I am no longer a liar. The many times I have been asked how old I
am on this journey, I have responded 75. Today that becomes the
I have been riding the Saar river in Germany for a couple of days
and thought it had come time to turn toward Luxemburg. Heading for
Brussels for the Tour I needed to cut across the mountains and get
to Brussels in about 4 days.
Looking over the electronic maps and the profiles I found what
looked like a good route with a little climbing at the start but
then rolling to a fall after that. As the morning light broke onto
the familiar flat, paved river path I entered it for the last few
kilometers. Rolling along at a nice 23 or so kph with a light wind
at my back, felt great. Then I came to the westerly turn and the
first climb. The profile at the bottom of my map screen indicated
this was steep but not very long. If it helped avoid the big long
climbs of the alternate route, great.
I headed up a narrow paved road as it wound its way through the
heavy forest. This very nice road kept following the up slope of
the mountain side, at points becoming almost one lane. A switch
back and a little less grade. Maybe, I am nearing the top? Yes, it
so appears. It is almost flat and I can see valleys in all but one
direction. An intersection and the directions say go straight.
Straight? That is a dirt road and the only one going up? Well, ok,
just keep following the map.
A sign tells me I am entering a national park. This is a well
maintained dirt road and is very good riding, with the dark green
forest closing in a little. Up it winds with a sign every now and
then that I assume tells of the flora and fauna. I do wish I was
not German illiterate, I would like to know more of this park.
Now over an hour of climbing trying to avoid the “big” climbs.
Sometimes I do wonder about my choices. On and on, up and up, not
seeing anyone or signs that this road is used very much. Starting
to feel a little trepidation about where I am going and when this
climb is going to end, I stop at one of the information signs. Not
a great choice. It has a picture of a wolf! I have read that the
wolf population has been growing in this area. Just what I needed.
I ride away maybe a little faster.
Coming to what I know is the top, I release a sigh of success. I
should know better. Beginning the down the phone tells me to make a
U turn. A U turn? Why, I have not passed any intersections or
alternative paths since I crested. I think it is just a momentary
lapse in the coverage and continue on. Again, “Make a U turn.”
Stopping to expand the map I see that the road I am on, goes to a
cliff and an overlook. I also see where it wanted me to turn. OK,
I begin to retrace my path back up, following my own solitary tire
tracks on the dusty road.
“Left turn” it tells me. Left turn? Where, there is no road or
even a real path. I am looing down what 30 or 40 years ago was most
likely a logging road, but no longer is much of anything but little
shorter thorny weeds indicating a break in the closely spaced
trees. This cannot be right.
After some debate I begin to tentavliy roll onto the almost path.
Cannot see the ground through the tall thorns and hit a large rock
knocking the front wheel to the left. I correct and the weeds grab
the right pannier and pull the correction harder the right than I
want. Another large rock and large bush grabs the front pannier.
Going down much faster than I like but cannot ride the brakes, have
to pump them to scrub off as much speed as possible and deal with
the excess as I can. If they overheat I will lose all braking.
Suddenly the bike stops standing upright. What the heck? I
dismount with difficulty as the standing bike is so tall and the
ground is low. Looking I see the kickstand has caught a large log
and drug it into a very large rock. With great effort I drag the
log out through the weeds and move the rock. Taking a drink, I look
down the steep mountain side trying to see where this route is
leading. My concern is that it will reach an impasse like a cliff.
With the angle and obstacles I know that a return up with the bike
is not an option.“
What the heck am I doing?”
My legs are bleeding in many places from the thrones, my hands hurt from gripping the handle bars, and my head throbs from the concentration required to find the best route. I stop again to eat a little and take another drink. Have to stay alert and at my best. Down and down I fall toward, what I know is a river, which according to the map, has a path on its bank. Cannot see it or any indication it is there except that I am going down fast. More rocks and bag grabbing trees and bushes. The forest is dictating the path more then I am. The bike keeps jerking back and forth and up and down. Finally I see 30 or so feet below, the river. Now all I have to do is get to it. Switch back after switch back the bike descends. Much closer to the river I see a biker go by on the bank. Yes, maybe I will get out of this yet. Finally the last switch back and onto to the river bank. I wonder which river until I see a lock and find I am on a branch of the Saar. As I enter the town I find that I am only about 10 km from where I began this morning. I have no idea, nor do I care how far I rode to get here and have made up my mind I will stay on the river and ride the big climbs when they come. No more “short” cuts. It has been a memorable birthday.
“Munich? What the heck are you doing in Munich? Last I heard you were in Budapest.” Just running out of time to make the Tour de France. So, yesterday I took a train from Budapest to Nuremberg. Well, that was the plan. Missed the train. Could not find the correct platform. Had to find another way. The agent was very helpful and found a train with space for the bicycle to Munich. The thought being that from here I could get a train anywhere. That was the thought. I boarded the direct train after making a contact for a Warm Showers stay in Munich. There was a couple with their bikes and we helped each other get all in order. Smooth ride…..until. At the last stop in Hungary the engine broke down. No problem they told us. Another engine would be along in a half hour. By the way it was about 90 degrees and no a/c. Twenty minuets later and they announced that a new train was coming in 10 minuets. It arrived but only had 4 cars while ours had 10. Oh, no bicycle car. We all tried to pack our self’s on when a very officious lady came up and demanded, not asked, that those with large bags, baby carriages and of course bicycles get off. We did as she had 3 Austrian police standing with her. It would be at least an hour before the next train, we were told. Not it will be an hour, but at least an hour. I got on my bike and went for a ride to check out the tiny village. Found there were two places to rent a room, a small sandwich shop and a historic church. All churches in this part of the world are historic, right? Anyway stopped for a cold beer and then rode back to the platform, no station here. Saw 2 men dressed in black pants, white shirts with various belt attachments. I stopped them and asked if they spoke English and were they with the train company. Yes, to both. In fact one, Elvis, yes that was his name, was the train chief. Could you tell me what the plan is, I asked. He informed me that a train was coming in about 13 minuets. “Will it have a bicycle car? “Sure will.” Ok, I went to find the German couple and let them know what I had discovered. The train arrived and all was put right. We were back on our way Munich with the bikes safely hooked up. Well…… We stopped in Vienna and there were about 10 people with bikes and only 1 slot open. They did not seem to care and all tried to get on. Pushing and shoving, trying to unhook our bikes to put theirs on. Not a nice experience. Elvis showed up and stopped the whole procedure. He told the couple to move their bikes to a bike car at the rear of the train, me to stay where I was and 3 of the new arrivals to hook up their bikes. The other 7 would just had to wait for the next train. Ok, off again. Soon I got a email from the German couple to ask the 3 newbies if they were going on to Munich. Turns out the train was splitting a the rear cars were not going to Munich!
What the heck is going on? I thought Austrian trains were reliable. Not true I now know. They often break down in the summer and are not on time as I had imagined. Anyway, the kids did get on the train but not on the bike car. Elvis came to their rescue again. Did I say he and I had a nice conversation about his family and job? He is a very happy guy with 2 kids, 13 and 21, likes his job and is just an all around nice guy. He gave the couple and I a form to fill out, a note to attach and filed a report so we could apply for a refund, Finally, almost 3 hours late we arrive in Munich just before night fall. I mount up and ride across town to my Warm Showers (Couch Surfing for cyclists) host’s apartment. A great guy with a wonderful apartment. He had waited to eat dinner with me. He prepared a nice picnic of cheese, fruit, home cured meat and bread. Walked out into the wonderful night, across the river to a beer garden where we sat with many others and talked away until 1 am. It really was a very good day! Lemons, anyone?
Entered Serbia after saying goodbye to Macedonia by staying at a winery/hotel. The Kokino winery is mostly a bulk producer. The wines are all produced in very large stainless steel tanks. Most of the wine is sold to be bottled by others. Kokino produces chardonnays, pinot noirs and vranecs. The owner Milos and I toured the winery but mostly we talked wine and sampled from the tanks. He discussed his problem of exporting to other countries. As Macedonia is not part of the EU and he has very limited resources his prospects for much expansion are very limited. Milos is selling his large tanks and converting to a higher level wine trying to become a boutique hotel and winery. If he can continue with the type of service and add food service beyond the excellent breakfast that they now serve, I think he has a opportunity. I did sample a bottle of his pinot with a pasta dish I prepared and it was very drinkable. Not much complexity. As a medium dry and a typical pinot light body along with a wonderful nose it was very identifiable as a pinot. It was neat to park my bike among the large tanks. The stay at the winery, including a full breakfast was $16. for a very nice, large brand new room. The bottle of wine was $2.00. Serbia is very inexpensive. Yesterday my host in Nis invited me to lunch. Lunch here is a big deal. We talked drank and ate for 4 ½ hours. It was wonderful. Lunch normally begins after 3 pm, I have no idea when dinner is served.
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Igor, is a 29 year old who with his brother are trying to become hoteliers. They have 1 apartment so far. When I checked in he helped port my panniers to the 5th floor and find a safe place for my bike with a café owner. He then went to find 2 beers which we shared during our 2 hour talk about Nis (pronounce Neech) It is so good to really learn about place from the natives. Hope to find the Danube tomorrow afternoon and begin the leg to Brussels. Booked a room for 4 people (larger) for $14.00. No breakfast however. Camping is $22. Weird?
My pizza, which I am abandoning you for, has a fried egg on top.
Day off! Always a good thing. No need to pack up and move out. Walk around town, relax and see the sights.
Last evening we set off for an Italian restaurant, about a mile walk. Never made it. Instead, Tucson’s 4th street drew us down its interesting corridor. Unique stores and shops with art nuevo neon signs, lots of bicycle traffic and pedestrians roaming around, offering a welcoming environment. We could not resist changing our destination on this pleasantly warm evening. Looking in a barber shop, we spied the owner sitting at a desk closing out the day.
“Would you recommend an eatery to us?”
“Sure. Next door is the Box Yard, a collection of small cookery offerings like burritos, barbeque and oriental, all made in container kitchens, surrounding a bar.”
Off we went. Wow, a very pleasant courtyard of a fabric roofed court yard allowing the warm breezes and setting sun to filter the dinning, Ever had a bacon wrapped burrito? Neither had I until last night. This deep fried concoction of ground beef, peppers, onions and sauces in a torilla was completely wrapped with bacon and then deep fried to a crisp outside and prefect inside texture. Along with a good Double Knot double IPA brewed in Phoenix, what could be better?
While sipping on our drinks waiting for the wonderful meal we saw the barber at the bar. We invited him to join us. A long conversation about Tucson and his life here took us to California, through a bad and expensive marriage, developing a business and not calling himself an Arizonian. A couple of nights ago we heard the story of an Army helicopter pilot who after 10 years was discharged and had opened a KOA with his wife, just under a year ago and was not sure he had done the right thing. When people know that you are just passing through they often share the most closely held feelings, dreams and regrets with ease. I think many of us have had that same experience sitting next to someone on an airplane or at a bar.
The walk home was just as amazing. We discovered a wall. “You discovered a wall? So, what?” Just look at this street art…
It’s Jan 30th, the first of the New Year has long passed and I am late. When I settle on a new journey one of the things that makes it real is assigning a departure date. Without a date journeys are only dreams. They are not real. When I pick a date I write 0 on the calendar on that day. Then I continue back 100 days writing 1, 2 and so forth until I reach the 100th day. I often perform this process well in advance. We set the date for the round the world trip almost a year ahead. It is amazing later when I turn the page on the calendar and see 100 I know I had better get my life in gear, it is time to prepare for the leaving. The leaving is real and almost upon me. Wednesday during my marking I noted that I only have 77 days remaining. I wonder if I will have to serve detention for being tardy. I very much dislike being late. If it is leaving the house for Spin classes or coming to your house for dinner, I want to be on time. Now, I am on edge because I have not given sufficient time to this leaving. Well, I will just have to find a new calendar, one with more days on it. I am sure they have them at the office supply store. “What trip is he talking about? I hadn’t heard he was going anywhere.” Annette is going to the Balkans with the Siskiyou Singers in June. She will fly into Helsinki June 18th returning from Vilnius on the 28. Ten days of singing her way through Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Nice thought.
So, how is this relevant to Bill’s trip? A couple of years ago an English friend thought about cycling from Nordkap, Norway just inside the Arctic circle, the end of the northernmost public road in Europe to Cape Town, South Africa the end of the southernmost road in Africa. A ride named Cape to Cape by those crazy enough to try it. He wrote me asking if I would like to join him on the ride. We talked about it, opened a Facebook page, and started planning the year to year and a half cycle adventure. Then he fell ill and was told not to attempt the trip until he recovered. He still has not recovered. When Annette started talking about her singing tour I looked at the map and noticed that there is a EuroVelo Route 11, which runs from Athens, Greece to Nordkap, Norway, the European portion of the Cape to Cape. Following the route would take one through the cities that Annette was going to visit. Well, why not? After all it is only 6000 kilo about the same distance as a bicycle ride across the U.S., so not really a big deal. I also might get to see Annette. A good thing, right?
Back to being late. So, on the 78th day I met with Chet a web site friend and finished getting my website ready for my journal of the journey and wrote this beginning article. “Wait, how did you begin writing this before knowing you were late?” I told you I was going to get a calendar with more days on it, didn’t I?