July 17, 2015 § 14 Comments
Our first night in a hotel I was going to use AirB&B even though I had listened to a radio documentary explaining why the sharing economy was nothing more than stupid task rabbits dumping money and data into the pockets of Wall Street investors. I had picked out a lovely space next to the desk of a Vietnamese exchange student which was being offered for the reasonable sum of eleven dollars when I discovered that before you can book a request you have to provide all of your personal information.
This proved what the documentary had alleged: the biggest value is your personal data. It also confirmed that the real evil is that the cheaper prices mean that taxes aren’t being paid as they would be in licensed establishments.
So I deleted my account and booked online. My only criterion was price, and for three nights in a row I had, for about $50, gotten perfectly atrocious accommodations. And yes, that is a card table and yes, those are gang showers.
Now we were in East Germany and prices dropped further. We’d booked a room in the Wanderherberge, a mere five miles outside Eisenach. Unfortunately, five miles on an Internet description is about 15km of hilly riding in real life, but we’d been on the train all day and sort of didn’t mind being lied to.
The most awesome thing about putting your bike on the train is the entry/exit scrum where the non-bike passengers are pushing to get off and three 75-year-olds on electric tandems are trying to untangle their pedals from the asses of random passengers and you’re kicking people in the shins while smiling politely between English oaths like “cocksuckers” that everyone understands but pretends not to while the bells beep the doors close and you realize that you’re on the wrong train.
Fortunately I didn’t have too many problems because prior to entering the country I’d received an official douchebag certification, which I could simply flash and immediately clear a path.
We found the tourism office and got free maps with terrible directions to our youth hostel. Woodrow was feeling pretty good about not having to ride 30 miles uphill and so was I.
For dinner we bought a big loaf of black bread, salami, cheese, half a gallon of milk, some bananas, and chocolate. “This is real food,” I said.
“And it’s not terrible!” Woodrow added brightly.
We ate and ate and ate.
“We have to leave by six.”
“We’re supposed to have heavy thunderstorms all day.”
Woodrow stared at his black bread. “And where are we riding to?”
“How far is that?”
“Fifty-three miles. We backtrack towards Eisenach then head east to Gotha, Erfurt, and Weimar.”
“How long will that take us?”
“Eight hours if it’s flat.”
“Is it flat?”
He looked at his bread some more. “Well ,” he said, “it will make a good story, right, Dad?”
I looked at my black bread and chewed it, breaking out a few more teeth. “Right.”
July 17, 2015 § 25 Comments
At the hotel in Koblenz I opened my backpack to get a minimally smelly t-shirt and was overwhelmed with the smell of dogshit.”Eccch!” said Woodrow. “What’s that?”
I emptied the pack but found nothing except more stench. Then I pulled out the lock and cable. When we had locked the bikes for lunch the cable had drooped onto the rear tire whose deep grooves still had their reservoir of German Shepherd shit. The next hour was spent supervising Woodrow on shit detail.
The next morning we felt like crap, although fresh crap thanks to the sleep and food. I’d been telling Woodrow to stuff himself but his appetite hadn’t really kicked in. “I’m not that hungry.”
The ride to Koblenz had been short but had taken all day. We left our hotel after a hearty breakfast that looked a lot like dinner: bread, butter, salami, cheese, hard boiled egg, and lots of coffee. Afraid that MB Jens might have tracked us down, we left quickly.
Our hotel was at the bottom of a gondola that went straight up the cliff to Ehrenbreitstein. I don’t know how long or steep the climb was but I had it in my great-great-great granny gear and was crawling. Halfway up Woodrow started walking. It took an hour to get to the “top” which was a mere break in the ascent. I was already tired, and Woodrow was cracked.
“How much more?” he asked.
“No idea. Let’s just say hours.” This didn’t encourage him much but we were all in. This is where you realize that it’s just you and the hill. I had pushed where I could but the road was too narrow now.
By the second hour we had gone about ten miles, with forty left to go. Atop the next rise we found ourselves on a terrifyingly narrow highway with no shoulder and 80mph traffic. Woodrow got five years’ bike handling experience in the next fifteen minutes and the knobby tires saved our lives as we could go onto the grass when passed by massive speeding trucks.
Finally, still climbing, we came to a bike path and nearly wept. Okay, we wept.
We turned off only to find that after a mile it was singletrack in the forest. “At least on these muddy forest roads there won’t be steep grades,” I assured him, him being whatever state is beyond hopeless.
“What’s this then?” he asked as the dirt road kicked viciously up. We struggled for half an hour and came to a fork. More dirt or we could get back on the B49 and face certain death. We chose death.
At the 1/4 mark we flung our bikes down and ate some nuts, shared an apple, and finished off our water. There was still 20km to get to Limburg. We rode on.
Eventually we arrived at the halfway point. Limburg is a beautiful little town on the Lahn River but its beauty derived not from the scenery but from the lovely, gorgeous, beautiful Burger King at the Bahnhof.
We staggered in and ate Whoppers, fries, cokes, slurped down hot coffee, dumped, and charged our phones. We’d gone thirty miles in three hours, total time closer to four.
“Keep riding or take the train? We’re only halfway.”
“Keep riding,” he said miserably out of duty.
“Okay,” I said miserably out of foolish pride.
Ten kilometers later along the Lahn we went through the village of Runkel. “Dad,” he said without hope, “can we take the train?”
“Thank dog,” I said. “I thought you’d never ask.”
We parked at the station and got tickets but more importantly we got ice cream. Nothing ever tasted so good.
“This is the best miserable time I’ve ever had, Dad,” he said. I knew exactly what he meant. We grinned and had more ice cream.
Now here is a fact: the slowest local train is faster and more comfy than the fastest good bike ride. We got off at the station before Braunfels and pedaled the final 5km which became 10km because we were tricked into another bike path that took us over a huge and nasty climb.
Woodrow could barely stay upright and I was panting to get over the hill.
We descended into Braunfels and found our hotel at the foot of the ancient castle. For dinner I found a Turkish restaurant where we gorged on spicy food. Woodrow ate enough for three large people.
We were sound asleep by eight and didn’t get up until eleven hours later.
July 15, 2015 § 34 Comments
Total fucking beatdown. Left Jan’s with a full belly, a quart of coffee coursing through my veins, and big chunks of dogshit stuck between the treads of my MTB tires. I hate MTB tires and especially on this trip over manicured German roads they were totally pointless.
We went through central Bonn where I showed Woodrow the University of Bonn, where I was never expelled from, and even more importantly the bus stop at the Hauptbahnhof where, on my second day in Germany, I staggered off the bus, late for my orientation session, and vomited into the trash can. Memories!
We dropped down onto the Rhein for what started out as an easy 50-mile pedal. We were going upriver so the gradient was slightly uphill and we had a steady headwind. We were wearing knapsacks; mine was a solid 20 pounds due to the Kryptonite lock and 6-foot cable, and our mountain bikes with the fat tires weighed a good 35 pounds or so.
After a while we got tired and hungry. Woodrow, who had prepared for the physical rigor of the trip by reading books, hanging out with friends, and sleeping til noon, had planned our lunch stop in Sinzig. We left the Rhein and ride 3k into town because although the riverfront was lined with restaurants they were all tourist priced instead of Davidson priced.
We got underway at one and only had 25 miles to go. But we were tired from the heavy bikes and especially the backpacks. My shoulders were killing me and the pressure from the pack had rammed my jeans where jeans aren’t meant to go, creating great chafing and rawness. The path then took us off the Rhein and for a couple of miles we followed the signs. Finally I got tired of riding in what was plainly the wrong direction.
“Turn here. We gotta get back to the river.”
“But the signs say this way, and we’ve been seeing so many riders in the opposite direction,” Woodrow protested.
“They’re idiots. Come on.”
We dropped down towards the river where the road dead-ended in a soccer field. “Let’s go back,” Woodrow said.
“I can see the path over there and plus we have these idiotic mountain bikes so let’s use them.” We plowed across the field and dropped onto the path. It was paved but cracked and filled with chugholes and overgrown with weeds and there was a huge sign that said “Danger. No entry. Ride at your own risk!”
“Fuck that,” I said.
After a couple of miles the paving ended and there was a singletrack with the giant, 10-foot wall of a motorway immediately on our right and a sheer drop off into the river on our left.
“Let’s go back,” I conceded.
“Let’s see where it goes,” said Woodrow.
“It goes to hell, obviously. But Manslaughter would approve.” So we charged ahead.
For a few miles it was rough but doable and then it became hideously strewn with huge jagged stones. If you went slow you’d fall but if you went fast and picked a bad line you’d plunge into the river below.
This was where Woodrow learned the important father-son bonding lesson of “Good luck, kid,” as my hands were full trying not to die.
This lasted for several miles. The rocks then went away and it was grassy singletrack.
A few miles later including several stops and we reached Koblenz, where we avoided MB Jens and collapsed senselessly into our beds. The second half of the ride had taken four hours. I could barely stand, my back was killing me, Woodrow was in shell shock, and we hadn’t eaten dinner.
We walked to the Lidl to buy dinner but couldn’t unhook a basket because they were all chained together and we couldn’t figure out how to unchain them. Finally we tried to take a basket from a guy who had finished shopping but he got very angry. I explained our problem but he was very suspicious as anyone would be when talking to filthy idiots and he showed us that you had to put in a coin that you got back when you rechained the cart.
We purchased dinner and staggered back, eating dinner in our tiny sweltering room with a broken air conditioner and farts.
Tomorrow would be our first hard day, a hilly ride to Braunfels and away from MB Jens. This is the town that immigrants in Texas named New Braunfels after. Woodrow was already checking train schedules.
July 14, 2015 § 15 Comments
We picked up our bikes at 10:00, but first we had to stop for cake. The
clerk looked at us funny when I said we were riding to Berlin. “Do you ride bicycles much?” He asked.”Half of us do.”
Frau G. was very worried and took down detailed contact information as well as identifying scars, birthmarks, and dental records. “Why don’t you just ride around the town for a few hours then come back to Wesseling for a few days? Then I can put you on the train to Berlin.”
It sounded tempting but I had told Jan we were on the way to his place so we hugged Frau G. and started off.
“Nah, it’s a summer sprinkle.”
The rain intensified a bit until we were completely soaked. At the first stoplight Frau G. Pulled up alongside us. “It’s not too late,” she implored.
We waved and continued on. The route to Jan’s was a bit more complicated than I had thought since the silly German roads were crooked and a bit whomperjawed. After an hour we found Jan’s place. The map said we’d only gone three miles as the crow flies but in our case it was a very drunken crow with a bad sense if direction.
Jan was thrilled to see us. “You haven’t changed a bit in 25 years!” he said. “Except for all the wrinkles and losing your hair and you’ve put on weight and all the gray in your beard you’ve not changed a bit!”
Jan’s lovely wife put out a fantastic lunch and we bundled into the car for a quick tour of the Eifel that included the Nurburgring and a hike along the Ahr river. The Nurburgring is so named because it is a loop around the medieval Nur castle, or burg. We climbed to the top of the ruins and watched cars racing along the track off in the distance.
He laughed. “Because Budweiser here comes from the Czech Republic. It’s the original Budweiser, not your American piss.”
We got home and had a magnificent dinner of stuffed peppers. I was hoping that the 4,000 calories from lunch and dinner would be offset by our three-mile ride that morning.
After dinner I plotted out the next day’s route. “How far is it?” Woodrow asked. “Today’s ride was perfect!”
“A bit longer.”
“How much longer?”
It got kind of quiet. “I think I’ll go to bed.”
“Good idea,” I replied.
July 13, 2015 § 16 Comments
Frau G. and I sat in front of the box of photos and papers from my time as an intern in the German Bundestag, when I was assigned to MB Dionys Jobst of the transportation committee in parliament. I was selected for the program due to my unique ability to make significant contributions to German-American relations and my deep understanding of the US highway system.
Thank goodness a sample of my important work had been preserved, for which the German and American governments had expended significant scholarship dollars to bring me and my family to Germany for one full year.
Of the many subtleties I had mastered at the Bundeshaus, none was more important than knowing what to do at 10:30 each morning–eat chocolates, have a bit of cake, and drink a fresh cup of coffee. Government was important but tasty snacks every day even more so.
After leafing through the photos I decided that I absolutely had to immediately get a couple of bicycles for our bicycle tour.
“They don’t sell bikes there.”
“Sure they do. It says so on the Internet.”
She shook her head. “In more than fifty years of shopping at Aldi I have never seen a bicycle there.”
“Trust me, I saw it on the Internet.”
“Do you want to go now? Or do you want to visit Bad Godesberg?”
Bad Godesberg is where we used to live and there were several good coffee shops and cake shops there. “Let’s go to Bad Godesberg and then buy bikes at the Aldi.”
“Okay,” she said.
We drove to Bad Godesberg and got out at Rheinallee but I couldn’t find our old studentenwohnheim. Woodrow was extremely excited to see an old apartment his parents had occupied years before he was born and where they had hung out dirty laundry and such.
The walk down memory lane ended up more if a stumble through a construction site, as they had torn up a section of road and our shoes were now covered in mud.
I poked my head into an office and asked if anyone had ever heard of the old Studentenwohnheim Rheinallee. No one had.
Before giving up completely I tried one last stop, a senior citizen residence. If the senile folks couldn’t remember it no one could. An old woman perked up. “Of course. It’s just around the corner on Herderstrasse.” It hadn’t changed at all except they made a few renovations and sold them off as luxury apartments. I showed Woodrow the balcony from whence we used to hang my underwear, he was duly impressed, and we went to the town square for coffee and cake.
“We don’t sell bikes,” said the clerk.
So I found H&S Discount Bikes and we went there; they sold bikes. I used my thirty-plus years of cycling experience to carefully select the most appropriate bike from among the hundreds on offer. “What’s the cheapest bike you’ve got?” I asked.
“It’s our Bike of the Week, for 399 euros.”
“We’ll take two, with pedals.”
Since the BOTW were in crates we couldn’t actually see them or try them on so I paid and we agreed to pick them up the next day. Then we went and had some more cake, which did not spoil our appetites because Frau G. took us over to the home of Herr H., a master chef who prepared the most amazing meal of homemade pizza and salad I’ve ever had. It was extraordinary beyond belief.
I had a second and a third slice of the amazing pizza, which we enjoyed in Herr H.’s kitchen that he had hand-built from stone and brick. Afterwards we had some cake at a cake shop and came back to Frau G.’s. “Do you want to take a shower?” was her polite way of saying that our expiration date had passed, so half of us got cleaned up and the other half went to bed.
Tomorrow the big bike ride begins and it will be interesting to see what we actually bought. Tschuss!
July 12, 2015 § 21 Comments
It was a whirlwind day. As I lay down I swore that the first thing I’d do on Monday was go get some bicycles. You can’t do a proper bicycle trip without at least one.
In fact I had come close to getting a bike. My dear friend Frau G. had picked us up from the hotel in Troisdorf. “Where are your bicycles?” She asked. It was a reasonable question since I had told her that Woodrow and I were going on a bicycle trip.
“We don’t have any bicycles yet,” I said, “but we will soon.”
“Okay,” she said. “Shall we go do a boat tour along the Rhine first?”
I briefly considered the bike shopping option with its salesmen and ridiculous pricing and silly negotiating and decided instead to opt for the river cruise with its sunshine and recorded soundtrack about the history of Cologne and its tasty coffee and good German wurst and a few hours on the deck reminiscing with Frau G., who had worked in my office while I was interning in the Bundestag in 89-90.
It was a quick and easy decision.
After the river cruise we toured the cathedral and learned about the marketing scam that built Cologne a thousand years ago. Apparently a German beat some Italians in Milan (this was before Erik Zabel) and he stole the bones of one of the three kings who had come to visit the Baby Jesus.
They set up a bone praying church around the relics in Cologne and later spent 800 years building the cathedral to which millions flocked and donated money.
I think that’s it, anyway. Bottom line: nothing sells like Baby Jesus.
Later we went to eat at a secluded spot overlooking the Rhine and very far from anything resembling a bike shop. Then we came back to Frau G.’s where I ate chocolate and ice cream and had coffee to go along with the cake and coffee I’d had with lunch, which in turn had topped off the cheesecake and coffee snack we’d had at the cathedral after the ice cream and coffee snack I’d had on the river cruise.
One thing was now certain. I needed a bike not only to do our bike tour but also in order for me to fit back into my only pair of long pants.
July 12, 2015 § 1 Comment
I woke up in my hotel room in Cologne. Cologne is one of the most beautiful cities in the world because of its world-famous cathedral, which is known worldwide for its gorgeous beauty, which is known worldwide.
I know about the world famous beauty of the famed and beautiful Cologne cathedral because twenty-five years ago I had biked over from Bonn to watch the Cologne Six-Day. It was rainy and pitch black outside, and smoky and dim indoors. I was there until midnight and an old man chain smoking no-filters prattled endlessly into my ear. Every few minutes he would cough up a big yellow piece of phlegm or lung into his hand, inspect it, wipe it onto his handkerchief, and clap me on the back.
“Cologne,” he said, “is one of the most beautiful cities in the world!”
“Really?” I’d say as I tried to keep track of who was doing what, which in a six-day is kind of like trying to figure out who’s actually running Greece. It seemed like every time they rang a bell Etienne de Wilde would scamper out from the group and be first, but I still wasn’t sure, and after four hours all I really knew was that Cologne was one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
I pedaled home in the pitch black, rainy night and never went back but the old man did such good job that whenever I thought about Cologne thereafter, as I was doing this morning, I automatically knew it was the most beautiful city in the world.
Of course I had no intention of exploring the city and confirming it’s beauty. Why shatter an image that had held true my entire adult life? Instead this morning I had two major objectives:
- Buy bicycles so we could do a bicycle trip.
- Avoid MB Jens.
MB Jens had shown up in the South Bay a week ago on vacation. He had lived in the South Bay for five years on assignment and during that time had made many lifelong friendships despite being a world-class skinflint.
For his vacation he had sent out several hundred form emails requesting a place to stay, a bicycle, plenty of food, transportation, and laundry service. All of his dear friends were busy whatever week he planned to be there except two, one with a bike and one with a bed and car and laundry service.
Before he left to return to Germany, he insisted we get together. “I will make the whole day free for you and your son. We can do big hammer ride on the bicycles.”
“We’ll be on department store bikes in jeans and my son isn’t a compote titmice cyclist.’
“That is okay. We will hammer for only eighty miles and make into strong young German man. I have all the week for you open. It is only that I cannot meet with you on the 16th. What day will you be in Koblenz?”
“That is too bad,” he said. “I will try to rearrange my schedule.”
I went down to the breakfast bar at our hotel, the Holiday Inn Express in Troisdorf. I was ravenous. Our flight had gotten in at midnight. The Cologne airport was gleaming and beautiful and modern; it was nothing like the shed crammed with smelly people it had been in 1989. We were whisked down to the rail station.
Woodrow figured out the timetable, cost, denomination, and departure track. I jammed the machine and broke it. “Why don’t we take a taxi?” He asked.
“We’ll save money. Plus, everything is close in Europe.”
“The train doesn’t come until one.”
“That can’t be right. In Europe the trains come every few minutes.”
We went down to the track and the train came at one. It was filled with drunk teenagers. We alit at Troisdorf, a tiny stop. There were no people or taxis.
“Oh, well, we can walk. How far can it be?”
Woodrow mapped it on my phone just before it died. “Three miles.”
We only got lost four or five times and were sound asleep by three-thirty.