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What I’ve Learned Cycle Touring 7,000 Miles on a Vegan Diet

Pedaling up Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park cycle touring

This post first appeared here on Mind Body Green.

Over the past two summers, Chelsea and I have cycled 7,000 miles through 14 countries. No sag wagon, no designated route—just leg power, our bikes, gear, and desire for adventure.

During our travels, we accept local advice and hospitality, wake up open to each day’s surprises, and wing it whenever possible. But one thing we are always adamantly consistent about is our food. For ethical, health, and environmental reasons, we choose not to eat any animal products.

The bike tours were challenging, eye-opening, fantastic—a full range of emotions every day. From headwinds to breathtaking views to searing heat to idyllic European villages to crumbling rural towns, we pedaled through it all. Navigating cobblestone cycle paths in France was a pain; finding great vegan food while burning 5,000 calories per day proved to be a simple aspect of the trip.

Here’s what thousands of miles and a couple million pedal strokes of cycle touring on a vegan diet has taught me:

Few people are surprised about your food choices

Special diets are everywhere now, and most people know someone on one. “Oh, my cousin is gluten-free” or “my brother eats Paleo” was a common refrain. Tiny cafés in Nebraska (not exactly a vegan stronghold) easily accommodated our needs by piling vegetables on hash browns.

Getting enough protein is not an issue

Even biking 50 to 80 miles per day, my body repaired itself and built muscle. I trimmed fat, but my leg muscles grew. I even added muscle to my upper body by doing daily upper-body workouts. When people ask me where I get my protein, I can honestly say that I simply eat lots of plants. No powders, no supplements—just real food. I’m more concerned about fiber—only 3 percent of people eat enough each day, versus 97 percent of people who get enough protein.

Just over the pass in Glacier National Park.

My energy levels were firing

Unlike the days when I’d eat a giant sandwich with cheese and meat and sink into an afternoon stupor, plants don’t bog down my body. A veggie burrito or big salad crafted from ingredients in any grocery store keeps my system cranking. I was biking eight hours a day and still had energy to do push-ups each night.

Recovery was super fast

I rebounded and recovered quickly from physical efforts that would have previously sidelined me for a couple of days. Since a plant-based diet leads to lower inflammation, faster recovery from athletic events or workouts is an added bonus.

Many top athletes are vegan

I was attracted to a vegan lifestyle by the potential health benefits. Badass vegan athletes like UFC fighter Mac Danzig, ultra-marathoners like Scott Jurek, and triathletes like Rich Roll inspired me to give it a shot. While I wasn’t cranking out record-smashing 100-mile runs or choke-holds, I noticed an increase in performance.

Seeing and smelling animal feedlots opened my eyes to the plight of animals

Biking past stinking feedlots in the rolling hills of Iowa and Austria was gnarly. Getting buzzed by animal transport trucks on their way to slaughterhouses reinforced my desire to completely opt out of animal agriculture.

The excellent bike paths of Slovenia with the Julian Alps in the background.

Western Europe is a plant eater’s paradise

Countries like Belgium, Spain, and Germany are years ahead of the U.S. in terms of vegan awareness and availability of plant-based alternatives. Grocery stores stock inexpensive organic produce, and almost every restaurant server knew the word vegan, even in rural villages. Big cities are a plant-eater’s promised land—Prague has 26 vegetarian restaurants!

We didn’t have to worry about refrigerating food

This is a small thing only a cycle tourist will appreciate. When we were pedaling through the middle of nowhere for days at a time, unspoiled food was a big deal.

Both Europe and the United States grow amazing amounts of corn and soy

I knew the Midwest U.S. was a breadbasket. It was a surprise to discover the same in Europe, where much of the countryside is used for crop production. Between the two, we spent literally two months cycling past fields of corn and soy—90 percent of it aimed for animal consumption.

Traveling made us vegan ambassadors

In some areas, we were the first vegans anyone had met. “Wait, no cheese on your pizza?” People were incredibly nice and also intrigued by our food choices. Many asked questions. Our goal was to be knowledgeable and speak from a place of conviction (animal rights) or data (health and environmental facts). The biggest thing? To be genuinely friendly and meet people at their comfort level.

Touring through the Adirondack Mountains of New York on a perfect fall day.

After thousands of miles of cycle touring, our belief in a vegan lifestyle has never been stronger. Few choices affect personal health, the environment, and animal welfare as much as opting out of animal agriculture does. Meat and dairy consumption is declining, restaurants are increasingly catering to vegans, and vegan alternatives like Beyond Meat are flourishing. Traveling as a vegetarian or vegan will only get easier.

As Gene Baur of Farm Sanctuary says, “This lifestyle is not about deprivation; it’s about living inspired.” I encourage people to check out movements like Meatless Mondays or the 30-Day Vegan Challenge. See how your body feels and adopt what works for you. Then get out there on your bike and start training for your next (or first) bike tour.

I plan on pedaling thousands more miles as a vegan, so maybe I’ll see you out there!

13 Countries, 2 Flats – European Bike Tour Stats and Favorites

Sudtirol bike path magic

I’m one of those weirdos who loves tracking numbers. They help me understand and frame the world, my data-gobbling brain dining happily when served courses of city populations, distances traveled, workout stats, or even Quicken files tracking our spending. I’ve dialed this back over the past few years to avoid turning into Spock, but still find it fun.

Did I mention that we’re done with our summer bike tour of Europe? We are! And since I enjoyed compiling stats for our 2014 U.S. tour, I repeated it this time – welcome to the summary of our 3.5 month bicycle tour through Europe in 2015. We’re currently relaxing post-trip (i.e not biking) in New York City before we head west to Idaho (on a plane). 

The route! Starting in London, we pedaled 2,500 miles, took a couple ferries, and hopped on a few trains.

The route! Starting in London, we pedaled 2,500 miles, took a couple ferries, and hopped on a few trains, finishing in Prague.

This tour we aimed to mix cycling with maximum enjoyment, a shift from the mostly physical challenge of last year. To accomplish that, we rode less mileage and parked the bikes for more days off. Both touring styles are worthwhile, but I had more fun during this European cycle tour thanks to mixing up the activities.

Below is the breakdown, a compilation of favorite places, distances and time on the bike, and other random tidbits. Data can’t fully capture the experience, but perhaps it helps an aspiring cycle tourist wrap their head around the hard data and think, “hey, I could do that.” (You can!)

Onward.

A big brdige span over the River Drau in SE Austria.

A big bridge span over the River Drau in SE Austria.

All the Info

  • Total distance ridden: 2,440 miles (3,935 kilometers), the same distance as flying from San Francisco to Hawaii, London to Toronto, or Amsterdam to Timbuktu.
  • Number of countries we pedaled in: 13 (almost as many as the 15 states as we crossed during last year’s U.S. tour).
  • Favorite cycling area: Italy’s NE Sudtirol region, followed closely by Slovenia (which still wins my favorite country award). Ah, the Alps are so fantastic!
  • Biggest surprise about Europe: there is a ton of farmland and animal agriculture, which I hadn’t encountered during previous travels since I kept to metropolitan Europe. Corn fields are everywhere and the stink of animal feedlots tinted the air in many areas of the continent. Some countries (Belgium, parts of eastern France, and Hungary) hinted of the American Midwest in terms of their crops and landscapes.

    The hilly southern edge of Austria still had corn!

    The hilly southern edge of Austria still had corn!

  • Total days touring: 103 (June 13 – September 23, 2015)
  • Days pedaling: 64
  • Days NOT bike touring: 39, almost 40% of the trip. Compared to last year’s U.S. ride (only 18 days off), our aim for Europe was more time to explore, relax, and hang with people we met along the way. We gave ourselves permission to laze about, explore cities with friends, lace up the running shoes, sit in cafes and read, or mountain bike. Mixing it up was very fun, and we’ll aim for this style of touring in the future.

    Hiking (followed by swimming) on a rest day at Lake Bohinj, Slovenia.

    Hiking (followed by swimming) on a rest day at Lake Bohinj, Slovenia.

  • Average time pedaling each day: 3.8 hours, barely a part-time job.
  • Extra calories burned per day: 3,000-5,000. I ate almost non-stop (but what’s new).
  • Average distance per day: 38 miles (61 km), close to our initial plan of 40 miles per day.
  • Total pedal strokes: 934,000, give or take a few.
  • Longest day: 55.7 miles (90 km) and 5.25 hours of pedaling in Slovenia.
  • Elevation gain: 85,754 feet (138,000 m). That’s 16 miles straight up, but only 1,355 feet per day on average.
  • Number of cycling networks traversed: 11, though I’m probably missing a few. Europe has fantastic cycle networks and resources for cycle touring.

    Bike in German=rad. Perfect.

    Bike in German=rad. Perfect.

  • Days without a shower: Zero! Ah, Europe, the lap of luxury.
  • Number of other bike tourists encountered: Hundreds! Compared to the U.S., where we went 61 days without seeing another cycle tourist, Europe was a buzzing hive of activity. We’d see at least a few long-distance tourers per day and dozens of people out for day rides.
  • Favorite things about touring in Europe:
    • Well-signed, no-car bike paths made route planning easy, plus lowered stress levels since we rarely spent time fencing with big trucks.
    • Frequent towns or cities, which meant easy logistics for water, food, and lodging. Even the tiniest villages had historic guest houses or inns, so we stayed in cities far more than our U.S. tour. Lodging values were fantastic too.

      Colmar in the Alsace region. We stayed with a friend of mine I hadn't seen since studying abroad in Sweden.

      Colmar in the Alsace region. We stayed with a friend of mine I hadn’t seen since studying abroad in Sweden.

  • Things I missed about the U.S.:
    • The wide open wilderness of the States dwarfs the nature in Europe. The U.S. is BIG, and though it makes logistics tougher, pedaling for hours in the middle of nowhere carries a special magic. The east side of Glacier en route to Canada comes to mind.
    • Communication created some headaches. With 10 languages over three months (none of them Spanish, argh!), the constant roadblock to speaking with people sometimes made us feel frustrated and isolated. I acknowledge that I have no room to bitch since people were accommodating, friendly, and spoke pretty good English (along with French, German, Dutch…).
  • Longest continuous climb: 11 miles from Austria up up up to the Czech Republic. This was also our biggest elevation day at 3,500’, though an honorable mention goes to the hilly Ardennes region of Belgium for working us over.
  • Steepest climb: multiple 19% passes in the Alps. The toughest pass was from Austria up to Slovenia, a 6-mile onslaught so consistently steep it was almost laughable, followed closely by Resia Pass from Italy into Austria. (Moral: don’t try to cross the Austrian border!)

    Top of the pass from Italy into Austria.

    Top of the pass from Italy into Austria. We stayed in the lakeside village (Resia) for a few nights.

  • Most memorable song along the way: A cheery five a.m. wake-up whistled rendition of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” on the ferry ride from England to Holland.
  • Oldest accommodation: a 1,000 year-old monastery in England featuring a fun, challenging obstacle course. We stopped for a couple nights to celebrate my 33rd birthday, but my attempts to beat the obstacle course record were thwarted by old age.
  • Most countries biked in during one day: three – Luxembourg/Germany/France, Italy/Switzerland/Austria
  • Hottest temperature: 110℉ in Venice – our weather app said “feels like 125℉.” We agreed.
  • Numbers of days over 95℉: ~30, plus a handful over 100 as Europe busted through many heat records. We made two personal videos documenting our vow to never bike tour in July-August again unless it’s in Scandinavia or a place with outdoor A/C and lakes every three miles.

    Wheat fields in Germany.

    Wheat fields in Germany.

  • Most scoops of gelato in one day: Six each, a three-visit day to our favorite vegan-friendly gelateria in Rovinj, Croatia when temps soared to triple digits. Cycle touring and burning a few thousand extra calories per day has its perks.
  • Swimming-in-humidity award: Hungary, where we got up at five a.m. to beat the heat.
  • Favorite cathedral: the stunning Strasbourg spires. We happened to be there for the  booming sound and light show celebrating the 1,000 year anniversary of the cathedral.
    Strasbourg cathedral
  • Most days off in a row: Eight, including no-bikes-allowed Venice and five days relaxing in Croatia with our buddies to avoid scathing heat.
  • Flat tires: Two for C, 0 for D.
  • Tires replaced: Always an FAQ from people we meet… But not a single one! C’s rear tire was getting a bit thin by the end, which is why she picked up two quick flats with just a week left in our trip. My rear tire (a Schwalbe Marathon) now has 7,000 miles on it and is going strong.
  • Other bike troubles: Two broken spokes for my bike thanks to cobblestone beatings. The rear wheel on my tough Salsa Fargo managed to survive a week of pedaling before we found a bike shop and ate lunch as the delightful old-school, long-haired owner in cutoff jean shorts grooved to jazz and fixed my rear wheel.

    Austrian sunflowers

    Austrian sunflowers

  • Number of push ups done to avoid turning into an all-I-do-is-bike upper body wimpo:  6,035. (Yes, I track weird things.) Since cycling is so exclusively lower body, I also did pull ups (usually at kids’ playgrounds), core work and elastic band exercises to stay physically balanced. I highly recommend doing this while on tour, not to mention stretching frequently so hamstrings don’t shrink to one-third their previous length.
  • Probability of returning to Europe with bikes: 100%
On the other side of the pass from Slovenia to Austria. The couple who took this picture was 1) headed up and 2) not as happy in their flex shot.

On the other side of the pass from Slovenia to Austria. The couple of bike tourists who took this picture were 1) headed up and 2) not happy about it.

Thanks to all the new friends who fed us, housed us, and generally brightened our day along the way!

Thanks to all the friends who fed us, housed us, and generally brightened our day along the way!

Sharing the Road – Cycle Touring with Friends (Plus a Video!)

Team Awesome

“What’s the limit on the number of cinnamon rolls?” I asked. “I’ve had three!” confessed Dave. “After three, let’s go get gelato,” Jen chimed in.

That was just Wednesday. Days cycling in Croatia and Slovenia with our friends sped by fueled with gelato and Jen’s badass vegan cooking skills. Long swims in the warm Adriatic Sea cut the scathing summer heat; we spent evenings sitting at outdoor cafes listening to the mix of Italian and Croatian bubbling around us. Cycle touring with our buddies was a fabulous few weeks of our bike tour, yet the rendezvous almost didn’t happen.

We started our trip in June from London, whereas Dave and Jen began in Norway in early May. The plan was to meet up, but soon they were in southern Austria and we were in Belgium, with 25 hours on a train in between. Close, but not close enough, we concluded with disappointment during a Skype conversation.

So understandably, Jen was surprised two weeks later when Chelsea shoulder-checked her on the cobblestone streets of Rovinj, Croatia. “Hey, it’s Chelsea!” Blank stare from Jen. “From Portland…” Jen’s confusion lifted and big hugs followed. Dave, the inside conspirator, finally came clean on our surprise arrival, which he and I coordinated using stealth language like “the eagle is coming in for landing.”

A perfect night in Rovinj.

A perfect night in Rovinj.

Woodrow Wilson once said, “Friendship is the only cement that will hold the world together,” a statement I wholeheartedly agree with. Making our friends the priority despite the obstacles, I set aside my must-pedal-every-mile ego and skipped plans to cycle through Switzerland. Instead, we took a train south through the Alps from Basel to Milan, the most graffiti-stricken city I’ve ever seen.

We chugged across northern Italy to Venice, a city as beautiful as all the hype. For two days, we embraced the cliched magic and walked hand in hand along canals, gondolas sliding by. No cars are allowed in the city, which makes it a pedestrian paradise. And (surprise!) we also learned upon arriving that bicycling is not allowed.

A peaceful moment in Venice.

A peaceful moment in Venice as a gondola slides by a bustling restaurant.

Venice is a network of 118 islands built upon sunken pillars – an upside down forest, I heard one tour guide say. And those paved islands are divided by canals and connected by steep bridges with steps. On our arrival and departure days, we slogged through triple-digit weather that melted gelato faster than Donald Trump can piss off John McCain. Lugging our bikes up steps, past selfie stick-hawking vendors, and between tourists downing pizza slices, it felt so ridiculous that I could only laugh at the irony of two cycle tourists carrying our bikes through possibly the only city in the world that forbids cycling. CrossFit Venice.

Fireworks over the canals of Venice. We happened to be in town for a yearly festival.

Fireworks over the canals of Venice. We happened to be in town for a yearly festival.

All the effort was worth it: traveling with Jen, Dave and Sora was fantastic. The mix of four cheery personalities, plus a cute dog licking faces and chasing sheep in her dreams, created laughter galore. Chelsea got into touring through riding with girlfriends, but this was my first time doing an extended bike trip with anyone else. I would absolutely do it again.

As we spent time with  Dave and Jen, a few lessons-learned cropped up. If you’re considering doing a tour with buddies (and you should!), hopefully these items help set guideposts to make sure everyone stays happy and has a great experience. Cycle touring can be a time that unites you for life.

  • Set expectations up front. Run through the nuts and bolts together so everyone is on the same page and no one thinks Dakota is a total a-hole for seizing control of navigation. (Sorry Dave, it’s a control freak thing.) The four of us discussed preferred mileage per day, budget for places to stay/camp, start times each morning, and other basics. This simple conversation set the tone early and let us focus on cycling and enjoying one another’s company. Well, I enjoyed their company at least. (Jen, sorry I ate all the watermelon.)
  • Everyone needs a Road Name. Dave “The Veganator” and Jen “Muscles/MoSo/CinnaMon” quickly realized I never stop eating and dubbed me “The Woodchipper” – picture stuffing food into a hopper followed by a buzzsaw sound. MWARRRR. “Feed it to The Woodchipper” became the mantra when there were leftovers. Chelsea is “The Hammer” for crushing hills as if they were pieces of bubble wrap. Sora is “Borba,” though she really just wants to eat baguettes all day so Bread Hund (<–German for dog) would be more fitting.
  • Accept that more people equals slower pace. Even if you all ride at the same speed, everyone has different needs for rest/picture/food/bathroom breaks. Respect each person’s needs and just reeeelax. (I’m talking to you, Dakota.)Team LongHaul and Traipsing
  • Embrace your sense of humor. This applies to most things in life, and more so in cycle touring. As hungry and tired cyclists navigating a foreign land in summer heat, communication could have quickly devolved into Alien vs. Predator. A well-timed joke, or just a goofy grin, instead turned potential friction into laughter. Dave’s sing-song rendition of Sora the Bread-Loving Hund’s voice never failed to crack me up.
  • Divide and conquer. Split up tasks. Dave and I took on route planning, navigation, and bike maintenance; Chelsea handled lodging and food shopping; Jen the Pro Chef also shopped and whipped up incredible meals like panzanella and desserts like cinnamon rolls. We all developed a keen eye for finding the panacea to hot temperatures, gelato.

    Jen's delicious panzanella.

    Jen’s delicious panzanella.

  • Figure out the money stuff. During past travels, I’ve tracked every transaction in a little book. This time around, I’m challenging my obsessive compulsive data side and only keeping track of lodging. While hanging with Dave and Jen, we split places to stay and both purchased groceries. Traveling as a group allowed us to rent awesome apartments and split the cost, which saved us all a ton of cash, which we dutifully reinvested in gelato.
    Gelato
  • Keep talking to people. It’s easy to only hang out with one another. We did this some days, but also made an effort to hang with locals. An Airbnb host joined us twice for dinner and showed us how to make Istrian soup, a delicious wine-soaked bread drink. We enjoyed another evening with a cheery Croatian family and their homemade wine (are you catching a theme?) as we discussed Communism in former Yugoslavia (the older generation consistently seems to miss the good old days prior to the wall coming down).
  • Time apart is smart. Just like any relationship, make sure there is downtime where everyone isn’t hanging out. Even if this is just everyone blue-facing on their phones or computers, time to just relax and chill is important. Then you can get back to brilliant jokes and high-brow discussions regarding divesting oil holdings (Dave, I concede).
    Time "apart"

Have an awesome time. Remember how lucky you are to travel with great people. Now that we’re in our 30s and many friends are involved in careers or raising children, it is difficult to find amigos with whom we can head out for an extended trip. Traveling with Jen and Dave bonded us all and was a grand adventure. Even the ups and down of tough days cycle touring couldn’t overshadow how much fun we had together.

Suns out, guns out

We bid adieu to our buddies in a green valley in Slovenia. They headed south into the Balkans as we pedaled east toward Hungary, memories of our time together lodged in my memory. It was time for The Woodchipper and The Hammer to ride some extra miles to burn off all the cinnamon rolls and gelato.

I’ll leave you with a fun video compilation of our time together, or click to watch below. Ciao!

 

Cycling Through Belgium – Beyond Beer and Chocolate

Bruges at night

When I imagined Belgium, I pictured rivers of dark chocolate, a tradition of cycling, beer so strong it would make Hulk Hogan wobble, and fairy tale architecture. Expectations set, we pedaled south from the Netherlands and arrived via a tree-lined path fit for royalty.

Our first stop in Belgium was Bruges. Our hosts, who run an amazing B&B and also give tours of the city, are often asked, “What time does the city close?” as if it were a Disney Land kingdom. As a pleasant surprise, the hordes of tourists we were warned about never arrived. Or perhaps my expectations of “busy” is based on places like New York City, where foreigners clog the streets like cholesterol.

Canals in Belgium

There is magic in ancient cities, subtle hints of centuries gone. It is present in the echoes of foreign languages off an old cathedral, or the dark hues of old beams in a restaurant. Wandering into the Rose Red bar with its hundreds of fabric roses suspended from the ceiling, we ordered a “sampler” of Belgian beers. Sampler indeed. Four practically-full glasses arrived, plus a bottle of Westvleteren Trappist recommended by our beer-genius friend Lucy. Two hours later, heads fuzzy and hearts happy, Chelsea and I wandered along the cities canals past spotlit historic buildings and ate more chocolate. Hey, when in Bruges…

Beers in Belgium

A wonderful surprise was having the Belgian vegan community graciously host us. Chelsea commented on the Bruges Vegan blog and the author, Trudi, extended an invite to stay with her and her husband. We pedaled up to their picturesque country property and enjoyed a relaxing day talking, eating delicious garden-fresh meals and hanging out with friendly donkeys. For our next stop, Trudi posted to a Facebook group and Lyra and Martin opened their home in Ghent to us. Sitting around their table with their three dogs dozing around our feet, I was struck that two Americans were learning about Belgium from a Brazilian woman and her Dutch husband.

The nuanced differences of a foreign country trump obvious statements like, “wow, the language ain’t the same as back home.” (For the record, in Belgium the people tend to speak Dutch in the north and French in the south.) Through fun dinner discussions, we learned that yard sales are a once per year event done via a city permit. The idea of an every-weekend yard sale in the U.S. cracked our hosts up. Insurance is a bedrock-strong right in Europe, and not having the secure foundation of health care for citizens is unthinkable to anyone we have discussed this with. In the legal realm, I found the inheritance laws in Belgium goofy; a parent can’t write their kid out of the will. Maybe kids in the U.S. are brats and parents need more choice?

Helping out on the farm! Thanks for the amazing hospitality, Trudi and Jim.

Brushing Babette, the world’s nicest donkey. Thanks for the amazing hospitality, Trudi and Jim.

We bid farewell to our friends – why doesn’t it ever get easier? – and rode SE through Belgium toward Luxembourg (here’s the map of our route). Europe responded with a record-breaking heat wave where the thermometer rose as if attached to a hot air balloon and days blurred to a haze of 95 degrees and 80% humidity that felt like riding in a sauna. We pedaled past wheat and corn friends interspersed with grazing cattle. Very few people in northern Europe use air conditioning, so refuge proved elusive. Instead, we soaked our jerseys and hair as often as possible (a feeling better than eating dopamine-laced raspberry sorbet), then rejoined the fray. Cold showers at night were divine.

Sunrise start in Belgium

Following the famously difficult Tour of Flanders route, we bounced our way over the gamut of road surfaces – I’ll admit to cursing the sadists who marked “bike route” for one cobblestone-hell-path. Next up were the hills of the Belgian Ardennes region, site of the Battle of the Bulge in WWII. I couldn’t begin to imagine how terrifying traveling through would be with howitzers lobbing explosives in my path. The serene villages and bustling markets felt a world apart from that chaos as we crossed onto the smooth country roads of Luxembourg.

Behind us was hard work and heat, but also delicious chocolate and great new friends. Inside my head were memories of laughs around meals and a welcome so warm any traveler would feel at home.

Bike touring England

A colorful vegan meal at the Bruges vegetarian restaurant "De Bron."

A colorful vegan meal at the Bruges vegetarian restaurant “De Bron.”

The nice part about hills is that there's always a downhill side. Here's a nice Dutch couple on a tandem ripping downhill in Chelsea's wake.

The nice part about hills is that there’s always a downhill side. Here’s a nice Dutch couple on a tandem ripping downhill in Chelsea’s wake.

Mirrors in Belgium

England to Holland By Bike (and a Ferry)

Middelburg, Holland

Traveling by bicycle is a surefire way to create delicious highs, but also generate lows that drag along like a heavy anvil. And just as night needs the sun to tip its rays over the horizon line every morning, bliss shines brightest after hard work and challenge.

We were not blessed by fair-natured weather fairies the last few days. England almost left us with only memories of sunshine, but rallied to serve up a surprise whopper of a rainstorm minutes away from the ferry terminal, our rain gear buried in our bags. Wet as muddy dogs in a puddle (but considerably less happy), we dripped our way into a restaurant overlooking a choppy North Sea. Two full dinners later (plus lots of cups of tea), a wave of cheer washed over me as I looked east across the Channel toward Holland, our next destination.

Tea time

Revived and happy, we pedaled our bikes into the hold of a gleaming ship, a 13-deck giant complete with a multiple restaurants, private lounges, a gambling hall, and enough foreign languages spoken by passengers to rival the floor of the United Nations. Our cozy cabin for the overnight trip featured bunk beds, shiny accents, and, we learned the next morning, a loudspeaker whistling a cheery rendition of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” as a wake up call. A Dutch voice then told us, in politically correct terms, that all passengers should rouse their lazy butts and “prepare to disembark.”

I'M ON A BOAT!

I’M ON A BOAT!

We emerged from the ship for European Union passport control by amiable Dutch border guards. “How many days will you be here?” 88. “Do you have enough money?” I sure hope so! Tick tick tick – our 90 day time limit in the Schengen Zone began. (U.S. citizens can only stay for 90 out of 180 days.)

And we were off…straight into the maw of a raging downpour. Not fazed at all, the unassailable Dutch were out en masse in packs of riders cranking around the best network of cycling paths I have ever seen. Cars, obviously second-class citizens next to bicycles, drove slowly and yielded to us at roundabouts, a nice change from England.

Holland flowers

It’s not just a myth: EVERYONE in Holland rides bikes. From kiddos to people in their 80’s, people get around on bicycles. We saw everything from carbon racers to clunkers, but the majority of bikes were practical and designed for comfort. (The flat terrain makes that a bit more doable, I think.) E-bikes are common, which I think is a terrific way to stay active, and also a great way to make me and Chelsea feel weak and slow when we’re passed uphill by a zippy senior laden with groceries. Stores have two cars and 58 bikes parked out front, and train stations have literally hundreds of bikes stored outside. It was clear that cycling in Holland is the linchpin for a healthy, connected way of life.

Quintessential Holland

Bike parking in Holland

Back on the bikes, our weather-beaten spirits rose skyward as we spun through pretty canal towns. Europe’s architecture practically emits a cozy glow to warm even the most sodden traveler, and (again) hot coffee and tea over lunch did the trick. The next 30 miles included a short ferry ride and riding past tall wind turbines that slashed the sky as headwinds insisted we were going the wrong direction. Ah, some days just aren’t the best for cycling.

Wind turbines in Holland

Our route south through Holland followed the 2015 Tour de France Route, which kicks off July 4th.

Our route south through Holland followed the 2015 Tour de France Route, which kicks off July 4th. I totally got 1st place in the prelude!

One of the perks of renting out our house and working while I travel is that we have zero guilt about staying in a hotel when the weather is horrible or if we want a comfortable night’s stay. Chelsea is the resident genius at finding fantastic accommodations at bargain prices, whereas I will try to save $5 to stay in a dingy former brothel next to a freeway. (She has, shall we say, better attention to detail than I do.) For the remainder of this trip, and possibly our lives, I will handle navigation and she will handle lodging.

For our first night in Holland, she scored a gorgeous room at the Grand Hotel in Burgh-Haamstede. After being devoured by the elements all day, we relaxed tired muscles in the steam room, made fools of ourselves in the pool, and were reminded once again that the magic of bliss lies in the contrast between ups and downs.

The next day’s forecast called for downpours, but not enough to drown out hot beverages, solid exercise, and gorgeous architecture. It was certainly insufficient to snuff out the joy of taking each day as it comes, whether a sparkling moment in the sun or a rain-soaked hour in the saddle.

Grand Hotel Burgh-Haamstede

Chelsea in front of the Grand Hotel.

Holland countryside

Friendly sheep in Middelburg

Well hello, random flock of sheep in the middle of a city…

Bikes, Europe, Go!

Bike tour Europe

Our latest trip has me excited, and also thinking about time zones. It’s a strange neurosis.

As I write this, I’m sitting on a plane across the Atlantic Ocean while Chelsea snoozes at my side. Tired travelers shift in their chairs around me, struggling to make the seven hour flight passably comfortable. According to the plane’s flight tracker, it’s -55 degrees outside with a 75 mph tailwind as we pass south of Greenland.

Three weeks ago, I was mountain biking in Santa Cruz. Our summer plan was in place: another few weeks in California, then motoring north to the Pacific Northwest for sunshine in the forest. It was nice to have plans…and then we scrapped them! A day later, we bought plane tickets and changed direction completely.

The new plan? A 3.5 month bike tour in Europe. Fly into London to surprise a friend at his pre-wedding party (only his fiance knows to expect us). Pedal for a few months. Fly out of Prague to attend wedding festivities at a farm sanctuary near New York City. In between the nuptials, there’s no set route and no plans except to explore, enjoy, and spin on as many no-car bike paths as possible.

This tour is going to be different than last year’s U.S. jaunt. For one, the distance is shorter – it’s barely 1,000 miles from London to Prague – which allows us to meander. We did that much mileage in just Montana during our bike ride to Maine last year! We could scorch through 1,000 miles in a few weeks and still have ample time to linger in French cafes and perfect the jaunty angle of a beret. Instead of cranking out miles every day, our goal this year is to linger in areas we love, keep our daily mileage below 50, and treat this less as a physical challenge than an exploration of culture and beautiful places.

We talked through this trip last fall when we were stoked and physically strong from 4,000 miles of bike touring. By the end, however, the logistics of 101 days of touring had drained our energy and we were tapped out like sugar maples after a long season. We needed to just hang out awhile, and planning a European tour was too much at the time. As we left for our Utah jaunt in March, we told ourselves that the one thing we wouldn’t do this summer would be a bike tour in Europe.

Whaaaat shall we bring for 3.5 months of biking, camping, and looking hawt in cafes? Can't believe all this stuff fits in four panniers!

Whaaaat shall we bring for 3.5 months of biking, camping, and looking hawt in cafes? Can’t believe all this stuff fits in four panniers!

Still, the time is never right for a big trip overseas. I could conjure excuses for a decade about why doing this another year makes more sense. First and foremost, my business is cranked to the max right and taking a lot of my time. I will also be dealing with being nine hours ahead. At 5 pm European time, the west coast of the U.S. is just sitting down with their coffee to check Facebook and their morning emails. At midnight, it’s lights out here and merely mid-afternoon back home.

I’m leery of handling this, but confident it will work out. I’ve learned that a strong foundation sometimes only imparts enough of a launch pad to let me stand in one place and dream. To attach wings to a dreams requires wrapping uncertainty in a fiery bear hug and jumping into the deep end with it. When I look back, anything that excited and scared me, even as I sprang off the diving board, invariably resulted in my learning something about myself or the world. Sometimes there’s wreckage to pick through, a burning heap of a failed attempt, but that’s usually not the case. I’m not setting out to build a new enterprise – I simply need to take my tried and true remote work techniques to a new level.

There’s magic in pushing the envelope into discomfort. While I’m wary of the lug nuts on my business loosening and a wheel or two clunking off into the dust, what this is going to do is force me to innovate. The simple aspects of my work will be easiest to outsource; it’s the functions that I think (pretend?) are unique to me that will take creative engineering. But the more I think about having the entire day free to just ride and explore, with work starting up in the evening, the better it sounds. There are always silver linings.

Taking the bikes apart to box and ship them through on the plane. SCARY.

Taking the bikes apart to box and ship them through on the plane. Thanks for the help, Steve!

The worst case is posting up in a town and simply working remotely late at night all summer. The best case (my favorite) is that we have an amazing time exploring the European continent on a relaxed schedule and, as a side benefit, further extricate myself from the day-to-day mechanics of my business. With a bucket list that includes many off-the-grid adventures with weeks away from a cell connection or a laptop, I need systems in place to take care of this. Nothing like a fire under my arse to accomplish it.

More updates to come as we wheel our way east across the continent. Cheers to no plan, the unexpected, and the network of bike paths that apparently crisscross this area of the world. Follow along with daily shots on Instagram (@traipsingabout) and I’ll also be updating this blog as time allows (and this trip map). This latest adventure is officially launched!

P.S. If you have recommendations for places to visit or have friends we could meet up with, let us know! We’d love your input.