This summer was all about the bike – a dream has come true!

Greetings from Barcelona!

This summer was all about the bike. I could ride, breathe, talk and film about cycling.

A dream has come true!

After quitting my job in December and moving to Spain in January, I wanted to pursue my passion for cycling. But I not only wanted to ride a bike, but wanted to get fully immersed into the cycling industry and be involved in the cycling community.

First, I stayed near Malaga for four months and rode solo with nothing but a super tiny backpack through half of Spain. In June, I packed my suitcase and bike-bag travelling through Europe for cycling challenges, bike tours, photo-shoots, conferences and endurance races – anything that was related to cycling and sounded like fun. I never thought that this summer would be like that. Here are the highlights:

June

  • The Ride”, the 1300km challenge: 8 days, 8 countries from Italy to the Netherlands
  • Orbea photo-shoot in the Basque Country Spain for the Orbea Orca Aero
  • Cycling tour in the Dolomites as a semi-tour guide with the tour company Velodrom Studio

July

  • 3-day Invitational cycling weekend with the RAW Cycling Magazine “Among The Giants” in Slovenia
  • 330km/ 8000m Tour du Mont Blanc Cyclsportive, France
  • 3 day Tour de France camp with Sierra Sports and Tours
  • A week in Madrid to meet the custom-bike brand The Draft

August

  • Haute Route Pyrenees: 7-day stage race from Biarritz to Toulouse: 910km/19300m of climbing
  • Haute Route Alps: 7-day stage race from Nice to Geneva: 896km/22000km climbing
  • Shimano Media camp in Au, Austria connecting with 20 cycling journalists and photographers
  • Eurobike in Friedrichshafen, Germany

September

  • Haute Route Dolomites: 7-day stage race from Innsbruck to Venice: 852km/21000m of climbing
  • Move to Spain, finding the best cycling location in Europe to stay for the winter

All routes of the events above are on Strava.

But I not only like riding a bike I also like talking about it – especially about the experience. If there is any doubt whether I like to talk about it, come visit me in Girona and we go for a 7 hours ride. That will give me enough time to tell you the highlights of my adventure cycling stories (with intermediate test questions ) I can think of a few people at Haute Route and The Ride who got the full “Monika-tells-hours-of-stories treatment already. 🙂 (You might wonder now how I do it during the solo cycling adventures…)

Some adventure stories and thought articles are published in magazines like the Australian Cyclingtips, German Gran Fondo Cycling Magazine, Australian Huffington Post, American Executive Athletes,  Dutch Cyclosportive and Spanish Raw Cycling Magazine. Sometimes I let others talk too, like during the interview with Fabian Cancellara. I also started my “raw and real” vlog and had the opportunity to share my thoughts about Haute Route during an interview. And now also the very exciting partnership with Shimano.

Holla….what a summer! There is no other way to say this but it was awesome, with a lot of o’s:

A summer being surrounded by so many like-minded yet different people, discovering new places, seeing stunning scenery and pushing my mental and physical limits. And that all on my bike….Dont pinch me. If this is a dream, I dont want to wake up.

Life lesson: Go for it. 100%

The biggest life lesson I learned from it is to really go 100% to pursue a passion, not being scared to fail because if you are 100% committed, you have a totally different motivation and drive. You are basically on turbo drive. Plus, opportunities will arise you never think were possible before making the big step of “following your dream”. The saying “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life” (Confucius) is true.

After an amazing summer constantly travelling with all my belongings fitting into my bike bag my plan is to stay for the winter in one place….well…I use the word “plan” very loosely because things can change tomorrow. However, my intention is to have a place in the most ideal European location for riding while being able to connect with the cycling industry. In the last four months having had the chance to chat with people around the world, Girona/Barcelona was always a suggestion. Thus, a ticket was booked and here I am – two days fresh from the plane.

Now it is time to let everything sink in and look towards 2018. A plan full of cycling – riding, talking, filming, inspiring!

Next year is going to be awesome (as per pronunciation above)! In addition to exciting cycling projects next year, my aim is to inspire and encourage others that anything is possible while creating their own path on and off the bike. That could mean to pursue a dream or ride solo through a foreign country. Everyone can do it!

In the next days, I will be writing more about the experience of the Haute Route Triple Crown and about Girona and Barcelona. (If there are any specific questions about these topics, please comment below and I will answer them as well)  One thing I can say already after one ride in Girona and one ride in Barcelona….loving it here already. I love the smell of the pine trees in this area. I love the exciting terrain and architecture around.

And so much to see!

So stay tuned, positive and upright.

Oh….and just something for the soul ….if you have a fire in your heart wanting to do something very strongly, don’t throw a blanket over it, pour oil on it!

Happy riding!


Publication in Cyclingtips: Rides to Remember: Exhausted, hungry and beaten in Spain

Cycling is not just about riding a bike – it is about creating experiences, discovering new places and getting to know myself better while it teaches me life lessons in a nutshell.

The recent 580km Half Through Spain trip was exactly that – a tough multi-day bike ride instead of a convenient bus ride.

But life is not about reaching the final destination in the fastest possible way. It is about creating a journey that make me feel alive with everything that comes with it.


Cycling solo through half of Spain: Why going through this hazard? – Day 4 and the end

Last day. It was a bittersweet day. I was looking forward to the end but still wanted to keep going too.

When I woke up the next morning I knew it would be a different day than the last 3. I had 100km ahead of me, 40km of which were still unknown. But then I would be in Granada. Everything would be different from Granada onward for the last 60km. First, I knew for sure it would be all paved. But the icing of the cake was that my local group from Motril would meet me and ride the last part of the journey back to my final destination. How awesome was that!

So I was leaving my hotel in high spirits. The air was crisp and fresh. I loved it. It was shaking the tiredness out of my body. I had been riding 18.5 hours over the last 2.5 days.

Exactly for 1.6km I was breathing in the fresh air and enjoying the smooth way to Granada. And then I was facing just the same as the last two days. Gravel. But this time I was not really faced by it. I rolled (or better stumbled) with it.

It only can be for another 40km.

With an extended gravel section and a ride across a field (!!!), I finally made it to Granada.

I was so excited to meet the group. I greeted them as we havent seen each other for years (it had been barely a week). The first stop was for coffee. When I took my sunglasses off, they were not shy to tell me how exhausted I looked like. Yes, the last three days made an impact on my physical appearance.

But it didnt matter. I was on the home stretch. No matter if headwind, punctures or gravel were ahead, there was absolutely nothing that would hold me back. We took the last 60km easy. By now, I knew the route. Everything felt familiar. I truly felt like coming home again (although I only had been living here for four months).

I made it! I was sitting at the beach for another hour. Just to make sure that it was not a mirage.

Once, I saw the Salobrena hill, I had to hold some tears away – it became a bit of an emotional moment.

When I reached the beach, I was sitting there for a long time taking it all in and making sure it was not a mirage.

Why going through this hazard?

It is tough to explain why I put myself through all this hazard if there was a very convenient bus from Madrid to Motril. Why would I want to ride my bike almost 600km while having trouble finding a path, getting lost, dehydrated, hungry and fatigued, eating at the curb of the gas station and hoping to get through this journey safely?

Why would I want to put myself in a vulnerable position, completely out of my comfort zone?

Because it brings me back to basic appreciating the things that truly matter. During that kind of trip, the problems of daily life lose its significance, fundamental values gain importance.

Such an adventure gives me also a huge sense of freedom and full responsibility. But because exactly of that it is also scary: I am responsible for every action; every decision I make is fully mine – whether I am getting lost or having decided on the wrong route.

This complete exposure of my own actions makes me truly feel alive. I learn more about myself how I deal with adversity, how to solve problems, how I adjust my expectations and motivate myself throughout the day to keep going despite the strong headwind, the forced route changes or the untimely puncture.

It teaches me life lessons in a nutshell.

It teaches me what really matters in life. And it teaches me to appreciate the little things that are easily forgotten in a world of abundance.

I cannot describe the satisfaction and the overwhelming feeling of achievement when I saw the beach, the end of almost 600km of an unknown journey. An experience the numbers cannot grasp – finding a path that does not exist, withstanding meteorological forces, defying harsh terrain while intimately exploring a raw version of a new country and discovering an unedited version of myself.

It is such an enriching experience that I am longing for more –  a new adventure, a new excuse not to take the bus.



Cycling solo through half of Spain: More gravel. Locked gates and a desperate car ride. Day 3

Breakfast and coffee should do the trick.

I woke up groggy. I felt the exhaustion from yesterday.

I was in Valdepena. 320km to my final destination – no more than 2 days and I will be back at home.

There were two options: Make today a long ride so tomorrow is easy or split the distance equally over the two days.

The first option sounded more appealing. So, here I was sitting over breakfast and my map finding an appropriate destination for today.

Granada. 250km.

That would be awesome.

If I dont get the same headwind as yesterday, it would be a possibility. I am starting 1.5 hours earlier than yesterday so I really have the entire day for those 250km.

But again, this trip had its own timeline.

This time, it did not require to get outside to make a crucial mistake.

This picture does not show it well but this was 20%. The other side just looked the same. Plus another 10 of them.

The mistake was made when choosing the right route.

Option A went through a rural part of Spain, option B led along the highway.

To avoid cars, I decided to go for the rural routes. I always could turn West to the highway route if necessary.

20km into the ride, I found myself on that rural route which became gravel.

Like yesterday, I stopped. Evaluated.

Looking at the map, there was no option to avoid this road except going all the way back to the beginning.

All the way back to the beginning? No way!

Going 20km back would be more mentally devastating than a puncture, I decided it is time to ride gravel now.

But I decided to head to route option B with the hope that the service road of the highway would be well-maintained.

How wrong I was!

The gravel action was just starting.

 

The pictures only show the smooth sections. During the pothole-mine-fields I had no time to take photos.

With a gravel bike this route would have been heaven. Instead, I was constantly worried about punctures. My enjoyment was limited. Due to the 20% gradient pitches, some hike-a-bike action was required as well. Not knowing how long this would go, my plan to finish in Granada changed to would I finish at all?

I seemed to make no progress. And this is the road I have to take all the way to Granada! Another 200km!

If I keep going with a pace of 15kmh….let’s not think about it.

After an eternity of riding-walking alternation, I came across a gas station.

A group of motorcycles looked at me wondering where I came from. That made me worried. Was there even a road out of this gas station besides the highway and the road I just came from?

My hopes to see Granada at all today were diminished.

 

Expecting the worst, I couldnt believe to find myself on a paved road through a national park, Despenaperros, with an amazing scenery over the country side. Having been through a bit of a rough time the past hours, I could enjoy this path even more. I loved the climb, the surroundings, the smooth paved road. My requirements to enjoy the ride have been drastically reduced.

The more I rode along enjoying the scenery, the more I forgot about the unpredictable changes of the road surface.

I made it to Linares and had my favorite meal during this trip: Migas – similar to spiced up bread crumbs.

It was 3pm.

I took me almost 6 hours for 100km. Wow!

While sitting comfortable at the curb in front of the supermarket, I had this whole “relaxing while looking at the map” moment. Or was I just procrastinating?

Half-motivated I got back on my bike knowing that at least I have to make it to Jaen – that is the 160km mark which would make tomorrow’s day the same distance.

Slowly but surely I got back into the rhythm and found myself on a main road with headwind. But this time, I almost appreciated the headwind. I knew it could have been a lot worse.

By having gone faster than the 15kmh earlier in the day, I decided to finally cover some ground.

My strategy was to ride for another hour and then to decide what to do next.

Once I left Jaen heading South it became rural again. I was following the paved service road of the highway but there was nothing else around.

After an hour I stopped at the gas station.

I was sitting at the curb eating two greasy sandwiches with unidentifiable ingredients.

I was alternating between being deeply engaged with my cell phone and observing the truck drivers who were curiously passing by. They probably wonder why a woman in cycling clothes is sitting by herself at a curb of a gas station in remote Spain.

If they knew what I was up to.

Monika, focus! Back to the cell phone. Will you keep going or find a hotel here?

I looked at the map. I had two options. Either a hotel here or 50km up the road.

It is 5pm, plenty of daylight left. Shall I risk it going for the one 50km ahead?

Ok! Why not!

But I should have known better. It is day 3 and I know what will be ahead.

I booked the hotel online that forced me to keep going. I paid now, so now I have to get there.

I immediately regretted my decision.

The food made me tired. Really tired. I could have fallen asleep immediately.

Monika, only 50 more kilometers. It cant be that bad!

Yes, it can!

My energy evaporated 15km down the road.

I was looking at a farm track. 35km of farm track? Would I even make it to the hotel in daylight? Slowly I kept going, the battery of my garmin, my phone and myself nearing their end. Maybe the next town has a hotel despite not advertising online?

Hope was what kept me going. Monika, only to the next village!

The village had one road which I was pacing nervously up and down.

No hotel. No accommodation. No option but to keep going.

At my last attempt I asked two persons on the road. Is there a hotel in this village?

Nope, sorry!

They asked me where I came from and where I am heading to. I told them.

They started talking fast. Too fast for me to understand.

I looked down gazing at the road trying not to fade away.  I was visibly tired and exhausted.

A minute passed. One of them looked at me.

“I can drive you to your hotel!”

I looked up. Puzzled. I couldnt believe it.

Normally, I would politely decline. But this time, considering my condition, I happily accepted.

We loaded the bike and drove to the hotel 30km on the highway.

I looked at the path next to the highway -the path I would have had to take. I would have arrived in the night.

The sun was setting.

I entered the hotel in disbelief. I made it!

I closed the door of my hotel room. Exhausted. Tired. Happy. If someone had told me this morning that I had to ride 70km of gravel out of 206 very long kilometers, that I would have found myself at locked gates that forced me to turn around, that I had to walk my bike for an extended period and that I had to take a car ride to the hotel, I would have not believed it.

What extreme up and downs this day brought. What motivation and patience today required. What a true adventure that is riding through this country!

Today was done.

Tomorrow will be a new day.


Cycling solo through half of Spain: Remoteness. Headwind. And what about gravel? -Day 2

Today will be a big day, I told myself – a long day, a lot of kilometers. This would be the first “real” day of my adventure. Today, I was completely by myself. No one to join me. I was away from any major town. I had no idea about this part of Spain and even less of an idea how the route might look like.

Having only been 70km out of Madrid it felt so rural already. I got a feeling that I would be riding through a very remote area in Spain.

No trees and flat enough to have a consistent headwind.

And at least with this expectation, I was right.

Over breakfast I studied the map. I considered Tomelloso, a town 130km from here, as my intermediate stop point. There, I would re-evaluate how far I still want to ride. Ideally the same distance again.

But this trip had its own timeline.

And it made its point not even 5km into the ride.

Today would be just as mentally as it would be physically demanding.

I was facing headwind for the next 100km. It not only slowed me drastically down, it was the constant noise in my ears that drained my energy.

No relief in sight. This part of Spain is flat. No trees.

I settled into a pace, a rhythm that forced me to reconsider early on today’s destination.
How far would I get today?
After 80 km on the main road I looked at the map for an alternative route.

I had been on the same road since I left the hotel. I needed a change.
I found an option and took the turn.
Gravel.
I stopped. Shall I take a gravel road?

I considered.

I am by myself and I am on a road bike. My options to fix my bike beyond a puncture were limited. Usually I would ride it with joy but now, considering the circumstances? I hesitated.

I decided to seek an alternate route. No gravel for me.
The alternate route was the main road from the last 80km.
So I rode the same road for another 50km against the headwind.

130km of headwind on the same road.

I cant describe how happy I was to finally see the town sign of Tomelloso – that “intermediate” stop where I was hoping to double the distance from there.

That thought I had over breakfast. But there is a route on the map. And there is the route in reality. A big discrepancy today.

I decided to have lunch.

It was 3pm.

I stopped at the next pub – a typical place to find lunch in Spain, even at siesta time which it was right now.

I ordered a Bocadillo (a sandwich) and a Coke zero. The waiter asked me where I came from and where I am heading to. I told him. He looked at me as I have mispronounced the town names and I meant actually different ones.

That happened a lot during this trip.

I settled in looking at my map.

I love looking at maps. It is relaxing.

Where have I been? Where am I now? Where do I want to go? Sometimes, I start daydreaming and dont even know what I am looking at. When that happens, I usually get lost afterwards.

I wanted to ride at least for another 2 hours. 5pm would be a good time to call it a day.

I declared Valdepena as my final destination for today!

Mentally recharged, I was ready to get going again.

But my bike was not. My rear wheel had a slow leak.

Darn! Here goes my mental recharge!

I changed the tube and off was for those final 50km.

I was determined to get to Valdepena. No matter, how fatigued I was right now, my ride would not finish until I got there. My motivation and determination came back.

I found a bike store, or better a garage that had a cycling theme in a tiny alley undiscoverable if you dont know about it.

This time luck was even on my side when I came by chance across a bike store in the next town. The mechanic could not understand how someone could be so happy to use their stand pump. I bought an extra tube for 3 Euro and headed to my final destination.

197km done of which were 150km substantial headwind. Despite how exhausted I was, I had to go through the post-ride motions of shower, washing the cycling kit and getting food somewhere.

And I am glad I did.
Because today was not even a tough day.

I would learn tomorrow.


Cycling solo through half of Spain: 580km of unpredictability -Day 1

I am sitting at the curb in front of a gas station in remote Spain eating two greasy sandwiches with unidentifiable ingredients.

I don’t recall the name of the town, maybe it has none? It does not matter, this is just a very deserted area.

I am alternating between being deeply engaged with my cell phone and observing the truck drivers who are curiously passing by. They probably wonder why a woman in cycling clothes is sitting by herself at a curb of a gas station in remote Spain.

If they knew what I am up to.

Monika, focus! Back to the cell phone. Will you keep going or find a hotel here?

It is 5pm, plenty of daylight left. Shall I risk it?

Ok! Why not!

But I should have known better. It is day 3 and I know what will be ahead.

The beginning of a 580km cycling adventure through Spain.

I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s start from the beginning.

I recently moved from Australia to Spain. I love Spain and found a great cycling community here. But my inquisitive nature wanted to know what is beyond the daily cycling routes. Spain is huge so there is so much to explore. I decided a cycling trip from the capital Madrid back home would satisfy my curiosity – at least for a while. I packed a tiny bag with the bare essentials and off I was leaving Madrid heading South. I let myself guided by an online map. 530km so it said.

The first 60km I was accompanied by two newly made friends, Alvaro and Slahde. The first day was short due to a late start. After 70km I called it a day. I was disappointed but I knew I shouldnt keep going. I promised myself to make day 2 epic though!

I got into a rural hotel in Chinchon, bought food from the supermarket, washed my cycling kit since I only had one and looked at a map for the first time of the trip.

Besides of a rough estimate of the total distance I had no idea about the route. I decided to take a closer look and planned a destination for the following day. Since day 1 was such a short day of 70km, I wanted to make day 2 long. If everything is going well, I could ride 250km I told myself.

But soon I would learn, this trip had its own timeline, not the one I set.

I was dreaming of an epic day.

And surely, tomorrow would not disappoint.

In different ways than I thought though. But that is for the next post.