August 17 – Lindau to Campingplatz Bachli, Switzerland (72 km, 45 miles)

Posted in On the Road, Switzerland on August 17, 2010 by Scott McGee

August 17 Route Map

Today was a milestone day – I hit the 1,000 mile mark in the village of Schonengrund, Switzerland, 3.4 kilometers east of tonight’s campground in Bachli. Only about another 700 miles of pedaling to go!

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A view of the Swiss countryside at the spot where I hit the 1,000 mile mark on my ride.

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I got lucky with the weather today. The sky this morning didn’t look promising, and there were a few sprinkles as I headed out of Lindau. But fortunately the rain held off today and I was able to make it to today’s campsite in Bachli, Switzerland without getting wet. I still had a headwind from the southwest for most of the day, but at least the temperature was cool – in the 60’s Fahrenheit – so it wasn’t too bad of a ride. Except for the hills. The first part of today’s ride was around the south end of Lake Constance (Bodensee). The lake is in a wide valley, so that part of the ride was mostly flat. But only about 5 kilometers after entering Switzerland, the real climbing began. The first of many climbs was 1,900 feet (580 meters), and today I learned to hate downhill runs because the downhills are always immediately followed by an uphill climb, and it seems like there’s always more uphill than downhill.

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Europeans are in some ways ahead of us in the U.S. when it comes transportation infrastructure. This electronic sign tells motorists how many parking spaces are available in various parking garages. It makes it easy for drivers to figure out the best place to park without driving around wasting gasoline. Very smart idea.

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Before leaving Lindau this morning I did an online search for campgrounds with Internet access, and found one in the village of Bachli. Their website listed the typical stuff for European campgrounds – showers, food store, laundry service, and so on, plus WiFi internet access. Sounded good and it was also the right distance for today’s ride, so that’s where I decided to spend the night. But when I got here the office was closed and there was only one other person in the entire campground. The food store/café was also closed, which was too bad because I was planning on eating there, so I didn’t visit a food store before arriving at the campground. So tonight’s dinner was apricots and chocolate.

Since I entered Switzerland today I had to get some Swiss Francs, because Switzerland is one of the few European countries that does not use the Euro. I have to say that Swiss paper money is the coolest looking of all the paper money I’ve seen so far on the trip. Very colorful with neat designs. It makes our U.S. bills look plain and dull by comparison.

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The front side of Swiss Franc bills. Click for a larger view.

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The back side of Swiss Franc bills. Click for a larger view.

August 16 – Durach to Lindau, Germany (76 km, 47 miles)

Posted in On the Road on August 16, 2010 by Scott McGee

August 16 Route Map

Today can be summed up in one word – rain. The sky didn’t look too bad when I woke up and I was hopeful for a second nice day in a row. But it was not to be. About an hour after I started riding the first sprinkles came down, followed soon after by a constant rain for the next seven hours. And with the rain was, of course, a headwind. Yesterday I was headed northwest into a northwest headwind – today I was headed southwest into a southwest headwind. I just can’t win. There weren’t any nearby train stations, therefore Plan B wouldn’t have worked. Fortunately the temperature was quite cool today, so with my raingear on I was able to keep dry without sweating inside the raincoat. It definitely made things more tolerable.

I’ve been having trouble finding campgrounds that provide WiFi internet connections, so posting updates has been a bit spotty. Today, as I was passing by a McDonald’s, I had a random thought that maybe they had a WiFi hotspot. Sure enough, they did. So I picked a table in a corner and caught up on my e-mail while watching a store full of Germans wolfing down Big Macs and fries – surreal. With all the good German food they have here, I wonder why they go for McDonald’s. And since I’m on the topic of food, the ice cream here in Germany is fantastic. My favorite is vanilla, cherry, and raspberry ice cream covered with amaretto and cherry sauce, and with chocolate syrup covering it all – just fantastic. Anyway, I caught up with my e-mail and had a real-time planning session with Melanie (she lives near Zurich). Turned out that she wouldn’t be in town tomorrow when I was planning on getting to her place, So I switched to Plan B and changed today’s destination to Lindau, Germany rather than Rapperswill, Switzerland.

Lindau is about 850 years old and is located on a small (0.25 square mile) island in Lake Constance (also called the Bodensee). Nearly the entire island is covered with old buildings and narrow cobblestone streets. Although the town is small in size, it would take quite a while to walk all of the streets and alleys. Everything is packed in really tight.

So far, I’ve liked everything I’ve seen in Germany and Austria, but one thing that I can’t stand is the smell of the farm fields. Unlike in the U.S., where fields and cities are separate, here in Germany the fields are often right on the edge of the towns, and sometimes even in the towns. And there are a lot of cows here. So what do you do with the tons of manure produced by the cows? Well, here the farmers simply collect it in big piles and then spray it on the fields. The smell is absolutely horrible and you can smell it throughout town. I don’t know how people put up with it. That’s the kind of thing that would never be allowed in the U.S. But that’s just they way they do things here in Germany, so if they don’t have a problem with it, then it can’t be all that bad – I guess.

Another thing I’ve noticed that’s different between Europe and the U.S. is that Europeans are much more energy-conscious. For example, the hallway lights in apartment buildings are on a timer switch. So when you walk in, the hallway is dark. You hit the light switch and the lights come on for a couple minutes and then automatically turn off. In several of the hotels I’ve stayed at, you have to use the electronic room key to turn on the lights. There’s a special switch near the door, and the only way you can turn on the electricity in the room is to insert the room key in it. Then you turn on the lights with the regular light switches. It’s a pretty good system, because when you leave the room you of course have to take the room key with you. And when you remove the room key from the electrical switch, all the power in the room is switched off, which saves electricity when you’re not in the room. Pretty smart. I’m sure there are some hotels in the U.S. that do this as well, but they’re definitely a minority. The U.S. really needs to catch up to Europe when it comes to energy efficiency and conservation.

August 15 – Brunnen to Durach, Germany (47 km, 29 miles)

Posted in On the Road on August 15, 2010 by Scott McGee

August 15 Route Map

It started raining at 5:00 this morning, with dark clouds to the northwest toward my destination. It looked like yet another day in the rain but fortunately it stopped raining and cleared up around 7:00. I packed up my gear and headed over to Neuschwanstein Castle. Unlike yesterday afternoon when I was there briefly, there were no crowds of people everywhere, since I was there early this morning. Although the castle is built in the old medieval style, it’s actually quite young, being built between 1869 and 1886. Inside, it’s like you would imagine a castle to look like – lots of wood carvings, paintings, stained glass windows, mosaic floors, etc. It was quite impressive, but I understand that some (or maybe most) Germans consider it to be just a tourist attraction – the Disneyland of Germany.

After Neuschwanstein, I headed northwest to Durach, Germany to visit Andy Muehlegger. Unfortunately, the wind was also from the northwest at between 20 and 40 kilometers per hour, so I spent the time fighting the headwind. But at least it didn’t rain. I arrived at Andy’s house at 2:00 pm and was met by his parents. Andy was on a trip to Switzerland for the weekend and was headed back home. In the meantime, his parents took me on a walking tour of nearby Kempton. Andy’s dad plays the trumpet in a Dixieland band named the Washroom Basement Stompers, and later when we got back to the house, he played a bit of trumpet and guitar, including the song North to Alaska. It was the first time I’ve heard that played by a German, and he was very good. Quite entertaining. Andy arrived home at 7:00 pm and we spent the next few hours catching up on Icefield news and other stuff.

August 14 – Ranggen to Brunnen, Germany (115 km, 70 miles)

Posted in On the Road on August 14, 2010 by Scott McGee

August 14 Route Map

After yesterday’s nearly all-day rain, today was great. There were some low clouds hanging over the Inn Valley, but you could see that the clouds were thin, with blue sky above – and no rain. Just what I had hoped for. In fact, it turned out to be dry all day long, despite the fact that dark clouds were developing in the direction of my destination as I neared it later in the day.

At 8:00 am, I left Martin Kendler’s house in Ranggen and headed off to the northwest, back into Germany. Today’s goal was to reach the Neuschwanstein Castle, which is the classic German castle that you see in travel brochures and literature. Before I left, Martin’s mother loaded me up with sandwiches, chocolate, a bottle of orange juice, and a big can of beer. Good thing too, because I needed all of it. My route took me west along the Inn River for about 30 kilometers and then turned north, up and over Fern Pass. I began the climb at 9:45 am and reached the top at 1:00 pm. I sure hope I don’t have to travel another road like that one – not because of the topography, but because of all the traffic on it. The road over Fern Pass is one of the few main north/south passes through the mountains between Germany and Austria. Like most city to city roads, it had no shoulder to ride on, just a couple of inches to the right of the white line, which made it challenging to stay out of the way of the traffic – and there was a LOT of traffic. It was nearly non-stop, and this being a sunny Saturday during a generally cloudy and rainy summer here, it seemed like everyone in Austria was taking a drive up Fern Pass.

After reaching the top of Fern Pass, a quick descent down the north side took me to near the base of the Zugspitse, the highest mountain in Germany. I considered taking the aerial tramway to the summit visitor center, but the top of the mountain was clouded over. I’ve seen the inside of a lot of clouds so I scrapped that plan and continued on toward the castle. I reached Neuschwanstein at 4:30 pm and discovered that the last tour of the day was at 5:00 pm – not enough time for me to find a parking place for the bike, secure my gear, and purchase a tour pass, so I figured I’d search out a campground nearby and get settled for the night. Campingplatz Brunnen was only 4 kilometers away and I arrived there at 5:30 pm. Got the tent up, had a shower, and had dinner.

Tomorrow’s destination is Andy Muelegger’s house in Durach, Germany.

August 13 – Innsbruck (0 km, 0 miles)

Posted in On the Road on August 13, 2010 by Scott McGee

Today was spent just sightseeing around Innsbruck and the surrounding area. Unfortunately, there were low clouds all around, so I didn’t get to see the high peaks surrounding Innsbruck. Martin and I took a drive into the mountains and visited the Otz Valley. This is the area where the 5,300 year old man, Otzi, was found melting out of the Schnalstal Glacier in 1991. Saw several big waterfalls coming down the valley walls, and in one area there was a cluster of about 10 houses several thousand feet up on the side of a mountain. There didn’t really seem like a reason why someone would build houses way up there. It was very strange because it’s something we don’t see in the U.S.

August 12 – Munich to Ranggen, Austria (132 km, 82 miles)

Posted in On the Road on August 12, 2010 by Scott McGee

August 12 Route Map

I left Martin Lang’s house in Munich today and headed for Martin Kendler’s house in Ranggen, Austria, which is about 20 kilometers west of Innsbruck. As usual for riding, it was raining when I started. Martin rode with me for the first 15 kilometers, as his normal route to work matched the route that I was taking out of Munich.

I wasn’t sure if I’d make it all the way to Ranggen in one day or not, as this was the first day that I would be in the mountains, and didn’t know how easy or difficult the mountain roads and passes would be. I got to the base of the mountains – and the first climb – at Kochelsee, Germany at 12:30 pm. Forty minutes later I was at the top of the pass and had a nice multi-switchback descent to Walchensee. Further down the road I took a small, local road to the village of Mittenwald – a neat little Bavarian town set in the middle of a valley with huge mountains in all directions. Spectacular.

I crossed into Austria at 3:40 pm and decided to take the most direct route to Ranggen, which was the main highway with not much of a shoulder to it. On approach to the Inn River valley and Innsbruck the road made a very steep descent and I noticed signs along the road with a picture of a bicycle and some German text that I didn’t understand. But since the picture of the bicycle didn’t have a red slash through it, I figured bikes were allowed so I continued on. As usual, it started raining on the approach to my destination so I was descending the steep road in a heavy rainstorm, which was probably beneficial because the rain helped to cool my brakes. As it was I had to stop three times at the runaway truck ramps to let the brakes cool down. It was only after I arrived at Martin Kendler’s house that I learned that bicycles were not allowed on the stretch of road that I took. But on my way down, two police cars had passed me going up, so naturally I figured it was ok.

I arrived in Ranggen at 6:00 pm after a nine and a half hour ride and Martin’s Mom prepared a very nice dinner. On the schedule for tomorrow is some sightseeing around Innsbruck.

August 11 – Munich (0 km, 0 miles)

Posted in On the Road on August 11, 2010 by Scott McGee

I didn’t do anything special today – just took the train and subway around Munich to see the sights. Saw parts of the old town center, and then went back out to the Olympic center and BMW World to see more of those that I didn’t see a couple days ago. I’ll depart Munich tomorrow morning and head south for Innsbruck, Austria.

August 10 – Munich to Kaufering (55 km, 33 miles)

Posted in On the Road on August 10, 2010 by Scott McGee

August 10 Route Map

This morning I got to take a close look at Martin’s computerized van. He owns a company that surveys, photographs, and documents roadways. In order to do this, he and his partners have spent the last 10 years building an integrated system of video cameras, GPS receivers, 3-d laser scanners, inertial navigation systems, computers, and related software. It’s all mounted on top of, and inside, a standard panel van. It’s basically a Google Street Car on massive doses of steroids. The idea is that while they drive along roads, the system is scanning the roadway and creating a georeferenced digital elevation model of it, while at the same time recording georeferenced video and still photos. It’s a pretty amazing looking system.

After looking at Martin’s van I went by train to visit Klaus Blachnitzky’s family in Kaufering, which is about 55 kilometers west of Munich. I arrived there around 2:00 pm and was met by Tim Blachnitzky, Klaus’ grandson. After a short walk from the train station to his house, I met his wife and three kids. We all then took a drive to the nearby town of Landsberg, where went on a walking tour of the old part of town. Tim and his wife Britta pointed out all the interesting sights such as the town wall, guard towers, the old – but incredibly ornate – churches, and so on. Interesting stuff. After that we went to Tim’s Dad’s house. His Dad, Horst, is Klaus’ son. We had a good time reminiscing about Klaus and afterward went via autobahn to a nearby biergarten for dinner, where Tim’s brother Ben met us. I took the train back to Munich and arrived at Martin’s house around 11:30 pm.

August 9 – Munich – Walter Welsch to Martin Lang (15 km, 9 miles)

Posted in On the Road on August 9, 2010 by Scott McGee

I spent all day today touring around Munich. Walter had to go to his university in the morning, so I went to the Munich zoo, which was only a few kilometers from Walter’s house. In the afternoon Walter and I took the subway to Olympic Park and BMW World. BMW World is really just a very large, very expensive showroom for BMWs. They have all the various models of new BMWs that you can sit in, as well as various displays that showcase BMW technology. The feeling you get when going in is that it’s an ultra-modern museum type place, but everything inside is designed to get you interested enough in BMWs in order to buy one. Walter said that when someone buys a BMW at any dealership in Munich, they have to pick it up at a special place on the second floor of BMW World. Next to BMW World is the BMW Museum, the main headquarters building that is referred to as the 4-cylinder (because it has four cylindrical-shaped towers connected together), and the BMW factory, where all BMWs in Germany are made. In all, it was quite an impressive area, all devoted to BMW. After BMW World, we took a trip up the Olympiaturm, which is a 300-meter tall tower. From the observation deck it was possible to see to the north and to the mountains to the south.

After leaving the tower, Walter took me to one of his favorite outdoor cafes for ice cream and coffee, after which we went back to his house where I packed my gear, said farewell to Walter, and rode 15 kilometers to Martin Lang’s house on the southeast side of Munich. As soon as I rode up on my bike I was met outside by Martin’s wife, Ulrike, and then in quick succession by the rest of the Lang family – Lothar, Jonathan, Leo, and Moritz.

The plan for the next few days is to visit with Martin and family, and then spend some time visiting Klaus Blachnitzky’s family in nearby Kaufering.

August 8 – Regensburg to Munich – Walter Welsch (134 km, 83 miles)

Posted in On the Road on August 8, 2010 by Scott McGee

August 8 Route Map

There was heavy fog in Regensburg this morning when I woke up, and it didn’t look good weather-wise. The forecast for Munich for today was for sun and a 20% chance of rain. Good deal. Walter Welsch’s house in Munich was about 134 kilometers away and I was hopeful that I’d be able to make it there today, but of course it depended on how hilly the route would be. I got lucky and didn’t have too many hills today, but I’ve learned that going into a village is always downhill and there’s a climb up out of each village. The downhill run into a village is great, but climbing up out is a grind.

I got to Walter’s house in Munich at 5:30 pm. Once again, my trusty GPS led me right to his mailbox. Walter called Martin Lang, who had just arrived home in Munich yesterday from the Juneau Icefield. We made arrangements to meet with him at a local restaurant, where we had dinner and some great German beer.

One interesting thing I’ve seen along the way is a lot of cigarette vending machines, mostly along the roads in the villages and at bus stops. It’s interesting to see them here because we don’t have them in the U.S. anymore – I think the last one I saw was in the 70’s or so. And I’ve noticed that there seem to be more smokers in Europe than in the States.

I’ll be in Munich for the next few days visiting with friends, then it’s southward again to Innsbruck, Austria.