The day will come when I will die. So the only matter of consequence before me is what I will do with my allotted time. I can remain on shore, paralyzed with fear, or I can raise my sails and dip and soar in the breeze.--Richard Bode

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Along the River Rhine

Hi again:

I drove up along the France/Switzerland border, passing back and forth between the two countries. As I've said before, I am never too sure when I go from one country into another since they have done away with border checkpoints. That was especially true of the France/Switzerland area since they speak French in that part of Switzerland so the signs did not change when I went across the border..

I stayed in a nice campground in France up on a hill. The rains that had been plaguing the area moved in about 8 p.m.. They were huge towering things with crashing thunder and explosive lightning. The first wave of the storm hit just as I was getting safely into my tent, and it was strong and violent, with torrential rains and winds that shook the tent back and forth like a wet terrier.

Afterward, I thought the storms were over. I guess the people down in the valley did too because they started shooting off loud rockets that exploded like mortars in the night sky.  I felt dirty and wanted a shower in the worst way. While I was finishing my shower, the second round of storms hit, with rains that made the gutters overflow and winds that slammed the bathroom doors shut. I was trapped in there, and I stayed trapped for the longest time until it slacked off enough for me to make a run and a dive for my tent.

It rained for the longest time. I slept, but I woke up often and laid there listening to the drumming of the rain on the tent. This went on until if finally quit at 3:30 in the morning. Later, when the sun came up, the sky was crystal clear.

I have not written in a while because the landscape, while pretty, does not lend itself to pictures or praise. The mountains started easing off, and I rode into The Black Forest in southeastern Germany.

I love the narrow lanes there. It is indeed a "black forest". There are pretty, rolling farms in there too. The guide book says that the reason there are patches where the trees do not grow is because the limestone bedrock is too close to the surface and the trees cannot sink their roots. I guess the writers should know, but personally I think it is because of logging.  There is certainly a lot of that going on. There are piles of logs all along the country lanes, having been dragged there, I think, by lumbermen doing some selective tree thinning.

There are also a lot of sawmills.

The coo-coo bird is very, very common in The Black Forest. You seldom see them, but you can certainly hear them. They sound exactly like coo-coo clocks.  Speaking of which, if you are ever in a Black Forest village you might want to buy one of their clocks. They are certainly works of art, and well worth the $1,000 price.

I took these clock pictures in the Black Forest town of Triberg. It is famous for its clocks. I waited around in one of the clock stores there hoping the clocks would all go off at the same time. A little raucous cacophony would be fun. But I guess the store owners were not wanting that to happen because all the clocks were set on a different time. Spoil sports. I'll show them. I just won't buy one of their stupid clocks. So there.

I did have my heart set on this seven foot tall  grandfather coo-coo clock. I am sure my wife would be thrilled if I put it in our living room.

They charge to park in every town, city and village. Parking it at a premium. I often park up on the sidewalk. So far, no tickets. Sometimes there are special places for motorcycles and bicycles to park.

Years ago my wife and I went to a flower show in Holland. I have a picture of her from there posed against a huge floral display. Now here is my chance. There is no comparison though. She looked a lot better then than I do now.

Come to think of it, I looked a lot better then than I do now. Ha.

I took this next picture just to show you how many bicycle riders there are in Europe -- not just out on the roads, although there are a bunch of those, but also in town.

With no place to park and gas at 6 Euros a gallon, it is no wonder most people walk, ride bikes, or use public transport.

McDonald's hamburger anyone? So far, I mostly pass on those things. Ugh.

I've  camped the last couple of nights at a campground up in the Black Forest hills. The people there were so friendly, wanting to talk and to hear all about where I was from and how I was enjoying my ride. They all waved goodbye when I left this morning. It was fun.

I rode about an hour to the north to visit the Hohenzollern Castle. There is only one big hill in the area, and the castle was right on top of it.

That was quite a family, those Hohenzollerns. They became kings and Kaisers and I don't know what all. They sure were important. Here is a statue of one of the early guys in that family. Good looking dude isn't he.

He was the King of Prussia at about the same time as our American Revolution. The family is still around today, although they do not live in this castle anymore. Do you suppose this might be the Prince and his Princess?

I guess those two are not real royalty. I did not know what that professional photo shoot was going on for. I sure do like that car though. If I can't have a coo-coo clock, maybe I can have it.

Nice shack, huh? And here is the view they had each morning out across the modest homes of their subjects.

There were some other motorcycle riders there, parked in our special, cheap rate area. I am showing you this picture because I would really like to have a big guy like one of these Gold Wings or BMWs. By the way, my Harley riding friends will be interested in knowing that Harley motorcycles are very popular here. There are clubs with hundreds of people in them. They must have some great rallies.

From the castle, I rode south toward the River Rhine which, as you know, starts in Switzerland and forms the border between Germany and Switzerland. I was surprised when I got to Switzerland because the bridge across the Rhine was a covered wooden bridge.

It had been getting hotter all day. It wasn't too bad if I could keep riding because the breeze helped. But once I got into town and had to slow down, I was sweltering.

Time to camp. An email from my wife tells me that it is in the 70's at home. Here, my thermometer says it is 100 degrees. Everyone is miserable. Fortunately, it is shady down by the river. The Rhine is crystal clear here (I remember from other trips it gets more turbid when it flattens out and slows down up in Holland, but here it is beautiful). Time to go swimming and lie in the shade.

At most European campgrounds they will always find room for a tent. The nice lady at reception put me right next to Johannes and Erika. I was not 10 feet away from their beautiful new camper. I felt bad about crowding them like that, but they didn't mind.

Johannes wanted my picture on his cell phone. He emailed me a copy. Here it is. Thanks Johannes.

Johannes says that storms are moving into the area in a day or so. I guess that might cool things down.


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Haute Alps

I have been riding the famous Haute Alps Route for the last couple of days, and I can tell you that it is every bit as spectacular as it is promised to be.

I headed north on the Haute Alps Route from just north of Nice, France. Nice, as you probably know, is on the French Riviera. I didn't want to get into that mad house of traffic and tourists down there on the Mediterranean Sea, so I cut across and picked up the Haute Alps Route above Nice.

Parts of the route have been in the Tour de France in the past.  They don't ride the same route each year, and I think they did not ride it this year.  Lower down, before the high passes which the French call "Cols," begin there are some pretty nice waterfalls.

But pretty soon the road gets up above tree line and the mountains are covered with flowers and heather. Those mountains up there ahead of me don't look all that high, do they?  Just wait.

There are many, many bicycle riders on this road. They come in all ages and both genders, but they all have one thing in common: they are trim, thin, and very fit.

This sign says that the road is 7%. Try to figure that out with your hand:. Straight up and down is 100%; flat and level is 0%. Now, try to tilt your hand above flat and level so it is 7%. It is steep enough that it is quite a climb. The sign also says that the Cime (the top) of the Co la Bonette is 13 kilometers away. That is almost 8 miles of hard bicycle riding. I am quite impressed with those people!!

The bicycle riders don't have the road to themselves. There are also speeding motorcycle riders, sport car drivers, and, from time to time, a camping trailer taking up a good part of the road.

There are very few places to stop and take a picture.

There were herds of sheep up there, and once in a while a cow, but I have yet to see any wildlife. There are sure a lot of people and their animals in Europe, but where are all the deer-like critters and the birds and ground squirrels? I did see one lonely marmot running for all he was worth for his den, but except for the pair of foxes I saw in Sicily, and a lizard here and there, I have seen no other vertebrates at all.  They have them in Europe, I am told, but I sure don't know where.

The shepard  you can just barely see in this picture was using a dog to herd the sheep. That was fun to watch.

The road just keeps getting higher----

And higher ---

This particular pass, the Col de La Bonette, is supposed to be the highest paved road in the world. I am not sure that is true, but it does take you way up into the sky.

I thought the guy who offered to take my picture with my camera would never get done. He was certainly a dedicated photographer, and I thanked him from the bottom of my heart. Here is the sign at the top in case you are interested.

After you top out on a Col, what is left?  Why, to buzz along to the bottom on the other side, of course. This is where the bicycle riders build up a head of steam. I don't know how fast they go, but more than once on my way up I met a rider going helter-skelter down and it made my heart leap into my throat.

When the road flattened out at the bottom I looked north and saw the afternoon thunderstorms building up right on schedule. They have done this every day for a week.

This time I was wise enough to stop and put on my rain gear before the rains hit. No getting soaked like I did yesterday when I was caught unaware just after coming out of a tunnel. But those bicycle riders in this picture are going to get wet, I think.

Although I put on my rain gear, I stowed away my gloves. I can live with wet hands, but I hate wet gloves. But this thunderstorm had hail in it. You can imagine, I bet, how much hail hurts when it hits bare knuckles. I went around a bend, and there was a short tunnel or overpass with another motorcycle rider and a four wheel rider both pulled over tight against the side. I stopped too, long enough to put on my gloves and rain over-mittens. I didn't like it in there though. Trucks came by in the storm barely missing us.Scary.

I tried moving on, but the storm got much worse. Motorcycle riders were sheltered under any overhang they could find. I found one of my own and waited it out for about half an hour. Brrr.

I found a cheap, with emphasis on the cheap, hotel for the night. I hated it, but it was dry. This morning, following the usual pattern, the sky was clear and bight blue. Today I will continue the Haute Alps Route.

I love this area. There is so much to do. People were kayaking and rafting the whitewater rivers, climbing the mountains, rappelling down into the canyons, hiking the trails, and, of course, biking and motorcycle riding. And, in winter, there are a lot of ski resorts here. I happened to find a price sign for the skiing. It is cheaper than in the United States. I think this is because they are not lawsuit happy here, and so the ski places do not need to carry tons of insurance. I don't know that for a fact, though.

The last time I was in the Alps with my wife, she took a picture of the two of us in an Alpine meadow. It is one of my favorite pictures. We were both so young then. She still looks young to me, but I have grey hair now and a lot more wrinkles. If you don't believe me, take a gander at this picture.

Today's Col is even more impressive than the Col du La Bonette. It is not as high maybe, but I think it is steeper.

I love these mountain roads with all their hairpin turns. And, not a guard rail in sight.

Look at this guy going up. He makes it look effortless.

And there he goes------------

It was even easier for this guy coming down.

Here it is, the proof that I made it to the top

So did a lot of bicycle riders. Good for them. They should be proud. Two that I could not understand though was the man and woman on a tandem bike. I passed them on their way up, and they both looked like they were ready to die.

Now to head down. That is always a fun thing to do.

Time for one last picture. Thanks, unknown motorcycle friend from Italy.

Once at the bottom I came to a small town. I had to stop and take a picture of the winners of their recent "straw art" contest.

These boys from Grenoble, just over the mountains, were very friendly and wanted to know all about where I lived and how I got my motorcycle here. That is an owl they are in front of.

There were a lot of other Cols on the Haute Alps Route today, but they were smaller so I didn't take their pictures. And, in the afternoon, I found myself in this beautiful valley. I can tell I am getting close to Switzerland.

 I have a nice friendly campground for the night, and tomorrow I will start working my way around the west and north side of Geneva as I make my head back to the Black Forest in Germany.

Life is good.