Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Epilogue and Conclusion: Tour of the Alps 2014

It was a chore getting the bike box and my suit case back to David's apartment, so I was glad that Arturo came along to help. Packing the bike went easily, however. David brought us to his favorite restaurant in the area. It was strange having to cut back on the amount of food we consumed, since we were no longer going to be eating enough for 6000 calories per day.

That night, rain poured in Zurich, but the next morning it held off on the rain long enough for Arturo and I to get the bike box down to the street and for me to walk the 15 minutes to the Wetzikon train station towing the two suitcases. I took advantage of half-tax card one last time to buy a reduced fare card to the airport, then bought chocolate for Bowen and Xiaoqin back home. This time, my bike did not get lost in transit.

Arturo stayed in Switzerland for another week, hoping to climb the Matterhorn, but fresh snow prevented him from making the climb again. The day after I left, it poured again in Zurich, turning the Sihl into a torrent of water.

This trip was 1687.12km (1048 miles) and 32969.6m (108168 feet) of climb in 22 riding days, of which we had 3 days interrupted by weather and 1 day interrupted by a crash. We had 1 flat tire and1 mechanical due to a derailleur cable coming loose. My bike got lost in transit on the way to Zurich costing us a full day and a half of riding. In terms of mileage it far exceeded the benchmark 2007 tour despite us being weaker than the 2007 team because we had more riding days, but the toll of the years clearly left their mark: we did not do nearly as much climbing. We had much better weather as well,, having no days where we couldn't do any riding because of rain, snow, sleet, or hail. We explored new roads and found some new hotels that I thought were very exciting.

For Arturo, it was notably his first tour, and all through the trip, he was setting new records for longest day on the bike, furthest distance, most climbing, etc. He said that the first few days were terrifying as the descents were scary and the first climb up to Rosenlaui was surprisingly difficult. The biggest lesson for him, he said, was that cycling kills contact lenses. He brought what he thought were an excessive number of contacts,but wore through them so quickly that he was dangerously close to running out at the end. Hiking trips understandably do not expose your eyes to hours of 30mph winds, and despite his protective eyewear it simply wasn't enough. In the past, folks on my trips brought daily wear contacts, so didn't experience this as a problem. He also bonked multiple times on the trip, mostly because he simply wasn't used to having to eat the volumes of food necessary to fuel a cycling tour. Cycling is a deliberately inefficient activity: cyclists trade off fuel efficiency in favor of being able to ride faster all day, and if you're used to hiking having to eat the huge amounts of food just to keep going is not common. The jolting action of walking or climbing prevents you from being able to eat and digest the volumes of food that cyclists regularly down while touring.

I lost 5 pounds on the trip, but for the first time didn't lose strength, indicating that this time, either I ate enough or my metabolism had finally slowed to the point where I was no longer losing muscle by working this hard, or that the tour was indeed easier than in past years where I lost this much weight. Arturo lost 9 pounds. This was by far the best tour in recent years. I'd failed to replicate the 2007 tour in recent years because of weather conditions, and it was good to see that in good weather, this tour is just as pretty as I remembered it.

Few cyclists choose to ride the Alps the way we do, but the ones that do are rewarded by views of some of the most beautiful places on earth as well as the complete freedom to explore as the weather requires. The photos do not do it justice. You have to see it in person to understand.

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