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The End

July 18, 2019

Ashland, Jackson County, Oregon, USA

This morning I got up and made coffee.  Standing in the center of the front window of 647 Siskiyou enjoying the steaming cup, I viewed a doe, a fawn and a buck, an unusual site to see such a family.  But the viewing from my favorite morning place was also unusual for me.  It has been over 3 months since I last stood in this place.  A very good 3 ½ month journey has ended and another chapter has begun.

All my journeys have chosen their own paths and their own times.  I seem to have little say in the matter.  When I found myself in the very small Greek village with a broken bike I had no desire to return to the island of Evia, but the trip had its own idea of where I was to go.  After the repair and a stop in a cell phone store to talk with island born young man, I spent another, almost 2 weeks on the island. 
My original trip plan was to try to find a way to cycle to Norkapp in Norway but the road would not have that plan.  Brussels and the Tour de France became the destination.  A wonderful hostess in Brussels, a friend in Prague, a meeting with a family from Tanzania at the Tour, all combined to show me the end of this journey. 

As I sit here at my home computer talking with you, flashes of this journey come into my vision.  The first days with John visiting an old touring friend in Phoenix, cycling to Bisbee, AZ through the Sonora desert and camping on Lake Pleasant for a farewell to John and the US. 
The first days of cycling, out of Athens in heavy traffic and up the steep hills to find a campground that had burned down in their version of the fires of our west, comes to my eyes.  The long, yet short ride to Thessaloniki that I thought would mark the end of Greece but again the road had other ideas.  A night with a wine producer added another day to my stay in the country before the final crossing into North Macedonia and the bringing of a new country to my tires.   
The meeting of a missionary family in the Skopje, the capital, a food tour and enjoying the old bazaar, where my hotel was located added 3 days to my stay in Macedonia.  Then Serbia, a country I had heard a lot of negative about, most of which turned out to be untrue.  The wonderful mountains with their great climbs, the friendly people and good food left me with a whole new picture of what is Serbia.
An unplanned short stay in Croatia because I followed the river the wrong way did not give me enough time to really appreciate what I was finding to be amazing people.  Leaving Mitrovica I followed the Ibar NW instead of NE, forcing me to turn north into Hungary much earlier than planned, producing another example of the road leading the journey. 

Budapest brought the beginning of the end.  Now I was headed to Brussels and the Tour. 
Next, Munich instead of Passau due to a train mix up.  I wonderful mix up as I met a Spaniard living in Munich, Mixx.  How more appropriate could that have been.  We spent 2 great days together enjoying Munich and its beer gardens.  It is always great when what appears to be a problem shows itself to be a wonderful opportunity. 

Then Karlsruhe, the home of a long ago friend I could not find and back to cycling.  Up the Rhine to the Saar and then the Mossell and into Luxemburg, trying to be in Brussels by the 5th of July.  Good riding along the rivers with paved bikeways, no climbs or motor vehicles. Soon the bikeways became a little boring, just pedaling along though the little changing scenery.  Not really why I tour but great for making time.  One hundred kilometer plus days are easy.  I finally pedaled off the rivers into Luxemburg, back into the mountains and their ever changing views. 
My hostess in Brussels and I had been talking using What’s App and she suggested that I find my way to Wiltx, Luxemburg and pick up a ravel (pronounced havel) a rails to trails facility and follow it to Bastogne. Then another ravel to Libramont-Chevigny, Belgium to catch a train to Brussels as my time had run out.  No matter how tight my schedule I cannot miss the opportunities of meeting the locals and learning about their lives. So, extra delays always appear on my agenda. 

Marilyn is a great hostess.  She met me at the Brussels train station and we cycled to her narrow 5 story, 100 year old downtown home.  From then on we toured Brussels, watched the Wimbledon finals, ate good meals, worked on her 8 bikes, her son’s commuter and enjoyed each other’s company. 

The Tour de France was exciting and fun.  We walked around the Fan Zone buying once in a life time items, seeing the riders, talking with the sponsors and soaking up the atmosphere on Friday.  Then on Saturday during the Grand Depart I stood on the starting line.  While seeing the wonderful backs of all the taller folks in front of me I watched the start on the big screen in the Royal Plaz.  Sunday brought the Team Time Trial, with a great viewing place within touchable distance of the teams as they flashed by.  It also gave me the opportunity to meet a wonderful family from Tanzania there for the race.  The son is studying architecture in China, the daughter is studying in a Brussels high school and the mother and father work and live in Tanzania.   It was fun sharing with them how the race worked and learning about their very unusual lives. 
Oh, you are talking to an international bike mechanic.  I went to visit a friend in Prague, leaving Marilyn with some instructions on getting parts for her son’s bike.  While in Prague she texted me asking what had to be done with the parts.  After a couple of texts back and forth we got the problem solved.  Think about that process, an American bike mechanic in Prague working on a bike in Brussels. 

The trip to Prague was very nice.  To meet an old traveling friend, share a wonderful city with a food tour and learn about the culture while staying with a local, how much more can I say? 

The road brought me to all I have seen and experienced on this journey.  Over many years letting it decide and direct my travels has always been my way.  I say that like I have a choice, I do not.  I hope the road continues to guide me the rest of my life and maybe beyond

—Bill H.

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Brussels–The Tour de France!

The Tour de France, the Grand Depart

July 10, 2019

Brussels, Belgium

The Tour de France!  At the start line of the Grand Depart!  How much better could it be.  After so much effort and changes I am here to watch the boys take that first of thousands of pedal strokes that will carry them to Paris over the next 3, very hard weeks.  
Well, at least I am right on the start line.  Maybe all I can really see is the backs of those in front of me and the large tv screen on the Royal Plaz.  Still, I am here.  
Yesterday I went to the Fan Zone, saw some of the riders, picked up some free and some not so free souvenirs, and got into the atmosphere of the event.  Today the race.  Did see a few of the interviews and got up close to the team buses and support caravan.  Yes, I am here.
The next morning I found a great place to watch the team time trails.  I was so close I really could have touched the riders as they went by.  Wow, how fast they go!  I could feel the wind of their movement.  Such a wonderful rainbow of colors flying down the road.  First the police motorcycles, then the rainbow of riders followed by the support cars, all passing at over 35 mph.  Worth every mountain climbed and every obstacle overcome.

Tanzanian Family in Brussels

Met a very interesting family.  I overheard a young man trying to explain the race to a younger girl.  He really had no idea what was going on, so I asked if I could help.  We talked and I shared what I knew.  I asked where they were from.  Tanzanian they answered.  He was studying architecture and she was in high was in high school.  What university, I inquired.  Well, he said it was in China.  They looked up and waved at a man and woman across the street and said that was their mother and father.  Soon we were joined by them and the conversation continued.  I learned so much from this wonderful family.  Their hopes and dreams and about their lives.  

The race ended and we said our goodbyes with photos for all.

—Bill H.

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July 1, 2019

Konz, Trier-Saarburg, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany

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 truth.  
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.

—Bill H.

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