Friday, October 31, 2008

Intervals

Day 401
Mertola to Vila Real de Santo Antonio
Time: 4:42:00
Distance: 66.3 km
Avg Speed: 14.1 kph
Terrain: Hills
Location: N 37˚ 11’ 36.9”, E 07˚ 25’ 14.4”

You know it’s going to be a long day when the first hour passes and you haven’t even hit 10 kilometers.

This morning we left Mertola by crossing the old town bridge over the Oeira River. We had stopped at the top of town to look for George but he must have had his coffee and moved on. It was really great to spend time with him last evening. The thing I’ll remember the most was his comment that “he is an explorer, not a sailor”. This comes from someone who has sailed across the Atlantic more than once.
I’ve developed a new saying on this trip – what goes down will almost certainly go up. Actually, I think it’s a new twist on an old favorite but it works better for what we’re doing. Since we started with a long downhill from town, I knew it was a bad sign. Sure enough, the first hill began immediately after the bridge crossing. We were destined to climb and descend for the rest of the ride. I joked to Chris that we probably wouldn’t have flat ground until we were right on the coast.
A favorite saying of Chris’ is “it’s all training, right?” He says it to remind us that we can never be satisfied with our preparation for some outdoor adventure. Today’s training would have been classified as intervals. Technically, one would involve a heart rate monitor in the official version of this type of training, but we can’t go fast enough to qualify for that. Instead, we just do a lot of shifting between the chain rings and cassette and wonder if the next ridgeline will be the last set of hills. Unfortunately, terrain like today’s was subject to the infinite curve of disappointment. Getting to the top of one hill usually just gave us a view of the mass of ridgelines ahead of us.
Gradually we worked our way down to the coast and a few kilometers of flat roads. We rolled into Vila Real de Santo Antonio by mid afternoon and didn’t feel too worked over. There was only one moment of distress when we turned in the direction of a hotel and saw the European Union border sign that said Espanha (Portuguese for Spain). Luckily the sign also said 1 KM. Neither of us planned to spend the night in a country we just came from. We laughed about it later – we’ve been in Portugal for four days and we’re still on the border with Spain.
Tomorrow we’ll dawn our Halloween costumes and hit the road going west. Yes that’s right, we are dressing up tomorrow. Don’t get too excited. We were going to construct some lavish costumes but we didn’t think that aluminum foil and wind would work very well on the bikes. Instead we’ve decided to use our existing wardrobe to fit the bill. Should be interesting…

Here’s to working those glutes,
LK

Hannah Brown


Day: 400
Beja to Mertola
Time: 2:39
Distance: 51.6 km
Avg Speed: 19.5 kph
Terrain: Rolling
Location: 37˚ 38’ 20.4”, E 07˚ 39’ 40.8”


We left Beja this morning with a whipping cold tail wind. I guess cold winds aren’t too bad as long as they are behind you. The riding took us from the hill top town, down to the plains and into the rolling woodland and farmland along the Guadiana River. Our riding took us along more cork oak and olive trees as well as several flocks of sheep being tended by their shepherds. The town of Mertola appeared as we rolled over the final hill. We were greeted by more white washed buildings and another castle. Part of the town sits in the walled part of the castle where several museums are situated.
Our little hotel host gave us the low down and told us what museums are the good ones, and that the cheapest museum ticket is a pass that can be bought at the local visitor’s center. We located the visitor’s center and that is where we met George. He recognized our American accents and we recognized his. We chatted briefly and found out that he had sailed his boat up the river and was moored down on the dock. He invited us for drinks at his boat and we agreed to meet later. Leslie and I checked out the castle, which was built on the old Moorish fort and then went onto the Moorish museum and the Roman museum. Mertola’s unique location near the end of the tidal flow of the river and close to farm and mining areas made it an important town on the trade routes. The Romans recognized this first and set up a settlement to take advantage of that strength. The Roman museum is housed in the basement of a municipal building here and the only requisite to see it is to make sure you shut the lights off when you leave. During excavation of the current building, ruins were discovered and instead of moving them, the builders constructed the building around them. We weren’t sure if we were in the right place when all we saw were offices and desks, but we eventually found it. Statues, columns, coins and tools all dating from as far back as the second century AD can be seen there. Very cool.
After some museum walking and a little snack break we headed down to the Hannah Brown docked on the river. George invited us in and showed us around his home for the past 12 years. The sail boat has been all around Europe, the Arctic, the Caribbean and the East Coast of the US. He had promised to take us to his favorite bar in town, but once we started talking, we never left his galley/bedroom/living room. He made us a great salad for dinner and we split a couple of bottles great Portuguese red wine. For dessert he busted out some homemade peanut butter spread over dark chocolate squares. The conversation was great and we grilled him with questions about life on a boat. I warned Leslie before we headed down that he was probably going to corrupt us. I was right, he did. Sailing for that long is probably as romantic as bike touring for several years (which he did as well), but once you make a life for yourself you just keep on living it. He is 67 years old and is pretty sure he will keep this way of life for a little while. He did say that he hasn’t been to some of his favorite places in over 20 years so maybe he will store the boat in Europe and go to the US for a year and tour. His company was well timed and we were sad to bid him farewell. We are going to try and meet him at his café in the morning, but if that fails we at least met another soul from the road.
Living the life we made
CK

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Really Black Coffee


Day 399
Beja Rest Day

We spent a very mellow rest day in Beja. Our lodging is quite comfortable so we weren’t in a rush to get up early this morning. Breakfast was our only appointment and you can bet we were on time. We’re always excited to see what new things are available to eat in a new country. Lucky for us, most everything was on the table and Chris was spared being the linguist guinea pig for one meal. The coffee was very essence-like and we immediately understood why the milk carafe was just as big as the one for java.
After breakfast we walked a few of the streets and visited the castle in the historic part of town. This part of southern Portugal has quite a long and exciting history from what we’ve read. You know how it goes; inhabited by Celtic people, renamed by Julius Cesar, then again by Augustus Cesar. The Visogoths and the Moors did their thing. Later, the Spanish came to fight the Portuguese and then Napolean wanted a piece of the action as well. Unfortunately, his crew massacred everyone in town. Today Beja is an important city of about 35,000 people.
The most interesting tidbit is the story of a series of love letters written in the 17th century by a Portuguese nun to a French cavalry officer. As the story goes, Sister Mariana Alcoforado saw the officer from her window and fell in love immediately. She then wrote him five passionate love letters. The original Portuguese version of the letters no longer exists, but were somehow translated into French and published in 1669. Despite a great debate of the authenticity of the letters, they were wildly popular. The word “portugaise” even became synonymous for “passionate love letter”.
Tomorrow we’re back on the road and headed south. The weather looks like rain and we’ll be digging out those warm and waterproof layers that we had in France. After 400 days on the road we just take it in stride. Hopefully some warm and sunny days are waiting for us in the Algarve.

Here’s to love at first sight,
LK

Monday, October 27, 2008

Dois not Douche


Day: 398
Rosal de la Frontera, Spain to Beja, Portugal
Time: 3:59
Distance: 65.3 km
Avg Speed: 16.3 kph
Terrain: Rolling
Location: N 38˚ 00’ 46.1”, E 07˚ 51’ 45.8”

Spain pretty much shuts down on Sundays and when we rolled into Rosal de la Frontera yesterday, we knew that we would have to track down brekkie in the morning. The new time change helped us get out of bed earlier so we had a head start on the day. After packing up and checking out of the hostal we headed down to the little local bar for some tostada and café con leche. We sat down with the locals and enjoyed our toast and coffee and remarked on how we were seemingly the only non-locals in town. You could have cued the other cycle tourists right then. Two French guys rolled up for some refreshments and we made some small chit chat in our newest language Frepanglish (French, Spanish, and English). They had two days to travel 230 km and were anxious to get on the road. We let them get on there way and decided that we needed another cup of coffee before getting ourselves on the road. After a little more fuel we headed to the store for some road provisions. I figured out where all the little old men and little old ladies hang out in town like that. The men were all in the bar/café to gossip and the ladies were all in the store gossiping waiting for the fresh bread delivery. The store crew was nice and let me cut in front of the line so I could get on my way. They all just laughed when I answered them that I was 2 meters tall. Some things never change. On the road we had a quick 3 km to the Portuguese border, where we hit our 9th country in Europe and our 9th new language as well. Portuguese is a Latin based language, and shares a lot of words with Spanish. The pronunciation is completely different though. We were warned not to speak Spanish in Portugal, because the ‘Portuguese are not Spanish!’ I was a little nervous about slipping up and had done really well most of the day. I got caught up when I was trying to order a couple of beers this evening. Two in Portuguese is Dois (pronounced Doy-sh) and I asked for Douche beers instead. Leslie just started laughing at me as the waiter (who spoke English) quickly slipped away to grab our beers. All is well and we were able to get our bill with no further slip ups.
Here is your food for thought: 50% of the worlds wine corks come from Portugal.
Cheers
CK

Today Spain, Tomorrow Portugal


Day 396
Calañas to Rosal de la Frontera
Time: 4:00:00
Distance: 57.6 kilometers
Avg Speed: 14.4 kph
Terrain: Hilly
Location: N 37˚ 58’ 3.21”, E 07˚ 13’ 15.04”

We got on the road a little earlier today. Any other day it would have been late, but we gained an hour during the night. Most of Europe is on daylight savings like the US and pushed their clocks back as well. I gave Chris a hard time for setting alarms and making us get up early – it’s a battle I will never win.
As we continued to work our way northwest toward Portugal, we also enjoyed more of the Spanish countryside. The morning was cool and we were greeted with the crisp fragrance of eucalyptus from the trees alongside the road. We didn’t see a single car for the first hour of the ride – it’s definitely a change from a week ago. As we pedaled along, the pavement rose and fell in front of us. I remarked to Chris that it looked like we were riding in Australia and it felt like we were in New Zealand.
In the 57 kilometers that we traveled, we only encountered one larger town in between our beginning point and our destination. Interestingly enough, the autonomous region we have been traveling through (Andalucia), is the most populated in Spain. We just
happened to have found the least populated area – surprise. Apparently riding through the urban areas of Barcelona and Seville sent us straight into the sticks. It’s actually a little strange to find a region with such wide open spaces. We haven’t encountered such a place since Croatia. Europe certainly has its fair share of cities, but so much of it is just endless agriculture and quaint villages.
So tonight we sleep on the frontier between Spain and Portugal. Upon arrival earlier in the day, we got to push our bikes through the bar to be stored in the dining room. It was good entertainment for the Sunday afternoon crowd. Later we got the favor returned when we witnessed a real life “wild west” moment. We were sipping our beers when two young men on horses passed by the front door, stopped, and signaled the bar keeper. The next thing we knew they had two cokes taken out to them. I guess horses aren’t allowed in the bar. Bicycles before equestrians? That’s a first.

Going from adios to adeus,
LK

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Beer and Olives…Mmmm


Day: 396
La Palma del Condado to Calañas
Time: 3:30:00
Distance: 48.4 km
Avg Speed: 13.8 kph
Terrain: Rolling to hilly
Location: N 37˚ 39’ 8.8”, E 06˚ 52’ 51.6”

Yesterday, one of the highlights was sitting in the bar with the after work crowd and having a few cañas of beer. A caña is a small beer served in a wine glass. The bar tender got us our ice cold Cruzcampos (the brand of beer in this region) and grabbed us a small plate of homemade olives. I had never had fresh homemade olives before, and I think I will find it hard to go back. Salty, oily and firm. No canned mushiness there. A couple of Euro for the round and we were set with our little bit of Spain.

We headed out of La Palma del Condado around 9:30 this morning and quickly got under way. We tweaked our route a little last night and shifted from really back roads to a diagonal road to a highway. The diagonal road fell under the really back road category, but we were at home riding among all the bird hunters and pig hunters going hither and yon. They even had signs on the road warning of the pigs and dogs running around. While on the diagonal we kept seeing mileages to our destination tomorrow that were much more favorable than the route we had planned. We were trying to connect bigger towns with the belief that those places would have hotels or hostals (bigger towns being a relative term). The route with the shorter distance went through a wide open area with very few town options. After asking the gas station attendant if there was lodging in Calañas and finding out there was we set off on another back road. The gas station attendant added that the road was ‘arriba, arriba’ (up, up) all the way, so we at least knew what to expect. The riding was pleasant as we wound our way through a massive mining area that seemed to evolve before the time of any environmental conscience. About 5 kilometers out of town we came to the ‘arriba’ that the guy was talking about. At the top we turned off to our place and were greeted with a glowing white town complete with a windmill and 16th century church. The buildings here are almost all white and look like they get painted yearly. We wondered around a bit and finally located the hostal we had heard about. It was deserted, but after some looking we found a number and called it. The owner interrupted his siesta and came over to let us in and give us a room. It is probably one of the nicest and cleanest hostals we have stayed at yet. The bonus is they have a vending machine that dispenses cold beers. A few euro for beers and some canned olives and we are back in the swing of things.
CK

Rambo and Solar Farms

Day 395
Seville to La Palma del Condado
Time: 4:18:00
Distance: 68.7 km
Avg Speed: 15.9 kph
Terrain: Rolling
Location: 37°21'N, 06° 38'W

Getting out of Seville proved to be another chapter in “how in the heck do we get out of this city?” As usual, the city bike path disappeared about the time the web of interstates appeared before us. This time we didn’t find the magic road to take us through the mess. After a boondoggle of about 5 kilometers we began retracing our steps back across one of the major rivers that runs through the Seville area. To our delight we spotted a recreation path along side the waterway. Unfortunately, we were about 40 feet above where we wanted to be. I was thinking we would have to ride back and connect with the road that lead to the path. At the same moment I was formulating my plan, Chris announced his “Well, I guess we’re going to have to Rambo it.” Isn’t it funny sometimes – the differences between men and women?
Finally back on track and heading west, we made some progress towards La Palma del Condado. There was no special reason for our selection of the town, just that it probably had a hostal and met our requirements for distance. Our plan takes us into central Portugal first before riding to the Algavre region in the south.
After lunch we finally left the urban sprawl behind and got into the beautiful rolling hills of western Andalucia. Plenty of citrus, olives, and solar farms dot the landscape. Surprised at the last item? We were too when we spotted the reflection of a major bank of solar panels from a pretty good distance. I can only attribute the unique reflection to a sunrise I witnessed on top of a mountain in Ecuador – it was mesmerizing.
Our rear ends were pretty sore by the time we rolled into La Palma. You’d think after almost 3,000 kilometers in Europe 5 days off wouldn’t be a big deal. We found the hostal, had a little rest, and then strolled the town. In the historic center we found a magnificent church – Saint John the Baptist. Awash in white with yellow trim and blue mosaic tiles, the structure towers above the surrounding streets. Chris read that it is one of the most important churches in western Andalucia.
Tomorrow we head north and into less traveled roads (at least we think). It will be nice to get out into the country again.

Hasta,
LK

Friday, October 24, 2008

Seville Tourist Day


Day: 394
Time: All Morning

We slept way, way late this morning, but managed to roll out on the streets with everyone else. Stay up late, get up late works here, so we are happy to oblige. We were out of stove fuel (I forgot that when I bought it, we would be flying in 10 days) so we had a couple of croissants and some plums for breakfast. With no coffee we set out on the streets to take in the sites of this cool city. Our walk took us through the gardens at Alcazar, a residence of Moorish and Christian royalty starting in 913. The gardens have probably been updated since I don’t think they had plastic playground equipment back then. We took a turn out of the gardens and cruised through the old Jewish quarter in Barrio de Santa Cruz. It was great neighborhood to take in the morning sites of stores opening and cafés starting to buzz. Forgoing coffee at this point, we headed towards the cathedral (built on top of a former mosque from the Moors) and admired the vast open spaces inside. Christopher Columbus is supposedly buried here, but with construction and the throngs of people rolling in we managed to miss it. Recent research suggests that the tomb is actually Christopher’s son Diego and that the explorer is buried in the Caribbean. A little factoid for your next cocktail party. We worked our way out the back of the Cathedral fully entranced with Seville’s charm. This is when we usually let our guard down and today it happened to coincide with a couple of fortune tellers. I managed to keep mine at bay, but Leslie being in the moment got into hers and to make a long story short was lightened by a few Euros. Leslie was pretty upset by it all afterward, and was even more upset by the fact that she fell for it. I think that as savvy as we are, it is hard to be on the guard this many days in a row. It just sucked that getting approached and letting our guard down happened at the same time. Leslie attributed it partly due to no caffeine in her veins so we then holed up at a café for an hour and drank coffee until our hearts content. Fully alert and making light of the situation, we headed off to the river and the bull fighting ring. In front of the bull fighting ring is a statue of a famous bull fighter (can’t remember his name, not really important). We managed to arrive at the statue a few steps ahead of a tour bus group. I was standing in front of the statue when the guide backed into to me and tried to bully me out of the way; Leslie was standing on the statue taking picture of a reflection at the statues feet. She sensed what was going on and stayed there for several more minutes taking all kinds of pictures standing right on the statue’s stand. The tour group now has several pictures floating around of a famous bullfighter statue in Seville with Leslie’s butt in the air right next to him. Priceless timing. We managed to find a store for some more gas so we can properly fuel in the morning and got some groceries as well. Life is good and tomorrow we will began a roundabout journey towards Portugal.
Loving the full measure of life.
CK

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Trains and Planes in Spain are Sometimes a Pain


Day: 393
Barcelona to Seville
Time: Seemed Like Forever
Distance: 1,000 kilometers or so
Avg Speed: Whatever a plane flies
Terrain: Air
Location: 37°23'N, 5°58'W

Today was a travel day and it involved most other forms of transportation other than our bicycles. It made me really appreciate how easy it is to travel by bicycle, not with a bicycle.
We bid Fernando an early morning farewell and rode in the direction of the train station. As I pedaled in the pre-dawn darkness, I reflected on how much I enjoyed our stay. I really hope to see our new friend sometime in the future. He opened his home to us and we are forever grateful.
We easily found the station as we had scoped it out a couple of days ago. That was the extent of our preparation for today and, let me tell you, it lead to one of our hardest travel days yet. Live and learn – one of my favorite sayings…
We managed to get on the first train with the early morning crowd and they like to hang out in the area reserved for bicycles, baby carriages, and handicapped spaces. As a result, we had to stand for the 25 minute ride into the city. Unfortunately, Chris tends to get motion sickness so we had to find him a seat before things got ugly.
The train change in Barcelona was pretty straightforward except for all of the steps in the maze of tunnels. I managed to take a pedal in the shin and didn’t do so well holding back the tears as we pushed and pulled the bikes around.
The third train brought us to the airport and a realization that our time was dwindling. We only had one hour and a half and didn’t have the bikes broken down. We were actually planning on just removing the pedals and turning the handle bars. Ha! How could we be so silly?
I selected a low cost airline for our flight and soon realized why they go out of business so quickly. We checked in and I was then directed to the ticket window to take care of the extra charges for baggage. As I was standing in line I noticed Chris having a very animated conversation with one of the airline agents. I realized that they were going to require us to package the bikes in some way. I got my receipt and ran after Chris as he pushed the bikes, now with front wheels removed, to the shrink-wrap station. Doesn’t sound like that big of a problem, right? Sadly, we were in terminal C and we had to go to terminal B.
The wrapping of our bicicletas was both frustrating and comical. I made the mistake of trying to hurry the three boys along and that ultimately slowed them down. Nothing like a rude American…
Back in terminal C we found our ticket agent and she directed us to the oversized x-ray machine. Did I mention we’re down to 30 minutes at this point? The nice security man apparently hadn’t ever x-ray bicycles before and spent a few too many minutes scratching his head before giving up.
But wait…there’s more.
Time to wheel the bikes down to baggage claim where we waiting some more. Luckily, the ticket agent ran to call the gate so we could be “those people” holding up the flight. Finally, a baggage person came and took the bikes. Whew.
The flight was uneventful – surprise.
We arrived in Seville and were greeted with rain. We collected our bags and bikes and headed for the café. The morning’s events hadn’t allowed for any breaks (including restroom stops) so we were pretty famished. We discussed our options and decided to avoid another wet ride into a big city. We stopped by the tourist office, reserved a room, and headed to the taxi stand.
Honestly, there was not a good chance that we would actually get a taxi into the city. Europe has not totally caught on to the SUV revolution. However, in a brief moment of luck, Chris spotted a Mercedes station wagon taxi and I sprinted to negotiate a ride. Five minutes later we had our gear packed in for the “special service” price of twice the going rate. We had been hemorrhaging money all day, so what was a few more euros?
Our driver more or less found the hostal and quickly liquidated his taxi. We payed him and then hauled our gear through the front door. Thirty seconds later, after we found out that the hostal didn’t want bicycles, I was back on the street in search of a room.
Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!
So the end of the story is that we have a room, the bikes are with us, and we paid 10 extra euros to have it that way.

That is all,
LK

Supertramp Rules


Day: 392
Sant Cugat to Barcelona
Time: Tapas Time
Distance: Not Far
Avg Speed: 150 kph
Terrain: Highway

We all rolled out of bed around the same time this morning. Fernando had been missing his workouts with work and visitors so he excused himself and ran to the gym for a good sweat. Leslie and I decided that we had better get ourselves in gear while we had time and got our things situated to travel and send home. When Fernando got home we all walked into town to mail our camping gear home. We struck out in France with camping, and most of the campgrounds we had seen in Spain were closed as well. We were glad to see that our camping gear weighed in at 10 kg, that is until the mail lady told us how much it would be to send home. The slow boat was fine with us and now we are a little lighter with our loads. We hit the store for a little lunch and then cruised on back home where Fernando whipped up some vittles. We were in full Spain time mode so after lunch we all relaxed with naps and TV. Leslie and I also received our ballots via fax and took care of voting. We had to set it up before we left the US, but it was pretty painless and now we can say we did something when we wave our righteous finger. Around 8:30 we decided that we wanted tapas for dinner. Fernando had taken us to a great little tapas joint in Barcelona a few days earlier, so we just headed on back there. We all loaded into his little Peugeot, dropped the top, cranked the tunes and rolled through the night. Tapas was a lot more involved tonight where we sampled 10 different yummies (pimientos padron, patatas bravas, bocadillo con chorizo y queso, mini hamberguesas, bacon y queso, langostina con brocheta, solomillo, montadito jamon, tortilla patatas, and finally crema catalana). It was great to go with someone who knew what was good, and what stuff was called. Sadly we were only able to sample 1/10 of the menu. After tapas we loaded back in the car, dropped the top and sang eighties tunes on the radio the whole way back to Sant Cugat. At one point I looked in the back seat and watched Leslie singing Jefferson Starship at the top of her lungs (with her eyes closed). The crowning moment was when “Give a Little Bit” by Supertramp came on and we all belted it out. It was a very fun last night in Barcelona.
Hasta luego
CK

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Way Tapas Was Meant to Be



Day 390
Barcelona City Tour

If you recall, we had a “tapas incident” way back in Slovakia on day 324. Chris had purchased some cured meat from Spain for the rock bottom price of $2 and we spent the next day resting in close proximity to a bathroom. Today we redeemed ourselves by going to a lively establishment in the heart of Barcelona. With the help of our friend Fernando, we enjoyed a “real” tapas experience.

We’re slowly changing our schedule to match the up late, sleep in culture of Spain. After breakfast at 11:30 we did some laundry and then headed into the city. We had our personal (and very gracious) tour guide driving us toward a very exciting afternoon in Barcelona. We had a few sights we wanted to see and were otherwise open to whatever Fernando could think of.
Barcelona is a city of over 1.5 million and is the second largest city in Spain. It covers just over 100 sq kilometers and is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea on the southeast and the Collserola mountain range on the northwest. It’s the kind of city that looks very overwhelming from the outside. Fortunately, it is more than welcoming once you’re inside.
Aside from it being one of Europe’s principal ports and an important economic center, Barcelona has a rich history in the arts. One of the major attractions we wanted to see today was La Famalia Sagrada, a church that started construction in 1882 and is still not finished today. The structure was designed by the legendary artist, Antonio Gaudi. For forty years he worked on the project, even devoting the last 15 years of his life to it. It’s really hard to describe La Familia. If you know anything about Gaudi you know that his work was…unique.
Anyway, I should back up and describe the rest of the afternoon. Before we got to La Famalia Sagrada we had already seen some of the other highlights of Barcelona. Fernando was a most excellent host and guided us through the historical, cultural, and gastronomical aspects of the city. Memorable moments include the bustling, tree lined Las Ramblas and seafood paella with views of the ocean.
Our tour concluded with grand views from El Castell Montjunic (Castle Montjunic). Overlooking the ocean on one side and the city on the other, we were able to piece together our different stops on our personalized tour. It was a fitting end to a fantastic day.

LK

Day 389: Badalona to Sant Cugat

Time: 2:00
Distance: 24.5 km
Avg Speed: 12.25 kph
Terrain: Rolling cityscape
Location: N 41° 28' 0", E 2° 5' 0"

We had a short ride to a good destination today. The only thing that stood in our way was the bustling metropolis of Barcelona. A friend of ours lives north of town and was kind enough to offer us a bed and a shower for a few days. We couldn’t pass that offer up, so we left our little hostal under the cover of rain and clouds. Riding in the rain isn’t our favorite way to travel, but when you can get a home cooked meal the goal outweighs the journey. Getting through town was not as straightforward as we thought and we stalled out a bit running into one-way streets, hills reminiscent of San Francisco, and highways that didn’t allow bikes. We eventually wound our way to a river and got on a recreation path that took us in the direction we wanted to go. A few more correct guesses and we were like rolling wet blankets heading towards the town of Sant Cugat. Our friend, Fernando, gave us his address and with Leslie’s sense of direction (with the help of google maps) we got within a couple blocks before I broke out the cell phone for help on the final approach. We found the place easy enough and before we knew it we had cold beers in our hands and a hot meal in our bellies. A little wine and some little Spanish pastries rounded off our meal before we turned in for a little afternoon nap. Our host’s graciousness and thoughtfulness quickly made our experience of the wet city dash become a distant memory. We will spend a couple of days here taking care of some business, making Fernando play tour guide and resting up before venturing further south towards Seville.

Smelly like a wet dog,
CK

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Past, the Future, and Life In Between


Day 388
Blanes to Badalona (Barcelona)
Time: 3:38:00
Distance: 60.2 km
Avg Speed: 16.5 kph
Terrain: Endless Roundabouts
Location: N 41˚ 27’ 3.9”, E 2˚ 15’ 3.0”

Riding a bicycle over the last thirteen months has allowed me a lot of time to reflect on the process of living a life. Before departing to New Zealand, I didn’t really know how my own life would change, just that it would. I figured it was 50/50 that I would want to return to life as it was or branch off into something totally different. Obviously, the only way to figure it out was to turn the pedals and see the result.
I’m not really sure what the outcome will be but I have figured out one thing. I think life is a constant struggle between the past holding us back and the future pulling us forward. The moment when these two actions cancel each other out is when we become suspended in the present. It is when we become immersed in the moment and nothing else is happening.
Today I had one such moment at a random rest stop on the side of the highway. Upon pulling off the road we saw a walkway leading down through a tunnel to the ocean. It was a passageway through the pavement above. It also turned out to be a portal into the space between the past and future, and the present. All morning I had been thinking about the miles we have traveled and the kilometers we still have ahead. Now, in a matter of a few seconds, all of those thoughts disappeared. I was infused with the scenes around me; a man solo climbing with his dog watching below, the sun radiating through the clouds, dancing above the grey sparkling waters of the Mediterranean. I had no worries, no wants, and no thoughts. I was completely in the moment in the world around me.
I know the scene was a strange combination in an unlikely location, but it was so cool and I was totally snapped out of my focus on the past and the future. It made me realize that it doesn’t matter what we have done or what we will do. We’ll just keep pedaling and every once in awhile life will make us stop and live.

LK

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Day 386: Girona to Blanes


Time: 3:36
Distance: 54.2 kph
Avg Speed: 15.1
Terrain: Hilly
Location: N 41° 40' 51", E 2° 48' 28"

I awoke to church bells this morning. The 6 am bells went off and I lazed in bed until the 7 am bells before waking Leslie. The sunrise isn’t until a little before 8:00, so getting out of bed and off to the races hasn’t been a huge priority. We finally got up and had some coffee to clear our heads. These shorter days aren’t any easier to get ready for. I think in some ways they are harder since we don’t put our heads down and ride. We take our time, take pictures, and when we get to where we are going, we usually check out the sites. Both of our legs are sore today from walking a couple hours yesterday. Sad isn’t it.
The ride out of Girona was pretty straight forward and once again Leslie led the charge. A couple of big roundabouts later and we were on the open road. I think we ride through at least a half a dozen roundabouts a day. Our biggest one yet was a three laner outside of Perpignan. We operate on the go, point, go principle. We go as hard as we can to get in it, point where we are going, and go as hard as we can to get out of it. The bigger ones, or the ones we go all the way around in can be tiring. Once we got out of Girona we got into farm country where there were several pig farms to flavor the air. Luckily we only were exposed for a couple of kilometers before we rode out of it. We had several little climbs up and over the coastal range and just like that we were on the Costa Brava of Spain. The Costa Brava is the coastline along the state of Catalonia.
The riding along the coast started out with more hills, but after a half hour or so we descended into the developed cityscape of Lloret de mar. We stopped on the outskirts to enjoy peanut butter sandwiches at a playground. Playgrounds are some of our favorite places to stop to eat. They always have benches, most of time shade and most of the time water. Today we just got benches, but I guess beggars can’t be choosers. It was only another 8 km to Blanes so we joined the tour buses and headed south. We found a nice hostal on the north end of town and proceeded to lounge the rest of the day. In Spain, or for that matter most of South America there are hotels, hostals, hostels and pensions. All are rooms for rent, but they all vary tremendously in value. We stayed at a hotel in Figueres where we had a great big room at a little price. We stayed at a pension in Girona (in old town) where we had a little room, with tons of charm and a little price. Today’s hostal is a big room on the outskirts of town for our biggest price yet in Spain. One of these days we will get the lodging thing figured out.
CK

Girona


Day 385
Figueres to Girona
Time: 2:38:00
Distance: 39.7
Avg Speed: 15.08
Terrain: Rolling
Location: 41°59′04″N 02°49′16″E

With another four days until we need to be in Barcelona, we are riding some shorter days. Today’s goal was Girona just 40 kilometers down the road from Figueres. We got one of the latest starts of the trip – 10:45 am. Our mothers would think that we had wasted half the day.
Our route stuck to the N-11 and even though it parallels A7, a major interstate, we were passed constantly by semi trucks. Fortunately, we had a very wide shoulder and brand new pavement to pedal on. You can bet that we will be finding some minor roads now that we’ve made it to Girona.
Chris found us a room with lots of character in the old part of the city. When I say character, I mean low price and age of the building. No problem – it’s only for one night. We didn’t waste any time getting our bags up to the second floor of the building and unpacked. The city has a rich history and I wanted to get out and see it. For the rest of the afternoon we wandered randomly through the streets. I snapped a boat load of photos while Chris did a lot of window shopping.
The most interesting part of the city was the Jewish Quarter, otherwise known as the Call. The Jewish community lived there until 1492 when they were expelled by the rulers of Spain. They lived in harmony together but still apart from the other citizens of Girona. After navigating the maze of cobblestone streets and alleys of the Call, Chris and I had a very enlightening visit to the Museu d’Historia dels Jueus (Jewish History Museum). We learned about the history, culture, and traditions of Jewish communities in southern Europe. We also lingered in the green space outside the building and contemplated the complex questions raised from our visit.
Tomorrow we’ll change direction and head toward the ocean and the Costa Brava. Hopefully we’ll find awesome views and less traffic.

Hasta Jueves,
LK

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Teatre Museu Dali


Day: 380
Perpignan to Figueres
Time: 3:39:00
Distance: 63.3
Avg Speed: 17.3
Terrain: Rolling
Location: 42° 16' 0 N, 2° 58' 0 E

We got out of town pretty easily today. Leslie gave Perpignan the karate kick and kung-fu chop and got us out painlessly. Her navigation skills are awe inspiring. The highway was pretty busy, but the going was easy as we headed south towards Spain. We rode for just under two hours when we spotted our new favorite French restaurant…McDonald’s. A large fry and a large coke helped to fuel us along up the pass to the border. One note on border towns. They are all the same, whether in seaside ports or highway ports, SEEDY.
We crested the pass and rolled into our 8th country of the Euro tour. It was seemingly all downhill as we pedaled into Figueres. It is a nice little town away from the border whose claim to fame is the Salvador Dali Museum. The museum is situated in the former Municipal Theatre that was destroyed at the end of the Spanish Civil War. Dali chose this sight ‘first because I am an eminently theatrical painter; second because the Theatre is in front of the church where I was baptized and third, because it was precisely in the lobby of the Theatre that I had my first exhibition of paintings’. He took this space and made it the ‘largest surrealistic object in the world’.
His works and info on the museum can be found here (http://www.salvador-dali.org/). The imagination, texture and I guess surrealism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surrealism) that he portrayed in his works was mesmerizing. It is one of the coolest and unique museums that I have ever been to.
Not wanting to leave the roll of a full bore tourist, we decided to eat dinner out, rather than cook in. We have now gone to Spain and eaten paella. Good stuff.
All for now.
Hasta luego
CK

Sunday, October 12, 2008

50 Ways to Leave Your Lover




Day 383
Beziers to Pepignan
Time: 5:52:00
Distance: 104 km
Avg Speed: 17.7 kph
Terrain: Flat
Location: N 42 41' 55", 2 53' 44" E

This was Chris’ song selection for the day. He loves to sing and typically has some tune going. After a quick break to get groceries this morning, we got back on the road toward Perpignan. Chris sang a few lines of the Paul Simon classic and I joined right in. I think I was at “just drop off the key Lee and get yourself free” when I actually realized what song he was singing. “Should I be worried?” I asked Chris. He laughed hard and said “no, that was the song playing in the supermarket”. Then we spent the next 10 km or so figuring out ways we could have given each other the slip in the last year. Here are the top three:
-While getting off the train at the station, get off the train with your bike and panniers and make sure the other person will be held up by all the other people getting off the train
-Buy two plane tickets, 1 one-way and 1 return. Don’t tell the one-way about the return
-Send him out for groceries and then switch hotel rooms (This actually happened in Slovakia. He found me anyway.)

In an attempt to get closer to Spain, we had another long day. The terrain was flat again and even though the wind had changed, it was still helped us pedal along. The day was rather dark with thick cloud cover and a few rain sprinkles. I changed my sunglasses to orange lenses more for my psyche than vision. I have a tendency to struggle on days without sun.
At kilometer 85 we found ourselves in the vicinity of another sightseeing opportunity and decided to take it. Just off the highway was the Forteresse de Salses. It is the beautifully preserved Catalan fortress built in the 15th century. Apparently, the design was very innovative for the time and represented a transition between medieval castles and modern fortresses. The castle is definitely a departure from the buildings we’ve seen so far in Europe. I’m guessing we’re in for more captivating architecture as we venture onto the Iberian Peninsula.
Tomorrow we’ll spend a well earned rest day getting organized for Spain and Portugal. With just over six weeks until we return to the US, we should have ample time to explore the region in depth.

Hop on the bus Gus,
LK

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Day 382: Lunel to Beziers


Time: 5:35
Distance: 103.4 km
Avg Speed: 18.8 kph
Terrain: Flat
Location: N 43˚ 19’ 45.5”, E 03˚ 17’ 18.0”

I had ideas for all kinds of titles today, but we saw and encountered so many different things it was hard to sum up. We headed out with some warm temps and our friendly little tail wind pushing us along. The going was really straight forward as we got out of Lunel and tried to stay south of Montpellier. We have gotten a little weird about staying out side of cities, so much in fact that we spent today in circuitous avoidance of them. They seem to suck us in and spit us out only after they have had their way with us. Right out of town today we started hearing gun shots coming from the fields. This was a first for us in France, and as much as I can figure it was the first day of dove season. We rode a little ways and had to take a roadside pitstop. I took care of my business and right as Leslie was taking care of hers a little old farmer came strolling out of nowhere with a little satchel and an ancient double barrel shotgun. So much for privacy on the side of the road. We got back underway and saw our first Tour de France street art. If you have watched the Tour you will have noticed that fans paint all over the roads with drawings and sayings. Today we rode over a giant bicycle painted across both lanes of traffic. As soon as we saw it, we both new what it was. It was a little faded, but pretty neat nonetheless. We had a little over an hour under our belts when we got to a big shopping area in a suburb of Montpellier. We were low on cooking gas and I had seen some signs for sporting goods stores. We turned into the first parking lot and came face to face with our friend: McDonald’s. It was still early so we stepped right up and got a petit dejeuner of an Egg McMuffin and a Coke. Egg McMuffin is the same in English as it is in French. After snarfing some calories we hit all the sports stores and the mall and came up empty handed. Our next goal was to get to the coast. Remember, I said circuitous. We made good time and arrived in the port town of Sete. We finally made it to the Mediterranean and were greeted by clear skies, blue water and boats, boats and more boats. From little dinghies, to barges to giant cruise ships. It was a hopping little place, with the traffic to prove it. We ate lunch here before setting off across a 13km narrow sand spit. We had a nice bike path for half of it, the other half we shared with cars and RV’s. It was nice to have those sparkling blue waters to our left the whole way. After the spit we saw that we had another 32km to our desired destination for the night. It was time to put our heads down, but not until we had another Coke and some refills on our water. We also got sucked into cooking gas shopping some more. No Dice. We did make it with daylight to spare and now are eating everything in the food bag. Hopefully the stores are open on Sunday.
Au revoir
CK

Pont du Gard


Day 381
Bagnols s Ceze to Lunel
Time: 5:04:00
Distance: 89.6 km
Avg Speed: 17.7 kph
Terrain: Flat

We’re back in the swing of things - two days in a row on the road. We also got back to eating our own breakfast rather than the hotel’s. The euro/dollar ratio is getting better but it’s still not in our favor. For the first time in over a week we started under a bluebird sky and warm temperatures.
Our route continued south and the tailwind made the short hills a little easier. We said goodbye to the Rhone River and headed towards the Gard River. Before riding on toward Nimes, we took a detour to another World Heritage site. I don’t know how many of these protected areas we’ve seen on our tour, but I think there has been one in almost every country.
Today we had the opportunity to visit the Pont du Gard. We’ve viewed this impressive structure during the Tour de France on television. It’s even more spectacular in person. The monument is also very beautiful in its simplicity. Part of a 50 kilometer long aqueduct system built by the Romans, the pont (bridge in French) took three years to build and employed 800-1,000 people. Each block of stone was cut to fit perfectly as no mortar was used in the construction. The bridge is three levels high with the top level being the water conduit. Today it is possible to tour this level which measures 6’ high by 4’ wide. The entire system supplied water to the Roman city of Nemausus (now Nimes) at a rate of 5 million gallons per day.
I think it’s good that we visited the site in October. The Pont du Gard is one of France’s top five tourist attractions and sees over 1.4 million visitors a year.
The landscape changed as we left the Gard River area and rode closer to Nimes. The small little villages were there, just overshadowed by urban development. Every once in awhile we would spot a church steeple or a clock tower.
By mid afternoon we were pedaling in shirt sleeves and taking advantage of the tailwind. No reason to stop early if your traveling over 20 kilometers per hour. It’s nice to feel like you’re not pedaling. We almost made 90 km by the time we found a hotel. We can’t seem to break away from the comfort of a bed with an attached bathroom. Maybe we’ll see about a campground tomorrow…maybe.

Happy Friday,
LK

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Back Out There

Day: 380
Rochemaure to Bagnols Sur Ceze
Time: 3:07
Distance: 55.5 km
Avg Speed: 17.8 kph
Terrain: Flat to rolling
Location: N 44˚ 09’ 57.1”, E 04˚ 36’ 58.0”

We left our little haven this morning and rolled out under dark, wet skies. I forgot the cable lock in the parking lot, so I got to roll out twice. The dark skies lightened up the further south we got, and our tailwind picked up a bit. We made good time through the countryside and got to our destination early afternoon. We could have gone further today, but lodging choices have been slim in France and we have been trying to stay in bigger towns. We passed several campgrounds as well today, but true to the trend they were closed. I am beginning to think of the tent on the back of my bike as an anchor.
Leslie wrote a very good blog today concerning the need to vote for the environment. She did stop short of endorsing anyone, but you could probably get a real good idea who it would be if you checked out the League of Conservation Voters website (www.lcv.org). The website lists the voting records for the candidates as well as other members of our government. Yes it is green, yes it is ‘liberal’, and yes the angle is slanted. Everything you read, hear and see these days is the same. Being out in the world we are able to see the news that everyone else is interested in. The past several weeks has seen a shift from the big OPEC vote that went down to the big goat turd of an economic mess the world is in right now. We have forgotten about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow's_hierarchy_of_needs). It isn’t about the price of gas (FYI, it is €1.44/liter here…do the math), it isn’t about the retirement fund that took a dump (it did everywhere, for everyone), it is about what kind of world we make for ourselves and leave for the future generations. If we remove the bottom of the pyramid, it really doesn’t matter what is above it. Do we need to revert to a Gilligan’s Island lifestyle? No, but we need to at least be aware of what we are doing and how that creates turbulence in the world around us. Positive actions or negative actions all have reactions in the world.
I guess Leslie’s little rant brought one on that I had been thinking of. You can tell that we have been holed up for a couple of days and needed to get moving again. I can’t promise that we won’t write and more diatribes, but if we do we will warn you at the beginning so you can skip them over.
Hope all is well in your neck of the woods.
More travel, less drivel.
CK

video

Vote the Environment…And Save the Roadless Areas


I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to speak my mind about the upcoming political election. I won’t propose a candidate to vote for, but I will implore you to ponder one of my most important issues. The environment is at the top of my list, period. One of my favorite quotes about the environment comes from David Brower. He said “There is no business to be done on a dead planet.” Think about it. I have and I believe it trumps every other issue on the table.
Now you’re probably thinking I’m one of those left-wing, bicycle commuting, organic food eating, Chaco wearing, righteous thirty-somethings, right? Probably, but who cares. I care about the world, this big blue ball that we live on. It provides the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat. It sustains life and without it we have nothing, we are nothing.
Whoa! Where did this come from you ask? Well, as you know, I have a lot of time to think while riding my bicycle. As I pedal I think about a lot of things – food, where we’re going to sleep, what I’m going to do when we return, and most recently, who will be the next administration in the White House. At some point I wanted to put something on the blog and I wanted it to be well said and get your attention.
Today is the day my friends. When we arrived in Bagnols Sur Ceze ( a little town in southern France) and checked email, I knew it was time.
We received an action alert from IMBA (International Mountain Bicycling Association) about Colorado Roadless Areas. The USFS is currently proposing a new management plan. The new plan will not be as strong in protecting roadless areas as compared to the original 2001 plan. I’ve spent a lot of time in these places and I feel strongly about keeping them sans roads. I won’t go into the lengthy details, but I will throw out a few facts. First, there are nine miles of roads in the National Forests for every one mile of highway in the US. Second, should the management plan change in Colorado, places like Kenosha Pass, Rabbit Ears Pass, Crested Butte, and Hermosa Creek will suffer the consequences.
So now I’ve got to bring it all together. When you vote next month, on the first Tuesday in November, think about more than your taxes, healthcare, and the war in Iraq. Think about fall colors, powder days, and when the flowers bloom in the spring. Think about the taste of a fresh tomato from the garden, the smell in the air after a summer rain, and how much you love to ride your favorite trail. Think about the environment and then vote.

Raising my righteous finger in the air,
LK

Resources and ways to take action:
2008 Presidential Election
League of Conservation Voters
Vote the Environment

Roadless Rule
Colorado Roadless Areas Action Alert
Video from Outdoor Alliance

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Living La Vida Local

Day 379
Rochemaure

We were supposed to get back on the road today but instead we are still in Rochemaure. The rains started during the night, and while it is not the Biblical type of deluge, the constant downpour has been enough to delay another day.
Rest days are a mixed blessing for us. On one hand we have a chance to rest, recover, and catch up with whatever. We usually try to call family, catch up on the internet, and eat. At some point we reach the slippery slope and rest days become long and unwanted. Our muscles start to recover, we spend too much money, and we start to worry about getting behind or getting to the planned end.
Today could have been one of those not so positive days. I caught my mind wandering early and decided to follow a different thought path. Who cares if it takes longer to warm up tomorrow or if we have a little less money than we planned when we get home? Furthermore, no one is going to give us a bad grade or not give us a raise if we don’t follow our original route or timeline. It’s amazing how ingrained my previous life is sometimes. It’s not a bad thing, just an observation. I realize that this journey is a special opportunity that may never present itself again. I look forward to all of the experiences that we will have from now until we fly home from Spain.
I did manage to have a conversation in French today. It was short and the other person was not Chris. I’m sure the woman at the post office knew that I wasn’t local, but I was proud of myself for trying to be one. One thing is for sure – I would really like to become fluent in some language in the future.
So we will try again tomorrow. If not, we’ll just live la vida local for one more day.

LK

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Sick Day From the Office

Day: 378
Rochemaure Day 2

I decided to take one more day off the bike. I didn’t feel too spicy yesterday, so I opted for another day. I think deep down I needed more French TV.
Here is the rundown of what I have watched today. Keep in mind that it is dubbed over in French.
Knight Rider (or K2000 according to this TV) twice actually
Magnum PI
Several French films which I enjoyed watching, but didn’t really get. One of them I am sure I wouldn’t have even got with sub-titles.
One French-Canadian film with European French subtitles. Evidently there is that much of a difference. I actually got this one and really liked it. It is called C.R.A.Z.Y. if you can find it with English sub-titles.
The rest of the time I just surfed.
We did get out and visit the local chateau. I think it was built in the 13th century (my reading comprehension of French isn’t so good) atop a volcanic dyke that runs parallel to the river. It overlooks the town and offers expansive views of the Rhone River Valley.

While killing time today I did find a program on Yahoo called the Purple Pedal Program. It is a contest for these purple bikes that are outfitted with GPS, and cameras and solar chargers. I suggest you track it down and check it out. Leslie thought I should enclose my application.
Enjoy
CK

Pedaling, whether it is purple or not, has been my life this past year. My sole purpose (with my significant other of course) has been to ride my bicycle throughout the world. No cars... no problem. Bad weather...put on another jacket. Too hot...take off some clothes (careful with that one). Documenting my daily rounds throughout the front range of Colorado would be a great way to further the cause of pedal power, not petrol power!! Showing people that it is possible to get anything and everything with a bike is not only what I would be able to do; it is what I was made to do. Solar powered purple pedal montsters unite to carry out this global education program. I CAN BE (and should be) A SOLAR POWERED PURPLE PEDAL MONSTER BECAUSE I ALREADY AM ONE (my bike just happens to be green).
Cheers

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Le Rhone a Velo


Days 373-375
La Frette to Rochemaure
Time: 3:24:00 and 4:36:00
Distance: 60.0 km and 78.5 km
Avg Speed: 17.7 kph and 16.9 kph
Terrain: Flat
Location: N 48.58, E 4.70

We’ve ridden two of the last three days and have made our way back to the Rhone River. The weather has been a little rainy, partly sunny and crisp (more like cold). It’s kind of like New Zealand a year ago. Luckily the wind hasn’t been too much of a problem. I probably shouldn’t have even mentioned that…
Our last couple of days has been pretty mellow – we’ve just been putting our heads down and riding. On the flats we are able to move a pretty good distance in a day. At this point in the year we’re just trying to get south and hope that the weather warms up a bit. Camping is really not a possibility in this area and it hasn’t been too hard to get a room. As we get closer to Spain we might get a chance to have some more time in the tent. I think we’re both pretty indifferent this close to the end. When you get to 100 nights of camping you stop keeping track.
Despite the chill in the air, we’ve been enjoying the landscapes. The countryside has been beautiful throughout Europe and France’s version has its own unique character. The Rhone has become quite wide and placid now since Switzerland. Apparently it has not always been that way and this grand river has been tamed over time. Once filled with obstacles, the character of the Rhone has been altered by humans. Today it is the source of 1/3 of France’s electricity. Before this “control of nature” pre-19th century passengers traveled in vessels pulled by horses, men or sails. They often times carried painted crosses with religious symbols as good omens on their journey. Although we travel on land, I think we can understand the concept of keeping yourself safe on a journey through a wild environment.
We’ll have another rest day tomorrow. Chris has developed a cold and we want to avoid any sort of respiratory infection. Our new digs are pretty comfortable and Chris has been brushing up on his French by watching the dubbed version of Knight Rider.

Here’s to the power of water,
LK

Welcome to France…We are Closed


Day: 372
Lavours to La Frette
Time: 5:20
Distance: 81.8 km
Avg Speed: 15.3 kph
Terrain: Flat to Rolling
Location: N 45 23 24.5, E 5 21 41.6

I tried to get Leslie to use this title last night, but she had a better one. It seems that most campgrounds and small hotels are closed for the season on this leg of our trip. We aren’t sure what the future will bring.
I had an idea for a good French sitcom today while riding. Picture an elderly couple who run a small out of the way hotel in the beautiful French countryside. She doesn’t speak a word of English (or for that matter does he). He has had a stroke and watches old American Westerns with French voice overs and keeps the volume way up. They have major shouting matches in front of their guests, but despite it all they seem to have a very loving relationship. They have three dogs, two of whom are old and decrepit and the third barks and snarls at everything. Each episode would be featured around different guests that stay at the hotel. The first episode would be about two cycle tourists that come bumbling along half bonked out of their minds.
Ok, ok, it really isn’t an idea, it is real life for us right now. She is super nice and he is really nice and chatty. She made us dinner tonight. We thought it would just be soup and bread, but it turned into a four course dinner. We started with soup, then had bread and fresh tomatoes, then had pan fried burger patties and penne pasta and followed it all up with a vanilla rum custard and wafer cookie. It was farm food at its best, but it hit the spot. We can now retire for the evening with full stomachs.
I replaced another piece of gear today. Our little stove lighter finally died so I popped into the local tobacco shop to pick up a new Bic. I had a couple of choices that ranged from colors to American country western stars. I was about to buy a Merle Haggard lighter and then I saw the lighter series to end all lighter series. Le Tour de France. I was so excited to get a TDF official cigarette lighter that I could hardly stand in line to pay for it. So I stole it. Just kidding, I bought it and Leslie captured my enthusiasm on film.
We are looking forward to breakfast to see what little morsels she busts out for us.
CK

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Continental Drift


Day 372
Geneva, Switzerland to Lavours, France
Time: 4:52:00
Distance: 78.5
Avg Speed: 16.2
Terrain: Rolling
Location: 45˚ 49’ 0.33” N, 5˚ 46’ 58.11” E

Continental Drift is defined as “a theory that explains the formation, alteration, and extremely slow movement of the continents across the Earth's crust. The continents are thought to have been formed from one large landmass that split, drifted apart, and in places collided again.”
Today we changed the definition to: a theory that explains the route formation, route alternation, and extremely slow pedaling of the Kehmeiers across Europe…
Our departure from Switzerland was slow. The days are shorter, the mornings colder, and we didn’t find any good bike route maps to find the best way into France. We did, however, find a good road map. I procrastinated until this morning to line out a descent route. Really, I was just hoping to find enough bicycle lanes to get us into France and onto the country roads. It worked – sort of. We zig zagged through Geneva while trying to avoid major thoroughfares. We stopped many times to consult the map. The rest of the time I relied on my internal compass.
By late morning we were on the outskirts of the city and quickly approaching the border. We had some Swiss Francs to burn and decided to spend the money with a café stop. We found a little cafeteria next to the supermarket and proceeded directly to the dessert and coffee zone. After paying for the slices of carrot cake torte and café au laits, Chris announced “we can go through the line two more times!”
After the second trip through Chris decided it might be better to spend the money on future sustenance and wandered off to the store. Meanwhile, I had a delightful conversation with a Swiss couple. The man struck up a conversation with me in French. When I asked him if he spoke English he said no and continued talking. He said “English?” I said “No, United States.” He stumbled backwards in amazement as he looked at our bicycles outside the window. I then explained to him where we had traveled from and he just shook his head. About that time his wife sidled up next to him. He repeated my story (in French of course), her eyes lit up, and she then continued the conversation. We actually chatted for quite some time. I learned that she knew of some other folks that had done some bicycle touring and that she once met another man who was taller than Chris. It’s amazing what you can figure out with some voice inflections, hand gestures and a few key words.
So now we are in France. The transition was pretty seamless as there were no border agents and the language is still the same. We’re still traveling through the lovely countryside and the Rhone River is still our guide. I’m sure there are other similarities, but there are also some big differences. France is over ten times the size of Switzerland and it is Western Europe’s largest country. It’s definitely not land locked and borders the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. France also boasts the highest peak in Europe -Mont Blanc at 4,807 m. The multi-cultured French number over 60 million. According to statistics, they are moving into the suburbs and rural areas and away from the Paris region.
We’ll be “drifting” south toward Perpignan and the border of Spain. We should get a good feel for this country’s passion and beauty.

Vive la France,
LK