have found out that the most important thing in life is time. When we’re sitting at home tired and overwrought, the money we make doesn’t help us much.”
Something I can totally understand and confirm.
Then she adds: “I want to gain many beautiful experiences, motivate others and also strive for a more conscious use of our resources now.” The bike trip showed me that I don’t need a closet full of stuff, but that I can live a happy life minimalistically very well.”
All pictures by © Silvia Ammerl/Abenteuerzeilen