Monday, May 31, 2010

Days 13-21: Three stars for the cave man and 10 meter falls!

Before Di arrived in Mallorca, I had two days to scour the island to find the best places to deepwater solo.

The dream to visit Mallorca was crafted immediately after watching Chris Sharma climb this arch. Regularly, I find the desire to live wild rather unresolved. Certain moments calm this conflict though. As Di and I swam up to the base of this climb, I certainly felt the satisfaction of making one dream come true…

Our base camp was a 3-star hotel with a balcony view of a quiet lagoon (found a screaming cheap deal online). We ended up swimming in this lagoon each morning as a wake-up routine. (I grabbed the following image from

Regarding the hotel experience, Di and I would like to thank Rita at Hotel Barcelo for making each entry into the hotel something to enjoy. We always had the pleasure of walking into her welcoming smile and sharp wit. You are a rock star Rita bonita! Thanks for hanging out with us lady.

Di and I headed to Cala Barques – comically known as beach 4 (a cousin to camp 4 at Yosemite) for the majority of our trip because the people we met there were as incredible as the climbing. On day 1 so many things happened. One of the most memorable events was meeting Cesar. I met him while he was playing the guitar outside of a deep cave near the beach. I noticed that he had an outstanding setup with tables and chairs inside the cave. So I commented on the décor. Before I knew it, Di and I were sharing a meal that Cesar prepared for us in his cave. After dinner, Cesar took a large group of us for a tour of the cave, which included cliff diving into a large water supply inside of the cave. He insists that all of us are part of "La Familia" and constantly refers to everyone in this manner. What a guy! The crazy thing is that he seriously lives year-round in this cave.

It was easy to meet people because everyone was really curious to try new things. For instance, there were people trying to learn how to juggle, slackline, and even perform crazy yoga postures at all times on the beach. Here's Di, the mac, giving yoga lessons:

Cala Barques is not only the best place to meet other climbers, but also the best place to deep water solo in Mallorca (at least that’s what I think). This place let us grow exponentially in more than just our rock climbing ability though. What I am about to write is probably common knowledge, but I was (as usual) not privy to this information. Beach nudity is not just accepted in this part of Europe, no, it’s more often than not a rather obligatory custom. The freedom to disrobe didn’t grab me as much as it did my climbing partner who surprised me (like a hilarious sister might do) with this daring send:

The funny thing was that she thought that she was only surprising me…=]. However, several other folks had stopped by while she was out of sight disrobing at the base of the climb. When she turned around to see the shocked look on my face, she was greeted by many other eyes than just my own. She was half way up the route so there was no hiding at all. Her American conservativeness only held her embarrassment for a few short seconds because I was the only one who knew how out of character this feat was for her. Everyone else just thought it was completely normal to climb without clothes. You gotta love Europe! So she went with it and just enjoyed the route. Way to go you crazy woman!

Deep water soloing can be quite unusual (I think that I just proved that fact). There were several unique challenges beyond the occasion sausage blast that I might get in my peripheral vision while walking across the beach. [FYI: I’m a new comer to nudity, but seriously, men are just not meant for it. Come on, eh? A disrobed chorizo is never pretty. I do like the liberated spirits though. I guess that you can’t have one without the other, but man, all of the twig and berries that I saw will certainly scar my retina’s forever!] This writing is getting long. I'll get back to the challenge of deep water soloing in a sec, but to keep your attention, here's a great video of Cesar:

The challenges of deep water soling are many. We were often swimming up to the cliffs with soaking wet hands and shoes, which clearly made the climbing more difficult. Another challenge for the harder routes was that we were never able to hang on a rope to figure them out. Finally, there’s that necessary huge fall thing. Sometimes the falls were 30 plus feet. The fall alone can make the easiest route seem like an extraordinary feat of self-preservation because you really have to land in the water correctly to avoid pain. All of these factors contributed to us finding ourselves climbing in an entirely new arena. However, our timidity soon disappeared, as each hold on the route was one point further along a maze of spectacular tufa climbing. The climbing was so fascinating that we would often forget about the looming splash into the sea. This thought of falling would only enter our minds moments before we knew the fall was coming. Once recognized though, this thought of falling consumes all of the mental energy that once directed the courage to move into the unknown. I love deep water soling for this reason because the fear of falling is so much more calculated than rope climbing. A safe flight from the cliffs down into the water requires a calm disposition. Any radical change in a mummy like vertical body position while falling into the sea will either knock the wind out of you or provide a nice bruise (all of which we witnessed or experienced ourselves). This climbing style truly displays the heart of the climber. Soloing above deep water became a beautiful dance with our passions and our fears. The idea of life feeling short, Soloman’s midst in the wind (biblical reference), seemed so impossible on these cliffs. Life seems endless when slicing a piece of concentration pie while clutching a dripping tuffa at 30 feet as these nerve racking moments seriously transform into centuries.

The best part of the trip may have been the dance parties in the car on the way to the crag each morning.

[Video of dance party to come]

Over several years of thick history, the friendship that Di throws my way is nothing short of feeling like family. It's awesome to have a curly haired twin that lives a mile away, travels the world with me, and makes me laugh until I cry! Thanks for not being a total butt head on our Mallorca trip Di!

We loved Mallorca so much that we actually extended our trip by 4 days. However, today we left this paradise and flew to Barcelona. We then high tailed it to one of Europe’s premier climbing destinations: RODELLAR!!! We love it here already. Photo updates will be a few days out because I lost my camera cable on the way to Barcelona. Shocker, right? I'll figure something out. Stay tuned.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Days 6-12: Italy had me at hello

Tears would describe my experience in Italy over the past few days much better than these words. Starting this story is difficult.

I could certainly make Italy my home country. The people of this country gave me so much, so quickly, and without hesitation. With all that has taken place since I last posted to this blog, I can hardly describe the gravity that holds my thoughts to what I experienced in Italy. So I will frame the essence of the tour and leave the stories within the stories for our personal encounters.

Dezi and Anne were hard to leave in Lucca because they made me feel as though I was, even for a very short time, part of their little family. I spent my last hour there just chatting with them about their lives in Lucca and laughing at Dezi being the character he’s been created to be.

After my 55 mile ride from Lucca to Florence, I took a shower at the wrong hotel. That was funny! The hotel manager was very kind.

I left Flourence for a very challenging 45 miles of hills/valleys, but it was well worth the effort. For the next three days I found myself surrounded by beauty beyond compare. Hand crafted stone homes, each whispering stories from their past, were scatted across the tops of the hills towering above endless seas of grape growing glory.

The honor to settle in among this scene was unlimited. I ate meals with a family running their own winery, received a tour of their complex, and had a several complementary tastings straight from their huge drums of wine.

I really enjoyed this family. Nadia was the main worker of the lodging who gave me the low down on what to do while in town (none of which I did, apart from the tour of the Duomo, because I enjoyed hanging out with them so much). Renaldo, Nadia’s husband, worked the vines and gave me a huge lesson about his passions for wine. Christian, Nadia’s brother, worked the business end of things and offered me a history of their winery dating back several hundred years. This complex orchestra of roles had me mesmerized. I’m sure that I was annoying because all I could do was ask questions. No other sentence form existed for my time there. Yet even my curiosity could not shatter the peaceful nature exuded by my surroundings and embodied by my hosts. This experience convinced me that I could not go to Rome.

Instead of heading towards Rome, I rode the 45 miles of hills/vallyes back to Florence stopping along the way for a mid day pasta at a swank little trattoria that thrives on the hunger of wine aficionado’s making their way to the next tasting.

I didn’t stay in Florence. I packed the bike into a trash bag and took the train to Venice. =] Venice…oh my. This city is a maze of what seems to be a fragile but living history floating in an ocean of time. Time for what?

In Venice, the tourists make time to shop, but not this tourist. So I hit the road again. On my last stop in Italy, I had the most unexpected and splendid surprise of my trip. After accompanying me to Venice, Francesca invited me to stay for her birthday party and sleep at her home on Lake Como. I had no idea what I was in for…

When we arrived, she was so kind. She made me a typical Italian meal to be eaten on their deck, which is a rather atypical scene as it’s filled with perfect views of the alps rising behind the lake.

With the clear sunny skies, we did a morning hike up some steep slopes to encounter views of castles and the lake below. The only sounds to be heard were the bells of the cows as they grazed on the grassy fields.

From the seats of her canoe, we painted the lake with paddles. George Clooney’s villa on Lake Como was nothing compared to way the K2 mansion moved us into an unresolved state of disregarding opulence while desiring a winning lotto ticket:

[Video of canoe to come]

That evening her friends came over for a large birthday party celebration where I made my new friend Thomas - quite the philosopher this man. And although I was the only one who didn't speak 12+ languages, they were very kind to often carry the conversations in english so I knew what was going on. I also met her brother Simione who is taking me wind surfing the day before I leave to come home to the US!

I waited as long as I could to leave, but it was inevitable. I had ride 30 miles to my hotel near the airport and catch a 6:50 am flight. My ride was terrifying because the Italian soccer team had just won the Champions League. People flooded the streets screaming, honking horns, waving flags and in general just going crazy to celebrate the victory. I actually enjoyed most of it though. I was just never sure if these people were mad at me as they screamed various things my way while I was hastily biking past their celebrations. Assuming the best, I think that they were happy because I was decked out in their team’s colors (an accident that gave them even more reason to celebrate and freak me out as I rode by).

Without a wink of sleep from 12am-4:30am, I ate breakfast, grabbed a shuttle to the airport and was soon passed out on a plane head to Mallorca.

[I must send out a HUGE thank you to Francesca for making this trip to Italy an incredible blessing....THANK YOU KIND LADY! I hope that you get your new job. All the best to you.]

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Day 5: Sewer camera rescue & the leaning tower of...what the hail? (25 miles)

Today was supposed to be a rest day in Lucca so I planned a leisurely tour around the city on my bike. Lucca town center is surrounded by an enormous 40 meter tall wall, which took 150 years to construct. The wall is now a park - strange, eh? People bike and run around the top of the wall. There's plenty of room because it's at least 40 ft wide at the top. The very best part of the ride was coming up on a vendor with a boom box playing my all time favorite song:

So you can pay to tour these gardens OR you can ride around the wall and look down upon them. I chose the latter experience.

In the following photo, look closely at the base of the wall for two people. This will give you a perspective on the size of these walls.

After lunch, I was walking to the B&B while looking at a few pictures in my camera. I accidently dropped my camera while viewing a photo. Unfortunately, I was standing on top of a sewer cap right when I dropped it...and, yeah, my camera fell through the slits in the sewer cap straight into the drain. Awesome! I tried to yank the drain cap off so I could grab it, but all I could do was fill my hands will a paste that would certainly rival all things vial for the award of most heinous substance. I returned to my hosts' house and told them my story. We had some laughs and then made a plan that involved a hanger, pole and a bit of tape. Dezi, my new Irish friend that runs a B&B with his wife Anna, helped me fish the camera out of the sewer. Pictured below is Dezi reenacting the rescue technique that I used to pull it out:

I then took a nap only to wake up psyched to do something. So...I randomly decided to ride my bike to Pisa to view the leaning tower. As you can see in the picture, there were some major storm clouds brewing, but I was hoping to beat the weather.

Unfortunately, I got smashed by a hail storm on my way home from the leaning tower of Pisa. A bunch of cars were stopped because the weather was so bad, but I couldn't was cold enough that I knew I'd start to get frigid if I didn't keep going. [By the way, I came prepared. I have rain gear and I don't ride in jeans if anyone was wondering. I just don't take photo's wearing spandex for safety sake.]

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Day 2-4: The 503 and Cinque Terre (60 miles, 50 miles)

The travel plan was to leave Bellagio and ride 50 miles to meet Francesca, my new friend, for lunch. The ride from Bellagio started off wonderfully. Bellagio to Lecco is simply spectacular. The video below captures a typical part of the ride along with the voice of my GPS lady:

After the peaceful ride from lake como, I neared Milan to encounter 3 flats and road construction. This put a major delay in my travels and caused the GPS battery to die. At one point, I literally had absolutely no idea where I was. So I stopped at local business and spoke to a non-English speaker about using her outlet to recharge my GPS. That was fun. =] It was even more fun to watch her eyes explode with shock when she realized that I was ridding my bike "all the way to Milan."

Francesca was very patient with me as I was 4+ hours late to meet her. Her accent was worth the trip and her place was great. She even made me some dessert!

The next day we had breakfast, which in Italy means bread with cappuccino. After "breakfast" I usually find some place to eat crepes.

I briefly toured around Milan on my bike. When I saw this Duomo in downtown Milan, I was shocked. I can't believe the humans can make such artwork. I've never been struck with awe for an architectural creation before this one. As I rode around it, I was simply in a state of misunderstanding. It's just so beautiful that it's hard to believe anyone could build it.

I took the "tren" from Milan to La Spieza near the coast. It was somewhat intimidating to purchase a ticket at Milan Central because all of these scam artists kept buzzing around telling me lies about what I needed to do (without me asking for their help), but I deflected their crapola, figured it out and found the correct platform for departure.

I rode from La Spieza to Riomaggiore in Chinque Terre, which was about 7 miles of insane up hill riding. Cinque Terre is a region of 5 very small villages on the coast of Italy. The villages are connected by a foot path along the coastal cliffs. After arriving, I quickly found a room and then hiked 8 miles among 3 villages to capture the pictures below.

Even though I was sporting running attire on the hike, this graffiti brought out some west coast love.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Day 1: Malpensa Aiport to Bellagio (50 miles)

The rain today has me enjoying life at a café. Here’s the update after day numero uno:

After landing in Milan and receiving a rain filled greeting at the airport, I took a free shuttle to a Best Western close by where I built my bike in their parking garage and dropped off my bike’s case in their luggage storage. I was amazed that the build went so smoothly, but the pump I have with me is for for mountain bikes tire pressure….ooops. I didn’t think of that when I deflated the tires for packing:

With 50 lbs of pressure in the tubes, I set off on a long ride. Since I’ve made absolutely no reservations or plans for my whereabouts on a day to day basis, I decided to push a 75+ kilometers ride from Malpensa Airport to Bellagio, an idyllic town on lake Como.

I was very lucky to follow these roads just after the rain had passed. The waterfalls around the lake were beautiful!

Several good things happened on this fist ride. I didn’t get a flat and I ended up finding a bike shop with a pump about 40 kilometers into the ride. My GPS worked perfectly while taking me through tight winding streets and avoiding major highways. The rain’s departure opened the sky up to share a beautifully sunny day. The fact that I hadn’t slept for about 24hours affected me little as I was so psyched that everything was working well and on my way!!

As usual though, a few funny things happened to me as well. The battery died on my GPS when I was about 15 miles from my destination (My fault. I didn’t charge it before I left). No problem, the town was easy to find with a few questions answered by the non-English speaking Italians. They were more than amused by my hand gestures and repeating of the same English words, but they always helped me out somehow.

Towards the end of the ride, I realized that my sleep deprivation and lack of food was catching up to me when I having a very hard time pedaling down a large hill near Bellagio. So the fist thing that I did when I rolled into town was to find a cheapish place to stay and eat some fresh caught fish out of the lake.

Lake Como truly is beautiful. George Clunny filmed the home that his owns here for Ocean’s 11 (or was it 12?). The romantic Star Wars scenes were filmed on this lake as well. For a single man from the US, it’s a great place to relax, get lost in the maze of narrow alleyways as well as my own thoughts as I enjoy the views.

Day two is upon me. I feel refreshed after an amazing night sleep. I'll soon be on my way to ride another 50 miles to have lunch with Francesca.