Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Kaiserslautern, Germany

Friends: I was hoping I could dateline an email from the town of Frankenstein, ten miles back, but it was too small to have an Internet cafe. So I had to settle for Kairserslautern.

Its mid-day and so far I have yet to receive a tongue-lashing from an irate motorist today, almost a record. Motorists just don't blow their horn when they're upset with me, they tell me off as well. But I still had to suffer that sunken feeling I was about to receive an earful, when some woman leapt from her car at a red light and came racing towards me. I thought, "My God, what have I done now," but she was only retrieving something from her trunk.

Germany continues to alternate from bliss to agony. I had another exceptional night of camping in a forest, quiet save for the curious deer. Germany is most enlightened in preserving small pockets of nature, even in areas of agriculture. I was able to go deep enough into this forest that I made sure to point my bike towards the road, so I´d remember which way it was back to the road. I was able to camp well before dark, which doesn't come until ten p.m. It is cool enough that bugs aren't an issue, so I could sit outside my tent and eat dinner and read and luxuriate in the serenity of the woods, about as good as it gets.

Several hours before, it was about as bad as it gets, as I was slogging through another forest on a rapidly deteriorating dirt bike path that paralleled the Autobahn heading towards Frankfurt. It had been a bike path at one point, but I doubted it still was. Somehow I had made a wrong turn. This had become an exercise in orienting, not bike touring. But I was headed in the right direction and had dug myself in five or six miles already, so rather than retracing my way I continued on until the trail came to a sudden halt at a steep embankment. Overhead through
thick brush was a highway. I had to bushwhack my way up to find out if it was an autobahn or a road I could ride on. It was a mere two-lane highway, so I could resume riding without incurring wrath, or so it appeared, though at this point I wouldn't have cared if it was a ten-lane wide autobahn, I was going to take it. It was just a matter of clearing a way through the brush for my loaded bike.

This will be my last day in Germany. With all these complications and obstacles, it is no wonder I see hardly anyone biking, whether on the roads or taking advantage of the vast array of bike trails that connect, or try to connect, all the villages. The bike lobby must have had extreme clout here at some point to have laid down hundreds and hundreds of miles of bike paths, but the car interests have won out by restricting bike use of the highways wherever they can. The bike advocates should have pushed for wider shoulders on the roads for the bikes, as in the US,
rather than separate, detached lanes that are like abandoned railways, forlorn and unused. True cyclists don't want to have their options reduced to one. We want to run with the big dogs and not be shunted off with the scaredy-cats. Its a shame, as otherwise Germany would be a touring cyclist's utopia. My only other complaint is the lack of signs to a town's Tourist Office and Library, which France was so good about. The Tourist Offices here are always somewhere
near the zentrum, which there are signs for, and I eventually find it, but not with great ease, as in France.

Unlike France, there are free toilets in a town's center, often populated by a lingering Fassbinder character or two. Germany's big and bright yellow road signs giving directions are also vastly superior to those in France. It's much harder to get lost in Germany, as long as I can avoid the bike paths, than in France. Its rather unsettling, however, to see speed limit signs for military personnel. They range from 30 to 150 kilometers per hour. There are often two sets of speeds, one for regular vehicles and one for tanks. Only once before have I come across a road sign with a tank on it, passing through Fort Pendleton south of Los Angeles. It warned of tank crossings.

Later, George

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