I’m a sucker for movies like Love Actually and novels like Let the Great World Spin that seek to capture how, taken as a whole, the paths of individual lives become interwoven to create a meaningful story. During my time riding in Slovenia at a recent Komoot Women’s Rally and hearing snippets of different rider’s journeys to the start, it felt like I was living in one of these tapestry-like narratives in real time. The thing is though, we’re all doing this all the time but we just can’t always see it. Having the common thread of the bicycle and a shared destination to ride brought our collective overlap into sharp focus but this is a story that runs off the page in both directions—each woman in attendance has a rich history that predates these words and one that will surely continue long after. But, I felt grateful to experience a shared, if brief, chapter during our time in the saddle in Slovenia.
If this coverage was, indeed, a film here we might see a travel montage showing how a few of the more far-flung women made their way to Ljubljana. Imagine the split-screen shots of women across Europe—from France, to Germany, Austria, and Spain—packing up their bikes and bags to arrive by train, or car. Or, picture the parallel experience as others navigated their way through airports, from Colorado in the United States, to Colombia South America. Rewind more and we’d hear the clattering of 1,500 keyboards submitting applications for just 50 spots, then cut to Lael and Komoot organizers Cali and Maya pouring over every single one. Once selected, one Melbourne-based rider’s journey could be an article of its own after a group of Aussie brands, including Curve Cycling and Framework Designs, spearheaded a community fundraiser to help her cover the costs of traveling halfway round the world. Fast forward again to the weeks before the start and severe flooding in Slovenia sent Cali and Maya scrambling to reconfigure the route that they had recced the previous summer with Lael, Rue and others.
How many extra cups of coffee, hours lost of sleep, Zoom calls, WhatsApp messages, and collective miles traveled did it take for us all to arrive?
Photo courtesy of Loose Cycles
Landing in Ljubljana less than 24 hours before the start of the rally meant that I didn’t really have time to entertain the possibility of jet lag. The morning after arriving, I found myself bumping down a brick-lined street, on an unfamiliar bike, into the capital city’s Prešeren square. Several billboards I’d seen plastered with an image of Tadej Pogočar endorsing a bottled-water brand and, here on the cobbles, the pedestrian’s seeming indifference to a trio of riders coming through gave the early impression that Slovenia is a welcoming country for cyclists. Or, perhaps, just a welcoming country in general. I’d already been the recipient of warm hospitality from a local rally participant who’d kindly offered to pick up me and my partner from the airport, and from the team at Loose Cycles who’d agreed to receive shipment of the True Love Cycles Heart Breaker that I’d be reviewing during the trip. (They even stayed open late on a Friday night to build it up.)
Upon entering the square, it was easy to spot who was here for the event. All the bikes—road bikes, gravel bikes, touring bikes—loaded down in varying fashions were dead giveaways as some three dozen riders milled around in different groups; some finding coffee and breakfast, others taking photos in front of the unmissable pink Franciscan church that punctuates the surrounding Baroque facades.
When it was time to roll out, ours was a different kind of tourist group clustered in the square and we made quite the parade as we rode southeast from the historic center out into the country.
The play-by-play terrain recap often fails to convey the sense of riding in a place, but suffice it to say that Slovenia exceeded my expectations. Not that I really even knew what to expect going in. The beauty of these rallies are in the way they provide just enough support as to lower the logistical barrier to entry, without organizing away the sense of improvisation and discovery that’s so essential to making an experience impactful.
Even though the rally was rerouted through the southwest corner of the country, and away from the iconic Julian alps in the more mountainous north, the 375-mile loop delivered an engaging variety: bucolic valleys to rollicking forest roads, prolonged sub-alpine climbs, and even a detour into Italy and Croatia. Although Slovenia’s size is a little smaller than the state of New Jersey (for the US-based readers) and it’s population just 2.1 million (while the Denver metro area is home to almost three million), the route frequently passed through small villages, which made resupply options never feel too far away.
Weaving through the neat, often steep, village streets was an unexpected highlight of the route for me. The more rural areas of the country differ so drastically from what I’m used to at home. I found something comforting in seeing the pastoral bounty of a garden in nearly every yard and a well-stocked store of wood for winter. Countless window boxes on tidy white-sided houses—with sprays of pink or red blooms—and old church towers escaped my camera lens. Riding into one such town together the first night, a couple of Slovenian girls said with confident nonchalance that if we couldn’t find an inn to sleep at, we could just knock on someone’s door and ask to pitch our tents in their garden! My American brain couldn’t begin to imagine…
The group slinkeyed along as a collective for the first few days—spreading out as folks covered the miles at different speeds but ultimately ending for the night at the same place. Over evening meals, I was fascinated by the brief snapshots I got into many of the riders’ lives: an American “ex-pat” living in Berlin; a Milano cycling shop and cafe owner; an aspiring Olympic speed skater and crit racer; and a French filmmaker with stories from a 1,000-mile ride on horseback across Kyrgzstan.
A pre-planned vacation tour in Italy with my partner meant that I wouldn’t experience the full week of the rally, but I was grateful for the time I did share. A few others with a pressing travel agendas also broke off not long after me, and the remainder of the group further divided as some took on the challenging Croatia section and others beelined to Trieste to prioritize beach time on the Italian coast. But in a way, that felt right, too—moving at our own speeds but enjoying intentional connection when our time collided. And, perhaps, all leaving with the thought that if the bike brought us each here, where else could it take us?