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Friday, August 31, 2018

Review: Giro Manta R Cycling Shoes

One of the biggest problems with using clipless pedals for kids is the shortage of cycling shoes small enough to fit them. We are at the point where I'm using aquaseal to fix Bowen's (bought second hand) Speeder cycling shoes so that Boen will eventually get a chance to wear them.

Pardo came across a pair of Giro Manta R women's cycling shoes in size 36 (the smallest they make) in a thrift store for about $10. He bought them. On a lark, about a month before the tour I tried them on Bowen and to my surprised, if you cinch down the straps all the way, they're a slightly loose fit on him! Kids aren't going to sprint all out on the tandem, or if they do, they're usually helping you uphill, so they're not going to pull out of the shoes. Because these shoes have a strap and velcro buckling system rather than shoe-laces, Bowen immediately abandoned the Speeder. (Some day, I'd like to meet the idiot who thought that shoe laces and a velcro cover are a good idea for kids shoes)

The shoes are definitely very stiff, and despite Bowen's abuse, I haven't needed to fix them yet. The big issue is that the cleats mount in a position that's a little bit too close to the lugs on the soles. As a result, playing in a playground with gravel will occasionally pick up a stone at exactly the right spot to prevent the cleat from engaging the pedals. Whenever this happens, the stone is too tightly wedged to pull it out by hand, so you'll have to pull out your pocket knife and pry it out.

From the looks of it, Bowen will outgrow these shoes long before he wears them out, and they're much nicer than his old Speeder shoes. Recommended.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Review: Smartwool Socks

I don't usually like wool stuff. It's hard to launder, slow to dry, and typical not as good as polyester, nylon, and other high tech fabrics made out of dead dinosaurs. I had a pair of wool shorts once, and it bunched up so bad I might as well have worn paper pants.

Smartwool socks, however, are a different story. We had 2 pairs of them on the trip, and they wring very well, sometimes drying even faster than the lighter cotton socks. They stay warm when wet, and obviously when your son has feet barely big enough for his shoes it's good for socks to be a little thicker. They're expensive but have survived the tour pretty well.


Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Review: Detla Cycle Elastonet

When we're at home and only have a light load, we use the Performance Transit trunk bag. When we're touring, our Robert Beckman panniers are enough for most of our every day equipment, but there are times when we need to carry a little more for usually not a long distance, such as when we buy food at a supermarket and ride to a picnic area.

For that, even the weight of the transit bag is too much. We wanted something even lighter. The Delta Cycle Elastonet is made of elastometer and weighs 56g. It's got 4 hooks, and can be stored on our rack empty without trouble. Throughout our tour, the hooks never came off the rack, even when we were bouncing on dirt road or bike path.

The net stretches sufficiently to carry a helmet on the day when we gave our panniers to the Mapo van and had the luxury of riding up the Stelvio unloaded. I'd say it can carry a basketball with no room for any other item on the rack. It was obviously enough to carry lunch on any given day.

The item is more than worth the weight and price. It's so useful that now that we're home, I still keep it on the bike. Recommended.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Review: Dell Tek Backpack 15.6"

3 years ago, I bought the Dell Tek 15.6" backpack for about $10 (including a bunch of coupons and a rebate), and I've been using it ever since on almost all my trips, and for Bowen's swimming lessons. It's an incredibly versatile pack and much lighter than the standard backpacks given out for free by Google to employees, for instance.

A typical loadout for a trip with Bowen across the Atlantic includes a tablet, a couple of Vitas, the Kindle, all bicycle electronics and assorted chargers, the CPAP machine, mask and all accessories, a full night's change of clothes for both of us, on-plane toiletries, and whatever other miscellaneous items that absolutely wouldn't have fit in our checked-in luggage. The backpack swallows all this with ease, and despite my repeated over-stuffing of the pack I've not broken it, and the backpack remains comfortable to wear. I prefer it as carry-on luggage to any other backpacks I have in, and given that I've had to carry it along with dragging a roll-on luggage, Bowen, and Bowen's camelbak all at the same time, I can confirm that it makes a nice platform for Bowen to rest on in a fireman's carry.

The newer models go for north of $50 on Amazon and other sites, but as of this writing you can get the exact model I have for $25 direct from Dell, which makes it a great deal. Highly recommended.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Review: Columbia Kids Outdry Hybrid Jacket

Bowen already had a Marmot Kids rain jacket, but I noticed that it wasn't very effective in the rain during last year's tour. The inside of the jacket would be wet when it was raining outside. Fortunately, the England trip never went very high, and getting a little damp when it's not cold is OK. For this year's trip, I wanted something much more effective. Having used the Columbia Hybrid rain jacket, I figured I would give their kids rain jacket a try.

Ironically, it didn't rain on us at all during this year's trip, which did involve the Stelvio, the highest pass in Italy. But Bowen did test the rain jacket in the Hollentalklam, and it worked really well. The inside was bone dry, and his rain pants held up as well.

Both pieces of equipment come highly recommended.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Thoughts: Mountain Touring with a Child

I didn't intend this year's trip to turn into a tour of the Alps, but Bowen turned out to be far more enthusiastic about mountains than I expected. When I compare our touring statistics with say, my 2007 tour, we did about 2/3rds as much distance and about 1/3rd the amount of climbing, but in exchange we didn't have any days where we were stuck due to bad weather. Looking back at my trips over the years, I can see that better information technology in terms of smart phones and better weather forecasting models meant that we're much less likely to be stuck in one spot due to thunderstorms, and the corresponding value of not making reservations and being able to change directions at the drop of a hat have increased. Of course, I'm also more conservative when traveling with Bowen: there were many days when with an adult group I would have risked climbing into a storm where I demurred because kids are more prone to heat and cold stress.

When climbing big mountain passes with your 6-year old on the back of a tandem, it's tempting to think about how he's never out of breath no matter how steep the hills are, and think about how little work he's doing. But this is the wrong way to frame things: instead, think about how much time he's happy to share with you, and how much joy you're having from hearing him laugh and say the words, "This is just too pretty." In many cases, Bowen's asking for a break, or an early stop in the day led me to discover wonderful new stuff that I would normally overlook. Sure, in some ways, it's a preview in some ways of a future where I can no longer ride 100km with 3000m of elevation gain a day while carrying luggage, but it also showed me that a tour of the Alps is meaningful even if you're taking 2 days to climb the Stelvio. And of course, traveling with your child on the back of a tandem means that when you ask for help from a passing motorist or support van, there's no one who will have the heart to turn you down.

I was surprised that Bowen never asked for a Disney-world trip and would ask for cycling tours and sailing trips instead. But I shouldn't have been surprised: maybe the reason more kids don't ask for cycling tours and live-aboard sail trips is quite possibly because they've never had the option! It could very well be that kids who want to go to Disneyland do so because it's the most excitement and fun they've had in their parent-curated life. Jeff Rothschild once told me that the first time he took his family to a backroads cycling tour, at the end of the trip his children asked him, "Why did you wait so long before doing this?"

Executing an independent cycle tour is not for everyone. But there are many ways of touring (all covered in my book). Most of them are very cheap (Hint: Americans do cycle tours most expensively. The same tour sold by an European/UK operator is usually 50-75% discounted compared to the prices shown to Americans. In the case of certain expensive American tour companies, it could be as much as 90% off. With the internet available, there's never any need to pay American prices), so there's no reason you can't go on a bike trip with your family. And of course, now that e-bikes are common and easy to rent in Europe, even hills should no longer stop you.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Epilogue: Trains and Old friends

Buying the train tickets, I made a mistake, which was to buy a group ticket instead of a single day ticket for me and a single child ticket for Bowen. Not only did I end up paying more, it would make it much harder to sell the tickets later. My phone's slow internet made it tough to find the optimal train to take for easy train changes, but Thomas Bottinger, who owned 2 tandems with his wife and ridden all over Europe and the US, not only helped us figure out that we wanted to change in Pasing, but helped us carry the bike down and up and onto the train! He was going with us until Pasing, so we got a chance to chat. Europe is so much better about cycling culture than the US: he told me that when he dropped his children off to school by tandem, the other kids would swarm around and beg to ride that cool bike. Upon reflection, I can't ever remember that happening to me in the USA!

Once in the Munich Hilton, they graciously got out our bike and wheel boxes. I took apart the bike and stuck the frame into the big box and gave it back to them. This time, bystanders helped me pack, though even with help it still took me a good 90 minutes to get things into a state where I could stick things into the wheel case and move into the room to finish packing. By this time it was 5:00pm, and we did our shower and then went out to buy chocolate.

Alan Wissenberg and Daniel Vogelheim had agreed to meet us for dinner, but I pre-fed Bowen some airport sushi in case they were held up or the service was slow. It turned out though, that the Airport Biergarten, Airbrau, was itself a brewery! The beer on tap was excellent. Alan had train troubles getting in, but he was resourceful and found us.
We finished the night late, chatting late into the night, but we had plenty of time the next morning anyway, though I was glad I went to the airport early, as we got stuck in a broken-down elevator in between floors while getting to the United checkin counter!
Fortunately, Bowen stayed calm and in typical German fashion, it only took 20 minutes for the technicians to come and rescue us. After checking in, we waited for Manuel Klimek and his family so we could meet his baby.

The airport had no less than 4 passport controls between us and the gate, so we had to move at a good clip, though we stopped to buy some Kinder surprise eggs, chocolate that  was banned in the US because they were considered a choking hazard.

On the flight, Bowen fell asleep only in the last hour, so I ended up having to carry his backpack, my backpack, our carryon, and him on my shoulders on our way to passport control. One flight attendant saw me and said: "You must be the best dad in the world!" I smiled at her, not mentioning that this was far easier than the mountains we'd already climbed together in Europe.

Xiaoqin picked us up soon after we'd gotten out of the terminal, and I was soon driving home. After 3 weeks of not driving, American roads with way too many cars moving too fast felt strange, but I got used to it.


Wednesday, August 22, 2018

July 3rd: Garmisch-Partenkirchen to Tutzing

We woke up to cloudy skies. I packed everything and then went downstairs to check on the bike. I was pleased that the front tire was not flat. We had a big breakfast, and then when we checked out the owner told us that she needed cash, as she had no way to take credit card payments. We rode out to downtown but uncharacteristically, it took us 2 tries to find an ATM that worked!
We turned on our GPS navigator and started riding. We felt a rain drop here and there, but overall, it didn't look like thunderstorm weather. We used Google Maps routing on the Wahoo this time, and while it was mostly OK, there were times when its idea of a bike path was questionable:
This was somewhat familiar country to me, since it was close to Munich and I'd spent a good several months riding in the Bavarian country side every weekend: hills, river side dirt paths, and lots of towns with Onion domed churches. In Murnau, I found the bike feeling heavy and asked Bowen to check the back tire. "It's not flat," he said. I looked down and found that it was the front tire that was flat. Of course, the flat had to occur on a busy road with no shade right after we'd escaped all threat of rain. We pulled off to the sidewalk, I pulled out the front tire's tube but the hole was so small that I couldn't find it, and the road was so noisy that no matter how hard I listened I couldn't hear the hiss of air escaping the tube. I examined the tire but couldn't find a hole or foreign object stuck in it, so I shrugged and put in the other tube.
After that, the road started climbing steadily. The climb was fairly straightforward, taking us through forest lands and nicely enough, taking us away from main roads. In the small town of Habash, we stopped to eat the snacks we'd brought, trying to finish what was left of the power gels that we'd carried all throughout our tour so far. It turned out that the descent into Starnberg lake happened soon after.
The cloudy weather had caught up with us again, but now that the end was in sight, we knew we'd make the deadline no matter what. The bike path took us along the lake on dirt roads that slowly got smaller and smaller until we finally got to a single-track.
Once we got past the Tutzing city limit signs however, it didn't take 3 minutes of riding before we found the train station sign pointing us uphill. Since we didn't depart Tutzing via the bike path, it took a while for me to find the area familiar, but soon I saw the little square where we'd started from so many days ago. We stopped and bought snacks for the train, and then looked for the train ticket machines. Our tour was over.


Tuesday, August 21, 2018

July 2nd: Zugspitze

After breakfast, I walked outside to put our borrowed backpack on the bike and then realized that we had a flat on the front tire. I took the front wheel off, examined the inner-tube, and found that a patch had failed. My frustration was compounded when the brand-new-in-box Vavert inner tube that we had carted up and down the alps in the pannier had a flat in the seam! In disgust, I threw away the tube, and made a note never to buy those inner tubes again. I had another pre-patched tube ready to go, so I put that in the tire and repatched the older tube.

After the entire process was over, we went downtown to buy sandwiches for the trip, and also hydro-cortisone, because Bowen was complaining of itchiness, possibly due to some insect bites from the hiking yesterday. Google Maps showed a 300m climb in 10km or so, but the ride to Grainau yesterday had very little climbing, so I guessed it had to be a pretty steep climb at the end. Indeed, I was right. The last 3km went up 10-12% grade, made much worse by the bike path which turned out to be unpaved. We ended up having to walk the last little bit. As we climbed, we observed that the car traffic wasn't that bad, and we should have just stuck with the main road and ignore the bike path signs.
The cable car up to the top of Zugspitz is a relatively new entry, only having been completed in the last year. In fact, they were still building out the top. While the older train took a good 90 minutes to get to the top, the cable car only took 15 minutes. We brought warm clothing, since the altitude at the top was 2900m, taller than even the top of Stelvio pass!
While it was sunny and warm at the bottom (near Elbsee), it was a partly cloudy, which meant that the fog would sweep in and out. This was fine, as we had plenty of time to out-wait the clouds, which were moving fast. At the top station, there's several walkways, one of which took you to the Austrian side of the mountain, so we did managed to get in one last border crossing:

The ticket also gave you a free ride down to the glacier area, which is a ski resort in winter. In fact, there was a snowfield big enough for kids to go sledding on (with a rental charge for the sleds), but it didn't look fun enough to Bowen for him to try.

Bowen got to spend some time playing in the snow. Since this was effectively a rest day after yesterday's massive effort, we took our time walking around and admiring the scenery, after which we took the cable car back to the summit restaurant, found a spot to watch the clouds move, and ate our sandwiches.
Back down at the Elbsee, it was warm and we rode to the lake side, but Bowen decided against riding around the lake. I settled for talking him into taking a picture with me and then we rode back to Garmisch, where once again we had ice cream.
After that, I talked Bowen into letting me take him to the Garmisch swimming pool, since our guest house had given us passes that let us in for free. He was reluctant, because he was still sore from yesterday, but I told him he'd have fun there, and we'd leave quickly if it wasn't. Well, all mentions of soreness disappeared when he saw the giant-sized water slide in the pool and took a ride. This was a 3 story ride, which meant that for every one of his 20 runs on that slide, he climbed 3 flights of stairs. Clearly, the soreness doesn't mean anything when there's a water slide involved!
Of course, by the time we got back and got showered and laundered, he was once again too sore to walk to dinner. This time, I took him to the Asian buffet. The sushi was terrible, but he hadn't had any for 3 weeks, so he went at it like it was going out of style. I looked at the forecast, and it called for thunderstorms in Garmisch the next day, but it would be sunny in Munich. What that meant was that we needed to head North as early and quickly as possible in the morning. I suggested going to Wolfrathausen, which I was familiar with and knew the ice cream shop. It was a little longer but had less climbing. Bowen wanted to return to Tutzing so he could complete a loop, even though we'd already broken the loop by taking all those train transfers.
After much thinking, I decided Bowen was right: the route to Tutzing paralleled the main train line, which meant that if we got into trouble or ran late, we could catch the train directly to Munich. The main constraint was that we had to get to the airport by 4:00pm, after which the S-Bahn wouldn't allow bikes in the cars. The Woflrathausen route had no such fallback. I plotted both routes on Komoot just in case. Of course, if it really did pour after breakfast, we could just roll into the train station and hop onto the easy train to Munich.


Monday, August 20, 2018

July 1st: Hollental Klamm

After breakfast, we packed our rain gear into the backpack so kindly loaned to us by the owner of Guesthouse Nicole, got on the bike and rode my pre-programmed route to Grainau, where the trailhead for the Hollentalklamm was to begin. The day was partly cloudy, and it felt warm, but I anticipated it being wet in the gorge. We rode past the parking lot and onto the trail, past the restaurant. It being a Sunday, there was a steady stream of hikers going from the parking lot to the trailhead, and once on the trail, there was also a continuous stream of hikers. Maybe the people density wasn't as dense as what I continuously saw during our Japan trip, but it was at least 20-40% of what we saw then. There were so many people continually coming up or down the trail that during the hike, it was a major problem to find a place to pee! The flip-side of this was that you saw all shapes and sizes on the trail, including several elderly folks who had hiking sticks.
We eventually got to a point where it was impossible to ride the bike any further, there being a series of steps up the trail. We got off the bike and locked it, changed Bowen into hiking sandals and then started hiking up. Right past the steps there was a clearing and a dirt road led off to one side. We would later figure out that it was a road used by cars to deliver supplies to the Hollentalanger Hut, the mountain hotel/hut/restaurant up the hill.

The initial part of the hike went through the forests and was easy walking, mostly featuring a stream next to it, no doubt fed by the gorge above. We then arrived at a cable car station, but the cable looked like wires: too small for human carriage, and we would later understand that it was used to ferry supplies up to the hut. (Supplies too big to fit in the cable car were dropped by helicopter) Past this point, the trail got more rugged, once again featuring steps and stairs, but still very easy going. When we got to the Klamm, I paid my entry fee, and Bowen was free because he was 6 years old. He was very unhappy not needing a ticket.
Gorge hikes are somewhat unique to Europe. At least, I've never seen them as frequently as I see them in the Alps, where it seems that every gorge has been engineered for hikers to visit (and pay a fee to do so). It's hard to describe, but fortunately I shot several videos. You get to walk along a walkway, with water running underneath, and in some cases above you, with the spray of water. The closest you can get in the San Francisco Bay Area would be to hike the Steep Ravine trail in the winter in the middle of a rainstorm, something I've done and consider very fun. But even that wouldn't describe the scale and the sound of water rushing through like a jet-engine. Of course, the trade off is that if you were to do the Steep Ravine trail in a rainstorm in winter, you're likely to get a wilderness experience and get the place to yourself. In Hollentalklamm on a weekend in Germany, you're just going to get lots of people in your pictures, and be continually negotiating with people going the other way, or moving over to let faster hikers overtake you and your Bowen.
The initial part of the gorge was dry, but pretty soon, I found a landing and got out the rain gear and put it on Bowen, and put on my rain pants and rain jacket myself, the only time I would do so on the entire trip. (I'm not complaining: it's great to have a bike tour in Europe where I'm not constantly putting on rain gear!!) Bowen did what every 6-year old does when confronted with water while wearing rain gear. He put it to the test by deliberately standing under waterfalls, stepping into puddles (he was wearing sandals and so got his wool socks very wet, though they stayed warm)
Once out of the hike, the scenery opened up, and we got to see some mountains! I then made the mistake of asking a German hiker an improperly worded question. I asked if the hike was a loop or an out-and-back. She said, "Yes, there are ways to make it a round trip." I didn't pay attention to her odd phrasing. What I should have realized was that I needed to ask a follow-up question: "How do I make a loop out of this hike?" As it was, I just followed other hikers up the mountain until we got to Hollentalanger hut. There, we ordered lunch and ate it, and I saw another family I'd seen earlier, and asked them which way to go to complete the loop? The answer: "Hike back down!"
It turned out that the loop fork was way down back near the exit of the Hollental Klamm! We got to the fork and turned off, since there was what looked like a mountain cave along the stairs, but that turned out to be a disappointment. Then some hikers told us that this was the loop, and that it would take 20 minutes longer. Bowen decided that it was a good idea to see something new, rather than retracing our steps, so we went on it.
The alternate path was gorgeous, granting us beautiful views of the mountains from high above the gorge, but of course, that meant that we had to do quite a bit more climbing, and for Bowen at least, it was much more than 20 minutes longer. I started to worry that we had been mis-led, but then the trail suddenly took a dive down to a bridge that crossed back over the gorge: we could see the gorge below, and then we realized that we had seen a fork off before the entry to the Hollentalklamm, so I became less worried. At which point Bowen said he need to go to the bathroom. I quickly borrowed some tissue paper from another hiker, but we couldn't find a place that wasn't exposed. Fortunately, the need passed.
By the time we got back to the bike, my GPS had said 12 miles of hiking. Even if I'd carried Bowen for 2 of those miles, that was a lot of hiking for a little kid. There was no question that we were not going to make the Zugspitz that day. We rode down the path, and now I was grateful that I was persistent about riding up as high as I could: downhills are way easier on a bike than on foot, and I was skilled enough to handle the mild-off roading this involved.

We rode back to Garmish and got an ice cream each downtown. Bowen wasn't done with his lessons for the day, though! When he ordered the ice cream and the server gave him a cup with a cookie, he asked: "Why do I get a cookie?" At which point she assumed that he didn't like the cookie, picked it off his cup and threw it away, and gave him a windmill instead! He was quite upset about it. I had to explain that when someone gives you what you want, the best thing to do is to say "Thank you," and shut up. There's no way for the situation to improve by talking. I'm not sure if he fully understood what I said, but at least he enjoyed the windmill a little bit.

My tough little guy was now too sore to walk to dinner, so after our shower and laundry routine, I rode the bike to a nearby restaurant and we didn't have to do any more extra walking. I promised him that tomorrow would be an easy day, mostly cable car rides.


Friday, August 17, 2018

June 30th: Lindau to Garmisch Partenkirchen

The whole point of making it to Lindau was to make use of the Bayern ticket. With the ticket, you can travel all throughout Bavaria using as many local trains as you like, all day. The catch is that you must use the local trains, and unless it's a weekend, you can only use the train after 9:00am. Well, it was a weekend, but the train from Lindau to Garmisch didn't leave until 10:00am, so we had time to leave the hotel at 9:06, take pictures and say farewell to the Bodensee, screw up and go the wrong way and still make it to the train station with plenty of time to buy train tickets.
The first of the trains we needed to take was an Alex train. It had narrow corridors and was a massive pain to get a tandem on, but once you're in, you get these massive private compartments where the two of you can spread out and lounge around in.

Surprisingly enough, the train from Lindau to Garmisch-Partenkirchen did not go through Munich, as I would have expected, but switches in Kempton for a train to Reutte (which is in Austria), and from Reutte we had to take the train to Garmisch. Being German, the train schedule was setup so that we never  had to switch platforms for a transfer. We could just stay on the same platform and either switch sides or get on the next train that arrived on that platform. Because getting off at Kempton was a pain, I enlisted the help of other cyclists to assist with the transfer. The nice thing about the bike car being so big was that nearly everyone in the car was a cyclist and hence eager to help!
Once on the Reutte train, we got to see some Austrian scenery, which reminded me once again that I had yet to explore the part of Bavaria that connected Kempton/Lindau to Reutte. From the window, it looked gorgeous, and I guess I should have considered riding instead of taking the train, but what was done was done.
Local trains are slow. By the time we got to Garmisch, it was nearly 2:00pm. But the train we were on from Reutte was going to link up with another train to get to Munich, and we got to watch that and even capture it on video!

After watching that, we got off the train station, found a supermarket, and then found a little city park nook to picnic in. It was gorgeous, with a stream running through it, and a place you could sit and dip your feet into the water! The bread was also delicious.
We checked into the guesthouse, and I asked the owner about Partnach Klamm, and she said that it was closed because of high water, but I could check at the ski center for further details. I was disappointed, but we figured we had nothing to lose, it being too late in the day to do anything else, so we rode out there after leaving all our luggage at the guesthouse.

Indeed, we were told that the Partnachklamm was closed, but the Hollentalklamm, which I hadn't been, was still open. The tourist information person gave me a map, and when I looked at it, I said, "Oh, it looks like we can do both Hollentalklamm and the Zugspitze in the same day. Can we ride up to the Klamm?" She said she thought it might be possible, but didn't provide more details. Well, our trip wasn't wasted: we stopped by a supermarket to  buy some shampoo/body wash, and then on the way back downtown we saw that everyone was wearing white!
When we went to dinner, our waitress told us that tonight was "White Night", apparently a huge party and an excuse to listen to music/DJ and dance. Our waitress also confirmed that it had actually been raining hard in the afternoons over the last few days in Garmisch, indicating that we weren't being lied to about rain in the mountains. Back in town, we stuck out like sore thumbs, not having  brought anything white to wear.


Thursday, August 16, 2018

June 29th: Chur to Lindau

Hoping to avoid as much of the headwind as possible, we ate the 6:30am breakfast and got on the road at 7:50am. That early in the morning, the bike path was pretty and we even found a zipline pretty early!
Bowen complained that we weren't doing sufficient climbing, but I told him that this was where all the ziplines were. Also, that if we got to Lindau (which wasn't required), we'd traverse 4 countries today, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, and Germany! That got him to perk up, which was good, because otherwise, there's actually very little to recommend this ride. I've done it far too often, and usually it's in circumstances like this: escaping from the mountains into the low lands in anticipation of poor weather.
At the intersection with Landquart, I saw the sign for the climb up to Davos for access to the Fluela pass: it would climb 800m over the next 34km, very gently. But Fluela was out of the question (and if anything, the descent down to Landeck from Zernez would have even more headwind), so we kept going down river until near the border with Liechtenstein the Rhine river opened up and granted us what would be the same scene for the next 50km.
The nature of the Rhine river bike path is that it's pretty for the first 10 minutes and boring for the rest of it, especially in the direction of the headwind. At the Liechtenstein border, we switched sides of the river so that Bowen could say he'd traversed the country.
We tried detouring into Liechtenstein to try to get our passports stamped, but somehow missed all the signs to the tourist information office. I was under the mistaken impression that the post office could do it as well, but no, only the tourist information could stamp our passports. We gave up and kept going down river, against an increasing headwind, which bogged us down to a speed around 10mph.

At the border with Austria, we found another zipline playground, which Bowen thought was a lot of fun.
While Bowen played on the zipline I tried looking for hotels in the direction where we were going. Since our goal was the Lindau train station the next day, we could potentially stay in either Switzerland, Austria, or Germany and still be well within striking distance of the train station. Switzerland was so expensive it wasn't even in consideration. To my surprise, Bregenz was also really expensive, so that left Lindau, which wasn't much cheaper, it being a Friday night. We ended up at the Best Western in Lindau, mostly because it had AC and had really good reviews that claimed that it was nothing like any other Best Western you'd stayed at.
By the time we were at the Bodensee, Bowen was thoroughly bored, and didn't even want to take a picture. We rode through Bregenz, and saw a zipline playground, but it had as many as 5-6 kids sharing the zipline, and Bowen decided that wasn't even worth getting off the bike for. The headwind had died down by now, but we both had 70 miles in the saddle and just wanted off the bike, so we beelined straight for the hotel, stopping only to take a picture with the Bavarian coat of arms when we entered Germany.
The hotel wasn't very far from the border, in fact, and it was in a part of the neighborhood that didn't have access to the little island of Lindau. In fact, when we asked about places we could walk to for dinner, it was a 15 minute walk to anything except the McDonald's, which was practically next door. The number one rated restaurant in Lindau happened to be one of those, though, so we showered and walked over only to discover that the place was fully booked for the night, and even though no one had showed up for dinner yet they were not going to seat us, no matter how quickly we said we could be in and out.

We ended up at Restaurant Meblo's for dinner instead, which was attached to Hotel Nagel and served gourmet burgers. The hotel looked very well appointed and had a crystal clear swimming pool. If we'd known we would have stayed there instead, but perhaps it was already all booked on a Friday. This experience made me realize that I should look again at hotels in the Salzburger Lakes and Garmisch since tomorrow was a Saturday, and if we were going to stay at the Salzburg Lakes we'd have to ride from the Salzburg train station, and you do not want to arrive on a Saturday without a prior reservation.

The Salzburg Lakes proved to be surprisingly expensive. I double checked the weather, and the forecast was for it to start raining in the afternoon the next day, which would be exactly when we'd get out of the train station and would have to start to ride. Garmisch, however, turned up a guest house that would put us up for 3 nights for about 90 Euros a night, and had the benefit that a return to Munich was easily accomplished from there. I discussed it with Bowen and his preference was to stay in Germany anyway (for whatever reason he didn't like Austria except for Hahntennejoch and Landeck), so I booked the guest house in Garmisch. I remembered spending an off-site with Google Munich 10 years ago there, with a combination day hike with gorge walk and then a river rafting trip that was fun, so I knew there ought to be enough to occupy us for 3 days. And even if not, we could easily do day rides from the area!


Wednesday, August 15, 2018

June 28th: Pontresina to Filisur/Transfer to Chur

The morning looked fogged in and cloudy, but we were up early because the Sporthotel Pontresina serves breakfast at an unusually cycle tourist friendly 7:00am. We ate at the very generous breakfast buffett, and even had lactose free milk, very unusual in Switzerland. As promised by the hotel, the laundry was ready at 8:00am after we were done with breakfast, and we could finish packing and be out the door by 8:40. Sportbottles filled with sports drink and all. The fog had lifted by then, and it looked like a nice sunny day!
We didn't get far, however, as we immediately found a zipline almost immediately. It didn't keep Bowen's attention, however, as Bowen didn't think it was exciting enough. The little guy's become a zipline snob! This was my first time riding the bike path from Pontresina to La Punt. To my surprise, the bike path very pretty, filled with views of lakes and the surrounding mountains. It wasn't fast, but it was well worth the trouble, though towards La Punt it turned into a single-track mountain bike trail!
In La Punt, we stopped so I could shed my arm and leg warmers and put sunscreen on those areas, since I wasn't actually expecting it to be so sunny. The climb from La Punt doesn't waste any time gaining altitude: the bottom sections climb rapidly and relentlessly at grades of 10-12%, and it absolutely does not let up until the last couple of kilometers at the top. The deceptive part is that the altitude gained from La Punt is only 625 meters over 9.5km, but the last 2-3km the road hardly climbs at all, which is how you get the 10+% grade for the first 6. We stopped several times so I could catch my breath.
Once we got above the treeline, the weather clouded over, and now it looked as though we were actually going to get rain! The top of Albula is a barren landscape, with no trees, and no shelter whatsoever from the weather. We were very glad that we had gotten started early, so we had no doubt whatsoever about making it over the pass. We stopped so that we could put on jackets, with Bowen putting on his rain jacket over his down and getting his mittens on again.
Traffic was light, though we did see cyclists going the other direction. At  the summit hotel restaurant, we stopped for a photograph, but with the weather starting to sour, did not feel like going in for tea.

I had never descended Albula from this direction before, and the first few kilometers were straight and fast. After that, the road twists and winds around the mountains, and showed me sights I'd never seen before, because when you're climbing a mountain at maximal effort you hardly ever turn around to look back. I spotted a gorgeous lake and decided to stop the bike for a short walk to appreciate the view even further.
It looked so quiet that I couldn't believe it later, when we resumed the descent, that right below this was what looked like a strip mine or quarry. I'd ridden past that without a thought in the past, but this time it stood out against the rest of the mountain I had seen. We arrived in Bergun around lunch time. Pulling into the water fountain in the center of town, we had a choice of supermarket or a bakery. Bowen opted for the bakery.
As we were eating, we were surprised by two cyclists coming in who looked familiar! They turned out to be fellow tandemists from the Western Wheelers! They had spotted our bike out in the fountain, and said, "This has to be Piaw and Bowen. No one else has a bike that looks like this!" And of course they were right!
Bergun was one of the potential places for us to stay, but with the impending rain, it would be better to be somewhere with a train station like Filisur, or even Chur. We rode down to Filisur, and the weather looked poor enough that I decided to go for the expensive train transfer to Chur, since that was a big city with stuff to do, and quite possibly warmer as well. If I had known the weather would be clear the next morning, I would have decided to stay in Filisur and do the Lenzerheide the next day.

The train from Filisur was uncharacteristically late for a Swiss train. When we boarded it, we got into the wrong bike car: the car didn't have any room in the bike compartment for a tandem, so we were forced to block the entryway. When the conductor came, I expected him to ask us to move the bike to a more suitable car, but he said, "We don't have time to move you. Just make sure you clear the doorway whenever someone wants to exit." It's quite clear that being late caused the conductor much more anxiety than a mere blocked entryway for other passengers. All that stressing paid off, however: the train arrived in Chur on-time. After the Italian train stations, it was wonderful to be in a Swiss train station, where there were disabled ramps down to the subway and no stairs to negotiate while portaging a heavy tandem.

On, the cheaper options had very mixed reviews, so we ended up at Hotel Post Chur. I thought I'd stayed there before in the past, but in retrospect that was  mistaken memory, as my tour notes from 2007 indicated that I stayed at Hotel Chur, which is an entirely different hotel! Hotel Post was much more like a dorm-based youth hostel than a hotel, but the staff was very generous in helping me get the bike down into storage. I checked the weather once again, and the forecast was for rain in the mountains: I had toyed with the idea of riding up the Oberalp from this direction and then somehow making my way down to Meiringen and Hotel Rosenlaui in the days I had left, but the forecast didn't look good in that direction, and once we got to Rosenlaui we still had the issue of getting back to Munich, which would take multiple expensive train transfers.

Plan B was to go back to the Salzburg lakes or Garmisch. Both looked to have much better weather than the alps, but would entail riding against the headwind into the Bodensee to gain access to the German train system. Both the Austrian and Swiss train systems were quite a bit more expensive. After shower and laundry, we walked around to dinner and then bought some fruit for dessert, which Bowen preferred to ice cream or chocolate. I felt somewhat disappointed that our time in the mountains was at an end, but with a 6-year-old in tow, I didn't really want to take any risks: Bowen got cold far more quickly than any adult, and adding rain to the mix wouldn't make him happy.