A Journey to the Dolomites

A Journey to the Dolomites

By Florian Jardin

I've never really considered myself a cyclist, even though I've been riding bikes my whole  life. Initially, I didn’t even like cycling in the first place. But over time, I began to appreciate  the rhythm of pedaling. It's amazing what a bike and a few bags can bring you.  Italy, a perfect holiday destination with delicious food, generally good weather, and stunning  nature seemed like the ideal place to cycle to.  

The idea originated from my job as a freelance photographer, which involves a lot of  traveling, mostly by plane. Despite my work obligations, I often feel guilty standing at  Schiphol Airport. How amazing would it be to not have to fly for once? My photography  aims to inspire and motivate people to go outside and explore the world in a conscious en  sustainable way. Why not combine the two? Travel by bike, enjoy the outdoors and embark  on an adventure. 

And so, the idea was born to bike to the Dolomites, Lago di Braies, a tourist hotspot where  many people fly to. I shared my idea with friends and family, who mostly thought I was  crazy. "Ted, you're not going to bike to Italy alone; you're not even trained for it." But Hanna  was the first to respond enthusiastically. Her first question was, "Can I join?"

A few months later, we both set off on our bikes towards the Dolomites, starting at The Shore  in Scheveningen, a place that feels like home to both of us. 

The first few days took some getting used to. You quickly notice small discomforts from  cycling all day ling. I'd never biked more than 80 km in a day before. My butt started to hurt,  but it was special to see our small country from a different perspective. By the second day,  we crossed the border into Germany, with Düren as our first stop. We took a rest day there.  

The next nine days were spent in Germany, a country I rarely visited and had considered  grey, and boring. However, after those nine days, I had to take back my words. Germany has  beautiful nature and surprised me greatly. One of my favorite parts was the route along the  Lech River on day 12. We cycled mainly on gravel paths through forests, along the Lech,  away from the crowds, and immersed in nature. After a few hours, we stopped for a short  break and took a dip in the icy water. It was a short ride, so we had plenty of time to enjoy  everything we encountered. 

Despite Germany's beauty, I eventually felt like something was missing. The journey through  Germany started to drag on, with some days feeling particularly long. It rained more, the  campsites became more minimal, and I quickly developed Achilles tendonitis that bothered  me daily. I was craving that plate of pasta that was waiting on us in Italy.


The mountains came closer, and on day 15, we finally crossed into Austria, a highlight! We  climbed our first mountain pass, a steep climb that I had been worried about for a long time.  We cycled on the bike path next to the road, where various motorists honked at us, truck  drivers, tourists, and locals. "We're not doing anything wrong, right, Han?" I asked. But  Hanna assured me they were cheering us on. I got goosebumps and felt more energy to keep  going. 

After two days in Austria, we crossed into Italy, South Tyrol. It was a moment I barely  captured. Suddenly, time flew by. One moment you can't wait to reach the finish, and the  next, you're so close you want to stop time. People were following our journey, sharing in  our excitement, and suddenly we were there. On day 19, after the last challenging climb, we  arrived at Lago di Braies, also known as Pragser Wildsee, a popular tourist spot. Normally,  I'm not a fan of such places, but Lago di Braies is special. The crystal clear blue water,  surrounded by beautiful mountains, is magical even on rainy days. 

Since it's such a touristy spot, cycling is forbidden there. But our adventure wouldn't be  complete without a photo with our bikes at this stunning lake. Besides, we hadn't biked  1,353.31 kilometers just to miss the end. So, we took the photo, even carrying our bikes for  the last climb, a 100-meter hike to a mountain hut where we had a delicious plate of pasta  we'd been looking forward to for the past 19 days. 

This was an incredibly special journey. 19 days, 1,353.31 kilometers, and 8,400 meters of  elevation, that was the adventure I experienced with Hanna van Gerven.  Your body can handle much more than you think. With a bit of determination, you can  achieve anything. The aches and unpleasant moments quickly fade. The tough climbs  disappear once you see the view, this is what you do it for.

I'll never forget the people we met along the way. I'm not very spiritual but strongly believe  in karma, what goes around comes around. This trip proved that again. The man at the bakery  who paid for our bread after I sat exhausted on the ground before the supermarket. The older  man who bought a chocolate muffin, saying, "This will help you sleep well and give you  energy to bike." All the kind people who hosted us, the honking cars, the fellow cyclists and  bike-packers, the small conversations with strangers, and the lovely messages we received  via social media. 

A beautiful journey I would do again in a heartbeat. It confirmed how strong our bodies can  be, how you can achieve anything with a bit of perseverance, how many wonderful people  still exist in the world, how special nature is, not just thousands of kilometers from home but  also in our own backyard, and how grateful I am to be healthy and able to experience such  adventures. A trip I wish everyone could take. 

A bit of nature, some exercise, and fresh air can do wonders for a person. So, hop on a bike,  whether for 1,353.31 km or just 10 km. Every pedal stroke is a step towards adventure.