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Friday, August 17, 2018

June 30th: Lindau to Garmisch Partenkirchen

The whole point of making it to Lindau was to make use of the Bayern ticket. With the ticket, you can travel all throughout Bavaria using as many local trains as you like, all day. The catch is that you must use the local trains, and unless it's a weekend, you can only use the train after 9:00am. Well, it was a weekend, but the train from Lindau to Garmisch didn't leave until 10:00am, so we had time to leave the hotel at 9:06, take pictures and say farewell to the Bodensee, screw up and go the wrong way and still make it to the train station with plenty of time to buy train tickets.
The first of the trains we needed to take was an Alex train. It had narrow corridors and was a massive pain to get a tandem on, but once you're in, you get these massive private compartments where the two of you can spread out and lounge around in.

Surprisingly enough, the train from Lindau to Garmisch-Partenkirchen did not go through Munich, as I would have expected, but switches in Kempton for a train to Reutte (which is in Austria), and from Reutte we had to take the train to Garmisch. Being German, the train schedule was setup so that we never  had to switch platforms for a transfer. We could just stay on the same platform and either switch sides or get on the next train that arrived on that platform. Because getting off at Kempton was a pain, I enlisted the help of other cyclists to assist with the transfer. The nice thing about the bike car being so big was that nearly everyone in the car was a cyclist and hence eager to help!
Once on the Reutte train, we got to see some Austrian scenery, which reminded me once again that I had yet to explore the part of Bavaria that connected Kempton/Lindau to Reutte. From the window, it looked gorgeous, and I guess I should have considered riding instead of taking the train, but what was done was done.
Local trains are slow. By the time we got to Garmisch, it was nearly 2:00pm. But the train we were on from Reutte was going to link up with another train to get to Munich, and we got to watch that and even capture it on video!


After watching that, we got off the train station, found a supermarket, and then found a little city park nook to picnic in. It was gorgeous, with a stream running through it, and a place you could sit and dip your feet into the water! The bread was also delicious.
We checked into the guesthouse, and I asked the owner about Partnach Klamm, and she said that it was closed because of high water, but I could check at the ski center for further details. I was disappointed, but we figured we had nothing to lose, it being too late in the day to do anything else, so we rode out there after leaving all our luggage at the guesthouse.

Indeed, we were told that the Partnachklamm was closed, but the Hollentalklamm, which I hadn't been, was still open. The tourist information person gave me a map, and when I looked at it, I said, "Oh, it looks like we can do both Hollentalklamm and the Zugspitze in the same day. Can we ride up to the Klamm?" She said she thought it might be possible, but didn't provide more details. Well, our trip wasn't wasted: we stopped by a supermarket to  buy some shampoo/body wash, and then on the way back downtown we saw that everyone was wearing white!
When we went to dinner, our waitress told us that tonight was "White Night", apparently a huge party and an excuse to listen to music/DJ and dance. Our waitress also confirmed that it had actually been raining hard in the afternoons over the last few days in Garmisch, indicating that we weren't being lied to about rain in the mountains. Back in town, we stuck out like sore thumbs, not having  brought anything white to wear.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

June 29th: Chur to Lindau

Hoping to avoid as much of the headwind as possible, we ate the 6:30am breakfast and got on the road at 7:50am. That early in the morning, the bike path was pretty and we even found a zipline pretty early!
Bowen complained that we weren't doing sufficient climbing, but I told him that this was where all the ziplines were. Also, that if we got to Lindau (which wasn't required), we'd traverse 4 countries today, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, and Germany! That got him to perk up, which was good, because otherwise, there's actually very little to recommend this ride. I've done it far too often, and usually it's in circumstances like this: escaping from the mountains into the low lands in anticipation of poor weather.
At the intersection with Landquart, I saw the sign for the climb up to Davos for access to the Fluela pass: it would climb 800m over the next 34km, very gently. But Fluela was out of the question (and if anything, the descent down to Landeck from Zernez would have even more headwind), so we kept going down river until near the border with Liechtenstein the Rhine river opened up and granted us what would be the same scene for the next 50km.
The nature of the Rhine river bike path is that it's pretty for the first 10 minutes and boring for the rest of it, especially in the direction of the headwind. At the Liechtenstein border, we switched sides of the river so that Bowen could say he'd traversed the country.
We tried detouring into Liechtenstein to try to get our passports stamped, but somehow missed all the signs to the tourist information office. I was under the mistaken impression that the post office could do it as well, but no, only the tourist information could stamp our passports. We gave up and kept going down river, against an increasing headwind, which bogged us down to a speed around 10mph.

At the border with Austria, we found another zipline playground, which Bowen thought was a lot of fun.
While Bowen played on the zipline I tried looking for hotels in the direction where we were going. Since our goal was the Lindau train station the next day, we could potentially stay in either Switzerland, Austria, or Germany and still be well within striking distance of the train station. Switzerland was so expensive it wasn't even in consideration. To my surprise, Bregenz was also really expensive, so that left Lindau, which wasn't much cheaper, it being a Friday night. We ended up at the Best Western in Lindau, mostly because it had AC and had really good reviews that claimed that it was nothing like any other Best Western you'd stayed at.
By the time we were at the Bodensee, Bowen was thoroughly bored, and didn't even want to take a picture. We rode through Bregenz, and saw a zipline playground, but it had as many as 5-6 kids sharing the zipline, and Bowen decided that wasn't even worth getting off the bike for. The headwind had died down by now, but we both had 70 miles in the saddle and just wanted off the bike, so we beelined straight for the hotel, stopping only to take a picture with the Bavarian coat of arms when we entered Germany.
The hotel wasn't very far from the border, in fact, and it was in a part of the neighborhood that didn't have access to the little island of Lindau. In fact, when we asked about places we could walk to for dinner, it was a 15 minute walk to anything except the McDonald's, which was practically next door. The number one rated restaurant in Lindau happened to be one of those, though, so we showered and walked over only to discover that the place was fully booked for the night, and even though no one had showed up for dinner yet they were not going to seat us, no matter how quickly we said we could be in and out.

We ended up at Restaurant Meblo's for dinner instead, which was attached to Hotel Nagel and served gourmet burgers. The hotel looked very well appointed and had a crystal clear swimming pool. If we'd known we would have stayed there instead, but perhaps it was already all booked on a Friday. This experience made me realize that I should look again at hotels in the Salzburger Lakes and Garmisch since tomorrow was a Saturday, and if we were going to stay at the Salzburg Lakes we'd have to ride from the Salzburg train station, and you do not want to arrive on a Saturday without a prior reservation.

The Salzburg Lakes proved to be surprisingly expensive. I double checked the weather, and the forecast was for it to start raining in the afternoon the next day, which would be exactly when we'd get out of the train station and would have to start to ride. Garmisch, however, turned up a guest house that would put us up for 3 nights for about 90 Euros a night, and had the benefit that a return to Munich was easily accomplished from there. I discussed it with Bowen and his preference was to stay in Germany anyway (for whatever reason he didn't like Austria except for Hahntennejoch and Landeck), so I booked the guest house in Garmisch. I remembered spending an off-site with Google Munich 10 years ago there, with a combination day hike with gorge walk and then a river rafting trip that was fun, so I knew there ought to be enough to occupy us for 3 days. And even if not, we could easily do day rides from the area!

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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

June 28th: Pontresina to Filisur/Transfer to Chur

The morning looked fogged in and cloudy, but we were up early because the Sporthotel Pontresina serves breakfast at an unusually cycle tourist friendly 7:00am. We ate at the very generous breakfast buffett, and even had lactose free milk, very unusual in Switzerland. As promised by the hotel, the laundry was ready at 8:00am after we were done with breakfast, and we could finish packing and be out the door by 8:40. Sportbottles filled with sports drink and all. The fog had lifted by then, and it looked like a nice sunny day!
We didn't get far, however, as we immediately found a zipline almost immediately. It didn't keep Bowen's attention, however, as Bowen didn't think it was exciting enough. The little guy's become a zipline snob! This was my first time riding the bike path from Pontresina to La Punt. To my surprise, the bike path very pretty, filled with views of lakes and the surrounding mountains. It wasn't fast, but it was well worth the trouble, though towards La Punt it turned into a single-track mountain bike trail!
In La Punt, we stopped so I could shed my arm and leg warmers and put sunscreen on those areas, since I wasn't actually expecting it to be so sunny. The climb from La Punt doesn't waste any time gaining altitude: the bottom sections climb rapidly and relentlessly at grades of 10-12%, and it absolutely does not let up until the last couple of kilometers at the top. The deceptive part is that the altitude gained from La Punt is only 625 meters over 9.5km, but the last 2-3km the road hardly climbs at all, which is how you get the 10+% grade for the first 6. We stopped several times so I could catch my breath.
Once we got above the treeline, the weather clouded over, and now it looked as though we were actually going to get rain! The top of Albula is a barren landscape, with no trees, and no shelter whatsoever from the weather. We were very glad that we had gotten started early, so we had no doubt whatsoever about making it over the pass. We stopped so that we could put on jackets, with Bowen putting on his rain jacket over his down and getting his mittens on again.
Traffic was light, though we did see cyclists going the other direction. At  the summit hotel restaurant, we stopped for a photograph, but with the weather starting to sour, did not feel like going in for tea.

I had never descended Albula from this direction before, and the first few kilometers were straight and fast. After that, the road twists and winds around the mountains, and showed me sights I'd never seen before, because when you're climbing a mountain at maximal effort you hardly ever turn around to look back. I spotted a gorgeous lake and decided to stop the bike for a short walk to appreciate the view even further.
It looked so quiet that I couldn't believe it later, when we resumed the descent, that right below this was what looked like a strip mine or quarry. I'd ridden past that without a thought in the past, but this time it stood out against the rest of the mountain I had seen. We arrived in Bergun around lunch time. Pulling into the water fountain in the center of town, we had a choice of supermarket or a bakery. Bowen opted for the bakery.
As we were eating, we were surprised by two cyclists coming in who looked familiar! They turned out to be fellow tandemists from the Western Wheelers! They had spotted our bike out in the fountain, and said, "This has to be Piaw and Bowen. No one else has a bike that looks like this!" And of course they were right!
Bergun was one of the potential places for us to stay, but with the impending rain, it would be better to be somewhere with a train station like Filisur, or even Chur. We rode down to Filisur, and the weather looked poor enough that I decided to go for the expensive train transfer to Chur, since that was a big city with stuff to do, and quite possibly warmer as well. If I had known the weather would be clear the next morning, I would have decided to stay in Filisur and do the Lenzerheide the next day.

The train from Filisur was uncharacteristically late for a Swiss train. When we boarded it, we got into the wrong bike car: the car didn't have any room in the bike compartment for a tandem, so we were forced to block the entryway. When the conductor came, I expected him to ask us to move the bike to a more suitable car, but he said, "We don't have time to move you. Just make sure you clear the doorway whenever someone wants to exit." It's quite clear that being late caused the conductor much more anxiety than a mere blocked entryway for other passengers. All that stressing paid off, however: the train arrived in Chur on-time. After the Italian train stations, it was wonderful to be in a Swiss train station, where there were disabled ramps down to the subway and no stairs to negotiate while portaging a heavy tandem.

On Booking.com, the cheaper options had very mixed reviews, so we ended up at Hotel Post Chur. I thought I'd stayed there before in the past, but in retrospect that was  mistaken memory, as my tour notes from 2007 indicated that I stayed at Hotel Chur, which is an entirely different hotel! Hotel Post was much more like a dorm-based youth hostel than a hotel, but the staff was very generous in helping me get the bike down into storage. I checked the weather once again, and the forecast was for rain in the mountains: I had toyed with the idea of riding up the Oberalp from this direction and then somehow making my way down to Meiringen and Hotel Rosenlaui in the days I had left, but the forecast didn't look good in that direction, and once we got to Rosenlaui we still had the issue of getting back to Munich, which would take multiple expensive train transfers.

Plan B was to go back to the Salzburg lakes or Garmisch. Both looked to have much better weather than the alps, but would entail riding against the headwind into the Bodensee to gain access to the German train system. Both the Austrian and Swiss train systems were quite a bit more expensive. After shower and laundry, we walked around to dinner and then bought some fruit for dessert, which Bowen preferred to ice cream or chocolate. I felt somewhat disappointed that our time in the mountains was at an end, but with a 6-year-old in tow, I didn't really want to take any risks: Bowen got cold far more quickly than any adult, and adding rain to the mix wouldn't make him happy.
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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Review: Airframe

In recent years, it's been hard for me to read fiction, as non-fiction always seems more compelling. If that describes you, then Airframe might be a great novel for you. Airframe's plot revolves around a fictional airline (TransPacific) and a fictional airplane manufacturer (Norton Aircraft). One of TransPacific's flights has a horrible incident in flight resulting in several deaths and multiple injuries, and our protagonist, Casey Singleton, is the VP of QA at Norton who's tasked with trying to figure out what went wrong.

Along the way, we get lots of exposition into how an aircraft gets made, sold, and maintained.  Critchton, like most science fiction writers, is skilled in the art of injecting exposition in ways that don't interrupt the narration and plot, so this exposition while frequent and extensive, felt very organic. Michael Critchton's usually well researched, but since this is fiction, he gets to inject his opinion about airline deregulation:
“Exactly,” Casey said. “Flight safety’s always been an honor system. The FAA’s set up to monitor the carriers, not to police them. So if deregulation’s going to change the rules, we ought to warn the public. Or triple FAA funding. One or the other.” (Kindle Loc 1705)
The protagonist spends a lot of time piercing together clues, much of which isn't very sexy, such as maintenance records. She gets threatened by union action, and does a couple of dumb things herself because she has no one she can trust because of corporate office politics. Less a character than a vehicle for the plot, nevertheless she's sympathetic and smart.

The ending ties everything together neatly, and I didn't feel cheated: the clues were provided in the book, and if you didn't figure it out before Singleton, it's not because the author cheated. All in all, the novel was a page turner, and well worth the time. Recommended.

Monday, August 13, 2018

June 27th: Arnoga to Pontresina

Hoping for a repeat of our ride into Italy, I told Bowen that today, we had a chance to have breakfast in Italy, lunch in Livigno, and dinner in Switzerland. "Wait, is Livigno its own country?" "No, it's part of Italy, but it's got it's own tax autonomy, so sometimes it can feel like a different country." The night before, I even found the Sporthotel Arturo and I had stayed at the last time we were in Pontresina, and it offered free cancellation even on the day we were scheduled to arrive, so I booked it!
On the menu today were four passes, Passo di Foscagno, Passo Eira, Forcola di Livigno, and Bernina pass. In the direction we were riding, each pass was only about 500m at most, and my notes from 2014 was that when I got to Pontresina I was happy to ride further, but Arturo wanted an easy day. An easy day on the single day would make for a challenging ride on the tandem, and so it proved.
I had forgotten that the route was full of galleries, and so on the first gallery we encountered we had to pull over and turn on our flashing lights. While stopped, we found a pack of AA batteries still sealed in their packaging that I mistakenly thought were AAA batteries, and stuck them into Bowen's Camelbak. We would later leave them at the hotel, since we had no use for AA batteries, but at the time I thought it was a lucky omen.
At the top of Foscagno, it was 10:00am, and cool enough that Bowen asked to put on everything he brought, layering his rain jacket and rain pants over his regular clothing, and putting on his mittens. We had also worn out the batteries on our cadence sensor, and took the opportunity to replace it on the top of the pass. On the tandem on this tour, we spent so much time in our lowest gear that our cadence sensor was getting many more turns than our speed sensor. From there, it was a 200m descent into one of the communities that were officially part of the tax-free zone, and while the descent was somewhat chilly, I knew it would be over quickly.
I remembered buying lunch somewhere between Foscagno and Eira, but on the climb through the community, I noticed that the supermarket was closed. In many European towns, Wednesday is sort of the mid-week holiday for certain supermarkets and stores, though the schedules are usually coordinated in such a way that there's at least one store that's open in any given town, but I wasn't about to go search for an open supermarket on an uphill climb. A man drove his car up ahead of us and pulled over, got out, and started taking pictures of us with his smartphone. "I saw you yesterday on the Stelvio, and here you are again!" He had asked me about my choice of caliper brakes the day before, when I asserted that with Bowen at 40 pounds, myself at 130, and the bike at 45 pounds with 20 pounds of luggage, we weren't anywhere close to needing brakes other than caliper brakes. When I configured that bike, I reasoned that by the time my two sons were heavy enough that I needed disk brakes, they would also likely prefer riding their single bikes over the tandem.
Passo Eira wasn't a particularly pretty pass, so we stopped for only a short time for a pass photo, and then went for the 500m descent down to Livigno. Livigno's full of cyclists, and we found ourselves overtaking a few on the straight sections but when it came to the corners I was much more conservative than the typical single cyclist and they caught up and then passed us with their superior knowledge of the road. I remembered that there was a bike path through the valley with many picnic areas and even some playgrounds, so we stopped at a duty free supermarket to buy a picnic lunch and then rode off in search of a picnic area off the bike path.
Soon enough, we found one which had a choice of sun or shade, a water fountain nearby, and even a stone hammock, which we did not use. As we ate lunch, a cycle tourist came by and stopped to check out our bike. He was from Germany, and was very proud of his steel frame. "Steel is real!" he declared. I myself wasn't fully enamored of the amount of weight I was carrying, but my mouth was full of supermarket sandwich, and I had chocolate to look forward to.
After lunch, it was time to climbed Forcola di Livigno. I remembered that it was an easy climb on a single bike, but of course, on a tandem after 800m of climbing on the bike, it was a different story. The climb was slow, and the tailwind didn't help, since it wasn't strong enough to provide assistant but gave me still air which allowed the sun to cook me on the climb.
It was a relief to reach the final galleries near the top of the pass, since we were protected from the sun. At the summit, a group of motorcyclists had arrived from the other direction and happily took photos of us.
Looking back from where we came, it was amazing to see how much climbing we'd done, but the hardest part was still to come!
From Forcola di Livigno, the road descends just 100m to the Swiss border, but then intersects with the Bernina pass climb in the difficult direction, with grades north of 10-12%. Coming at the end of the day, and with a cold headwind to boot, a contrast to the Forcola, it turned out to be harder than either day of the Stelvio climb! At the top, the wind grew and Bowen got so cold that rather than show up at the summit photo, he chose to hide behind the tandem (You can see his helmet right behind the tandem).

The top of the Bernina was a fun descent as usual, but once it flattened out, it became a pedaling descent because of the headwind! At this point, however, we knew that Pontresina was easily within reach, and other than a stop to relieve ourselves we had no obstacles on the descent other than a construction traffic light.
Once in Pontresina, I didn't need a GPS to find the Sporthotel, for it was right on the main drag and easy to find. Upon checking in, the friendly staff gave me a laundry bag for our sports clothes, and showed us where the electrolyte drinks and free water bottles were. We were down to just a couple of Nuun tablets now, so it was welcome. It was a luxury not having to do laundry for a change, and I bought some snacks at the local supermarket that turned out to be superfluous because the lobby had free snacks! I didn't remember such nice facilities the last time we were here. We also took advantage of the jaccuzi, the rooftop viewing, and it was Bowen's first experience in a Sauna.
For dinner, I eschewed the 10 course meal Arturo and I had last time while in town, and just went for the half-pension dinner, which was a good deal. We had shrimp, salad, and a main course that would have been skimpy without the unlimited salad buffet. Looking at the forecast, it looked like we were running out of dry weather, since the forecast was for thunderstorms tomorrow afternoon, but I still hoped to get in Albulapass and if the weather looked good, Lenzerheide the day after was also a possibility.

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Friday, August 10, 2018

June 26th: Berghotel Franzenshohe to Arnoga

In the morning, we ate the generous buffet breakfast, loaded up the bike with our panniers, and headed out the door by 8:50am. Parked right at the 22nd turn was a Mapo Bike van, obviously there to support cyclists coming up the mountain. I asked the driver if he could take our panniers up to the top of the Stelvio, and he said, "It'll take an hour." "That's how long it'll take us to get there," so he agreed!
What a glorious way to climb Stelvio: bag free, in gorgeous weather, and with next to no traffic on the road, since even motorists starting at 8:30am at the foot of the mountain would take a while to get to where we were. Since we had a head start on the folks the Mapo bike van was supporting, we were under no serious time constraints, though as we approached the top we saw the Mapo bike van pass us as the slowest single bike in his group overtook us. But he provided no pressure, and in fact, stopped to take photos of us with his smart phone.
FotoStelvio was positioned in one of the late corners, and they snapped the only pictures we had of us climbing the mountain. Since there weren't too many other cyclists climbing in that early morning, we had no problems locating the photos of us. At the top, the entire group of cyclists accompanying the Mapo bike van were waiting to cheer us on, and helped us with our summit pass photo.
The Mapo bike van returned our panniers to us, we donned our helmets, and began the descent. I'd never had such optimal conditions down the Stelvio before, though we had to stop for Bowen to put on his mittens, the rest of the time we could barrel along at top speed.
I'd promised Bowen a video game descent, complete with galleries, tunnels, and waterfalls in the tunnels. When we got to the Swiss border, I contemplated briefly a descent of the Umbrail pass, but decided that Bowen had done so much on the climb that he deserved the full on Italian Stelvio descent experience, so what if it cost us another day and 2 passes to get to Livigno.
The clear conditions and the lack of traffic because it was early gave us gorgeous views, high speeds between corners, and at no point were we stuck behind some slow driver, though we were stopped once for a construction-driven traffic light. I was worried that conditions were so dry that the tunnels wouldn't have any water in them, but indeed, there was enough water for Bowen to see a waterfall inside one of the tunnels.
At the bottom of the pass, a group of French cycle tourists helped take a picture of us, with Bowen striking his "I'm asleep pose." Eschewing the turn off to Bormio, since we weren't about to climb (or descend the Gavia), which would lead us back to Bolzano, we turned right onto the Val'DiDentro road, which I last rode with Arturo in 2014. Back then, Arturo and I had stayed in Isolaccia, but it was much earlier in the day this time, and I entertained thoughts of maybe even making it over to Livigno that day, and at the very least, I wanted to be as high as possible so it wouldn't be too hot.
We had lunch at a mini-supermarket right before Pradelle, buying meat, bread, and bottled drinks. Cyclists came by in both directions, but in the shade it was actually cool. Nevertheless, once we got to Isolaccia where the climbing began, the afternoon began really heating up. I was sweating buckets and dipping my cycling cap into water fountains in an attempt to cool off. We'd stopped at the Mapo bike shop earlier before just to check it out, but I'd forgotten to buy a cycling cap for Bowen. Nevertheless, we persisted: "Every kilometer we ride today is one less kilometer we have to ride tomorrow," I told Bowen.
Yet, the thermometer continued to climb, and after a couple of switchbacks Bowen had had enough. "Let's stop at the next hotel," he suggested. The pass was  at 2300 meters and we were nearly at 1800 meters. I thought there was a good chance we could still make Pontresina the next day, so I agreed to stop. You're not going to get your son to go touring with you if he doesn't enjoy it.
The next hotel turned out to be Li Arnoga Hotel. The price was lower than the Berghotel Franzenshohe. I was learning that staying at hotels half-way up the mountain was actually a  pretty good idea. The bottom of the mountain tends to be expensive, because that's where the population is, and the top of the mountain is usually not cheap either, because of the expense of bringing materials up. But nobody stays in the middle of the mountain unless they're cycle touring, and in the summer these places don't get very many customers.
The place looked like it had a lot of hiking trails, but Bowen didn't like the half pension very much, and in retrospect we should have just eaten at the pizzeria down the street. But the rooms were big, the facilities were great, and it even had AC but by the evening had cooled down enough that we didn't need to turn it on.

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Thursday, August 09, 2018

June 25th: Prato Allo Stelvio to Berghotel Franzenshohe

When I looked out the window in the morning, it was cloudy, but the forecast still called for good weather. Breakfast was generous, but when we rode downtown to the supermarket to pick up snacks (there are no grocery stores all the way up the Stelvio, except for the hotel/restaurants that might sell the occasional snack), I felt raindrops.
Nevertheless, we proceeded to climb the Stelvio, since I didn't actually think we would make it up to summit that day, despite a fairly early start. As we left town, I started to warm up, and could shed my arm and leg warmers. The initial parts of the Stelvio climb from the East are fairly easy.
Indeed, we soon had to put on sunscreen, since once past the initial gallery, there actually wasn't a lot of shade. In Trafoi, we passed a dirt parking lot, and we pulled into it to rest. There was a woman there, standing by her car, but she didn't look like she was in a hurry to go anywhere. "Are you going up the Mountain?" I asked, "Because if you are, maybe we can trouble you to carry our bags?" "Sure, of course! I'm waiting for my boyfriend, because he's cycling up the hill!" This was great. I gave her the name of our hotel, and told her that there were 48 numbered turns on the road, and the hotel was at the 22nd. I gave her 2 business cards, one for the hotel, and one for her in case she needed to call or text me.
"We're from the Netherlands, and we're doing this big trip in between jobs." "Wow, that sounds great! I always thought Europeans had lots of vacation..." "But yeah, we wanted an even longer one. One that would let us drive across Europe to Morroco."At this point, I had finally caught my breath and we gave her our panniers. Resuming our upward path, the bike immediately felt lighter. I decided that this meant we could easily go over the Stelvio today.
At 1800m, however, at Rocca Bianca, we saw our trail angel standing by the side of the road, looking very distressed. She waved us over to the restaurant parking lot. "I'm so very sorry. I have to give you back your bags. I tried calling you, but I had no cell signal. I am too terrified to go up the mountain any further. I will go down and wait for my boyfriend at the bottom." "Oh, no problem! You saved us 400m of vertical gain having to carry our bags!" She was very apologetic and I didn't want her to feel bad --- if you'd never driven in the mountains, Stelvio is downright scary, with tour buses making 3 point turns at every hairpin turn, and if she had a stick shift she would risk stalling out each time she had to come to a stop. In many other countries Stelvio would be a one way road or restricted to smaller vehicles, but this was Italy and the road was a "free-for-all." We took the panniers and mounted them back on the bike. We were only 400m  of elevation gain from the hotel, but of course, you always immediately feel the additional 20 pounds of load on the bike, no matter how strong you are, and we were definitely  not that strong. Pass Rocca Bianca, the road begins a series of switchbacks as it climbs steeply up the mountain.
We started to see the hotel, and got there at a very healthy time of 1:00pm. We stopped for lunch at the hotel, but over lunch Bowen lobbied for staying at the hotel. We'd only gone 12 miles but had climbed 4000' in that time, 3000' of which was carrying a load. With adults, I would never settle for staying at the hotel, but I reflected that Bowen at 6 years  old had just spent 4 hours crawling along at 3mph. The forecast for the next day was good weather as well, and the hotel was reasonably priced. After making him eat every morsel of food he ordered for lunch to make sure he was serious about wanting to stay here, I assented to his request and booked a room.
I'd last stayed at Berghotel Franzenshohe in 2007, in inclement weather that precluded any exploration. But this time, checking in at 2:00pm meant we could go outside for a walk in the hiking trails behind the hotel. And boy, what a view!
We never wandered more than about 15 minutes from the hotel, but in that time I'd found scenery to match or exceed the other places I'd seen in the Alps. I began to think that all those times when I'd just zipped past the hotel on the way to Bormio or Livigno, I maybe should have stopped and tarried a little. When I tell adults that I'm taking Bowen on this massive (unplanned) journey through the Alps, they have a tendency to say things like: "What a wonderful learning experience for your child!" In reality, however, Bowen was teaching me as much as I was teaching him. There's certainly a value in tarrying and slowing down, and there aren't many 6-year old children who've had the desire (or opportunity) to tour like this and yet would choose to climb high passes. As we walked along, Bowen would sing his Stelvio song:


I considered how lucky I was, that my son loved the mountains as much as I did, and appreciated scenery, something that many adults tell me that children don't care about. I wrote a short poem in my head:
Two souls, one bike, across the alps they went,
One brought his strength, but the other his heart he lent,
Day by day they traveled, until the father learned,
The wisdom of the child cannot be earned,
But must through attention be heard,
And his heart's eyes and ears bestirred.

Dinner at the Berghotel is a half-pension: you don't get a menu, just what's being cooked that night. This was Bowen's first formal western dinner, so I explained the placement of the utensils and plate, how you use the outside utensils first, then the insider ones and the spoon furthest away was for dessert. Service isn't American style: they take away your first dish and then you get your second one. To my surprise, Bowen liked the Gnocchi and soup, and of course the Salad buffett.
By the time the main course came, he was quite finished with dinner, and only picked at it, but I was hungry enough to eat his portion. To my surprise, he didn't want the ice cream dessert. (He couldn't have the regular dessert because it had nuts that he was allergic to) I ran out after dinner and snapped one last shot of the moonrise with Alpenglow.
There was no question in my mind that bringing a large sensor point and shoot camera was the right move for this trip. I would have cried bitter tears having to shoot today's scenery with a smartphone camera.