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From the Bodensee through Apenzellerland

Last fall, Molly and I gathered our courage and tried out our first multi-day mountainbike trip with the baby in tow. I’ve eyed this route in Ride magazine a long time ago – a nearly 100km ride between the Bodensee (Lake Constance) and the Zürisee (lake Zürich). You can find some details of the ride here, but to get the GPS track you have to pay a subscription. Our experience over the summer told us that we can do about 30-35km per day with up to around 1200m climbing – this includes generous stops to let the little guy run around and look for bugs and of course accounts for the slower pace resulting from extra ~27kg of load. So for the first multi-day trip we decided to make it a bit conservative and aimed for covering about half the distance. You can find our route with strava stats here, and on a proper map overlay here.

The first day we made an excellent discovery: the family train car also doubles as the bike car! This makes loading the singletrailer easy and as a bonus provides entertainment for the little people!

Before long we were working hard up some very steep asphalt climbs and quickly left the Bodensee behind.

The promised sunshine never quite materialized, but this didn’t make the pit stops any less enjoyable, just a bit frigid.

Diving into the heart of Appenzel is really fantastic with countless steep rolling hills in all directions. The haze added a bit to the mystique but didn’t make the gut-wrenching climbs any easier.

Here is Molly setting off on a fun little descent:

Frequent stop are necessary to keep the touring party in good spirits.

We made very good time and were heading down the long winding ridge from Buche toward Bühler in the early afternoon.

I’m pretty sure Lev liked the descents as much as we did:

Here’s some more proof that mountain bikers are not the worst thing to happen to trails… fighting past these cow hoof-holes with the added weight was challenging…

Moooooooo

Woooooooo

I don’t have photos of the last part of the first day because it turned into a near epic – in order to make it to our bed & breakfast in Stein, we had to cross a seriously steep ravine which included carrying bikes + singletrailer up and down many many stairs. Let’s just say the last 2km took nearly 2 hours. We were happy to arrive to a very comfortable B&B and a delicious dinner of Hörnli, sausages and apple sauce. Yumm.

The first day was quite long – 34km and over 1200m of climbing, definitely pushing our comfort zone a bit. We woke up the next day to a very dreary and cold morning and decided for a rather conservative plan. We would skirt around the Hundwiler Höhi (otherwise a very popular mountain bike tour with some technical descents) and drop down toward Urnäsch where we could hop a train back home.

Setting off in the morning toward Hunwiler Höhi with some classic Appenzel scenery:

A nice barn partway up the climb:

We were very very cold when we got to the top of the climb and decided to descent into Urnäsch as quickly as possible. After a nice lunch in a local village restaurant somewhere before Urnäsch, we found the train station and headed home.

This year we plan on finishing off the route by starting where we left off and ending up at the Zürisee – the second part should have a lot more singletrack and less asphalt so I’m looking forward to checking it out!

You can check out the full gallery here.

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Talalpsee – Singletrailing above the Walensee

We tried to escape the sweltering early August heat by going for a long-ish mountainbike ride with the singletrailer in tow on the south side of the Walensee. This was the first time I followed an official Schweizmobil mountainbike route – normally they are not very exciting because they mostly follow forest roads instead of trails. However, it dawned on me that this quality makes them perfect for planning trips with the singletrailer. It ended up being a very fun ride, though mostly on pavement and gravel roads, but even with some fun singletrack at the end. As usual, it was much longer and a bit tougher than I anticipated, but both Molly and Lev still seemed to have fun. It was also our first time loading the singletrailer onto a train – it’s a bit stressful to get all the pieces (two bikes, baby, trailer) onto the train before it leaves the platform, but it seemed to work very well! The GPS track of the ride can be found here.

On to the photos…

Starting out in the morning:

Happy singletrailer passenger:

Pit stop:

Looking across the Walensee toward Amden:

A short singletrack section – biking up singletrack with the singletrailer is not so easy!

At the Talalpsee:

Lev loves bikes:

Final pitstop before descending to the valley:

As always, the full gallery here.

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MojVet Photoshooting

“Would you want to come by and take some pictures? You know, for printing, and the website…” Sounds easy enough…

This was actually my first “real” photo assignment: document “a day in the life” of my sister’s small animal vet clinic MojVet in Ljubljana. They would use the photos on their website and to decorate their walls. We decided to do the shooting in a documentary style, completely unposed, which suited me very well since I know nothing about proper studio work. It also meant, however, that it wasn’t obvious how long it should take, since we depended on “interesting” (and cooperative) clients to come in to the clinic with their small furry friends.

Normally, I shoot outdoor adventures where my subjects are my friends that are with me on the same trip. I don’t normally hang out in operating rooms, so shooting the work at the clinic was a completely different experience! Besides the challenges of shooting indoor with sub-optimal artificial lighting (I should have brought some lights!), it was fun to work out the angles and learn to anticipate the gestures and movements of the clinic team and their patients. I’m not normally a particularly outgoing person, but being in the role and getting into the flow of photographing there I felt really relaxed and confident.

Shooting in the operating room was pretty exciting! Here are a few that made the cut:

Photographing the pets and their owners in the checkup area and observing the effect that the animals have on people was really fun.

This was one of my favorites: three kids with their pet bunny… when I asked the father for permission to take photos, he pointed me to his daughter since she was obviously the one in command:

Sometimes the simultaneous presence of fear and deep care from both sides was very touching:

 

And, of course, the waiting room (with some unusual patients):

This guy is dog super-model material – he also ended up on a giant poster downstairs by the entrance. It’s cool to see a photo of mine be printed two meters wide!

Finally, after a few months the prints were made and during another one of my visits home we hung them up. There was some debate whether to use frames or not; in the end it was decided to frame them, though perhaps it would have been better without the glass to avoid reflections… maybe in the next iteration we’ll try something different.

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Black Canyon Trail

For our first ride together (without a trailer) in two years, we decided to ride the classic Black Canyon trail at Teton Pass outside of Wilson, WY. The Black Canyon trail is one of the original Teton Pass trails, now maintained by the grassroots Teton Freedom Riders trail building crew (also see this little documentary about the organization). It’s sort of a “baby” trail at the Pass with no built jumps, but incredibly fun. We also did something that is considered crazy in these parts: rode our bikes up to the pass from the bottom, rather than hitching a ride or shuttling. I thought the climb on the old pass road was rather nice — only 550 meters of vertical, really no reason not to ride it up.

The trail proper starts at the top of the pass and traverses a steep hillside that makes a great ski run in the winter time:

The traverse and climb up the ridge goes through some beautiful meadows and starts to feel remote very quickly:

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Spending most of our time in the european Alps, it’s really a treat to see so much uncultivated and untouched forest in all directions:

Finally we reached the top of the climb, a good 200+ vertical meters from the pass. The afternoon sun lit up the dried grasses and made for a perfect resting stop.

Finally it was time to taste the downhill part of the day. The trail weaves down the hillside with some fun switchbacks through the open meadows. Unlike the switchbacks we’re used to on the hiking trails in the alps, these never broke up the flow of the trail and were very smooth to ride.

All the way down into the forest we were treated to sweeping views of the valley. We even saw a herd of deer run up the hillside in front of us.

The trail changes character as it enters the forest, earning its namesake.

Some fun root sections and creek crossings lead you back to the old pass road:

As usual, you can see the full gallery as well.

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Engelberg freeriding

Sometimes you can’t resist the slopes, the snow, the sun, the friends. It’s always fun skiing with Romain and Andreas — we used to pretend that these workday ski outings were group meetings, but now that I’m no longer an astronomist we just call them for what they are: skipping work to play in the snow.

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On this particular day, we didn’t actually go touring but instead opted for a lift-accessed pow-fest. The avy danger was a bit sketchy so the plan was to stick to cruiser slopes and soak in the sun on the family-friendly side of Engelberg at the Brunni resort. When we showed up, the only other people in line were kids going sledding — are we being crazy?!

Once we traversed out of the resort proper, the light, fast powder confirmed that we made the right choice, although it wasn’t quite as plentiful and untracked as we had hoped. Here’s Andreas practicing his tele-style:

We skied all the way to the bottom and at the end found ourselves on ~5 centimeters of snow on top of grass. I cried a little for my skis here and there. Here’s Romain on the most dangerous part of the day:

We eventually got back up to the top and scoped out new lines:

Prof. Teyssier showing off his impeccable french powder style with Titlis in the background:

Lunch on the terrace at Brunni is spectacular with huge cliffs on all sides:

Finally we realized that the south-facing slopes were not gonna last much longer and headed a bit further north in the Engelberg valley to the famous (secret?) Haldigrat non-resort. This place is really special — a single lift allows you to access relatively gentle ungroomed slopes… with an hourly capacity of 50 people.

You call up the guy and let him know you’re coming up so you can pay him for the runs that you plan to do:

The views are amazing all the way to lake Luzern and the north-facing snow stays good for some time — if you can find some untracked patches still a few days after the snowfall…

… which we did

On the way out we got stuck between two creeks and opted to ski out one of them…

View the full-size gallery here

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chasing the sunrise

To catch the sunrise highlighting the storms brewing over the mountains in the distance… that was the plan but getting out of bed before 6am on a Saturday, just to bike up the local hill is pretty challenging.

I was half an hour too late and had to settle for the beautiful color while still on the uphill road:

Since I missed my main objective, but I had a tripod with me, I decided to play around a bit and see whether it’s possible to use the automatic shooting functions to catch myself riding the trail:

Finally on top, I had the place almost to myself with great hazy light — I think I prefer it like this compared to when it’s perfectly clear. It also means fewer tourists…

Some telephoto shots with the 20 year old Minolta Rokkor 135mm f/3.5:

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Check out that nice in-lens vignette at f/3.5:

And a view up at the trio well-known to most residents of this lovely city… but from a slightly different perspective:

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Life decisions… and mountains early in the morning

A few years ago, we were faced with the heavy burden of making one of those decisions that would clearly mark our lives forever. Choosing where to move after Seattle was a task that defied any clear optimization. Though it seemed trivial compared to all other parameters (job, language, city size, music scene, beer quality etc.), being near mountains was a bigger factor to me than I perhaps dared to admit. In retrospect, it’s something I craved the most during the long years moving around the (mountain-less) world — Cairo and Missouri, where I spent a combined 11 years certainly have their charms, but snowy mountain tops are not among them. Spending some time near the Cascades rekindled my love for the outdoors and for the special kind of suffering that brings you to places not accessible to those with less resolve.

Now, with the mountains an easy train ride away, I can head out almost anytime conditions and time allow. In this case, it was early last Wednesday morning. 1000m of beautiful snow and bluebird skies, a few hours with friends and time to be alone with my thoughts during the meditative ski up the mountain. Steep powder-inspired adrenaline. Back at work by lunch-time.

As usual, the full gallery here.

Early morning commuters

Starting out just after sunrise

Sunrise over the Redertengrat, Lachenstock, Zindlenspitz…

The Wägital still enshrouded by fog

Finally in the sun…

Approaching the upper slopes of Fluebrig

Coming on to the ridge with the retreating moon…

Incredible views from the saddle

Going down — in the end, what every tour is about…

And before heading to the office, a final look back