The Rhineland on 75 cents a day (2)

The next morning I woke before the three burpers and managed a nice bath before shaving and toothbrushing.  Just as I was finishing up, someone tapped on the bathroom door and I let him in.  I was still a bit sore and creaky from the exercise yesterday, but moving around made most of it go away.

I went down the stairs to the cramped dining room and found that pretty much all of our crew was gathered for the trip today to Wittlich.  Virginia had saved me a spot right across the table from her.  A huge platter of bacon and eggs was put on the table and everyone got their share.  Pedaling definitely makes your appetite grow.  I thought about seconds, but knew we had several rivers to cross and didn’t feel like taking aboard all the extra calories.

We all claimed our bikes from the shed out back and readied them for the day’s travel.  My back tire was low so I pumped it up a little.  I was lucky because two others had flat tires and had to change them.  We finally left around ten or so.

The little town of Niederkail sits at the bottom of our first valley and is split by a very small stream.  We didn’t cross it, but followed it for about a half mile.  We stopped in town to refill our water bottles at the fountain which was fed by a cold spring that comes right out of the mountain.  A bit further down the valley we finally crossed the stream and started up the other side.

According to our map, there were two ways we could approach Landsheid.  One of them was to start up the main highway and end up walking a couple of miles’ or, we could walk up a fairly steep grade for a quarter mile and take a sort of logging road through the forest.  We opted for the second route.  We did not choose wisely.

We left the road down at the bottom of a nicely wooded hillside and started up a trail of crushed stone.  It was definitely ‘push your bike up the hill’ mode.  We stopped two or three times for a breather and finally made it to the top.  Loggers had churned up the ground to the consistency of chocolate syrup to a depth of six inches.  Even skirting the huge clearing, we gathered enough of the sticky goo to clog the braking devices on the bikes.  We ended up dragging them, locked-wheeled, the last 100 meters or so.

Several in our group slipped and fell and one of those got hit by the crossbar of their bike when it toppled over on top of them.  Triage was completed in the grass at the other side of the pit of terror.  We all looked like we’d spent some time in a mud wrestling venue.  I considered myself lucky that I only dropped my water bottle in the mud.  It took us about half an hour to clean off the bikes, clean off ourselves, and in two instances, go into the woods and change into clean clothes.

Well, gee, I hear you saying.  Why didn’t they just go around the mudhole?  Ooh, ooh, let me answer that one!  It’s because the woods were a planted forest and the trees were so close together that you would have been better off trying to squeeze a bike through a picket fence.  Space was not wasted in unproductive real estate in that forest.

After sorting ourselves out, we started along the small track towards the back door, so to speak, of Landsheid.  It seemed as if every turn we made the road got smaller and smaller.  Soon, we were in single file and almost at a walking pace.  Grumbles were being voiced not too quietly now that maybe someone had goofed.

We would occasionally get a glimpse of the valley along which we were traveling, but not much more than that.  Finally, a scouting group of three parked their bikes and went ahead on foot to see if it got any better.  The rest of us took some time to grab a bite to eat.  We had one small alcohol stove and, after many unsuccessful attempt to get it going, it gave a huge ‘boof’ and blew out one end of the delivery pipe.  No hot tea for us.

The scouts came back and reported that the trail widened out into gravel again just around two corners.  They hadn’t gone much further, but that did sound encouraging.  The chief scout looked at the wreckage of his stove and sadly shook his head.  He pointed to the small lever that allowed fuel to flow into the burner – it hadn’t been turned on.  So, even though we had pumped it up to around two or three thousand PSI, it never would have lit a burner.  We held an immediate whip-around and paid him for it.

Heartened by the news, we boarded bikes again and started out.  The trail did indeed widen and smooth out.  It stayed that way until it came to an abrupt end.  Now, why would someone build a trail like this and then just stop?  No answer except that we had to find a way towards what we now identified as a church bell tolling.  It was the right direction for Landsheid so we wearily began pushing through tall grass and small spike-bearing bushes that ripped our ankles to shreds.  This was rapidly not being fun.

With a final push through a huge bramble patch we hit a farm road running alongside a field of grain.  Off in the distance we could see the church tower that had guided us through the jungle.  Not a single one of the girls, and several of the guys, would budge until they had cleaned up somewhat.  Pointing in two opposite directions, the chaperones told the guys to go ‘that way’ and the girls to go ‘over there’ and repair our appearances.  It wouldn’t do to frighten the natives into thinking we had just arrived after being abducted by aliens or something like that.  Refreshed (and de-burred) we pressed onwards and into town.

We stopped at a store in Landsheid where our hapless scout purchased a new pressure stove.  It was a nice one and we all read the instructions carefully so there would be no repeat of the ‘big bang’ as it was called.  On our way out of town, we passed through a huge cornfield on either side of the road.  I have no idea how those twenty ears of corn got into those panniers officer; honest.

We skirted the town of Berg and started down a long, twisty, road to the bottom of the hill.  About halfway down, there was a cry of pain as one of the guys flipped his bike over the handlebars and into the ditch.  He had been trying to brake and one of the little rubber brake plugs had worked its way loose and popped out.  This, unfortunately, happened to be on a rear brake so the only one he had was the front brake.  Since he was applying pressure to both front and rear, the cessation of rear braking tossed him ass over head and into the ditch.  Nothing was broken, but we had to take time out while he replaced a brake.

It was a long climb back out and we had to walk it pretty much all the way.  There was a nice pull-out area with tables halfway up so we stopped, took pictures, clowned around with a couple of soccer balls, and generally had some fun.  I noticed two or three couples had crept away and into the woods.  The chaperones didn’t.  Virginia and I got back and mingled with the crowd as they mounted up.

Hupperath came and went as a series of five cross streets sparsely populated.  We stopped only long enough for a few of us to telephone home and report our progress.  They wanted too much money for me to want to make a call; the equivalent of a buck seventy five for three minutes.  A bit steep.

We stopped at the top of our next valley and took pictures of our road as it undulated down the hillside.  We counted at least seven curves of greater than ninety degrees on its way down.  We would have to take this hill much slower than the last one for sure.  Carefully, we started down.  Cars and the occasional bus whooshed past us and belched fumes at us.  The breeze was good enough to blow it away but it still caused a cough or two.

The accident happened at the fifth bend.  This turn was an almost complete one-eighty reversal and the side of the road was covered with loose gravel from the hillside.  Three of our group were involved.  Unfortunately, Virginia was the second one to fall.  The person she was riding next to at the time lost traction on both wheels and the bike went out to the side.  This kicked Virginia’s bike sideways also and they both went down.  The next guy in line hit her bike and cartwheeled over it and into a small post.  He hit the post right at the middle of his thigh and bounced into the deep grass at the side of the road.

We all slid to a stop and dashed over to help.  Virginia was shaken but not hurt badly.  Her elbow was scuffed up, and she would have a nasty bruise on one of her knees, but otherwise okay.  The original bike was out of service.  It had landed on a large rock and tore out several spokes.  We would have to replace the wheel when we got to the inn in Wittlich today.  We patched up everyone except for the guy that hit the roadside post.  He was in pretty bad shape.  Our resident first aid expert said he didn’t break anything, but his thigh was already turning a dark shade of purple where he had hit.

He volunteered to sit with the broken bike and wait for our station wagon to arrive and pick him up.  We left him some chicken and two water bottles.  I surreptitiously passed him a small flask of Schnapps, for which he gave his thanks.  We somberly mounted up and finished our downward ride.

On the outskirts of Wittlich we passed a really nice sportsplatz.  A game was in progress but we didn’t have the time to stop unfortunately.  We debated on which road to take into town because we weren’t sure which one would take us to our little hotel.  We knew that both of them ended up near the center of town so we split up and took both roads.  We said that we would meet in the town square in any case.

A huge amount of European townships are laid out in the same general plan.  Around a central square or municipal building roads radiate out like spokes on a wheel.  Connecting these spokes are angled streets running from spoke to spoke.  It is not unusual for one continuous road traveling around the core to go through many name changes as it crosses a spoke.  This was the difficulty we faced in finding our inn for the night.

We wandered up one road and down the next.  Whenever we approached the town square, we peeled off into a different spoke road and traveled back out.  On our fourth fruitless search we actually entered the square.  We were hailed by one of our own who drove the VW bus and asked why we kept starting into the square and then turning around.  Damn, we felt like idiots.

She started the bus and led us directly to the inn.  The other group had already arrived, gotten their rooms, were staked out on the restaurant balcony sipping sodas, and razzing us.  We parked our bikes in the little stand they had out front and went inside to get our room assignments.

This particular inn was actually a youth hostel.  Rooms were dormitory-style with perhaps twenty beds in them.  In most cases, both sexes would share the same spaces (but not bathrooms).  This caused the chaperones to form up and select beds that bisected the room – boys on one side and girls on the other.  The German kids thought this was hilarious.

The evening turned out to be nice and warm, but with a hint of cool breeze.  There was a fire pit in the area out back with split log seating.  People drifted out and sat watching the fire as night closed in on us.  Virginia and I snuggled up as well as most of the other couples.  The omnipresent chaperones sat right at the top of the pit and watched the lot of us.  I swear they counted heads every half hour.

After an evening of singing, little skits that had us all rolling with laughter, and some excellent storytelling, we began to feel our efforts of the day and drifted off to our assigned bunks.  I managed to give Virginia a kiss goodnight under the baleful eye of a chaperone.  What he didn’t hear was her wish we were back in our own little inn by ourselves.  Oh gosh.  Just what I needed right then for a good night’s sleep.

T.O.M.

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