Part 1 of my ‘Quarter Life Sabbatical’ was a cycle trip from Munich to Castel di Casio, a villa 30km south of Bologna. The original idea was to go across the Alps by mountain bikes with my friend Tobi (filming here). He goes to school in Munich and has done several trans-Alps trips, but sadly he could not be away from school that week. Fortunately, another friend, Neil, found himself in the Netherlands with nothing to do for 3 months, so he jumped on board the bike trip idea. He’s the real traveler here, having built a bike and ridden it to Munich just to meet for the start of our ride. Here is his quite entertaining side of the story.
On the contrary, I flew my road bike to London for free (thanks Aer Lingus), drug it around for 3 days while I visited the city with my parents and brother, and then flew it to Munich. In Munich, we met Tobi, watched a Germany World Cup Game, got the bikes ready to go, and departed.
One twist in the departure was that my carbon road bike was not intended to have a rack attached, so Neil and I improvised one at the nearest Obi hardware store. Testing the assembly with the bike in the store almost got us kicked out. Fortunately the store manager didn’t speak enough English to boot us, so we just kept building.
And so with a hastily-assembled Dutch bike and a carbon roadie with way too much weight on the back, we embarked. Below is Neil’s rig on the left, mine on the right.
We completed the 890km ride in 8 days with the legs being from Munich to Mittenweld, Mittenweld to Imst, Imst to Rescenpass, Rescenpass to Bolzano, Bolzano stay for the Sella Ronda bike day, Bolzano to north of Verona, Verona to Carpi, and Carpi to Castel di Casio.
In Castel di Casio, Neil and I met back up with my brother and parents. After a few days of rest and delicious Italian food, Neil went to Lago di Ledro for a sailing regatta, while I hopped back on my bike – something I vowed I wouldn’t do when we arrived in Castel – and pedaled to Pisa to see the tower and the Abbey of San Galgano see a friend staying with a family in another Tuscan villa. From there, I biked to Siena, trained to Genoa for a day, and finally trained to Geneva to finish the touring aspect of the QLS.
Perhaps our biggest accomplishment was completing the Munich to Castel di Casio portion of the trip with paying only 5 euro for lodging. Three nights, as Neil would call it, we “dirtbagged it”, hammock camping in the nearest secluded spot when it got dark.
Fresh water and picnic tables were definite pluses when found. Fortunately, we learned most mountain water in the Alps is drinkable, so fresh water was never a problem. Dirtbagging was a huge success until we got rained on outside of Verona at 1am. There was nothing we could do except stay warm any way possible and wait for morning. For me, that was huddling in my hammock wrapped in an emergency poncho.
We spent 3 other nights with Italian hosts through Warm Showers, the cycle touring equivalent of couch surfing. I was hesitant at first, but by the end of the trip, this was one of my favorite modes of housing because it gave us an evening or day with a local. They invariably welcomed us warmly and gave a rich perspective into life in their country.
Finally, the remaining night, we paid 5 euro each for a room in a hostel. We got the deal because the hostel was rented for a soccer team, but the owner and coach felt sorry for us. There wasn’t another hostel nearby and hotels were closed for a holiday, so they let us stay in a room intended for a few boys who didn’t make the trip.
Cycle touring was a fun way to see a country or area via slow transportation. It’s surprisingly satisfying to be moving all day and see the geography change slowly, something easily missed when traveling at 75mph.
That said, some days were really boring. Music was somewhat helpful, but audiobooks were money. The extra intellectual stimulation was clutch.
A USB charging pack would have been really useful, as would be an unlocked phone with local data. Connectivity and charging were frequent concerns.
Even without these, preloaded Google Maps were the best method we found for flexible navigation.
If and when I do another trip, I will have a legitimate bike rack and panniers. I wasn’t able to stand for climbs for fear of breaking my frame, which made hills and sitting all day tougher. Plus having the majority of my gear (7-10kg depending on the amount of food I had) on my back was really painful. This discomfort was my biggest limiting factor in how far I’d want to ride per day.
In case of rain, waterproof bags would definitely be helpful, although plastic bags keep most moisture out well enough. If light enough, a hammock rain fly might have been a good investment.
Traveling is about going for it, within reason of course. We got to Munich with only our bikes, a general route in mind, and gear. As reasonably intelligent human beings, Neil and I were able to troubleshoot most any issues we had. A good rule of thumb for us was that if there was a Plan B and Plan Z backing up Plan A, things were fine. Our Plan B was usually being resourceful, such as building my bike rack; Plan Z was usually throwing cash the problem. We rarely needed Plan Z. Getting rained on in the hammock was the only time when we had no action option. It was not fun.
Finally, I highly recommend the Sella Ronda Bike Day, a suggestion from our host in Bolzano. The roads and scenery was amazing,as was riding the 40km loop with 20,000 other riders.