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Tuesday, August 09, 2022

June 22nd: Vetzan to Bolzano

 We had a nice early breakfast, and now that we knew where the exit from the bike path was, had no problem finding the bike path and rolling down it. We probably spent too much time at a playground that didn't have a zipline, but the kids had been playground deprived for a couple of days and wanted to play more, and I knew that while rain was coming, it wasn't going to be a cold rain and so was unconcerned.

The piece of the bike path before going into Merano is easy and fun, flat, mostly downhill, and winds through interesting towns with plenty of fruit stands. But once in Merano, the bike path signs peter out and you're on your own trying to guess how to get back to the bike path towards Bolzano. Unfortunately, it started raining in Merano, and the rain started getting heavier as we left Bolzano.

With warm rain, the kids didn't want to put on their rain jackets. I did put on mine so I could try out the Goretex rain jacket I'd bought, and it performed beautifully.
In Bolzano, I made a mistake, trying to use Google or Garmin navigation instead of just following the bike path to old town. Xiaoqin got frustrated and suggested I took the ebike to scout instead. Well, when I arrived downtown what did I find but that the apartment checkin was in the same identical place Bowen and I checked in at Bolzano 2 years ago! Right down to the bike parking which was outdoors at the Parkhotel Mondschein! I didn't like the parking since it was raining, so after receiving the keys I dropped by the train station and spoke to Lukas, who was happy to store our bikes at his office, which was the left luggage service at the Bolzano train station.

I returned to the wife and kids, ate lunch with them, and then led them to the train station where I took apart the triplet and gave that and the ebike to him and then we walked to the apartment with the panniers turned into shoulder bags.

Once into the apartment we all took showers, got cleaned up, and took advantage of the washing machine to do laundry. While Xiaoqin took a nap, I grabbed the kids and took them to the Sportler shop where we shopped for shoes and new socks for Bowen, shoes for Boen, and shoes for me. My criteria was simple: the kids had to have shoes that didn't have laces, and I had to have shoes that didn't have laces and were as light as possible. Boen had no problem finding a pair of running shoes that had velcro. They didn't have the same model sized for Bowen, so he ended up with hiking shoes with drawstring pull straps. I scored a major find, a pair of Salomon SLAB Sense 8 trail runners that were the lightest shoes I'd ever tried, and were 40% off at 111 EUR! Xiaoqin thought they were garish and horrible looking but the price and the weight won me over and I really loved them. We spent just over 250EUR on shoes and socks, and I debated buying new hiking pants for Bowen but he said he was happy wearing swimming shorts instead.

Bowen was sneezing so I bought some zyrtec at the local pharmacy, figuring it was easier than eyedrops (and their eyes weren't itchy anyway), and was way better than the placebo pills I'd been sold earlier. I had cracked my screen protector earlier on in the trip (on the ride to Fluela pass), and asked various cell phone shops if they had a replacement screen protector for me. The disadvantage of owning a Pixel 6 was that nobody in Italy had ever seen one before, so no help could be found.

We had a kitchen but the kids wanted Sushi so we ended up at Iki Experience, a Japanese restaurant run by Chinese people and it actually served pretty good food. By the time we got back to the apartment the washing machine had actually finished doing the load (it took no less than 3 hours) and we could hang it up. Tomorrow was a zero day, so we anticipated getting some rest.

But before going to bed, however, we discovered that one of the lights in the apartment wouldn't turn off. Luckily, I always pack some electrical tape, so I got the kids to give me a bunch of books (the light was an upward facing shelf-light!), climbed up, and electrical taped the books and any light leakage to the point where we could sleep. The cleaning staff would discover this the next day, and the apartment managers would immediately cancel our reservation, giving us 40EUR back. You might ask why they would do this --- the reason is that if they cancelled our reservation we wouldn't get to leave a bad review, and giving the customer 40 euros back was a fair price for avoiding a potentially poor review. So now you know why all the apartments in Bolzano handled by this management company had nothing but positive reviews!

Monday, August 08, 2022

Review: Garmin quarter turn watch mount

 I've been using the old style Garmin rubber mount for many years. It works, but is always sloppy and finicky. I recently discovered that Garmin now made quarter turn mounts for the Fenix 6. These new style mounts make use of the quick release bands on the watches, which you unlatch and then the bars those bands mount onto turn into latches for the plastic mount that comes with the kit. You then quarter-turn that onto any Garmin mount, which remains the most effective mount I've ever seen for bike accessories.

The old rubber mount weighs 54g, and the new plastic mount weighs 9g. 2 industrial rubber bands weigh 1g, and the quarter turn bike mount and the rubber washer weigh about 2g, so it's about a 40g weight savings for about $30. There's also an Asian knock-off of the same kit for about half the price, but unlike the Garmin version you have to know which of the 3 mounts that comes with the Garmin kit which is a hassle.

You might think that you can just buy one of the Chinese knock-offs on Amazon if you know exactly what your watch size is. But I actually tried one of them, and believe it or not there's a quality difference. The Chinese knock-off wouldn't let you pull your watch out without using a pair of pliers, so this is truly the only version you should get.

This is clearly a superior way to turn your watch into a bike computer. Recommended.

Friday, August 05, 2022

June 21: Hotel Alpenrose to Sporthotel Vetzan

In the cool morning air we did the descent stopping less frequently than usual, but once we got into Santa Maria we took off our jackets and arm and leg warmers and put on sunscreen. From Santa Maria to the Italian border, we could ride on the paved road but at the Italian border the bike path started. When Arturo, Pengtoh, and I rode that bike path in 2016 it was unpaved, but since that was 6 years ago, I hoped that the bike path had since been paved.

Of course I was wrong! The bike path was in the same condition, with large unpaved sections and not much fun descending --- we would have been better off on the road. Near the intersection at Laatchs, we even had the indignity of being watered on by the irrigation devices that were misaimed at the bike path instead of at the agricultural assets they were supposed to be aimed at.

In Glorenza, we saw a sight that wouldn't be seen in the USA --- a school led bike tour, where a few teachers would coral an entire class worth of kids down the bike path. In a country where you can take the train up the valley and then bike down the path this was an entirely reasonable field trip idea.
I'd picked Vetzan because there was a Sporthotel there with a swimming pool in case it got hot. It started to rain as we approached Vetzan, and Garmin gave us wrong directions as did Google, but we eventually found the place anyway.

The hotel was in the center of Vetzan, but it turned out that while they served dinner, there was nothing in town as far as food for lunch was concerned. After we got settled in, the hotel told us that we could take the bus to Schlanders for lunch and to use the outdoor swimming pool with a waterslide. But one look at the schedule convinced the hotel manager that that was an absurd idea, and he offered to drive us instead. We accepted, and then had lunch downtown before walking over to the "Lido Schwimmbad". But as we got there thunder and lightning ran out and they closed the pool, so we had nothing to do but to walk back to the bus stop and take the bus (with the free bus passes the hotel gave us).

Prior to the trip, I'd told the kids that if they didn't pedal hard on the Stelvio, they'd be forced to take the SAD bus. They got very excited when they actually god a chance to get onto the SAD bus. Boen even made a sad face so that he would be appropriately expressive for the bus ride.

We got back to the hotel as the rain stopped, and used the hotel's indoor pool instead. I was pretty disappointed in the Vetzan sporthotel. It wasn't in a convenient place, and while the facilities were fine, I would have rather had been in Schlanders instead if I'd known the location was this bad.

We debated riding all the way to Bolzano tomorrow and having a zero day there, vs breaking up the ride and stopping in Merano, which had a train museum and easy access to the train. Everyone seemed to enjoy the idea of a zero day. I wrote our hotel but they had no place for us to stay, so I had to book a different apartment in downtown Bolzano. I also wrote Lukas, and he said that rather than spend the entire zero day in Bolzano, we should take the bus to Lago di Fie and go swimming there, since it was going to be hot. He pointed me at a weather forecast app that was more accurate for the area and told me not to trust Google's weather results for the South Tyrol area. I'd gone to the Otzi museum with Arturo a few years back, and I'd been impressed, so I thought that would also be a good thing to do in Bolzano. We were also committed to buying hiking shoes in Bolzano as well, so having an extra day to do all that would be a good idea.

That evening a big thunderstorm blew through, but fortunately our stuff was already indoors and would dry overnight. Unlike the Sporthotel in Pontresina, this one wouldn't do your laundry while you slept, so I still ended up being the manual washing machine.

Thursday, August 04, 2022

Review: Moosetreks Feedbag

 In past years, I've used CamelBak backpacks for Bowen and Boen to drink from the bike while riding. Most of the time, however, enough on hard rides, they don't even want to wear the camelbak, resorting to stopping the bike to drink. I learned however, that the rise of bikepacking has introduced the idea of a feedbag, and the cheapest model easily available was the Moosetreks feedbag. The last straw was when a water bottle was ejected from the triplet. I went all in and bought 2, one for each of my sons.

The bag mounts on the stem and is large enough for a full sized water bottle. It's insulated too, so water stays cold. Side pockets mean it can be used to store clif bars or gatorade chews. Bowen used it on a 7.5 hour ride, and said it's much better since I could now use Nuun tablets in his water bottle, something I'd avoided before since Camelbaks are notoriously hard to clean!

All through this year's tour, both kids used the feedbag for water bottles, snacks, and for a change, they disposed of wrappers into the feedbag rather than into my back pocket, for which I'm grateful. Both bags survived the tour, through rain, etc, with no issues.

I'm thinking that for any new bikes or my mountain bike, the feedbag is a far better alternative to the usual water bottle cage or handlebar bag. You don't see too many new ideas in cycling, but this is a good one. Recommended.

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

June 20th: Hotel Franzenshohe to Hotel Alpenrose, Switzerland

 When I first planned this trip, I recalled that Bowen and I effectively climbed 4 passes to Pontresina the next day, so making it to Livigno shoud be possible. There was 1161m of climbing, however, from Bormio to Livigno, and there were conflicting statements as to whether the tunnel from Livigno back to the Musair Valley was available. On the other hand, if we descended the Umbrailpass, there was a hotel halfway down that I had seen in 2014 that intrigued me. It would make the next couple of days really easy, but that was not necessarily a bad thing. I sent e-mail to the hotel and they replied that they had plenty of room, though there was no special half-pension offer for dinner. We would have to order everything a la carte.

Before we did any of that, however, we first had to finish the climb up the Stelvio. With having relatively poor sleep the night before, I expected it to be a big challenge. Indeed, we found ourselves having to stop and rest every other corner. Hotel Franzenshohe was on the 22nd numbered corner, so that was a lot of stopping and resting. The scenery was outstanding, of course, and at this altitude heat was not a problem, though Bowen, Boen and I were all warm enough that we did not need jackets.

When we finally got to the last corner, we rested one final time on the last straightaway before all of us stood up and sprinted the last kilometer, going into oxygen debt in the cool thin air.

Now, we'd been getting encouragement and thumbs up all to this point, but what I hadn't realized was that the Transalp Tour was running that day from Zernez to Bormio through Stelvio, and pieces of the caravan had already gone to the summit. The result was that as we approached the last 300m of the summit, every supporter who was there for that other event saw us and started summit cheering us. A cacophony of bells, clapping, cheering, and yells accompanied us as we approached the summit, increasing in crescendo until we reached the pass sign, though I had a hard time hearing it over the sound of my gasping for oxygen and my heart pounding. A casual observer might have thought that we'd won some sort of prize, though in retrospect I would realize that we might very well be the first triplet tandem to summit Stelvio, or at the very least the first with children under 11!
Spectators were happy to take a summit photo for us, and then Xiaoqin had to replace her sunglasses, left a couple of days ago at the park at the bottom of Stelvio, while I reorganized the luggage to relieve the ebike of the load. With gravity assisting us, we wouldn't need her to carry the luggage for the next few days. We probably should have bought some Stelvio jerseys as well, but they probably didn't make them in kid sizing anyway.
The descent down to the Umbrail pass intersection was fast and furious with minimal turning. After turning right into the Swiss border, there was a slight rise, which gave Bowen a chance to complain about how I had promised only downhill. I had to explain that all passes had to have a rise, but that it was a short, barely preceptible one.
From Umbrail pass, the descent down to Hotel Alpenrose was a series of hairpin turns, laid one atop the other, and we would do our usual trick of stopping every so often to cool the brakes. These corners gave me a chance to take multiple exposures of Xiaoqin descending and stitch them together with panorama software later. On a single bike you would think nothing of the road but on a triplet it was better to be safe rather than sorry.

We arrived at Hotel Alpenrose right at noon, and after inspecting the rooms, Xiaoqin determined it good. We could have descended down into Mustair Valley but with the heat wave staying at 1400m would not just help our altitude acclimation, but also keep us cool.
The view from the hotel's panorama lunch deck was amazing, and we ate lunch after parking the bikes and settling in. I hoped that the hotel had decent hikes around it, but the owner explained that the brochure on the website with the waterfall hike, etc was for stuff down in the valley! The hiking itself here was not very good, with a lot of road walking before finding a cow poop infested series of rugged trails. We were very disappointed after the wonders that we had seen the day before at Hotel Franzenshohe.

Nevertheless, I wasn't too put off by it. You always take these risks when exploring a new place, and in the late afternoon from the hotel window I saw a red fox right in the hotel driveway! The facilities were great, and the board games available let the kids learn to play Stratego and we played Uno in the afternoon before an adequate dinner. It wasn't a big deal as the next day was a descent all the way into the valley to Vetzan.

Tuesday, August 02, 2022

June 19th: Gomagoi to Hotel Franzenshohe

"You wouldn't want any CO2 cartridges, would you?" "Uh, no. We have a pump." "I guess you're mountain bikers?" "No. We're on a bike tour, but I always carry a pump." "We're getting on a plane and can't bring the cartridges with us." The couple who sat next to us at breakfast turned out to be from the United States. They had flown into Munich and rented a car, loaded their bikes on it and had done various day rides in the Dolomites and yesterday, Stelvio. They were impressed when they saw our bikes, and even more so when they realized we'd come all the way from Zurich without a car.

We loaded the panniers onto Xiaoqin's e-bike, moving the trunk bag with the ebike charger onto the triplet, since there was no longer any space on the rack for it, and then proceeded to ride up from Gomagoi. In short order we arrived at Trafoi, where we took a much needed break to refill water bottles and admire the Ortlers and Glaciers. Bowen had paired his bike computer with my heart rate monitor, and noticed that I'd pegged at around 155bpm. At altitude, I seemed to be unable to ride any harder, though at home and at sea level on my single I could regularly hit 170bpm. I'd make it a point to rest until my heart rate hit a much more reasonable 120bpm before we'd attempt to keep going.
As the day passed, one cyclist after another would pass us. Every other cyclist would either give us a thumbs up, or yell some form of encouragement, like "Allez!", "Bravissima!", "Courage" (in French), "Super" (in German), or shake their head in amazement. One guy passed me and said, "You're crazy and insane!" I concurred with him. I was living the reality that many fathers experienced: you go out with your two kids, and no matter how mediocre a job you're doing as a parent, everyone ooohs, and aahhs, and proclaim you to be super-Dad --- mommy doing something identical wouldn't even merit a comment. In the mean time, Xiaoqin was doing a pretty difficult job lugging 35 pounds of bags up the mountain on her e-bike, but because she was on an ebike she was getting none of the encouragement the kids and I had. Life simply isn't fair.

You couldn't fault the scenery you're riding through, and Charles J Sykes, in "50 Rules Kids Won't Learn in School" had a frequently cited quote that goes like this:
“ Before you were born your parents weren’t as boring as they are now. They got that way paying your bills, cleaning up your room and listening to you tell them how idealistic you are. “

I guess if nothing else, I was showing my kids that you didn't have to be boring just because you had kids.

Strava says it took us 2 hours and 15 minutes to move the 7.4 miles up the mountain, climbing 2851' in the mean time. Subjectively it felt like a 4 hour ride, and we arrived at Hotel Franzenshohe with me feeling like I had legs of rubber. There was some sort of cheerleading event/workshop going on at the hotel, and it was clearly too early to checkin, but because the workshop had just made a big mess in the hotel's conference room, we were cleared to park our bikes in it, eat lunch, go on a hike, and come back later when our rooms were ready.

The hiking trails behind the hotel left such a deep impression on Bowen and I that he'd specifically wanted to come back to Stelvio 4 years later. It was Xiaoqin's first time in the area, so we had to do the hike even though we only had cycling shoes. The place was as pretty as I remembered.
This time we went as far as we could on the Gletscherweg, turning around only when it was clear that our shoes weren't going to hold on to the trail. On the way back we found a waterfall, and even did a cross country jaunt to where Bowen and I visited higher up near the road.

By the time we were all done we were ready for ice cream and then we could move into the rooms and take our showers and do laundry. We asked about the swimming pool we used the last time but apparently they had only just opened it and the water was too cold. We ate our 4 course half pension dinner, but that night I was given a reminder of how I still wasn't fully acclimated to the altitude. At 2188m in elevation, the hotel was higher than lake tahoe, and near the 8500'' operational limit of my CPAP machine. As a result, the machine became noisier, and I also correspondingly slept less well. It was a fitful night. The big difference was that we were doing Stelvio near the start of the trip, while on the previous trip, it came quite a bit later. The difference was considerable.

Monday, August 01, 2022

Review: The World According to Star Wars

 I was looking over Cass Sustein's book at the library and to my surprised, one of his books was The World According to Star Wars. I wasn't myself a Star Wars fan, but I figured that what he had to say was interesting.

The book explores several different themes and interpretations of Star Wars, one of which was the relationship between fathers and sons. I didn't know much about George Lucas's personal history, so I was pleasantly surprised to read these words:

Lucas himself was able to reconcile with his father, though it took years for them to come back together. He packs a lot of pain and understanding into these words: “he lived to see me finally go from a worthless, as he would call ‘late bloomer’ to actually being successful. I gave him the one thing every parent wants: to have your kid be safe and able to take care of himself. That was all he really wanted, and that’s what he got.” It’s not irrelevant that after Return of the Jedi, Lucas abandoned Star Wars, and movie-making, for just one reason: he wanted to be a good father. He retired for two decades so that he could raise his children. Asked in 2015 what he wanted the first line of his obituary to say, he responded without the slightest hesitation: “I was a great dad.” (kindle loc 1326)

The book's probably at its best when it veers away from pop psychology when it dives into Sunstein's core research topics, such as nudges or information cascades. I enjoyed his explanation of why rebellions are always a surprise (which also explains the Trump movement). He also explores what it looks like in authoritarian countries like China:

 In the late 1980s, I was asked to teach a short course on American law in Beijing. (We didn’t discuss Star Wars, so far as I can remember. Recall that Star Wars was not shown in China until 2015.) As a final assignment, I asked my thirty students to write a short paper. Their task was to explore what the United States could learn from the Chinese legal system, or what China could learn from the U.S. legal system. They were free to pick one or the other. I much looked forward to seeing what they would come up with. To my utter amazement, almost everyone in the class refused to do the assignment! With embarrassment, one of them explained: “We are worried that what we write could get into the wrong hands.” By that, they meant to suggest that they could get in trouble with their own government. Of course they were loyal to their country. And in private, they were willing to raise some questions about what their government was doing (as well as about what the United States was doing)—but for fear of some kind of punishment, they were unwilling to put those questions in writing. Here’s the upshot, elaborated at length by the economist Timur Kuran in his terrific 1997 book, Private Truths, Public Lies: If people falsify their preferences and beliefs, rebellions will be difficult or perhaps impossible to predict. People might be satisfied with their government; they might dislike it, at least a little; or they might hate it. Because what people say does not match what they think, citizens will be in a situation of pluralistic ignorance: They will have no idea what their fellow citizens believe. But if some people (the Leias among them) start to express dissatisfaction and display a willingness to rebel, then others (the Lukes) might think that a rebellion could succeed, because a lot of people might be prepared to join it. If so, the world might turn upside down. (kindle loc 1763)

Unfortunately, Sustein's not a historian or an expert on China, so he doesn't go any further and explain why movements like the Tiananmen protests got squashed despite an information cascade.

I didn't exactly find the book a waste of time, but I'm guessing that unless you're a Star Wars fan, you're probably not going to find the book all that interesting. His other books are probably a more interesting read in terms of ideas.