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Flashback: Cycle touring in Japan in 2009

Phew, I don’t want to even think about how long ago it was that I started working on this video. Long enough. It’s finally finished now – a selection of our photos from the Hokkaido, Japan portion of our 2009 cycle tour, set to a frenetic ska version of Turning Japanese, and invoking awesome route-drawn-on-map technology (well, not that awesome, but shh).

bikes european bike epic general trip reports

Into the Alps: The Großglockner (26 – 27 Sept 2009)

“From 768m to 2504m and back down again. Sometimes all you can do is slip into your lowest granny gear, set some Queen playing on your iPod, and grind your way to the top.”


Setting off we plan to get as close as we can to the start of the Großglockner Pass road. However we get distracted after finding a market, and then an enormous bike store, and then in Bad Reichenhall there are cakes, and internet. By the time we’re finished in Bad Reichenhall it’s after midday and the clouds have finally lifted, revealing the mountains surrounding us. Mountains! Rocky limestone alpine peaks, it feels just like home (well Canadian home). The rivers are aqua with glacier-chalk as well.


Afternoon views outside of Bad Reichenhall, all of a sudden we’re in the mountains


We’re a bit worried on reaching the end of Saalach-Stausee. The main road on to Unken and Lofer looks very bike unfriendly, but thankfully there’s a bike path to follow – we’re following Jakobsweg, and the Mozart Radweg, and a bunch of other signposted trails. After a steep gravelly start the path turns out ok, and happily keeps us away from the traffic. The day has turned out clear and sunny, and we’re cycling past rocky mountains, cliffs and rivers. We watch rock climbers and kayakers and yearn to be doing things besides cycling – but at least we get to be here cycling, rather than being stuck at work dreaming of being outside. Lofer is nice, and has a man playing a piano accordion outside a pub. It seems the quintessential Austrian Alps town.


Alex as we head into the Alps (note the beard getting alarmingly large)


As we get to Saalfelden, alpenglow is highlighting the mountains around us, and we arrive to set up camp in Maishofen a few minutes after sunset. Fall asleep to cow bells again.


Misty morning on the Zeller See, Austria



Riding through the foggy morning


After leaving Maishofen at 7.30am we rode into the fog south of Zeller See and saw a fogbow (like a rainbow, but with fog), and then heard a choir of children (who sounded disconcertingly like angels) singing in the church at Bruck. There wasn’t much climbing until we fit Fusch, and it was when we hit the tollgates that the ascent began in earnest (and we were quite grateful that we didn’t have to pay the outrageous amounts that cars or motorbikes were tolled).


The Großglockner High Road – 33km of road where anything could happen and probably will


Gradually more and more bikes appeared on the road. We didn’t overtake many, but on the plus side, not many were going much faster than us; although if we could have done, we would have happily changed down to a lower gear at some points.


Gaining altitude



Alpine views


Each switchback gained around 30 metres of altitude, so we were gaining height quickly. And each corner was sign-posted with name and altitude, which made measuring progress gratifyingly easy. There were also plenty of picnic benches and roadside stops, and different views to admire, so it was a very gradual progress uphill.


Achtung! Marmots!



Up and up



Hairpins bring us higher and higher


We tossed up cycling to the Edelweiß-spitze, but for another 200 metres of altitude over 2km, we decided to save our legs for the next few days – it wasn’t like this was the only pass we’d be cycling over. So instead we just cycled the main road along, descending, heading up through the tunnels, and reaching the high point of the main road of 2504 metres.


Alex on the final leg to the high point, cruising along at 2400m



The Surly LHT photo: 2504m above sea level



Alps through the looking glass


For the descent I decided to invest in some glacier goggles. You never know when they might come in handy. Then we kitted up in our warm clothes and began the descent… until we hit a roundabout and were flabbergasted by the fact we’d have to cycle uphill again! Oh well, that out of the way, we continued the descent to Heiligenblut, then a further 10km or so to a nice little campground with a chatty old Austrian man to talk to.


Glacier goggles



Down again into the Heiligenblut valley


Distance cycled: 172km
Sleeping arrangements: Campgrounds
Days of rain: 0/2 (wooo! the sunny spell continues)
Public toilets: Available
Bike friendliness: Good, lots of signed bike trails, or roads that are fine to cycle on
Free wifi availability: There was some in Bad Reichenhall

canada snow

ski tour: rockbound lake

Woah, it’s been a while… I haven’t been on the internet much, although I have found the time to make a pie chart displaying exactly how much time I’ve been spending at work and in transit and sleeping, leaving only 3 hours or so at home for laundry/dinner cooking/grocery shopping/going for bike rides/bouldering…. But anyway, prepare for an onslaught of backdated adventures. With lots of pictures and not many words no doubt.


Rockbound Lake, nestled underneath the ramparts of Castle Mountain


This one is more of a Nordic trail than anything else, with just one little steep section to get from the lower lake to Rockbound Lake. Optional to keep going to the top of Castle Mountain, but much higher avy risk as you go further. We just stopped and had lunch at the lake then flew down the packed trail home again.

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the bike ride

The Surly LHT went out for a test ride today, from town back to the farm – a distance of just 45km which seems much further psychologically, but realistically is fairly similar in length to most other segments of 45 kilometres, and so didn’t take much more than two hours, even with my loaded panniers on and an unpleasant headwind.



In the end I got distracted with the riding and did not take many photos. Well, not only distracted with the riding, I also developed a gripping fear of getting catheads (or caltrops, or whatever you want to call them) stuck in my tyres, so I couldn’t leave the road to prop my bike up anywhere, as anywhere that wasn’t road probably had catheads. Not that the road was free of suspicion either. But the reason I was so anxious not to get a puncture is all due to the war of the wills I’m currently engaged in with my cantilever breaks, which I’m learning to hate with a vengeance. Yes I KNOW they’re simple. So simple that the relatively obvious act of un-doing them so you can get the wheel off, or re-connecting them so you have brakes again, seems almost impossibly for me and invariably ends with me wanting to kick them in frustration, but instead I just glare and beg a passer-by to help me.



So all photos were taken while standing over the bike, or while holding the bike with my spare hand. Combined with a fixed 50mm lens to shoot with, photo opportunities were rather limited.



I rode with both front and rear panniers on for the first time, plus the handlebar bag which is really really handy, and I’m not sure why I as so keen on avoiding getting one previously. Probably the fact they tend to look quite dorky, and my bikes have always been far too fashionable to stand bearing such a thing.

bikes european bike epic general

planning for europe

As I’ve been whiling my time away looking at accounts of bike tours, it suddenly occurred to me that my two rear panniers (Deuter Rack Pack I think they are) probably wouldn’t carry enough stuff for cycling round Europe for four months. Even if I lashed things on top of them. There would be water and food and camping gear, and maybe, just maybe, tying everything to the back of my bike would be do-able, but would not necessarily be very rideable. Lots of people seemed to have front panniers. Also, I would really need somewhere to put my camera bag. I could get a basket and tie it to the front of my bike, and put the camera bag in that. This solution wouldn’t be very waterproof though. Or dustproof. Or shakeproof. So I got all consumeriffic and started looking for things online. Then somehow managed to order everything, just like that…

So I’m soon to be the proud new owner of a small Ortlieb rackpack/duffel bag:



Ortlieb Classic Front Roller panniers:



A Tubus Tara Lowrider Front Rack Black to carry them:



And an Ortlieb Ultimate 5 Classic Bar Bag – to be padded with foam to provide a nice solid camera carrying case:



The plan is not to fill these all up, just because I’ll have the space now, but instead to have spare room available for extra things like food and water – so we don’t always have to be reliant on food shops being open, or water being where you need it. So now I have all the bits I need for cycling wherever I want. Hurrah! The most horrifying part of all of this is that my order came to about AUD$340 (with postage free) – but pricing these things at Australian shops comes to around AUD$700.