A Life Pedalling Peaks

This is the story of Sònia, paediatrics physiotherapist, and Eloi, mechanical engineer, two passioned cyclists and outdoor enthusiasts, who decided to turn their lives upside down. They sold everything they owned, to jump on their bikes and ride long-distances across multiple borders. Crossing Latin America through the Andes, to then ride in Spain, their home country, through Andalucía, all the way to Morocco. And their ride, certainly, does not stop here…

Reading time: 7 min

Words by: Sonia Colomo

Sònia, paediatrics physiotherapist, and Eloi, mechanical engineer: both passionate about the outdoors and various sports since they were old enough to walk. Over the last few years, cycling and bikepacking became part of their lives. Weekend adventures and ultra-cycling races woke up something inside of them that they couldn't ignore any longer.

Both were working full-time, with no free time to pursue the activities they enjoyed the most. The pandemic triggered the turning point; did they want to leave it all, with all its consequences, to spend more time outdoors? Ultimately the answer was yes. It wasn't an easy decision. They both liked their jobs, they loved where they lived, and overall, they had a happy life. The decision wasn't a way to escape from anything but rather one to be able to experience more. And with not much to sell, apart from a car, a couple of bikes and their clothes, they sold it all, they quit their jobs and caught a flight to San Diego with two mountain bikes and some bags filled with basic clothes and a lot of excitement and fear.

They dreamed of riding through some of the best mountain bike routes in the world, and learning new cultures and countries, so they decided to start in Latin America where they knew they would face the biggest contrast from their current life. Since that big leap, their bikes and legs have brought them all the way back to Spain, their home country.

As of April 8, 2023 their next adventure started in Catalonia, riding through Andalusia and continuing to Morocco, aspiring to climb the highest peaks in the region. By June 6, 2023 the couple made it to Toubkal, a 4,175 meter climb and the highest mountain in North Africa and the Arab-Speaking World.

How do you prepare for a long-distance trip like that?

With the experience we had from previous adventures, we packed really light and decided to take the basics and not a single "just-in-case" thing. That means not many luxuries but the freedom to be able to ride mountain bike routes. We were both cyclists before the trip, we were strong, but a trip like that is not about being strong. You can't really prepare yourself for what you are about to experience, you learn a lot on the way. Some things that I believe are important are being able to adapt and change plans and know that it is going to be hard, so you need to be ready for suffering, physically and mentally. Of course, then, during the trip, there are many more things to prepare and things that you have to plan: where are the places in which I'll find water, when I'll find food, how many kms I'm able to ride per day, what's the forecast, etc. And you get better at this type of planning, the more you ride and the more you know yourself.

What are the biggest challenges that you had to face during the trip?

There are many challenges during a trip like that, some of them are external challenges and some others are internal. There are many days in which the weather has been against us and has put us through really hard times and scary situations in which we have asked ourselves "what the hell are we doing here?". In other cases, the challenges are related to an internal battle with yourself when you miss your family and friends, even your job, when you are having a bad day and all you want is a hot shower while you already know that you won't have it. The greatest challenge is to be able to adapt to all of this and keep going because this is exactly what you want to do and where you want to be and accepting that adventure comes with good and bad moments.

What do you like the most about long distance and endurance cycling?

The answer is very simple…to ride a lot! I love being on the bike so it's like a moving meditation. Also, on a bikepacking trip, the rhythm of riding is just the perfect rhythm to be able to be fully immersed in nature and the culture of the place. It's not as slow as walking, so you can cover quite a lot of distance in a short time, but not as fast as driving, so you have time to be part of the landscape and the culture.

How to do you prepare for a long-distance ride?

That's a hard question. It will mainly depend on your goals although there are some basics for me.

The first one is to be comfortable on the bike. I study the position on the bike and try on the clothes I want to wear. If you are not comfortable on the bike, it doesn't matter how strong or fast you are, you are going to suffer and probably fail. So for me, being comfortable is a must. Then of course there are a lot of other things in between.

For the ultra-cycling races I did before, I trained specifically for them. I prepared myself physically and mentally, which is even more important than just having a couple of strong legs. In this process I learned a lot about myself and knowing yourself is a very important thing on a long-distance endurance ride. Especially on a long-term bikepacking trip. A long-distance ride puts you out of your comfort zone many times, so you need to be ready for that and be ready to accept it and adapt to any situation.

Which tips would you give to anyone wishing to start long distance riding? And which “secret tricks” have you learned during your adventures so far?

Start easy to be able to enjoy the process and ride long distances if that's what you like. If for whatever reason long distance is not your thing, just go on something shorter, it doesn't matter, the main goal of riding is to have fun.

During my adventures I've learned to adapt, to plan and to not stick to that plan in the end. It's not a secret, it's a fact, you need to be flexible enough to adapt yourself to all the different situations you might face on the ride, good or bad. You need to know that many things will be out of your control, and you can't do much to change them, but you can change the way you look and react to all these things. Adventure comes with a lot of days of happiness but also a lot of days of misery; if you dig yourself in a hole, all the problems will look bigger than what they actually are, but if you climb out of the hole and keep going a bit further up, the perspective will definitely change. My trick in difficult situations is to ask myself three questions: Am I injured or sick? NO. Do I have enough food and water? YES. Would I see it differently tomorrow? Probably YES. Ok then just rest, you are tired, tomorrow it will be another day and for sure better.

What do you bring for a trip like that?

Packing light is key for such trips. We do not take many things with us, only the essentials: 1 down jacket, 1 rain jacket, 1 sweater, 2 short-sleeve shirts, 1 long-sleeve shirt, 2 bib shorts, 1 rain pants, 1 tights, 3 underwear clothes, 3 pairs of socks, 2 pairs of gloves, 2 headbands, 2 neck warmers, 1 long pants, a pair of shoes and flip-flops; a tent, a sleeping bag, an inflatable matt and an inflatable pillow, a liner, a small towel, toothbrush and paste and a menstrual cup; a gasoline cooking setup and a pot with 2 bowls, 2 cups plus a fork, a knife and a spoon; camera, drone and some external batteries. That's all.