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Riding in zee Alps, Italian Style

October 4th, 2013
Climbing up the tunnel next to the Mauvoisin Dam

Climbing up the tunnel next to the Mauvoisin Dam

Having recently wrapped up three weeks of guiding Big Mountain Bike Adventures trips in Switzerland, my mind is alight with multiple moments of adventure, almost too many to distill singular experiences from. It’s probably easier to just summarize an entire trip as a whole. And while  I was tempted to do this, there was, indeed, one particular day that stood out amongst all the others.

The stark contrast of this day is not so much about the riding itself. The ride did feature some spectacular singletrack, but the uniqueness of the day was more about how it allowed us to travel with our bikes. Travel in the sense of moving through terrain; achieving numerous objectives over the course of a day while focused on a final destination, one very different from the beginning of the adventure.

The day started cold and clear in Lourtier, our sleepy little homebase tucked into the postcard-perfect Val de Bagnes, Switzerland. I had made the executive decision to postpone this particular outing a couple of days due to a low freezing level and poor weather, and looking out the window at a splitter blue sky, I felt very self congratulatory and guide-like. Taking advantage of this perfect weather window, our group powered back a Swiss breakfast (mostly bread, cheese and meat) and headed out.

The climb begins as quintessentially as a Swiss climb should: in a tunnel. The tunnel bores up through the mountainside next to the Mauvoisin Dam, at 250 meters tall, it is the highest arched dam in Europe. The tunnel is faintly lit, with water seeping through the ceiling. We climb up the narrow dirt track, sporadically sniping sights of the dam and lake below us through small ports in the rock. Finally, the tunnel ends, and we emerge, blinking, into blinding sunlight on the other side, a fantastic view of mountains and water and glaciers and rivers spilling out in front of us. Inspired by the sight we bend into a grinding road climb that eventually gives way to an even more oppressive hike-a-bike that finally relents to a merely painful climb, all of this getting us closer to the Fenetre du Durand, a 2800m col that marks the border between Switzerland and Italy.

Into the merely painful part of the climb. Epic views though!

Into the merely painful part of the climb. Epic views though!

As we climb, the air becomes sharper, distilled by the last few days of freezing temperatures. The crisp air seems to bring out our surroundings in flawless relief. Snow-capped peaks tower above the distinct singletrack that stretches out in front of our tires, and as we crest the col, Italy beckons below, a different landscape perhaps only in perspective, but beckoning us onwards in perfect detail.

Approaching the col, with Mt Gele looming behind.

Approaching the col, with Mt Gele looming behind.

The ride down is a glorious amalgamation of flowy trail, technical rock features, and everything in between. While down is the general direction, we traverse through the valley for a long distance on a perfectly graded “bisse,” or ancient waterway designed to re-direct water from the glaciers to mid-mountain fields and towns. As we descend the air becomes warmer, as one would imagine it would, descending into Italy. It all seems so perfect.

Smooth Italian singletrack.

Smooth Italian singletrack.

The final descent is long and winding, on a rarely visited trail that recently revealed itself thanks to some keen map reading and some valuable local knowledge. We revel in the secrecy of the spot, shredding down the rolling singletrack. At one point the trail points down through a perfectly-spaced group of larch trees, the forest floor nothing but knee-high vibrant green grasses, the trail cutting a straight line through. The afternoon sun dapples the grass, as a light wind creates a wild kaleidoscope of light in front of our tires. Minds blown, we rocket through the trees and exit out on the road far below, coasting down to the Italian town of Aosta for eagerly awaited beers.

After spending the day bundled up in the high mountains, it is an abrupt change to find ourselves in the old town of Aosta. The sun is warm, and as we relax and drink beers we witness a perfect slice of Italian life unfold around us. The striking differences between our morning’s departure and where we are now help to gel the unique experiences of the day together, and we celebrate two-wheeled travel, Italian style.

Story and photos by Joe Schwartz, Osprey Athlete

adventure, Bike Europe, Bikes Around the World, Osprey Athletes, travel , , , , , , , , , , ,

I Hate Road Trips

June 20th, 2013

Das Rad Haus owner Christine ripping on Xanadu in Leavenworth

I hate road trips. Especially trips to awesome new zones to go bike riding. They are a blur of teases: quick, sneaky peeks into great scenes that you previously didn’t even know existed. One short day of checking the area out, maybe a few if you’re lucky, and you are on to the next spot, fantasizing about pulling up stakes, quitting your job and moving to your new-found riding center of the universe. And if the road trip is anything like the one I just got back from, the next little haven you pull into will have the same effect, making you wonder just what life would be like if you never left this freshly-discovered Shangri-La of bicycling.

My girlfriend Rachel and I left from our home in Vancouver on a trip into Washington with four bikes and one goal: ride a lot. The plan was to minimize the driving by staying in one small corner of Washington State, and riding our road bikes and mountain bikes everyday in a new area. The loop we planned took us through the North Cascades National Park, through Winthrop, down the arid and beautiful Okanogan and Columbia River valleys, up over to Leavenworth, detouring over Stevens Pass to Snoqualmie, and finally back up to Bellingham to end off the six day excursion. No one day did we drive more than two hours, and every day we got in a scenic road ride and a sweet mountain bike ride (or two). In other words, six days of being teased and tantalized by some amazing areas in this part of the state.

The Loop

The path of most resistance.

Our schedule was simple: Wake up in our new locale, go for a morning road ride, eat breakfast, go for a mountain bike ride, eat a late lunch and head off to our next destination, usually making plans for the next time we found ourselves passing through that area again.

The roads in America are great, often much better than in Canada. Where we have a decrepit, pot-holed forestry road, Americans have a smooth winding strip of asphalt through some amazing country. We took advantage of this fact on the uber-scenic North Cascades drive, and on some memorable road rides through miles of orchards and vineyards in Chelan and Leavenworth, and along quiet country highways along the Methow and Snoqualmie Rivers.

Tuscany?

Nope, the rolling hills and smooth pavement of Lake Chelan.

Rachel is relatively new to mountain biking, and I have had mixed success with introducing her to the joys of riding. One decent pedal in Squamish is quickly overshadowed by a horror-fest of technical roots and rocks on the Shore, or a crazed B-Liner running her off a berm on his personal race to Strava glory. Washington gave up the goods for her, with a variety of trails that were a lot of fun for the both of us. Highlights included the Sun Mountain trails in Winthrop, the amazing variety of the Duthie Hill Bike Park near Seattle, the long climb but epic descent of Fruend Canyon in Leavenworth and the flowy goodness of Galbraith Mountain in Bellingham. I got out on a couple shreds as well, on a super cool ridgeline DH off of Chelan Butte, and a sweet rip down Xanadu in Leavenworth with some locals.

The towns beguiled us with their charms as well. Winthrop has gone with the Western theme, but pulled it off in fine style. As we walked up the main street taking in the views, Rachel noted: “Even the gas station is adorable!” Can’t argue with that. We had a quick peek into the potential of the Methow Valley, but barely scratched the surface. The fellows at Methow Cycle and Sport (a fine Kona dealer) alluded to many more singletrack epics up in the surrounding hills above Mazama and Winthrop. But, like any road trip, we shelved those ideas for later, and carried on.

Taking in the views on Echo Ridge, Chelan.

With my F.O.M.O. (Fear Of Missing Out) disorder going into overdrive from all the epic spots we were merely sampling, I almost blew a gasket once we arrived in Leavenworth. Two weeks, let alone our two days (actually only one night and a day) would not be enough to experience everything this town has to offer, once you look past the kitschy Bavarian theme that pervades every element of the main drag, including the McDonalds sign. It would take me at least a few days just to get through the menu at South, an amazing Mexican restaurant in town. Trails abound here, leading out of every corner of this alpen town. Rivers cascade out of the tight mountain valleys, climbable rock spires reach for the sky, and friendly locals (like the ones at Kona dealer Das Rad Haus) point visitors in the direction of the singletrack goods (while probably saving a few secret nuggets for themselves).

Ridge Ride

Taking in the views from the top of Xanadu

Fantasizing about our new lives in Leavenworth, we carried on our way, spoiling ourselves for a couple nights at the fancy Salish Lodge and Spa near Snoqualmie (thanks Groupon Getaway deal!) and riding the very unique and super fun Duthie Hill Bike Park, which is located just minutes from the Lodge. Coming to terms with the realization that we could not live in the Lodge full-time, we drove up to Bellingham to end off the trip with some fun exploration of the Galbraith Mountain trails, with a side trip to Boundary Bay Brewery for some eats, and Trader Joe’s to stock up on some cheap cheese and Two Buck Chuck.

So, like I mentioned, I hate road trips. Especially when they are as awesome as this one was.

adventure, Osprey Athletes, Travel , , , , , , , , , ,

Cycling Our National Parks

June 13th, 2013

The end of April marked a monumental agreement between our national parks and the Adventure Cycling Association. On April 30th, National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Adventure Cycling Association that formalizes “a partnership to promote collaboration between bicycling interests and the National Park Service,” according to the ACA.

More specifically, the collaboration is a five-year agreement that enables the ACA to work directly with the National Park Service to build a bicycle route through national parks that span across the country. Here’s the scoop, via the Adventure Cycling Association:

“Nationwide bicycle routes connect Americans to their national parks in an environmentally friendly manner,” Jarvis said. “Our partnership with the bicycling community presents an opportunity for us to foster connections between national parks and cyclists of all ages.”

The agreement will promote user etiquette and safety while providing well-managed recreation and tourism opportunities. It preserves the National Park Service’s authority to determine where and when bicycling is appropriate on park lands. The agreement will also help leverage resources, expand volunteerism, and tap expertise in providing best management practices for bicycling activities.

“This agreement could not come at a better time,” said Adventure Cycling Association Executive Director Jim Sayer. “Bicycle tourism is surging in America and around the planet. Bike networks are being developed at a rapid pace. It’s important that the National Park Service is a key player in this effort to make biking safer and more enjoyable, especially in our national parks.”

adventure, Advocacy, Non-profits, Pedaling Change, video , , , , ,

Adventure Cycling Association’s Best Portrait of a Traveling Cyclist Video: Mama Like

April 18th, 2013

Just a little over one year ago, Adventure Cycling Association teamed up with Blanche van der Meer and her WorldCycle Videos group on Vimeo and launched their first-ever Bicycle Travel Video Contest. The premise of the competition was simple: “to celebrate the booming trend in bike touring and travel documentaries.” The result, thanks to some fantastic volunteer judges, is several fantastic videos that capture the essence of cycling.

This beautiful video won for Best Portrait of a Traveling Cyclist. Adventure Cycling Association explained its win in these words:

“It’s an upbeat, humorous video focusing on Erin Inglish’s preparation for her Earth*Bike*Banjo tour down the California coast. (One judge’s take: “Fun, and funny!”)”

The film synopsis itself goes something like this: “One new album. One Bicycle. One banjo. One Month. One thousand miles. “Mama Like” is truly a one-of-a-kind comedic homage to Mother Earth through music and Charlie-Chaplin-esque cinematography.”

Watch and enjoy the lighthearted nature of this delightful short film.

Active Lifestyle, adventure, Lane Love, video , , , ,

Ditch Your Car: Bike Programs on the Brink?

February 1st, 2012

The following is an urgent message from Jim Sayer, executive director of American Cycling Association.

“Today, the leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives is releasing its long-term federal transportation bill. Cycling groups expected the bill to be bad news for biking and walking, but we didn’t think it would reverse all progress made in this country in the past twenty years.

The House Transportation Committee will vote Thursday, February 2, on whether to approve this bill or amend it to include biking and walking programs. Find out if your Representative is on the committee by clicking here — and if he or she is, then take action right away.

Why the urgency? House leaders are pushing hard to completely cut bicycling and walking out of transportation. Lawmakers seem to have gone through federal law line-by-line to gut programs that make streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians. They haven’t done this to any other transportation sector. Among many terrible provisions, the House bill:

  • Destroys the major bike/walk funding program (Transportation Enhancements);
  • Repeals the Safe Routes to School program, which helps create safe ways for kids to walk and ride bicycles to school;
  • Allows states to build bridges without safe access for pedestrians and bicycles;
  • Eliminates bicycle and pedestrian coordinators in state DOTs; and
  • Strips language which ensures that rumble strips “do not adversely affect the safety or mobility of bicyclists, pedestrians, or the disabled.”

But there’s still a chance to save federal bike/walk programs. This week in the House Transportation Committee, Representative Tom Petri (R-WI) plans to offer an amendment to restore dedicated funding for key programs. Please click on the action alert to see if your Representative is on the committee — and if they are, contact them asap and ask them to support Mr. Petri’s amendment.

This is as urgent as it gets. Even if Mr. Petri’s amendment succeeds, there will be a long road ahead. But if we lose here, we risk losing decades of progress for a more bike-friendly America.

Please pass this along to all your local friends and contacts – particularly high-level contacts like mayors, school board members, and business leaders — and ask them to weigh in, too. Thanks so much for your quick action and we’ll keep you posted.

Photo from iStockPhoto.com.

Every Wednesday on Ditch Your Car we’ll be bringing you just another reason to spend more time on two wheels. Be it a photo, a statistic or an inspirational video, we want to keep reminding you about why riding is great!

Advocacy, Ditch Your Car

ACA receives 4 new grants for U.S. bike route system!

January 24th, 2012

On October 4, Adventure Cycling announced the receipt of four new grants totaling $100,000 to support its efforts to create the U.S. Bicycle Route System (USBRS).The grants came from a number of prominent foundations and a leading cycling business: $45,000 from the Tawani Foundation; $30,000 from the SRAM Cycling Fund; $15,000 from the Surdna Foundation; and $10,000 from the Lazar Foundation. The grants from Tawani, Surdna, and Lazar focus on the U.S. Bicycle Route System. The grant from SRAM will support Adventure Cycling’s work on the USBRS, as well as its efforts to help understand and organize the bike-travel industry. Read more.

Louisiana progress is clicking along with the help of the Baton Rouge Advocates for Safe Streets. Resolutions of Support for USBR 90 are steadily being passed by parish governments. Check out their website devoted to the project.

Get more info about the USBRSTo stay up-to-date on the USBRS, follow the conversation on Facebook or Twitter,@usbicycleroutes.

New to the U.S. Bicycle Route System? Read our U.S. Bicycle Route System 101 blog post to get the basics and follow our weekly blog posts on Building the U.S. Bicycle Route System to stay up-to-date on USBRS developments.

Don’t forget, the USBRS is on Twitter and Facebook — show your support, follow our tweets and become a fan!

Photo via: Adventure Cycling Association

Active Lifestyle, Advocacy, Osprey Life , , ,

New Bicycle Travel Bloggers Site from Adventure Cycling Association

May 25th, 2011

We just got word of a great new resource for the bike-travel community the Adventure Cycling Association: BicycleTravelBloggers.org.

From ACA:

It’s a simple site that will aggregate bike-travel and touring blogs into one place. This is pretty cool. It will allow you to tap into a steady stream of inspiring posts by different traveling cyclists and adventurers from around the world.
On a bike trip and blogging? Submit your bike-travel blog and, once approved, your posts will appear in the feed. To submit your blog now,visit the site and click on “Submit Your Blog” in the top menu.

Touring bicyclists — and other passionate cyclists who want a daily dose of inspiration — can subscribe to BicycleTravelBloggers.org via RSS feed, or follow the feed on Twitter @BTBloggers.

Something to fuel your bike travel wanderlust!

Every Wednesday on Ditch Your Car we’ll be bringing you just another reason to spend more time on two wheels. Be it a photo, a statistic or an inspirational video, we want to keep reminding you about why riding is great!

Image: joiseyshowaa

Ditch Your Car , , , , ,

Pedaling Change: Adventure Cycling Association

May 11th, 2011

Welcome to Pedaling Change! There’s a lot of good work being done in the world of bikes, from alternative transportation advocacy to international development. To highlight some of the great action that’s going on out there, once a month we’ll be profiling a non-profit in the bike world to look at just how they’re working to make positive change.

There’s nothing quite like bicycle travel. With your panniers packed full, a map stuffed into your back pocket and plenty of spare tubes, you’ve got the whole world in front of you. But inspiring people to travel by bike takes work, and that’s where the Adventure Cycling Association (ACA) comes in.

Started in 1973 as Bikecentennial, over the last several decades, ACA has been working hard to ensure that more people travel by bike, and has made a name for itself as the premier bicycle travel organization in North America. In fact the organization has over 44,700 members nationwide.

Thanks to the organization’s Adventure Cycling Route Network, over 40,699 miles are routed and mapped to help cycling enthusiasts explore the world via two wheels. If you’re looking to do some cyclo-inspired adventuring, ACA is the place to start. Publishing a magazine, organizing rides, running a yellow pages for cyclists and raising money to fund more bike routes, it’s no surprise that ACA is a resource and a leader in the industry.

We caught up with Winona Bateman, Adventure Cycling Association’s Media Director to learn more about the organization and some of their current campaigns.

What are your top three reasons for getting people out on bikes?

Adventure Cycling’s mission is to inspire people of all ages to travel by bike for fitness, fun, and self-discovery.

There is obviously a strong travel component integrated into ACA. Why is travel by bike so special?

Traveling by bicycle is powerful and inspiring. You get to experience a place up close and at a human pace. You can also eat a lot of ice cream, if that’s something you enjoy! Last summer more than 1,000 cyclists visited our headquarters in Missoula — we’re always so amazed at the diversity of people who drop in: students, retirees, groups, solo riders, with every age and level of experience represented. Bike travel attracts all sorts of cyclists and when you’re out on the road you will surely meet a wide range of other bike tourists. Pretty fun!

Tell us about the Build It. Bike It. Be Part of It. Campaign.

The Build It. Bike It. Be a Part of It. campaign is an annual social media fundraiser for the U.S. Bicycle Route System (USBRS) that takes place during National Bike Month. We’re hoping to raise $30,000 this year. These funds will support Adventure Cycling Association’s ongoing organizing role in helping states create U.S. Bike Routes. We’re asking cyclists across America to donate $10 to support this visionary project, they can learn more and donate here.

Read more…

Pedaling Change , , , ,

Where’s Your Adventure? Sundance, Utah

May 10th, 2011

Since it’s National Bike Month, we’re celebrating all month long with our Where’s Your Adventure? Photo Contest. Congrats to this week’s winner, Bill Church, who submitted this shot from Sundance, Utah. He not only scores a yearlong membership to Adventure Cycling Association, but also a brand spaning new Raptor 6 hydration pack!

Want to enter the contest too? Give us your most adventurous cycling photo; it can be from a gnarly section of single track or bombing down an urban hill on your single speed. Just upload your photo to our Flickr pool and tag it with “adventurecycling.” Every week during the month of May we’ll be picking our favorite to win an ACA membership and a Raptor 6. At the end of the month we’ll leave picking the winner up to you, getting our fans to vote and choose our People’s Choice Winner.

Note: Osprey will retain the right to images for future use in blog posts. And please note that we can ship to U.S. addresses only.

adventure, contest, photos , , , ,

Where’s Your Adventure? Win an Osprey Raptor and Adventure Cycling Association Membership

May 2nd, 2011

It’s the month to celebrate cycling! May is National Bike Month and to get you excited about getting out and riding, we’re partnering up with one of our favorite causes, the Adventure Cycling Association.

Where’s Your Adventure? That’s what we want to know.

Give us your most adventurous cycling photo; it can be from a gnarly section of single track or bombing down an urban hill on your single speed. Just upload your photo to our Flickr pool and tag it with “adventurecycling.” Every week during the month of May we’ll be picking our favorite to win an ACA membership and a Raptor 6. At the end of the month we’ll leave picking the winner up to you, getting our fans to vote and choose our People’s Choice Winner.

Note: Osprey will retain the right to images for future use in blog posts. And please note that we can ship to U.S. addresses only.

Image: notfrancois

adventure, Advocacy , , , ,

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