Pedaling from the Black Forest to the Yellow Sea
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Posts from — March 2008

Day 7 (Italy): Lasa - Trento (room with a view)

today’s distance: 144 km
total distance: 752km
riding time: 6.5 h

Leaving Laas and heading to Meran was a joy. The headwind from the day before was gone and so I scooted down the valley. The area also brought some memories - albeit faint - back as I spent some summers here with my parents. For some pictures go here and here, I was small.

The whole valley was lined with apple orchards, progressively growing greener the further I went down the valley.

In Meran I had my first experience with a paranoid state. Every internet cafe is required to note the ID number of their patrons, the reason being terrorist threats. As if a terrorist would come in and submit their real ID, it was absurdity. The same was true for a computer store owner and the people in the cafe. Unfriendly as you can be …

I set up my couchsurfing stayfor the night with Giorgio a bit last minute and now was also going to arrive one day early. It didn’t seem to be a problem for him. The problem I had was an extremely strong headwind that made me stop cold a couple of times. Despite some good pedealling I would only be able to do about 12 km/h and had a long way to go to Trento. In the end it trned out to be 144 km. On the way I met an ornithologist who showed me some birds in the area (no pictures Prof. G, sorry, they weren’t sitting still ormy lense wasn’t powerful enough). The further I got down the valley, the more people were coming towards me, most of them with a relaxed smile on their faces. What was compounding the frustration were different distances given on signs, ranging at one point from 11 to 28. After a long day, that is a noticable difference - at least for me. It was a tiring and long day, but Giorgio - my host for the night - made more than up for it.

After dodging crazy Italian traffic getting into the center of town, I waited on the main square for him and ultimately went to his place - going uphill he just hammered it with me slowly trundling up behind. Giorgio is a great guy from Sicily who is now pursuing his Ph.D. in computer sciences with a great many interests. And sooooo friendly. Thank you for everything, the cooking included. Should you ever meet him and he tells you that his German isn’t good, ask him for some pastries his grandmother makes … and he will tell you that they are made with Muerbeteig. So much for not speaking German well. :)

The room I was staying in is great …. wonderful views over the castle qand the surrounding are included.

March 31, 2008   No Comments

Day 6 (Switzerland/Italy): Samedan - Laas (apples in stereo)

today’s distance: 97 km
total distance: 608 km
riding time: +/- 5h

climbing: about 1000m

Off to a late start due to the time change that night, I was not leaving until noon, heading further east. Waking up was a treat as Katja’s room offers stunning views of the Engadin. The weather was - as it had been the day before - glorious. Blue skies, combined with a ferocious wind from the west made for an insane average speed of almost 28km/h for the first hour.

Just as I was leaving the town of Zernez to start the climb to the Ofenpass, I met Peter who needed a screwdriver to fix his derailleur. After riding together for a few minutes he pulled ahead and I didn’t see him again. Only one pack for a two-day tour sure must feel great. After the first steep section, the ride flattens out, going downhill (grrrr - all that work for nothing) before climbing again for a while. It was here when the wind started coming down the mountains and hit me head on. Still, the surroundings sure made up for it and having been over the Julier the day before I was in no partiular hurry today.

Just before the last flattish section, I looked at my altimeter and saw 1989 and for the next few meters played around with historical events

1989 - Berlin Wall comes down

1990 - Noriega surrenders to US forces

1991 - drew a blank

1992 - Boutros Boutros-Ghali SG of the UN

1993 - UN SC resolution on ICTY

1994 - graduation from US high school

1995 - WTO comes into being

1996 - graduate from high school

1997 - another blank

1998 - heading to Canada

1999 - bike down the coast from Vancouver to Mexico

2000 - Y2K

2001 - 9/11

2002 - graduate law school

2003 - Bush claims “mission accomplished” - kind of preposterous (and not only in hindsight)

2004 - Bush wins second term

2005 - head to Stanford

2006 - J’lem

2007 - Brussels

2008 - climbing up a steep, steep hill

2009 - I’m no Nostradamus …

After arriving at the top, a couple on their way to Greece for an extended holiday stopped and took some pictures for me. Hearing where I was heading they were flabbergasted and are now happy subscribers to the blog (for all those not subscribed yet, you can enter your email address on the right hand side at the top).

The downhill was cold with headwinds throwing me around and slowing me down quite a bit, but it was still exhilerating and some nice top speeds in some sections. The border was easy enough to cross, the Italian border guard seemed a bit irritated that I would ask him for a stamp. But it’s in the passport now, too.

Overall, the downhill was about 1200 m (roughly 3600 ft). After following the river Etsch for a while, I decided to set up camp at a campsite which I passed in the town of Laas. What had been planned as a short day was 97 km in the end. But the best was yet to come. Food …

I looked around town for something to eat as I had not done much shopping. It being Sunday, there was only one place open - and what a great place it was. My question as to whether the owner would still have something available for a hungry biker, she served some of the best soup that I have ever had. It was nothing short of greatness. Now maybe it was even better because I was hungry, but it was great. It was some Minestrone-type soup with local ingredients. This was folllowed by spinach dumplings. This greatness was smothered in sage butter. All of this was topped off with parmesan and a salad. Then Maridel brought out the cake and some tea (on the house - nut cake, topped with warm apricot jam and cream). We had started talking during dinner and she is now a reader of the blog as well. The great thing was the conversation with Maridel, the owner. She likes to travel, meet new people and is a fantastic cook. We talked about the changes that the village has been undergoing over the last 20 years or so and how the predominance of apples in the area has changed things considerably. Farming has become industrialized with the attendent changes for the community.

March 30, 2008   No Comments

Day 5 (Switzerland): Igis - Samedan

today’s distance: 110km
total distance: 511 km
riding time: +/- 7h

climbing: lots - 2186m altitude (700 more than I had planned)

After leaving the wonderful place of Helen and Peter with gorgeous weather beckoning, the road continued for a while along the Rhine valley. From Chur on I was tracing some of the way I had taken on my first bike tour in the Alps with the Badminton club when I was 15. From Chur the road followed the Rhine until the first climb in the middle of which I met Lena and her family who were on the way back. Lena was keen to tell me that she had broken her collarbone, not a small feat for a five year old. She had asked me where I was going and when I said China she asked her father: “Is he stupid?”. It was childlike honesty at its best.

More uphill to Tiefencastel where all stores were closed and I had to wait until the next uphill section was over to replenish. The Julier to me was always somewhat mysterious. I went the other way on the tour years before and didn’t recall much apart from it being fun to go down. And steep it was … for about 36km. There are flat sections inbetween, but the general direction is up. And much more steeply than I remembered.

Some time during the climb I felt that it was not a good idea to try to do it in one go. I felt my strength dwindling, I had to stop more and more often. Figured that if I would find a place in Bivio - the last town before the top - I would consider taking it. There were none, things were booked because it was Saturday and I was already late in the day.

So, against better reason I continued up the hill, realizing it would be a close call to make it to the top of the pass. Hard to describe all the stuff that went through my mind on my way up. Doubts for sure, having to stop every so often, thinking that the tour is too big for me and that this first major hurdle was already putting me back into place. Frustration was another and if you imagine someone standing at the side of the road with a loaded bike screaming a couple of times, that would have been me.


Just when I was ready to get into the next car (not that any would have stopped), I saw a house on the top. Still a number of switchbacks to go through, it seemed like the place to go. A car that I flagged down confirmed as much. Rounding the corner I saw that the road continued further on and became indifferent (I should have looked up the description on The sun had disappeared almost behind a mountain in my back and it became freezingly cold. The road continued up a bit further and just as I was coming to the top, I was back in the last sun for the day. The feeling at the top was one of elation, sheer joy of having made it. The Julier had almost done me in, I was about to give up, but was happy to be on the top in the end.

As the sun had gone down temperatures dropped considerably and I put on several layers of clothing. A lone snowshoe climber snapped a few pictures, a guy in a car showed me a finger because he thought my bike was in the way - yet there was no other place to put it as there was a meter of snow left and right of the street. And I wasn’t going to leave without the picture.

The downhill was fun, but cold. At about 7 or 8 km it’s not very long, but it was cold. The views were amazing though.

A few words of thanks to the French car cheering me on, the bus driver doing the same, the snowshoe climber and the couple telling me that the top was at the hotel - it did help. No thanks are due to the bunch of Cologne guys thinking they are funny when they asked whether they should take me along in a full car and the guy flipping me off.

Pedaling on I headed east and passed through Silvaplana and mundane, but ugly St. Moritz, a place not much to my liking. Too much money being thrown around, helicopters swarming (alright, there were two). I made my way to Samedan tired and exhausted with even tiny climbs feeling difficult. However you think about pronouncing that name, you are right if you don’t pronounce it the way you see it. Samaden seems to be the most agreeable version. In Samedan, cold and worn out I met my host for the night - Katja. I had written to her not realizing that she would generally not host men, but the website and the YFU affiliation must have convinced her. Upon arrival I was given 10 minutes to take a shower and we were off to meet friends for dinner. It took of course longer and I am thankful to Katja for putting me up for the night and for letting an already great day end even better. After lugging my stuff up to her place and trying to look more respectable we were off to meet friend for dinner and drinks afterwards.

We went to one of the few affordable bars in St. Moritz, a fun place with Joe Vox playing ( If you can see him ever, he’s a good singer and a fun guy hailing from Moenchengladbach.

March 29, 2008   1 Comment

Day 4 (Switzerland): Zurich - Igis

today’s distance: 125 km
total distance: 401 km
riding time: +/- 6 h

It was a glorious day … to say the least. After bidding farewell to fantastic host Regula and bemoaning the fact that their cute buildings will be demolished to be replaced with nondescript apartment buildings, I headed out along the southern shore of Lake Zurich.

First stop - the Lindt chocolate factory to take a peek. No guided tours however and the store had the regular chocolates only. So on I went with one bar in my bag and soon in my tummy, yum, yum!

The road had quite a bit of traffic and after dodging a couple of cars I was soon on bike paths that led me from Lake Zurich to Lake Walen. The scenery was dramatic from the start out though. The peaks started moving in closer and closer and once between the two lakes I took a wrong turn for a few minutes and entered another valley, which got even better. Back on track I went along Lake Walen on a nice bike trail along the shore, climbing at up to 26% though made for some tough climbing. The views were well worth it though. I will post a video in the next days.

With bucolic and dramatic scenery abounding and a tailwind to boot riding was great. I turned into the Rhine valley and biked along the river for a while until I hit the town of Landquart and proceeded to couchsurfing hosts Helen & Peter. Their son Roman who is out and about touring South America had hooked me up with them or rather twisted their hands a bit. ;) The house is at the uppermost top of the village in a startlingly beautiful valley, with a bit of grunting up to do. Helen & Peter were great hosts and a big thank you to both of them!!! And to Roman for setting this up. Delicious food and conversations about all things Swiss and particulars of this area made for a great meal.

March 28, 2008   2 Comments

Day 3 (Switzerland): Basel - Zurich (the world is flat - 2x)

today’s distance: 98 km
total distance: 276 km
riding time: +/- 5.5

Rain pelted the window at 5:30 am … went back to sleep, no plan to head out that early. By the time I started things were good though and I made some good progress with a good tailwind. My knee started to bother me though and I will have to keep an eye on it. It should be alright if I do low gears and is nothing new at the start of a tour.

My first stop was at a bakery doing their goodness in a wood-fired brick oven. There isn’t much that beats a dense well rounded bread dough baked to perfection. It was yummy and was a great addition to the remaining cheese. However, the sales person’s feeling for inclines were all off. She figured it would be all flat from then on … after about 5 km further along the road I happened upon a 12% climb - glorious downhill to follow of course.

So, either the Swiss are just used to higher mountains than I am or it is the usual issue of biker incline v. car driver incline (aka have to pedal hard v. push down the accelerator a bit harder).

This was followed by a series of other climbs until I reached the town of Baden, quaint and pretty.

The rest of the day I spent navigating the tricky roads around Zurich. Just when you think you’re there, they throw another hill at you with a good 15 minutes of laboring uphill. Fun stuff in the end though. I ended up at Regula’s place at 5 pm, my couchsurfing host for the day. She’s a great cook - nothing better than pasta and a good homemade tomato sauce to fill an empty biker’s stomach. This was followed by an excellent tour of Zurich at night …

Thank you Regula for putting me up for the night - and good luck on the upcoming bike trip through Argentina and Chile.

March 27, 2008   No Comments