How biketouring gets more adventurous and a lot cheaper

One of the things I love about cycling is its community – you could talk to any cyclist and have something to talk about. This is especially the case for biketouring. I had the opportunity to biketour through a few countries and one challenge arises every time – keeping the costs down, especially in regards to accommodation. A few years ago, a friend of mine introduced me to www.warmshowers.org, a portal for touring cyclists who are looking for a place to stay – for free, anywhere in the world.

Now this sounds thrilling and sketchy at the same time.

How would I, especially as a young, female cyclist, know that the host is genuine?

Well, I don’t!

So I was hesitant of trying it out.

But a few years ago, when I failed to find a reasonably priced accommodation in Honolulu, Hawaii, I thought I will give it a go. And my experience was amazing. My host was great and introduced me to places and people (like going to a nudity beach!) I would have otherwise never met. My next warmshower experience happened in New Zealand and again, I was overwhelmed by the kindness and uniqueness of the experience I would have never had if I stayed in a hotel. Then Australia again and my last experience this June in Geneva, Switzerland is of special notice. My host told me he would pick me up from the airport. I told him that I will bring a bike and I hope it will fit into his car. He said not to worry. Last thing I expected was to be picked up by bike – a tandem with a trolley!

All of my hosts had a unique lifestyle and I feel fortunate to had a little peak into their lives. I have stayed in touch with some and I always know that they will be a bed for me at their home (and vice versa).

needbed

My US friend, Patrick, and I went travelling around New Zealand with only a backpack and the horizon as our destination.

 

13083259_10100346867872563_2785402430636932092_n

My host in Geneva who picked me up from the airport with a tandem and a trolley. How awesome is that!

Having been always the recipient of the warmshower opportunities, I finally could give back as a host. A few days ago, I was contacted by a touring Italian cyclist who has been riding around Australia for the past two months. Besides getting the spark of seeking my next adventure again, Raffaele gave me new ideas where to travel and reignited the adventure spirit in me.

I would encourage every touring cyclists to give warmshowers a shot. Bring some great adventure stories, an open mind and a bottle of wine along and you will have a fantastic experience!


7 Quick and dirty tips for your ultra-light bikepacking trip in France

1. Information on climbs:

Website that states what Cols are open: http://www.sport-passion.fr/parcours/etat-cols.php  (The German http://www.alpenpaesse.co is not always correct!)

The German website: http://www.quaeldich.dehas all information possible about a pass. Even as a non-German speaker, coloring and numbers tell more than any word. Just click on “Pässe” (meaning pass) and search for a specific pass or explore by region. Once you click on a pass and scroll down, you can see the elevation gain, profile and much more in detail.

2. Accommodation

For bike tourists on a budget, try www.warmshowers.org, a free “coachsurfing” website specifically for touring cyclists. I have used that site in New Zealand, Australia, Hawaii and Switzerland and I had always fantastic experiences!

Otherwise, if you stay in a remote ski resort for a week+, they might have a great offer. I stayed in a 3 Star studio apartment in Modane, for 140 Euro/week. (In other places, I paid 50-70 Euro/night for a one person private bed and bathroom)

3. Maps:
I always navigated via paper maps (they never run out of battery) of at least 150000:1. I would not get anything bigger (like 200000:1) as the less-travelled cycling roads might not be on the map anymore.

Download the maps.me app. From there you can download maps for specific regions.

You can also make specific regions offline in Google maps.

4. Weather
The meteo earth app is fantastic as you can follow every single cloud and rain drop.
5.Phone
Always switch your wifi off while on the road, the battery lasts sooooo much longer.
6. Language
If you don’t speak French, I would get an offline French dictionary app. Otherwise smiling does most of the job.
7. Bike
Some stuff to know in regards to the bike might come handy like assembling your bike out of your bike bag and changing a tube.
Enjoy your trip!

Ultralight backpack cycling adventure in France – Part 2 – What I carried

Greetings from Geneva!
I just got back from five days of ultralight backpack cycling in Southeast France.
You might wonder where Part 1 of this trip is? It is coming (I only have 18 hours before my next flight to Nice for the same adventure in a different region). But on request and with only limited time, I want to share what I carried on this trip and what it requires so it works.

I am sure that style of cycling has a name but I havent come across it yet. What I mean with ultra light backpack cycling is a combination of road cycling and bikepacking. You can go as fast as you would do on a normal road ride (and not dragged down by weight, panniers, etc) but have all the essentials that you are never bound to a place and dont have to do loops.

You just go wherever you feel like. As I do like the comfort of a real bed, I stayed in hotels, with a kitchen if possible. I ate out only once, when everything was closed – it was Sunday AND public holiday, so absolutely zero chances that something would be open in France. But I will get to this in a later part of this story. Below is the list of what I carried in my bag:

– One light shirt
– One light leggins
– One tiny sleeping pants
– Toothbrush
– Travel-size tooth paste
– Travel-size laundry soap
– Maps (as needed)
– Wind jacket
– Phone/Garmin/Light charger (had all the same plug-in, dont forget to bring the right adapter)
– Passport
– Debit Card
– Cell phone
– 1-2 bananas

Always/mostly worn during the ride:
– Bandini
– Arm-/Legwarmers
– One jersey and one bibs
– Wind jacket
– Winter gloves
– Glasses with photo-chromatic lenses
– Toe covers
– Helmet
– Cycling shoes
– Socks

On my bike: 
– Two front lights (I never rode in the dark but essential for tunnels, fog, etc)
– Rechargeable rear light
– Bike computer Garmin 520
– Saddle bag (one tube, lever)
– Frame pump
– Two water bottles (there are plenty of fountains around to refill)

No shoes besides my cycling shoes and nothing spare or extra.

If I lose it, it becomes more adventurous. I forgot my phone/Garmin/light charger in one hotel. Luckily, the following hotel let me borrow a charger. (It was Sunday, so nothing was open to buy something).

When I look at the list, it seems like an awful lot and thus heavy. But since it was mostly light clothes, the weight tended to evenly distribute itself on my back so I never felt it on my back. I carried it up a lot of cols and never experienced any back pain.

I didnt bring any food besides 1-2 pieces of fruit. With one exception, it works for me and I love stopping at supermarkets (Intermarche, Casino, Carrefour, Lidl, Netto, Aldi) and pick up a fresh piece of fruit or whatever I fancy at that time.

Of course, with so little stuff to carry around, there is a bit of post-ride routine involved. Where ever I felt like, I want to stay, I went either into a Office du Tourisme or straight into a hotel and asked for a room (usually between 50-70 Euro. It always had to be near a supermarket). Then, I go into the supermarket and buy food (I left my bike inside the supermarket and had an eye on it). If I didnt get a hotel with kitchen, it had to be salad or I got a roast turkey. If I got a kitchen, options were limitless. (3 our of 5 times I got a kitchen)

After the supermarket run, I got into the hotel and washed my clothes while trying to figure out how to get them dry until the next day. Creativity was in high demand. Easy ways were there was a heater or a hair dryer or balcony. But I also pinned my clothes with knife and fork into the air conditioner to have them hung right in front of them.

After the laundry routine, I finally could prepare food. By then, 1-2 hours have passed since I decided to be done riding. While eating, I studied the map and had some rough plans where my next destination is. Except the last day (where I had to get to Geneva), I never got where I intended to get. Sometimes, I found a better route, sometimes, I didnt like the chosen route and usually I got lost anyway.

After all this post-ride activities, it was time to relax.

Of course, this is not the golden formula for such kind of cycling. It worked for me well and I will do exactly the same during the Nice trip. Feel free to ask, suggest or tell from your experiences.

In the next parts of this adventure I will cover what makes this type of riding so awesome and what my routes were. I also will write about all the lessons learned from this trip.

Bye for now, I am off to Nice!


Tour du Mont Blanc – 330km with 8000m elevation
This weekend`s cycling tour led through Switzerland, Italy and France hitting climbs like
  • Col de Champex (9.3k, 560m elevation),
  • St Grand Bernard (45km, 2000m elevation),
  • Petit St. Bernard (28km, 1287m elevation),
  • Cormet de Roselend (20km, 1100m elevation) and
  • Col de Montets (11.5km, 420m elevation)
….all around Mt. Blanc.
We had every kind of weather. From cool Spring-like temperatures while crawling up Grand St. Bernard to Mediterranean heat in Aosta, Italy having lunch in a park to damp and rainy weather in Ugine, France to clear sunshine in Chamonix.
It`s fun cycling through three different countries with different food options, weather and terrain. We stayed in small ski resort towns that offered cute hotel rooms with a homelike character.
Here is the route with some pics:

 

The route
The pain measured in elevation
Fantastic weather

 

A glimpse to the Mt. Blanc

 

Tunnels – sometimes so dark you have no clue where you are riding

 

St petit Bernard….Not so petit though with 1,300m of climbing!

 

Since we just crossed into Italy, a crostata had to be on the re-fuel menu

 

What a view!

 

 

Sunshine on the ascent, mystic fog on the descent

 

Cycling in the clouds

 

View to Martigny, our start and end point

 

Turquoise lakes

 

Another view to the Mt Blanc
On next weekend`s agenda will be Italy with climbs like Stelvio Joch, Gavia und den Mortirolo.
Picture source: http://www.chamonix.net/english/summer-activities/cycling/tour-du-mont-blanc 
Photo Credit: Paul Boerner

 


A backpack and a bike and the horizon as the destination
When I left Dunedin 3.5 weeks ago with a small bag to explore the South Island of New Zealand, I did not anticipate that this would lead to an epic eight day cycling trip with an even smaller backpack. Only a few clothes, sun lotion, rain jacket, a bike,  a map and a friend from the US (Patrick) – enough to make this an unforgettable adventure.
Our plan? Well, heading in one direction in the morning and finding a place to sleep in the evening and do it again the next day. The uncertainty of sleep arrangement, terrain, weather and other unknown factors made this quite an adventure.

 

The sudden change of weather and wind made us change our destinations very spontaneously. It started right at the beginning when our Christchurch host, Rori, told us we could ride to Arthur’s Pass that day –150 km, mostly uphill, into a 50mph headwind, with heavy rain and temperatures in the 40’s — but it really would not be very pleasant.  (Gotta love summer in NZ!). We changed direction and ended up with this route in eight days including two hiking days:


I learned quickly that mileage does not mean anything in New Zealand. Wind (as in 60mph gusts) and terrain (like a 3k 16% Arthurs pass) are the deciding factors.

 

Kaikoura – our start location (nope, the picture is not color-enhanced)
Our sleep arrangements were the adventure on its own. On the first day, we decided to put signs with “Need bed in Blenheim” on our backpacks to find a place to stay for free. 
 
After a long day in the saddle, we were browsing the aisles of a supermarket in Blenheim while an older lady in a wheelchair stopped next to me and checked my sweaty, dirty, worn-out self from top to bottom out. I must have looked still somewhat decent because she invited us to their place. 
 
A sign on the backpack that got us our first sleep arrangement.
The second stay (via warmshowers.org) was just as surprising. The description of our free place near Murchison with similar conditions as a rain forest said: “Pass shed garden to the left and you will find our driveway a few hundred meters ahead.”

 

On arrival we learned that the shed was his house. The dwelling consisted of corrugated steel as a roof, plastic walls, no electricity, no heater, an outside toilet, outdoor showers from a hose and the nearby rain forest as the yard.

 

Corrugated steel as roof and plastic as walls



View from the “bathroom”



Grocery shopping before heading to the host house. 
Food dangling in front of my nose while riding the last few miles – dangerous!

 

My attire for the supermarket when everything else was getting washed.



Cooking after the ride. Don’t need to say how big the portions were.



After a rainy day near Murchison, I found my absolute favorite cycling route: The 100k coastal route from Westport to Greymouth.

Mountains and beach – so much to see.
Near Greymouth, we found a great backpacker place to stay that was surrounded by mountains. We decided to stay there an extra day and go for a hike. The hike was a climb up one of the mountains. It wouldn’t have been an adventure if we didn’t get lost. After walking into one direction with seemingly no end, we had to make the call – the call to our backpacker’s host who was so kind and picked us up – my first DNF on a recreational hike.
Surrounded by surreal vegetation 

Next on the agenda was the notorious climb up to Arthur’s Pass. 16% grade for 3km. Loved it!

 

 


Our final ride from Arthurs Pass back to Christchurch lead us from wet and mountainous terrain to dry and sunny flats. That’s New Zealand! Change of scenery, vegetation, weather and terrain within a very short distance.

For those who might be interested in doing a similar trip:
  • I have posted all my road cycling rides in New Zealand on Map My Ride. (Not sure how to share them here)
  • The stuff I had in my backpack: one cycling kit with arm and leg warmers, hiking shoes, one set of normal street clothes, sun lotion, rain jacket, and food. 
  • Weather and wind conditions guided us. We rode against the “northwesterlies” (NW Wind) and it took us a long, long time.
  • Weather reports are an OK indicator but could also change spontaneously. We completely changed our cycling route when we saw it was sunny and not the forecasted rain. 
  • We always had to apply sun lotion, no matter how stormy, rainy and windy it was. One item I wish I had with me was a hat. 
  • Our accommodation was a combination of friend of a friend’s places, warmshowers.org (cycling hospitality website) and backpackers. My favorites were staying with locals. Kiwis are such warm, welcoming and friendly people with a lot of insight knowledge to share. 
  • The two backpacker places I would recommend though are:
    • Brunnerton Lodge in Taylorville near Greymouth, very scenic, non-touristy with a great hike around the corner.
    • The Sanctuary in Arthur’s Pass. Low key, non-touristy, basic backpackers place.
I wanted to thank all the amazing people I met along the way of my NZ-wide adventure:

 

  • Thanks to Jenny and Kevin in Alexandra for your hospitality, the amazing food and for the insightful conversations.
  • Huge thanks to Reta and Robyn in Christchurch: You are awesome! Robyn, thank you very much for your great hospitality. Reta, es war der Hammer, dich kennenzulernen. Du bist einfach super! Ich hoffe, wir sehen uns bald wieder! Viel Erfolg in Deutschland dieses Jahr.
  • Thank you to Sheila in Washington, DC for connecting me with Rori in Christchurch. Rori, you were not only a wonderful host but also an incredible tour guide. I have never thought I would learn so much about earthquakes (and experience one!) as I did at your place.
  • Thanks to Bob, Gracia and Bill for hosting us in Blenheim and Murchison.
  • Big thanks to Bethy for hosting me in Oamaru, for your inspirational stories and for checking out penguins with me!
  • Last but not least, thanks to Patrick for sharing such an incredible adventure with me!

Week 2 in New Zealand

It has been almost 2 weeks since I have arrived in New Zealand. After a week in Dunedin (South east of the South Island) I started travelling West. A very welcoming couple who I connected with through warmshowers.org let me stay with them in Alexandra (between Dunedin and Queenstown). The climate and the terrain was very different from Dunedin. Less green, more brownish color. It was fairly flat (compared to Dunedin). Afterwards, I headed to Queenstown, the notorious adventure town where bungee jumping was invented. What a beautiful scenery towards the lake and mountains. Yesterday I headed to Christchurch. Although the city is flat, the group ride this morning introduced me to some serious climbs which seemed to pop up from nowhere.

My conclusion so far:
Only a few hours of driving lead one to a totally different climate, landscape and terrain.
Dunedin: very hilly with steep climbs, fresh and green and wet, plenty of great routes with spectacular scenery, vibrant city
Alexandra (Central Otago):dry climate, flat in general with a few mountains which are mostly accessible via mountain bike, tiny town
Queenstown: fantastic views, great climbs (Crown Range Rd, Coronet Peak), a lot of riding options, very touristy
Christchurch: flat, unfortunately due to the earth quakes a few years ago some roads are not accessible and in rough shape, a lot of bike lanes, big cycling scene

Some pictures in no particular order:

Just to get the bearings of New Zealand. I started in the Southeast of the South Island, in Dunedin, travelled West to Queenstown and then headed Northeast to Christchurch

 

Christchurch – That doesnt look exactly flat to me. The city does have some great climbs.

 

 

The view towards Mt Cook with the Pukaki lake in front. The lake color is turquoise due to the refraction of the glacier particles in the water. I have never seen that anywhere else before! (Unfortunately, my camera does not do justice)

 

This farmer must be very popular. On Crown Ridge Rd from Wanaka to Queenstown.

 

 

Southern Alps. Awesome climbs!

 

 

One of the few days where it was sunny all day long. Weather changes quickly.

 

On top of the ski hill in Queenstown.

 

 

Queenstown has great downhill tracks.

 

The water looks unreal. (On the way to Queenstown)

 

I barely made it through the coming cow train. 400 cows on the way to get milked. They yield 10 liters of milk each.

 

That was a steep downhill into a river bed which shot right back up

 

Superman!

 


A week in Dunedin

(Written Dec 18) I have been in Dunedin now for a week and it has been quite an adventure. Riding is excellent here. Hills after hills. Steep and relentless. Kiwis dont seem to bother to design their roads for the cars, if they want to have access to a certain point, they just built the most direct way, no matter if it is a 30% grade into a 90 degree turn that might be impossible for trucks to drive. If brakes dont work, well, good luck!

I absolutely love climbing all these hills. It’s a max effort every time. As a miserable descender I have learned to wonder every time I climb a hill, if I could descend it or if it would just create sheer terror. I learned this the hard way when I descended rather cautiously one of the mountains. It became so steep that I could not stop. I saw a sharp turn ahead. Straight ahead was a cliff with an even faster way down. I panicked. After a lot of calming self-talk and talk to my brakes, i finally came to a stop. I ended up walking down the road. Now, i am more careful about the road signs. One sign in particular.

On my 113km ride up a ridge I suddenly found myself in the middle of nowhere. I thought riding in rural Iowa was in the middle of nowhere. Nope. I found a even more middle of nowhere.

Only sheep. Steep descents and climbs. No houses, only an occasional farm. Once in a long while a car. Maybe every hour one human being in a visible distance. On the one hand, it was worrisome. All possible bad scenarios went through my head. But on the other hand what else would I need right now. I have my bike, food and water and I am surrounded by a stunning scenery.

Twice it happened to me that while riding up a steep hill, I took my eyes of the pavement and found 20 cows staring at me from the meadow next to me. When I passed them they started running next to me along. It was really funny!
If I can make any recommendations for one piece of gear to take a long, it would be a very good rain jacket. In those six hours of riding, I got rained on four times. Good brakes is another useful asset to have for reasons stated earlier.

Most of the rides i have done by myself. My cycling friends know that i dont like riding by myself. However, time flies while riding here. There is so much to see. Plus, the hills automatically push me to the limits and do not offer enough breath for a sophisticated conversation. I stayed in dunedin for a week, now travelling west into the southern alps searching for even longer and tougher climbs. Lord of the rings was filmed there.
Kiwis are a nice bunch. From the culture, I feel like i travelled to Europe. Dunedin is also very international. I meet more foreigners (mostly europeans) than kiwis.