Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Geneva Rest Day

Day: 371

Due to us sleeping in separate rooms last night and us being able to get a twin room tonight, we had to check out, so we could check back in. The hostel is set up for that sort of thing so we stashed our pile of stuff in some lockers, got on our only clean clothes, and washed all of our dirty ones. My only clean clothes happened to be my swim trunks and a short sleeve button down. Leslie was a little more fortunate with her swim suit, some shorts and long sleeve button down. I am sure we looked like a bunch of freaks hanging out in the laundry room waiting for the dinger to go off. Our laundry finally finished doing its thing so we got back on some less conspicuous attire and rolled out onto the town for a little sight seeing and some shopping. On the agenda was some warmer clothing, and some trinkets to send home. Our warmer clothing was a slam dunk, but the trinkets for home were a little more interesting. We wanted to send home 2 kg of chocolate and when we got to the window at the Suisse Post we were informed we couldn’t send any food. I about fainted thinking that we would have to haul around all that chocolate. We wouldn’t have hauled it around, but I would have had a belly ache the whole time. We finally got on the same page as the postal clerk and figured that the chocolate was ok, but that we could only send a max of 2 kg in a box. The rest of the goods would have to find another way home. We got a second box and filled it up. Going to the post office is always exciting. I prefer Eastern Europe and Asian post offices. They don’t care what you are mailing as long as it isn’t going to blow up or get them arrested. You got the money honey, they got the time.
After are errands we hit our new favorite Swiss eatery…McDonald’s. We each have theories on why we crave it now and again while on the road, but never while at home. Leslie’s has to do with chemicals in the food keep bringing us back, and mine has to do with deep seeded psychological misgivings about the globalization of food and its impacts on the greater good of man. I think that Leslie is right though.
We are off to France tomorrow. Back to the land of the Euro.
CK

Cracked Rim, Part Deux


Day 370
Nyon to Geneva
Time: 1:20:00
Distance: 25.0 km
Avg Speed:
Terrain: Bicycle lane
Location: N 46 12 54.9, E 006,08 45.1

It happened once and we thought it was a fluke. It happened again and we’re pretty sure it’s operator error.

The remaining 25 kilometers or so into Geneva from Nyon was very smooth and straightforward. We decided to skip the guidebook’s route and stick to the highway. Why? The highway was equipped with a designated bicycle lane on either side. Even as we entered the city, the bicycle lanes continued in all directions. It was great.
We headed straight for the city hostel and found that they only had two beds left. They weren’t together so we opted to find the information center. There we found a list of expensive hotels and a booking fee. I quickly called the hostel – we could manage to bunk with others for a night or two. After a quick lunch (yes, it was McDonald’s again) we found the bike shop. Unfortunately, we got there just in time for the mid day break. We rolled our bikes down to the plaza and set up camp for an hour or so. I worked on more bicycling photos while Chris procured some sweets. It was interesting to watch the mix of people filter through the area. From professionals to beer guzzling nomads, we saw it all.
At 2pm we pushed our bikes back down to the Hot Point Bicycle store. It had a true bike shop feel. They deal in Specialized, Rocky Mountain, and Ibis, so we felt right at home. I was in need of a new rear wheel as mine has suffered the same fate as Chris’ did in Laos.
In retrospect, I would have heeded DT Swiss’ information when Chris got his new rim. The warranty folks mentioned that pannier weight and tire pressure could have contributed to his failed wheel. I guess it’s an “I told you so” moment. We won’t be soliciting DT Swiss for new equipment this time.
I first felt the bubble while braking in Croatia. We inspected the rim and couldn’t find anything. The problem seemed to go away but then returned the same day Chris had his crash. Coincidently, we put air in the tires on both of these days. The light bulb still didn’t go on until Chris was replacing my brake pads and found the flare. Bummer – a new wheel was necessary. Live and learn I guess. After the crash, I’m not really willing to see how long the wheel would last.
Anyway, the Hot Point shop was awesome. They had a new wheel built in a matter of hours. I now have a shiny new Alex Rims Adventurer – what an appropriate name.

True wheels still rolling,
LK

Monday, September 29, 2008

C’est La Vie


Day 369
Villenueve to Nyon
Time: 4:43
Distance: 15.7 kph
Avg Speed: 74.30
Terrain: flat to rolling
Location: 46° 23' -1" N, 6° 15' 0" E

I didn’t blog last night. You can attribute it to being tired, cold and sore. We had a question posed on our blog about what was the cause of the tire blowing out. After mulling it over and discussing it with Leslie, I have come up with three contributing factors:
1. Tire pressure. I had aired up all of our tires that morning and instead of using a tire gauge, I went by feel. Looking back on it, I had probably over inflated it.
2. Old inner tube. The tube that was in there was the original one that I had started the trip with. It may have had some weak spots in it.
3. Brake Heat. We were more than half way down the descent and had some hard braking areas. I had just hit the brakes hard before entering the gallery and that may have been the deal.
I also hit a little pot hole, but I hit holes like that daily and nothing ever happens. I think it was just crazy bad luck with all the bad moons aligning. Oh well.
We woke up again to heavy dew and cold weather. I did plan ahead this morning though and put a pot of water out so I could just roll over and start to brew. After our coffee, cereal and rolls we finally rolled out of our sleeping bags and began packing up camp. We are moving slower and slower the colder it gets. I think it is time to head south. After finally getting on the road we got our first clear view of Lake Geneva or Lac Leman depending on which language you are speaking. We were able to ride the whole day along the lake and we still have a bit to go. It is the biggest alpine lake in Europe. The paths and roads were busy with Sunday walkers and drivers and all the docks were hopping with fishermen trying their luck.
We opted for a hotel tonight to get a break from the cold mornings. We ended up in the sizeable town of Nyon and quickly checked in Hotel Alpes. We got moved in and when we went to haul our bikes up to the room so we could store them on the balcony, we were told that bikes weren’t allowed in the hotel. We could store them around back, but there wasn’t anywhere inside to store them. We have been on the road now for over a year and this is the first place that refused to accommodate us and our bikes. The area where we were supposed to store them already had a bike that had been stripped of everything that didn’t have a lock on it. No thanks. We got checked out and got our money back. Leslie tried to explain to the front desk that our bikes are our way around and that we weren’t about to lock them up out back. We rolled down the road and found a place that had a courtyard we could secure them in. I guess we will spend our money here. Talking about money, I would like to write out $700,000,000,000.00. That is how the European news channels are reporting it. It has a little more impact when you write down all the zeros.
I guess I will stop ranting. But hey, C’est la vie.
CK

Friday, September 26, 2008

Brave New Wheel


Day 367
Visp to Saillon
Time: 4:36:00
Distance: 75 km
Avg Speed: 16.2 kph
Terrain: Flat to Slightly Downhill
Location: N 46 09’ 33.1”, E 7 10’ 00”


I can’t take credit for the title of today’s blog. It’s actually the name of a bicycle shop in Fort Collins. The shop is run by an awesome bicycle person, Dave Sundby.
I thought the title was fitting for Chris. Today was the first day back on the bike since his scary crash on Sunday. He felt pretty good overall. The road rash is looking better everday and the bruises are starting to fade away. Hopefully the memory of the incident will fade as well. His panniers are a little sad looking with all of the patches and repairs. One pannier is duck taped for the moment. We’ll look for new parts in Geneva.
We are now in the Valais region heading west. We’ll make our way to the very international city of Geneva in a few days. Tomorrow we should hit the shores of Lac Leman (Lake Geneva). Fortunately, we are again following a bicycle route and it makes touring so easy. We now just follow the signs with the number 1. We purchased a book to help us follow the route. Actually, we just look at the maps since the text is written in German. Following a route has not stopped us from getting lost. As we pedaled into Saillon, we missed the sign for the campground and added a few extra kilometers to the ride.
The route was quite beautiful today. We found ourselves along the river for most of the ride. The glacial blue water of the Rhone River was complemented by the surrounding peaks of the Bernese (to the north) and the Pennine (to the south) Alps. The leaves are starting to change and fall on the ground. It doesn’t get much better than this.
Our German lessons have concluded as we are now traveling through the French part of Switzerland. We’ve gone from Svizzer to Suisse. I stayed up last evening reviewing the Western Europe language book. It came in handy today when we arrived at the campground. We’re now booked in for “la petite dejunier” – I hope that’s breakfast tomorrow morning.

Au revoir,
LK

So Long Zernez


Day: 366
Zernez to Visp
Time: Most of the day
Avg Speed: 80 kph


Even though our stay in Zernez was unplanned and under some less than ideal conditions, we were sad to get on our train this morning. We got up early and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at the hotel’s salon. The coffee we got for breakfast is probably some of the best coffee I have had anywhere. We always got the stink eye when we asked for another pot, but the little lady would whip out another one for us and smile when she brought it to our table. I guess we are just likeable.
We got on the train around 10 this morning and had a quick 10 minute ride to our first change. We made a change to a train that took us through a tunnel for 45 minutes before dropping us off. That was our escape route from the little valley we enjoyed so much. The next leg brought us into Zurich where we frantically searched the platform for the bicycle car, only to find it with a minute or two before departure. This last leg brought us into Visp and the Rhone River Valley. Here we should be able to get some kilometers in on some flat ground while the rest of my wounds heal up. I did miss a couple of equipment failures that didn’t materialize until the bikes were loaded. I now have a pannier that is duct taped up. I will need to do some more permanent repairs as soon as I can.
Not much else to report on from Switzerland. Just high mountains, nice people, good cheese and yummy pastries (and oh my are they yummy!!).
CK

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Year on the Road: The Day 365 Interview


Yesterday we sat down and reflected on the last year. The podcast versions are available on our website at: http://bicyclegeography.googlepages.com/home

How has your world view changed in the last year?
LK: Although I have become more patriotic about my country, I believe that the US must come to know the world more. US citizens should travel abroad and learn about other places and people. Knowledge is power. Integration is better than assimilation.

CK: The biggest thing I realized was that people everywhere are just doing the best they can. Poor, rich, 3rd world, 1st world. I found that people and cultures adapted and adopted their surrounding with ease and that life doesn’t have to be a struggle or a chore. People everywhere are good and they just need a reason or a chance to show it.

Looking back on the year, what was the biggest thing on your mental map that was completely blown out of the water when we actually started touring?
LK: Bicycle touring is not glamorous. I think I had this picture in my mind that every day would be wonderful. If it was glamorous, everyone would do it. However, I do believe it is the best way to travel if you’re up to the level of effort it requires.

CK: I think we both thought that it would be a lot more glamorous than is actually is. Eating, sleeping, working on the ground. Going to the bathroom off the side of the road. Chased by dogs. Grocery shopping. They are all things that can be done at home, and the only thing that makes them glamorous is that you are in a foreign place.

What was something that held true that you didn’t think would?
LK: I still love to ride a bicycle. In fact, I think I’m more passionate about bicycles and all they represent.

CK: My lust for travel and adventure, whether on a bike, or foot, or train, or car hasn’t diminished. In fact I think it has become even stronger and more focused. I love getting up every day and getting on my bike and seeing what is around the next corner and what is over that next hill and what the locals are like and what the local beer tastes like. I really feel like this trip is just feeding the beast.

If you could sum up your life now in a couple of sentences, what would you say?
LK: This journey has helped me figure out who I thought I was, who I really am, and who I might become.

CK: Simplicity. It is a lot less than a couple of sentences. Through this journey I have found that I need very few items to keep my life happy, and fulfilled. I need very few feelings to describe how I feel and I know that the woman I married is L-O-V-E...love.

What’s one experience, good or bad, that will stay with you for the rest of your life?
LK: The Laos route from Luang Prabang to Vientiene with Joanne, Hamish, Donal, Hans, and Ben. It seemed like it all came together in Laos. The positive energy was flowing. I felt like we were just doing the trip rather than just trying to do the trip. I think it was a period of time where I was most in the moment everyday.

CK: I don’t think that there are any bad experiences from this trip. The spirit of the road from meeting the bike crew in Laos is probably the biggest experience that will stay with me. Meeting randomly, bonding over food and drink and staying together for the better part of two weeks. We had just a moment in time together and parting we knew that we would probably never see one another again, and that was ok. What we did together, saw together and experienced together affected me a lot more than I realized at the time.


Here's to a year on the road,


LK and CK

The Gypsum of Switzerland


Day 364
Zernez, Switzerland

Another recovery day in Zernez. Chris is more sore today than yesterday and the bruises are coming out in rainbow colors.

The day started with rain and snow up high. Feels like a fall day at home. We had our breakfast and then strolled to the information center to check email. After fumbling around on the SwissCom automated internet kiosk, I went back to our hotel and found out that they have wireless. I managed to get blogs and photos up to date and now everyone will know the details of Chris’ latest bike wreck.
Zernez is one of 13 villages in the Engadin valley which is part of the Graubünden canton. There are 26 cantons in the federal state of Switzerland; each one essentially autonomous. Graubünden is the largest region, but has the smallest population density. One contributing factor to the lack of people may be the mountainous terrain of the area. For what the demographics lack in numbers, they make up in diversity. This canton has three official languages; German, Italian, and Romansh. The latter was a merging of local tribal dialects and the language of the Romans. Today, Romansh is one of the four official languages of Switzerland. Most of this information I have shared was gathered from the internet. Late this afternoon we got a local’s perspective when we picked up Chris’ new wheel from the bike shop.
Apparently, the Engadin Valley is much like the Vail-Eagle Valley. With St Moritz at one end and Zernez at the other, you can start to paint a picture of the social make-up of the region. Per the shop owner’s description, Zernez is “just a bunch of farmers”. Sound familiar? He went on to describe a few more snubs from the land of hoity-toity skiing and shopping and we could identify with each one. You can change the location, but you can’t change the issues.
This evening we reflected on the last year. We are on the eve of our one year anniversary of this trip. We are different, yet still the same. Just two people committed to each other and to riding our bicycles throughout the world.

Cheers,
LK

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Worst Case Scenario

Day: 363
Zernez
N 46° 42', E 10° 5' 60

Even though what happened was one of the worst things that could happen; the resulting generosity, and circumstance are some of the best things that could happen.

Let me back up and tell you about the worst part. Yesterday Leslie and I had been going along pretty good climbing some steep roads. We had one pass under our belt and had just finished another smaller point. We were descending into the valley of Zernez and were in the mix with some cars. The road was under construction in spots and traffic control had squeezed it down to one lane, so we would group in with cars, ride to the next section, wait for the oncoming to pass and then proceed. At the second stop area Leslie and I became separated by a few vehicles. I think I must have been in a wide spot ahead of her, and a couple squeezed in front of her. We entered a gallery (a tunnel with one side open to the valley) at a pretty good clip. I had just rounded a blind corner when BOOM!! My front tube exploded and blew my tire completely off the rim. That is possibly one of the nastiest things that can happen to a person on a bike. Front flats, especially blow outs like the one I had, don’t allow for any control of the bike. My rim, void of a tire now, hit the asphalt and squirted out to my left. That threw me down on my right side where I impacted with my right knee and right hand. From there the bike skidded on its right side wearing holes in panniers, wearing metal off the front rim, and somehow putting a dent in the top tube on the left side (I can’t figure that one out). I, meanwhile, bounced off of my right hand and knee and slid on my left hip and elbow before rolling to my back and sliding a bit more. When I stopped sliding I was quite a ways from the bike. The traffic we were riding in all came to an immediate stop and before I made it to the curb trying to get out of the way there were bystanders stopping traffic, helping me, getting my bike out of the way and talking with Leslie about what to do. Needless to say I was a little shaken up and after a couple of minutes in some pretty good pain. I figure I was doing 40-45 kmh (25-30 mph). An ex-pro cyclist named Jonathan Vaughters equates crashing on a bicycle to ‘stripping down to your underwear and jumping out of a car doing 50 mph’. That about sums it up. I was lucky because it was pretty cold on the descent so I had put on an extra fleece shirt, my rain gear, and some long finger gloves. My only injuries are strawberry burns on my left hip, left elbow, and right knee; as well as bruised right palm, torn up thumb, bruised left arm and bruised ego. My helmet survived intact and there were no scrapes on it so I am pretty sure that I didn’t hit my head, although Leslie would argue that one.
The town of Zernez is pretty small and when the helpful bystanders got us down they took us to the train station. There more people appeared and our bikes were taken to a nearby hotel and put in the garage and Leslie and I were taken to the doctor. Just to show you how small of a town it is; the guy who drove us down and took us to the doctor is the math teacher for the doctor’s children at the local school. The doctor gave me the skeletal once over, cleaned and dressed my wounds and gave me some pain medication. I asked her where the pharmacy was, and she smiled and said that she was the pharmacy and made us a little package of extra bandages. She said she would just mail us a bill and not to worry about getting it to her until we got home in November. She showed us out of her office/home and we walked a couple of blocks to the hotel where our bikes were. Our cup runeth over with the good luck we had with the relatively minor damage from the crash and all the help and guidance we received following it. We now are staying here for a couple of days, resting and recuperating. Even though the town doesn’t have a pharmacy they do have a bike shop ran by an Irishman. I took my wheel over to have it rebuilt with a new rim and it should be ready by Wednesday. The bike shop owner is a whole other story in itself. I now have to patch my rain gear and panniers, as well find some new gloves before heading off. I think we will be taking a train to the flatter parts of Switzerland (flatter being relative) where I can get back into the groove a bit. Meanwhile, Leslie gets to play nurse and help me with my dressings and we get to hang out on our deck taking in the breathtaking scenery.
Licking my wounds in one of the most beautiful valleys around.
CK
video

It Happened in the Gallery


Day 362
Mustair to Zernez
Time: 4:29:00
Distance: 47.3 km
Avg Speed: 10.5 kph
Terrain: Alpine
Location: N 46° 42', E 10° 5' 60

If you ride a bicycle long enough you will crash. If you are Chris Kehmeier you will crash at least once a year.

It’s been almost two years since his last big crash. It involved a teeter-totter and some have you have probably seen the video. At the time it was a little bit scary and very funny. Unfortunately, today was not one bit funny. Fortunately, Chris is just fine. He has a bruised kneecap and some minor road rash.
And here’s the rest of the story…
After a very clear night we found frost on the grass this morning. The temperature read 34 degrees (farenheight) and we took our time getting out of our sleeping bags. After two mugs of warm liquids we were finally on the road around 10am. The route for the day would take us over two passes, one big and one not so big. The views all around us kept our minds off the slow speed we were traveling. I think Switzerland equals granny gear. The map we procured is detailed enough that it shows the percent grade of the passes in either direction. Today we started with a 10%, hoping to graduate to a 12% tomorrow. Our cadence was steady but slow and we made the pass right around 1pm. We decided to celebrate with hot dogs, french fries, and coffee. The views were spectacular and the hot food warmed us up.
For the descent we donned most of our warm clothes and glided down the other side of the Ofenpass. Ten kilometers flew by and we were soon pedaling up the second climb. At the summit we stopped to put on more layers again. We chatted about our plan for the day and then headed down. The next town was about seven kilometers away and a potential stopping point for the day. A few minutes down the road we had to navigate some construction zones with a small group of cars. Drivers are very courteous to cyclists here so everyone gave us a good amount of space.
As we passed through the last work zone Chris got ahead of me a bit. After the BOB Trailer incident I’ve always gone slower on descents. I rounded a corner to find a tunnel in front of me and thought “Chris probably won’t like this”. In the next second, I saw a group of cars stop suddenly and my first thought was that Chris went down. Sure enough, his bike was laying in the road. I didn’t see him at first, but as I continued I saw him run out to get his bike and drag it towards the shoulder. As I quickly got my bike out of the way, three people rushed up to us. I looked over at Chris trying to pull his bike and saw that the front wheel looked mangled. As people were asking him if we was ok, he was trying to explain to me that his front tire blew and it caused him to wreck. Luckily, some really nice people were there to help. The group in the second car behind Chris saw the entire scene unfold before them. They stopped and routed traffic around us while we figured out what to do. They then whisked our bikes into a van and shuttled us down to Zernez. They got us a room, took care of our bikes, and drove us to the doctor on call. We are so very thankful for their concern, kindness and generosity.
So, we’ll be in Zernez for a few nights. We’re pretty sure the bruises and swelling will be uncomfortable tomorrow – maybe even for a couple of days. We’ll take it slow from here and not worry about getting up that 12% grade tomorrow.
And the bike? The top tube has a dent and the front wheel is trashed. The dent is probably not an issue but I think we’ll be in the market for another new rim.

Thankful that Chris is ok,
LK

PS – we learned that it wasn’t a tunnel, it was a gallery. It was open on one side.

Day 361: Merano, Italy to Müstair, Switzerland


Time: 6:00
Distance: 75.9 km
Avg Speed: 12.6 kph
Terrain: uphill slightly
Location: N 46˚ 37’ 44.2”, E 10˚ 27’ 14.2”

We got up with the rest of the early birds this morning. Our campsite in Merano was filled mostly with German pensioners. We were on the same schedule as them for the past couple of days: get up early, eat dinner early, go to bed early. It was nice not to feel left out. The only drawback was the battle for the bathroom in the morning. We rolled out of town around 9:00 am and enjoyed more of that lovely bike path for the next 72 km. The bike path actually came and went today, but the powers that be always routed it on little paved, seldom used farm roads. The only traffic we really saw were farmers taking bins of apples to the packing shed. I am sure they could have done without the cyclists clogging up their operation. We stopped for lunch at a little parking lot area outside of a town for some peanut butter and kiwi sandwiches. I had bought some bread last night that I thought would travel well since it was short, dense and wrapped tight. When I opened it I realized that I had bought a pretty strong rye bread. We were hungry so we ate it anyway and it turned out to be really good. We saved a couple of buns for later and headed off into the green. The path was quite busy as it changed from bike lane, to farm lane, to dirt path and back to farm lane. We finally got to our turnoff and missed it. We ended up riding the path a couple of extra kilometers, but realized our mistake and had a nice tour through a little town to get back on track. When we joined back up to where we were supposed to be we saw that there was another path leading to the border of Italy and Switzerland. The path was a great dirt double-track that paralleled a river as it climbed towards the Swiss border. We had a couple of tough hills, a couple of tough cows and some really nice border guards. We got our passports stamped and rolled on the road on into town to our campground. We got situated right away and luckily the campground took Euro since the currency here is the Swiss Franc. We have now been fed and are about to dive into a bag of Toblerone chocolates. That is one nice thing about crossing borders is the duty free shopping.
Fat, full and happy
CK

The Soup Nazi is Back


Day 360
Merano Rest Day

This morning we awoke to church bells at 6 am. Snooze bells ran at 6:30, 6:45, and 7:00. So much for sleeping in.

Our Merano rest day was spent getting caught up. Chris was practically giddy to be on laundry duty – we found the laundromat yesterday afternoon. Eastern Europe doesn’t have them so we have relied on the hand-wash method. I hope we don’t have to go back.
While Chris was on Project Clean Clothes, I caught up on blogs, email, and research for our passage through the Swiss Alps. No matter where you look, there are passes, descents, and more passes. However, you can bet that all of those passes will be full of breathtaking views. It should be spectacular.
Most of the afternoon was spent watching various people on their bicycles. It’s my new favorite photo subject. I’m trying to perfect my blurred background technique. As I snapped an endless amount of frames, something occurred to me. It’s very fashionable to ride a bicycle in Europe. I watched, a nun pedal into the city center, a woman in high heels smoke a cigarette, and a man in a very stylish suit, all riding their two-wheeled machines. Think about it.
Dinner was soup tonight. It’s something we have quite often. Chris decided to mix it up a little last night. It was actually the worse dinner he’s cooked during our travels. He intended to make a nice dish of gnocci and pancetta with a marinara sauce. What it turned out to be is what I have now dubbed “hot dog pasta”. Let’s just say that we shouldn’t have been shopping at the discount grocery store. Just because we’re in Italy doesn’t mean you can’t get cheap ingredients. Thank goodness the soup nazi is back.

Bon appetite,
LK

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Hello Mountains!!


Day 359
Laives to Merano
Time: 2:40:00
Distance: 43.1
Avg Speed: 16.1
Terrain: Bicycle Path
Location: N 46 39' 48.0", E 11 09' 30.3"

Somewhere between Trento and Laives we left Italy and entered Austria. The only language we have really heard from vendors and hosts has been Italian, but once we arrived in Laives it has been German the whole time. Those of you who don’t have a map in front of you, I will let you know that Laives is well in Italy. It is in the South Tyrol area where both Italian and German are spoken. The Tyrol area is the homeland of the famous climber Rheinhold Messner. The first person to summit Everest without the use of supplemental oxygen (a little dose of climbing trivia for you).
We jumped started our morning by supplementing our muesli with a couple of slices of apple strudel. The mini market in the campground had fresh baked goods and I couldn’t resist the temptation. We got back on the bike path and headed off towards Merano. We needed to head west at some point during the ride today and weren’t sure if the bike path would go with us. At our turning point we were pleasantly surprised with a new bike path going our way. We headed through more orchards and vineyards and as the valley closed in the mountains got higher. Most of the orchards are apple orchards and they are in full fruit picking mode right now. The trees are grown on a trellis, like a grape, and the branches are sagging with the weight of big, ripe apples. We both fought the temptation to pick any and ended up buying a couple at the fruit stand today. Good stuff.
We are back in the land of Laundromats so Leslie is off the hook for her forearm building exercises. Tomorrow we will take a little break off the bikes and do laundry, catch up on internet and stare at the amazing, beautiful and regal mountains that surround our home for the next day.
Still in Italy…I think.
CK

The Hard Way


Day 358
Rovereto to Laives
Time: 5:49:00
Distance: 90.6
Avg Speed: 15.5
Terrain: Bicycle Path
Location: N 46˚ 25’ 54.3”, E 11˚ 20’ 43.5”

I can’t follow up Chris’ title yesterday with a clever one today. Instead I will settle for something that is short and to the point.
We started the day at the hostel tag teaming the caffeination vending machine. It’s one of the best pieces of buffet equipment that we’ve yet encountered. Latte, caffe, cappuccino? Just push the button and the go juice comes out. Each one of us had one wrong guess in our selection. I got a cup of steamed milk when I chose latte. Chris got a very strong, almost essence like cup. Cappuccino is still the way to go – we know how to say it and it’s the same every time.
We finally pedaled out of Rovereto after taking one wrong detour. We seem to have a knack for this on the European leg of the trip. I thought it would be the only wrong turn for the day. I was mistaken.
When we hit Trento, one of the biggest towns in the region, we got pulled in by its tractor beam. The main road sucked us in, chewed on us for a bit, and then spit us out the other side. To make matters worse, we kept getting a visual of a bicycle path off in the distance. In the midst of trying to escape the noontime traffic jam, I spotted a sign for piste ciclabile (bicycle route) and decided it was time to get on it. My frustration level was high at the time and as we made a hard right turn and crossed under the road we had just been riding on I got off the bike and let it rip. With absolutely no mindfulness, I screamed at the top of my lungs and yelled to the world what I thought of this bike route. As Chris calmly passed me, he pointed to a sign. It was a picture of a bicycle and a name that read Bolzano, the town we were headed to. I just grunted and got back on my bike.
We had some lunch and then decided to follow the route. For the next three hours and 50 kilometers we pedaled on THE nicest bicycle path that I’ve ever had the pleasure of riding. The views weren’t bad either. I guess all of that wallowing earlier was worth the reward.
We found a campground in the town center of Laives for the night. It was another scavenger hunt as usual but we made the best of it. After setting up the tent we toasted the long day with a beer and our first views of the Alps to the north.

Earning every kilometer,
LK

Romeo and Juliet (on bikes without the double suicide part and the whole family feud)


Day: 357
Verona to Rovereto
Time: 5:19
Distance: 77.2 km
Avg Speed: 14.kph
Terrain: uphill (gradually)


Yesterday we hiked through the streets of Verona. Verona is a beautiful city in its own right, but it is most famous for being the setting of Shakespeare’s tragedy, Romeo and Juliet. Somewhere in its maze of streets and alleys is THE balcony. We couldn’t find it so instead settled on an internet café, slice of pizza and a double scoop of ice cream. Leslie had fun taking pictures of the droves of people riding their bikes through the square. I had fun watching the finches swoop in and steal the good bread chunks from the pigeons. We didn’t eat at McDonald’s last night, instead we self catered with some cream of mushroom soup with mushroom tortellini. The hotel was kind enough to have large marble window sills on which cook.
We got out of the hotel reasonably early this morning after eating as much as we could. We even managed to grab a couple of pieces of free breakfast fruit for the road. Leslie masterfully guided us out of the city and managed to ignore all the comments I was saying from the back. I always think we should be zigging, when in fact we should be zagging. That is why I am food and Leslie is maps. We quickly got into the Dolomites and we were in awe most of the ride. For you Colorado folks, it is like Glenwood Canyon on steroids, with vineyards thrown in to boot. Part way into the ride today we saw a turnoff for a bike path that was heading our direction. It turned out to be a narrow dirt farm road that wove in and out of different vineyards. It was pretty cool to be eye to eye with rows and rows of grapes. We bailed off of it early when we kept getting into little 20% climbs (they were labeled so I am not making it up). A little lunch stop, more cycling, and all of sudden we get to our destination for the night. Rovereto is a quiet, quaint little town in near the river that flows down the valley we rode up. We ended up at a hostel in the middle of old town for the night. It set us up nicely for the quick tour of town this afternoon. I found that I wish I spoke Italian fluently because we came across a street with banners stretched across it. The banners depicted something, and maybe it was, that closely resembled a 7th grade sex ed illustration of the female reproductive system. Leslie grabbed a picture of the rows of multi hued diagrams, but I don’t think it does them justice.
I hate to end on that bizarre note, but I don’t want to bore you with dinner and bike maintenance drivel.
CK

Monday, September 15, 2008

Getting Lost Is Not a Waste of Time


Day 355
Verona to Venice and Back
Time: All Day
Terrain: Rail

The line from one of Jack Johnson’s new songs is a perfect way to describe a day in Venice. We read in the Lonely Planet guide that it is practically impossible to not get lost in this Italian city. Not only was the book right, it was great to not know where we were at times.
It seemed like there was a picture perfect view around every corner; a gondola floating down a canal, laundry hanging from the line, or a church in the middle of a square. Venice seems to be a city of everything.
The city is actually made up of over 100 islands and became a refuge for the Veneto people in the 5th or 6th century. Over time, the Venetian Republic became very powerful and ruled a fair amount of the Mediterranean and Adriatic Seas. Tides and tourists rule the city today as nearly 20 million visitors flock to Venice a year. They shop for Murano glass and Carnavale masks and gaze at the multitude of canals from 400 different bridges.
We joined in the consumer craze and took a vaporetto (water ferry) to the island of Murano, the home of Venetian glass. After window shopping a bit we ventured into a unique looking shop. We entered the door and said a friendly "buongiorno" to the owner. She greeted us back and let us browse the different pieces available. As we focused our attention on the light shades, the owner engaged us in conversation. Apparently, the fixtures are the shop specialty. The business is a family affair – she designs and her father creates. As she explained the different techniques and styles, she showed each different shade. We settled on something with a modern technique and classic shape. Our time there was a great learning experience and I’m really happy we found a modest, family run business. Tomorrow we’ll be looking some serious packing material and the Fed Ex office.
After returning to Cannagerio area of Venice, we followed the signs to Piazza San Marco, St Mark’s Square. The beautiful Basilica di San Marco anchors one end of the plaza while arcades encapsulate the rest. An amoeba of pigeons and tourist occupy the middle of the whole scene. We kept moving so that we stayed out of others pictures and didn’t become perches for the annoying birds.
Finally, we strolled our way back to the train station. At times we expected to find ourselves going in a circle, but seemed to keep making progress in the right direction. Narrow alleys would occasionally open into church squares or end at a canal. Large groups of tourists would dissipate into random pairs of locals. Whatever the moment was, we stopped to soak in the atmosphere. Venice is definitely one of those places that you want to commit to memory.
Seizing the moments,
LK

Can’t you hear what my mind is thinking?


Day: 354
Poreč, Croatia to Verona, Italy
Time: 9 hours


True to our host’s word we were met at 6:00 am by a light breakfast and hot coffee. Quite the nice guy. The typical breakfast in Croatia is fresh bread with butter and spreads. It also has a lot of cold cuts and cheese. After loading up on mostly bread, spreads and some coffee we got rolling on down to the ferry dock. The dock was hopping this morning and I found myself using my big bike as a deterrent to queue cutters. As I was keeping the hordes from swallowing up Leslie and me, Leslie was giving cuts to a couple of old birds from England. One of the ladies remarked that since I was bigger than she was, she had better do as she was told. We finally boarded the high speed ferry and got underway. The weather was stormy so the sea was quite rough and I found myself eyes closed and Ipod on most of the ride.
We got to the dock in Venice just as the skies decided that a thunderstorm was necessary. We got our bikes together in the rain and since we were dead last leaving the dock area we didn’t have to wait in line at all going through passport control. I suggested that we head west, but Leslie said that passport control was to the east. I replied ‘I know that, we should head west after passport control, can’t you hear what my mind is thinking?’ A truce was reached at that point and we agreed to lighten up. We rolled our wet bikes into the control area and one of the guys hopped up flagged us through and stamped our passports without us breaking stride. SERVICE!! When we got back out the other side the rain had intensified and we worked our way west. Even though it was raining the travel gods were smiling on us and we worked our way really close to the train station. We sought shelter under a gas station garage and got our bearings. At that point the rain really picked up (I am talking inches per hour type of rain, with lightening and thunder) and we decided to wait a little. The rain lightened up a little (so we thought) and we made a break for it. We got about 200 meters from the gas station and rain started coming down harder than before. We only had one bridge to cross, but it was one the gorgeous arched stair stepped ones that grace the canals in Venice. They aren’t the easiest to cross lugging a 40 kg bike in a torrential downpour. We found a little respite under a hotel overhang along with several dozen other people. Right when we were getting ready to make another break for it there was a lightening crack right over head and the resulting thunder shot a rush of air through the overhang. We both thought that we could wait a little more. We finally got to the train station, got our tickets, got lunch and got to Verona. The rain continued here and since we didn’t want to walk all over the city looking for dinner, we ended up at McDonald’s at the train station. Lame? Yes, I think so, but we were hungry, it was dark and it was pouring. Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun.
Tomorrow we are back on the train to Venice for a little tourist action. I can guarantee that McDonald’s won’t be in that game plan.
Ciao
CK

Friday, September 12, 2008

An Everyday Slice of Life

Day 352
Poreč North Loop
Time: 3:25:00
Distance: 51.2 kilometers
Avg Speed: 15.0 kph
Terrain: Rolling

One of the things I like most about bicycle touring is the chance to observe everyday life in the places we travel through. Today we went on a ride and for most of the three hours I didn’t find anything remarkable about our route. It wasn’t until we rode through a quaint little village that I was snapped out of my daze. As we pedaled through the town center I noticed a group of men and a few bicycles and then was content to look at the colorful shutters on various stone buildings. As we passed the group of men I became immediately immersed in their space. They were a lively bunch, all probably in their mid to late sixties, discussing everything. Some were speaking loud while others were motioning with their hands. All of them were very engaged in the moment. It was their daily gathering that led to my reflection about the way Chris and I travel the way we do.
Tomorrow we leave Croatia and Eastern Europe. I’m so glad we decided to throw caution to the wind and start the last leg of our adventure in Poland. We’ve seen some amazing landscapes and interacted with some wonderful and fascinating people. The riding was fantastic and we got to see a region of the world where the bicycle is very much integrated into everyday life. Interestingly enough, these countries through which we have traveled are very much developed and have access to most of the modern conveniences that we do at home. It has certainly given us food for thought.

See you in Italy,
LK

Afterward:
Didn’t make it to bed without having a shot of schnapps. Chris settled up the bill with Mr. Biba and then had to come get me so that we could all drink together. What a great host! He is even having an early breakfast for us so we don’t have to travel hungry on the ferry. If you’re ever in Croatia and have a few days to kill, make sure to book yourself a room at Pension Biba.

Zirbenschnapps


Day: 352
Basilica and back

We decided to go into town today and check out the local basilica. The church dates back to the 4th century and has some beautiful mosaics in the nave of the newer church and an original mosaic in the original church. We decided to part with some kuna and climb the clock tower to get a view above town. The tower sits in the courtyard of the church and from the top gives great 360˚ views all around.
After our foray into town we hit the internet café for a little check on email and to try and update our blogs and photos. The café was nice, but it was in lockdown mode when it came to downloading info. We at least let people know we were alive and kicking. Little did we know that our pension had a wireless connection that we could have tapped into. It was later in the afternoon when we put that one together.
The menu tonight was fish and our host didn’t disappoint. I was able to peek at the fish before cooking and did in fact see a mackerel among the pile. There were also small halibut and I think a rock cod or bass. He uses a lot of butter to cook them up in and the crust that forms gives some great flavor. He asked us what we would like tomorrow for dinner since it was our last night and we both decided that fish sounded good. He then asked if we wanted one big one or a mix again. I say don’t fix it if it ain’t broke…go with the mix of fish.
The bad news on the Croatia front is that Croatia lost to England in Zagreb last night. The football match was pool play for the 2010 World Cup qualifiers. Croatia isn’t out of it, but England put a pretty good licking on them (4-1). Our host didn’t have anything nice to say about England and then added that the only people he liked less were the French. He added a little gesture at the end that is universal, but hard to replicate by word. He thought that anybody who was playing Croatia was his enemy unless they were customers, then he would show ‘a little diplomacy’.
After dinner tonight our host grabbed Leslie and I as we were trying to sneak back up to our room. He herded us into the bar where he was ‘going to give us a little sleeping pill’. The first pill was shot of šljivovica. He liked to call it šljivowhiskey or Yugo petrol. His homemade version certainly had a little more bite than the last one we had, and I bet it would run a little car like the Yugo. He didn’t think we had, had enough so then he got the good stuff. It was ‘quitte schnapps’ and was very tasty. A ‘quitte’ is Croatian for quince in case you were wondering. I saw a bottle high up on his liquor shelf and stepped around the bar to ask him what it was. It had a homemade label and a layer of dust on it. I didn’t want any, I just wanted to know what it was. He fished out a bottle of it lower down and said it was a very special schnapps that his friend made in Austria. Zirbenschnapps was amber in color and had a light taste of rootbeer and pine. Leslie and I both thought it was very good and was very high in alcohol. Turns out to be around 60%. I think that all of our sleeping pills are working quite nicely and if we were going to have a problem sleeping, we won’t now.
Sweet Zirbenschnapps dreams.
CK

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Couple in Room 12


Day 351
Porec to Motovun

The couple in room 12 are definitely new at Pansion Biba.

This morning we eagerly descended the stairs for our first breakfast at our new accommodation. No surprise, we had been analyzing the potential buffet offerings since last evening. As we strolled past the breads, cereals, meats, and cheeses, Chris headed for the table where we sat last night at dinner. I decided that I didn’t want to get in a rut and beckoned him to a different table. Actually, I just wanted a table that already had a carafe of coffee ready to go. As I sat down and started to pour myself a cup, the host rushed over and stopped me before I could splash a drop. He pointed to our table from last night and then another one next to the spot I had chosen. He then hurriedly got me settled at the new table and then explained to me (in Croatian, German or Italian – I’m not really sure) that we had assigned tables. I felt really bad – I was just trying to break my own annoying habit. Chris had that “I told you so smile” on his face as he sat down. I shrugged my shoulders and went on about my coffee drinking and breakfast eating. It was about mid-meal when I realized that I could have saved myself a lot embarrassment by just looking at the sugar dish. Each one is marked with the room number. Rookie mistake – tomorrow I will look for the number 12.
We spent the day on a “training ride” to the village of Motovun. I had read that it was a picturesque hilltop village. The loop I laid out was about 60 or so kilometers and it would be a good way to see the countryside and get some miles in.
The riding was great without panniers and made us miss riding at home. Sometimes I’m amazed at how much we like to ride our bicycles. Plain and simple; it’s just fun.
Motovun was really cool. Not only is it a hilltop village, it sits alone in the middle of a broad valley. We’re guessing that it was an important location for the region as it provides endless views in all directions. Chris and I pedaled up the main road until our tires hit the cobble. From there we walked to the top with the rest of the tourists. We lingered awhile to soak in the views, architecture, and people. By early afternoon, our legs began pedaling back to our bed and breakfast.
The comic relief for the day came at the end of the ride as we rode back into Porec. Chris noticed a bicycle path on the opposite side of the road. Since traffic was pretty heavy we decided to cross over. As I slowed down in a driveway, a car coming from the opposite direction layed on its horn. As it turned in, it swerved a bit like it was going to hit Chris. As it slowly rolled by an irate young man rattled off a litany punctuated by an “FU” in the middle. We both laughed out of nervousness and complete shock. We were also confused by his anger and his use of the expletive in the middle of the sentence. Normally one would use such vulgar language at the beginning or the end of an outburst.
But wait…we haven’t gotten to the best part yet.
We hadn’t noticed the other cars waiting behind the enraged motorist. Just as we were ready to get on our way, another car honked at us. We were ready to throw up our hands in disgust when man in a little white car yelled “ha-lo” and then pointed down the road to the other driver. He then put up his middle finger, smiled, and then pointed down the road again. I guess he was on our side…

Happy Wednesday,
LK

Fun in the Sun


Day: 349 and 350
Poreč Rest Day 1 and 2

We are taking a few rest days in Poreč before heading out on some day rides in the countryside. Yesterday our day was really simple. Laundry, drying of laundry, sunning of bodies at camp, sunning of bodies at the beach, lunch, dinner, sunset and finally ice cream. The sunset was exceptional with the giant orange orb sizzling as it hit the water.
Today was moving day for us since we were moving the operation down the road to the Pension Biba. We figured we couldn’t check in until the afternoon so we had a slow leisurely morning eating brekkie, packing up our gear and checking email. We finally got on the road around noon and headed into town for a little lunch and a roll along the water front. Leslie drew shopping duties today and came rolling out with a few items in a shopping cart. To the casual observer it would have appeared that it was empty, but to people living out of bags, it was a refrigerator full. We ate our lunch in a little park by the historic basilica in town (more on that later in the week) and had fun watching a little boy play soccer with his mom. After we got all packed up again we rolled along the big stone waterfront making note of all the little sunning spots for later in the week. Finally it was time to head out to Biba’s. We got there and our host quickly showed us to our room, told us dinner was at 7 and let us be. They (the locals) take a siesta from 1-5 in the afternoon here and I think we rolled in on the middle of it. Leslie and I took refuge at the pool and after a quick dip to cool off she grabbed some sun and I grabbed some shade. I like to fancy myself as a professional sun worshipper, but I really like the shade more. Leslie and I grabbed our siesta from 5-7. I thought I had better get registered and grab some drinks that we had put in the fridge downstairs so I ventured out to find the host. I handed over our passports and he thought I looked thirsty and offered me a drink. The grappa (homemade wine) here is great and I have taken a liking to the white variety. As we were sipping our wine he thought that I needed a shot of schnapps as well (homemade also) so I had a shot of that. After that I made a slip out of the bar and got upstairs before he handed me another. Leslie laughed at me and added ‘that he really had to twist your arm to have those drinks’. OK, not exactly twist, but I thought it would be rude not to accept. Dinner was at 7 and fish was being served. I figured that it would be a fillet each with some potatoes and that would be that. We had a salad bar, followed with more wine, followed by a platter with potatoes, spinach, and 5 fish. This was our platter. The other tables all had similar platters with just as much or more. I would love to tell you the fish we ate, but the only one I recognized was a mackerel and I not even sure that is right. All I know they were all good. Yes, I said all, because we ate them all.
The end of rest day 2 has ended with promise. Now it is active rest until Italy.
Fishy, fishy coco pop.
CK

Mental Maps

Day 348
Pula to Porec
Time: 5:19:00
Distance: 76.0 kilometers
Avg Speed: 14.3 kph
Terrain: Rolling
Location: N 45˚ 11’ 41.8”, E 13˚ 35’ 24.2”

My mental map for the day was about 50 km with an early afternoon arrival at a nice guesthouse. Reality took us over 75 km to Porec and a campground. So much for mental maps…

What is a mental map exactly? I picked up the term after reading a book about survival by Lawrence Gonzales. It’s the idea that when we approach a task or event, we have certain preconceived ideas about what will be the outcome. Mr. Gonzales presented different case studies and tied in the survivor or victim’s mental map. They expected to do a,b, and c while d, e, and f happened.
I’ve been trying to not pay attention to my mental map, but I think that it is human nature to formulate one. I’m getting better at not having any expectations and just being open to whatever the day brings. I think it’s a process that will last my entire life.
I picked the destination today based on the symbols on the map and the proximity to a certain town I want to visit. In addition to lovely beaches, the Istria Pennisula is said to have beautiful medieval looking towns. When we arrived at the town, there wasn’t much action and basically no guesthouses. I hadn’t really planned on anything else since guesthouses seem to be readily available. We stopped for a food and water break and made a new plan – actually a couple of them. In the back of my mind I suspected that we would end up at a campground for the night. It definitely wasn’t the first choice but a reliable one.
As we traveled down the road to Porec we found not much in the way of available or affordable rooms. We pedaled the way of the campground and stopped one last time to check out two possibilities. When we found no one at the guesthouse we rolled down the driveway to the pension (B & B). It was very nice – a quaint stone house surrounded by a vineyard and a pool. Chris found the host and quickly went to work discussing options. The man spoke a lot of Croatian, a little Spanish, and a little English. As the conversation went on we figured out that a large group had just called and was on their way to fill up the remaining rooms. We could tell that he was a little disappointed because we were ready to stay for the rest of the week, especially after we found out that the room rate included breakfast and dinner. He poured us each a glass of wine while we waited to see if his phone call panned out. As he examined his schedule book to see about any open rooms, he asked us about the distance we rode today. When we told him 70 kilometers his arms flew up in the air and he rushed to pour us another glass of wine. I think he might have even said a hail mary too.
So tonight we are in the campground after all. However, we won’t be here all week. Our new friend has an opening on Tuesday so we’ll pack our panniers and head over for four nights of home cooked meals before sailing over to Italy.

Here’s to a few glasses of wine after a long hot day on the road,
LK

Coco Butter Bread Spread


Day: 347
Labin to Pula
Time: 3:15
Distance: 49.8 km
Avg Speed: 15.3 kph
Terrain: hilly
Location: N 44˚ 51’ 25.0”, E 13˚ 48’ 53.0”

We got up early in Labin to get our day started and as it turned out, visit with our little hostess. We had our usual bowl of muesli and had planned on grabbing some coffee downstairs with Anđela (that is our hostess’ name). She had shown Leslie that she grinds her own beans and had a drip coffee maker. Anything is better than Nescafé, so we weren’t too hard to convince. She apologized that she couldn’t cook us breakfast, but since her leg was bad she had trouble getting around. We got packed up and ended up sitting in her kitchen where she had made us a pot of coffee and sliced us some bread. She went through the sugar (šećer), milk (mlijeko), bread (kleh), butter (maslac), marmalade (no special word there) and her pride and joy; a container of coco butter left by the Canadian cycle tourists a week before. She left the room to go and get some paper work for us and I quickly grabbed the coco butter to examine it. It was brand new, thankfully, and had never been used. I also verified what Leslie and I thought it really was. It was coco butter skin cream, not coco butter bread spread. She came back in the room and Leslie and I had poured ourselves some coffee and were putting butter and marmalade on our bread. She started to talk about the coco butter some more and I thought to myself ‘we have to tell her…I just don’t want to embarrass her or confuse the situation any more’. Leslie must have been thinking the same thing, because she grabbed the container and pointed to the back of it and made the motion of putting it on her skin. Anđela got it immediately and just started laughing like it was the best thing she had ever heard. She grabbed the coco butter from Leslie, looked at the back of it, laughed some more, rattled off a bunch of Croatian and put the container on her ironing board. Evidently my fears were unjustified. We finally got on the road and had a great ride cruising the back roads south. We pulled into Pula around noon and quickly found the campground and settled in for our daily tan and swim. I fell asleep and missed my swim time so we got changed and headed into town to check out the Roman Coliseum built in the first century. We got sidetracked at a colorful, lively square, but finally found it. Very cool, very old and not very touristy. We had our fill of sight seeing and went to find some dinner. One of the specialties of the Istria is truffles (the fungi, not the chocolate). I was weak and couldn’t just do truffles so I got a meat dish, but Leslie was good and got truffle ravioli. Hers was way better than mine.
We are now back in the tent where I met the hitchhiker I had picked up today. I think I got him last night since I had stored our tent bag on the ground. While unpacking the tent today I came face to face with a little scorpion who rode through the countryside with us. I set the bag on the ground to grab my camera and when I turned around the little guy was gone. He is probably in amongst the pannier bags waiting to see where we will go tomorrow.
CK

Blog Hold-Up

Sorry for the delay in the latest blogs. We got everything together and came to the internet cafe only to find out that they have everything locked down. Oh well, we'll try somewhere else.

We are still in Croatia and will be traveling to Venice, Italy this weekend.

Hope all is well in your part of the world.

LK and CK

Friday, September 05, 2008

A Month in Europe


Day 346
Cres to Labin
Time: 4:31:00
Distance: 54.0
Avg Speed: 11.9
Terrain: Hills!
Location: N 45˚ 06’ 10.1”, E 14˚ 06’ 51.6”

It’s day 31 on the road; my toenail polish is almost gone, my skin is getting quite dark, and I’ve learned how to say “hello” and “thank you” in four different languages. I’m in Europe and I’m lovin’ it.

The first month on the final leg of our journey has been a lot different than the first month in New Zealand. However, we would never be here if we hadn’t gone there. I thought I might share the difference in distance traveled, average kilometers per day, etc. Really, it’s like comparing apples and oranges. The biggest difference now is that we have become accustomed to all aspects of the road.

Today was a pretty hard day. We started with a 15 kilometer, granny gear climb. Thankfully the views were spectacular and I was easily distracted. One thing I couldn’t take was the heat and humidity so I too adopted the Euro way. No, I didn’t go topless, I just decided my swimsuit top was the best option for the ride. Besides, I have some tan lines to even out.
The ascent topped out at 430m (starting from sea level) and then began a circuitous path down the opposite side of the island. We were headed for the ferry dock and the crossover to the Istria Penninsula. We knew we were going to repeat the uphill on the other side but didn’t put much thought into how bad it could be. The goal was to be up at the main highway before the next ferry crossed. I think it was close, but we made it despite the 20% grade. It didn’t start out too bad but finished as one of the steepest sections of road we have encountered. I guess it’s all training – we still have the Alps ahead of us.
We found ourselves an apartment for the night. The host is a really wonderful lady. She speaks absolutely no English but talked to us like we were fluent in Croatian. She never once got frustrated with us as we gave her several puzzled looks as she rattled off this and that. She called her daughter a few times for various translations; otherwise we worked it out between the three of us. Chris remarked recently about our new skill set of non-verbal communication. We were definitely using it this afternoon. Apparently, most guesthouses charge extra for stays of just one night. We hadn’t run into this before and were prepared to leave and make the journey to the campground. I guess she decided it was better to rent the place for one night rather than not rent it at all because she waived the extra fee. We gave her our passports and as she signed us in she began a new conversation (of which was spoken in Croatian). I paid close attention and noticed that she was pointing to an entry from Canada. As I listened I realized that two bicycle tourists from Edmonton had passed through just a week ago. I also realized that she was trying to tell me how funny she thought it was that two sets of people on bikes had stayed here in just the last week. Maybe I have learned a little Croatian after all.

Doviđenja,
LK

Day 345 Mali Lošinj to Cres


Time: 3:49
Distance: 53.9 km
Avg Speed: 14.1 kph
Terrain: hilly
Location: N 44˚ 57’ 43.2”, 14˚ 23’ 44.3”

We had planned on a shorter day today so we lazed around this morning and got on the road around 9:00. The skies were overcast and we had a tailwind so we were content with getting on down the road. We arrived at our intended camp an hour later and over a macchiato (the new drink of choice) we decided that with the tailwind and the cooler weather we would be crazy not to go on to the city and island of Cres. The islands of Lošinj and Cres are connected by a short bridge so no boats were in the works today. Once on Cres we had to climb up onto the central range that runs down the middle of the island. We climbed up to an elevation of 260 meters and rolled along up high for the rest of the day. One unique feature of Cres is that it has a rather large lake trapped in its central valley. We took lunch well above it and couldn’t decide if it was a salt lake or not. It looks to be land locked with no inlet or outlet. I would imagine that it receives water from the drainage of surrounding hills. We didn’t know if water seeped in from the sea or not. The descent to the lake was possible, but facing a big climb on loose rocky roads back out, we decided not to attempt it. It was less tiring to just speculate. We had a switch back filled descent down into the harbor town of Cres and had a good time exploring the narrow streets and alleys before winding to our campground. We enjoyed a nice cool down swim in the sea before dinner. We took turns swimming and surfing the internet on the campground wifi. Our campground isn’t nearly as free as yesterdays, but it does feature a FKK campground and beach. They do a better job of keeping the skin separated from the banana hammocks. I guess it is more family friendly that way.
We head a little further north tomorrow to catch the ferry to the Istria Peninsula. There we will be back on the mainland and away from this rough island life we have been able to enjoy.
CK

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Cruising North


Day 344
Zadar to Mali Lošinj
Time: 4:38:00
Distance: 102 kilometers
Avg Speed: 21.9 kph
Terrain: Adriatic Sea
Location: N 44˚ 33’ 16.0”, E 14˚ 26’ 38.1”

Today we combined a rest day with a transportation day. We hopped a ferry from Zadar to the island of Lošinj. So far we’ve been following the route we outlined this summer. It was nice to rest the legs and make some progress at the same time. Sea travel in Croatia is quite affordable on a ferry. We payed less than $35 and had a wonderful cruise into the Gulf of Kvarner.
The islands in this region are actually part of the Dinaric Alps mountain range. After the last ice age, the area flooded and left some of Croatia’s biggest islands. As we glided into our destination, we noticed a lot relief across the horizon and suspect that our riding here will be hilly. We’ll cover the two islands of Lošinj and Cres in the next three days. Fortunately, the two are connected by a road and we’ll only need one more boat ride to get back to the mainland.
We managed to get some sunbathing in while on the boat today. I wore my little sun dress that I’ve been anxious to bust out. Chris followed the European way and took off his shirt. It’s quite the norm here and we’re beginning to think that clothing is in fact overrated.
The journey north was not a direct sail and we made three stops along the way. We saw some awesome places to have a vacation bach in addition to miles of fantastic sailing waters. (Hint, hint to our sailing friends).
We’re back in the tent tonight. We spotted our campground from the water. For as much as we prefer smaller venues, this place is immaculate and very organized. Chris just finished up at the market and we’ll be able to get some ice cream later. The swimming area was great for a dip in the ocean. We’ve managed to take a dip almost every evening since we’ve been on the sea. Tonight we finally ran into our first FKK. Let me translate – FKK = naturist. What’s a naturist? Like I said, clothing is overrated.

Here’s to no tan lines,
LK

Day 343: Ražanac to Bibinje


Time: 2:28
Distance: 34.5 km
Avg Speed: 14 kph
Terrain: rolling

The freight train left the beach this morning. We had to wait out a little morning rain in the tent, but once it passed…choo, choo. The roads were wet for the first hour on the road so our legs received a good soaking with tire splash. Luckily the drivers here are very courteous and we didn’t receive any splash from cars. Our goal was the port city of Zadar and getting some ferry tickets for our cruise across the Adriatic tomorrow. We rolled into Zadar a little bedraggled so we stopped at a little café for a couple of macchiatos and a couple of strudels. I had cherry and Leslie had apple. Both were quite good. After fueling and getting fully caffeinated we decided to make a dash to the old walled city for the tickets and a little sight seeing. We found the ferry terminal first and Leslie set out to procure some tickets. The ticket lady was only helpful in that she pointed out that the ferry didn’t leave at this dock. It left from the industrial part of town ‘only 10 minutes away’. 10 minutes usually translates to an hour for us. The ferry leaves at 9:00 am in the morning so we decided that we had better go find the dock and maybe some lodging near it. Since we were in Zadar we decided that we had better catch a few sights before heading off again. Leslie wanted to check out an ancient circular Byzantine church built in the 9th century. It was built on top of a Roman forum and an old column from the forum still stands in the church yard. The church and most of the other ancient buildings all stand in the walled part of the city that was fortified in the 16th century. The narrow streets, and bustling atmosphere made it a little difficult to get around on the bikes, but the bumps and brakes were worth it. Leslie found a tourist information center and asked the help desk guy where the dock was. He got out a map that didn’t include any of the area we needed to go and pointed off the map. We quickly made a plan and started working our way over in the direction it was supposed to be. After a few frustrating twists and turns we finally pulled into a filling station for a map and directions. We got oriented and 10 minutes later pulled up to the dock. Next on our agenda was finding some accommodation for the night. We rode a couple of kilometers down the road and ran into sobe zimmer land. We had our pick of the bunch and ended up at a place ran by a nice old man. We interrupted his American TV show (which was funny since he doesn’t speak any English), but he was glad to show us the room. It is the biggest and one of the nicest we have had yet. More importantly it is one of the cheapest. I guess staying near the industrial part of town has its perks. We both wanted something besides soup for dinner tonight so while Leslie was doing some wash I ran to the store and to check out the local eating establishments. We rode our bikes to dinner and enjoyed a heaping helping of hospitality. Leslie had a pizza, while I had the mixed grill plate. They were both huge dishes and I managed to polish mine off and some of Leslie’s. After dinner we were sitting and chatting about life and Leslie noticed some kids checking out our bikes. It has happened before and will probably happen again, but these little turds were ringing bells, punching my bike computer buttons and stealing my tail light. After I saw the light get lifted I decided I would pay them a little visit. The actual thief made the slip, but I made all the kids turn their pockets inside out to show me that they didn’t have it. One of the older ones spoke English, so I asked him to tell the thief that I was looking for him. I am actually surprised that, that light made it this far into the trip. I bought it 6 or 7 years ago and it was definitely on its last legs, but it was the principle of the matter. Oh well. It had to happen sometime and I’m glad it was a just a little light.

Bloated and lightless in Bibinje,
CK

Where the Mountains Meet the Sea



Days 341 and 342
Gospic to Novalja (Pag) to Ražanac
Time: 8:37:00
Distance: 128.3 kilometers
Avg Speed: 15.0 kph
Terrain: Mountains to Dry Rolling Hills
Location: N 44˚ 17’ 1.9”, E 15˚ 20’ 34”

I’ve been a few places in the world where the mountains rise up from the sea. Yesterday we rode through one such landscape.

We started out from Gospić with a good breakfast in our bellies. The buffet was not spectacular but had a welcome sight – eggs. Chris worked over the fried variety while I picked the shells off of a few hardboiled. Our soup and pedaling diet probably hasn’t provided enough protein.
The juevos were still with us as we started our arduous grind up the leeward side of the Dinaric Alps. Beyond the rugged mountain range lays the Adriatic Sea. I was feeling good in the morning air, looking forward to a dramatic change of scenery at the top. My daydream was short lived as the road turned from asphalt to gravel. The pavement had been torn up from shoulder to shoulder and our route suddenly became a real challenge. I had a little trouble bouncing around and had to walk about half of the 2km section. Chris waited for me at the transition back to asphalt and we made the pass in no time. The sea was not yet in sight but we enjoyed fabulous views of the surrounding peaks.
A tunnel finally brought us to the view we had been waiting for – the blue waters of the Adriatic Sea. I was definitely giddy and we found a nice lunch spot to sit and contemplate our latest accomplishment. We had finally made it to the coast!
The next phase of the ride took us to the bottom of the road and then north along the water. Our goal for the day was to get to the island of Pag. The journey would require a ferry crossing so we didn’t waste any time getting to the dock. As we pedaled along the shore we could see Pag and noticed right away that it was barren and rocky. If you didn’t know where you were, you might have thought you we in southern Utah.
We found the docks without incident and pushed out bikes aboard the boat. As we motored across the shimmering water, I remarked to Chris that we had now traveled by just about every means (bicycle, plane, train, bus, boat).
Our accommodation for the evening was an “autocamp” aka giant campground. The cost was a bit steep but we had very clean facilities and wireless internet. We made a few calls home and then settled in for a restful sleep.
Today we traveled through a desolate landscape. The white stone against the blue waters made for endless contrasting views. Life looks to be a little rough in places - I’m sure the dry nature of the land accounts for that. One of the highlights of the day was stopping at a roadside stand for paśki sir (Pag cheese). It’s said to be one of the things that makes this island special. The woman who runs the stand is most definitely a true professional. I ordered 200 grams of cheese and she was able to whack off the exact amount from the wheel. I just laughed when she put it on the scale and it read 200 – not a gram more or less.
We’re camped again tonight – this time in a smaller venue. The host (who doesn’t speak English) was amazed that we were riding our bikes. He was also taken aback when he realized we were from the US. Not sure if it was our mode of transportation or just that we are gringos in Croatia. Anyway, he insisted that we have a glass of wine as a welcome drink. Not a bad way to end a beautiful day of riding.

Here’s to sleepy little towns on the Adriatic Coast,
LK