SUMMARY: Eight bikers boarded an airplane in Minneapolis on July
18 and landed in Zurich July 19th. They unpacked their bikes and traveled
9 days in a circular pattern, which included travel along the southern
edge of Lake Constance, and through the northern part of the Alps. The
countries visited include Switzerland (3 days), Austria (1 day) and Germany
(5 days). Total miles on the bikes = 325. There were two half days and
one full day of train travel. The day of travel from Garmish to Munich
was the only day they didn’t bike significantly. They slept in tents
3 nights, hotels 5 nights, and a private residence one night.
ORGANIZING THE TRIP:
I have been thinking about this trip since I retired last year. The
idea was discussed with Steve McDonough (biker 5 below) during our bike
trip to Chile last January. For the purpose of retaining a relationship
with his wife, my regular cross-country biking buddy, Lou, decided not
to go on this trip. My son Dave became interested when we began talking
about limiting it to only 10 days. To achieve the critical mass Dave,
the core guy of the trip, pulled together a list of people with whom he
has regular contact.
Dave contacted the Lelwica's and other U of M - Duluth athletes/friends.
Jim Lelwica had lived in Germany for a period of time after he graduated
from UMD, where he majored in German. Mark, his younger brother majored
in German at the U of M, Minneapolis. Jim invited his dad, Ted and Mark
invited his father-in-law, Pete. Later on during a May fishing excursion,
Steve D’Andrea decided to join our group.
Early-on Jim, a compulsive organizer and manager of the highest order,
began to put things together for our trip. We are all on e-mail so communication
Jim had Wolfgang his friend in Germany purchase excellent bike maps months
before the trip. He brought these to one our early meetings and I had
a chance to study these in detail over several weeks. I took the opportunity
to review these plans with a group I am a member of, the Twin City Maennerchoir,
consisting mostly of men who originally came from Germany. They had some
great input, especially Fritz. The basic idea was to traverse through
the mountains without too many killers up hills.
At the airport, prior to take-off all agreed on the basic route. In
reflection, the daily plan was followed very closely.
Most of us were able to get together at two pre-trip meetings where we
generated information on what everybody wanted to do in Europe. Mark
put together a list of things to pack. There were many discussions and
e-mails transmitted regarding how we would manage to repack the bikes
for the trip home. Eventually Jim resolved this by arranging Delta to
have bike boxes waiting for us at the airport when we were ready to return.
WHY DID WE GO?
- Each of us may have had a different reason to go, however we all have
a sense of adventure that could be satisfied in this relatively civilized
way. Other reasons include:
- Traversing the earth under one's own power to feel the wind and the
resistance when powering up the long mountains, and then as a payback,
the thrill of descending back down safely.
- Learn about the culture, practice speaking the language, and gain
exposure to the mix of friendly Germanic people.
- Meet the challenge of learning how locals drive, and locate bike
friendly roads and paths.
- To observe the physical structures, the beautiful architecture of
the homes and old buildings, the mountains, sky, lakes, streams, etc.
- To have an adventure in an atmosphere of camaraderie, to bond with
friends and/or family and to make new friends.
- To expire oneself physically and then be proud and satisfied at day's
end that few others would be capable of such toughness. As President
Kennedy said about going to the moon. "We do it not because it
is easy, but because it is hard."
- The beer at the end of a hard day seems sweeter as well, especially
in this part of the world. No matter how much we drank it refreshed
and didn't cause a morning hangover.
HISTORY OF PHYSICAL ACTIVITY
1- Ted Lelwica
Presently sportsman and biked 1000 miles in preparation for this
2- Don Klassen
Retired 3M Chemist
Presently avid tennis player, x-country skier and does occasional
cross-country bike tours.
Presently does full-length Triathlons and is always in shape to
4- Dave lassen
UMD Track team, presently - X-country skier (Birkie 1st wave) and
runs and/or bikes daily.
5- Steve cDonough
Owns small business, & wrestling coach
UMD Wrestling team -All-American -
presently plays basketball, wrestles and bikes.
6- Steve Andrea
UMD Track team-
presently runs sub 3-hour marathons.
7- Jim Lelwica
Runs Telecommunications Start-up Company.
UMD Wrestling team
presently bikes 2 hours a day.
8- Mark Lelwica
Manager for a bicycle wholesaler
UM Mpls - Swimming team, State HS Champ presently does full Triathlons
Since this was my third international biking trip, my preparation was
relatively easy. The last days I had high confidence I was ready, a revelation
that made my wife, Mona, a little uneasy. I got 2 smaller bike boxes
from the dealer to use to package my recumbent Rans Rocket. One
box was to pack the wheels and the seat and the other for the frame.
All my other bags including sleeping bag, tent, and utility bag (mounted
over the back of the seat) were stuffed around the bike to make it snug.
My side panniers were airplane carry-ons.
To lessen the impact of the dramatic change of 7 hours between here and
Europe, I chose to go to bed very early 3 nights before the trip and then
rise at 4:00am. Mona didn't like this too much. She slept in the other
bedroom so I wouldn't wake her. The morning of the day of the flight I
slept as long as I could to be as rested as possible. This was a good
plan worth repeating.
The best way to get into the Alps was to go to Munich, but that always
came at a price penalty, so we opted for Zurich. A third possibility
was Frankfurt and then train down, but that would have required 2 extra
days of travel, and time was of essence. We went through Price-line
and bid $550 and got a response back that $691with taxes was available.
This was a level we could all agree on. The 2 Steve's didn't participate
in this Price-line deal.
NAVIGATING THE BIKE ROUTE
The first few minutes of biking out of the airport in Switzerland, we
were unsure of direction, and of our leader, Jim. In a very short time
he began to show his talent, which truly was great. He could determine
our location, direction and select roads while he was riding the bike.
Mark helped him for a while, but then figured out that Jim could do it
himself. During the whole trip, except for Ulm, where there was road
construction, we never took a wrong turn. His skill substantially upgraded
the tone of the trip. We were elevated from doubting sheep to reckless
Initially, we rode through towns with some trepidation. Will the cars
be polite to us? Will they stop for us at the intersections? How much
room will they give us as they pass? Because of our gear and clothing,
the drivers undoubtedly, would instantly decide we were not local bikers.
Hopefully they will be kind, and as we learned during the trip, kind they
BIKING TRAILS AND ROADS
In Germany designated bike trails are everywhere, more so than in the
other 2 countries, however they weren’t as well marked as we would have
liked. Sometimes the clearly marked courses became suddenly unmarked.
Many times the bike trails became a little wider and low and behold, cars
would go by us. It was easy to get lost, or should I say, harder to stay
un-lost in Germany. In the other two countries we would rapidly course
along the secondary roads with a 6’ marked shoulder. These roads were
shown on the maps so we knew our whereabouts. About half the time we were
on similar secondary highways in Germany. Occasionally we had to traverse
the country-side on roads with no marked shoulders, but the cars and trucks
going by us were great and watched out for our safety. All three countries
had designated bike areas in the towns. Many times these paths turned
into sidewalks with pedestrian traffic. Often, for the sake of speed
we would stay in the street traffic and avoid these sidewalk trails because
at each intersection it could be difficult to manipulate off the curb.
There were traffic rotaries in Switzerland and Austria and we navigated
them easily by going into the car traffic lanes rather than around on
the sidewalks. Car drivers were very considerate in these situations.
Almost all the trails and roads were asphalt and in excellent condition.
We had about 15 miles of gravel totally on the entire trip. The bike trails
and roads had drains and manholes every so often all along the way. The
assumption is that the builders wanted the water to be drained away so
that winter frost would do less damage. The Germans love to build things
In conclusion, we generally felt safe so that we could freely pound the
pedals hard, with little inhibition.
PACE OF BIKERS
All the bikers were in excellent shape and wanted to get some hard workouts.
I don't think anyone was disappointed, but then again you never know for
sure about that. Beyond biking everyday most of bikers would go on runs
to keep their running muscles in shape. I didn't partake in that folly.
I drink more water than anyone else because of my experience in North
Dakota last year when I suffered heat exhaustion, I actually ran out of
water on a 100-degree F. day. My frequent stops in the bushes were because
of my limited capacity to hold fluids, exacerbated by my penchant to drink
profuse amounts of water. If everybody in our group wasn’t so nice, I
might have had the feeling that they thought I was dogging it. I was
at 90% of my muscle and breath capacity for much of the trip, even when
we weren’t ascending hills.
RIDING THE TRAINS
The super fast Schnell trains had stops only at the major cities,
have no compartments for bikes, and we therefore couldn't use them. The
trains that stop between the towns (ICE-Inter City Express) have
rail cars that have little diagrammatic emblems of bikes on their sides
indicating it is OK to put on a bike. There is a seat-less area in each
of these cars to put the bikes. The first time we boarded the 8 of us
had to scramble to get our bikes on with all of our gear. We all jammed
on the same car. It was a tight pack of bikes. It was very inconvenient
for the passengers to get by us. The next time we took the train we split
up and spread our bikes to all the bike designated cars.
The trains were smooth, with no clickety-clack because the rail joints
are welded. (Apparently they don't have the problem of buckling from
the heat because they lay them down when it's hot. This theory came after
several days of meditation on this important subject.) The regular trains
we used zoomed along at maximum speeds of 80-90 miles per hour, at least
according to our best estimate. We would seem to get from one town to
the next in a matter of a few minutes. Once in a while we would slow
down and suddenly, with an air compression bang, a schnell train
would go by in the opposite direction, (total duration 1-2 seconds).
Then we would resume our regular speed.
SCHNELL (FAST) TRAINS GOING THROUGH THE COUNTRYSIDE
Normally when we rode along the train tracks we had limited distance
visibility because of the trees and brush. The schnell trains
(200 Miles/Hour according to Jim) would come by with about a 5 second
warning of a moderately high pitched murmur elevating in loudness to a
sudden crescendo of whirling and howling that demanded your full attention.
The psychological impact would deflect your bike from a straight path.
After a second or two the whole train would pass and then the tracks would
sizzle for a bit as the train snaked away into oblivion. It always made
you go, "WOW".
One might reflect that not too long ago, during der Krieg (WWII)
these wonderful trains would whisk the Nazis around the war zone. Dave
and I being 75% and 100% respectively of German ancestry, would occasionally
ponder, how much the area we were going through had been bombed by the
Allies? Did tanks roam through here? It seemed so perplexing that these
great people were under the power of a madman, not long ago... even in