Hardangerfjord fruit stands

There is little more quaint than an unassuming fruit stand along a rarely travelled, one-lane road. Our ride through Ulvik was dotted with them. Farm after farm had set out their early harvest of cherries and strawberries, accompanied by an unlocked box for payment. We stopped for cherries just after a long downhill. As we stood by our bicycles plucking the cherries from their stems, the farmer from across the street asked in the little English he knew, “Very good?” And that summed up the whole moment.

A 1722 historic hotel in Utne

As we bike from small town to small town along the Hardangerfjord, our expectations for our accommodations and meals are modest.  Most towns have one large hotel with a lot of character, and the meals typically consist of salmon prepared in 3 to 7 different ways.  When we arrive in Utne, our expectations are blown away.  The Utne hotel we stay in was first established back in 1722, no two rooms are the same, the hotel managers are most hospitable, and the food is a real treat.

We arrive, quickly shower and change, and head downstairs for a local cider tasting.  Apparently, cider in the Hardangerfjord is a thing.  Apples are grown throughout and cider production has been happening dating back to the 11th century.  The hotel owner leads the tasting and walks us through 5 different ciders.  Some were dry, some sweet, some very sweet.  Each was made with a different combination of apples – all grown in Hardangerfjord – and each came with a story of who the producer was and their philosophy of cider production.  The hotel owner went to school with a couple of the producers, and we learned that one now has a doctorate in chemistry and makes very consistent cider, while another like to use more love than science when preparing his ciders. We enjoyed ciders from Alde, Hakastad, and Edel among others.

We love the whole experience complete with lit candelabra, a different wine glass charmingly of random sizes for each taste, and of course the local cider itself.

Nicolas, bicycles, graffiti, and Bogota

Nicolas is out of breath, a bit disheveled, and late for our bike tour. He’s what you would expect in Colombia (though it’s difficult for us to judge considering we were also late). When we began the ride, we started to see this character emerge, one far removed from his first impression.

Some parts of the ride were obligatory. The stop at an expensive juice stand just outside the rich part of town, characterized by European architecture. Even the ride through the red light district, which arguably may have made him more uncomfortable than it made us, as this was the only point in which he lost one of us in a crowd. Then there were other moments in which he lit up. The Garbage Museum. “He just has a different way to see life,” he told us before we wandered into a hoarder’s den. (There was some message in there about consumption in a consumer culture.) Tejo. A game in which you drink beers while throwing rocks at a steel disc lined with gun powder. “This is where I like to bring first dates. That way you know she is okay getting her hands muddy… and drinks beer.” The fruit stand and vegetable stand. “You don’t know spicy until you try this pepper.” We thought he was exaggerating. We thought wrong. But the thing that made him beam… graffiti.






First, a little more about Nicolas. Nicolas is a 26-year-old local that was born and raised in Bogota. His mother and sister are both psychologists, and his father did something business related that was lost in translation when he attempted to explain it to us. He attended university just a couple years back where he majored in visual arts, and today he is part of a city-wide graffiti group called “MAL” painting the walls and buildings of Bogota.

As we pause by many of his graffiti works, Nicolas shares why each was painted. Reasons varied from politics to history to beautification of rougher areas. It is so easy to pass by graffiti and either not notice it or dismiss it as being inferior in some way, but Nicolas’ works and messages had purpose. Riding on his steel-framed, yellow road bike, Nicolas shared stories of how some of his creations came to be. Next to one was a homeless man that Nicolas and his crew had befriended and who would protect the scaffolding overnight when the painters left. In gratitude, MAL provided the homeless man with clothes, food, and more. Stories like these that are just as much a part of the art as the art itself unfortunately usually get lost.






We feel fortunate to have learned more about Bogota, about graffiti, and about Nicolas in this 5-hour adventure on our first morning in Colombia.

Support me in bicycling for affordable housing

After finishing grad school and before I go back to work, I’m looking to do something adventurous, something that is in my wheelhouse but still forces me to stretch, and something that will let me reminisce about the impact I had, the friends I made, and the places I visited. In short, I have decided to be a Trip Leader for a non-profit organization called Bike & Build.  The organization’s mission is to raise awareness and money for affordable housing across the United States, and from mid-June through the end of August, I will be one of several leaders taking a group of 30 bicyclists 4000 miles across the country, stopping to help build homes along the way.

Before starting this adventure, I need to fundraise at least $4500 for Bike & Build and for the cause of affordable housing.  If you are interested in supporting my Bike & Build fundraising effort this summer, please visit the Bike & Build website to make a contribution sponsoring me.  You can also donate by making out a check payable to Bike & Build, Inc., writing my name in the memo line of the check, and enclosing the tear-off part of this pamphlet.

I feel it important to promote the cause of affordable housing given the not far removed housing bubble has left many hard pressed to find homes, and more specifically find credit to finance those homes. In the last several years, affordable housing has become a much larger national issue, and I hope that by participating in Bike & Build, I will help to bring more attention to it.

I’ve been lucky to drive across this country twice, experiencing its spacious skies, amber waves of grain, and purple mountain majesties, but to bicycle across the country will more deeply connect me to the route. I look forward to the burn of my quadriceps through mountain passes and to the full body jolts from the all too occasional potholes. I’ll get a chance to more viscerally feel the vastness, the diversity, and the character of this nation, while at the same time learning about one of the more serious issues facing so many of its inhabitants, affordable housing.

Donation website: Support me here

My rider profile: Bike & Build Profile

Destination: Loire Valley

Bicycling through the Loire Valley occasionally stopping at vineyards and chateaus, feasting on French cuisines, and staying in cute hotels is about as enjoyable and romantic as it sounds.

Day 1: Getting to Tours

Accommodation: Hotel le Manoir in Tours

After picking up some more bread and cheese (and a couple pommes so that we felt a bit healthier), Gabe and I head towards the train station to meet up with Katherine, another friend who will be joining us at school next year. We had met Katherine only a couple brief times before, but we figure if she is brave enough to travel with us, we will probably be a fun group. We eventually find each other in the maze that is the train station, sit in a great pod on the train to Tours, and catch up on each other’s lives. After almost exiting the train at the wrong station, we make it to Tours, meet our trip manager and receive our bicycles. We have signed up for a self-guided tour and therefore are also given maps, directions, hotel names, restaurant suggestions, etc.

Tours is a cute even if touristy city. Many consider it as the main passage way from eastern to western Loire Valley. We cover most of the city after walking around for about thirty minutes, in which time we walk into the town’s 12th century cathedral and through its old city. There is a picturesque square in the old city where we find a cafe, order a couple drinks, and reflect on the French youth sitting around us.

Tours, France

Day 2: Tours to Azay le Rideau

Accommodation: Hotel de Biencourt in Azay le Rideau

Meandering through bike paths, the three of us stumble upon a small town where we find some more of the usual bread, cheese, and pommes. And after a short break, we continue on to our first chateau of the trip, Villandry. The castle is nice, but not as nice as the gardens with their well manicured mazes, vegetable gardens, and water presentations. Although most of the rooms come with descriptions of how and why they were used, we decide that it will be more fun to speculate about each room’s use. As a result, we end up passing through places such as the billiards room and the wine-tasting room. The rest of the ride takes us to Azay le Rideau, a very small and photogenic town where we enjoy a great dinner and a very nice hotel called Hotel de Biencourt.

Gabe on a bike

Villandry, Loire Valley

Day 3: Azay le Rideau to Chinon

Accommodation: Hotel Diderot in Chinon

Now with soarer butts from spending copious amounts of time aboard a bicycle, the tour through Loire continues on day three. Disappointed by our lack of degustation yesterday, we begin the day by tasting wine within the first hour of our ride. We stop at Pascal Pibaleau Vineyard, located at 68 route de Langeais just outside Azay le Rideau, and instead of trying several wines, we are poured a sample of what seems like 15 wines. The wines are locally grown, so we buy a bottle because the bottles are inexpensive and the tastings are free with a purchase. Afterwards, to be careful not to bike under the influence, we walk around the vineyard for a little while enjoying the sunshine before continuing on our way.

Next stop is Château d’Ussé. The approach to the castle is as magical as even Disney could’ve dreamed. We bike down a long straight road surrounded by green on every side and the castle growing as we near. And any castle that inspires one in a Disney movie is worth at least checking out. As we walk through the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s castle, we are bit concerned by the excessive use of manikins in each room, but eventually we realize that the displays help us piece together what we remember from the old movie.

After arriving in Chinon but before finding our hotel, we stop for one more degustation in a wine cellar that has been carved into the mountain next to Chinon’s large fortress. As we taste the big red Cab Franc wines from M Plouzeau Vineyard, which is located next to the Chateau de la Bonneliere, Katherine chats with the server in French and Gabe and I try to stay warm in the chilly cellar. One château, two degustations and a day filled with more bread, cheese, and pommes makes us very happy as we arrive at Hotel Diderot in Chinon , from which we can see pieces of the Vienne River.

Playing in the vineyard

Chateau d'Usse

The view from the bike

Day 4: Chinon to Saumur

Accommodation: Hotel de Londres in Saumur

We get a bit lost at the beginning of today’s journey; however, we make sure to at least keep biking in the correct direction and eventually we find the path. Our first stop is at the Royal Abbey of Fontevraud and its surrounding town, where we meet an aesthetic refugee. He enthusiastically approaches us with a book in one hand and his other outstretched, and then immediately offers that he labels himself as an aesthetic refugee. The three of look at each other, think the same thing, and then ask what exactly that means. Apparently, when he has lived in other parts of the world including northern California, walking around felt like having forks stuck in his eyes. The architecture was all haphazard, ugly, and incoherent. France on the other hand, and even more specially Fontevraud, is his escape from all that is aesthetically unpleasing. After a short talk about what makes French architecture so appealing, we part ways confused as to what has transpired because he did not try to sell us anything, convince us of anything, or capture any of our contact information.

The clouds loom as we leave this small town, but just as it starts to rain, we find another conveniently located degustation, where of course we stop for a taste. With pouring rain outside, we taste a couple more Loire Valley Cabernet Franc wines. We try to buy a bottle and set up a picnic in the winery; however, this apparently is not allowed (the picnic-ing that is). We are then forced to put on our rain gear, mount our bikes, and ride maybe 100m to the nearest cafe, where we each enjoy a hot drink with our previously purchased bread, cheese, and pommes. Our French touring meals had a very distinct pattern– bread, cheese, pommes, repeat.

We finish the afternoon by bicycling through the Saumur-Champigny vineyards before arriving at the medieval town of Saumur where we enjoy one more degustation before going to the grocery store to purchase some food for dinner at our hotel.

Wine tasting in the Loire Valley

Day 5: Leaving Saumur

Katherine, more than anyone, is a bit anxious to get back to her long lost love, Paris. Gabe and I could’ve used some more Saumur (pun intended), but we are flexible and so we all board an early train as we leave the Loire Valley behind us.

Three Amigos on Bikes