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20x30-CTGT0675I wonder why I write race reports, I suppose it is usually more for myself than it is for potential readers, as souvenirs I will keep, like my medals. But this time, there is also something that I would like to share, something I had the privilege to discover by being now closer to the front of the field: race dynamics.

I read last month Macca’s book “I Am Here To Win” and it taught me to really think about my race. How can I improve versus the last time without being in a significantly better shape? I started to discuss with Isa, weighting different options and finally settling for the following one: I decided to start at the very front of swim but at the farthest possible from the ideal line and swim easy, not because I wanted to save energy for the bike or for run, but because I made the bet that the better age group bikers are usually not the best swimmers. And if I could start riding with a group of strong bikers I would be much more likely to be faster than racing on my own. For the bike leg, I had asked Isabel to position herself with my friends just in front of the hotel to cheer me on, as it was a place where I could see them 5 times and that would give me 5 additional boosts of energy. I also decided, based on the experience of last year on the same course, that I would give myself time in the first 2000m of the run to adjust from the horizontal to the vertical position and make sure that I was “all systems go” before increasing the pace and try to finally go under1:40 for the half marathon. I also realised that Isabel, who did her first triathlon the day before was out of transition faster then I usually would (I know…it is somewhat embarrassing after 5 years in the sport) and told myself that I was really trotting too slow in T1 and T2. So, this time I would sprint through transition. So, This was the plan.

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At 12:15, I kiss Isabel good-bye after a quick warm-up and I swim my way up to the starting line. I love the start of the 1.9km swim in Cologne at the Fühlingersee. This rowing basin is used as a drinking water reservoir for the city. The water is clean, clear, smooth. There are buoys every 15m. so you just need to position yourself at the start along one of the 8 rowing corridors and get ready for a straight swim. I decide to go at the farthest right, to stay away from powerful swimmers. I also know, that is the spot were the weaker swimmers will go. I am therefore able to position myself right at the front of the pack. The gun goes off.

No surprise here, I stay in the front apart from 1 or 2 swimmers passing me. Perfect! I can use them to slipstream and I put myself behind for the first 400m. Unfortunately, the swimmer in front of me starts to slow down too much and I need to make the pass and swim on my own. At mid-point, I look at my watch and see 18 min. This is TOO SLOW! I have taken it too easy. My plan is to exit in 34 min. I increase arm cadence and concentrate on long strokes. I do the second half in 16 min. and exit the water in 34:06. As promised to myself, I rush through transition and exit after just a bit more than 3 min. This was good. 20x30-CTGO0571The better news though is that my bet was turning in my favor. I need to explain this in details:

There are 3 waves of starters. The first wave with number from 1000 to 1070 (the pro + elite age groupers), then a second wave from 1071 to 1650 and finally the last wave from 1651 to 2200. The bikes are racked according to the numbers and the numbers are allocated by ascending predicted times. My number was 1101, so 30 atheletes had predicted in the second wave a faster total race time than me and 550 a slower time. From the previous races I did, I noticed that bikes did not exit in this expected sequential order. I always saw triathletes spread in the transition zone. It became clear to me, that there was no logical link between a fast swim and a fast overall predicted race time for age groupers.

My bet, as said was that I would be more likely to meet in T1 good bikers with similar bib numbers, if I would swim easy. And, at least for this race…I WAS RIGHT!! I saw plenty of fellow competitors left and right getting ready to push mostly beautiful bikes with disc wheels out of transition. I told to myself this was the chance to ride with a great bunch.

We have tail wind for the first 15km towards the city centre of Cologne. The group is moving fast in an orderly manner. At the point, where I expect to see Isa and the Goldberg family, I see nobody. That surprises me a bit but I think, I would see them when I ride bike out of town. I look at my Garmin and see average speed 39.2 km/h. Ooopla. Even with the wind in our back, this was fast.20x30-CTGH1141 First turn of the 2 loop course and out of the city. Again, nobody to support…hm..As soon as we exit the city the 15 km/h wind hits us in the face and within 2 min the train becomes a pack. Race referees on their motor bikes appear from everywhere and start shouting to keep distance and make passes. It was clear to me, that staying in this situation would only get me a yellow card and 4 minutes penalty. Afterall, living on the coast of the Netherlands with the constant winds, should be an advantage for me now. So I decide to attack. I pass the pack in less than a minute and push the pace. I look behind and nobody is following me. Bummer. While I look back, I see that I have lost my spare kit. Double bummer. If I have a flat now the race is over. Anyways, my quads are on fire and I start to wonder how the hell I will run after this. The roads slowly changes direction after 10K, I am in cross-winds and decide to let off the pace for a few minutes. The stronger bikers of the group join me and we decide to race together. The remaining bikers had obviously more issues with the headwind. And from then on, I had a great time. We were riding clean, respecting the minimum distance. It took me a while to understand why the race marshalls were constantly on us, but then a light bulb went on: The first wave with the elite athletes started 10 minutes ahead, so no surprise, that I was seeing bikers riding in the opposite direction on this loop course. But fact was that WE were the leading train of the second wave and that special attention was given to us by the referrees. I was so excited, I was picturing myself on the Queen K highway in Hawaii with an helicopter on top of my head. I had a great time.20x30-CTGF2272
We enter for the 2nd time the city and this time, the support team is there. They are screaming words that I do not undestand and I shout back raising a fist “CHAAAARGE!!!” and take the lead of the train at more the 42 km/h. We make the turn in the city and knowing that Isa and the crew would be there screaming like histerics in a few seconds I put the hammer down and ride on their energy past them. On the last 20km I distance the lead pack by 3 minutes. I finish the 90km bike leg in 2:25, 66th fastest split of the day and dash through transition in barely 1:30.

As planned, I force myself to slowdown on the first 2000m, and again, I see that I had taken the right decision. Like last year, my liver starts to send large pain signals. But this time, I know what this means. I stop at the first aid station and drink about 500ml of Coke. The pain disappears quasi instantly. The problem is: the Coke is not degassed. So the liver pain changes into stomach pain, but I can handle stomach pain. With liver pain the worst that can happen is ending on a stretcher, with stomach pain the worst that can happen is shitting my pants, so just an ego issue, really.

The operation costs me most of my 3 minutes lead and I start to see familiar faces from the bike leg passing me. At this time, I only worry about my health, which seems to improve by the minute. I can now settle in a 4:30 pace.20x30-CTGN0851 My legs are fresh and I start calculating my expected finish time. My head is numb and it takes me forever to figure out that I might make it under 4:40. This motivates me massively and 12 km in the race I see Isa and the Goldbergs supporting me. I am flying from km 12 to km 14 and I pass them again. Joel run for a few hundreds meters next to me. He asks me how I feel. I tell him that I may go under 4:40 but that I also may blow up. This is a very thin line now. I am exhausted and tempted to slow down, telling myslef that 4.45 is also good and that I will set a personal best anyways. And just when I am about to give in to this rationalisation I see an athlete with a green jersey who had done all the biking with me and passed my after 5km in the run. This was the kind of bait that I needed. I am trying to go faster, but he seems to always stay about 150m in the front. It is only 1.5km before the finish line that I manage to catch-up. 20x30-GTGJ3300We climb together stairs to cross the final bridge of the Rhein before the finish line and those stairs litterally kill my legs. I have to stop panting like a giant pregnant walruss. He is now 25m in the front, 50min in the front. This is not OK, I will not let him go away and decide to chase him one more time. 150m before the finish line, I sprint to overtake him and try to finish under 4:40 (I had my watch wrong and 4:40 had already passed :-))). Anyways I manage the pass 10 meters before the finish line. I cannot control my legs anymore and crash into the catchers and into the Finisher T-Shirt boxes. Totally exhausted but so happy about my race and my best half-marathon at the half-iron distance in 1:36:14 (82nd fastest split of the day)20x30-CTGA0589

I see the smiling faces of Nicki, Isabel, Joel, Aaron and their kids. I know I would never have been able to race that hard without them and feel thanksful for their presence. I was also happy to have taken certain dynamics of the race at my advantage to beat my old personal best by over 11 minutes.

This was the last race of the season I had wished for. I am now looking forward to a long break from triathlon.

Race Stats:

Swim: 34:06 (224), Bike: 2:25 (62), Run 1:36:14 (82). Total 4:40:55. 11th in AG40-44 and 70th overall.

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A woman is comforted by a man near a triage tent set up for the Boston Marathon after explosions went off at the 117th Boston Marathon in BostonJust a quick note to share that I passed the finish line more than 1 hour before the blast and was staying with a friend in a restaurant 2 blocks away when it all happened. It is a sad scene, unrealistic. Things are sinking in right now. It is all too sad. Just to think we ran past these bombs. Chill in the spine. What should have been like every year a celebration of the running sport changed in  a day of sadness. My thoughts are with the volunteers, the supporters and the family members that cheered us at the finish line. Unbelievable.

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It was D-day at last. The time had come to face the music, to see how the training, the race plan, the nutrition plan and the material would hold. The time had come to see whether I would have to double the money raised for my charity action with Malaika Kids (see banner).

The start was planned at 05:45. It was not before 05:25 that I walked to beach, my swimsuit on. FIrst surprise of the day, the sea was not calm as forecasted. LIttle waves rolled on to the beach and it meant, that 2km outside in the ocean it would be a very different story. I did a quick warm up 200m and went back to the beach. Off the gun goes.

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As expected, a choppy swim to start the Ironman Western Australia with up to 25-50 cm surf. The Official distance: 3900m to go around the beautiful and longest jetty in the Southern hemisphere. I mentioned in a previous blog post, that I dropped the ball on the swim training to concentrate on the bike and that I may regret it 2000m into the swim. This is EXACTLY what happened. I needed just 33min to reach the end of the Jetty and thought I was doing great in the waves, but I did not realise there was a slight side current. The way back was exhausting and I had to fight my way back to the shore. The time reflects my training. Finished 602nd!!! in 1h11min. from 1515… hopla.

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After a relatively quick transition of 4min, I unracked my bike for an official 182km ride around Busselton and into the scenic Tuart Forest National Park. As mentioned earlier in my blog as well; a beautiful course but exposed. And today the wind blew up to 35km/h for the first 4 hours before starting to fade. For someone who trains in the Netherlands, this was an advantage. Everything went perfectly to plan. The nutrition plan worked this time and I negative split every 30km feeling stronger and stronger. Moved from overall 605 to 444 position. I really wanted to hammer the last 30km, just to beat the clock and manage the course under 5:30. But I kept a cool head and instead cruised to transition 2 in a time of 5h34m. The temperature during the bike leg between 24 and 29 C. Ideal!
Again plenty of inspirational moments on the bike, as you can see on the picture. I finally pass a hand-biker after 120km!!! This also meant, he was ahead on the swim, just working with his arms…humbled.

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Another transition to put some running shoes and a ton of sun cream. Here the only big change versus plan. My little left toe was hurting for a couple of days so I chose to wear a pair of Mizuno Wave4. The advantage: a bigger toe box and super light weight (154gr). The issue: a super light weigh shoe ideal for a 10k run on fresh legs…(This will be a subject for a separate blog post but in short I would not recommend to run a marathon in those shoes and definitely not on hot roads). Because that run was a real scorcher. The wind had died and the temperature had raised to 32C. No cloud, no shade on black roads along the shore.
At this time, after feeling real strong on the bike I thought, that a 10:30 was possible so I deviated from plan and ran 15 seconds faster (5:00 instead of 5:15 pace per km). But the heat got the best of me and instead of negative splits I faded in every single round of the 4 course loop. The other competitors had obviously more issues with the heat than me.

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The last 10km were trying. I was running on dead legs with blistered feet from the heat and trying to keep cool by storing ice, where ever I could and drinking liters (literally) of Coke to keep to body going. I finally saw the 41km mark. 1.2 km to go! My wife and daughters, who had shouted words of encouragement for the last 8 hours or so, shouted even louder. This gave me enough energy to motor my way to the finish chute, with the knowledge that I would beat the clock and indeed race as planned under 11:00. The commentator at the finish line said: ¨…and here comes a very happy Ironman¨. I was indeed over the moon and I came across the finish line laughing out loud. I did not assess properly my level of exhaustion. Within a few second my legs decided to sail without the rest of my body and I collapsed into two so called ¨catchers¨ (who decide whether you go directly to the massage, the medical or the recovery tent). Thanks goodness they brought me to the recovery tent for drinks and food (and not for an iv).

So the final result: I move with a marathon time of 3:44 from 444 to 227 rank overall (1510) and 45th in my age group (first15%). Happy with the overall result. A PR by exactly 1 hour. Total time 10:38:59.6 So many things could have gone wrong and racing so far from home was a risk….but all went well. What difference it makes whent the family is along the course, following your every meter and getting the best support you can wish for.

Next IronMan, June 29th with my buddy Joel in Klagenfurt, Austria.

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I look up at the timing board at the Finish Line and see 3:13 and some change. Knowing that I crossed the starting line 1 min after the gun went off 3 hours earlier, I knew I had beaten my best marathon time by almost 10 min!  How was this possible? Well it boiled down to 3 things:

– A good training plan (the first I found that suited my needs) .

– A great running group to run with

– A friend that wrote in his blog that he wants to beat me.

The training plan: Ever heard of FIRST? The Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training. I probably would never have, as I am not a runner and I do not read any running magazine like Runners World. It is my friend and fierce competitor who suggested it to me. “The Less is More” training plan. Clearly something for me. It is basically a 3-run-a-week plan, but the sessions are tough regardless whether it is intervals, tempo and long. This training plan pushed me to complete five 32km runs (at a increasing tempo but still below marathon pace). This has in my view been the key to manage my negative splits and build marathon specific endurance.

The training group: I sadly have a track record of training mostly solo. I don’t like it, but so far I did not find a group that suited my needs and with whom I could harmonize well. This group I met (all dads bringing their children to the same international school in Wassenaar), was not only a group with a matching pace, but also with a good chemistry. It became “nearly” fun to wake up 2 times a week at 05:30 to compete our sessions in the dark. The weather in The Netherlands does not motivate me to go out. Without them I would never have trained as hard..and I would never have gone to Prague to run the marathon either… Sunday’s performance was all thanks to them.

The friend that wanted to beat me: Richard (alias The Silverback) is a Runner with a big R. In his view there is no other sport that is greater than running. Triathlon is a diluted version as technology comes in the way..For him running is pure, simple and addicitive. After coming back from knee surgery, his mind was set to recover strength, speed and endurance. We saw him pushing himself over the months, sometimes to the point where I thought he would not make it to the start of our marathon. But came May 15th, he was as ready as one could be. We ran 32 km together, like we always did during our training sessions; starting slow and progressively picking up the pace to ensure negative splits. We did nothing else on that day. The aid station after km32 marked the point where I left my friend – The Silverback behind me. I did not slow down to pick up my drinks and came out first out of the aid station. Usually richard would catch-up and we would run side by side until the next aid station (every 5km), but I did not see him this time. I looked ahead to see, ifIi had missed him passing me, but no. I did not look back and picked up the pace by around 10 sec per km. My legs felt good and I knew I could do the fastest 10 km of  this marathon (I did them in less than 44min) – The question I will never be able to answer is whether I kept too much in the tank before the last quarter of the race).

Start number: 1167 – CROTTAZ ALAIN
Category: MM40

Split Time min/Km Delta min/Km RealTime
Km 10 0:47:57 4,47 0:47:57 4,47 0:46:48
Km 20 1:34:05 4,42 0:46:08 4,36 1:32:56
Km 21,097 1:38:56 4,41 0:04:51 4,25 1:37:47
Km 30 2:19:30 4,39 0:40:34 4,33 2:18:21
Km 40 3:04:05 4,36 0:44:35 4,27 3:02:56
Finish line 3:13:46 4,35 0:09:41 4,24 3:12:37

I am paricularly happy about the negative splits results. 1:37:47 for the first 21km and 1:34:50 for the second half-marathon. 3 min faster! Needless to stay that I felt great for the entire course until km41 where my heart reate was clearly in the red and my system felt like an engine without oil. But I was so happy to have improved my running in the last 6 months that I clenched my teeth and motored my way to the finish chute. True joy at the finish line. I waited about 2 min to see Richard crossing the finish line in 3:14:27. He was over the moon. We both finished under the qualifying time limit to participate to the Boston Marathon. In the US they call such a result a BQ (Boston Qualifier). I have until September to think whether I will get a plane ticket to run over in Boston or not. It could be really fun and motivate me to further improve my marathon time.

I loved that race, not only because I performed well, but first and foremost because I was there with  Richard, Joel & Jim with whom we shared so much (trash talk) during our training sessions. Jim did not run on that week-end due to sustained foot injuries. It was hard for us, but even harder for him. He supported us the best he could, hiding his own disappointment and shouting at us during the course the we were looking good. We all knew it was a lie, but it did work wonders… Joel, did run after having recovered from his injuries. But he raced without have run for 7 weeks…His time is not important, but he can start writing books now. “how to run a marathon without training” or “training for a marathon is overrated”….or… “A week-end to remember”.


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My friends told me to race hard, to kick butts, so I did my best and enjoyed every minute. It was Ironman Day. I am over the moon.
I stayed the last 3 hours in the public at the finish line, cheering fellow competitors and I seldom felt such true simple joy, without any selfishness at greeting them with my guts and heart. I cheered every one of them, until the last. What a party. This distance is magic. I love it.

But back now to 07:00 on July 4th 2010 in Frankfurt.

It was a big surprise for all of us at the pre-race meeting. No wetsuit because of a high water temperature was one thing. But also, as of July 1st this year NO tri-race suit with any neoprene or plastic of any sort. And you know what: it WAS GREAT!!! The good old way, most of us, like in the early 90’s just with a Speedo. Apart from the fact that I had a great swim, taking all corners rather wide from the buoys to avoid contact with the other 2351 athletes, the most interesting thing about this swim was to realise exactly how much the difference a wetsuit makes. I exited the water after 1:14 in 827th position. With the same time last year with neoprene I would be 1550!!! Now, last year the 827th position swam in 1:06:35. (I had planned 1:07). So it is confirmed. I swim close to 2min faster with a wetsuit per km! For all who asked my how big the difference is, this is it. It is huge in my view.

And now to the bike after a rather lengthy transition. The weather conditions were perfect for the bike course. Heavy clouds, low 20C, light North-West wind blowing 10-15k. The course itself is a relatively hilly one with 1000 meters of elevation over 4 hills: the Beast, the Hell, the Hünerberg and the real bad one; the Heartbreak Hill). Two loops (8 hills 🙂 and exceptionally, an additional 5K because of road works, hence 185 instead of 180. I had very good legs. I paced myself and stayed for the entire bike course at 144 avg bpm, NEVER going in the red. 31km avg over 185km is an excellent result for me BUT it was only the 1250th time. I lost basically 400 positions during the ride. OK, I derailed twice, went to the loo, had to unclip my front wheel due to a stone that was stuck between the wheel and the fork. But apart from that cycling remains my weak discipline and I need stronger legs. Morale was great all the way apart from KM120 to KM140, but I pushed through that too. I had excellent support from my former osteopath, who flew especially from Vienna and motivated me the whole time.

I had a good transition, the helpers were fantastic and when the one that was taking care of me asked me, whether she should hand-over the Garmin watch to me, I said: “ditch it in the transition bag”. I had paced myself during the swim and the bike, now it was time to run and listen to my body and to feel how much it could take for the marathon. So there goes the heart rate, the pace, etc…I had never done that before and yet it felt just right to do that. The first 10K went very well. Slow and easy. I was still kind of checking how my legs would take the rest of the distance. Just as I wanted to accelerate, I realise with shock that I have lost my chip/transponder. Will I get a total time? will I get a DNF? what’s next? So I run (fast) to the closest penalty box. The ref tells me to stay cool. I just need to check-in at every loop, in the meantime they will inform the data centre, get me a new chip and will scan the bar code at the finish line behind my bib number (so…this is what it’s for, this little piece of paper attached to the bib number..). I “lose” about 10 minutes in the process…but you know what. Great break and plenty of time to rehydrate (very well organised those penalty boxes). By the 2nd round the sun is back. And it is pounding. 29 degrees (86F) and the trend is up. With all these emotions I am out of my rhythm and I try to concentrate. Just then, I see Andreas, my support taking pictures, and this of course, vain as I am, puts me right back on my feet :-). Now I have a good rhythm, I guess around 5:30 per km. I do not stop at the aid stations, just take every time water and ice to pour over my head and soak my entire body. The last round is the hottest one. the last 5K are hard, but I don’t stop, I have lost enough time in the penalty boxes and posing for pictures. No it is all about thinking of the red carpet, the people, the music, the finish line. I start thanking in my head all people who have helped me in the last 12 months, especially Isabel. I think of our daughters. I also see myself in the hospital and realise where I am now. Behind my cool Rudy Project glasses a few tears come out. But now it is time to go over the red carpet. The noise from the crowd is deafening, I start shouting myself, raised arms, I am overwhelmed by emotions, I jump around, slow down, enjoy the finish line. It feels I stayed for ever in the arrival arena. I cross it with the time of 11 hours and 38 min. Better than I thought I would do. I covered the marathon in 4:13. Not great but good enough to make up for most of the 400 positions lost during the bike. End result 913th out of 2351. I could not ask for more. The Catcher at the arrival said that I looked fresh, I told him that I just looked happy, (and to myself: happy to have never given up in the last 13 months following the crash). The IM Frankfurt is a day to remember as the closure of a long chapter. But it is also a day to remember because the organisers, the helpers, my friend as support where just unbelievable. I could start again tomorrow. Realistically though I think, I will only do another IM in 2012. I think Madison, Wisconsin.

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It was less easy than we expected to get to New Mexico via the Rockies of Colorado. People tell us: “it is a Nino year” (pronounced of course ninio…but I don’t have the spanish wavy thingy on my keyboard). By that, people mean that 2010 is a bad weather, stormy year. We drove on the I-70 through Silverthorne, Breckenridge (beautiful ski station – forget Aspen -) and then Buena Vista and Alamosa. On the passes we drove through snow storm and strong winds, quite a change 10 days after Kauai and another excuse to go shopping for warm clothes.

Taos was a welcomed change. No wind, no snow and a shining sun. That meant we could get out of the RV! And I soon as we got out we met some real good people who invited us to put our big rig in their alley. Tim & Geneviève did not only accepted that we block their main entrance, they also invited us for dinner parties, sport and cultural activities in town and Tim ended up even riding his bike with me a showing me some good roads around town.

For those who liked Santa Fe in the nineties this is how Taos looks now. You can find Spas, Yoga places, alternative cafes, alternative arts & crafts, some ayurveda shops and more than your average quantity of adult Peter Pans. On top you find the most ancient continuously populated pueblo of North America: The Taos Pueblo.

Personally, I found that indigenous people could have done more of this place, to make it more…thrilling. But the rest of the family just loved it as it is and told me that I should not expect a Disneyland. So I won’t say more.

Overall we spent a very relaxing week there. And it was difficult to leave. But we knew, South Utah was waiting for us.

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In December 1997, I wrote from Gulu, Uganda (while I was still working for the International Committee of the Red Cross)  to a friend, that we should take a year off  in 1998, buy an RV and cross the USofA and Canada while training for triathlon. In the end, it did not happen. I left alone for a year in South East Asia and he joined me for a month in Bali. 13 years later: Another Dream Comes True. I am riding a time trial down the US255 direction the Great Sand Dunes Nat. Park in Colorado and Isabel is driving ahead with the RV!

This cruise with the RV is the last episode of our trip around the world. It takes us from Denver, CO  to Vancouver BC, via New Mexico, Arizona, South Utah, Wyoming, Montana & Washington.

We are all excited and fear this episode with the RV. On one hand it gives us unmatched flexibility and children have always the same home where ever we are. On the other hand, although we have rented a 10 meter long rig with slide-out, it still is nothing more than a sophisticated shoebox.

After 10 days riding this monster, we have learned the following: RVing is a great way to understand what we, as a family, consume daily in terms of Propane for heating, Gas for cooking & Driving and Water for Washing (all kind) and Dumping (all kind). RVing is a great way to build a hands-on knowledge of sewage and waste management. (A small note here on waste management; there is one thing you do not want: a leaking sewage hose…Well, I have now that one sorted). RVing is also a great way to keep things tidy at their right place. RVing is therefore great, right? Well, it is great as long as all those things do not start to go on your nerves.

Our first joint crisis comes after 8 days. Shoebox Fever! Very, very luckily we make contact at the same time with a wonderful French-European-American family in Taos. Their boundless hospitality and generosity gives us a unique opportunity to breathe outside the RV and discover the “Not-For-Tourists-Taos”.

So far so good. we have now crossed the cold, snowy but utterly beautiful Colorado and its famous Rockies and are relaxing in “springful” Taos, New Mexico. So far, so good…

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