Europe Bikepacking Part I – 5/16-5/25

Getting back from our van trip, Taryn and I arrived home to the exciting (and terrifying) reality that we were scheduled to leave for Europe in 8 days. We had tickets to Nice, France and I had a return ticket home from Copenhagen mid-July (my sister is living in Copenhagen and it seemed safe to assume I could end up there), but not much else.

We knew we wanted to bikepack through the Alps, but neither of us had done any bikepacking before. I had seen an amazing bikepacking film, Ice and Palms, where two skiers had biked with skis from Dürbheim, Germany to Nice, France and the incredible imagery of the beautiful mountain roads had captured my imagination. Sitting in a coffee shop in Ouray earlier in the spring it had seemed a good idea to buy tickets to Nice and figure the rest out later. Now it was later.

As a first step we had to unpack and sort out the chaos that accumulated from a month+ traveling in the van.

With just over a week to train, I started to try to get some daily rides in. While Taryn is blessed with amazing off-the-couch bike fitness, my skinny legs don’t work as well biking as they do hiking and climbing uphill. I am always getting dropped on long mountain bike rides and I feared that happening again in Europe.

We also rushed to pull together our bikepacking kit. Bikepacking is still a niche enough activity that for anything other than the most basic of panniers stuff needs to be ordered rather than picked up at the local REI. We didn’t end up getting all of our stuff together until three days before flying out. With all of our bags and racks finally in one place we nervously loaded up all our gear and took our bikes for a test lap around Liberty Park before declaring our setups sufficient for the next month of adventuring.

In the end the following is what we ended up with for gear. For me:

For Taryn:

Some notes on the gear:

Relatively road-focused gravel bikes ended up being perfect for the trip. We spent >95% of our time on roads, but the improved comfort and stability over what might be found on road bike was greatly appreciated. When we did find ourselves on dirt or gravel roads it was nice to have the reassurance of slightly burlier tires.

We each ended up with about 50L of storage capacity (depending on how much we wanted to overstuff things). This allowed us to fit bikepacking gear (including a small mid-style tent), running gear (running shoes, running poles, running vest, etc), general stuff for a month+ traveling in Europe (a nice pair of pants and a button up), and one to two days of food. I am very thankful we both ended up getting pannier racks rather than a seat bags as the racks allowed us to easily lash stuff on when we needed additional storage.

My favorite pieces of gear ended up being the Dry-Lite Panniers and the Revelate top tube bag. The Dry-Lite Panniers are significantly lighter than full panniers while still being large enough for me to store all of my clothes in. They are quite a bit cheaper than regular panniers and I had zero issues with durability during the trip. The Revelate top tube bag perfectly fit my a6400 camera with its kit lens which allowed me to easily pull out my camera throughout our adventures.

The final, and arguably most important, piece in our preparations was to figure out our actual route plan. Generally we figured we’d bike from Nice towards Geneva, with plans to stop by Lyon for a day or two to visit some friends. In classic David and Taryn fashion, this was pretty much the extent of our plan up until the day we were flying out. With all of our luggage sitting in the living room it suddenly became very obvious that there are a lot of roads from Nice to Geneva, and not all of them might be very nice to bike along. So with the remaining few hours before we had to head to the airport I set out to nail down a route.

I searched “Nice to Geneva bike touring” and chose a random site that provided baggage service for riding from Geneva to Nice. More importantly, the site included a detailed day by day itinerary. I pulled out my phone and tried to reverse and compress their itinerary to map it onto the general timeline we hoped to be in Lyon by. After 30 minutes of playing around on Gaia I had something that looked reasonable. Taryn didn’t have Gaia so I screenshot-ed the route and sent her the photo. With that we declared our planning complete and headed to the airport to catch our flight to Europe.

The travel from SLC to Nice was wonderfully easy. Some crazy airline exec decided there should be a midweek direct flight from SLC to Frankfurt so we each got a row to ourselves. Frankfurt’s customs was a bit dubious of the fact that we couldn’t answer where we were planning to sleep, where we were planning on going, or really how and when we planned to get back to the US, but our incompetence must not have been too threatening because they let us through and we made our connection for our flight to Nice.

As we flew over France I marveled at the fact that we would soon be on bikes, reversing much of the journey. Eventually we began to descend and we got our first views of the beautiful southern coast of France. The turquoise waters of the Mediterranean beckoned and I pressed my nose against the glass like a little kid to get a better view.

We landed and made our way to the baggage claim area, both nervous and giddy. We were relived to see our bike boxes appear and we started work on the surreal process of reassembling our bikes and supplies in the middle of the airport. Our practice a few days prior paid off and we were able to get everything strapped to our bikes without causing too much of a scene.

We wheeled our bikes and the now-empty boxes out of the airport and into the humid Mediterranean world. Our bikes successfully constructed, the next problem to be solved was what to do with the two very large boxes we now needed to dispose of. I kept and eye on the bikes while Taryn swallowed her pride and began asking any employee she could find if there were any dumpsters around.

Eventually Taryn managed to track down directions to a dumpster in a nearby parking garage so we grabbed our bikes and boxes and headed out.

With a bit of searching we found the parking garage and abandoned the boxes. Ditching the clunky boxes, I felt a wave of freedom that would soon become familiar throughout the trip. With everything we needed strapped to our bikes it felt trivially easy to follow our whims and head wherever we desired. We googled for hostels in Nice, found one near the ocean, and hopped on our bikes to head in towards Nice proper.

Our first taste of Europe’s bike infrastructure did not disappoint and we followed a perfect bike path along the promenade into the city.

It was a little after 5pm by the time we checked into a hostel and unpacked our bikes. We had been traveling for almost 24 hours and were starting to feel the effects, but the combination of a new city, freshly unloaded bikes, and a desire to get onto a normal schedule helped us motivate to leave the hostel. We biked back to the ocean and went for a rejuvenating swim. Floating in the beautiful water looking back at the beautiful Art Deco facades overlooking the ocean we realized we would regret not spending at least a day soaking up the beauty of the Mediterranean coast. While we both seem to default to suffering in the mountains, it was clear we needed to lean into the European vacation energy and hang around Nice for one more day.

We spent the remainder of our evening energy exploring the city before heading back to the hostel for some much needed sleep.

I woke up at 5:30am the next morning. Taryn was still deeply asleep so I snuck out of the hostel room and headed back out into the city for a walk. The city was achingly peaceful at this early hour and the calm provided some wonderful space for reflection after a week of rush packing and travel.

Getting back to the hostel Taryn and I grabbed some breakfast and discussed what to do with our day. Our priorities were to stay close to the coast and get lots of swimming in. With those in mind we decided to bike to the west up to Monaco and back. Daytripping to another country seemed like a worthy destination, and Monaco felt high on the list of places we’d never plan a full vacation to.

The riding along the coast was majestic. The roads wound up, down, and around rocky coastline. The shoulders were at times narrow, but drivers were largely respectful and gave us plenty of space when passing. We passed cove after beautiful cove, with elegant mansions high on bluffs overlooking the ocean.

As we got closer to Monaco we began to see more and more temporary signs with various announcements on them. Eventually we saw one with the words “Grand Prix” and the dates 5/25-5/27 and realized that it was the weekend of the Monaco Grand Prix! Suddenly all the helicopters and massive yachts we had been starting to see off the coast made sense.

We soon arrived in Monaco proper and made our way to the center of town.

The scene downtown was like nothing we had ever experienced before. Looking out over the harbor we saw row after row of massive yachts sitting at the docks. At one point a row of bollards began to retract and we saw a car with darkly tinted windows roll up. The driver and another person got out and opened the passenger doors. A mother and her teenage daughter stepped out and walked into the Casino de Monte-Carlo without so much as a single glance at the crowd or their help. I have never felt more out of place than I did standing there in my sweaty biking gear.

After a couple of times of being asked to move by serious looking men in suites we decided to move on and explore Monaco a bit more. Despite the Disneyland-esque vibes it really was a beautiful place to bike around.

Eventually we ended up down at Larvotto Beach and hung out there for a while, going for a swim and soaking in the perfect weather.

Having gotten our fill of Monaco we got back on our bikes and started the ride home. Things got a bit spicy when we accidentally ended up on a highway, but we managed to find an exit fairly quickly and then enjoyed an amazing switchbacked descent back down to the coastal road we had came in on.

We rejoined the road at a spot overlooking a beautiful harbor. Feeling like it was time for another swim we identified a small path leading down a steep ravine. We locked up our bikes and made our way down.

The descent down the ravine felt like being transported into a magical world. Mysterious doors lined the steep pathway.

Eventually we arrived at a wall of limestone with a narrow tunnel leading through it. Beyond lay a perfect little cove with a beautiful little beach tucked in the middle. This beach definitely felt less touristy than the previous ones we had visited, and there were only five or so other people lounging around. Relaxing on this quiet beach after a nice day of biking was truly heavenly and definitely had both Taryn and I questioning our plans to leave the coast the following day.

Eventually it was time to make our way back to Nice. We made our way back up the ravine and back to our bikes. We only made it another two miles before spying another nice looking beach and stopping there for yet another swim. Finally satiated by three swims in the last five hours, we finished up the ride back to Nice. We celebrated a successful first ride by getting Taryn some ice cream she had been craving.

All in all it was an absolutely perfect start to our adventure in Europe. The landscape, the culture, the activity, all felt novel after a spring of dedicating ourselves to intense mountain activities. The feeling of complete freedom and flexibility was intoxicating and made me very excited about the days to come.





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