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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Review: The Upside of Irrationality

The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home is Dan Ariely's sequel to Predictably Irrational. While the book is subtitled "The Upside of Irrationality", the reality is, there's not actually a lot of upside to being irrational, but Ariely's found a ton of workarounds.

For instance, in the chapter on online dating, he discovers that online dating sites are a horrible way to meet people. You effectively have to spend 9 hours searching, writing, and corresponding with prospective dates for every hour you actually get to go on an actual date. He found a workaround, though, in that if you gave people an online place to chat and gave them something to chat about (even something as abstract as shapes would do), they'd have a lot more fun and be more eager to meet in person. This example is also an illustration of where Ariely's limited business experience comes into play. He never asks, "If that's the way to do it, how come nobody has done it?" It turns out that the online dating business has a conflict of interest with respect to its customers. If they're too successful, their customers leave. If their customers don't feel like there's another prospect over the horizon, they'll leave too. As a result, all the emphasis on those sites is on customer acquisition and retention, not really on helping you to date better, or get to a date faster. This kind of second-order effect analysis is completely absent from Ariely's book.

The section on bonuses affecting outcome is already covered in other books like Drive, and again, the lack of second order analysis there is glaring. What can we as a society do about this? There's no suggestions, because the true implications of understanding the effect of pay has political ramifications, and Ariely probably doesn't want to get into those.

I did enjoy the chapters on NIH-syndrome, on assortative mating, and why we over-value what we put time into making. Overall, the book is just as enjoyable as the first one, and a lot of fun to read. I'd recommend it for airplane reading. Just be wary that it's not very deep and would trigger more questions in an intelligent reader than the author is willing to answer.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Review: The Scar

The Scarwas China Mieville's second novel. After I read Perdido Street Station at the beginning of the year, I thought it would be very difficult to top that novel. I was wrong. The Scar is every bit as good, does not rehash any of the material in that first novel (nor does it assume a working knowledge of Bas-Lag's Mieville's fantasy world).

The story revolves around Bellis Coldwine, who is the narrator of the book. She's on a self-imposed exile from New Crobuzon, the setting of Perdido Street Station, due to some events disclosed in that novel which aren't of any relevance to this one. When the ship she is on gets captured by ships from The Armada, a floating city much like that envisioned by Libertarians, she's forced to work for a city she despises. The plot revolves around her plans to escape, and the machinations thereafter.

The milleu is rich, and full of fantasy all the expected twists and turns. The character of Bellis Coldwine is unsympathetic, yet Mieville writes her in such a way that the reader easily understands her motivations. The ongoing disclosure of the world she lives in is done subtly, without moments of long expositions, and the plot carries on logically to its conclusion. Yet many moments of wonder which is what draws many of us to science fiction and fantasy exist within this framework, and I treasure this book for being able to re-ignite them even in an otherwise jade science fiction fan.

In some ways, some of the original graphic-novel visions provided by the Perdido Street Station was lost. That's because Coldwine and the other characters are not perhaps as iconic. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the novel in other ways. Highly recommended. I only hope Mieville's other novels are as good.

Review: We Might As Well Win

Johan Bruyneel, if you don't already know, was Lance Armstrong's Director Sportif during his winning years, as well as during Alberto Contrador's first tour victory. We Might As Well Win, ghost-written by VeloNews's Bill Strickland, is his memoir of his winning years.

There's something about sport coaches: they always seem to have a post-retirement career lecturing business people on how to run their businesses, and their memoirs always seem to be written with this final goal in mind. Bruyneel's book has a theme, which is that if you want to win, you've got to sacrifice almost everything else to it. Whether it be denting other directors' cars while driving support during the Tour De France, planning the stage win so that it's within your abilities, or sacrificing all other races in the season in order to focus on the Tour, Bruyneel definitely did that and did that well. What he neglected to mention was that he wasn't the first to do so. Greg Lemond did so as well, and was frequently accused of being only focused on the Tour because that's what mattered to his American sponsors. This is not surprising and there's no need to apologize for it, but I felt that Bruyneel could have spelled it out.

There's quite a bit of life history in this book, from his early days of racing to his father's tragic death. One interesting thought that came through in this book is that the best coaches/director sportifs (including Chris Carmichael) aren't the top athletes. They're the middling athletes who were only able to win by being craftier, more focused, and smarter than the really strong guys who can just crank it up and power over any problems. Obviously, when you combine the smarts of someone like Bruyneel with the power of someone like Lance Armstrong, you get a track record that's unbeatable. (Note that this sort of thing could only happen with the advent of race radios!) I wonder whether or not the same applies to engineers. Maybe the best mentor you can have isn't the smartest guy in the room, but the guy who's not so smart but was only able to get where he got by applying his savviness in other areas. Or maybe in high intellect-demand professions like computer science all that matters is being smart.

In any case, the book is very well written, and the stories in it exciting and fun. It was so much fun that when I finished with it and told Cynthia about it, during the day when we had to do the car transfer she grabbed my Kindle and read it all in one go. There's no way this book would get anything less than a highly recommended rating, especially if you're a cyclist.

One final note: one of the sacrifices Bruyneel claims he made was that he never saw his kids very much while he was being a successful director sportif. Near the end of the book he talked a bit about backing off his work so he could spend more time with them. Judging from the fact that he seems to be all over the place even now, I would be very surprised if he did succeed in gaining more time to spend with his family. One problem with success is that it's very addictive.

Review: The Lost Fleet, Victorious

Victorious (The Lost Fleet, Book 6 of 6) is the last of Jack Campbell's "Lost Fleet" novels. Well, there's room for a sequel series, but the story line started in Dauntless and continued in several other novels is finally concluded, with all the sub-plots tied away very nicely.

While there are some fun naval battles, unlike previous novels those do not form the mainstay of the book. Instead, the political maneuvering, intrigue, and Captain Geary's ability to inspire his crew but inability to understand women. (Well, ok, put me into that latter category as well)

It's a short read, and an ideal airplane novel. However, do not read this without reading the other parts of the series first, or it won't make any sense. I finished it on the way to Munich, unfortunately, and was glad I had other books to entertain me.

Long Term Review: Dinotte Tail Light

I originally dismissed the Dinotte Taillight on my single for reasons of not having an appropriate mount. The tandem, however, had a rear rack which I could bungee the light to using the included O-ring, and during this past tour, I had a chance to test it more.

The light failed abysmally. First of all, it took 4 AA batteries which were heavy. Secondly even with the light off it drained the batteries! Ok, not a problem. I disconnected the light whenever it was not in use. When I did turn it on, however, the light would flash once and turn off. I tried single clicking, long presses, double clicking, anything. The best I could coax out of this light was a series of anemic flashes, and even then sometimes it would turn itself home.

I sent the light home with Phil when he went home, and borrowed his Planet Bike Blinky Super Flash instead, which nicely clipped into the pannier's compression straps, worked reliably on AAA batteries, and cost 1/10th as much.

Anybody want to buy a Dinotte Tail Light? Contact me.

Review: Mizuo Wave Ronin 2 Running Shoe

For the first time in my life, this tour included a section where I expected to do some hiking. Last year's tour included more hiking than I wanted, and I was not happy with my footwear. The Five Fingers did not do well on any kind of hard gravel or the rocky volcanic soil we saw, and the cycling shoes gave me blisters when attempting to walk fast. Those blisters really put a damper on quite a bit of my trip, so I was not looking forward to them again.

I visited Ryan's Sports Shop, which appears to be the running equivalent of Shaw's Lightweight Cycles. Opinionated, willing to say negative things about anything that doesn't stand up to their exacting standards, these guys were a lot of fun to shop at. They suggested racing flats, and brought out the Mizuno Ronin 2 Running Shoe. These shoes are butt ugly, but when I first put them on the experience was amazing: they were light! I went home and weighed them and they weigh less than the Five Fingers! I bought a pair for myself and a pair for Lisa (who managed to get the red version).

The caveats Ryan's told us about was that these shoes are not designed to last. They're meant to be used for a few races, and then they will fall apart. They did say that if all we did was walk on them, however, they would last quite a bit longer than people who ran marathons on them. The shoes were also not designed with any kind of support in mind, but during the tour we slipped the custom insoles we were wearing from the bike shoes into them with no problems and with excellent results.

In practice, the shoes are as comfortable or more as any running shoes I've worn. On 12 mile walking days, my feet never got sore, and I would have been happily hiking more if my companions were up for it. At no point did we wish that our shoes were lighter, and of course we never wished them to be heavier or more sturdy. They survived the entire tour just fine, and looked like they will survive another 2 or 3 tours of similar magnitude. I have no intention of using them for casual walking around, however! They are expensive and I have more sturdy and heavier shoes at home.

Cynthia and Kekoa were planning on using saddlebags, so Kekoa brought his Five Fingers and Cynthia bought some cycling sandals that she will undoubtedly write about over at her blog, but neither of them ended up being very happy about their choices for hiking, and we cut one of our hikes short because of that. However, when saddlebag touring, there's no way the Mizunos will fit inside a reasonably sized saddlebag. Because these shoes are not waterproof, tying them outside would not work either.

Phil's solution, which was to simply buy shoes in Grindelwald, was also sound. His Mont-Bell hiking shoes ($120) were sturdier and would have survived tougher conditions as well. On the other hand, we just got lucky and finished in Grindelwald, rather than in Rosenlaui, where there was not a shoe store in sight, certainly not one open till 9:00pm. For a trip like the one we were planning, I definitely recommend these shoes. The real problem is being able to carry them. Kekoa says he prefers panniers for cycle touring now, and if you have panniers, there's definitely no reason not to bring decent shoes, especially ones that are so light!


Tour of the Alps 2010

Cynthia Wong, Kekoa Proudfoot, Phil Sung, Lisa and I just returned from the Tour of the German Speaking Alps. As tours go, the statistics were unusually bad: we got in 945 miles and 88,916 feet of climbing, of which 13,879 came from 4 hikes we did in Switzerland, meaning we got in only 75,037 feet of climb on the bike. We only had 2 flat tires, both of which were caused by a bad tire blowing out on descents. We did lose almost a week to rain, and another 3 days due to a number of us (myself including) getting sick on tour.

Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010
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Kekoa's Picture Stream

Cynthia's Trip Report

Phil's Photos

Tour of
the German-Speaking Alps 2010

Phil's Trip Report

Trip Report

For every day where we traveled, I've posted a small trip report (which includes photos), as well as the GPS information (which you can access by clicking on the mini map at the start of each day). For days where there were multiple activities, I've posted both GPS maps.


Long Term Review: Canon S90

The Canon PowerShot S90 produced all the pictures you saw in my photo album. Lisa mostly shot the on-the-bike and food pictures using full-auto mode in JPG, while I shot most of the hiking pictures off-the-bike in RAW mode. Over the course of 5 weeks, we shot 2695 photos, which took up 4 8GB SDCards or about 22GB of storage. The photos were post-processed in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3, Geotagged with data from the Garmin Edge 500 using Jeffry Friedl's Lightroom Geotagging plugin using Garmin Connect to convert .fit files from the Edge 500 to GPX format.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

If you've seen the Grindelwald section of the alps photos, I think the results speak for themselves. In the hands of a competent photographer, the camera is capable of producing results that are stunning for a point and shoot. I did not have any of my usual photo gear with me, no filters, tripod, or external flash, but I was very pleased with what it could do. Being able to shoot in RAW mode meant that in cases where an ND grad. filter was necessary, I could process it in Lightroom and get more than acceptable results.

Kekoa had a Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 which would take better pictures because of its much larger sensor, but because of the size of the camera, he had to stop and take it out of his handlebar bag every time he wanted to shoot, which meant that Lisa shooting from the back of the tandem would shoot more often and therefore get more shots. For a cycle tour, I think it is far better to carry a camera you can keep in your jersey pocket so you can shoot on the move. You will throw away more photos, but as the late Galen Rowell once said to me the difference between amateurs and professionals is that professionals throw away more film.

There were complaints about the S90. Lisa complained that the camera took a long time to startup and take shots. Shot to shot times were also slow in JPG mode, and in RAW mode they took even longer as the file sizes were 10X larger and took a correspondingly long time to write. I don't expect any better from any camera that fits nicely into a jersey pocket, though you should see below for alternate recommendations.

Others have complained about the camera battery. We experienced no problems. 500 shots per charge was more than acceptable, and we never ran out of charge during a day. I was very careful to charge the camera after big days like both hiking days in Grindelwald, however.

Note that this camera is only useful if you're going to shoot RAW. I think there are far better cameras if you're a casual photographer and want to shoot JPG, for instance, my brother's Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7has built in GPS tagging, 720p video, and costs less. My other brother's Sony DSC-HX5V also has GPS, 1080i video, and a burst mode that will capture a full panorama with one sweep without having to bother with shot-to-shot waits. Those are the cameras I would take if I wasn't willing to pay for Lightroom, or bother with shooting RAWs and post-processing them. That means that the S90 is for better or worse, a photography enthusiast's camera, not really a casual user's camera.

I did knock the rear adjustment dial once or twice while shooting. This was not a problem for Lisa in full auto mode. I usually caught the problem and immediately reshot or dialed it back before shooting, but in the cases where I did not, Lightroom brought back the shot very nicely. This is another reason why if you shoot in JPG on this camera you are just asking for heart-break, and possibly a waste of money.

Having said all that, the rating for this camera is highly recommended. If you're willing to put in the effort, there is no doubt that this is the camera for you.

(See the Original Review)


Long Term Review: Garmin Edge 500

The Garmin Edge 500 GPS Bicycle Unitcame through the tour with flying colors. It was reliable, surviving wind, sweat, rain, and several hikes. The wrist band proved to be a great help for carrying the computer on hikes, and comes highly recommended. In particular, the GPS appeared to recalibrate its altimeter based on GPS information, so if you parked your bike at a summit sign, for a few minutes, you would see the altimeter magically recalibrate itself to match an accurate summit sign. I was very impressed by this feature.

The GSC10 also survived the tour, but I found several problems with it. The cadence sensor magnet would slip, and if it did not only would you not get cadence information as well, occasionally it would also not detect the wheel magnet and you wouldn't get wheel data either. In particular, the whole point of getting the wheel sensor information was so that the wheel data would over-ride the GPS sensor whenever things got out of whack (and vice-versa), but no sign of that ever happened! Sure, the sustens pass reading of 129kph could be attributed to the cadence sensor not being in operation that day, but I checked the cadence sensor on the day we rode into Munich, and the stupid computer still read a 90mph top speed, which is unbelievable if you look at the charts accompanying that ride report. As a result, I'm still having a tough time deciding whether I want to pay $36 for what's effectively just a cadence sensor.

All in all, having the Garmin 500 on this trip enabled me to geotag all our photos, since all the tracks from the Edge 705 disappeared with the boot failure.

While the Edge 500 is not a navigation unit and therefore would be considered non-essential equipment on a single bike tour, as a stoker bike computer and general bike computer it is easily the best one I have used. Recommended.


Equipment Review: Garmin Edge 705

I borrowed a Garmin Edge 705 Bicycle GPS from Roberto for this trip. Like my 76CSx, this is a navigational unit, capable of dynamic routing, displaying maps, and rerouting even if you do turn off the designated route. The big changes are: the lack of replaceable AAs, and the smaller package and lightweight, since the 705 does not need to float, unlike the marine unit.

The internal battery posed no problems, since we could recharged every night. The charging indicator was clearly not designed for color blind people, but you could always leave it plugged in overnight. The lighter weight was nothing to complain about, but resulted in a poorer user interface. The "find" button, for instance, no longer existed, and was a pain. I was annoyed by the "Start/Stop" button as well, since the 76CSx never needed me to tell it to start recording tracks. It just did so no matter what. There were a few times when I stopped it and forgot to restart it, and would have lost data no matter what.

Daily use as a bike computer was not a problem. However, using it as a navigational unit posed several challenges. First of all, it was very slow to read the SD card. Roberto inserted a 4GB SD card into the device, and downloaded just about 500MB of maps into it, plus about 20 of my routes. Despite that small size, it still had a tough time displaying all the routes from the SD card, and would occasionally hang while trying to pick up a pre-planned route. It could be that the device cannot read SDHC cards, while my older 76CSx only accepted SD cards of 2GB or less. It seems that if that's a problem the right solution would be not to accept SDHC cards in the first place.

The navigation screen has a very nice feature, which is that in all the Find Places dialogue boxes, there was also the ability to spell out the name, rather than only select from a list of cities within 15km. I loved this feature, as it allowed for long range dynamic routing without having to stop as frequently to reprogram the unit. If I could pay $50 to upgrade my 76CSx to have this feature I would.

To make up for that nice feature, the unit appears to be much slower than my 76CSx. Rerouting could take 10-20 minutes in many cases. The 76CSx would generally not take more than about 10 minutes. The screen was also much harder to read in bright sunlight, indicating that the brightness of the screen had been dialed down, probably to avoid straining the lithium ion battery.

By far the biggest problem with the unit was that it corrupted its own boot sector while touring, and that's unacceptable. Between the unreliability, the poor user interface, lousy screen and the slowness of the computer, I cannot recommend the Edge 705 for a bicycle tourist. Needless to say, I will not be "upgrading" from my 76CSx to this unit in the near future.


Tour 2010 Conclusions

In many ways, this was the tour where everything went wrong. Between flight damage, lost gear, poor weather, tire blowouts, my CPAP machine failing, and nearly everyone falling ill, you could imagine that we would have had a miserable time. But that's not so. Even in the midst of his illness, Phil was saying to me, "I'm having a blast!" Several things contributed:
  1. Time. Everyone of us took at least 3 weeks of vacation on the trip. This gave us the opportunity to wait out bad weather. If we had anyone with only one week of vacation, he would have had a miserable time without experiencing any of the fantastic weather we later got.
  2. Flexibility. We made no reservations, except for Rosenlaui. That made it easy for us to pivot and change plans and abandon the Italian alps when whether and time did not permit this. There's nothing to add stress like the feeling of helplessness. Yet even when we were stuck in Innsbruck, we always felt like we were working to solve our problems.
  3. Repeat visits. This was my fourth time in the Alps. We knew how the train systems worked, we knew some hotel owners, and we had the leverage of Jobst's 40 years in the alps, the OCD guides, and past experiences. The level of predictability in Switzerland made it easy for us to plan around problems, and for Cynthia and Kekoa to break off to do their own tour.
  4. Culinary Flexibility. If you're a strict vegetarian or vegan this trip is not for you. Join a Backroads Tour. At Rosenlaui, Cynthia and I made a list of people we would want to keep away from Rosenlaui, just because they would not be able to put up with the food.

I was very happy, by the way that Cynthia and Kekoa did their own tour. I think if you're going to take a first bicycle tour, Switzerland's a fantastic place. People generally speak English, the train system can bail you out of any problems, bike paths are predictable, well signed, and easy to find, and of course nothing beats the scenery. Cynthia told me that they enjoyed bike touring far more than they thought they would. One unfortunate thing about the trip was that it cost far more than originally estimated because of the large number of train transfers. Knowing what I know now, I would have planned that better, or bought a half-tax card for Switzerland.

The natural beauty of the Alps is still outstanding. I'm currently reading a book about Hedonistic Adaptation, but for me at least, I find the Alps as stunningly beautiful as the first time I visited them. I used to wonder how Jobst could do the same tour for 40 years, but at this point I'm starting to come around to his thinking: I came back from this tour wondering why I ever bother touring anywhere else in the world. People look at my pictures and ask me if it really is that pretty. My response is: it's far prettier. Those pictures were but a pale reflection of what it's like to actually be there.

Before this trip, I told Cynthia: if this trip doesn't make you want to buy your own camera for the next time, I have failed. Her response to me last night: You didn't fail.

I'll plug my upcoming book now. If you've read this far and wondered how you could make your own trip, pre-order my book:


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Videos from the Tour

I never shot video on previous tours because I don't like sticking cameras on my helmet: I need to be watching the road, and good video really should have a human behind the camera dedicated to it. This year, Lisa decided to shoot several videos on tour. It takes nerves of steel to shoot video from the back of a tandem doing 30-50mph, so I hope everyone appreciates what it takes.

The first video comes from the ride up Grosse Scheidegg. If you've never ridden in the alps, you don't know how loud cowbells are. They literally echo off the hills and make up the soundtrack of certain climbs:

The second comes from Furka Pass. I'll tell the full story behind this in the write up, but it's not a fast descent, the road being narrow with several technical turns. We suffered a tire blowout, not from overheating rims (they never exceeded 71C), but because the tire was a bad manufacture. We replaced the tire and had no problems for the rest of the trip. This video had to be hosted on Vimeo, because it's too long for YouTube:

Furka Descent on tandem from Piaw Na on Vimeo.

The last cycling video comes from the descent of St. Gotthard pass. This is a fast descent requiring almost no braking. It is spectacular, however, especially for the flying hairpin at the end. Unfortunately, you really have to experience it to see it. I wanted a fast soundtrack for this, so I chose Nakajima's Lie to Me Eternally:

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

July 19, 20, 21: Epilogue

It turned out that Chris wasn't out of town, as we thought. He had moved his departure date and came back late at night after we were asleep. He was gracious about us breaking into his apartment, as it was, and I made Weisswurst breakfast for him in the morning.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

I spent the 19th at the Google Munich office chatting up former colleagues. Then Lisa and I shopped for maps, tracking down and finding a copy of the Motorrad ReiseKarten Alpen that we had first seen in Austria, and picking up a few others as well for future travel. We paid a visit to my former landlady in Pullach, reminding her that I'll be back tomorrow to collect cash. We shopped for chocolate as well, and as usual discovered after we got home that what we thought was a lot of chocolate wasn't actually enough.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

On the 20th, we moved back to Hotel Vi Vadi, and repacked for the flight home. I took the deraileur off the bike, the pedals, removed the seat post and stoker bars and stuck them in the luggage. I made yet another visit to Pullach, and this time came back with much of my security deposit. She had made huge deductions for various apartment charges, but still had given me more than half of it, my threshold for deciding whether or not I should just hand my receipt and paperwork to one of my colleagues in Munich who knew good lawyers in exchange for half of anything he could get back from her. I deposited all that cash into my German bank savings account so as to avoid paying the currency exchange fees. My bank was happy to change my address as well since I had moved.

On the way back to the hotel after buying some vacuum packed Weisswurst, I dropped by the train station and saw Alan Wissenberg. He was in the middle of dealing with customers (and had a long line waiting for him), but he interrupted his transaction to shake hands and say hi. Upon hearing that it was my last night in Munich, he said, "I'll be back at the Euraide office at 10:45pm. Join me then and we'll grab a beer."
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

Sure enough, at 10:45pm he was there. We had sat down and had a beer. We talked about our trials with bikes on trains, places we would never tell Rick Steves about (or at least, if we did tell Rick Steves we would ask him never to put in his book or show on TV), and of course, how nice the German-speaking countries were about putting bikes on trains. "I now have to distinguish between the people who are carrying a copy of Steves' book, and the people who actually read it. I had a woman who was fined several hundred Euros because she didn't read her train tickets! Her excuse: I had no idea that it was in English, since the cover letter was in German, so I didn't bother reading it!" We laughed and I was flattered when Alan told me, "I never learned as much about trains and bicycles as I did when I helped you put together that trip in 2008." Alan had been working with the Deutsche Bahn for 20 years, and was the most knowledgeable person I could nominate about European trains, but he was still learning after all these years. An hour passed rapidly and it was time for both of us to get some sleep.

On the 21st, we woke up at 4:30am, ate a quick breakfast, and tried to take the Lufthansa bus to the airport. The driver refused to take the tandem, so we reverted to our backup plan, which was to take the S-Bahn. A Partner Tageskarte and bike ticket cost nearly 22 EUR, but we offset the cost by reselling the ticket at the airport to an incoming British couple for 10EUR. It was a long wait for the Air Canada ticket counter to open, and we were charged for an extra bag because all the equipment and chocolate made our big bag overweight, causing us to have to check in one of the panniers separately. The flight delivered everything safely (including the unboxed and stripped bike), and all went well.


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Day 32: Schliersee to Munich

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We woke up to overcast skies and still a threat of rain. As we left the bed and breakfast, it was still drizzling. I usually used an alternate route to get back to Holzkirchen/Munich, but with the threat of rain decided it was better to forgo that and find the most direct route there. Never having ever taken the direct route, I was pleased to discover that from Schliersee to Miesbach was a fast descent along a well marked bike path.

Once in Miesbach, however, we lost the bike path and circled around a few times in vain before a kindly street sweeper told us to make a left just before the railroad tracks at what appeared to be a walking trail. There was no way we would have found this without help: the "bike path" was up on a berm, without a ramp to hop the curb!

We were now following the Mangfall, the tributary of the Inn that came out of Tergensee. The bike path soon became the Wasserweg, the water way path that goes all the way to Munich. We followed signs to Holzkirchen, however, as I wanted to use the paved roads to Pullach and follow to Isar downtown instead, revisiting the commute I had for so many months while I was in Munich.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

The climb up to Holzkirchen was steep and unpaved, though not steeper than the 20+% grades we would climb if I was on what I considered my "normal" route back from the Schliersee.

It was too cool in Holzkirchen for ice cream at my favorite place, so we elected to ride on. This section was unfamiliar with me until we made a left turn from highway 13 onto Oberhaching. At that point, things started looking familiar to me even though I had never ridden on that road before. I was puzzled until I realized that I had navigated this stretch with Phil from our 2008 trip to Rosenlaui.

We had a miserable time at first on the road to Grunwald. Traffic was somewhat heavy and the road was narrow. Upon approaching a tunnel that was closed to bikes, however, we were redirected to a parking lot where the bike path into Grunwald began, and from there on it was smooth going. In Grunwald, we took the descent to the bridge over the Isar, but just before the bridge proper turned right onto the Isar bike path. I had never commuted on this side of the river, and it was wild, undulating greatly. This was now the province of the casual biker, and we found ourselves over-taking unloaded cyclists with regularity.

At the first bridge across the Isar I was once again into familiar territory, and from then on the ride into downtown Munich was routine for a cool summer day. Lisa wanted to visit the soup kitchen at the viktualienmarkt but it was closed on Sundays, so we ate at one of the local restaurants instead.

Arriving at Chris's place, we could not gain access to his apartment because the common entry way was locked! We waited until someone exited, whereupon Lisa went in and picked up his key from the hiding spot. We rolled the bike in, parked the tandem, and sighed. The longest tour (in terms of the number of days) we had ever done was over.


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Day 31: Schliersee

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We started the morning by taking the gondola up to hill. We noticed that there was a slide you could use to get down and asked if our 6 EUR ticket would let us use it. The answer was "Yes!" The place was a little touristy, so we looked around and took a short hike but after hiking in the Swiss alps, hiking anywhere feels really drab and boring, so we did not bag any summits, but did get to a view of the Tergensee, albeit a really abbreviated one that did not look right.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

The slide itself was essentially a big plastic tub with wheels mounted so that you could deploy them by pulling on a lever. When you let go of the lever, the wheels retracted and so the plastic tub would create friction and slow you down. You could control the height of the wheels and thereby control your speed. The descent was fun, but definitely not exciting as it looked. Nevertheless, the construction of the slide took us through past a cow field, into a forest, under a bridge, and generally felt like an adventure.

We once again bought a supermarket lunch and ate it by the lake. At the supermarket, I found a 5 EUR SIM card package. We installed it into Lisa's phone, but it didn't appear to work. In Switzerland, it took the better part of a few hours for the SIM to register, so we didn't worry about it.

It started raining, so we went indoors to use the water slide once more. The rest of the day was spent reading, and getting our e-mail, where Chris gave us instructions for entering his apartment. Unlike the previous thunderstorms we had experienced, this rain looked like it was going to be persistent, forcing us to run back to the B&B from dinner.


Friday, July 16, 2010

Day 30: Kufstein to Schliersee

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We left Kufstein at 8:30am, ready to leave Austria and return to Germany. I've often wanted to explore more of Austria, and this trip definitely helped satisfy the urge. We took the road out of Kufstein towards Thiersee, which was a suburb of Kufstein up in the hills. The road climbed in the shae rapidly out of Kufstein, but it didn't take long before it began a descent into Theirsee, which was in the sun.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

Thiersee in the morning light was beautiful, so we stopped to eat a snack at the water's edge and admire the view. Heading towards Ursprung pass, we saw mist and steam rising out from the river along the road, lending the morning a misty light that was very pretty. The road was signed on the map as a 12% grade all the way into Germany, but it must have been poor measurement, as we knew what a 12% grade was and there was definitely nothing that steep all the way to the top of Urpsrung pass (832m).
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

The "descent" into Germany was hardly worth that name. Schliersee, for instance is 784m, so there wasn't much descending at all. We kept our cycling caps on since we were still pedaling. We stopped for a quick stop at Bayrischzell, where the German train system ended, but the town did not have much, so we kept going to Schliersee.

I had been to Schliersee often on rides, but had never stopped there. The lake is beautiful, and it's high enough to be relatively cool on what promised to be a hot weekend in Munich. There was a lot of construction in the town itself, and it took a while for us to find the tourist information, which was right at the lake. We did find a bed and breakfast, but once again discovered that the tourist information had given us incorrect prices. The price was still acceptable, however, so we chose not to keep searching.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

We bought a supermarket lunch and walked down to the lake side to dine in the shade. It being very hot, the spots near the lake were pretty much taken up, but we did find something. There was a group of what looked like high schoolers sunbathing, smoking, and otherwise playing the fool in the area. After lunch and a nap, Lisa wanted to go swim in the local water resort, which had heated pools, a Jacuzzi, and even an enclosed water slide that felt far faster than it should have been.

We spent 90 minutes there, then got out to send messages to Chris, who had offered the use of his apartment in Munich while he was away, and tried to find a place to buy a SIM card to no avail. Dinner was at the local Greek restaurant which I did not enjoy, but tomorrow was a rest day, and we felt like we had earned it.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Day 29: Rattenberg to Kufstein

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We were determined to have a lazy, easy day today, so we had a leisurely breakfast at 8:00am, packed our bags, and then left around 9:00am as the day was already warming up. If we were tired, the Edge 705 was exhausted. It would try to boot, and then not succeed. For the rest of our trip it was about as useful as a brick. I would later discover (with the help of Garmin tech support) that it had corrupted its own boot block, and would have to be sent back to Garmin for recovery. Fortunately, at this point we were so close to Munich and places I knew that I did not think that it would be a problem.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

The Inn river bike path has to be the easiest bike path in Austria to follow. Unlike less major bike paths, the route does not disappear, and even detours are well signed. The path meanders from one side of the river to the other, changes from paved to unpaved, exposed to sheltered, and yet remains a distinctive character all of its own, with the Kufstein/Innsbruck symbols.

Since I no longer had the 705 as a crutch, I was forced to pay attention to where we were. When we finally saw a huge fortress, Lisa wanted to explore. I assented and upon arriving in the city realized that this was already Kufstein. We had gotten there far earlier than expected. A visit to the tourist information office yielded a huge booklet of places to stay, but our first few choices were filled up, and we ended up finding a spot at the Exerzitienhaus Maria Hilfs. We got there after having to load the tandem onto an elevator to get across the train station to discover that it was a missionary.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

We were their only guests that night, so at least it was going to be a quiet stay. The woman in charge wanted to charge us 28EUR/person, but we showed them the tourist information posting about the price being 24EUR/person, and she relented. Coincidentally, we were put into room number 24. After taking a shower and dropping off everything, we walked back downtown and had some Kebab for lunch.

After lunch, we wanted to visit the Riedel glass factory, where there was a short presentation and a demonstration of glass making:

Visiting a glass factory on one of the hottest days of the year is not a good idea, and after that we were so warm that we took a bus back downtown and spent some time at the local bookstore, where I bought a detailed map covering the area between Schliersee and Munich.

We walked into the fortress, but it looked a bit like a tourist trap so I demurred from visiting. Lisa wanted to visit the downtown shops, but by the time we got there they were closing. I did, however, get a close look at the cannonballs embedded in the walls and their history.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

Lisa wanted to hear the Organ concert, so we bought tickets for it and heard the 15 minute presentation of the world's biggest organ. We then went to dinner at a terrible Indonesian place, and got back to our lodging just before a big thunderstorm. It was a bit eerie being the only guests at an almost empty mission, but the alternative was that it would be full, so I guess I was OK with that.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Day 28: Wald to Rattenberg

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We awoke once again to sunny weather, with dry roads and no trace of the rain from the night before. The climb from Grubl immediately begins a 17% grade to the next plateau, but after that the road poses no real challenge for cyclists. After all, the climb was only to 1531m, and Grubl was already at almost 900m. The sights were beautiful, and there was relatively little traffic. In fact, we hardly knew that wee were near the summit when we suddenly came across a giant ski resort (Almdorf) and then hit the intersection with the main road where the new pass intersected with the old pass.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

After all the previous descent, the Gerlos pass descent was definitely relaxed. We first got to a flat section with beautiful views over the Speicher Durlassboden. After that, there's a short descent that had no braking to Gerlos (1471m). From there on, the descent was so gentle that we had to pedal until the series of switch backs just above Zell Am Ziller where the road finally lost all of its elevation down to 600m in just 5km. With that kind of grade, the tandem easily kept up with auto traffic and we only exited the main road to Zell am Ziller in order to find a super market for lunch.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

At the supermarket, I heard some campers ask the checkout clerk for insect repellent, and the checkout clerk said, no, they were all sold out. That clearly meant that we were not staying at Zell Am Ziller, and after a quick lunch we moved on down towards the Inn Valley.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

As we got lower and lower the weather got warmer and warmer. The bike path did not follow the Ziller at all, which meant that we got as warm as the surrounding towns, which were unshaded. Near Schitters, the bike path intersected with a lake with ice cream, and we stopped for some ice cream but it did not cool us down at all! We found the Inn river bike path just 10 minutes later, but somehow got turned around and headed up the river instead. When I realized my mistake and turned around, I found out the reason why. The intersection was so complicated that the city of Strass had put up a signpost explain how to navigate it:
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

It was clearly not a sign to be read at cycling speed.

The Inn River bike path, unlike the Ziller bike path was shaded, and it was very pleasant to be riding in the cool shade next to the river. We stopped at Brixlegg and contemplated searching for lodging, but two cyclists came by from the other direction and said, "We just came from Rattenberg. You definitely should check it out. It's the smallest city in Austria." That sounded too cute to pass up, so we headed down river and came into Rattenberg, which was indeed a very small and cute city of about 400 people.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

It took far too long to find the tourist information center, but when we did find it, the lady there was extremely helpful. She pointed us at a bicycle friendly B&B called Haus Sonnblick, which was run by the most pleasant person imaginable. She was friendly and very helpful, giving us pointer after pointer as to where to go.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

The town proper was very touristy, but it had a grocery store where we could buy fruits, a bike club that met at 6:00pm for a ride, many restaurants, and a castle from wwhich we could see in both directions, towards Innsbruck and towards Kufstein.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

It was still so warm that when we finished dinner and came back to the house, we each had to take another shower to cool down, so it was just as well that we had had a short day.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Day 27: Fusch to Wald

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Fusch was at nearly 1000m, so it was with a false coolness that we had a late start to our journey down towards Zell Am See. The road was smooth and there was a bike path. Rolling along on the bike path, however, we suddenly heard a "Hello!" It turned out to be the couple we had seen on Grossglockner highway the day before! They said they were on a 6 week trip, and that they got caught in the thunderstorm yesterday on the way down the mountain, and had to pitch their tent at the campground in Fusch in the rain. They seemed to be in good spirits, all things considered though.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

We parted ways at Zell Am See, where we looked for the Tauern Radweg which took quite a bit to find. Unlike in Switzerland, bike paths aren't always clearly signed in Austria, and there's no real rhyme or reason to them: we frequently ran into bike path signs long after the intersection where a sign should have been, with the path saying nothing other than "you're on the right path."
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

Nevertheless, the bike path was pretty, meandering through fields and meadows, and only really occasionally following the Salzach, which was now a much smaller river than when we first encountered it in Salzburg. In fact, we would go past the origin of the Salzach tomorrow.

Our goal today was to make it to Wald, where we would stay at Gasthof Grubl, another "Jobst hotel", where the food was likely to be great and the prices affordable. Riding along the Salzach, we saw lots of people, many of whom looked like they were out on day rides, but were actually touring, having employed some sort of luggage service to ensure that they did not have to carry much. One particularly obvious couple were riding electric bikes with an assist. This limited their range to somewhere around 30 miles a day, but it also meant that they were zipping up hills at a speed that one could not believe from people who were clearly not avid cyclists... until one saw the giant battery pack mounted on the seat tube.

In Uttendorf we stopped for a supermarket lunch, and by the time we left the temperature was well into the 80s. We followed the bike path, and then in Stuhfelden it suddenly went unmarked. I tried to get back to the river by following a hiking trail, but the Austrians clearly meant business about hiking trails. Gates were placed every 100 meters to ensure that a cyclist would get annoyed by constantly having to lift his bike over the gate, and of course, the tandem could not do this more than a couple of times before turning back.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

We stayed on the main road for a while until we found the bike path again. The path was pretty, but also as exposed as the main road, and the climbs started to get pretty warm. Once in a while the path would make an excursion into the woods and everything would cool down again, but these were not happening soon enough. Eventually, the road made one final excursion, crossed a river, and then went right across the street from the tourist information center in Wald.

We asked at the information center if they could call Grubl and make a reservation for us, but they merely laughed and said, just show up. She's got room and we know she's open. In a rare case of GPS navigation failure, the Edge 705 thought that the hotel was actually in the valley. We backtracked after that failure on the instruction of a local, and went past the church and started climbing up the Old Gerlos Road, which at a 14% grade for 2km in the sun was not a lot of fun. At least there was a confirmation sign telling us that the B&B was just 2km ahead. As we ground up the 14% grade in the afternoon heat, Lisa said, "I've decided that I don't like Jobst hotels." "Why not? Rosenlaui was a Jobst hotel!" "They're always halfway up steep grades!" "But the food is fantastic!" "I don't care. I don't like Jobst hotels." Finally, I saw a sign that said "Hotel Grubl, 400m ahead." 200m later, however, I saw a giant vehicle towing a tractor come down the road. Well, I wasn't going to get in his way, so I pulled into a driveway while it went past. I could see Grubl 100m up ahead, and did not feel like getting started again on the 14% grade, so got off the bike and pushed it up there, the only time we would do so for the entire trip.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

Mrs Kaiser greeted us, and showed us our room on the top floor, with beautiful views of the valley below. Lisa complained that we should have stayed down in Wald so she could visit the mineral baths, but neither she nor I were going to ride down there to take a bath and then ride back up here, especially in the heat. The dinner here was great: Mrs Kaiser made a wonderful Lamm Schnitzerl, but Lisa was not happy with her vegetarian meal, which was essentially a salad, so we ordered a Kaiserschmarm afterwards for an additional meal. As we ate, a thunderstorm rolled in and out, granting us beautiful rainbows outside our window.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

Fatigue set in at this point, as we contemplated the rest of the trip. Neither of us had any heart to do any more hard climbing after this, and fortunately it looked like we could mosey along the Inn River and then climb back into Germany over Ursprung pass (836m). We decided that we could use an extra day in Munich to visit my old friends at the Google office, as well as spend some time in Schliersee, since it was supposed to have good hiking.