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.

river
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.

Ciao!

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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.

BamBi
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…

Data

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…

Identity

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.

IMG_3759
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.

IMG_3738
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.

IMG_3770 (1)

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.

IMG_3661
Krvavec has its own Star Wars iconology. It looks like a communication tower from Echo base on the Ice planet of Hoth.
IMG_3664
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.

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Sometimes the roads are not perfect…
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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.

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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.

Yup…

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!

Braxton

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.

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Kurents, are dressed in heavy sheep skin costumes with large bells hung around their belts
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

That is so Euro…

Like the rest of Europe, café culture is strong in Ljubljana. There are usually several cafes on each block, and remarkably they are always busy. Regardless of the weather and chilly temperatures, you will find folks sitting outside chatting over a coffee and a smoke. As for me, I would rather seek out a warm seat inside. Maybe in the spring when the sun is out and the air is warmer, I will find my place in front of the café. We live in an apartment near the center of the Old City. We are located just north of Trubarjeva cesta (street). Trubarjeva is known as a hipster, bohemian section of town. It is a cobbled lane set up just above the Ljubljanica River. It is a bike and pedestrian-only zone that was recently closed to cars. Years ago Trubarjeva cesta was a street where many of the local artisans plied their trade. Remnants of the blacksmiths’ or wood workers’ or textile workers’ shops still remain. These days the ground-level spaces are filled with cafes, spice shops, salons, wine stores, book sellers and of course small local boutiques. Trubarjeva is also home to a wide diversity of small restaurants. You can find Indian tandoor, Lebanese, Palestinian falafel, Chinese, Mediterranean and local fare. All of it is quite good. We have definitely taken advantage of the options and sampled most. Trubarjeva cesta is also home to our favorite café: The Trubar Café. Their coffee and croissants are great. They also make the best vroče čocolada – Slovenian-style hot chocolate. When I say hot chocolate, I mean hot chocolate pudding, only thicker. Our kids discovered this on accident. They ordered hot chocolate and were pleasantly surprised to discover that what they ordered was not hot cocoa but a hot, thick, rich chocolate pudding topped with a generous serving of whipped cream. Our kids would enjoy one everyday if we let them.

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The Trubar cafe. When the sun warms the front of the cafe this spring the patio will be filled

 

While waiting for winter to finally arrive here in Slovenia, I have passed the time exploring the countryside by bike. If there is no snow at least the dry warm weather has made for some great riding this past month. The area around Ljubljana is very hilly and is defined by karst topography. The result is that most of the hills around here are steep and the roads that take you up those hills are equally steep. It is common to see signs indicating anything from 9-14% grades. I find myself in my easiest gear quite often. I am also really glad that I have a 28-tooth cog in the rear. It may be worn out by the time I leave here next summer. The saving grace is that the scenery and hilltop villages are all so remarkable that it makes every challenge worth the effort.

Javor
How steep do you think this road is? No, its steeper than that.
Kamnik
The views are spectacular. This upland farm should be covered in snow this time of year.
Valley
The ride back down into the valley is another great reward for the effort on the way up.
Consanants
I think vowels are over rated.

We are constantly seeking out new places to enjoy coffee and sample dessert treats. A couple of days ago we found a very comfortable sidewalk café that served what the proprietress called “The Ljubljana Cake.” She told us it was the “official” Ljubljana Cake. She said it was the most delicious cake in Slovenia, inspired by ingredients from all four cardinal directions, and that this café where we were was the only place that served it. The Ljubljana cake sounded intriguing. How could we pass it up? The lovely cake was served, and we asked the proprietress the story of the cake. She said, “Well, as a matter-of-fact there is a folk story.” Wow, cool a real story behind the cake. She handed us a small pamphlet. On it was a short cliché story about a king and his daughter who lived in the Ljubljana Castle. The princess loved sweet cakes. The princess agreed to marry the baker that made the best cake in the land. Apparently, as the story goes, if the princess did not like the cake the chef had his head cut off. Can’t figure that one out… Eventually, one young and very handsome baker made the best cake the princess ever tasted. Married, happily ever after, yada yada. I am not an expert on Ljubljana history, but I had not heard anything about this king and his daughter. I had absolutely no intention of being disrespectful and neither did Sarah. We had to ask, “Was this story true?” It turns out that no, the story was a work of fiction, a marketing ploy created by the proprietress. She opened this café about three years ago, found a chef who lived out of town who made a gourmet cake that used a lot of interesting and traditional Slovenian ingredients. She pitched the story to the Ljubljana tourism board knowing for sure that the story of this cake was one thing that was missing from local lore. She felt very strongly that her cake should be a part of any greeting or meeting that took place in Ljubljana. It was, as she had ordained it, the original Ljubljana Cake. Unfortunately, it sounds like the tourism board was not going to go for a completely fictional tale of a king, his daughter and a slice of cake. I thought it quite unfortunate that the café owner, who had previously made a career in marketing it turns out, felt it necessary to put forth such extraordinary effort to promote her cake on falsehood rather than allow the cake to stand on its own merits.

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Ljubljana Cake and Coffee. Nothing better for lunch… seriously.

If the king and his daughter actually did live, I think they would have chosen well. I dare say the slice of this Ljubljana Cake, (adorned with a small Ljubljana dragon which is actually part of authentic lore) that I enjoyed was probably the best cake I have ever had.

That is so Euro…

Ljubjana is your quitessential bike, walk, bus city. Bus service throughout the city and the surrounding municipalities is amazingly efficient. Despite being a large-ish city you can reach most of your destinations in town on foot within 20 minutes or less. If your walk is longer than 20 minutes there will most definitely be a bus that can get you there sooner. If you decide to commute by bike, which we quite often do here, you are very well served by an extensive network of well marked and very well protected bike lanes. These bike lanes are not just indicated by a white line painted along the side of a busy thoroughfare. More often than not it is a wholly separated lane specifically designated for bikes.

SuperHighway
Usually the bike lanes are single direction and follow the flow of traffic. There are a few exceptions around town.
MultiUse
This Multi-Use bike lane passes thru by a small quarter pipe that the skaters use when the road is clean and dry

We all have town bikes here. One of our first objectives upon arriving in Ljubljana was making sure we each had bikes to get us around town. We visited numerous shops. There are over 15 bikes shops in town. Many bikes were deeply discounted for the winter (sounds familiar) and we found a couple of second hand shops. In the end we each found ourselves a town bike for very little cost. We have already made good use of the bikes and it is only January. Spring time is still a ways off so our bikes are sure to get plenty of use.

We have also taken advantage of the excellent bus service Ljubljana has to offer. All you need is your Urbana card. In fact, the buses do not accept cash, they only accept your Urbana card. You can purchase an Urbana card at any local kiosk – the ones where you by the daily paper, cigarettes and gossip magazines. Load the card up with a few Euros and you are ready to explore town. Hop the bus, press your card against the card reader and you are good to go.

The Urbana card is good for far more than bus rides. You can use it to pay for parking, use it to get into museums and I am now using it to get into my local gym. I signed up for a gym membership in the hopes of maintaining a bit of fitness through the winter. With a little bit of will power I manage to get into the gym about three days a week. My Urbana card also locks and unlocks my locker in the gym. That little card is pretty handy around here.

Urbana Card
This is one card you want to have here in Ljubljana

One note about the gym. The locker rooms are co-ed. Boys and girls changing in to their workout clothes or swim suits side by side with all the banter and chatter you find in any other locker room. It has been a few weeks since I joined and I am still feeling a bit prudish and trying to find my comfort zone. At least the showers are not co-ed. Am I just an uptight American? Perhaps.

Folks that live in Ljubljana are exceedingly fashionable. Everywhere you go people are always well dressed. The city is not huge but it is a national capitol. Being fashionable and well dressed is clearly important to folks in the city. This time of year fashion incorporates shades of black on black, and yet while I walk around town I still feel like a pauper dressed in old faded jeans and a random synthetic fleece pull-over. I definitely do not fit the latest motif.

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In a city as beautiful as Ljubljana it is a shame not to walk

If I do stand out on occasion I can take a bit of solace in my anonymity. Ljubljana is a big city by my standards and I am a visitor here; another transient face amongst the crowd. On a crowded bus or walking through a bustling and busy downtown plaza people will rarely make eye contact. Occasionally I see people talk to each other on the bus or stop each other on the street for a quick chat. They live here, this is their home, not mine. They have something in common. Where they went to school perhaps, mutual friends, or maybe their grand parents grew up together in a nearby village when Slovenia was still part of Yugoslavia. Me, I am a visitor. I am just passing through. I will be gone by the beginning of summer.

I have found some comfort in the anonymity. There is something serene about walking through a crowed market virtually unnoticed. But the best part is being able to walk away from an awkward situation. Mostly it has been something as un-remarkable as having everyone in line behind me at the grocery store looking at me quizzically while the cashier gives me a stern look. I have absolutely no idea what I may have done wrong but my faux paus earned me a long line of frustrated stares as well as a few disapproving shakes of the head. Was I supposed to weigh those lemons and get a price print out before I went to pay? Geez. I’m not sure.

I am not accustomed to the anonymity that I have here in Ljubljana. It is another adjustment. There was period, shortly after I arrived, where I was nearly certain that I saw someone in town whom I was almost sure was someone from Missoula. The doppelganger. For about two weeks I continually saw someone that reminded me of someone from home. I don’t know what to attribute it to but perhaps it is just an unconscious way for my mind to find something familiar in a vast and crowded place that is still so unfamiliar. Quite in contrast, the wonderful thing about Missoula is that nearly everywhere I go in town I a sure to be greeted by a friendly and familiar face. Anonimity has its benefits but familiarity is a much better reward.