That is so Euro…

The Long Goodbye

Almost seven months ago I found myself in the center of a city that traces its roots to a time well before the Roman empire. Ljubljana has been at the crossroads of European and Asian trade routes for several Millenia. History and lore are rich in this city with dragons featuring as prominently as the mountains that surround the valley. The Ljubljana we were introduced to was draped in lights and Christmas decorations. The city center was packed with people each night. The smell of kuhano vino – warm mulled wine – filled the air. This looked like a fun town.

Our introduction was festive but being new it was easy to feel anonymous. The culture and normal demeanor of the people we encountered did not help to diminish that sense of anonymity. People tend to keep to themselves, their eyes directed forward, even on the bus I would rarely make eye contact with people. The city felt cold, the people in the city seemed distant. It was easy to worry that it would be seven months of being outsiders, separate from the folks who called Ljubljana and Slovenia home.

Prešeren Trg
The heart of Ljubljana. The center of activity.

Our kids felt the same, well except for my daughter. Within days she was hanging out with “friends” as if they had know each other since kindergarten. The boys hated school. They didn’t have friends, they felt excluded and they missed home. For a couple of months we heard only complaints and dread. I wasn’t dreading each day but I also didn’t have any friends that I could meet up with either.

But slowly things changed. We met a few people that we would spend time with. Our kids came home from school asking if they could go to a friend’s house and the anonymous faces that I passed on the street began to look occasionally familiar. The blank forward looks turned to the occasional wave or greeting. The cold hard edge that I felt had rounded and softened. The owner of the corner cafe would always wave. When I sat at one of his tables he was eager to engage.

The city was opening up to us. We were not just visitors, we were part of the activities and daily life in Ljubljana. The farmers at the vegetable stand that I frequented watched as my Slovene language skills slowly improved. I even received a compliment. One of the farmers told me she was impressed at how well I was now speaking Slovene. Ironically though, she said it all in Slovene and I had to sheepishly admit to her that I didn’t understand quite what she said. The fruit seller, a big Macedonian guy was always ready to toss in one extra pear or apple when he saw me. “My Friend,” he would say, “take this it is sweet and you will love it.”

Outdoor market
The outdoor market is open every day but Saturdays are packed. The whole town shows up to fill their baskets with fresh produce for the week.

Eventually, I would say, the city embraced us. Ljubljana now feels like home. Our kids were involved in basketball, drumming, voice lessons, skiing. It was much like life in Missoula except in a different language. After these many months I no longer feel like an outsider. We take short trip up in to the mountains or south to the Adriatic and return “home”. We all call Ljubljana home and consider it home.

Change can be frightening and difficult but it can also challenge a person’s ability to understand themselves and others. Moving to a new country provides a great opportunity to learn experience a new language, new food, new routines to the day and all the things that comprise culture. It has also offers an opportunity to redefine one’s self. I landed in Ljubljana with a clean slate, anonymous as I was. Everyone I met was new to me and I was new to them. How did I want to be perceived? What did I want them to know abut me? Would I make a positive impression on them?

My bike helped introduce me to a whole new community of people around Slovenia and Italy. These are folks with whom I would not normally meet, but our shared enjoyment with riding bikes provided the introduction. On my bike I feel at home, I am in my comfort zone. I was very fortunate here to meet up with a great group of folks of various backgrounds that are all part of a local cycling club. They have been exceedingly welcoming. I join them regularly for rides during the week and on the occasional weekend. The same was true in Italy. A random ride by myself exploring unfamiliar roads let to meeting a group of folks that ride together regularly. Their nature was all Italian, friendly, outgoing, welcoming and more than happy to be a tour guide. Man, I can’t help but love this place.

Summit Selfie
Summit selfie with Alberto and I. The Italian alps stretched out to the west as far as the eye could see.

And now it is time to leave. I don’t want to say goodbye just yet.The last couple of weeks since the kids got out of school has been a whirlwind of sightseeing and being a tourist again. Trips to the mountains, trips to the sea, visiting towns and sights that have been on our list of places to tour. The list is longer than out remaining time here but we are making the most of it. We are packing in the activities and doing our best to make the most of our remaining time here. We should be good and exhausted by the time we get on the plane.

Gorni Grad
Slovenia is dotted with small villages. Only 2 million people live in the entire country, most still prefer their home village.

Most important is saying goodbye to our new found friends. As difficult as it was for our kids to make new friends, saying goodbye is turning out to be just as difficult. They talk about seeing each other again but it is clear from the tone in their voices and the looks in their eyes they all know it is unlikely. So their play resumes as if they will all be here together in Ljubljana far into the future, trying not to think of the inevitable.

Our kids are packing in the last few days with friends.

I got out for one last big Hurrah! with the local cycling club. Every year they do a big ride around the northwest corner of Slovenia, The route goes through Triglav National Park and over a couple of big climbs. The ride is 230Km long. It is a full day on the saddle. The pace was casual but not slow. It was conversation pace and the group was full of conversation.

Into the Alps
Heading towards Vršič Pass. The first climb of the day.

We had a couple of follow vehicles with us carrying spare wheels and extra gear. Quite a luxury. The follow van even had a speaker attached to the front that played a non-stop stream of music. Traditional Slovene music, Balkan pop music, English language oldies, rock and pop. It was quite a mix and very entertaining. This was a ride and not a race for sure. It included plenty of stops for snacks and drinks including two longer stops at a cafés. CocktaI stuck with water and Cockta – Slovene version of Coca-Cola but better – and the the Slovenes, well they opt for beer! Not just a small beer but a beer the way they normally serve them around here. I am not sure how they do it.

Beer Break
Yes, these beers are as large as they look.

I think the beer gives them strength because on the last big climb of the day I found myself barely able to hang on to a pace that seemed to be increasing constantly. I may have to re-think how I hydrate.

Hanging on
I am barely hanging on to the group on the climb. At least the follow van is playing good music – John Denver, “Country Roads”

The day ended with a great picnic that included baked fish that was caught in the local rivers. Sixty plus people enjoying the day, enjoying another beer and occasionally remembering that I only speak a few words of Slovene.

Thank you Slovenia. Thank you for helping make your country feel like our home. Thank you for the unique warmth and beauty that defines Slovenia. “It is small but beautiful”. That phrase is like a Slovene tag line. We hear it very often when we talk to people about their country. But it is true. High alpine mountains, rivers, seaside, vineyards, forests. There is a little bit of everything in a compact package. I hope we will be back. There is still so much to see and do. So many memories still to be made. Fortunately we are leaving with a memories that will last a lifetime. And maybe, with a bit of luck, we will reconnect with old friends. But we are not ready to say good bye yet! We are still here for a little while and so I am off to find one more adventure today. Time to make a couple more memories. Missoula, we will see you soon.

That is so Euro…

This is perhaps a bit late in coming but it is the Giro d’Italia so I think this is worth sharing. Watching the Giro live has been a goal of mine for a long, long time. When the Giro route was announced last autumn I looked to see which stage or stages would pass closest to Slovenia. As luck would have it stage 13 would follow a route that very nearly passed into Slovenia. The finish of the stage was in a town called Cividale di Fruili. A very scenic town that is built high above a clear emerald green river. The added bonus is that this stage included four categorized climbs which would be a tough test for the riders. On paper it looked like it could make for a very exciting race. Four solid climbs, a long flat run in to the finish. Yeah, this could be a great stage. May 20th was marked in my calendar, I let the kid’s teachers know they would be gone and I went to the market to pull together a few things to pack for a day at the Giro.

Deep green and clear. The town of Cividale del Fruili is built above this river. You can see the Julian Alps of Slovenia in the background.

A couple of weeks prior to the race my enthusiasm got the better of me. I drove to Cividale di Fruili, met a couple of Italian friends and rode part of the Giro course. I was excited to sample a bit of what the racers were going to experience. The climbs were massive. They were steep, the roads were narrow and the descents were a thrill. The preview also gave me the chance to scope out a place for all of us to watch the race go by.

The funny thing about watching a bike race live is that in general you are out on small, out of the way country roads waiting for a few hours to see the peloton for a few seconds as they race past. If you want to see the racers moving at a slightly slower speed you find a part of the race where they are climbing a tall steep mountain. At the top of the mountain, where they are likely to be the most fatigued, they are usually moving even slower. A scenic spot up high on one of the four big climbs was what I was looking for. I found a spot near the top of the first climb; a category 1 climb! Category one means that the climb is long and steep! The spot I chose wound through a high mountain village. The road made a couple of switchbacks as it approached the village and made a couple of switchbacks as it passed through the village. The switchbacks meant we could watch them for a relatively long time, at least as as far as bike races go.

Race day came. We left Ljubljana early and made the 90 min drive to Cividale and then up the road toward the top of the first climb of the day where we would try and find our perfect Giro picnic spot. According to the race schedule the racers were expected to approach the top of the first climb around 2:00pm. If we wanted to have time to enjoy our picnic and celebrate the Giro with the rest of the crowd we would have to be at our spot by noon. We also had to get to the start of the climb before the road was closed to cars. We drove part way up the climb and then walked the last 6km to our picnic spot.

Giro Picnic
Waiting for the Giro to arrive requires a proper picnic

The walk up gave all of us the chance to get a sense of just how steep the climb was. There were plenty of people making the walk and even more riding bikes up the road. I guessed the walk up would take somewhere between 45-60 minutes. Along the way we passed both walkers and cyclists taking the occasional break from the uphill effort and several cyclists decide that pushing their bikes was a bit more manageable.

We reached the top of the climb and found a small crowd of people who arrived before us and came with the same idea. The crowds at the Giro tend to be smaller than at the Tour de France by they are no less enthusiastic. Actually the smaller crowds means there is more interaction. It is more like a party and everyone is excited to celebrate, especially the Italians. Italians are so warm and always eager to share their enthusiasm, not to mention their wine. The crowds at the Tour tend to be so large that you spend a large part of your time just trying to maintain the small spot you staked out. Our little corner up on Monte Maggiore was all about the festivities. We set out our picnic and joined in the merry making.

The thing about watching a bike race like the Giro is that you come to celebrate the Giro and its history, enjoy the crowd and join the party. We had a couple of hours to wait before the race made it’s way up the mountain. It was time to join in the celebrations. Music, food wine and lots of broken English and Italian combined with plenty of arm waving and gesticulating made for great, entertaining conversation. This is what watching the bike race is all about. The party, the socializing and soaking in all the Italian atmosphere. The race doesn’t take a back seat but it was still a long ways off so there was no reason to concern ourselves with something that was not in our immediate presence; and living in the present is something that the Italians do very well. La Dolce Vita!

Giro Offering
One of the locals made this beautiful offering to the Giro. Pastas, breads, cheeses and some colorful flowers.

Eventually the enthusiasm and noise of the crowd was interrupted by the distant thud of helicopter blades cutting through the air at the bottom of the valley. We could not yet see the peloton but we knew they were down there somewhere and that the helicopter would be hovering just above them. The other really cool thing about our spot on the hill was that we could see all the way down to the bottom of the mountain to where the climb began. We could also see a few short sections below us where the road emerged from the trees, but it was the helicopters that gave us the best indication of where the racers were on the mountain.

The entire atmosphere on the mountain changed from one of pure celebration to one of a celebration at a beautiful sporting event with dedicated cycling fans eager to support their favorite riders and favorite teams. The lively conversation changed to nervous and energetic chatter. The anticipation was obvious everywhere we looked. This was an important stage and one of the first big mountain stages. This day could play in important part in the overall outcome of the race and this particular climb would be the first test of the day. These die-hard fans knew they could witness something special today. The anticipation grew as the helicopter drew closer. Every once in a while someone would shout that they saw a rider through the trees. We were trying to guess would be the first to appear.Peleton Climb

A lone rider was the first to round the switchback at the bottom of the village. he had a small gap. 30 seconds later the main peloton appeared. At this point I think that most of the crowd forgot who they came to cheer for. All the racers received the same huge applause and cheers from the crowd. It was the race they had come to see and it was the race they were cheering for. Despite this being the first climb of the day there was a long interval between the first rider and the last rider to pass. The interval was a clear indication of just how difficult this day was going to be. But the support of the  was no less for the last rider than it was for the first rider. These athletes were riding their hearts out and the fans loved it and did not hold back their cheers.

Maglia Rosa
The leaders received huge cheers…
Final riders
… and the last riders heard the same applause.

Once the last rider passed we made a hasty depart back to the car. We wanted to get back to Cividale before the race passed through the city. After the Montemaggiore climb there was a short fast descent and then the second climb of the day. After the second climb the course passed through Cividale n the way to the third and fourth climbs of the day. If we were lucky we could get back to Cividale to in time to catch another brief glimpse of the race.

Cividale was also the location of the finish of the stage. After the last two climbs the course returned to Cividale to finish in town so naturally this is where most people were gathered. The city was packed. Forget the small crowds, the whole city was a party. The cafés, gift shops, restaurants, bakeries, cheese shops and sweet shops were all out eager to show off their specialties.

Local Fares
Yes, please!

The road along the route was packed with people. There were huge screens placed around the town showing the race live. Huge cheers would erupt when a the camera showed favorite riders. We wanted a good spot because the race would be at top speed through town. We chose a spot just before a hard left hand corner hoping the peloton would have to slow just a bit as they entered the turn.It was a good guess but the turn did not seem to slow them at all. I think you have to actually see the race live to understand just how fast the riders are moving and to see the skill it takes to navigate a hard left hand corner on cobbled roads all while moving at speeds above 45kph. We may have only seen them for a moment but the thrill is intense and memorable.

Now it was a waiting game. The race had two more climbs to summit before the flat 12km run in to the finish. There was a lot of racing left and the dynamic of a stage like this meant that lead changes would be inevitable. We watched the big screens to follow the race all the while cheering for the racers that had fallen off the pace. Judging by the gaps we were seeing the two first climbs must have been monsters. Riders were passing through in groups of three, four or five and well off the pace of the leaders. Many of the riders I am sure were wondering if they would finish within the time cut.

The whole city seemed to move as the crowd slowly made their way to the finish line on the other side of town. We had at least two more hours of waiting but we joined the crowd around one of the many big screens positioned around the finish area.

As expected the stage was decisive. Some of the favorites had a good day while others finished with looks of obvious disappointment. There were still several days left and anything could happen. If you followed this year’s Giro you will know that the days that followed were wild and the finish had an ending that no one could have predicted. For us it was a memorable day and I think that most of the fans would feel the same. I think we saw the racers for all of 10 minutes at the most but that does not diminish event. The build-up, the anticipation the festivities and the camaraderie are timeless. The racers may pass in a flash but the memories last much longer.

That is so Euro…

Il Giro

A little over a week ago I made the short drive from Ljubljana to the town of Cividale del Friui in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region in northeastern Italy. Wine is one of the primary industries in the Friuli region so a glass of wine seemed appropriate while I sat down to write this post. The Giro d’Italia will be passing through this region in late May and the finish of stage 13 will be in the town of Cividale del Friuli. Ever since the Giro route was revealed last year we have been looking forward to watching this stage since it will be passing so close to our home. It will be a very rare opportunity to us to go and see the Giro live; something I have wanted to do for a long time.

The stage should be pretty exciting as it has several climbs including two category 1 climbs,meaning they are long and steep. The reason for the drive over was to go and ride part of the course and see if I could find a good spot where we could plant ourselves, set up a picnic and watch the stage go by. The stage makes a couple of different loops around the region as it heads up and over the local mountains. There are several great places to watch. One of the best, and the spot where I think will be a critical point in the race is the category 1 climb up to Cima Porzus. The top of the  climb comes just over 30kms from the finish. The problem with the climb, from this spectator’s point of view, is that there will not be enough time to get down to Cividale del Fruili to watch the exciting finish. The alternative is to watch the race as it climbs up the first category 1 climb up to Montemaggiore. The climb is steep and weaves back and forth on a seemingly endless series of switchbacks. There are plenty of places where we can set up our picnic, watch the race approach, lose our minds as they pass and get back to Cividale del Fruili with plenty of time to watch the finish.

I packed my bike in the car and made the one hour drive to Italy. The town of Cividale del Friuli is a few short Km’s from the border with Slovenia. Almost immediately upon entering the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region you are surrounded by vast rolling vineyards. It is early in the season so the vines are still small with only the beginnings of new growth but it is not hard to see why this is such a massive and important wine growing region. In fact wines from the Friuli region are regarded along with those from Tuscany and Piedmont as producers of some of the worlds finest wines. Cividale del Friuli sits above a river that is a deep shade of jade. It is clear and rich with color. There is an old stone bridge that crosses the river in to the center of town. It is a truly a stunning sight.

Deep green and clear. The town of Cividale del Fruili is built above this river. You can see the Julian Alps of Slovenia in the background.

I hopped on my bike trying to mentally trace the map of the Giro stage hoping that I would be able to remember the route I was supposed to follow. A few Km’s into the ride I saw a banner on the wall of a building welcoming the Giro to town. I stopped to snap a photo and just after I took the photo a group of cyclists went rolling by going the same direction as I was headed. Just like my first trip to Italy last January I rode up and asked if I could join them for a while. As with my last ride this group of Italian riders was happy to have me join. One of them, it turns out, works for Cannondale in Italy. He and I were riding the same bike. We rode for a while passing through several villages in the flat agricultural land. Everywhere I looked there were banners and “pink” decorations welcoming the Giro to their region. If you come and don’t know the route of the Giro all you have to do is follow the banners, ribbons and quirky pink decorations. There is also a  lot of road work being done along the route. The racers will be welcomed with fresh asphalt and freshly painted white lines. There is still some road work to be done and some lines to be painted but I am sure that by the time the race pass through the riders will enjoy some immaculate roads.

Saluto il Giro
This was the first of many banners hung all along the Giro route.
Giro Banner
The banners are up, the road is freshly paved and after the white lines are painted the only thing missing will be the fans and the Giro caravan.

The group stopped at a sports park to refill water bottles. Giorgio, the guy works for Cannondale, told me they were going to ride one of the climbs that the Giro would climb. Cool, that was what I came here to do. It would be great to have these folks guide me. As we approached the climb, Alberto, one of the other riders, said something like “supra la montagna, “piano”. Perfect, I thought, that is just what I was hoping for. I could see the road rise up ahead and it looked steep. I guess that makes sense considering the Giro has classified it as category 1. It turns out that on this day “piano” translates roughly to steady tempo until this foreigner cracks and then we pick up the pace one more notch. I was clawing at my handlebars, sweat dripping off my forehead and up ahead of me I could see Alberto comfortable chatting away. I think that 4-5kms means something different in Italy as well. As we passed through 5kms I could not see a summit anywhere near us. Finally, after climbing for 9Kms we reached the top.

mediterranean view
If you look off in the distance you can see Venice and the Mediterranean Sea.

We had only covered about 30kms on the day to this point and I was tapped. Holy smokes, that was a steep bugger of a climb. The view of the Italian Alps was remarkable. The skies were so clear I am sure I could see all the way across Italy. It was also a good opportunity for the requisite selfie.

calm before the climb
I think Alberto and his buddy were discussing the meaning of “piano” and the meaning of ~ 4-5Kms. I learned… ~9Kms later.
Summit Selfie
Summit selfie with Alberto and I. The Italian alps stretched out to the west as far as the eye could see.

At least we were at the top and where the fun part begins. I love flying downhill on my bike and I love going fast. A steep winding Italian road would be awesome! Off we went. OK, awesome is a bit of an overstatement. The road was steep, the road was windy and with the brakes off my bike quickly picked up speed. The problem was that the road was narrow with super tight switchbacks that came in very rapid succession. When I say narrow I mean narrow single lane wide. The corners were tight and blind. More than a few times there was a car coming up the road which required us to stay tight, pull in our elbows, stay out of the gutter on the right and avoid nailing the driver’s side view mirror all while banking hard into a turn at mach speed. That was easily the most stressful 9km descent I have ever done. Alberto and crew flew down the mountain seemingly with out fear or regard for the fact that a car could appear around the next blind switchback. I couldn’t keep pace with them going up but there was no way I was going to let them ride away from me on the descent. We dropped a couple of guys but I kept on the wheel of Alberto and another rider. The other rider, I never caught his name, was using carbon rims with special carbon specific brake pads. On more than a few occasions his rear wheel would momentarily lock up as we entered a super tight switchback. It was driving me nuts. I was sure that at any moment he was going to go sliding off the road. If that wasn’t bad enough the smell of burning carbon brake pads was awful. I had no idea bike brakes could smell as bad as burning car brakes. But then, I guess I have never been on a descent quite like this one. At the bottom I was relieved we were finished. I am not sure I would call that descent fun. Actually, yeah, it was fun.

Alberto and his group had, for the most part, completed their ride. Alberto rode up to me and said “now we drink caffe. Do you drink caffe?” Do I drink coffee. Hmmm, are Ferrari’s Italian? After one more small climb we rode up to Alberto’s favorite cafe. We walked in and Alberto said “Ciao” to the two gals working behind the counter. He looked at me, and as he motioned to the baristas said “Italy has the most beautiful women, no?” The two gals gave him a congenial smile but I think I saw them both roll their eyes. I could not argue, those two were beautiful but I was not sure how to respond. I was pretty sure that one of them was Alberto’s girlfriend. I didn’t want to put my foot in my mouth so I said that all Italians were good looking. It is true, Italians are all good looking. Who knows, maybe it is something in the wine. I’m not sure but just in case I think I will pour myself one more glass.


That is So Euro

Group Rides

The better part of my time here in Slovenia I find myself going out for solo rides. There were not many, or any group rides during the winter and early spring so finding folks to ride with was not very easy. I would see plenty of others out on the roads but, like me, they were usually solo. Heading out to explore the roads around Ljubljana on my own was certainly not a bad thing. My routine was to get on the google machine and study the roads that would eventually become my route for the day.

Over the Hill
Sometimes I am not sure what I will find over the hill in front of me.

The beauty of having my road bike with me here in Slovenia is that I find myself riding on roads that I would not otherwise have any reason to be on. There are small roads that head off in all sorts of random directions and many head into small valleys or up to hilltop villages or simply come to an unexpected end. For the most part there is no reason to be on those roads except for the simple pleasure of exploring or occasionally getting lost. The other unintended consequence is finding plenty of interesting and unique place to go hiking with my family on the weekends.

Vivapava Village
Over each hill or around the next bend are villages like this one. I met a super talented winemaker in this village. Sarah and I returned for a tour.
Logarsak Dohlina
The Logarska Valley. My words and photos cannot even begin to describe the magnificence of this valley.

With spring finally arriving the group rides have also begun. I met a fellow rider at the top of a pass between Austria and Slovenia. He and I were headed back the same way in to Slovenia so we had the chance to get to know each other. He invited me to come join his club’s group ride the following week. I have not been on a group ride in ages. I don’t know when the last time was I joined in the “Hell Ride” or weekend rides in Missoula. I was eager to join a group again.

I showed up Tuesday evening and found a group of about forty riders waiting to depart. If it has been a long time since my last group ride it has been even longer since I have been in a group this size. Aleš, the ride leader, was happy to have me join the group but was also very clear that I had to follow the rules of group etiquette. To ensure that I knew what I was doing and not cause any problems in the group he would ride next to me. He made sure that I knew to point out (the very rare) obstacles or debris or bumps in the road. He made sure I didn’t pull through to slowly or too quickly. After several Km’s I think he decided that I was able to handle myself. We rode next to each other the entire ride. Aleš it turns out is a professional sports photographer and he has been to the last 14 summer and winter Olympics among all the other sports events he photographs. He is a super interesting fellow. It was a blast riding tempo and sitting behind a few wheels waiting for my turn at the front. Just as all was going well I promptly managed to crash on a round-about. I’m not sure how it happened. I was near the front of the group as we entered the round-about and I felt my bike slip. I looked at my front wheel and in super slow motion I watched it lose purchase and every so gracefully glide off to my right. In a matter of a fraction of a moment I remember the impending embarrassment flooding in and thinking “hmmm, this is not good” and “oh man, are they going to want me to still ride with them after this?”

It was such a weird crash. The pavement was super smooth so I just slid a bit, feet still locked into my pedals and my bike shorts providing the friction necessary to bring me to a stop. Instinct said get up and keep going. Before the last rider in the group had passed me I was back on my bike – embarrassed as hell – and riding again. I rode back up to Aleš doing my best to hide my embarrassement. “Are you fine?” he asked.  “Oh yeah, no problem. I’m fine” I said trying to pick up the conversation where we left off before my little diversion. That was not a good way to get back into my first group ride here. Fortunately there were no other incidents on the ride and I hoped most of the folks in the group would forget it even happened.

Team Bam*Bi out on the road.

The weather and other obligations here in Ljubljana kept me from joining the ride for the next couple of weeks. The crash was still on my mind when I rode up to where the group meets. The folks on this ride are all pretty skilled riders, not all of them race but they are all very comfortable in a group. My goal for the ride was just to stay upright this time. It was a strange goal especially given that I cannot even remember when the last time was that I crashed on a road bike.

The ride was mostly without incident and I can happily report that I did not crash. The only incident, and I suppose it was more than just a small incident, was getting pulled over by the police. We were zooming down a typically narrow two lane road riding in a side by side paceline when a local police car went driving up the road past us. The car pulled over and two officers stepped out and waved us over to a small driveway off the side of the road. Just about everyone started pulling out their ID cards. I didn’t have my Slovene residency card so I was getting a bit nervous. The police asked who was in charge of the ride. The ride leader/club president, another person named Aleš stepped forward and was the group spokes person. I understood some of what was being said but not much. They asked what the team name was (Team Bam*Bi – more on that later) and where the team vehicle was (No team vehicle this evening – a big no no). There was a short but animated exchange and in the end we were let off with a warning.

Valley Rainbow
I had to stop and take this photo from the top of the climb in the group ride. Ironically the point where the rainbow is touching down is the same place where the police pulled us over. What could it all mean?

As we rode off and returned to our double paceline formation I asked Grega, the rider next to me, what the problem was and why we were pulled over. He launched into a tirade about how archaic the Slovene laws are regarding cyclists on the road. “I wish the laws were the same as they are in the rest of Europe” He said. The brief synopsis goes like this regarding the archaic laws. If you are in a group of four or less you need to ride single file. A group of six or greater must ride two abreast. There is an exception it turns out. If your are in a group of four AND you possess a Slovene cycling association racing license you may ride two abreast. The reason we were pulled over was that we were in a large group riding as a team training ride and we did not have an official team vehicle following us this particular evening. If we had a team vehicle and we had our racing licenses we would have been just fine. The riders were not pulling out their ID’s when the police pulled us over, they were pulling out their racing licenses. That is archaic? I guess in other European countries you can ride in a large group without the team vehicle as long as you have your racing license. Something like that but I have not looked any deeper into the law as it is written. The Slovene laws I verified.

All in all I think the whole episode was a bit of a bonding experience for the group. An opportunity for everyone to gripe and complain about the impractical laws and the over zealous police. I also felt like I was part of the group having shared in the experience. The ride continued in usual fashion, one long climb, a wicked descent and a flat 20km run in to the village where we began our escapade. The group invited me in to the pub for a beer after the ride. They reluctantly, but with some prodding of Aleš, sort of filled me in on the reason behind the team name – Bam*Bi. When the four founding members formed the team they named it using the first letter of their girlfriend’s (at the time) names. I am sure there is much more to the story given the glances and snickers they were giving each other but the details were not forthcoming. Just before I got up to leave Grega said “you have not replaced you bar tape yet.” No I had not. My handlebar tape was still a little bit torn from my little dance with the asphalt three weeks prior and one of the other guys asked Grega to mention it to me. I guess they had not forgotten that I was That Guy. At least they still let me ride with them.

That is so Euro…


We have so much information at our fingertips these days. We are surrounded by data and it is all virtually inescapable. We get on our bike and switch on our Garmin. It providess us up to the moment info and stores it for future review. I am not going to say that folks here in Slovenina, or Europe in general, are more inclined to dwell on info provided but they do have their own take on it.

We spent a winter skiing in Slovenia and Austria. We met other skiers on the lift, asked them where they were from and told them about us. Almost without fail they would ask us about our local ski hill back in Montana. In our case that local hill would be Snowbowl. How many Km of piste does your hill manage? What is the total amount of vertical at your hill? How many piste do you have on your hill? We really did not have an answer. I know that the top of the Lavelle lift is about 2200m, about. How many runs at Snowbowl? Well his guess was as good as mine and that was the same for the number of Km of piste. Really, who cares about that stuff. I just look to see what the snow and weather forecast show.

But no, the folks we talk to on the lift seem to have a whole host of facts about their local mountain. The top loft is not at about 2100m but is at exactly 2169m. Austrians are very exacting as are Slovenians. I am sure we all know folks that carry that info around with them but here in Slovenia that is more the norm rather than the exception. Even the ski lifts give you more info than you need, but it is pretty cool to see it. My kids know how many chairs there are on both the Grizzly lift and the Lavelle lift, they even know how long it takes to get from top to bottom, assuming the lift doesn’t break down mid ride.

On the local lifts here we have plenty more to look at…

One thing that we have found to be pretty cool are the trail signs. Walking in the hills is, among other things, a national pastime. The trails all have signs that indicate the time to walk the trail rather than the distance. I have seen this all over Europe. In France, Germany, Austria and Slovenia. I wondered why they didn’t have the distance marked. I was told it was because distance does not give an indication of the terrain. A flat walk of two Km is far shorter than a 2km walk straight up a hillside. If you have three hours for a walk and the trail sign says 2hr 45min then you know you will be finished when you need to be finished. Sure some folks walk faster than others but for the most part these signs pretty much nail the timing. In a way, for someone competitive like me, it is a challenge to go faster than the sign would indicate. The problem, if I can call it a problem, is that there are some many wonderful things to slow down and take in that the timing usually works out accurately.

Like said, being that walking is a national pastime people, young and old, tackle all the same trails. Some are steep, some are rocky or rooty and some are in perfect condition. Regardless if you have your walking poles you are good to go. Everyone here uses them. I have even heard of ultra runners using them on mountainous terrain in competition.

Trail signs
Where exactly would you like to go? How much time do you have? No worries there is a trail for you.

Ask someone for directions and be assured that the time and distance to your destination will be accurate as well. This has been an almost comical treat here in Slovenia. If you ask for directions to a specific place expect very good directions.

“Ah, yes. To reach the bookstore walk three minutes on Celovska cesta then turn right on Damianska and walk 120m. you will come to a small lane.Turn right again and walk 40m the store will be on your left side. All very specific and accurate. Who need GPS?


That is so Euro…

That is So Euro…


I think that perhaps I am a bit too self-conscious about being an American in Slovenia. It has nothing to do with concerns for my personal security. Slovenia is lovely, safe and the folks I have met here more than surpass what anyone would expect from a gracious host. My concern is personal and internal. It is my own frustration with inability to fully and richly communicate with the folks that I interact with everyday. It turns out that I am quite easily identified as an English speaker and on occasion pegged as American. Man, I gotta tell you, I give my best effort to pronounce Slovene as best I can. I walk into the market and in my best Slovene I greet the farmers selling fresh veggies. The folks in line in front of me offer their greetings, ask for veggies and then pay. Their entire transaction is in Slovene and to my great joy I even understand some of what they say. Then it is my turn. I am really focusing on my accent and give my best shot. “Dober Dan” (Good day) I say. The farmer working the stall says “welcome, what can I get for you?” Spoken in English. Wow, I really thought I had it nailed. HOW did he know? Clearly my accent says I am an English speaker.

The communication gap can be a challenge. Conversation is deliberate. Language is precise and body language is expressive. It is all in the hopes that my words will convey the full intention of my thoughts. But never say quit. I am going to keep working on learning the language. It is important to me and, it turns out, is meaningful to the Slovenes.

I must say, Slovenians really appreciate when you attempt to speak their language. They are genuinely flattered and appreciative of any attempts to use their language. Slovenia is a small country and Slovene is a language spoken by relatively few people. It is a far cry from Spain where many Spaniards speak only Spanish or France where they would prefer you just stick to English rather than butcher their language which is obviously one of the most beautiful spoken anywhere in the world. No, the Slovenes are very humble and when they hear foreigners speak their language they are quick with the acknowledgment of gratitude.

For Slovenes their language is the defining component of their culture. It is the foundation upon which their identity as a Slovenian is based. If you ask most Slovenes to describe their culture they will respond briskly that their art is shared, their music is shared, their cuisine is shared, but their language, their language is unique and has sustained the Slovene identity through over a millennia of incursion and foreign rule.

There are 4.2 million Slovene speakers worldwide. Of those 4.2 million only 2.4 million live in Slovenia. The diaspora of the Slovene language is rooted in a dark period in Slovenian history. One that is not a welcome topic of conversation.

Last September (2015) I was on a short visit to Slovenia. My friend Irena, a Slovenian geographer and mountain climber invited me to a birthday party that was taking place in the hills about 45km west of Ljubljana. The party was for four women who had been friends since university. Each had gone on to careers in academia. They had been close friends for 30 years and they were celebrating milestone birthdays. One of their colleagues, a highly regarded geology professor from the University of Ljubljana was the host and he would be our tour guide for a long hike in the surrounding hills. The Karst landscape where we would be walking was his domain and also the area of his geological expertise. We had a wonderful walk and a lengthy discussion on the landscape, the geology, the caves and the vegetation. At one point I noticed hidden behind some bushes up on a hillside a small memorial. I quietly split from the group to get a closer look. It was a cement block about 40 cm square with a bright red star on it. There were words written in Slovene but of course I had no idea what they said. I ambled back to the group and asked the professor if he knew what the memorial was. He told me it was a memorial to a fallen soldier but he abruptly turned his back to me and continued providing his geological narrative.

This is a memorial to a fallen Communist Partians is larger than most I have seen.

Irena, meanwhile heard me ask my question of the professor. She pulled me aside and told me that the memorial and the events surrounding it were a taboo subject in Slovenia and not spoken about publicly. Most Slovenes, she said still harbored very strong feelings about the events associated with the memorial. Later during the walk, the professor, in a very gentle manner, and with absolutely no animosity toward me said that the memorial had no place in Slovenia. Those memorialized were traitors he said. The calm demeanor with which he spoke his words was betrayed by the intensity in his eyes. A reply to my inquiry was something he needed to give me, however brief and cryptic. I unintentionally brought up the topic and it ignited something deep inside. I could not tell what it was. Hurt, anger betrayal, deception. I was not sure, perhaps all of those things, but the emotion maybe even the memories lingered and the emotions were as strong as ever. This professor is about 65 years old.

The global diaspora of the Slovene language is largely the result of the horrific events that took place beginning May 1945 near the end of World War II. Slovenia, then part of Yugoslavia was occupied by the German Nazis and the Italian Fascists but the Communists, who at the time were tenuously allied with the British and the Americans, were quickly driving out the Germans and Italians. Up to that point it had appeared that Hitler would be victorious in his pan-European campaigns. The Slovenes were divided between the two invaders. This division resulted in a Slovenian civil war. It was a war within a war and the line between good and evil, right and wrong were blurred and without distinction.

The two sides were the Domobranci (the Home Guard) who were primarily Catholic, and the Partisans. The Domobranci sided with the Italians and Germans despite being mistreated by them. In fact the Italian constructed a fence around Ljubljana to keep the partisans from communicating with compatriots outside of the city. The Partisans sided with the Communists. In the Germans the Dombranci saw an opportunity for cultural self-preservation as the Germans were likely to allow Slovenians plenty of autonomy once the war was over. They were also absolutely opposed to communist rule. The Partisans on the other hand saw great potential in Communist rule and Marshall Tito who was extremely charismatic had risen to power in Yugoslavia and was strongly aligned with the Communists.

The city of Ljubljana constructed a beautiful walking trail along the entire perimeter of Ljubljana where the Italians once had their fence. It is also known as “The Path of Remembrance”

As the Communists continued to drive out the Italians and Germans the Slovene Catholics learned that Tito intended to eliminate any threat to Communist rule. This meant the elimination of the Catholics and the Domobranci. In late May 1945 Catholic Slovenes fled their homes in Slovenia for Austria, many never returned.

In Austria they were settled in refugee camps. The British, who were allied with the Communists wanted to remain on good terms with Marshall Tito. They did not want the soldiers of the Domobranci to return to Slovenia to rejoin the Nazis and Fascists to fight against the Communists. The British told the Domobranci that they were going to send them to a resettlement camp in Palmanova, Italy. Instead they were returned to Slovenia, delivered to Tito and summarily slaughtered. 12,000 Slovenes were killed in a matter of days by fellow Slovenes. Brothers, fathers, sons set against one another. It was a time of great confusion. Alliances, both the Domobranci and the Partisans were based on their best hopes for self preservation. To be sure, the Domobranci are estimated to have killed anywhere from 4,000 to 14,000 Partisans in their attempts to keep Slovenia free from Communism. But it the sheer brutality of the Domobranci genocide that resonates still throughout Slovenia. The red star on the cement block is a memorial to a fallen Partisan. I have randomly encountered more of those memorials on hikes and bike rides. Their locations are random, scattered but ubiquitous.

Most of the Slovenes that fled to Austria never returned to Slovenia but dispersed across the globe settling heavily in Great Britain (who by June 1945 had dramatically changed their course of action toward the Slovenes), Canada, Argentina and the United States. The stories of many of those emigrants is fascinating. Their industriousness and resourcefulness is reflected in the amazing contributions they made and continue to make in their new communities.

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Slovenia is an incredibly beautiful country. Slovenians have much to be proud of.

Being Slovenian is an identity that is defined by language. There are nearly two million people who, by virtue of their language, consider themselves Slovenian. Many of those people have never been to Slovenia. Such is the power of language.

My grasp of the language is limited but if I can use their language to find a deeper connection with the people who have so obligingly welcomed me I will make every attempt to do so.

Hvala za branje  (Thank you for reading)

Na zdravje (Cheers)

That Is So Euro…

Winter here in Slovenia has yet to decide whether it wants to stay, go or whether it has even arrived. December and January were somewhat cold but mild by historical standards. On most days we walk outside with a warm jacket, hat and gloves. On the warm days I found myself wearing only a sweater and relishing the sunshine. There have only been two episodes of snowfall in the city that have had any lasting impact. When I say lasting I mean the snow stuck around for maybe a week at best, a bit longer in shaded spots.

The skiing early in the season left something to be desired. Most of the runs were on man-made snow. But leave it to the Austrians (our ski pass is for Austria), they are absolute masters at managing their ski resorts and making the most of what little snow they might have. At most areas the groomed runs were perfect to ski from the morning opening to the last run down at the end of the day. We just forced ourselves to avert our eyes from the edges of the ski runs. On either side all we would see was dirt and rocks. It was difficult to imagine how the areas off the runs could possibly receive enough snow to make them skiable.

By the time we reached the beginning of February the massive array of dark brown and rocky patches found themselves covered in a thin veneer of white. Still not enough to ski on but the image was encouraging. By the time we hit Valentine’s Day winter had delivered. The mountains in Austria were blooming with vast open and snow covered terrain. It was difficult to imagine that only a few short weeks prior the same gullies and chutes were rocks, bushes and scree. In Slovenia as well the snow has provided a bounty and the mountains were beaming with massive bright white peaks. Their nature and profiles transformed by layer upon layer of snow.

We took a trip up to our “local” mountain last week. The name of the ski area is Krvavec. It is set up in the mountains about 35 minutes from Ljubljana. It is a relatively small operation, only a few lifts, but it serves a huge variety of amazing terrain. Lots of steeps, lots of side chutes (if you know where to look), and really good snow. In a lot of ways it reminds us of Snowbowl. The folks that ski there are from town, they know each other, they want to share a good time but mostly they are seeking every last bit of fresh powder. Krvavec even has its own version of Star Wars Iconolgy.

Krvavec has its own Star Wars iconology. It looks like a communication tower from Echo base on the Ice planet of Hoth.
The entire northern boundary of Krvavec is a 500m cliff band. Yes, its pretty well fenced off.

The last two weeks have delivered a steady stream of big snowfalls to Slovenia and Austria. We have taken every advantage to make fresh track in the deep powder. Fortunately for all of us the kids were on winter break last week. It was mostly raining in Ljubljana but snowing up in the mountains. Rather than getting soaking wet on long walks in the hills we decided it would be best for our mental health to his the slopes. We managed to ski 6 out of 9 days of their break.

Back in Ljubljana it has been a matter of waiting for the gaps between rain storms to get out on the bike and ride. He period between rain is so small that even if it is not raining the roads are still pretty wet all the time. Riding in the rain or on wet roads is something I used to do with out a second thought. These days I have gone soft. The idea of getting wet and feeling soggy while riding does not appeal to me. I will trade a wet ride for coffee and croissant at the local café anytime. Even though I have made my best effort to avoid riding when there is the slimmest of chance of rain I still find myself returning home from a ride covered with a thin film of road grime. My bike is also covered in its fair share of grime. My chain grinds away with the sound of grit churning through the links. Each time I grab the brakes I can hear my brake pads scouring the sidewalls of my rims like a rough stone against metal. It is not a pleasant sound.

After the ride comes the maintenance. Wow, being at MBW on a nearly daily basis I have really taken for granted the ease and flexibility I have to work on my bike. Even at home I can put the portable bike stand out, rinse off the bike, dry it and get it back to a presentable condition. Here in Ljubljana, things are very different. I have no bike stand and only rudimentary tools. Our apartment building does not have a water spigot in front or in back. What this has meant it that I carry two buckets down three flights of stairs. One with water to rinse the bike and one with warm soapy water. It is a funny sight. My bike I hang on the clothes lines that are strung up in the courtyard in the back of the apartment building. The unfortunate thing is that One bucket of rinse water is sometimes not quite enough but I really don’t want to walk all the way back upstairs fill the bucket and then walk back down. Call me lazy, the worst I’m going to do is agree with you.

We have for years offered basic bike maintenance classes at MBW. In those classes we discuss very simple and very efficient ways of keeping your bike and drive train clean. Brushes, sponges, soap, and water. That is all I need. But, wow, I would love to have my bike in the stand, with a water hose and an air compressor. I’m not comaining, OK, I a complaining a little bit but that is only because I have been so spoiled for so long. My bike is looking good but it is a funny sight cleaning a bike that is hanging from a clothes hanger.

I had to find a new bike lube for my chain. I have been using Dumond Tech chain lube for a while and I love it. It is probably the best lube I have tried and I have grown quite comfortable with it. I went to my favorite local bike shop and asked for a recommendation. They gave me a lube that they said was their preferred lube. Trying new lube, for me, is like trying out a new brand of jeans when you already know that which pair of Levi’s you like. I have been riding the new lube for a while. It is good stuff, not quite like Dumonde Tech but it is good. The folks at my local bike shop have been really good to me. You can’t beat your local bike shop for keeping your bike rolling.

Getting out on the road bike is a great way to explore small side roads out in the countryside that I would not have reason to explore by car. Small side roads meander up narrow out of the way valleys. Along the way the roads pass through small villages where it appears that the pace of life and the daily routine have not changed in decades. Old farm houses and barns are spread out across the valley surrounding the village. The only obvious indication that I am still in the twenty first century are the satellite dishes on some of the houses. Despite some of the relatively remote locales I have explored I find that the roads are almost always in great condition. Smooth, clear of debris and great for riding. But that is not always the case. Everyone once in a while I wander on to a random side road with an unknown destination. Curiosity being the driving factor. Usually those roads are in good condition but every once in a while I find a road that makes even the worst roads in Montana look like new pavement. My Cannondale Super Six has been a great companion on these roads. Shameless plug, but my bike while designed to be a world class race bike is still comfortable enough to smooth out some pretty rough roads.

Sometimes the roads are not perfect…
Sometimes they are.

Only in the last week of February have I noticed that perhaps winter has relented and spring has arrived. The locals give a good indication of this transition. I have noticed that the fields are newly ploughed. Green is returning to the fields and hillsides, road crews are clearing dirt and debris from drainage ditches and one of my favorite locals has returned to town. I was out for a hike up to the castle with one of my kids and we came across a hillside covered in bright colorful purple crocuses announcing their arrival.

This is always a welcome sight this time of year.

Perhaps spring will finally assert itself in March. Until then my seasonal indecision will be split between putting on the skis or getting out on the bike. At least I have a decent method of keeping my bike clean.

Frostbike 2016

Three whirlwind days are in the books. It was an extremely frost free event, so we didn’t ride anything but shuttle buses and the light rail while we were here. We did see a ton of cool product, sat through some super informative seminars, amd we’re stoked to come home and put some of what we learned to use. We appreciate everyone that followed along on Instagram. Rather than blowing up your feed, we decided to just do a bit of a picture dump here on the blog.

Forgive me if I don’t caption everything, it’s been a tiring one. Enjoy the pics!

A Remolino Fatty on display in the lunch room.

Lazers new glasses are pretty sweet. Held on by magnets and helmet straps.

Much as we love bikes, this may have been my favorite two-wheeler on the show floor.

Whisky may have gotten the location for NAHBS confused…

Ti CX goodness from Foundry

The Twin Peaks theme song is still rattling around my brain. The Log Lady is pretty dang sweet though.

Beautiful Bianchi

Big fat Minions.

We are super pumped on this new CrossCheck build. This may not be final spec but it’s dang close and it’ll be amazingly well priced. Keep your eyes on Surlys website for more details soon.

Rolhoff on a Wednesday in the Revelate booth

New 27.5+ from Heller. The Shagamaw has two builds, one sub-$2K and one mid-$2K. Cool stuff coming from this new brand.

Buy a Surly, make it your own.

CX, gravel, road, Foundry is doing some cool things with loopy barred bikes.


New frame bag from Surly, the StraggleCheck. There is also the Porteur House bag that works perfectly with the 24pack rack.

Yes, we went to Mall of America.

And that’s it. We saw it all and talked to reps about most of it. So, if you see something floating around the interwebs and want more details give us a call or stop in the shop. Thanks again for following along with us!


We love working on bikes. Sometimes, we get our hands on one that is just… special.

A few weeks back, a customer brought in just such a bike. Braxton #336. Original paint and an Italian group set to die for, Andy just put the finishing touches on this piece of Missoula history.

Words don’t do it justice so, here’s some photos.


Andy relaced these hoops, original built by Braxton, to some Phil Wood hubs.

Dig those soldered cable ends. Andy really went above and beyond with this one.

That is so Euro…

If you spend enough time in one country it is difficult to miss or even avoid state holidays. Mid February has a couple of important holidays in Slovenia. Really, any holiday in Slovenia is important. Slovenia has existed as an ethnicity and culture for more than a millennium, it is a history rich with and language and culture. Yet Slovenia as a country has only been existence since 1991. Given the recent addition of Slovenia as a sovereign state the celebration of Slovenian traditions and holidays take on greater relevance. They are an important celebration of Slovenian pride and identity. After two months here we understood the value of recognizing and participating in the national holidays. So participate we did.

At the beginning of February is a ten day rite of spring known as Kurentovanje. The celebration culminates on the final day, Shrove Sunday. On this day, in the city of Ptuj there is a massive parade and the highlight of the parade is the march of the Kurents! The Kurents are huge hairy beasts that embody unrestrained pleasure and the spirit of bacchanal. Most importantly though they are believed to chase away winter with their wooden clubs and waist belts laden with large noisy bells. They also live up to their reputation for seeking pleasure. As they march through the city they seek the attention of the young women lining the streets. The Kurents will reach out and grab a young girl and carry her into the parade. The only way to be released from the grasp of the Kurent is to give him your handkerchief. The noise of the bells, the color, the spectacle and the sheer number of Kurents was amazing. There were over a thousand Kurents in the parade. Solveig and her buddy Zoe were fortunate on a few occasions to escape the hairy grasp of a Kurent. The Kurents bear a striking resemblance to the Krampus by-the-way. No, not the bike.

Kurents, are dressed in heavy sheep skin costumes with large bells hung around their belts
Kurents are quite aggressive in seeking out young women with whom they share their affection as Solveig and Zoe discovered on numerous occasions.


The 8th of February is the annual Slovenian day of cultural celebration. This is one of the biggest holidays in Slovenia and is a true reflection of how deeply Slovenians value the importance of their art, literature and poetry. The official name of the holiday is Prešeren Day. France Prešeren was a Slovene poet. The holiday celebrates the anniversary of his death on 8, February 1849. The holiday is more than a memorial to his life. It is intended as a day to celebrate all of Slovenia’s art, history and culture. All of the museums are open and entrance is free to everyone. In Prešeren Trg (Square) people will show up and spontaneously recite Prešeren’s poetry from memory. This occurs all day long. It is truly an impressive experience.

France Prešeren is Slovenia’s greatest poet and the author of the Slovenian National Anthem. There is a beautiful square in the center of the city dedicated to his memory.

The emphasis on culture is pervasive. Even the military abides by the recognition of Slovenian culture and it’s importance to Slovenian identity. The Slovenian military has its battalions and regiments but they are named after Slovenian poets and philosophers rather than tigers, bees, eagles, badgers or whatever animal would intimidate you more than a poet. Again, it is a testament to Slovene identity.


I have to admit, I was eager to experience these Slovenian holidays but the reason I actually did experience them was because at the beginning of February the skiing in Slovenia and nearby Austria was marginal at best. It is really hard to justify a 90 min drive to ski on beautifully groomed runs all day in the bright sunshine. We have been waiting two months for some real snow and deep powder…


With no snow falling the riding in Slovenia has been great. There are so many great rides to do starting here in Ljubljana. Ljubljana is situated in a low lying basin but is surrounded by hills and mountains. It provides an opportunity for a wide variety of rides. All of which I have taken advantage of as long as the roads are dry. This time of year they are usually unrideable.

Way up here the road and land is usually covered in snow


Hedging is usually what you find Vegas gamblers or Wall Street investors doing. In our case we have hedged against the weather, If the sun shines and the roads are dry it is great for getting out and exploring the country by bike. If the snow falls and the powder is deep it is time to step into the skis. After waiting for almost two months the snow began falling. At first Mother Nature was a tease. The mountains received a couple of centimeters here and there. Definitely nothing to get excited about. Then suddenly and in spite of the grim forecasts the snow began to fall. Loads of it fell in Slovenia, Italy, Austria and all the countries with high alpine mountain ranges. Finally. My bike is going to be dormant for a while but my skis will get a lot of use. I consider it cross-training.


Skiing in Austria (and I have heard Italy) is like skiing nowhere else. The facilities and infrastructure are something to behold. The eight person lifts, the gondolas that span broad valleys, the full service restaurants and lodges that are perched high on alpine ridges apparently well beyond vehicle service, all are exemplary and stunning to behold.


One thing I would have never expected was to take a lift to the top of a mountain by travelling under the mountain. Snow had been falling, the powder was deep and we decided to try out a place called Mölltaler Gletscher. High in the Austrian Alps are a series of glaciers (gletschers). They were hit hard with loads of snow and we went up to enjoy the fruits of Mother Nature’s generosity. In order to get up to the ski area you have to hop on a train from the base. This is not apparent when you arrive in the parking lot. At least for us it was not. All we saw was a mountain, free of any snow, rising in front of us.

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This is the base area of the ski resort? Where is the snow and what is in that cave?

We followed the gaggle of skiers walking into the mountain. We followed but were completely perplexed by the scene. No lifts, no gondolas anywhere insight. Only a cave set well into the mountain and everyone was headed that direction. Not sure what else to do we followed. Deep into the mountain we made our way on to a funicular. The train cars were not flat but rather a series of steps. Get in, hang on to your skis and enjoy the ride. With a sudden lurch the train began moving uphill quickly. There was nothing to see. The whole ride was underground. Everyone in the train car kind of awkwardly looking at one another, some folks making small talk – how much did you hear it snowed up there? 20cm? Not bad. Are you staying in the village down below tonight? Oh that place. I hear they serve a great breakfast.

Solveig and Neto are biding their time on the way up, under the mountain on the way to the Mölltaler Glatscher.

Once we emerged from the tunnel we were greeted with warm bright sunshine. The train traveled underground and uphill for over four kilometers. We gained well over 1200 meters along the way. We disembarked from the train in a basin high up in the treeless alpine. All around us we saw mountains white with fresh fallen snow. This was this first big snowfall in a long time. Coverage was good but it was the first snowfall in weeks and two meters of snow high up in the mountains meant we still had to watch for the occasional protrusions of rocks here and there. Still that much snow also meant that we could ski just about anywhere we saw snow. It is a very rewarding treat to see a bowl that drops 600 meters with nothing obstructing your run. If I cannot be on my bike then being on the skis is a great alternative.

Solveig is that little dot in the basin about 600 meters below. It was a treat to find snow this good with sin this bright. Skiing here is different.


Getting around has been pretty easy. We have a car that has a cargo box on top. It holds all five pairs of skis and our ski poles. I really appreciate having a car, but wow, our car is pretty gutless. Fill the car with five people, our skis and our gear and you have a car that is not eager to climb up over steep mountain passes. The highway speed limit here in Slovenia and Austria is 130 km/hr. Our car, if pushed can manage 140 km/hr. Not fast enough to keep up with the cars that give us fair warning and a couple of flashes of the high beams letting us know they are approaching fast in the same lane and we should move over. It is not uncommon to have a car sit on your bumper moving at 140km/hr or better. Really, that situation should not even arise. When those lights flash in the rear view mirror you do what you can to move into the lane to the right. We try to keep the tempo of traffic but the only time I can hit 140+ km/hr is when the car is empty and the cargo box is removed. It is kinda fun to go over 160km/hr. This time of year it is hard to tell if the road are safe to drive fast. Just like Montana black ice is always a concern.

Pedal to the metal. This the best I can do.


Maybe the Kurents will do their job and scare away winter. Maybe winter will hang around for a couple more weeks. Who knows. If there is fresh powder in the mountains I will be happy for the purchase winter has on the mountains. If the sun re-affirms it’s dominance I will be eager to get on my bike and continue exploring the marvelous land that Slovenia has to discover.