Posts Tagged ‘bicycles’

So far, so good

September 8, 2010

Well, things are looking up.  My diagnosis, along with some serious hedging by the Doc, is that I have an inflamed prostate.  I maintain that if the various Docs hadn’t poked and prodded it that it wouldn’t be so inflamed.  I’m sure that flinging electrons and magnetic lines of force at it couldn’t have done it much good either.

I can at least sit for longer periods of time without feeling like I’ve sat on a pine cone – the size of a football.  The little blow-up circular ring thingy my wife came up with looks suspiciously like the neck brace you use so you can sleep in a moving vehicle, but what the hell it appears to work.

I’ve been rummaging through my extensive collection of yellowing, fading, black and white prints in search of the next post.  Nothing is coming to me.  There is one picture of me and my cohorts standing in front of what looks like a pile of debris left over from an explosion in a laundry, but, in reality, was our first attempt at a submarine.  It even worked – at 50% capacity (down, but not up).

Oh Emm Gee!  I just found a picture of me in my finest, going to my first big junior high dance, getup.  My mom insisted that I wear my prophylactic black-frame government-issue glasses.  I say this because they were guaranteed to keep me “in” and girls “out”.  I wore my hair in a high, pompadour, which fairly glistened with bear grease.  The sides were shaved up to approximately the height of my eyebrows.  Thank goodness the picture is in black and white because, as I recall, the suit was one of those that shimmered a deep purple in the right light (i.e. light above 12 lumens).

And here I am astride my mighty Monark with the huge balloon tires and the fat side panels in indestructible iron that always managed to hit a knee when you least expected it.  I suspect that the name came from a spelling-challenged marketing type who listened to the word ‘monarch’ and spelled it phonetically.  My dad bought it for me in place of the Schwinn Black Phantom (another spelling challenged name) I really wanted.  His explanation for this was that the Monark was much nicer (his euphemism for ‘cheap’).  I figure the net weight of the bike was around 150 pounds.  And, all I had was one gear forward.

Moving onwards to the Europe category I see the Germany slot is filled to capacity with bunches of pictures of countryside, cities, and suburban areas.  Here’s one of me and three of my buddies getting beer delivered to our table at one of the locales Bier Halle.  The server is a very buxom young lass and, yes, my eyes are diverted down the front of her dirndl.  In all fairness, I should add that the other three guys are similarly engaged.  I can’t for the life of me remember who took the picture.  Not Virginia, I hope.

A self-portrait of me.  I took it while focusing on the mirror in front of me.  Why?  Nobody knows; least of all, me.

What’s this?  A crash scene?  No, wait, that’s one of my tent on a backpacking trip down the Rhine River.  We had been rained on, very heavily, and once the sun came back out we flopped out sleeping bags over the spine of the tent.  At first, it looked like a couple of people were getting artificial respiration by being rolled over a barrel.

Many pictures of Virginia.  Some are flattering and other not so flattering; like this one here of her just getting up while we were all on our bicycle trek.  She is brushing her teeth and trying to make be go away at the same time.  She looks rabid so it’s best to stay away from that one.

Here’s one of the many I took at Oktoberfest.  When I got ready to print this one I couldn’t figure out why it didn’t look right until I realized that I took it when inverted in a ride called, here in the States, a Hammerhead.  I haven’t a clue what they called it in Germany.  It’s the ride that swings back and forth like a pendulum and then, for some insane reason, begins to rotate the pod you are sitting in.  As I recall, the camera weight went from over 200 pounds to somewhere around minus 50 pounds.  Mmmmm, what fun.

Hey!  I made a blog entry.

T.O.M.

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The Rhineland on 75 cents a day (7)

June 21, 2010

It was so much nicer the next morning to wake up to the tapping on my door instead of rain tapping on the roof of my tent.  By the luck of the draw I managed to get a single room this time so I was sleepily intrigued by who might be tapping on my door at oh six hundred.  I rose, rearranged my morning woodie and opened the door a crack.

Virginia peered back at me with one eye to the narrow slit.  I whispered that we had agreed to the no hanky-panky rule, but stopped when I saw tears in her eyes.  I opened the door and let her in; taking a fast glance around the hallway to see if she had been detected.  She went and sat on my bed and grimaced.  I knew it was serious when she didn’t make some sort of ribald comment on my erection.

She told me she had woken up with a huge cramp in her calf.  According to her it pulsed with pain every time she tried to straighten her leg.  I came over, took her leg in my hands, and examined it.  She had a huge knot of muscle that tightened when I pulled the leg out towards me.  She bit her lip but still gave a small cry of pain.  I let her leg go and went to my shaving kit for some sports cream I kept there.

I told her to roll over on her stomach and bend her knee to elevate her calf.  It wasn’t until that very moment that I realized that she only had on her nightgown and nothing else.  Oops!  So much for our vow of chastity and non-panky.  I did my best to concentrate on applying the cream to her calf but my attention span there was measured in microseconds.

I used my thumbs over the tendon while holding my fingers around her ankle and working them upwards towards the bunched muscle.  I massaged as carefully as I could until slowly the knot went away.  A red place was left, but she reported that it felt much better.

She flipped over on her back, which made the hem of her nightgown ride up dangerously high and held out her arms.  I leaned down for a chaste kiss, but was pulled over into a really great smooch.  She stuck her tongue up against my lips until I opened them to admit her.  Several seconds of this brought me to a rolling boil but the fates intervened.  About the time I was ready to throw caution to the winds and jump into bed beside her, we heard a door slam and footfalls down the corridor.  I lifted my watch from the bed stand and saw that it was now oh six thirty – the time we had all agreed on to get up.  What a bummer.

I sprang back to the vertical (and, believe me, everything was vertical) and pulled her to her feet.  We held each other, kissed, and then I reluctantly opened the door a crack and reconnoitered.  The coast was clear so she pecked me on the cheek as she passed out the door.  Great!  Here I was all dressed up so to speak, and nowhere to go.  Fortunately, the shower was cold as the boiler hadn’t been fired up yet.

Breakfast was the usual Continental breakfast of various small rolls, pieces of lunchmeat, jams and jellies, and assorted sticky buns.  Coffee was plentiful and tasty, but I decided to have tea this morning just to be different.  Today was the day we would pedal all the way home.  It was a longish run but if we left early enough and didn’t dawdle too much we’d be home by late afternoon.

The one place I intended to poke around was along the Kyll River because the train tracks followed both banks.  It was possible to get some really spectacular shots of steam trains while standing on bridges over the tracks or on paths beside them.  Both of which we would be using today.

Virginia and Cleo, her roommate, showed up on time and descended on the food laden table hungrily.  For as light and somewhat thin as Virginia was, she ate food like a ranch hand.  Today was no exception: two rolls loaded down with some sort of smelly cheese and a piece of bacon, a big sticky bun slathered in butter, and two cups of coffee.  While we were eating, Cleo sidled up to me and asked if everything came out all right; meaning, of course, the kink in Virginia’s calf.  I smiled and told her everything was just fine and to mind her own business (while stuffing a half-roll into her mouth).  She smiled back at me.

With a quick check of equipment we began our final day.  The air was cool at that time of morning but promised to become hotter as the day wore on.  Sunscreen was definitely going to be used if the clouds went away.  They showed signs of fading right now so I predicted they’d be gone by noon.

Almost immediately we entered and left Herforst.  This village was also surrounded by a low Roman wall, which we pedaled along for quite some time.  Soon it gave way to field after field of various cultivated crops.  There were trucks, tractors, and horse-drawn trailers spotted all over the place.  Some were laden with bags of what appeared to be fertilizer which indicated that the fields were probably owned by some major company.  Most German farmers fertilized their fields with left over animal fluids which they kept stored in wheeled tanks called ‘honey wagons’.  It was for this reason that most Americans wouldn’t eat anything bought at a farmer’s market.  Me?  I loved fresh tomatoes and stuff like that.  A little washing and after two gulps it was gone.

Speicher was a larger town with well laid out streets and nice little squares interspersed with older buildings.  The Ratzkeller was a true work of art that begged to be explored, but we didn’t have the time.  We pressed onward towards what our topographical map showed as a series of descending switchbacks to the Kyll River.

We paused at the crest of the hill and followed our road down through four huge loops as it dropped to Philippsheim.  Past the town we could also see two climbing switchbacks which we knew we would be walking up.  Oh well.

With gay abandon (with great care, really) we swooped down the curves at a stately pace.  We wanted no repeat of the disaster we had a few days earlier.  One crashed bike and banged body was all we needed this trip.  The urge was to fly down, but the turns were very tight and had loose gravel at the sides of the paving.  A sure accident in the making.

As we entered Philippsheim we heard the musical whoot of a steam engine.  As we made our way down the last bit of hill we came out above the tracks.  I stopped and took some pictures of the short passenger train while it stopped at the station for a few moments and then made off into the distance.  A glance at our trusty map showed that we would rejoin the tracks after passing though Hüttingen an Der Kyll.

Once again we climbed out of the valley on foot, pushing our bikes.  We reached the top and paused for a drink of water and a couple of buns we’d liberated from the breakfast bar.  They were delicious.

Continuing onwards, we cruised the flats, went through Gondorf, a sleepy farming town, and through even more fields of produce.  We entered the woods on the crest of the hillside over the Kyll River valley.  Through the trees we could make out sections of river glinting under the sun.  It was a long, slow drop into Hüttingen an Der Kyll.  We paused on the south bank of the river near the railroad tracks and waited.  Within ten minutes we could hear the short honks of a diesel engine as it entered town and signaled for a stop at the station.  We had hoped for a steam train, but diesels were rapidly replacing steam engines for short milk runs.  Steam was still used to great advantage on long passenger runs though which was much more to my liking.

We tried waiting for another ten minutes, but felt the press of time and moved onwards.  A very long uphill grade was taken in low gear as we climbed back out of the valley temporarily.  We would re-enter it again just past the headlands before us.  Across the valley was the road we had ascended on our outward-bound trip days ago.  We would join with it at the town of Albach and make our way home from there using the same road we left from.

Soon the air was split by another flight of jets, also F-100’s, as they took off from the base.  They weren’t overhead this time but they were still impressive.  We slowed our pace until we were barely moving.  Taking a little-used side road through the fields we weren’t bothered by traffic and remained in a bunch swapping talk, laughs, and plans for another trip.  This time, we vowed, we would just take the train.

Slightly earlier than our forecast time of arrival, we pulled into the school parking lot.  Our faithful chaperones met us there, passed out our dried tents and cold drinks.  Both were welcome.  I rode next to Virginia to her house and then peeled off towards mine.  Luckily, our bike storage was down in the basement because I was so tired I couldn’t have carried my bike up a flight of stairs.

All in all it was a great trip.  There is nothing better than the satisfaction of doing something like this with friends you really like and feel comfortable with.  There was some good-natured bantering but no harsh words were ever spoken; at least to each other, but the weather was something yet again.

NOTES:  As I go over the route we took in Google Earth, I am saddened to note that most of the rail lines we crossed or paralleled are now gone.  Ripped up in the name of progress I guess.  Major rail lines still exist in Germany, and huge amounts of passengers and goods are transported, but steam is a thing of the past.  I am sorry to see it go.

As far as Bitburg Air Base goes, the runway still exists, but there appears to be a dirt bike track near the end of runway 06, and part of the apron where jets warmed up has been converted to a go-cart track.  The taxiway that ran to the “hot standby” area from the 24 end where jets fully laden with weapons to fight the Soviet menace waited on alert has been closed.  It appears that many of the original buildings on the base are in the process of being torn down for some project or another.  The housing area still exists, but only with about half the buildings present.  My old living quarters are still visible, but Virginia’s has gone.

In many ways I really grew up on that base.  I changed from a little kid to a young man while I lived there, fell in love, made love, and had love depart from there.  I think it would sadden me greatly to go back for a visit now.

T.O.M.

The Rhineland on 75 cents a day (6)

June 17, 2010

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.

The Rhineland on 75 cents a day (5)

June 10, 2010

Another cloudy day greeted us as we rose for breakfast at the inn in Maring.  Since I was the closest thing to a weather forecaster in our group (by default as my dad was the CO of the base Weather Detachment) I predicted that we might have some small showers during the day, but should clear up by evening.  We packed and walked our bikes up the hill from Maring to the sister-town of Maring-Noviand.

It was a tough climb since the cobblestones were wet with the rain that had fallen during the night.  Our shoes kept slipping so we had to keep a grip on the brakes to keep us from falling when we slid.  With a large effort, we all made it to the top and rested for ten minutes.

When we reached the east edge of town we almost missed a turn and went up the wrong valley.  If it wasn’t for our sharp eyed map reader we would have ended up miles from where we wanted to be.  As it was, we had to backtrack about a half mile to take the right road.

We were now on a big sweeping loop through bean, corn, and beet fields again.  The ‘honey wagons’ (you don’t really want to know what they are) were out in force and the smell was horrible.  We went through yet another split town, Monzel and Osann-Monzel.  Some time later, when I asked down at my office about the split towns I was told that most of them were once separate towns, but merged their city governments and became hyphenated.  Made sense to me.

We rested beside a small stream and ate our lunch.  Clouds began building up again and, with the threat of rain, we decided to pick up the pace to our camp area.  A gentle slope up, through a narrow valley, with vineyards on the north side and a nice lake opposite was a much more pleasant climb than hiking over wet cobblestones any time.

Along the way, we passed a winery but both chaperones said we couldn’t stop for a tour.  What a drag, man.  It would have been nice to have a taste of their wine because it was a brand that most of us recognized.  Wines in Germany tended to be distributed in a smaller area than those in the States.  A thriving, local, winery built it’s reputation on the good will (and good taste) of the citizens in the immediate area.  Most Gasthaus’s, Inns and hotels utilized the local wineries and breweries almost exclusively.

We started up another slight incline and began diving into a deeply wooded area.  The trees hung over the road and put us into an even darker shadow than just the clouds alone.  A slight foggy drizzle began making us miserable.  It wasn’t enough to stop and put on rain gear, but it was enough to make us wet.  The rain gear would have kept us drier, but since it was plastic we would have steamed ourselves into dehydration rapidly.

Once through the woods, we began to cross a very wide valley which contained several small villages.  One of then, named Neuminheim, apparently existed only as a sign and nothing more.  As one of our resident wags put it “should have been painted on both side of the sign”.  Klausen, Pohlbach, and Esche were mere one-road towns with maybe two or three cross roads.  Clearly they were farming towns as we met a great many trucks laden with produce going to them and coming back empty to the fields again.

Finally, we reached Sehlem.  Our group descended on one of the local markets and loaded up on fruits and vegetables for our meal tonight.  We were also allowed one beer apiece so we made the best of it by choosing a nice, dark, ale brewed just down the road.  There was a small park in the middle of town where we filled our water bottles and rested for a bit.

Prodded again by spitting rain showers, we mounted up for our climb through the wooded hills to our camp spot which was located about halfway up the hill.  This time, the entire hillside was covered with old-growth timber and darkened our way yet again.

The first bit wasn’t too bad and provided a little levity into a dreary day.  A sign pointed up a narrow valley to the town of Heckenmünster.  We all started to laugh at an incorrect translation of “Heck Monster”.  The rain was beginning to warp our brains.

About halfway up the next slope, we were met by our caravan of vans and cars at the junction of our road and a dirt track.  The turnoff was gravel so it wasn’t muddy, but it was wet and slippery.  One of us slid sideways and almost crashed into a tree so we decided that care was dictated here and walked the rest of the way to camp.

Our logistics crew had picked a very nice spot for us to camp, right on the edge of a sea of grass which led downwards to a small stream which crashed its way noisily downhill over a series of waterfalls and boulder strewn stretches.  At our camp we could hear it, but down in the background so it wasn’t intrusive.  Unpacking and setting up our tents occupied us for a while and preparing for dinner was underway soon.  A couple of us, including myself, were drafted into slicing and dicing vegetables for the stew pot while two of the girls cut strips of beef began dropping them into the pot also.  Apples were cored, pears sliced, and fresh strawberries would be our desert.

Dinner was superb tonight and, as we were cleaning up, the skies opened and torrents of rain fell on us.  The cook area tent fly wasn’t up to the task of keeping the rain off and collapsed right into the middle of the camp table.  Things got a little soggy, but the plates had to be washed anyway and this turned out to be the fasted way to get the job done.

Once washed, with no hope of drying them, we drifted off to do some exploring.  Sharon, Paul, Virginia and I went to the top of the grassy slope to see what we could see.  In the process of leaning over a large log, Paul slipped and fell across it.  When he landed on his stomach, face downhill, he didn’t stop.  With increasing speed, he slid like a toboggan down the grass and fetched up on a muddy bank of the stream.

He stood, arms waving, and laughing like a hyena, said that he was fine.  It was the best ride he’d had in a long time.  I figured that I couldn’t get any wetter and leapt down the hill feet first on my butt.  Virginia and Sharon were right behind me shrieking with joy at the ride.  I slipped sideways and made one complete loop only to land back on my bottom for the rest of the ride.  When I hit the mud feet first, I showered it all over Paul who was not wise enough to have moved away from the muddy spot.

Virginia crashed into me, tumbled right over my shoulders, and planted herself on her back in the middle of a muddy puddle, gasping for breath.  Sharon, trying to slow herself, twisted enough to come into the puddle at an angle and stop dead when she hit it.  This was accomplished by shooting a huge bow wave of muddy water over all of us.

We were laughing so hard we could hardly stand.  I don’t know who really started it, only that I remember being slapped in the back with a huge mudball by someone (I suspected Virginia, but she only looked at me wide-eyed with innocence).  The fight was on.  By the time several others from camp had joined us we all looked like chocolate soldiers.

Dave had the idea first of simply splashing into the creek to wash off – and did so.  If this was a cartoon, he would have levitated up until he was tiptoeing across the surface while voicing claims that the water was COLD.  This particular stream had, as it’s source, a very deep spring about halfway up the mountain.  It never had the benefits of the sun warming it because it was way too swift.  By the time it got to where we were, it was still very cold.

We stripped off as much clothing as we dared and dunked them in the water to clean them off.  This was not a co-ed bath however.  The girls had found a large bunch of bushes to go behind and used them as a shield while they cleaned off.  Yeah, we peeked.

Finding a path leading back up to the camp was difficult as the grass was much taller down here on the bottom of the hill but we managed it.  We arrived, huffing and puffing, back in camp to the stern eyes of the chaperones who asked us just what the heel we’d been up to.  We couldn’t lie so we told them that an avalanche had swept us up and buried us.  We were all okay though and no broken bones.  They just rolled their eyes.

The rain continued most of the night.  Lightning flashed and thunder rolled across the valley.  We were beginning to wonder if the Heck Monster actually was stomping around the hills at night.  This led to a chain of ghost stories as we lay in our tents facing each other in a circle.  One of us would start it off and reach a climax only to pass it to the next person who added their own embellishments.  By the time it got back to the original storyteller the entire plot had changed.  This is a great way to pass the time.

One by one we dropped off to sleep as best as we could in our soggy tents.  It was not a fun time.

T.O.M.

The Rhineland on 75 cents a day (4)

June 3, 2010

The next morning dawned later than normal.  Overnight, clouds had moved in and a chill had settled on the campsite.  I noticed it around four in the morning and simply piled on another blanket.  Several others did the same.  Hot coffee was the order of the day when breakfasts were being built.

One by one our tour members struggled out of their warm bags and into the chill air.  Up on top of the mountain on either side it wouldn’t be so bad, but down here in the river valley it was cold.  We sat on logs around a larger than normal fire and poured hot drinks down our throats.  Once warmed, the rest of breakfast didn’t seem so grim.

I felt refreshed after several smallish butter rolls and a large Danish.  The sugar wound its way through my system and got me up and moving.  My tent mate and I tore down our tent, folded it, and lashed it to my pannier.  He took the poles and stakes in his.  Others did pretty much the same but nobody moved very fast.

Today we were to travel down the north side of the river, curve around a huge bend, and cross using a ferry system.  Originally, we were to spend the night in an inn at the center of Mühlheim, but there had been a mix up in reservations and ours didn’t exist.  We were now booked into a tiny little Gasthaus in Maring; just across the river.

With stiff limbs and our breath condensing in front of us we puffed off like a whole brace of steam engines.  Slowly we warmed up as we pedaled along the trail on the river bank.  Talk was desultory and carried on in subdued tones.

We passed the little Bierstube the four of us had visited the previous evening and waved to the owner and his wife as they swept the porch and steps of the building.  They paused to watch us stream by.  Just minutes later, the first touch of sun reached the valley floor and put animation into our attitudes.

Conversations began to pick up a little more volume, and people would speed up or slow down to join with friends instead of poking along with their eyes straight ahead.  A wonderful thing, the sun.  It warmed one not only physically, but emotionally.

Off to our left were vast vineyards staggering their way up the slope.  Numerous threads of dirt roads connected them with switchbacks appearing everywhere.  Even this early, trucks were laboring up the slope with workers who kept the vines in top shape.  Directly ahead we could see a fairly large valley leading off to the north.  When we reached it, in the middle of the small village across the river from Bernkastel-Kues, a sign told us the road lead up to Monzelfeld.  A quick look at our topographical map and we could see that this town was almost three hundred and ten meters higher than us (1016 feet).  Nobody even mentioned wanting to take a side trip.

The road up the canyon divided the village and swept over the river to the larger town of Bernkastel-Kues.  Small homes dotted the hillside in between plots of pine trees all the way to the crest of the hill.  When we stopped to take some pictures, Virginia came over to me, put her arm around my waist, and leaned close.  She said it was a beautiful place and we’d have to drive over here some day and go church hunting.  She was quite a lover of churches – all types and denominations.  I agreed that the trip would be nice indeed.  With time for no more than a peck on the cheek, we mounted up and went on down the street.

Once past the town, our road plunged into a deep green tunnel of mixed trees.  Some pine, but primarily larch and maple dominated overhead.  Traffic had picked up somewhat.  Huge, stinky, diesel busses blatted past us on their way to town filled with morning commuters.  We pulled into the trees and rested until most of them had passed us for the day.  It was hard to take a breath when the air was filled with fumes.

It was during one of these rests that one of our group was sitting right next to his bike when the tire gave out with a bang.  He rose up about two feet from a sitting position and landed about five feet away with a very startled look on his face.  He’d had no indication of any trouble before the moment it popped.  We helped him remove the wheel, pull the tire off and patch the tube.  Fortunately, it was the front wheel and easily changed.  He, and everyone around the bike at the time, were charged with a little adrenaline.

Lunchtime came and we found a very nice picnic area just outside the town of Andel.  An enterprising vendor or two had set up their pushcarts on the grass and were minting money selling bratwurst and big, salty, pretzels with loads of hot mustard.  All thoughts of field rations left us as the smell hit us from completely across the green.  We parked our bikes and walked en-masse to the carts for our fuel.  We noticed that the chaperones were between us and the guy selling beer in the normal bottles with wire and rubber-covered ceramic snap-caps.  This was the kind that let you take a swallow or two and reseal the bottle to keep it from going flat.  American beer brewers could take a page from the Germans here.  Anyway, we didn’t, actually, weren’t allowed to approach the vendors.  I didn’t try because I still had half a bottle of wine in my pannier – so there!

On our approach to the town of Mühlheim we passed through vast fields of produce.  We identified sugar beets, lettuce, beans, and potatoes.  Most of the fields were populated with people whacking at weeds, setting up large sprinklers, or generally wandering around so we didn’t try anything.

We arrived at the ferry landing just in time to see the churning at the stern signifying its return to the other side.  A posted schedule said the next run was in an hour, but according to the board, it was supposed to arrive on this side at the current time.  Nobody appeared to be around to ask about the discrepancy so we just decided to sit and wait.  Some of us walked a little ways into town and took pictures or shopped.

Five of us managed to slip the chaperones and duck into a dark cellar bar.  Refreshed with a quick Schnapps, we went back to the landing.  Mints were passed around before we got there.

About half an hour later we heard the faint toot of the ferry’s horn and three minutes later it moved away from the dock and started back to us.  Nosing carefully upstream, the driver balanced thrust against current to put himself right at the ramp on our side.  Now we knew why the ramp was at an angle to the river.

There was room for six cars and lots of bicycles.  Three more touring groups had joined us while we were waiting.  One of them was French, but they seemed to stay away from the rest of us for some reason.  The other two were German and they moved freely amongst us and asked loads of questions about our rides.  We took a lot of pictures of each other and the riverine traffic as we slowly motored our way across the river.  At this point, it was about a half-mile wide and the current was fairly slow.

When we got to the other side, they didn’t lower the pedestrian gate until all the vehicles were off the ferry.  I guess this was a safety move so that the sudden appearance of many bicyclists wouldn’t scare the drivers; or something like that.  Anyway, once the gate was us, we trooped off and headed for a lemonade stand.

Now, for all of you who are keeping track of our little jaunt, we have just completed a twist in the river which started with us in the campground on the north side of the river.  We cruised down that bank until we were waiting for the ferry on the south side of the river to go back to the north side.  A neat trick.  It was accomplished because the river made a complete one hundred and eighty degree turn.  Also, while I am explaining that one, I might add that Google Earth now shows nothing of both ferry landings except for what appears to be a boat ramp on the south side and a gravel spot which could have held the north ferry slip.  A small boat yard appears there now.  A very nice bridge spans the river here now.

Refreshed by a tart and zesty lemonade, we mounted up and started along the road that led to Maring.  We picked up some speed once we left the river because we passed along the city sewage plant and the wind was coming off the settling tanks.  Not a very nice smell.

We went through Maring and crossed a small stream.  Our inn was immediately across the stream and looked wonderful.  After checking in and getting our room assignments, we went out and found a couple of very nice nature trails that led along the stream.  Since another of our group had given up (muscle cramps that wouldn’t go away) there were only five guys and four girls left; plus, of course, the two chaperones.  The other two chaperones were back on the base lining up our next campground supplies.

Virginia and I eluded the chaperone (more easily done now that there were only two of them) and left to wander the trails along the stream bank.  Stone and log benched were places at strategic places where one could contemplate nature, listed to bird calls, or just plain neck.  We chose the last one.

We couldn’t get too heavily involved because the ground cover was pretty sparse, but it was enough to get me fired up a little.  And that was as far as I got too because another couple walked along the path and sat at the bench about fifty feet away.  They weren’t with our group so that inhibited Virginia a little; which, of course, inhibited the hell out of me, darn it.

Daylight began fading soon and we reluctantly started back.  Dinner consisted of a very nice veal dish, with the inevitable potatoes and/or noodles.  The salad was one of the best ones I’ve ever eaten and when I asked about it, I was told that the components came from their very own garden.  I asked for, and got, a second helping.  We were also allowed one small beer (hooray!) to help wash it down.

After dinner, most of us gravitated to the large room set up with several stuffed couches and chairs arranged as conversation centers.  I sat in a chair that was big enough for two.  Virginia proved that by sliding down and lying across my lap with her feet hanging over one arm, her shoulders resting on the other, and her head on my shoulder.  It was our favorite sitting position as we could talk in low tones and nobody could hear us.

Once again the chaperones were being sharp-eyed so we kept it decent even though both of us were getting up a good head of steam.  We murmured to each other for an hour until Virginia suddenly yawned.  It was one of those yawns that no power on earth can stop.  She giggled, apologized, and then waited.  Sure enough, she’d made me start yawning.  We gave up and went our separate ways to bed.  It took me a while to get to sleep.

T.O.M.

The Rhineland on 75 cents a day (3)

May 25, 2010

Dawn broke with a crash – literally.  A few of the guys were outside playing a pick-up game of soccer in the back yard and one of them kicked the ball a little off center and sent it through the window in our dorm.  There is nothing like being awakened by the crash of glass, and the screaming of girls (and, to be completely honest, some of the guys; not me, of course).  Nobody would fess up so we all chipped in to pay for the window.

Since we all woke up at the same time, there was a decided crush to get into the WC and take care of business.  Once that was done it was time for breakfast.  No huge breakfasts this time as all that was offered was small broetchen, various jams and jellies, and pieces of bacon.  Strong coffee was also the norm.  What you didn’t drink you could lube your chain with.  If they didn’t use very heavily plated spoons, they’d melt.

Today we had a fairly easy day planned.  We were going from Wittlich to Mühlheim.  Well, not entirely all the way to Mühlheim but to a small camping ground right on a peninsula on the bank of the Mosel River.  It was pretty much downhill all the way.  Something we could definitely use right about now as our muscles got used to all the activity.

Since there was no real hurry because we had only eight or ten miles to go, we took the time to tune our bikes up a little.  They’d taken a pretty good beating in the muddy field and needed to be cleaned and oiled somewhat.  We brought out the big toolkit from the station wagon and set to work.

We gathered a few spectators from among the other transients staying at the hostel.  Most of them had never seen the type of bikes we had as most German bicycles had at the most two gears.  Ours were set up as touring bikes and as such had three gears in two ranges for a total of six.  It made climbing hills much easier.  We showed off the gearing system and let some of the kids ride the bikes to see how they liked them.  One fellow offered the equivalent of almost a hundred dollars for Jim’s bike.  It wasn’t for sale.

A word here on the bikes themselves.  They were called English Touring Bikes and had narrow tires with tubes in them.  The braking systems were a right and left-handlebar caliper that caused a clamp to ride on the rim of the front and back wheels.  Very similar to bikes nowadays, but definitely not what you would call ‘mountain-style’.  They were very susceptible to punctures from stones and other sharp objects; plus the little rubber stoppers were prone to jumping out at the most inopportune moments.

Finally we loaded up our panniers and straggled our way in double file down the road.  The first section was pretty much on the level.  We rode past fields of grain, potatoes, sugar beets, and corn (nope, we didn’t stop this time).  We skirted Wengerohr and Platten then started down a very long canyon that would eventually bring us to the Mosel River.

On one side was heavy forestation and the other, across huge fields of grass we could see fledgling vineyards.  Some of the finest German wines come from the Mosel River (in my opinion anyway) and in ten or fifteen years these small vineyards would be producing great vintages.  For now, however, they were just very junior vines.

Vineyards are placed on the north side of the valley and the river so that they faced south and absorbed as much sun as they could.  If we thought these small vineyards were expansive, we really got a surprise when we entered the Mosel valley itself.  Finally, as we swung around a huge curve the entire river valley opened up to us.  It was a great sight.  We stopped for a snack and took loads of pictures.

After one final curve we approached a huge traffic circle.  We whirled around it and exited on the road that led to a very old bridge over the river.  Zeltingen was on the other side.  This bridge, as well as most of the Mosel River bridges, had been heavily damaged during the war.  It still had some pockmarks and shrapnel damage.  It was very hard to imagine what conditions were like back only twelve years earlier.  It took us twenty minutes to cross as we kept taking pictures of boats as they navigated up and down the river.  The girls called and waved to the crewmembers and they waved.  Several captains tooted their horns at us.

A very small café that resided right on the bank of the river seemed a great place to stop for lunch.  The two very pretty servers seemed a bit apprehensive as a load of Americans began to fill the small dining room, but warmed up very fast when they realized most of us spoke German well enough to discuss what would be best for lunch.  Soon, they were bustling to and from the kitchen, setting down plates and bringing copious amounts of lemonade.  The girls both enjoyed having their pictures taken with some of our group – mostly guys.  Virginia clamped her fingers on my knee and kept them there virtually all during lunch.

We settled up our bill, tipped the servers, and filled our water bottles with more of the delicious lemonade.  Not too far down the river road, we saw what appeared to be a dam.  As we got closer we could see it stretching all the way across the river.  We got to wondering how boats could get past it until we realized that there was a small barge sitting on what appeared to be dry land on the opposite bank.  Using zoom lenses, I could see that there was a lock system.  If we had stayed on the south bank we would have ridden directly past it.  On this bank, we could barely see it.

We watched as the barge cleared the lock and maneuvered around an oncoming flatboat pushing two other small barges upstream.  It was a tight fit, but they made it through also.  We walked out as far as we could on the dam and took some more pictures.  Finally, we started out again for our camp ground.

We pedaled slowly down the pathway next to the river.  No cars to worry about so we took our time and bunched up.  Off in the distance we could see a small finger of land that extended towards us and enclosed a little bit of water.  As we got closer we could see several tents and small camper vehicles.  That must be our spot.  We passed it, crossed towards the river even more, and rode back to the campground.

It was a pay-by-the-day campground and collected in advance.  We were assigned adjoining slots and began setting up our tents.  While we were doing that, the two vehicles that kept pace with us arrived and unloaded the cooking items.  Since it was early afternoon we were in no rush to fix anything yet, so we all just scattered and walked around.

Virginia, Cleo, Roger and I went back towards where the peninsula left the north bank.  We did it with enough stealth that none of the chaperones saw us leave.  Roger and I had noticed a small Gasthaus up the road opposite the one we had gone down to the camp.  That was our destination.

They had a very nice little six-table vine covered garden area set up as a Biergarten.  What does one order in a Biergarten?  Bier, of course.  We sat and relaxed to the sound of a fake water wheel slowly turning in the current of the river.  It wasn’t connected to anything so we figured it was decorative.  It was apparently a slow day so the proprietor joined us and asked, in halting English, if we were on tour.

I answered in German to his visible relief that we were camping down the road with a few more of us.  We talked of this and that for almost an hour.  He seemed very pleased that we had stopped and kept bringing us snack foods to try.  We did, of course, only to be polite.  Cleo and Roger excused themselves and wandered down one of the paths through the garden.

Suddenly, a huge outcry of honking geese and shouting guy and girl began behind some bushes.  The proprietor jumped up and shouted to Cleo and Roger.

“Nein.  Nein.  Kümmern Sie sich nicht die Gänse.  Sie werden angreifen!”  (No.  No.  Don’t bother the geese.  They will attack!)  “Können sie nicht lessen Deutsch?”  (Can’t they read German?)  He asked me.

I turned to look where he was pointing and, sure enough, there was a white sign with red lettering warning everyone not to mess with the geese as they would get nasty.  I told him I guess they didn’t notice it.  And, as an afterthought I offered to write the warning out in English for him.  He grinned hugely and brought a piece of paper and a pen for me.  I wrote an appropriate warning that added somewhat to the terse German warning by way of telling parents to keep an eye on their kids.  When I explained my addition, he laughed and said he’d have to add that to his sign also.

After a very pleasant afternoon the four of us reluctantly readied ourselves to leave the little bistro and walk back to the campground.  The owner pressed a bottle of wine into Virginia’s hands and winked at the two of us.

“You have for later,” he explained.  I thanked him profusely and we bowed our way out.  It was a very good vintage.

Back at camp, we smuggled the bottle into my tent and went back to help with dinner.  We brought out the ears of corn we had liberated from the cornfield, dropped them into a huge pot, and salted the water.  One woman from the neighboring camp introduced herself, in French, and asked what we were doing to the corn.  Virginia was better at French that I was (which is to say she wouldn’t get her face slapped) so she explained as best as she could that we were boiling it to eat.  The woman looked a little askance at us and pressed for more details.

Virginia told her that Americans are what we called ‘corn on the cob’ with lots of butter and salt.  While she was talking, she fished out an ear and poured melted butter and dashed it with salt.  With a flourish, she handed it to the woman.  She took a tentative bite, took several more, and then began to run her teeth down row after row of corn kernels.  Finally, with butter dripping from her chin she pronounced that it was an amazing thing to do with corn.  I’ve explained before that most Europeans didn’t do anything with corn except to feed their pigs and barnyard fowl.  I guess nobody had thought of boiling it.  She shyly accepted two more ears, with butter and salt, for her husband and son.  She left calling their names and encouraging them to try this new food.

Dinner was wonderful.  Fresh bread that our motorized crew had bought in town, lots of corn and butter, plenty of grilled pork chops, and greens loaded down our tables.  We chattered all through dinner, washed up, and wandered back out from the dining fly – mostly two by two.  In some cases, four by four.  The chaperones called to us not to stay out too late and then settled down by one of the fires to have a beer or two.

Virginia and I wrapped our gift bottle of wine in her sweater and went down to the riverbank.  As darkness fell completely, we lay back and watched the river traffic as they muscled their way upstream or drifted down.  Cheery little toots of horns as they passed sounded very friendly.  Like the Dutch, most of them had dogs aboard who barked as the vessels passed each other.  They were used when fog obscured the river.  The dogs would alert a captain of an approaching boat that he may not see.

I opened the wine and poured into our plastic cups.  She toasted me; we clicked rims, and sipped.  It was definitely a good vintage.  She rested her head back on my arm and snuggled in close.  We talked of pretty much anything we thought of.  We had really nothing we wouldn’t discuss so we never lacked for conversation.  I quoted some poetry, which she loved me to do, and we just sat and watched the stars come out.

With the bottle half empty now, and the fire at the chaperone’s camp gone low, we figured it was time to go back to our (separate, darn it) tents.  Tomorrow we would be taking a ferry back across the river and climbing up and out of the valley.

T.O.M.

The Rhineland on 75 cents a day (2)

May 19, 2010

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.

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.