Monthly Archives: May 2016

Cycle Touring-Bike-Packing Guests from Switzerland

I’ve had the great pleasure of hosting two delightful, adventurous, interesting, and interested cycle tourists for the past few days.

Bridgitte and Ivo Jost, my recent Warmlshowers guests from Switzerland.
Ivo and Bridgitte Jost, my recent Warmshowers guests from Switzerland.

Ivo and Bridgett Jost from Switzerland have been cycle tourists on and off for over fifteen years and on the road with their most recent tour since June of 2013.

From Mongolia and Madagascar to Argentina and Alaska, every title and link on their blog Globoride has forced me to look at a map. I never knew there we so many places I never knew about.

They recently traded their traditional touring bicycles  and purchased Swiss mountain bikes for backpacking.

IMG_2418 IMG_2419

The pack hidden by the grey helmut was made by Bridgitte.
The pack hidden by the bike helmut was made by Bridgitte.

The mountain bikes were quipped with studded tires for winter cycling. They triangle frame packs are handmade by Bridgette.  They cycled the Iditarod Trail in April. They had learned they like winter cycling because they had completed previous cycling tours across Lake Baikal in Russia  followed by a trip through Siberia  to visit the reindeer herding Evenki Tribe.

Unfortunately, a 50 mile, 2-day walk while pushing their bikes through deep snow on the Iditarod Trail, an early break-up of the Yukon River, coupled with a forecast of a solid week of rain and snow forced them to end their journey after 600 miles and take a bush plane to Fairbanks. That didn’t stop their enthusiasm for the trail and the experience. Just reading about their outdoor camping with the Northern Lights as their “nightlight” made me sense the trip was beautiful and unforgettable.

After mailing their winter gear home, they flew to Las Vegas where they started bike-packing across the desert  through places like Escalante Staircase and along the Kokopelli Trail to Loma, CO and, luckily, to our home in Fruita, CO. Their next destination is  Farmington, NM via the Tabaguache Trail where they will connect with the Great Divide Mountain Bike Trail and then head north to Canada.

There's nothing better than a loaf of homemade bread...
There’s nothing better than a loaf of homemade bread and interesting conversation.

Over the past few days, I’ve been asking Bridgette and Ivo lots of questions…

I asked if they’d had a low-point on their trip. Ivo replied they’ve had many low and high-points. Then he paused for a moment . He  and Bridgette exclaimed, “Zambia!” at the same time.

He explained that they cycled through Zambia during the rainy season. Every afternoon for a month it rained. For over 2000 kilometers (1200 miles) they were wet. The elephant grass was so tall that it was like cycling through a tunnel day after day making an already miserable ride quite boring.

But, in their true optimistic nature, they said the good things about Zambia were that they had great  Harry Potter books to listen to on their mp3 players AND they could sleep in schools at night.

When I asked if they had a favorite part of their travels, they immediately replied, “The People!”

They’ve been focusing their travels on border people, or as they explain, those people and cultures that get caught in kind of a no-man’s land when countries arbitrarily redraw the borders. They spent time with the Kyrgyz Tribe on the Wakhan corridor across the river from the Pamir Highway. They also visited the  Eagle Hunters Mongolia.

Although their travels take them to places I’m not sure I’m mentally or physically strong enough to handle, I love seeing their pictures and hearing about their adventures.

And…I learned a great technique to keep Eric and my brains from stagnating over the long distances of pedaling! Ivo and Bridgette talk in the mornings and listen to the same audio book or podcast in the afternoon. Then they have something to discuss.

(They each have their own small mp3 players because the battery life is much longer than a smart phone.)
For more information about their travels, watch this short video. Check our their website and scroll down to their photo gallery for exceptional photos of indigenous peoples and stunning landscapes.

We cycled together for a few miles on the Tabaguahe Trail. I could barely keep up on my unloaded bike.
We cycled together for a few miles on the Tabaguahe Trail. I could barely keep up on my unloaded bike.

Cycling Spain – Day 8 – Using a Bike Rental to Explore Madrid

After spending a day on a bus trip from Madrid to Segovia, I was eager to stretch my muscles and get back on a bicycle. And, although there are plenty of electric power-assist city bicycles for rent as part of the BiciMad (Madrid’s Public Electric Bike System), I wanted a  human-powered bicycle to explore the parks and trails beyond the city center and along the riverbanks of Madrid.

A station near Retiro Park for Madrid's public electric bike system.
A station near Retiro Park for Madrid’s public electric bike system.

Luckily, I remembered a bicycle rental/tour shop, Alquiler Rental located next to the Mercado San Miguel. That would be my destination.

My human-powered rental bike.
My human-powered rental bike.

On a quiet Sunday morning, I took a suburban train and subway to Sol, a huge plaza with shopping radiating from the nine streets that intersect this area. Tourists were lined up and around the block at a delicious looking pastry/coffee shop conveniently located across from the metro entrance, but I was neither willing to wait in the long line or pay the tourist prices for the pastry. I decided to a few steps farther away from the plaza where I found a delicious,  authentic, less touristic, and much less expensive breakfast.

A 2,5 Euro typical Spanish breakfast.
My 2,5 Euro typical Spanish breakfast.

In addition to saving 10 euros or more, I had the pleasure of dining with locals and enjoying their camaraderie and relaxed Sunday demeanor.

I arrived at the bicycle rental shop just after it opened at 10:00 am. I spotted a medium-sized 10 speed bicycle that appeared to be in good condition. (9Euros for 3 hours.) I paid an extra 3euros for a lock just in case I needed to leave to bike and explore.

I had a bicycle map and my phone for Google maps, but I didn’t want to be bothered stopping all the time so I just started riding to see where my bike took me.

It’s been my experience in European cities that  bike lanes or white bicycle logos and arrows printed on streets  often lead to the perimeters of the city center and to interesting places.

Puss-in-Boots getting dressed before trying to make money in the Plaza Mayor.
Puss-in-Boots getting dressed before trying to make money in the Plaza Mayor.

Within minutes I was winding downhill past the Palace Real and towards the Manzanares River . Heading west along the river I came to the Plaza de Espana. I then crossed the river along one of the many bridges and spent the next few hours cycling through the Casa de Campo.

I love Sundays in urban parks. There is usually lot of activity and today was no exception. I pedaled into the middle of a Madrid Triathlon. Sections of the park had caution tape marking race lanes for both cyclists and runners.

The transition area for the triathlon.
The transition area for the triathlon.

The lanes were empty but protected by race volunteers in high-vis vests. Cycling further into the park brought me to a lake that was filled with swimmers completed the first leg of their race.

Tri-athathaletes swimming in the lake at Casa de Campo.
Tri-athathaletes swimming in the lake at Casa de Campo.

I left the race crowds and continued deeper into the park. The spring wildflowers were in full bloom and entire fields sparkled with the bright yellows and whites of wild daisies, my favorite flowers.

Casa de Campo is quite hilly so many cycling clubs, easily distinguished by their matching shirts and shorts, were training on the hills. There were also mountain bikers,  joggers, skateboarders and walkers.

Returning to the city center,  I cycled east along the river past the large Atlético Madrid soccer stadium, beautiful parks, and modern pedestrian bridges that were artwork in and of themselves.

This is my favorite pedestrian bridge over the Manazaneres River.
This is my favorite pedestrian bridge over the Manazaneres River.

By now the Sunday crowds were thickening and I was having to stop often for toddlers on bicycles, and scooters, groups walking side-by-side in solid lines like a dam in blocking a reservoir, so it was time to return the rental bike.

Using roads and cycle lanes back to the rental shop, I enjoyed  the thrill of navigating through traffic and around large groups of Sunday strollers.

If you don’t mind a few hills and you have the time, riding a bicycle to explore Madrid is a very pleasant way to sightsee.

Cycling Spain – Days 6 and 7 – Having Fun in Malaga

We arrived mid-day to Malaga after a short   1 1/2 hour bus ride from Granada.

Cycle paths like these made the decision easy to rent a bicycle.
Cycle paths like these made the decision easy to rent a bicycle.

Our original intent was to rent a moped for the day but, after seeing the great bicycle paths and lanes into town and finding several good bicycle shops in the city center, we once again chose our favorite mode of transportation…bikes.

There were at least three bicycle shops like these near the tourist information center in the city center.
Bike 2 Malaga was one of three bicycle shops  near the tourist information center in the city center.

What a great decision!

After cycling the steep hills of Andalusia, cycling in Malaga was a “walk on the beach.” Seriously! There are beautiful, flat cycle paths heading east and west from the city center.

The Malaga seaside.
The Malaga seaside.

Sandy beaches with volleyball courts, sand soccer pitches, outdoor fitness centers, and playgrounds, make this fun for all ages. Museums, outdoor art exhibits, lush green parks, a fort, a castle,a cathedral and a yacht-filled marina make Malaga an interesting destination.

The outdoor art exhibit is near the marina.
The outdoor art exhibit is near the marina.
Interesting architecture along the seawall near the cruise ship port.
Interesting architecture along the seawall near the cruise ship port.

On our first afternoon we cycled east past the lighthouse  and along the seashore for about 10 miles.

The light house makes a good reference point for finding the beaches and cycle path.
The light house makes a good reference point for finding the beaches and cycle path.

We found many seafood restaurants with empty row boats set on stilts and filled with simmering coals where fresh seafood is cooked. We made a note to come back the next day to  enjoy a long, leisurely, mid-day meal.

Many seafood restaurants have these row boats filled with simmering coals.
Many seafood restaurants have these row boats filled with simmering coals.

After returning to the city center on the same path we bounced along the cobblestone paths of the old city center. There was a two-block long red carpet filled with pedestrians dressed to the nines for the Malaga Film Festival. Street performers were entertaining guests at the square near the cathedral.

Red carpet for the Malaga Film Festival.
Red carpet for the Malaga Film Festival.

After returning our bikes before the shop’s 8:00 pm closing time, we set off to find a good seafood paella.

After a good night’s sleep, we rented bikes again. Our first stop was the train station to buy tickets for the next day on the fast train to Malaga. After seeing the crowds in town for the film festival and knowing this was a holiday weekend (Labor Day) in Spain we wanted to make sure we got Eric back to Madrid the following day for his flight to Egypt.

Castillo de Gibralfaro
Looking from the Castillo de Gibralfaro to the Malaga city center.

We then cycled the long, curvy road up the west side of the hill to the Castillo de Gibralfaro, a military garrison and coastal lookout form 1487 – 1925.  There we found great views.

Cycling down the east side of the garrison and joining the cycle path along the seashore, we returned to the area of seafood restaurants we’d discovered yesterday. Most of the restaurants were filled with diners and it took several stops to find an unreserved open table with a view of the water.

Our cuttllefish cooking on the hot coals.
Our cuttlefish cooking on the hot coals.

As usual, we ordered too much food: fried calamari, cuttle-fish and sea-bass grilled on the coals. We ate, talked and enjoyed the Mediterranean view for several hours leaving only a few bones and random pieces on our plates.

Cuttlefish
Cuttlefish
Sea bass.
Sea bass.

To burn off the calories, we headed west on the cycle path past the city center and continued another 10 miles in the opposite direction. The west side of town appears to have the newer beach-front apartment blocks with many  playgrounds and outdoor fitness centers. Exiting the paved path to a gravel mountain biking area, we found the surf casters  standing on a break wall, fishing, chatting and enjoying the warm breeze, calm waters and golden sunset.

We did exit the paved path onto a gravel road. The bike-store supplied patch kid did not have glue so Eric had to replace the tube.
The gravel path did give Eric a flat tire. Glad he was the one to get his hands dirty while I could take photos and watch the birds.
Each beach was identified by signs like this.
Each beach was identified by signs like this.

I highly recommend visiting Malaga by bicycle!

Cycling Spain – Cross Training in Granada

We took the 8:00 am Sunday morning train to ancient Moorish- influenced Granada to experience the UNESCO World Heritage Site of The Alhambra. The train and bus were relaxing and the peaceful Sunday morning walk from the bus station to the hotel gave us the time to explore without having to dodge selfie-sticks.

Park near the Alhambra
Park near the Alhambra

Our hotel  Navras was located in the heart of the city with lots of lovely restaurants, bars and cafes just below our hotel window. (Spain is a late-night country but we’re pretty good at sleeping through anything)

Moorish architecture and design
Moorish architecture and design

We spent most of the day walking to all the important sites including the outside of the Alhambra. We learned that it’s almost impossible to get tickets to see the inside unless you plan months in advance or want to stand in line at 7:30 am for a handful of tickets.

I think the missing heads made for interesting captions.
I think the missing heads made for interesting captions.

We choose to take the advice of our favorite rural farm hotel owner at Las Piletas near Ronda and sleep in. She said, “Don’t worry. The inside is over-rated. And, the internet has made getting tickets very difficult. The Alhambra is beautiful from many different places and alleys in the city.”

Beautiful mountains near Granada. They even have skiing!
Beautiful mountains near Granada. They even have skiing!

We took her at her word and photographed the Alhambra from the perspectives of 11 miles of walking up and down hills, through alleyways, and from balconies.

An aqueduct near the Alhambra.
An aqueduct near the Alhambra.

We even spent 9 Euros each for a sangria at a bar with a view high on the hill above the Alhambra. I figure that’s 2 Euros for the sangria and 7 Euros for the view which is probably still cheaper than tickets to see the inside. PLUS we got to sleep in the next morning.

View of the Alhambra while sipping a 9 Euro sangria.
View of the Alhambra while sipping a 9 Euro sangria.

Even though several tour blogs said it was not important to spend more than one day in Granada, we actually loved being in a bigger city with tree-lines streets, good food available even during siesta time, and a really fun market that reminded us of the eclectic bazaars in Turkey, the start of our crazy overseas adventures. www. pjinturkey.blogspot.com

Walking along the wall outside the Alhambra
Walking along the wall outside the Alhambra

I couldn’t help but think of the similarities between the conquests of Constantinople and Granada. The Sultan Mehmet II conquered Constantinople in 1453 and renamed it Istanbul thus ending the Roman Empire and dealing a serious blow to Christianity and strengthening the Ottoman Empire.

After one of our morning jogs in Granada. The first day of jogging was hard after all the cycling. The second day felt great!
After one of our morning jogs in Granada. The first day of jogging was hard after all the cycling. The second day felt great!

Mohammed XII handed over the keys to the Alhambra Granada in 1492. Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragon took their job seriously of uniting what would become modern day Spain and strengthening the Catholic Church.

I probably learned about these two conquests in high school history class, but drawing time lines, coloring maps, and memorizing dates didn’t t do justice to the significance of the people, land, power, and money actually involved in these battles/conquests.

This traditional dish in with couscous had a distinctly Moroccan flavor. Delicious!
This traditional dish in with couscous had a distinctly Moroccan flavor. Delicious!

I couldn’t help but think about how both Constantinople (Istanbul) and Granada were flourishing, sophisticated civilizations with palaces, castles, forts, weapons, armies, art, music in 1492 when Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand gave Christopher Columbus permission (the money) to sail and accidentally discover America.

I wonder if I could make history come alive for students?…..hum…..

Excellent flamingo show!
Excellent flamingo show!

One last note on Granada….we went to a flamenco music/dance show which I loved. The dancers and the guitar player were so skilled that I my cheeks hurts from the huge grin I had on my face the entire show. Wow…just wow!

Flying Home with the Ogre

No…I’m NOT talking about Eric. I’m talking about his bicycle, the Surly Ogre. (Read – How Surly Save Our Cycle Tour)

Last August, when we finished our first official cycle tour, Eric headed back to work after his short retirement and I headed home to the States. I could only fly with one bicycle so we left Eric’s in Frankfurt at a place called My Storage.

I got a kick out of the English name for the German storage facility.
I got a kick out of the English name for the German storage facility.

Hindsight is always 20-20 and it probably would have been less expensive to sell the bike, or since we were rushed, just give it away to a worthy recipient. But, for sentimental reasons, we paid the storage fees and an additional flight leg from Madrid to Frankfurt to “keep  Ogre in the family.”

Here’s a recap of how I reunited with Ogre. This  recap could be useful for anyone  if they have to fly with a bicycle from Frankfurt International Airport.
First, I chose to stay at the Hilton Garden Inn at the Frankfurt International Airport for several reasons:
1) Eric is racking up a boatload of Hilton Reward points at his “Hilton Home” in Alexandria, Egypt and someone needs to use them.
2) I can walk less than 100 meters to the Lufthansa check-in to drop off my bags which are very heavy and bulky.
3) I can catch a train into the Frankfurt city center by taking the escalator downstairs.

To pick up the Ogre,  I bought a one-way ticket at the automatic ticket machine near the hotel entrance. Then, I took the S9 train to the Frankfurt Main Train station. Once at the main train station, I was going to take another suburban train towards My Storage.

However, a 39 minute wait for a train versus a 44 minute, 3.8 kilometer walk seemed like a no brainer. I chose to walk.

I walked the same path I’d cycled last fall. Thoughts raced through my head:
1) I did not walk to pack up the bike. I wanted to keep cycling.
2) I remembered all the fun we’d had last year and missed Eric.
3) I was happy that I remembered my way around Frankfurt without GPS.
4) I was worried that I had the correct key for the lock on the door and wondered if the owners had a bolt cutter in case I’d brought the wrong key.
5) I was concerned that the rain would increase and I would get cold.

6) Would the tires be flat and, if so, did I leave a pump with the bike?

All my worries were unfounded. The bike was just where I left it.
All my worries were unfounded. The bike was just where I left it.

All my worries were unfounded. The lock did work. The tires had enough pressure to ride on them. Even better, Eric’s panniers were so full that I could cycle tour for months. They even held a pair of rain pants which I promptly put on.

Have a bike shop loosen your pedals before you try to pack the bike.
Have a bike shop loosen your pedals before you try to pack the bike.

I cycled back to the city center with my first stop being a bicycle shop. This step is really important. I recommend every cyclist do this before trying to pack a bike.

HAVE A MECHANIC LOOSEN THE PEDALS!

This simple step will save tons of aggravation later.

Sure enough, the pedals were locked on tight. The mechanic used every ounce of muscle and torque to loosen them including scraping his knuckles until they bled. But, this mechanic was also SO kind. He them added some lubricant to make them easier to remove after I cycled the remaining 14 kilometers back to the hotel.

Orgre liked the screen greenery.
Orgre liked the screen greenery.

I took my time cycling to the airport hotel. The rain was gentle, the spring greens were bright, the dandelions were in bloom. The German houses dotting the riverbank made me thankful to be part of this one-day fairy tale.

Ogre loves the river and the German houses.
Ogre loves the river and the German houses.

Speaking of fairy tales, I did get lost in the airport forest….AGAIN…. (see post: Jet Lag Recovery )I’ve finally figured out the GPS near the airport is not “exactly on the spot.” Here’s my advice for cycling near the airport…

FOLLOW THE PATH MOST TRAVELED THROUGH THE WOODS AND LISTEN FOR THE AIRPLANES.

Ogre was hoping not to encounter wild boars.
Ogre was hoping not to encounter wild boars in the woods.
Orge is trying to figure out how to cross 6 lanes of traffic and entire the whale-looking building.
Ogre was trying to figure out how to cross 6 lanes of traffic and entire the whale-looking building.

Once back to the hotel, I took my time removing all the racks, cleaning the fenders and packing the derailleur, chain wheel, handlebar, brakes, etc. with old cycling shorts, shoes, zip ties, packing tape and sponges….(Why Eric was carrying a brand new pack of sponges I’ll never know*)

Cycling shoes taped to the chain wheel is just one of the many ingenious ways I came up with to protect the bike.
Cycling shoes taped to the chain wheel is just one of the many ingenious ways I came up with to protect Ogre.

Then I walked to the Lufthansa Check-in near our hotel (this is a really cool service because it’s much closer than the actual airport check-in) and rented a luggage cart for 1 Euro.

Here's the airport baggage cart in the hotel hallway loaded and ready to wheel to the check-in counter.
Here’s the airport baggage cart in the hotel hallway loaded and ready to wheel to the check-in counter.

I wheeled the cart back to the hotel and up the elevator to my room. I loaded the cart, reversed my steps and returned to the check-in counter. I held my breath when the bags were weighed but I didn’t stress knowing that I was checking in a full 20 hours before my flight departed which gave me plenty of time to juggle weight if need be. (This super early check-in service is AMAZING!)

Before I patted my back or congratulate myself too much, it is important to note that I packed the bike in a bag rather than a box. The bag is awkward and I’m thinking a baggage handler is going to agree. At least with a box there are two good places to grip it and the box slides on the floor. The bag does not stand up, slide, lift or carry easily.

Only after unpacking and assembly at home will I know if Ogre’s trip was a success!

 

*I talked to Eric about the sponges in his panniers. I’d thrown them away when we packed up in August. He’d pulled them out of the trash knowing they would come in handy some day. Well…that day was today. “Haha! So there!” he exclaimed.