Almost Fearless

A Big, Epic, Summer Biking & Camping Trip Across Europe

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I haven’t even had time to write about Barcelona, because as soon as we arrived we had to prepare to leave. The plan has always been to live in Barcelona, put the kids in school (maybe homeschool) but to raise them here in Catalonia, speaking English at home with us, Catalán in school or other activities and Español on the street. We would have a lovely little flat, settle down, perhaps I’d go back to school and become an Arabic translator, maybe my husband would offer drink & draw tours around the city, but we’d raise our family here and travel during the summer.

We were a little late in arriving. It’s summer. Time to travel!

So instead getting an apartment and letting it go unused during the summer, we found a rental on the beach about an hour outside the city and got ready for our big summer plans:

We’re biking across Europe, in the most literal way possible, from the Atlantic coast in Saint-Nazare, France —- all the way across 8 more countries —- until we reach Romania and the Black Sea in Constanta. It’s a 4,000 km biking trip that we haven’t trained for at all, we don’t have bikes and we’ve never done anything like this before, never mind with a one year old and four year old.

It’s daunting, but seems so doable.

Despite our terrible fitness levels, the course is quite easy, just 40 km per day (about 25 miles), which even if we’re going really slowly is no more than 2.5 hours of biking a day. Plus we chose a route that is specifically known for having absolutely no hills. It’s the EuroVelo 6, a marked trail that follows the rivers across Europe, so we’re always at sea level.

I made a little page to track our journey and updates.

When do we start? Why this Monday, of course! We’re doing a six day test run up the Costa Brava, the coast north of Barcelona, which we’ve explored a bit and love. We’ve been living in L’Estarit, a truly gorgeous and absolutely deserted beach town, right up until June-ish when all the vacationers come flooding in (it’s still lovely, just not so deserted).

Then we’re taking the train to Pamplona, because I want to ride a little bit of the area around San Sebastian and the Southern coast of France because it looks so amazing and we can buy bikes there too. Then we’ll probably grab another train from Bordeaux up to the starting point of our journey around Saint-Nazare and Nantes — then head east until we can’t go east anymore. We should arrive at the Black Sea around the first week in September.

Of course we’ve never done anything like this and I’ve planned this trip like I plan most trips… with just enough detail to convince myself it’s possible and that’s it. We’ll be going through parts of Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, and Bulgaria. Somewhere on the Serbian/Romanian border is something called the Iron Gates and it looks amazing. We’ll be camping, trying to convince farmers to let us use their empty field for a night, eating lots of amazing local food and spending time with our kids without so many distractions.

Plus, we’re going to get fit!

Right now, I’m writing this from my terrace in the Costa Brava and all I can hear is the roar of the Mediterranean. I am really excited about this summer, it feels like a fresh start for us, and one of those great big adventures that make the best stories. I can’t wait to find out how I feel when I step into the Black Sea and I have 4,000 km, 10 countries, three months of travel behind me. My kids will be bigger, Drew and I will have changed, and I’ll know a part of the world that right now is so abstract to me. I think I’ll just wade into the water, pick up a stone smoothed by the waves and just laugh and laugh. I have no idea why we decided to do this, but here we are, at the start.

Go.

 

Christine Gilbert

I’ve been dragging my husband around the world since 2008 always with the promise that, “Yes, Drew there will definitely be hammocks there.”

THERE ARE RARELY HAMMOCKS.

http://christinegilbert.com

38 comments

  • So fantastic. I love love love riding bikes with my kids and started doing it around the age that yours are now. Can’t wait to read your stories.

  • This. Is. Amazing! I’ve always wanted to do a cross-country/countries biking trip! Starting small with only 2.5 hours of biking a day just makes it seem so easy! Can’t wait to hear all about it 🙂

    • My bet is that they start with only 40 kilometers per day, but are doing 80-100+ after just a few short weeks on the road. Bike touring gets you in great shape… and fast!

  • I absolutely love that you take on these epic plans with little kids. We did loads of trips with ours when they were little (not as grand as your plans) and people thought we were mad. Your kids will be more resilient and adventurous themselves even if they don’t remember the specifics of the experience. Hope you have a blast!

  • Christine, Good luck! I think you will have a fantastic time, eat some great food, and enjoy your kids! BTW – your Eurovelo6 link should be .org…I’ll be watching your progress. I will really want to know if you have time to “see” things as well as bike. That’s always been my dilemma with bike trips. Have fun!

  • Wowzers! Buy the best biking pants and bike seat you can find. Seriously!
    What an awesome adventure ~ can’t wait to follow along!

  • What an awesome idea! I have to do something similar one day soonish. My cousin biked from Stockholm to Rome for his fiftieth two years ago and that was also very inspiring but as he averaged something like 160k per day including some serious hills it seemed quite impossible. This however makes me dream 🙂

    If you pass by Geneva and need a place to crash, a pause from camping give me a shout and you’re welcome to stay at mine.

  • I just want to say a HUGE THANK YOU for all the support we received about this trip… both here in the comments, on FB https://www.facebook.com/almostfearless/posts/757131060994344 and via email. It’s so encouraging and while I know it will be hard, your support makes it a little bit easier. Thank you and please, if you’ll be on our path, let us know, we’d love to repay you with a glass of wine/coffee/beer/water and you can see for yourself how perfectly ordinary we are, despite our lofty travel goals. Cheers!

  • It truly does seem like one of those big epic trips that make the best stories. I am so pumped for you guys and can’t wait to follow along!

  • You are my hero. Can’t wait to follow along! We’ll be traveling all throughout South America at the same time, so I’ll enjoy hearing your travel stories from across the world!

  • That sounds so frigin amazing, I want to do it too!!! I guess for now I’ll have to be satisfied with seeing it through your eyes. So very excited for you!

  • Maybe, instead of doing 25 miles every day, you could ease into it: start with 10 miles a day and then once that seems easy, do 15 then 20. That way, it’s always “fun” and not “I just want to get off this damn bike.”

    • And have the bicycle shop FIT the bike to you. It could take 2 hours pedaling at the bike shop on their dummy bike, but seriously, a quarter of an inch up or down on your bicycle seat is the difference between “fun” and “my knees are killing me.” Also, if you’re short, consider a bicycle built for women. I’m barely 5’2″ and the only way for my shoulders NOT to hurt is to have a bike with a topbar so short, the wheel in front has to be smaller than the one in back. The fit of the bike is critical.

      Invest in a pair of bicycle pants. They are not cheap at all, but your hineys will thank you.

      And shoes and pedals are a nice plus0: if you’re dragging a kid behind you, shoes will give you power on your upstroke as well as your down. (Because your feet are attached, you can PULL the pedal UP.)

      And…you’ll have a BLAST! Cyclists are the NICEST people *ever.*

  • Sounds like the experience of a lifetime, and good for your health as well, so awesome!

  • Would you mind posting about the logistics of your trip? Like, are you buying a bike or renting? If renting, are you returning the bikes to France or can you do one-way rentals? Do campsites offer laundry and/or shower facilities or would you need to stay in a hotel every few days to get that done? We’ve got too many trips planned in the next few years to squeeze this one in but I’d love to try and plan something like this in 4 or 5 years!

    • Sure! The big thing for us that really changed everything was a friend told us about Decathlon … which is sort of like REI but has really, really cheap prices. They have them all over France http://www.decathlon.fr/ and all over Spain http://www.decathlon.es/ — we just visited the one in Girona and it’s awesome. So we will be buying the bikes, then either selling them, taking them with us on the train or flight back or just ditching them, because it’s possible with a cheap bike that we’ll beat the hell out of it over the 100 days of riding anyway. We can also get baby trailers or baby seats, helmets, riding clothes, GPS stuff — absolutely all the gear you need, and there’s one right in Nantes, France which is the start of the Euro Velo 6 … but for us, we’re going to the one in Pamplona because we want to ride the Southern French coast for a bit.

      I can’t speak for all camp sites but some — or let’s say enough or maybe even most — offer stuff beyond just camping, like bathrooms, showers, laundry… sometimes a swimming pool and playground for the kids, wifi, a shop, shuttle into town and so on. It really depends. So if you want to camp the entire way in relative comfort (and they do rent bungalows too) then you can… although it might start to get less and less the further east you get as far as Europe goes.

      However we fully plan on stopping at hotels whenever it rains. That’s our main thing, no rainy camping, if we can avoid it. We will be skipping showers many days as we try to camp for free in a field somewhere. I am just going to braid my hair because that’s my biggest concern, my hair is going to be crazy after even a day of biking.

  • I am so excited for you and CAN’T WAIT to read along and find out how this goes! It’s the kind of thing I’d love to do some day, but at the moment it seems rather daunting. Maybe reading how it goes for you will give me the guts to try? 🙂

    • Bicycle touring is something almost anyone can do. Especially if you pick your route carefully (the EuroVelo is an excellent choice for a beginner who wants a safe and comfortable experience). If you could go bicycle touring anywhere in the world, where would you go?

      • Heh… still haven’t figured out this discus subscribing to commenting thing ack! lol So although I’m ridiculously late in replying, what the heck… here goes 🙂 If I could go bicycle touring anywhere in the world, I think I’d go for Europe. That would be AMAZING!!

  • Good luck! I’ll be following with interest as Vu just agreed to re-attempt our attempt at cycling through Europe. I AM SO EXCITED!!!!

    Bon voyage, Christine, Drew, Cole and Stella. Blaze a trail for us.

  • Can’t wait to hear about your bicycle touring adventures along the
    EuroRoute 6. Just this last week I cycled some major sections of this
    route in Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary. You’re going to love
    it… and the kids should too! Have a great time… and take lots of
    pictures.

  • Awesome!! Can’t wait for the “ride of your …” to being!! 😉 kick azz and take names…

  • You are so brave! And I am so jealous 🙂 I’m curious about the logistics of it all. How do you carry your stuff while riding? And are the kids in kid seats or is the older one in tandem? So excited to join you on your journey.

  • So excited to follow your travels, Christine! One tip: get a gel bike seat or seat cover. The cover I use is from DerriAir (www.derri-air.com), and is 1-1/2 inches thick. Heaven! It makes the difference between comfort and agony for those “sit bones.” Have a safe, fun, wonderful trip!

  • Oh, this is brilliant. I like the way you’ve managed to space it out over time / made sure to take the flat route (super hilly routes would be so daunting!). Definitely going to keep an eye on this 🙂

  • This is just…awesome. Can’t think of a better word! When my Mom was a teenager she and her 4 sisters (and some friends) biked down the coast of Florida. Their Mom (my grandma) followed in a car with camping gear, etc. It always sounded like such an adventure, but I like your plans even better!
    I hope you have so, so, SO much fun and write all about it for us desk jobbers to dream about. 🙂

  • May I suggest padded bike shorts, and maybe a padded bike seat too? I did some biking locally and those “private parts” got really sore. Developed vaginitis too so it’s veryimportant to remove your shorts as soon as you finish for the day, use a special feminine wash and dry off. I don’t know what profesional women do. I bought some products back from the States in case it happens again. Good luck. That’s quite an undertaking. I hope it is truly flat as there must be some of the Alps along the way but I haven’t looked at a map. I’m looking forward to your tales from the road.

  • This is an incredible idea!! I only want to do it too if I ever get the chance! Biking only 2-3 hours a day sounds super convenient with tons of benefits. Have a wonderful trip! – Vanessa

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