On the ski hills, on the bike trails, and thru life in general

Posts tagged ‘Simply Cycling Slovenia’

Ljubljana – Oct 23

We came down to breakfast to the sound of accordion music coming from the CD player. I guess there is just no way of getting away from it here. Shortly after we finished, Paul showed up to drive us all back to Ljubljana. Not before we had a look through the Firbas gift shop though. Another thing we discovered about Slovenia, besides having great wine, is that they also provide pumpkin seed oil at every table in addition to olive oil and balsamic vinegar as a salad dressing. Pumpkin seed oil is delicious! So a number of large and small bottles of the oil were purchased to take home. None of us have ever seen it in Edmonton.

It was a beautiful, sunny day and it would have been nice to ride but our tour was over, so we settled in for the 2 hour ride back to the city. Paul dropped us off at the City Hotel and left to meet up with Julie and Steve, who were also staying in town overnight before flying home to England. We arranged to meet up at 7 p.m. by the pink church and go for a group supper.

We were early for our rooms but were able to stow our bags in a back room before setting out for a sunny explore, in contrast to the wet one we had the previous week. The city looks far better in the sunshine and it was much busier and the market square was full of vendors.

A dry and sunny market square.

A dry and sunny market square.

We wandered on the riversides, back and forth over a number of the bridges. Most of the bridges, both pedestrian and vehicle, have some artwork displayed. Eventually, we found a food festival that takes place every Friday during the summer and this would be the last one of the season. Various restaurants had set up tents, kiosks and food trucks and were doing a booming business. Not only food though – you could buy beer and wine to drink with your food preference. It took us a while to find a sitting area large enough for us (almost- Lucille and I had to share a stool, 1 cheek each) and we ate, drank and people watched.

One of the 4 dragons, 1 at each corner of the Dragon Bridge.

One of the 4 dragons, 1 at each corner of the Dragon Bridge.

Adam and Eve exiting the Garden of Eden, one of the sculptures on the Butcher's Bridge.

Adam and Eve exiting the Garden of Eden, one of the sculptures on the Butcher’s Bridge.

 

The crowded food festival. Lots of locals and fiit-looking out-of-towners, likely here for the marathon on Sunday.

The crowded food festival. Lots of locals and fiit-looking out-of-towners, likely here for the marathon on Sunday.

We went back to our hotel and checked in, then back out again to get some info for the next few days and see the castle. We wanted to see one of the cave areas and, based on a Rick Steves recommendation, decided to visit the Škocjan Caves, about an hour south of the city. Combined with wanting to drive to Lake Bled on Sunday, we decided to rent a car for both days. Lucille wouldn’t be able to join us on Sunday as she had decided to be a bandit in the Ljubljana Marathon, i.e. run it without registering (she found out about it too late to register).

We took the funicular up to the castle and enjoyed the views from the top of the walls.

The castle funicular. We could have walked up but...it's a funicular!

The castle funicular. We could have walked up but…it’s a funicular!

View from the castle walls. The snow-covered Julian Alps in the distance. We would be there on Sunday.

View from the castle walls the snow-covered Julian Alps in the distance. We would be there on Sunday.

The fall colours looking down to the Triple Bridge and Preseren Square (centre of picture).

The fall colours, looking down to the Triple Bridge and Preseren Square (centre of picture).

As scheduled, we met the SimplyCyclingSlovenia group and went to a restaurant recommended by Paul. As often seems to be the case, service was chaotic but the food was good. We said goodbye to Paul, Julie and Steve and got back to our hotel by 11 p.m. Again with the goodbyes, this time to Gwen and Stan who were leaving Saturday. We would be getting up early to get the car and drive off and they didn’t want to get up that early. So now we were five.

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Cycling Slovenia – Oct 22

Our final day of cycling in Slovenia :(. At only 2.5 km after leaving the hotel, hardly enough time to get our legs warmed up, we had to climb up a 15% hill. Well that warmed us up! We didn’t realize that we would see even steeper hills later in the day. Shortly after we reached the top, Lucille – whose legs hadn’t had enough of a workout, apparently – decided to climb a cell tower beside the road. Only Paul was crazy enough to go with her. She said that the view was fabulous. I was glad to take her word for it.

At the top of the first hill of the day.

At the top of the first hill of the day, a 15% grade.

Lucille and Paul getting a panoramic view of the countryside.

Lucille and Paul getting a panoramic view of the countryside.

After a few kms on the top of the hills, we descended back onto the plains with flat roads and pretty trails. Eventually we reached the Ptuj reservoir, riding beside it for 5 km into the city of Ptuj.

As we have found almost everywhere, the cars are very patient and respectful of cyclists. They rarely zoom past.

As we have found almost everywhere, the cars are very patient and respectful of cyclists. They rarely zoom past.

Riding beside the Ptuj reservoir.

Riding beside the Ptuj reservoir.

We stopped at a café in one of the town squares where we had lunch and then set off to explore the castle on the hill above us.

JoAnn negotiating the narrow street, construction and those pesky pedestrians.

JoAnn negotiating the narrow street, construction and those pesky pedestrians.

Lunch in the town square. The Indian busker (left background, in white) earned a few Euros from us with his entertaining drumming and chanting.

Lunch in the town square. The Indian busker (left background, in white) earned a few Euros from us with his entertaining drumming and chanting.

A sunny lunch in a pleasant town.

A sunny lunch in a pleasant town.

Ptuj castle is yet another Roman relic, though it was expanded and rebuilt many times over the centuries. We climbed the narrow alley and stairways leading up to the courtyard. On a whim, Lucille and I dropped a stone down the well in the courtyard. I couldn’t see the bottom and wondered how deep it was. The count was 4 seconds before we heard a plunk – over 250 feet! I’m glad the well has a substantial metal grate over the top.

Narrow alley leading up to Ptuj castle.

Narrow alley leading up to Ptuj castle.

Another trail up to the castle, displaying the fall colours.

Another trail up to the castle, displaying the fall colours.

Paul had a few more hills in store for us, including 1 at 18% and another short 20% brute. Chris and Paul were the only ones to make it to the tops of those without stopping. Even the ebikers had to get off and push on the 20% one. (Note: the elevations on the ridewithgps map are NOT accurate, since they do not show the true grades of those last hills. I also uploaded the same file to Strava and it does show the steep grades.)

Back in wine country. And more hills.

Back in wine country. And more hills.

Al did not enjoy this 18% grunt. He wasn't the only one who had to push the bike up.

Al did not enjoy this 18% grunt. He wasn’t the only one who had to push the bike up.

We ended our day at the Firbas family farm, another working farm that takes in guests. They are not a winery – they get the wine they sell from their neighbors – but they do grow other produce and meats. They welcomed us, as usual, with wine and homemade apple juice. The owner, Bojan, turned on his CD player to serenade us with Slovenian accordion music. It ran continuously for hours, through supper, until I couldn’t take it anymore. During our nightly game of Wizard, which we played in the dining room, I switched off the CD, retrieved my phone and turned on one of my playlists. Enough with the accordion music!

Domacija Firbas, our home for the night.

Domacija Firbas, our home for the night.

Total distance for the day was 59 kms. And some beauty hills.

Map of our route here.

Cycling Slovenia – Oct 21

After yesterday’s long ride, Paul said that today was going to be a short day but a hilly one. He was right. We left Hlebec’s, sadly, and started with the hills right away. We were still in wine country after all! There were a few 10-12% climbs that made our lungs and legs pay attention but they were short, less than a kilometre, and Paul always stopped at the crests to let the stragglers catch up. At one particular crest, we stopped outside a house where a farmer was working in his garden. It was a good hill and the group was pretty spread out, so we ended up waiting for longer than usual. All of a sudden, the farmer comes out to the road with a bottle of wine and a bunch of glasses! Slovenian hospitality strikes again! If you linger too long in any one place, someone will offer you wine!

Back to grunting up the hills.

Back to grunting up the hills.

Slovenian hospitality knows no bounds! Offered wine by a complete stranger, we could not refuse.

Slovenian hospitality knows no bounds! Offered wine by a complete stranger, we could not refuse.

The views of the countryside were breathtaking. The vineyards, the fall colours, and the rolling topography (breathtaking in its own way) really make this a special area to ride in.

Neat vineyards, fall colours - a lovely area.

Neat vineyards, fall colours – a lovely area.

Hill after hill after hill in wine country.

Hill after hill after hill in wine country…

...but the views are worth it.

…but the views are worth it.

And vineyard after vineyard.

And vineyard after vineyard.

We stopped to peruse the souvenir items in a tourist office after 12 kms. and stopped for lunch after 15 kms, so got lots of breaks on this hilly day. The tavern at which we ate, at the top of a hill of course, had great views and a nice comfy atmosphere. A fellow was setting up musical equipment for a birthday party later in the day. “Whose birthday?” we asked. “Mine!” was his reply. He asked where we were from and knew of Edmonton as his aunt had moved to Calgary many years before. True to form, the owner gave us complimentary glasses of his wine with our lunch. Slovenians are rightly proud of their wine!

Nice restaurant for lunch and more free wine.

Nice restaurant for lunch and more free wine.

After leaving the tavern, we had a few more kilometres of rollers followed by a 4 km exhilarating downhill onto the plains again. Woohoo! We rode on for another 9 km to the Bioterme hotel and spa, our home for the night.

On the way to Mala Nedelja and the Bioterme.

On the way to Mala Nedelja and the Bioterme.

And nice flat roads for a change.

And nice flat roads for a change.

After getting our room reservations sorted out, we all had a bite to eat in a mediocre, at best, cafeteria, then ventured into the hot pools. Or, I should say, warm pools. Neither of the spas we stayed in had pools even remotely as hot as the ones in Jasper or Banff. They still felt good though and we soaked for an hour, joined by Paul and Julie. Lucille, JoAnn and I went up to the coed sauna area but on seeing the sign saying that bathing suits were not allowed, we chickened out. Unknown to us, however, Al was already in one of the saunas! He didn’t stay long though, not being that comfortable with the nudity.

After leaving the sauna, Al went for a half-hour walk up the hill to scout out the small town of Mala Nedelja. We didn’t want to eat at the hotel cafeteria – the only choice there – and Al reported back that there was a restaurant in town. So we all trooped up the hill, found the place and had a tremendous meal. There was only one employee there when we entered, and no other customers, but she must have phoned for reinforcements. Soon there were 3 of them providing us with jugs of wine, cooking and serving. I think the place was the Gostilna Slekovec Marija. We walked back down the hill in the dark, happy and full from the meal and the company.

Total distance for the day was 30 km.

Map of today’s route.

Cycling Slovenia – Oct 20

It was cool in the morning but no rain so it’s a good day to ride! All the wine last night didn’t seem to affect our riding. Paul’s plan was to do much of our riding in Croatia today and we soon crossed the border. A migrant processing camp had been set up at the crossing and there were a bunch of cops there as well as a few migrants milling about. It looked like they were preparing for further arrivals. The UN or other agencies must donate clothes because there were piles of discarded clothing and other refuse scattered around waiting to be picked up by a garbage truck.

Paul being Paul. Energetic and slightly batty tour guide.

Paul being Paul outside Hlebec’s. Energetic and slightly batty tour guide.

Slovenia/Croatia border migrant processing camp.

Slovenia/Croatia border migrant processing camp.

One of the piles of discarded clothing and other items at the border crossing.

One of the piles of discarded clothing and other items at the border crossing.

Croatia is a poorer country than Slovenia and isn’t quite as well kept, though most of the areas we rode through looked no different from over the border. They are now part of the European Community but not yet on the Euro. We rode past a large reservoir for 8 kms but it was surprisingly low on water, even after all the recent rains and flooding in other parts of the country. There must be other controls further upstream. Paul even had to make a 7 km detour at one point because he feared that the cycle path would be washed out by swollen rivers and streams.

On the open road again, this time in Croatia.

On the open road again, this time in Croatia.

Nice assortment of trails, both paved and dirt.

Nice assortment of trails, both paved and dirt.

Riding along the reservoir east of Varazdin. Pretty low considering how much rain we've had recently.

Riding along the top of the reservoir east of Varazdin. Pretty low considering how much rain we’ve had recently.

We stopped for lunch at the Prepelica restaurant in Prelog where errors in communication scored us some wonderful apple cake along with our coffees. Later on, we passed through the much larger town of Varazdin. After a few wrong turns, Paul found the main square and we stopped for a coffee which he paid for as penance for his misdirection. Even though we had gone 70 kms so far, most of the day was flat and no one was tired, especially since we hadn’t ridden yesterday.

Had lunch at this restaurant in Prelog, Croatia.

Had lunch at this restaurant in Prelog, Croatia.

A large corn crib beside the road. Most of the corn is used for biofuel and the rest as animal feed. I suspect this is the latter.

A large corn crib beside the road. Most of the corn is used for biofuel and the rest as animal feed. I suspect this is used for the latter.

We returned to Hlebec’s late in the afternoon, having to climb hills to get there of course. It was a good day of cycling.

Vineyard views on the way back up to Hlebec"s. Very pretty area.

Vineyard views on the way back up to Hlebec”s. Very pretty area.

Total distance for the day was 101 kms.

Map of our route today.

Cycling Slovenia – Oct 19

Cold and raining heavily in the morning so we decided to forgo riding for today. Gwen and Chris tried to text Paul with our decision but got no response so I emailed him. We wanted to get a hold of him before he left home at 8:30 to make sure that he had the trailer. Thankfully, or we would have had to ride in the deluge, he got the email in time. He picked us, and the bikes, up at the hotel at 10 and drove us to the Hlebec tourist farm, a winery and guest house in the Jeruzalem area, near the village of Kog. Upon arriving, the owner served us all a complimentary glass of his winery cognac. We are the only guests staying here so we were all given our own rooms. Nice place! And we are here for 2 days 🙂

The lobby of the Hlebec farm. It is an artist colony for a period of the year and the walls and yard are full of paintings and sculptures.

The lobby of the Hlebec tourist farm. It is an artist colony for a period of the year and the walls and yard are full of paintings and sculptures.

The dining room at Hlebec. Very cozy.

The dining room at Hlebec. Very cozy.

The common room, where we did a lot of card playing. The internet only worked here and not in our rooms, so someone was always out here getting outside communication.

The common room, where we did a lot of card playing. The internet only worked here and not in our rooms, so someone was always here getting outside communication.

My bedroom, unshared for a change. Nice view of the vineyards when the rain lifts.

My bedroom, unshared for a change. Nice view of the vineyards when the rain lifts.

We were supposed to ride into Hungary today, leaving from Lendava, but where we are now that route is now out of the question tomorrow. So today is an R&R day, catching up on reading and washing a few clothes (that won’t dry in this weather).

Even though it was still raining in the afternoon, Lucille and Chris went out for runs and Al and JoAnn for walks. Lucille had a bit more of an adventure than the rest, after somehow ending up over the Croatian border without her passport and unsure about retracing her steps. She managed to make her way back, with help from a priest who picked her up and directed her which way she should run to get back to Slovenia and avoid a manned border crossing. She ended up running 35 kms and got back just as we were about to send out a search party :/ She is training for the Athens marathon in a few weeks and damn near ran the distance in the rain and cold and lost! Oh yeah – she claims that you are never lost if you know where you want to go. However, that only works if you first know where you are.

Supper was great, with many tasty courses and lots of wine. This winery is where we really discovered how good the Slovenian white wine is. We started with 1 litre of so-so red then tried a litre of Riesling. Then a second litre. Then a litre of chardonnay. Then another litre of chardonnay while we played cards after supper. I’m not usually a white wine drinker but those wines could make me a convert! It was a fun night.

Cycling Slovenia – Oct 18

Paul was a little pissed off this morning. He discovered that the proprietor of the hotel that supposedly had a plumbing problem, requiring Al and I to move to another town, had lied to him. She had actually given away our rooms to someone else and didn’t want to admit it. Even though the rest of the group liked the place, it was a bad business decision on her part. Paul won’t be booking any more groups in there.

We left Bad Radkersburg at 9:45 and noticed a change in the atmosphere right away. The army and police were everywhere. We were stopped short of the border crossing into Slovenia that Paul wanted to go through. A group of Syrian migrants was being led to a tent camp nearby and a bunch more were being processed. It was just too busy at that crossing to get through. They said that “it would be better” if we left town by another route. So we had to divert to another crossing another 6 km away in the wrong direction to where we were going, which of course changed our route for the day.

Army and police at the Austrian/Slovenian border preventing us from crossing there.

Army and police at the Austrian/Slovenian border preventing us from crossing there.

It was supposed to be a longer day with a few “mild” hills but, with the change in route, we soon started up a 10% climb. It wasn’t too long though and the view at the top was great so nobody seemed to mind. We did a few more rolling hills, then a long, fast, exhilarating descent of -15%. What goes up must come down! The morning was cool, with some fog, and it was hard to get the clothing right. While climbing, we would warm up considerably and unzip or remove a layer at the top but then chill on the way back down. Hard to regulate.

Grunt, puff, wheeze... but we made it up another hill.

The hills are work but they are great for warming us up!

Out of hill country riding on the flats again.

Out of hill country riding on the flats again.

Al was still having trouble with his bike, with the brakes sticking, making his ride quite unpleasant. Paul offered to swap bikes with him but Al, for some reason, kept refusing. Eventually, Paul bled the disk brakes off a little which seemed to help.

We stopped by this pretty kapelica to bleed off Al's brakes. Nice place to stop.

We stopped by this pretty kapelica to bleed off Al’s brakes. Nice place to stop.

We passed through Ljutomer, one of the larger towns in the area, but the town square was empty on this Sunday. Stopping for lunch at a pub close to the Croatian border, we ate our sandwiches and had coffees. The staff were friends of Paul so we were treated to some complimentary Slovenian appetizers which were kind of a lard smeared on bread. Tasty but they didn’t appeal to everyone.

Tunka, a pub run by some friends of Paul.

Tunka, a pub run by some friends of Paul. Steve and Julie joined us for lunch.

Ljutomer is also where Paul’s mill is located and he gave us a tour of the semi-completed project. He bought an old water-powered flour mill and is in the process of refurbishing it – redoing the exterior, building apartments, a museum, landscaping, etc. His intent is to base his business there when it is complete.

Paul's mill - a big project. Hope all his plans work out for it.

Paul’s mill – a big project. Hope all his plans work out for it.

After a few more kms, we crossed into Croatia at an unmanned border crossing. The ride was flat and on good roads, so it was very pleasant. We stopped for a beer break at a funky little yurt-type bar beside the Mura River, with Slovenia just on the other side of the river. A lot of the clientele seemed to be bikers of the motorized variety but everyone was friendly.

Entering Croatia (Hrvatska).

Entering Croatia (Hrvatska)…

...and leaving Slovenia.

…and leaving Slovenia.

The funky Croatian yurt bar. Never did get the name of the place.

The funky Croatian yurt bar. Never did get the name of the place.

We crossed back into Slovenia, this time at a manned crossing so we got our passports stamped, and 10 km later were at our destination, the town of Lendava and the very modern Hotel Elizabeta. We had supper at a restaurant across the street from the hotel, the Bella Venizia. The decor of the restaurant is a little strange – a mix of Roman and Greek statuary and Italian motorcycles. The owner, Aldo, is a friend of Paul’s and he treated us to many free drinks over the evening, including a red wine-white wine-red bull concoction.

The bike lane in Lendava. I like the hearts :)

The bike lane in Lendava. I like the hearts 🙂

After supper, we went back to our hotel and asked the manager if we could play cards in the lobby. He suggested that we use the dining room instead since there was more room and food service was now finished. We came down with the cards and some bottles of wine (and the vile pear liquor), half expecting him to tell us that was not permitted, that we had to buy wine from the bar. Instead, he asked us if we wanted glasses! Very accommodating management 🙂

Distance traveled today was 71 km, riding in 3 different countries!

Map of our route today.

Cycling Slovenia – Oct 17

Paul, who heads home each evening after leading us to our hotel, arrived while we were having breakfast. All the accommodations provide a big enough spread for breakfast that we can easily make enough for lunch too – sandwiches, fruit, and sweets. We headed out at 9:35, greeted by a chilly wind and light rain. It didn’t take us long to warm up when Paul headed into the hills. First a few rollers, then a long 9% climb that brought the sweat out even with the chill in the air. Our bikes are generally in good shape (except for Al’s, who had sticky disk brake problems for the first 2 days), with 24 gears, but it was a struggle to make it up to the top. I’m usually pretty good on hills but I found this one a lot of work. A few more low gears would have helped. On reflection, this would prove to be one of the “friendlier” hills over the course of the week! We stopped beside a small cemetery at the top of a hill to catch our breath and take in the wonderful view. It seems like all the cemeteries are purposely situated to have great views of the valleys and the graves are very lovingly kept.

The cemeteries have great views.

The cemeteries have great views.

After 26 km and another long 13% climb, we stopped at an inn that was supposed to be our abode for the previous night but we were too big a group – more likely the requirement for 2 rooms with twin beds – for them to accommodate us. Too bad because it would have been a lovely place to stay. Kind of a country cottage atmosphere with numerous flower arrangements, many of them vegetable in nature. The owner, consistent with Slovenian hospitality, even offered us drinks of her cherry liquor as well as apple juice, both homemade. We stayed – admiring the view, taking photos, playing on the swing (Lucille and Chris), drinking her liquor – for at least half an hour. Then we headed to a bar across the street, with a tree growing through the middle of it, for a coffee and a bathroom break.

Patchy country roads through small towns...

Patchy country roads through small towns…

...and great, smooth roads past the fields. Slovenia had lovely roads for cycle touring.

…and great, smooth roads past the fields. Slovenia has lovely roads for cycle touring.

And hills. Slovenia has lots of hills.

And hills. Slovenia has lots of hills to get your heart pumping and legs burning.

The inn where we should have stayed the previous night.

The inn where we should have stayed the previous night.

Lucille playing on the swings...

Lucille playing on the swings…

...being watched by Ents.

…being watched by Ents.

Every bar needs a tree growing through it.

Every bar needs a tree growing through it.

We rode on to Grad and wandered around the castle. It is Saturday and they had sort of a farmer’s market set up in the courtyard with crafts, food stuffs and homemade liquors for sale and activities for the kids. Chris, unfortunately, bought a bottle of William’s pear liquor. It later proved to be almost undrinkable, though we tried hard to mask it’s terrible taste.

A few of the farmer's market stalls at Grad castle. Yes, I know that Grad means castle but that is the name of the town.

A few of the farmer’s market stalls at Grad castle. Yes, I know that Grad means castle but that is the name of the town.

Many of the houses here are brightly coloured stucco, mostly in pastel shades, with well-trimmed trees and clean yards. I found it quite different from Italy, where I found the small town colours more bland and the houses scuzzier, though a lot of the architecture was more interesting.

We saw lots of houses with colour combinations not common in Canada.

We saw lots of houses with colour combinations not common in Canada.

After lunch (the sandwiches we made in the morning) at a little park, we finally did a lot of flat riding, eventually entering Austria.

No picnic tables in the park, so...

No picnic tables in the park, so…

Paul had been told that the border was being controlled, i.e that they were checking passports because of the migrants passing through the country. This was a problem because Chris left his in his luggage. Steve and Julie retreived it but it turned out that no one was there and we rode right through. Shortly, we arrived in Bad Radkersburg, our destination for the night. Shades of the sewer problem that sent Lucille and JoAnn off the barge for a night, our hotel had a similar problem. This time it was Al and I who had to relocate, shunted off to a hotel in another town a 20-minute walk away. There is some sort of do in town and everything in Bad Radkersburg was booked up so it was the only arrangement that could be made on short notice. Paul drove us over to our hotel and, after showering, Al and I walked back to meet up with the group. We found a nearby bar, had a beer and Chris looked for a decent restaurant review on TripAdvisor. The top review was for Gasthof zum Lindenhof in Laafeld. Wait – what? That was where Al and I were staying! So we all walked back to OUR hotel and had another enormous supper. Learning from the past, 3 people shared a dinner for 2 and Stan and Gwen split their 1 order. There were still leftovers.

Hello Austria! An uncontrolled border. This would change the next day.

Hello Austria! An uncontrolled border. This would change the next day.

At first glance, it looks like trumpet players are not welcome in Bad Radkersburg. Not quite the universal symbol for "no horns" but it works.

At first glance, it looks like buglers are not welcome in Bad Radkersburg. Not quite the universal symbol for “no horns” but it works.

Al and I returned to our room while the rest walked back. And forth. Chris forgot his backpack in the restaurant, containing both his and Lucille’s room keys, so the 2 of them returned to retrieve it. At least they got to wear off a little of the supper.

Distance for the day was 56 km, with some decidedly unfriendly hills.

Map of today’s route.

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