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It was Spring in Germany, we had a flat riverside bike path stretching ahead of us, and we were on bikes. Need I say more?
All along the Danube, there’s something called “Bike-n-Bed,” for the cyclist folks who want a little more comfort than a wildcamping site, and can pay for it. (Would you rather ride a rental than your own bike? Really?!? Ewww!) Lily and I were perfectly at home in the tent though. Once you get used to a slightly lower standard of hygeine, and remember to get water somewhere in the late afternoon, it’s much nicer to be out in the woods, fishing on the riverbank, cooking on the campfire. And you’re not endorsing the wastefulness of a hotel.
We did find plenty of half-liter(and larger) beers at the Biergï¿½rten though – it’s Germany! And check this out – they even have a type of beer named after us! It’s a light refreshing lemony beer, like a shanty; oh-so-good after cycling in the sun, even if it’s not the strongest. It’s called Radler – which is German for “Biker”!!! Tons of breweries make one, so it’s easy to find, and the labels always feature bikes(often priests on bikes…). Whoever marketed it must be filthy rich and drunk as a skunk right now!
So camping was a piece of cake(vegan cake), good beer was plentiful, and the weather was purrfect. It wasn’t the height of the season, but there was still a decent amount of traffic – bike traffic, that is! We leap-frogged several groups of cyclists here and there, all following the same river. Always with smiles and waves – “Hello again!” One time, as a middle-aged husband and wife were passing us for the second time, a Pinarello in bright white spandex flashed by on 130 PSI, and I yelled “Attack! Attack!” Just to joke on the roadie, but that husband just exploded, taking off after the race bike, fully loaded panniers, cargo shorts, and all! Go old dude! What did he drink for breakfast? The next day, at the top of one of the few hills we had to climb, the same guy recommended Lily upgrade to a derailleur. Whatever! She beat you to the top, didn’t she? I don’t think he realized what drastic changes would be necessary to re-spec from a coaster-brake single speed to even just a six-or seven-speed…. Anyway she was planning to upgrade bikes when we got to Budapest. Soleil(and Lily) will make it!
There were some bicycle issues, however… she was using some old postal-delivery panniers that didn’t quite give enough clearance for her feet, and pedaling on your heels really sucks. So one day we fixed that, by raising up the back end with some chunks of wood I sawed off with my multitool. Raise the back, and presto, the bottom front corners rotated back just enough! I don’t think the little logs we added to her load actually weighed that much more, but her rack did eventually fail, down at the braze-on mount… on both sides. But I’ve developed a real “can always keep going” mentality by this point, and was able to improvise a solution from some gorilla glue and wire. Sounds shoddy, but hey – it worked long enough to find a new rack, and who knows, some day I might need that trick again. Or rather, its more highly-evolved progeny – my own rack has a much harder life under the dispicable load I carry around. “FIVE TARPS?!? Why in the world do you have five tarps?” Hey now, lay off – that’s 1)one tent footprint to protect the bathtub floor, 2)one multi-purpose camping groundcloth, 3)one rain cover with parachute-twine ties, 4)one little scrap for muddy lunch breaks, and 5)…. wait a minute, yeah – why am I still carrying this one again? Hey Lily, do you want a tarp?
And please, let’s not talk about my “studio office” full of heavy art-and-paper goodies – I need that. Yes, all of it. Shhhhh.
Lily and I, both being children at heart, and enjoying the hell out of our bicycle romance, became rather used to kissing on bikes – loaded bikes, that is, and while we were riding. Normally we pulled off this stunt with no issues, like real professional bike dorks. But one day something went wrong… I’m not sure why; the bike path was broad, flat, and clear of other cyclists, and we hadn’t drank any beer yet. We passed over a big heart someone had spray-painted on the ground, and exchanged “the look.” We closed distance, held our lines, pannier-to-pannier, and leaned over a little bit for a quick smack– but suddenly we got a little too close and I found myself careening off toward the ditch. I tried to hold on but I overcompensated and dumped myself onto the concrete. OUCH! Heh… real professional. (Yes, I know how to ride a bike, quit looking at me like that.) I was badly shaken, with an intensifying pain in my wrists, and Lily was freaked. I sat down, awkwardly trying to cradle my arms, feeling the tears coming, wanting them, knowing they would help. But when Lily put her arms around me, worried and wanting to help, the tears froze in my ducts; sweet weeping catharsis somehow arrested. I didn’t understand, and it was frustrating. But there is just not a good way to say “Please leave me alone for a second” in a situation like that. So not only did I have to continue with a cracked helmet and two sprained wrists(I re-adjusted the twisted stem, and the front rack, well, it can be a little bent), but there was also suddenly a big, blue, forlorn distance between us – a far cry from the bicycle romance of a few minutes ago. Sigh. It ain’t always easy.
Speaking of which… One day, looking at our maps, we decided to continue on the North side of the river, instead of crossing at the bridge where the hilighted path was marked. Actually there was usually a path on both sides of the Danube, and the map said there was a “natur-weg” – that sounds nice. Except about eight kilometers after the bridge, as we were passing one of the little boat-services that cross the river, the ferry guys flagged us down to tell us that it wasn’t passable by bike. “Big hill” is easy to do with cherades, and “stairs” isn’t much harder… but then we saw two cyclists coming the other way – hadn’t they just gone through? As it turns out – no. They hadn’t. They had just ridden their bikes to the natur-weg for a hike in the cliffs. Get over it. Okaaaay – back to the bridge then. It’s only eight kilometers… fifteen round trip detour, let’s go…. Well, Lily isn’t as stubborn as I am; she stopped short and said, “Um, Charlie? I think I’m gonna take the boat.” I really admire her for this; she knows how to treat herself gently. Something I am slowly learning myself… but not today. “Ok darlin’ I’ll see you on the other side, near whatever that yellow building is,” I said, pointing at a hotel that lay not 500 meters away, just one little motor vehicle ride away. The way back was no sweat, and I got a nice photo of the river from the bridge, but on the other side, the hilighted “path” was mostly super-hilly cliff-side road. Lucky Lily! She hates hills. I arrived at the hotel to find her relaxing in the shade, writing in her journal, quite content with her decision to ferry it. She said the boat operators had asked a lot of questions after they saw us separate on the other side… “Is he afraid of water? This boat is perfectly safe, why didn’t he come with you? The petrol won’t explode….” Sometimes, though, it’s just not worth explaining – change the subject. We inadvertently saved a bright orange and black newt from being eaten by a duck!
We met a girl named Josï¿½e from Quebec, who was bike touring from Romania to France(the Danube goes most of the way). Quite a feat as a woman alone, we all agreed. She’d already been robbed four times in Eastern Europe; at knife-point, by corrupt cops, gitanes, etc…. Not the most encouraging anecdotes for Lily, who, like Josï¿½e, had trouble sleeping out there, in a tent, all alone, paranoia mounting minute by minute with every little noise…. But she told us her solution: drink a beer before bed! Not enough to really make you less alert, but just enough to take the edge off so you can sleep. Easier to accomplish than a black belt in aikido, cheaper(and smarter) than bullets… and way better than never leaving home, for sure – I’m for it!
Yes, the alcohol culture is strong in Germany. It reminded me of Wisconsin – lots of German influence up there. Once I was riding with a nice Bavarian fellow for the morning, following him around on capricious detours, learning about Bavarian beer. At one point we had to bring our bikes down a few steps that were in the bike path for some reason, and promptly ran into a group of Germans in spandex, straddling their bikes and passing around a flask of Irish whiskey. They offered some to my buddy, and then he pointed at me…. I checked my watch – 11:59. Hang on just a minute guys; I am from Wisconsin, and I spent a couple months in Ireland, but it’s been a while!
We didn’t learn much Deutsch, unfortunately. For some reason I just wasn’t that into language practice in Germany or Austria. Wasser, bier, fahrrad; bitte, danke, aufwiedesen – what more do you need? Hold on, scratch that…. Bier, fahrrad – what more do you need? I only learned one phrase, but it’s a good one: “Mit de fahrrad, alles gut.” Certainly that’s some crude form of “stupid American” German, but I think it was pretty well understood as “With the bike, all is good.” It was nice because if I saw someone walking his or her bike, instead of riding it, I could turn it into a question: “Alles gut mit de fahrrad?“ But not too many people needed my help – most of ’em were just drinking beer instead of pedaling. It is also worth noting that in German they capitalize all their Nouns, not just proper nouns – weird, but I could see how that could be useful. Other than that, it was great fun to start with “Guten tag“ or “Allo,” and listen to what people responded with. “What did he say this time?” “I couldn’t tell – okay, okay, say hi to this guy now!” Then we would try to repeat it to the next person, and so on. Hilarious! And it was interesting to witness the slow change in greetings as we travelled East. Somewhere in Bavaria people started saying “soyvass“(I think) and “gutes got“(maybe) as a hello, which continued across the Austrian border for a while before changing again. Borders are really just arbitrary invisible lines anyway; their existence has its effect, but the people are still people, the trees are still trees, and the mighty Donau heeds not the shifting borders of humanity.
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