Summer bike trips spent exploring new trails, camping under the stars, and dirt-bagging it on a shoestring budget were the bait that first hooked me on mountain biking – and it wasn’t long before racing became a natural extension of it. Somewhere along the way though, as racing became more serious, I began trading in my tent and camping mat for more luxurious accommodations, and somehow there was less and less time for exploring and meeting new people. This epiphany caused me to question my priorities in mountain biking; how could I combine both serious racing with the feel of summer bike trips of years past? Luckily, that question was quickly and easily answered when I took the opportunity to join forces with fellow racer and friend, Victoria, on a World Cup racing adventure in ‘Bumble’, her aptly named, bright yellow, converted Ford Transit Van. Bumble came equipped with all of life’s most important bike travel necessities and a month of ‘Van Life’ seemed to be the cure to getting back to my roots. This unforgettable adventure, that was anything but glamorous, provided some great life lessons for anyone looking to hit the road for an experience of a lifetime. Here’s my top five:
1. Get Comfortable Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone!
You definitely don’t have to travel across the ocean to foreign lands to have this kind of enlightening experience, but I’d encourage everyone to give it a go at least once in your life. Experiencing new cultures and really being out of your comfort zone in places where people don’t always speak your language is one of the best things you could do for your own personal growth. You’ll surprise yourself with how much you can learn about a new language or a culture if you really immerse yourself—and definitely learn how to say some basic phrases like “I’d like a large Café Latte” in different languages; this’ll make life so much easier! Luckily, I speak some French and German so I became the translator for Victoria and I as we made our way from the UK to Austria and then to Italy and France. “Je voudrais un grand café latte” and “Ich möchte einen Grosse Café Latte” were phrases used multiple times per day.
2. It’s All About the Experience.
As a privateer, you’re generally doing these trips on your own dime so remember to have fun. Yes, you’re there for a reason – to race – but if you’re having fun, ultimately you’ll ride better, you won’t get caught up in things you can’t control and you’ll end up engaging with more people and experiencing more. There will always be ups and downs in racing, and if you only focus on a bad race you’ll end up missing out on so many other adventures along the way.
3. Choose Your Partner-In-Crime Wisely!
This could very well be the most important lesson – you are spending a lot of time with your ‘van-mate’ in pretty tight quarters and the right (or wrong) person could make or break your trip. Victoria and I were a great match—even in the face of a few mental breakdowns we were able to laugh at ourselves and turn moments that could’ve been disastrous into some hilarious memories!
4. Embrace Your Inner Nomad.
Being a bit of a nomad is what ‘Van Life’ is all about. When travelling, we often made our meals at quaint roadside spots, we got really good at finding free WiFi, and most importantly, a good hot shower! Luckily at our stops on the World Cup circuit we were able to have a decent shower, but throughout our travels we often had to settle for anything from a freezing cold dip in a river to a random free shower we would stumble upon at a service station to get the job done. Embrace the nomad life, don’t fight it!
5. Plan, But Not Too Much.
There’s a lot that goes into planning a big trip like this, especially if you’re racing, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Instead of over-planning and being disappointed if things don’t go exactly as planned, just build a solid outline of your overall trip and be prepared for things to change or evolve. Have all your ducks in a row as far as racing goes: gear, registration, practice and race dates, times, locations, etc., and know the different places you want to visit when there’s a break between races, but also have backup plans. For this trip, weather was a big factor – Morzine, France was getting rained on heavily, so instead of heading there right after the Leogang World Cup, we followed the sun and drove to Finale, Italy, and experienced some sick riding! The best part of van life is that you’ve got your bed and kitchen with you at all times, the world really is your oyster!
As this year’s chapter of ‘Van Life’ ended I was humbled, not only by these new life lessons, but also by everything I saw and all the new and amazing people I met or got to know better. Although not easy by any means, I believe you can find a balance between race life and playful adventure. It’s an experience everyone should try, even if it’s just to come back home to appreciate what you’ve got in your own backyard. T.S Eliot once said, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time.” To me, the ‘Van Life’ experience really embodies the spirit of exploration and finding home, for the first time, wherever that may be.