Cycle Touring during Covid times
1st of April 2020, this date had been marked in our agendas for more than 7 months. "The start of our world trip by bike!" We had bought two Surly bikes, our Hilleberg Tent and much more cycling gear. This period consisted about a rollercoaster of emotions, preparations, reading blog posts, visiting outdoor shops and making multiple day cycling trips. Everyone thought we went crazy, cycling around the world by bike? No one, not even us, would have ever thought we would seek adventure in a cycling trip by bike. How would we prepare ourselves for this trip and how would daily life on the bike look like? We talked with other cyclists who did a similar trip, but we soon realised nothing could really prepare us for what was coming. Our enthusiasm grew daily and we were looking forward to the start of our trip by bike more and more.
Do you plan the entire trip beforehand?
After some research we decided to lay out some directions of our cycling trip. The first weeks would consist of a trip from Belgium to Denmark to take a flight to Alaska from Copenhagen. We would fly there on the 17th of June so we could enjoy the Alaskan summer months. From there one of we wanted to start cycling southbound, hopefully to reach Ushuaia in the end. We made the decision to take all the time we wanted, so we could travel as slow as possible and at our own pace.
And then covid happened...
The first news regarding the covid-virus in Wuhan reached us by the end of January 2020. Without any idea of the consequences for the entire world we kept planning our trip. We were finishing the last items on our to-do-list and covid felt far, far away. We finished the last administrative things, moved the last items out of our house and we were looking forward to the last days at our jobs. Our time has arrived!
The 12th of March 2020, the Belgian government announced a lockdown. All of a sudden everything was closed, you could not meet other people and we had to start working from home. We were sad because we realised we had to cancel our little goodbye party, but naive as we were we still thought it would be possible to start our trip in April. Little did we know! Instead of preparing the bikes we suddenly had to find a new place to live, keep working and cancel some visits we had planned with friends.
The next weeks were full of disbelief and contradictory emotions. When you start a world trip by bike you are well aware it's a road full of challenges, but we were heartbroken not being able to start our cycle tour. We had been dreaming for years to make a trip without and end date, our dreams got crushed in a few days.
Thanks to friends and family!
Luckily we quickly found a new place to live for a little while, our bosses were nice enough to prolong our contracts and many friends and family kept us going. We moved from one home to another and after some months in an apartment we needed more space and felt the need for nature. We could live for a few months in Niels' house where he grew up!
We could travel again in our own country and we decided to start with the initial plan of our world trip by bike, cycle from Ghent to Kaulille. We cycled for four days and the first leg of our trip gave us the best feeling ever. 250km through a hot Belgian sun, our first Warmshowers experience and sleeping in our tent again. Covid seemed far away and we felt extremely happy.
We decided to extend this trip with a two week cycling tour through the Netherlands and Germany. A perfect way to test our cycling gear and to build some routines. We had the best time in the saddle and the need to start our world trip by bike grew bigger every day. When we had to start working again after this trip we could no longer keep focus. We needed to get out there and could not wait any longer.
We decided to start our cycling tour in Europe!
1st of september 2020, a new date with a new direction. Our dream could not be postponed any longer. With a lot of question marks and new energy we decided to start our world trip by bike, direction Spain! We sad goodbye to our home for the 3rd time in a short period of time and had no idea how long we would be away from home. We are so thankful for the extra time we got to spend with friends and family. Belgium got explored in ways we could not have imagined and we enjoyed these moments. The goodbyes were emotional and without hugs, but we could finally shout out to the world "We are on the road!!"
Some people thought we went crazy, again, but most of our friends and family wished us all the best. They said we were hardcore to start cycling in covid times, but it didn't feel like that for us. It felt the right thing to do and till this day we are so happy to have had that experience. The most difficult thing was planning a new route, keeping into account the European seasons. We sent ourselves with the Surly's in the direction of Spain, where Niels' mom lives in Murcia. This was the best direction to start cycling to weather-wise, but it also give us an extra safety net in case covid would close borders again.
The first weeks on the bikes were insanely beautiful and we had never felt beter. Freedom, beautiful nature, good food and we had each other. Our cycling pace and daily routines got better each day and we could enjoy every moment in the saddle.
Covid, round 2!
Unfortunately our freedom got limited quite quickly again. Due to the covid-situation in France we decided to change our route and cycle towards Italy. For a moment we were sad because we absolutely loved cycling through France, but we soon realised Switzerland (read our blog 'Is Switzerland expensive? here!) was a good alternative and a safer way to keep enjoying our trip by bike. We are so happy we got to experience this beautiful country by bike as well. Wonderful lake districts, snowy mountain peaks and forests as far as you can see. Surroundings which felt like home and we felt even happier when we cycled over the Alps (Gotthard Pass) into Italy.
It didn't last long until covid followed us into Italy and restrictions kept coming. Restaurants and bars closed, a lot of camping grounds closed and we did not feel welcome anymore. We met nice people in Italy but got a predominant feeling we were not cycling there in good times. Getting in touch with locals was more difficult, asking for a place to sleep did not feel okay and after two weeks we did not feel welcome anymore (read about our doubts in Italy here). We felt rushed and Spain was waiting for us, with family and a warm home. We booked a ferry ticket from Civitavecchia to Barcelona and even though this was a difficult decision, it was the right one.
Suddenly we had a new goal and that was not far away. We enjoyed those last two weeks on the bike in Spain a lot, check out our story here. The bad weather in Italy made room for sunny Spain and the ocean. We arrived in Spain at a good moment, but also Spain closed borders again. This did not feel like the end we had in mind, but we were proud to reach this goal to start with! We spend almost two months on our Surly's and cycled 2 700 km, had zero flat tires (Why our Schwalbe MTB Marathon Plus Tires are perfect for a world trip by bike? Read it here!) and arrived at what turned out to be our home for the next three months. We feel privileged having been able to enjoy the wonderful experience of a touring trip by bike.
It's May 2021 now and we are back in Belgium. Spain went from lockdown to lockdown and even though it was nice to enjoy sunny weather in winter times, this was not the reason for us to start cycling. The lack of perspective and clear rules have made us make the decision to return back to Ghent. It feels nice to be closer to friends and family and being able to work and earn some money again.
The most difficult part of this trip was returning home and describing our feelings, even till this day. We are aware this may seem like luxury problems, which they are in essence, but it still feels like we had to say goodbye to a phase in our lives we had been looking forward to for years. It's hard to explain when most people don't live their lives like we do, but we feel this lifestyle is as important for us as, for example, saving up money and building your own home is for others. Luckily we find space and friends to talk about this and at the moment the world starts opening up again. We patiently wait this time and are looking forward to start our world trip by bike again!
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