My name is Andreas and I live in Fiè allo Sciliar, a very small village at the bottom of the breathtaking Schlern, one of the most iconic mountains of the Italian Dolomites.
The area where i grew up and live is called South Tyrol, Italy’s northernmost province. „Alto Adige“ in Italian, or „Südtirol“ in German combines Alpine staidness with Italian easygoing lifestyle, the rocky Dolomites – a UNESCO World Heritage site – and lots of cultural diversity. It’s an area abounding with contrasts, between Mediterranean landscape and Alpine peaks, deeply rooted tradition and cosmopolitan curiosity. The allure of my province lies in its variety and the harmony of opposites. That’s what I like most of my home. Besides biking of course!!
The rocky peaks of the Dolomites have always been a part of my life. There is no other option when you grow up in one of the worlds most beautiful mountain ranges and when your father is a mountain junky that teaches you love to nature from your first steps. From the first “vie ferrate” belayed by my daddy when I was just 5 years old, over to the first bike ascents on their famous passes when I was a schoolboy, and then further on climbing up their steep rocky peaks or riding the bike along a singletrail with view over the blooming meadows and valley far below…I finally got addicted too and now I can’t imagine a life without that stunning summits! I used to have a terrible office job in the hectic city of Bolzano, my birth place and home town until 5 years ago and the only thing I liked about it was the window with view over the Rosengarten far behind towering over the city, one of my favourite peaks in the Dolomites. Where else in the world do you find a summit with such a beautiful name, that blossoms into pink and purple every evening at sunset?
I can still remember when I first rode up the Passo Sella on the saddle of my little De Rosa roadbike…I was 6 years old or so. The first thing I told my father when I reached the top was: “I want to climb that steep summit one day”, pointing my finger to the rocky tower of the Pollice. I finally belayed my 77 years old father up there a couple of years ago, it was like paying him back all the love for mountains he spread over me during my childhood. We both almost cried on the summit that day!
Since then I rode so many kilometres on my bike. I used to race on road bike until I was 18 years old and then swapped over to the mountain bike. Riding the bike along paved road was no longer a challenge for me, I wanted to touch the mountains with the tires, climb their summits on two wheels. After a couple of years of cross country races I finally decided to become a certified mountain bike guide in 2001. With the idea of making out a job from my favourite hobby one day. But our frenetic live doesn’t make it always easy to listen to your heart, so after high school and a couple of years pretending to be a university student – but being more a globetrotter around the world – I finally started to work as an accountant in several companies until I finally swapped over to the European Social Found something like 10 years ago. The ESF is Europe’s main instrument for supporting jobs, helping people get better jobs and ensuring fairer job opportunities for EU citizens. But on the other hand I was thinking I had the worst job of my life…it often made me feel like lion in a cage: but at least with that view over the Rosengarten! Working on tons of papers, paying invoices, checking balance sheets, fighting with the absurd Italian bureaucracy and being part of it at the same time can be really frustrating!!
Since 2004 I started offering bike tour in parallel to my office job. Easy going and culinary bike tours around Italy at the beginning, with a focus also on wine tastings and all the other culinary, cultural and natural treats my country has to offer, then offering more challenging tours all over Europe until organizing and guiding very demanding mountainbike tours worldwide later on. Beside Italy and the Dolomites, now I’m now offering bike tours in cooperation with several travel agencies in countries like Croatia, Slovenia, Lofoten Islands in Norway, Austria, Lanzarote & La Palma Island, Madeira Island, Jordan, Morocco, Faroe Islands, Chile and much more. Mountainbike Tours, easy going culinary Trekkingbike-tours and Enduro focused trips are on our program. Last year we started offering a brand new Lofoten MTB Enduro trip and next year it will be the turn of an Iceland traverse. And of course I’m still guiding people here in my home mountains, still one of my favourite playgrounds. The clients grew over the years, making it very hard for me to combine the 2 jobs….all my holidays, free time and lots of evenings dedicated to my biking tours! And almost no more time to dedicate to the things I really love. But human being is a creature of habit, making it so difficult to give up something that looks certain and safe to your eyes even if you don’t like it, to something rather uncertain. So I always convinced myself to trim back the thing I like most, that means the guiding. It makes you unhappy and frustrated with the time. And of course it’s also very stressful to keep a foot in both camps.
So summer 2015 came. I was guiding a biking group in another one of my favourite places beside the Dolomites: the Lofoten Islands in Norway. I had a really stressful time at work during the previous months and my unhappiness was making me sick inside. Lofoten is like a medicine for my soul: To me the islands represent a mix of so many interesting elements that I find them something close to my idea of paradise. I’m offering bike tours on that fantastic Norwegian archipelago since 2013: at the end of June we use to cycle during the day from one island to the other and hike at nighttime under the amazing light of the midnight sun. It’s really therapeutic to stand on a summit at midnight and watch over the mountains and the fjords far below. It’s up on Reinebringen, one of my favourite Lofoten summits, then while I was watching at the immense and calm Vestfjord far below me reflecting the red light of the sky, that I took the decision to quit my office job. It suddenly felt like the peace and the calm of that powerful and magical huge fjord that itself looks like an entire ocean entered my hearth. For me now it was clear: I just had to enjoy my last days on the islands with my group and then travel back and present my resignation letter! And that’s what I did. Since 1st of August 2015 the bike is my new office, and that makes me smile inside. And the only thing I regret, was not having had the courage to do it earlier! Now I have time to dedicate myself to the thing I really love, organizing new bike tours in new countries, sharing that moments with other people but also dedicating myself to other forms of active tourism like hiking or ski touring, that I started to offer last year. And of course I also have time for myself to ride my bike and climb my mountains on my own or with my friends. Val Gardena, one of the most beautiful valleys of the Dolomites, it’s just behind the corner, there I can find everything my biker and climbers heart desires!
What is your advice for people who want to change their lives and do something completely different?
I’m not the person that likes to give advices, and I don’t know if my eventual advices would also fit to other people. What helped me, was taking a break from our frenetic style of living and thinking concretely what’s the deep meaning of our life. Sometimes it’s time to listen to your interior voice telling you to slow down a bit and start trusting in other of your skills even if they look rather uncertain to your eyes. The only thing preventing you finding something that you’ll enjoy more is you. Your workplace is where you spend a large proportion of your time, so it’s important to try and be as happy there as you can be. It doesn’t matter if it is an office or the hard saddle of your bike! Another thing that helped me a lot was travelling and rediscovering the world trough my own eyes. Travel broadens the mind, and gives you the chance of reconsidering much of our style of live, work included! Sometimes travelling can be a life-changing experience! It’s not a case that I matured my decision of quitting the job on my last trips to Jordan and Lofoten.
With your job as a bike guide you get to see the world and meet a lot of people, but what is your favourite thing with your profession?
I love the contact with the nature, and biking, hiking, climbing and ski touring are one of the purest ways of being part of it. You can experience such powerful moments when you conquer a summit with the force of your legs, arms and hands and the power of your mind. Of course it means effort and fatigue, but hey….how magical is the view from the top of that summit when you know you have conquered it with all the energy you had in your body?!….and how great does the beer then taste up there in a mountain hut?!….and how nice is it if you can share that moments with other people that are at least as happy as you are?!…and how many feelings will you carry back in your heart while you ride down on that amazing trail?! Sharing happiness and being paid with a great smile from your clients is one of the most beautiful things I get back from my job. Money comes far behind. That’s what I was missing most from my office job.
Travelling and discovering the world is another important point for me. Like I told before, travelling can be a life-changing experience. It has always been like that for me and it will always remain so. We live in a world of stereotypes, where media and governments are giving their best to describe our globe as a flat 2-colour-screen….either black or white. Biking and active tourism in general, combined with a critical mind, gives you the chance to discover countries in a slow way, meeting new people, getting in touch with their culture and overcome prejudices and commonplaces. The world is so colourful and various when you are “on the road”! Getting invited from a Jordan Bedouin family or from the Berber community high up in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco for a tea, for example, and discovering their open hearted and unconditional hospitality can be the chance to reconsider the opinion that most of the people have about Arabic countries. Time will stand still for a while and you almost forget that you have to keep on cycling until Petra or down to Marrakesh!
What are your thoughts about the bike and cycling in the future, in regards to the environmental and health problem we have in the world?
When you think about it, riding a bicycle is an act of revolution. It’s not just the most efficient means of personal mobility ever invented, it is a mechanical declaration of independence! The revolution in personal, sustainable mobility. It’s an act of revolt against the petro-economic status quo and against one’s weaker self. So in a world where environmental and health problems are rising day after day, we all should become pedal fighters! And having said that I’m not considering my job like something revolutionary. I’m just biking and sharing nice moments with people that decide to join me in that. Nothing that changes the world, feeds it, makes it more fair, unfortunately! But sharing happiness, meeting people, seeing and rediscovering the world trough another perspective has become my personal act of revolution against what I was doing before and against the stereotypes of modern society. In a certain way I achieved to change myself, and that makes me happy.
Do you see a growing industry where more people will do like yourself and others, change and start working with something with more substance like what you you do?
I hope so! First of all we all should work less for a better quality of life. Modern industry doesn’t need that much of our time any more! For many, working is about doing what they hate. That’s the moment to reconsider someone’s job! There is also the deeper issue of whether we should be measuring the value of our lives by what we produce. There is a growing part of the society that take the distance of the cult of productivity and strive more “leisurely” ways of living that can add to human well-being. Challenging this cult and seeking ways to lighten the burden of work could allow us all to live better lives inside and outside of work. And have more time for cycling, skitouring and climbing of course!!!
Words and photos by Andreas Tonelli.
To find out more, Andreas is on instagram @andreas_tonelli
This interview has been published previously in the Swedish magazine – Bicycling Sweden.