Thursday, October 16, 2008

Oktoberfest!

To top off all the biking and hill-climbing we'd done over the previous two weeks with our friends visiting from Colorado, not to mention replace all the calories and "re-hydrate" ourselves, it was time to head to Munich for the annual Oktoberfest. Our friend Thomas, also from Colorado but now living in Zurich too, joined us as well.

The festive mood started right away when we arrived at the hotel and were offered Bavarian pretzels, mmmm....
We took the subway right from our hotel to Marienplatz, in the main part of Munich. It was a gorgeous blue-sky day...
Since it was such a clear day, we decided to take in some views from a higher point - at the top of a tower in one of the churches... 350 stairs - up, uP, UP - climb, climb, climb! We're never done with climbing!
After we survived the crowded viewing tower, we headed on to the even more crowded Oktoberfest grounds. I couldn't believe how many people were walking around outside, it was jam-packed...
We checked out a few of the tents just to see what it's all about. Those tents are HUGE, and quite festive, with live music, and some have people dancing on tables (already, and it's only noon!).
We escaped back out into the sunshine - It was such a beautiful day to be outside. Plus it was entertaining to see all the different things people wear to this...

Finally we decided we had been at Oktoberfest way too long without having any beer - That's what it's all about after all, right? So we snagged a table for 6 outside and enjoyed our first round. They sell nothing smaller than a liter (called a Mass), so hope you're thirsty...Prost!!

These liters are tough to hold up with one hand, they're so heavy, especially when full. While we struggled holding up our one, we were even more impressed by the beer-server ladies who carry 3-5 in each hand...As it got dark we ventured on, and happened upon Paula's own beer...

One great thing about Oktoberfest is everyone is so friendly - You can become instant friends with strangers. People will just sit down beside you and start talking and laughing right along with you, like this lady did with us...
And before you know it you're all standing on the tables singing old German folk songs together :)
Next the silly hats came out...
At one point they took a break from the ooom-pah music to play some swing music, so we took advantage of the chance to try a little dancing...

With all that beer around (not to mention gl├╝hwein), I still had my trusty "climb climb climb" bike water bottle with me at all times (yes with water in it!)... Cheers!

What a fun day with great friends. And a great way to top off their visit here.
Y'all come back anytime!
Prost!
Becky

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Italian Adventure - "Not for Girls"

To make sure our friends visiting from Colorado remained "happy campers", we decided to pick up and move camp down to Italy for a few days with hopes of some sunshine and warmer temperatures... and luckily we got just that! We headed toward Lake Como, with destination Bellagio - No, not Las Vegas, and no dancing fountains here, just some beautiful old Italian buildings overlooking the lake and the mountains beyond, which were calling our name...
As always in Italy, the drive to get there was pretty crazy. At times it didn't seem like we could all fit on the tiny road at the same time - somethin's gotta give...
We were relieved to make it there in one piece, and the car too - actually especially the car, since it was brand-new! (our friends bought it through the overseas delivery program)

After we arrived and checked in to our hotel, we threw our stuff into the rooms and immediately headed out to the local bike shop to ask for suggestions on local biking routes. The little cobblestone streets in this town are gorgeous...
The local bike shop owner was very nice and helpful, and immediately got out several maps to show us the local training routes. The landscape around Lake Como is obviously hilly and the best places to ride are away from the busy road that goes around the lake, so of course that meant the best routes involved going uphill (as always!). As he thought about what route would be best to suggest to us, he pondered for a minute, as if trying to decide whether or not to tell us something...
Then he pointed out - "Well, this is the best route, but it's not for girls. It's too hilly and steep. The girls do a different route because this classic one is only for boys. It has a section that is 3km long with an average grade of 23%, so girls can't do it."

Whaaa?? "Not for girls"?? Of course this just made us want to do it more!! (although that does sound pretty tough - 23%? for 3k??)

So the plan was set (even though he kept telling us it was impossible). Paula bought a commemorative jersey for the ride with the assumption that the impossible would be done.

We figured some quality carbo-loading was in order in preparation for tomorrow's "impossible" ride, Italian style (or is it Coloradan-style)...
The next day Kelly (on the left below) kept reminding us girls how we'd better not try to follow him on the "boys route", or else...
The good thing is that both the girls' and the boys' route pass by the famous "cycling church" - That is, the shrine of Madonna del Ghisallo, the known as the patroness of cyclists. The tiny church is located at the top of a hill which was made part of the Giro di Lombardia bike race.
Inside there burns an eternal flame for cyclists who have died.
Kelly seemed to think this was a kind of church he could really get into (especially since the "proper" way to get there is by biking up the 10km, 14% hill to it).
It was quite interesting and something I think every cyclist would be interested in experiencing if you come out to cycle in Europe.
After "church" we continued biking, down the hill and making the turn TOWARD the "boys" route - That's right, we're ready to tackle the impossible. We passed the van for the Professional Women Cycling parked on the side of the road - Guess they couldn't go any farther. But that's still no deterrent to us -- On, on, on!
Finally we crossed over some writing on the pavement with the name of the climb: "Muro di Sormano". We must be at the impossible part! But it wasn't steep yet, so we kept going, thinking it must be around the next corner...On and on we went, looking for the 3k/23% section, thinking it must coming up any minute, trying to save our energy as much as possible but with our heartrates sky-high with the anticipation...

Then after about 5k of this, we got to the top of the road and realized we were on the wrong one! We saw the "real" climb down to the side, with painting all over it... Darn!
Well that's ok, we all decided - We'll just ride down it and then back up! (These are our Original-Hillseeker friends after all, that we first started biking with in the mountains of Colorado) As we went down, I made a couple stops to take pictures of the writing on the pavement, since I knew there was no way I'd be able to take them while trying to go back up (only SuperPhotoninja could do something like that).
It showed the times for some riders in past races... Of course no girls' names were on there...
By the time we got to the bottom of this climb we were worn out from all the anticipation and ready to just do it (at least to try). After all, you never know what you can accomplish, especially when someone tells you that you can't! So we were determined to prove the old bike shop owner wrong, no matter what it takes.

And we did - With a smile!! Yay!
It wasn't easy. But it wasn't 23% for 3k either - That was a slight exaggeration. It was over 20% for a lot of it, with a max of 25%, but the average was "just" 17% for 2k.

Anyway here's the picture we took back to the bike shop the next day to prove to the owner that girls can ride up big hills too :)
That night some celebration was in order, Italian style...
...and of course one of the best things from Italy...
The next day was a travel day back to Zurich, with a short side-trip to check out one of the small Italian villages along the way... including a climb (of course!). Seems like I'm always behind Paula, either on the bike or off...
We drove over the St. Gotthard Pass, where the guys had biked over just a few days earlier. The weather had changed a lot since then, and now the grass was covered in ice and there was a fresh dusting of snow all around (and the wind was so cold we could hardly stand out of the car long enough to take this picture):
Back in Switzerland, after conquering the Impossible, we decided some Swiss fondue was in order (always looking for an excuse to have fondue)...
A great way to top off another exciting adventure with our hillseeking friends from Colorado.

Next adventure -- Oktoberfest in Munich... A very different kind of challenge!

Prost,
Becky

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Coloradans Tackle the Swiss Alps

The next Swiss Adventure started with a road trip to the next "base camp" of Meiringen (which by the way claims to have invented meringue and has the white stuff all over every local bakery), with an obligatory stop at the local gas station for a nature break along the way... As the last "campers" pointed out - Leave it to the Swiss to make sure the restroom experience is as pleasant as possible...
Ready to ride - "counselor" Gustav made sure to be stocked up with the most important on-ride nutrition (Swiss chocolate, of course)...
We're on the road again! Heading up Gross Scheidegg in the Berner Oberland to see the views of some big famous mountains (esp. the Eiger) at the top - climb, climb, climb...
This is a great climb, with hardly any cars at all on the route... oh, and some pretty amazing scenery as a bonus...
...which helps to take your mind off the little 18-20% grade parts here and there...
What perfectly beautiful weather - we were very lucky.
Made it to the top! And actually got a picture of all of us together (asking for it to be level was obviously too much - must be the altitude)...
The descent was so picture-perfect in spots, it seemed like a painting...
At one point there was a brief stand-off... whatever you do, don't moooooooove.....
But we made it thru all obstacles and ended up having a great ride and a great day!

The next day was Sunday and after the previous day's challenge the group was totally energized and ready to tackle another big adventure...
Well, at least their minds were on cycling (the UCI Road World Championships)...
With the hopes to create a spark and some energy for more "climb, climb, climb"ing, some cappuccinos were in order...
Luckily the caffeine did the trick, and the group was off to head uphill again. Today's challenge was Gotthard Pass - a classic Swiss climb complete with non-stop cobblestones toward the top (even with some grades up to 12%!)...
Despite the bumping around, we made it to that top too - Yahoo! Almost in Italy, the signs switch to Italian (they say "ore" for hour), and passing cyclists say "Ciao" (although we were the only crazy cyclists up there at this time)...
That night it was time for some major carbo-loading to prepare for the big riding the next day...
The next morning we woke up to some looooooow temps, and frost all over the car, but that didn't stop these campers from riding -- After all they're tough Coloradans!
It ended up being another perfectly clear day - Susten Pass was gorgeous...
Pass #1 down -- Yeah!
The view from the top was stunning...
Couldn't see all this last time we were riding here a few weeks ago (when it was 7pm and almost dark!)...
Next was Grimsel Pass. One of our fave sections is when bikes have their own road to bypass a tunnel, so no cars - just us...
Lots of beautiful scenery to distract one from various "discomforts" while climbing here...
No discomforts evident for "Team Swiss" here though! (or maybe just riding high on endorphins)
Course maybe it's cuz this time I only did one pass and drove support for the rest (it was quite efficient, getting 5,000 ft elev in just 16 miles!). Gotta hand it to Paula - She did the full Silver Route from the Alpenbrevet, with 11,500 ft elevation over three passes. And Di tackled two huge passes with a never-ending smile. Cold temps at the tops and freeeeeezing wind on the descents? No problem for these Coloradans. Hopp, hopp, hopp -- Great job!!

The view from the top of Grimsel Pass is one of my favorites, where you can see the full Grimsel descent plus the next climb winding its way up Furka Pass in the distance...
The gals tackled the final climb with non-stop gusto and still saved some energy for smiles at the top... Way to go!!!
Meanwhile the "accelerated camper" guys enjoyed their own Swiss adventure by tackling the "Gold Route" of the Alpenbrevet - All 17,500 ft elevation gain of it! With it being almost October the daylight is quite a bit more sparse which meant a finish in the dark and fog...
...but of course that made it all even more epic - What a day!
We were so lucky to have such perfectly clear, beautiful weather to enjoy one of the last good biking days in the Swiss Alps this season. Now next stop is Italy, Lake Como area, where we are hoping for some warmer temps... We'll see if that plan works!

Ciao,
Buggy

P.S. Thanks for all your comments on the previous post!!