Archive for July, 2010

July 31 – Plau am See to Berlin (150 km, 93 miles)

Posted in On the Road on July 31, 2010 by Scott McGee

Most of the local roads are lined with trees on both sides of the road. This provides much relief from the sun on a hot day.

.

My longest day yet – 150 kilometers, and 11.5 hours due to hot temperatures and riding into a 20-30 km/h headwind all day. It was more of the same as yesterday – wheat and cornfields, with widely scattered patches of forest that provided temporary relief from the sun and wind. Most of the local village-to-village roads that I traveled are lined with trees on both sides of the road – very scenic. There are also many wind turbines in this part of Germany, in order to take advantage of the constant wind.

.

Wind turbines in the wheat and corn fields are a common sight in Denmark and northern Germany.

.

View of a typical wind turbine. The towers are about 300 feet tall.

.

I’ve gotten into a routine of riding through several villages until I find a Netto food store. Then I make a quick trip in to stock up on bananas, cherries, and sandwiches for the road. It’s interesting how they do things here. For one thing, all four wheels on the grocery carts spin around the vertical axis, unlike in the U.S. where only the front two wheels spin. As a result, the carts here in Germany are much more maneuverable, and it’s easy to move them sideways and to do a zero-radius turn – cool German engineering! Another thing the grocery stores do here is that they don’t bag your groceries. Everyone arrives at the store with their own cloth bags or wicker baskets, and then the customer puts their purchased goods into their baskets. They do have plastic bags at the stores, but you have to pay 1 Euro for each bag. There is also a cash refund for all plastic and glass bottles, so it’s common to see people arrive at the store on their bicycle with a wicker basket full of plastic and glass bottles to be recycled, then they use their basket to haul their stuff home. In this regard, Europeans are much more environmentally aware than are most Americans.

.

The first sighting of a sign for Berlin, which is still about 75 kilometers away.

.

After a long day riding, I arrived at Werner Stempfhuber’s house on the northwest side of Berlin, near the town of Spandau, at 7:30 pm. Werner and his wife Dunja were in the back yard tending to the barbeque grill and within 30 minutes we were eating grilled chicken and sausages. Very tasty after a hard day of riding.

July 30 – Rostock to Plau am See (110 km, 68 miles)

Posted in On the Road on July 30, 2010 by Scott McGee

I left Rostock at 9:00 am this morning and headed south toward Berlin. It’s a two day ride away, and I can’t help but think that what a car can cover in one hour will take me one day to ride the same distance. I rode local roads that cut through wheat and corn fields. I think I made a logistical error in deciding to ride from north to south, as the prevailing wind pattern so far seems to be from the southwest. Today’s wide was into a constant headwind and quartering headwind, which slowed my average speed by 5-7 km/h.

.

Did I mention how bicycle-friendly Europe is? This is a typical bike lane in the larger cities. It's great how they use different paving surfaces and colors to differentiate between vehicles, bikes, and pedestrians. It's a great system. Why can't we in the U.S. do the same?

.

My nightly destination was a campground (campingplatz in Deutsche) at a lake named Plau am See. Once again, I was surprised at the difference between European and U.S. campgrounds. The one I stayed at, Campingplatz Zuruf, had an outdoor stage with live entertainment by a duo called Schwarzblond, who performed a musical revue type show that is popular in Berlin. It was quite entertaining and they did several songs that had the German audience clapping and singing along. And of course there was the requisite biergarten that served up plenty of German beer, pretzels, and wienerschnitzel.

July 29 – Gedser to Rostock, Germany (44 km, 27 miles)

Posted in On the Road on July 29, 2010 by Scott McGee

Today was a short, easy day for a couple of reasons. First, the manager of the hotel I stayed at last night told me that the ferry departed Gedser every two hours, starting at 7:00 am. He was correct about the 7:00 departure, but the frequency turned out to be every four hours rather than two. I had planned on taking the supposed 9:00 am departure, but instead had to wait till 11:00. It was a two hour ride across to Rostock, so that put me there at 1:00 in the afternoon.

The ferry system here is much more efficient than the Alaska Marine Highway ferries that I’m used to. One reason for this is that vehicles load from the bow and stern. In Gedser, the ferry docks bow first, and the entire bow of the ship lifts up to allow vehicles to drive on. It took about five minutes for the ship to dock, raise the bow, and lower the dock’s bridge to the ship, and as soon as that was done, vehicles loaded four lanes wide simultaneously. I don’t know exactly how many cars and trucks were loaded onto the ship, but it was at least several hundred, and the entire loading operation took only about 10-15 minutes. By the time I secured my bike and got upstairs we were already undocked and underway. Amazing.

.

Waiting to board the ferry in Gedser. The bow is lifted up, allowing vehicles to load from the front and drive out the back upon arrival at the destination.

.

After getting off the ferry I needed to find an ATM to get some Euros, but that turned out to be more difficult than I thought it would be. The ferry docked several kilometers south of the city, so I used my GPS to search for the nearest ATM, which showed one about 3 kilometers away in the downtown district. The problem was, the only way to get from where I was to downtown was via the highway, on which bicycles were prohibited. So I had to take a 20 kilometer alternate route which went in a big counterclockwise direction around Rostock. By the time I got to the ATM it was around 3:00 pm, so I decided to just get a hotel room for the night and see Rostock.

Tomorrow I head south for Berlin.

July 28 – Copenhagen to Gedser, Denmark (145 km, 90 miles)

Posted in On the Road on July 28, 2010 by Scott McGee

Bike path between Copenhagen and Gedser, Denmark.

.

Today was the first real leg of the trip by bike, from Copenhagen to Gedser, at the southern tip of Denmark, and due north of Rostock, Germany. It was sunny and hot (25 degrees C is hot for an Alaskan) for most of the day. I originally thought it would be about a day and a half ride to Gedser, but since Denmark is relatively flat, I was able to ride the whole way today. As I was approaching Gedser dark rain clouds developed in the direction I had to go. When I was within 7 kilometers of Gedser the rain came down quick and hard. The road ran through wheat fields and there was no shelter except for a clump of trees about a kilometer away, so I pedaled like crazy to get into the shelter of the trees to wait out the sudden downpour. After waiting 30 minutes there was no let up, so I gave up waiting, put on the raingear, and continued on for the final 7 kilometers.

.

Have you ever seen a Mercedes-Benz taxi cab in the U.S.? Most likely, not. But they seemed to be fairly common in Denmark.

.

A typical Danish thatch-roofed house.

.

I thought Gedser was going to be a fairly substantial town, since it’s a jumping off point for the ferry route to Germany. So I was really surprised to find that there are very few businesses, and everything except the one hotel in town was closed. Since there wasn’t a campground nearby, and because I wasn’t too crazy about setting up a rogue camp in some farmer’s field in the rain, I opted for a room in the hotel. So I had good accommodations for the night, was able to shower and do laundry, but unfortunately the one grocery store in town was closed. The only food I had was three plums that I bought along the way. So that was dinner. But on the bright side, the hotel manager told me that the ferry from Gedser to Rostock has a huge, free breakfast buffet. So I’m really looking forward to breakfast in the morning.

.

This is one of the blades of a wind-power generator, with my bike shown for scale. These things are huge - about 2 meters in diameter and about 50 meters long.

.

I have to say that Norway, Sweden, and Denmark have a superb cycling infrastructure. Nearly everywhere, there are designated bike lanes and trails. In the towns, bike lanes are to the right of the traffic lanes, and are often physically separated from the traffic by a curb. And then to the right of the bike lanes are the sidewalks, which are in turn separated from the bike lane by another curb. Signaled intersections have designated lanes for cyclists, and motorists respect the bike lanes and yield to bikers. Very nice. And a note about the traffic lights in Denmark – the cycle is from green directly to red. Then from red it goes to a one second yellow light followed by green. Completely opposite our lights in the States. Then there are the numerous roundabouts. Between Copenhagen and Gedser, I think there were actually more roundabouts than signaled intersections. And each roundabout had a designated bike lane which made it very simple and safe to get around it. Makes me wonder when we’ll wake up in the U.S. and adopt this efficient method of getting traffic through intersections. The Europeans are way ahead of us in this regard.

.

Interesting things to see in southern Denmark.

.

Tomorrow morning I’ll board a ferry for the two hour trip across a narrow section of the Baltic Sea to Germany.

July 27 – Oslo to Copenhagen (676 km, 420 miles)

Posted in On the Road on July 27, 2010 by Scott McGee

.

Tiger statue in the square at the Oslo train station, with my bike for scale.

.

I got up at 5:00 am this morning in order to catch the morning train from Oslo to Copenhagen, which was actually a three-stage trip. The first train was from Oslo to 70 km north of Goteborg, Sweden. Due to track construction, they had to unload everyone – probably 500 people – from the train and bus us all to the Goteborg train station where we boarded a second train for the final leg to Copenhagen. After unloading my 66 pounds of bike and gear from the train, I had to get from the track level up to the street. There were two options – stairs and an elevator. I opted for the elevator and when the doors opened I was greeted by two guys sitting on the floor with drugs and syringes scattered around them. I asked, “Going up?” (kind of a metaphorical question now that I think about it) and they said something about making themselves feel better. But they didn’t mind when I wheeled my bike into the elevator and pushed the “up” button. Interesting.

The trains here are amazing – they’re everywhere, and they’re fast. The two I was on were the high-speed tilting-body type. The cars of the train would automatically tilt, or lean into the curve, like when riding a bike and you lean over when rounding a corner. I had my GPS going the entire trip and the maximum speed reached was 127 miles per hour! Sure didn’t seem that fast, until we’d get to an area where the highway paralleled the train tracks. It was just amazing to be on a train, blowing past all the cars and trucks on the highway. And as high-speed trains go, these aren’t even anywhere near the fastest – the fastest can easily top 250 mph.

.

The business end of the high-speed train from Oslo to Copenhagen. This train hit a top speed of 204 kilometers per hour (127 miles per hour)!

.

Portland, Oregon likes to boast that it’s the most bike-friendly city in the U.S., but it’s nothing compared to Copenhagen. There are bikes everywhere here – I’ve never seen so many people riding bikes. There seemed to be almost as many bikes as cars. There are designated bike lanes on all the roads, so it’s easy to get where you need to go. It seems the biggest danger is not the cars, but the faster cyclists that are always on your tail and whipping around you with inches to spare. It kind of reminded me of a NASCAR race, with everyone all bunched up at the intersections waiting for the light to change, and then jockeying for a more advantageous position in the lineup before reaching the next intersection. Wild times, for sure.

.

A sea of bikes in Copenhagen. I've never seen so many bikes in one place at one time.

.

A typical bike lane in Copenhagen. The road is on the left, the bike lane in the middle, and the pedestrian sidewalk is on the right. This system works very well to physically separate cars from bikes from pedestrians.

.

Intersection in Copenhagen. The bike lane is designated by the blue paint on the pavement. This keeps bikes in view of vehicles, but safely to the right of them, and at the same time out of the pedestrian crosswalk. A very nice system. The U.S. could learn a lot from the Euporeans with respect to bicycle infrastructure in the cities.

On the schedule for tomorrow – from Copenhagen to points south.

July 26 – Oslo Airport to Oslo (64 km, 40 miles)

Posted in Norway, On the Road on July 26, 2010 by Scott McGee

When I woke up this morning it was still raining and the top of the airport control tower was in the clouds. I wasn’t too excited about pedaling in the rain today, but the thought of staying near the airport another day was less appealing. So I packed up my stuff and set off on the first leg of the trip – approximately 30 miles from the airport to downtown Oslo. It rained for about half the trip and had stopped by the time I got to Oslo. Although I’d like to pedal the entire distance to Rome, it’s not really feasible given my available time and the desire to stop and visit friends along the way. So I’ve decided to take trains at the beginning and end of the trip. This way I can quickly cover some distance, leaving more time for the ride from Copenhagen to Genova, Italy. I stopped at the train station in Oslo and reserved a seat for tomorrow on the train from Oslo to Copenhagen.

.

Hey, this sign looks familiar. We have moose signs in Alaska also. This one is along the road between the Oslo airport and Oslo. ^

.

Located just outside the city of Oslo, this concrete tower actually does lean like this. It has an 11° lean off vertical, which is almost 3 times greater than the angle of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, which leans 4° off vertical. As far as I could determine, this tower's only purpose is to draw passing motorist's attention to the advertising sign on top of it. You can see this tower in Google Earth - the coordinates are 59.985163 North, 11.019493 East. ^

.

Here's another view of the base of the Oslo tower. ^

.

Wildflowers along the side of the road. ^

.

More wildflowers along the edge of the road. ^

.

Getting close to Oslo - it's about 10 miles away. ^

.

Entering Oslo, Norway. ^

.

This rock outcrop along the side of the road shows a textbook example of glacial erosion. ^

.

I’m now in a campground in Oslo. The campgrounds in Europe aren’t like the ones we’re used to in the U.S. Where our campgrounds are usually a just a tent site and picnic table in the trees, the ones here are more like city parks – open grassy fields where people just drive in and park their campers or set up a tent. But what this one lacks in privacy, it’s made up for with amenities – there’s a grocery store, showers, and full restrooms with running water. It’s actually a pretty good setup for a bike tourer.

.

Campground in Oslo. This is typical of European campgrounds.

.

I had an interesting experience with an ATM machine this morning. I forgot to check to see what the exchange rate was between U.S. dollars and Norwegian kroners. The only option on the cash machine was, of course, kroners. I had no idea how much to get, as it dispensed denominations of 100 and 500 kroner. Someone before me had left their withdrawal receipt at the machine, and it was for 2,000 kroner. So I just guessed and withdrew 500 kroner, which was about $80.

.

Sculpture of a wolf chasing a moose, in an Oslo city park.

.

There are some interesting sculptures in Oslo. This one was over a waterway near the city's waterfront.

July 25: Los Angeles to London and Oslo

Posted in England, On the Road on July 25, 2010 by Scott McGee

After riding first class from Los Angeles to London on British Airways, it’ll he hard to ride coach/economy class again. I was right up in the nose of the plane, and instead of having just an inch or two between my knees and the seat in front of me, I had a seat that reclined into a fully flat, 6.5 foot long bed which occupied the space of 3 coach-class rows. The service was amazing – there were three flight attendants for just 12 people in First Class, and upon boarding, they gave each of us a set of pajamas, slippers, and a fancy case full of soap, hand lotion, and face cream. After dinner, most people went to the lavatory to change into their pajamas, and while they were doing that, the flight attendants changed their seat into a bed, complete with pillows, sheets, and a blanket. I opted not to use the pajamas, as I noticed that they were one-size-fits-all, size extra-large and baggy. The whole thing was just too cheesy for me, so my pajamas, slippers, and soap/hand/face cream went unopened. I had the thought that I could put the stuff up on Ebay and make some cash, but I didn’t want the hassle of dragging that stuff around on my bike or mailing it home.

The food on board was pretty amazing, compared to the gruel that you get in coach/economy class. First, there was champagne, followed by appetizers and the main course and desert. Then, in the morning (it was a 10 hour overnight flight) there was a nice English breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, fresh fruit, baked beans, and bangers (what the British call sausage).

.

Pre-appetizer: Some kind of meat (pretty good)

.

Appetizer: Salmon, asparagus, and caviar

.

Main course: Scallops, potatoes, and asparagus

.

Dessert: Cherry cobbler and ice cream

.

Flying over the English countryside on the way to London

.

We landed at Heathrow Airport at 3:30 pm, which gave me just enough time to find the gate for my connecting flight to Oslo. It was just a short 1 hour and 45 minute flight to the airport 30 miles northeast of downtown Oslo. The weather was just like the typical Juneau weather – rain, low clouds, fog, and about 50 degrees F. I waited at the oversize baggage claim area for about an hour, hoping that my bike actually made it to Oslo. Fortunately, it did. By this time it was 9:00 pm and I wasn’t looking forward to putting my bike together and pedaling down the road in the rain to camp in a patch of trees that I saw on Google Earth, so instead I hopped on the first hotel shuttle that I saw (Best Western) and got a room for the night. I put my bike together in the room while watching a Vin Diesel movie that was in Norwegian instead of English – pretty funny.

July 24: Anchorage to Los Angeles

Posted in On the Road on July 24, 2010 by Scott McGee
I had to get up at 3:00 am in order to catch my 6:30 am flight out of Anchorage. Rather tough, not being a morning person. The cab that I reserved the day before arrived right on schedule to take myself and my boxed bike to the airport. No problems – until, after 1 hour of sitting on the plane at the gate, the Captain came over the intercom and announced that we were still waiting for all the checked luggage to be loaded. Seems the conveyor system in the terminal broke down and the ground crew was busy running from conveyor to conveyor to find all the baggage that was supposed to be on my flight. So I immediately had visions of arriving in Oslo sans bike. But they assured us that everything was loaded. I hope.
.

My bike and camping gear, all boxed up and ready for the long ride.

.

My airline tickets from Anchorage to Oslo. Notice the seat numbers - all First Class. Click to enlarge.

.
I was hoping to get a glimpse of the Juneau Icefield as we flew south out of Anchorage, but there was a continuous cloud layer from Anchorage to just north of Vancouver, British Columbia. But soon the clouds dissipated and I was able to get some nice views of the mountains north of Vancouver, British Columbia.
.

View of the coastal montains in southern British Columbia, on the way to Seattle. Click to enlarge.

.

Looking north toward Seattle. Sea-Tac airport is visible near the upper center of the photo. Mt. Baker is the large snow-covered mountain on the horizon. Click to enlarge.

.

After leaving Seattle for Los Angeles, we flew past Mt. Rainier. Here’s a photo of it from my left-hand window seat as we flew past it at 16,000 feet.
.

View of Mt. Rainier from the west. Click to enlarge.

.

Farm fields in the central valley of California. Click to enlarge.

.

Wow - look at all those exotic destinations. For me, it's British Airways Flight 268 to London. First time out of the U.S.! Click to enlarge.

.

Here's my ride for the next leg of the trip - 10 hours non-stop from Los Angeles to London. My seat is right up front, windows 6, 7, and 8 back from the nose, but over on the left-hand side so that I can get a view of Greenland as we pass over it.

.
First Class definitely has its privileges over cattle-class. Wide seats, plenty of legroon, free meals and drinks, and real silverware (including metal knives and forks!). That was just on Alaska Airlines. I’m writing this from British Airway’s First Class lounge at the Los Angeles airport. This is definitely the way to go if you can stomach cashing in the requisite boatload of airline miles. All the free seafood, wine, champagne, snacks, etc. that you want, plus private showers! I loaded up on seafood and champagne and took a long hot shower, and can’t wait to get on the 747 an hour from now and settle into my First Class, 6-foot long sleeping pod for the 10 hour overnight flight to London.
.

The bar in British Airway's Fist Class lounge at the Los Angeles airport.

Final Preparations

Posted in Preparations on July 23, 2010 by Scott McGee

I returned home from three weeks on the Juneau Icefield today and am now doing the final packing for Europe. The weather this year on the Icefield was quite a bit worse than last year’s sunny first weeks. We had one day at Camp 17 when it snowed all day long, followed by a 10-day period of whiteout and rain which prevented helicoptering our GPS gear and other equipment from Camp 17 to Camp 10. Our best weather was from July 17 to 19. In addition to blue sky and sunshine, we had a rare visit by a black bear at Camp 10 on the 18th. We first noticed the bear walking west out of Icy Basin, and over the course of 3 hours it ambled around the base of the Camp 10 hill and into North Basin, staying about 1/4 to 1/2 mile away from camp. At one point it came to a meter-wide crevasse. It walked up to the edge, looked in, then backed up a few paces, got a running start, and jumped across. This was the second bear I’ve seen on the Icefield – about 10 years ago I watched a a grizzly bear traversing the Northwest Branch of the Taku Glacier.

.

View of a black bear on the Taku Glacier in front of Camp 10. The twin Taku Towers are in the left background. Click to view a larger version.

.

Close-up of the bear on the Taku Glacier. I took this with with a small point-and-shoot digital camera, so the quality isn't that great.

.

I’m now boxing up my bike and gear. I take off early tomorrow morning for Oslo via Seattle, Los Angeles, and London.