Today was too windy to ride. Today was too windy to stack rocks. It was the windiest I've seen it since I left North Dakota.
Ok so there's that.
Also, my rear wheel gave its last gasp. By the time I reached the train station in Grosetto, I had about 3 usable gears and the wheel looked like something out of The Grapes Of Wrath. I bought a ticket and rode the train the last 188 kilometers into Rome where I got a bed for the night in a hostel near the stazionne.
I walked around the neighborhood, stopped and bought a slice of grubb'in pizza, took a few snaps and came back to the room. Tomorrow I visit the barber for a shave and a haircut. I look pretty road-weary and I don't want to make a bad impression when I interview for rooms to rent. I don't know how much it will help, I've gotten so much sun and wind, my face looks like an old catchers mitt.
My first impression of Rome is that I like it a lot. It's busy, grimy, eclectic, old, new... I could grow accustomed to life here. I think it will be a good place to finish my book. I have so much to do. There's the article I owe the Huff Post which is written, but I need some photos to go with it. My bicycle needs a complete overhaul and I need to rethink some things before I take it to India and Asia, where I suspect parts won't be as accessible as they are here in Western Europe. I'd like to cut back on my luggage and my raincoat is shot and is in need of replacement. And that's just the beginning.
This riding around the world thing isn't as easy as it sounds.
Today was a short day. I was getting ready to leave camp when a woman stopped to talk to me. I told her where I was from and where I was going and she invited me to breakfast with her and her husband.
Anna and Michael have a far-out camper that Michael has adorned with illustrations from the Peanuts cartoon strip. They're on vacation from their home near Berne, Switzerland. I had a couple of cups of tea, a big bowl of cereal and some really good home-made apple jam. After breakfast Anna and I went out to the vegetable garden and picked some tomatoes, peppers and a nice big Zucchini. By the time I got out of camp, it was past 10:00, but I was okay with that, I had planned to do a low-mileage day anyway. Plus, I made pasta with all fresh vegetables tonight and boy, was it ever good!
Right away, my back wheel started acting up. It was rubbing and the hump was so bad it was like riding a bucking bronco. I stopped early and took it apart then trued it as best as I could, but I know it won't stay straight for very long. I might be taking the train to Rome after all.
I'm really close, I estimate I'll be in Rome Wednesday. I'm a little concerned about the route, though, according to my map, the nice little roads all disappear soon, replaced by freeways. I'll make a good effort to find a bikeable route, but if it gets too torturous, I'll catch a train.
I'm going to have to find a campground or a really cheap hostel to act a s a base of operations until I find a more permanent place to stay. I've been looking at Craig's List and there are quite a few apartments to share. I suppose it will take a week or so to find one that's right for me.
The ride down from the Brennerpass was doubly enjoyable. One: because there is a beautiful bike path and it's a coast, and two: I met another American biker with whom I made the descent to the small Italian village of Sterzing Vipiteno.
Bob is from the San Francisco Bay Area and is here in Italy for a two-week tour. He looks to be about my age and is traveling as light as I am heavy. It was really nice to have someone to talk to and to consult on route choices. Bob used to live in Italy and he's fluent in Italian and German. He knows this area well and I learned a lot about this part of the world from him. As we sped along chatting, we passed a parking lot just in time to see an Italian woman drop trou and squeeze out a loaf right in front of us. When she saw us, she smiled and waved as if to say, "Hi! Welcome to Italy!" Now I have that image seared into my brain.
Alas, when we reached Sterzing Vipiteno, my rear wheel started acting up and I had to unload everything to repair it. Bob had to go on so we said our so-longs and he headed off while I did a wheel overhaul in the village square.
Lucky for me there is a campground near town and once I got the wheel working I rode out and am camped there now.
Tomorrow I head farther down the Alps. I sure hope my wheel lasts till Rome!
September 18, 2012
You know the character that used to be on the TV series, "Hogan's Heroes," Colonel Klink? Well, in case you were wondering what happened to him, I can confirm that he's now working the front desk at a campground in Italy called the Camping Park Steiner. Funny thing is he hasn't changed a lick. Still bald, still bad teeth, still dumb as a bag of hammers. I mean how could he not have known Hogan had a radio transmitter hidden in the coffee pot?
Anyway, I checked into this place and right away I could tell Klink and I weren't going to hit it off. I asked if there was WIFI. "Yah, but eet ist only gut near ze bunker... I mean Ze reception building!"
"Groovy," I replied, "hook a brother up."
"Javol. Ve must register you with ze proper authorities to make sure your papers are in order!"
I handed across my passport. " Here you go," I said, trying my best to be cheerful, "knock yourself out." I'd ridden almost 100 kilometers and was in no mood to be trifled with.
He gave me a look then opened my passport and took an extra long time examining it. "American, eh?" he said, "ve don't get many from ze USA."
"Can't imagine why." I gave him a big fine smile.
He mumbled something in German, pounded on the keys of his computer then handed me a form spit out of a nearby printer. "You must sign ze document!"
I took the paper from him. It was in German. "I don't speak German," I said, "and I don't read it either."
He sighed, pounded on the keyboard some more, then shoved a new piece of paper across the desk at me. This time it was in English. I picked it up and read it. There was the usual boilerplate, then something caught my eye: "By signing this document, you acknowledge that you have been informed that there is a charge for the use of this facilities' WIFI...."
"Uh, there's a charge?" I said.
"Ja! I have told you already zat zere is a charge!"
I had no recollection of such a conversation, but then, like I said, I'd just ridden 100 kilometers. "Okay," I said, suppressing the urge to pull him across the desk and give him a good stomping, "how much is the charge?"
He rolled his eyes, "You have not been listening! Ze charge as I have already told you is 5 Euros for 3 hours!"
I laughed, "You're out of your fricking mind," I Said, only I didn't say fricking.
He gave me a look like I'd just sprayed the room with shitmist, grabbed the paper out of my hand, crumpled it up and threw it in the waste basket. "No WIFI for you!" he exclaimed. Really, he said no WIFI for you.
I burst out laughing, which only seemed to make him angrier. "I'm sorry, man," I said between guffaws, "but there's this character on Seinfeld, called the soup Nazi and he...."
It might have been my mention of the most recent unpleasantness or just the brain aneurism this neurotic, rule-crazy bastard has been working for years that brought on the apoplectic fit of rage, but suddenly he went stiff and let out a long, drawn-out moan. His face turned red and he seemed to have trouble breathing. He tried to speak, but only produced an awful gurgling sound like something made by a rabid raccoon. The lady in the back office came out to see what the commotion was. "He mentioned something about chest pains," I said. I shrugged and pointed at him," then this." I turned to leave.
It seemed a good time to make my exit. No point in pushing my luck, I thought.
September 20, 2012
Ask anyone who knows me and they'll tell you I'm crazy about the mountains, and I am, I love the mountains, but sometimes you gotta get some beach, too. That's why I'm in Viareggio on the Italian coast.
The last few days have been wild. The ride down from the Brennerpass was great, and pedaling through all the cool Italian villages has been a real treat. Yesterday I stopped at an orchard and picked a couple of apples and a bunch of grapes, man, they were good right off the tree/vine.
Around 9:30 it started raining like crazy so I put on all my gear and rode on through the storm. By 2:00 it had lightened up a bit, but my back wheel is no longer round and riding the bike is like taking a turn on a carnival ride. I suspect it will fail soon. Anyway, I got to Trento, found the train station and bought a ticket for Viareggio, not far from La Spezia. The train went through Bologna, Prato, Lucca and arrived here in Viareggio about 10:00 last night. As I was preparing to get off the train, two young women approached me and asked if I'd walk with them to find a cab. There was a creepy guy on the train and they were a little freaked out. I found out they are from Kazakstan, and one of them had just been to Seattle 6 weeks before. Small world.
At the cab stand I got directions from a driver to the campground, strapped on some lights and took off in the dark. Normally I don't ride at night, but it was either that or wait at the station for daylight.
The ride to the campground was surprisingly enjoyable and thankfully short. I rolled in about 10:30, found a spot and collapsed. This part of the world is very different from Northern Europe. It's a lot warmer, of course, but it's drier, too. In Germany and Austria, I'd wake up and my tent fly would be soaked from the dew. Here, it's dry in the morning. Also, there's less rain. It rains a lot in Northern Europe. I was calculating in my head last night how many rainy days I have had and it seems like it was raining about twice a week on average, and that's in the summer.
I'm a couple of hundred miles North of Rome and I plan to follow the coast right on down. I'll baby my wheel and hope it lasts, but if it goes, I'll just hop on a train.
Man, it got really cold last night. I was awakened by a drop of water splashing on my nose and I sat up in a start and looked around for the source of my discomfort. The temperature had sunk so low that condensation formed on the inside of the tent fly and small droplets clung to the fabric like pendants.
It was still dark, 5:00 AM or so and I didn't feel like getting up yet but once I'm awake I am rarely able to fall back asleep. This campground has a very nice clubhouse with showers, a kitchen, veranda with a view of the Alps and laundry room so I gathered all my necessities and hiked up the hill. I have a lot of electronics that are always screaming, "Feed me" so I've got things juicing up while I eat breakfast and enjoy a cup of tea.
The mountains are spectacular this morning.
Today will be my last day in Austria. At 12:40 I will take the bus to the top of the Brennerpass then ride down into Italy. I will visit Lake Garda then head East to Verona and catch the train to La Spezia on the Mediterranean Sea. That's not too far from the Cinque Terra where the kids and I spent a few days in 2000.
I had originally intended to go down central Italy but as I was planning my route I discovered that there aren't many campgrounds that way. I decided to follow the coast, where there appears to be many places to set up a tent, to Rome.
The train ride from Verona to La Spezia is only 9 Euros. I'd heard train travel in Italy was cheap, but man, that's giving it away. It would cost me more for one night's camp. I have to stop at the supermarket to get supplies today. I've read that water is scarce over the Alps so I guess I'll fill all containers and maybe buy a bottle of water too. My water filter broke so I will have to replace that before I head to Greece and Turkey next spring. I sure could use it in the mountains the next few days. Also a front brake pad is shot and I need to install a new one before that long plunge down the Alps.
I've ridden almost 5,000 miles in these last 4 months and I'm ready for a rest. Once I get to Rome I plan to set up in a campground or a cheap hostel and look for more permanent lodgings where I'll stay through January. I wonder what living in Rome will be like? That should be a whole new adventure.
I finally hit on a campground with WIFI. It's like Christmas morning!
Yesterday's ride was 100 kilometers, that's 60 miles in real distance, and I reached Innsbruck by about 5:00. I'm in a campground tucked in a little valley in the Alps, which I'll be riding over tomorrow. I had planned to tackle the Brennrpass today, but decided to take a sorely-needed rest day instead. I haven't taken a day off since Prague, 2 weeks ago, and I want to be fit and ready for the mountains tomorrow.
The weather is fine today, sunny and clear and the forecast calls for more of the same for the next few days. Of course up in the mountains, things can change fast so you never know...
The Brennerpass is the lowest pass over the Alps in these parts, only 1375 meters; about 4,125 feet. That's the equivalent of going over Stevens Pass in Washington State so it shouldn't be too bad. From here in Innsbruck, it's about 150 miles to Verona, Italy, then another 300 miles to Rome. I should get to Rome in about 10 or 15 days. I've heard that the riding in Northern Italy is very hilly and that can really slow me down.
I'm gong to hang around camp today, go into town and scout out the route over the Brennerpass, maybe get a map, stop in at a super market and buy provisions, then head back to the campground. I have been using the same razor blade for a couple of months, and I'm finally going to get some new ones.
My legs still feel like a couple of strips of extra crispy bacon. I had to dig deep for yesterday's marathon 85-kilometer hill climb and I'm really I'm paying for it today. But I had a good night's rest in an excellent hotel in Neustift. Christopher, the concierge, was kind enough to sit with me over breakfast and chat. It felt good to have a real conversation that consisted of something other than asking directions. I'd treated myself to a big dinner and an ice-cold beer the night before, plus, I got to iChat with my daughter, Maren, so bacon legs aside, I went to sleep feeling pretty good.
My room was quiet, unlike the place I had the night before, and I slept the whole night through, getting up only once to send some emails. I had a couple of eggs with breakfast this morning and I think all that protein really helped. I had a hairy climb out of the Danube River Valley, yeah, that's right, I said the Danube, and even though it was 6 kilometers and steep, I did well, only stopping once to rest. After that the ride was standard Austrian cycling; up 200 meters, down 200 meters. I'm told it will be like that all the way to Salzburg, near where I'll pick up the Inn River and ride water grade to Innsbruck.
I covered only 37 kilometers today and probably will do the same tomorrow. I'm finding that these hills require a lot of work and I can't expect to make my normal 50 to 60 kilometers each day. That's okay, learning how to go with the flow is part of what this trip is about.
I'm staying tonight in a little campground in Raab. I'm the only one here, not even anyone manning the place. I suppose someone will come around later or in the morning to collect the 12 Euros fee.
As I was riding along this afternoon, a fellow pulled up beside me on a mountain bike and we started talking. I could tell right away that he was a long-distance man. He just had that wild-eyed, haggard appearance common to the type. "Is this the way to Linz?" he asked. I couldn't quite place his accent.
"Uh, yeah, I think so," I replied, not used to being asked directions, it's usually the other way around.
"Going to Vienna," he said by way of explanation, "where are you headed?"
"Salzburg, then Innsbruck, going over the Brennerpass."
He nodded. " You Canadian?"
"You ride from Brazil?"
"No, I flew into Istanbul, rode down through Greece and up through Italy. Boy, that Tuscany, she's got some damn hills. All the towns, they're up on top of mountains, 1 or 2 kilometers high! But, boy, is it pretty! Rode down in the Greek Isles, beautiful but hot!"
"I'm going some of those places."
He looked at my bike with all its gear then up at me. "You riding around the world, huh? You long-distance man?"
"Yup," I smiled. I guess it takes one to know one.
September 11, 2012
Today was a good day. I rode 90 kilometers West and South from Raab in Austria to Martl in Germany. I'm now on the Inn River and through with the hills... for a while at least. There's a bike route all the way to Innsbruck and if I'lm reading the map I bought correctly, I'm just 225 kilometers away. If the roads stay good and flat I should reach Innsbruck in 2 1/2 days. From there, I'll make the call about the Brennerpass. If the weather holds and I feel good... Well, I've always wanted to ride over the Alps. Yeah, that would be something! With all the hill climbing I've been doing recently I feel like my legs are ready.
The weather has been great. Sunny but not too warm and I think I even had a tailwind today. I stopped in Branau, the first town I hit on the Inn River, and found a campground with the intention of spending the night. I'd already done a respectable 64 kilos, but as it was only 1:00, I just couldn't justify quitting so early so I found a bike shop that had a route map for the Inn River and I kept going. Sure glad I did! I found this really neat little campingplatz on a hill overlooking the river. The lady who runs the place has a cold case full of beer at the front desk and I broke down and bought one then drank it while my tent dried in the afternoon Sun.
My rear wheel has been giving me trouble. Loose spokes again and I think it won't last much longer. I went around the wheel and made sure each spoke was tight, but if they keep coming undone, then there's something wrong with the wheel. I just hope it gets me to Rome. I suppose I'll have to buy a proper touring wheel at some point.
The chain is about to go, too. It's so worn and stretched that it jumps all around. I had to stop 3 times today to put it back on. I don't mind doing the repair, it's that my hands get so greasy. I hate to have dirty hands and finding a WC when you need one is not so easy here. It's those simple things like having a place to wash up that I miss.
September 12, 2012
I couldn't have been going more than 2 or 3 kilometers per hour; a slow walk, when I swerved to miss the lady and her baby carriage, hit a parked bicycle and went down. I've developed a new policy about my bike tipping over. It's every man for himself. I let the bike go and jumped off, stumbled, caught myself and staggered to a stop. My behemoth of a bicycle lay on the sidewalk looking like a beached whale.
The day had started out all wrong. I had begun raining about 10:00 at night and had not let up. In the morning I packed inside the tent, then hurriedly took it down, stuffed it in my dry sack and headed out. I had planned to make 100 kilometers today but by 1:00 the rain was coming down so hard I could barely see. I hadn't eaten since I left the package of cheese in the bakery where I'd had a meager breakfast so I was a little dizzy on top of that. Maybe not having eaten contributed to my hitting that parked bicycle. Who knows?
When the rain storm turned into a squall, I abandoned the Inn River trail and headed for the nearest town that looked like it might have a hotel. It was while looking for a place out of the rain that I had my little accident. "Heavy load," said the man sitting at the sidewalk cafe. He was sipping a cup of coffee and writing in a notebook.
"Yeah," I mumbled, "heavy. Hey, do you know if there's a hotel around here?"
He thought for a moment. "I'm sure there is, but I'm not sure where."
"Okay, thanks," I said, "I'll just ride around till I find one." I was a block over when I heard someone shout. I looked around. It was the guy from the coffee shop. He caught up to me. "You look beat," he said, "why don't you come with me, you can spend the night at my daughter's and my apartment." His name was Hans and we walked a few blocks to the building where he and his daughter live. We put my bike in the basement and Hans fixed us a dinner of steamed soya beans, carrots and tofu. It was delicious! He explained how I could make the same recipe and gave me a bag of soya beans to take with me.
I had a hot shower and laid my sleeping pad and bag out in their spare room where I'll spend a warm, dry night. Tomorrow, the weather is slated to improve.
Yeah, the day started out all wrong, but it sure didn't end that way.
September 13, 2012
I got a late start today out of Waldkraiburg. Hans helped me do some shopping; I 'd been looking for powdered milk so I could have cold cereal for my breakfasts but could never find it in the European stores. Hans said it was not something Europeans commonly used and suggested baby formula so I bought a box of that. We'll see how I like it.
We had tea at a bakery and talked a while then I glanced at my watch and saw that it was past 10:30, I said goodbye to Hans and split. I circled around the area for an hour getting lost so it wasn't until nearly noon that I found the correct route and was really on my way.
It was cold and windy today and I got rained on a bit, but all things considered, it was a good day for cycling. I reached a campground a few kilometers North of Rosenheim, where I had planned to catch a train to Venice. I've changed my mind a couple of times about that. I still want to ride over the Alps, but the weather has been iffy and unless it gets better, I might still go by rail. Of course I can always hold off my final decision until I reach Innsbruck.
Fall has definitely arrived. The trees are shedding their leaves like crazy and the weather has turned cold. I could see my breath yesterday. The days are getting short, too. It's dark by 7, and the night comes on quickly. I'm always a bit apprehensive that I'll get caught out on the road after dark like the time in Ontario when I had to spend the night next to some railroad tracks. I sure don't want to experience that again. I'm fine once I get set up in my tent, but man, is it ever chilly! I'll be zipping up my sleeping bag tonight.
I thought I 'd reach Innsbruck sooner than I actually will. It's about 120 kilometers from here and I could probably do that distance in a day and a half if I really cranked, but the campgrounds are scarce around here so I have to pace myself so I'll have a place to sleep each night.
I'm at a pretty nice campground tonight but still no WIFI! I tried making soya beans for dinner, but I did something wrong and they turned out hard and pretty much inedible. I need to get a steamer and try that instead of boiling them, I have 3 bags of the things and I want to use them. When I set up my stove tonight, the pump failed. It was late, getting dark and raining lightly and I had no way to cook. It was frustrating as hell and a little depressing so I thought of going to the restaurant here at the campground for dinner, then decided to try to fix the stove first. I have a repair kit and I dug it out, disassembled the pump and found that a seal had gone bad. I replaced it and the stove now works like new. Yeah, I'm pretty proud of myself!
Tomorrow I plan to make about 50 kilometers to a campground near Kufstein, then, Innsbruck by Sunday. That is if I don't decide to jump on a train at Rosenheim.
September 14, 2012
The weather decided to behave today. It was sunny, but chilly and I battled a moderate headwind all day. But what the heck, I'm in Bavaria surrounded by the Pre Alps just 70 klicks from Innsbruck! Most of today's ride was within sight of the Inn River with just a few diversions.
I had cold cereal with infant formula standing in for milk this morning and it wasn't bad. Once I get the concentration right I think it will become a staple. I stopped in the little village of Kufstein, just a few kilometers from my campground, to buy some groceries this afternoon. It's a very touristy place, I guess because it has a castle of sorts on a cliff overlooking the river. Everything was super expensive so I only bought the bare essentials to get me through tonight and tomorrow. I'm at a campground/airfield where a little red and white plane is busily towing sailplanes up into the mountains. He must have taken off and landed 10 times in the 2 hours I've been here. I can watch the excitement from my tent door, it's better than TV.
I really paid though the nose for this campsite: 14 Euros, but the shower is included and it is a very swank campingplatz. I've been keeping my expenses to under 20 Euros per day, sometimes a lot less, but today I went right up to the limit. I sure hope Italy is cheaper.
Okay, about the Brennerpass. I'm 2 days out of Innsbruck so I'll have to make up my mind soon. I'm glad I didn't take the train from Rosenheim, though I can still catch it in Innsbruck. If the weather holds and I feel good and strong, I'm going for it.
I guess that's not really much of a decision, is it?
Today was one of the weirdest days yet. I had a nice simple route planned that would take me to a campground about 50 kilometers from my starting point. As I got closer to my destination I kept missing it. I would follow the signs to the place, then somehow pass it by. I would backtrack and after 5 or 10 kilometers find myself to the West or the North or the South of it, but never on target.
I kept circling the damn place until I was dizzy, all the time climbing in the hot sun. It was like an episode of the Twilight Zone where the guy's in Hell but doesn't know it yet.
At one point I asked directions of an old man who started describing the route in German. "Ich bin ein American, I don't speak German," I explained.
"Ah, Americanner," he smiled, then continued giving me directions in his native language.
I listened politely and when he was through, looked off thoughtfully, shrugged, shook my head and said, "Nope, I still don't speak German, sorry."
He nodded, indicating that he understood, then picked up right where he left off.
Now I was getting frustrated. "What part of 'I don't speak German' don't you understand?" I demanded.
I'm leaving my hotel and heading West for Salzburg. I didn't get a whole lot of sleep last night with the partying going on downstairs, plus, I'm right next to the church and the bell rings every half hour.
Despite all the interruptions, I feel rested and am looking forward to my first full day riding in Austria. I'm using a new map and I hope it is more accurate than it has been so far. It's a real luxury not to have to break camp, all I have to do is haul everything down 3 flights of stairs and I'm on my way.