Swiss Family Reunion

“I want to see mountains again Gandalf, mountains!”

-Bilbo Baggins

If there is a polar opposite country to Thailand, it might just be Switzerland. Our first 5 minutes on the streets of Zurich were culture shock to say the least. It was best exemplified when we tried to cross the street the first time. We stood at a crosswalk on a relatively calm street when a Mercedes came speeding our way. We patiently waited for it to pass and were taken aback when the car abruptly stopped and waited for us to cross the crosswalk. Coming from nearly 6 months in Thailand, where crossing the street is up there on the danger meter with skydiving or the luge, we realized we were no longer in the land with no rules.

It might seem a bit strange that we decided to leave Thailand after the last post, as we were so happy. The circumstances for this trip were special though. Lauren’s family had planned a trip to Switzerland for vacation for their first trip outside the US. We agreed to meet them and decided since we were flying that far, we might as well get our plane ticket’s worth and stay in Europe for a few months.

We left Koh Tao kicking and screaming albeit excited to see family.  We had a wonderful sendoff and are looking forward to going back to the island in the fall. The turnout at Goodtime for our impromptu going away sunset was humbling as all of our friends gathered to send us off. We grabbed some dinner and then hit up the Beer Mason’s for some craft brews with those still standing. We said our goodbyes and woke up the next day to catch our ferry to Koh Samui.

Koh Tao means “Turtle Island” and describes not just the sea life, but also the pace of life for the people on land. After being used to this slow pace of a 13 sq. km island for so long, Koh Samui traffic was a circus! We rode the bikes from the pier to the hotel near the airport and then the scavenger hunt began. The packing tape had been no problem, but three bicycle sized cardboard boxes and bubble wrap were not easy things to track down at 3:30 on a Friday afternoon in Koh Samui! We rented a scooter and spent two days rounding up the necessary supplies. The island itself was a tourist trap to say the least so we were not sad to leave. We had trouble at the airport terminal when Lauren’s name was paged and we had to hitch a ride to the baggage terminal because you can not fly with power bank batteries in your checked luggage. We politely fished them out of our bags. As I plucked the third one out, I caught a glimpse of our fuel canister which most definitely was still at least half full of gasoline. It made it through security with no problem!

The flight to Bangkok was pleasant with fish and rice for breakfast on the plane. We transferred to Swiss air in Bangkok and had a lovely flight to Zurich. We finally watched “The Last Jedi”, relaxed and slept. As we flew over a part of the world full of so much turmoil, I couldn’t help but think about how good it felt to be on our way to see family and explore this amazing planet some more.

Which brings us back to Zurich. We landed and took a 30 minute cab from the airport to our hotel for the cost of 3 days living expenses in Thailand. Lauren cooked a delicious pork chop dinner, we assembled the bikes and set off on our journey into the alps. The first day was gorgeous. We got out of town and into the hills and were treated to beautiful deciduous trees, lovely weather and secluded roads. We pulled off on a path and set up our tent for a great night’s sleep.

Seriously… WTF?

The next day we awoke to freezing cold rain and snails everywhere along with the realization that we were not prepared for May in Switzerland. We literally had no pants! We froze our asses off the next day wet and cold and had a challenging day of constant climbs with little respite. At the end of the day, we were exhausted and had to resort to getting a hotel despite it being way out of our budget because we were soaked to the bone.

The next day we found a thrift store, bought some pants and more appropriate cold weather gear and continued on our way. Unfortunately the weather didn’t improve much for the next week and a half, but we made the best of it.

Switzerland is without a doubt one of the most beautiful places in the world. The scenery is spectacular. After the second day, we literally ran out of adjectives to describe our surroundings. Also, it is one of the most bicycle friendly places we’ve ever seen. Everyone rides bicycles so the tiny cars are very courteous to cyclists.

As we progressed, I kept joking that Switzerland was the land of rules… and for some unknown reason, everyone there actually follows them… All of them! One of my big issues in the military was having to follow rules that I deemed stupid so this obviously presented a slight problem for me. I coped with little rebellions like jumping curbs and blasting through roundabouts the wrong way when no one was around just to make myself feel better. I was constantly humming “Signs” by Tesla because there were signs everywhere telling you what to do. Fortunately or unfortunately we couldn’t read them. Also, the people didn’t seem quite as welcoming to visitors as we had hoped. We ran into more than a few servers who scoffed when they found out we didn’t speak Swiss German. We learned basic phrases but it was not enough to please some people. 

Some signs made us happy!

On the other hand, we met some fabulous individuals who showed us so much kindness it offset the bad apples. One afternoon we were fumbling around a village trying to find some information about a yodeling concert that was supposed to be that night. We got a lot of weird looks until a nice young man yelled across the road and asked if we needed help. He and his friends invited us to have a beer with them in the yard and we chatted about our trip and their lives in Switzerland. It was funny to hear them mildly complaining about their government in a seemingly perfect country with no litter, where everyone dives either a bicycle or a brand new car.  We thanked them for their hospitality and ended up skipping the yodeling concert because the crowd was dressed in suits and ties. We pressed on and found camping for the night at the nicest (and most expensive) campgrounds we had ever seen.

Things continued this way as we made our way south towards Murren. At one point, my poor route planning left us on a trail we thought was for bikes but it ended up being a challenging hiking path. It turned out to be a pilgrimage path with stations of the cross every few hundred meters. The terrain was steep and at one point as Lauren was struggling to lift her bike up onto a ledge on the path, a kind old woman in her 70’s appeared out of nowhere and started giving her a push. It was a hilarious scene and we laughed as we thanked her profusely in broken German. A few minutes later the path turned rough again and another even older gentleman came by and did the same. Towards the top of the path, we found a ledger for those making the pilgrimage and signed our names with pride.

We made it over pass after pass and continued on, subsiding on Baguette, Salami, Rugen Brau beer and swiss mountain cheese. If it hasn’t become apparent yet, Switzerland is really expensive and our budget was stretched pretty thin.

How much you wanna make a bet i can throw a football over them mountains?
Never did see the bird, but apparently this is good luck.

We finally arrived in Interlaken which is a beautiful city placed between two gorgeous lakes… Get it? Interlaken? They also had the only other incline train I’d ever seen outside of Pittsburgh. We were lucky enough to have a response on warmshowers and our host Matthius was very kind. We waited for him in the park drinking wine and watching paragliders landing. He met us at a cycling cafe after work and rode with us to his village a few miles away. We were treated to a much needed shower and some lovely meats and cheeses. The later of which was from his family’s cow! We shared stories of traveling and looked at maps of the world together talking about the places we’ve lived, visited and wanted to see. At the end of the night, he brought out a book with his villiage’s history dating back to the middle ages. It was complete with family sigils and drawings of the old farming methods used in the mountains. He explained his families sigil to us and pointed out that the star in the corner meant that someone in the family had been a knight. He said the remnants of the castle on the nearby hill were still standing. It was an amazing evening and reinforced that the best part of traveling is interacting with the local people. We forgot to get a picture together but we did get a few in his awesome hundred year old house.

Somehow we always manage to match…  Nerds!

We left Interlaken and still had a day to kill before Lauren’s family arrived in Murren. We rode through a beautiful valley to Lauderbrunnen where we froze huddled under a bike parking area outside of a convenience store for a few hours. We debated riding up the mountain in the sleet but instead stopped at a bar which happened to have a hotel upstairs. The next day, we elected to take a cable car instead of climbing the mountain in the freezing rain. We arrived in Murren and while it was incredibly touristy, we enjoyed riding through the streets on our way towards our lovely camping spot. We set up shop in a shack on the side of the road and slept soundly although a bit cold. The next day, we killed time drinking beer and wine on a bench and playing gin rummy waiting for her family’s train to arrive. When they did, we upgraded from a pathside shack with three walls to a beautiful Swiss Chalet for 7 days. It was a welcome change to have hot water and warm food.

Saw a sticker from Catalina brewing in Tucson

We spent the week with Lauren’s family checking out the local tourist attractions and playing Settlers of Catan and other board games at night. I tried going mountain biking one afternoon, but the trail was downhill Redbull style so I ended up walking down most of it. We ate well and had good company although the time was too short. Before we knew it, they were off on their way back to America and we were heading south for Warmer Climes and all the Wines in Italy!

Fort Collins to Red Canyon

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In true Orlosky Fashion we were late getting started.  We planned to leave the day before, but weather delayed us.  We spent the afternoon prior in a parking garage packing the bikes for 4 hours and had crap spread everywhere trying to decide what to take and not to take.  When it was all said and done, it was wet and cold and we decided to get a good nights sleep in a hotel and leave in the morning.  Also, great bikepacking and general travel hack – you can leave your car at a hotel for several weeks and no one seems to care.  I’m a fan of asking forgiveness not permission and it hasn’t failed us yet.

So we left the hotel and rode through Fort Collins to the trailhead where we were to begin…  and it was closed due to wet condions.  We took it in stride though and quickly made a detour which turned out to be pretty fun as it led us to a river walk path along a creek.  During route planning, I tried to stick to dirt/gravel roads which inevitably leads to locked gates and no trespassing signs.  We decided on a policy of if it’s not locked, we will go through a gate and try not to jump any fences unless absolutely necessary.  We hit a few roadblocks and had to backtrack, but that is half the fun.

We could do an entire blog post (and probably will) on all the incredibly generous and friendly people we met.  Our favorite thing about bicycle travel is probably the way strangers treat you along the way.  Something about bicycles is non-threatening and interesting to people because everyone used to ride a bike when they were a kid.  Also, having big tires and 30ish pounds of gear strapped to your ride is a great conversation starter.

We planned to do about 30-40 miles a day but had the openness in our schedule to allow for random stops.  On the very first day, after the third detour due to closed gates, we passed a guy and his son riding up a hill on a dirt road.  The boy was picking wild plums on the side of the road and they were going about the same speed as us even though the kid was about 7 years old.  After an impromptu drag race with his brother on a quad, we passed a sign with a bear on it which caught our attention.  We looked at each other and said, “Is this a winery?!?!”

We stopped in for a glass, which turned into three with the owner’s brother David.  We talked to Bill (the owner) and him for hours and ended up staying there all night.  They generously let us sample the good stuff and cracked open some champagne at the end of the evening.  We ended up accepting Bill’s offer to crash in their barn (The nicest barn I’ve ever been in) and slept like babies.  Mileage for the day was a grand total of 11, but we met amazing folks and learned alot about Colorado Wines.  Check out Ten Bears Winery if you are in Norther Colorado.  I promise it is worth the short drive into the hills.

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The next day we navigated our way through beautiful Colorado plains heading towards the Red Mountain Open Space.  We got caught by a few thunderstorms and learned that the middle of the plains of Colorado are not the best place to be during a storm.  We were going to stop, but had nothing better to do so like Forrest Gump, we just kept right on going.  Eventually at nightfall we hit the Red Mountain Open Space which apparently does not allow camping despite no signs or warnings notifying you.  The night was beautiful and we watched for a meteor shower that my dad told us about.  We caught a couple shooting stars, filled up our water bottles from the creek and hit the sack.  The next moring we got a late start and were greeted while packing up by a ranger who informed us we weren’t allowed to camp.  We said we were sorry and continued packing until her asshat of a partner came along and decided to give us a $50 citation for camping too close to a stream.  (The stream we were drinking out of.)  I’ll keep the ranting to a minimum, but we were pissed!  We were on bicycles and left not a speck of trash or evidence we were ever there.  I understand there are rules, but part of being a reasonable enforcer of the rules is understanding why the rules exist.  Needless to say we are not paying the ticket and will be fighting it to the bitter end.  Even if we lose, at least we can waste some of this idiot’s time.  

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ARISE

P8040543.JPGWe spontaneously bought tickets for the “Arise” music festival while having our amazing burgers and beers in Boulder when we first showed up.  It wasn’t exactly cheap, but it was worth it.  This was Lauren’s first ever festival and my first in probably 12 years or so.  We packed up camp late as usual and got off to a late start.  We stopped at a wal-mart which was not unintentionally about 100 yards across the county border for Boulder.  We “Rented” an EZ-Up shelter and a few camping chairs and got some supplies for the weekend.  After the festival, the shelter was a mess of twisted metal which we conveniently returned for full price with no questions asked.  I have no guilt taking advantage of wal-mart.

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The festival was a blast, we had great neighbors on both sides.  Chad, Brenda, Rachel and friends were a riot.  On the other side, we had Tom, Laura, Jay and Steph.  We had great times just sitting around talking at the campsites.  The music was initially a bit of a disappointment.  Maybe festivals have changed a lot, or maybe this was more of a hip-hop oriented show, but there was an awful lot of rap and rave music the first two days.  Sunday was outstanding though with The Travelling McCourys and Jeff Austin of Yonder Mountain String Band ultimately getting together for “The Grateful Ball” which was hours of bluegrass Dead covers…  Awesome!

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On Saturday afternoon, a huge storm came through the festival and a microburst basically levelled the campground.  There were coleman tents scattered all over the place and we were thankful to have the MSR and have staked it down well.  Our rented EZ-Up on the other hand did not fare so well.  We spent the storm trying to hold it down and lost.  The cheap aluminum bent and broke and it was all but destroyed.  During the storm, Chad was next to us holding his shelter in similar fashion… Laughing maniacally throughout the whole ordeal like Lt. Dan during the Hurricane!

Gorilla tape and ingenuity allowed us to use the shelter for the rest of the weekend and we were able to return it no questions asked.

Another highlight was spending the evening with Rachael who lost her shoes and we started about 50 people chanting for Rachael to put her shoes on.  (She was having a rough time that evening).

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We also met Roxy and Ben at a tent promoting Elevation Outdoors magazine.  We hung out and chatted for an hour about hiking, biking and life.  There was also Summer who was a Pre-K teacher making a little money on the side at the festival.

It continued to rain throughout the weekend, but we had an awesome time.  After packing out of Monday morning, the truck battery was dead and a good Samaritan gave us a jump.  We got back to civilization and spent a few days in a hotel to wait out some weather and get ready for the bikepacking trip.  We planned to leave Thursday but in true Orlosky fashion, we spent 4 hours packing the bikes in a parking garage to get out of the rain.  Then we decided instead of being miserable we’d just get another hotel and leave in the morning.  We decided to celebrate the selling of the kayaks with some steaks and wine/beer which was a good decision.  The next morning, the trip really started.

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