Tuesday, June 29, 2010

An Amazing and Challenging Ride Through the French Alps

The highlight of the first few days of our journey to Rotterdam has been a magical 50 mile monster ride through the French Alps. We rode from Saint Jean de Sixt over the Col de Aravis (1486 meters) then down through the valley and up to the top of the Col de La Madeleine (2000 Meters). Altogether, this route day gave us about 10,000 ft of climbing. Last year, when Liam was 8 years old, we would ride only one Col a day, now at 9 (July 27th he will be 10) we are stringing these climbs together to make ever challenging routes.

This day was incredible, however, it was very hot in the valleys and on the first parts of the climbs. We have gone from temperatures in the 50's in Switzerland to temps in the high 80's low 90's in France. Liam has become a bike rider that can really hold his own in a wide range of conditions. In the mountains he can go toe to toe with just about anyone.

2000 meters - top of the Col de La Madeleine

The last 13 miles of our ride was straight up to the top of the Col de La Madeleine. With about 6 miles to go Liam started to pull away. Luckily, Tavi and the boys were following us in Espy (our Renault Espace van) and they were able to go with Liam. About a mile up the road Liam waited for me, but had he not waited I would have been completely dropped! I knew that this day would come, but I thought it would be when Liam was in his teens---Not at 9 years old!

Full moon over Lake Annecy

After the ride we drove back to the Lac du Annecy and had a dip in the Lake and a wonderful dinner. We have become quite attached to this beautiful town in Haute Savoie! The moon was incredible. The next day before leaving to continue our ride to Rotterdam we took out a pedal boat on the Lake. Liam wanted his brothers to experience one of his favorite things on the planet.

Paddle boat on Lake Annecy

We have now left the mountains and are headed to the cobble sections of the Tour on the roads of northern France. Then it will be on through Belgium and to Rotterdam for the grand depart of the 2010 Tour de France!

This is Bill and Liam reporting as we roll through France!

Live Strong, Train Safe, and Live Well!!!

Friday, June 25, 2010

From the Mountains to the Ocean - The Journey to Rotterdam Begins

The mighty Jungfrau - roof top of Europe

Before we embarked on our cycling adventure from Switzerland to Rotterdam we wanted to make a symbolic journey to the Jungfraujoch known as the top of Europe. This spot, located in the Alps deep in the heart of Europe, is important because it is from its glaciers that some of the major rivers in Europe are formed. It has a special significance to our bicycle trip to Rotterdam because it is from this spot that the Aare river forms and flows into the Rhine which then makes its way across Europe to empty into the Atlantic ocean in Rotterdam. We are traveling from the source in the mountains to the ocean. For Liam and me it is truly an epic journey. The river will be a cord that connects us to this adventure.

The glaciers that form the major rivers of Europe

Over the next ten days we will be riding over 600 kilometers as we make our way to Rotterdam. The journey will not be a straight shot. Just as the Rhine meanders as it makes its way to Rotterdam, so shall we zig-zag a bit, as we roughly follow the first ten stages of the 2010 Tour de France in reverse.

The Aare on its way to the Rhine and Rotterdam

We will begin by riding some the climbs of this year's Tour in the French Alps. Then on to the Jura region of France for more riding in the mountains. We will pass through Burgogne and Champaign. In the north of France we will ride many cobble sections of the Tour as we get a taste of the Paris-Roubaix course. Paris - Roubaix is a grueling one day classic race that takes place in April. Then it will be up through Belgium. Eddie Merckx who is quite possibly the greatest bike rider to have ever lived is turning 65 this year and the the Tour de France will have a few days in Belgium as a tribute to his legacy. They also make some very good beer in Belgium! Then it will be on to Holland and Rotterdam for the start of the 2010 Tour de France on July 3rd.

"Why are we riding and why are we blogging about it?" This is a question many have asked.

The short answer: because we both really enjoy it.

A longer answer: When we started the blog last year it was a way of keeping family and friends up to date on our adventure in Europe. From there the blog took on a life of its own. We have been able to meet some pretty incredible people along the way, raise money for some very important causes, and continue to grow and evolve both as father and son and as individuals. All these things are really important to us. And, of course, we continue because we really enjoy it!

If you enjoy the blog and would like to join our effort please consider a donation to the Lance Armstrong Foundation through Liam's Livestrong Challenge, or The Forget Me not Farm through Liam's Levi's Granfondo account. Even $5 goes a long way to change people's lives for the better. Both Links can be found at the top of the blog in the upper right hand corner. Together we can and do make a difference!

Live Strong, Train Safe and Live Well!

Bill and Liam

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Cultural Adventures in the Land of Cheese and Chocolate

The Tour of Switzerland (TDS) ended on Sunday with an exciting time trial in Liestal, Switzerland. Liestal is a small town in the Jura region of Switzerland very close to the German border. Unfortunately, the weather has been pretty miserable for the last 5 or 6 days. We did actually see the sun for about 5 minutes while we were riding the time trial course just before the stage. But by the time the race was underway the rain had started again. We did manage to get some video from the stage, and we had a lot of fun out there despite the conditions!

Liam has grown up riding in Southern California so the brutal conditions of the last week took some getting used to. Liam loves to ride in the rain, however, rides in the cold are another story. High 40’s F or single digits in C are not temperatures that we are used to in the summer. In fact, there are only a few days in the middle of our winter that we have ridden in these conditions. When the rain backs off it is actually quite pleasant. We are adapting to the cold, probably just in time for scorching hot temperatures out on the roads of France in just a few weeks time!

Here is a little snap shot of our first two weeks in Switzerland:

In the last two weeks, we have eaten a lot of brotwurst, have learned to like the Swiss soft drink Rivella, have eaten way too much cheese and chocolate, picked up a fair amount of Swiss German, made a lot of new friends out on the road, watched a few World Cup soccer games with the locals, and have seen some great bike racing! A memorable moment came when the Swiss beat Spain last Wednesday. The good citizens of Thun headed down to the main square in town, and were jumping into the fountain in their underwear! (So much for the Swiss conservative stereotype!)

World Cup Celebration in Thun

In Switzerland you have to pay for the trash you create. This makes for a great incentive to recycle! It is amazing how much waste a family of five can create! I never really realized just how much we throw away every day. Now we recycle everything – paper, plastic bottles, glass, corks, you name it if it keeps it out of the trash we are recycling it! My goal will be to get down to one 35L bag for an entire week! That might be a good basis for a reality show. However, the show would get no advertising revenue because the concept just might kill consumerism.

I also realized that we are very loud! Americans in general have big mouths. Apart from the fountain incident after the World Cup game, I think we are the loudest family in Switzerland. Keeping three boys under 10 quiet is a challenge. I like quiet and understand the concept, but somehow we just can’t help it. Maybe Americans are just born to be loud! In any case we are trying. Quiet voices inside and out, no running in grocery stores, and on Sundays absolutely nothing that would disturb the peace. No mowing the grass, no recycling (the sound of bottles crashing is way too much), no loud barbeques – It all makes perfect sense, but is really hard not to blow it and end up disturbing someone. And although I don’t understand a lot of Swiss German I get the “Oh well, they can’t help it. They are just the Americans.” Look.

We may be loud, but we love Switzerland!

Through all of these adventures in new cultures, food and languages we are having a very good time. This is an adventure that is already bringing us much closer as a family. Just maybe we will be a little quieter from it, and perhaps not produce as much trash. But I think I will always like a good, loud Sunday barbeque! It is just in our DNA.

Livestrong, Train Safe, and Live Well!

Bill and Liam signing out.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Willkommen/bienvenue Schwarzburgerland - Stage 3 Tour de Suisse

Stage 3 of the 2010 Tour de Suisse finished in the ancient town of Schwarzenburg. The German name for the area around this town is Schwarzenburgerland. As we were driving into the town, Liam and I saw the sign "Willkommen/ bienvenue/ Welcome to Schwarzenburgerland." We both looked at the sign, then looked at each other, and then started laughing. The name is rather amusing to an English speaker. I sounds like someplace the hamburgaler would live. In German, however, the translation of Schwarzenburg is "Black Castle." The town is in a beautiful area of Switzerland located right in the foothills of the Alps.

For stage 3 of the TDS, Liam and I had decided to ride the last 30k of the day's stage about two hours before the race came through. As it turned out, we were a little late in arriving so we only had about 1 hour and 10 minutes to complete the very hilly scenic race route. It was really a magical ride! The crowds were out getting ready to watch the stage and there was very little traffic on the roads. Liam absolutely jammed the course, and we made it back to see the race with time to spare. I have said it before, but I will say it again. I am truly lucky to have a son that shares the same passion for cycling that I do.

Switzerland is an amazingly beautiful country. The ride took us over mountains, through forests, down into lush grassy valleys and through little hamlets along the way. It is like we were riding through the setting of a knights tale!

Friends we met in Schwarzenburg

After the ride we found a good spot to watch the riders as they came through. The spot we had chosen was perfect because from there we would be able to see the riders come by twice. It was great to know that the riders would be covering the same route that we had just ridden! While we were waiting for the race to come by for the second time, we met some very friendly Swiss spectators. There were a group of kids close by that were Liam's age. One of the best opportunities that this trip is providing is the chance for Liam to interact with people from other cultures. Liam had a lot of fun watching the race with his new Swiss friends from Schwarzenburg!

Just after the last rider came through for the finish, the rain started and boy did it come down. There is, after all, a reason that Switzerland is so green...It rains a lot! We charged up through the town on our bikes, even riding through some fields to get back to our car. Liam loves to ride in the rain and according to him the muddier the better! It turned out to be another great day on the road and on the bike following the Tour de Suisse!

Life Strong, Train Safe, and Live Well!

Bill and Liam signing out!!!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Lugano - Stage 1 of the Tour de Suisse

Saturday was our first day back on the road following European bike racing, and, as always, we all had quite an adventure! The whole family went along for the trip. We were up early and loaded bikes, changes of clothes, food, and camera into our mini van. Espy as we call her is a 1997 Renault Espace van with about 280 thousand kilometers. Espy has been running fine since we arrived, however, yesterday's adventure included 7 and a half hours of driving! It was a good test for both ourselves and the car before we head of to France at the end of the month.

Front row seat with Team Radio Shack

The drive from Hunibach to Lugano is a few hundred miles by way of the Gotthard tunnel. The tunnel is a 17km engineering feat which takes you into Ticino, the Italian part of Switzerland, by way of the Alps. As soon as you enter Ticino all the road signs change into Italian and everything and everyone seem to take on an Italian flair! In this region the Alps run straight down into beautiful lakes. Lugano is a lake side town located in this sublime part of the world. It was the perfect back drop for the 2010 Tour of Switzerland.

Alice and Ivano from Pellio Intelvi

As soon as we arrived, Liam and I got the bikes together and headed out on the fantastic bike course. The 5 mile hilly course was closed to traffic and we were able to get in an excellent ride and preview the course. We came off the course and met Tavi and the boys for a lakeside lunch. After lunch, we met up with a great Italian family. Alice, Ivano, and Davide were in Lugano to see the Tour de Suisse, and as it happens they had seen our blog last year during the Tour de France. Alice and Ivano invited us to stay with them at their Bed and Breakfast www.lasecondacasa.net just outside of Como in Pellio Intelvi. Our friend Steve Bartolucci just returned from climbing to La Madona del Ghisallo a couple of weeks ago. Steve gives a great account through the Cyclists Combating Cancer (CCC-Net) of a wonderful climb outside of Bellagio to this chapel and Museo di Cyclismo. We will definitely try to take Alice and Ivano up on their offer later in the summer and will report on the Italian adventure.

Father and Sons Tour!

We headed over to the team buses and had a front row seat at the Team Radio Shack bus. The Tour de Suisse is a relatively relaxed low key race compared to the Tour de France. At the Team bus there was a friendly family like atmosphere. We were able to see the riders warm up and return from the course. It was awesome! As the last Radio Shack riders were about to go it started to rain which made the Lugano descent really hairy. After watching Lance Armstrong and Levi Leipheimer warm up Liam and I wished the team luck and climbed the hill for a second time. This time we stopped halfway up the climb at an excellent location to see the riders come by!

After the race, we headed back into town along the lake. For a Saturday evening at 9, Lugano was very peaceful and quiet. It was amazing because I had been to Lugano a few years before, and I remember it as being fairly loud and boisterious city. Perhaps everyone was indoors watching the World Cup! We wanted to stay for the evening, but unfortunately had to make the long drive back to Hunibach. Lots of future biking to do for Liam and me in the Como/Lugano area for sure!

A quiet evening on the Lake front

Monday afternoon we head up for some great riding near Scharzenburg which is about a 30 minute drive from our house. From this little mountain hamlet, we will watch the finish of Stage 3 of the Tour de Suisse! The train rolls on and so do we!

Live Strong, Train Safe, and Live Well!

Bill and Liam signing out!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Big Leap - A Family Move to Europe

Sunday ride through the heart of Switzerland- Tour de Suisse preview

For years Tavi and I have had a reoccurring discussion based on an idea. The subject usually is brought up over dinner when the meal is accompanied by a good bottle of French wine. The conversation starts when one of us says something like, “wouldn’t it be great if we moved the family to Europe!” Like most “wouldn’t it be great if “ moments, there is a lot of talk; but then the next morning the day-to-day resumes, and the dinner conversation remains but a dreamy haze.

Liam excited to be in NYC

This spring we made the decision to make the “wouldn’t it be great” into a “won’t it be great!” We started to make plans to actually make the leap and spend a few years across the Atlantic. The task hit us like a tidal wave. What do you do with all your stuff? Do you own your stuff or does your stuff own you? We spent over one month selling things at garage sales and on Craig’s list and still ended up with a huge storage unit full of “things.” Don’t ask me what is in there, by now it is all a blur. After we had whittled things down to a manageable quantity, we spent a full week moving and packing our lives into 5 suitcases and two Bike boxes. We took a few language books, passports, and bike maps and off we went in a completely full mini van to LAX.

Checking out Lady Liberty

It was truly an amazing feeling to check our bags and bikes on the plane and realize that we were actually turning this dream into a reality. We flew overnight to New York. We had an eight-hour layover, so we took a cab into Battery Park on a beautiful hot New York City day. As we stood gazing out at the statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, a certain irony dawned on me. So many had struggled so hard to come to America, and now here we were the contrarians heading back to the “Old World.” I suppose as an American- wherever you go you take a little bit of Lady Liberty with you!

The Boys checking out the bull on Wall Street

After another all night flight, we arrived in Zurich, Switzerland with big smiles and a big case of jet lag. We had bought a car sight unseen (will let you know how that goes but so far so good) and had rented a house in the lakeside village of H√ľnibach. Almost immediately we have settled into a routine of cycling, swimming, and meeting our new Swiss neighbors. All the French we studied, at the moment is not doing us any good as they speak Swiss German here. ( We will be in France later in July and then have rented a house in Provence through June of 2011.)

The area we now live in is absolutely beautiful! All around are lush green forests, blue glacier lakes, and snow capped Alps. The Tour de Suisse will be coming right by our house in one week’s time. Liam and I have been out pre-riding many of the sections of some of the stages.

Our plan is to spend the next two weeks in "Swiss training camp" getting ready to ride from Switzerland to Rotterdam for the start of the Tour de France!

Father Son Tour Swiss training camp

The Father Son Tour trek across Europe will start after the Tour de Suisse and we will ride 600 kilometers all the way to Rotterdam. The head waters of the Aare river are just across the lake in the Alps. The Aare runs from here to the Rhein river which then runs all the way to Rotterdam. It is somehow all coming together that this would be the journey that Liam and I will share together this summer out on the roads of Europe!

We are making this journey in support of the Lance Armstrong Foundation and the Forget me Not Farm in Santa Rosa, California. The Lance Armstrong Foundation is doing an incredible job in the fight against cancer. The Farm in Santa Rosa is a place where orphaned animals and abused children come together to break the cycle of violence. They do some amazing work with both the children and the animals! If you enjoy the blog and would like to join us in this effort you will find the links to these organizations on this website. For each $5 raised donors will be eligible for some great prizes.

Click below to join Liam in his support of the Lance Armstrong Foundation

Click Here to Donate
Or Click here to join Liam in his effort to support the Forget Me Not Farm
Forget Me Not Farm Granfondo Link

Live strong, train safe, and live well!

Bill and Liam signing out!