Archive for May 13th, 2010

The Rhineland on 75 cents a day (1)

May 13, 2010

One fine spring day, just after school let out, a bunch of us were hanging around the Teen Club wondering what to do with ourselves.  All sorts of schemes were offered and shot down until the subject of a bike trip surfaced.  Nowadays, the mention of a bike trip gives visions of snarly Harleys and happy Hondas, but to us in the mid-1950’s it simply meant a bicycle trip.

We kicked the idea around and the more we talked about it the better it sounded.  We dragged out maps and planned a route that would take us generally east towards the Mosel River.  To get there we would have to navigate the Kyll River and a couple of other minor streams.  In Germany, most roads would approach a river at almost a right angle, sweep down one bank, cross the river, and run back up the opposite side to continue onwards in the original direction.  When you are on a bike, the trip down is a real treat, but the trip back up can be very difficult.  Virginia and I found that out previously in our little adventure which I chronicled here: (https://tom1950.wordpress.com/2009/05/25/drinking-and-%E2%80%9Cwake-up-little-susie%E2%80%9D/).

We were pretty far along in the planning when one of the girls spoke up and asked if they were invited also.  We replied that of course they were.  This sparked another debate which swirled around parental permission based on how many chaperones we’d have.  Chaperones – we don’t need no steenkin’ chaperones.  Final answer: Oh, Yes You Do Buster!

Now we really were debating about who we would ask for this honor.  A priority list was made up of persons we thought might be able to make the trip, followed by persons who had a large enough vehicle to be able to hold one or more bicycles if necessary, and finally, those that would just ‘go along for the ride’ in those vehicles.  We had thirteen names at the end.  Two of us were designated to ask everyone on the list if they would be willing to chaperone our touring group.

When the dust settled, we had four who would attempt the trip on their own bicycles, and three who were willing to drive their cars from one stopping point to the next carrying our personal gear.  A pretty fair division of labor and which also gave us seven adults in every place we stopped.  Since two of our stops were to be camping grounds we definitely needed the two station wagons and the one VW camper for cooking.

When the dust settled and we were down to actually making the reservations at the inns we were planning to stay at there were thirteen teens and three chaperones on bicycles.  The rest would drive out and meet us at our various stops.  One person, who drove a station wagon, carried a toolkit, spare inner tubes and a first aid kit that the base hospital and put together for us.  Hopefully, we wouldn’t need it, but one never knows.

Our trip was to cover a total of about a hundred twenty kilometers (roughly 75 miles) and we planned on doing it in seven days.  Granted, this is only around eleven miles a day, but we were in no hurry at all and, most importantly, there were lots of hills we would have to walk up.  The four inns we wanted to stop at were located in Binsfeld, Wittlich, Mühlheim and Niersbach.  The other three nights we would just camp out in a field beside the road.

I had two cameras; one personal and one from the PAO (Public Affairs Office) to make a visual journal of our trip.  Virginia consented to carry the extra film I would need.  Mine was black and white but the PAO camera would use color.  This way, I could develop my own pictures.  We were ready for the trip to begin.

In the week that followed our finalization of plans everyone was busily getting their bikes ready for the trip.  Questionable tires were replaced and the bikes themselves tuned, oiled, and greased.  I added a nice rear fender pannier to hold incidentals (and my cameras) so I wouldn’t have it hanging around my neck all the time.

In the last week of June we headed out from the parking lot in front of the school and made our way to the main gate.  A lot of kids on their bicycles rode along with us to the gate, but peeled off and went home as we passed through them.

For those of you who have never been in Europe – or at least back in the mid fifties – the roads in any town at that time were mostly cobblestones.  Lanes set aside for bicycles (of which there were literally hundreds on the road at any given time during the day) existed and were normally paved with asphalt.  This was in town.  Outside town you were on your own along roads that were pretty narrow.  Not so narrow that you were in constant danger of getting hit but narrow enough.   Two busses could pass each other, but that would leave little room for a bike.  Everyone riding had either a rear view mirror mounted on their handlebars, or wore a cap with a stem-mounted mirror on it.  Bike riders were so very common, especially in the summer, that drivers would take special care when on the road.

We descended the rather steep road down the hill from the base and entered the town of Bitburg.  Our immediate goal was to cruise down the hillside, run through Albach and cross the Kyll River.  Virginia and I pedaled side by side in the middle of a chain of bikers riding no more than two abreast.  There was a nice bike and walking trail running next to the road that made it much easier because we didn’t have to keep looking for vehicles coming up behind us.  This is the same route Virginia and I took to get to our friends house over in Spangdahlem.

We coasted all the way down to the bridge, stopped for a moment to tamp down objects that had shaken loose, and to take some pictures.  Ahead of us was a rather long climb but much more gentle than the hill we had just come down.  The first half of the upward climb we pedaled, but about halfway up we all dismounted and walked.  No reason to tire ourselves out struggling up a hill.

We reached the plateau on top and skirted the town of Metterich and a huge field of plowed ground.  It would have been shorter to go directly across, but we could find no path through the field.  And, being freshly plowed, the farmer would, no doubt, take a dim view of us crossing it.  Once around the field, the road leveled off and pedaling became much easier and allowed us to use higher gears.

In Dudeldorf we paused at the town fountain to renew the wet cloths around our necks and generally rest a moment.  Some German school kids stopped and we chatted for a while with them.  They tried our their textbook English and we spoke our various forms of German – some good, some not so good.  A few pictures were taken of us standing in front of the fountain and such.  Mounting our bikes, we strung out along the road towards another hill down to a small creek.  This one was much easier as we didn’t have to walk at all.

Passing over the brim of the hill on the way up, Spangdahlem Air Base lay before us.  We debated going on base for something to eat and decided we couldn’t take the time to do so.  We passed the turn off for the gate and took the road that curved around the business end of the runway.  As we were just passing the runway overrun, a flight of two F-100’s took off right overhead.  I had never realized just now noisy they were until they were only about two hundred feet above me on full afterburner.  We all took to shouting at one another for five minutes after that until our ears opened up again.

The route through Binsfeld was pretty narrow because the old buildings were sitting with their front doors almost right on the edge of the road.  We slipped into a single file until we got to the center of town.  We stopped when we reached the inn where we were to spend the first night.  It was located off the main street by quite a bit and took us two false tries down side roads to find it.

It was a wonderful old building set next to, or actually a part of, a milling operation for wheat and other grains.  There was a huge garden behind it with rose arbors, patches of colored flowers all around and walkways between them.  To one side was a Biergarten, which the chaperones told us was off limits because they, um, sold beer.  Rats!

Most of us were a little sore from our first day’s travel, but managed to totter around the village and sightsee.  Virginia and I plus two other couples went out together and sought a shop where we could buy some thin gloves.  I had worn a blister on the palm of my hand and didn’t want to make it worse and two others were ready to form one.  One of the others found what we were looking for, but I had to translate for them as they didn’t have a lot of German.  The woman behind the counter thought I was a guide for the Americans and was a bit surprised when she found I was one of ‘them’.

We all met back in the café across the street from the inn and had dinner.  Following a great meal, we trooped over to the inn and sorted ourselves into our various rooms; boys with boys and girls with girls.  We had already sworn amongst ourselves that no hanky and/or panky would be undertaken by anyone – male or female.  This was, after all, going to be a great trip and we just didn’t need any drama in our backpacks.

As I lay down that evening, I wondered just how lucky I was to be sharing a room with two guys that thought belching was a really hilarious pastime.  Amid the blerts, braaps, and impressive beeeeooooops, I finally got to sleep.

T.O.M.

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