Name: Isabel Del Real
Location: Britanny, France
Who do you think you are anyway?
I’m Isabel Del Real, a 24-year-old French-Spanish bikepacker currently heading east through Europe. Some say I’m alone, but I consider I’m with my bike. In 2020, I graduated in Law and Political Sciences, and I decided to start my career by riding dirt roads, crossing mountains, and feeling the wind on my face.
What are you up to?
My village in Brittany, the West of France, is the best place in the world. That’s what I keep saying all the time. But to truly mean it, I need to visit other beautiful places. So, I’ve decided to do just that. I have lived in California, the West of the States, and in Rome and in Paris, the West of Europe, so heading East sounded very exotic. My plan is to follow all the mountain ranges from my village to the Pamir [a range in Tajikistan] — through the Massif Central, Pyrenees, Alps, Dinaric Alps, and then the Caucasus crossing before arriving at the Pamir Highway before winter. Ah, and I planned to get there hiking, of course.
Although I used a bike to commute to school when I was a student in Paris, or a Mountain bike to ride in the forest, I never thought of traveling on a bike. What’s worse, I thought it was uninteresting. So, I started walking towards the East, crossing the Pyrenees from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, and realized it would take a long, long time to get to Kirghizistan walking. So, I got off my high horse and got on my tiny bike.
One random February morning, after coffee with my parents and friends, I just left with my bike. I had never ridden it for more than a day tour, and I had no training. I just knew that I wanted to be on my bike. Plans have changed slightly due to the pandemic, but all in all I’ve managed to ride every day and under all weather conditions. The adventure is everything I expected and more!
Starting the day not knowing precisely where you are going to sleep and how many miles you will ride is a total luxury. I have time to engage with so many people; I’m never in a hurry and have no expectation, the perfect mix for great encounters.
Tell us about your Surly
A friend who knows a lot about bikes once told me « Well, the perfect bike for your trip would be a Surly Ogre because it’s sturdy and you can ride it on any surface ». And that was the self-fulfilling prophecy. I screen-shotted the Slate Blue Ogre on the Surly website and studied it every day until I found a small-sized frame in France. The rest of the parts I found on the Internet, and I also used second-hand parts from bike shops around my village. Then we assembled the bike with some friends. I made it my own.
My Surly is tiny and very cute, nothing like an Ogre. But it is invincible when I ride it in the mountains.
For the bikepacking setup, I bought used Ortlieb bikepacking bags and sewed a frame bag, a top tube bag, and a food pouch with slate blue Cordura.
[Editor's Note: for an inside look at the bike build visit Isabel's blog post here]
Tell us about your art
Sketching your travels is a great way to spend some quality time in the places you visit. I look for specific little streets, views, angles, colors, churches, etc. — until I find something that strikes me. Then I just sit down and draw. I relax and rest. I also have a handy excuse to do casual people-watching. In general, I spend several hours in my spot, and so curious people come, talk to me, offer me some coffee, some food. It’s a lovely way to engage in conversation on the place, its story, its people.
Sometimes just by sitting around a corner for a day I feel like I’ve toured an entire city.
What will you do next?
As I said, I love my village, its estuary with tides that make you feel the Ocean breathing. But I mostly love it for the atmosphere, I love knowing everybody there, I love the spontaneous social life.
Catching the spirit of lovely little villages or cities with a quick sketch is quite delicate, but that’s what I’m trying to do. Crossing from Europe to Asia and noticing the changes in the lifestyle and architecture inspired a series of watercolor paintings along this trip. I even invested in new watercolors to get [the bike’s slate blue color] right.
My main project will be to write and illustrate a storybook for children on the cultures and the geography involved when crossing a continent, from the angle of a bikepacking girl.
We will see how this works out 😊
Isabel Del Real
Where can people follow along with you?
My Instagram is @plouheran
My blog is https://plouheran.wordpress.com/blog/
Thank you so much for sharing your story and beautiful artwork with all of us, Isabel! As a thank you, Surly has financially compensated Isabel for her time and energy and has also made a financial donation to Isabel's charitable organization of choice: Handi’chien https://handichiens.org/ similar to it’s American equivalent canine.org.
"We have raised several puppies and it’s been an extraordinary journey. The idea is to raise a labrador or golden retriever to be a perfect dog either to help out someone in a wheelchair or be a good companion for someone with a mental disorder. I know how hard they work and the difference it can make in a person's life."
Thanks again, Isabel!