fter a test trip to the Moroccan desert in winter 2019/20, our planned world trip got abruptly stuck in Corona lockdown in March 2020. From Berlin, we just made it to the Swabian Alb in southern Germany, where we turned our just-begun mobile life into stationary quarantine on barely 10 square meters for an unimagined 69 days.
Instead of launching our project at busy trade fairs, we kept ourselves busy in our Swabian home office, dealing with masking humanity and unmasking the weak points in our systems. We paused, put our plans to the test and made decisions. These led us to Paris in September 2020, where the Eiffel Tower marked the start of a new journey. Ahead of us – France, Spain, Portugal and, finally, Africa as a vague destination in an uncertain future.
Equipped with plan A, B, and C, we traveled over 1,200 km from Paris across the Pyrenees. I cycled all the way on the new e-bike flagship by HNF Nicolai, the XF3 Adventure. Silvio drove our truck “Elefantino". We came to like this travel setting as we were really looking forward to see each other in the eventing, often also for lunch, at meeting points that we sometimes defined very spontaneously. As we often traveled on different routes, we had a lot to tell each other every day.
In the Auvergne in the middle of France the weather suddenly changed. Sunny 35° degrees C were abruptly blown away by a storm and never-ending rain. Our high-tech fleet did not care. But we did. Thanks to wise planning, we caught a sunny window to climb the Pyrenees.
Having arrived in Spain, the first snow told us that we’d better hurry and catch up with the season. Our second setting seemed right for this situation: We loaded the bikes into the truck and traveled northern Spain with Elefantino. First, through the Basque country with its ancient, traditionally non-Spanish identity. Fascinated by the varied, mountainous landscape of Cantabria, we followed the wild and romantic coastal landscape of Asturia next to get to Galicia. At the northernmost point of the Iberian Peninsula, the lighthouse of Estaca de Bares, I hopped back on my bike and headed southwest, following the Camino de Santiago for the last few miles to Santiago de Compostela. Here, the famous pilgrimage route ends in front of the majestic cathedral in the heart of the old town, which has been designated a Unesco World Heritage Site. People of any age, from all over have hiked from far away to this magical place. They were sitting on the square meditating or simply taking in the imposing scenery and peaceful atmosphere. So did we.
This does not so much refer to our route, which went straight towards the south, at first. Rollercoaster rather describes the events and emotions we experienced during our journey through this amazingly diverse country.
We passed the Spanish-Portuguese border and encountered neither questions, nor forms. In fact, there was no one there. This was in mid-October, when the pandemic situation was getting worse again throughout Europe. I kept cycling through wild nature, passing through small ghost towns with no one in the streets. The few people I saw looked at me as if I was an alien. Silence, hair-raising commandments and unexpected special rights shaped our reality on this part of the trip.
At the same time, Portugal played out its scenic charms to the full, in pandemic solitude they seemed all the more intense. The north impressed us with its terraced fields and lush vegetation. Rivers and numerous reservoirs alternated with mountain ranges. In fertile nature, far away from tourist hotspots, I found fantastic bike routes everywhere.
A major highlight was the mountain range of Serra Da Estrela. This is where we tested another travel setting for the first time: Elefantino stayed and we went mountain biking together.
The XF3 Adventure had already proven itself as a travel bike. Now, on rocky mountain trails, it played off it’s excellent offroad qualities. Rolling over stones, roots, brushwood with ease even at high speed was great fun thanks to 160 mm suspension travel. But not only: The proven trio of the electronic Rohloff Speedhub E-14, Bosch drive and Gates belt is extremely well harmonized. With 14 gears the Rohloff hub fully works for the whole range from steep mountain rides with difficult passages to speeds of around 38 km/h on the XF3. You can even ride a speed pedelec to its maximum speed of 45 km/h with the Rohloff Speedhub if you "upshift" your own cadence a bit.
Coming from the derailleur, I first needed to get used to the hub gear system. Comparing both, the Rohloff hub has a great advantage: if you get stuck on the slope, you can comfortably downshift via thumb switch while standing and kick-off again without any problems. I would not want to miss this benefit, especially uphill with the bike fully packed.
After several circuits in the Serra Da Estrela, we leave Portugal’s Norte and Centro regions and enter the flatter terrain of Alenteho. Cork oaks, pine trees and eucalyptus line our path through the sandy, rural solitude. Reaching a vast reservoir we imagine ourselves in Africa. But our real destination seems farther away the closer we get as the boarders remain closed. In Alentejo we finally cross a climate border. South of this invisible line it is much drier, warmer and greener all year round. Finally, we managed to escape the winter that had been breathing down our necks since central France.
After weeks of loneliness in rolling isolation, we were longing for some liveliness. And found it in the historic town of Evora. We had almost forgotten what a cappuccino tastes like and what it feels like to sit in a café at the central square and have people around. People! What a contrast to all the emptiness we had experienced. What a pleasure! Exactly here, our straight-lined travel flow ends ...
We turn 90 degrees westwards for a detour to visit Portugal’s capital city, Lisbon. A worthwhile decision? Absolutely yes! Even in Corona times. Until it turns out fatal
Find out what happened after Lisbon in our blog at http://www.etraction-thetrip.com
Also visit us on social media for the latest news