Monday, November 5, 2012

Lance's Bike Adventure... EUROPE 2012 Part 1

Part One

In Memory of my friend, Tom Wingate.
Tom asked me before I went on this trip, "Why would I want to do a tour on my own". Thinking about it brought me to this answer. You may be traveling Alone but you are never Lonely.

Destination Innsbruck, Austria via Frankfurt, Germany via Dulles, Washington from Orlando, Florida

Nothing like rushing to an airport. My fault, couldn't seem to decide what to wear, not!  Just disorganized.
Tight connection in Washington. Landed late and parked as far as possible from my next departure gate.
Ran for the first time in ten years, I am a cyclist after all.
Made the gate just as flight to Frankfurt was boarding.  

Found my seat, got organised.
After two false starts trying to leave the gate, 45 minute stop on the side of the taxiway, we are finally in the air. Two plus hours late with another tight connection in Frankfurt.

Not to much to say about United's service, there wasn't any!
Needless to say, late leaving, giant airport, tight connection, equals new flight time.
The small Austrian Airline I flew from Frankfurt to Innsbruck was awesome.

Landed 1400hrs and decided to get a room at The Penz Hotel, 500 meters from the terminal.

Having pre booked the last night of my tour at this hotel, allowed me leave my empty suitcases with them for the duration of the trip at no extra cost.

Fortunately they had a room.
 Temp was 40c, hottest day they had had all summer and I believe it was a record.
I left all my belongings in my room and walked the 5km into downtown Innsbruck for lunch, wandered the town for awhile then returned to the hotel.
 Spent the evening building my bike, did a short test ride into town before
 hitting the sack excited about getting on the road in the morning.

Rise and shine at 0600
Beautiful sunrise from my hotel room. I made the most of the full buffet breakfast, finished packing and hit the trail at 0800.

The weather turned just as I was leaving the hotel. Light showers for the first couple of hours. 

I have a great rain suit and was too excited about finally being on the road to care about a little rain.
My goal for the day was a town called Landeck, it is approx. 100kms west along the Inn River.

The trail along the Inn is a mixture of farm tracks, village roads and bicycle pathways, traffic is very light. The train track also follows the river into Landeck.

The closer you get to Landeck the more exciting the river becomes, there are many rafting companies plying their trade.
Even though my visit was in July, the spring melt was still in full flow because of the large winter snow pack.

The pastures looked incredible with all of the flowers out on display

 These are typical information maps that you find along the trail.
Since I covered the 100km faster than anticipated arriving in Landeck around 1300hrs, I decided to push on to Phunds approx. 60km away on the trail.

One of the things so convenient about the trail systems, there is always a fresh supply of water along the route.

After stopping for lunch in Landeck I headed up to Phunds looking for a campsite, hopefully on the river.

Beautiful section of trail along the valley, pretty typical of the great views

Crossing one of the many small hydro dams along the Inn

 Got into Phunds around 1700hrs.
Got myself a nice tent site at the only campground in town, actually about 3km out of town.
Price was right, 8.00euro, with wifi and very nice shower/ laundry facilities.
Set up camp and headed to the grocery store for a much needed human fuel supply.

 Very friendly town, met the first of many other cycle tourists on this trip while I was buying dinner. He was in his 60's and on the road for 3 months.

My 700 x 37 tires, sure am glad I purchased these babies. Thanks Don C. for the great review on them.
They proved their worth the next day.


Up with the sun, or should say, lack of sun.
Heading into Switzerland today with my goal being St Moritz

Looking back at Austria as I am about to head into  into Switzerland. Uphill all day, nothing too crazy, nice easy grade as I make my way to Susch where I stopped for lunch.

One of the many train viaducts that I would come across during my time in Switzerland.

Had to stop at this point for a little snack and figure out the route. When I stopped for lunch, I met a couple who told me that the Official Bike Route from Susch to St Moritz was well worth the effort.
    During the morning ride I had deliberately avoided the trail as the road was very quiet and the mileage was flying by with 60 km's under my belt. At the rate I was going, I thought I would have the tent up by 1400hrs in St Moritz. Keep in mind, I am riding a fully loaded touring bike weighing close to
80lbs all up along with a 200lb rider.

As I left Susch, I decided to try the trail route, 40km(25mile) how hard could it be.
My first clue was a trail sign proclaiming 750 meters of Elevation gain.

The trail would rise and fall, dropping through villages down along the river then back up into the hills.

                   These cobbles are amazing, very smooth to ride on, just loved the patterns.

                                         Various views from the dizzying heights of the trail

At one point, after a fairly good downhill section a front rack  bolt came out allowing the right front pannier to rotate and drag along the ground. Luckily it didn't dig in and I was able to pull over and remedy the situation.
Lesson learnt, check the bolts everyday.

                       Bit of a long grunt up that section and I am starting to get tired and hungry.

                                   Fellow cyclist taking shots from the other side of the gully.

My first view of the famous Swiss Railway with the Glacier Express in the background.

 Didn't take anymore riding shots after this point till I got to St Moritz. The weather was turning, rain in the air, wind was howling and I was thrashed.
It had taken me 4hrs of hard riding to do 40 kms of trail. I got into a village and headed for the highway still with 18kms to get to my campsite.
I was on a very busy road with a solid headwind. I loved the off road section, at the time though all I could think was; if I had stayed in the valley I would have been having dinner right now and relaxing.

Anyways, made it to town, set up my tent, had a beer and enjoyed the first of my two dinners for the evening.

View of St Moritz from the southern end of town along with a shot of one of the small shacks in town

My large Shack, I stayed at the Olympic Campground right on the edge of town beside the Olympic Ski Jump.

This is a section of the Olympic Bobsleigh Course. Far different from the modern tracks designs used today. The curved wall is made of stone, the course was basically shaped by hand to create the run.

Day Three on The Road

Up at 06.30, headed into town to the COOP grocery store.
I needed to buy fuel for my Trangia cook stove, it is alcohol powered, apparently the most popular stove in Europe for light touring.
Along with fuel I stocked up on food supplies for breakfast and lunch. Yogurt in Switzerland is amazing, granola is super cheap and the fruit was awesome.

Switzerland uses the Franc, slightly less value than the Euro and more than the US$

The thing I discovered about Switzerland, eating out is super expensive, however the COOP prices are similar to shopping in a Florida supermarket.
Using the grocery stores is very cost effective on a low budget tour. The food is of very high quality and the choices are brilliant.

 The road out of St Moritz was spectacular, I was finally seeing the beautiful peaks as the cloud ceiling had lifted and the sun was shining.
I had decided to head down to Lake Como for a little warmth as the night in St Moritz had been particularly cold with the temp hitting close to zero C during the night. I had slept fully clothed brrr...

 Just about to drop down the Malojapass. Super happy to be going down, this is one spectacular climb and since its early in the trip, I am not really in great condition for a five hour uphill at this stage.

If you look carefully, you can see the switchbacks.

 Believe it or not, thats a Dam up in the alpine. Absolutely massive. From the top of the Pass to Chivianna was downhill all the way, at least until I hit the signs that said "NO CYCLISTS ON THE ROAD FROM THIS POINT" then it was up and down and back and forth. 27km on the road, 50 km on the trail!!!

                                   From here on it was onto the old road then up into the trails.

Spectacular village on route to Chiavenna from St Moritz, just a few kms from the Italian border.

                             Brilliant views of the valley. Made the extra km's worth it.

 When I arrived at Chiavenna I ran into Peter. Peter is from Holland and was on a three month trip.              We stopped off at a bakery for a coffee and snacks and rode for approx. 40kms together.

Finally arriving at the top of Lago Como, there is a ton of camping opportunities along the west side of the lake.

Grabbed a nice little campsite at a town called Cremia at 1630hrs, cost 12euro. Barely managed camp set up and everything tucked away before a massive storm hit. Found I could get free wifi, had dinner and hit the sack.

Day Four on the Road

Woke up to a beautiful cool morning with the sun coming up over the peaks

 I headed to Como after breakfast. It was a very scenic ride, super narrow roads with tons of traffic, tunnels at regular intervals, numerous ferries working the lake. Spectacular...

Looking north up the lake

Arriving at Como was a big decision point for me. A few weeks before my trip, I discovered that  friends would be at their house in the Mt Ventoux region of Southern France. The time frame to meet was only a couple of days and I would need to cover 100 to 120 kms/ day for 8 days.
Pushing myself with a loaded touring bike trying to make a deadline after 4 days was starting to take its toll mentally and physically.
This was supposed to be a holiday, I sat watching the sea planes at the Como harbor for an hour then went for lunch.
Deciding to take a couple of days rest, I headed up the middle section of the lake to the amazing town of Bellagio.

Bellagio was super crowded, not really what I was looking for. Just as I was leaving town I run into an aussie from Sydney. He was having trouble shifting gears on his roadie bike so I did a quick tuneup for him and during our chat, he told me about a little town 10 km out of town called Barni.
The ride there was pretty crazy, once again very narrow roads with the vehicles blasting their horns on all of the blind corners to let you know of their presence. At one point I was ripping down through some super sweet curves not really paying attention, suddenly brake lights caught my attention, hard on the brakes sliding the loaded Surly to a very abrupt stop a car length pass the last vehicle in line. I ended up on the wrong side of the road. No harm no foul!

                                     Very happy to make camp in such a beautiful location.

These guys are heading out for a spot of training, haven't researched it but it appears to be a ferry boat, probably used on the lake in the past and now for racing?

 Every morning the colour changed as you looked around the lake, another view from the tent

 Awsome little pizzeria at the campground. 14euro for salad, pizza and beer. Made friends with a wonderful couple from the Netherlands. Camping is such a great way to connect with people.


                  After a two night stay I headed back to Bellagio to catch the ferry across the lake. Made          the decision not to go to France afterall.

 One of Bellagio's tiny little streets, very popular tourist destination. Aussies must love this area, the               place was full of them.
On the ferry heading for Cabenabbia. Ferries run up and down the lake. My ride was very short and cost around 6 euro for the bike and me, saving me at least 4 hours of ride time on roads I had already done.

                                                 Looking over at Cabenabbia/ Menaggio

                                                                  View of Bellagio

                                          Having lunch in the center of Menaggio

After a 30 km ride up a nice little pass from Menaggio, I arrived at the Village of Portezza at the head of Lago Lugano
For 14 euro I got a great campsite right on the lake. Campground had a well stocked store with fresh baked goods, chicken, pasta and Italian beer for dinner

Once again I met another Dutch family, they lived in Zealand and coming from New Zealand made a good first impression. Great people, lent me a camp stool and allowed me to charge my electrical equipment at there site.
Started to take pictures of the brilliant flowers along the route.

Looking up the lake toward the City of Lugano. The ride from Portezza to Lugano was spectacular, a few kms from Lugano I left Italy and re-entered Switzerland for the second time on my trip

                                                          Looking back to Portezza.

                                            I love my Surly, its a great all around touring bike.

You can ride both sides of the Lake, the other side seemed to be a popular route for the local roadies on a loop ride back to Como.

Rode way too long without eating properly through a fairly industrial valley on a Sunday. Finally found myself looking down at Bellazona, my destination for today.

                 Looking in the opposite direction was the Lago Maggiofe and the city of Locarno.

Couldn't find the campground on my arrival in Bellazona so I got a room at the International Hostel.
Very expensive, 75 swiss francs for a night, does include breakfast and I needed a good nights sleep.

Link to Bellazona, it is a World Heritage site. The old city is built within the castle walls.


The start of a truly epic day. Leaving Bellazona and heading to the village of San Bernadino at an elevation of 2069 meters, 49 kms of climbing. 

Looking back at Bellazona.

I am taking the right fork, Route 6.

Typical Route Sign

 Map of Swiss National Bike Routes with the square at bottom right showing the region I am in.

                                                      Looking back down the valley.

                    Magnificent view throughout, the route crossed between the old road and trails.

                                      The houses in this area are built right into the rock.

Complete house built of local rock, even the roof was built of 2" thick Slate. Would love to know the age.

                                                This Castle was perched up on a little peak.

                                                     Sections of the new highway.

My lunch spot. You have to carry plenty of food in these areas. Stores close right at 12 noon and open again around 3.00pm. If you hit a village during these hours you are out of luck unless you find a restaurant open!!

Making some good elevation gains through here. Some of the steepest tour climbing I have ever done coming up.

 Stopped at a little roadside cafe for a coffee and a refill of the water bottles before climbing the last stretch up to San Bernadino.

You can ride this route off or on road.

Topo maps showing the route, I am stopping at the village and will climb the last 1200' tomorrow

Doesn't look much, probably 20% grade, definitely the steepest climb for me on a loaded touring bike. I was using a 22- 34 gear and sitting on the front of the seat. I never had to use that gear on any of the other 8 passes that I rode including the Stelvio.

 Finally reached San Bernadino. After checking at the local tourist info office, I got a nice room at a local hotel for 49 swiss francs. Great restaurant in my hotel and as usual breakfast included in the price.

Everywhere you look, just incredible views.


Being at 6000 plus ft the morning temp was cool, I had purchased a warm vest the night before having left mine at home, regretted that decision.
Had a great breakfast and started on another very long day. First off, 400meters up to the top of the pass.

 Once again the day started with incredible views. 400 meters of elevation gain took 1 1/2hrs and  10 km's of road to reach the top of the pass. Nothing fast about touring the alps loaded.

                 Plenty of military out in the mountains of Switzerland, being summer it was all go.
                                 Note the mock Tank and the grey marks are fake soldiers.

                                                               Almost at the top

                                               My first of Eight Passes in Seven Days!!

                         Someone was pretty much always available to take "THE SHOT"

                      Always a spot at the top of every climb for a bite to eat or a coffee.

                                            This couple took my photo at the elevation sign.

After a great climb comes the great descent.

30 minutes to get down to an amazing valley which went on for miles through the most spectacular farmland

I stopped in at the village of Splugen to pick up supplies for lunch.

Time for lunch.
What a back drop.

I had lunch at the right end of the large lake. From this point the valley narrowed up as I headed to the town of Thusis. I am about to head into the most amazing canyon section of road.

The large valley I had been riding through for most of the day suddenly narrowed into this amazing canyon.

It's remarkable what people tour on in Europe. These tourists are riding very basic bikes. The majority of people I saw rode with flat pedals

Steps from the road down to the canyon floor going through a maze of tunnels to reach the bottom.

Looking across at the original trail before the bridges were built.

Turns out this is the upper waters of the Rhein.

Looking down at the town of Thusis.
 Thusis was to be my destination for the night. I pulled up to the local Coop grocery store to get supplies and saw two loaded touring bikes parked in the rack. I would run into Martin and Blanka from the Czech Republic four more times on my trip.
Anyways, for some crazy reason, once I found the store, I decided not to go in and headed to the campground to get setup and come back to the store.
Reaching the campground I discover that there is no campground until october because it is under construction.
Deciding not to ride up the hill to the store because HEY, there's got to be another one in town was a wrong choice. I start riding and immediately find myself out of town riding in the rain towards Fillsur another 40 km away.
I caught Martin and Blanka, rode together for a few climbs then ran into two Swiss girls riding to Venice with the most amazing setup.
Setting off up a big climb, I left the others behind and ending up in the village of Tiefencastle eating some baked goods and drinking coffee whilst chatting to a local couple about British Columbia, New Zealand and the US.

                                                                 Blanka and Martin

                                                                    The Glacier Express

When you don't stop for groceries, this is what you get. Fortunately I had Muesli, Yogurt and mixed fruit left over to make a huge concoction. Hey Presto dinner with plenty of hot tea.
Couldn't wait for the next day to get to the Coop and load up my bags with food for what was going to be another epic day.
The Albula Pass at almost 7600ft being the challenge of the day.

Our campsite in the village of Fillsur, real nice place with a great little bar. The owner of the camp was a very funny lady. The swiss girls had a single walled tent that just popped open, they towed a trailer full of amazing luxury, full size pillows, blankets etc. Great girls with a very positive attitude. They wrote to me after I got home and said how they finished their journey making it to Venice
I was very impressed by their tenacity.

Tee Pee's are huge in Switzerland, Northern Italy, and Austria; up in the mountains the wild west lives on.

It was quite the gathering of cyclists, we were joined by 10 French mountain bikers, a solo dutch rider, Swiss girls, Martin, Blanka and myself . Pretty cool.

Another amazing setup.

End of Part One

1 comment:

Tod Penberthy said...

Great trip/ride Lance--Beaut photos & commentary...Tod