2017 spring voyage

A weather window

Monday, 15 May 2017

Whenever I was waiting at a red light behind a modern Volkswagen with a Diesel engine those obnoxious, choking fumes belching out of these pinnacles of German engineering always made me wonder "how can these filthy things match current emission regulations if I am close to dropping off my bike from these poisonous gases?". Well, since Dieselgate we all know how these criminal mass murderers in Wolfsburg managed that...
I am certain that some clever scientific study will soon also confirm my suspicion that the weather in Europe for the month of May has changed much more dramatically during the last two decades then hitherto anticipated. In the olden days one could always expect the Azores High Pressure area to form a bridge linking it to its counterpart over Russia during the first half of May, resulting in stable spring conditions with a light easterly wind all the way from Moscow to Málaga.
This simply does no longer happen nowadays. Instead May has turned into a much more unstable month, more like April used to be. Similar to the previous years any high pressure area over Europe has completely broken down. Instead we have hardly any pressure differences over all of Europe, everything being dominated by the Icelandic Low:

Typical pressure chart for the new conditions in May

So anyone still doubting that our climate is changing can take it from me: it is changing indeed. I don't base this conclusion on any scientific studies, but simply on what I see and what I remember about the climate of bygone times.
However, a weather window is about to open for just long enough for me to escape this part of the world before the next depression arrives on Friday; The Azores High Pressure area is sending a feeble envoy into Central Europe. It is still raining during Sunday night, but it should improve from the west during Monday. The air mass is still very unstable with showers and thunderstorms, but with a late start and a bit of luck I might get out of here today.

When uploading my initial route into the Garmin GPS later this morning, the device freezes completely. This is not unusual - any GPS from any maker is usually a piece of overpriced junk and if my own software would be of the quality of the average GPS firmware, then I'd be out of a job for many decades. Hard reset, generating a new configuration, pairing my Bluetooth headset and finally uploading my routes delays me by another 45 minutes, so I finally hit the road at noon. This will be another exciting weather gamble - the first deluges come down before 1300 hours in the Rhine valley. Here is an impression of that place:

Unstable airmass in the Rhine valley near Liechtenstein

My plotted route initially works fine, I am keeping a few miles north of the Alpine mountain ranges. While I drive at 22 degrees through the sun, on my right I can see giant rainstorms unloading their fury over the mountains. The more I am heading east the more unstable - and colder - the airmass becomes. Once I reach Kempten (at 16 degrees) I have to abort my south-easterly course and head further north to escape the deluges. 90 minutes later I try to re-join my plotted route by turning south at Bad Tölz. But near the Austrian border the sky is pitch-black again and the rain comes down like a curtain ahead of me, so I ride a few miles north and end this first day at Rottach-Egern. In spite of the late start I have managed to steal over 350 kilometres of rain-free country road riding from the weather gods. Rottach-Egern is a tourist town at the southern tip of lake Tegernsee, so it is quite easy to find a quiet hotel room away from the main road. The local Italian restaurant isn't bad either, so this was a pretty decent start into the new journey.
The one thing that won't work is the internet in the hotel, or, to be more precise, each time I click on a weblink I can see Deutsche Telekom outside my room sending a team of mules with my bits and bytes loaded onto them crawling up the mountains - the speed is that slow. FTP, SFTP, SSH, VPN, VNC, all the ports and protocols I need are closed down by the hotels paranoid router, so at least I have a reason not to upload anything today.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

On the road by 0930 this morning, heading once again south into Austria. Today a bright blue sky and 13 degrees welcome me for my second day on the road. During this morning ride through Tyrol it's slowly warming up and by the time I have passed through the Tauern Alps it is getting up to 25 degrees in the valleys. Here is an impression of today's ride:

hrough the Tauern Alps near Obertauern

These Austrians make you buy a vignette for their motorway system, but on top of this they tend to charge for the use of several scenic routes like this one - I have to pay another six Euros for the privilege. Other than that the ride today is simply splendid; great, empty roads, perfect weather and the bike is running superbly well.
Styria is next under my wheels and the ride ends after thoroughly enjoyable 430 alpine kilometres at a comfy hotel with real internet a few miles west of Graz.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

My weather window is closing faster than expected. A frontal system is moving in from France and will get here by Friday. It will then park itself exactly over the Balkans for several days, so it is time to look for fine weather elsewhere. As usual, there aren't many suitable places, but it looks as if Italy south of a line Livorno to Ancona will escape the worst of the deluges. So instead of heading into Croatia I have plotted a sharp turn westwards into my GPS.
I am off just before 1000 hours from this fine mountain resort at just above 1000 metres above sea. The temperature this morning is 13 degrees. Below me is the valley town of Graz, surrounded on three sides by mountains like the one I was on last night - anything but a northerly wind will trap the famous Graz smog in that valley, but today the haze in the valley is no smog but instead humidity. 15 kilometres onwards I hit the valley floor. It is only 22 degrees down there, but the humidity makes the air hard to bear. I shed all my warm layers of clothing and head on towards the Slovenian border.
I follow the Drava river towards Dravograd and from there on south-westwards, basically cutting off the north-western part of Slovenia. The countryside is hilly and good fun to bike, though the valleys are rather crowded and there are many roadworks going on, so my progress is slow. But the ride is fantastic and very enjoyable
By 1600 hours I reach the Italian border just south of Gorizia. My altitude drops from 800 metres to just above sea level and the temperature climbs from 22 to 28 degrees here in the eastern part of the Po river flatlands. I carry on for another hour, but at Palazzolo dello Stella I spot the sign for accommodation at an agricultural cooperative that produces wine. That's always a good place to stay in Italy, and this one is no exception. These people keep the (usually excellent) accommodation just so that they can flog their produce. And yes, the luxurious two storey flat I am given costs 50 Euros per night and is about as big as my flat back in Switzerland. The cheapest menu at the restaurant attached to the complex however is about the same price - 50 Euros without drinks.
But the place offers all a tired biketraveller needs after a full day on the road. I have only covered 350 kilometres today, but given these twisting, narrow mountain roads I assure you that's all you can do here if biking for eight hours solid. I was enjoying the ride so much that I didn't even take a single picture all day.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Last night at about 2300 hours another guest entered the room next to mine. He did not have to say anything, I could hear him breathe. The walls were that thin - I had forgotten that 30% of the buildings budget went to a certain organization with Sicilian roots, and that money had to be saved somewhere during construction. But the gentleman next door made a grave blunder; he had a shower before going to bed. That gave me time to win the race, i. e. by the time he was out of the shower I had fallen asleep and now he had to listen to me snoring away all night instead of me having to listen to him (I'm kidding, I don't snore)...
This morning the waitress won't stop piling more and more food onto my breakfast table - that would do for an entire fleet of motorbikers. Outside it is already 23 degrees when I set out at 0930 hours. Today will be a scorcher, that's for sure. I continue my ride down the coastline past Venice - the most useless city on earth for motorbikes, as all streets are under water. I came along here many times over the years, but Venice never tempted me for a visit.
Further down the coast, at Ravenna, I should really be able to see the Apennine Mountains rising ahead of me, but the haze down here throughout the flat land prevents me from seeing them until I am less then 10 kilometres away. It is 1400 hours, but now the fun part begins - I even manage to take a picture:

At last I have reached the Apennine Mountains

The hills start low, but each valley following the hill is higher up than the previous, followed again by another range of higher hills I have to traverse. Above 800 metres above sea the air here in Tuscany is perfect, and when I arrive here it is even a bit nippy:

On Passo della Calla

All too soon am I down in the valley again, and it being after 1700 hours means it is time again to find some digs. I am near Arezzo. I check out another "Agriturismo", but that one is just a rural cottage for rent. On the far side of the town however I spot a sign for a hotel out of town that my GPS does not know about. I follow a maze of winding roads, that last quarter mile off tarmac and end up here:

Ending the day in style...

The place is an old farmhouse converted into a hotel - I have picked the nicest place in Arezzo, what's that chance? The chef also knows her trade, so one can only wish that all biking days would be like today.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Having a little chat with my hosts this morning means that I am off late at after 1000 hours. Most of Tuscany is a lowland area formed by the Arno river. To the east of this lowland the Apennines rise. This lowland will fill during today with that unstable air that the low pressure area is bringing, causing showers and thunderstorms. But beyond the mountains it will remain dry, so my route for today is clear; head eastwards over the Apennine and then continue the ride northwards, always staying in the shadow of the mountains.
The minor roads up here are rather bad, and I notice that Tigger's drivechain is banging against the swingarm when running through bad potholes. That's nothing a quick chain tensioner setting can't fix:

Adjusting the chain tension at a nice spot

If that remains my only mechanical problem during this journey, then I won't complain.
From noon onwards I can see the thunderstorm clouds rising in the lowland behind me. Usually it is the other way round, thunderstorms in the mountains, no rain in the lowland, but I won't complain. Instead I enjoy the scenery

Lovely villages everywhere...

and try to avoid the worst potholes. Given the late start, the winding, bad roads and I suppose you'll understand why I once again only managed 300 kilometres today, ending my ride in Palazzuolo sul Senio - at a rather modest hotel instead of that farmhouse from yesterday, but at least they have a brilliant pizza place around the corner where 7.30 Euros sort out my food requirements for today. And the weather forecast predicts much improved conditions for tomorrow. Great.

Below is the usual map with my GPS tracklog.

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