Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Day 14: Linthal to Fluelen

 
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Despite all the rain the day before, it was beautiful and sunny by the time breakfast was ready. Nothing but blue sky greeted us as we left Hotel Adler to head up to the first cobblestone section of Klausen pass.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

Klausen is a pass which climbs in 2 stages. The first steep section starts right past Linthal, and goes up to over 1300m into the Urnerboden valley. The section through the Urnerboden Valley is almost flat, and then the road rises steeply again until the pass summit (1952m) is reached.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

The day got warm surprisingly quickly, and we enjoyed the cool tunnel in the first steep section as a relief from the heat. Phil was clearly quite over his cold, as he pulled rapidly away from us in this section, and waited for us as we struggled to make it into the valley. Once we hit the valley, we had a gentle tailwind that pushed us rapidly towards the second climb, though we did stop in the shade of a restaurant awning for a bit to eat and rest.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

The final push was too steep to attempt all at once, but fortunately there was no need to do so that day. While the air was hazy, the views all around us were still as gorgeous as ever, and the sound of cowbells surrounded us and made us feel uplifted. We were passed by many unloaded cyclists, and many cyclists, loaded and unloaded came down the other way, including a pair of girls no older than 14 on loaded touring bikes. When we got to the summit it was finally cool enough that we had to put on our jackets again.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

Lunch at the summit was measly and expensive. I would have waited until later, but I had tried to make a reservation for the Hotel Posthaus yesterday but Stefan the owner told me that this was their last rest day before the summer season, so we could not stay there, or have lunch there.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

The descent of Klausen is dramatic. With sheer drop offs and steep grades all the way down to the first retro-grade at Unterschahen, a good bike handler could hit almost arbitrarily high speeds if there were no traffic. Unfortunately, there's quite a bit of traffic on the road, and it's too narrow to risk a head-on collision, so I pulled the brakes more often than I would have liked. Nevertheless, I was not worried at all about tire blow-off, since there was plenty of room in between braking points for the rims to cool off.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

At the retro-grade, we shed our jackets, and started climbing. In the past, this retro-grade had caused me no end of trouble in the rain and cold, but today with warm temperatures and relatively fresh legs it was OK.

Once in Altdorf, we stopped at the same grocery store I stopped at in 2005, shivering in hypothemia, and bought groceries for a second lunch. We then rolled down to Fluelen where I knew a train would take us to Goschenen, not wishing to add another 500m of climbing in the afternoon heat when we could sleep high and cool and descend to the start of Sustens pass the next day.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

At Goschenen, it started to rain as we left the train station, so rather than scout around to look for the best deal, we stayed at the same hotel Mike and I stayed at the previous time, which was the Wellness-Hotel zum Weissen Rossli. The person running the hotel was the only Chinese person in town. She didn't remember me from last time, but she also didn't know I was Chinese as well.

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Day 13: Vaduz to Linthal

 
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The morning found us back tracking along the Rhein, along the elevated bike path back towards Switzerland and Sargans, where we had originally intended to stay. Unlike the Swiss side, the Liechtenstein side is bordered on one side by the river and the other by fields and views of mountains, rather than the big noisy motorway. The flat riding up river didn't take long, and Liechtenstein isn't a big country anyway, so we quickly ended up past the Swiss border. Swiss bike paths are very well signed, so we quickly found the sign for Sargans.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010


The ride towards Wallensee from Sargans was surprisingly pretty, with views of tall mountains all around us, little streams, and shady roads that were a relief in the warm summer sun. In Wallenstadt the bike path suddenly petered out, but we wanted lunch anyway, so headed into town where we bought a grocery store lunch. I asked the information center, which was conveniently located right at the post office where an internet cafe was, since Lisa wanted to do some business on the internet. They pointed me at a Cafe which was right on the water of the Wallensee, and when we got there it looked like an ideal picnic spot, so Phil and I laid the bikes down and proceeded to lunch on the benches while watching the beautiful scenery.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

It was an ideal spot for a nap as well, so once Lisa was done with internet and lunch we had a few quiet moments. During that time, I spotted that rarest of cyclists: the Independent Solo Woman Tourist. I walked up to her and asked if I could get a photo of her, and she told me that she had just started from Chur that morning, and had 8 weeks to ride her bike to Paris. As a school teacher, she had even more vacation than a typical European did. I asked her if she was camping, and she shook her head and said no, she would stay in hostels. Like all other true adventurers she had no idea where she was goning to stay each night. I wished her well.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

We then rode along the Wallensee, something I had wanted to for a while. The main road has a bike path, but the real bike path was right along the lake on the other side of the train tracks on its own dedicated grade. It took us a while to find a way to get to it, but get to it we did. We got great views of the Wallensee, and the facilities were really amazing, including its own dedicated tunnel! People always wonder why I go all the way to Europe to ride my bike, and the willingness of a country to build dedicated facilities like this just shows you how different riding a bike is in Europe, versus riding one in the US. It takes that kind of switch in mentality before the majority of people consider cycling a valid form of transportation.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

From Weesen I saw a sign for Molliers and Nafels, and so we took leave of the Wallensee and rode towards Linthal. The bike path was closed so we had to take the detour onto a few busy highways until we got to Netstal where we picked up the bike path to Glarus. At Glarus, we stopped at a supermarket for water melons, and I laid out the choices. We could stay in Glarus, continue to Linthal, or visit the Kolantarsee. Phil wanted to go to Linthal for an early start tomorrow, so we headed in that direction. The main road was really busy, though, and it didn't take long before we started searching for the bike path. We picked it up in Schen, tne then rode it into Linthal under the threat of impending rain.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

Indeed, it started raining heavily in Linthal itself. We pulled into a bed and breakfast, the but beds looked so moth-eaten that I didn't even want to bother with a bed bug check. The train station had a hotel that was frequented by cyclists, but the room she wanted to give us had a bathroom that reeked, so we ended up on the other side of town at Hotel Adler.

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Monday, June 28, 2010

Day 12: Andeer to Vaduz

 
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From Andeer down to Thusis, the road was once again smooth and fast, staying with the Hinterrhein through tunnels and a few more "schultz" style tourist traps while the freeway soared above us. It promised to be another warm day, but in Thusis, the bike path quickly veered off away from the main road and headed off into the woods on a dirt path towards Chur. The bike path granted us beautiful views of the river below as the Hinterrhein made its way into the Rhein. Around lunch time we headed into Ens, getting to the supermarket just before it closed for lunch. After lunch and a nap, we headed into Chur.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

Lisa had missed the Heidiland tour the last time we were in the region, and she was determined not to miss it this time. She went to the information center and got directions to the Heidi Haus, which was in Maienfeld, about 20km away. While waiting for her and Phil to do some shopping, a man rode up on his bicycle and asked us if we were touring. I answered his questions and he told me how to get to the bike path towards Maienfeld. Imagine my surprise when he tipped me 10CHF and asked me to buy some coffee.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

When Lisa and Phil came back, however, he was so charmed that he invited us over to his house for some tea and to hopefully meet his wife. This was how we met Otto Rohrer. Otto's wife was not home, but he offered us tea anyway, and then tried to give us more stuff to take with us, including a club jersey. Otto told us that he had always wanted to go touring, but did not know how, and wanted to help out others who were living his dream. The thing is, he was strong enough to keep up with the local cycle club, so all he lacked was the actual push to go out and tour. People always seem surprised that I get experiences like this when touring, but it's something that happens at least once every trip.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

After we left Otto's house, which was conveniently located on the bike path to Maienfeld, we headed down the bike path. There was a nominal headwind today, but in the afternoon heat it just made for a pleasant breeze. While the bike path was meandering, the constant navigational challenges it posed made the miles go by. The headwind stiffed a little bit more as we rode directly into Maienfeld, and once in Maienfeld there were Heidi signs everywhere, including a Heidi shop right in the intersection at the center of town. Lisa went in and was told that there was an original Heidi haus up the hill. Since it was already 4:15 and the place closed at 5:00pm, we got onto the bike and started up the hill.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

Well, never doubt the ability of the stoker to get what she wants. Lisa was so motivated on the climb that we dropped Phil on the steep grade. As we approached the Heidi haus, I spied a sign pointing to Vaduz, and realized that we could make a detour into Liechtenstein for the night. Finding the Heidi Haus was a bit of a problem, what with all Heidi-related postings on the road. There was the Heidi Hotel, and the Heidi Weg, and Heidi this and Heidi that. We eventually found it at 4:45pm, and Lisa bought tickets and went into the Heidi Haus while I stayed outside and guarded the bike from the mobs of Japanese tourists that would unload from buses at the Heidi Hotel and walk in.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

Phil eventually caught up to us and bought some ice cream. He had bonked on the climb, and was totally wasted. At the tourist shop, I examined the map and informed Phil that we were less than 100m from the pass into Liechtenstein, and Phil thought it was an amusing idea as well.

After Lisa was done touring the Heidi haus, and taking photos of the Heidi chicken coop and the Heidi goat field, we headed over to the Heidi weg, and began riding towards Liechtenstein. The pass turned out to be only 700m tall, and since we were already at 650m, it was not a problem, other than the last 200m stretch being on a road that was in the process of being repaved, and hence in a state of pure gravel. The descent into Liechtenstein took us past a Swiss military installation (I doubt if the Swiss really are worried about invasion from a country with less population than Saratoga, California, but nevertheless, it was a pretty impressive installation), and then zipped down to the valley into Balzers.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

At Balzers, we found a hotel but it was full up. It took riding into Vaduz and searching around before we settled on a hotel that seemed even more expensive than the ones in Switzerland. Between the morning descent, the lovely dirt path, meeting Otto, and getting in the Heidi Haus, we were all pretty satisfied. Even better, it looked like we were over the worst of the cold.

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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Day 11: Pian S. Giacomo to Andeer

 
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Cynthia and Kekoa realized that they were far faster than the tandem uphill, and in the morning decided that they were going to do a loop into Italy and then meet us at Klausen pass. Phil was feeling better, but not so much so that he thought he could keep up with the others, so he elected to stay with me and Lisa.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

From Pian S. Giacomo, the road climbed a series of hairpins steeply up the grade to San Bernardino, where it loses a few hundred meters to meet the freeway tunnel. Cyclists have to use the road over the old summit, but since it was a beautiful day for it, nobody paid any mind. Past the extremely touristy town of San Bernardino, the road changes character again, going over roadside streams and quickly losing most of its vegetation. The long views of the surrounding mountains and the gentle grade makes San Bernardino a beautiful pass to visit, and I was almost sorry when we hit the summit in an anti-climatic roll to the summit lake.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

We were still feeling the lingering effects of our illness, and at the top ordered some tea and ate our snacks before braving the descent. The descent on a busy Sunday went down a series of hairpins which did not let me get any speed whatsoever. It would have been far worse, however, had not a wonderful German driver decided to just pace us down the hill so that we would have protection from passing motor vehicles. He waved to us and took off when the road flattened out at Hinterrhein. We waited there to make sure Phil did not get lost, and then took the fast descent down to Splurgen, where we saw Cynthia and Kekoa again after they had just had lunch.

Lunch at Splurgen was unsatisfying, and I did not like the look of the town, so proposed that we did more descending. Cynthia had complained that the bike route to Splurgen was the toughest bike route she had ever done, but looking at the terrain I was confident that it wouldn't be hard from Splurgen. But first, when I spotted a shaded spot, Lisa decided she wanted to take a nap. Phil and I took a short walk that didn't go anywhere interesting during her nap, and after the nap, I discovered to my delight that the path went on the other side of the Sufnersee from the main road on an unpaved track.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

Past Sufers, the descent began again in earnest as the road floated high above the gorge of the Hinterrhein and then began a steep dive towards in! The descent was fast, smooth, and exciting, and as close to flying as anyone could wish for.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

At the Roflaschlucht, we decided to do the touristy thing and visit the gorge, but it turned out to be a tourist trap, not as impressive as any of the gorges I had seen in prior trips. We rolled down to Andeer around 4:30pm, and after checking out and failing to find anything really cheap, settled at the Hotel Post.

At dinner, we asked about the mineral baths in town, and it turned out that the hotel provided a minor discount for the baths. We headed over to the mineral baths after dinner, and discovered that it was unfortunately only heated to about 32C, which still felt a little cold. Lisa, however, claimed that it helped her skin quite a bit, and would spend the rest of the trip searching for more mineral baths.

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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Day 10: Bellinzona to Pian S. Giacomo

 
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Phil slept nearly 12 hours the previous night, courtesy of some of Cynthia's drugs, and Lisa's ear acupuncture. He said he felt quite a bit better this morning, so we proceeded to head up San Bernardino pass, which was a pass that I had not seen before. It was a long climb, and a Saturday to boot, so I didn't want a long day as lodging could be hard to find on weekends.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

Leaving the city streets behind, we quickly found ourselves heading on a mostly level road headed towards the mountains. The day was cool as we started around 7:30am, but by 8:30am it had warmed up dramatically. Since the tandem can't possibly keep up with singles on the hills, I told the others that if we got separated, they should just wait at all the water fountains. Soon, an unloaded racing cyclist road past us and Cynthia and Kekoa immediately jumped on his wheel. They disappeared into the horizon quickly.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

The road finally steepened at Soazza, where there were road side rest rooms as well as views of a church high in the hills. At Mesocco, we stopped at a grocery store for lunch as well as to load up on groceries and ice cream. There were several fountains between Soazza and Mesocco, but somehow Cynthia and Kekoa had managed to not see any of them. After lunch, we rode up the cobblestone road and saw the road develop significant grades of 10% or more as we climbed one switchback after another.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

Finally, the grade eased up and we were in Pian S. Giacomo. The OCD guide had said that there was a hotel in Pian Giacomo, but it was nowhere in sight. When we asked a restaurant as to whether there was a hotel in town, they said no, you'd have to go to San Bernardino for that. Then they changed their mind and said there's a hotel in town after all. We went back but rode past the hotel a second time before stopping at what looked like a restaurant to find that yes, they had an apartment they rented out.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

It was only 2 in the afternoon, but on a Saturday, and with all of us coughing, I thought it was prudent to stop now and finish the climb in the morning.

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Friday, June 25, 2010

Day 9: Airolo to Bellinzona

 
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Phil looked considerably worse this morning than he did yesterday, and everyone except Lisa had developed a slight cough. I ran off in the morning to find a shop with torx wrenches to take apart my CPAP machine. They had a torx wrench, and we took apart the box only to discover that the electric motor inside the unit was protected by even smaller torx screws which even the shop I went did not have. I shook everything but nothing worked, so there was nothing to do but to package up all the CPAP gear, put it in a box, and ship it back to myself in Munich. The cost was high (around $50), but the mask itself would be $100 new, so it was worth doing.

By the time I got back to the hotel, everyone was packed. The other groups of cyclists on tour were outside, and Cynthia told me that they were a 3 day supported tour. "But they have custom jerseys! That's what's wrong with your tour, Piaw. Where are the custom jerseys?"
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

With Phil feeling quite ill, I decided we should just try to make it to Bellinzona, which would make this a downhill only day. I recall Lisa and I doing that ride in 2003 and not only getting to Bellinzona, but making it all the way to the Italian lakes as well, so I figured this should be an easy goal.

Indeed, the first 20 miles or so were quite straight forward, following the road straight down. Once it got down to within a few hundred meters of Bellinzona's elevation, however, the bike path started going up and down. This was fine, but the weather was very warm (we were in Italian speaking Switzerland, right at the Italian border), and by the time we got to within 5 miles of Bellinzona a headwind had kicked up!
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

At that point, I abandoned the bike path and headed directly on the main roads to Bellinzona. Once we rolled into Bellinzona, I rode right past a bike shop without realizing it until Cynthia and Kekoa told me about it at an intersection. Fortunately, there was a park at the intersection, so everyone could wait in the shade while we went to the shop. I was looking for a replacement front tire for the bike and more inner tubes to replace the popped inner tubes.

The shop sold the correct sized tires, Wilderness Trail Bikes 28mm and 32mm tires. The employees proudly told me that these were great tires, because they had a kevlar belt to prevent punctures. The irony of it was that Switzerland, Germany, Austria and France have the cleanest roads I have ever ridden on outside of Japan. I did not know it then, but I had already had all the flats I would have on the trip yesterday, and none of them were attributable to European roads. I bought the tire and tubes, and gave one back to Kekoa who had loaned me a tube yesterday.

We then rode downtown to Bellinzona and found a hotel at a reasonable price near town center. We took showers, and then split up: Cynthia and Kekoa to have a couple night's out, and Phil, Lisa and I to dine together. We bought some pizza and then fruits and more pizza at a supermarket, and then Phil went back to the hotel to sleep his illness off while Lisa and I explored the big castle in the center of town.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

The place was huge, including walls, battlements, murder holes under the walls, and even exits that extended well beyond the castle entrance. By the time we were done, we'd found ourselves quite a way from where we started. We did not even consider trying to explore the other two medieval structures in the city, as it was hot and humid, and I too wanted a chance to sleep off my minor illness.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010


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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Day 8: Grimsel Pass Summit to Airolo

 
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I woke up in the middle of the night and wondered why it happened. Looking over, I realized that my CPAP machine had stopped working. I took my mask off and went back to sleep, hoping that the machine would fix itself in the morning.

By breakfast time, we were all as hungry but there was quite a bit of coughing amongst the party. I was not feeling so good myself, but it could easily have been the interrupted CPAP. Kekoa blamed the coughing on the extremely dry air. I thought it was more likely that we had contracted a virus.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

Nevertheless, the view outside was nothing short of gorgeous, and I eagerly anticipated the descent on Grimsel pass, which was a series of hairpin turns that were fun and fast. I remember overtaking a motor-home on this stretch in 2003, and it was a good place for cyclists who were comfortable with their bikes.

Lisa and I hopped onto the tandem and zipped down the pass. Hairpin after hairpin zipped past, and then we were at the bottom, in Gletsch. As we rolled to the stop sign I heard a sound like a gunshot, and looked down and sure enough it was my front tire. I checked the rim and it was barely warm to touch. Examining the temperature labels Pardo had installed on the rim indicated that the temperature did not exceed 71C. I chalked it up to a mis-seated tire, and went ahead and replaced the tube. In retrospect, I should have been more suspicious.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

We started the Furka pass climb. While Furka pass (2436m) is taller than Grimsel (2165m), Gletsch (1762m) is also much higher than Innertkirchen (625m), so the climb up Furka pass was easier than yesterday's climb up Grimsel. We stopped at the Hotel Belvedere to get the classic shot of Grimsel pass from Furka's vantage point. The stop was also necessary because the climb up to Belvedere is the steepest part of the climb, after which the rest of the ride is comparatively gentle.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

At the summit, there was a bunch of expensive cars on a car rally, and women who were obviously trophy beauties of some sort were busy posing themselves for pictures with the cars at the summit, as though getting to these places by car was some sort of achievement. Fortunately, we also met other touring cyclists: Kyle Williams and Roger England:
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

Roger, in particular was riding a custom folding bike of his own design, and told me that he returned to the alps every year for a week to ride a few more passes. Since he lived in England, such short trips were not prohibitive in either time or money. Kyle was touring for the long haul, as he had a seasonal job that did not require him for a good part of the year.

We then descended Furka pass. It is very difficult to be fast on Furka pass, as not only is there a strong head-wind that turns into a side wind at times, the grade is mostly gentle when the road is straight, and steep only where there are several hairpin turns. Lisa shot a video of the descent, so I won't say much about it:

Furka Descent on tandem from Piaw Na on Vimeo.


We did suffer a blowout on the descent, as I pulled over to let an oncoming bus past. At that point, I decided that it was a bad tire (since once again the rim wasn't even warm), and replaced it with the Rivendell Rolly Poly I kept for these situations. While the Rolly Poly has a kevlar bead, since heat was not the factor in blowing off the Avocet 32, my guess was that it would hold. At this point, however, I was out of spare inner tubes.

Lunch at the Hotel Des Alpes was surprisingly good, but after lunch I discovered that my new tire was flat. The tube I had put into the new tire had a defective patch. I was out of gumption to patch the flat, so borrowed a spare tube from Kekoa. The dreaded headwind into Hospental was particularly strong that day, so we had a hard time getting to the start of the climb. We filled our water bottles at the corner (the restaurant charged us to do so), and then proceeded up the hill with a tail wind. Unfortunately, while the tandem doesn't feel the headwind as much, it also doesn't get as much assist from a tailwind as one might wish. The climb was slow but again, with Hospental at 1493m, it was only a relatively short climb up to the St. Gotthard summit (2106m). The last time Lisa and I climbed this road in 2003, it was shrouded in fog. This time, it was sunny and pretty. We eschewed the steeper and exposed old cobblestone road in favor of the shaded (by a slide-protection gallery) and gentler new road, from which we had plenty of time to see the old road and its environment.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010


At the top, we saw the summit lake for the first time, but at 5pm, it was too late to visit the museum. The St. Gotthard descent, however, is fast, and almost now braking is required:

With the circumstances so changed from my memories of this descent I had a great time, swooping down from the heights and letting the tandem roll. With the new tire, I had confidence that I would not have to minimize braking.

After a gallery that terminated in a flying hairpin, I spied the sign that indicated that the rest of the main road was a freeway, and pulled over. We waited for others to catch up to us, but Cynthia rode right past us without seeing us. I felt like an idiot for not telling people that a blue sign with a car in it was indicative that the road was only for cars, not for bikes. Kekoa then did the same thing, but heard us scream at him as he pulled past, and when we told him what happened he gave chase to Cynthia, hoping to track her down. Phil was the only person to see us, and after that we descended the bicycle route.

That turned out to be a mistake, for the road was not as well designed as the main road. In the future I will simply ignore the freeway sign and take the main road all the way down to Airolo. Not only is it cobblestoned and bumpy, there were a lot of corners where you had to brake corner to corner, which made the road uncomfortable to ride and no fun whatsoever. Whatever the Swiss were thinking when they designated this the bike route, they were not thinking of bicyclists capable of 50+mph descents.

By the time we got down to the bottom, it was 6:00pm. We did see everyone at the train station, though Cynthia was mad as hell. I made my apologies and we ended up taking a room at a hotel right across the street, where we saw that other bicyclists were also staying. The grocery store was open, so lots of shopping was done. I tried to find torx wrenches with which to open up my CPAP machine, but to no avail.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010


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