Monthly Archives: September 2015

Tying Up Loose Ends

Tomorrow I head home. It will be exactly two days shy of one year when we cycled away from our home in Malaysia and embarked on the most wonderful journey of a lifetime, our “cycle for retirement.” Our trip has been winding down since arriving September 1st in the US but the last couple of days have been a stimulating way to put the final “stamp of completion” on our first long distance cycle tour.

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This picture was taken the day we started our cycle tour Oct. 1, 2015

I had the pleasure of speaking at the Cycle Touring and Travel/ Recumbent Bicycle Expo at the Sharonville Convention Center in Ohio. The very act of preparing a presentation and sharing the “Lessons Learned” from our trip served as a way to remember and share our journey with an attentive and interested audience. Speaking also helped put positive closure on our wonderful journey.

Booth at Bicycle Tour and Travel Expo
Booth at Bicycle Tour and Travel Expo

Although this convention was primarily a recumbent bicycle expo, there were many dedicated cycle tourists in attendance who have cycled thousands of miles to many corners of the world and the United States. It was delightful and inspiring to hear their stories, compare notes and get ideas for upcoming “cycles for retirement.” (Yes, there will be many more!)

Another benefit to attending the expo was that I was formally introduced to recumbent cycles and trikes. Although, I’m not ready to make the switch to this type of cycling, many of the “converts” enthusiastically swear by their decision to switch and made some pretty compelling arguments. I can see the benefit to recumbents and trikes as ways to keep many people cycling who, due to physical impairments, might otherwise have stopped. But, I still want to sit high, balance on two wheels and enjoy the scenery from the higher vantage point. Maybe someday…

Today I took the necessary steps to get my bicycle shipped home. Up until this day, I’ve always traveled with my bicycle so we never suffered the sadness of a long separation. But this final leg of my journey involves three planes and two airlines (couldn’t pass up a $19 ticket) so the logistics and expense of flying with my bike just didn’t make sense. So I rode 10 miles to the nearest bicycle shop, Trek Bicycles in Blue Ash, pre-paid for a shipping label from Fed Ex, and said a hasty “good-bye” to my trusty steed of 362 days. I crossed my fingers that it will be safe and not too lonely until we meet again at home.

I then stopped in the Chipotles near the bike shop to purchase a burrito and stuffed it in my backpack to eat at a park on the long 7.1 mile walk back to the hotel. I chose to walk home after researching the inconvenience of public transportation from the bicycle shop back to my hotel. The walk + bus + bus + walk would take longer than just walking. And a taxis would cost more than my hotel room. I’d forgotten just how difficult it is to live in the US without a car.  As hindsight is 20-20, renting a car might have been easier and less expensive, but then I wouldn’t have had the satisfaction of cycling to the finish.

So here I sit, physically ready to live in our home again but mentally not so sure….

Reading About Cycling Can Be Fun!

Book Review: It’s All About the Bike, The Pursuit of Happiness on Two Wheels, by Robert Penn
It’s been almost three weeks since I reached the end of the cycle4retirement tour . The transition from daily cycling to life with a car has been tough. I’ve missed the daily rides, the scenery, the feeling of accomplishment, and the overall fun of our cycle tour.

On a positive note, I have had more time for reading. I’ve just finished reading It’s All About the Bike, The Pursuit of Happiness on Two Wheels, by Robert Penn, and I can honestly say I got almost as much pleasure from reading this book as I do riding my bike ride. This book made me happy, taught me lots of things I didn’t know, and put into words much more eloquently than I ever could why I love cycling.

To briefly summarize, the author decides to purchase his “dream bike”. He spends the remainder of the book talking about the history of each component, finding the best components for his purposes, and traveling to the factory or source to purchase each part. The book is well-written, the research is thorough, and the style made me keep my Kindle under my pillow where it was easy to reach during the night when I kept waking up to read more.

Penn and I share a love of bicycles and the happiness they bring. When he writes,
If you’ve ever experienced a moment of awe or freedom on a bicycle; if you’ve ever taken flight from sadness to the rhythm of two spinning wheels…if you have ever, just once, sat on a bicycle with a singing heart and felt like an ordinary human touching the gods
I feel like he’s reading my mind every time I hop on the saddle. For the entire cycle4retirement, I jumped out of bed eagerly and started pedaling. I loved every day.

Penn taught me many things I didn’t know about the bicycle; its development, its place in history, and its contributions to future inventions to name a few. I know for some people, the chapter about the development of the ball bearing might sound like a “snoozer” but I, a non-mechanical person, found the chapter really interesting. It might be the fact that Eric and I had to replace several hubs and cranks due to heavily worn ball bearings that made me keen to learn that ball bearings have been around since 1883 thanks to Frederick Fischer (Father of the modern ball Bearing)

The company [Fischer] founded is still going strong. In was this, the development of precision steel spheres with extremely hard surfaces meant that the ball bearing spread to every rotating part of the bicycle, and subsequently motorbikes, airplanes, automobiles, ships, skateboards, printing presses, pretty much any machine you can think of.

 Penn helped me understand in historical context why I became so adamant about purchasing and my first 10 speed bicycle.

In 1974, the oil crisis – the OPED embargo…was in full swing. Bicycle sales were booming and the number of bike fanatics grew daily.

In was exactly 1974 when I was 14 years old and had a summer job teaching swimming lessons. I had my eye on a beautiful, blue 10 speed Nishiki with Shimano components. I was saving all my money for its purchase. However, when the time came to actually plunk down my hard-earned cash my dad stepped in and voiced his dismay, “You’ll soon be 16 and driving. You’ll never use the bike again. It’s a waste of money.”

My response was probably a bit of defiant teenager “Even if I can drive, I won’t have a car. I’ll definitely use the bike. Besides, it’s my money!”

I can proudly report that my  1974 blue Nishiki took me over many Colorado mountain passes, through four years of university, and on my first three night cycle tour from Ridgeway, Telluride, Cortez and Durango, Colorado. Reading It’s All About the Bicycle helped put my passion in historical perspective.

I highly recommend this book. If you don’t already own a bike, it will definitely help you understand more before you go to the bicycle store.

Cycling Sion to Zermatt – 112 km, 1100 m Ascent

Day 5 – Sion to Visp – 56 km + 20 (see below)

The lights changed color and as the music played along.
The lights changed color  as the music played along.

Our evening in Sion was spent lying in the grass between two very old castles (evidence of life here goes back about 7000 years) experiencing a digital light show choreographed to commissioned music. It was just the kind of rest and relaxation we needed to keep us energized for the final push of our trip.

The route from Sion to Visp  meanders along the Rhone River – a fast moving, powerful, grey colored river fed from the many glaciers surrounding the valley. The steep cliffs of the valley continued to surprise me with the quantity of vineyards and ripe grapes blanketing the hills. In my ignorance, I know I’ve drunk a Rhone wine but never realized most of the Rhone is in Switzerland.

Alex thought we should cycle up to this church.
Alex thought we should cycle up to this church.

At one point Alex saw an old church located at the top of mountain. The only access was up a narrow, cobblestone path.

“Who’s in?” he asked.
Neither of us wanting to miss an outstanding view promptly made u-turns and said, “We are!”

I knew immediately the hill was steeper than I could manage with my loaded bicycle, so I bailed off and walked about two-thirds of the way.

Alex and Emily, however, had started “hill climbing competitions” early on our trip and this “challenge” fed their desire to prove their hill-climbing finesse. They were long finished and resting in the cool shade by the time I met them at the church.

I think I was polite enough NOT to ask who won..

Just kidding. I asked. Go, Emily!!!

View from the church on the hill.
View from the church on hill near Visp.

We arrived at our destination, The Visperhof Hotel, a great place  in the center of town. We showered and met at the local cafe for a beer. When I mentioned to Alex that I would be exactly 18 km short of making my goal of 15,000km in Zermatt, Switzerland at the base of the famous Matterhorn, he said, “You should go for a short ride, right now. You’re so close. It’s an amazing goal. You’ll be sad if you don’t.”

I listened and agreed.. I picked my comfy, showered self up off the cosy bar couch, walked to my room, found some not-too-sweaty clothes and hopped back on my bike. I headed east and uphill into a head-wind towards Brig.

About 4 kilometers out of town, the bike lane ended and the traffic picked up. The road was not “biker friendly”, and I was contemplating turning back towards town and riding up and down streets until I reached my needed 18 kilometers. But just at the moment of my decision, two middle-aged, grey-haired mountain biker men rode by. They seemed to know the roads and their pace was reasonable so I jumped right in behind them to cycle in their draft for as long as they would take me, or notice I was there and may be lead for awhile.

The great thing about middle-age men cycling into a head wind is that I don’t think they ever heard me or saw that I was  enjoying a “free ride” at their expense, so to speak.
I followed the montain bikers when they turned off the main highway, but when they entered a bar to meet some other cyclists, I kept riding. My odometer read 10 kilometers so turning back to Visp would give me a few spare kilometers for meeting my goal.

The view of the bridge in Brig where I turned around. The extra 20 km was worth it.
The view of the bridge in Brig where I turned around. The extra 20 km was worth it.

I found the cycling path on the south side of the Rhone and enjoyed speeds of 39 km/h from the hard tail wind. I made it back to the bar at our hotel before Alex and Emily had even paid the tab! My extra 20 kilometers would mean I would make my 15, 000 goal the next day at the Zermatt near the “top of the world.”

Day 6 – Visp to Zermatt – 36 kilometers mostly uphill.

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One of the side roads heading uphill towards Zermatt.

This ride was:

scenic
awe-inspiring
hilly
magnificent
sometimes a little scary
windy
fun
bitter-sweet

This cute statue welcomes visitors to a small church at a top of a very steep hill.
This cute statue welcomes visitors to a small church at a top of a very steep hill.
One of the first glaciers we saw but not yet the Matterhorn.
One of the first glaciers we saw but not yet the Matterhorn.
The town of St. Nikolas purports to have the largest St. Nikolas in the world.
The town of St. Nikolas purports to have the largest St. Nikolas in the world.
If you don't want to cycle to Zermatt, it's easy to put your bike on this train.
If you don’t want to cycle to Zermatt, it’s easy to put your bike on this train.

-wasn’t ready to stop touring,
-wanted to take lots of pictures,
-was digging deep to find enough strength in my legs to keep climbing,
-needed time to digest the magnitude of both the mountains and the year’s adventure,
-felt hyper-sensitive and anxious about wanting to end the tour safe and accident-free.

Emily and Alex cycling up one of the many steep sets of switchbacks.
Emily and Alex cycling up one of the many steep sets of switchbacks.

The best part of watching my odometer reach 36 km, the number required to make the total trip equal 15,000 total kilometers, was having Alex and Emily there to help me celebrate the finish!

The Matterhorn - not a bad backdrop for the end of an amazing journey.
The Matterhorn – not a bad backdrop for the end of an amazing journey.
I took a brief hike to get closer to this beautiful glacier.
I took a brief hike to get closer to this beautiful glacier.

But, the trip would not have been possible without Eric’s “crazy” idea to retire and cycle and his faith and confidence that it would be an amazing experience. And, the trip would not been nearly as fun had we not met so many wonderful, kind, helpful and encouraging people along the way.

This restaurant was a 45 minute hike up the mountain. It would be fun to ski down to it in the winter.
This restaurant was a 45 minute hike up the mountain. It would be fun to ski down to it in the winter.
On the hike back to Zermatt.
On the hike back to Zermatt.

15,000 kilometers
11 months
10 countries
7 languages

countless memories

1 delicious celebratory dinner

Alex was the "cook" for tonight's celebration.
Alex was the “cook” for tonight’s celebration.

Thank you!

Cycling Leysin to Sion or “The Brake Story” – 176 km – (Part 2 of 3)

Day 4 – Leysin to Sion – 56 km with an 1100 meter descent

The view of a road a long way down the hill in the distance.
The view of a road a long way down the hill in the distance.

I awoke to the sun peeking over the mountains to my east and illuminating the snow-capper glacier to my right. Breathing the cool, fresh air felt like a luxury. As a matter of fact, it would have been nice just to sit on the veranda overlooking the mountains sipping a coffee and reading a book for the rest of the day.

But my employed-with-limited-vacation days travel companions had an itinerary and a deadline. Alas, we snapped a few more photos and began the steep, windy, switch-backed, beautiful 17 kilometer descent to Aigle.

Enjoying the down-hill fun.
Alex and Emily enjoying the down-hill fun.

The road was fast and exhilarating. But the stunning views demanded that we stop and take pictures.

Unfortunately, during those stops we never put two and two together that Emily’s bike was taking longer and longer to stop. I attributed her overshooting one turn to the fact that she was perhaps a little inexperienced with hills this steep and had gone too fast into the turn. It wasn’t until a bit later when she appeared to passing Alex and a long, steep open stretch while cars were also trying to pass her, that I shouted “Slow Down! Get Over!”

She screamed, “I can’t! My bakes don’t work! I can’t stop!”

This was a scary place to be with no brakes: a solid rock wall on the right, a guard rail and steep cliff on the left, stopped cars at a construction stop about 150 m ahead. There were limited options for a bail out.

What happens to a new shoe when used as a brake.
What happens to a new shoe when used as a brake.

Her instincts and quick thinking caused her to her right foot down onto the pavement and drag her toe. Just as her toes were heating up from the friction and the last rubber was just about worn through, she managed to slow her bike enough to pull it to the side of the road.

It was a death-defying, fear-inducing, God-thanking moment when she finally came to a stop. But it could have been much different. Adrenaline pumping, hearts racing, gratitude that she was safe, anger at the rental shop, anger at ourselves for not seeing the signs, tears, fear and relief were the emotions of the moment.

Problem solving.
Problem solving.

Alex and I tried to figure out what went wrong thinking maybe her brakes had over-heated. They were hot but so were ours and they still stopped on a dime.

We thought maybe the brake pads were worn through and considered swapping out his front breaks for her back. But, upon close inspection the pads were fine. The rotor was fine.

But both brakes did not work. Pulling the brake levers did not stop the wheels from turning.

So we hitched a ride for Emily and her bike to Aigle while Alex and I rode at a MUCH SLOWER PACE than before. I know we were all a bit spooked.

We found a brake shop and BOTH cables needed tightened but then they both worked as designed.

We had some lessons learned in this situation:

Check a rental bike thoroughly before leaving the rental shop. Alex and I had just assumed that a shop renting Trek 720s with a top-of-the line shop and experienced mechanics would lead to well-maintained bikes.
Have an experienced cyclist check the bikes. Emily, having never ridden a bicycle with cable disk brakes, thought maybe cable disk brakes were supposed to take a long time to stop and cause her forearms scream in pain in the evening after trying to stop the bike. Alex  and I could have seen from a check of the brakes in the shop that they were not adjusted properly.
Slow down on steep descents. As much as I LOVE pretending like I’m on a downhill course in the Tour de France, speed only compounds other possible scenarios.: brake failure, tire punctures, obstructions, water, gravel, pot-holes, other vehicles…the list goes on.

The ride along the Rhone is flat and shady with some nice bridges.
The ride along the Rhone is flat and shady with some nice bridges.

And, to give credit to Emily, she did get back on the bicycle and ride about 30km to the train station in Martigny where we a short train ride to our destination of Sion.

Heading towards Martigny.
Heading towards Martigny.