The trendy topic these days is minimalism. Some people would think that we must be minimalists because we live(d) in a van. I don’t know the technical definition for minimalist, but I’m pretty sure I’m not one. Rather, van life has helped confirm my own personal definition for myself as a “less-ist”.
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!
As we begin to mentally prepare for life back in a stationary home, I’m acutely aware of the things I adore about van life. I’m not ready to miss these things or give them up. In writing this list of things I appreciate about van life and what I’m worried about losing by introducing the house (even part time), I hope to hold myself accountable.
Similarly, I’m worried about getting back to a stationary home and I feel that the list of things I’m looking forward to falls short. Therefore, in listing some things that I am looking forward to I hope to evoke more positivity about the transition back to our physical non-roaming address.
In no particular order, here are things I love about the van:
1). Shop small and use it all. We do small and somewhat frequent food shops and we use everything. There is no waste and I really want to keep it that way. I don’t want to over stock a pantry with food we don’t use. I want to buy fresh food and use it all, even if that means more frequent food shopping. There is no excuse for waste. It’s also economical. Before we left for the trip we gave away hundreds of dollars of food we didn’t use in it’s entirety (oils, condiments, frozen fruit & veg, frozen meat, seeds all come to mind).
2). In our stationary house we have a sliding mirror closet door right in front of our bed. We walk by it all the time. I don’t need that much visual feedback. Living in the van has limited time in front of a mirror, therefore deriving sense of self from how I feel rather than what I see. As someone who has struggled with body image stuff since the dawn of time, less time with a mirror feels like a path to success for me. I’m in a okay place about all of this but less mirror time has helped. So… I’m going to put up a curtain or something. Easy fix.
3). Despite appearances on social media, geographically van life has forced us to unplug for a few days here and there. I’m not against being connected via phones, Internet, etc, but I am a fan of it being taken away for small chunks of time. It’s good for me. It’s hard to do willingly. Jon and I are undoubtedly more connected emotionally when being plugged in is not an option. I love that. I want a day or two of being unplugged from time to time. It’s almost impossible to self inflict it when reception or Wi-Fi is readily available. Must think of a plan for this one.
4). We use very little water in the van. We have 12 gallons attached to the sink and a small 2-gallon portable container. It takes several weeks to get through those 12+ gallons. You can do dishes with a cup of water. I worry about the waste in my future re: water. We shower infrequently and that’s a water saver in and of itself. I think we will add an easy on/off switch to our showerhead and try to conserve.
5). We use products to their entirety. Lotion, bug spray, soap, shampoo, sunblock chap stick, condiments, cooking oils. Limited space means you can’t have 5 different lotions going at once. It’s insanely satisfying to finish an entire bottle of something before replacing it. I hope that increased space doesn’t impede our habit of having one container of each product going at a time and using it all before getting another.
6). Sometimes we crawl in to bed at 8 am and read or listen to an audio book together for a while before bed. No TV, no screens, just ears open and eyes on paper. I’ve been known to read or color from after dinner until bed and I’m not bored. It’s a time and pace that I cherish. It’s a routine that I love. Ain’t no shame in rocking the same vibe in a house, right?
7). Slow mornings are my jam. Jon gets Penny and then delivers her to bed with a cup of coffee to me. I love not rushing in the morning. I’m a good morning person, but I’m the best morning person when I can be awake but not doing anything but waking up.
8). Less is more. Our belongings in the van are limited, which means less stuff to manage. Moving back in to the house inevitably means we will end up with more, namely furniture since we got rid of most of ours. We are still determined to keep clothes, gear & misc items at a minimum, even if we own a few more larger items.
9). I’m worried about missing Jon. I truly love being with him 24/7. I love our routine, our van vibe, our days and our communication. I worry about losing some of that closeness as we introduce more physical space, distractions and separate routines. It will happen inevitably and we will be fine, but I’ll miss him when I have to share him with the world again.
Not living in the van will have a couple of perks:
1). Consistent recycling. Sometimes we are in parks, campground and communities where recycling is easy and apparent. Sometimes we are throwing out things that make us cringe. Regular access to proper recycling will feel good.
2). Moving something to get to something gets old. We use space well and things are tetrisized perfectly, but sometimes you want to reach for shoes and not move a bin or bag or two in the process.
3). Smoothies on the ready, whenever and where ever I want. While we do travel with a blender and have plenty of power to run one, we don’t have a freezer. No one wants room temp smoothies. In my world, smoothies only work when they are made with at least some frozen fruit. So bring it on, freezer.
4). Strengthening, namely Pure Barre. Not only do I understand the benefits of regular strengthening, but, as a physical therapist, I have plenty of knowledge to create my own program. There are zero excuses as to why I have let strengthening go for 14 months other than I simply don’t like doing it. Far before the idea of van life, it was like pulling teeth to get me to do regular strengthening, until I found Pure Barre. Suddenly, I was an addict. My metabolism has taken a direct hit as a result of my lack of regular Pure Barre attendance. The 25 classes I’ve done on the road have made me feel happy and strong, but there’s nothing like going on a regular basis. I’m truly excited to get back to that routine in Boulder as a Community Ambassador and I’m curious to see how my metabolism and body shift.
5). Couch time. Our seats in the van swivel, creating a living room feel. However, the 3 of us love to pile up on a couch and hang out. We do that on the bed now but it’s nice to have the option of sitting up for family time.
6). Professionally Jon and I are taking little leaps of faith. In September he will be attending massage school in order to both add to his resume and check a box on his bucket list. I will be starting my own independent physical therapy business based out of Koa Fit, a personal training facility, in Boulder. Upon reading one of my posts about my desire to work in wellness, my friend & cycling teammate, Brenna Backe, was kind enough to give me the opportunity to use her space as a platform for my own little PT gig. While neither of those are anywhere close to living in a van, we are both eager to see where they lead. I mean, what’s the best that could happen?!
You would think things like regular access to indoor plumbing and showers would make this list, but it’s been so easy and comfortable to limit showers and toilets that regular access in a house just isn’t something I yearn for.
As we slowly approach Boulder, most all I want to honor what Jon and I said at the outset of this trip: We view life as a series of mini retirements. I truly believe this is just round one of extended life in the van. I don’t only believe it, but I want it to be true. I need it to be true. Upon hearing our pain staking decision to return to our house my friend said “It’s good to leave the party while it’s still fun” and I totally agree. It will keep us creative, motivated and wanting more.
Prior to leaving the house we did a little questionnaire about our pending shift that I made up based on some Internet digging. It will sound very clinical, and I supposed it is, but it was short and gave just the right amount of insight we each needed to transition to the van consciously as a couple in a relationship worthy of protecting. The questions included:
- 3 Things you think will go well personally/goals
- 3 Things you are concerned about personally
- 3 Things you are concerned bout as a couple
- 3 Things you are concerned about the other person bothering you
- 3 Things you want the other person to know/be aware of
We filled them out quietly alone and then shared with each other. The entire exercise probably took 10-15 min and seemed to set the tone. We haven’t looked back on the questions until now. I have a feeling that a similar type of exercise will be and should be done upon reentering our house. The questionnaire just may have been part of the success in the van and may be part of our success out of the van. After all, one of our mottos it that life is all about expectation management (Thank you to my big sister for teaching me that one).
We had a taste of reentry back in April as we returned to Boulder in preparation to fly to Mallorca. The only word I could use to describe it was ‘overwhelming’. It’s an amazing feeling to see your friends after a year apart and my feelings of being overwhelmed are not connected to my community of amazing people. Rather, it’s how quickly Jon and I disconnected. I felt like we had stuff spread everywhere, we were doing things separately and trying to fit a zillion things in to a few days, a pace that is not familiar in van life. A couple of days had passed and I realized Jon and I had hardly spoken about the days’ events, what needed to be done, etc. It just felt like a lot. I couldn’t wait to get on the plane where we were forced to slow down and check back in. April wasn’t that long ago and that feeling of being overwhelmed and disconnected is not that far off. It’s the thing that weighs on me the most about moving out of the van.
When we first left the house we looked around and at each other with misty eyes. I’m not exactly sure why we were emotional, probably some combination of worry and anticipation. I remember hoping that we were not making a mistake and not testing our relationship too much. I almost said out loud that I was hoping most deeply that we were not setting ourselves up for failure or making a mistake. Approximately 24 hours in to the trip, those doubts left me. However, they are returning as we prepare to shift again. I hope going back to the house is the right move for us. I hope our relationship can sustain all the distraction and noise that comes along with reestablishing ourselves in the community. I have confidence, and perhaps a bit of insight that we’ll be fine, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say it has crossed my mind. So yea, I may shed a familiar tear as we pull up to the house, but if the last 14 months are any indicator, the Roaming Robos will thrive.
As we prepare to head up to Humbolt County in California for our 3rd annual Tour of the Unknown Coast (TUC), it seems appropriate to post this piece that I wrote after last year’s journey. At the end of this blog I set a goal of riding the 100 mile course in 2017, and, at this moment, the ride is 4 days away and I’m still not sure which route I will choose.
After 11 months on the road, we were finally in punting distance of Boulder which meant two of our good friends could intercept us. With a couple of months of planning, we met up with Kevin and Charlotte in Tucson, Arizona for some riding, hiking, camping and hanging out. We all knew there was good mountain biking in the area, but we were in search of groads, fewer cars and more smiles. With a little plotting and scheming on Ride With GPS, I had mapped out a ride that would tick off all the boxes: Continue Reading
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”: