Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Pforzheim, Germany

Friends: From eastern border to western border Germany remains liberally sprinkled with generous pockets of deep forests providing easy, virtually on-demand, deluxe camping, often complete with a thick pine needle mattress. Now that I've learned how not to antagonize German motorists, retreating from their roadway when there are too many of them and there is a nearby cycling path, I can give the cycling here my highest ranking.

My only complaint is the mosquitoes. They have been a nuisance everywhere this year thanks to all the moisture and warmth. I have a wide assortment of bites, some that itch and some that don't, some that itch for a day and some that itch for several days, some that disappear after a day and some that linger for a week. Its been a season for ticks as well, my first ever battle with them. I feel like a cat every evening and morning, pawing my skin for new blemishes. I've found a new use for duct tape, suffocating the ticks, as I haven't figured out any other way to get them to release. Tweezers don´t fully extract them and pliers only crush them.

Its been an exciting time to be in Germany with all the Wold Cup excitement drawing legions of fans from all over the world. I passed through Stuttgart yesterday, one of the dozen or so cities hosting matches. I had missed by a day a first-round match featuring England. The English fans are considered the most demonstrative and feared in the world. I would have loved to have seen the extent and variety of their enthusiasm.

Stuttgart had gone much further than Nuremberg in dressing itself up and paying tribute to the Cup. A large sector of its downtown had been turned into a festival with vendors and exhibits making it a gathering place for the thousands of fans. There were hoards of energized young men walking around draped in Italian flags, as Italy was playing Australia that night, though in a different city. Cities hosting World Cup matches were similar to the host cites of the Tour de France decorating and dressing themselves up, paying tribute to the event. Many of the businesses do as well. If I had realized to what extent, I would have made an effort to visit as many of the Germany host cities as I could, just as I do during The Tour. There was a large gallery in Nuremberg filled with photos of soccer and videos that one could have spent a day at.

I watched the first half of the Italy-Australia match at an outdoor cafe before heading out of town at 5:45. An hour later I knew that Italy had won when I heard horn toots from cars flying the Italian flag. I found a small German flag along the road yesterday that had fallen off a car and strapped it atop my gear. I am now like a ship that flies the flag of whatever country´s waters it is passing through. It has earned me extra horn toots. I have a fair share anyway, along with waves and upraised thumbs from those who endorse and embrace the touring cyclist. Germans, more than any other people, relate to the adventurist, questing spirit of the touring cyclist.

In all my travels I have met more German touring cyclists than all other nationalities combined. I am more frequently taken for being German than any other nationality. The Germans can recognize that I am not of their blood, otherwise I´d have more conversations than I have had, but I am well aware of people here giving me a second and closer look, much moreso than anywhere else. They can relate.

Yesterday I had a host of people come to my assistance when I was in need of a bike shop to replace a tire whose wire bead had worn through causing an explosive flat. I was limping along on an under-inflated tire with a couple of dollar bills as a liner trying to protect the exposed wire from puncturing another tube. I was ten miles from a large city that I knew would have a bike shop, but stopped to ask in a small town hoping there might be a shop there. A man drew me a detailed map to a shop two kilometers away. But first we went into a bank to borrow their phone to make sure the shop was open early on a Monday morning. The bank manager happily
made the call. Then the man who drew me the map insisted on driving me to the shop. The shop-owner gave me a slide show on his computer of a recent bike trip he had taken to Egypt.

France awaits me just a few miles away. I am looking forward to Tour de France fervor, especially in the Prologue city of Strasbourg. I know it will be agog with bike frenzy. I am primed for following it the next three weeks. I have put some 2,500 miles on my legs in the month since Cannes. Some of those who I have told that I would be following the Tour assumed I meant to compete in it and wished me luck. One woman, who asked if I'd ever done such a thing before, asked how I had done. I told her that I hoped to do better this year not having to contend with

Later, George

No comments: