Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Review: Olympus EPL-1

When my brother ran off to Europe for 6 weeks last year, he bought an Olympus EPL-1 for not much more than the Canon S95. What convinced me to recommend that camera was the DPReviews with the comparison shots that clearly showed the EPL-1 as being superior to many other more expensive cameras. Well, my brother shot tons of photos but didn't post any of them, so I had no idea what the photo quality was like.

Since XiaoQin was driving this year, weight was a non issue for her and she could carry the Olympus EPL-1, which we borrowed from him. There are a few annoying things about the Olympus EPL-1:
  1. It stamps all photos with the caption OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA. Yes, this is a camera that shouts at you and demands that you remove all those captions.
  2. It has no orientation sensor, so you have to manually fix the orientation of all the photos that are shot vertically.
  3. It does not have a rear control dial, so exposure control requires cumbersome button presses.
  4. The auto-focus is piss poor.
I hoped that the extra quality of the EPL-1 would offset those faults, but the last one really did me in. One out of every three shots were poorly focused, and the screen wasn't sufficient to show it. Whatever auto-focus mechanism Olympus uses, it's not as smart as the one on the Canon S95/S90 series, since the S95/S90 screens aren't any better than the Olympus'. The flip side of it is that the camera is fast! Shot-to-shot wait times are nearly non-existent. Unfortunately, coupled with the problem auto-focus, that just means you just take more crappy photos. The camera does not have decent battery life, so it's a good thing my brother gave us 2 spare batteries. As with all other micro-four thirds cameras, it does not fit in a jersey pocket, and so would not substitute for the S90 that I was carrying. But the reality is, even on a hiking trip, the S90 shot better pictures, provided better control, and while slower, wasn't so slow that it didn't out-perform the Olympus EPL-1. I see that Olympus has lowered the price on this camera to be the same as the S95's. Nevertheless, it is a bad deal. There is no reason you wouldn't carry a S95 instead of the Olympus EPL-1. I found no circumstances under which the EPL-1 took better pictures than the S95. Given that the S95 fits in a jersey pocket, that's pretty damning. Not Recommended

Conclusion and Thoughts

If the Tour of the German Speaking Alps last year was an example of everything going wrong, this year nearly everything went right.
  • We started a week later, and thus only had a couple of days of poor weather at the start.
  • We booked a hotel nearly next to the airport avoiding the possibility of losing luggage right from the beginning.
  • We scheduled the hiking at the start of the self-supported touring part of the trip, enabling us to ship our hiking stuff back to our airport, which enabled us to travel lighter and faster once we started riding.
Other notes:
  • I'm getting older. We only had a couple of days exceeding 100km and 2000m of climb. As I get older and slower my days of doing those 100km/2000m days back to back seem to be gone. Part of it is that Sleep Apnea forces me to carry more weight up and down the hills, but the other part of is that my recovery isn't what it used to be. Last year I could pretend that it was the tandem's fault. Not this year.
  • We actually did more cycling once we lost use of the car. The car enabled us to skip to "the good parts." The reality is, though, that cycle touring is about all the parts, not just the good parts.
  • This is my first year where I could do both the French side and the Italian side back-to-back. The result: no contest, the Italian/Swiss/Austrian Alps are way prettier than the French alps. People who only ride in France because that's where the Tour de France is don't know what they're missing.
  • If you're going to have rain for a week on the trip, having it at the end is much better than at the beginning. At the beginning you just lose shape and motivation. At the end, you're ready for a rest!
  • When coordinating with a car, make sure that you pick good locations to meet up. In particular, meeting in the center of strange towns is going to make your driver very antsy, as towns are harder to navigate than country side. It's far easier to arrange to meet at an intersection or a very small town.
  • Having a car was very nice: Phil said, "The car was totally worth the money!" We definitely had to thank XiaoQin for driving. A lot of the days would have been unmanageable or we would have had to take a less than optimal route when cycling. That said, I loved the unsupported part of the trip every bit as much, so I wouldn't go out of the way to get a car in Europe if everyone was up for riding every day (as was the case in the past).
  • Remove the plastic dust caps from valve stems before mounting bikes on cars!
  • We did our hiking in the St. Moritz Area instead of the Bernese Oberland this time. Compared to the Bernese Oberland, St. Moritz is less pretty, and not as interesting. It was worth doing once, but I don't think I'll revisit. Having now stayed at Wengen, Grindelwald,Lauterbrunnen, Rosenlaui, and Murren, I would recommend Murren for first time visitors and Rosenlaui for people who would like to get away from the Rick Steves/Lonely Planet crowd. Wengen is nice, but not as nice as Murren, and definitely not as nice as Rosenlaui.

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Day 31, 32: Epilogue

We woke up in the morning to gloomy skies, despite attempting to sleep in. We were due at noon at a restaurant downtown to meet Stefan, so we had a bit of a leisurely breakfast before heading to town on our 24 hour ticket.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

The restaurant featured Swiss German food, with an entry way granting us great reasons to not smoke in the area. Stefan told us stories about his trip to the Himalayas. The trip proper sounded really fun, but the stay in Kathmandu and the aftermath of the consequences of the stay were ugly and off-putting. Stefan does a far better job than I did of explaining it, so I won't attempt to paraphrase him. Stefan as an outdoor enthusiast is second to few others, and his preparation was thorough and complete, so if bad things happened to him and his girlfriend, I'm not sure I want to risk something similar.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

Stefan took us on a river side stroll back to the train station, and it was lucky that he stayed with us because the train back to Kloten had a problem. We ended up hopping onto the train to the airport and then taking the airport shuttle back to Hotel Flyaway.

At 6pm, we went to the airport with our bikes and checked baggage, and made use of the early checkin to get our boarding passes and to get rid of the bikes. With the TopBonus service card, we did not have to pay to use this feature, and our cards let us bypass the line to pay to checkin! We then spent the rest of our swiss francs on dinner and on some extremely expensive Truffles du Jour at the Sprungli store, as recommended by Stefan.

The rest of the stay was uneventful, as was the flight proper. I'm happy to report that one and a half N1 batteries was all that was necessary to get me through the flight. (I did spend 2 hours on the X201 sorting pictures in lightroom --- when you run heavy duty photo-processing on the Thinkpad, the battery just doesn't last as long as when you're just typing away on Emacs) Phil performed the super human task of packing all the chocolate in his carry on baggage (he did not want to risk losing any of that precious cargo!), and not eating any of it on the flight. I did not trust myself, and checked all but one bar of chocolate, and that bar did not survive the flight. All our chocolate arrived safely, and now a month later, a lot of it is already gone!

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Price Drop on Independent Cycle Touring

While at WorldCon, I had a discussion with Sandra Taylor of Schlock Mercenary, who told me that I could get full color books printed in China at about $5 each, instead of paying the $15/copy that I'm paying right now. The problem? I'd have to print 5,000 copies at a time. Well, that's ok if I sell enough copies, so I'm going to start pricing the books as if I was going to get them from China and see how things go.

As of right now, Independent Cycle Touring is $29.95 for the paperback, and $14.95 for the digital edition. If you want both, it's $34.95. If this experiment works, the price change will be permanent. If not, prices will have to go back up. There's no way I'm ordering 5,000 copies of anything if it doesn't sell. Storage at my house is not infinite, and it'll be squeezed if I have too much inventory.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Day 30: Neuhausen to Kloten


We woke up in the morning to overcast skies and wet roads. Looking at the weather forecast, it looked like rain was in the cards for the next morning as well, so I called Hotel Flyaway and informed them that we would arrive a day early. We ate an anemic breakfast and got on our bikes and headed again for the Rheinfall, since our route would initially be along Swiss bike route #2.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

What a difference 12 hours made! Instead of the beautiful water, now all we saw was gray. Riding past the falls, we quickly found ourselves back in Germany!
From Tour of the Alps 2011

The gray skies continued all the way until we came back into Switzerland, but at last the rain stopped. At Flach we ignored the bike path sign to Eglisau and headed instead towards Embrach and Kloten. Since our GPS units already had Hotel Flyaway set as a way point, we had the units set, but ignored the GPS most of the time since the bike path signs were more reliable.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

Upon leaving the Rhein, the route led relentlessly uphill for an hour or so, but at a gentle grade and without much rain. Even the roads were starting to dry. Once in Embrach, bike path signs for Kloten showed up and we followed that over a hill and found ourselves descending at speed into Kloten, where GPS units and Phil's memory led us easily back to the hotel. We checked in, got our bike cases out, and started taking apart the bikes for stowing. The skies were blue when we checked in but as we started wrenching on our bikes rain came down from the sky in sheets of water and thunder shook the skies around us. We had clearly ended the tour right at the nick of time.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

It took us about 45 minutes to pack the bikes, after which we cleaned up, feeling happy about not having to do laundry for a change. Our freshly laundered clothing had arrived safely from St. Moritz, as had our Amazon.de order for maps. We ate a late supermarket lunch, then started shopping for chocolate. Phil had never really spent much time in downtown Zurich, and Cynthia had wanted us to bring back some Lindt Summer Edition chocolate, so we caught a train downtown with a day pass. We took a quick break at the Sprungli cafe downtown for some chocolate cake.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

I was starting to despair at finding summer edition chocolate when I finally found it in the basement of the City Coop near the Sprungli store. Phil and I each bought about $100 worth of chocolate. We then had dinner near the train station and headed back to Hotel Flyaway just in time to see the Double Rainbow.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

We had one more day in Zurich, but our tour was over.
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Day 29: Radolfzell to Neuhausen


We woke up to pretty clear skies and beautiful weather, and so cooked our Weisswurst and ate them before heading over to the train station to see Alan. To our surprise the forecast was pretty grim, so we opted to take the train over to Schaffhausen. Alan had told me the night before that Scahffhausen was the only Swiss town that got bombed by the allies during World War 2 because the allies thought it was German!
From Tour of the Alps 2011

We got on the train and had a fairly long train ride, and watched gloomily as the weather got more and more overcast as we approached the Bodensee. Finally, I suffered from a fit of impatience and we got off the train at Radolfzell to start riding towards Schaffhausen rather than take the train all the way there. It was drizzling as we got off the train but I figured that it wouldn't be too bad.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

Indeed as we wound around the final parts of the Bodensee the rain never got so bad as to restrict our visibility. The bike path provided ample reminders that Germany was a cycling country, with a bike repair station mounted right past the town of Moos. (Yes, we'd visited two towns named Moos and Wangen on this trip)
From Tour of the Alps 2011

At the town of Horn, we saw a fruit stand and stopped to buy and eat some fruit. The vendor turned out to be from New York. He spend every summer in this part of the country helping out his friend, and said that the weather was unusually wet this year. It was unusually wet last year as well, so I was starting to think this was pretty normal. He told us to stay on this side of the river and that Stein am Rhein was a pretty town and worth visiting.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

Indeed when we got to Stein Am Rhein, we found a cute town with a walkable central district with what were obviously some nice old houses with painted facades. It was a little too early to stop, though, so we pressed on, as Schaffhausen was literally right down the river.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

At Schaffhausen, it took us some time to find the tourist information center, but we then discovered first that the falls were at Neuhausen and not Schaffhausen, and as a bonus, the cheap lodging was at Neuhausen. With help from the lady at the information center, we booked the cheapest hotel at Neuhausen, and then proceeded to ride along the #2 bike route, the Rhine route towards Neuhausen where we found a non-descript hotel that nonetheless featured internet access at the ground floor.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

The hotel had a transparent shower, but fortunately, in addition to having the shower in the room, there were also showers on the same floor, so we took showers simultaneously so as not to have to deal with taking showers with other people in the same room potentially staring at us.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

Of course, as soon as we showered the sun came out, which meant that we should visit the falls. It was a mere 15 minutes walk from our hotel to the Falls, and on the way we went to the supermarket to pick up snacks and drinks.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

The falls were billed as the largest waterfall in Europe. It's not very big compared to say, the Niagara or Victoria falls, but it was charming in a very European style, with no less than 3 castle-like buildings lending atmosphere to the natural wonder. We spent time exploring the falls from several different angles and shooting pictures before our hunger compelled us to seek out dinner and we returned to our hotel.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

Once at the hotel, I pulled out our map and said, "Hey wait a minute, we're only 35km from Zurich, if that!" We looked at our options and decided that we would see what the weather forecast looked like the next day: if it was good, we could keep riding and explore more of the area but if it sucked we would just ride to our hotel in Zurich and spend an extra day in Zurich.
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Startup Engineering Management Pre-Orders

I am now in the final stages of proofing the Startup Engineering Management and pre-orders can now begin. For a limited time (basically while I'm getting the final proof copy), I am providing pre-order copies at $22 each. This period will last until I get the final proof from CreateSpace and order the initial print run. (The reason I can offer this discount is that the more copies I order, the cheaper each copy will be)

Furthermore, so you aren't stuck waiting in case shipping is slow, this pre-order comes with an electronic copy as well, so you can start reading right away!

So if you want a copy, visit the above link and buy away!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Day 28: Rest Day in Munich

We woke up in the morning to a light drizzle that would wax and wane all day, leaving us glad that we had taken the day off. I ran downstairs to buy some senf (sweet mustard) as well as bread for the Weiss Wurst, made some, and then Phil and I went downtown to first get an umbrella and then chat with Alan about dinner arrangements. He seemed happy to meet with Googlers, so we set a time for 6:00pm and went back downtown to use the ATM, browse maps in the bookstore (Phil found an Austrian map to his liking, indicating that perhaps he might return to Austria some day for some more exploration), and then visited Google for lunch.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

After lunch, we bought more Weiss wurst and then headed back to the apartment where Phil slept and read while I watched movies on my Nexus One, which had become my only source of entertainment after my Kindle had died.

Dinner with Alan, Frank, and Daniel was great. Alan explained to us all the construction that was happening in front of the Google office in Munich near Marienplatz. The train line through downtown was the busiest in all of Europe, with a train passing through every 2 minutes, bottle-necking the entire system. The construction was intended to alleviate that by not just building multiple lines, but also enabling Munich's East train station to further allow more traffic. The result should be complete in about 5 years or so. Discussion also revolved around the politics of the train station. The big news, however, was that the French TGV system, which was famously unfriendly to bike carriage, would finally run a line from Lyons to Frankfurt. However, as a condition of being allowed to run on German tracks, the German train system had negotiated with the TGV to have a bike car! As a result, this will be the only TGV/long distance train run by the French system to allow bike carriage. This train will start running in 6 months, and you heard it here first.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

Dinner passed very quickly, and at the end when Alan heard about where we were planning to go, he suggested that we went to Schaffhausen, both for less riding in the rain, as well as to visit the biggest falls in Europe. He told us to show up at 9:00am the next day at the Deutsche Bahn counter where he'd look up the weather for us and provide us with suggested routes.

We went back to the apartment, did laundry using the laundry machine and dryer (what a luxury), cleaned up the place, and went to sleep hoping for better weather the next day.

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Day 27: Rorshach to Munich


Our goal today was to make it somewhere inside Germany to have access to the Bavarian ticket so we could have a cheap ride to Munich. We settled on riding to Wangen im Allgau as a destination with a train to Munich without having too many transfers. The day started out sunny, without a cloud in the sky, which made me question our decision to go to Munich. Nevertheless, the weather forecast has been more right than wrong recently, so we stuck with our plan, riding towards Bregenz along the bike path, backtracking what we did yesterday. There was a brand new bike bridge across the mighty Rhine, but once in Bregenz we immediately headed up the hill so we could get some climbing in.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

When you're near a lake, it doesn't take a lot of climbing before you start getting nice bviews of the Bodensee, and at that point it really started getting overcast.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

I always had the impression that once we left Bregenz we'd be immediately in Germany, but that's not true. It took quite a bit of riding through the small villages before we entered the Bavarian border at Neuhaus. While the climbing wasn't steep, there was a lot of rolling hills, and coupled with our not quite recovered state, we were making less good time than expected, putting into question our ability to catch the train.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

Once we got into Lindenberg, however, things started flowing more smoothly as we descended towards Wangen. The last 15km went by in a hurry and we found ourselves arriving at the Wangen train station at 12:30pm, well ahead of schedule. We caught the 1:00pm train and ended up in Munich around 4pm.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

At the Munich train station I dropped by counter #1 at the Deutsche Bahn station and met up with Alan Wissenberg of Euraide. He was busy that evening but thought he could get permission from his wife to stay out late the next day, so we arranged to do dinner tomorrow. We then rode into the Google Munich office, said hi to everyone, picked up keys, and rode off to Chris' apartment. We took showers and then rode our bikes back to the Google Munich office because Chris' apartment complex had no indoor bike parking and the Google office looked more secure.

Together with Daniel, we went over to Haxnbauer in Munich for giant pork and beef Knuckles for dinner. Despite my having lived in Munich this was my first time there, so it was an experience, with giant hunks of meat and some potatoes to down it all in.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

Phil bought some Weisswurst for the morning's breakfast, and we hung out at the Google office with the brand new 4th floor until it started raining hard, making us glad that we were not riding the next day. It poured like crazy, and we went to bed glad to be in a big town with stuff to do.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

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Day 26: Bludenz to Rorshach


We woke up to overcast skies but dry roads. Leaving Bludenz, we quickly found a bike path towards Bregenz on the Bodensee.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

The ride was a little boring but did take us through cute little Austrian towns and forests until we arrived in St. Margerethen with its huge supermarket where we could buy lunch. It was cool but not cold, and occasionally we'd get a sunbeam here and there, but by the time we got to the Bodensee Phil was saying, "God this ride is so boring!"
From Tour of the Alps 2011

As we approached the Bodensee cyclists became more common, and you could see that this was what most people would consider touring: riding with a light or almost no load, helmetless on bike paths along rivers and lakes, with possibly a company providing lunch support. People wore casual clothes, not lycra, and the luggage trucks looked like they were carrying enough luggage that laundry wasn't a daily occurrence.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

We soon stopped for our first view of the Bodensee. The weather wasn't getting any better but it wasn't raining either. Nevertheless, by the time we got to Rorschach the first raindrops had started coming down. I looked at the hotel listings at the tourist information center but all the available ones seemed expensive. We eventually ended up at the Hotel Rossli which was where I had stayed last year, and the manager gave us a substantial discount that still triggered sticker shock since we had just come from Austria. Phil and I debated a bit and I suggested that since Wednesday was terrible and he didn't seemed entranced by the Bodensee we could ride over to Germany and hop over to Munich. I used Skype to make phone calls to Chris Brown and Frank Spychalksi, old friends from when I lived in Munich and soon enough, we managed to make arrangements to stay over at Chris's place. Chris was going to be out of town while we were visiting, but Frank would pick up the keys and we would meet him at the Google Munich office. I then made several other phone calls and discovered to my dismay that calling cell phones in Europe was expensive even on Skype: my $11 balance was down to $3 by the time I was finished making all these arrangements.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

Dinner that night was at a local Kebab place after we bypassed a Mexican restaurant that sold 30 USD burritos. At dusk, I walked outside the hotel and saw one of the most beautiful sunsets I had ever seen in Europe. With any other compact camera I would have been dismayed but with the Canon S90 I made several captures that were more than satisfactory.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

We went to bed knowing that no matter what the weather was, we'd be able to make Munich with very little rain riding.

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Day 25: Mils to Bludenz


The started off beautifully, but the forecast this afternoon was for rain. We hopped back onto the bike path towards Landeck, well aware that we would have to choose between Silvretta and Arlberg pass once we got to Landeck. We were now short of cash, with no more than 18 Euros between the two of us after paying for the hotel, and so had to look for a bank as well.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

Austrian bike paths are second to none as far as facilities are concerned: drinking fountains dot the bike paths as do ads for lodging that are tastefully and discretely placed, since cyclists traveling at 10mph do not need loud and garish ads, unlike car drivers at 75mph. We rolled along the beautiful path, set a good distance away from the main highway, going in and out of forests into farmland.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

Sooner I was expected we were in Landeck, but on a Sunday could not find anything open, not even a bank. I noted that the bike path sign had switched to Pfunds. Looking around we decided that Arlberg would be a safer path, since avoiding Silvretta would buy us some time in case of poor weather. We rode along the bike path to Pfunds but after half an hour looked at the map and realized that Pfunds was in the direction of Ofenpass, not what we wanted at all!
From Tour of the Alps 2011

We turned around and rode back to Landeck and this time, found our way to Pian and then rode our towards the Panoramic highway to Arlberg. The road was mostly flat and not too exciting, but had relatively little traffic. Clouds started gathering overhead, which justified our earlier decision to avoid Silvretta.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

We stopped for lunch at a small town, using up all of our available cash, and then rode into the town where the pass started. To our dismay, the freeway had an exit in this town, and a steady stream of car traffic went up the Arlberg highway! It started drizzling as we started the climb, but even for Californians this wasn't considered rain yet. The grade steepened to 10%, and the constant traffic was annoying. Silvretta would have been better as the top part of Silvretta was a toll road, eliminating all but the most enthusiastic of tourists. The fog, however, thickened, and anything that looked bad on the Arlberg would be worse on the Silvretta. Fortunately, the final tunnel leading to the pass summit had a bike bypass, which turned out to be a gravel maintenance road leading alongside the tunnel. We could hear the sound of traffic coming from tunnel vents and were pleased that we had views truncated by fog instead.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

We arrived at the Arlberg pass in fog that did not let us see more than 10 meters ahead. We quickly put on everything we owned and started the descent.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

The steep part of the descent went by quickly, once again with several bike path bypasses for the big tunnels, which made it a lot less scary than expected. Visibility got a bit better after we descended to 1500m, but once we got down to 1000m the rain came down in earnest! At first it wasn't too bad, but the lower we got the harder the rain came. The rain pants and the jacket only kept me from being soaked through --- my shoes started making the squishy noise on every pedal stroke, and all parts of my body was damp.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

Once the route flattened out the bike paths became useless. We found ourselves riding in muddy gravel paths in the forests and the paved roads seemed like a much better bet. Having passed the intersection with the freeway, the main road also had a lot less traffic. We made it into Bludenz. Not wanting to waste time with looking for the tourist information center, we ended up at Hotel Rossli, where we had stayed last year, also in the rain. "Every impression I have in Austria is rain." said Phil. I assured him that I had had good weather in Austria, but maybe Austria was to Phil what Italy was to Mike Samuel.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

The hotel was manned by an old woman who didn't know how to give us an internet password, or even where the bike storage was, forcing us to leave our bikes outside in the rain. We took a shower, dried out our shoes using hairdryers, and went out looking for food. This time, we found a Chinese all-you-can-eat buffett which for a relatively low price gave each of us three dinners and three desserts. By the time we came back to the hotel, it was manned by someone who knew what he was doing and had our bikes stowed away and gave us an internet password.

I used the internet to call Doktor Stefan Burkhardt, an outdoors person who was living in Zurich. Stefan had done me the favor of scouting out Tannalp back in 2007. We made plans to have lunch some time when Phil and I were back in Zurich, but in the mean time he looked into the weather radar for us and reported back bad news. It looked like the mountains would be cold and rainy or fogged in, with Wednesday being the worst. "Your best bet is to head to the Bodensee and do some riding there. If the weather sucks, the Bodensee will probably suck the least and might even have good sun." That put paid to any plans to ride the high mountains. I thanked him and we turned in for the night.
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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Day 24: Moos to Mils


So far, every day had brought us a forecast for rain, but instead we've gotten clear weather instead, and today was no exception. We woke up to a glorious day, with not a cloud in the sky. From the early climbing, the view down into Moos was nothing short of breath-taking.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

In 2007, Robert complained that he climbed most of Timmelsjoch from St. Leonhardt without a single drop of water en-route. Since today was likely to be just as hot, I warned Phil to be on an extra careful lookout for water, and to fill up the water bottles at every opportunity.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

Starting from Moos turned out to be a great idea, as the climb started in the shade and the temperature stayed cool even when we emerged into the sun at 1600m, where we refilled at a water fountain near a hotel. Soon after that, however, I spotted two more water fountains on the right side, set into crevices in the wall next to the road, so I have no idea how Roberto managed to pass all those water fountains and not recognize them for what they were.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

As I approached the top, I saw megaphone type tubes set in the mountain side. After a while I realized what they were: since the area had high winds, they were a shelter for car drivers to pull over, walk into the tube and gaze at the valley below without being blown about. Of course, cyclists are used to being blown about, so it was not a problem. Near one of the megaphones, I met a couple from the Netherlands who were on a driving tour. I seemed to be meeting a lot of Dutch people on this trip!
From Tour of the Alps 2011

It took a little bit of riding, but I got to the 16th tunnel, which for the purposes of riding a bike was the summit tunnel for Timmelsjoch and just a hop skip and a jump into Austria. I turned off the data plan on my phone (it wasn't getting any data anyway), and after a bit of rest, rode through the tunnel with absolutely no symptoms of altitude sickness whatsoever.

From Tour of the Alps 2011

The section of road between what I consider the summit tunnel to the Austrian border is just a couple of kilometers, but it's very pretty, wild and desolate with sheer drop offs and high mountains all around. In all the alps there's nothing quite like it. At the pass proper it got really windy and I walked into a viewing gallery so I could admire the scenery. I could see my bike from the viewing gallery, and saw also the myriad cyclists stopping to put on clothing as the temperatures had dropped quite a bit.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

After taking the obligatory pass photo, I rode over to the restaurant to wait for Phil. I had harbored thoughts of getting a hot lunch, but walking through the restaurant made me realize that they were so busy that I was unlikely to get service for at least an hour. Phil showed up and when I told him about it, agreed to descend to Solden for lunch.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

The descent on the Austrian side was wild and pretty, with lots of well banked turns and two retro grades. I remember being surprised by them during my last visit (and Roberto apparently cursed my name quite a bit), but this time we were prepared for them and while the headwind was annoying, they were over soon enough. We stopped for photos once or twice, but were soon in Solden and getting lunch at the supermarket. I tried to get a Sim card but had no luck. We would be back in Switzerland soon enough anyway.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

The descent from Solden down towards Imst was pretty in places, but flat enough that the afternoon headwind really annoyed me and slowed me down quite a bit. Once out of the Otztal Valley the weather warmed up and we found ourselves climbing towards the Inn river valley during the hottest time of the day under the hot sun. Fortunately, the climb wasn't terribly long and soon I found myself following the instructions I remembered clearly from Jobst Brandt to find the bike path: down towards the train station (Bahnof), past the water rafting put in. To my surprise I ended up at the train station instead, having ridden past the put in. Phil wanted to use the rest room anyway, so I was left scratching my head. Eventually, as we rode back out to look for the bike path to Landeck, I realized what had changed: the water rafting put in was closed and the office for it had been removed, leading me to ride right past it.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

Well, we found the bike path to Landeck, and for the third time in my life started riding on it. The weather had turned by this time and the sky was overcast. Off in the distance towards Landeck we saw rain in the mountains.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

It didn't take a long time before the rain hit us, but it turned out to be a light drizzle, just enough to make us prioritize looking for lodging. I'm normally a worry-wort on weekends, but I figured that the Inn River Valley had plenty of lodging. Indeed at the very next small town of Mils we found a clean hotel at a somewhat reasonable price, and took a double room. After cleaning up, we walked down to dinner and was treated to a gorgeous rainbow seen right from the hotel. It was a nice reward for riding what would turn out to be the Queen stage of the tour.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

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Friday, August 26, 2011

Day 23: Fondo to Moos


After the previous day's unpredictable weather, we woke up to some fairly good weather and a quiet climb up to Passo Palade, which did not boast very steep grades but did grant us great views of the valley below us.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

From Passo Palade, we descended towards Merano, which was one of the smoothest descents you could imagine. While not very fast in terms of absolute speed, the curves were well controlled and the road mostly straight, so you could go at terminal velocity almost all the way down to Merano. We stopped a few times because the view of Merano Valley was so clear that it would have been a shame not to take a picture.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

By the time we got to Lana, our quiet road had turned into an incredibly busy road. While navigating the streets I spotted a bike path signed for Merano. The bike path started in a narrow alley that I would not have spotted if it had not been prominently marked.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

Fortunately, the bike path quickly turned into a proper path (though with a few under-signed sections that caused us to scratch our heads a little bit). Soon we were rolling into Merano and then saw one of the largest supermarkets we seen. Phil went in and bought lunch, which was an entire chicken which we devoured in half an hour.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

After lunch, we left town heading towards Timmelsjoch. The traffic leading out of town was busy and on a two lane highway. The sun beat down on us and there was no shade, but after a few rollers I saw a bike path sign and immediately went for it. The bike path was shaded and right along the river which took the sting out of most of the ride as we headed towards St. Leonhard.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

High above St. Leonhardt we could see the descent from Jaufenpass come into town. We could also see high clouds and fog rolling in over the mountain. Europeans don't always wear helmets, and Italy is no exception. In many places, bicycles were also used as multi-person vehicles, even if they only had one seat. I was very amused to see a couple treat cycling as a cooperative process, with the man pedaling and the woman steering the bars, sans helmets!
From Tour of the Alps 2011

The town of Leonhardt was at 700m, and it was smoking hot when we arrived. Phil looked a little cooked and asked if we shouldn't check out the tourist information center. At the tourist information, we found that there was another town 300m higher and just 7km away. We made reservations at Maria's Cafe, and decided that this would be our destination for the day.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

Climbing 300m on a hot day in the open with no shade is definitely only for the masochistic. The only reason I did so was I wanted a shorter climb the next day and cooler evenings so we could sleep. It turned out that I had mis-timed everything, since once we arrived and checked into Maria's Cafe, it started pouring! On second thought, maybe that was fine, since it meant we'd maximized the amount of time riding. Maria's Cafe was very adequate for cyclists, and included a bike shop. The owner said, "There's no bike shop in town, so I decided to make my workshop a bike shop as well."
From Tour of the Alps 2011

Moos was a town that made the most of its name. The supermarket was called "Konsumoos", and the bunker museum in town called itself the "Mooseum". We had arrived a little to explore the "Mooseum", but the supermarket had ice cream and that was much needed after the ride.
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