31 July 2009

Day 70

41 Kilometers.
I finally got to sleep, and slept until almost 10 am. When I woke up, I got ready and we went to grab something to eat near the Piazza Grande (another UNESCO site, by the way). I had a salami sandwich, a croissant, and a few glasses of water before saying goodbye and setting out on my way. I stopped after about an hour to grab some water from a fountain. At two hours I stopped again at a gas station to drink two Powerades and a bottle of water. I was thirsty again after about two minutes, and eventually stopped again to get a drink from another fountain that I found.
When I got into Bologna, I crossed over a river where some people were bathing. It looked awfully appealing, but solving a more important problem first, I went down the street and bought two bottles of gatorade. I drank them both, and still thirsty went for another. Then I went back to the river and went for a swim to cool off. It was also good to rinse off my shorts, because they had a pretty nasty white coating of salt and sweaty sunscreen.
I went to an Internet cafe and found the number of Lorenzo, my couchsurfing host for the night, and spent a little bit of time writing a post for the day three days before (I am just now getting caught up). I met Lorenzo at 6:45 in the Piazza Maggiore, and we walked around town, checking out one of the oldest universities in Europe (I think about 700 years older than Columbia, one of the oldest universities in the US). Lorenzo brought me through many interesting areas (including the leaning tower above), and we ended up getting a drink at the oldest pub in town. During our drink we talked about travels and about more cultural differences between Italy and the states. We spoke (in English) about the problems of dubbed films and television here (as in France and Germany, everything is dubbed here rather than subtitled). Until I got to France, I had never really realized that each American actor has a single person who always does their voice. Here, there is a voice of Stallone that is instantly recognizable as Stallone (and nobody has ever heard his real voice). The problem here though, is when the dub star dies and the real actor keeps making movies--how do you replace the voice of Woody Allen or Sylvester Stallone when it is the same voice you have heard for your entire life? I don't know...but I thought it was an interesting dilemma.
We went back to Lorenzo's apartment and had some dinner, and I washed my clothes under the sink and took a shower. Lorenzo had a fan and a comfortable sofa bed, and I got an incredibly good night of sleep.

Day 69

Crescenteria, originally uploaded by Ryan Runs Europe.

28 Kilometers.
In the morning, Angela drove me by the Calatrava bridge outside of Reggio (on the highway, a ways outside of town) before dropping me off on the Via Emilia where I had arrived before. On my way out of town, I bought a new charger for my phone...a much bigger and heavier version of the same thing (I was told in two shops that you couldn't find the small and practical one in Italy). The run was again a nice distance...not too long and not too short, and I ran continuously and pretty easily.
When I got into Modena, I went into a grocery store and bought my (now standard) 1.75 liter bottle of Gatorade and 1.5 liter bottle of water...I also bought an enormous slice of cold watermelon (a quarter watermelon was the smallest size they sold). I went out to a park bench and spent almost an hour drinking and slowly working my way through the watermelon, carefully dissecting it with my Swiss Army knife. Watermelon is amazing. A (somewhat crazy) woman sat next to me while waiting for the bus and I offered her a piece of my watermelon. She said no, and offered me some sort of candy bar, to which I said no. Then she started talking really quickly about how some people think it is chocolate, but it is gum or taffy and how chocolate is bad or something along those lines, and (somewhat lost) I just smiled and nodded (or shook my head, depending on what I determined to be more appropriate). Eventually she slowed down and I explained that I wasn't Italian, and we spent some time talking about my trip and about her daughter and all sorts of stuff. Eventually she got on the bus, and I headed down the street towards town. I stopped in an Internet cafe to check my email and got in contact with Filippo, my couchsurfing host for the night. We agreed to meet in a few minutes in the main piazza of the city.
I took my time getting there, and once we found each other, we went back to his apartment (nearby) where I met his girlfriend Christina, took a shower and washed the clothes I had on in the sink. I put on the dirty clothes from the day before and waited for the ones I had just washed to air dry so that I could change and wash again. This is life when you only have two t-shirts and two pairs of shorts.
While Filippo went to go play soccer, I went around town and got a beer with his friend who had had a year of high school in Alabama. It was amazing hearing an Italian person speaking English with a thick southern accent. She had even spent some time visiting Columbia, so we had a lot to talk about.
Filippo met us around 9, and we went to a cresceteria and got a typical sandwich of the region (with a kind of strange flatbread that I can only really compare to a somewhat crispy pita). Afterwards, we got a gelato (everyday gelato!) and went to an outdoor bar.
I went to bed around 1 and had a very difficult time getting to sleep. The problem here is that it is incredibly hot, so you have to leave the windows open and sleep with no sheets. However, there are also many mosquitoes, so sleeping without any sheets and the windows open becomes a problem. You are either hot or bitten...and while it would be a very easy solution to this problem, fans and screens seem very rare here. On a couple occasions around 5 in the morning I got up and went onto the balcony, and just stood there for a few minutes in the open air. Tired and frustrated, I wanted all the mosquitoes to come together in one giant human shaped mass so that I could punch it in the face. No dice there, so I just went back and tried to fall asleep to the tune of buzz buzz buzzing in my ear.

Day 68

Reggio, originally uploaded by Ryan Runs Europe.

28 Kilometers.
In the morning I went into town with Saša and he took a few pictures of me running with his fancy camera before I actually started running. Once again, the way was straightforward and easy...just like a regular run in the park (except I wasn't in the park, of course). I had left Parma fairly late, so I ran while it was hot and got into Reggio in the early afternoon. Thirsty and covered in salt grime and sweat, I asked someone on the street where the nearest grocery store was, and a few hundred meters later I was in an air conditioned "Esselunga" with about 3 liters of Gatorade and water and a cold cup of mixed fruit. From there, I went into the center of town and walked around to a few of the old churches. In one, S. Prospero, I was amazed by how beautiful the stone of the columns was...until I walked a little closer and saw that they were just painted to look like marble. There seems to be a real love of ornament here (even if tacky and artificial) in both architecture and fashion. I have to be honest though, it generally looks good from far away.
I spent a while hanging around in the park, doing some very rare core/drills barefoot just to keep myself occupied and to let my feet see the light of day. I spent some time watching some "drama kids" practice some crazy impromptu/mime/ballet, realizing for the first time that those awkward drama games are an international phenomenon.
At some point, I went into a grocery store and was excited to see some cold Nesquick on the shelf. I bought it just out of principle, because it isn't really something you find here. At the register, I spoke with the checker for a good 20 minutes about what it was that I was buying and why I was in town. When I finally cracked open the first little "Nesquick To Go" pouch and took a sip, I found my mouth filled with some chocolaty mess with a consistency somewhere between mousse and yogurt. What a terrible trick...thanks Italian fake chocolate milk marketing team.
Around 8 pm, I walked by a bar that was pretty packed with people about my age, and while I hadn't eaten dinner yet, I figured I should probably take the chance to meet some new people. After asking someone near the door, I found that the place had a deal where if you bought a drink, you could eat the buffet/tapas type food for free. A good way of killing two birds with one stone.
Somewhere down the line I found myself talking to two girls who were both named Julia, one of which was fortunately an architecture student, so I had something to talk about. They ended up leaving fairly soon afterwards, but after eating a couple plates of pasta, I sat myself down at a table with a group of their friends who had stuck around.
I spent the rest of the night explaining what it was that I was doing, answering questions and asking some of my own. One of the questions that I hear a lot here is "aren't you afraid?"...to which I answer "eh." I don't really know what it is, but whenever something is a little bit crazy on this trip, I just think about the reason that I am in that situation and am immediately relieved. This whole thing is my own creation, and it is because of me that I am here. If I ever feel scared, I just kind of smile and take the jump. I would rather take risks and live my life in a way that’s worth protecting than to spend all my time safeguarding something that I can't enjoy.
After we finished our drinks, we headed off to get some gelato and stroll around the city. I was with a great group of people, and after several changes of plan, I ended up with a place to stay.
At Angela's house, I took a shower and was too tired to wash my clothes (meaning that the next day I would have to wash everything). I went through my normal sleeping routine, except for when I got to the plugging in my phone part, the charger exploded in my hand and the power in the house went out. Luckily, Angela was familiar with where the fuse box was, and the power was back on in no time. For a couple weeks my charger had been making a funny sound sometimes when I would plug it in. I bought it in Amsterdam, so it was proper for the EU...I guess it just got tired of working.
I went to sleep around 1:30, tired enough to sleep despite the heat and the mosquitoes buzzing around my ears.

30 July 2009

Day 67

Parma Cone, originally uploaded by Ryan Runs Europe.

22.5 Kilometers.
A short run put me into Parma in the early afternoon. The distance was easily managed, and I was probably doing six forty miles along the same straight and busy road as the day before. Nothing interesting really happened until I was coming into town and a car t-boned another passing car, causing the front bumper to fly off and land 50 meters or so in front of me...an instant reminder of how wonderfully amazing the drivers are here.
I had set up a place to stay in town through couchsurfing, so I didn't have to worry about much. I gave Saša a call and started checking out the town, waiting until he got off of work. I went into a few churches and meandered around town, eating a gelato before walking through the Giardino Ducale. Eventually I went to an Internet cafe where I spent a few minutes checking over my emails before Saša came there to meet me.
We went back to his apartment, where I took a shower and washed my stuff. He had to meet someone in town for an hour or so, so when I was done with my shower I spent a significant amount of time reading over a photoshop manual that he had in the living room. I learned about a couple things that I hadn't heard of before...and won't believe until I see for myself (the possibility of importing 3d models and maintaining perspective?).
Saša and I went to dinner, and I got to eat some Parma ham and tortellini, both specialties of the region. After dinner, we bought a beer and sat in a nearby park with one of Saša's coworkers. Late in the evening, we went into a gelateria and took some of that back to the park to hang out. You really have to try hard here to keep a diet that consists of less than 10 percent gelato...the stuff is amazing.

28 July 2009

Day 66

Day 66 Run, originally uploaded by Ryan Runs Europe.

38.7 Kilometers.
The run to Fidenza was pretty straightforward. Actually, pretty much every run I have until I get to Bologna will be straight and forward. One thing that carried through from the Romans are completely straight roads from town to town. I would imagine that there was never really any need for another road, so the Italians just paved over them and now they are busy highways. Great for cars, bad for runners.
I stopped after about 20 km in a town called Firenzuola and went into a cafe/supermarket and bought two bottles of Powerade. The lady at the counter had seen me running from Piacenza on her way to work, and she gave me a free bottle of water to help with my thirst quenching.
Runs around 20 km are really perfect, I can really just go out and cruise and not have to think about anything except for putting one foot in front of the other. Runs around that distance were pretty standard back at school, so when I head out the door, I just think to myself "eh, just doing a short little run in the park." On days like this though, I do that run in the park...I walk around town for maybe 15 minutes and I say "ok...well, time to do another short little run in the park."
When I got into Fidenza, I was incredibly thirsty again, and I stopped in the only open place anywhere in sight, a gelateria. They didn't have any real liquids, so I settled for a lemon Icee type drink. Best brain freeze ever.
After doing the typical loops, I found a group of people sitting outside of a cafe/bar, and asked them if there was anything to do around Fidenza. We started talking, and I sat down and they asked me lots of questions about my trip. Really nice guys, but they thought that I was crazy...which I guess is rational. After I got to the part where I didn't have a place to stay, somehow the whole group started slowly dispersing. Oh well.
I ordered something to eat from the bar and sat around for a while. When I was done, I went inside and paid, and asked the bartender if he had any solutions for me. He told my story to a nearby man, who ended up being an American (from Arizona) who has been living in this region for almost 30 years, teaching English among other things. Glen ended up offering me a shower and a place to stay...and a computer. He had a concert to go to, but he left me with the computer for the hours that he was gone.
When he came home, we spent a long time going over the cultural differences that he has found in Italy, and it was good to hear some advice from another American that has spent so much time here. We also spent some time talking about one of my favorite subjects: architecture. We spoke about digital fabrication and about the need for architecture that is either application specific with an application specific lifespan, or redundant architecture which lasts forever and which can be easily repurposed. While I was tired, the conversation was engaging, and I didn't get to sleep until around 2 am...knowing that once more I would be running under a high sun.

27 July 2009

Day 65

The Bridge is Down, originally uploaded by Ryan Runs Europe.

38.1 Kilometers.
Matteo came and opened up the door for me around 10:30, and we headed out to grab something to eat together. Afterwards, I spent some time running around town trying to find a replacement for my depleted body glide. The heat is definitely causing some potential problems, so after a few stops, I found a bike shop which had something I could use. I ended up buying "Ozone Elite Protect Cream," which while fairly expensive and oversized for my needs, had Le Corbusier's modular man wearing bike shorts as its logo, so I took that as a sign that it would work for me.
Some people had informed me the day before that the bridge to Piacenza was down, and that I wouldn't be able to get there on foot. I spent a little bit of time in the morning going over possible alternatives, but ended up deciding to go to the town across the river from Piacenza and figure out a solution when I arrived. I knew that there was a railway bridge nearby, and I was excited to MacGyver a solution when I got there. I set out of Lodi in the early afternoon, and just cruised on my way to San Rocco, the small town across the river from Piacenza. I told myself that I would run continuously until I got to San Rocco, or for two hours (when I would need to refuel)...whatever came first. I kicked out mid 6:20 miles until the two hour bell rang and I found myself at a gas station right outside of San Rocco. Not a crazy pace, but with the backpack and the heat I was definitely drained when I arrived. I went in to the shop and bought a 1.6 liter bottle of energy drink, and immediately drank half of it. I had the guy refill the rest with water, and I drank that too. I stood there for a couple minutes trying not to puke, and then immediately after that sensation went down, I drank a Powerade and another half bottle of water. I was less than 8 km from Piacenza, and a few kilometers away from the bridge, so I started heading in that direction. Due to the quantity of liquid in my stomach, I started out walking and evolved into a slow run. When I got to the closed bridge, I decided to check out how bad it was (even if a car couldn't cross it, maybe I could). I climbed over two fences with obvious no entry signs and walked to the edge of the world. The bridge was in pretty bad shape, but I didn't have many options, so I tried to figure out a solution. My solution was to jump the gap onto the second piece of the bridge and then climb up the still connected guard rail onto the third. After standing for a couple minutes, wondering if the slab of concrete hanging off the other part of the bridge would hold my weight, I decided to test it via leap of faith. It was a long ways down if it didn't hold, but luckily it did, and I found myself walking down a steep hill of broken highway to the ground below. Matteo had informed me that the bridge was broken in two places, so I wasn't really sure that even if I climbed up the crazy guard rail I would be able to get over the other place. I decided to walk over to the railway bridge and see if I might have a more viable option there. There actually was a place that I could pass safely if a train came by, so I climbed up onto the bridge and made a run for it. Luckily, no train passed by, and I got into Piacenza (half "Mad Max" style, half "Stand by Me" style, as my friends back in Lodi would put it) much easier than I had previously imagined.
Now my goal was to find something to eat and a place to stay. I walked around town, entering a few churches and walking around a few parks. Outside of one church, a man was taking photos of all the people who entered, and we ended up speaking for a bit about my trip. He took a photo of me with some nuns as well. I gave him my phone number, and he said he would call me later in the evening to see if I had found a place to stay. After a few more loops around the town, I didn't find the Internet cafe that I was looking for, and sat down in a park hoping for anything. It was around 8 pm when Carlo called and said that if I didn't have a place I could have dinner and stay with him. I went back to the church to meet him, but when I got there and called him, he said that there was an emergency and that he could no longer put me up. I told him that it was no problem, and that I hoped everything was alright, and went on my way. I got some dinner, and around 9 o'clock, I called Matteo to see if he knew anybody in Piacenza. He said that he didn't really, but that one of his friends knew a guy who was in a band at a rock concert near the train station. After an hour or two of wandering around trying to find this concert, occasionally calling Matteo for an update on directions, I eventually arrived at the outdoor concert which really wasn't anywhere near the train station. It was incredibly heavy stuff. The bands were playing "violent core," according to one of the posters I saw...and were seriously violently rocking out. Mario, the singer in the band that I had been given the name of offered to put me up, and was an incredibly nice guy, but he lived 20 km in the direction of Milan. He asked just about everyone he knew to no avail, and in turn I started asking everyone else. After talking to so many people, Mike and Chiara offered to put me up at their place. It was a ways away, but Mike offered to drive me back in the morning. I got to bed around 3 am, incredibly tired. I had made it my goal while running out of Milan to never run during mid day again...but that isn't about to happen.

26 July 2009

Day 64

Wellington Pub, originally uploaded by Ryan Runs Europe.

40.7 Kilometers.
I woke up late in the morning, and after eating some breakfast and spending a bit of time on the computer, Brenda, Antonio and I took the car/train ride into Milano. It was around 2 pm when I finally set out of the city on my way to Lodi.
Definitely one of the most ugly and difficult runs that I have had thus far. Italy is not really made for pedestrian traffic, and I followed a highway out of the city, coughing through the dust and smog with the exhaust of the passing cars increasing the heat of the already incredibly hot weather. People said that Italy would be hot. I didn't think it would happen right away.
After maybe 8 km, I hit a part of the highway that had an obvious no pedestrian sign, and considering that there wasn't a space at all for a pedestrian, I decided to obey it. The only problem was that there wasn't really any other option of getting to Lodi (I starting singing my own version of the CCR song, where I was stuck on the way to "Lodi"). There was a few kilometers in there of hopping over jersey barriers and fences, crossing train tracks, running through fields, getting my legs cut by little plants (hoping there was nothing poisonous)...trying to fill the voids between roads that didn't connect, hoping they were roads that I could run on. Eventually, I got back onto a busy (but possible) road, and ran along its side for maybe the first 20 km. It felt like the hottest day that I have had so far, and the general traffic/road/air quality made me feel like I was back running in Thailand...maybe worse. Eventually, I found the option of taking a slightly longer smaller road, which actually had a bike lane, and the rest of the run was quite alright. I stopped a couple kilometers outside of town in a grocery store, completely wiped out and feeling like death. I took a photo of my terrible condition, but accidentally deleted it. After three boxed chocolate milks and a bottle of sports drink, I felt a little better and wandered the rest of the way into town. I checked my phone, and by some chance I had managed to put "Lodi" on it (the only CCR song I had), so I listened to the song on repeat until I arrived, hoping that I wouldn't get stuck in Lodi. I think it was the second time that I have listened to my music in the last two months.
I started my usual wandering about town, and after making a couple loops I stopped to ask a couple sitting in the park for some advice on a restaurant and somewhere that I might be able to find a shower and a place to sleep. After talking for a bit, they informed me that they lived quite a ways from the town (in a little town that I had run through on the way to Lodi), but that they were going to a nearby bar later to meet some friends, and that I should go there after dinner to see if I could find something. So that is what I did. I had a cheap plate of spaghetti and a salad, and headed over to Wellington Pub on the edge of town. The bar had an awesome atmosphere, and I was quickly introduced to a huge group of awesome young people, with pretty similar interests in art, architecture, and music as me. Tired as I was, I stayed out until 2 am talking with so many people. One of the guys worked for the local paper, and did an impromptu interview. Some of the conversations I had really made me laugh. I don't think I'll ever get tired of hearing the ideas that people in other countries have of America, or having them explain the realities behind my ideas of their country. Around 2 am, Matteo and Mattea (difficult to not get the names mixed up) brought me to their art studio where I could shower and sleep for the night. One is a photographer and the other an artist, and the place was full of some pretty cool work. They locked me in, and I took a quick shower in a crazy (sink level) tub and went to sleep on the couch, excited for the coming day.

24 July 2009

Days 62-63

46 Kilometers.
Vittorio dropped me off back in Como on his way to work...it took a while for me to finally wake up, so I walked for a couple kilometers to get out of town. As I was getting ready to start my run, I took a kneel to relieve myself and somewhere between wondering what time it was and accidentally peeing on my hand while trying to shield myself from flashing a nearby car, I noticed that my watch was not on my wrist. Immediately the events of last 8 hours or so flashed through my mind: my taking off my watch to take a shower, my waking up in the middle of the night and realizing that I wasn't wearing my watch and that I needed to remember it when I woke up in the morning, and my leaving the house without really waking up in the morning...without my watch. For the entire run (split into two sections for a short lunch break and some walking) I couldn't help but think of Christopher Walken's watch story in Pulp Fiction. Looking at the white tan line on my wrist, I kept going over all the things that this watch has been on my wrist for: I have had it for about 7 years, and it has been there for just about every tough workout, race, or PR I have ever had...not to mention it has crossed a half a continent on my wrist. This trip has forced me to be a little less sentimental with things, but I really wanted to get this watch back, and was kicking myself for being so thoughtless. I couldn't do anything at the moment, as Vittorio was at work (in Switzerland) and I didn't even have his phone number or address. To make things worse, checking over my bag to see if it was anywhere to be found, I noticed that my long sleeve shirt wasn't there. I left it in Lugano. I guess I had a thoughtless couple of days (I was planning on ditching the shirt long ago anyways, as it was never really part of my originally planned luggage). I had to just forget about those things and keep pushing on towards Milano, through some of the longest dirty suburbs I have ever seen. There, I could take a break for a day and figure out my next few moves.
My arrival in Milano by the way, marked two months from my departure--in those two months, I have been in 6 countries and run around 1,760 kilometers, which averages out to 125 mile weeks if you include my breaks in some of the big cities, (145 miles/week if you don't). The crazy thing is that I'm not even halfway done.
In Milano, I met up with Brenda (the mom of a fellow Columbian) and Antonio, her husband. It was a great couple of days, I got my laundry done and had some time to just relax. Apart from taking me out to some amazing Italian meals, they took me to a pharmacy where I refilled my calcium and bought some antifungal foot cream (my feet are starting to get pretty gross...not there yet, just starting) and went halfway across the world to get me a new pair of shoes. Milano is an enormous sprawling, dirty, fashionable and interesting mess...and I was pretty lucky to have Brenda and Antonio there to take me around. Brenda is American, and Antonio is Italian, so we spoke a comfortable mixture of the two languages.
I was pretty lucky to get an e-mail from Vittorio, who had found my watch in the bathroom, and Brenda and Antonio were nice enough to drive up to meet him on my last night in Milan. The drive seemed really long considering that I had run it only the day before. Vittorio came to meet us on a scooter with Giorgio, and seeing them and my watch was glorious...like reuniting with some old friends. Even though it had only been two days, it seemed like a miracle to see someone who had seen a few days before in another town, and made me excited to reunite with some of the people I have met along the way in future years. It has been an amazing first two months, with so many interesting and generous people...but it is a long road ahead.

Day 61

Nova Comum, Como, originally uploaded by Ryan Runs Europe.

32 Kilometers.
I slept until near 10 am in Lugano, had some breakfast with Lorenzo and started heading towards Italy. Before leaving town though, I thought I should spend some time on the computer writing about the last three days, so I found an Internet cafe and ended up lounging around there until around 3 pm. At 3:45 I finally got out of town, and had a pretty smooth run into Como. To make things more challenging I decided to try to race a guy on a bicycle (travelling with huge saddle bags). I kept getting right up behind him on the uphills, and then he would roll ahead on the downs. I finally got ahead, just moments before our roads divided. Not having had a running companion for the past two months, keeping pace with hippies on bicycles is all I can really do to maintain that feeling. I stopped a few miles short of Como in my last non-Italian town for over a thousand miles or so and tried to spend my last 10 Swiss Francs before I crossed the border. I bought two iced teas, two Lindt Swiss Chocolate bars, and a package of Mentos. Thinking that I should eat a little bit of real Swiss chocolate before I left, I went into a Swiss chocolate store for the bars. Thinking purely numerically, I went with the highest percentage cacao they sold...90 percent. I have now learned that you have to be an idiot to buy a chocolate bar because it has the highest percentage of cacao. That chocolate bar was terrible. The first two squares were a shock, and I forced down the second two. Having a thing about not wasting food, I forced down two more squares before deciding that it would be better to throw the rest of the chocolate away then to vomit it away. I tried to offer it to someone on the street, but for more than one likely reason, they said no.
I got into Como in the early evening, singing "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on my Head" aloud as I walked the last kilometer or so around the lake (Perry Como recorded a version of it that I used to repeat over and over on my record player).
I spent my usual couple hours wandering about the town, making Gaelic knot patterns on the plan of the city...hoping that something would fall in my lap (fortunately, it did). On the way, I was wonderfully surprised to find Terragni's Casa Del Fascio (near a wall on which "DUX" was spray painted). I had studied this building in school, but the fact that it was in Como had completely slipped my mind.
After about my 8th loop around the city, I passed by a pretty busy cafe/bar in the main piazza of town (Caffe Nova Comum) where I heard a man say something along the lines of "Hey runner." I quickly responded, "Yep...runner...that's me," from which came the question "Where did you run from?"...to which came an answer which started a longer conversation. It wasn't long before I was speaking to a group of people outside the cafe, feeling like I had just been sucked into a typical Italian scene from a movie. People coming by on bicycles and stopping in for a word, others leaving on scooters. Pretty women walking by and young guys halting the conversation to call out "ciao bella!" Before I could realize, I had a beer in one hand and a pizza in the other. Everyone in the place was talking to me and helping me out, even to the extent of asking some of the customers if they had a place I could stay. When it started getting late, and things were looking grim, Giorgio (the man in charge) offered to put me up in a hotel, but I told him that I couldn't accept. Soon afterwards, his friend Vittorio invited me to stay at his place. I was incredibly tired by the time we got there, I took a quick shower and fell asleep without bothering so much as to brush my teeth.

21 July 2009

Day 60

Mt. Gradiccioli and Me, originally uploaded by Ryan Runs Europe.

45 Kilometers?
I'm not really sure on the mileage of this day, my route was kind of crazy and my GPS kept losing signal...telling me that I had run 166 km halfway through my run. I'm pretty sure that it was around 45 or 50 km, and one of the most challenging days yet.
The run to Lugano from Bellinzona was supposed to be pretty straightforward, 31 km along a sentiero. Once again, however, I didn't find the entrance to the path, and my route was pretty random and along the side of roads in bike paths that cars kept driving in. I again walked for about 15 km, hoping that the pain in my shins would calm down again. About halfway through the fairly direct route I was taking, I got to the town of Rivera, where Johnny had suggested that I take the "funivia" to the top of the mountain to see the Mario Botta chapel. I wasn't opposed to taking a machine up a mountain, provided that it brought me back down to the same place (so that I could continue along the valley to Lugano), so I went a couple minutes out of my way to the base station of the lift. When I got there, a sign informed me that the cost of the ride was 22 Francs for the out and back, and I said "No way am I paying that, I'll just run up it!"
I couldn't see the top of the mountain, and I didn't really think that it would be very far. I was wrong. As a general rule from now on, when a chairlift costs over 20 dollars, it is going a long way up. It was a very very long way up. I wasn't going to turn around, and after some serious running, hiking, crawling and sweating (and many false peaks) I arrived at Alpe Foppa, having gained 1060 meters of elevation. Soaking wet with sweat, I put on my pants and started going about the church. The view from the platform was amazing, and I was actually pretty glad that I had made the climb on foot. Had I taken the trip in an enclosed chairlift, it wouldn't have meant nearly as much to me. Standing on top of that platform, I felt truly triumphant, and truly grateful for the beautiful landscape that had brought me to the point where I was standing. The interior of the chapel was interesting, and I couldn't help but find echoes of Ronchamp: big revolving door, light breaking through the ceiling, little written messages and magnified sketches.
From the chapel, I headed to the cafeteria area and got a bite to eat and asked for the direction to Lugano. The man I asked told me to take the chairlift down and head along the valley...and that I had the other (insane and not suggested) longer option of continuing up to Monte Tamaro and taking the ridge line over and then down to Lugano. I wasn't about to backtrack down that hill immediately, so I chose the insane and not suggested option. Before heading on my way, I paid five francs to take a ride on a freaking awesome luge/bobsled thing. I went fast.
After sliding down a rock slide on my butt to get onto the proper trail, I took off my shirt and got ready to conquer some more mountain. The trail was incredible, and I felt like I was Highlander, Braveheart, or a really fast mountain goat or something...on little cut rock paths winding around the side of the mountain. At one point, a German couple that was hiking down the hill stopped and stood there with their arms outstretched and fingers moving, waiting to do "the wave" (the two person wave) as I passed by. That was pretty awesome. After some serious running, I skirted the top of Monte Tamaro and arrived at the top of M. Graddiccioli. At 1935 meters, it was about 1700 meters above where I had started the day (and 1700 meters above where I was going)...aka both the days it took to cross the Gotthard combined into one (plus the descent). At the top of the mountain, a plaque read (translated from Italian) that "the intensity of life is not measured by the number of breaths, but by the places and moments that take our breath away." This mountain definitely took my breath away.
From the top of the mountain, I could see the lake and city of Lugano, and I spent the rest of the trip running along the ridge lines and along the side of mountains towards the city (sometimes on trails, sometimes not). I eventually reached the town of Arosio, and took the longest winding downhill imaginable down to Gravesano where I continued towards Lugano. That downhill just destroyed my legs, and I had to walk/jog the last 4 or 5 km into the city.
Once again, I wandered around for a bit looking for something to fall into my lap. I bought a gelato and stood in the lake (which wasn't really cold at all) for twenty minutes or so...and fell asleep for a few minutes by its side. I had thought that I had a place to stay in Lugano, but once I got a little bit closer, I realized that the people who had sent me an email actually lived miles outside of the city...so I had to wing it again. I bought an amazing pizza (Gorgonzola and prosciutto) for dinner, and continued my rambling. After speaking with a few people, including a couple runners who had stopped to stretch, I found myself exhausted and with nowhere to sleep at 11 pm. At this time, I found a group of three people walking and said (an introduction I have been using kind of frequently) "Are you from this town?" When one of them said yes, I explained my story and asked if he knew of a place I might be able to find a shower and a place to sleep. Without another question, Lorenzo offered to let me sleep at his apartment and introduced me to his cousin and her new husband who were visiting from Italy for their honeymoon. Oh man, I was pretty happy...and pretty lucky once again.

Day 59

33 Kilometers.
I took a "Sentiero" (footpath) all the way to Biasca, where I was supposed to get back onto the footpath towards Bellinzona. The way was beautiful, and I went by an interesting ruined castle. When I got into Biasca however, I didn't pay any attention to the sign of the footpath (it was pointing in the wrong direction), and I just started heading in the right general (down the valley). Feeling like I should take an easier day (both of my shins are giving me some trouble again), I walked the first half on a series of roads and trails that were on no map, marching through mud, under highway overpasses, though thorns, etc. After 15 km or so, I crossed over a bridge and found the proper path again. As it would turn out, had I just gone in the wrong direction a little ways in Biasca, I would have found a bridge and followed the marked footpath the entire way. Once I started running, the going was better, and I followed a river all the way to the outskirts of Bellinzona. When I got there, I stood in the river for 10 minutes or so and headed into town. Bellinzona is a nice little town, with three castles that were once a major gateway to the Alps...now they are UNESCO world heritage sites and people go there because of that. I bought a Gelato and wandered up to the big castle in the center of town, and after walking around it (simultaneously looking for potential places to stay) I went back into town and went up to the next castle, where I did the same. I didn't really bother to go up to the third castle, because it was getting late, and everything would be closed (someone informed me later that it really isn't that cool anyways).
I went back into town and bought some dinner at a Kebab place. After eating, I spent a really long time stumbling about waiting for something to fall in my lap. When 10 o'clock rolled around and nothing had fallen in my lap yet, and I had spoken to a few people who couldn't help me out, I went back to the most happening place I knew (the Gelato place) and bought another ice cream and sat down on a bench. There was a group of young people across the street, so I went up to them and stated my facts. A translation of my introduction would probably be something along the lines of : "Good evening, I am a young person, here alone and I have nothing to do. I think that it is better that I speak with some people..." After we spoke for a bit, and they checked out my website to see that I wasn't just a poorly disguised serial killer (Thank you iPhone and 3G!), two of the people (Johnny and Sabrina) offered to take me home to their apartment for a shower and a place to sleep. They were incredibly nice, and were quick to throw my socks in the laundry machine before I could make their apartment smell like dirty feet (I'm about ready for a new pair of shoes).

Day 58

Ludiano, originally uploaded by Ryan Runs Europe.

48.9 Kilometers.
I might as well just put a shotgun to my knees. Almost 50 km of continuous hard surface running, the majority of which was downhill, was probably not the best thing for my already tired legs. I had found a place to stay in Ludiano, a small village near Biasca (the place I had intended on stopping) via couchsurfing, and on a map it appeared to be a bit closer to Airolo (where I was coming from). Closer doesn't mean much when there is a huge mountain ridge between you and your destination, so I had to run downhill to Biasca in one valley, and then back up another valley to Ludiano. Ludiano is beautiful--basically if you imagine a beautiful small Italian town and then cross that with the imagery of a mountain village in the Alps, then you have a good idea of what it is like. Alice (my host) made me some pasta for lunch, and we spent the afternoon talking (in Italian) until it was dinner time and Alice made a pizza from scratch (I like this Italian part of the world). I also threw my laundry in a machine...I hadn't washed my clothes in a couple days, and my stuff was starting to smell pretty rank. In the evening, we headed to a local middle/high school and watched a series of short plays in Italian that all had something do with apples ("Meladramma"). The school was pretty small, but the plays were entertaining and simple enough for me to understand. There was even a section which shared a theme with one of my favorite philosophies, the Plato/Aristophanes/Symposium concept of the derivation of love and the search for the other half. In the play, a bunch of apples were cut in half and shaken about in a tub. Everyone grabbed an apple, which represented themselves and after holding the apples in front of them, they danced about putting their half-apples against other half-apples, trying to find the perfect match. Basically, if love is a jigsaw puzzle, this is the strategy where you randomly plug pieces together trying to find one that fits. This all goes well until one of the pieces has a roughed up corner and then all the corners get roughed up and there isn't a good cure for jigsaw STDs. The better strategy, which I could easily see from the audience, would be to look at your own apple/jigsaw piece and then scan the room to find one that looks pretty close to it. The more you know your own apple, the easier it is to find a match. For me, all the things we do in life are about finding out your own apple/jigsaw shape, the more you know, the easier it is to solve the puzzle...you just have to hope that there isn't an odd number of apples-halves (In which case, you just eat your own...which actually ended up happening later in the play). A very philosophical middle school play, I must say.
After the play, we headed into Bellinzona and watched some of the Blues Festival that was going on there, and then headed to an underground Reggae bar, where Alice asked me if I could translate what was being said in the music. I answered, "No, I don't understand Italian that well I guess." She responded "Umm, this music is in English." After listening and maybe understanding one or two words, I realized that it was some sort of English based language. Either I've been away from English way too long (doubtful)...or that is one seriously messed up dialect.
Around 2 am, when I couldn't force my eyes open anymore, we drove back to Ludiano and I passed out on the sofabed. A 50 km start to any day will surely put me out quick.

19 July 2009

Day 57

Peak of the Gotthard, originally uploaded by Ryan Runs Europe.

21.5 Kilometers.
The Gotthard is my bi***.
I left around 9 am from Andermatt, and it took me around an hour and ten minutes to peak the Gotthard, the highest point on my route. It actually wasn't that bad except for one false peak ("I'm almost there!") that ended up continuing upwards for a few more kilometers once I got to it. At the top the weather started to shift, and I knew that I had to get down to Airolo before the predicted enormous storm would hit (around noon). I met a man at the top named Andreas who had walked to the Gotthard from Basel over nine days, and we sat down in the little cafeteria there for a drink and some conversation. From there, it was a race to get to Airolo before the weather got worse. A thick fog had come in, and the air was incredibly wet. I couldn't see more than 20 meters in front of me through the fog, and the wet ground didn't make the downwards travel on a narrow mountain trail any easier. I have to define my method of travel this day as a mixture of running, hiking, sliding and falling.
I got into Airolo right as it started pouring down. It definitely poured...all day and all night. I was soaking wet, and there was absolutely nothing to do in Airolo on a rainy day. I spent some time in the tourism office looking over brochures, and took a nap in the train station waiting room. I ate some pasta for lunch and some pizza for dinner, and was pretty excited to start speaking Italian (the pass is the dividing line between the German and Italian speaking language zones in Switzerland). There was no laundromat in the town, so I didn't do the laundry that I really needed to do (my clothes were beyond the level that hand washing could restore). The day was spent waiting for something to happen...but nothing really happened except for more rain and thunder.
Around 9 I wandered into the bar in town hoping to find someone who might be able to help me out. I ordered a Gottardo beer and drank it very very slowly, waiting for the chance to break into the conversation. The problem with Airolo is that everyone seemed to know everyone, and the entire bar was involved in fast Italian conversation. It is pretty hard to find a good point to break in when everyone is speaking quickly in a language that is not your first. I finished my beer (after an hour I think...) and ordered an iced tea. After I had finished it, I ended up catching the bartender and a few minutes later I was speaking to a few other people in the bar...including one guy who kept testing my (not very good) abilities in languages by switching between English, French, German and Italian every few sentences. At the end of the night, when almost all hope was lost (nobody could put me up), a young man named Nauel brought me over to speak to the woman who ran the hotel next door, who he knew. After some talking, it turned out that there was an empty room that someone had just left, and they gave me some fresh sheets and said goodnight. I took a shower and spent some time looking at maps for the next day. I fell asleep warm and comfortable as the lightning and rain crashed down outside.

17 July 2009

Day 56

Once again I had to wake up early, and I headed out the door stumbling tired. René dropped me off back at the pub on his way to work, and I grabbed a pastry and started heading in the direction of the Gotthard. Before I got out of town, I was temporarily shrunk by a giant bench. It was a pretty nice morning but my clothes were still wet, so after two kilometers I stopped on a bench and laid down and put my wet clothes over me and got a couple of hours of sleep while they dried. When I got up around 10, I ran about 7 km to the next town and stopped to buy some tape and ibuprofen for both my ankles. I was feeling a bit of pain, so I figured I would take the precautionary measure. I also finally bought two 'Mach 3' razor heads to replace the two that I have used for the entirety of the trip thus far (they were getting a bit dull).
Then I started running. The run to Andermatt was beautiful as well, but I had to gain 1000 meters of elevation this day, so at times it was a bit difficult. I have no idea how fast I was running, but sometimes even though I was pushing hard I felt like I wasn't moving at all. It wasn't really the kind of day to rush, so I took it kind of easy. Apart from a few lesser grade hills, it was kind of like doing that hill at the Rockies (state park outside of NYC)...except it lasted for the length of the entire loop. It wasn't actually THAT bad though. I found myself not cursing the uphills, but rather the down. "I just ran up a 20 minute hill, and now you're making me lose much of that effort in 5?!"
I ran over a bunch of amazing old stone bridges, including the famous "Devil's Bridge." I got into Göschenen around lunchtime, only a few kilometers from Andermatt and decided to stop and get something to eat. The problem with small towns in Europe though is that the grocery store is closed during lunchtime, so I had to wait until 2 to get something to eat that didn't cost 25 francs. After I ate, I started heading up towards Andermatt, walking for a few kilometers to let my food settle before starting to run again.
As I got into town, I went by the old church that René had shown me a picture of the evening before...I went in and was lucky to find him still there working on the restoration. It was pretty cool running halfway up a mountain pass and seeing the same person that I had left in the morning a few hours before. I spoke with René for a while, and he gave me some water and fruit to snack on, and I headed out of town to find the river that I had been criss-crossing all day. I wanted to go in. I found it, and under a shining sun I took one of the most glorious ice baths I could ever imagine. When I got out, I spent an hour or so walking around the rocks and hills surrounding the town, finding many curious doors and chimneys coming out of the sides of the rocks.
When I got into town, I went into the "61" Internet kiosk and cafe, and wrote my blog entry for the day before. There I met Bernie, the guy who was running to the shop, and we started talking about my trip. Before saying goodbye, I asked if he knew where I might be able to find a place to shower and sleep and he immediately offered me a place at his house. His English was perfect, and we spent the evening talking about all sorts of crazy things. He has gone on many bike rides and treks over thousands of kilometers, through India, Asia and Europe. He also has a hobby of finding crystals in the mountains here, and it was pretty crazy to see some of the stuff that he has dug up...things that seem to perfect and geometric to be natural. It was pretty cool to think that he was the first person to set an eye on these rocks...thousands or millions of years after their creation. We had some tea together and he told me about much of the history and myths behind the region. I asked him about the chimneys and doors that I had seen all day, and he informed me that a huge portion of the mountainside here is hollowed out for military facilities...supposedly large enough to host thousands upon thousands of people. The idea of a subterranean city below the Alps is just incredible. I wanted to get a flashlight and a crowbar and do some exploring...but I think that will have to be a future trip.

16 July 2009

Day 55

Day 55 View 15, originally uploaded by Ryan Runs Europe.

54.8 Kilometers.
One of the most beautiful runs of my life. A little long...but seriously, this place is paradise.
I had to wake up early and take the bus back into town with my host to the place where I got on (even though it brought me backwards). We got into town around 6:30, and I was incredibly tired having had only 4 hours of sleep. My clothes were still wet, so I walked for a couple kilometers with them draped over my body and backpack to let them dry. Before they could dry, it started to rain, so I began to collected the wet clothes and put them inside my bag. In the process, I noticed that my white shirt was nowhere to be found...it had been sitting on the back of my backpack. Uh oh. I quickly turned around and started running back towards Zug in the rain...amazingly, it was still sitting in the road a half a mile back.
When the rain started really coming down hard, I found a little public swim hut with a locker room off the side of the lake and went inside. Tired and with wet clothes, I hung up my things and took a nap for a couple hours. The light in the locker room was automatic, with a motion sensor in front of the building...so around 10:30 the light came on, and I woke up and collected my things before I could be discovered.
From there, the run was smooth and pretty. I have some similar pain that I had before in my left shin now (a little in my right too...) so I tried to take it pretty easy. When I got to the turnoff for Schwyz, my planned stop, I decided to keep going to Altdorf which would supposedly be a much better stop. When I got to the little town of Brunnen, having run over 30 kilometers, I stopped into the tourism office and looked at a map. I had no idea how much further Altdorf would be...it turned out to be about another 22 kilometers. "Big day I guess." I decided to rest for a bit, and had a salad and schnitzel in Brunnen. I also finally broke and bought the one souvenir that I can predict buying on this trip, a 14 franc Swiss Army knife. I think it is the only reasonably priced thing in this country, I don't know if it helps that I bought it less than 5 km away from the factory...
I started walking on the trail towards Altdorf, up the side of a mountain along the edge of the lake. I walked maybe 5 km to let my food settle and started running again. The trail was crazy, and the views of the mountains and blue lake below were some of the most amazing views I have ever seen. There were times where it was so beautiful that I felt like I was going to cry. Not really...but there were times that I thought, "man, if I were a dude who cried at this kind of stuff, I would definitely cry now." You have to see this place. It is unlike anything I have ever seen before...like the pictures I saw when planning the trip, but with a color and a feel that could never be captured by a camera.
When I got into Altdorf, I was wiped out. I stumbled into a bakery and grabbed something to eat and drink and sat down next to this famous William Tell statue for a while, feeling wasted...like I could never move again. Somehow I managed to get up and start wandering around the town. I found the church and went in, and fell asleep sitting up in a pew. I think it was only a few minutes before I woke up, wiped the drool from my face and stumbled back into town. Once I had made a few circles around the town, I sat down again by the statue. Eventually, I again forced myself up and found something to eat, and went into a nearby bar to see about finding a place to sleep. I knew that I would instantly die if I drank a beer, so I ordered a Coke and asked the bartender for some ice for my shin. She gave it to me, and we started talking (in German) about my trip. After a while, another guy came into the bar, and I talked to him for a while about it as well. When it was getting close to 11, I made the plunge and asked if either of them knew if there was a place I could take a shower and get some sleep around the town. The man, René asked if I didn't mind waking up at 6, and I said "of course not" (a little sleep is better than none). At his place, he made up a bed for me out of rock climbing mats and we spent some time showing each other pictures from our adventures. René really takes advantage of this amazing country, going climbing, horseback riding, mountain biking, camping, fishing, whitewater rafting, skiing...well, pretty much everything you can do on an almost daily basis. I took a shower and rinsed off my clothes as he made some food, and we ate together as he explained the best route for me to take in the morning. He would be working on an old church in Andermatt in the morning, and makes the drive almost daily. I went to bed well after midnight, and didn't have much trouble falling asleep.

15 July 2009

Day 54

Höllgrotten and Me, originally uploaded by Ryan Runs Europe.

34.5 Kilometers.
I had a great dinner with Tom last night...he has a kitchen, so we were able to make some burgers for less than 10 dollars a piece (the price here for "just the sandwich" at a fast food place). We went out for drinks, and I woke up and headed out the door with Tom. Not wanting to make him late, I didn't hit the toilet up on the way out the door, thinking that I could just find one before I left town. Only a couple blocks away, I found a public restroom (common in Zurich) and went inside. There were used needles all over the place, and I decided that I should probably hold it until I found another bathroom. When I got into the next bathroom, I was excited to see that it was pretty clean...except for when I went to put down the toilet seat, I noticed that it was covered in blood. I decided that I should probably hold it until I found another bathroom. Luckily, I found a McDonald's, and went in to use the toilet. It was clean and safe feeling, but there was a bunch of stuff in the toilet, and after trying to flush it, it started overflowing. I decided to wait until the next bathroom...but luckily there was another floor of McDonald's, so I was saved by the Big Mac once again.
I didn't get out of town until around 10, and I ended up getting into Baar around noon. On the way I had a hill that felt like it was a mile long, and thought about how much it would suck to run up a nonstop hill that is more than 26 times that. When I got to the top of it though, there was a really nice view, so I decided to take a picture. Before I could press the button though, I got shocked in the leg by the electric fence that I had unassumingly leaned against. Nothing like some stim therapy to get me going again.
When I got into Baar, I bought my lunch from a grocery store: a piece of watermelon, a huge chocolate milk, a little individual pasta with ham and a piece of bread to use as a fork. I went across the street to the patio furniture store and sat in one of the tables to eat my food. After I finished awkwardly eating by scooping bits of pasta with pieces of soggy bread (I had set it down on my sweaty shorts) I noticed that there was a secret fork compartment with utensils and a napkin on the underside of the pasta dish. Oh well.
After lunch I wandered out to the Höllgrotten, a limestone cave system that is open for visits. I had to pay to get in, and it wasn't really that adventurous considering the installed lighting and artificial watering system...but it was still pretty cool. The stalactites look like some sort of crazy alien plant, and one can see where the water level of the underground lakes were by the formation of the limestone. (Geology...rocks!!!)
Once I left the Höllgrotten, I was basically equidistant from Zug (in the direction I am moving) and Baar (the town I had already been), so I decided to go on forward. In Zug, I found a nice little swimming area, locked up my stuff in the free lockers and dived in. Switzerland is spotted with beautiful, clean lakes. Once I had swam and jumped into water to my heart's delight, I struck up a conversation with a group of youngish people who were sitting on the dock. We had a beer together, and spoke (in English) about travelling. Things were going really well, but two of the people weren't from the town and were staying with the third. There wasn't room for me, and everyone they asked who they knew in the town said "No, are you crazy." They informed me (as many Swiss people have done) that people in this country are generally afraid and unaccepting of strangers. I was once again surprised to see how many locals (even well travelled ones) buy into such a stereotype of their own country.
Feeling kind of hopeless, and with the sun setting in the horizon, I approached a group of 5 people around my age and asked (to start conversation) if there was anything to do in the town. They said that there wasn't really anything to do in town except for what they were doing, and they handed me a beer and let me sit down with them on the edge of the lake. After we talked for a while, and went to a bar for another drink and something to eat, I caught a bus to a nearby village and found a nice shower and a place to rinse my clothes. Man I am lucky that that Swiss stereotype isn't always true.

13 July 2009

Days 50-53

In da club, Zurich, originally uploaded by Ryan Runs Europe.

24.6 Kilometers.
Rest. Drinking. Recovery. Planning.
I've been away from the blog (and the run) for a few days, taking some time off to enjoy Zurich with some friends. My friends Nic (who I worked with at DS+R) and Tom (a fellow Columbian) are here, likely the last familiar faces that I will see for a long time (I don't really know anyone who lives south of here). I have also been taking some much needed time to plan the next stages of my trip. As some of you might have guessed, I have to cross over the Alps in a few days. It is a pretty big hill, and I want to make sure I'm running over it in the prettiest way. It is important that you go the pretty way when you are planning on climbing 1,622 meters in two days.
The run into Zurich was pretty easy and straightforward. The constant flickering rain/sun has continued, but I got into the city without a problem with one of the shortest runs that I have had in a while. I met Nic in the center of town, and we went around and visited the campuses of the ETH (a place that I'm thinking about spending some time at some point). During the tour I got to stop by the digital fabrication shop here (where Tom is interning for the summer) which really got me going. I had seen the guys here lecture at Columbia a while back, and since then I have been in love with the work that goes on here. They have a robotic arm that assembles bricks in incredibly complex patterns based on digital models (among other things). I want this robot so badly. The technology in digital fabrication is moving very quickly, but seeing what is possible today only makes me want more to come even faster. It is hard for me to wait to get back to that world, but I'm sure I'll be even more ready to get some good work done when the time comes. For now, it is running and more inspiration.
Zurich is a great city, and from the lake you have a majestic view of the mountains that I'll have to be crossing in a matter of days. They look cold and big.
Nic has many good friends here, and I spent the weekend partying with him until 4 am each night. He lives a half hour drive or so out of the city though, so I've been going with him back and forth to Aarau pretty frequently. Nic is not much bigger than me, so he let me borrow some clothes for the weekend, and I felt kind of strange walking around in normal clothes (including shoes and pants that were a couple sizes too big). The 'going out' scene here is pretty huge, and I had a lot of fun with Nic and his friends. One major downside however is the fact that it is legal to smoke indoors in Switzerland. All of my clothes would reek of cigarettes at the end of each night, and I frequently feel a little bit nauseous from spending too much time in a cloud of second hand smoke. Add that nausea to way too much whiskey and a windy drive back to Aarau at five in the morning and you'll find my dinner flying out the window of a moving car and an early morning car wash. I've gotten used to that kind of math...
I walked around the city a bit each day, checking out the old parts and the new. I saw the Stadelhofen train station, an earlier project by Santiago Calatrava, and was pleased and amazed to see that it wasn't composed of long white pointy things.
I also caught the end of the Zurich Ironman going by.
"Look, other runners!"
"They look tired..."
With all the running I've been doing, I still think that an Ironman would really, really suck.
I have also gotten fairly used to everyone here calling me Forrest Gump. I guess it is really the only popularly known example of someone running places alone...and while the story is pretty much completely different, I guess we both like running and eating chocolates. Almost every runner in the states has heard "Run Forrest Run!" mockingly shouted at them by some little punk on the side of the road. Take that same zeal and multiply it by every person I've met, and I've basically got a new second name.
I am currently sitting in a computer lab at the ETH, working on planning my next few stages. With the spacing of the towns, and the fact that I'm going up a pretty serious hill, I think I'll be doing some shorter days for the next week or so. Tonight I will stay with Tom in the city and head towards Baar in the morning. From there I will head south until I catch up to the No. 2 "wanderweg" which I will follow until I arrive in Italy...
I also don't have any prearranged places to stay for at least a week, so it looks like I'll be touching up on my Swiss German.

10 July 2009

Day 49

Miriam, Simon and I, originally uploaded by Ryan Runs Europe.

30.7 Kilometers.
I woke up late at Jeremy's place in Schaffhausen, he had gone to work and left me the key to put in the mailbox when I left, and I got a solid 10 hours of sleep, a make up for the night before. I went about town for a bit and ran some errands which included buying a new Swiss SIM card. The currency here is pretty close to the dollar, so it is strange thinking on those terms again without too much math. Everything is incredibly expensive here though...
I started heading towards Winterthur, starting with a sore walk for a couple kilometers which gradually evolved into a comfortable run. The way was pretty straightforward, but I got mixed up when the small highway I was running along evolved into something bigger...but somehow I stumbled upon a "wanderweg" (footpath) with a sign pointing to Winterthur. From then on, it was smooth sailing on mostly gravel trails. It has been raining off and on here for several days, but it seems that as soon as I take out my jacket it always stops...and then when I put it away it starts again. I have learned to stop bothering with the jacket/drawback/cell phone Ziplock for now.
I got into Winterthur and wandered towards the house of Miriam and Simon...people who had sent me an e-mail after finding my blog, suggesting that Winterthur would be a better stop than what I had planned. I am pretty flexible with minor changes to my route now that I am actually doing it. You can get a better sense of a place by the people who live there than by looking down at a map. I had no idea what I would be heading towards, having only seen a few words and a name in an e-mail, I just had to fall back on trust and some good precedence.
As I got close to the house, someone said my name ("Hey, nobody knows who I am here!"). I turned to find Simon, the young man behind the name in the e-mail. We went back to the apartment, where I took a shower and met Miriam who put my ash and sweat covered cloths in the wash. I lucked out with this blind meeting...they are a great couple with a cool apartment and a taste of music and style that is similar to my own back at school. Simon lent me a pair of shorts and a sweatshirt, and after dinner we went hand had a drink at a local bar/club. It was pretty strange wearing normal clothes...but a good feeling. When we got back Simon and Miriam made up my bed and said goodnight, and I spent a long time on the computer writing my story from the day before (I normally write on borrowed computers or in Internet cafes...not on my cell phone keypad). I was well tired when I turned off the light and closed my eyes for the night.

Days 47-48

Schwarzwald 8, originally uploaded by Ryan Runs Europe.

116.9 Kilometers.
I'm still alive.
I set out into the Schwarzwald (Black Forest) around 11 am from Freiburg, and found myself instantly on some of the most beautiful trails I have ever run. Coming from the Pacific Northwest, I have been spoiled by nice trails...but these were like none I had ever seen. I just had to follow the right colored diamonds, so I didn't have to worry about stopping to check out my map at every fork (none of these trails are on my map anyways). When I left in the morning, I knew that I had to choose between three short days in the Schwarzwald or two long ones (the latter would put me in Zurich by Friday).
A fast 31.5 Kilometers put me in Hinterzarten, where I could have potentially stopped for the night. I felt like I could keep going, but I went into the tourism office to see if they could suggest anything for me. The man informed me that the place I would be heading towards was not a town at all, but just a spot in the middle of a gorge. There were no places to stay there, he said while showing me the map, suggesting that I stop in a closer town. For me though, if I continued on, I had to go far enough to where I could get to Switzerland in the next day. If I wasn't going to make it at least half way, I might as well stop where I was. The map that he had showed many places in the forest where there were caves, castle ruins and covered campfire areas, so I figured I could find a place in the forest even without a tent or sleeping bag and camp for the night. I asked for the cheapest restaurant in town, and bought the map that he had shown me. I spent about an hour eating some Blackforest ham and cherry cake while planning my next move. To get over the huge amount of food in my stomach, I walked a couple kilometers to Titisee where I looked for all the supplies I thought I would need for the night. I found a little box of matches for free at the pharmacy, and headed to the little grocery store to find some things to eat. I ran out of town with a Capri Sun, two nectarines, a mini baguette thing, four bratwursts and three candy bars (Bounty, Snickers, Marzipan Ritter) figuring that I would have enough for both dinner and a light breakfast. When I bought the bratwurst, I had the option of buying some precooked sausage, but I thought to myself "I'm camping, of course I will have a fire."
Along the route, I made some detours to find some castles that were marked on my map. All I found was several minutes of stingy nettles and nothing. I decided that castles were not my best option, and that I would run to the next covered cooking area and stop there. The trails were amazing, and I found myself happily making the climbs and discovering the views with the additional weight of food on my back.
I arrived at the Schattenmühle hut and fire pit before 8 pm, having covered a stupidly huge 62.4 kilometers to get there. I had eaten the Bounty bar during the run, and when I arrived I ate a nectarine and the Ritter Sport and drank my Capri Sun. I was shocked to find that the place was not actually a covered fire pit, but a fire pit and a covered building which were not connected. My plan to sleep sheltered and near a fire was ruined. I cursed my map.
The "camp site" was near a road which had a construction trailer on it, so I spent much of the remaining daylight trying to get into it with tools fashioned from a rusty tent stake that I found nearby. No dice. I also gathered a bunch of wood, but because it had rained, most of it was pretty damp. As it started to get dark, I started to feel hungry and impatient to have a fire going. I quickly built a little tepee out of the sticks that felt the most dry, and tore up some of the now useless pieces of my map and tried to get a fire started. The wood was too wet, and it wasn't long before I was sitting in the dark with no fire and no more matches. Fire is a difficult thing. You have to be patient with it. Around midnight, I went and waited by the side of the road, hungry and tired, for a car to come by. I got a lighter from a woman and headed back to try to make magic happen. I gathered all of the dry sticks and leaves from around the hut and tried to make my fire. It wasn't enough, and the lighter was almost out of fluid and wouldn't start...and it was starting to rain. I resolved that I would go to sleep and try again in the morning. I ate the little piece of bread and the last nectarine and pulled out my space blanket and sprawled out on the hard wooden bench. I maybe slept for a few minutes off and on, but I was cold and my stomach was grumbling. Around 3 am, I decided to make another try with the fire. I went out onto the road and waited again. I got a lighter from a pair of construction workers that drove by and went back to start my fire. I found an old board that was dry on the backside of the hut (under many heavy clay shingles) and spent some time jumping on it and throwing rocks at it to break it up into manageable pieces. I built a perfect tepee and used the last of my map as starter fluid. I smiled at my success, the fire was starting and I was ready to eat. Just as my little friend crackled its first strong breath, it started pouring with rain. Minutes later I was underneath the hut with some rescued wood, cold legs, tired eyes and raw bratwurst. It was 3:30 am and my spirit was breaking. "Why did I buy food that needed to be cooked?" I tried to go to sleep, sitting upright in a fetal position in my space blanket igloo. Somehow I managed to sleep until 5 am, when the sun came up and I resolved to try to make a fire one last time.
This time, I was patient. I didn't have any more paper, so I spent an hour and a half picking slivers off of the board that I had found, producing as much tinder as I could. My hands were trembling and cold, and my legs were wrapped in my (useless) space blanket...but I was patient. It was raining, so I built my structure on a portable wooden base that I could move outside when it stopped. Around 7, I had a beautiful little structure of tepees within tepees full of hand generated sawdust and a found cigarette-butt fuse. As soon as it stopped raining for a second, I carefully carried my precious little friend to the fire and tried lighting it. After a couple flint strikes, a fire started to grow, and I wrapped my hands around it in desperation. "Take my warmth, whatever you need...just live!" Man did it live. Tired cold and covered in ash, I saw my friend grow through bloodshot eyes...one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. I threw my bratwursts on the grill and ignored the drizzling rain. I would eat this morning. Those bratwursts are among of the greatest things I have ever eaten. It was 8 am, and I had to cover 55 more kilometers to get to my destination in Switzerland.
Tired and still a bit hungry, I started walking east to Achdorf where I would transfer trails and continue south. On the way I found a snack hut where I got some sports drink and some food, along with a bag of Gummi Bears (which I had to eat while still in Germany). The trails were muddy, and the forest that was paradise the day before was a completely different place. Tired, I stumbled through the forest, taking some time to explore abandoned structures or caves along the way that might have been better places to stop the night before. I also stopped to take a nap on a bench in a field, and I arrived in Achdorf around 18 kilometers later under drizzling rain. Somehow it was nearly three o'clock when I arrived, and I still had nearly 37 kilometers to go. I took the mandatory first couple steps, and started to run. I needed to get into Schaffhausen (Switzerland) before too late. The trails were incredible. Much better than the day before, and so much clearer than the trails that I had been on in the morning. It was like paradise, I ran along narrow trails in lush green forest along cliff edges and over tangled roots by stones that were carved to look like mythical beings. Tired as I was, it was incredible. Too bad the battery in my camera was close to dead. I didn't take any photos...you'll have to see it for yourself. Running on trails like that is like dancing, you move fast and without thinking, subconsciously finding the proper footholds through roots and rocks. On occasion, I would slip and feel certain that I was about to die at the perils of a steep cliff...only to catch myself with the other foot. I ran the rest of the run with the lyrics to a Johnny Cash song stuck in my head: "That's one you owe me, I let you slide..." One foot to the other...my feet make good teammates.
I arrived in Schaffhausen in the evening, wiped out and bleary eyed, unshaven and covered in ash and the smell of campfire. I was pretty sure that I couldn't make another night outside...so I started my general process of wandering around hoping that a miracle happens. I wandered around town and through a castle. I withdrew some Swiss Francs (from a Swiss bank!) and got some dinner at a Chinese takeaway place. I spoke with some young people who informed me that I would be hard pressed to find hospitable people in the country. "People are just cold here and unwelcoming of strangers." I sure hoped not.
After some other uneventful events, I found myself in Cross Box, a backpackers bar and hostel in town. I ordered a beer and started talking with the bartender, who put me in touch with the head bartender. After explaining myself in some pretty terrible German, and asking if there were any nice locals in the bar, she told me she would look about. She returned with two young men and a place to stay. I had a drink with Jeremy and Michael and discussed some common interests in music. They are some pretty awesome dudes. I was wiped out and so excited to have a place to sleep. Jeremy's roommate was out for the night, so I had a bed to myself, and I took a shower and slept for a solid 10 hours. It was amazing. I love bed.

07 July 2009

Days 45-46

Roof Dinner, Freiburg, originally uploaded by Ryan Runs Europe.

31.2 Kilometers.
After getting across the border for the fourth, I was ready to take a long awaited (since Paris) day off in Freiburg. I had slept until noon after the long day before, and after spending some time eating lunch and catching up on some computer usage, I got my things put together and started heading to Freiburg after four pm. The run was smooth, except for a few 16 percent grade hills, but I got into Freiburg before long. When I got into town I bought a cold chocolate milk (milk in Germany is refrigerated!), and thought for a second that it was curious that it came in a glass bottle. Seconds later, when I stepped outside and the bottle slipped out of my tired and sweaty hands and shattered on the floor before I could drink it, I also pondered why it came in a glass bottle. So much for my cold chocolate milk. Scheiße.
I met up with my host Aline and had some dinner on the roof with some of her friends and roommates, and then we watched the French movie about Edith Piaf until everyone was too tired to finish it. It was in French without subtitles, as every young person in this flat speaks English, French, and German incredibly well...except for me. I got the gist though.
On my day off, I wandered around town, looking at some of the old architecture and trying to not step in the open gutters that run along the streetsides. My day went like this: Pretzel, Münsterworst, Ice Cream, Kinder, Ice Cream, Beer, Schintzel, Beer, Fries, Pretzel, Wine. Between eating, I spent some time checking out the maps of the region for my next couple of days, eventually deciding upon a vague route where I just take things as they come. Story of my life I guess.
I had dinner with Aline and her friend Miriam, and watched the sunset on the roof with some more young students from the flat or the area. Now I am tired and wondering what will happen tomorrow. I am trying to work out a trail route through the Blackforest, but I have no idea what the trails are like or how challenging they will be. I'm just going to head east on the Freiburg-Konstanz transverse trail and see where it takes me, eventually (after one or two days) meeting up with the Ostweg trail which heads south into Switzerland.

05 July 2009

Day 44

Day 44, originally uploaded by Ryan Runs Europe.

28.5 Kilometers.
Au revoir France, Gutentag Deutschland!
Happy Independence Day! I made it to Germany! Wake up PJ!
The run was straightforward but not incredibly scenic, along the side of a busy two lane highway with no shoulder. Halfway through I had to stop in the woods and use the emergency toilet paper that I have been carrying around since I left Columbia...it seems the French Thai food hit me pretty hard. The toilet paper has been through a lot (NYC plus 1,200 km of European roads inside of a calcium bottle), but sadly it never made it to Germany. It did get all ripped up though and and coated in minty calcium...so it was a little bit less of a pleasant experience than it could have been...
Anyways, a little over 2 hours after I left Mulhouse, France, I arrived in Badenweiler, Germany and met up with my couchsurfing host Anna. I let my legs cool in the stream that runs near her house, had a shower and passed out on the futon for an hour or so. Some friends of Anna were having a party outside of Freiburg (my next destination), so around 7 we rode bikes down to the train station, and took the train into Freiburg. Once we got there, we stopped by the grocery store and rode out of town, and then hiked a mile up a hill to get to a little castle. We watched the sunset from a the top of the tower (the view was awesome), and then built a fire at its base. I spent the night hanging out with a bunch of cool people (who all spoke perfect English) who played some music and grilled some good food. I even heard some country songs and had some beer and Bratwurst (the closest I got to a hot dog)...apart from the lack of fireworks and the whole not being in the US thing, it was pretty much a normal 4th of July.
Around 1 AM we made the walk and bike ride back to the train station, and after getting off the train, we had a half hour bike ride up a hill to get home. Definitely one of those days where my legs hate me. I think they will hate me more for making them run back to Freiburg now...

04 July 2009

Day 43

Photographer, day 43, originally uploaded by Ryan Runs Europe.

47 Kilometers.
I set out around 10:30 towards Mulhouse, where I had found a place to stay through couchsurfing. On the way, I was called by Justin, an Australian photographer living in Zurich who was trying to find me to take a photo of me while running. Through some crazy chain of events, and some friends passing around the word, I guess my trip has been deemed worthy of an article in the NY Post (if you're in NY, get the paper this Sunday!)...which is pretty cool, but also pretty nuts. It was pretty weird for me having a photographer drive out to find me while running. I felt like a celebrity. Don't tell anyone, but I'm actually a normal kid who likes to run who went to Europe with a backpack and a blog so that his Mom could know that he wasn't dead every day (still alive Mama!). Cool to see that I can maybe inspire or entertain some other people though...and maybe find some more places to stay!
Anyways, after much calling back and forth between Justin and I (where I was always arriving in the next town by the time he got to the last one), he managed to track me down and I spent some time running around in circles for the camera. He would drive ahead a little ways and take another photo when I got to him. He kept asking me for less smiley photos...which was pretty difficult for me to do. I smile a lot in general, and the whole scenario was pretty funny. The run took quite a bit longer than it should of, and Justin headed back to Zurich when I had about 25 km to go. It was the closest I've gotten to having someone run along side me in 43 days.
It was an incredibly hot all day, but as soon as I got near Mulhouse it started pouring down with rain. Luckily I had finally broke and accepted the disposable poncho from Claire back in Belfort. I met up with my couchsurfing host Efi in the center of town, everything dry except my fingers and shoes.
I took a shower and blow-dried my shoes, and Efi and I headed out back into the middle of town to get some dinner. We went to a Thai restaurant, which was awesome for me. I haven't eaten spicy food since I left NY, and the restaurant was nice enough to give me an extra little bowl of fresh Thai chillies. It wasn't long before my craving for heat was satisfied and I had the hiccups. After dinner, we watched a little concert in the middle of town. There is a big car convention going on in Mulhouse this weekend, so there was a french guy singing 1950's American rock and roll. It was a pretty awesome last night in France.

Day 42

Lion Belfort, originally uploaded by Ryan Runs Europe.

22 Kilometers.
I realize now that my 'space' blanket is worthless. My legs were very very cold during the night, and I found myself trying many different arrangements throughout the night in the tent to make myself more warm. Rustling around all night with the giant piece of tin foil, I accidentally ripped a corner off of it. All the blanket seemed to do was capture my sweat...so I was cold and wet. When it got warm towards the morning, I finally got some smooth sleep, and I slept well and late...waking up hot and face down with tarp lines and drool all over my face. The best way to start a run. After packing up and returning the tent, I set out towards Belfort. The run was short, and I arrived around noon.
I gave my couchsurfing host Claire a call, and she met me in the center of town. I took a shower and we had lunch, and she set out for her day of work at the local tattoo parlor. While she worked, I intended to get a ton of things done, including my laundry, my e-mail and some sight seeing. I like to do my laundry on occasion with a machine, because I normally just rinse it by hand, and after about a week my stuff starts to look a little bit more brown than it should. So, I set out towards the laundromat, walking about ten minutes only to find that there was no soap for sale. I turn around and walk for another ten minutes back to the grocery store to buy the smallest box of soap they sell...which was still way too big for a single load, but I figure I can leave it in the laundromat for the next traveller. When I get back to the laundromat, however, all of the machines are in use, so I look up the address of the other laundromat in town, and walk for 25 minutes to get there. It is incredibly hot outside, and because I am washing both of my shorts and t-shirts, I am walking around with a black long sleeve shorts, and black athletic pants with no underwear. I feel pretty muggy, but I make it to the other laundromat with my box of soap in hand. The price of a wash is an amazingly expensive 6 euros. After all this trouble, I feel like I need to pay it, and throw my clothes in the machine. I open up the box of soap that I bought, only to find that there is no place to put it. It is then that I notice a sign above the machine that says that soap is included in the wash. I guess that explains the price a little bit...but what kind of black magic is that? After walking about for an additional hour in search of soap and another laundry facility, I could have just used the first place without doing anything extra. Argh. So, I turn on the machine, not putting any soap in, and sit around in the heat (barefoot now) waiting for my things to wash before drying them. When I take my things out almost 4 hours after I started this whole epic laundry journey, they aren't not much cleaner than when they started, and my white shirt still has some brown stuff all over it that makes it really look like it belongs to a homeless person...and now that I've dried it, it is probably heat set in there. What a practical use of my day.
At seven, I met Claire at her work, and we had some dinner and met up with her friend Céline for a drink at a local pub. Afterwards, we went off to walk around the castle that I hadn't had time to explore during the day. During our walk, I saw the famous giant lion statue for which Belfort is famous. I guess it has an interesting history, but it's main impact on me was getting that Lion King song stuck in my head. "Nants ingonyama Bagithi Baba..."