Believe It or Not
With a lot of time on my hands I continue to pour through the photos from the distant past, looking for pictures that document my cycling activities. Not that there was nothing else going on in my life at that time, but for the moment I am looking through a bicycle filter. At some point, probably around 1985, I joined the German Bicycle Club, ADFC (Allgemeiner Deutscher Fahrradclub), looking for bicycle buddies to ride with. I did some solo touring, but always prefered having companionship on my rides.
Of all the cycling I did in those years, a few tours stand out as being exceptional. My tour with Werner to Italy, Slovenia and Austria was certainly memorable, and somehow now almost seems incredible. But I can assure you, the story is true. So bear with me while I extoll my inconceivabale feats of years gone by.
Werner was a buddy from the bicycle club. When I said I was looking for someone to tour with in August he suggested we take a test ride together to see if we were compatible. It was a two-day ride somewhere in Bavaria, I don't remember where. I do remember that he asked if I was showing off by riding so fast. No, I really wasn't. I just assumed most men rode faster than me anyway, and I rode my pace. I must have been in fairly good shape and Werner was out of shape. We decided to go on a tour together and after a few days on the road he no longer lagged behind.
Werner planned the route. He had a few passes in mind, starting with the Brenner Pass, the lowest crossing of the Alps. But after that came a few more challenges. I was still riding my original bicycle with the mixte frame and not very low gears for mountains, I think it might have been a 12-speed with a double chain ring. At Werner's suggestion, I had a smaller front chain ring installed to make the climbing a little easier.
I imagine we were doing 60 - 80 km a day. The ascent to the Brenner must have been on the third day. The plan was to do the first part of the climb in the afternoon and the rest the next day. This was my first pass ever. I ground out the kilometers slowly, and when I finally stopped pedaling, I just toppled over. That's not the incredible part of the story.
After the Brenner our route took us to Sterzing (there was no bicycle path in those days) and then instead of following the low road to Bolzano via Brixen, we rode over the Penser Joch or Passo de Pennes, 2,211 m. It was thrilling, what more can I say. I'm sure I cursed and moaned, but I loved it. On the descent we had to stop a couple of times to let the brakes cool.
Here is a description of the ascent I fished out of the Internet:
The first 3 km are quite flat past the edge of the forest, then the first steep climb (11 and then 12.5%) begins, which leads you to the Höfegruppe von Egg. A sign informs you that you have reached the 1,500 m mark. The first hairpin bends continue up the road and it doesn't take long to reach the tree line (between 1,900 and 2,000 m), where there are two more hairpin bends. In a landscape dominated by alpine meadows, there follows a semicircular, approximately 4 km long route to the top of the pass and shortly before the finish line there is another incline of almost 15%.
Some 100 km later came the next challenge, the Rolle Pass (1,973 m), gate to the Dolomites as it is called. Did I really do that? Another pass? On that old bike? With no previous training in the mountains? With a load of bags on my bike?
Another excerpt from the Internet:
The pass is one of the legendary climbs of the Giro d’Italia, a classic. The road made history when in 1937 it marked the debut of the Dolomites in the Giro d’Italia.
From there on it was downhill and flat to Treviso and Nova Gorica, border to what was then Yugoslavia. But my legs were fried. The slightest climb was hard work now. We weren't finished yet, though. We still had to work our way through Yugoslavia to Villach in Kärnten, Austria. One more pass to go. I really needed a rest day, or two, but Werner had to get back to work. We had no spare days.
In Villach we got the train back to Munich. I recall clearly looking out the window at the coutryside flying by - and not feeling relieved to be sitting in the train but sad that I couldn't cycle the whole way back home.
Friends of mine, Inga and Christoph and their daughters, were on vacation in Kärnten. I had a bright idea - I would visit them. So after letting my fried legs recuperate for a week, I got back on my bike and cycled to where they were staying. I'm not sure but I think it was somewhere near St. Johann. This is just one more thing that I find hard to believe today. I rode what is today the Alpe-Adria Bicyle Path, although there were no bicycle paths then, on that old bike and with camping gear, and the steepest part from Bad Gastein in the rain.
Okay, I am finished bragging. I hope it wasn't too much. As the saying goes: The older I get, the better I used to be.
The Early Eighties
1981 - Munich to Vienna following the Danube
The next trip I have on record was in September of the same year. I talked a couple of friends, Uta and Ulf, into riding with me to Vienna. The set-up was still basically the same. I mentioned in my diary that I wouldn't need to buy any new gear since I was well equipped after my trip to Italy in the spring.
It was probably uneventful as I don't remember many details. I do recall having a flat in the pouring rain with no shelter far and wide. Funny how those things stick. We had fun and it whet my appetite for more.
1982 - Provence with Daniel
We put our bikes on a rack on top of the car and were off. The first day we got as far as Zurich. The next day we were in Bollène near Orange where we left the car. Our cycle took us to Orange, Avignon, Pont du Gard, St. Gilles, Aigues Mortes. Le-Grau-du-Roi, and finally the Mediterranean. After a couple of days at the beach we continued on to Arles, Les Baux, St. Remy, Cavaillon. When it started to rain, we got the train back to Bollène. The car was still there!
This trip didn't have the same sparkle as our first one. Maybe our route wasn't as interesting, it was August and hot and humid, there were more tourists about. Although I like France well enough, I am partial to Italy. Perhaps it was the Italian ambiente that I missed.
1984 - Mutlangen and the Peace Movement
This time I organized and biked with a group of twelve to protest the Nato Double-Track Decision of 1979. The slogan in those days was "Fight for Peace" which we coined as "Bike for Peace". Mutlangen is about 200 km northwest of Munich and we saw it fitting to make our appearance and sentiments known.
Here is the background:
The Mutlanger Heide became nationally known as a missile base on which nuclear medium-range nuclear missiles of the Pershing II type of the US Army were stationed from 1983 to 1990 due to the NATO Double-Ttrack Decision of 1979. When NATO's intentions became known it triggered violent protests by the peace movement. The opponents of an escalation in the arms race protested across Germany and formed so-called "peace chains". In Mutlangen, demonstrators repeatedly blocked the access to the US camp.
In my diary I wrote about meeting friendly and hospitable people from the Peace Movement along the way, but I can remember none of it! We went swimming in the Danube. Really? I also wrote "Ich liebe das Radeln und diese Landschaft." "I love cycling and this countryside." I had the bicycle bug, it seems the rest was secondary.
Bicycling with Daniel
Now in the days of the shutdown I have been cycling less. Sitting at home my thoughts go back in time to earlier cycling days. I rummage through the boxes of unsorted pictures and leaf through photo albums - all from the pre-digital days and a bit chaotic.
When traveling in the days of film cameras, we didn't take as many pictures as we do now. With few photos to back up my memories of the towns we rode through, where we slept, what we ate, how many kilometers we covered, my reconstruction of the past can be pretty spotty and occasionally downright wrong. Nevertheless, I cherish those memories and the mood they convey is perhaps more essential than all the statistics I could have kept. And I do have a few pictures and diaries.
I love to think back to my first bicycle tour. Or almost my first which I will write about here. The very first was a ride with my son Daniel. This was in early 1981, Daniel was 14 and I was 41. We set out from home with our clothes and tent packed in plastic bags which we strapped to our bicycle racks. I did not know what I was doing, I was such a beginner. I have no pictures from this three-day jaunt, but remember my thighs burning like fire from the efforts of the first day. I was a total newbie to cycling. Fortunately, Daniel knew how to repair a flat tire, I didn't. We had a tent and slept on the ground in our sleepingbags, no pads! In the morning the forest ranger came by and told us camping wasn't allowed there. The second night we took a hotel room. On the way home we got lost and had to push our bikes uphill through the woods on the bank of the Isar. What an adventure. It was love for cycle touring at first sight.
Shortly after this initiation, I planned a two week tour for Daniel and me in Italy. His two older brothers had their own plans. I got the maps and had an idea what towns in Umbria would be nice to visit. I didn't realize that many of those medieval towns would be situated on the top of a hill. In those days train travel with biycles was easier. You could send your bike with panniers ahead by train, no hassle. They took a few days to arrive at the destination, but when you got there, they were waiting. I wish that were possible now!
Of course we had innumerable adventures, good times as well as adversities. This was just the beginning of many years of traveling by bike on my vacations. I was hooked. I wonder now how I had the courage to embark on this first biycle trip in a foreign country with no previous touring experience.
I considered whether I should transcribe the original journal here. In it I describe headwinds, quirky rooms we had, a storm in the night on a hillside in our tent, pushing up steep gradients and coasting down, the kindness and generosity of the Italians, the times I felt no longer willing or able ... the stuff bicycle tours are made of. My cyclist readers are familiar with it all.
Daniel is now 53 and has three children of his own, Luci (21) and the twins Nelli and Valentin (15). He is a social worker specialized in addiction prevention.
And here's something for the music challenge. Daniel also plays trumpet in the Express Brass Band.
January has been kind to us so far ... knock on wood. We haven't seen a single snowflake and have had plenty of sunny days. It's cold, yes, but not often below zero and I am managing to get out on my bike often. This year my goal is not only to ride as often as possible but to increase my mileage. Nuff said. I won't commit myself here to what my km goal is. But I have one.
This is not the end-of-the-month post, that is yet to come with more pictures, stats - kilometers.
Famous Last Words
"we haven't seen a single snowflake"
That was yesterday. Today we got some snowflakes.
The Polar Bear Club
It was an abrupt transition from +30°C at 10 pm in Bangkok to 0°C at midday a day later. But we aren’t letting that deter us! Our local bicycle club as of this winter has introduced winter rides. We were away for the first three, but on this frosty but sunny January day we decided to join them. Actually, I felt obliged since on a warm afternoon last summer I had asked if the club also rode in the winter. It was an innocent question but Sebastian, our group leader, took it seriously and initiated the "Eisbärtouren".
Yesterday when we met it was -2°C and Sebastian had planned a 35 km ride. So far my winter rides have been at the most 15 km, usually more like six or seven, nothing to brag about but just enough to make me feel good about being out. I was surprised to see that 12 hardy cyclists turned up! We rode a good 25 km before we stopped for lunch at a Greek restaurant for warmth and energy. The remaining ten were then no problem.