This June, professional Parkhotel Valkenburg cyclist’s Demi Vollering and Marit Raaijmakers decided to maximise their time at home without racing by embarking on a ten-day bike packing adventure through Switzerland. A dream experience for both riders, that they were never previously able to fulfil due to ongoing racing commitments throughout the summer months.
Ten days, 35.5 hours, 11,774m of climbing, 710km and one rest day later, they achieved just that, aboard their trusty Factor ViSTAs.
Following approval from the team, support from sponsors, and some tentative gear selection, Demi and Marit hit the road via campervan from the Netherlands on route to their starting point in Luzern. From there, they’d go on to travel by bike towards Zermatt, through to Lausanne, rounding out their trip in Basel.
After a few practice runs, they had their ViSTA’s locked and loaded with the essentials to get them through some huge days through the Swiss Alps, from all-weather riding gear to camping equipment, including sleepwear and cooking necessities. All impressively fitted compactly into their Shimano bike packs, weighing in at around 15-20kg.
With COVID restrictions still in place, they decided to go all-in for the bike packing – camping, ‘au naturel’ experience, requiring careful planning to ensure they had all the key items, without overloading.
Although well prepared with their packing, they opted for a spontaneous approach when it came to the route. Choosing to target key places they hoped to visit, but enjoying the adventure of getting there as they went over a mixture of road and off-road terrain while adapting daily to the sporadic Swiss summer weather.
Most evenings, they finished the day’s efforts at a campsite. However, on several occasions, they had to trust their instincts, source the base for the night with water, morning sunshine, enough shelter to start an evening fire, and see through the standard afternoon-evening mountain storm.
Naturally, the terrain was largely up and down as they ventured through the Alps, every day enduring at least one challenging ascent and climbing up to 1900m at a time. With an extra 20kg on board, they certainly had their work cut out for them.
They had many highs and, as expected, a few challenging moments along the way throughout the experience. However, both riders completed the trip, still smiling, immensely satisfied, and eager to start planning their next bike packing adventure, Norway bound.
To get some insight, they’ve shared a few trip highlights, challenging moments, ViSTA thoughts, and more.
“So many! The beautiful places we visited and just the experience of being together with only our bikes and camping equipment. Riding on roads we have never been, finding our way as we went, the beautiful scenery and the excitement of finding our daily sleeping spots and food/drinks.
Demi and I are both adventurous and know a lot about camping in the mountains, so we really completed each other. We also did a lot of hiking. Some days after a long day on the bike, we’d build our camp for the night, make dinner and wash our clothes, then we would go up the mountain trails running to reach the summit so we’d see the sunset and stars.
For me, a highlight I will never forget was climbing and descending the Furka Pass…It rained the whole night and day, so we stayed in our tents to get some extra rest. At four o’clock in the afternoon, the sun broke through, so we dried and packed our things. At five o’clock, we left for our ride that day, which made us climb the Furka Pass during sunset. During the day, normally there is a lot of traffic on the climb, but when we climbed it, there was nobody. At the summit, we got to see the last few minutes of the sunset and descended in the twilight. We then needed to find a sleeping spot next to the Rhône Glacier in the dark, and cook dinner with flashlights just to add to the evening’s adventure…”
“Every afternoon, the weather changed really quickly from beautiful sunny weather to thunder, wind and a lot of rain. Most of the time, we were still on our bikes when the weather turned, so that was at times a bit scary because we were so high up in the mountains!
On the first day, we were on a gravel path somewhere high, and somewhere remote. The road was so steep at some points that we changed shoes and started to walk further, and then we saw a big black cloud looming over the mountain next to us, already rumbling! We found a little rest house for hikers and decided to wait there for a while. But the clouds grew bigger and darker, so we asked ourselves, ‘do we want to sleep here tonight?’, or ‘shall we try to make it to the campsite 15km away?’ Initially, we made the call to stay there for the night, but then we changed our minds and decided we should try to make it. And so we went! We hurried as best as we could, and luckily it was only 2km up and then 13km down. So we rode the downhill as fast as we could with our hiking shoes on! When we arrived at the campsite, it started to rain so hard. So we were really happy that we could take a warm shower and eat hot pizza!”
“One day, we were so soaked, tired and hungry, we recorded ourselves eating bread and jam in the sanitary room at the campsite, still in our cycling kit, revealing the glamourous side of our trip. You feel pretty self-mocking when the only spot you can sit dry that day is next to the campsite toilet!”
“The Vista was beyond expectations! When we started the trip, I was pretty nervous. With all the extra baggage on it, I was scared something would break or misfunction. I am the mechanic of the two of us when it comes to bikes, so I was a little apprehensive. Also, because I knew the roads/trails we were taking were tough, but this bike really gives you wings. I’ve never experienced so much freedom while riding a bike. On the road, it feels almost like a road bike and can go just as fast. And when we saw a gravel or ‘wanderlust’ trail, (MTB/walking path) we had no hesitation that our bikes would make it. After a few days, we were so comfortable and confident on our bikes that we were descending above 70km/hr. Also, cornering in ‘tornanti’ was no problem! On the off-road trails, the bikes just find their own way.
I think we both upped our skills on the bike throughout the ten days. I love this bike so much; I still ride on it every week at least once. Normally in my training schedule, I have one or two endurance rides a week, so I take my Factor Vista to explore new roads in my own area or somewhere else in the Netherlands.”
Would you do it again and is there anything you would do differently?
“Absolutely YES! I think travelling by bike is the best way to see a country. When you go by car, you go too fast to enjoy it, and mostly over big roads, and walking is too slow. I am definitely sold on bike packing and hope to go to Norway for our next trip.
Maybe next time I’d prefer to do it less primitive. I really enjoyed this experience and I am proud that we did everything primitive this time, but a few nights at B&B’s would be a nice change.”
Do you think the trip helped with your training leading into the current race season?
Yes. Physically, we had to do a lot of endurance rides throughout that period. So for that, there was no difference. Only the camping side of things was an extra physical effort. But maybe more important mentally, as it was a great help leading into the current race season.
Since I turned pro at the age of 18, I have always been on the move. I’ve never been at home for so long just training. Corona really changed a lot, especially in the beginning…I really felt the urge to travel.
Also, with the current situation, the 2020 season will almost connect to the 2021 season. There is no ‘off-season’ like other years, so this was a good ‘break’.”
– Factor Vista
– Shimano bike packs
– Tent (one person fit)
– Sleeping mat
– Sleeping bag
– Inflatable pillow
– Gas burner
– Folding cutlery
– Power bank
– Bike lighting
– 2 sets of summer cycling kit
– Leg/arm warmers
– Rain jacket
– 1 set of summer sportswear
– 1 set of winter sportswear
– Gravel cycling shoes
– Running shoes
– Flip flops
– Lightweight travel towel
– First Aid kit
– Spare tires / bike tools
Their creative route was tracked on Strava.
See below for daily ride links.
DAY 2: 80.2km, 4:15, 1605m
DAY 3: 41.9km, 2:32, 1219m
DAY 4: 55.8km, 3:33, 1891m
DAY 5: 119.4km, 5:43, 1245m
DAY 6: 93.6km, 4:04, 617m
Day 7: REST
Day 8: 41.18km, 2:50, 1263m
DAY 9: 106km, 5:08, 1921m
DAY 10: 99km, 3:05, 398m
Both riders captured some incredible content that was shared daily via their Instagram accounts throughout the trip. Daily stories are still active in highlights for those fellow bike packing enthusiasts out there who wish to discover more…
If you weren’t a bike packing fan, surely by now you’re at least tempted? We certainly are and look forward to following Demi and Marit’s next Vista adventure through Norway. For now, we wish both girls all the best for the remainder of their road season with Parkhotel Valkenburg.
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