Turquoise turbulence

•June 30, 2012 • 1 Comment

Torpid summer day here in Bern, chez Mo and Po.

It is one of those fine hot, humid summer days in this “slow” town (other Swiss mention how SLOW Berners are).

And the solution (literally) is Salta in fluvium b.i.d.  A prescription that many Swiss follow, but the Berners really have it mastered.

I learned about swimmer’s itch (aka cercaria, or misnamed as duck “fleas”) in lac Leman (lake Geneva) a week ago: if you swim around ducks in a lake, you could get a horrible case of Itchy Polka Dots.

Itchy & scratchy: Not me, btw.

But the fast moving Aare leaves the waterborne fleas no chance to find you. Three days of Dantean full-body fingernail raking, I am now able to sleep but I fear the polka-dot scars are  here to stay.

Yesterday was another one of those perfect days, beginning with a fond farewell to the brilliant artists Beatrice Nunlist and Markus Capirone, who over 30 years have developed the most sophisticated integration

of transit infrastructure, road and path signage, and map applications I have ever seen or experienced. They began small, with the Solothurner Radwanderweg, a carefully signposted series of small car-free or nearly car-free paths, farm lanes and dirt roads for cyclists to get from Solothurn (extremely beautiful baroque town about 30 km from the artist’s home village of Rickenbach) to Olten and nearby towns.
It grew into a network, and the network became a full time independent think tank/agency called Swiss Mobility.  In their free time they travel by bicycle to Spain, Italy, Tunisia…always with trains, and loaded with panniers…

And the spaces between travel and work (and painting; both are trained artists) they refurbished the inside of their 275 year old millhouse.  Words (at least my words) cannot do their three story masterpiece justice.

I rode about 4 hrs southwest to Bern on my cherished  Gaudy-designed Papalagi loaner (thank you Oli Busato, Visionen City Cycles!) all along the 50, the 71 and the 34 regional routes. Clouds of bugs peppered my face as I sped through the farmland. Didn’t want to be late for my appointment with Silvia Furst, another artist I know from the good old racing days. She won the race in Bromont Quebec back in 1992, and probably still has a rainbow jersey stashed somewhere.
My arrival was nearly punctual, and I called her up to come over. In the interim hour, Oli took me for a plunge in that river–a baptism of chilly refreshing water in the middle of the Swiss capital.

The town may be slow, but the waters are higher than they have been in years. I would guess the speed is 20 knots per hour….fast . But rather than swim, all you do is jump in, and carry on your conversation while floating downstream. Trying to swim upstream is impossible. When you want to get out, you angle over toward a destination (river ladder, or one of the town’s two vast public baths), then you walk back upstream to your glasses, clothes, whatever. And then jump in again, or go find a cafe, order a Rivella, and chill. Oli had to get back to work, but Silvia picked me up and brought me to the part of town called Matte, where the poor and the rich lived together. The rich spoke French to keep the rest of the citizens in the dark…and the citizens created their own patois called Matte Englisch.  We hung out from 2 to 4 in the shade of the chestnut trees at a little cafe. The white couches beckoned, and even the Not Serving Lunch rule was gently ignored by a very indulgent server. I had ridden four hours in a rush, and failed to eat properly (though I did wipe out all the cold drinks in the refrigerator at Visionen).
Satiated, we parted ways and I vowed to figure out a way to get back to Switzerland and get paid to work here… I just gotta find a business partner who loves heavy lifting, and can sell my Fat Tire Finishing School ™ to a dozen or so women.

Swiss Solstice

•June 22, 2012 • 5 Comments

Americans who fly regularly are familiar with the United Scarelines rubric called Three Perfect Days in (fill in the blank, usually a place that has touristic industry well in place).

These  “Three Perfect Days” are  a Disneyesque (to me this is pejorative) amble through places that business travelers find themselves assigned to do business in. I. e.: stuck in, usually for three days.

I suppose it might be comforting to be able to gripe about the same hotel, the same restaurant, etc, with other frequent fliers, but the prospect of agreeing to be manipulated like an SKU on an assembly line repels me.

Not so with the little sloping conveyor belts in airports. Remember guys, the time I rode the baggage carousel back into the bowels of the airport, in search of my bicycle box?

Thanks to Velocodger, a Sacramento-Bourgogne biker who found my blog years ago,I was steered to the tiny town of St. Julien en Vercors, about 16 km downhill from Villard-de-Lans.

But I haven’t said a peep about the reunion of the first ever World Championship of Mountain Biking in the latter town.

A quarter century ago, 1987, I was in the depths of a heavy depression borne of overtraining and having been Voted off the Island on the team I won so many races for (hint: initials stand for Worse Than Bad).  But a prize that me and Ned Overend had won two years previously (“free trip to France) fianally got given to us… go to this so-called Championnat Mondiale.
We did.
Lots happened. Wait for the book.

Now, there are lots of folks who were not there: Gary Fisher,  Hans Jorg Ray, Joe Breeze (with family), and to my extreme delight, Mary Lee Atkins Stiehr, the winner along with Ned. M-L had barely raced, just sort of came along with then’husband Jeff Norman, and then fell onto the top of the podium at Villard. And never raced another inch.

Went back to carpentry, and I never heard from her again. Like Ramona D’Viola and Susan DeMattei, ML was a joy to compete with, and always had a great sense of the hilarity of getting paid (ok, given stuff), just for riding fast….Speaking of which, I finally shook hands with my personal hero Anne-Caroline Chausson, the winningest fat tire racer ever, sorry Ned… I didnt get to blab much but I humbly offered her my “so many trails, so little time” badge.

It was perfect weather for a re-do of the trail we raced ….the Sentier Gobert, a rocky cliff side scramble that had netting back 25yrs ago, now they let us simply take care of our own safety. I seemed to remain in sight of Scot Nicol and Chausson most of the way….our initial start tried to be a race, but within a couple of blocks and then later, a coupleof kms later everyone halted and pointed twelve ways, and we all relaxed to enjoy the tour.
Well, John Loomis had a point to prove, so he and a few French guys shredded the thing in a couple of hours but most folks rode it in about 3 or 4, and were happy to be outthere in the Vercors, only 80 km from Grenoble.

Later, I had an interview with Noel somebody from the Dauphine Libere, the daily in that region (also sponsor of big race).Tried to find you a link…it is probably in todays paper, but I cant get the frickn subscription-password-tell-them-everything-about-yourself  thingie to work. No linkie poo . Sorry.

The journalist and the director of the resort tried to get me to translate for Gary, but he glared at me and said that he didnt need help, adding “I stayed out of your interview”, which made no sense. He woudnt have understood more than two words…I had done my interview in French, and for the twentieth time in my life, majoring in French literature has saved my skin and made me sound like a whirl citizen, which is my highest objective.

Hell, there is a sunny day out there. I am at Claude Marthaler‘s empty apt.
I hve a whole day to ride, or hang out and attend a dozen concerts at the Fete de Musique (already caught half a dozen last night, after a thrilling 120 km through the countryside from Bourget du Lac).

Or I could blog.
Oh, god…
The towns I passed through  yesterday and the day before were tiny villages on roads with one car per hour.

My definition of heaven.

With luggage.
Ok now I am out of control with kezboard who cares. italic went on fuck that. i wanted t saz that the Europeans have long rows of books on the shelf called recits de voyage. There are hundreds of people who perambulate the world on their loaded bike. Often, like Claude, for years. The n they write books. Claude has four out, in three languages, but none yet in English.His one stab at paying a translator didnt work out, and cost him too much of his own meager funds. but I do hope that some American or English publisher will spring for the expense,and have a good, literary, poetic translator because his books are very well written.
We both admire the great Dervla Murphy, queen of bicycle literature, with her 24 books,always in print thanks to a devoted publisher, Eland, whose mission is to keep the great works in print, regardless of the commercial, or “bankability.
I AM gnna have a helluva time deciding whether to try to ride the loop CLaude is doing today, or just chill….

Bern Switzerland, where my longtime fathead friends reside

•June 9, 2012 • 1 Comment

25 years ago Pauline McNamara (urwombat, soccer playing, mechanically gifted young thing) picked up and moved to Switzerland.

Her first job was wrenching at Visionen, Butch Gaudy’s seminal cycleshop.  She also raced in the pro women’s category in all the big fat tire races in France and Switzerland, went to University nearby for a masters in Geography, and picked up a Swiss residency permit (nearly impossible for Americans, but Po can Do Stuff Like That, because she Understands How Things Work).

OK; so fast forward a few years….Grundig World Cup brought me to Switz. and I got to see Pauline when she lived in Butch’s fine home up on a Bern hilltop.

Now, even more years later,  she and Monika celebrate 20 years together. Flatcoat Retriever named Ducky joined the family and life is ….snug. I get to bask in the snugocity because I forgot to get back to their place early enough to catch a train with them to the Jura to look at wildflowers. My reason: dinner and intense conversation chez Gaudy and Sabina Krippendorf over on the hill near the Paul Klee museum…dinner in a tiny greenhouse, with ripe tomatoes hanging over our heads, and grilled onions, peppers and chicken to nosh while telling stories. I believe we had a very local Swiss white wine, and a tasty french red.

Instead, I will load up the panniers Oli Busato, the current owner of Visionen, lent me…that should take half the day, and the other half I will ride 55 km to Neuchatel.

(Note: after a long day in the saddle,  l found dozens of  mistakes in my route finding. Rather than using an ordinary, purchasable car map,i am going on the strength of the great signed bike routes…but if you miss one, and dont realize it, you’re screwed, and I tend to keep going in the wrong direction (life metaphor?) rather than turn around and hunt for the red “panneau” (road sign specifically for bike tourists, courtesy of Veloburo Olten) and added about 20 km to my itinerary).

PS I went in search of Diccon Mewes, the Swiss Whisperer (wrote Swisswatching, a guide to the Swiss), and found a fellow who shared the same look (from behind) but who is a professor at the local veterinary institute…I have sworn not to say his name out loud. So instead, I will say that….Jurg Nigg is ANOTHER Swiss I need to meet, and have tea with… another day.

Chez Yakman a Geneve

•June 2, 2012 • 3 Comments

Claude Marthaler is a renowned author, bicycle adventurer and tour guide based in Geneva, Switzerland. I am trzing to tzpe on his machine, which as switched the Z and the Y so my fingers are getting a good workout.

In stark contrast to a man of 52 who has spent seven continuous years in the saddle (a Brooks, of course), I sit cozily in his efficiency appt on rue Vermont, with birds going on strong, and traffic loudly contributing to the soundtrack of this note. He is truly independent, courageous, and organized..I type anxiously (I know I will dump every word of this if I don’t figure out how to save it… ). On a borrowed PC that i pray I won’t destroy.
Out there in town, it is sunny.

I have already followed Claude on a too-big but still rideable mtn bike, through town for a great lunch at the Bains Paquis, then a stroll on the quai to the phare (lighthouse)…past the rainbow of shrieking, colorfully dressed kids (including one naked, crawling on the warm pebbly strand)…a kid’s United Nations. Is this just a dream, to have countries allied peacefully all around the globe, not “making the world safe for democracy (sic), just making the world safer for children everywhere?

A pair of trees sport gorgeous knitted sweaters.. if i can get my camera to behave, I will share.

We went to Peclot 13, the popular bicycle repair cooperative, half the workers were women, and all kinds of people stood near the entrance, waiting for a fix.  We pushed on in and I ogled. Like the Bike Station of Edinburgh, a recognizable vibe–simultaneously “we’re busy” and “available for assistance” that I never find in a traditional macho bike shop. Then onto “Les Enchâinés”, a soulful new store near Peclot 13t, that his friend Valentin opened recently.  The “enchanined” immediately struck me, same as Peclos: found wood stair bannisters, wood floor, 1930’s turntable, and chic green couch plopped right in front of the work stand.

Claude-Yak fetched a couple of gingerbeers and a swiss stout for me…it was my fifth hour off the plane and I hoped it would embolden me to remain awake another couple hours.  A couple of young guys came in to have their bikes worked on, and finally I announced that if we didn’t move, I’d be rooted to the couch all night.
We tooled off in search of cheese (a perpetual quest in any country, but in Switzerland, closer to a pilgrimmage). At his local Migros, Claude bought me chocolate and some nice soft cheese. I circled to the rear of the tiny store and found excellent cilantro (they sell herbs in potting soil, for longtime use),

white Belgian asparagus, and a liter of 2.5% milk in the dumpster.

Which I TOOK.

And we enjoyed at supper, along with a masterful fresh ricotta and veggie salad he conjured up for me.  Over my (formerly fluent, now battered) French and his rapid fire French plus English when he detected confusion in my face…we talked about the various writers we worship. It dawns on me that Claude has already written several books, recits de voyage, he calls them. He placed a musette packed with them by my bed (his, which he gives to the visitor). Also a compendium of Nicolas Bouvier, a Swiss traveller analagous to our Paul Theroux, only discovered after he died, alas. Claude has met him, and a handful of others, such as the guy who lived with the Dalai Lama in the 30s. I told him he needs to visit beloved Dervla this year or next, so he can share some of his tales with her. She’d be all ears, I know it.

Must run. Must try swimming in that turquoise blue Lac de Geneve, where bronzed old women sunbathe unapologetically topless, and furry fat fellows bake nearby, and the kids are all screaming with glee.

Inside Valentin’s exquisite atelier “Les Enchaînes”

Thinking about the Vercors

•May 17, 2012 • 4 Comments

Vercors…land of the great cols. Which is where I’m bound shortly.

For the month of June, I’ll be away, on bike (maybe my Breezer, maybe a  Swiss loaner). Couch surfing, warm showerig, cold-feet travel style: no plan, just go and use everyone’s cell phones to figure out the next move.
A fellow named Will thoughtfully mapped out some of his rides: he’s got hillclimb sickness, and wants to do a hundred in a summer (if I read him right).

And I’ll be able to play-ja-rides ’em, if I can figure out how to download the maps.

Help requested.

Mother’s Day

•May 13, 2012 • 1 Comment

Casey Patterson Kelley, Ramona D’Viola, JP at world’s first mountain bike camp

I was a bit late to Mill Valley today , so I drafted a youngish woman in Sunshine/Cloudburst kit, until she realized she was being cyclostalked by a 58 yr old

on a battered Breezer with  panniers and a box on the rack full of baby tomato plants. She’d blown silently past, and as usual, I clung like a burr to her wheel.

Until she noticed.

A few veers across the (surprisingly un-busy) road and I conceded that some folks need to give permission for a burr to be on their wheel. I’d noticed she was constantly fiddling with her music in the rear right pocket (reminding me of the 2009 Vodka ride, where it was routine to see an arm bend back and do something to the pocket every half hour or so). Her food fell out of the pocket–piece of PB & J sandwich, and a homemade macaroon (I scooped up the baggie without even stopping–it’s one of my skills).  Alas she sped off before I could give her back her snack.

ANYWAY she helped me go from a little late to Right On Time to the Russian Chamber Orchestra Mother’s Day Concert.
Carol (Mother-in-love) Cunningham had a seat for me. As I settled in, she smiled “I bet if I told you 30 years ago you’d be doing this (sitting in a church pew, getting ready to be blown away by classical music), you wouldn’t believe me.”
I thought about 30 years. 1982…the year I met Charlie.

No, I met him in 80, on the Appetite Seminar ride… Ok, so 30 years ago I was just getting into the Marin scene.

But two years after that, I was leading a women’s ride/camp in Point Reyes, with the redoubtable Casey Patterson (nee Kelley).

So I had to call her, but she’s peripatetic, so I reached her brother, Michael (also legendary rider/advocate in his own right; google East Bay Bicycle Coalition). He was out, but his wife Wendy filled me in on how to get ahold of my old pal, who  has moved several times since her Topanga heyday…

No luck getting her, or Ramona D’Viola, the other trail guide on that incredible day. The very first mountain bike camp ever, in the world.

Fourteen women. Two mom-daughter pairs. My life changed forever. Casey inspired me to create WOMBATS. She and I did the first ever cycle skills camp/girls knobby  vaycay ever… Wait til I throw a picture in. Carolyn Donegan sent me a folio…

Dinosaurs roam Davis

•May 4, 2012 • Leave a Comment

UC Davis student/teacher Sarah McCullough invited me and Charlie Kelly to give our perspective on the history of mountain biking…So on a rainy Thursday we showed up a few minutes before her cultural studies seminar on Our Favorite Topic (although it might be said that Food Acquisition & Preparation & Ingestion is my other Favorite Topic) .

I’d prepared carefully: First, I got the best bread in town from the newly-opened Good Earth Bakery (the youthful baker made a generous ‘dough-nation’ –three fine loaves of ciabatta, barely singed on the bottom, perfectly wonderful). The donor confided that he had gone to UC Davis and was happy to support my ‘work’.

This blog is dedicated to him, and the doughty students that withstood two very different 45 minute barrages of blarney.

But the prep, the prep! I made a vast platter of rhubarb strawberry slump. Or crumble. Or crisp (depends on your region).

A huge thermos of the finest black tea. Set out the china cups…in short, I gave ’em the treatment.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 68 other followers