For many of us, last year was a year without bike touring and cycling holidays. The Corona virus and the resulting lockdown also limited our travel freedom and opportunities. So there was nothing going on in 2020? Far from it, because I received two emails from Madeleine and Mario telling me about their tours during the Corona summer. And I found that so inspiring that I asked them to write me more about it and share it with you. Enjoy!
Viva l’Italia: Going South with Madeleine
Please introduce yourself…
My name is Madeleine Hoppe and I come from the small town of Breckerfeld in NRW, south of Hagen. But for the last ten years I’ve been bouncing around the world, coming from Paderborn via Buenos Aires to Berlin, working in online marketing there for the last three years and then realized, “Nah, this isn’t it, I need to get out.” That’s how the plan with the bike tour came to my mind. Actually, this had been my dream for many years, but due to dissatisfaction in my job, I then realized that 2020 is probably the right time for it. So I saved up some money for another year and happily quit my job, only to be stuck in lockdown, not knowing if I’d be able to go at all. Currently I’m back in my home country and start a new job in Cologne in April. This all came about super spontaneously, but since I’ve listened to my gut feeling a lot in the last few months and it’s usually turned out to be the right decision, I’ve done it again this time. Let’s see what Cologne has in store for me. In any case, the job sounds good for now, I’m going back to the sports track and thus in a way also pursuing my hobby.
What did you plan and what has become of it?
Originally it was my plan to cycle through South America, but I didn’t want to do it alone (which I would definitely do now). But finally decided to do a bike tour through Europe first. I wanted to start in the spring of 2020, always in the direction of the north to the Lofoten and then through Finland back again, further through Eastern Europe. That’s all I had planned, I wanted to leave the rest open. The Lofoten Islands, on the other hand, have been on my list for years.
My dad, who inspired me to travel by bike, and I, have been talking about going there by bike for half an eternity, being in nature and possibly seeing the Northern Lights. So much for the plan. But as I found out during and actually even before my tour, the best thing about having a plan is being able to scrap it.
Due to the worldwide pandemic and border closures, I couldn’t fulfill my dream of being in Lofoten in the summer until now. Instead I left later and went first to Poland, because there the borders were already open and I had never been there before. Just see something new, I thought to myself. Even then I had no further plans and spontaneously drove to Slovakia, from there to Austria and Slovenia, and then to Italy.
There, my destination emerged quite quickly: Sicily. I had the best time in Italy, saw the most beautiful landscapes, met the nicest people and probably had the best food. But unfortunately I didn’t make it to Sicily – again – Corona got in my way. I had to cancel shortly before due to the renewed lockdown and spent the last month of my tour in Porto Venere in Liguria. I had been there for ten days before and found my personal place of well-being by chance. So it was only half as bad that I couldn’t do my tour as planned. And thank goodness it”s not running away from me either.
Where did you cycle?
From Breckerfeld to Berlin, to visit friends. From there I went to Usedom, because my girlfriend, who I wanted to meet in Berlin, was at the beach volleyball camp on Usedom at that time. And I was flexible. No sooner said than done, off to Usedom. From there, I rode the Baltic Coast Cycle Route to Gdansk and then further and further east until I arrived at the Mazuria – beautiful. From there, on to Olsztyn and Krakow, all the way south to Zakopane. There I was quite surprised by the mountain world that came my way.
Over the High Tatra it went into Slovakia. There, however, I spent only a few days due to some unpleasant experiences and cycled relatively quickly to Bratislava. From there on it was all uphill: I crossed over to Austria and went through Burgenland. From there it went through southern Styria to Carinthia and then for a little sneak preview to Italy. However, this was really only an hour or two and finally brought me to Slovenia.
In Slovenia, I first went to Bled, did two day tours there, and then cycled through the Soca Valley – I can only recommend it! From there I went back to Italy, Venice to be exact, and then to Lake Garda. From there, via Parma to Porto Venere. After a two week break I continued through Tuscany via Lucca and Pisa, perhaps the most beautiful part of the trip. At the end of Tuscany I went through Lazio to Rome and from there always along the coast to Naples. In Naples I found a companion with whom I cycled through Pompeii and then along the Amalfi Coast.
Then we went for two days through the mountains and then back to the coast, which was really just gorgeous. Actually, we wanted to ride down to Sicily from there and then explore Sicily. But the lockdown threw a spanner in the works, so we parted ways in Praia a Mare and I took the train back to Porto Venere. Actually, my plan was to get back on my bike there and ride home, but was surprised by masses of snow that forced me to take the train for the last leg as well.
Highlights for me were definitely the south of Poland and Slovakia. The High and Low Tatras are fantastic natural paradises that are not yet overrun and perhaps not known by every person. The infrastructure for bike travelers in Slovakia is also top, which I would not have expected before absolutely. Almost everywhere there are perfectly developed bike paths.
My next highlight was Slovenia. I didn’t see that much of the country, but what I did see was enough for me to know that one of my next trips will definitely be to this beautiful country. Although it is always up and down and you make many meters of altitude during the day, but every single one of them is worth it. The Soca Valley captivates with its unique beauty and I think never before have I seen such clear rivers. Italy as a whole was my highlight of the tour. My absolute dream country, which I always liked before, but now is even more deeply anchored in my heart.
When you travel Italy from north to south, you first realize how diverse the country is. I was told by a man in Naples that Italy is actually made up of two countries: Northern and Southern Italy. And I don’t think you can describe it any better than that. There is so much to discover about the diverse landscapes, be it mountains, seas, lakes, fields, meadows or hills, to the food and the friendliness of the people. There is nothing that Italy does not have. But my absolute highlight here was without a doubt Tuscany. Once from Lucca to Acquapendente, via Certaldo, San Gimingnano, Siena and the complete Via Francigena – it doesn’t get any better than that.
Please tell us something about your bike and equipment
I had my bike newly assembled for the tour. It is a Vinci touring bike. My family has had their bikes built by Vinci for years and what can I say: we have never been disappointed. It has lowriders front and rear so I could carry four bags. I got my bags from Ortlieb and was pretty happy with them too. In total, I had six with me: two small for the front, two large rear, a pack bag (from Aldi :D) and an Ortlieb handlebar bag.
In the front pockets I put my kitchen utensils and food. One side for pots and dishes, the other for food. I had an old spirit stove from my father with me, the good old Trangia, which I can also highly recommend – if you have a little time. Because the water boils definitely faster with gas, which is why I will definitely switch to gas on my next trip. Everyday clothes I had hardly with me, two thin pants, three T-shirts and a sweater. In addition, two cycling shorts, a few sports shirts, a fleece, a Patagonia Nano Puff jacket I have treated me in Rome yet, when it was colder, a few gloves, once warm underwear and a Ziphose, which I can also highly recommend.
My tent was from Tatonka, but unfortunately broke down pretty quickly. Maybe just a material defect. Have then subsequently used my father’s Hilleberg, which was of course top, but much too large and heavy for one person. My sleeping pad was a 30 year old Thermarest, but has since been replaced by the Thermarest neoair x lite. But Thermarest keeps what they promise. I actually slept better on the mattress than in some beds. And that, despite its age. However, it was a bit bulky and large, so it was time for a successor. My sleeping bag is the Mountain Equipment 750 Classic, which I can also highly recommend. In summer actually a bit warm, but used as a blanket optimal.
Do you have any tips for those who want to cycle after?
Definitely don’t stress and just roughly plan the tours, it usually turns out differently than you thought at the beginning. Be flexible, adapt to every situation and if it is too strenuous on the mountain, think of the upcoming descent. I think Europe is very suitable for beginners, because the infrastructure is given. The network of bike paths is well developed, especially in Germany and Austria, and is therefore also suitable for shorter tours.
I told myself at the beginning that I do not want to go by train in any case, because I’m doing a bike tour after all. Fortunately, I have revised this attitude for me and can therefore recommend everyone not to be too strict with themselves. Sometimes it just doesn’t work anymore and why torture yourself? The whole thing is not a competition, in my opinion the fun should be in the foreground. In addition: I am firmly convinced that you can make a long tour with a simple bike, you do not need the latest high-end vehicle. On the mountain, however, it is quite noticeable if you have more than three gears available. There I would already put value on it. The same applies to reasonable tires: I had the Schwalbe Marathon and in five months on tour not a flat tire.
Apart from that, I can really recommend a bike tour to everyone. There is no better way to travel, in my opinion. It’s free, sustainable, and slow enough to see everything you want, yet fast enough to see a lot.
Where to go this year?
Due to the new job, there probably won’t be a multi-month tour this year. However, I will probably get on my bike for a month before starting and start my new equipment. Depending on how it looks in the summer and I have enough vacation, I will revive my Lofoten plan or be seduced by the sun of Italy and travel Sicily.
Where can people find and follow you?
You can find me on my Instagram channel: maddihop. There I have also saved all the stages of my tour in the highlights. I am currently in the process of creating a blog and publish there smaller texts about my tour. I am also working on my film about the trip, which I will publish sooner or later. Where, I do not know yet exactly.
Through Europe with Mario
Please introduce yourself briefly…
Well, I’m Mario Albrecht, 57 years old, I was born in Berlin and still live here, I’m married, have five children and have been working in nursing for about 30 years, most recently in intensive care at a heart clinic.
I am often on the road by bicycle and thus reach a large part of my destinations. Even back in the days when in East Germany we were happy about every paved road, I rode my bike to work, in every season. From time to time I visited my grandparents, they lived in Saxony near Meissen, 180 km on a GDR touring bike, later a racing bike-like bike with a Czech four-speed derailleur. Another regular one-day destination later was and is Poland, Pomerania, about 200 km from home. There is a farm where my wife, who is from Poland, and I spend the summer holidays.
If I don’t have to work, I go there and back by bicycle. So, I am not the cyclist who always rides a lot, but the cyclist with a purpose, if I have to go somewhere, then I ride my bike, if it can be arranged in terms of time and distance. Mostly alone. Once a year we make such a comfortable old-men ride with friends. My wife is more for the not so strenuous, cozy, while I need a little challenge.
I have several bikes, including a recumbent, which I use in the summer and glide over the asphalt.
What did you plan, what happened and where did you ride?
Yes, I have been planning, or rather dreaming, of a tour that would take me further afield for some time. A first destination was China. My daughter lived there for some years and asked me when I would come to visit her. I said, I don’t want to do that in a hurry, but if we plan it for a longer period of time, then I’d be happy to come by bike. So I started to do without money for six years with my employer and then, in the seventh year, I was finally free. In the meantime, conditions in China became more restrictive towards foreigners and my daughter decided to return to Germany. So my goal disappeared.
Then I started reading bike trip reports and became curious about Georgia and Iran. The Caucasus and the friendliest people, at all to the east would be interesting. After all, I am often in Poland and even this small difference in this direction is an experience for me, experiencing a bit more openness and friendliness, celebrating and being cheerful. With this plan in mind, I bought a relatively heavy and robust used bike, a 26″ Redbull from Rose, year of manufacture 2012 with Rohloff gears. In March 2020 I’m then off, so for five months on tour, wanted to be at the end of April already in Georgia and then meet with my wife there.
Then came the Corona virus, and in March the Lock down began. By then I was already in Poland and the reports of ever new restrictions and infections were piling up. I thought to myself, that I already go on to the Ukrainian border, until then, so in one or two weeks it will have settled. The further east I went, the longer I was in Poland, the stricter the measures became and the fear spread. No bar to warm up, camping in the snow, relatives of my wife, previously arranged in corona-free peacetime, did not want to accommodate me.
Behind Krakow I could then spend a night with Bartek, arranged via Warmshowers. Here I then got the impression that it will be nothing with continuing.
In the meantime I was already behind Krakow (hardly any people on the road, no tourists) near Nowy Sacz, it was not far to the Ukrainian border. So I decided to turn back again. Snow drifting in Upper Silesia, then through Lower Silesia, police patrols drove through the villages, I still had to extend my route because small border crossings were closed. People in protective suits at the border in Görlitz, in Germany then not quite so dramatic but similar, two more nights and I was back home after three weeks and 2,000km world travel attempt.
At the end of May I heard that Sweden was open, the only country where you could still go. So I set off again. This time with the goal of being behind the Arctic Circle before the summer solstice. At Whitsun I cycled a bit with my daughter, instead of travelling through China we rode together through the Altmark, the Wendland and Mecklenburg. Then our ways separated, I went on to the ferry to Rostock, with this to Trelleborg and then a stretch through Sweden, to the north, the goal was Abisko, in the area of the tundra, behind the Arctic Circle.
I also arrived there on about June 21. Then I tried to get into Norway. With success, because it was Sunday and there the border crossing is not controlled. And so I just rolled through. It went to the sea, over the Lofoten chain to almost the end, with the ferry to the mainland and then through Norway up and down, at fjords and through snow landscapes to Christiansand, with the ferry to Denmark.
In three days from Hirtshals then through Denmark, back in Germany then from Flensburg via Itzehoe, to the Elbe at Glückstadt, to Bremen, Münster, Essen, Düsseldorf, Aachen, the Vennbahnradweg through Belgium to Luxembourg, then along the German-French border through Lorraine and Alsace, Saarbrücken, Basel, the Rhine, Lake Constance, the Swabian Alp, along the Neckar, through Franconia to Bayreuth, through the Fichtelgebirge, Bischofsgrün, through the Czech Erzgebirge, parts of the Vogtland, again Erzgebirge in Germany, Saxony, Bautzen … approx. 8000 km.
I have to think about that, because it was rather the flow and the rhythm that gave me the feeling of a fantastic eternity. Already approaching and reaching the lightless night was brilliant. I followed the escaping spring. The birds sang without ceasing. The mountains and contrasts in Norway, definitely the Lofoten, snow-capped mountains, lots of waterfalls, in general the landscape itself, the slow changes, the vastness …
And some encounters, because there were not many of them, because there were hardly any people on the road. Even in their brevity, sometimes just a picnic together, they left traces in the memory, always interested stops and conversations about the where from and where to and the impressions of the oncoming.
So sometimes you do not need route planning, because tips change the route. In Germany, it was then even more the encounters, two nights with WarmShower hosts and so in total a good two weeks with family members in Luxembourg, Switzerland and Swabia and Saxony, which I visited.
I didn’t know many parts of Germany at all and must say it is a beautiful and interesting country. The Ruhr area around Essen with its industrial railway embankments, which are passable by bike, or the Vennbahnradweg through the Eifel and the Ardennes. I also found the paths along the Saar and the canals in Alsace to be scenically beautiful. I was also enthusiastic about the Czech Ore Mountains. These high regions are almost an insider’s tip, but there are also quite nice climbs.
Please tell us something about your bike and the equipment
My bike is as mentioned above a 26″ Redbull from Rose, built around 2012 with Rohloff gears. I became aware of the Rohloff shifting after a work colleague lent me the ten-year review book of Rohloff.
I was excited by the inventive company philosophy, which has obviously produced a consistently durable product. The gearshift did not let me down. When going uphill, I would have liked to sometimes still switched to a low gear ratio, but there was the end, so it was – strain or dismount, whereby getting off at least 50 kg total weight of the bike was avoided by me as far as possible. I had changed before the tour all components, that is, sprocket, chain, brake fluid of the hydraulic Magura brake as well as the pads, the shift cables, oil change of the circuit, tires and tubes … and something perfected around more bottle cages and I had on the whole tour only one breakdown, a flat tire in Sweden, when I went into a really gravel forest road.
I stowed my luggage according to the “six-pack” principle, unpacking and packing went quite quickly. The first tour to Poland was so to speak the test tour, then I could leave some things at home for the second one. On the way in Germany then I sent me the “winter things” back home and so lightened my luggage. I was well equipped, looked forward to the daily cooking with the Primus, at least on the hot tea and the stove has also served well, only then the fuel search, so the one for petrol turned out to be difficult.
The Yeti sleeping bag with my Merino sleepwear never left me in the cold and the Therm-a-rest sleeping pad was light and reliable, a little too small perhaps because my arms no longer fit on it. With the tent I had problems, the Venus II from Exped I could not save even with craftsmanship and self-made sleeves over the broken tent pole ends for a long time, since I was provided free replacement, which I personally picked up from the company in Zurich.
I planned my route with Komoot and can only recommend the app, only a few times the paths were missing or were really not passable. Such highlights as bike paths through the countryside can be missed but also times, as the app navigated me around it. I tracked my routes with the Garmin Vivoactive 3, with gaps when I forgot to press the start button. To put all this together exactly to a route, for this the performance of the Komoot site is not equipped, at some point the transmission stuck and brought no result, but so approximately I can reconstruct it already, but the partial routes are documented.
I generated power with the hub dynamo and a B+M USB Werk, which charged my 5000 mAh batteries. That was enough with economical use of the mobile phone, with which I navigated, a Samsung Outdoor device, held out even in the rain. There is still a lot to say about equipment, you are happy that everything works and it is still the weather conditions that you have to adapt to, if necessary, that could be reduced a lot.
And last but not least then in more southern warmth my bicycle sandals, I would not like to miss. And, I confess, I did not wear a helmet the whole trip, only caps against cold and sun.
Do you have any tips for post-trip cyclists?
When preparing the trip, I studied many packing lists of travel cyclists and then went quite well, because I had no experience with multi-day tours. I recommend to post cyclists to simply implement their own plan, plan, pack, go. Everyone will realize his own philosophy and mine was to ride especially much at the beginning and to spend the night outside in nature.
Where are you going this year?
I already have the dream of doing something like that again, I also find the Gravel philosophy interesting. But the everyday life catches me again and then I have hardly longer free, or spend the vacation with my wife, with the children and grandchildren. Maybe once, when a grandchild is a bit older, then once again a tour. Anyway, nothing is scheduled this year, but for a few days I would spontaneously go.
Where can people find you and follow you?
You won’t find me in social media groups, I’m no longer active on Facebook, but I do have a blog where you can read about my travels: https://radelnachosten.blogspot.com/ I’ve tried to keep my stories relatively fresh and timely, so that’s where they are.