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13 Countries, 2 Flats – European Bike Tour Stats and Favorites

Sudtirol bike path magic

I’m one of those weirdos who loves tracking numbers. They help me understand and frame the world, my data-gobbling brain dining happily when served courses of city populations, distances traveled, workout stats, or even Quicken files tracking our spending. I’ve dialed this back over the past few years to avoid turning into Spock, but still find it fun.

Did I mention that we’re done with our summer bike tour of Europe? We are! And since I enjoyed compiling stats for our 2014 U.S. tour, I repeated it this time – welcome to the summary of our 3.5 month bicycle tour through Europe in 2015. We’re currently relaxing post-trip (i.e not biking) in New York City before we head west to Idaho (on a plane). 

The route! Starting in London, we pedaled 2,500 miles, took a couple ferries, and hopped on a few trains.

The route! Starting in London, we pedaled 2,500 miles, took a couple ferries, and hopped on a few trains, finishing in Prague.

This tour we aimed to mix cycling with maximum enjoyment, a shift from the mostly physical challenge of last year. To accomplish that, we rode less mileage and parked the bikes for more days off. Both touring styles are worthwhile, but I had more fun during this European cycle tour thanks to mixing up the activities.

Below is the breakdown, a compilation of favorite places, distances and time on the bike, and other random tidbits. Data can’t fully capture the experience, but perhaps it helps an aspiring cycle tourist wrap their head around the hard data and think, “hey, I could do that.” (You can!)

Onward.

A big brdige span over the River Drau in SE Austria.

A big bridge span over the River Drau in SE Austria.

All the Info

  • Total distance ridden: 2,440 miles (3,935 kilometers), the same distance as flying from San Francisco to Hawaii, London to Toronto, or Amsterdam to Timbuktu.
  • Number of countries we pedaled in: 13 (almost as many as the 15 states as we crossed during last year’s U.S. tour).
  • Favorite cycling area: Italy’s NE Sudtirol region, followed closely by Slovenia (which still wins my favorite country award). Ah, the Alps are so fantastic!
  • Biggest surprise about Europe: there is a ton of farmland and animal agriculture, which I hadn’t encountered during previous travels since I kept to metropolitan Europe. Corn fields are everywhere and the stink of animal feedlots tinted the air in many areas of the continent. Some countries (Belgium, parts of eastern France, and Hungary) hinted of the American Midwest in terms of their crops and landscapes.

    The hilly southern edge of Austria still had corn!

    The hilly southern edge of Austria still had corn!

  • Total days touring: 103 (June 13 – September 23, 2015)
  • Days pedaling: 64
  • Days NOT bike touring: 39, almost 40% of the trip. Compared to last year’s U.S. ride (only 18 days off), our aim for Europe was more time to explore, relax, and hang with people we met along the way. We gave ourselves permission to laze about, explore cities with friends, lace up the running shoes, sit in cafes and read, or mountain bike. Mixing it up was very fun, and we’ll aim for this style of touring in the future.

    Hiking (followed by swimming) on a rest day at Lake Bohinj, Slovenia.

    Hiking (followed by swimming) on a rest day at Lake Bohinj, Slovenia.

  • Average time pedaling each day: 3.8 hours, barely a part-time job.
  • Extra calories burned per day: 3,000-5,000. I ate almost non-stop (but what’s new).
  • Average distance per day: 38 miles (61 km), close to our initial plan of 40 miles per day.
  • Total pedal strokes: 934,000, give or take a few.
  • Longest day: 55.7 miles (90 km) and 5.25 hours of pedaling in Slovenia.
  • Elevation gain: 85,754 feet (138,000 m). That’s 16 miles straight up, but only 1,355 feet per day on average.
  • Number of cycling networks traversed: 11, though I’m probably missing a few. Europe has fantastic cycle networks and resources for cycle touring.

    Bike in German=rad. Perfect.

    Bike in German=rad. Perfect.

  • Days without a shower: Zero! Ah, Europe, the lap of luxury.
  • Number of other bike tourists encountered: Hundreds! Compared to the U.S., where we went 61 days without seeing another cycle tourist, Europe was a buzzing hive of activity. We’d see at least a few long-distance tourers per day and dozens of people out for day rides.
  • Favorite things about touring in Europe:
    • Well-signed, no-car bike paths made route planning easy, plus lowered stress levels since we rarely spent time fencing with big trucks.
    • Frequent towns or cities, which meant easy logistics for water, food, and lodging. Even the tiniest villages had historic guest houses or inns, so we stayed in cities far more than our U.S. tour. Lodging values were fantastic too.

      Colmar in the Alsace region. We stayed with a friend of mine I hadn't seen since studying abroad in Sweden.

      Colmar in the Alsace region. We stayed with a friend of mine I hadn’t seen since studying abroad in Sweden.

  • Things I missed about the U.S.:
    • The wide open wilderness of the States dwarfs the nature in Europe. The U.S. is BIG, and though it makes logistics tougher, pedaling for hours in the middle of nowhere carries a special magic. The east side of Glacier en route to Canada comes to mind.
    • Communication created some headaches. With 10 languages over three months (none of them Spanish, argh!), the constant roadblock to speaking with people sometimes made us feel frustrated and isolated. I acknowledge that I have no room to bitch since people were accommodating, friendly, and spoke pretty good English (along with French, German, Dutch…).
  • Longest continuous climb: 11 miles from Austria up up up to the Czech Republic. This was also our biggest elevation day at 3,500’, though an honorable mention goes to the hilly Ardennes region of Belgium for working us over.
  • Steepest climb: multiple 19% passes in the Alps. The toughest pass was from Austria up to Slovenia, a 6-mile onslaught so consistently steep it was almost laughable, followed closely by Resia Pass from Italy into Austria. (Moral: don’t try to cross the Austrian border!)

    Top of the pass from Italy into Austria.

    Top of the pass from Italy into Austria. We stayed in the lakeside village (Resia) for a few nights.

  • Most memorable song along the way: A cheery five a.m. wake-up whistled rendition of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” on the ferry ride from England to Holland.
  • Oldest accommodation: a 1,000 year-old monastery in England featuring a fun, challenging obstacle course. We stopped for a couple nights to celebrate my 33rd birthday, but my attempts to beat the obstacle course record were thwarted by old age.
  • Most countries biked in during one day: three – Luxembourg/Germany/France, Italy/Switzerland/Austria
  • Hottest temperature: 110℉ in Venice – our weather app said “feels like 125℉.” We agreed.
  • Numbers of days over 95℉: ~30, plus a handful over 100 as Europe busted through many heat records. We made two personal videos documenting our vow to never bike tour in July-August again unless it’s in Scandinavia or a place with outdoor A/C and lakes every three miles.

    Wheat fields in Germany.

    Wheat fields in Germany.

  • Most scoops of gelato in one day: Six each, a three-visit day to our favorite vegan-friendly gelateria in Rovinj, Croatia when temps soared to triple digits. Cycle touring and burning a few thousand extra calories per day has its perks.
  • Swimming-in-humidity award: Hungary, where we got up at five a.m. to beat the heat.
  • Favorite cathedral: the stunning Strasbourg spires. We happened to be there for the  booming sound and light show celebrating the 1,000 year anniversary of the cathedral.
    Strasbourg cathedral
  • Most days off in a row: Eight, including no-bikes-allowed Venice and five days relaxing in Croatia with our buddies to avoid scathing heat.
  • Flat tires: Two for C, 0 for D.
  • Tires replaced: Always an FAQ from people we meet… But not a single one! C’s rear tire was getting a bit thin by the end, which is why she picked up two quick flats with just a week left in our trip. My rear tire (a Schwalbe Marathon) now has 7,000 miles on it and is going strong.
  • Other bike troubles: Two broken spokes for my bike thanks to cobblestone beatings. The rear wheel on my tough Salsa Fargo managed to survive a week of pedaling before we found a bike shop and ate lunch as the delightful old-school, long-haired owner in cutoff jean shorts grooved to jazz and fixed my rear wheel.

    Austrian sunflowers

    Austrian sunflowers

  • Number of push ups done to avoid turning into an all-I-do-is-bike upper body wimpo:  6,035. (Yes, I track weird things.) Since cycling is so exclusively lower body, I also did pull ups (usually at kids’ playgrounds), core work and elastic band exercises to stay physically balanced. I highly recommend doing this while on tour, not to mention stretching frequently so hamstrings don’t shrink to one-third their previous length.
  • Probability of returning to Europe with bikes: 100%
On the other side of the pass from Slovenia to Austria. The couple who took this picture was 1) headed up and 2) not as happy in their flex shot.

On the other side of the pass from Slovenia to Austria. The couple of bike tourists who took this picture were 1) headed up and 2) not happy about it.

Thanks to all the new friends who fed us, housed us, and generally brightened our day along the way!

Thanks to all the friends who fed us, housed us, and generally brightened our day along the way!

Punching Through the Midwest – Bike Touring Video (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of 4 of the video series documenting our 101 day trip cycling across the the U.S. in the summer of 2014. If you missed Part 1, click here to check it out. This section covers from Spearfish, South Dakota all the way to the Indiana border. Straight through the heart of the Midwest in summer like true masochists. 

Corn crop

We didn’t plan to bike through the Midwest in August. It just worked out that way. Our timing, framed around hitting New England during peak fall colors, meant we had to spend some time in the sweltering summer. To echo Vonnegut, so it goes… Trade-offs are part of living.

After clearing Montana, we headed south through the Black Hills of South Dakota. Instead of highways, we spent a few days on the Mickelson Trail, which is a 110-mile gravel trail that cuts right through the heart of the area near Mt. Rushmore. Timing it perfectly (not), we managed to hit the area just as 500,000 motorcycles descended like loud, buzzing bees for the Sturgis Rally. I think I heard, “Put an engine on that thing!” almost as much as “I could never do what you’re doing.”

Foggy morning in Nebraska in the corn fields.

Foggy morning in Nebraska in the corn fields.

I asked a bartender in Cody, NE (pop 154) if they knew anyone who might take us in for the night since a big storm was rolling in. Isla helped us out and her cheery granddaughter made us laugh and laugh.

I asked a bartender in Cody, NE (pop 154) if they knew anyone who might take us in for the night since a big storm was rolling in. Isla helped us out and her cheery granddaughter made us laugh and laugh.

The Midwest gets a bad rap sometimes, and part of it is a bit undeserved. Take Nebraska, for instance. I think most people picture horribly flat, ugly terrain stretching for miles. Flat? On the highways, yes. Country roads were rolling and nice. Ugly? Not in the NW part of the state in the pretty, rolling Sand Hills region. We lucked out and fog was more prevalent than crushing sun for the first half of Nebraska. Clear, hot skies came as we neared Omaha, as did gnarly traffic. My advice is to avoid big cities whenever possible if you go touring because navigating them on bicycle is often difficult or just plain nerve-wracking.

Iowa’s surprise was constant rolling steep hills, not flat corn country. We toiled up them through temperatures soaring into the high 90’s in humidity so thick we could have backstroked in it. Locals were kind, generous and excited to talk to us. A new idea (to us) was Casey’s, a gas station chain also featuring pizza ovens. We ate no-cheese, veggie pizza ($12.74 with tax) and scored ice cubes for our water bottles frequently to survive. That convenience was unfortunately offset by the stink of factory farms and the doomed animals inside them that permeated the air in many stretches of the state. An up-close, visceral look at the underbelly of our food system.

Up close and personal with a soy bean field.

Up close and personal with a soy bean field.

In eastern Iowa, road shoulders were 10 feet wide to accommodate the large Amish population and their buggies, which whisk along behind quickly trotting horses. We stopped at Stringtown Grocery, an Amish establishment featuring re-bagged bulk goods branded under the store’s name. And then we hit a big milestone – The Mississippi River! I stared at the flat brown flowing waters and thought of the Louisiana Purchase. To think that a huge chunk of land west of this grand body of water at one point wasn’t even part of the United States before France sold it to us. 2,300 miles on our bikes to get here and we were barely half way to Maine.

Scenery past the Mississippi was the cliche Midwest fare. Rather non-descript days pedaling through the corn and soy fields of Illinois blend together into podcasts and audiobooks that curbed the monotony a bit. Long days in the sun melded into one big mass of states starting with I as we left Iowa for Illinois and Indiana.

Corn fields and a rusty silo to hold the bounty.

Corn fields and a rusty silo to hold the bounty.

Our ability to forget difficult trials is powerful. This portion of our tour is scarcely three months ago and yet feels so long ago. The events of August in the Midwest are already softer in my mind. Memories of days where we had to linger in a gas station to let our internal temperatures cool down are slipping away. The sun’s fangs are blunted and the sauna of the humidity diminishes. Even the sameness of the landscape – corn, soy, repeat – looks better in the pictures.

What remains etched in stone is a mental confidence that we persevered as a team, pushing through conditions we normally would choose to avoid at all costs. The crucible of the Midwest forged our relationship into a stronger bond. For that reason alone, this tough section of the tour was worth it.

Enough chit chat. How about that video?! Email subscribers: click here for Part 2 of 4. Visitors to the website, just click play below in the embedded video. Enjoy…and see you shortly in Part 3!

Cheers,

Dakota

 

Cranking Through the Rockies – Bike Touring Video (Part 1 of 4)

Waterton National Park, Alberta

I rarely look back. Forward, onward, tally ho! Always new adventures on the horizon, people to visit, places to see, as they say. Perhaps you’ve picked up on that?

Maybe that’s the reason I so enjoyed digging into the videos from our bike tour between hikes in Acadia National Park while we “kicked back” in Maine. Photos are fun to flip through, but they don’t pick up the wind, the rumble of a motorcycle, a joke or stupid song (there were lots) or the patter of raindrops. And even though the experiences are fresh, taking the journey anew through the videos was a fabulous time. I loved combining them into one continuous film voyage to bring you along for the ride and hopefully inspire you to take your own tour. Or maybe convince you that touring is the dumbest thing ever and you’d rather get on a plane to Cabo instead. (I had those thoughts…see Day 23 in the video.)

It was interesting watching my tone change as the trip progressed. You can literally see me relax and get into a flow where I was less stressed or worried. Lots more joking as my goofy side took charge and my business side (which isn’t the real me anyway) slid into the background. It was still there taking care of logistics, but the rest of the time I was more carefree and open to whatever came our way. I think you’ll notice too.

When we were deciding if extended touring was for us, I would have loved to see a video like this with commentary from the rider rather than just music. From a couple hours of clips, I cut it way down to pass along the ups and downs of touring plus scenery from many parts of the country that most people never visit. I think you’ll dig it!

This is part 1 of 4 and covers 32 days from our start in Viola, Idaho to Spearfish, SD over 1,346 miles. (Here’s part 2.) Come along for the ride! It winds through the Rocky Mountains with some amazing scenery in Glacier and Waterton National Parks. Then we hit the plains and roll across Montana in a diagonal line to Spearfish, South Dakota.

Email subscribers, click here to view the video. Others, just click play below to watch the embedded version. A note that all videos were taken with an iPhone and were impromptu, unrehearsed and occasionally ridiculous. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Cheerio,

Dakota

P.S. In case you haven’t seen it, check out the stats summary with all the numbers from our bike tour.

 

Spinning South – Bike Touring from Anaheim to San Diego

The spring bloom!

The spring bloom!

Surprise, let’s go pedal our bikes for a few days! Bike touring along the SoCal coast from the Los Angeles area to San Diego was a last-minute plan I threw together for Chelsea’s birthday. Some people whisk their wives away for a weekend in Vegas, but you know that’s not the way we roll. Planning consisted of buying Amtrak tickets the day before departure and booking a few places on Airbnb spaced evenly along the way. Lacking camping gear, credit card touring was the name of the game.

All aboard on the Surfliner! Heading north from San Diego. Thanks to the hurried conductor who took this shot.

All aboard on the Surfliner! Heading north from San Diego. Thanks to the hurried conductor who took this shot.

Executing a short touring trip is surprisingly easy. Stuff a couple changes of clothing and some food in panniers, load up your bike and head out the door. The hard part (for me) is relaxing into a slower pace, rather than my usual hammering away as hard as I can. After all, touring is about seeing and experiencing a place at a slower speed, not blazing through in a full downhill tuck. I’m coming around to this, and hauling 30-50 pounds of gear, water and food diminishes the thrill of sprinting on a bike anyway. Standing up to race on a baby-elephant-of-a-bike lacks the thrill and responsiveness of cranking uphill on a 16 pound carbon ride!

For me, touring distills the varied emotions of travel into potent vials. Standing above an ocean cliff, you sniff a shot of salty air, pelican dives, sunshine and waves. Zipping along a car-free path mainlines freedom and the reward of pumping legs and heart. And the most mediocre of meals is a sultan’s decadent feast after four hours of hard cycling hauling loaded panniers. The smell of car exhaust mixes in, but at the end of the day, kicking back with tired legs with your feet in the sand, the positive memories abound. It’s a hard-earned respite, and that makes all the difference. Plus, there is something so rewarding about pedaling your way from city to city as you meander toward a distant target.

Pausing to watch surfers near San Clemente.

Pausing to watch surfers near San Clemente.

It’s not for everyone. I met a guy named Ramon while out mountain biking amid the red rocks of Sedona and he asked me, “No offense, but what’s fun about road biking, especially touring?” An insightful question. At this point in my life, I certainly prefer twisting singletrack to a workout on a road bike given the choice. Then again, variety keeps things spicy! Still, there is plenty that sounds terrible to many people about touring: traffic, incredibly hard physical work, getting stuck in the elements, navigating the logistics of route finding and where to stay, staying on top of fueling your cranking engine, pressing on through tired legs and a snarling stomach when all you want to do is stop pedaling a bike.

Our tour started with a bike ride to Amtrak train station in San Diego, which we rode to the stop in Anaheim right next to Angels Stadium. I realized this was my first ride on a train in the US, which is odd considering I spent six days straight on the Trans-Siberian across Russia/Mongolia and hours on them elsewhere. Each train has reservations for only a few passengers with bikes, so if you do this, make sure to check! I wasn’t impressed with the bike rack system on the train, but at least there is something there. The clickety-clack of the train rumbling north was melodic, a concerto highlighted with frequent views of the waves and sand of the Pacific Ocean. They don’t call it the Surf Liner for nothing!

Crossing the Santa Ana River on the bike trail.

Crossing the Santa Ana River on the bike trail.

From the halo of Angels Stadium, we jumped right on the Santa Ana River Trail, yet another of the awesome car-free, no-street-crossing paved paths along a river in Los Angeles just like the one we took for our L.A. bike tour. From there, our route simply followed the Pacific Coast Highway south all the way to San Diego, about 110 miles to the south. Lots of pausing at view points or beaches, if only to grab a handful of snacks or to drink in a compelling vista.

Heading into Torrey Pines.

Heading into Torrey Pines.

Snippets of the journey, little memories lodged in my mind, include:

  • Spinning along the bike path in Newport Beach through dozens of people on cruiser bikes with surf boards, tourists scurrying across and others sitting on their decks enjoying views of the water.
Riding the beach path near San Clemente.

Riding the beach path near San Clemente.

  • Lounging in a hot tub during an earthquake, ripples of water cascading from side to side as concerned residents stuck their heads out the doors. (All good, not a big one.)
  • Eating delicious vegan mushroom and onion fare at Z-Pizza after hard hours of hills along the coast. We were in a shopping complex with a parking lot stacked full of Mercedes, Land Rovers and a couple Maserati’s, with shops where dresses cost more than my bike and people oozed wealth from their pores. Yet a well-dressed dude says, “That looks like fun!” and tells his friend he wants to bike tour sometime.
Mmmm, pizza.

Mmmm, pizza.

  • Munching hummus and pita at the Oceanside beach at the end of a day, then walking the long, crowded pier at sunset holding hands and watching other tourists, surfers and pelicans.
Sunset walk on the pier in Oceanside.

Sunset walk on the pier in Oceanside.

  • Stuck in a crush of traffic in Laguna Beach with no bike lane and nowhere to hide except the sidewalk. My wiser half finds a nice side street to ride on while I battle cars for a few blocks before joining her. Sometimes, the direct route submits you to all types of pain a little detour fixes nicely. We’ve found that riding up a giant climb is well worth it instead of riding on a flat, highly-trafficked route.
  • Staying in a hotel under renovation where one half of the building (directly across from our room) was stripped down to bare studs and HVAC ductwork hung from the ceiling in the lobby. Funny that Hotels.com didn’t mention this… (Our room was wonderful and about ⅓ what we would have paid otherwise.)
  • Descending a twisty sidewalk from bluff view down down down to a harbor as the sun hovered low.
  • Burning legs heading up the steep two-mile climb of Torrey Pines north of San Diego, and then another three big ascents to bring us home.
  • ID checks by baby-faced soldiers at the military base we rode through for a solid hour, cascading views of the ocean along the way.
You don't see this sign very often. (Crossing through the military base.)

You don’t see this sign very often. (Crossing through the military base.)

  • Riding a flowery path through a neighborhood, spring scents in the air.

All in all, this ~100 mile ride was a great way to ring in Chelsea’s birthday and another successful tour! We are both itching to try something longer, and with our backpacking gear recently flown south by Chelsea’s parents and added to the mix of equipment in the van, we are scoping out fun potential trips in Utah and Colorado when not rampaging on mountain bikes or hiking in slot canyons.

Checking the view at lovely Torrey Pines before a tough climb into San Diego.

Checking the view at lovely Torrey Pines before a tough climb into San Diego.

Perhaps the neatest thing about touring is that ANYONE can do it. I’ve seen 10-speeds from the 80s loaded up touring 1,500 miles on the coast, and mountain bikes towing trailers, and everything in between. All you have to do is pedal. I don’t at all consider myself an experienced bike tourer, but have loved all trips we’ve taken. My Lemond Poprad cyclocross bike doesn’t have enough climbing gears and the rims aren’t designed for hauling weight, but I just get out there and give it a shot and my impatient, love-to-go-fast mentality falls into a zone where I cruise at a lower speed and enjoy it.

You can tour too! Grab a bike, do a little online research, and hit the road. Hopefully we’ll see you out there.

Spin on,

Dakota

Sunset beach walk the day before Chelsea's birthday.

Sunset beach walk the day before Chelsea’s birthday.

Chelsea taking a load off after a long day of hills. Home again, or at least back at the van!

Chelsea taking a load off after a long day of hills. Home again, or at least back at the van!