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Wrapping Up the 2004 Season
    Our 2004 cycling season ended mid-January 2005 in Spain with stiff winds and steep grades--a fitting close to a challenging year of riding. I pushed my bike more miles in 2004 than in the previous 3 touring seasons combined, even though I was carrying an additional 20 pounds of camping equipment for 2 of  those 3 years. It was the wicked combination of too many hills with grades in the 15-20% range and winds over 40 mph that repeatedly forced me onto my feet. Sometimes I walked because the extreme conditions depleted my strength but other times I just plain lost my nerve to be in traffic with fluky winds on steep inclines. Both Scotland and Spain dished out more wind and grade than I could consistently master and had we pedaled instead of motored our way around Iceland as planned, it would have been added to the list of countries with extreme cycling conditions for the year.
    2004 had been a 'catch-up year'--the year to visit places we had expected to visit our first touring year, like Normandy and Brittany, and to satisfy Bill's longing for a more northern route. But the harsh weather and higher prices of the countries north of the European continent had us vowing to be satisfied with what we'd seen 'up north' and to travel a more southern and eastern route in 2005. Central and southern European prices are more moderate and much of eastern Europe had felt like a bargain in 2001-3. The continuing weakness of the dollar only firmed our resolve to retreat to less expensive lands for our next touring season.

Home Again    (January 18-March 15, 2005)
More Weather Surprises
    The heavy weather we rode through in 2004 made the headlines for us throughout the year and when we returned to the Portland area, the weather was still making the news. But while we trudged through deep snow for several days last year while at home--something almost unheard of in Portland--this year we often did our errands in flip-flops and T-shirts as the temperatures climbed into the mid 70's. Last year ice formed on the inside of our borrowed attic room window; this year we wondered if the pitched-roof abode would become too hot for sleeping.
    High pressure in Britain can bring cold, damp weather but high pressure in the Portland/Vancouver area often diverts the moisture-laden jet stream to the north or south, or both as happened this winter. The result was weeks of warm, sunny days when we should have been hunkered down under endlessly gray skies and alternating drizzle and downpours (which is what was funneled south to traditionally sunny California). And it was so novel seeing Portland in its stunning early spring bloom with a backdrop of blue skies instead of the traditional gray. Many trees were covered with blooms that often are quickly tossed aside by the winds and the rain. In addition to the trees, daffodils, pansies, hyacinths, camellias, and forsythia were all bursting out in vibrant colors.
    We managed to touch down at Portland International Airport in January a day after the region thawed from an immobilizing ice storm and we left town just as the more typical rainy weather returned. Of course, the newspaper and TV headlines portended doom because of the shortage of rain and snow pack but we "stayed in the moment" and enjoyed the better-than-summer weather in February and March for our annual visit.   
    And the surprises in the skies weren't only coming from the weather as we happened to be there for Mt St Helens' latest show. We went running for a better view the evening that Helen dazzled Vancouver and Portland with  36,000' high spewing of gas and ash near sunset on one warm, summer-like evening.  Unfortunately, we weren't in time for a great photo but were glad to get a glimpse and share in the excitement of yet another eruption.

Tune-Up Time
    But it's not just the unpredictable weather that makes each year's interval back home a different experience. Last year was consumed with the challenges and aggravations of building up new bikes and both last year and the previous year my minor medical dramas added unneeded suspense. This year was Bill's turn for the medical escapades. His much anticipated hernia surgery went well and was early in our stay as hoped. He had 2 hernias on 1 side--both a "direct" and "indirect" for those of you who have been there. Massive swelling was his main complaint and he only had 2 markedly uncomfortable days in his recovery process. His surgeon's blessing to bike a week after surgery proved optimistic as the jiggling of brisk walking 10 days later stopped him in his tracks. It was about 3 weeks after surgery before he felt like resuming a more usual schedule of activities and it took until the 3 month point until he felt almost back to normal.
      Bill's right knee had laid him up last summer in England but was x-rayed and declared healthy while at home. His sports medicine/family practitioner recommended making smaller changes in his bike seat height to prevent re-injuring his knee and a massage therapist advised using stair work to develop a stabilizing knee joint muscle that is underused in cycling. And he was surprised to learn that the alarming discomfort in the saddle that has haunted him since mid-2003 was largely due to a persistent prostate infection with its characteristically vague symptoms. A long course of Cipro antibiotics cleared the infection and interrupted the big saddle height changes he'd been making and that eventually seriously irritated his knee.

Buying Binge
    Being back home triggers our annual shopping spree as prices are lower in the States on sports wear, bike gear and electronics and we know just where to shop in Portland.  Though we love PacLite Gore-Tex, the weak dollar tipped the balance and we bought the more reasonably priced and slightly bulkier local brand of waterproof jackets for 2005. Our new Burley Rock Point cycling jackets have some great features though, like black sleeves to hide the bike grease that so easily finds its way to our cuffs and forearms and 2-way waterproof front zippers that our PacLite jackets lacked. Burley has more confidence than I in their non-seam sealed sleeve and side seams and fabric pit-zip zippers as I instantly visualized soggy arms in a downpour. But I loved all the other features on the jacket and set out to oh-so-carefully apply a waterproof strip of SeamGrip where it was lacking. Bill opted for the Burley jacket too but is going to be the control subject by not waterproofing the zipper fabric on his sleeves. But the jackets have to wait until we are back in Europe to show their stuff in their first downpour as all we could test in the unseasonably pleasant Pacific Northwest weather was their overall riding comfort.
    And though Bill promises that we'll be hot this year rather than cold and wet as we were last year, I'll be testing some polar-grade insoles for my Gore-Tex socks just incase.  I am hedging my bets and will also test 2 gel-filled cooling neck scarves and a more fashionable sun hat. Almost all of our new gear this year are replacement items instead of innovations. I guess that is the bonus in preparing for Touring Season #5 as we have already solved almost all of the big problems and are now just fiddling with the little details.

Our compact Ice Walkers are ready for action.

    The only innovation for 2005 is our "Ice Walkers", which are miniature crampons to strap onto the arches of our Teva sandals when walking on ice or in loose soil on slopes. Once or twice a year we long for more traction when exploring the surface of a glacier or scrambling up some scree-covered hillside, but the need is so brief that it's not it worth hauling around hefty footwear. I had been brainstorming designs for my own pocket-sized traction devices for months but for $7 a pair these simple strap-on's were hard to pass up. Bill says there are glaciers in my future, so I'll be able to give you a field trial report soon. We bought mini-sized under-the-seat bags to keep our new Ice-Walker's handy without the risk of puncturing our other gear.
The new gear purchases for 2005 that were real time-consumers were the replacement electronics of a new laptop and a new handheld computer for Bill. After longingly admiring the bigger-screened laptops for over a year, the familiar compactness of the updated Fujitsu P-Series Lifebook won out again as its footprint is smaller than a sheet of notebook paper.  The first model served us well for 3 years and amazingly survived the rough, jiggly life standing on end in our panniers.  The new model is of course faster and has more memory and making back-ups is substantially faster and easier too. And a welcome enhancement is an improved screen that will allow us to both view our uploaded photos without being exactly in front of it.
    I hardly got to use the new laptop at all while we were at home as Bill  spent dozens (or hundreds?) of hours  getting  almost all of the new features to function and loading it with all of the software that we love.  But even though I was unhappily sidelined, I knew that all of those hours were buying me user-bliss as everything will work just the way a hardcore, user-only person like me expects.

Harp music for an early birthday celebration.

    Connecting with family and friends is one of the highlights of our time back home. We always savor: catching up on the details of changing lives, that special laughter that is fed by deep ties, the long conversations that are fueled by shared history and look forward to the special events like meeting a friend's new puppy. But this year our State-side visit was also punctuated by events that made those connections more poignant, like Bill's perky aunt's 90th birthday celebration, the memorial service for a friend who died shortly after his retirement, and learning of the depression-related suicide of the spouse of a business associate.
    These events underscored the realities of aging that we also privately noted over the months we traveled. It was both startling and reassuring to hear friends with the same laments of aging: unwelcome skin changes; worsening vision; once reliable memory banks that show the early signs of faltering; more medical procedures and more little ailments that elude diagnoses or complete healing. Dinnertime conversations contained more talk of aging parents than maturing children and financial planning issues were now open topics of discussion. We all struggle with the same issues: how do you know when you have enough money to retire and where to draw the line between the peace of mind that comes with financial security and that that comes with ditching a tiresome and too-consuming career.
    The cosmic joke in the financial planning discussions was realizing that our friend with terminal cancer is the person we know who is most at peace with her financial situation. Unlike the rest of us, she has been given an approximate exit date from this world and has totally rearranged her finances around that estimate.  She refinanced her home to have more cash available and is buying more of those things that she always wanted. She is implementing her financial planning strategy with a clarity about her planning horizon that others lack. The rest of us have to make wild assumptions about the rate of inflation and rate of return over the next 3 to 4 decades and then hope the compromises we make to support us until we are 90 or 100 aren't far off. Of course, even our friend has some unexpected uncertainty as her oncologist recently extended her expected survival time....
    Last year we were startled by how often the topic of depression came up in conversations with friends and this year it is the topic of anxiety. Of course, I noticed it more because early this winter we began looking at the anxiety we experience as a study topic. The spaciousness of our traveling life allows for a lot of introspection and we periodically examine habitually behaviors and this year it was anxiety's turn to go under the microscope. It was and is an interesting path to travel to look at anxiety as an issue but I was stunned at what a common experience it is in this 50's to early 60's stage of life cycle. Yikes! There is more to this aging process than I want to know.
    Aside from people, we had another pleasant connection surprise at home, which was with the internet. We were stunned to discover that in Portland (and apparently many other US cities), there are truly free WiFi hot spots and those that are free for the price of a cup of coffee. We had only become WiFi users last summer while in England and knew nothing about its availability back home.  The abundance of hot spots was a huge boon to Bill who often toted our new laptop to town to do high-speed software downloads--downloads that would have taken all night on the phone line were completed in under an hour. I quickly realized that I wouldn't see much of the laptop until we started touring as it was usually in tow with Bill. The push to create a free, city-wide hotspot in Portland is in sharp contrast to Europe where the rarely available WiFi access is often $13 for 1 or 2 hours or $40 for 24 hours with no option for an economical short session.
    Our other surprise at home was riding our touring bikes that we retired a year ago. Our much loved bikes that had hauled us over 20,000 miles in their first 5 years seemed clumsy and awkward after riding our new bikes for a year.  The fit on these, our first custom frames, was uncomfortable and we longed for the positive braking of the disc brakes on the replacement models. Of course, it didn't help that something had gone awry with my front wheel while in storage so that every time I applied the brake it felt like I was riding on a square wheel. Clearly these bikes needed a major overhaul with new wheels and tires, new brakes, and new gears and yet we weren't willing to spend the time or the money on bikes we only ride 6 weeks of the year--maybe next year we'll feel differently.

'Time-slicing' while on hold.

Skeletons in the Closet
    This year's stay wasn't as rushed, which was a welcome change. It was largely due to Bill refining his organizational and planning skills so that there were fewer last minute chores that either didn't get done or had to be done while overseas. We also had more time as he wasn't up to doing our usual weekly 60 miles of bike commuting because of his hernia repair discomfort. We missed the exercise, especially in the gorgeous, dry weather, but welcomed the many extra hours we had each week for doing chores.   
    But despite not being as rushed, the enormity of our photo album project really hit home this year. It was the second year of printing our own photos and so we arrived ready to print on our first day back. There was an unwelcome clarity in being so organized: printing, cutting, and assembling the photos and postcards in albums and attaching the notes and labels we carefully transcribe throughout the year would take about 2 weeks of our almost undivided attention. We of course spread the project out during our stay, but it helped explain why most years we never quite finish it. We managed to both start and finish 2004's album and do the last pages of 2003 that didn't quite get done last year but 2002 is still a mess. We vowed to keep fewer pictures in 2005 so as to have more time to work on poor ol' 2002's album before the memories completely fade.
    Even though we didn't feel so out of control, there was still a long list of things we didn't squeeze in, like taking in a movie, renting past  Tour d' France videos, taking a trip to the Oregon coast, and making a vat of 10 bean soup. We however did make time to fantasize about 4-wheeled travel options for the future by visiting an RV show. I can't imagine abruptly shifting from being bike nomads to keeping house again and so we've imagined continuing our travels in some sort of trailer or camper and doing day rides when cyclo-touring becomes too much. The vehicle show certainly filled our minds with possibilities, including luxuries like indoor showers, microwave ovens and flat screened TV's even in camper-vans. Who knows what the future holds, but we certainly have new material for dreaming.

A Taste of Germany
    Finally, our timing was perfect: we left Portland as the day time highs were dropping back into the more normal 50's from the fabulous 60's and 70's and arrived in Europe on the day that Frankfurt and Barcelona clawed their way back into warmer temperatures. We enjoyed sunny, dry weather at both ends of our trans-Atlantic flight. Frankfurt and Mainz had been booked for conventions for months, so we spent our first European night in Koblenz. It was as warm as Portland had been but wasn't bursting with blooms like we had enjoyed in the recent weeks. The too-short train ride along the Rhine River left us longing for the days that we made the trip by bike in 2001. Postcard-perfect old stone villages and dedicated bike lanes line the river that is flanked by steeply-sloped vineyards. Memories came streaming back and I ached for those delightful and serene riding days. But it was only March and the roadside snow on the way to the remote Hahn airport serving the budget airlines the next afternoon reminded us that it really was too early to be riding this far north.
    Though we slept for most of our 30 hour stay in Germany, we thoroughly enjoyed our brief contact. Germany is always a very comfortable place for us to be. The emphasis on things being neat and orderly makes it easy to maneuver the transportation system and the retail establishments. Things are where we expect them to be; bike lanes abound in and out of the city; and of course we savored the heavy dark breads that are almost an entree in themselves. And Bill picked up a pocket sized history book targeted at school children as a supplement to his ongoing German language studies. Our brief visit gave us second thoughts about another touring year that doesn't traverse a part of Germany.

Culture Shock
    Our first full day in Europe once again confronted us with all the abrupt changes associated with leaving or arriving in Europe. Our stay back in the States immerses us in the familiar: family, friends, traditions, and routines that all are very comfortable. Our lifestyle back home is very calendar-driven and each day is crafted by appointments and reviewing a long list of "Must Do's" before we depart, making phone calls and sifting through the mail. Then, in a matter of hours, all of that familiarity and intensity drops away and it's just the 2 of us and our small pile of stuff in an overseas hotel room. The structure of our days goes "poof" as the long lists have lost their utility and our calendars are suddenly blank. The hole that is left is like that when a close friend moves away or when leaving a long-held job. Over the days and weeks new routines and new possibilities will fill-in the gap but the loss of the familiar is palpable in this early interlude. Of course, the shock of it all is softened a bit as this is our fifth riding season in Europe and we now always start our journey in the city where it left off 2 months before. Fortunately it isn't a sad time but the changes are dramatic enough  to compel honoring the ripples they create within us.

New tires in the box & our load of other new gear.

A Long Barcelona Lay-Over    (March 19-30, 2005)
    Our early days in Spain were in slow-mo. The first day revolved around our  gear: taking the hour-long train ride from our hotel in Girona into Barcelona with our 100 lbs of belongings in tow, then emptying one wheeled suitcase out at our suburban hotel to haul back 3 days of groceries from a supermarket. Day 2 centered on walking through the nearby industrial area to our storage locker to retrieve our bikes (Whew! They were there!), panniers, and a small amount of gear and taking a quick 'reunion' ride. With those simple but reassuring tasks behind us, we settled in to wait.  We needed to sit-out the 9 day Easter holiday to avoid lodging hassles throughout Spain and opted to sit it out in Barcelona. The haze of jet lag shifted the emphasis from sight seeing to a time of retreat. Instead of rushing about checking sights off our list, we spent our time doing the equivalent of culling one's sock drawer.  
    The most important Barcelona task was that of bike-mechanic-Bill with his installation of our heaviest and most cumbersome bike parts: the tires, front fenders and chains. It couldn't have been more absurd, but we hauled 10 lbs worth of German tires from Portland to Spain because we couldn't buy the tires in Spain. Heavy duty touring tires just aren't sold in Spain as we learned when looking in a large bike shop's catalog early last winter. So, on went the 4 heavy Schwalbe Marathon+ tires--our latest hope for flat-tire free riding. (A month later in Aix-en-Provence a Taiwanese tourist who is in the tire manufacturing business congratulated Bill on his excellent tire choice after inspecting our bikes).  And despite our unhurried schedule, the bumbliness of jet lag meant that not everything got put on the bikes. We carried the cork handlebar wrap and wire cables for almost a month before the last of the lighter-weight supplies were in place.

Tires going from the box to the bike.

    One of my big projects for our purchase of a day's worth of WiFi access was online research to assess if our canned tuna consumption was putting us at risk for mercury toxicity. I was thrilled to quickly find a site with a long list of the common names of fish in 3 languages, plus the scientific names. That site combined with a couple of other sites listing mercury levels assured us that our tuna consumption wasn't at the toxic level and educated me as to which fish to select or avoid when buying canned or frozen fish. My next shopping trips were slowed by intensive label reading to match-up the products on the shelf with my new found information. That also lead into yet another methodical scan of the supermarket shelves looking for alternative protein sources that are low in saturated fats, known carcinogens and 'mystery meats'. I also scanned the shelves for foods to lace with turmeric, hoping that the human studies show that it fends off Alzheimer's in humans as well as it does in mice.
    Our Barcelona layover was also time for doing things that never make it off the "C" list like, playing music Bill has stored on the hard drive of our laptop; jumping rope with the jump rope that we have carried for 4 years but only used a couple of times in Iceland last year; and refining the organization of the gear in our panniers. Bill learned a few more nuances about a last minute purchase of photo software and ironed out some wrinkles in using our new laptop. We committed ourselves to viewing the 12 hour DVD course on ancient civilizations that we hauled with us the last 2 years but never completed. 

Buried in bubbles in Barcelona.

   And then there was the self-imposed rehab program to rebuild Bill's core strength after almost a year of minimal lifting. The majority of the healing from his hernia repair was done, but the guarding of the area, both pre- and post-surgery, had left him weak and his back was especially vulnerable to injury. So sit-ups and push-ups were added to our regular menu to stabilize his back. Jumping rope was the appetizer before dinner many a night to tone-up our de-conditioned bodies and beef-up our bones.  
After 2 months of rushing around back home, the forced stay in one place was welcome catch-up time for chores and to merge the gear left in Barcelona with that we brought with us. It also gave Bill some leisurely time for general route planning and for us to catch-up on news from the European perspective with. the BBC World Service. But not all of our time in hibernation was serious as I treated myself to a large, $2 jug of bubble bath and made good use of our room's unexpected bathtub.  We enjoyed the voluminous bubbles so much that we took the remaining liquid with us when we left Barcelona.

Hanging out at the Miro museum.

    We ventured out for more than just food by making several outings into Barcelona: a couple with our bikes and a couple on foot. We explored a huge park on one of Barcelona's hills by bike and then returned the next day to revisit the Joan Miro museum there. We had seen it once before but had been a bit overwhelmed by it and found it easier to digest on the second visit with the audio guide. One biking day was dedicated to finding a bike-friendly route out of town as the last time we left Barcelona we were unsuccessful and finally had to load ourselves onto a train to cross over the freeways. 

On Our Way At Last    (March 30, 2005)
Leaving Barcelona
    It was hard to leave our 2 budget-priced, wheeled suitcases for the Barcelona hotel staff when it was time to hit the road, but that was the original plan when we bought them for flying home in January. And though it was time to get serious about traveling, it took an extra hour to get underway on our very first road day as we had to attach new pouches to our frames and fiddle with other little enhancements to our external gear.
    Our bikes didn't audibly creak and groan under the sudden load, but our bodies sure did. With almost 3 months off loaded bikes, we had forgotten just how heavy they are. The terrifying wobble when Bill lifted a hand to signal his first turn made him look like he needed training wheels, but his successful recovery a hairsbreadth from crashing into a parked car was the one and only embarrassing maneuver. The thousands of miles of experience in his body kicked in, making that wobble his first and last novice move.

Departing with bulging panniers & a package on Barb's back.

    Nothing like a lay-off to remind one of misplaced handling skills or in just how many places the weight on the bikes is felt in our bodies. The rhythmic efforting of the legs quickly moves into the background and it is all the other sensations that vie for attention. The pressure in the palms of the hands and in the shoulders from the subconscious control of those erratic wobbles is startling.   And the balls of my feet reminded me that 100% of the power transfer for propelling my bike comes through that small contact area with the pedals.  Bill's welcome lack of hernia discomfort spoke to the role of the abdominal muscles in stabilizing the whole torso so the power transfer moves the bike instead of lifting the body off the bike. The first hours of our first day proceeded like an 'anatomy of sport' lesson as various muscle groups and contact points were heard from.   
    As the cacophony of sensation was resonating through my body, my mind went into 'list mode' to remember why this would be OK: how is it that each year we manage to navigate with all this awkward load and where will those top-heavy bulges on our back racks disappear to? It was reassuring to remember that this is the one day of the entire year when we will carry the most weight and that on all other days it will be less. It is only on this very first day that everything is topped off. Only at the beginning of the trip are all of the containers full: shampoo bottles, hand lotion tube, toothpaste tube, olive oil bottle, detergent bottle, nutritional supplement stash, salt sack and medicinals (and that bubble bath).
    In addition to all those containers being brimming full, there are also the lingering little treats from home that won't be fully replenished, like a handful of teabags, a sack of bulgur and a half dozen energy bars. As each week goes by, the load will compress as the packing gets more efficient and  consumables get consumed. Many of the consumables will get replaced, but never again all at once. And a few things, especially some of the year's experimental items, will get discarded or sent home as the year progresses. Once again I was successfully convincing myself that it would be OK because not only would the weight slowly  and volume slowly drop down but we would simultaneously be getting stronger.
    Our previous Barcelona day ride to scout our exit from the city paid off and we had a relatively low-traffic escape from this city's especially ensnaring freeway maze as we got reacquainted with our loaded bikes. Passing by the leather-skinned shepherd with his equally scruffy roadside herd signaled that we had left the urban sprawl behind us and we were in the country. Our excitement grew as we slowing meandered into the hills. Ah, there is nothing like hills to delight the sensations. Everything we enjoy about riding is more intense in the hills--the vegetation variations, the shadows, the geological quirks--they all add to the pleasure of riding. The majestic Montserrat was our destination for the night and having such a beacon to gauge our progress added to the excitement.

    Some days everything just falls wrong but today was pay-back day as everything tumbled in our favor. We arrived at the deserted looking cog railway at the base of Montserrat about 4:30. We feared that this too-new-for-our-guide-book transport was only open on weekends in low season but there was 1 unstaffed ticket window open. The once-an-hour train would be arriving in minutes, which was too little time to translate and untangle all the ticket options (round trip or one way, unlimited funicular rides, lunch, museum visit, audio-visual show). We had planned to stay at a pension in town but they would require a long walk back to the train station in the morning so we decided to punt and see if the scant lodging at the top of the train line was affordable. I made a quick ticket selection from the jumble of choices and Bill scooted ahead into the one elevator up to the platform. They were closing the doors on the roll-the-bikes-on train car until Bill mentioned that I was on my way up. We noticed that we were the only paying customers as we congratulated ourselves on at least getting on the train. The steep, steep ride up gave us ample views of the road we didn't bike up--grades way too intense for our out of condition bodies and heavily loaded bikes. There are always little pangs of guilt for riding bigger wheels instead of our own, but this was the right thing to do, especially with the lateness of the hour.

The monastery & visitors center at Montserrat.

    Bill was stunned to discover at tourist info that we could get an equipped studio apartment for a little over $40 per night, about half the price of the one hotel. We expected any lodging up on the mountain to be at least 3 digits but instead it was cheaper than being in Barcelona. We arrived at the apartment building about a half hour before the office closed for the night and just had time to get a few questions answered after inspecting the abode. The simple little apartment had an outfitted kitchen, sheets and towels and we had all the missing items: kitchen detergent, soap, shampoo, a lighter for the gas stove, a scrubbing pad for the pots and lots of food. The next stop was a quick trip to the expensive and poorly stocked mini-market for toilet paper and a gallon of drinking water and we were set. We hurriedly layered on warmer clothes to shield us from the dropping temperatures and increasing wind and made a quick tour of the hillside community. Doors were closing behind us as we strolled through the numerous tourist shops and church buildings but we were satisfied with our sunset reconnaissance.
    I don't know if its just me, but there is something magical about being on hillsides or hilltops where people come just for the fun of it. The combination of the top-of-a-tree feeling and being around people in a festive mood practically makes me giddy. I felt like a little kid in a tree house even though our 4th floor apartment was in a big complex. Looking out our window at Montserrat's signature smooth columnar rocks and knowing that we were way up high (2300' though not at the top) on the outcropped mountain reinforced the message that I was someplace special.
    And though some prefer solitude, my pleasure is intensified if there are other people adding to the ambiance. Europeans are especially skilled at just being: just hanging out and being connected with where they are and calm, happy people add to the richness of my experience. And when the crowds left at night, I felt like I and the other overnight guests were caretakers of a magical mountain. As I giggled with delight in playing house in our temporary apartment and looked at the neighborhood view out my window, I savored the few other magical hilltop getaways I've known. The last one was after an especially trying climb up a mountain in Greece on a holiday weekend, but struggles of that day were overshadowed by my delight of the evening in the village at the top.

The Pyrenees in the background from atop Montserrat.

    Our luck held the next day and we had warm temperatures and beautiful blue skies as backdrops for our exploration of our magical, 'serrated' mountain. The 65% grade funicular took us up higher and from there we hiked to the outcropping at the 4,000' level. Bill kept pointing out the snow-capped Pyrenees on the horizon of the extensive panorama--mountains that we would soon be traversing. The rounded, columnar rocks of Montserrat were amazing to scrutinize close-up as they are made of conglomerate. Almost all of the conglomerate contained rounded, fist-sized and smaller rocks cemented together long ago. Trail sections that had required slicing through the conglomerate were especially fascinating as the colorful palette of curry-yellow, terra cota red and mossy green stones boldly stood out among the more plentiful shades-of-gray material. We were amused that this rest day had us rushing to the ibuprofen bottle as the long hike down the steep hills hammered our knees more than the first day of riding our heavily loaded bikes had done.
    Thoroughly contented with our last-minute trip to Montserrat, we mounted our slightly lighter steeds and navigated our way down the switch-backed mountain road. We forfeited our prepaid trip down the mountain on the cog train in favor of the many views the road would afford us. We'd bundle up for the descent that would let the legs rest but would leave our hands and arms screaming for stops at scenic points from the hard work of braking and controlling the weight of the bikes on the downhill. Once at the bottom, we'd shed the extra layers of 'descent gear' and head in the direction of our new beacon, those snow covered Pyrenees. 

Where We Are Now: May 21, 2005
    Yes, I've gotten behind in my writing--we are now in Torino in northwestern Italy and will be heading for the Italian lake country after a brief visit to Milan. Then it is on to our beloved Alps.

Where We Are Headed
     This year's rough itinerary includes:
        March-April in Spain
        May in the Pyrenees, Andorra, France and Italy
        June & July in Switzerland, the Italian Dolomites and maybe southern Austria
        July, August & September traveling southeast by land or the Danube through Romania & Bulgaria & ?
        September/October we'll be in Istanbul
        October should see us flying to Australia/New Zealand for the northern hemisphere's winter


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