Step by step, up the mountain

We wrote our last blog post 15 months ago with tears in our eyes and completely out of energy when we decided to temporarily end our dream of cycling around the world. In this blog, we try to summarize what happened during this incredibly emotional, mentally and physically difficult time, how we are doing today and what our “plans” are for the future.

Life with Long Covid – short version

A book could be written about our time with Long Covid and what it has taught us and continues to teach us. But we want to keep this very brief and concentrate on the good things afterwards.

When we came back to Switzerland at the end of September 2022, we were lucky enough to move into the house on Nicole’s late grandfather’s old farm. As the farm was going to be ripped down in the near future, we actually wanted to find something of our own pretty quickly. However, we quickly realized that we simply didn’t have the energy or the financial means.
Sure, we could have used up the money we had saved for the trip around the world on an expensive apartment, but neither of us knew when we would be fit enough to work again.
We spent the first few months almost exclusively in bed and still lived out of our bike bags, as we had stored all our belongings, including our clothes.

As the weeks and months went by, we got a little better and, with the help of family and friends, we were able to bring a few boxes of clothes and our own bed into the house.
Beni made better physical progress in his recovery than Nicole and was able to start working 50% again for his old employer on January 1, 2023. It was a big risk, Beni didn’t know how his body would react. He was simply very grateful for the opportunity to have a secure income again. At this point, a huge thank you once again to Cropmark AG, with two incredibly empathetic bosses. It was a risk for them too, because they hired him sick, with the risk that Beni would suffer a relapse (called a “crash” at Long Covid) and they would then have to bear additional costs.

Crashes/relapses always occur with Long Covid when you overdo it. In the beginning, even a long conversation could trigger a crash. It takes a long time to accept and know your new physical limits, especially if you used to cycle 60 km every day.
As there is still no therapy, the only way to improve the condition is to respect its limits. You have to find out for yourself how to keep within these limits and where they are. They can’t even help you in the Long Covid consultation.

Fortunately, Beni has made steady progress. With our simple lifestyle and affordable housing situation, we were also able to keep our heads above water financially, which contributed a lot to his psychological healing.
We could never have imagined how quickly and through no fault of our own you can end up in a situation where you become dependent on welfare in one of the richest countries in the world. After all, if Beni hadn’t been able to start working again so “early”, we wouldn’t have been far away from it sooner or later. As we didn’t have a permanent job at the time of the illness, there is no daily allowance insurance. In addition, all “therapies” and “medication” are not yet recognized by the health insurance company, which means that in the end we paid for everything ourselves. Even with an IV application, it takes several years before a payment is made. Of the applications submitted so far, only 4% have been recognized after 3 years. Here is a recent article from Kassensturz:

We are at a loss for words, we know of thousands of people affected by the “Long Covid Switzerland” association and the associated Facebook group who are worse off than us and would need help. We have experienced for ourselves that in this condition you don’t even have the strength to ask for help, let alone fill out an IV application and attend appointments on site.

Nicole finally made good progress in February 2023, so much so that she even completed a trial half-day as a medical practice assistant. Unfortunately, she then suffered such a major crash that she was set back several months in her recovery. She had to shower and brush her teeth sitting down again to keep her heart rate down (below 110), as it quickly went up to 160 when she was standing up. By way of comparison, we normally have a pulse like that, if at all, when cycling uphill on a fully loaded bike.

In April 2023, Nicole had recovered a little and the unique opportunity arose to take over a part-time medical secretary job from a colleague, which she still does today. The job is all home office and she can usually spread the work over the whole week, including weekends, so she can take breaks when she’s not feeling so well. Even though she often only had enough energy to work, she was happy to have a job and a small income again.

Current state of health

The question that is so often asked, how are you doing now, should actually always be answered with “Do you really have 2 hours so that I can explain this to you?”. It’s a constant up and down and we often don’t know the answer ourselves. In the beginning, we didn’t realize the seriousness of the illness and made light of a lot of things, of course we still had our dream, the bicycle trip, in our heads!

Unfortunately, Nicole’s recovery process is not as fast as Beni’s. Fortunately, however, she is still showing a steady, albeit very slow, improvement. For about 3 months now, she has been able to spend more time with people again; long conversations and large gatherings of people no longer cause her heart rate to skyrocket.
Walks are also possible more and more often and we are now even planning our first very short hike, including an overnight stay in a tent. That would be a new milestone!

Beni is now almost back to his old self. He was already able to start a short hike in February 2023 and build up more and more from then on. He also had several crashes, which set him back again and again.
He has regained his athletic stamina and masters multi-day hikes as if nothing had ever happened.
Unfortunately, extreme exertion (very high heart rate) still causes problems for him, as this also triggers symptoms. As this is very often the case with racing bikes and mountain bikes, Beni has looked for a new hobby. In the fall of 2023, he discovered paragliding and completed his training in 3 months. Almost always at his physical limits at the beginning. Now he has his license to fly and the hobby has almost become a passion.
Despite everything, his body still needs more time to regenerate than before and there are days when he realizes that he needs to take it easy.

Unfortunately, our immune systems are still working very badly for both of us. We get a cold about once a month. Sometimes just a day or two, sometimes a whole week.

Now – La Palma ☀️

Enough of the gloomy past, we should live in the here and now, as the saying goes.

Since January 4, 2024, we have been living on the beautiful Canary Island of La Palma (next to Tenerife) for a whole 3 months. We just desperately needed a ray of hope and a boost of motivation to be able to leave the bad times behind us and simply experience something positive together again.
One of the reasons for our long Covid illness was certainly the extremely bad weather in Norway, which we experienced on our last bike world tour and which didn’t let us rest on a single day.
To make up for this shortcoming, we now live in the sunniest village in Spain, Tazacorte. And in fact, since we’ve been here, we’ve had 2 days of rain and otherwise mostly cloudless skies and sunshine with very pleasant temperatures of over 20 degrees.

The island of La Palma is located here:

La Palma is the most north-westerly of the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean. Together with the western Canary Islands of Tenerife, La Gomera and El Hierro, it forms the Spanish province of Santa Cruz de Tenerife.
La Palma is one of the geologically youngest islands of the Canary Islands, whose volcanism is clearly visible in the many craters and lava flows along the volcanic route on the Cumbre Vieja and the large crater of the Caldera de Taburiente. With 40% forest cover, it is the most densely wooded of the other Canary Islands and is therefore also known as Isla Verde (Green Island).

We got this insider tip from like-minded people on our cycling trip around the world in Georgia. They had already lived on various islands and, like us, fell in love with La Palma.
We wanted to go somewhere warm and yet not too adventurous, without having to travel for days (which would not be feasible for Nicole) and without the stress of a visa. We also need good internet, as Nicole in particular continues to work from home as normal. Most houses here even have a fiber optic connection. The reason for this is that, thanks to the many cloudless nights, the very clean air and little light pollution, there is a collection of the world’s most important observatories at an altitude of around 2400 meters. Of course, these also generate a lot of data, which explains the good connection to the internet and at the same time creates a paradise for so-called “digital nomads” like us.

Here are a few impressions of Tazacorte and the nearby beach and harbor:

Since a 3-month volcanic eruption at the end of 2021 buried almost 3,000 buildings (the island has around 80,000 inhabitants) and we are here right in the peak season, it wasn’t even that easy to find accommodation for such a long time.
The lava fields are up to 70 meters high and thanks to the restored connecting roads, which lead directly over the cooled lava flow, you can experience the extent of it up close, which is really impressive.

We often wished for a visit from home on our bike world tour, and here on La Palma this has already happened twice. Nicole’s parents came to visit for 10 days. Together we explored the salt flats in the far south, went swimming in the whirlpool and in the sea and ended the evenings with a delicious meal.
Tosca, Beni’s best colleague, also came to visit for a week. Unfortunately, we were ill once again during this week. At least we were able to give her a few good tips for exploring the island, eat and laugh together and, most importantly, we didn’t infect her 😅. Beni was even able to stay out of bed a little longer the last two days and go on short trips with Tosca.

As Beni is in better physical shape and has a lot of vacation and overtime, he enjoys the privilege of discovering the island from all angles by going on several multi-day hikes and also taking a few paragliding flights.
La Palma is normally a paragliding paradise with almost 300 flyable days a year! This is exactly why Beni did everything he could to get his license before the La Palma adventure. Unfortunately, paragliding didn’t really work out yet. The wind conditions have been very unusual over the past 2 months, so Beni has only been up in the air 4 times so far. Nevertheless, it was an extremely instructive time for him, because as a newcomer to the paragliding scene you still have a lot to learn. It’s not as if you get your license and then become an experienced pilot. It’s more like after the car test. You don’t immediately speed down the German autobahn at 300 km/h, but first gain routine and experience. You have to learn to assess situations and your skills.
So the first person Beni contacted and met was Roger, a Swiss flight instructor who has been flying on La Palma for 30 years and has lived here for 14 years. With Roger’s help, he has acquired a lot of know-how about flying on the island. Roger is a true weather prophet and even gave him a few private lessons in meteorology and the special microclimates on La Palma.

When the wind blows in the wrong direction again, Beni usually goes on a multi-day hike. Perfect temperatures, the “Canary Island pine”, which not only smells wonderful but also lets the light shine through its countless needles, the fresh green that fights its way through the black lava ash and the excellent hiking network make exploring the island so incredibly beautiful.

Here are a few impressions of hiking and flying:

The two of us tend to whizz through the area on our scooters and explore the more easily accessible beauty spots. Despite its modest size (north-south extension of 45.2 km and west-east extension of 27.3 km), an exploration tour by scooter quickly turns into a day trip thanks to the countless bends. The fact that La Palma is not yet completely overcrowded compared to islands such as Tenerife and Gran Canaria is not only noticeable in the mostly quiet roads and beaches, but also in the fact that all public facilities such as parking lots, national parks, natural swimming pools and state campsites are completely free of charge!
We also enjoy the good food, lie on the beach (although Beni usually gets bored after 10 minutes), go for short walks and enjoy a drink at sunset.

Future ❤️🚲🚲❤️

Even if it doesn’t seem within reach yet, our hearts still beat every day for the dream of being able to continue our bike world tour to Australia in the future. We may not get as far or as fast, but if there’s one thing we know for sure now, it’s that we’ll make it through hell together, no matter how long and rocky the road.
We regularly stroke our bikes and the bike bags are still half packed. As soon as our bodies allow it, we’ll saddle up again, true to our motto “Come time, come bike”!

With this in mind:
Don’t put off your dreams until later, because there is no perfect time, there will always be people who want to stop you or talk you out of it and there will always be risks involved, but once the first step is taken, the rest usually comes naturally. We are proud of ourselves that we have already lived our dream for a short time, because what the illness has taught us above all is that it can be too late for it sooner than you would like.

For even more insights into our everyday life on La Palma, take a look at our latest video:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top