Monday, June 14, 2010

Einbeck, Germany

Friends: Germany played its first World Cup match last night at 8:30 and demolished Australia 4-0. I may have been the only person in the country not watching. I was pressing to make it to the large city of Höxter by game time in hopes of there being a large screen in its central plaza for all to watch as I had seen in a few towns already. I watched most of the first half of the Argentina-Nigeria game the previous afternoon as I munched my lunch of potato salad and cheeseburgers.

But twenty miles before Höxter the road I was breezing along on turned into cars only even though it remained two lanes wide. Maybe if it were game time and the road empty of traffic I would have risked continuing on, but I know well enough that what is verboten in Germany is strictly enforced by all and sundry.

Earlier in the day, as I approached Arnsberg on route 222, the road suddenly turned into an autobahn without even an entry ramp, just one of those blue signs with a white-etched car meaning cars only. I was so caught by surprise I went a bit beyond the cars only sign and instantly a car pulled over. A nice young man told me bicycles weren't allowed. I thanked him, but before I turned around I noticed an exit ramp ahead that appeared as if it might lead to the road I wanted to be on, so I pushed on.

Instantly the next car pulled over, more citizen enforcers, to tell me no bicycles. No other place I have biked have people been so forthright and concerned about people being obedient to the rules. Both people who stopped to set me straight seemed more concerned about my safety than to reprimand me, but some Germans can be quite angry and can give a stinging tongue-lashing. I frequently manage to go for stretches on bicycle-prohibited roads elsewhere, but only in Germany does it spark an uprising.

Encroaching upon the autobahn wasn't an entirely bad event, as I was able to scavenge five of those mini-German car flags that had whipped off cars when they suddenly accelerated hitting the autobahn. I had been seeing the flags left and right all day along the road and was gathering them all unless I were on a steep fast descent.

I was redistributing them whenever I stopped for a break--at cemeteries, enclosed bus stops with seating, park benches, in bike baskets of bikes parked at grocery stories and elsewhere I was sure the flag would be found. I hadn't had such scavenging delight since Japan when I found so many pornographic magazines discarded along the road. I stopped for them too, then deposited them in roadside boxes of sand bags for motorists to use in the winter if they got stuck on an incline. I was finding way more flags though than porno and ended my day with a surplus of more than a dozen, including one Dutch flag.

My early evening detour took me off on winding side roads that added to my mileage and slowed my speed and sapped my energy. If I had gone directly to Höxter, it would have been my first 100-mile day. My legs were ready for it, and they did reach 100 miles, but well before Höxter and well after the game had started, so I had to wait until the next morning to learn how Germany had fared. I thought I might know from celebrating motorists blasting their horns, but this was´an early game that didn't send the locals into paroxysms of delight.

As game time neared I thought someone might invite me in to watch the game. I had been saving my hunger just in case I was able to share in some communal feast. But the last few cars on the road, as game time approached, were in too much of rush to get to their party, that I received no offers.

The diminishing traffic hearkened me back to Morocco during Ramadan. As sunset approached and everyone could end their day long fast and eat and drink, the roads suddenly went empty. It was an eerie sight and something I looked forward to every day. Even if I hadn't known that Germany was about to play, I would have been very suspicious of some strange event transpiring clearing the road of traffic.

An owl with the German law-abiding spirit two nights ago didn't approve of my wild-camping in his domain and hooted at me for half an hour or more, but not until well after dark and well after I´d gone to sleep. I knew I was the target of his fury as he varied his location, circling about me and even perching in the tree above me for a spell. No dive-bombing fortunately, unlike the wild boar who crashed into my tent last summer in France.

His hoots came at intervals of 20 to 30 seconds, sometimes letting the pause go long enough for me to nearly fall back to sleep and think he´d finally hooted himself out.
If I were one who paid credence to horror movies, I could have had a wonderful night of nightmares if my fears ever allowed me to get back to sleep. I was tempted to shout at the owl to get lost, but he left me in peace before it came to that, and it was back to my usual solid slumber.

I've been sleeping so well, at least ten hours a night, I've begun setting my alarm for eight, thinking I ought to be conditioned well enough by now that ten hours ought to be enough and not wanting to get too late of a start. Once I begin chasing The Tour, I´ll be trying to get by on eight hours of sleep, riding until dark at ten as often as I can and getting back on the road not much later than seven the next morning.

The owl isn't the only critter that has paid me attention. One night back in France over a week ago as I set up camp at dusk near a lagoon I was unknowingly besieged by a squadron of stealth mosquitoes that neither buzzed nor bit with sensation. It wasn't until nearly 24 hours later that the bites began to erupt and to itch. I counted over thirty of them. If this had happened in Africa I would have immediately begun making funeral arrangements.

I wouldn't have been the first cyclist to have ridden The Tour de France to have succumbed to malaria. Fausto Coppi, the Italian Champion of Champions, contracted malaria when he lent his presence to an off-season exhibition race in Africa and died shortly after he returned to Italy before his racing career had ended. He was much on my mind as I bicycled around Lake Victoria, the most malaria-ridden area in the world, this past winter, especially after having visited Coppi's grave less than a year before. I was bitten a few times while in Africa, which had me slightly nervous, but nothing like this barrage. It´s taken over a week for all the bites to heal.

No mosquitoes so far in Germany though. Its been too cold, getting down into the 40s at night.

Later, George


Stuart said...

Yes, I lived for six years in Germany and the Germans often feel compelled to become citizen-law-enforcers. But they do love bicycling and make some of the best bicycles. Germany has an excellent network of bicycling and hiking paths that are well-marked. Some of the foot paths are historically important. Old pilgrimage routes start from major cities and head south to Santiago Compostella. I hiked the Rennsteig path which is also old and follows the top of a mountain chain in Thuringia. The sense of history you get from hiking in Europe is very real and so different from hiking in the USA. Go Germany! Become world soccer champs!

Andrew F said...

George, needless to say the aussies here were all miffed when we lost. I can't say that I pay much attention to it, just waiting for the Tour to start and so my annual tv binge (it's the only thing I bother watching).

Looking forward to your Tour-side reports...