Converse Mountaineering

October 10th, 2013 No comments

No more Alps

Near Tandern

Internet was sparse and it was fairly late in the day when I arrived at the München airport. A quick assessment of hotels revealed a notable price bump for Oktoberfest. Unfortunately, I’d have to kill one night before making it to Jeanny’s place. The cheapest place I could find was 100 € (~$140) – which is about double the most I’d spent on a hotel so far this trip. It also turned out to be one of the worst hotels I would stay at. It was a 30 km ride from the airport and in the wrong direction. I rode hard to beat the sunset. The days off the bike helped a lot and I was able to keep the pace over 30 kph for much of it.


A warm welcome (reenactment)

The next day, I had a 60 km ride to Tandern, a small village north north west of Munich. I lucked out with the weather as it was fairly warm and clear for the entirety of the ride. It was a fairly easy ride, but I was glad when it was over. The small hills towards Tandern were annoying as I wasn’t anticipating anything but flats.


I arrived to Jeanny awaiting my arrival on her porch. She lived in a home that her grandpa had lived in since before second world war (as far as I understood). Her grandpa was pretty awesome. His only experience with english was from the American soldiers at the end of WWII. Perhaps not the best of memories. He was hesitant to talk to me at first, but eventually tried practising the few words of english he remembered — about as many Deutsch words as I knew. From what I could gather, he’s going to be moving to Canada before long and setting up a ranch there. I believe he even offered me work on his ranch, but I can’t be certain.

Drive by of the Dachau concentration camp

Tandern is in the district of Dachau; notable as Dachau was the location of the first concentration camp. License plates here contain: your country, and your region. Apparently it’s not uncommon for cars exhibiting “DAH” – the abbreviation for Dachau – to be defaced or vandalized while traveling.


München Hauptbahnhof



My first trip to Oktoberfest (or Wiesn as they call it here) was with Jeanny and her friends. Being locals, they weren’t so enthused about checking out wiesn. Perhaps it had something to do with the hordes of tourists coming to their town to get wasted. The end of the night is surely the best time to experience all of the hooliganism. The festivities shutdown harshly at 11:30 pm sharp.

Even in a short visit to Oktoberfest, I was witness to: bierleichen (“beer corpses” or people passed out randomly on the ground), people using invisible water closets everywhere around the grounds, and one fight. The fight was not staged well. Although the drunken flying leg kick was impressive, about 30 police officers were within 10 meters of where the fight broke out between 4 men. Needless to say, they were tackled and subdued in quick order.

München Red Bulls

Another town, another hockey game. München is home to the Red Bulls who play in the German league. The only NHL player name I recognized was Steven Reinprecht who was playing for the opposing team. However, the arena was littered with people wearing Blake Wheeler and Paul Stastny München jerseys – a side effect of the most recent NHL lockout.

The game was full of action. It started with two quick goals in the first 51 seconds. The home team was trailing the entire game and found themselves down 5-2. They rallied and tied the game in the dying seconds but failed to complete the comeback, losing in shootout. The atmosphere was excellent, but in terms of crowds, the Kloten Flyers’ game remains the best I’ve been to in Europe.

Oktoberfest Gates

The plan was to meet up with Wade on the first for Oktoberfest; however, he turned out to be a zipfelklatscher. After losing confidence in our meeting, I posted a random “hey, who’s up for meeting up and checking out Oktoberfest” message on CS. Without fail, I met up with two randoms: Wes and Gabriel.



We made our way quickly to a tent. The first task was to find 3 open seats. It wasn’t as challenging as I was told. After a quick walkthrough, we’d already spotted a number of options. Naturally, we took the one with the most ladies in dirndls. Everyone was very friendly. Even to us – us in our non-lederhosen gear. It was 10 € for a Maß‎ (10 dL beer) and 10 € for a roasted chicken.

My expectations were rather low. However, it turned out to be awesome. Nearly everyone we ended up sitting with was local. Everyone was super friendly and inviting. Anyone calling out cheers or prost on your table would cause a chain reaction where everyone would join in.

Not so yummy…

I made the mistake of ordering the daily special: sauerkraut, potatoes, and two sausages beyond description. Lesson learned: stick to the roasted chicken.

Near Gruyères Switzerland

The next stop was back to Switzerland. A number of us were to meet up and go for a three day hike through the canton of Friboug. There were of course nine of us. Nine Companions to match the Nine Ringwraiths… The parallel was obvious, but I neglected to point it out. Surely everyone in the group was thinking the same.

I was less than prepared: chrome “converse” cycling shoes, shorts, a hoodie, and a cycling rain jacket would have to suffice. How hard could this hike be anyway?

Our first goal was to reach the summit of Vanil Noir. It is the highest point in Fribourg. Roughly a 2000 m climb from the parking lot. Errands had set us back. Even with a 7:30 am departure in the morning, we were still running late. We had to stop in the famous town of Gruyères to pick up cheese for the fondue planned for that evening. It was looking like we might have to skip the summit and b-line it for the hut.

Looking back on the hike so far

Almost at the crossroads

After about 4 hours of hiking we’d made it to the crossroads; by our best estimation: 2 hours to the hut or 3 hours to the hut via the summit. If we were lucky, there was 4 hours of daylight remaining. Looking up at the summit was daunting. A large cross was erected at the summit. It towered above us. Sharp steep inclines surrounded it on all sides. Is there some less steep way up on its back side? I was tired and was pushing to skip the summit. It seemed we didn’t have enough time to complete the hike anyway.

The group became divided. Andrea was doing the summit regardless, and Jeanny was heading to the hut. Both Marc and Andrea are very experienced alpine hikers. I asked for a coin. No one had one – summit it is. Damnit. Four of us headed up towards the summit: Andrea, Marc, Marina, and myself.

The gradient immediately became ridiculous. The sharp angle was painful in my converse shoes. The back of my heels were strained. I kept looking ahead for potential rest points. We ploughed on. It was a brutal climb. Marina and I tried to stop briefly for water. “Please, just keep moving.” There was panic in Marc’s voice. This was a lot coming from the easy-going mild mannered Marc that we were used to. It was getting late and we were only a quarter of the way up the slope.

A group of experienced hikers made their way down the slope towards us. They were likely in their 50s. They all had hiking sticks and hiking boots. Looking at my shoes they started to speak in French – we were in the French region of Switzerland. Marc relayed the message – they were concerned about my shoes and did not think it was safe to proceed. The path was muddy and slippery. “Can I turn around” I thought to myself. “We have to keep going, it’s too late to turn around. We already made our decision, we knew it was dangerous.” stated Marc. He was right though. There wasn’t enough time to climb back down and then hike up the other side of the ridge to the hut. I was committed for better or for worse.

Mountain Goats

Andrea leading the way under watchful eyes

It wasn’t only people mocking us. Mountain goats kept a watchful eye on us.

The path got worse. It went along a narrow ridge to the next mountain. Due to the pressure and panic, I was unable to stop for pictures along the scariest section of the ascent. I was anxious and legitimately afraid as we made our way towards the peak. There was no option but forward.

Here’s a photo of the path to the top. I stole this from the internet and have marked the path itself. You follow the ridge and then climb to the backside of the peak. There are sections of chains where the path is only wide enough for a single foot and the slope is ridiculously steep. Certain death lies below. The backside is still extremely steep, but scalable without chains.

Path up to the summit

Adrenaline was indeed pumping as we made the final ascent. There were a couple points where it felt like full on rock climbing. At one point I had to pull up my leg with one arm to get a proper hold so I could push myself up. I wouldn’t dare let go of my grip with my other hand. I’ve done rock climbing before, but there wasn’t much room for error here. The scariest part was in the absence of the chains. It was too steep to walk. You had to use the rocks to pull yourself up on top of the ridge.

Finally, after about two hours from the crossroads, we made it to the top:

Vanil Noir

Vanil Noir

Marc atop Vanil Noir

Vanil Noir

Monument at the top: death by lightning apparently

Needless to say, the view was surreal. However, the hike wasn’t over. What remained was arguably the most dangerous part of the journey: the descent. With mud covering my shoes, my traction was compromised. In the very steep sections, it was not possible to go down on your ass. You needed to face the mountain and climb down the rockface. In parts there were chains to aid the descent; however, in others, there was nothing.

Andrea climbing down without ropes

Marina on the descent

Is there a path here?

Afterwards, Marc informed me it was a T5 hike. Which clearly I should have known from the white-blue-white markings:

Rate Terrain Requirements
Demanding Alpine Hike

Often trackless. Some easy climbing posts. If route marked: white-blue-white. Exposed, demanding terrain, steep parts. Glaciers and Firn with slippage danger.

Hiking boots. Secure site assessment guidance and very good orientation. Good alpine experience and high-alpine terrain. Elementary knowledge in dealing with ice axe and rope.

Slippage danger? Hiking boots? Alpine experience? Axe and rope? Um, yeah, if I had of known this in advance, perhaps I would not have attempted it in my “converse” shoes.

Upon arriving at the hut, we learned that one of the ladies we saw on the descent had attempted the hike by herself. Afraid of getting back, she told them to start worrying about her if she did not return by 8 pm. She had not, but we were able to inform the hut that we had seen her taking a descent on the other side. Apparently once she reached the summit she had decided it was too dangerous to descend the same way she’d gone up (the way we descended). She met the other hikers and followed them down the other side.


Next week, I’ll be meeting up with Terry in Paris for the World Series of Poker Europe. We’ll be playing in the No-Limit Hold’em event on Saturday. Looking forward to this weekend, it should be intense; maybe there will even be time to check out Paris.


Categories: cycling, Europe, hockey Tags:

So let it be Ritten. So let it be done.

September 27th, 2013 No comments


First glimpse of Italia


Outside Bolzano

No idea what this is; definitely bike related

Bolzano Bound

The alarm went off just after 6 am. I knew I should be on my bike by around 7 in order to make it to Siddall’s practice that day. Snoozing and breakfast would waylay my intentions. This turned out to be one of the nicest hotels I’d stayed at, so I was in no rush to get through the breakfast. I didn’t depart until after 8 am.

In order to make in time, I needed to average over 30 kph for the ride. I was making good time, but knew before long that it would not be possible. I messaged Sids and we arranged to meet later that afternoon. Although the rendezous was now out of reach, I kept up the pace. I hit a wall in the last 20 km or so. I even found someone to draft off of, but fell off the back before long. I reached Bolzano shortly after noon.

First two meals in Italy: Pizza and pasta. The food in Italy has been pretty unreal. Every meal was delizioso. I’m not huge on wine, but it accompanied nearly every meal which I felt was par for the course.

Not Amsterdam – Bolzano; the number of bikes used still surprises me everywhere I’ve been in Europe thus far.

Ritten: just your average backyard view



Bolzano Hockey

The Bolzano hockey team left the Italian hockey league last year and had joined the Austrian league. After seeing the game in Kloten Switzerland, I was curious to see what it would be like here. The cost of seeing a game? 14 €. It was a much smaller crowd than Kloten, but again, rowdy fans sang and chanted all game long. It wasn’t quite the same with fewer people in the crowd, but it was a good atmosphere nevertheless. The Bolzano Foxes had won 4 straight and were undefeated so far this season. They were already up 2-0 before we took to our seats. At one point they were up 4-1, but the other team rallied and forced overtime with a tally of 5-5. After a scoreless overtime, the game was decided by shootouts. Only a single goal was scored and snapped the Foxes’ winning streak:

The next day, Ritten Sport played their season opener in the town of Valpellice. It was a 6 hour bus ride for the team. After two days of intense riding, I figured I’d take it easy: bike up a mountain and hike to its summit. I biked up Rittner Horn (400 m climb) and caught a gondola to the top. Hiking to the top was another 300 m or so and was fairly easy. My legs were definitely feeling it by this point. Check out the view below:

Rittner Horn

Rittner Horn

Rittner Horn

Rittner Horn

The rest of the weekend was spent largely playing games, checking out the town, and hanging out with some of the Ritten Sport players:

Bocce Ball

Having hardly played Bocce ball before, our team got off to a rough start. We were struggling and down something like 4-10 in a game to 12 points. A couple huge takeout throws swung the momentum in our favour and we rallied convincingly to a victory. There was a debatable throw where we ruled one of their balls had gone out of bounds, but clearly we would have won anyway.


Then we moved on to cards and backgammon. After teaching Sids and his teammate Dave the fine art of Open Face Chinese Poker, Siddall and I sat down for a serious game of backgammon. Now, I would say I’m generally good with games, especially ones involving numbers etc. That said, I was pretty confident when Sids offered to play backgammon for money with the doubling cube. However, play by play, Sids tore me apart. I never found myself in a favourable position. I conceded again and again to his doubling cube pressure. Until finally, I had it. I had locked one of his checkers on my side and was close to getting all of my checkers into my end. “Double it?” I said; “Sure” replied Sids. I kept the pressure on, doubling it on each turn. We capped out at 64x. Not long after, I found myself with a vulnerable chip in my end. I had to dodge a 3. Sure enough, Sids nailed the 3. My heart sank and the game turned violently in his favour.

Not to be a sore loser, but there were definitely some sketchy rolls made by Sids; but I’ll leave it at that. You know what I’m talking about Sids!

Ritten Sport Practice

Time for an Ovechkin visor?

For my last night in Ritten, I got to watch the team practice along with ex-NHLer Chris Mason. The arena was super nice and open to sunlight.


The night ended with billiards. Italian “pool” is much harder than Canadian pool. First of all, the pockets are extremely small; ie the size of a snooker table’s pockets. Secondly, the table is much larger. This makes for a much more difficult game. Of course, the rules are much different as well: Once stripes or solids are claimed; all the balls need to be sunk with the yellow 1 being the last ball – like the 8 ball that we’re used to. Further, the solid 8 and the stripe 15 must be sunk in one of the two side pockets – sinking them in another pocket brings them back to the surface. I recall getting destroyed by Siddall in our final game, although I had had quite a few wobbly pops by this point.

As chance would have it, Siddall was headed to Munich to pick up his wife from the airport – this seemed too perfect to pass up. I took him up on his offer to catch a ride with him to the Munich airport. Thus teleporting myself to Munich in 3 hours instead of the 3-4 days of cycling it would have taken me.

Thanks again to Siddall for his hospitality, games, drinks, food, the awesome weekend and the good times. Good luck to Ritten Sport this year. If you’re curious about their team, here’s the link: Ritten Sport.

Note to self: next time, don’t try to go drink for drink or match food consumption with a pro athlete.

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European Cycling Heatmap: 1485 km total, 8405 m climbed

September 26th, 2013 No comments

Click for full map view

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