HOLY GRAVEL 2020 RECAP

Part One

What am I doing here? And what is this all about?

sunset on the single trail
Sunset single trail climbs at its best (day 1).

In May 2020 I became part of the 8bar bikes gravel team. I was super stoked, flashed, excited and did not really know what this all meant. Due to Corona it was unsure whether gravel events would take place or not. I thought, oh well, I feel comfortable on my bike. I know that I can go long, I can go all-terrain, I can race, I can go adapt, it will be okay.

But little did I know what was waiting for me.

Just a few weeks before the event it was official: the Holy Gravel in Schleswig-Holstein is going to take place. Juliane, Jule, aka Radelmädchen, and I will be „racing“ for the 8bar gravel team.

HOLY GRAVEL

About the event itself: The Holy Gravel is a non-profit event. For the registration you have to donate an amount you choose (recommended was 1 % of the worth of your equipment) to a charity organization called Caritas in Hamburg. That’s it. You’re in. Then you get some info mails: the code of conduct and most importantly the track. The track is all that is provided to you from the organizers: it is a GPX file and tells you where to go. Also, it provides some waypoints with information like where you could possibly find water or shelter. But the route planning is up to you! You get to chose between a 555 km and a 750 km long track. The most important rule is: stay on the track! The time doesn’t matter. There is no ranking. There is no prize. It is just about the experience, about nature, about the passion of cycling.

gravel bikes parking at the second breakfast pit stop
Second breakfast pit stop (day 2).

So, I came to Berlin. Over 10 hours by train from Constance. I received my brand new team bike called „8bart„. On Friday morning I took the train to Hamburg. I met Jule my team mate in Hamburg and we stayed the night at Johanna Jahnkes place. In the morning, after a bowl of warm porridge, we rolled to the starting point in Hamburg all together. At 8:00 a.m. in the morning on Saturday the gravel race started.

Everybody at the starting point looked super prepared. Fancy bikes, fancy bags, fancy bike computers, fancy hawaii shirts. Luckily, I had the sponsored equipment (8bar bike, Ortlieb panniers, Wahoo computer). This was absolutely necessary for this type of race. To be honest with you: without the sponsorship, it would have been difficult for me to afford all of this.

But it was not only the the equipment that was outstanding for me. It also corresponded with the level of cycling experience that was represented at this event. I was (with one other expetion) the only person with flat pedals and with no previous gravel race experiences. I was the rookie. And I felt intimidated.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE YOUR FIRST GRAVEL EVENT

wahoo, cycling computer, sunset
Sunset, 116km done, 40km to go, just before I almost dropped out of the event (day 2).

Here are four tips for all gravel rookies!

No. 1: Make sure you have a good bike. It does not have to be a brand new gravel bike, but it should have wider tires (38mm or more), good brakes, comfortable geometry and a robust frame so you can spend some 8+ hours in the saddle. Add some sort of bikepacking bags to it (see No. 2).

No. 2: Make sure to be self-sufficient and carry your own food, camping equipment, a powerbank and tools. You need some space in your bags for some stuff: a tent or tarp, a mat, a sleeping bag would be nice. Food like bars, nuts, bread, sweets and some water bottles to refill. Tools and spare parts to fix a flat tire, a broken chain or to help somebody else out.

No. 3: Have some sort of cycling computer. I used a Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT and uploaded the tracks via my phone onto it. It worked great, no worries with the battery or the maps. But you can also use your cellphone if you have a proper case for it to go onto the handlebar. It is nice to be your own captain and not having to rely on other’s navigation skills. Yes, you do end up in smaller groups and most people have a cycling computer. But it’s a great feeling to be independent.

No. 4: Go at your own pace! Do not stress about the other people’s fancy equipment, their speed or their whatever (like I did). You will be fine. The people at the Holy Gravel were all REALLY NICE and also really helpful. Communicate your needs. If it is too fast, if you are hungry, if you have to stop to buy tampons, whatever it is, tell your mates! They will understand.

HOW TO RACE GRAVEL

So, you have a bike, you have the track and you have no idea what you are doing like me? Basically, you just ride. And when you are hungry, you eat. When you are tired, you stop. It’s all your choice. Who you want to ride with, how fast you want to go, how much and where you want to sleep is up to you (usually it’s camping preferred over hotels, speaking of self-sufficiency). But „the track is the track is the track“ (quote Jule). There are no short cuts. You are not cheating anybody but yourself. If the track says to carry your bike up some 50 stairs, you do it. It will be worth it. This is the fun about it. Somebody put lots of thoughts into this. The track provides. Just give it your best and have a good time doing it!

SO WHAT’S DIFFERENT?

banana and coffee
Coffee and banana = essentials (day 2).

If you come from a roadcycling or a biketouring background like me, I would like to tell you what I found was the difference to both other types of cycling.

Gravel is harder than biketouring is. Why? It is more intense (for me: faster than biketouring). You spend way more time in the saddle, you have less recovery time, you ride challenging tracks with sand, roots and other difficulties included, you just reach your limit faster.

Gravel is more exhausting than roadcycling is. Why? It is longer and more technical than roadcycling. There are super steep ascents and descents, tricky trails, you sometimes have to carry your bike. The descents do not pay off like they do on the road. You will have to go slow on the descents and also slower on the flats. Overall, it is good practice for your patience.

Gravel bikes, bikepacking, countryside
Gömnitzer Turm after carrying the bikes up lots of stairs (day 3).

To be continued:

part II: Coping with having my period, sleep deprivation, water and food supply at the Holy Gravel.

part III: My set-up for the event and insider tips that I learned from the Pros at the Holy Gravel.

Got any questions? Shoot me a message or leave a comment.



WHY TO TRAVEL BY BIKE

„What the heck? Why am I doing this?“

One of the most important questions (or maybe the most important one?) to anything is – “why?” What’s the reason why we put effort, time and energy into something? What’s our true motivation? What is our desire or wish or dream behind our actions?

Finding my personal reason why to travel by bike.

We tend to find a simple answer like “because it is fun.” Or “because I am good at it.” But what if traveling by bike is not so fun sometimes, it is exhausting and maybe painful. And what if I really don’t know if I am good at it? I mean there are a lot of people that are way better*. (*add anything here like: better bikepackers, better photographers, better adventurers than me). I want to look at these two answer more closely.

“Because it is fun!”

Fun can be anything. Going to an amusement parc is fun or eating lots of chocolate and watching movies is fun. So, is traveling by bike really fun?

Jenny Tough says there are two types of fun. “Type one fun is the kind of activity that’s fun all the time, like maybe skiing or something when you’ve got a grin permanently on your face.” Okay. So for me, it is clear that I am not going to travel by bike for type one fun. Biketouring can make you cry and scream. It can be hard. It is definitely challenging.

But Jenny says “Type two fun is different – it’s the kind of fun which can be very miserable at the time but literally the moment you stop it, you love it and you want to do it again.”

I feel this. Type two fun describes exactly the kind of fun I found on my bike. And then there are the rough days, without sun, with rain and wind, without lots of smiling. But during these days (especially looking back afterwards) I felt like I became stronger. And more independent. I learned to be in charge of myself. And I learned that it will pass. Clouds come and go – and so do hard days. When you realize this, you realize you can do it. You don’t let that control you. And of course, there are fun days in the sun where everything is amazing. These days are part of it, too 😊

“Because I am good at it!”

We are not born as professionals. I had to learn to ride a bike when I was young. And it’s the same for bikepacking. I had to learn to travel by bike, too. Just because you are not good at something now, does not mean you become good in it. And comparison does not help anyone here. Who defines what’s good and what’s not good?

Why the heck am I doing this?

I travel by bike to feel free. That is my reason. And to feel free is not always to feel happy. But to feel alive and to learn. I can learn to be independent, strong but also vulnerable. I learn to be responsible for my actions and in the moment. Traveling by bike is pure, unique and for me, the best way to move freely. Without having to be the best at it.

Cafetera, Antioquia, Colombia

Buuuuut there are a billion reasons to travel by bike. After going into some detail, here is a list of more reasons why to travel by bike that is relevant to me:

  • you can expand your social cirle and meet amazing people
  • you are flexible
  • you get fitter and exercise all day
  • you are outdoors the whole time
  • you don’t have to rely on public transport
  • you don’t have to rely on gas stations
  • you can go solo or you can pair up with somebody
  • you safe money
  • you get to enjoy the most wonderful scenery
  • you can eat more
  • you appreciate small things a lot more
  • you discover something new everyday

To be continued.

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HOW TO START PLANNING

First things first: How do you even start planning a bikepacking tour?

Here are a few „to do“ lists to get started. Planning is just as individual as traveling. I want to give you some ideas and inspiration. One thing I know for sure: if I can do this, you can do this, too!

WHY DO I WRITE?

In the beginning I only wrote for friends and family. I documented my trip on Instagram, loved to take photos and let my peeps at home take part in my travel through my stories. More and more people started engaging and following me. I realized what I was doing was something inspirational for others. I began to write more regularly, answer questions and give more details about my life on the bike. Some followers started to plan similar trips and asking me for advice. With this blog I hope to give more ideas, insights and advice for anyone interested. My goal is to spread the word about bikepacking. It’s a wonderful way of traveling, because it combines keeping fit and getting to know other countries and people. Also, it is a sustainable and healthy way of traveling – for you and mother nature.