rEUnion: Social Bikepacking in the time of COVID-19 (Film)
Unable to travel outside of their respective countries due to COVID-19 lockdown measures, Austrian Max Riese and Italian Bruno Ferraro charted a route connecting a historical gravel trail to meet and share a beer at a remote stretch of border deep in the Alps. Watch films following their journeys and read about the rEUnion project here…
Let’s be honest: 2020 has been a hard year for all of us. No matter where you live, we’ve all been hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis. In different shapes, at different times, and some way harder than others. But does this mean we can’t get outside, express ourselves, and enjoy some peace of mind on the trails? Certainly not. We just have to be creative.
Surely everyone had big plans in 2020, including Bruno Ferraro and me. We have mutual friends and have been friends online for quite a long time. We never met in real life, though. We both successfully registered for races like the TCR No. 8 and we were looking forward to finally meeting up in person. However, in spring 2020 we came to understand that this would not be the year to travel and race. All of our events were cancelled.
The reality of COVID-19 struck us with a lockdown, tying us to our hometowns. Bruno couldn’t even get outside to ride for quite a long time as Italy was struck harder than every other country in Europe. Meanwhile, Austria seemed to be an island that was only minimally affected by the crisis, and isolated itself by closing its borders.
So, that was that. Right? No races, no coffee rides, not even sharing a beer. With lockdown restrictions in place it was hard to think about any shared activity outside. But soon the restrictions in Italy were somewhat lifted and Bruno was able to move within the region of Veneto again. I could move within Austria, but we just couldn’t go across the border. So, why not meet at the border for a beer without actually crossing it?
We went to work and found an old pass connecting the Italian region of Veneto and the Austrian state of East Tyrol. The “Tilliacher Joch” or “Forcella Dignes” has a rich history of being a trade route between the two countries supplying wood and other goods to Venice and vice versa. Later, it was a front line during WW1, where Italian and Austrian soldiers faced each other in a cruel war. The storied pass is pretty much exactly halfway between Bruno’s hometown of Bassano del Grappa and my hometown of Salzburg. We were able to both reach this place by creatively designing a route that didn’t violate the respective lockdown rules of our countries and regions. It was meant to be. The project “rEUnion” was born.
It was very important for us to plan a remote route that didn’t enter larger population centers and to strive for an unsupported effort in order to keep the risk of endangering someone as low as possible. We searched for the paths less travelled, which was hardly a chore, since that’s what we’re all already looking for anyway.
Planning was fun and finally getting out riding and enjoying nature was a relief. It brought peace and felt oh so good, especially being able to look forward to meeting a friend for a good, real chat. While this might seem on a surface to be a stupid idea, it meant so much more. Not only as motivation to get outside and do something, finally meeting someone you’ve kind of “known” for such a long time, it also had a huge symbolic aspect for us. Especially in Europe, we’re used to roaming free without even carrying a passport within the European Union. We pride ourselves on it. The reason this is possible is the so-called Schengen Agreement, which has allowed for opening crossing EU borders without any controls or restrictions for 25 years.
The COVID-19 crisis has reminded us of how it feels to be locked down, not being able to cross into other countries and travel freely. To be clear: the lockdown was necessary and we are very grateful for how our governments worked hard to contain the pandemic, sparing us from an even worse outcome. But with right wing politicians calling for closed borders and nationalism all over Europe once again, it’s hard to imagine a future where we step back from how far we have come.
We hope this film and project encourage you to get outside and embrace every bit of freedom you can. It is precious and can be taken away easily. Creativity and freedom can be shown in so many different ways and we can’t wait to see what you come up with. Catch you outside!
Max’s Journey: Austria to the Italian Border
Bruno’s Journey: Italty to the Austrian Border
You can find additional details about the routes on Komoot.
About Max Riese
Living in the beautiful area around Salzburg, Austria, Max Riese gets to experience a lot of beautiful places on bikes or on skis. He’s been riding bikes for nearly two decades and started ultra-distance unsupported racing in 2019. Inspired by his outdoor activities, he designs and programs experiences on the web as a profession. Max strives to show the beauty of bikepacking and the places bikes can take you. Find him on Instagram @kleinerriese.