The rain stung as it pelted my bike and me. I could hear it hammering on my helmet and felt it streaming under my glasses and into my eyes. No one in their right mind would bike in conditions like this, yet here we were.
There were a few months and miles before this experience, so let’s get to the backstory. My husband and I love to bike. Biking doesn’t seem to aggravate his trick knee, so biking trips are something we can enjoy together in pre-retirement/retirement.
Through friends, we heard about the virtues of the established outfitter VBT Bicycling Vacations. They offer domestic and international trips, provide the main gear (bikes, e-bikes, helmets, etc.), and enjoy great reviews — 98 percent of clients say they’d travel again.
Pro Tip: Find a trip that fits your interests and abilities. You can sort trips by destination, travel styles (VBT offers three types of tours: guided, bike and boat, or self-guided), or travel dates. Choose from a trip ranking of “easy” (riding 15–35 miles per day) to “moderate” (riding 25–60 hilly miles a day). Trips include all lodging, most meals, transfers, cultural activities, and more.
Although we had international aspirations, we started with a guided trip to Acadia National Park in Maine to see if we’d like VBT as an outfitter, if we’d like a multi-day biking trip, and if we’d still like each other after a multi-day biking trip!
That trip was a grand success. We loved the comradery of the group, the guides, and the organization. We scanned VBT’s international offerings and found a gem: Slovenia, Austria & Italy: Alpine Valleys. The trip was rated “easy” and promised “sweeping views of snow capped peaks, pristine pasturelands, medieval settlements, deep wooded slopes, emerald lakes, and sunny cornfields.” They were right.
Pro Tip: VBT offers pre-trip and post-trip extensions so you can bookend your biking trip on either (or both) end. Both have value, but we think the pre-trip is a must-do to adjust to time zone changes before biking begins.
For the pre-trip, we started in Ljubljana, Slovenia, for a few days, then connected with a portion of our group and bused to the beautiful hamlet of Malborghetto Valbruna, Italy, to start biking. Before we knew it, we were part of 20 happy cyclists pedaling along alpine paths.
On this trip, we rode 25 miles a day (average) on paved, off-road bike paths in the valleys of the Julian Alps. The trip was a biker’s dream, and our weather was picture perfect, too.
“Deluge day” (day 5 of our trip) began like so many before it: a route briefing at the hotel, followed by what sounded like another storybook ride through an alpine mountain pass along a scenic backdrop of rivers, waterfalls, and lakes.
The daily route briefing is given by one of the guides. They hand out a paper copy of the route for that day, and the briefing covers details of the route, optional ride extensions for the go-getters among us, any tricky turns, points of interest, etc.
A word about the guides: They are all local and, in our cumulative VBT experience, all exceptional. These people know and love the area. On this trip, we had two accomplished guides, fluent in multiple languages: Slovenian, English, Italian, and German. The two guides rotate roles: one rides “sweep” (behind the last biker) and the other drives the support van to give tired bikers a break, carry the all-important snacks, and support any potential maintenance issues. And the next day, they switch.
Because this was a three-country biking day (biking the Alpe Adria bike path from Slovenia through the northwest corner of Italy and into German-speaking Austria), one of the guides had some fun. He gave us the route briefing in German! He ended it in English saying, “OK, have a good ride.” It made us all laugh.
Pro-Tip: Before you go, download the VBT bike app (they send a link in your trip confirmation materials) so you can follow route maps on your phone. Hard copy maps are always provided, but the app is a nice supplement that talks you through the route.
That morning, as we rode, the skies turned gray and overcast. We stopped and frantically pulled out and put on rain gear from our bike bags, right before the skies flooded our hopes for another day of carefree biking.
Pro Tip: Biking in a deluge is not for everyone! Because guided trips offer support vans, you can hop into the shuttle van for any reason (or no reason at all), and there’s no shame in that. Guides won’t allow biking if there’s lightning, but otherwise, they respect individual needs and goals.
When you take a multi-day biking trip, some rain is to be expected. But this? This was a total downpour. And surprisingly, it taught some good lessons.
Lesson #1: The Packing List Is Your Friend
VBT has been around the block (and around the world) more than a few times, and they have a comprehensive packing list. A younger biker skipped packing a raincoat and rain pants, and when she got caught in the deluge, her sweatshirt didn’t help her stay warm or dry.
Lesson #2: You’re More Creative Than You Think
In the rain, common items take on new uses. If you don’t have a helmet cover to keep the rain off your (vented) helmet, a hotel shower cap works. Tuck it in your bike bag, or buy a rain cover before you go. At the end of the day, your new friends biking with you who are coverless are adopting this same bold fashion trend, and those who aren’t are riding in the shuttle!
Pro-Tip: In the rain, we wear baseball caps or visors under our biking helmets because they have a bigger bill to keep rain out of our eyes or off our glasses. (Note: In a deluge, all bets are off.)
Lesson #3: The Guides Are Wizards
We had more rain after day 5, but nothing like the deluge. The VBT guides were everywhere, doing everything, while driving a full support van, and handing out plastic bags to cover bike bags so our contents would remain dry. They even worked with hotel staff to fashion a makeshift garbage bag “raincoat” for the traveler who didn’t pack one. They were consistently knowledgeable, personable, and adaptable.
Lesson #4: It’s Good To Feel Alive, Challenged, And Free
To my surprise, biking in the pouring rain was… exhilarating. After the trip, when I tried to explain it to a friend, she said, “I’m sure you were on high alert because of the conditions.”
Yes, it can be slippery biking in the rain, but it was more than that. My life is relatively comfortable and easy: I sit in my safe, warm home, in my safe, warm chair. How often do I really challenge myself, or find myself in conditions that really challenge me?
This rain enveloped me in every way and engaged all my senses. I could see the rain, hear the rain, smell the rain, taste the rain, and of course, feel the rain! My senses were in overdrive — I felt alive.
An even bigger surprise: There wasn’t an ounce of complaint in me. Who gets to do this? Who gets to see this view (soggy or not)? I was riding a bike in what must be one of the most beautiful locations in the world, and I felt free! Challenged, and free.
Eventually, the skies cleared, and we were no worse for the wear.
Weather is unpredictable, but adventure is more about a frame of mind than high- and low-pressure systems. While some rain is likely on a multi-day biking tour, a total downpour offers a unique opportunity for a new perspective. Sometimes, the biggest blessings and the best teachers are found in the place you least expect it, like biking in the pouring rain.
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