Rural Belgium European Challenge

European Challenge

  Cross a continent, from the North Sea to the Mediterranean, from the Netherlands to Spain. Bike past picturesque villages, snowcapped mountains, big blue lakes, deep green valleys and sun-drenched hillside vineyards. Enjoy a celebratory swim in the Mediterranean after an ideal month abroad.

Overview Details Itinerary What to Pack FAQs Before You Go

Overview

Explore Europe on a challenging ride of unsurpassed beauty.

When you’re on a bike, you see so much. Why is that? For starters, you go slowly. You stop a lot. You’ll ride through three or four, maybe five or more small towns or villages, a dozen Dutch canals or windmills, three Swiss lakes, a mountain range between France and Spain. That’s a lot of beauty, a lot of exploration, a lot of adventure every single day.

And you do all of this together. The European Challenge is, first and foremost, a group experience. You and your group—the kids you’re with and your two Overland leaders—share every sight, every discovery, every high point together. It makes the experience incredibly rich and rewarding.

When you bike all the way across Europe—from the Netherlands through Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, France and Switzerland, then back into France and onto Spain—you can’t help but be changed by the experience: the world is so beautiful, so full of promise. And you, well, you’re incredibly independent and resilient, but you’re also a great friend and a great group member.

At trip end in Barcelona, you’ll look back on four weeks of beauty, challenge, friendship and fun—but just as importantly, you’ll look back on a month that couldn’t have been nearly as incredible had you not been on a bike. Going slowly. Stopping a lot.

 Overland was one of the best experiences of my life! The European Challenge presented me with new experiences and helped me achieve things I never thought were possible. 


- Jessika Huang, Glencoe, Illinois
Itinerary may vary by group and is subject to change.

Day 1: Trip Start

After meeting in Amsterdam, we’ll take a shuttle to our campground, build our bikes, practice riding as a group and prepare for the journey ahead.

Days 2-12: The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and Northeast France

The Netherlands are known for exceptional biking—a great place to start our journey. Building to our average of 75 miles per day, we’ll grow accustomed to our bikes and riding with weight. Together we’ll ride through the small but steep hills in Ardennes of Benelux testing our strength and endurance. We’ll pedal from northeast France in Alsace, to Luxembourg and Germany, before returning to France and the beautiful hills of Lorraine.

Days 13 & 14: Switzerland and the Alps

In Switzerland, we’ll head toward Bern and the Bernese Oberland. Riding through green valleys and small Swiss towns, we’ll conquer two 1,000 meter passes. We’ll ride to Gstaad and Chateau d’Oex before following the Rhone River valley to the shores of Lake Geneva.

Days 15-24: Provence and the Massif Central

Following the foothills of the Alps into the heart of France, through vineyards and ancient cities, we’ll head southwest into Provence. We’ll bike toward the Roman Amphitheater in Orange and then skirt the Massif Central. We’ll explore the culture and tour the cobbled streets of Carcassonne, one of Europe’s best preserved Medieval-walled cities.

Days 25 & 26: The Pyrenees and the Mediterranean

After three weeks of riding together, we’ll face the challenging, yet beautiful climb through the Pyrenees. Crossing into Spain, we’ll make our way down to Barcelona for a celebratory swim in the Mediterranean.

Days 27 & 28: Trip End 

In the morning, we’ll pack our bikes and prepare for our flights home. We’ll spend the afternoon exploring Barcelona and celebrating our month riding across Europe.

 

ACCOMMODATIONS

25 nights of frontcountry camping. All campground facilities will include hot water, sinks and toilets. Many campgrounds will have showers and laundry.

2 nights in a hostel in Barcelona. The hostel is a dormitory style accommodation with rooms divided by gender.

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Things to know

  • We travel light on Overland trips, please only bring items on your packing list.
  • There are no reimbursements for lost, damaged or stolen items.
  • Your group will have access to laundry periodically.
  • Please do not bring any electronics (including your cell phone). See FAQs for more information on our cell phone and electronics policy.
  • Do not bring any type of knife or multi-tool (such as a Swiss Army knife or Leatherman tool). There are absolutely no weapons permitted on any Overland trip.
  • A high-visibility exterior layer is required at all times while biking. See packing item descriptions for more details.
  • If you are flying to your trip start, pack your sleeping pad and bike shoes in your bike box or checked bag and take your helmet and sleeping bag with you on the plane as carry-on items in case your checked luggage fails to arrive on time. Pack all remaining items in a duffel bag or in your panniers (you can tape or strap your panniers together to check them as one piece of luggage).

Luggage

  • Pair of Panniers
    Students should bring all belongings to the start of the trip in the panniers they will use this summer. Panniers are saddlebags sold in pairs that attach to either side of your rear rack. You will want large panniers, 2400-3000 cubic inches total (for the pair), designed for touring. One large pannier has internal dimensions of approximately 17" x 13" x 7". You should be able to fit all of your belongings, besides your sleeping bag and pad, into your two panniers and have some space for group gear. Consider compressibility of clothing while packing for your Overland bicycle tour.

Clothing

  • Synthetic High Visibility T-Shirts (3) & Vest (1)
    A high-visibility exterior layer is required at all times while biking. On warm days a high-visibility t-shirt will be sufficient. The vest should be large enough to wear over warm layers while riding on cooler days. Please visit the Overland Store if you need to purchase these items and for an example of high-visibility apparel. High-visibility bike jerseys are acceptable but not necessary.
  • Bike Shorts (2)
    Biking specific spandex shorts with a padded seat called a chamois. Bike shorts fit snugly in order to reduce chafing and discomforts from sitting on a bike seat for long distance rides.
  • Shorts (1)
    Athletic or comfortable shorts to wear around camp
  • Athletic Socks (pair) (3)
  • Wool or Synthetic Socks (pair) (2)
  • Synthetic Long Underwear Top & Bottom (1)
  • Synthetic Pants (1)
    Fleece, synthetic or quick-dry material suitable. Please do not bring jeans or sweatpants. They are heavy, bulky and will not keep you warm if wet or on cold nights.
  • Synthetic T-Shirt (1)
    Short-sleeve shirt or tank top
  • Winter Hat
  • Gloves or Mittens (pair)
    Insulated, warm and waterproof. Avoid knit and porous materials.
  • Underwear (4)
    Synthetic recommended
  • Swimsuit
    Boys should bring a Speedo for this trip as most pools require it

Outer Layers

  • Waterproof Raincoat
    Waterproof material required (not just water resistant). Note that a high-visibility exterior layer is required at all times while riding and will be worn over your raincoat. Raincoats provide protection from wind and rain and serve as an extra warm layer. Your jacket should be large enough to allow layers underneath. We recommend hoods and breathable materials. Gore-Tex is a well-known waterproof and breathable fabric but there are many other quality fabrics. Ponchos are not acceptable.
  • Waterproof Rain Pants (optional)
    Waterproof material required (not just water resistant). Rain pants provide protection from wind and rain and serve as an extra warm layer. Some students find rain pants uncomfortable when riding and choose to ride in bike shorts.
  • Fleece Jacket or Pullover
    Medium to heavyweight and reasonably compact

General Gear

  • Water Bottles (2) & Hydration System
    A 24 ounce bike bottle is a good size to aim for but a smaller size is okay (it just needs to fit in a standard bike water bottle cage). For a hydration system the simpler the better—the pack is used primarily to carry water. If it's too big or filled with other items, it will be uncomfortable to wear all day. A 70-100 ounce (2-3 liter) bladder inside a small backpack (e.g., CamelBak) is a good size to aim for in addition to other water bottles
  • Sleeping Bag
    A lightweight, compact sleeping bag rated to 30 degrees Fahrenheit or less. We recommend either synthetic or down material. Your sleeping bag should compress into a stuff sack no larger than 20" in length.
  • Sleeping Pad
    Full or ¾ length compact sleeping pad. We recommend closed cell foam that is thin and firm (e.g., RidgeRest) or self-inflating (e.g., Therm-a-Rest).
  • Bowl, Mug & Utensils
    6" to 8" plastic dish or bowl with top, insulated plastic mug, spoon, fork and knife. These don't need to be special camping utensils - for example, a Tupperware dish and regular eating utensils are fine.
  • Headlamp & Extra Batteries

Bike Gear

  • Touring Bicycle & Rear Rack
      One of the following bikes is required: Trek 520, Surly Long Haul Trucker, Fuji Touring, Jamis Aurora, Novarra Randonee. These bikes must be in excellent condition and have been purchased in the past 48 months. Other bicycles will not be accepted. Please see the Right Bicycle for Your Overland Trip for more information about acceptable bikes and traveling with your bike.
  • Bungee Cords (4)
    These should be 18-24" in length. Bungee cords are included with an Overland bike rental.
  • Bike Helmet
    If you are flying to trip start, carry your helmet on the plane with you
  • Rear Bike Light
    A rear bike light is required when riding in low light conditions. The light should be battery powered with a variety of mounting options (clipping on to a pannier or a rear rack, for example). The Portland Design Works Radbot 1000 and the Planet Bike LED Superflash turbo are two example of bike taillights.
  • Spare Bike Tubes (2)
    Spare tube that matches your bike's tire size
  • Spare Set of Brake Pads (1)
  • Spare Bike Spokes (4)
    Spare spokes that fit your wheels (two front and two rear) including the spoke nipple. Ask your local bike shop for guidance.
  • Set of Tire Levers (1)
  • Tire Patch Kit (1)
  • Water Bottle Cages
    Attached to the bike frame. Some smaller size bike frames can not accommodate two cages. That's okay, as you'll be able to strap additional water bottles to your rack with your other gear. All Overland rental bikes come with water bottle cages.
  • Chamois Cream (optional)
    Special cream to put on your bike shorts chamois to reduce the risk of chafing and saddle sores. Some popular brands are Chamois Butt'r and Assos. You can purchase chamois cream at any bike shop.
  • Bike Gloves (optional)
    Well-padded for comfort

Footwear

  • Shoes for Biking (pair)
    Bike touring or mountain biking shoes with bottom treads and "clipless" recessed cleats. A popular style of clipless shoes and pedals are SPDs. Please do not bring racing shoes since they have hard soles that are uncomfortable to walk in.
  • Camp Shoes (pair)
    Closed-toe shoes to wear around camp. Crocs or lightweight tennis shoes are ideal.

Travel Documents

  • Passport
    A passport that is valid until at least six months after your trip end date
  • Passport Photocopies
    Make at least four photocopies of your passport and visa (if applicable). Leave one copy with your family and put photocopies in both your checked luggage and carry-on luggage for the flight, separate from your original documents.
  • Photo Identification
    A current school or other kind of photo identification (if you have one)

Miscellaneous

  • Synthetic Camping Towel (1)
    A medium size synthetic camping towel. Synthetic towels are lightweight and dry much faster than regular towels.
  • Gallon Sized Ziploc Bags (10)
    To organize and waterproof your gear and small items
  • Large Trash Bags (5)
    To waterproof your gear
  • Toiletries
    All items should be travel size. If necessary, you will be able to restock during the trip.
  • Sunglasses
    Polarized sunglasses that wrap around to protect from glare are ideal
  • Sunscreen (SPF 15+) & Chapstick (with SPF protection)
  • Personal Journal or Book (optional)
  • Camera, Charger & Extra Batteries (optional)
    A digital or disposable camera and, if necessary, a charger and large enough memory card to accommodate your pictures (4 to 8 GB)
  • Spending Money
    $75 per week in local currency or a debit/ATM card. Students on international programs should note the exchange rate and bring local currency when possible as changing money will not always be possible. As an alternative to carrying cash, ATM cards are easy to use and widely accepted. Please be sure to remember your pin number and notify your bank of international travel before trip start.
  • What is the weather like on European Challenge?

    The weather on European Challenge varies. Average summer temperatures range from the 70s to 90s. In the Netherlands and Belgium, it is more temperate and rainy. In southern France and Spain, the climate is dry and warm. Our packing list takes these variables into consideration. Layering is the best strategy.

  • What are the arrival and departure airports for my son or daughter’s trip?

    Your son or daughter will fly to Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS) and depart from Barcelona-El Prat Airport (BCN). We will provide more specific travel information once we have placed your child on a program.

  • How often will my son or daughter have access to showers and laundry?

    While we have regular access to showers, most students will shower once or twice a week. Groups will do laundry once a week.

  • Is the European Challenge a sight-seeing tour?

    Every summer we get a handful of phone calls from parents who ask questions that reveal to us that they really don't understand what the European Challenge is all about.

    These questions often put the European Challenge in the context of a bike tour for adults that stays in luxury accommodations (we camp out) and where fine dining is provided (we shop for our food every day and make meals for 14 people using two small camp stoves). The parents who ask these questions simply have not paid attention (and they are relatively easy to get back on track).

    The more difficult questions to respond to are the ones from parents who wonder why their son or daughter can't do what he or she wants. "Why can't my daughter just buy her own snacks (or lunch, or dinner, or dessert)." "Why can't my son ride ahead of the group. . . he's so much faster than the others?" What these parents haven't grasped is that the European Challenge is a chance for their son or daughter to see beyond his/her own needs and wants, to see the needs of the group before his/her own. In this way, the European Challenge is a chance to become a caring friend, a terrific group member and an exceptional leader.

    The European Challenge is a chance for your son or daughter to be challenged in ways that school and sports might never have. Riding a bike is not technically difficult—but riding across Europe with 13 other people is one of the hardest sustained challenges we can imagine. For your son or daughter to succeed on and enjoy the European Challenge, you have to be committed to the goals of the trip so that you can help your son or daughter understand what it is they are to be a part of.

  • Please tell me about safety at Overland.

    Safety and risk management are at the forefront of our decision-making–from trip planning to leader training to supporting our groups in the field. We cannot guarantee absolute safety–no program can. All recreational activities include inherent and other risks. Therefore, we strive to manage the risks that we can, knowing we cannot eliminate them. We work hard to recruit, train and support our trip leaders so they can create the kind of trips that have made us successful for over 30 years. Please click here to read more about our approach to risk management and our accreditation by the American Camp Association.

  • Does my son or daughter need to have previous experience?

    While no previous experience is required, we have high expectations of our students. We expect your son or daughter–with your help–to select a trip that is appropriate for their interests and abilities. You should spend some time familiarizing yourself with the details of the specific program and help your son or daughter understand what to expect. We also expect our students to prepare ahead of time: to review the packing list, gather clothing and gear and complete whatever training the trip requires (for recommended training please see the Before You Go tab). Once the trip begins, your son or daughter should be ready–and excited–to contribute to a wholesome and enthusiastic group where each group member feels welcomed and valued.

  • Please tell me about Overland’s admissions process.

    For more information, and to access our application, please visit our Apply page.
    When we receive your son or daughter’s application, if the first choice is available, you will receive a phone call and an email containing a link to our Overland Portal where you will find our Admissions Review Forms. We will accept your deposit to hold your child’s place in the program pending a favorable Admissions Review. If the first choice is not available, we will call you to confirm that the second choice is acceptable. If neither the first choice nor second choice are available, we will call you to discuss options. For those students placed on our waitlist, we will notify you as soon as a spot becomes available.


    We seek to admit students who have demonstrated that they possess the personal qualities and experience necessary to succeed on an Overland trip. While Overland is always supportive and nurturing, an Overland program is unlike a traditional camp in that our small groups–12 students and 2 leaders–travel, live and work as a group, making all of their own meals, helping each other and cooperating in ways big and small, and they do all of this far from home. As a result, every student must be able to thrive in an environment that places equal emphasis on:


    1. 1. Teamwork and shared responsibilities.

    2. 2. Independence and self-reliance.

    3. 3. Support of others and consideration for others.

  • What is Overland’s cell phone and electronics policy?

    Our programs offer the opportunity to strengthen independence and self-reliance. To maximize these benefits, we do not permit phone calls to or from our students. The exceptions to this are: (1) each student will call home on arrival and departure with our phones and assistance and (2) in the case of an emergency. Anytime a student is treated for an injury or illness by a doctor or medical personnel, parents are notified by our office. A full-time staff member calls the parents to explain the nature of the injury or illness, the sequence of events leading up to the injury and/or the steps leading to the treatment. Parents are typically able to speak with the medical personnel, with the leaders and with the child.


    If it is important for your son or daughter to be able to call you while en route to Overland, we recommend you purchase an inexpensive prepaid cell phone. Please do not send an expensive smartphone like an iPhone or BlackBerry. On arrival we will collect all phones but we have found that safeguarding these phones is problematic because our programs move from place to place (as a result, we take absolutely no responsibility for phones, electronics or personal property brought by students, and we will not make any reimbursements for lost, damaged or stolen phones, electronics or personal property).


    We are committed to providing extraordinary support to you and your son or daughter; to that end, the Overland office is staffed from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. seven days a week during the summer (outside of office hours our answering service provides emergency coverage). Our leaders in the field are in touch with our office regularly; they carry cell phones and in some cases satellite phones.

Bike from the North Sea to the Mediterranean and explore European culture.

Students going on European Challenge should prepare for:

  • 1500+ miles of riding
  • Riding begins at first light and ends in the late afternoon or evening
  • 20 days of biking with an average of 68 miles per day
  • Travel to and from the trip
  • An Overland experience

We expect you to arrive to your trip fully prepared for all activities.

Preparing for Biking

Daily rides on the European Challenge average 68 miles over varying terrain. There are five days over 80 miles and the longest day is approximately 90 miles (the exact mileage may vary by group). You will encounter challenging terrain: long mountain passes in the Alps, hot temperatures and a windy environment in southern France and more long mountain passes through the Pyrenees entering Spain. You will spend some days off of the bikes: arrival day, departure day plus four buffer days to allow for delays en route (most groups will find that they spend these buffer days partially or completely off of the bikes).

Overland bicycle tours are self-contained—there is no van support. You will carry all of your belongings, plus some group gear and food, on a sturdy rack mounted over the back wheel of your bike. You will hang panniers (these are saddlebags, pronounced “pan-yers”) off the rack and attach gear like your sleeping bag and sleeping pad to the top of the rack using bungee cords. On average, you will carry between 30 and 40 lbs of equipment on your bike (not including the weight of the bike).

There will always be a range of abilities in every European Challenge group. Successful groups are the ones where the stronger riders commit themselves to support the weaker riders and where the weaker riders work hard to improve their riding. For faster riders, the challenge is to slow down and enjoy the group experience of riding across Europe. For slower riders, it's important to pay attention to your speed on the bike during your spring training rides.

Let's say an easy pace for you when your bike is fully loaded is 7 miles per hour. Do the math: 70+ miles a day at 7 miles per hour = 10 hours of pedaling—when you add in stops for snacks, lunch, delays and breakdowns your 10 hours of pedaling has grown to 12+ hours. Assuming the group is on the road by 6:00 AM that means you're rolling into camp after 6:00 PM—it's simply not a schedule that can be maintained, especially when the day's mileage is in the 80+ range. Plus, there will be a handful of riders who can easily maintain 16 miles per hour. In the spring, if you find that you are a slower rider, then you must work longer and harder to improve your speed and endurance.

Pre-trip training:

  • 12 weeks before your trip: two rides a week of one hour each (12 miles) over varied terrain.
  • 8 weeks before your trip: two rides a week of 90 minutes each (18 miles) over varied terrain.
  • 4 weeks before your trip: four rides a week, two of two hours each (24 miles) and two rides of four hours each (48 miles) over varied terrain. All rides should be on fully loaded bikes with all of your gear and clothing.

All training rides that are unloaded (i.e., without your panniers, sleeping bag, etc.) must be at an average speed of between 12 and 15 miles per hour (or greater); all loaded training rides must be at an average speed of between 10 and 12 miles per hour (or greater). All pre-trip training rides should be completed on the bike you will use on the European Challenge and with the pedals and shoes that you plan to use on the trip.

Groups typically average between 10 and 12 miles per hour while riding (although pace varies by group). You will start riding at first light, taking short breaks during the day, and complete the day's ride in the late afternoon to early evening.

Preparing for Travel to and from the Trip

Families are responsible for arranging flights to and from the designated airport during a specified window (please do not purchase flights until you have received an email confirming our review of your health forms and school reference). Overland staff will be at the airport to welcome you at the start of your trip and to assist with your departure. You may also be dropped off and picked up at the airport. If you are flying to and from your trip, we will have you call home upon arrival and before departure. We will provide more specific travel information once we have placed you on a program.

Preparing for an Overland Experience

Overland programs are wholesome, structured experiences with high expectations of each student’s behavior. Overland expects all students to contribute to an enthusiastic, positive group. We expect you to be helpful and supportive of your trip mates and leaders. We ask that you leave your cell phone and electronics at home (cameras are always welcome), so you can fully engage with your group and your trip. You will have the opportunity to send letters and receive mail at designated mail stops, which are shared in the spring.

All trips have a range of challenges. You should come prepared and recognize that some days will be more difficult, more challenging and longer—both in terms of miles and hours on the bike—than others. Delays occur due to a wide range of variables beyond the control of you, your group or your leaders. Weather patterns change and road conditions vary. You, or someone in your group, might get a flat tire or encounter another issue that could delay your group.

Arriving ready for a challenge—and prepared to contribute to an enthusiastic group—will go a long way toward creating a successful trip. Please contact us if you’d like to discuss preparing for your Overland program.