A beginner. Once again.

Fanny and Sofiane spent their holidays touring by bike together. Switching to holiday mode was a challenge.

Photos By

Fanny Bensussan

I uploaded my very first ride on Strava in 2016. You can still scroll and find it. I can’t remember how I found out about Strava, or why I thought I should wear a bib, but I had created an account and I was sitting on a chamois, I obviously had done my research.

When I thought about buying a road bike at the time, I entered every single bike shop in Paris, asked questions, and I could not answer the ones I was asked in return: “How long are you going to ride? On what kind of road are you going to take your bike? Where do you want to go? Are you part of a club?” because I had absolutely no idea what I was capable of, or if I would even stick to it. But somehow I had a good instinct, and probably showed some goodwill, as I was offered a good bike, as well as cheap but efficient clothing and gear to wear with. I clipped in my pedals and went out on a cold January morning, unclipped and clipped in again 10 times approaching every red light, twisting my hip several times while doing so. Out of breath, mostly because of stress, certainly not because of speed, I came back home after 1 hour and 18km. I remember my first group ride as well, not so long after that: it was a very flat cycling path following a river, with a few bumps to get up and down to the water; I could not go up any of the bumps, probably 2m long and 20cm up.

3 months later I loaded 200km. I don’t remember my first 100km in-between, a non-event. From there, I jumped right into long distance races. I did not approach them as races though, more as very personal adventures. I had expectations, but no other real goal than finishing and enjoying myself. I did not care about being in the front or at the back. I was doing mistakes, learning, and it was challenging enough. I rode exactly the way I knew and liked: without stopping too much, waking up early, appreciating the most during the climbs. My first long distance event was 1.200km going through the Alps, and previous to it, I rode around Paris, where it is not exactly known for being mountainous. I had been to the Mont Ventoux to get the first idea. I was not able to reach the top then, it was snowy and windy. But I had climbed my 1st mountain. It is only from 2019 that I started thinking about pushing myself further, and getting out of my riding comfort zone. I entered the Paris-Brest-Paris with a goal, a very bad choice of race to start with. Paris-Brest-Paris is a celebration more than a competition. From there though, I was more competitive on every race I entered, until my first Transiberica, for which I properly trained. I finished 6th and very proud of what I achieved.

P1720250.jpg

P1740152.jpg

P1740160.jpg

From 2017 to 2022, I rode about 20.000km a year, happy to be on my bike every weekend chilling or training. The few holidays I had, I went away racing. I have a few 1.200km, 2.500km, 3.400km races in the bank. Sometimes on a weekend, I skip the train to meet friends 200km away. I can’t say I am a beginner at cycling anymore. But still, never have I been on a bikepacking trip.

I have no idea what it is to ride without rushing to a finish line ; to enjoy a slow pace instead of pushing the pedals, and to stop to take pictures; to plan day to day and change direction in the middle of the ride to go with the wind, instead of fighting it. To carry 3 longsleeve base layers for no reason, just to have the choice in the morning. To check the restaurants around instead of binging anything that is available. To stop whenever I just feel like having coffee, meaning often. Long story short, to have a proper cycling holiday.

I am between two jobs, with a lot of free time. So I hopped on my bike and went away, one month without obligations in front of me. Once again I am a beginner, learning a brand new discipline.

P1720386.jpg

The original idea had been to go to Sicilia (Italy), an island we crossed twice during 2 Two Volcano Sprint races, in 2020 & 2021, and once more to get our plane afterwards. The island seems too small to spend one whole month there, so we decided to check out Sardegna as well. From there, and to avoid as much as possible to fly, we started our holidays from where we were, Paris for me, and the Picardie region for my boyfriend. We crossed Corse from North to South in 5 days ; took the ferry from Bonifacio to Santa Teresa, and zig-zagged in Sardegna for 15 days. After 12 hours of ferry from Cagliari, we reached Palermo in Sicilia at last and we had 10 more days before getting back to Paris.

On September 2nd, I took a train from Paris to Montauban. I have friends leaving nearby, and crashed at their place for 2 nights. Then I went south to meet my boyfriend in Marseille. He and I have spent a few weekends on the road, but nothing I would call a biking holiday. I grt frustrated with him very often when we are riding together: when he is faster than I am, and he leaves me behind, I feel like I am not strong enough. When he is patiently riding by my side, I feel guilty for keeping him prisoner of my slow pace. I wish I could take his wheel to protect myself from the wind but I am too proud to ask him for help. It might seems pretty horrible to ride with him, but it actually forces me to push myself and learn, try harder and be less lazy. Remember, I always have a race coming up. Not this time.

P1740037.jpg

P1740377.jpg

Not once have I felt frustrated riding with Sofiane (okay, yes, now I remember just this one time only), and I think that it is because the word “holidays” carries magic. No preparation involved, no training, no goal. We rode next to each other, but most of the time, each at our own pace, meeting every now and then, and stopping to gather ourselves, kiss in front of a nice landscape, share thoughts, drink coffee, buy food. Those rides had absolutely no other purpose than pure pleasure.

While we don’t have exactly the same strength, we both race ultra distance, and we share the same overall view of the journey. Our favourite part of a trip is the ride itself, and not the destination. We are happy to spend more time riding than walking through the streets of the cities where we spend our nights. We don’t feel like ticking boxes and visiting all the must-sees. We don’t fancy expensive hotels as long as we have the comfort of a hot shower and a good bed. Same goes with the food, we are not picky and we had supermarket dinners in Corse, pizza every single night in Italy. As long as the road is nice and quiet, the views are stunning and the landscape free of tourists, we are happy.

P1740363.jpg

P1740248.jpg

P1720727.jpg

P1720701.jpg

P1740049.jpg

The route was made day by day, following more or less a general map I prepared ahead of the trip. Each night, depending on the form of the day, we decided how long we were going to ride the following day; we checked if a hotel was to be found, after about the distance we just agreed on (about 120k/day); we then adjusted the map to the destination.

After about 10 days, we finally reached the sea (we stayed pretty much in the centre of the islands most of the ride, far from the coasts) and since I felt like jumping between the waves, we took a rest day at La Caletta, a small village on Sardegna. This is the only rest day we took. There was one more later in Sicilia, when we were forced, by relentless rain, to stop. We still tried to get out in the morning, threatened by dark clouds.The only 27km we managed to ride, against the wind and under the rain, were challenging enough, I can not call that a rest day.

I am not going to list what you should do to prepare a 1 month cycling holiday, or how you should pack. There is plenty enough information about this everywhere, including on my Instagram. I might be new to biketouring, but I had no surprises when it came to these subjects. I had no butt pain, I fuelled right, I slept like a baby, I had everything I need to dress in all kinds of weather (mostly warm), and I knew how to take care of my bike.

P1720297.jpg

P1720803.jpg

P1720677.jpg

When I came back to Paris, I slept one whole week. I usually love to run, to swim, to workout, to do yoga; to be out, walk to market in the morning, grab coffee outside in the afternoon; I am a very active person. Those holidays broke me more than a race, and punched me down to the couch. I am slowly moving my body again, getting my sport routine back. Let me tell you, it is tough. For the first time in weeks (or months?), my body is very, very sore. And yet, my legs are used to ride 350km a day in a race, my mind is conditioned to shut the pain up. When I come back from an ultra race, I usually jump back into work right away (early wake up, morning yoga, commute, brain activity). I had no idea holidays were so tiring.

The holiday’s routine was the following : in the morning, I am pretty early and I wake up before Sofiane. I try not to wake him up and if possible I go out for coffee, or I read. When he wakes up we have breakfast. We pack our stuff and off we go. We are out after 10am most of the days, a pretty slow morning. We usually stop for coffee or/and food after 3 hours of riding. Then in the afternoon, we might stop again depending on what can be found on our route, and maybe to get some groceries for the night (in Corse, mostly. In Italia, we might have 2 afternoon coffee stops instead, as we know we will find pizza for dinner). On the way, we take the time to record videos, and to take pictures. We arrive to destination at 6pm, at the latest. We have a room waiting for us, we unpack, take a shower and have time again to relax before going out for food. Or we just stay in and eat our supermarket dinner. We are in bed by 11pm, sometimes earlier than that.

P1720258.jpg

P1720209.jpg

In Sardegna, we had one full day of rest, not cycling at all. One night we found ourselves at a friend and shared a wonderful time in a very Italian way. In Sicilia, we shortened our 1st day because we did not feel like riding 200km after a night on the ferry (we planned 200km because the travel across the sea forced us to have a very early start for once). We changed directions because the wind was blowing right in our faces, and we prefer a nice tailwind. On paper, we were very kind with ourselves. About 120km per day, no sleeping outside, coffee stops and pizza nights ; quiet time at the end of the day, early to bed and late to start.

Maybe it was the 2.000m of elevation per day that added to the “only" 120km; maybe eating pizza every night is not good for the body (it was good though! Kilos of biscotti as well.); maybe it is me, used to “sprint”, to give everything for 3 to 10 days but not to ride 30 days in a row; maybe the mental fatigue of packing/unpacking/packing again, planning the following day (where to go, where to sleep, where to eat) every night were also tiring.

P1720288.jpg

I enjoyed my very first bike touring holidays a lot. I am not sure I could have done that one more week though. I am not sure what I would change either. Riding less seems to not get me anywhere; more rest days would be absolutely boring. Checking out all the must-sees still doesn’t interest me. My next trip is going to be 2 months long in Southeast Asia. I have no idea yet what the pace will be, what kind of road I will see, what food I will eat, how much I will sleep and how many rest days I will get. I am back in 2016, with all the excitement to start and learn, and no idea what I am capable of. I can’t answer any question, I have no fear; just curiosity and positive apprehensions.