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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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