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Alps Adventure
by: Don Klassen

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 was easy.

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.  

PLANNING:

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.

BIKERS

BIKER

AGE

OCCUPATION

HISTORY OF PHYSICAL ACTIVITY

1- Ted Lelwica

67

Retired MD

Presently sportsman and biked 1000 miles in preparation for this trip. 

2- Don Klassen

60

Retired 3M Chemist

Presently avid tennis player, x-country skier and does occasional cross-country bike tours.

3-Pete Schmitz

59

Orthopedic Surgeon

Presently does full-length Triathlons and is always in shape to do another.

4- Dave lassen

37

Pharmaceutical Rep.

UMD Track team, presently - X-country skier (Birkie 1st wave) and runs and/or bikes daily.

5- Steve cDonough

36

Owns small business, & wrestling coach

UMD Wrestling team -All-American -

presently plays basketball, wrestles and bikes.

6- Steve Andrea

36

Chiropractor

UMD Track team-

presently runs sub 3-hour marathons.

7- Jim Lelwica

36

Runs Telecommunications Start-up Company.

UMD Wrestling team

presently bikes 2 hours a day.

8- Mark Lelwica

34

Manager for a bicycle wholesaler

UM Mpls  - Swimming team, State HS Champ presently does full Triathlons

PREPARATION:

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. 

AIRLINE TICKETS

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 lions.

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 were.

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 to last.

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 my lifetime.


  Alps Aventure Part II   

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