Sunday, September 29, 2013

I Jinxed Myself

Prepared for the rain!

I set off on my school visit on Friday, with my Gore-Tex jacket and rain booties, thinking, “Man, I’m lucky, it’s raining, but I’m not riding today!”  During my visit at The American International School of Zagreb, the kids asked me what I do when it rains. I had to admit, that I actually hadn’t encountered a full day of rain yet and that I was pretty lucky. Well, I should have knocked on wood because I jinxed myself. The rain caught up with me today and I rode the entire 132 km in rain, from drizzles to down pour!

I knew the rain was coming.  Saturday called for clouds and Sunday through Tuesday showers.  However, I had an invite to go grape picking on Saturday and I didn’t want to miss out on the fun.  Plus, there was to be a Croatian lunch feast afterwards,….How could I say no, even if it meant getting soaked riding the following day? 

So I guess you could say I was mentally prepared for the rain….I knew what I was in for.  Leaving Zagreb it was drizzling, but even with the damp roads, all the water splashes up from your bike and the cars spray you as they pass.  I’m somewhat of a “neat freak” and love keeping things clean and nice.  But when it rains, I have to forget about that because road gunk and grit sprays everywhere, and you are lucky to take a sip of your water bottle without grinding sand or dirt between your teeth.   

The rain was not going to get in the way of my destination today.  I was on a mission to cross the Bosnian border and go find the Una river so I could determine for myself which river valley was more beautiful, the Una, in Bosnia, or the Soca, in Slovenia.  I was going out of my way to find this river, but after all, I am taking the Loong way home!  In the late morning, the drizzle became more constant and I was soon completely wet.  There is all sorts of rain gear out there, but after 2 or 3 hours of riding in the rain, I find that nothing keeps you dry!  I figure the more gear I put on, the more stuff I have to dry out at the end of the day, so I prefer to wear the minimum to keep warm.  I keep my legs pedaling so they stay warm and my core is pretty dry with a Gore-Tex jacket. My feet are covered with booties, and my head and helmet stay dry with my hood. Today my hands weren’t cold so I didn’t even bother with gloves- but the secret to warm, dry hands are rubber gloves, like the kind you use to wash the dishes, over your summer gloves.

I was wet, but not cold, so the key was to keep on pedaling.  Nothing was going to stop me,…well, at least that is what I thought. Unfortunately, I soon I had a call of nature, and I couldn’t hold out anymore, I had to go to the bathroom!  I was eager to get to the next town, hoping there would be a nice cozy cafe with a wood stove burning (I know, sooo optimistic, but you have to keep thinking positively on the bike!) where I could have a cup of coffee and take a pee break.  In fact, I was so intent on making it to this café that the barriers at a railroad crossing came down in front of me, and I simply went around them because I couldn’t see a train in either direction.  Well, I also didn’t see the police car waiting on the other side.  I rode right past him, doubting he would stop a poor and soaked cyclist riding in the rain.  Well he did! The Croatian police asked me to pull over about 500 m afterwards and I used my urgency to pee and get dry as an excuse and it worked!!!  And then, all of a sudden in the distance, I saw McDonald’s golden arches. I’m not a fast food lover by any means, but the golden arches represent a fast, free wifi connection.  Most of the time I don’t even order, I just sit outside and freeload on their internet.  Today, however, I was a good customer, buying a hot coffee which I tried to make last as long as possible, and then had a hot chocolate, both helped washed down the pasty power bar! 

I got the worst looks walking through the restaurant with my wet attire, leaving a trail of water behind me and on the bench where I was sitting.  The truth is, I could care less!  You do what you have to do in order to survive, especially to be comfortable in the rain.  I hung out at McDonalds until the steady downpour let up and became a fine mist again.  I put on my wet rain gear again and got going. I was halfway done with my route and I had a little over 3 hours, and about 70 kilometers to go.  It seemed do-able having considering the fact that I had decided to treat myself to a hotel when I arrived, that is in fact, if the town I was going to was big enough to have a hotel!  You know it is sooo easy to justify just about any special comfort when you ride your bike all day for hours on end, especially when you ride in the rain!   The three hours went by quickly as I day dreamed about the hot shower and dry hotel room waiting for me, and counted down the kilometers until the border crossing.

I hit the Bosnia-Herzegovina border 30 kilometers later, and had no problem this time at the border crossing.  In fact, I stopped at the first booth, thinking I didn’t need to proceed to the second because it was an “either-or” situation.  I started pedaling off and the men from the second border booth hollered at me. I rode past shouted at them to tell them I had already been to the previous booth.  Two meters later it dawned on me that I had to go to both booths, not just one or the other….upps!  I got my first stamp in my passport outside of the European union, and kept optimistic looking for signs with kilometer markers to my destination.  Bosnia welcomed me with shops and restaurants that lined the border strip and a couple mosques that read their prayers promptly at 4pm when I crossed.

I have to say I didn’t luck out with the rain today, it finally caught up with me.  However, I did manage to choose a city Novi Grad, that happened to have just one hotel, but that was all I needed. My clothes are drying on all the heaters in the room and upstairs hallway (good thing there aren’t any other guests)!  Now I’ve got the sound of rain hitting the skylight in my hotel room to put me to sleep tonight.  I have my game plan all set and ready for tomorrow, and a back-up plan as well in case this rain doesn’t subside, YIKES!! 
Border Crossing
Mosque on the border
Drying out

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Slovenia: A Hidden Treasure for Outdoor Enthusiasts

(English Version is below the photos)

A Eslovènia, hi ha una llegenda de com es va crear el país. Diuen quetots els altres països veïns s'havien creat ja i no sabien que fer amb el petit tros de terreny que quedava entremig. Llavors, van decidir de barrejar tot que tenia els seus veïns i posar-ho dins d'un sol país. Per la tant, a Eslovènia, trobes de tot: muntanyes altes, valls amb rius, llacs, boscs, platja, i esplanades molt grans. Per ser tan petit, és una país molt divers geogràficament. 

Tothom hi havia recomanat anar pel nord al parc de Triglav i passar pel vall del riu Soca. Però fa 4 anys, vaig estar-hi i volia veure una regió diferent. Llavors vaig agafar la ruta mes del sud, un alternatiu més pla i no em va disil.lusionar en cap moment. Cada 5 o 6 kilòmetres passes per un poble petit que ni surt al mapa, amb poca cosse mes que un par de cases amb la seva església i castell situat a dalt d'una petita muntanya. Des de lluny, sempre és veu les torres de les esglésies de tots els pobles a la vora. El país és tan petit arribes a tot arreu rapidament! 

Just a creuar la frontera es nota una diferència amb el seu veïn, italià. De cop i volta el soroll del trànsit se substitueix pel soroll d’aigua corrent, rius plens d’aigua, d'un color blau claret i transparent. Mirant el mapa, no tens tantes carreteres per a agafar, però inclòs amb poques, no hi ha gens de trànsit. I la veritat és que no existeix una ruta lleiga perquè tot el paisatge és tan bonic, més igual per on passes. 

Totes les nits a Eslovènia, vaig quedar amb gent de warm showers i amb cada experiència podria escriure un llibre de la gent interessant que vaig conèixer. La primera nit vaig anar una mica mes lluny del qual havia de fer expressament per a quedar amb una família que tenia una nena petita que tenia ganes de jugar amb mi i cantar, “The Wheels on the Bus”. Pobre, no es va donar compte que no parlaria el seu idioma! sabia que era una família "guai" quan el pare va obrir la porta amb uns pantalons Trang World posats, mostrant-me que la gent d’aquest país s'activa i li agraden la naturalesa. Ells tenien una nena de 3 anys i un petit recent nascut de 3 mesos, una família realment encantadors si ofereixen casa seva a estrangers amb nens d’aquesta edat. La veritat és que ells em van inspirar. Havien viatjat per tot arreu en bici, inclòs havien fet un viatge amb la primera filla quan tenia 1,5 anys. Mes a mes, era paracaigudistes professionals i mai en la meva vida he conegut atletes professionals d'aquest esport! Podríem haver parlat tota la nit compartint les nostres experiències. 

Al capital, vaig tenir la gran sort de trobar, pot ser, l’únic Eslovè que ha treballat al parc nacional Mt. Rushmore als Estats Units, Matej. Amb la meva mateixa energia que mai s’esgota, estava molt il·lusionat d'ensenyar-me tot a Ljubljana. Vam fer senderisme i també anar a un partit de Eurobasket. No fa falta dir que vaig descansar poc els meus dies de descans amb ell! 

A nit, la sort seguia perquè un granger ecològic de warm showers em va recollir. Tenia un amic ciclista de Bosnia també a casa i va convidar a dos altres amics professors per a sopar amb nosaltres. Ell tenía una vida totalment auto sostenible,….agafant electricitat d'un molin d’aigua, del blat de trigo feía farina, creixia tot tipo de fruita i verdura, i havia construit casa seva ell mateix. Vivia del que és crexía a l’hort i a l’hivern, esquiava I viatjava. Vaig al·lucinar molt amb la seva vida. Mes a mes era un gran cuiner i feia tot a ma ell. 

A Eslovènia, em van cuidar molt i no em puc queixar. Inclòs no em volien deixar marxar perquè avui, en creuar la frontera, no era tan fàcil. He fet uns 20 kilòmetres extres de voltes, no mes intentant de trobar un lloc on deixaven una ciclista amb un passaport Amèrica. He hagut d'anar a 3 diferents encreuaments, fins que es van posar d’acord i em van deixar creuar. Es veu que alguns encreuaments són per a gent amb passaport d'Europa, així era els primers 2 llocs. Evitava el encreuament de l'autopista gran perquè sabia que no em podria ficar. Però, després dels primers dos intents, no n’hi havia més remei i m’enviaven per allà. He entrat a l’autopista riuen, pensant, ….. “Ostres, ón m’he ficat, quan em veuen per aquí!” I si, la policia ha flipat dient-me que no podria estar-hi, però quan vaig explicar des d'on havia vingut i dels 2 altres intents, van veure, que en realitat, era l’únic lloc que tenia per a entrar a Croàcia. No volien deixar-me entrar pel tema de seguretat i per la tant, després de un par de trucades, m’han tornat al segon lloc de creuament per a passar com si fos una ciutadana Europea. Es clar, pocs Americans ciclistes han passat per la frontera interior entre Eslovenia i Croacia, si no, hagues sigut molt mes facil!

Soca River

Typical Slovenian town

It's good to get off the bike and stretch those legs every now-and-again!

Every town has its church and castle!

Slovenia: A Hidden Treasure for Outdoor Enthusiasts

In Slovenia, there is a legend about how the country was formed. They say that all the other neighboring countries has already been created, and they were at a loss for creating this small territory. Hence, they decided to mix a bit of everything from its neighbors. Therefore, in Slovenia, you can find tall mountains, river valleys, lakes, forests, beach, and lots of flat countryside. For its size, it is a geographically diverse country!

Right after crossing the Italian border, the difference between the two countries is significant. The noise of traffic is replaced by the sound of rivers flowing, bursting with translucent blue water. Looking at the map, you don’t have too many choices of roads, but with the few roads they have, there is hardly any traffic. And the truth is, it is hard to take an ugly road because the scenery is gorgeous all around!

Everyone I talked to recommended that I take the road to the north, passing through Triglav National Park following the Soca river. However, I had already been in this area several years back and decided to take the road through to the south, a flatter alternative. In Slovenia, you pass a small village every 5 or 6 kilometers that doesn’t even appear on the map. Yet every village seems to have a few houses, a small church and steeple, and a castle on top of a hill. Off in the distance you can always see church steeples scattered on the hilltops. The country is so small, you can go anywhere you want in no time at all!

I stayed with a warm showers host every night while in Slovenia and I could right a book about each of the unique hosts I had! The first night I rode an extra long way to stay with a family because they told me their young daughter was excited to play with me and sing “The Wheels on the Bus” (poor thing, she didn’t realize I didn’t speak her language)! I knew I was going to get along great with this family because the father opened the door wearing the typical Trang World hiking pants, reminding me of the outdoors culture in this country. They had a 3 year old daughter and a 3 month old newborn, as if they needed to add a cyclist to the mix. Yet they were an inspiration to me and we could have talked all night long, sharing our experiences. They had traveled all over the world on bike and had even done their last tour with their daughter when she was one and a half. Even more unusual was their profession. I had never met professional sky divers before. Although their vacation time rivals that of teachers, I don’t think I’d ever sign up for sky diving! 

In the capital, I was extremely fortunate to have found the only Slovenian, I’m sure, who has worked at Mt. Rushmore, Matej. With my same never-ending energy, he was excited to show me all of Ljubljana. We walked the entire city, hiking in the foothills, and even saw a Eurobasket game. Needless to say, I rested very little on my actual “rest days” with Matej. 

Last night, my luck continued as I stayed with an organic farmer. He had a Bosnian cyclist friend also at his house and invited a teaching couple over to also have dinner with us. He was completely self-sufficient on his farm, producing electricity from the watermill, milling his own grain, growing all sorts of fruits and vegetables and even built his house himself. For a living, he sold all the fruit from his orchard and all the products he made with them and spent his winters skiing and traveling. I was truly impressed with his lifestyle. Not to mention, he was an amazing cook making everything from scratch.

In Slovenia, they spoiled me; I have no complaints! In fact, they didn’t really want me to leave because crossing the Croatian border was a true challenge! I did an extra 20 kilometers just trying to find a border crossing that would take a cyclist with a United States passport. I had to go to 4 border crossings before they all agreed I could go. It seems that at some border crossing only Slovenian Nationals or European citizens can cross, this was the problem with the first two crossings I tried. The other border crossing was a huge toll road, which cyclists can’t use. But it seemed that no one had realized my predicament. I had avoided the toll road border crossing, but it seemed to be my only option. Laughing all the way, I entered the toll road and rolled up to the border control thinking, “Man, if only someone could catch this on video!” Border patrol was quite surprised to say the least, but when I explained to them my story, it dawned on them that there was no place for an American passport holder to ride across the border. They wouldn’t let me through the border on the toll road for safety reasons but after a few phone calls, they sent me to the second border crossing I’d been, where they finally allowed me to go into Croatia. I hope they figure out how to manage a smoother border crossing for American cyclists in the future!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

My Trip Was Going Great Until……

I started visiting schools and then, all of a sudden, there was an even more exciting element added to The Loong Way Home! I can’t complain about the first 3 weeks of my trip. I cycled through a lot of wonderful places, was accompanied for parts, got a taste for cycling solo, and discovered the Dolomites. However, there was something missing. When I first started dreaming about this trip, there never seemed to be a good time to just drop everything, andgo. Most people would probably jump at the opportunity to take a year or two off from work, excited for an extended vacation. But for me, my job is a huge part of who am I, and the thought of not having my own classroom for a year was daunting.

The American School of Milan Grade 2
Kids wanted an autograph in Udine, Italy

Teaching is part of my identity. As my students and many of my colleagues at BFIS know, I always refer to myself in the third person, “Ms. Melissa”, in front of my class. Ms. Melissa thrives in the classroom. She has a lot of energy herself, but being around 20 plus kids all daylong, gives her even more! Their curious minds and excitement to learn inspires her to facilitate their learning. In an adult world, optimism can easily dissipate, but in the mind of a seven year old (and my own), anything is possible! I was reminded of this last week at the Udine International School when a first grader asked me if I have any special buttons on my bike, like to make wings come out so I could fly. 

ES Assembly at The Udine International School

Grade 2 Artwork, The American School of Milan
After my first school visits this week, all of a sudden my trip became even more fulfilling. As many of you know, it is very “Melissa” to try to juggle many things at a time with my incessant energy. However, I’d be the first to admit that planning a trip around the world on a bike is no easy feat. Therefore, most cyclists would never attempt to add another layer of complexity by visiting schools along the way and creating activities for students related to the trip. Crazy, I know, but adding the “Theacher on 2 Wheels” to my trip is definitely worth every bit of effort! 

IS Treviso, Year 3 Math Activity
Personally, there is something so familiar about stepping foot in a school. It doesn’t matter where in the world I am, a school is a comforting and welcoming environment for me. As a professional, I value the exposure; immersing myself in different classrooms, experiencing diverse teaching approaches, and interacting with students from all over the world. It’s powerful to see something so simple as a bike, excite and unite children. Their heads start spinning with questions and ideas, they are eager to share stories, and engaged in the activities and experiences related to The Loong Way Home.

IS Treviso, Year 2 Graphing Activity
The area I cycled through this week was heavily populated with international schools, which made for a lot of visits! School had barely been in session for two weeks when I visited grade 2 at The American School of Milan, year 2 and 3 at the International School of Treviso, Grade 4 at the Aviano Military Base DOD School, and the entire elementary school at Udine International School. I even had the entire elementary school greeting me outside and the local newspaper as I rolled up to Udine, an idea initiated by the principal and teachers. Kids at these schools were eager to ask questions, touch my bike, share stories, draw pictures of myself or them biking, and even asked for autographs. At Udine, they prepared cards and letters for students at other schools on my route and asked me to take them with me so that they could learn about children from different countries. The support from schools in my first week blew me away. Not to mention correspondence from former colleagues who were already spreading the world about my trip to teachers in different countries. I wasn’t expecting the idea of the “Teacher on 2 Wheels” to receive so much positive feedback! 

Udine International School, Grade 1
On the road, the most frequently asked question is “Are you traveling alone?” They have a look of fright and disbelief on their face. But in my opinion, you are really only as alone, as you choose. Because of the way I’ve structured my trip and the choice to keep connected with classrooms and teaching, I have yet to feel lonely or like I’m traveling alone. I know there are a lot of people out there following and supporting me, and when I roll up to a school as “The Teacher on 2 Wheels” it’s like I’ve never left home! Ms. Melissa is in her element! I've found a way to combine my passion to cycle and teach!

Student Translator for the Newspaper Interview, Udine International School

With the network of teachers out there, especially those working abroad, or who have worked abroad in the past, I invite you to share my website with your colleagues and friends. I hope to get more kids and schools involved in my project. I am also seeking more schools to visit along my route. It dawned on me this week, after the word spread about my project, that this trip could last a lot longer than 14 months. And for those of your who know, me,….you can imagine the possibilities spinning around in my head!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Beauty of Back Roads in Italy

Of course it happens to be that just when I start feeling like I know a country’s road system, it is time to enter a new country! That is another added element of adventure on this trip.  So far, in the ranking, the Italians are the worst drivers, behind France and Spain.  I’m partially bias to Spain where I’ve done the majority of my riding.  I find Spanish drivers to make an effort to respect the 1,5 meter distance between a car and a cyclist.  In fact, now, the police will dock points off your license if you don’t leave that distance.  However, in Italy, it is as if you earn points on your license the closer you ride to the cyclists.  Cyclists are target practice for them!

I’ve tried hard in this country to find the smallest possible roads on the maps. I look for the ones that hardly appear as a solid line, aren’t too squiggly, and have other major road alternatives close by, thinking no one will be on these roads.  Unfortunately, it seems the trucks drivers are consulting the same maps too!  There are green signs for pay “autostrades” and then a network of blue signage for the freeway system, either SS, SP, or SR.  I haven’t figured out where the SS, or “Strade Statale” roads fall in the network, but the SP stands for Strade Provinciale or “Strade Picolos” as I call them, to distinguish them from their larger alternatives, the “Strade Regionales”. 

Even better than my “piccolo” roads are the tiny little back roads that look like a faint cobweb on the map.  They shoot out in all different directions on the outskirts of towns and cities and usually are headed in just the perfect direction to connect two small towns together that eventually take you around a major metropolis areas.  However, they can be confusing because some of the towns on these roads are so small they don’t even show up on the map I’m using (which has an enormous scale) and so navigating your way from one small town to the next can be difficult, to say the least.  But there is always somebody out on the road for a morning and afternoon stroll who is helpful with directions. 

Yesterday I had some “time to kill” before arriving at my host’s house and I saw that there was a green line next to the highway which means it is a scenic road.  To tell you the truth, if I made these maps, you’d probably see green lines everywhere because it is all so beautiful and it’s hard to classify and determine which is worthy of a green line!  But this green line looked enticing, because it didn’t squiggle a lot so I figured it would be flat,…..another false assumption.  They must have run out of asphalt to get over the hills on this road because instead of switchbacks, they just brought you straight over them.  I went from a flat smooth road with wind at my back to hills with 9 and 10% grades.  I guess I deserved it if I went looking for the scenic route.

I absolutely love the Italian word “avanti”.  Aavanti in my vocabulary, is a verb, adjective, preposition, and noun!  Avanti added on to the name of a town, like “Treviso avanti” and raising your voice at the end is usually enough to get directions, so you don’t stay lost for long.  If not, I add “sinestre” or “driestre” and that is a great conversation starter.  If you really want to get the Italians talking, you start undulating your hand, up and down, pointing to your bike or helmet, to ask them if it is hilly! Lots of times if you do make a wrong turn, at the following intersection, magically the town you were looking for at the last intersection is there, starring you in the face on a sign.

After an afternoon on these small roads, however, you’ve done enough sightseeing to satisfy your “touristy- self” for a few days!  You roll upon abandoned medieval castles, tiny canals, endless vineyards, pristine villas, churches with bell towns, and  deserted piazzas.  When you ride and discover these authentic places you feel like you’ve gone back in time to Italy 50 years ago!  It also wets your appetite for sightseeing enough that when you arrive at your destination for the day, you don’t have the urge to race around and sight-see because you’ve just experienced amazing scenery all day long while you ride your bike. 

Italy has been an adventure! It is an amazing country for it’s landscape and food.  There is gelateria in almost any town, the coffee is to die for even in the middle of nowhere, and you never get tired of seeing Piazzas and Duomos, not even corn fields and apple orchards.  The people are so animated, sometimes I like to stop and ask them for directions just to hear them talk, even if I know where I’m going!  And thanks to my Spanish and Catalan, I think we understand each other pretty well.  Today I visit the Udine International School and tomorrow I’m off to Slovenia, a country I haven’t visited for 6 years.  I can’t wait to see what awaits me there!       

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Upcoming Events

(la traducció está Catalá a baix)
My detour to the Dolomites is over and now I’m on my way to pick up my trip from where I left off in Venice.  Here is a list of upcoming events for “The Teacher on 2 Wheels” as she makes her way home, the long way!

I have also recently updated my website to include activities teachers can use in the classroom all related to my bike trip.  I will be posting a weekly Problem of the Week, an Inquiry & Investigation question, as well as a writing prompt.  Please encourage any teachers you may know to use the following pages in their classroom.  A Spanish translation will be available shortly!

Website Links Teacher on 2 Wheels:!/c1gev!/c1gev

Blog Link Teacher on 2 Wheels:

School Visits:
Monday, September 16th
The American School of Milan-Grade 2

Tuesday, September 17th
The Treviso International School-Grades 2 & 3

Wednesday, September 18th
Department of Defense School in Aviano-Grade 4

Thursday, September 19th
The International School of Udine- All elementary

I will be making my way through Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Montenegro in the next couple of weeks.  If you have contacts at any of those schools, please let me know!

Thank you!

Pròxims Esdeveniments

El meu petit desvio cap a les Dolomites s’ha acabat! Ara començo de nou el meu viatje des d'on vaig parar a Venècia. Aquí hi ha una llista de les properes parades que fa “La Profe sobre 2 rodes” mentre va cap a casa, agafant la ruta llarga!

També he actualitzat la meva pàgina web per incloure activitats que professors poden utilitzar a la seva aula, tots relacionats al meu viatge amb bicicleta. Aniré publicant un problema setmanal de matematiques, una pregunta d'investigació i recerca, i també un tema per a redaccións escrits.  Si us plau anima als professors que potser coneguis a utilitzar les pàgines seguents a la seva aula. Una traducció a castellá estarà disponible en breu!

Enllaç a la web "Teacher on 2 Wheels":!/c1gev!/c1gev

Enllaç al blog "Teacher on 2 Wheels":

Visites à les Escoles:
dilluns, 16 de septembre
The American School of Milan-Grade 2

dimarts, 17 de septembre
The Treviso International School-Grades 2 & 3

dimecres, 18 de septembre
Department of Defense School in Aviano-Grade 4

dijous, 19 de septembre
The International School of Udine- All elementary

En les setmanes vinents, la meva ruta em porta cap a Eslovènia, Croàcia, Bòsnia i Hercegovina, i Montenegro. Si algú té contactes amb escoles en aquesta zona, si us plau, avisa’m!


Arrivederci Thomson Bike Tours!

(la versió Catalá está a baix)

Group B Warm-up Ride from Alleghe
Passo Giau
Views from Passo Giau

Sadly, the 2013 Thomson Bike Tour season has come to an end for me! I have been incredibly fortunate to work with this wonderful company for the past two years and ride on 8 different tours. There are a lot of companies out there offering bike tours all over Europe, but I am convinced that there aren’t many who do it like Thomson Bike Tours. Peter Thomson has bike touring down to an art! The logistics behind his tours are flawless from color-coded excel spread sheets of the schedules to contacting the French police to get the inside scoop for the Tour de France, he’s thought of it all ahead of time to make the trip that much more enjoyable for his clients and employees! We also have great accommodations along the way, with delicious breakfast buffets and gourmet dinners. The vans are there to support you all along the ride to keep your fueled with bars, liquids, fresh fruits, and other goodies, and you always ride in good company! Not to mention he has an incredible hard working and knowledgeable team working for him all around the world, from the States, Europe, and Australia all with one common passion- to ride! 

When I tell people about my summer job, it sparks a lot of envy and they are quick to say, “Wow, how lucky, you get paid to ride your bike!” I agree, I do feel lucky, but it is really HARD work! You are constantly “on” for a week at a time, from preparing the bikes, navigating familiar and unfamiliar European roads, leading a pace line and being responsible for a group of clients, climbing endless cols, and constantly socializing with your fellow team and clients. Rain, snow, or shine, you are always on your bike! “Do you ever have a bad day Melissa?” That was my favorite question from a client. It made me laugh because being a ride leader isn’t as easy as it looks, but I’m excited and appreciate the opportunity to cycle some of the most amazing roads in Europe in good company and that is enough to keep me pedaling. As many of you know, my philosophy is simple: I just ride!!! I have an excessive amount energy and lots of things on my mind and that fuels my rides and keeps my legs pedaling! I don’t work in terms of my heart rate, grade percentages, or altitude gain, I just pedal and enjoy the scenery and company. As you also know, I love to chit chat because I’m incredibly curious and enjoy meeting new people and hearing about their life experiences. For me, the job is a perfect match for my personality and interests!

Although the 2013 Thomson Bike Tour season has come to an end for me, I will hopefully be back ride leading after The Loong Way Home! Thank you TBT for another amazing season, the staff for all their support, and the clients for a lot of memorable rides! I LOVE THIS JOB!

The incredible support team! 

How can you not LOVE these mountains! 

-1 C on top,....nothing like a summer climb! 
Stelvio, the 48 switchbacks! 

Passo Pordoi 

Passo de Gavia, after the Motirolo
Desafortunadament, la temporada de Thomson Bike Tours 2013 s’ha acabat per a mi! He sigut molt afortunada de poder treballar amb una empresa tant increïble pels últims 2 anys, fent uns 8 tours amb ells. Hi ha moltes empreses que fan Tours per Europa, però estic convençuda que hi ha poques que ho fan com a Thomson. Peter Thomson fa els tours com si fossin un art! La logística es impecable, des dels horaris que estan organitzats amb colors diferents en excel, fins a les trucades que fa als Gendamaries per a saber com anirà el Tour de France durant un dia concret, s’ha pensat en tot prèviament per a què els seus clients i empleat poden gaudir del màxim del viatge. També tenim allotjament genial durant el viatge amb uns buffets d’esmorzar on pots posar-te tip I sopars de primera categoria. Els furgos et donen suport durant tota la ruta donant-te barres, líquids, fuita fresca, i mes, i mai estàs sol a la carretera. També cal dir que té un equip que treballa constantment arreu del món, des d'Europa, els Estats Units, i Austràlia, qui comparteix una passió- de gaudir de la bici. 

Quan comento a la gent la meva feina de l’estiu, normalment normalment són una mica gelós i et diuen “Que guai, quina sort tens tú, et paguen per a anar en bici!” Estic d’acord, tinc molta sort per treballar amb ells, però si que es feina dura! Estàs constantment treballant, des de preparar les bicis, navegant carreterres conegudes i desconegudes a Europa, portant els relleus i ser responsible per un grup de clients, pujant mil ports, i sempre animant amb els clients i el teu equip. Pluja, neu, o sol, estás a la carreterra fent kilometres. “Melissa, semble que mai tens un ma día” Aixo es el comentari que em va quedar gravat al cap. Em va fer riure molt perque no es tan facil com se semble fer de “ride leader”, però agradeixo l’oportunitat de anar en bici per unes de les carreterres mes maques d’Europa amb bona companía i aixo em motiva per a seguir pedeleant! Com ja sabeu vosaltres, la meva filosofía amb l’esport es senzill: M’encanta pedelear!!! Tinc una cantidat d’energía increible i moltes coses al cap per a pensar, llavors aixo em dona prou per a fer kilometres i kilometres! No entenc aixo del ritme cardiac, els percentages de pujada, ni els metres de desnivell, simplement m’agrada anar en bici, veure el paisatge, i guadir de la bona compania! Com també sabeu, m’agrada anar xerrant mentres vaig en bici perqué soc apasionadament curiosa i aixi puc aprendre de la gent i les seves experiencies a la vida! Per a mi, fer de “ride leader” es la feina perfecte per la meva personalidat e interesos. 

Encara que s’ha acabat la temporada de 2013 de Thomson Bike Tours, espero tornar despres de “The Loong Way Home” Gracies a TBT per un algre temporada increible, el equip per a tot el seu apoyo, i els clients per a les rutes inovidables. M’ENCANTA AQUESTA FEINA!!!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

August Monthly Update

Every month I will be doing a newsletter recapping the highlights from my trip.  The newsletter is below and can also be found with pictures on my website in the link below.  Enjoy!

Monthly Newsletter!monthly-newsletter/cof4

Statistics Update!statistics/c1g09

August Monthly Newsletter
Kilometers: 908   Riding Days: 9    Countries: Spain, France

Route Overview & Highlights
We departed Barcelona and followed the coast up to Palamos, then went to the interior and crossed the border at Vajols, coming down to Ceret and went parallel to the coast along the interior roads hitting Ceret, Narbonne, Montpellier, and Arles.  Then we explored villages in the Cote d'Azur region including: Charleval, Cadanet, La Tour d'Aigues, and Greoux-les-Bains.  We followed the Durance river along the Gorges du Verdon, for spectacular scenery to Castellane, then made out way down to Nice, France, following the bike path along the coast.

Featured Site
The Gorges du Verdon, France.  The scenery was amazing starting from the Lac de Ste. Croix all the way through the gorge up to Castellane. To go down to Nice, we went through the small Gorge du Loup.  The road winds through the gorge and you have a lot of overhanging rocks and waterfalls along the way.

School Visits
The school year has yet to begin!

Bike Mechanics
I've been fidgeting with the bike a lot, adjusting the saddle, handle bars, and brake cables to get it fine-tuned.  I braked too much descending a 16% slope for 2 km. and got my first flat tire from an overheated back rim.  For the record I've had one flat tire and only a few minor cable adjustments.

Support & Thanks
A special thanks to all the people who came to the Jardinets to see me off on the 23rd of August! It was great to have so much support! The CC Gracia members have been wonderful with all the animos they've given me and for accompanying me the first day. Camping International Calonge took good care of us all the first night and it was fun to have a final celebration with the gang at the camping.

Vicens was incredibly supportive the first week of the trip.  He's had a lot of patience as we have tried to find our groove with the long distance tour cycling.  We've persevered through navigating challenges, camping experiences, and the inconveniences that come about with the daily routine on the bike.

We also tried out first warm shower experience and had a great time with Claude, aka "Pere Noel" in Castellane, France. Wow, what a hospitable man!

August Expenses/Daily Average Expense:
255 Euros / 28,33 Euros

This Month's "Best of" Awards
Best Campsite: Camping International Calonge, Spain
Most Picturesque Scenery: The Gorges du Verdon, France
Most Difficult Climb: Col d'Ayen, Gorges du Verdon
Most Hospitable People: "Pere Noel" Claude at Camping Les Lavandes, Castellane
Most Delicious Treat: Anything from a French boulangerie, you can't go wrong!
Best Never to Return: Border crossing, La Vajol
Scrumptious Dinners: Pizza and Salad from Camping Greoux-les-Bains (restaurant)
Favorite Vocabulary: Vichenze (Vicens new nickname thanks to Laia and Thais)
Most Interesting Fact(s): We are mysteriously wondering why the French white snail seeks out plant stems and cover the tops of road signs in great masses.  It is a curious site!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Mama Mia un Giro del Mundi!!!

Així era el pasiatge creuant la part central d'Italia
No mes a creuar la frontera vaig començar amb unes noves aventures al país de pasta, pomodoros, pizza i gelato! Vaig trobar al Danilo als afores de San Remo i ni hi havia una bona connexió des del principi! Pot ser que el nostre ritme era igual, ja que el portava igual de pes que jo a la seva panxa....o potser perquè NO era un d'aquestos ciclistes "guais" d'Italià, que es massa guapo per anar amb casc (veig ciclistes sense casc aquí i crec que els conductors son els pitjors que he trobat) o pot ser simplement que desprès d'explicar-li que vaig fer el Milan San Remo fa 2 anys i ell viu al costat del ultimo "poggio" n'hi havia connexió. En tot cas, vaig gaudir de la seva campanià i em va fer riure molt el cometari del meu "giro del mundi" Em portava uns 30 kilòmetres fins al arribar al meu primer piste ciclable a Italia. 

Al principi els carrils de bici, o en Italiá, "les pistes ciclables" em van impactar i vaig pensar "uaua, aquests Italians són molt més llestos i preparats per la bici que pensava". Havien convertit les vies antigues del tren en carrils de bici just al costat del mar. Vaig fer el primer dia i mig al costat del mar bastant ràpids. No se si era perquè anava amb les cames descansades del dia anterior de fer "relax" amb el Vicens a Niza, o si era perquè está tot tan massificat al costat de l'aigua que vas passant les pobles en seguida sense enterrar-se. Mes a mes, la riviera Italiana és maca. Te'l seu estil distinta... Pobles plens de colors vius amb persianes verdes i carrers molts estrets amb molts arcs. Cada ciutat te mil piazzas i un duomo principal (un lloc ideal per fer un pícnic) Mes a mes l'ambient canvia radicalment a Itàlia- tot va! En comparació amb França, és molt mes caòtica però també dóna el seu encant i es fa molt divertida viatjar per arreu d'aquest país. Vaig fer la carretera de la costa fins a Gènova, una ciutat que deixa poc per a desitjar: gran, industrial, sorollosa. No em sopres que el Colon es va marxar per anar a descobrir el mó també ho haguis fet! Quina aventura per a intentar de seguir la carretera nacional dins de la ciutat sense ficar-me per l'autopista o cap altre túnel o peatge. 

Vaig deixar la costa d'Itàlia per anar a l'interior, direcció Piacenza. Quina pujada!!! I com no hi havia un càmping a prop, em tocava un dia llarg! Tampoc pots fiar molt en la senyalització aquí. Un ingenyer Alemany ha de revisar els cartells de les carreteres Italians. Em fan riure molt. Primer, les carreteres no tenen noms, vull dir no utilitzen números. Van per noms de pobles. I pot ser que veus el nom del poble i es queda a 18 kilòmetres. Vas uns 3 o 4 kilòmetres i el proper cartell diu et falta 25 kilòmetres pel mateix poble. Avui m'ha passat que en una cruïlla, per un costat posava Venècia a 25 i venint de l'altre direcció posava 29. És que així és Itàlia. A ells, tot més igual! Ho has de prendre tot amb la calma i recordar de no confiar massa en les coses! Un altra cosa curiosa és que normalment al costat de la carretera, vas veient publicitat pels llocs que és queden endavant. Normal, no? Tu saps que en 3 km tens un McDonalds o en 5 km un supermercat. Però a Itàlia anuncien llocs i coses que has passat fa 10 o 20 kilòmetres, llavors és un caos total... Que fa la gent!? Paren i giren?!? No entenc! 

El segon dia encara confiava amb les pistes ciclables i les agafava sempre quan n'hi havia. Anaven al costat de la carretera uns 5, 10 kilòmetres i eren super tranquils. Ja desprès de 5 dies, no faig cas a cap!!! Comencen al principi del poble i al millor duran 1,5km i en aquest tram, va passant d'una banda a l'altre de la carretera i no saps on posar-te, a l'esquerra o la dreta! En l'oficina de turisme de Cremona em van donar un mapa de la regió amb totes les pistes ciclables i començava el dia molt il·lusionada pel fet de què podria evitar les carreteres principals. Després d'una hora intentant de trobar-les, vaig abandonar la idea i optar per la carretera normal i corrent. I fins ara, vaig millor que a França, perquè no he agafat cap autostrada ni pista sense asfalt i he pogut navegar "bé" Gènova i Venècia! Estic explorant una part del pais que no coneixia gens, la regió del sur de Llombardia. Vaig creuar les muntanyes al nord de Ligúria i vaig arribar a Cremona. Em va impactar la candidat de ciclistes: gent gran i jove, gent amb la compra per sobre la bici, els gossos a les cistelles, gent enamorada de mà en mà,..... He vist de tot! I els parcs també estan plens de ciclistes, gent seria fent voltes de la pista. Estava convençuda que el Gobern s'havia fet un plan per a donar incentiu a les ciclistes, és que mai he vist tantes...però a nit, quan estava amb una família em van dir que era simplement pel fet de calers,... Amb crisis tots han tornat a la bici! 

També sorprèn la cantitat de camps i granges. Hi ha blat de moro per tot arreu, i un món de terreny amb tomàquets (Una cosa menys per comprar al supermercat). També en aquesta regió he vist tot tipu d'arbre de fruita: kiwi, préssec, poma, albercoc, pruïnes,.....però encara faig les meves compres "correctes" a les parades de fruita de la carretera. Ni demano una bossa perquè la fruita em dura dos minuts, és el àpat perfecte de mig mati, això o un gelato, (mai és massa d'hora per comprar un)! 

A nit una família simpàtica Italiana em va recollir. Andrea era un home petit però molt explosiu amb la manera de parlar. A part de ser químic té una granja orgànica al costat de casa seva. Sílvia és profe de mates i cuina unes pastes impressionants!!! I els seus fills Elissa i Francesco eren super divertits. Menys mal que parlaven castellà també! Pensava que anava bé pillant la majoria de les coses que deia la gent aquí a Itàlia, ja que sembli molt Espanyol i Catalá, però avui era tot el contrari. Estava desesperada per a trobar un McDonald per a wifi i he preguntat a un iaio cuidant el seu jardí. Hi Havia entès que tenia una filla que parlava angles i que anava a buscar-la per indicar-me el camí. Quina cara de sorpresa que he posat quan ha tornat amb una ampolla d'aigua de 2 litres... Uff, em sabia greu no agafar-la. Quasi no em cap l' ampolla de 1,5L i pesa molt, com a posar una de 2L! 

En fin, avui, he arribat a Venècia després de 14 dies i 1,561 km (segur que els 61km són de les voltes que he fet per a trobar les pistes ciclables). Em trobo genial, amb unes cames molt fortes, preparades per a fer una mica de turisme demà a Venècia i desprès un petit desvio cap a unes muntanyes que em criden MOLT la atenció!

Baixant de les muntanyes que quedan a munt de Genoa

Hi ha tomaquets per tot arreu! 49 centims el kilo.

Francesco, Melissa, i Elissa, en Legnago, Italia

Piazza del Duomo, Cremona

Mantova, Italia