Normally our blog is about realizations, streams of consciousness, etc and rarely do we write about where we went, how we got there and what we did. Before we left on our 16 month North American van adventure, many people told us where to go and how to get there and what to do. While we were/are grateful for the insight, it was overwhelming. We are more casual and prefer to go with our gut (or our google/Instagram) and keep our ears and eyes open to insight we get from others along the way. However, we recently spent 5 days in a van driving around Iceland and a quick visit to a place with so much to offer warrants some type of itinerary. We decided a summary of our adventure might be helpful for others who are headed to the land of fire + ice…cuz everyone seems to be doing it these days.
Mallorca, is an amusement park for cycling enthusiast…and a crowded one at that. In recent years the semi-sleepy island off the coast of Spain (it’s a 2 hour ferry ride from Barcelona or 2hr flight from England and Amsterdam) has seen a boom in tourism, thanks to the likes of pro teams (Team Sky & Cannondale/Garmin) calling the island home in January and February to train. Why wouldn’t they spend a month or so riding, eating and bonding here. The island’s idyllic climate and vastly varying terrain allow for some amazing riding and training. The turquoise ocean views along rolling coastal roads are not in short supply.
Pamela and I spent two weeks on the magical island. I was there to cook and help my friend Iain execute a trip for his guests of Aspen Cycling Tours, which he owns and operates. Pamela attended as a guest, but her being her amazing self, she helped a bit in the kitchen, and in some manual body work on a few guests who needed it towards the end.
There are no shortages of bike rental shops on the island. The hardest part is determining what brand you wish to ride and for how long. With so many companies and options, you could ride a new bike every day for two weeks or more. Originally, Pamela and I had reserved two Trek Madone’s with Di2 for 13 days. The price was very reasonable (less than paying for a bike on a major US Airline, both ways) and the convenience of picking up and dropping off the bike seemed like a dream. All we had to do was bring a saddle (personal preference…even a nice rental bike has a crappy cheap saddle), pedals, shoes and helmet. A month out from the trip, I was on the fence about the rental. I really wanted to bring my Mosaic. I hadn’t ridden it in a year, thanks to having our Swiss Army knife of a bike, Specalized Diverge’s in the van. I was also in the process of upgrading the Mosaic with a set of ZIPP NSW Wheels and SRAM’s RED etap…so how could I not bring it…Right?! I did some quick internet searching to check on cost to fly with a bike on regional European airlines and how I could store the bike in Amsterdam (we had two 1 day layovers). To my surprise and delight, the baggage fee was less than $40 for both of the regional airlines. The thing that sealed the deal for bringing my own bike was the $7 a night luggage storage in Amsterdam. This meant I didn’t have to tow the bike to and from the airport to the hotel. So with all the boxes checked, I choose to take my bike knowing I could navigate the baggage fee system (paying zero dollars or a standard luggage fee) and that the bike would be safe and secure in it’s Thule Road Pro XT case.
Once we got to Mallorca (Don’t spell is Majorca or say it that way..the locals hate it), picked up all the guest and staff rental bikes, it was time to explore on two wheels. Mother nature did her best to roll out the red carpet for us as well. The days were mild and winds calm inland and in the mountains. The coast was a different story, but worth the effort.
Over 11 days in the saddle we only navigated the northwestern quadrant with a few visits to parts of the south as it extended a route to a perfectly situated cafe in a village square. Many of the key climbs and iconic areas to ride are located in the Northwest. That being said, there are a ton of great roads and routes in the south and southeast that we plan to explore on our next visit (possibly Feb/Mar 2018).
One thing about the riding in Mallorca is that you don’t feel like your riding. You feel like your floating on your pedals and over your saddle. Maybe this was the sensation of the effortless shifting from the Etap I was experiencing, more likely it was due to the pristinely manicured tarmac and breathtaking views that stretched kilometer after kilometer.
You will without a doubt ride Sa Calobra, Cap Formentor, Col De’ Soller and Puig Major. Trust me, you will ride these. These are the most iconic routes and climbs on the island. They will not have the steepest grades you’ve probably ever ridden. If you’re one for steady long climbs with a few kickers, Sa Calobra , Puig Major and (ride to Petrol station) are perfect. Expect majestic pavement for kilometers on end with switchbacks that make your mind dizzy with delight.
Sa Calobra, aka the snake or tie as the locals call it, is synonymous with the island. It is an engineering marvel and something to behold as you climb 680 meters back up from the sea shore to Col De Reis. If you’re lucky a few goats will walk next to you as you pedal upward. The descent allows you to feel like you’re racing a moto as you push on the outside pedal and open up the inside knee for leverage in the 31 hairpin turns to the bottom. As much as one thinks about flying down, congestions from cyclist, cars and even busses makes the task almost impossible from 11am – 3pm, daily. If you’re looking for island bragging rights, you’ll be up before the sun rises for this feat. The other mind boggling stat, thanks to STRAVA, are the sheer number of people who have ridden Sa Calobra. As of our latest upload, it was over 45,000 individual cyclist this year. This stat makes my mind hurt as I compare that number to the 2,200+ cyclist who have ridden up to Boulder, CO popular ride to Jamestown.
The other iconic ride is to the light house, Formentor. The ride offers stunning views of the rugged Mallorca coast line and a surprising 1,000 meters of climbing. You’d never know you were climbing so much given the scenic distractions at every bend and short straightaways. The abundance of cyclists add a distraction as you are either passing them or watching them pass you (without any acknowledgement. it’s a thing they don’t seem to do in Europe…”on your left”).
The highlight of the trip’s rides/routes for me was riding Coll De Soller and Puig Major. Well at least Coll De Soller. The 51 switchbacks, 28 up and 23 down are enough to give someone vertigo. If you’re eyes and stomach are doing good at the Col, you’re rewarded with some of the best homemade carrot cake and lemon cake on the island, from Cafe Bar Restaurante Ca’n Topa. They also pull a mean double espresso. From the Col, we dropped down into the town of Soller, where we rode next to olive and orange trees along narrow country roads to Fournalutx (voted Spain’s prettiest village) which then intersects the famous Ma-10 (coast road).
This brings us to Puig Mejor. This ride is known for it’s long sustained 6% grade over 15 kilometers. The ride can also break many people, as it almost did to Pamela…(LOVE you wife). Maybe it was the electric dance music I was playing to motivate her (tunnel…LOL)? Reality is she had ridden 350+ miles over 9 days so she was toast.
The tarmac up and down Puig Mejor is as smooth as glass. There isn’t a blemish on it for it’s entirety. The lack of potholes, bumps, cracks etc. allows you to look around and free your mind as your every breath syncs with each pedal stroke. The views of Fournalutx over your right shoulder seem other worldly as you climb higher and higher above it. As you snake your way over the last few kilometers to the tunnel (top of the climb) there’s an unmistakable energy of joy you feel from the other cyclists who are now descending and those just ahead of you, reaching the tunnel. This gave Pamela a little boost and put a smile on her face, knowing she was almost done.
Me, I was excited about the additional climb to the tip top of Puig Major. It’s located just past the tunnel (north side). I learned the sad and hard way that it’s a climb one doesn’t get a chance to do as it’s overseen by the military. However, the climb is open to cyclist one day out of the year. Which day? I’m not sure. I was also told that it’s available to ride with a permit. So next time we’re back, I’ll be looking into this permit option in hopes of the best. Climbing Puig Mejor without going to the tip top is still a great climb and I’m beyond stoked on how Pamela pushed through her moments of doubt and exhaustion. I know that she’ll be ready to tackle the entire MA-10 when we return in February/March 2018.
The two weeks in Mallorca were magical. The climbing, the people the food and weather. Getting a lay of the land was great. Next year we’ll be able to ride more and navigate less. I’ll will also be traveling with my bike again and I know that Pamela will do the same. We can feel at home on any well fit bike after a few miles, but riding 400+ miles in 11 days on one’s own bike is priceless. This is exactly how I felt when packing up to leave. Knowing that Penny and Van Life were waiting was double sweet too!
Today marks 365 days on the road living the #VanLife dream. Today marks “Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand Six Hundred Minutes” of truly feeling grateful for this journey. Therefore, please indulge me for a moment while I reflect and paraphrase one of the greatest songs from one of the greatest musicals/movements of all time: “Seasons of Love” from “RENT”:
Well, it was bound to happen. After endless awesomeness on the roaming front, we hit a flat spell.
Over the course of this amazing road trip, I wanted to ensure that I’m not portraying, through social media and our blog post, life as a pile of puppies (one of Pamela’s favorite things/expressions).
The trip as a whole has been smooth. We do not fight…we don’t. We communicate about things, or I hold it in for a bit, then my mood changes and we chat and we move on :-). Ellie (The Van) has been outstanding, minus the recent leak in the rear of the van, where the factory camera would have been installed. And Penny Love has been just that…a bundle of unconditional love during this journey and in our lives. I can’t imagine our lives without her and what she’s done for me over the last 3+ years. She is four years old now, but that first year of puppy hood almost broke me 🙂
Pamela and I wrote a piece about why we are on this trip and how we are making up for lost time. I agree with our first piece about this trip and I wouldn’t change or trade anything about what happened to bring us here. All these moments in life make us who we are and shape us to be better people (in most cases), right?
One of the things Pamela and I have written about is the crazy year that was 2013 and how it has shaped us. Frankly it has deeply scarred me. There are many layers to the 2013 onion and some of those layers carried over to 2014 including stress and personality conflicts at work. Trying to move forward and heal myself mentally has been tougher than I thought.
A month or so ago Pamela and I saw the movie trailer for Patriots Day, a recounting of the hideous attack during the Boston Marathon, a day that will be with us forever. Not just because we love the event and what it means for Boston (being New Englanders), but because we were a part of it. As some of you might recall I was a mile from the finish and Pamela was across the street from the second blast. Our initial reactions to seeing the movie trailer were mixed. Pamela said NO and I was on the fence. Our friend Amanda, who was not only with Pamela at the finish but works at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital (the the hospital that I ran in support of that day and where many of the victims ended up at for physical rehab), told us about the HBO documentary, Marathon: Patriots Day Bombing. She said we needed to watch this before we might see the motion picture. She also told us the motion picture is more about the victims than it is about the attackers and day-of events (she saw an early screening along with survivors given the hospital’s involvement). So with Amanda’s blessing and insight we watched the HBO documentary. The documentary is emotionally moving and it offers insight into what some of the victims are continuing to deal with on a daily basis at a physical level and also the emotional toll they and their family members are going through.
What took place that day in Boston follows Pamela and I. I have moments of being mad, sad and deeply depressed and probably always will be. Granted I was “safe” from what took place given my distance from the finish line, but once I knew what was taking place I’ve never felt so helpless and useless to Pamela and her family. Through mental massage (i.e. therapy…just what I like to call it), I’ve dealt with some of the layers from that day and year. I’ve also found a great way to Control + Alt + Delete (reset) my depression by using the Headspace app, which I find to be the perfect mental tool. Generally I’ll do a 10 minute session when Pamela goes for a run, her version of Control + Alt + Delete. She thinks I sit around and do nothing (mainly because I said I would teach myself to play the ukulele and I haven’t…YET. LOL). The other great emotional tool I/we have is Penny. Her unconditional love and instinct when things are off is amazing. Plus, she loves to cuddle and just sit on my lap. See, a puppy pile really can be distracting.
The sadness and depression I have from that day is related mostly to the lasting effect it has on Pamela given her proximity to the blast and the aftermath that occurred of trying to evacuate the Mandarin Hotel. She’s never been one for large crowds (who is really) or waiting in lines. Since that day she has the mind of a master chess player, always four moves ahead, and always looking for a way out just in case. She also knows not to put herself in a situation that will make her feel anxious. Sadly, this limits some of the things we might want to do or experience in life and on this trip, but self preservation is important. Life has been forever altered by those attacks and at times I still feel helpless for Pamela.
Depression is a part of the rollercoaster of life for me now. It is also something that I and others who face it shouldn’t be ashamed or afraid of. With Pamela’s background in neurological rehab and an understanding of post concussion related issues, (depression, sadness, mood swings etc.), she’s helped me see that a series of severe concussions, the latest being the most impactful (car vs. bike incident in 2013), have taken a toll on my pea sized male brain. I’m more emotional at movies or during moments that occur in life now, great, and that indicates to me that I’m not a robot…Or could I be? Have you seen Westworld? I seem to float in and out of moods more easily. Or at least I did a few years back, pre trip. Sometimes the blue feeling creeps up without any instigation. Other times I start to feel blue about things that occurred at work, thoughts of Boston, life, family planning, the vanity of social media etc. and I can’t pump the breaks on the thoughts. Rather, they seem to just run their course. But over time the mental massages started paying off. In addition to the talk sessions, I went on a very small dose of antidepressants to help kickstart my healing/coping. I wasn’t as blue as often. I wanted to exercise more (a great natural antidepressant ) and I wanted to hangout with friends more often. My tolerance or hang-factor isn’t has high as it once was and this is a byproduct of concussions, being affected by visual and audio stimulation more easily. Now I just have to tap out earlier and do and Irish goodbye and that is OK.
This trip is just what the doctor ordered to help combat my depression. Again, the trip is not all rainbows and unicorns.
I’ve had a few days of feeling a little blue over the last 9 months. Some of the blue days centered around wondering what is next, when this 14 month odyssey is over, why some people I consider friends seem to have disappeared; maybe they don’t feel the need to check in because they “see” what’s taking place through social media, who knows. The most recent blue feeling occurred this week after Pamela and I toured Ruby Falls in TN. It’s a water fall that is 1,400ft below the surface. Yes it’s cool to see and a bit contrived given there is a tour guide. Getting to the falls was a nightmare for Pamela and I felt horrible afterwards for suggesting we do such an expedition. It’s 1000’ down in a mountain where you have to take an elevator then walk half a mile in and the only way out is the same way in. No escapes and the quarters are a little close down there. During the walk to the falls she had moments of wanting to escape and it brought me back to Boston and feeling helpless. It also made me see just how deep her scars are from the attacks. I wish for no-one to experience anything that Pamela now does, post Boston.
In the end, I’m grateful for having an opportunity to travel, explore, reenergizing my creative side and escaping the real world as it may be (crazy crap that happens each day that TV networks bombard us with doesn’t help anyone really) and for spending more time (by more time I’m talking 23/7) with my wife, who is a consent antidepressant for me.
When we departed on our year+ long journey Ellie (the van) was dialed. Pamela and I didn’t see much that we wanted nor needed to change. Three months into the trip I choose to make sliding bike trays. The reason was for the ease of access and additional storage it created. Thanks to our friend Dakota for pushing me to do them and our friend David for the use of his shop and tools, again.