Why riding alone?
In normal life, I am a very social person. I love meeting people and make connection. But during this kind of trip, it is interestingly the opposite. I love my solitude. Riding for the entire with no music or any other distractions, my mind has time to process things. Memories come up and go. Whatever my mind wants to think about, I let it do. In the beginning of the trip, wild, strong thoughts are emerging but as the days go by, the mind comes down and relaxes. It is like meditation.
And maybe because I don’t want to get out of this relaxed mindset, I prefer to stay to myself, so my head does not get any input that it needs to process again. When I did my first trip four years ago, I was worried that I would get bored and lonely by myself but I realized that the opposite happens. I become actually more sociable with my own self and start to appreciate my own company. I don’t need distractions to be content with myself. It might take one day before entering this state of mind but afterwards, it is like never feeling lonely because I am in my own very best company. So, by avoiding talking to other people, it is not that I am not interested in others but it is more that I don’t want to leave this meditative state.
My communication to the outside world is reduced to telling my parents were I currently am. No phone calls. And on social media the one-directional updates.
Lessons learned for work and life situations
As I was hoping for, the next day started riding alongside a beautiful sunrise. What better way to start a day. This day was similar to day 2, an entertaining mixture of hike-a-bike, gravel section surprises and turnarounds. The interesting thing, one gets quickly used to the situation. And once, you experience the worst possible, the bad doesn’t seem that bad anymore. It was all about adapting to changing situations, dealing with the unpredictable and making creative decisions along the way. And taking it all in good spirits. Yes, there are moments where I was fed up from getting stuck on unrideable roads. But instead of complaining (to whom anyway?), it was about finding a workable solution for this immediate situation with the focus on the goal: Getting to Mallorca. So true that the lessons of adventure riding are very applicable to work and normal life.
After day 3 and 195km I reached Elche, 20km away from Alicante and 130km from Denia. This would be my last hotel stop before taking the ferry tomorrow back to Palma. Being so “in the zone” now, I was sad that it would be over soon. Even though, it had been only three days, I quickly developed a daily routine that I had to give up again tomorrow. The next day, it was an easy navigation to Denia.
When I saw the town sign, it hit me what I just did. 638km in 3 days and 2 hours. What a ride! I lost the feeling of time. Monday felt far away. So many things have happened since then. So many experiences collected, memories created and situations mastered. A great feeling of accomplishment was sinking in. It is amazing what you can do once you decide to do it. This trip once again showed to me that cycling is a lot more than physical exertion, it is about discovery of ourselves and our surroundings and can be incredibly meditative.
Tips for your first adventure ride
It sounds scary just to ride off with the bike to an unknown area but it is actually easier than it looks like. For those, who are thinking of doing such a trip, I would suggest a country you are familiar with in regards to language and as a cyclist on roads. It takes so little to take along, especially for a few days.
A weekend trip would be a perfect start to get your feet wet. Just ride for one day into one direction, stay in a hotel and ride back the next day. That gives the opportunity what to take along for such a trip and how best to carry it.
For me, it takes one day to get adapted to riding all day and to be present. Everyone has their own way but I would not be surprised if you feel better at the second day than the first. I also have a few friends and family members who always know where I am through What´s app live location (especially for safety).
(Extra tip: I shut off all Bluetooth connection as they drain battery). As a woman riding solo, I am not worried but I make sure that I don’t find myself on shady roads and I don’t ride in the dark (unless I know it is safe). Also, I seek out decent hotels. On all my trips (600km Madrid-Motril, 1100km Mallorca-Munich and 600km Malaga to Mallorca) I never had any incidences. I find these adventure rides incredibly meditative; energy-recharging and it gives a new perspective on things. And it is affordable. This trip costs me 300 EUR including flight and ferry (excl. food) and I stayed always in 4-star hotels.
Here are the two videos of day 3 and day 4:
The Strava files:
The alarm rang at 7:15am. My goal was to be on the bike with the sunrise, at 8:15. Getting my stuff prepared (which takes 5 minutes; the advantage of having barely any belongings), a coffee and bocadillo (sandwich) and off I was riding along the sunrise.
Pic below: Riding into the sunrise
Today would be a long day. I had some miles to cover. But what I learned very quickly was that the adventure was only to start. I got caught on gravel roads, some of them rideable, some of them just with hike-a-bike.
Pic below: Unexpected gravel roads along the way with no other alternative than riding them. Thanks to my DT Swiss wheels, there were no problems riding them.
I found myself a lot of times in the middle of the country side.
The race against the dark
Sometimes, I turned around to find a better road but sometimes I had no other choice than to just take it. Because on such an adventure ride I never know what comes ahead, it is better not to have any destination because then there is also no pressure to reach anything. If road conditions, headwind or other things slow me down, then so be it. Just adjust mentally and go with it. That´s the beauty of such a ride, especially for those who chase constantly deadlines, this type of riding is an absolute bliss.
When I got away from the coast to head North towards Murcia, I was entering the province Almeria, an agricultural region of Spain. And I could see, feel and smell it immediately. The area was covered by fruit and vegetable plantations, some in questionable conditions. The road surface, although asphalted, was covered in potholes and dirt left by animals. People lived in small sheds surrounded by rotten garden furniture. It was a shocking view compared to the luxury hotels from the Costa de Sol. I chose my route carefully and turned around multiple times when the road seemed a bit too shady. I knew I had to get out of this region before sunset. It would not be a good place to stay here.
But as quickly I entered this ghetto-like area, as suddenly I left it and I found myself in a beautiful remote surrounding. It was 4pm and I had two hours to find a hotel. But there was not even a house around, far away from any other accommodation. But I didn’t mind, I was mesmerized by this beautiful climb and felt in comfort that as soon as I would reach the top, it was all down sailing to the next town where I would find one.
Pic below: Up there in the distance was Garcia Alto. But soon, I would realize that this was a dead end.
But the top did not come and I kept climbing. The sun behind me nearing the horizon. In the distance, I finally found that village that was marking the top of the climb, Garcia Alto. I passed the village on the last stretch of 16% gradient with the anticipation to reward myself with a beautiful descent. But it wasn’t supposed to be. I turned the corner and in front of me: deep gravel. Too deep to ride. And from past experiences, I was suspecting that the gravel would only get worse. By now, it was 5pm. I had 1.5 hours until sunset. If I take this questionable gravel road, I might end up walking. I didn’t have the time for that. I needed to get to this town on the other side of this mountain.
I made the heavyhearted decision to partly ride back down this climb to ride the other road that would be longer but seemed to be asphalted. 1.5 hours to sunset. Would I make it?
I entered the road which, although paved, was covered in deep potholes. Slow progress. I passed small little farm houses with dogs barking aggressively at me. I got immediately reminded of my time in the Midwest where dogs meant sprinting time until they give up on their chase.
But luckily, not here. I was arduously climbing that mountain which again did not seem to end. Just when I thought I would reach the top, it kept going. The sun behind me was already touching the mountains behind me. Not much daylight left anymore. If I was stuck in the dark here, it would be very dark. No street lamps, no other lights around. I started to regret not having taken my front light with me. It was still on the kitchen counter. I only had a small lamp to be seen but too weak to light up the road ahead….”Monika, just ride, it makes no sense to regret, worry or think about the “what if” scenarios. I still have daylight and since we are not in the Pyrenees, this climb cant be THAT long.” I told myself.
And in one moment, after one corner, it all of a sudden opened up. An amazing view in front of me of the big valley towards the next mountain range.
Pic below: This pic doesnt do justice. The depth of the view was just incredible!
I was struck by this sudden change of scenery. And I looked down, there was this descent I was hoping for the last two hours. I saw the town, Turre, I wanted to stop at in the distance. I looked behind. The sun fading away. It would be getting close but I could make it before sunset.
I descended the climb and promised myself that I have to come back here some day again. It had to remember El Cortijo Grande. Down in Turre, I stopped at a hotel I saw while passing. It was poorly maintained but I thought, this might be my only option. I walked inside. An older woman standing behind the bar serving shots to drunk men. The room smelled like smoke. I asked the price for the room. “50 Euros”. I looked around. Contemplating. Do I really want to keep looking or just take it? It has been a long day. 10 hours since I left the hotel this morning.
But I was not satisfied. I wanted to wake up and get excited for another long day on the bike. A good night sleep, a comfy bed and a great dinner were key. I looked at the map. The coast was only 8km from here. I would find there, in Mojacar, plenty of hotels. I jumped back on my bike and kept riding. It was 6:30pm. The sun has vanished. I was not concerned about the light anymore. It was a well-light street, plenty of civilization, a good area and my lights were more than sufficient for this very short section. And when I saw the sea, I knew that watching the sunrise from above the water tomorrow morning, it would be the perfect start into the day. By the end of today, day 2, I have covered more than half of the distance. Tonight, I would sleep very well!
Why riding solo is meditative and my tips for your first adventure ride will be in Part 3.
Video below. Day 2 summarized. Check out those gravel roads!!!!
The air is always what gets me. The moment when I step out of an airport. That first breath of the local air. This time, it was unexpectantly warm. I loved it. I just arrived in Malaga carrying a big carton with my bike inside. On my back: a string bag with bare essentials like a tooth brush, some warm clothes and an extra tube. That was all I had with me.
My goal? To ride back home – to Mallorca. Over 600km to Denia and then the ferry to Mallorca.
Picture below: A carton that I trashed at the airport.
My belongings for the trip. A few clothes, mostly cycling, chargers, passport, toothbrush and a powerbank
I had nothing planned along the way. I did not plan the route nor any hotel stays or anything that requires me to be at a certain spot at a certain time, not even the ferry ticket. It is an amazing feeling of having no commitment.
Picture below: My bike: Berria gravel frame with DT Swiss PR 1600 wheels and Shimano Dura Ace/Ultegra components.
I assembled my bike at the airport and I started riding. I was a bit nervous, anxious but also full of excitement for this ride. What will happen along the road? Will I make it? I have done these type of adventure rides before. All by myself, unsupported and with nothing else than the bare essentials. But every time, I am asking myself the same questions. Before, I always tried to find answers but now, I know these are rhetoric ones that I just need to leave unanswered. The future will give me the answers. It makes no sense to predict what´s ahead. The purpose of this trip is exactly the opposite, to deal with the moments as they come. That makes this trip such an incredible adventure and so exciting. I just have no idea what´s going to be happening!
Picture below: View from Malaga
The first day was easy. It was an easy route to follow and it was just about riding as many kilometers as possible. (The next day would be the complete opposite). As I was going solo, I am especially aware of my surroundings and make sure I don’t find myself in a questionable situation. One of my rules were not to ride in the dark so I wanted to be checked into a hotel before 6:30pm. As the hours passed, I got a good grasp of where my destination for today could be. Unless there were not a lot of hotel choices around, I usually decide last minute where I want to stop. After 130km, I made my first stop in a tiny village, La Mamola, at the Costa Tropical.
Picture below: Sunset near Mamola where I stopped after the first day.
This village literally consisted of one hotel and one restaurant which happen to belong to each other. I checked in and started the post-ride routine. As I was riding with as little stuff as possible, it requires some work after riding. Washing my stuff was priority, then taking a shower followed by grabbing dinner at that one and only restaurant around the block. My dinner, although I was alone, was never boring. I had to prepare for the next day. Although I might not create an exact route which roads to take but I tried to remember town names that would guide me in the right direction. I also just love looking at maps. 9:30pm I fell asleep.
I did not know yet that I better get a good night sleep because tomorrow would require a lot of patience, persistence and creativity as things would not be as smooth as today.
Part 2 follows.
The day summarized in a short video:
The other day, I was sitting over dinner with one of my mentees who just returned from a 2-week vacation in Iceland. He went there because he needed some distance from his daily routine. Already before the trip, he told me that he was not happy in his current situation but could not pinpoint what it was.
Now after the return, he said that he realized that his job was not challenging enough.
I asked him what his plan was to change that.
He was thinking for a minute. Then, he said that he does not know how to change it so he would probably wait for a new challenge to come up.
Over the past years as a mentor, I have encountered many times the same situation: The person is not happy in their current situation but does not know how to change so he or she remains in that unhappy situation for the “right” opportunity and thus does not change it.
But if there is one advice I can give them, then this is it:
Life is too short to wait. Take ownership and create your destiny.
“Waiting” for the perfect moment that something all of a sudden appears that would completely change your life is highly unlikely.
Don’t let someone or something decide over your future. Instead, take it in your own hands by creating opportunities. That does not mean necessarily, leaving everything behind and moving to the other side of the world (like in my case) but subtle changes can make significant impact.
How to change without a drastic life transformation.
You can create opportunities by meeting new people, getting involved in new projects, volunteering or taking a new class. There are so many ways to actively create opportunities without turning your entire life around.
The sense of ownership of our own decision is amazing and often overlooked. The feeling of accomplishment is so much greater when you know that you owned it 100%. But of course, also the other way around, there is no one to blame if things go wrong.
But what is life all about if we are scared of failing and tip toe around risky decisions and keeping life comfortable (and often boring)? (More on this on a next post)
If I am not happy with my situation, I need to accept it or change it. Complaining is no option.
I first ask myself if I am willing to accept it. If the answer is no, then I know what to do. I need to own all my actions to make the change. Because life is so short, why accept unhappiness?
So go out, make the change you need to do and own your life!
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I love gravel racing. Riding gravel usually means remote roads with little access to civilization. Barely any cars but also limited access to food, shelter or water. In the Midwest, gravel roads are often surrounded by cornfields so there is complete exposure to the weather – wind, rain and sun.
Gravel racing reminds me very much of life in a nutshell. The participants go through very strong emotional and physical stages that teach them so many things about life.
I was once again reminded how much gravel racing reflects life when I had the opportunity to race the 240mi (400km) Day Across Minnesota (The DAMn) last weekend. This gravel race started at midnight in Gary, South Dakota and finished East in Hager City, Wisconsin. Between laid 240mi of gravel. All 300 participants had 24 hours to complete it although the winning time lies somewhere around 12 hours.
As you can imagine, this is a tough race. Starting at midnight means already starting short on sleep. The length of the race itself means fatigue and the accumulating heat will take its victims. Out of 300 people who have signed up, 237 took on the challenge of which only 117 finished. But exactly because of this massive challenge important life lessons can be drawn from. I found three of them especially in this race:
1 Embrace the unknown
There are so many variables in gravel racing. The weather, the conditions of the gravel, the temperature, the farm dogs chasing after you, water and food limitations, the wind direction, the mechanical problems. Especially in gravel racing, you are vulnerable to everything around you as you are in very remote areas. So many things can happen. Some people are so worried about all the things that could happen that they don’t even dare to get to the start line. It is like in any other part of life, that often the fear of failure or the unknown keep people away from taking risks and missing out on living to their fullest. But what is life worth if we don’t live it? Growth only comes from taking risks and making ourselves vulnerable to whatever comes ahead.
You can achieve more than you think
There were a lot of dark moments in this race, especially nearing the half way point (120mi). I was tired from the deep gravel. No pedal stroke came for free. No coasting. You had to work for every advancement. It was tough. While stopping at the second check point the last thing I wanted was to ride another 120mi.
I was exhausted, sleep deprived and my legs were not exactly in the best shape. I looked at my options, I could just sit here and call it a day. But by the time I would get home a huge amount of regret would come over which I wouldn’t be able to get rid of until next year. Or I could just stick it out. At the end of the day, it was only pushing pedals. It was not like solving math where I had to come up with an answer.
No, I only had to make my legs go into rotations for a few more hours. I had to jump over my own shadow and get out of my comfort zone and push my own mental and physical limitations. I could do it. There was nothing that would actually keep me away. I was just overly drained. But I had no valid excuse to stop. So, Monika, keep going!
It is like in real life when we are facing adversity. Things seem to go against us and it is just so easy to give up, whatever that goal might be. But often, this point is the most crucial point in our lives because by continuing we are enhancing our tolerance for discomfort. And next time, at this point we are not experiencing the same discomfort. It is like a muscle, we have to train discomfort. If we are going out of our comfort zone on a consistent basis, we actually expand our comfort zone.
After 240mi of gravel racing, 120 mi don’t sound that harsh anymore. So go out and increase your comfort by going outside your comfort zone.
Me at the halfway stop:
Create a support system
By the halfway point during this 240mi challenge, I felt like shit. I was super tired and the last thing I wanted is to keep going. I knew there was no option. The last miles I have been riding alone and it was tough to stay mentally alert and keep myself enthusiastic, especially considering the harsh terrain and gravel conditions. But things changed when I left the halfway point. I caught up to two friends and we shared stories from the old times. All of a sudden, instead of looking at the kilometers I was heavily engaged in conversation. My enthusiasm started to come back. I realized how important it was to have people around who did the same as me, who understood what I am going through and who wanted us all to succeed. And success for us, we clearly stated it at one point, was to finish together. And we stuck for 8 out of the 16 hours together. Although the second half by design was supposed to be harder, for me it was the easier part. It is the same in life. Being surrounded by like-minded people with similar goals or with people who genuinely support you will get you even through the toughest times in life.
It is interesting how a gravel race relates so much to real life. It condenses the best and the worst moments into one day. That is why people talk about their gravel race experiences even after years. It has a real effect on us! (Of course, this is not exclusive to gravel racing)
Give gravel racing a try. It is a fantastic experience. It makes you feel alive and shows you in a very short amount of time what is important in life.
And there is something to be said about going outside your comfort zone…
It is addicting. Once, you realize that you can achieve more than you thought you could, you are willing to test even bigger challenges.
So, yes, 240mi sound like a hell a lot and don’t get me wrong it is a lot of kilometers but it is just the result of constantly testing myself how far I can go. And my conclusion is that you can go further than you think. And that applies to anything you do in life. Just get out of your comfort zone and push your perceived limitations. You will be surprised how much you are capable of doing!