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Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Today's excerpt from Voluntary Nomads takes us to Austria in the spring of 1990.
Spring weather turned our attention to bicycling. Fred bought a set of detailed maps of the many bike routes throughout Austria. Once he and I had explored the area in and around Vienna, we put our bikes on the car-rack and ventured into the countryside. We rode much of the time on designated bicycle paths and some of the time on country roads. Outside the city, Austrian drivers seemed less hurried or harried and they gave the utmost consideration to bicyclists; I felt safe. Often we cruised those byways on Sundays and found the quaint little towns virtually deserted. I imagined all the families gathered at Oma's (granny's) house for dinner after Mass. I pictured us as colorful figures on a scenic postcard.
Out in the country, we rode among the hills and valleys, and once we pedaled the perimeter of a potato field. There, in the middle of nowhere, we came upon a small wooden shed with rustic picnic tables outside. Inside the shed, refreshments were sold, including beer and wine. More than just cyclist-friendly, this was cyclist-heavenly.
Our lovely bicycling excursions over the summer gave me the idea for a birthday trip to celebrate my fiftieth. One of our map packets featured a trail that ran along the Danube and I chose the portion from Passau, Germany to Melk, Austria, a trip that would take three days.
To catch the train to Passau we had to get up at 4:45 AM. We packed our saddlebags the night before and, after some fiddling around, discovered that Fred's bags fit on my bike and vice versa.
We rode our bikes in the early morning darkness with perfect visibility thanks to the bright streetlights. I shivered a little in the wind that made sixty degrees seem chilly.
Traffic on the Gurtel was a little scary. Where could all those people be going at 5:30 in the morning?
Although we purchased our passenger tickets in August, we had to get tickets for the bikes on the day of travel, September 12, my birthday. The man at the ticket window spoke perfect English and handed Fred our tickets as he directed us to take our bicycles up to the platform. Fred assumed that the ticket man meant we should take the escalator along with the regular passengers.
The world switched to slow motion as Fred performed a wild acrobatic routine with his bicycle caught in the escalator's claws. Before the comedy had a chance to turn into a tragedy, a Turkish newspaper vendor stepped in to pull the red emergency ring. The escalator stopped immediately, but the alarm system set off a clamor of bells that centered everyone's attention on Fred's drama. While Fred pulled himself and his bicycle and his baggage together, I stood paralyzed, my view of the world still in shocked slow-mo. An important lesson: bicycles and escalators are best ridden separately.
After that, boarding the train was a snap. This was a special bicycle train with half the cars designed to transport bikes. In typical Austrian fashion, the train got underway right on schedule. As the wheels clickety-clicked along, I watched blue sky replace clouds and improve the outlook for today's forty-four-mile leg of my birthday bike trip. ###