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.

Europe by bike. In the summer. What could be better? On our European Challenge, we’ll ride through small towns and villages, past Dutch canals and windmills, along the shore of three Swiss lakes and over 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 we do all of this together. The European Challenge is, first and foremost, a group experience. Our group shares every sight, every discovery, every high point together. It makes the experience incredibly rich and rewarding.

When our goal is biking 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, we’ll look back on four weeks of beauty, challenge, friendship and fun—but just as importantly, we’ll look back on a month that couldn’t have been nearly as incredible had you not been on a bike, in a group, with a goal. Nothing could be better.

Questions? Contact us!

I had the time of my life, and it's all thanks to Overland!


- Campbell Leonard, Santa Fe, New Mexico

A summer of adventure and challenge, of fun and friends.

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 2-11: 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 70 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 12 & 13: 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 14-23: 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 Pont du Gard, a Roman aqueduct near Nîmes, 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 24 & 25: 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 26 & 27: 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

24 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 just outside Barcelona. The hostel is a dormitory style accommodation with rooms divided by gender.

Itinerary may vary by group and is subject to change.
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Luggage

  • Panniers
    Panniers are saddlebags sold in pairs that attach to either side of your rear rack. You should have large panniers, 2,400-3,000 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 panniers and have some space left for group gear.

Clothing

  • Navy Overland T-Shirt (1)
    We will send every student an Overland T-shirt prior to the trip. Please wear this T-shirt to trip start.
  • Synthetic High-Visibility T-Shirts (3) & Vest (1)
    A high-visibility outer layer is required at all times while biking (high-visibility is a neon or fluorescent color, typically yellow, orange or pink). 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. High-visibility bike jerseys are acceptable but not necessary.
  • Bike Shorts (2)
    Biking-specific shorts with a padded seat.
  • Shorts (1)
    Comfortable shorts to wear around camp.
  • Athletic Socks (3)
  • Wool and/or Synthetic Socks (2)
  • Synthetic Long Underwear Top & Bottom (1)
  • Fleece Pants (1)
    Please do not bring cotton sweatpants (they are heavy and bulky and will not keep you warm if wet).
  • Synthetic T-Shirt (1)
  • Winter Hat
  • Gloves or Mittens
    Insulated, warm and waterproof. Avoid knit and porous materials.
  • Underwear (4)
  • Swimsuit
    Boys should bring a Speedo for this trip as most pools require it.

Outer Layers

  • Waterproof Raincoat
    Choose high-visibility if available.
  • 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.
  • Fleece Jacket or Pullover

General Gear

  • Water Bottle
    A 24-ounce bike bottle is ideal (on arrival you will receive a second bottle from us).
  • Hydration System
    A CamelBak or Platypus (or similar) with a 2- or 3-liter capacity. Must be a high-visibility color (if it is not hi-vis, you must cover it with hi-vis fabric or tape). The hydration system should be designed to primarily carry water (if it is too big it will be uncomfortable to wear all day).
  • Sleeping Bag
    A lightweight, compact sleeping bag rated to 30 degrees Fahrenheit or less. We recommend either synthetic or treated down material. Your sleeping bag should compress into a stuff sack no larger than 20" in length.
  • Sleeping Pad
    ¾-length or full-length closed cell foam (thin and firm) or self-inflating.
  • 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 (a Tupperware dish and regular utensils are fine).
  • Headlamp

Bike Gear

  • Touring Bicycle & Rear Rack
    One of the following bikes is required: Trek 520, Surly Long Haul Trucker, Fuji Touring or Salsa Marrakesh. These bikes must be in excellent condition and must have been purchased in the past 48 months. Other bicycles are not acceptable. Please see the Right Bicycle for Your Overland Trip for more information.
  • 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.
  • Bike Lights
    Bike lights (front and rear) are required—both when you train in the spring and once you are on your Overland trip. The lights should be USB powered with a variety of mounting options (clipping onto a pannier or a rear rack, for example). For front lights, we recommend either the Bontrager Ion 100 or the Bontrager Ion 120. For rear lights, we recommend the Bontrager Flare R or Flare RT. These lights are available from Trek bike dealers and on the Trek website.
  • Spare Bike Tubes (4)
     Spare tube that matches your bike's tire size. All Overland rental bikes come with spare tubes.
  • 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.
  • Spare Bike Tire (1)
    One spare tire that matches your bike's tire size and valve stem. 
  • Set of Tire Levers (1)
  • Hex Wrench Multi-tool (1)
  • Tire Patch Kit (1)
  • Water Bottle Cages
    Two cages, attached to the bike frame. Some smaller-sized bike frames cannot accommodate two cages. If this is the case, you will be able to carry water bottles in your panniers or on your rack. All Overland rental bikes come with two water bottle cages.
  • Chamois Cream (optional)
    Special cream to reduce chafing and saddle sores. You can purchase chamois cream at any bike shop.
  • Bike Gloves (optional)
    Well-padded for comfort.
  • Handlebar Bag (optional)
    Great for snacks, sunscreen and bike tools.

Footwear

  • Shoes for Biking
    Bike touring or mountain biking shoes with bottom treads and "clipless" recessed cleats. A popular style of clipless shoes and pedals are SPDs. You may also ride in running shoes and bring toe cages to attach to your pedals. Please do not bring racing shoes as they have hard soles that are uncomfortable to walk in.
  • Camp Shoes
    Closed-toe shoes to wear around camp. Crocs or lightweight tennis shoes are ideal.

Miscellaneous

  • Pre-trip Training Calendar
    Please bring your completed and signed calendar to trip start.
  • Synthetic Camping Towel (1)
    A medium-size synthetic camping towel (synthetic camping towels 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.
  • Travel Size Toiletries
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen (SPF 15+) & Chapstick (with SPF protection)
  • Personal Journal or Book (optional)
  • Camera, Charger & Extra Batteries (optional)
    A digital or disposable camera.

Important Documents

  • Health Insurance Card
    Please bring an original or copy of your health insurance card.
  • Passport
    Please bring 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.

Spending Money

  • Spending Money, Bike Repairs & Miscellaneous Expenses
    Each student should bring a debit card, an ATM card or a prepaid Visa card to cover spending money, bike repairs and miscellaneous expenses. Spending Money: While all meals and activities are included in the trip fee, we recommend $25/week for spending money (for example, for souvenirs or an occasional drink or snack beyond what is provided to the group as a whole). Bike Repairs: Over the course of long distance bicycle tour, every bicycle will need replacement parts and most bikes will need repairs. Please add $100 to the debit/ATM/Visa card (in addition to spending money) to cover these expenses.  Miscellaneous Expenses: Most Overland students will incur some expenses while traveling (for example, to replace a worn or lost clothing item). Please add $100 to the debit/ATM/Visa card (in addition to spending money and bike repair money), to cover these expenses.

Things to know

  • We travel light at Overland; please only bring the items on your packing list.
  • Your group will have access to laundry periodically.
  • Please do not bring your smart phone (or any other electronics).
    Please visit the FAQ tab 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).
  • A high-visibility outer layer is required at all times while biking. See packing 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. 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 your checked duffel bag or in your checked panniers. You can tape or strap your panniers together to check them as one piece of luggage; see luggage description for more details.
  • There are no reimbursements for lost, damaged or stolen items.
    Please schedule expensive items—phones, cameras, bicycles, etc.—on your homeowners insurance policy.
  • Please wear the navy Overland T-shirt that you receive from Overland to your trip start location.
  • What is the weather like on European Challenge?

    You can expect typical summery weather with lots of sunshine, some rain, warm days and cool nights.

  • What are the arrival and departure airports for my child’s trip?

    You will need to arrange transportation for your child to Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS) for trip start and from Barcelona-El Prat Airport (BCN) at trip end. We will provide more specific travel information once we have placed your child on a trip.

  • How often will my child 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?

    The European Challenge is not a sight-seeing tour; it is four weeks of sustained physical effort and group teamwork. The landscapes we ride through on our fully-packed bicycles are sublime in their beauty, and we will take time to enjoy them, but the focus is on the group experience and our shared goals.

    The European Challenge is a chance for your child to be challenged in ways that he or she might never have encountered before. 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 child 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 child understand the goals and purpose of the trip.

  • Please tell me about the currency on this trip.

    The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, France, and Spain all use the Euro (€). Switzerland uses the Swiss Franc (CHF). Some US banks may be able to order Euros and/or Swiss Francs. Students can also exchange money in airports throughout the US, or leaders can help students withdraw these currencies using a debit card or exchange US dollars upon arrival in Europe.

  • 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 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 child need to have previous experience?

    While no previous experience is required, we have high expectations of our students. We expect your child–with your help–to select a trip that is appropriate for his or her interests and abilities. You should spend some time familiarizing yourself with the details of the specific trip and help your child 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 child 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.

    When we receive your application, if your first choice is available, we will: (1) call you to acknowledge our receipt of your application, (2) send you an email with a link to our Admissions Review Forms, and (3) charge a deposit of $795 to your credit card to hold your place in the trip pending a favorable admissions review. If your first choice is not available, we will call you to discuss your second choice, third choice or other options. For more information, and to access our application, please visit our Apply page.

  • What are Overland’s policies on phones, electronics and communication?

    PHONES
    To maximize independence and self-reliance, we do not permit phone calls, emails or text messages to or from our campers. Your child will call home on arrival and departure with our phones and assistance, and in the case of an emergency. If your child brings a phone for use while en route to Overland, please do not send an expensive smartphone, instead, an inexpensive prepaid cell phone will do. All phones will be collected on arrival and returned at departure. While we will take reasonable steps to prevent damage, theft or loss, we take no responsibility for phones and we will not make any reimbursements for lost, damaged or stolen phones.

     

    ELECTRONICS
    Cameras are welcome but please do not bring any other electronics (e.g., iPods, iPads, Kindles or other readers, GPS or similar devices). All electronics (except cameras) will be mailed home on arrival (at your risk and expense).

     

    COMMUNICATION
    We are committed to providing extraordinary support to you and your child; 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). Anytime a camper is treated for an injury or illness by a doctor or other medical personnel, parents are notified by our office. A director will call 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 their child.

  • Can I send mail to my child during a trip?

    Getting a letter, card or postcard while on an Overland trip is always exciting. Please keep in mind that sending mail to your child on an Overland trip is different than sending mail to camp because your child will be on the move. Our experience has been that mail often does not arrive on time, and, sometimes, even when it does, post offices, campgrounds and other mail stops do not reliably deliver mail to our groups. For these reasons:

     

    1. Please do not send anything valuable – please send letters, cards or postcards only.  If mail is late, lost or misdirected, Overland’s leaders and staff are not able to return to the post office (or other mail stop) to collect it.

    2. Please use the US Postal Service first-class mail only; do not use UPS, FedEx or DHL (many of our mail stops accept US Postal Service mail only).

    3. Please do not send overnight letters: many overnighted letters arrive before or after we arrive and are then sent back. For this same reason, please do not send mail that requires a signature upon delivery.

    4. Please allow one week for postal delivery to U.S. mail stops.

    5. Please allow two weeks for postal delivery to international mail stops.

Bike from the North Sea to the Mediterranean—a grand tour of Europe from the seat of your bicycle!

Students going on European Challenge should prepare for:

  • 1500+ miles of riding led by two caring Overland leaders
  • Biking full days through a wide range of terrains
  • Camping out and cooking meals as a group
  • 19 days of biking with an average of 70 miles per day
  • A fun, supportive and wholesome Overland experience

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

Preparing for the Biking

Daily rides on the European Challenge average 70 miles over varying terrain. There are five days over 80 miles and the longest day is approximately 90 miles (the exact mileage varies by group). You will encounter challenging terrain: long mountain passes in the Alps, hot temperatures 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 about 40 pounds of equipment on your bike (not including the weight of the bike).

You should come prepared and recognize that some days will be more challenging and longer than others. Delays occur due to a wide range of variables—weather patterns change and road conditions vary. You, or someone in your group, might get a flat tire or encounter another mechanical issue that could delay your group. On some days your group will arrive in to camp in the early afternoon, with plenty of time to explore the area or go swimming, while on other days your group will spend more time on the bike.

Completing all of the pre-trip training is essential. There isn't a gradual build to the miles, nor is there a settling in period—you'll ride long, hard days from the very start of the trip.

Every European Challenge participant must complete all of the spring training rides, and, once on the trip, must be able to maintain 12 mph over challenging terrain on a fully loaded bicycle. We've designed the early weeks of the training so that most of the riding can be completed on the weekends. As the trip draws closer, there are more rides, so you will have to make time during the week to ride. Be sure to plan your training rides on consecutive days so that your training more closely approximates the riding that you will do on the trip. Please keep the following responsible riding practices in mind as you complete your spring training.

Responsible riding practices

WEAR A HELMET AND CLOSED-TOED SHOES
Always, no exceptions.

DESIGN A GOOD TRAINING LOOP
To the extent possible, ride on bike paths, bike lanes, and bike routes.

FOLLOW THE LAW
You have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers. Obey traffic signals and stop signs. Ride with traffic; use the rightmost lane headed in the direction you are going.

BE PREDICTABLE 
Make your intentions clear to everyone on the road. Ride in a straight line and don’t swerve between parked cars. Signal turns, and check behind you before turning or changing lanes.

BE VISIBLE
Ride where people can see you and wear a hi-vis top. Ride with your rear light on and flashing. Make eye contact with others and don’t ride on sidewalks. When possible, ride with others.

THINK AHEAD
Watch for turning vehicles and ride outside the door zone of parked cars. Look out for debris, potholes, and other road hazards. Cross railroad tracks at right angles.

RIDE READY
Check that your tires are sufficiently inflated, brakes are working, chain runs smoothly, and quick release levers are closed. Carry tools and supplies that are appropriate for your ride.

Pre-trip Training:

  • 8 weeks before your trip: two rides a week (on consecutive days) with loaded panniers of two hours each (24 miles over varied terrain); try to ride for two hours without stopping to rest.
  • 6 weeks before your trip: two rides a week (on consecutive days) with loaded panniers of three hours each (36 miles over varied terrain); try to ride for three hours with one five minute stop for rest after 20 miles.
  • 4 weeks before your trip: three rides (on consecutive days) with loaded panniers of three hours each (36 miles over varied terrain); at this point in your training, you should be able to ride for three hours with just one five minute stop for rest after 20 miles.
  • 2 weeks before your trip: four rides (on consecutive days) with loaded panniers: three rides of three hours each (36 miles over varied terrain), and one ride with loaded panniers of four hours (48 miles); complete each of these rides with one five minute stop for rest every 20 miles.
  • 1 week before your trip: five rides (on consecutive days) with loaded panniers: three rides of three hours each (36 miles over varied terrain), and two rides with loaded panniers of four hours each (48 miles over varied terrain); complete each of these rides with one five minute stop for rest every 20 miles.

All pre-trip training rides must be completed using the bike, pedals and shoes you will use on the European Challenge. All training rides must be at an average speed of 12 miles per hour on a fully-loaded bicycle.

Once on the trip, you will start riding at first light, taking short breaks (typically five minutes or less) during the day, and complete the day's ride in the late afternoon.

Please refer to the Pre-Trip Training Calendar where you will record your training in the weeks leading up to trip start.

Preparing for an Overland Experience

Overland trips are wholesome, structured experiences with high expectations of each student’s behavior. You are expected to be enthusiastic, positive, helpful and supportive of your trip mates and your 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. 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 the European Challenge.