Hotel Eibsee – MTB Germany/Austria

Last Time in Germany

Eibsee

Eibsee

The knowledge that this is the “last time” that I will be in Germany (at least as part of this contract) has made this 2-week stay much more interesting. For some things, like staying in Darmstadt in the Hotel Maritim Rhein-Main, there is only indifference. However, for riding my bike through the northern edges of the marvelous Odenwald and spending the weekend at the Hotel Eibsee…it is bittersweet. I’m happy that I’m getting to experience these wonderful places again, but sad that I won’t be seeing them again, probably for a long time.

I drove down to Garmisch-Partenkirchen from Darmstadt on Friday afternoon. The autobahns were slow, choked by a combination of “last-weekend-of-summer” traffic (including lots of RVs) and lane-closures due to road construction. However, I wasn’t in any great hurry, so I stayed relaxed. After all, it’s not like Laurie was waiting for me at the Hotel Eibsee…it was just me and a relaxing weekend away from work in the Alps. The normal 4 hour ride took about 6 hours, but once I exited the A7 at the Allgaeuer Tor (the foothills to the Alps), I started feeling great.

The verdant, rolling green pastures of the Allgaeuer hills are framed by the majestic thrust of the Alps. The paved trails/small roads are filled with MTBers and road-bikers. As I pass them, I feel a twinge of jealousy but am happy that they are out in this beautiful evening, enjoying the heat and the incredible panoramic view. The farmers are also out in force – large tractors crawling through the fields like oversized insects, performing the harvest. At every small village, I resist the urge to stop and get out of the car, and explore on foot. If I did this, I’d never get to Garmisch! But, I still want to stop…

The road weaves through beautiful countryside, each village marked by the church steeple at its center. Small shops advertise wood-carvings, farm cheeses, and vegetables. Nobody seems to be in a hurry; everyone being content to enjoy the shadows created by the almost-setting yellow sun. The hot air starts to move as a lighter, cooler breeze seems to descend from the peaks of the Alps.

Alpine Valley in Zugspitze Arena

Alpine Valley in Zugspitze Arena

At one particular bend in the road, I look ahead at the mountains, and am rewarded with a perfect view of Neuschwanstein (King Ludwig’s castle that the one in DisneyWorld is modeled after). I am still about 10 miles away, but the combination of clear air and bright sunlight allow me a view I’ve never had before. The size and majesty of the castle can be clearly seen, even from this distance. Amazing…

As I cross into Austria, the rocky Alps begin to crowd in on the road. I cross over the Lech river, flowing rapidly beside the road with its’ strange bluish-white color (due to minerals from the region).

The name “Lech Tal” (Lech Valley) on a road-sign sets my mind back about 18 years, and Laurie is in the car with me as we drive toward the Alps in the winter (from our home in Weil im Schoenbuch), looking forward to skiing over the weekend. There is a twinge of almost homesickness, for this easier, quieter time of life, before kids, back when Reagan was still in power, and all of life’s wonders were spread out before us. Everyday, we ran twice, and during these runs, we spoke of our future “dream house” and our goals. The reason that we moved to Germany was to “save up” in order to buy a single-family home in Northern Virginia. It’s interesting, looking back at these days from the other end…we have our dream house, we have our dream family, and I have a dream job. Still, it’s one misses those easier, simpler days…

Hotel Eibsee

The Hotel Eibsee is probably our (Laurie and my) favorite spot on the planet. When we lived in Germany from ’88-’91, we found this enchanting and romantic place and spent many weekends here. We’d run the 8+km around the crystal clear Eibsee (Eib Lake), enjoying the cool air that only can be experienced in the high mountains. The elevation at the Eibsee is 1,000 meters (3,000+ feet). Zugspitze stands towering over the valley from 3,000 meters (almost 10,000 feet) at its peak. This height-differential of 6,000+ feet is dramatic…it visually appears to be a straight-cliff up to the mountaineous peak.

Hotel Eibsee with Zugspitze

Hotel Eibsee with Zugspitze

I arrive at the Hotel Eibsee late Friday evening, with the sun already set behind the mountains. However, the sun was still striking the Zugspitze peaks, and the eery red-colored rocks of the mountains were partially obscured by low-lying clouds. It was a beautiful sight. But, all I can think was that I wish Laurie and the kids were here this weekend to experience it, too.

Zugspitze at Sunset, Blanketed in Clouds

Zugspitze at Sunset, Blanketed in Clouds

I eat dinner in the wonderful Hotel Eibsee restaurant, enjoying the view from the outside deck, which overlooks the lake. The restaurant is as full as I’ve ever seen – I guess mostly due to the fact that this is the last weekend of the summer, plus every radio announcer in the region had been saying “go outside this weekend, this will be the best weather of the summer”. The trout tartar appetizer and lamb dinner were outstanding.

Garmisch-Partenkirchen

I slept in a bit Saturday morning, and decided to head into the city of Garmisch-Partenkirchen before riding my MTB. I got into GAP (short for Garmisch-Partenkirchen, it’s on their license plates here) about 11am, and casually walked up and down its quaint, packed streets. The beautiful painted buildings with their magnificent thick-beam and stucco construction sit beneath soaring mountains literally in every direction. Everywhere one looks, it is like a picture-perfect postcard. Even the Germans dress the part – men wearing lederhosen and stately jackets. The women wear traditional dresses while they ride high tech MTBs.

Postcard Perfect

Garmisch-Partenkirchen: Postcard Perfect

 After browsing shops and wandering up and down the streets, I sit down outside at the Alpenhotel, under yellow umbrellas. This is the same place that Laurie, Rachael, William and I ate about a month ago. I ordered the Kaesespaetzle (cheese melted on Swabian noodles) and ate it slowly. I watched the mix of people – from the older stately gentleman wearing a Trachtensakko (traditional Bavarian jacket) to the tattoo and pierced goth teens dressed in all black. I also soak in the view of traditional painted storefronts, wondering how American gets by with its antiseptic buildings and culture?

Garmisch-Partenkirchen Painted Storefronts

Garmisch-Partenkirchen Painted Storefronts

Mountain Biking

Let me put some emphasis on the word “Mountain” in Mountain Bike (MTB). After all, I’m about to do over 6,000 feet vertical on mostly gravel mountain trails ranging from a mere 4% to a lung- and leg-scorching 18%. I start at about 1pm from the Hotel Eibsee and head straight up the mountain trail. I should’ve warmed up on the flat around the lake, I think, as my hamstrings complain on the start of the climb.

Jeff (me) with Mountain Bike above Eibsee

Jeff (me) with Mountain Bike above Eibsee

The climb is unrelentant, and since I’ve done this exact same climb 5 times before, I know that I’m facing between 65-75 minutes of solid climb, depending on how fast I go. As I drop down into lower and lower gears on this yellow Wheeler soft-tail MTB, I hope that my legs will loosen up as the minutes tick by. I tell myself that after only 25 minutes, there will be an overlook where I can take some pics of the Seilbahn (Cable Car from Eibsee to the Zugspitze peak) and the beautiful Eibsee sitting far below.

Overlooking Eibsee from MTB

Overlooking Eibsee from MTB

After stopping just long enough to grab a drink (the hill’s too steep for me to drink and ride at the same time!) and take a few pics, I jump back on the bike and head uphill again. I’m feeling better now, and the legs aren’t complaining anymore. The next 20 minutes I’m “in the zone” of climbing,  and feeling good. I catch another couple bikers on the way up, right before the section where I have to carry my bike. You could call it single track, but it’s way too steep and difficult (roots, mud, etc.) for me to climb. Then, there’s one more 10 minute push to the top.

Once at the top, I decide to turn left instead of right, and go visit the Hochthoerle-Huette (HH). After a few short minutes of steep downhill, I find that the HH is a restaurant perched near the top of this mountain, sitting right below the stark, steep rocky barren slopes of the Zugspitze. I take some pics, and wait until tomorrow to stop and eat/drink there.

Hochtoerle-Huette Sign

Hochtoerle-Huette Sign

 

Hochtoerle-Huette

Hochthoerle-Huette

The HH sits at almost 1 mile above sea-level, and it filled with bikers and hikers. I notice that there is a paved road leading up to the HH, so I dive down this road toward Ehrwald, Austria, and take the switchback turns with a lot of caution, since many corners are covered with loose gravel. I think to myself, “I hope that this road meets the other trail right above Ehrwald”, and sure enough, it does. Whew. I am not lost!

View of Zugspite from Ehrwald, Austria

View of Zugspite from Ehrwald, Austria

This is a hard descent, made harder by the fact that my rental MTB seems to not really have a functioning rear brake and the front one seems to only “catch” on certain parts of the front wheel. The noise, “chh…chh…chh…chh”, accompanies me along with the whine of big, fat MTB wheels on pavement. Finally, at the bottom, I stop at my normal Tankstelle (gas station) and buy a Coke. I drink half of it, and put the bottle into my back pocket for drinking later.

View of Lermoos, Austria from Ehrwald

View of Lermoos, Austria from Ehrwald

The view from Ehwrald is amazing in all directions. Of course, Zugspitze towers over everything and the Tyrolian Cable Car is continually running, taking people from here to the top of the mountain. There are other almost-as-imposing mountain peaks, which surround the verdant green of the Austrian valley. No wonder Putzi misses her homeland (an Austrian ex-part, Olympian who has a great store in New Castle, PA USA). 

Hotel in Ehrwald at Base of Tyroler Cable Car to Zugspitze

Hotel in Ehrwald at Base of Tyroler Cable Car to Zugspitze

 

Austrian Flowers on Hotel in Ehrwald

Austrian Flowers on Hotel in Ehrwald

Now, I head back towards Germany and Garmisch-Partenkirchen through the valley. Here’s what I am absolutely dying for my road bike. I would love to cruise on the roads with the mountain-side stream roaring beside me, on this slightly downhill stretch for about 20km or so. However, I’m stuck on the fat tires and riding on a gravel road that weaves back and forth across the valley floor. It passes through a covered bridge, and then I see the sign for “D” – Deutschland. I’m back in Germany. Not long until the right turn back towards Eibsee.

I now start the gradual climb back towards Grainau. This part is easy, and almost lulls me into a false sense of thinking “I can make this easy” back to Eibsee. But, sure enough, with just 3 km to go in this ride, the slope kicks up to 10%, then 15%, then even more. I take a hiking trail which is covered by shade, but I’m still sweating heavily as I climb at a paltry 5mph, trying not to fall over, and struggling to not stand up to apply more torque to the pedals, and then have my rear wheel peel out.

Finally, I make it to the top, and the welcoming site of the Eibsee greets me. It’s taken just under 4 hours this time, and I’m glad to be done. I take the front wheel off my bike, put the bike into the back of the little Mercedes-Benz B180 that I got from Sixt Car Rental this time. Once again, I think, “if only others could see what my eyes have seen today”.

Jeff in front of Zugspitze at 6,000 ft above sea level

Jeff in front of Zugspitze at 6,000 ft above sea level

Published in: on September 1, 2008 at 4:43 pm  Comments (1)  

Hard MTB Ride Darmstadt on 8/10

MTB Ride – 3 Hrs in Darmstadt/Gernsheim

The first thing I did today was to ride my “bad” bike over to Velocity and switch it for the “good” MTB. The Pogo was back from being rented, and wow…it was 100% easier to ride fast on this bike. The other “bad’ one was just plain painful.

Jeff on Beach at Mallorca - has nothing to do with this post!

Jeff on Beach at Mallorca - has nothing to do with this post!

I headed immediately out toward the Odenwald. I followed the B3, and then accidentally got kicked onto the berm of the B3…not fun. Riding on the berm of basically an interstate with a speed limit of 100km. I rode my ass off, trying to get through this section as quickly as possible. So, I probably did about 10km at my max.

After getting off the B3, I could see that rain was falling on the Odenwald, right near the Auerbach Schloss. So, I decided to head more west, and go toward Gernsheim and the Rhein River. As I rode, I could see the rain was chasing me from the south, but I was determined to beat it to the Rhein. Well, I lost this battle just outside the outskirts of Gernsheim. When the wind started blowing raindrops hard enough to sting, I turned around and headed back (with the wind).

Almost immediately, I started feeling weak. At first, I figured it was just the result of having ridden an all-out 10km max effort, and then followed it up with some more really hard riding. But, it got worse quickly. I as 1.5 hours into my ride,  with another 1+ hrs to go to get back to the hotel, and I was feeling very bad. I kept thinking that perhaps I was bonking, since I didn’t have a waterbottle with me, but I knew deep inside that it was worse than that.

I was getting sick (like virus/flu sick) and I still had 1 hour (of hard pedaling) to get back to the hotel, and it was no longer possible for me to pedal hard. So, I slowed down, and started going into survival mode. It seemed like 3 hours instead of just over 1 hour, but I did make it back to the hotel. And, it rained the entire way. The wind kept shifting, so I never really truly found a true tailwind.

I finished almost 3 hours on the bike, and almost didn’t have enough energy to breakdown the bike and put it in the trunk of the rental Mercedes. But, I made it. Then, it was a struggle to walk to the elevator…I knew things were bad. Finally, I got to the room, stripped off the cold, wet clothes, and stood under the hot shower for literally 1 hour.

I ended up staying sick for the next day or two. Darn.

Published in: on August 10, 2008 at 3:01 am  Leave a Comment  

Auerbach, Alsbach, Frankenstein – Amazing

Three Castles in One Day

 

View from Auerbach Schloss

View from Auerbach Schloss

Jeff (me) drinking wine at Weingut Steinmueller, Bensheim

Jeff (me) drinking wine at Weingut Steinmueller, Bensheim

MTB Ride in Morning

After having been in the office until about 8pm (or later) each day this week, I was so eager to go rent a bike and ride outside. In fact, I actually went out and ran yesterday evening, just before dark, since I needed some type of physical activity and to breathe fresh air (not in an office!).

T-Mobile forest is still beautiful

T-Mobile forest is still beautiful

I went to Velocity and rented a mountainbike. However, they didn’t have my “normal” bike, so I had to settle for another. This ended up being a not-so-good experience. I started riding around 11am, and headed out through T-Mobile forest, and then down to Pfungstadt. Then, I headed over to Jugenheim, and really started to notice problems with the bike. First, the front tire was low on air, and second, both front and rear wheels were both slightly out of true, and the rear brake was worn down way too much, AND the rear shifter would work sometimes unless one pushed upward as well as inward to shift.

The best part of this ride was finding that blackberries are in full bloom (everywhere) in Germany! I stopped and spent about 5 minutes picking and eating blackberries in a remote part of the forest along a train tracks near Pfungstadt. It was a HUGE patch – as big as I’ve ever seen in the wild.

Blackberries near Pfungstadt

Blackberries near Pfungstadt

Mountain bike with problems, while picking blackberries

Mountain bike with problems, while picking blackberries

I stopped at a Tankstelle (service station) and found a free tire/air pump. In about 2 secs, I had me front tire filled up. Then, I decided to top off the rear tire too, since it was also feeling soft. However, this was a BIG mistake. The rear tire had a strange adapter on it, and when I unscrewed it, the whole tire went flat! I played with it for about 15 mins, and finally managed to fill it back to about 75% full.

I started heading toward Alsbach, but the bike felt so unresponsive, and I began to worry that the rear tire was going to flat, that I turned around and limped back to home (actually, to the Maritim Rhein-Main Hotel in Darmstadt).

Cool House near Jugenheim

Cool House near Jugenheim

Going Exploring

My goal for the morning’s MTB ride had been to make it to Auerbach, to see the “better” castle (better than Alsbach’s, as told to me by a very nice person). However, I never made it due to mechanical issues. So, I decided to just head out and start driving by car down along Naturpark Odenwald, and explore the small villages that way.

FRANKENSTEIN’S CASTLE – Castle #1

Frankenstein's Castle!

Frankenstein's Castle!

My first discovery was that Burg Frankenstein (Frankenstein’s Castle) was only a few minutes away from my hotel! Burg Frankenstein is a castle about 5km south of Darmstadt, and sits on top of a hill near the Naturpark Odenwald. There is actually a Naturpark built around the castle. The road up the castle is very windy and climbs quite a bit. It would be a great climb on a road bicycle…not too steep and not too long, but a great workout.

The Frankenstein’s built this castle in 1250 (YES, I said 1250!) by Konrad Reiz von Breuberg. Today, two towers, a chapel, and some ruined walls remain of the original castle, which was a much bigger fortress. It is believed that one of the castle’s inhabitants used to steal dead bodies for the purpose of studying anatomy, and that perhaps Mary Shelley (who wrote “Frankenstein”), was influenced by this legend. Who knows? All I know is that someone was getting married there while I visited, and it wasn’t scary in the slightest.

It was an absolutely beautiful day – temps in the low 70s, blue skies punctuated by puffy white clouds, and long shadows being thrown in the late afternoon sun. Here are some more pics from this fabulous location:

Fortress wall at Burg Frankenstein

Fortress wall at Burg Frankenstein

Tower at Burg Frankenstein

Tower at Burg Frankenstein

Amazing view over Darmstadt/Frankfurt from Tower at Burg Frankenstein

Amazing view over Darmstadt/Frankfurt from Tower at Burg Frankenstein

I have to say that I was really enjoying myself this afternoon – I think it was the combination of having been penned up in an office for the past several days, and the wonderful fall-like weather. I wish that Alyssa had been here with me (she wanted to come with me to Germany this week, but the rigors of work for Go-Live would’ve made most of her stay here boring).

Alsbach Schloss – Castle #2 

Although I have ridden to Alsbach Schloss several times on my MTB, I still drove up and visited again. I’ll only include one picture here, since I have shown pictures in my blog before. I only spent about 15 minutes here, and then headed out to Auerbach. 

Alsbach Schloss

Alsbach Schloss

Auerbach Schloss – Castle #3 (and most amazing)

View from Tower at Auerbach Schloss - Amazing

View from Tower at Auerbach Schloss - Amazing

I was amazed that a wonderful castle like Auerbach Schloss was so close to my hotel (which I’ve spent months in here in Darmstadt), and I’ve never been there before. It was beautiful. The pics that I’m including don’t do justice to its magnificence. Plus, there is a great restaurant in the castle, and one can shoot a cross-bow or throw an axe. There’s even a jousting lane!

The entrance to Auerbach Schloss is beautiful

The entrance to Auerbach Schloss is beautiful

Restaurant at Auerbach Schloss, as seen from entrance

Restaurant at Auerbach Schloss, as seen from entrance

Upon entering the castle, you are facing a beautiful building attached to a wonderful restaurant (on the left side). The castle towers rise majestically on your right – there are two completely intact towers which one can climb. I walked around the lower portion of the castle, inside the outer fortress walls, but outside of the inner walls. I found a tent where a group of period-dressed people were showing off cross-bows and other knight’s weapons. It looked fun! There were also several cool implements and a large round grill.

Knights Weapons Display

Knights Weapons Display

 Then, I climbed the steps and entered the inner part of the castle. I climbed the steps up to the top of one of the towers, and the 360 degree views were incredible. The rolling green hills of the Odenwald were on two sides, and the outstretched flat valleys were on the others.

Beautiful view of countryside around Auerbach Schloss

Beautiful view of countryside around Auerbach Schloss

Valleys below Auerbach Schloos

Valleys below Auerbach Schloss

After spending about an hour in theh castle, and taking some neat videos (for everyone at home to watch), I left down starting driving down. Now, the interesting thing is that the road up is one-way and another road down is one-way. So, at the bottom, I had to drive through Bensheim, which turned out to be a gorgeous little town. I quickly found a place to park and walked up and down its narrow streets.

Typical Bensheim building

Typical Bensheim building

 

The one side of the ancient cobblestone street had a small stream running down in (in an indented section of the cobblestones…really cool). There were beautiful, old German buildings all along this street. After walking up and down a few times, I found a wine cellar/store called Weingut Steinmueller. I saw a group of pretty German girls all dressed in white doing a wine-tasting there. After they left, I went in and spoke with the owner. I asked her to recommend a red wine for me, and she suggested the St-Laurent. I bought 2 bottles (only $11 each) and then she opened one and I sat down in the old courtyard with her Newfoundland dog and sipped on my wine.

Me drinking wine in courtyard of Weingut Steinmueller in Bensheim

Me drinking wine in courtyard of Weingut Steinmueller in Bensheim

The street name was called Bachgasse, and it had not only beautiful homes, but also nice restaurants, too. I ended up eating right next door to the wine cellar at a restaurant called Dorfmuehle, which means Village Mill. I was starving, and the schnitzel hit the spot. The restaurant owners had a sense of humor because when one opened the door to the WC (restrooms), it pulled a rope and it lifted something over one of the tables. Also, they interspersed hand-drawings of pigs on the menu whenever they meant schnitzel. It was fun, and I ate outside in the warm evening sun.
I ate Schnitzel at this Bensheim Restaurant

I ate Schnitzel at this Bensheim Restaurant

Flowers and stream on Bachgasse in Bensheim

Flowers and stream on Bachgasse in Bensheim

More beautiful streets

More beautiful streets

Published in: on August 9, 2008 at 6:45 pm  Comments (3)  

2 Hr Evening MTB Ride Darmstadt 7/15/08

2 Hr MTB Ride Darmstadt, Gernsheim, Seeheim

 

After working in the office all day at the dura office in Darmstadt, I couldn’t wait to get outside. I had been continually looking out at the brigh sun and the blue skies, and feeling the warm wind blowing through the open windows in our office. At around 6pm, I snuck out of the office, and…the heat from the sun felt great on my arms- it was warm, but not hot. There was a soft breeze blowing, but not too much. It was one of those perfect days.

Mountain bike (the "bad" one), while picking blackberries

Mountain bike (the

I drove the 1km back to the hotel from the office, and practically ran upstairs to my room. I changed into my garish orange Sette Nove kit, and went back down the parking garage to get my rental bike out of the rental car. Out of the dark parking garage, I rode the steep, slick cement into the sun and light. It felt … good.

Out into the brightness and heat I pedaled. I quickly covered the first 10 minutes past the Polizei office and the T-Mobile forest.

T-Mobile forest is still beautiful

T-Mobile forest is still beautiful

My first decision – stay in the forest, or head out across the open fields? The sun on my shoulders made that choice easy – stay in the sun as long as possible, and as much as possible. I pedaled towards Gernsheim. It was the right choice – I just enjoyed the warm wind, the hot sun, and the cranking of the pedals. As I made it to the outskirts of Gernsheim, I decided to try to head south and go towards the Alsbach Schloss. There is a nice trail alongside the road, and I followed it, turning my cadence up higher and higher, still feeling very good.

One of the highligts of this ride was when I passed 2 guys on time-trial bikes and skinsuits and in full TT positions! I came off of a small side trail and started riding from Gernsheim towards Alsbach alongside a perfectly smooth road on the berm. It was with the wind, and slightly downhill, and I was beginning to worry about beating the sunset home, so … I upped the cadence, the gears, and my speed. I didn’t really pay attention to the 2 bikers in front of me until I went past them, and noticed first that they were on road bikes, and then realized they were on TT bikes! Wow, now that is embarrasing…getting pass by a guy on a softail MTB with running shoes and regular pedals on.

Both of them came after me immediately. One passed me, and as I jumped into his draft, the second guy got into my draft. After about 500 meters, I couldn’t stay with #1, so I left go. Now, #2 was still trying to draft off of me, so I zigged and zagged, making it impossible for him to do so :).

Pumpkins or Zucchini?

Pumpkins or Zucchini?

After this hard effort, I ended up slowing down and just enjoying the rest of the ride at an easier, comfortable pace. All-in-all, it was a great 50+km ride and 2+ hours.

Published in: on July 15, 2008 at 4:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

Alyssa’s Surgery – July 14, 2008

Well, today was the big day. Alyssa went in for jaw surgery. She was a “real trooper”, and never complained or whined, but took this whole experience of braces, multiple doctor visits in Pittsburgh, etc. in stride. I am very proud of her.

Alyssa is crazy, too. She went with her grandmother’s church to the island of Trinidad for an entire week, working a Vacation Bible School in a foreign country! There was no air conditioning, etc. And, she did and missed out on going to Hilton Head Island with us, and it was the week before her surgery. Who would’ve blamed her for taking it easy…but she didn’t.

The 2 days before her surgery were “challenging”. She said she pulled an all-nighter with her cousins and friends in Trinidad on the last night there. Then, once she arrived in Miami, she found that her flight was delayed…delayed…canceled. So, she had to spend the night in Miami. After only 4 hours sleep, she was on a flight to Dallas (why Dallas? she as going to Pittsburgh!).

Anyway, she survived, and did great during the entire surgery and is recovering at home now.

Published in: on July 14, 2008 at 4:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

2Hr 45Min MTB Ride in Darmstadt on July 13, 2008

Darmstadt to Alsbach to Gernsheim Loop

 

I rode basically the reverse of the loop that I did yesterday. But, the overall time was faster but almost the same distance was covered. I rode for about 2hr 45min and covered about 63km.

I headed out through the T-Mobile forest, and then followed the bike trail through the next forest down to the village of Pfungstadt. There, I found the Pfungstaedter Braeuri (local brewery)…

Pfungstaeder Braueri

Pfungstaeder Braueri

Some other neat pics from Pfungstadt follow…

Cool German home in Pfungstadt

Cool German home in Pfungstadt

Old farm in Pfungstadt

Old farm in Pfungstadt

 

Near the middle of Pfungstadt, I hung a left and went through the forest again. The forest trail was much rougher here, covered with larger stones and pine cones, as you can see in the following pic:

Rough trail

Rough trail

Then, the trail turned and was paved, beside a small road. As you can see in the following pics, this is the trail on the road. Note: the “weight limit” sign on the bridges Germany shows not only weight limits for trucks, but also for tanks!

Bridge Weight Limit Sign for Trucks AND Tanks!

Bridge Weight Limit Sign for Trucks AND Tanks!

Trail alongside road

Trail alongside road

 At the end of this trail, I hit the village of Seeheim-Jugenheim. The bike trail winds through this large village, and there are many beautiful buildings, including this church:

Church in Seeheim-Jugenheim

Church in Seeheim-Jugenheim

I was in familiar territory once again, with just a couple kms until I hit Alsbach. After crossing some open agricultural fields, I hit the village of Alsbach, and looked for the signs to the Alsbach Schloss. Note that the sign shows the climb is 1.7km long as 7%:

Signs for Alsbach Schloss

Signs for Alsbach Schloss

I started the climb, and you can see from the following pic that the climb  starts on a small road that winds uphill through the village:

Alsbach Climb in Village

Alsbach Climb in Village

My legs were a bit fried from yesterday, so I wasn’t able to ride nearly as hard up the climb today as yesterday. Luckily, no one else was climbing, so I didn’t get beat by anybody!

Plus, it was much cooler today. Yesterday’s climb was pretty hot, in spite of the climb moving into the shade of the forest and the valley, as can be seen in the following pic:

 

 

 

Alsbach Schloss climb - forest section

Alsbach Schloss climb - forest section

Once at the top, I took some video and pics, then started right back down.

Alsbach Schloss

Alsbach SchlossThe village of Alsbach is very pretty, as you can see from the following pics:Alsbach - houseAlsbach Kirche

 After leaving Alsbach, I headed due north up to Gernsheim. The first intermediate village I came to was caleld Alsbach-Haehnlein. I stopped at a Tankstelle (gas station) and drank a Coke. I didn’t have a water bottle with me, so this was my only drink of the ride. Luckily, it was pretty cool out.

Then, I made it to Gernsheim, and decided to try (once again) to find the Rhein Ferry. I FOUND IT this time! I guess if I had just followed the signs last time, I would’ve found it. The route was very pretty to get to the Rhein…
Gernsheim Colorful Homes

Gernsheim Colorful HomesGernsheim HomeGernsheim Building for sale

It was neat to see the Rhein Ferry in operation. I drove to the edge of the Rhein River just as the cars started loading. I took a video of the whole operation. Cars drive onto a rather small, flat boat and park in 3 lanes. Bicycles and people with strollers simply walk on. The ferry didn’t blow a horn or anything, it just left the shore and went across the other shore – which was about 100 meters. The Rhein, at this point, is about 1/3 of the size of the Ohio River, I’d estimate.
Rhein Faehre

Rhein FaehreRhein RiverCafe on Rhein River near FerryRhein Harbor

Here’s one more cool restaurant/building in Gernsheim…
Cool Restaurant in Gernsheim, about 1km from Rhein River

Cool Restaurant in Gernsheim, about 1km from Rhein River

After leaving Gernsheim, I headed back to Darmstadt, which is about 20km, and rode very hard. That’s it for today.
Published in: on July 13, 2008 at 4:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

3+ Hr MTB Ride Darmstadt, Gernsheim, Alsbach on July 12, 2008

Big Loop from Maritim Rhein-Main Hotel

Summary: Rode from my hotel in Darmstadt out to Gernsheim (same as I did 2 days ago), but then headed over to Alsbach and climbed the 7% incline to the castle, then followed the signs back to Darmstadt, getting lost several times.

I rode 3hrs 15mins and covered about 65Km. For the first hour of the ride (from Darmstadt to Gernsheim), there was a terrific headwind that kept my average speed at about 22kph.

I started, as usual, through the T-Mobile forest, as I call it. The trail is deep in the forest, as you can see from the following picture:

Forest trail near T-Mobile Allee

Forest trail near T-Mobile Allee

 Then, I headed due west, more or less, and headed out across mainly dead-flat agricultural fields. There were apple trees, lots of spargel (asparagus) which resembled a forest since they left them grow to seed, plenty of flowers, and one strange thing…it smelled like wild onions. There were several fields, planted in double rows that almost looked like long grass, but were some type of onion. A large machine came and “mowed” the field, sucking up the “onions” as it went along. There is a pic of this below:

Onions?

Onions?

I tried to find the Rhein river again, with no luck – again! So, then I started heading back to find the bike path to Alsbach, where the ancient castle on the mountain is located. Near the Gernsheim Bahnof (train station), I found some great blackberries – so, I stopped and ate a bunch of them!

Delicious Blackberries near Gernsheim Bahnhof

Delicious Blackberries near Gernsheim Bahnhof

 
Then, I headed south to Alsbach. It was just about 10km from Gernsheim, and there was a great trail alongside the road, so it was fairly easy.
 
Bike trail from Gernsheim to Alsbach

Bike trail from Gernsheim to Alsbach

I started pushing myself harder on the bike now, since I already had over 1hr of riding in and my legs were warmed up. Soon, I could see another beautiful castle – the Auerbacher Schloss (castle) on the top of a small mountain…Actually, I really thought this was the Alsbach Schloss, but a kind German told me that this was actually Auerbacher. [The next time I’m riding from Darmstadt, which will be in 2 weeks from now, I’ll go find Auerbacher!]

Alsbach Schloss on the hill

Alsbach Schloss on the hill

Alsbach is a beautiful town, as you can see from the following pic:
Cool building in outskirts of Alsbach

Cool building in village of Haehnlein

Finally, I hit the 7%, 2km climb fairly hard at the bottom, determined to climb fast to the Alsbach Schloss. There were 3 other MTBers just ahead of me. One of them just absolutely took off and accelerated away from all of us. I caught the other two, but one of those two decided to pick up the pace. He took off at a pace I couldn’t match, too. But, at least I kicked one guy’s butt as I climbed. I warmed up quite a bit, but my legs just never really felt that good on the climb. I worked it hard, and hurt, though. Here are some pics of the Alsbach Schloss:
Jeff (me) in front of Alsbach Schloss

Jeff (me) in front of Alsbach Schloss

Alsbach Schloss

Alsbach Schloss

 

After leaving Alsbach, I tried to find a “new” route back to Darmstadt. So, I followed a trail marked “R8” (not sure what that meant), that said it was about 17km back. I was not completely successful in following this trail, so I ended up in the serious forests and did one more big, but gentle climb. I did go through Seeheim, which is a beautiful little town, as you can see…
Old Building in Seeheim

Old Building in Seeheim

I had a great bike ride, and in the last 10 km, I really did some hard intervals. I am trying to make my legs and body feel some “race pace” and “race effort” so that when I get home in 1 week, I might be able to race and not get dropped in 2 seconds. I’m headed to Hochheim am Mein for a wine festival right now, and hope to get some pics and have fun there. It’s the home town of my client, Wolfgang, who heads up the Germany Mylan office.
Published in: on July 12, 2008 at 5:25 pm  Comments (1)  

2Hr MTB Ride Darmstadt on July 10, 2008

I flew this morning from Hilton Head via Savannah and Newark to Frankfurt this morning. Actually, I tried to fly yesterday from HHI to CLT, but sat 6 hours on the tarmac on a USAirways A330 which broke twice before they canceled the flight late last night. Because of no hotels, I ended up renting a Mustang convertible and driving back to Hilton Head and getting in at 330am. Then, I woke up at 9am and drove to Savannah at 10am for my second attempt at getting across the pond.

Anyway, I made it this morning. I worked all day, then went to Velocity and rented the same MTB as last time for another week and 60 Euros. Just before 6pm, I went riding. I was planning on heading south, and then deciding where to go on-the-fly.

The absolute BEST part about these rides in Germany is the fact that I’m riding a bike at all. Normal work hours sometimes extend into the wee hours of the night, leaving no light for riding. However, I’ve managed to take a break around normal supper time and get on my bike and explore the German countryside. I don’t know why, when Laurie and I lived in Germany for 3 years, we never biked anywhere. Biking is the way to see Germany. There are trails everywhere, and share-the-road bike paths all through the cities. Plus, there are bike trails that you can follow that take you around traffic into interesting villages and small roads.

I learned more about Darmstadt and the surrounding area in the 1 week that I rode every evening than I had learned in the previous 4 visits. The tough part was riding by so many small restaurants and “pubs” that looked so interesting…I always want to stop and sit down on the patio, or in the dark, smoky interiors and soak up this village’s culture.

After emerging from the forest near T-Mobile, I decided to follow the signs which said 17km to Gernsheim, because there was a picture of a boat on water (which ended up being a Rhein Ferry, which I never did find). I followed this trail across all kinds of fields and through small villages, and more fields. It was a great ride. I could see Alsbach (where I rode the 7% incline to the ancient knight’s castle 2 weeks ago) on the left once I got near Gernsheim.

I enjoyed this 2 hour 15 minutes ride which covered almost 50km. I rode medium to hard, but didn’t have a water bottle and was a bit parched by the end of this ride. One highlight was seeing a mischwagen (which spreads liquid manure onto fields) near Gernsheim. For those of you who don’t know, Porsche and Daimler Benz are made near Stuttgart. BMW is made in Munich. When I lived near Stuttgart, they called the BMW a “Bayerische Mischwagen”, or translated, a “Bavarian Shit-Spreader”. Very funny!

I’ve attached some photos from the ride, to show the beauty and variety of this almost entirely flat route.

Published in: on July 10, 2008 at 11:15 pm  Comments (1)  

3 Hour MTB Ride from Darmstadt to Alsbach

Thursday, June 26, 2008

This was my last day on my rented mountain bike in Darmstadt, and the 10th day in Germany. I had worked late last night, and also had worked early this morning. So, after determining that I didn’t have any meetings or conference calls for the next 3 hours, I hopped on the bike and headed out.

I decided to head south, and see if I could make it southeast of Pfungstadt, to Naturpark Bergstrasse-Odenwald. The weather was perfect – sunny and not as hot, in the low 70s at about 900am. I rode from the Maritim Rhein-Main hotel, and went into the forest. I headed down to Pfungstadt, and then started following Bike Route 24, which took me east towards Eberstadt. There was a beautiful paved bike trail through the forest, which I followed for awhile. Then, I started following Bike Route 15, which wound through beautiful fields and woods.

As I passed through the village of Alsbach, I saw a sign that point to the left and said Schloss Alsbach, 1,7km, 7%.

Schloss Alsbach

Schloss Alsbach ist eigentlich eine Burg, die etwa um 1235 erbaut wurde. Eine kleine Burgschänke sorgt für das leibliche Wohl, der Turm kann bestiegen werden und bietet einen atemberaubenden Fernblick. Die Burgruine und der angrenzende Waldspielplatz (mit Picknickplätzen) laden zum erkunden und spielen ein. Schöne Wanderwege führen bis zum Aussichtsturm auf dem Melibokus. Hier starten oft die Drachenflieger.

Published in: on June 26, 2008 at 11:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

Tour of Catalonia – Jeff and John Style

May 2008.

The plan was simple…I was working in the outskirts of Barcelona, Spain for 2 weeks. John would fly to Spain, I would finagle a few days off and we’d ride together in the cycling heaven around Girona, Spain. If more than 30 professional cyclists made Girona their home, then it must be a great place to train, right? Lance Armstrong had owned a house in Girona. His lieutenant, George Hincapie, still lived in Girona.

The “plan” had started in November 2007, when I won a contract with Mylan Labs that would take me to Milan, Dublin, Darmstadt, Paris, Monte Carlo, and Barcelona. When I first heard that I would be working a week or two at a time in Barcelona, I used Google Maps to explore the area. That’s when I discovered that Girona was only 1 hour north of Barcelona. I distinctly remember sitting in the Waterfront Hotel in Morgantown, West Virginia in front of my laptop, thinking “wouldn’t it be cool to take my bike with me and ride in Girona?”

Fast forward to May 2008…I had spent the past 6 months working 2 weeks on/1 week off all over Europe. I had spent months in Lyon, France, and had spent 1-2 weeks in Milan, Dublin, and Paris. I was now quite a “hardened” international traveler…get up early on Monday…1hr drive to Pittsburgh airport, then 2 hour wait for flight to Newark…then 4 hour layover until 8 hour flight to Paris…then 1 hour wait until climbing on the TGV (bullet train) to Lyon…finally, arriving in the office before lunch and working until 8pm that night. Monday’s were always 30 hour days, and then in the excitement, I could never sleep.

It was the second straight week of my third trip to Barcelona, but it felt different. All of the professionalism was giving way to excitement. I had my bike with me, and my friend, John Coyle, was arriving from the States this morning. We were going to do our own Spring training camp in Catalonia! We had 4 days to do nothing but bike, soak up the Mediterranean sun and Spanish food and culture.

Last week, I had helped in bringing two global information technology systems online in Spain. It was a great success, but the hours had been extremely long, and the stress immense. It was touch-and-go whether my team would complete its assignment in time for Go-Live weekend. But, at the very last second, everything fell into place. The “Tour of Catalonia” was still on!

Last week, I had ridden my racing bike for the very first time in Europe. I had explored the area around my hotel in Sabadell, Spain. Although my rides were fairly short, and always started with a mad dash through crazy city traffic and round-abouts, I still made it out into the beautiful Spanish countryside. Even here, near major metropolitan areas, the roads were wonderful to ride. Thousand year old buildings dotted the fertile green countryside. Scents from a dozen different flowers filled my nostrils as I pedaled under the hot Spanish sun.

Again, using the marvel of technology called Google Maps, I had found a 10km mountain climb that was only 30 minutes from my hotel via bike. I had taken a long lunch hour (or two) last week and ridden out through Terrassa, and up this magnificent climb. As my friend Ray Russell says, “any day on a bike is a good day.” And, I was riding my bike in Spain!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008.

I was able to work from the hotel, and left early in the morning to go to the Barcelona Airport to pick up John. Since his cell phone didn’t work in Europe, we had developed a plan of where to meet; sometimes these plans do not work. However, as a good omen for the remainder of this week, everything worked perfectly, and I met John without incident. Minutes after meeting, around 9am Central European Time, we had both fired up Cuban cigars and our bike trip had officially begun!

After putting his bike together (whew! all the pieces were still in the bike box – nothing lost), we headed out together. The weather was decent (60s and overcast), and we survived the city madness to make it out through Terrassa. It was the first time that John and I had ever ridden a mountain together. I’m sure that neither of us was sure what the result would be – would John be stronger and leave me behind, or vice-versa? If you’ve never climbed a 5+ mile mountain climb with another person, then you don’t know that usually, someone is working too hard, and someone is riding too easy. However, we found that we were perfectly matched. Another great omen for the next 3 days of riding

Flashback…Houston Memorial Park, Year 2000.

Although I had once been a pretty good runner, I was relatively inexperienced on a bicycle. Yes, as a kid, I had ridden 100s of miles up and down Cleland Mill Road, but on a bike that had no gears and the only brakes were stomping down on the pedals. This is quite a bit different than riding a 15-pound racing bike made of aluminum, or carbon, or some other exotic space-age metal with ultra-thin tires around a course with 8 turns every 1.2 miles.

John and I were leading a project at Enron (yes, that Enron), and John managed to get me into cycling. I’m still not sure how he did it, but it happened. I bought two cheap road bikes ($400 each) and John started teaching me how to ride. Now, what was amazing to me in retrospect is that John never mentioned that he was a phenomenon on a bicycle. He had 20+ years of racing experience, starting when he was a pre-teen. Of course, I knew that he had an Olympic Silver Medal from Lillehammer, in short-track speed skating. He never mentioned (when we started biking together) that he been on the 7-11 Junior Team and spent time at the Olympic Training Center for cycling, too. I’m sure it was calculated on his part…I would’ve been too intimidated to ride with him had I know the depth of his experience.

As we rode endless laps around Memorial Park at 9pm in the hot, sticky air of a typical summer night in Houston, John teaches me how to turn. “Lean your body to the left, keep the bike upright, and steer around the turn.” John teaches me how to draft. John teaches me everything a track racer should know. I absorb these lessons like a sponge, but have horrible style (knees pointed outward)…John doesn’t criticize…he simply encourages me.

Back to Wednesday, May 14, 2008.

After climbing this gentle 4% climb outside of Sabadell, Spain; John and I explore a beautiful residential area built on top of this mountain. The views are fantastic – look down one side and see Terrassa and Sabadell spread out beyond the verdant green of the Spanish fields. Look down the other side, and one could see the sharp, stark slopes of the Pyrenees. This was the border between Spain and France…that legendary place where the Tour de France visits every year. The homes were beautiful – white stucco with red tiled roofs – built on sharp ledges with incredible panoramic views.

As we contemplate how fast we’re going to attempt to descend back into Sabadell, John turns a small corner and almost goes down. His rear tire flats! We fix it, and then proceed to speed down the mountain together. Uncharacteristically, John is lagging behind me. Typically, John is much more of a daredevil than I am. However, flatting on a descent is almost sure death here.

As the road flattens out, and our 35+mph mountain descent ends, John suddenly swears and announces that he has another flat. How lucky was he that this didn’t flat on the way down. It would’ve been disaster on the tight curves – either straight into a guardrail or over a small cliff. On the other hand, how unlucky to get 2 flats in one ride. We quickly determined that the rim tape was at fault, and ended up at a bike shop I had happened to find during a ride outside of Santa Coloma de Farners. John’s bike was fixed and we are ready for our first “real” day of riding tomorrow outside Girona…well, almost ready.

Because the car was too small, we had to make two trips to move all our stuff (bikes, bike boxes, luggage) from Sabadell to Santa Coloma de Farners, a small town just outside Girona. Trip #1 took our bikes to the new hotel. Then, back to Barcelona where we ate topas at 1230am and wandered up and down Le Rambla in the warm Spanish air. Finally, another trip took us back to our new hotel at 330am.

 

May 15, 2008. Girona, Spain.

John had spent hours and hours with Google Earth, analyzing the terrain surrounding Girona. I had also spent hours reading cyclists diaries and studying MapMyRide.com for ideas of where to ride. We drove to the base of a climb called Els Angeles about 10km outside Girona, and parked our car. Our plan was to tackle a 10km 1,200 vertical foot climb, survive the wicked mountain descent on the other side, and then try to make it to the Costa Brava (the Mediterranean coast), all the while zigzagging between 2,000 year old walled cities. Believe it or not, the plan worked!

As we started the climb together, we reveled in the hot Spanish sun. As we went around switchback after switchback, climbing through the evergreen and arid rocks, our spirits began to soar. Although neither of us is a climber, or could ever be accused of having a climber’s build, our legs felt strong, and our pace was steady. With each turn, we could see further and further over the amazing Catalonian countryside. As we approached the top, the views of Girona were breath-taking. However, nothing can prepare you for that first glimpse of the Costa Brava from the top of mountain.

View of Costa Brava from Els Angeles

View of Costa Brava from Els Angeles

 

 

 

The azure Mediterranean, contrasted with the browns of the sharp mountains and islands, and the dark greens of the fertile Spanish fields, took my breath away. However, this was just a warmup for what was coming. After a rather brutal descent (the road was very steep and extremely rough), we began my favorite part of every day’s ride in Catalonia…exploring 2,000 year old Catalonian castles, cities, walled-cities, and verdant farmlands.

It’s impossible to describe the excitement as we rode from village to village across empty, rolling roads. John points to the left…an incredible castle. I point to the left, a 500-year old estate. I began to wish that I had a camera implanted in my eyes.

Jeff and John in L'Estartit - Mediterranean Village in Spain

Jeff and John in L'Estartit - Mediterranean Village in Spain

 

If you could only see what my eyes have seen. This is a thought that echoes countless times through my mind this week. I don’t have the words to describe the views or the emotions playing through me. This is “living”!

John and I both snapped pics from our tiny cameras, but it’s impossible to capture the beauty.

We enter the outskirts of a small town called Monelles. It is one of the most beautiful villages in the world (only perhaps surpassed by Peratellada, which we visited later in the week). It is a 1,000 year old walled city. The streets are paved with stones, which as we ride on with our carbon racing bikes, makes us wonder how Hincapie and the others race on the “pave” of the spring classics in Belgium. We ride silently through this village; John leading. The walls are steep on either side of us. The alleys are so narrow that sometimes both of our shoulders brush the sides as we pedal.

Monelles - 2,000 year old walled city

Monelles - 2,000 year old walled city

 

The heat from the Spanish sun beats down on these stones. It seems as if I am drawing energy from the very stones of this magnificent village. My skin warms, my legs forget their fatigue from the earlier climbs, and my heart races with excitement. All the while, I keep thinking, I need to bring my family here. I want Laurie and the kids to ride and walk up and down these roads, and taste the hard breads and cheeses sold here.

As we reluctantly leave Monelles behind, we pedal strongly across the relatively flat spaces between villages. We skim the edge of L’Isabel, a rather large city, and head past another ancient castle. We then begin following a dirt road (which will become a commonplace occurrence the next couple of days). Neither of us are sure that we’re still on the route we planned, but we kept pedaling, avoiding rocks and kicking up a light dust in the arid soil. We find ourselves in the middle of amazing farmland, surrounded on all sides by green. It is apparent that although it’s relatively dry here, the land is very fertile. We glide through crops of all kinds, still following this beautiful dirt road.

Finally, we find pavement again, and we are still on track! Now, as we approach the Costa Brava, we begin to experience what I had experienced in Mallorca. The Mediterranean coastline is unpredictable. The sun is bright beyond anything I’ve ever experienced in the USA, but strong winds blow in off the Med and swirl around the mountains dotting the Costa Brava coastline. The ride starts to become hard…pedaling becomes more deliberate. We take turns taking pulls, and the draft becomes something that we cherish.

It seems to take several hours, but in reality, it was probably only 45 minutes, before we had finally reached L’Estartit, a beautiful city lying directly on the Mediterranean, under the shadow of an amazing castle-ruin sitting on a 1,000+ foot rocky mountain. We pedaled gently through L’Estartit, taking in the brilliant blues of the Mediterranean and the pure whites of the buildings reflecting the bright sun. We looked out at islands that seemed unreal because of their beauty. We took dozens and dozens of pictures.

I was very happy to stop pedaling and sit down at an outdoor café overlooking the Mediterranean. We were actually sitting 10 meters away from the Mediterranean, eating grilled squid, and putting away a huge amount of pasta. We sipped cokes and slowly worked our way through wonderful bottle of Spanish red wine.

Jeff riding under golden evening sun and flowers in Spain

Jeff riding under golden evening sun and flowers in Spain

 

Finally, it was time to get back on the bikes. I felt refreshed, and undaunted by the fact that it was about 530pm and we had another 3 hours to get back to our car. Before today, I’d never ridden more than 3 1/2 hours on a bike. We left the coastline and pedaled strongly inland. We took a fairly busy road for about 10km before getting back onto the empty roads and ancient villages. Soon, we found ourselves on another dirt road. We pedaled a long way, and began to worry that this wasn’t actually the route we desired. Finally, when the path turned to single track, we turned around and headed for a road we could see in the distance.

After getting back on the right paved road, we found ourselves approach Els Angeles for the second time today. However, we knew that the climb from the Costa Brava side was much more brutal than from the Girona side. The road was much steeper and the road surface much rougher. However, as we climbed together, each pushing the other on, we actually climbed a real Category 1 mountain. Little did we know that this was part of the Tour of Catalonia, a stage race which George Hincapie would ride in just a few days. Turn after turn, we pedaled, and stood, and sat, and pedaled. Sweat poured from our bodies, and the late evening Spanish sun turned everything to gold. Still, we climbed. The kilometers are marked on this climb, and we knew that this climb was “only” 5km long. However, between kilometer 13 and 14, we both swore that we had climbed 3 kilometers – not one!

As we crested the mountain together, such a sense of satisfaction filled both of us. We had just not only survived, but really “climbed” a Cat 1!  As we descended in a crazy swirl of leans through sharp turns and standing and pedaling hard between switchbacks, we yelled to each other in happiness. We were riding the same mountains that Lance Armstrong and George Hincapie trained on.

 

 

Published in: on May 18, 2008 at 10:38 am  Leave a Comment