It was a bit of a shock to step into the early spring in Europe after enjoying the warm embrace of South Africa for the past weeks. The leafless trees and grey skies of Bavarian Germany had us feeling like it might have been a better plan to stay south a bit longer to train or take the option to participate in one or more of the world class stage races that highlight the global endurance cycling scene - next year perhaps...
Mary and I spent a couple of days in Ingolstadt, Germany, adjusting to rolling out of bed directly into down jackets while we outfitted our sweet little rental RV with healthy foods and the latest update of winter riding apparel and bike parts that we had shipped ahead of time to what would likely be the last stationary address available to us for the next several months.
Our plan to attend the next three rounds of the World Cup series that will be held in Houffalize, Belgium (on April 15), Nove Mesto Na Morave, Czech Republic (on May 13) and Le Bresse, France (on May 20) as well as National races in Italy and Austria will have us covering a good portion of the EU while continuing our firsthand experience of the highest level of cross country racing in what is sure to be the most highly contested season to date.
Our European travel experience has transformed drastically over the past years, happily much for the better. We began our travels here nine years ago with a complete ignorance that often resulted in unnecessary self inflicted suffering. This was only possible to overcome with an incredible amount of enthusiasm for what we were doing and a good bit of laughing (at ourselves) and the ridiculous situations that presented themselves around every corner.
We are now happy to able to rely on a wealth of knowledge of how to travel Europe by RV. Although the most important lesson we have learned is in no way exclusive to any one mode of transportation or global position. It has everything to do with the people that we meet along the way and being open to communicate and learn from them regardless of any language barriers. Those who become friends always seem to go above and beyond to make sure we are not too far off course in their areas of expertise. The location of the best pizzeria, the best place in the neighborhood to park the RV, or where to get the laundry done are always first on the list of questions. As much as we love our Gamins GPS units and can absolutely rely on them to show us the way (and way back) there is nothing like riding with a good friend on their hometown trails and back roads.
The price of living and traveling in Europe has increased drastically in just the past six months with diesel commonly topping 1.70 euros per liter (um, roughly $11 per gallon!) and the astonishing number of police speed checks clearly aimed at bringing revenue to needy economies. Even with the significant kilometers we will be driving, we feel that our RV attack style has a lot of merit, enough economy and certainly remains our preferred approach. The ease in logistics of not having to book accommodations while keeping the opportunities open to change plans when other ideas present themselves really makes up for a lot.
Mary and I headed south to Nalles, Italy this past weekend where we were happy to see some signs of spring. Here the apple trees that dominate the local agricultural economy were in full blossom and even the grape vines were beginning to awaken from another hard winter. We came to contest the 12th consecutive running of the Nalles Sunshine Cup and experience what has become one of the premium cross country races in Europe. The level of racing we found is sure to only be possible at a European-based venue as the top end of the field was multi-national and could have easily made up the podium at any World Cup. The crowds and press who came to see the spectacle made it apparent that mountain biking in Italy is taken seriously as entertainment, professional sport as well as for business.
The world is quickly catching on to off road cycling for fitness, sport, lifestyle and passion though it still seems the European community in general is enjoying a bit of a head start. That's what brought us here in the first place and why we have made an effort to be here year after year to experience and be a part of the real deal. We look forward to utilizing and sharing what we learn here as we travel to other parts of the world to ride and compete in the many disciplines of this sport that defines our lifestyle. Competitive off road cycling is now found in every continent and is sure to soon be found in every corner of even those places where it still may just be in its infancy. We are hopeful that the majority of those places will grow this beautiful sport up in the right way.
For now, on to the second round of the World Cup in a town steeped in cycling culture - Houffalize, Belgium!
Good rides and health to you all!
Mike and Mary