The Rhineland on 75 cents a day (6)

I woke to soggy footfalls outside my tent.  When they stopped, Virginia asked me if I had any dry covers as her tent had let water in and gotten her backpack completely wet.  I glanced at my watch – oh four hundred; four in the morning – and freed one arm to search among my bag.  I found a flannel sheet that appeared dry so I unzipped the tent fly and passed it out to her.

Her hair was stringy in the reflected light from her flashlight, which she considerately pointed away from the tent.  She added that she was really cold, and threw in a chatter or two of teeth at the end.  She looked really bedraggled and I felt really sorry that I couldn’t just have her slide into the tent with me.  I’m sure my tentmate, Barry, would have said something about that though.  Maybe not, though.  He was currently between girlfriends.  But, no way would I share.

I told her that if it was any consolation, I was pretty cold myself and the rain wasn’t helping.  Making a decision, I told her to wait a moment and that I’d come out maybe we could find a dry spot and warm up.  She flicked the light off and sloshed away.  I tried my very best to get partially dressed without waking or rolling over Barry.  As I left the tent, he cracked an eye and mumbled ‘Glück’ (Roughly: good luck).  I am sure he meant finding a dry spot.

I didn’t bother to put on boots so by the time we got to the cooking area my feet were thoroughly wet and cold.  She was sitting on the cook bench with my sheet thrown over her Indian style when I came up.  She lifted one side of it and I sat down and pulled it over my shoulders.  She snuggled closer to me and put an arm around me tightly.

She wondered aloud if the rain will ever end.  I replied that according to my nose it should right around sunup; which wasn’t for another hour yet.  All she said was ‘oh, rats’.  I had to agree.

We whispered in low tones with large pauses between sentences.  Slowly, her shivers subsided and she lowered her head to my shoulder and dozed.  I leaned back against the tent pole and nodded off myself for a little bit.  I was the first to hear the door on the Volkswagen van slide open.  One of the chaperones stepped out and landed directly in a huge puddle of water.  There was a moment of very un-chaperone-like language – especially for a lady – and then a dash for the tree line.  Virginia giggled and said that she must really have to go.

It was light enough now to asses the campsite.  Wet and sagging little tents dotted the grass amid puddles of water.  Some tents were now showing signs of their occupants stirring.  Since Virginia and I were almost dressed we started up the stove and put on a big kettle of water for coffee and tea.  Our big two-burner gas stove was working out well.

As we waited for the water to boil, the chaperone came back into camp and headed for the kitchen.  She approached and slid under the canopy with a sigh.  All she said was that she hoped the water was hot enough for coffee.  It was, so she ladled a heft amount of powder into a mug and poured in water.  In three gulps it was gone.  That seemed to make her feel better.  After fixing a refill, she slogged over to her camper bus and dove inside; slamming the door.  Virginia and I looked at each other and, at the same time, said ‘what a grump’.

The camp was coming alive now as more people were emerging from their wet tents.  Vast stretches, deep groans, and back creaks were heard as they tried to remove kinks from their spines.  I felt a lot better myself since I’d spent the last hour cuddled up to something warm.  I was still a little stiff and sore from our foolish slide down the grassy slope, but now that the gloom was being replaced by some light things didn’t appear as bad as before.

One by one the others drifted into the kitchen area and filled up on hot stimulants.  We were allowed one small half-shot of Schnapps each in our coffee to help ward off the cold.  It certainly helped me anyway.

Four of us started fixing breakfast:  rolls with butter and jam, cold cereal with milk, and a huge pan of scrambled eggs.  Nobody felt like taking the time to fix anything other than scrambled eggs so that’s what we got.  Bacon was cooked in another pan and, once it had drained, added to everyone’s plate.

Once we all had eaten, things looked a little better.  I predicted, after looking up at the cloud movement that the rain would quit in about an hour.  It was down to an intermittent drizzle even now so I had a fifty-fifty chance of being right.  The chaperones were huddled in the car having a powwow of their own.

They emerged and came over to the kitchen.  They asked us if we wanted to just go on home now instead of finishing the trip.  We thought about it for a moment and then told them we’d like to finish.  We had no more camping to do and the inn at Binsfeld was a good one with a nice restaurant close by for a good meal.  Some discussion followed, with a strong plea for us to change our minds, but we held fast.  None of the chaperones were willing to ride with us though.  In fact, they told us, as soon as we packed up and started out they were going to go to Binsfeld and check into the inn.  This was fine with us.

We washed all our dishes, packed them into the camper, and rolled our wet tents up.  These were put into the trunk of the car.  We could dry them out later today in the back of the inn.  We gathered our gear, put the panniers on the bikes and cleaned up the campground.  One never left a campground without cleaning it up.  It was an unwritten rule in Europe that you always cleaned up after yourself.  Campers here in the US could use that ethic themselves for the most part.

I was just a short push uphill through dripping trees on both side of the road until we reached the plateau on top.  Just as we emerged from the woods, the sun finally made it’s appearance.  Off to our left was the town of Dodenberg.  We discussed taking a brief detour into town.  The guys were for pushing on, but the girls claimed they wanted public restrooms.  They won; and we cycled into town.

It wasn’t much of a town, just a crossroads in fact, but it did have a huge barn where several people were working.  We approached and asked if the girls could use the facilities.  We were given permission by the farm owner himself.  While we were taking turns washing up, we chatted with him.  He was a florid guy, fairly tall, with huge hands.  While we talked, he pitched hay into a large bin from a trailer packed with it.  In order to repay him, several of us grabbed forks and helped.  Bet you thought I was going to say ‘pitched in’.

Refreshed and rejuvenated (and drained of early morning coffee), we left the group in the barn.  We left Dodenberg, swept across a small hill and descended into a valley to the town of Gladbach.  The town itself was interesting because it still had bits and pieces of Roman architecture within a partial Roman wall.  When we emerged on the other side, we all groaned at the sight of our ride ahead.  It steeply ascended the far side of the valley through a forest of trees.

I consulted the topographical map and said that there was a small trail that led directly to the top and shortened the trip to Niersbach, but was soundly booed by everyone.  They’d had enough of shortcuts to Hell.

In the full sunlight we trudged up the hill.  We had to walk single-file because of the narrowness of the road.  Every time a bus or truck went by, we’d get a blast of diesel smoke.  Maybe it was my imagination, but it sure seemed that trucks liked to shift gears when they were right next to us.

We attained the top, blew past the turn off to Greverath, and continued on the ridgeline towards Niersbach.  Once we got there, we stopped for a leisurely lunch in a very nice outdoor restaurant.  Cold cuts never tasted like this in camp that’s for sure.  Big slices of spicy salami, broad chinks of yellow and orange cheeses, plus gobs of very hot German mustard from Düsseldorf made perfect sandwiches.  I ate two of them.  We realized there were no chaperones so we allowed ourselves one beer.  To help wash down the sandwiches, of course.

We waited almost an hour before starting our again as we still had one smallish hill to climb.  It was somewhat gentle, led us past a huge gravel pit and tilled fields.  When we reached Arenrath in the early afternoon, we knew we were close to our goal.  We unconsciously worked a little harder and rode faster.

As we made a sweep to the west, we could look across the wide valley and see the road we had taken out of Binsfeld several days ago.  We would eventually join up again with it and enter Binsfeld.  By three-thirty we were pulling to halt at the inn; tired and thirsty.  Water never tasted so good as it did right then.

Two of the chaperones had decided to leave and go back home today.  That left us with only one of them; luckily, the one with the Volkswagen camper.  She had taken on all the repair items the other car had had so if we had a breakdown we stood a good chance of fixing it right away.  The departed chaperones had taken our wet gear and would air it out for us on the grass  at the center of the housing area.  We thought that was a really decent thing for them to do.

We registered, received our room assignments (under the gimlet eye of the remaining chaperone) and went across and down the road a bit to the restaurant.  There were no other travelers in town tonight so we had the place practically to ourselves.  We sat, four to a table, in the main dining room, and had a great dinner.  The servers remembered us and took very good care of us.  I like to think that they really wanted to, but it probably had to do with the fact that Americans tipped rather well.

Not a lot of people know that in Germany (as well as most of Europe) a tip is already added into the bill before being presented.  Since a lot of Americans can’t speak the language anyway, they hardly ever check the bill out and see the added tip.  They just look at it, mentally calculate a tip, and add it into the payment.  Thus, they get double their tip.  My dad was completely at ease paying his bill and walking out.  My mom always went back and added some money.  It was a game they played.

Since tomorrow was going to be a long pull home, we decided to limit our evening to around twenty-two hundred.  Amazingly, we actually drifted out of the inn’s lounge at about that time and headed for our rooms.  Being good little boys and girls there was no fraternization – darn it.

T.O.M.

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