Produced in association with Pas Normal Studios
If someone asked you to put your life on hold to go and travel around Europe in a van for a year, would you say yes?
This was a question that Anne Apfelbeck had to answer last year when Pas Normal Studios contacted her to ask if she would like to be the person to drive the brand’s 'Destination Everywhere' van for the 2023 season. The 23-year-old had only just graduated with a Bachelors in Business Management and was living in Munich at the time, leading group rides for the ‘Female Cycling Force’ based in the city.
“I thought, well, why not?” Apfelbeck says of the moment she received that phone call. For the German woman, the opportunity to be the driver of Pas Normal Studios van perhaps wasn’t really putting her life on hold, but instead, beginning to live it to the fullest.
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Destination Everywhere is a project that Pas Normal Studios has been running for the past four years. It’s a van that travels across the continent representing the brand, and where it goes, group rides and communities follow. It is a sort of moving representation of the fact that Pas Normal Studios riders and ambassadors can be found everywhere – no matter where you are, there is always someone to ride with.
“Like a mobile headquarters,” Apfelbeck explains. “I feel like whenever I go somewhere with the van people are taking pictures and being like: there’s the Pas Normal van. It’s so special. I remember myself two years ago, I felt exactly the same and, to be honest, now it's insane I’m driving it. I think it's super important because no other brand does it.”
For Apfelbeck, having a female driver in the van is symbolic, too. There’s no denying that cycling has long been a traditionally male-dominated sport, and the German rider believes that having a woman in the van is empowering and encouraging for female cyclists who might otherwise not attend group rides or events.
“Putting a lady in the van, I think this is such an important message for the whole cycling community because it's so male-dominated, especially on group rides. I just want other girls to be able to sign up for the group ride and not show up and feel like there are so many guys, it's just going to be a race and they're going to be speeding,” Apfelbeck says. “If they know a girl is going to be the leader, they just feel much more enabled and much more connected. They’ll think: I'm going to try it because there's a girl in front or she's going to take care of me. This is an important message that I really want to take out there.”
Apfelbeck’s first journey in the van was from Munich to the white roads of Tuscany for Strade Bianche, where she was leading group rides and supporting Pas Normal Studios ambassadors who were taking part in the Strade Bianche Gran Fondo. Everywhere the van goes, Apfelbeck meets new people, all tied together by a shared International Cycling Community and love for the sport.
“I think this is something super special, building this global community. No matter where I stop the van, I know that I can call an ambassador and be like, okay, I'll be there in half an hour, let’s do a ride,” she says. “There is someone everywhere which is so insane. You meet so many people who are all like-minded and who all share the same passion, are on the same page and belong to the same company and have the same vision. That's cool.”
However, there’s more to driving the van than just riding your bike in beautiful places, as Apfelbeck is quick to point out. When she is supporting ambassadors at events, there’s nutrition, bike maintenance and logistics to sort out, plus keeping on top of her own training to ensure she is in good fitness to lead group rides.
“At events, my day starts with making coffee in the morning and making breakfast, then making sure that the bikes are set up. I have to check that everyone has the route and then take the van to the start or parking spot. Then we just do a bike ride or if there's no group ride I just ride by myself. I need that, my bike is so central to this job.” Apfelbeck explains. “After the ride I do some laptop work like booking hotels, contacting wholesalers and ambassadors and the evening is mostly hanging out or just calling friends.”
“A lot of my friends were like, this is like a dream job and it is, but don't forget that it has so many layers.” she adds. “I have to say that the technical parts, the mechanical ones like fixing bikes and changing tyres, I think this is one of the hardest parts for me. That was never on my daily schedule before, so there are new challenges.”
However, Apfelbeck says that there is an overwhelming positive side to the intense period of learning and personal development that will come with spending a year on the road. “There's no other job where you have to develop in so many different layers of your life as a person. I’m developing culturally, because I meet so many different people, and as an athlete because I’ve got to ride with crazy strong girls and guys.”
It’s not all about socialising, either, Apfelbeck admits that she will spend lots of time alone over the future months in between events, pitching up in remote locations in Europe where she may have a few days at a time without rides to organise. This solitude doesn’t scare her, though.
“It's either being surrounded by people organising their daily life and making sure that they have fun and have everything they need, or it's me driving the van and maybe even staying in a place by myself. I think this is what balances it out,” she says. “On the one hand, I'm going to be socialising so much and on the other hand, I just need time for myself and also to process all these experiences and prepare for the next trip. I think that's just perfect.”
The Destination Everywhere van will visit a range of different cycling hotspots in the future months – some better known than others – but Apfelbeck expects Girona to be one of the highlights, a town in Spain with a huge community of cyclists. She will travel there for the Traka, a gravel event that multiple Pas Normal Studios riders will be taking part in. After that, her plans aren’t set in stone, but this is part of what makes her experience so exciting.
Apfelbeck’s time on the road in the van will undoubtedly come with some ups and downs, and there will be challenges she will have to overcome, but overriding that all is a huge sense of excitement about the unknown. Whether that’s in meeting new people and building communities, or finding out new things about herself and her personality, Apfelbeck’s experience with Destination Everywhere will undoubtedly be an unforgettable one.
“I’m super happy, honoured and thankful to be here,” she says with a smile. “It’s a crazy adventure, I just plan month by month and see where it takes me.”
Follow Anne with the hashtag #anneinthevan and find out more about the Destination Everywhere project here