Exploring Thailand

January 29, 2020. 500km since Bangkok

Link to real time map

Progress to date Jan 29, 2020. Bicycle (black). Train (red)

Things are proceeding well for the four of us. Lucy and I have learned to operate the tandem without all the tension we had at the start. Joël and Irène are excellent people. They complete the square nicely. Mainly, this is because we enjoy learning new cultures and languages. Our four person team has members from three continents. We are traveling in a fourth.

We get together and speak a mix of Spanish, English, and French with surprising fluidity. Apparently there is a lot of similarity between French and Spanish. Joël and Irène are familiar with Spanish already having spent some time in Mexico, Cuba, and Spain recently. They have a wonderful ability to roll with others even with some uncertainty in understanding.

Joël has planned much of the trip for us. He finds excellent routes and places. We stay in comfortable hotels, mostly. We did spend a night wild camping in a Buddhist temple.

Even though it is winter here in Thailand, it gets quite warm during the day. A high of 36C (=97 F) is common. So we beat the heat by getting on the bikes before sunrise (6:30 am). We usually ride to about noon and stop for the midday siesta in an air conditioned hotel room. There is room in the schedule to stay at one place for two or even three nights occasionally. This gives us time to explore a town if we like.

Joël and Tim see eye to eye
Irène and Lucy communicate easily
Lucy, a stranger at home in a strange land.

With us four, there is much laughter. Joël and Irène have a great attitude about the trip and life in general. They have taught us a few card games we play when we have down time. We can laugh at our own mistakes.

I would like to follow in the footsteps of Joël and Irène who have been traveling the world since 2014 and producing excellent blogs of their journey. CycloMigrateurs.fr They have friends all over the world. They tell good stories. The best ones are about their moments of failure.

Lucy is my partner. She has a fearlessness that I admire. She has endured this rough start with a guy that doesn’t really speak her language and is only now learning to operate the tandem they are using. She says she likes my laugh. It reminds her of her son’s laugh. At least I have something to offer.

I am deeply honored to be part of this team.

Mutually Astonished

The four of us see remarkable things that are everyday occurrences for the locals. For instance a family of four traveling on all on one motorbike or scooter. At the same time, the locals are astonished to see recumbent bicycles, and especially a tandem rolling down the road. From each perspective, the other appears like something from Dr. Seuss.

Tim and Lucy on the tandem in front of a Buddhist temple
Family of four on a motor scooter
Doctor Seuss artwork

Thailand as I see it

We are now hundreds of kilometers from Bangkok. Out here the life is tranquil. The people are eager to help us. Even when there is a language barrier, the local people are familiar with using automatic translation on the smart phone. I have had many successful encounters.

Primitive Thai home in a tropical setting
Simple pleasures of a rope swing over a lake
This popular design for a waste container is fashioned from a used truck tire.

Travel expenses here are low compared with Europe and US. A meal for two at a restaurant is $6. A night in an air conditioned hotel room with WiFi is less than $15. I’m told that if you have an account in a Thai bank with at least $25,000 USD in it, you can stay in Thailand indefinitely. You will only have to go to the local Embassy every three months to demonstrate that you still meet the requirements. It is also easy to work here if you start a small business and employ at least three Thai citizens. A common startup business is teaching English, for which you do not necessarily need to master the Thai language.

The presence of western culture is apparent. We see many late model automobiles and pickup trucks on the roads. Though life is inexpensive here, I am sure that automobiles and gasoline are not cheaper than in the west. I suppose the country attracts many from the west, looking for an inexpensive retirement.

Late model cars in Thailand

I do not object to this migration. The most beautiful part of the culture seems to be uncontaminated. That is, the people have a genuine interest in other cultures. They show curiosity in our adventure. Locals approach us with many questions or take photos. Even when there is a language barrier, when we are on the bikes we regularly get a thumbs up from the locals many times a day.

Also there is a trust between humans. The high level of security I found in Eastern Europe is not needed here. As I write this I notice though there is a lock on my hotel room door, the windows are not locked. If I accidentally locked my key in the room, I could easily get back in to fetch it.

In the cities, the traffic is chaotic, but the drivers are not aggressive. I feel safe enough. It takes more effort for me driving on the left side. But the drivers here readily yield, even when they have right of way. Yesterday we accidentally turned onto a busy one way street going the wrong way. We continued for one block before correcting. No one honked, they simply made room for our exit.

In the countryside, we encounter villages small and large. In these villages, prepared food can be bought for pennies in the many small stands that are run by the families that live there. I enjoy this food often, and have had no ill effects. Sometimes it can be spicy hot or odd tasting. If you ask for help, the merchants will guide you to the milder stuff. ‘My Pete’ (phonetic spelling) means not spicy in Thai.

Street food

Banana leaves are the environmentally sound wrapper

Out between the villages there are roads both major and minor. The main roads have more traffic of course, many tractor trailers, some double trailers, carrying sugar cane. We also see farm tractors. In many cases it is a two wheeled tractor pulling a four wheeled trailer, which I have not seen in the Western world. There are pickup trucks and other small trucks carrying farm workers each wearing a single cloth covering their heads and faces. Only the eyes are visible. It looks like a truck load of ninjas.

In the spaces here we see many crops. At this time of year, the sugarcane is in full harvest. We also see many rice patties, fruit trees too, bananas, mangos, papayas, figs, and others I cannot identify. I occasionally see a corn field, but this is not common. We also found a tobacco plantation.

I would say that the mangos are not ripe yet. However one can find ripe mangos in the market place in larger towns. Possibly imported? I have not seen any grapes since leaving Bangkok.

We feel safe riding the ample shoulders of these asphalt paved roads. But it is not as interesting as the smaller side roads. The side roads are frequently paved in concrete with almost no traffic. We find stray dogs asleep in the street. These concrete roads can turn to dirt without warning.

Irène floats over the muddy spot

On the bikes we are using there is no problem traveling on the dirt for long distances. When it becomes muddy or deep sand, it can be tricky to keep the bike upright. In these cases, there is always the option of walking the bike. But I have twice taken a chance and dumped the bike.

Woudenberg dumps the tandem in the mud

Joël who is in the lead, is usually waiting to take a picture of my failed attempt. The bike dumps when there is not enough speed to keep it balanced. These are low speed painless dumps. They are good for maintaining ones humility. Lucy has learned to laugh them off.

On these roads we are entertained by what we find. Many stray dogs chase us for a few moments and then quit. I learned from my daughter Raina that many dogs have an instinct for herding larger animals. I believe this is the main interest the dogs have in us.

Rush hour traffic in rural Thailand

Dogs can be found sleeping on the backroads

They make a lot of noise and sound scary, but they never get closer than one meter. They mostly like to chase Irène, probably because she barks back. We always get a good laugh at the exchanges. Irène once got a pack of five or more dogs to turn and run all at once. She was more than they were prepared for.

By the way, How do you say ‘Get off the couch’ in Thai?

To me the dogs of Thailand seem to have more fear of humans, than I am used to seeing in the west. I wonder if they realize that they are sometimes eaten by humans in this region. That being said, I have seen two or more dogs wearing a muzzle. Probably these are not stray, and I am thankful that someone has seen to this.

We also see farm animals running free range on these back roads. Chickens are most common, but we also have seen ducks and pigs roaming about. Cattle are usually behind a fence, but sometimes we see them being driven by men with dogs on foot. Horses are rare here.

Fish are farmed in the rivers. We see places which seem to be packed with fish. A handful of fish food thrown into the water will cause a stir that looks similar to boiling water. We also see nets draped above these places in the river. The nets protect the fish from waterfowl which would otherwise be eating the fish. We came across a fish farm next to a smoke house which was producing smoked fish with wholesale capacity.

Smoked fish in large quantity

Flying Camera

Joël and Irène carry quite a bit of photography equipment. It shows in the blogs they create. Joël has a drone so that he can take aerial photos. He can produce some amazing videos and photos.

Joël’s flying camera

We found a cable bridge high above the river Yom near our hotel. Joël got out all the equipment and shot quite a bit of footage of the team crossing the bridge on bikes. He turned several minutes of raw footage into this remarkable 30 second video.

Bikes on the train.

Train travel in Thailand is affordable. A three hour train ride covering 100km costs about $3 USD. With a bicycle, the cost is about twice as much. Joël has arranged two legs of our journey by train in Thailand.

The first time from Lop Buri to Nakhon Sawang was a bit of an adventure because the freight manager was uncomfortable with putting all three bikes on board one train. We managed to make it work by traveling on two successive trains. Lucy and I folded the tandem in two and took the second train.

We made it to our train stop at dusk. By the time we reassembled the bike and were rolling, it was dark. We were equipped for night riding, just a bit new at it. It was a tense 8km ride in the dark. I find barking dogs are no problem during the day when you can read the dog’s body language. At night my imagination creates a much scarier image of the dog. We made it without mishap, just a bit frazzled.

JJoël has a moment of truth standing on the scale in the train station.

Temple Ruins

Thailand has many Buddhist temples. It also has many temple ruins that are several hundred years old. They were attacked by the Burmese in 1767. A few years before the United States existed. The ruins are now protected national monuments with on-going restoration projects in many cases.

Lop Buri City of Monkeys

Lop Buri is known for the monkeys that run freely in the streets. Here you have to be a little careful because the monkeys can get into mischief with you. Lucy was cautious but couldn’t resist the opportunity to feed the monkeys.

The stick is meant as a means of defense. Irène finds another use.

If you stand in one place for too long, the monkeys may take aim. Watch out below!

Walking into the Dragon’s Mouth

January 20, 2020. Thailand

So the plan comes together and all the pieces fall into place. We will spend the next two months traveling in tropical South East Asia. I have a brand new tandem, a dedicated stoker, Lucy. We get to ride with good friends Irène and Joël that have done quite a bit of cycle touring all over the world.

Mel and Dana assembling the Azub tandem in the hotel Garden in Bangkok
Fully loaded Azub tandem with Captain and Stoker
Basic trip plan through Thailand (T), Laos (L), and Vietnam (V). The blue dot is our current position just about 200km from the start at Bangkok Airport.

Here’s the glitch. Tandems are not easy to ride. It takes the team of two riders a while to build up the experience needed. The 40kg tandem is loaded with 45kg of equipment. From a standing start, getting this thing rolling fast enough so that it can be balanced, takes a concerted effort of the two riders. When this fails, the bike wobbles and crashes at low speed. It is a little embarrassing in the parking lot. It is scary in traffic.

Lucy and I had done some training on a tandem in Santiago. That was child’s play compared to the fully loaded tandem we were to start our journey with. After a few low speed crashes in the hotel parking lot, we were ready to go play in traffic.

Well I would have wanted several days to get our routine down before starting such a large tour; however, we didn’t have that luxury. The bike was assembled, Joël and Irène were arriving the next day, and the sun had gone down. I remember telling Dana that I felt like I was walking into the mouth of a Dragon.

Not feeling ready has come up many times in my life. I have proceeded with good outcomes in the past. My recipe is pay close attention, don’t panic. In the end it all worked out. Lucy and I overcame the challenges and can deal with the chaos of Bangkok traffic.

Cycling in Bangkok traffic can be chaotic

We did have a number of low speed crashes in traffic in the process of learning. Somehow through it all, I still have Lucy’s confidence.

As we head north toward Laos and away from Bangkok, the traffic has become less of a problem and the scenery has become quite special.

Irène is the team ambassador. Every morning we practice important phrases like ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’ in the local dialect.
Joël is responsible for finding the best route and booking hotels. He also takes the best pictures. He has a flying camera.

My job is to keep the tandem from flopping over. I am still a beginner.
Lucy fits in well with the group. She is teaching us all more Spanish. Which turns out to be somewhat similar to French

Adios Chile

January 11, 2020

Review

The plans are laid for a big rendez vous in Bangkok. Dana has built and tested the new tandem and will deliver it personally to Bangkok. Joël and Irène are packed and ready to join us there to continue their world tour by bicycle. Lucy and I have been training both on a tandem and on stationary bikes in the gym here in Santiago, Chile. At the same time, we are learning each other’s language.

Last year, I spent the Summer months traveling solo in the Northern Hemisphere, both in United States and Europe. The routine was comfortable except that I found I really needed a partner to share my adventure. As you might guess, it is not easy to find someone that is ready to drop everything and join me. I got really lucky.

In October, I met Lucy on Tinder, a dating app. When we met, I was in Europe and Lucy in Santiago, 12,000 km away. Tinder is supposed to find people in one’s vicinity. Go figure! To make it yet more interesting, Lucy spoke only Spanish. I did not speak any. But technology had a solution, machine translation. Thus we met and got to know each other. Then came the leap of faith.

By the first week in December 2019, plans were ready to execute. I flew to Santiago to be with Lucy. Together we built a plan to go explore this planet. We have been living together for the last month. In that time we have developed a working knowledge of each other’s language, and trained and equipped ourselves for the great beyond.

Time to go, Wheels Up at 6PM

Today is a big day for us. In a matter of hours we will leave Santiago for Bangkok. In order to do this, Lucy has liquidated her home and belongings, save one suitcase she left with her son, Aldo.

It still amazes me that Lucy is able to do this. I don’t speak her language, am not really from her culture, participate in an unusual pass time which you could describe as being homeless by choice. Yet she is totally committed to the project, to the point that she has effectively has left with no home to return to. We regularly talk through the tough spots we may encounter. She is undaunted.

Aldo and his fiancé, Pia drove us to the airport today. I get along well with those two. It helps a lot that they are bilingual. During the many family gatherings, Aldo and Pia served as the bridge across the language barrier. It made it very easy for me to be part of the scene, to be clued in to the humor, to understand the familial bonds.

Lucy’s Family

Shown here from left to right are: Veronica, Pia’s mother; Aldo, Lucy’s son; Me; and Pia, Aldo’s fiancé. Veronica held a high rank in the Carabineros (Federal law enforcement in Chile). Currently she is a lawyer for that same operation. Aldo is an executive for DHL in Santiago and holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering. Pia is a translator for the Carabineros. Her English is probably better than mine.
Aldo and Pia enjoy showing us around the special places in Santiago that the tourists will never find.
In the month that I have been living in Santiago, we have been together with some or all of Lucy’s family at least five times that I can count.
Goofing around in front of the Presidential palace in Santiago. Pia said she may be able to get us inside. I thought she was joking. She wasn’t. The woman has connections
Flag of Chile flying above the palace
Inside the palace. Me chilling with one of the guards.

I have decided to start my career as an artillery inspector.

“Of course you realize this gun has not been instpected in ages”. I’ve got my work cut out here.
Here in an arcade from yesteryear, Aldo is boxing with a coin op robot. Think of this as old school cyber security.

Next steps

Now it is Wednesday evening. Lucy and I made the big jump to Thailand in three flights. Between the flights, layovers, and time zone change, this consumed the whole weekend. We hit the ground running on Monday morning and have managed to retrieve my bike from KJ and Pya at Thammasat University, arranged storage space for my solo recumbent, extended my visa in Thailand to 60 days, mapped out a route for the first day. We even managed to do some sightseeing while we were at it.

Lucy and I have started using instagram and have posted many photos there. I think it would be good for Lucy to start blogging in Spanish. It would provide a good contrast to hear her side of the story. Meanwhile you can find Lucy’s and my instagram posts at viajesdelucy and woudentm respectively.

Hot on the horizon now is Dana. He has achieved superhero status from my perspective for personally delivering a recumbent tandem to my specifications faster than the manufacturer could possibly do. He will be here in just 3 hours and I am like a kid on Christmas morning, waiting impatiently for the great moment ahead.

Leaving Santiago over the Andes Mountains
Long flights for watching many many movies

Dubai Airport looking for someplace that’s nearly horizontal

Finally able to get fully horizontal.

Royal Thai Embassy. I’m here to get my visa extended to 2 months
Mission accomplished after about $100 USD in cab fares and fees.

A flowering Fern? Jim Kern says this is similar to the caesalpinia pulcherrima

Joël and Irène are packed and ready to fly from their home in Brittany France. They will meet us on Friday at the Bangkok Airport and we will tour together through Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam.

Aldo and Pia are suggesting that we should eat bugs, a delicacy in Asia. So far we have not found any. Though I did try some deep fried duck faces. The bills are crunchy. Pictured here are crabs.

It’s like Christmas Morning here in Bangkok

Dana and Mel arrived with all the goodies. I’ll blog more later. Right now we are busy!

New Team, New Bike

Dec 17, Santiago Chile

What a difference a few months makes. While I was hanging out in San Francisco, in November, I started a search for a traveling partner. I learned this summer that I needed a traveling partner, someone to share the challenges and successes with. In fact a romantic partner would be optimal.

My friend Heike points out that this takes time. You cannot just push a button and get something like this started. In fact I was active on Tinder in Europe. Here I demonstrated the old proverb, a rolling stone gathers no moss.

Tinder is pretty much a bust for meeting women while moving 50km/day. Sure you get into interesting chats but are out of range before it is time to meet. Because I was in one place for over a week, I did have two dates with Madeline in Budapest. We fell out of touch quickly when I left.

Meanwhile I had somehow found Lucy, an attractive woman in Santiago. She was fun to chat with, even though she doesn’t speak English and I don’t speak Spanish. Modern software makes this easy and difficult at the same time. Translators make lots of small mistakes. Sometimes these mistakes can have a big impact on meaning. So, when the conversation crashes, you can always blame the translator.

Lucy’s Tinder photo

We really don’t understand how we were able to make contact on Tinder being thousands of kilometers apart. Tinder only works by connecting people within a small distance. Though I was in Santiago in July for the eclipse, Lucy did not appear on my radar until October, when I was in Europe. Serendipitous software glitch or magical destiny, we differ on our explanations. In any case, the connection was made.

When I finally made it back to San Francisco, we were making heavy use of WhatsApp and translator. The cool thing is we have a record of our early courting on our WhatsApp account all or mostly in Spanish.

I learned that Lucy had a good career in marketing and management of hotel properties. She was part owner of a startup that went bankrupt in 2009 following the world wide real estate crash in late 2008. The startup was leveraged. She lost everything. She needed to start again from scratch.

However, Lucy is smart and independent. She pulled together enough resources to get a few startups going including a clothing company called Lucilasport. It worked well enough to support her without outside help. She also put her son through Engineering School. The amazing thing to me is that she was willing to put everything on hold, including walking away from a new job in hotel management.

Without any begging and pleading on my part. Lucy agreed to put aside her life in Santiago and join me in traveling the world by bicycle before even meeting me. We agreed to meet for the first time in Santiago on December 7, 2019.

We set up a fail safe agreement. We agreed she would not have to put things on hold until after we met. I told her I would like to take a bike ride first, and other stuff. But in a just a few days in Santiago we would agree to travel together to Asia and beyond for a year, or not. If we agree to go to Asia, at the end of a year together we could decide on further plans.

First Meeting

The first meeting was a nail biter for both of us. I did my best to appear calm, but the whole idea we were working out together could easily crash, in the first few days. The thing I like about Lucy is she is a realist, not a dreamer. She wanted to know how it was going from my perspective even in the first few minutes together.

We booked a room in the Santiago Sheraton for the first weekend. They rent bikes there. We spent the first day unwinding, and wrestling with the jet lag (5 hours). I told her that if I just sit on the couch and talk. I will fall asleep well before bedtime, which is not good jet lag strategy. It worked out well. Lucy knows how to keep me up past bed time.

The next morning I told Lucy I wanted to go to Asia with her, even before taking the first bike ride together. She agreed without hesitation. I figured what ever issues came up on the bike ride could be solved in the month we had together in Santiago. I was learning a lot about Lucy and liking it.

The Sheraton Hotel has a pet cat. He schmoozes customers for tips at breakfast

The first bike ride together

The reader should remember that although this is taking place in December, it is in the Southern Hemisphere. It is late Spring with long days and warm weather. Typically great riding conditions, though sometimes quite warm.

Lucy is in good shape. She has always been a runner. She finished a marathon a few years ago. The issue she has with bike riding is that she took a bad crash a few years ago. It required eight stitches to put her lip back together. But it also took a toll on her confidence on the bike.

Weeks before I came to Santiago, Lucy had rented a bike and was riding it regularly, in preparation for the tour. She reported a few bruises on the first outings. I didn’t think anything of it.

We rented two bikes from the Hotel. These are modern mountain bikes with 29″ wheels, front suspension, fat tires, and disc brakes. More than able to take what Santiago might offer in curbs, potholes, etc. I felt secure on this bike. I test rode Lucy’s bike before she got on it. We walked the bikes to a level spot to start out.

Lucy insisted that I lead the way. I kept a slow pace, Lucy stayed behind me by a block or more. I occasionally had to stop and wait for her. When I went back to check on her she insisted that I lead the way, that she was fine, she just had to get used to the new bike.

We climbed San Cristobal hill together which is less than one kilometer elevation gain at 5-8% grade. When I stopped to wait for her, she insisted that I meet her at the top of the hill. I agreed and told her I would find a beer and wait for her at the top.

It got a little confusing at the top. There are multiple roads, some of them closed to bicycles, and no beer anywhere, park rules. I picked a spot where I could see Lucy coming. She showed up a little winded. We found a place in the shade and relaxed with lots of sparkling water. While we were there, I explained to Lucy that it might be best for us to consider using a tandem bike. She didn’t know what a tandem was, apparently they are quite rare in Chile. But she agreed to try it, if I thought it was best.

Refreshed and ready for the long down hill, I insisted on riding behind Lucy. I needed to see how she handled it. It was immediately obvious. Lucy still was dealing with fear and lack of confidence. All of this under excellent riding conditions.

She would take a long time to get started, even though the road was relatively free of traffic. She would never get above 10km/hr, and frequently slam on the brakes. Unfortunately the brakes on this bike were excellent. Slamming on the brakes would send Lucy off the saddle to collide with the frame. By the time we made it back to the Hotel, Lucy had multiple bruises which would become black and blue in the following days.

This was a tough moment for us. Lucy desperately wanted to travel the world with me and would put herself on a tortuous path to qualify for the chance. Getting banged up on the bike this day did not discourage her in the least.

Here I already agreed to tour together. I owned this problem. I was honor bound to make it work. That and I found Lucy to be a solid partner for me. Not something I was willing to give up.

Lucy felt really bad about her performance. She was very sorry that she had jeopardized our plans. After a long serious talk, I convinced her that this was no longer her challenge. It is our challenge now. We will find a solution.

We moved out of the Sheraton and into a furnished apartment that Lucy found in the better part of town, far from the ongoing protest.

Igor and the Tandem Quest

Igor is a concierge at our hotel. I met Igor back in July, when my brother Eric and I were staying at this same hotel. Igor is from Slovenia, we became fast friends when I asked him if he knew Jure Robic. Igor is from the same town as Jure. They used to ride together before his untimely death. Anyone who knows Race Across America, knows the name Jure Robic. He is a legend. Please check the link if you don’t know of him.

Igor works in Santiago, he knows the cycling community there. He was my ace in the hole. I needed a tandem that was worthy of a world tour, and I only have a month to get it road ready. It would be even better if Lucy and I could get some time to train on the thing before going to Thailand.

Igor and I made a date to go see Carlos, the owner of Taller Chicle. A bike shop in the Barrio of Bella Vista. This is outside of the protected center of Santiago. Here the protestors are active. I had a good conversation with Carlos. He lived in San Francisco many years ago. He speaks English very well.

We get right to the point. If we want a tandem built, he can do it, but he needs a frame to start with. Not sure where he might find one here in Santiago. He will check his contacts and get back to us later in the week. I think I may be able to get a frame sent from California. I will call Dana and get back to Carlos later in the week.

He has a tandem. He does not usually rent it out, but will make an exception in our case. The thing is ancient. Probably built in the 1940’s. There are only four cogs on the rear. There are two chain rings up front, but no derailleur. If you want to change gears in front, you kick the chain over with your right foot while the stoker keeps the chain moving. It has a drum brake in back and a rim brake in front.

Carlos speaks of this bike with real admiration in his voice. I wonder about the stopping distance in city traffic.

I figure. OK, at least we have a tandem that Lucy and I could train with. Carlos and I promise to make contact in the next few days and see what course of action to take. Carlos said he will start ‘whipping the snails’, an expression in Spanish for managing the available resources.

In the Barrio Bella Vista is a bike shop called Taller Chicle
Left to Right. Lucy, Igor, Carlos
Lucy and Tim cozying up to the ancient tandem

Dana to the Rescue

I called Dana. He said he can definitely get us a frame, so we start talking details. He walks me through the plan. Shipping a raw frame to Carlos. Having Carlos get all the right parts together. Training if there’s time, then boxing and shipping to Thailand. All in about 4 weeks time. I start to wonder about the sanity of the plan. The image of whipping snails convinces me to consider Dana’s alternate solution.

Dana says with confidence he can have a bike ready to ride shipped to Thailand in time. Definitely a traditional tandem, maybe an Azub tandem recumbent. He will check his suppliers’ schedules and get back to me.

The next day I call Carlos and arrange to pick up the tandem. He wants $200 USD for rental until the new year. He has promised renting it out for a wedding in early January. I accept the offer without even test riding it. Paid cash without worrying. I figure Carlos wants to keep me happy. I am riding his pride and joy.

I take a cab down to the shop and ride the thing home solo. It’s about 15km back to our apartment. No problems, but I was right about the stopping distance. I can not take this thing on any significant hill. There is no way to stop it on a -10% grade.

However the geography of Santiago is on my side. The city is basically pan flat. It sits in a crater surrounded by the Andes mountains. There are some hills in town. I can easily avoid the steep ones.

View of Santiago from the top of Costanera Center. The cycle path follows the dry river bed

Lucy and I take the bike out for our first ride the next morning. Grappling with finding a good route for this stodgy beast, the chain breaks in the first 10km. I don’t have a chain tool in my kit. I call Carlos and we make arrangements to meet at Costanera Center, about 6km from my current location.

Walking 6km would be tough for me, but I can get on the bike and push it along with my feet like a velocipede. It is mostly downhill to our meeting place, so I can keep a pretty good speed most of the way. Lucy runs the entire distance, without showing much fatigue. Yes, she is in good shape.

Carlos makes quick work fixing the broken chain and leaves me with the chain tool and some spare chain. Good that he did. We broke the chain a second time a few days later. We have named the bike ‘Senor Antiguo’. The bike reminds us of an old man that should be treated with respect, patience, and not asked to do much.

Lucy and I have developed a daily routine of riding Senor Antiguo 25-35km through the heart of Santiago. The beautiful thing is she has no fear and makes a good stoker. I am starting to feel confident about or plan to tour Asia and beyond.

Lucy with wrench in hand and Senor Antiguo outside of the hardware store.
With S. Antiguo you need to look past the flaws and see the elegance
Lucy knows how to treat the older gentleman with respect and admiration

Meanwhile back in California, Dana has figured out that he could get us a Davinci Joint Venture (conventional tandem, no suspension) delivered to Thailand on time, though we would likely need expedited shipping. The delivery time for Azub (recumbent tandem) is just too long. No chance there.

We talk about delaying the tour, but I have plans to meet another nomadic couple in Thailand (Joël et Irène). I expect it would be difficult for them to change their plans.

After a few days Dana comes up with the winning plan. He was planning to build an Azub tandem and ride this with his daughter on the California coast in January. The bike is pretty close to the specs we discussed.

Dana explained that he could order parts to change over the bike to our specs after his ride with his daughter. If he moved his tour up, a week or so, he would have time to convert the bike, box it and take it to Thailand personally. This is much faster than any expedited shipping available, and not more expensive for me.

Dana is contributing his own time here. He will endure the marathon airline flights to and from Bangkok. He will assemble the bikes for us in Bangkok. Make any necessary adjustments and see us off on our tour. We agreed that the money I would have spent on expedited shipping, he is welcome to use to offset his travel expenses. It will not completely cover it.

Incredible right? That’s Dana. My bike fetish enabler, and good friend.

The Azub tandem frame is already in Dana’s Shop (Bent Up Cycles in North Hollywood, CA)
This rear suspension will literally save our butts.

Dana and I have a relationship that goes back to my days of racing. He has sponsored me several times, has built many bicycles for me. Recently He sent me a photo of a wall in his shop that is devoted to bikes that I have ridden in the past.

Recent photo from Bent Up Cycles in California. Hanging on the wall is a ‘No Com’ the frame was designed and built in Poland. The Yellow trike on the floor is a Blue Velo Quest. This was designed in Holland and built in Toronto.

We sometimes joke about coming out of the closet as true recumbent enthusiasts. I think our friends already suspect this.

Lucy’s Family

The closest members of Lucy’s Family are her son, Aldo, and his girlfriend, Pia. Aldo is a successful executive working for DHL in Santiago. Pia is an interpreter. I watched her do simultaneous translation from Spanish to English when they stopped by our apartment for a first visit. Aldo is also fluent in English, he also knows where to find craft beer in Santiago.

This first visit was originally planned as a quick meeting for Saturday afternoon. Lucy planned to serve chips and dip in the living room. So, I figured it was a good opportunity to assert my heritage and make apple pie.

While I was assembling the pie on Friday afternoon, Lucy made a video of me making it and sent it to Aldo and Pia. This prompted a contribution of ideas from all parties. Suddenly, Lucy was preparing dinner. Aldo and Pia were bringing wine. Aldo promised a tour of local craft beer places afterward. So, the entire sprawling event lasted for six hours, with the second dinner at the brewery, which included deep fried pig ears, finishing up at about midnight.

I don’t know if this is typical of Chilean culture, or just the way Lucy’s family works. It was wonderful in either case. I made one faux pas by picking up the tab at the brewery while Aldo was away from the table. So, we agreed to have another outing next Saturday as a remedy.

In case you were wondering, fried pig’s ears dipped in barbecue sauce are wonderful. There were none left uneaten.

Aldo
Pia

Of course I take every opportunity to make apple pie.
No outing to sample Craft Beer in Santiago is complete without a basket of deep fried pig ears.

Costanera Center

Costanera Center is the tallest building in Latin America. It is the second tallest in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s also right here in our neighborhood. So of course we had to take the elevator to the top and get some pictures.

Lucy and I sizing up Costanera Center. It is 980 feet tall. I had to check. (Photo created with green screen)

There atop this skyscraper, Lucy and I were getting into the layout of the neighborhood below with our unique life size map. It was clear that Lucy was lost in piecing together the streets below, when she said, ‘Hey, where is Costanera Center? It should be right there’. Imagine that. The largest building of all in the city and it was not on our map… We had a good laugh over this.

View of the streets near Costanera Center.

Language

DuoLingo is a great app for learning a new language. It’s free, you can learn a lot with frequent five minute sessions. I started binge learning Spanish. Lucy started learning English with more conventional tools.

The though part about English is pronunciation. The tough part about Spanish is hearing individual words when spoken at normal speed. I can always get Lucy to slow down enough for me to hear individual Spanish words. Pronunciation of English words is still tough for her. So we speak mostly in Spanish. Though I did get Lucy to download the DuoLingo App for learning English.

The funny thing is Lucy knows so many songs with English lyrics. She pronounces them all correctly. Does anyone know how to tap into this? I figure some exercises in front of a Karaoke machine might help.

Drop off the Bike in Bangkok

Oct 23, 2019. Odometer ~3000miIe

In this post, I drop off my bike with friends in Bangkok and continue to Chicago to see my mother on her birthday. Then I will head home to San Francisco for a vacation from my vacation. This will include Thanksgiving at my sister’s place in Ashland Oregon.

I am catching up on a backlog here. Much to tell. Thank you for reading!

How the Network Functions

So here I am in Thailand, a place I have never been before. Yet, I am lucky enough to have a new friend who is willing to store my bike and panniers for a month. How does this happen? There is a network, at its core is Warmshowers.org, an organization for touring cyclists that need help from local cyclists, at no cost. Their motto is ‘Pay it Forward’.

I’ve been hosting in San Francisco for about seven years. I have met some amazing cyclists with valuable knowledge from all over the world.

In this case, Thomas who lives near Paris, France stayed at my place while he was circumnavigating the Pacific Ocean by bicycle about five years ago. So, he has valuable knowledge of touring in Asia. When I told him I was going to Bangkok and needed to find a place to store my bicycle, He put me in touch with KJ, a Biologist at Thammasat University just north of Bangkok. KJ is not a cyclist, but she said any friend of Thomas is a friend of mine. KJ, along with her colleague Pyaporn, came up with a secure spot.

Thomas from Paris France
KJ from Bangkok, Thailand

Arrived in Bangkok

We made it! I landed in Bangkok and retrieved my bike from oversized baggage claim. There I met another cyclist from Sweden, claiming his bike. He had just ridden from Berlin to Istanbul by bike. We compared notes.

The thing I had of value was a better way to package the bike. Do not pull the fork out of the frame. Do not remove the wheels. Just pull the boom and seat, then smother the thing in bubble wrap and tape. It is so simple to reassemble. I would not have guessed that any airline would accept this. I have it on good authority that they do. This brilliant advice is thanks to Les CycloMigrateurs! My mentors.

My new Swedish friend had his bike in pieces in a cardboard box. His next stop was a bike shop that could help him put his bike together, as he was not carrying enough tools.

He had been to Bangkok before. He warned that I may like it here so much that I want to stay forever. He also said there is a lucrative industry in teaching English as a second language. One could make a good living here, though the competition for this is growing fast.

My plan was to find my way to KJ’s place in Thammasat University. This is about an hour north of Bangkok. I was easily able to get a cab large enough for my bicycle, that would take me there for less than 1000 Baht (~$30).

I also needed a place to assemble my bike and sleep. I had the taxi driver take me to a hotel near the University. The hotel room could serve both purposes. It is only after the taxi has left that I realize one flaw in my plan.

The hotel is on a major road. There are no secondary roads or streets that I can ride my bike to from this hotel. The issue is that although KJ’s place is only three kilometers from the hotel. I cannot ride the bike to her place.

We talk it through over the phone. Try to find a large taxi.

Steve Purcell once told me he could reassemble his P-38 from many tiny pieces in an Italian Cafe. I like a hotel room, because if you have to leave it in mid assembly, you can lock the whole mess in the room. No one interferes, nor is anyone offended by the chaos.

My trusted bicycle once again rises from its debris field.

The next day KJ drove me back to Bangkok to catch my plane. We had a good discussion about life in academic research, and Thai culture. I have only begun to explore the culture here. KJ has traveled to Paris a few times. It was there that she met Thomas, a WarmShowers contact I met five years ago.

For instance the taxi fare to Thammasat University (a 60 km ride) is less than 1000 Baht (~35 USD). According to KJ, 1000 Baht is her budget for a week (not including rent).

Earlier, I had found a food court near the University. I ordered a plate of food for lunch. The woman there held up 4 fingers to indicate the price. I said aloud ‘400Baht?’. She laughed at me and said, ‘forty’. This ample lunch cost less than two US dollars. What is the word for inverse sticker shock? Also, she could have easily gotten 400 Baht without me even suspecting anything. The people have honor.

Inside the University every one speaks excellent English. Outside, this far from the city, English is rare. The good thing is the people are good natured and honorable. I wanted to reward good service to a parking lot attendant at the hotel. I held out a 500 Baht note ($15). He and another attendant stared at the note in disbelief. I read there body language as, ‘Sir we have no procedure to accept a gift of this size’. It felt really weird to put this note back in my pocket.

Return to United States

While I was traveling through Europe, my brother Eric was engineering a birthday celebration at my mother’s place in Lafayette, Indiana (near Chicago). This required organizing a meeting near the Chicago airport, the 4 hour car trip to Lafayette with multiple cars and an Airbnb large enough for us all to crash at near Lafayette. Here we would prepare our special Groere Eten. A traditional Woudenberg meal only served at special gatherings.

I flew in from Thailand arriving a day early. This enabled me to get mostly in the local time zone before meeting the family. Carina and Mark organized the California contingent, consisting of Carina, Cherissa, Mark, and Arden. Rick and his son Toshi came in from the East Coast. Ruthe flew in from Oregon.

Assembling pretty late in the evening in Chicago, we descended upon a Eastern European restaraunt in Chicago which was in the process of shutting down the kitchen for the night. We looked sufficiently forlorn at the thought of finding someplace else to eat that the owner decided to make it work somehow.

Arden, the party animal
Reunion of Arden and Opa Tim. Notice the family resemblance in hair style

My Granddaugher, Arden, just seven months old was the party animal. She can stay upbeat for a five hour flight from California, followed by a hard time at the car rental place, and still be the life at the party.

(Left to Right). Carina, Cherissa (my daughters), and Ruthe (my sister) in our crashpad in Illinois

We made it down to Mom’s place the next day and prepared Groere Eten for the following day. This was a bit of a challenge in the primitive kitchen we had. Ruthe knows how to improvise. It work well.

Great grandmother Patty meets Arden for the first time.

Rick, Ruthe, and I also went through the remaining wall hanging’s and photographs from the mom’s farmhouse in Shadeland, Indiana. We divided it up and started the conservatory effort.

After carefully observing the traditions of her Family, Arden decides she needs to try out beer.

It was a successful journey. I flew home to California with my daughters and extended family. Ron Noack met us at the San Jose airport. We chatted a bit before Cherissa and I headed north.

It had been a long day for me and Cherissa offered that I crash at her place in Moss Beach, which I accepted. I found when we had arrived, that PG&E had shut down power in the region, in order to prevent more forest fires.

I left early the next morning. The power was still out in Moss Beach, but on in San Francisco

Back in San Francisco. It’s good to be home for a few weeks.

My main objectives for November were to organize, possible new team member, new equipment, vaccinations for travel to rural Asia, Clean out my apartment, Dentist Appointment, Resolve Health Insurance for Cherissa. You know, the daily grind, the stuff that doesn’t get done while you’re traveling. It piles up. But not so much that you don’t have time for some bike rides with old friends

Johann riding an Easy Rider in Woodside

Eric Nordman riding an Ice tricycle at our traditional meeting spot in Woodside, CA

It was good meeting up with the gang, and finding out what has happened since our last meeting. We meet once a week, the attendance is variable so there are always new old friends to catch up with. Jack Jones is an old favorite (sorry no picture this time).

I also shared a beer with Jim Kern and Eric Eisenbarth from the crazy as anything endurance cyclist group.

Thanksgiving

Out here on the west coast, we Woudenbergs like to assemble with my Sister and her husband Jim at their home in Ashland, Oregon. In preparation, Cherissa and I bake pies. This year her friend James helped out.

Don’t tell my mother that I am removing the peels from all the apples.
Passing the pie making tradition to the next generation. James comes along for the ride.

The pies get made a few days in advance. The plan is to start out early on Wednesday morning to beat the traffic out of the Bay Area. This part works. However well beyond the Bay Area, another delay awaits us.

While driving north in California, Mark and Carina point out that Interstate 5 is closed at the Oregon Border due to Blizzard Conditions and a backlog of stuck automobiles. We are several hours away from the border, but we decide to take an alternate route along the California Coast, then over Grants Pass. No telling whether this is the better choice, but at least it is not closed at the moment.

The new route will at least double our travel time. This is a real concern when carrying a baby along. I figure if things get tough we can stop in a motel for the night and get an early start the next morning.

It worked out fine for Arden. She didn’t mind it a bit. Her parents may have a different story to tell. In addition to the longer route, we also got delayed because of a jack knifed tractor trailer many miles ahead of us on Route 5. I think we were on the road for more than 12 hours.

Ruthe was happy to feed us when we got there. She knows how to layout the cornucopia of great stuff.

Traffic Jam on I-5 southbound near Dunsmuir. Snow Chains required.

Next morning Ruthe and I honor our traditions but only do an abbreviated mountain bike ride this year. We found the fire road to be quite icy.

Mountain biking in snowy conditions near Ruthe and Jim’s house

We got back early to see the Turkey go into the oven. It was a good Thanksgiving crowd with the Finnigans, the Noacks, the Woudenbergs and Jim of course. Nine people in all, and more than enough food as always. Followed by pie of many types then a sampling of some exquisite Scotch.

Jump to Thailand

Sunday Oct 20, 2019

Budapest Airport.

I book car transfer to Budapest Airport. I elect to get to the airport many hours (5) before boarding time. Yes, I’m nervous about this. I get into the correct terminal, but cannot find the Aeroflot ticket counter.

I learn that Aeroflot does not open a ticket counter until two hours before the flight. So, I have to babysit my bike for a few hours. I find a comfortable spot and hang out with Allen from Ghana, Africa. He has many hours wait for his flight to Madrid. We get to know each other. He is currently living in Ecuador.

Bike and baggage waiting for Aeroflot to accept them as checked bags
Allen and I share a beer.

Trapped in Moscow

So, here I sit in Moscow airport. Trapped there by my own lack of planning. As it turns out, there is no problem to change planes in Moscow. Without the required transit visa, it is not possible to leave the secured area of the airport.

I did make a trip to the Russian Embassy in Budapest to try to secure this visa. It turns out the application must be filed from the Russian Embassy in my home country. So serious advance planning is required to visit Russia.

The closest I get is to watch the planes come and go through the window within the airport. I do get to observe Russians at work. They behave in a rather stone faced way when hit with something outside their duties.

For instance, as I was getting off the plane, I was interested in getting the help of a flight attendant. I had a few postcards with Hungarian stamps that should have been mailed before I left Hungary. I figure the attendants will be back in Hungary in a day or so, maybe I could get them to do me a favor and mail them for me. I waited to be one of the last to leave the plane. I explained my proposition to a flight attendant. She replied that she was married. Um? Married? OK, so I figure she just misinterpreted my request. I pulled out the cards and showed them to her. Harmless postcards to my family and friends? She eventually agreed to mail them for me. It will be interesting to see if that actually occurs.

Mayma from the Budapest to Moscow flight

I come across another passenger from California, Mayma who just got off the same flight. She has the same problem as I, no transit visa with many hours before her next flight. She was pretty sure it was possible to get a transit visa in the airport if you can just get to the right people. She had found something on a website to support her position.

We worked together on this. Asking lots of people along the way to customs. So to be fair, it was about midnight Moscow time, we did not speak Russian. Many times we asked folks questions they could not answer. In most places this would invoke a shrug with a statement that begins, “I would like to help you but I really don’t know…”. In Moscow the more typical response is a stone faced stare as if the fact that a question had been asked was not acknowledged.

Mayma and I were undaunted by this. We were at times backing up through a checkpoint so that we could search for more useful people. On our third pass through the checkpoint, we actually got the staff to laugh at us. So, it is possible to get Russians out of the stone face mode. Laughing at Americans is good bait.

We joke about our predicament. When they make the movie about this, there will of course be a car chase, then we get arrested and falsely claim to be friends of Putin. There’s a narrow escape and a spectacular get away. Yeah that’s how James Bond would spend a day in Moscow.

Eventually we conclude that there is no way out of this airport. Not at this time of night anyway. Mayma cancels her hotel reservation in Red Square. We find that the airport restaurants are no longer serving food, though we can still get a beer and do so.

The one hotel in this part of the airport has no vacancy. They point out that there are rooms in the other (inaccessible) part. There are capsules, like little pods available for sleeping at about $10/hr. There’s no way Mayma is going for that. Something about not changing linens and ick factor. Things are not looking good for us. As we drink our beer, Mayma announces dibs on the restaurant couch. It has a pillow! I think she’s joking, but we really don’t have many options.

As we slowly finish our beers we share our life stories. Mayma has done many impressive things in her life. She at one time started and maintained a thriving stationery business in New York, back when people actually sent paper invitations. She has had multiple blogs and knows how to make them get favorably recognized by search engines. She is now a team leader at Facebook. They had to court her twice before she finally gave in and took the job.

Without knowing what to do, we go back to the only hotel and ask if there is any vacancy. Amazingly the answer is yes. There are two rooms available, where only 90 minutes earlier there was nothing. A new hour is like a new day here. We go to our rooms. I get a good night sleep. It’s not cheap, but worth it.

.

Cutting Room Floor

Here is a bunch of stuff that I find worth documenting, but may be a little esoteric.

Moscow airport cost of living is like San Francisco, but without the really good beer. Tim, your not in Eastern Europe anymore.

Crows in Eastern Europe and also in Moscow are two toned. They have black wings but grey bodies. I have not seen any all black crows since before Vienna.

Budapest Crow

To Budapest

October 16; Odometer 2854mi

Crossing the border from Austria to Slovakia is exciting for a few reasons. I don’t have any experience with the language. I have never been in this country. All the signs are meaningless except for the pictures and numbers. I begin to understand what it is like to be illiterate.

The good news is that the cost of living (and traveling) is far less in Slovakia and Hungary. Also, I find ways of communicating beyond my own language skills.

On the road to Budapest

Leaving Vienna

Zora helps me retrieve my bicycle from storage

Leaving the Palace Hostel Schlossherberge, I meet Zora. He is originally from Georgia. He speaks Russian, and German, probably English as well, though we speak in German. He asks many questions about my bike. I enjoy explaining the many advantages. He is originally from Georgia. I assume he is not talking about the state north of Florida.

My plan for the day is to make it across the border into Slovakia. Schloß Herberge is up in the hills behind Vienna. So I will have a good downhill run to the river, and then a tailwind for a good part of the 95km trip to Bratislava, the capital city of Slovakia.

It is a cool morning start, 6 degC (43 degF). I wear three layers for the decent to the river. I peel one off when I get warmed up and running along the river.

Parting View of Vienna from the east
Small house boats parked in the Danube

Street Art painted on a bridge abutment
Mike eating lunch at Castle Eckartsau in Austria

Out in the country beyond Vienna, I meet a cyclist, Mike. We make our introductions in German but quickly switch to English. Mike works for Deloitte in Vienna. He speaks English with almost no accent. I learn that Mike has just this year learned to ride a bike. He is on a day trip from Vienna to Hainburg Austria. A distance of about 50km. It is the longest bike ride he has ever done. We stop for lunch at a castle in the countryside. Mike bought lunch for us both.

Mike has a high level position at Deloitte. He also has a lot of experience in digital security. He has some good stories of demonstrating weaknesses in a system, by simply breaking into them. I think the dark glasses fit his profession.

We meet up with two cyclists from San Francisco, Erin and Brian. We group into a peloton of four riders for the last ten kilometers into Hainburg, Austria. There we say goodbyes to Mike. He will catch a train back to Vienna. The three San Franciscans continue on toward Slovakia.

Erin and Brian are on their first day of a journey from Vienna to Budapest. They have lined up a package deal with a tour group and have their hotels planned out. Their baggage is transported by truck.

As we get close to Bratislava, we split up. Erin and Brian have prearranged hotel accommodations. I check Booking.com to see what is available. I am surprised to find the hotels are significantly less expensive here. I find a place close to the river in the middle of town for less than fifty euros. Nice deal! The place is called Botel Pressburg. Odd name, I think. But OK, I don’t really know the local language at all here.

I follow the GPS coordinates to find the hotel. It takes me to a ship docked semi permanently there. The sign on the ship says Botel Pressburg. In that moment I realize I have booked a room on board a ship. The place is actually surprisingly elegant for the price. I am wondering if I should just roll my muddy bike down the ramp, when I see two other cyclists do just that.

The place has a secure location for my bike, and a very spacious room with a private bath. I am surprised to find that there are at least four Botels here in Bratislava.

Just across the border is Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. The ship docked on the left is Botel Pressburg.

View across the Danube. Botel Pressburg is in the foreground.
View from my private cabin window.
Lena and Victor, cyclists from Muenster, Germany

At breakfast, Victor and Lena joined me. They are the two cyclists that I saw come down the ramp the evening before. We spoke in English and shared stories of our travels. They are also cycling down the Danube. They had a good story of a flat tire in the rain where they broke the tire iron trying to get the tire off of the rim. It became immediately clear that they would not be able to make it to the hotel where they had already booked a room. Little emergencies make for good stories.

I also learned from them that Germans do not like riding in the road with the cars. Lena recalled being upset when they were forced into this situation. This surprised me. I find European drivers are extremely respectful toward cyclists. I have no trouble with this even on fairly major roadways. I figure these cyclists have never ridden on US roads.

Their original plan was to end their journey in Vienna. They got to Vienna with some time to spare so they continued on to Bratislava. Victor is an electrical engineer. Lena has just finished her studies in law and has plans to become a judge in Germany.

Beer Research

In earlier posts, I have made a point of how inexpensive beer was in Germany and Austria. I didn’t realize then that beer is yet less expensive as one moves further east. In addition there are some quirks in the branding. For instance, there is a long standing dispute over the name Budweiser. In Eastern Europe, Anheiser is not permitted to use the name. The Budweiser here in Slovakia is made by a Check company. More detail below.

Another Budweiser?
A typical Slovakian beer garden on the Danube Cycleway.

Beer prices in Slovakia

The price list gives beer prices in euros/ half liter. This converts directly to USD/pint because both the euro and the half liter are about 10% more than the dollar and pint respectively. This is the price of beer from the tap served at a beer garden in Slovakia. I can find bottled beer in a supermarket in Hungary for about $0.50/pint. When was the last time you paid $1-2/pint ? Consider another commodity. I am paying $30-50 / night for first class hotel rooms in large cities in Slovakia and Hungary. OK, so they are not big name hotels like Hyatt or such. But they are not dingy places either. Similarly food is not expensive.

While studying the beer at this local beer garden, I ran into a local Slovakian cyclist named Fero. We did not share a common language. So we used a translation app that I have on my iPhone. It is called Speak & Translate.

Fera, and Tim. Two retired cyclists enjoying a beer together, near Bratislava, Slovakia

The app enabled us to take turns speaking a sentence or two in our native language, then after a moment, it would do its best to translate and say the statement in the other language. The app also created text and could accept text as input.

This worked surprisingly well for two important reasons. We both enjoyed each other’s company, and we had no alternative means of communication. The app is otherwise somewhat tedious. Heike and I made good use of it in Germany. More typically people do not want to be bothered. A shared interest in good communication is essential.

It helped a lot that I could read Fera’s facial expressions to gauge how well he understood the resulting translation. It was not always perfectly clear. I’m sure he was also reading my face.

I found Fera to be both curious and level headed. We spoke about a number of things. For instance, he observed that where cultures mix together, there is conflict and sometimes bad things can happen. In these cases, it is so critical to keep a calm head. We both agreed that the mix of cultures is important.

Near the end of our conversation, I asked Fera about good places to stay. Though he was headed west, and I was headed east; he insisted on guiding me to the best towns to the east, by bike. This took him about ten kilometers out of his way. I stayed in a town with a natural hot spring. Good medicine for overused muscles. I really appreciated Fera’s guidance.

Hungary/Slovakia

Somewhere along the way I crossed the border into Hungary, another EU country. Here the Danube is the International border. Slovakia is on the North Side and Hungary to the south. Whenever I cross the river, I have to keep in mind that the currency changes. I switch back and forth a few times. The official currency of Hungary is the Forint, not the Euro. However I found a grocery store near the border which will happily take either currency.

In Hungary many of the merchants speak German, though the average guy on the street does not. It creates a barrier that is sometimes uncomfortable for me. It’s difficult to explain why. I feel sort of discourteous when someone says something and I can only return silence, or say something that will not be understood. I will need to get over this soon.

Lately, when I hear someone speak a language I understand, I want to start up a conversation. I overheard an Austrian couple in the hot spring and chatted. I found a couple of German cyclists on The Cycleway , Peter and Petra from Berlin. Peter had many questions about my odd looking bicycle. It was a pleasure to chat.

Petra and Peter on route in Hungary

Perhaps it is unfair to lump Hungary and Slovakia together. From my naive perspective, I do so anyway.

In general, I find that the drivers here are as respectful to cyclists as anywhere else in Western Europe. The Danube Cycleway is not as well marked, but there is an App that makes this a non-issue for anyone with a smart phone. The road surfaces are not as well maintained as in the west, but certainly no problem for a bike with 35mm tires.

I find abandoned buildings in places. I find shops on Apple Maps that no longer exist. I do not see evidence of crime, though I think people here are more cautious to lock things down. My reference point is San Francisco, where I have lived for ten years and have had four or five bikes stolen. I do not see any stripped bikes chained to a lamppost here.

The cost of living is remarkably low, compared with Western Europe. Yet the quality of service is quite good. Also, the technology is not at all backward.

I remember last year in rural Indiana, my brother surprised a liquor store clerk by using his iPhone to pay for beer. The clerk wasn’t even aware that it was possible. Here in Hungary, the Apple Pay technology is everywhere, and the clerks are not surprised. Along these same lines, the room I slept in last night had LED illumination. The buses and cars seem to be modern.

Technology spreads without boundaries. When cheaper and better solutions become known, they move quickly across borders. It is not like the days of the Iron Curtain. For instance, Apple Pay, Lime scooters are in every large city I have been in. Uber is only in some cities. Essen, Munich, Vienna yes. Linz, Überlingen, no.

I do notice that there are working phone booths east of VIenna. Also, I do not see any electric cars, though they are also quite rare in Western Europe, compared to California. I’m guessing the hard winter may make them less practical.

I hosted a Belgian couple that had just finished cycling through South America. They explained that it was common to hear the locals describe the next country on their itinerary as being not up to the same quality as they experience here in this country.

It is a national pride that exists here in Europe as well. I remember hearing that the roads in Slovakia and Hungary are not maintained at all well. This is true. The roads here are almost as bad as California roads.

Budapest

I arrived in Esztergom, Hungary. It is only about 25 miles from Budapest by the shortest possible route. Here I did not follow the river, but took a hilly route to Budapest. It saved me some time. I also got to see a lot more undeveloped space than I am used to seeing in Western Europe. I traveled 25 miles along a somewhat major road without seeing a town, or even a building.

It was good to get back to the Danube as I approached Budapest from the North. My mode of travel these days is dependent on local services. I like pulling into a restaurant along the cycleway to have a good meal. My first meal back on the river was Hekk. The Germans call it Hecht. I believe this is pike, a large freshwater predator fish. It tasted just fine with French fries and a beer.

Pulling into Budapest came with a gloomy mood for me. I’m not really sure why exactly. It is true that my European trip was coming to a close, and that my daily routine was about to change radically. I think a partner would have been helpful to have in this moment.

I had much to do to prepare all my stuff for the plane to Bangkok. The boxes and tools and supplies I used to box my bike the last time, are all discarded back in Amsterdam. I have to recreate that setup from scratch. I have to do this in a city where I don’t speak the native language and don’t know where to find things.

I have given myself ample time for this scavenger hunt. I did find it helpful to have a photo at the ready to show to the store clerk. It beats waving your hands in the air with or without the sound effects. It took me a few days to find everything. I think I’m in good shape. I also got some expert coaching from Les CycloMigrateurs, my role models.

Dealing with the Aeroflot is also much different than most airlines. For instance, with a bicycle one must call the airline and describe the package dimension and weight and wait 24hrs to see if the airline approves. I went through three iterations on this process. There are no exact guidelines on what will be accepted. I think I got a pretty good deal in the end. It takes time.

Budapestian Culture

After spending a few days here in Budapest, I have found locals with good command of either English or German. English is more common.

I had a good conversation in a local pub with Miklos, a digital artist. By his own description he is a sell out. There was a time that he was supported by the Hungarian government to do his work. Now he is an employee of an online gambling site. His animated cartoon images are used to entice new membership.

He was troubled a little over what his art is being used for. But he likes the pay and feels confident that the gambling industry will survive a recession. I would not call Miklos an optimist. He feels that Hungary is teetering on the brink of collapse. He said that Hungarians are half Balkan. Which I took to mean, they are deeply suspicious. He confessed that when we first met, he thought I might be from the CIA. OK, yes, deeply suspicious.

He was very concerned over the latest developments with the PKK in Syria. I shared with him this concern. He said in the past, the US was a most preferred ally to have. We are quickly losing this reputation in the world.

Madeline

On the brighter side, I restarted my use of Tinder. I will stay in Budapest for over a week, so it is possible to make this work. There I found Madeline. I went to dinner with Madeline, a Hungarian Native. She is nearly my age and likes to stay fit. She is independent and lives alone. She holds a degree from a Hungarian University, and has a full-time job in communication. I told her I was interested in finding a partner for traveling the world. She sent me a text this morning that she misses me.

Tomorrow we will go on a second date. Her English is far from perfect. We frequently get help from the Speak & Translate App. She would like to learn better English.

Image of the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest. The Cezzane docked in the foreground.
The Parliament building, close up

It has been a good trip, though I feel I’ve only scratched the surface on this first pass. I had breakfast with three American tourists from Alaska. They had spent some time In Czech Republic.

They visited the town of Cesky Krumlov. There they found a castle with a moat that had brown bears in the moat. They also went to the Bone Church in a different town. It is called the Bone Church because the bones of the monks that were buried there were exhumed and used to create elaborate decorations (chandeliers and the like).

OK so, I was sure they were pulling my leg until they showed me photos. Yup, Grizzly Bears in the moat. Please don’t tell Donald about this.

I would like to continue the journey on to the Black Sea. I am leaving a large part of the route unexplored. It would be great to come back and finish the journey. Maybe I can find a partner that knows the culture and some of the languages.

Kelheim to Wien (Vienna)

October 4, 2019; Odometer 2650 mi.

In this blog I continue east along the Danube. Along the way, I get a message from my brother Eric that he is planning a trip to Munich with his son, Toshi. Caught in the dilemma of diverting my course, or holding to the plan; I resolve to continue with the plan to Linz, Austria. Park my bike there for a few days while I take a train to meet my Brother in Munich, and then return by train to Linz to continue the trek.

My path along the Danube is traced out in blue. The train travel is shown in black

In the map you can see the international borders in tan, Germany in the west, Austria in the east and Check Republic in the north. I spent three days off the bike. It was well worth it.

I have covered a bit of ground since the last blog ten days ago. I am becoming increasingly aware of deadlines. I must get to Budapest in time to pack up my bike, fly it to Bangkok, then return to Chicago for the family reunion at my mothers place on her 93rd birthday. That, and summer is over. It is getting colder. Some mornings it is 4C (39F) at 8AM.

While this is not at all a bad temperature for cycling, it requires some motivation to get started. Once I am running at speed and warmed up, I don’t feel cold at all. Even if it is raining and my clothes are wet, the body generates enough heat just keeping the bike moving. My rule of thumb: if you feel cold, ride faster. If you can’t keep that fast a pace, put on another layer of clothing. I’m carrying layers I have not had to use yet.

As it gets colder, I am not using my tent as much. I can stay warm enough at night. I have trouble with breaking camp on a cold morning. It is much easier to get organized in a warm hotel room, then launch into the cold air and quickly warm up.

Sign indicating many available cycle ways, of which the Danube cycle way is but one

In Kelheim there is substantial commercial traffic, including passenger ships and freighters.
Near Kelheim, a lean-to is set up near the Cycleway.

I found this charming structure set up in a park near the cycleway. It was right on the river. It was not part of a campground. It seemed to me that the locals had erected the place for cyclists to use. The nearby fire ring indicated that folks would occasionally overnight here. I would have done so myself except I had more miles to go that day.

I was racing a rainstorm that was headed east, coming up behind me. I could see the dark clouds coming. I remember from my days of Race Across America, one could sometimes out run a storm. This requires keeping a speed of about 35kph, which sounds like a lot. But the tailwind helps. These days I don’t keep speeds like that, but it was fun to race and lose just the same.

The big dump of rain hit me just as I was coming into the villiage of Pondorf. I found a farm supply store there and ducked into an open storage shed to get out of the driving rain. I was discovered there by an employee who was speaking loud and too fast for me to comprehend.

I explained that German is not my better language and that I can understand only if he speaks slowly and simply. We then got into a useful dialogue. I found out that there are no hotels or hostels in this villiage. The next town is about 8km east and would be the closest accommodation of any kind. I asked to use the toilet.

When I came out of the toilet, I was shown to the general manager’s office to meet Bernard. He took me in to his office to show me his recumbent (Liegerad). He rides this to work everyday. He also owns a Bacchetta Corsa. He has a dream of doing Race Across America. We got into a good discussion in both English and German. He is about my age, a marathoner with impressive finish times (~2.5 hours).

I think it would be fun to go down to Oceanside and see Bernard’s team start. He explained a plan to ride the course, not during the race itself. I told him to beware of the California desert, and don’t give up.

Bernard gave me some good advice on places to stay. By the time we were done talking the rain had stopped. It was really good luck for me to have picked his storage shed to duck into for cover.

Bernard and his Liegerad

On my way to the next town I find two French cyclists Jacque and Joseline. They have apparently gotten the full dump of rain that I missed while talking with Bernard. It has now been at least a month since I have spoken any French. We stumble through greetings and some simple questions about origin and ride plans. I am surprised to find while searching for French words, German words pop up, which I dismiss in mid sentence.

Joseline and I meet again
Jacque is drying out his tent before folding it up

It turns out I meet these two more than once over the next few days. They apparently are using tents in spite of the rain. The photos here show them drying out their tent before folding it up. I am impressed with their tenacity.

East of Ulm, I am traveling in Bavaria Germany. Here Oktoberfest has started. This is a big thing in Munich. Out here in the surrounding community there are smaller local festivals with the same name.

It was in Regensburg, I found the temporary fairgrounds were erected on the Danube Cycleway. It was a comical thing riding my muddy touring bike through a carnival setting. Germans are typically more organized. OK, maybe I missed the detour sign.

Signs are important. Especially warning signs. I encounter one regarding airplanes and take out my translation app to help out.

I found this sign posted alongside the Danube Cycleway.

Just as I am figuring out that it is a warning about an airplane runway where walking and riding is forbidden, I hear an engine coming up behind me. I turn around in time to see a single engine Piper about 20 meters off the ground coming nearly straight at me.

He is on final approach. He flys directly overhead and lands about 100 meters beyond me in the grass field. OK, a near miss. Now what!?!! I can’t figure out how I managed to wander into this situation.

I see no more air traffic coming. I investigate to find I have not made a mistake. The Danube Cycleway is at the edge of a grass landing strip. I find other cyclists on this path. I sure hope the pilots all understand to land in the grass not on the cyclists.

Last day in Germany. This calls for a beer and another sticker for the bike
Riding on the South (Austrian) side of the river. Chasing passenger boats down the Danube

Decision to meet in Munich

A day or so before reaching Austria, I decide it would be good to meet Rick and Toshi (my brother and his son) in Munich. Thanks to Heike for pointing out that this would be an important part of my trip, not to be missed.

The thing is, a big diversion in my course would not be easy to accommodate. It would be possible for me to leave my bike where it is on the course and take a train to meet Rick in Munich on Sunday Sept 29. I push eastward toward Austria.

Upper Austria

Passau is a big German town near the border. I take a moment to have a beer and give thanks for a great time had.

Crossing to border into Austria is a very popular part of the Danube Cycleway. I discover that upper Austria is a rural place. There is no train service of any kind until you get to Linz. There are few bridges that span the Danube. The popular way to get across is by ferry. There are many restaurants along the cycleway that are specifically set up to serve the cyclists.

I stop at one such place and order lunch. A large tour group comes rolling in. They are speaking English. One cyclist is wearing a Ragbrai jersey. Ragbrai is a famous ride which goes across the state of Iowa every year. I chat some of them up. They are the Iowa city cyclists. A fun group headed west unfortunately. I am headed the other way.

I head out and meet Richard, a cyclist from Melbourne, Australia. We get to talking. He is not carrying much. We keep a good pace together with one other cyclist from Australia.I learn that he has an agreement with a tour group which arranges to carry most of his stuff on a barge. They meet once a day and provide a place to sleep.

Swapping stories, I find he knows of Glenn Druery, a racing partner of mine from Sydney. Small world.

Richard from Melbourne and his cycling partner.
Ferry specifically set up to move cyclists across the Danube
Swans relocate to get out of the way of the ferry
Ferry docking on the far shore.

There is a cottage industry of ferries set up to move cyclists across the Danube. This is a charming on demand operation. One simply stands the bike near the loading ramp and someone appears to run the ferry across. It costs less than the price of a beer.

Linz

Linz is an industrial city on the Danube. I do not think this place is at all charming. I would not stop here except, it does have a major train station. I need this to make a smooth run to Munich. Here I find an inexpensive hotel which is willing to keep my bike for three days while I go to Munich.

OK, Linz has a very different vibe than upper Austria. Maybe I shouldn’t be so negative. It is home to a Thermo Fisher plant and some kool urban art painted onto a freight train.

Munich

Popping back into Germany was a breath of fresh air. It is here where my brother worked for SuedDeutcher Zeitung back in the 80’s. He has maintained friends with Werner and Sigurd there. We stayed at Sigrun’s home in the northern part of town.

Munich is the capital city of Bavaria. Much of it was destroyed during World War II. For many Germans this is an important city in Germany, and it shows. There is so much to see there, we could only scratch the surface.

We spent a lot of time in the German Science Museum. There are many exhibits on how modern technology works, (E.g. GPS, Aircraft, Astronomy). We also got a tour of Marianplatz which was my brother’s home while he worked there. Many of the old buildings are untouched. It is the new ones that have changed most. We got around mostly with electric powered rental scooters, and rental bikes.

Of course if you wind up in Munich near the end of September, one is obligated to go to Oktoberfest. We did. There is only one size beer sold there. It’s one liter, that’s more than two pints. We hung out long enough to sample the scene, then returned to a more civilized downtown Munich.

From left to right. My brother Eric (Rick), Werner, Toshi
My brother and I sporting rental scooters in front of the Hund Kugel (dog ball)
Old friends from way back, Eric and Werner
Munich Cathedral
Near Marianplatz
Tim, Rick and Toshi at Oktoberfest
Oktoberfest after sunset.

Back to Austria

Vienna

Vienna (Wien) is the capital of Austria. It is the largest city in this country. I was here once before when I was 17 years old. Just graduated from High School, my father took my brother and I on our first trip to Europe. A very cool tradition.

Things I remember of that trip are not all very clear. I do remember my dad making a big deal about Vienna, the eastern most point on our voyage. I remember he made a big deal about Sachertort mit Schlag (sugar cake with whipped cream).

It’s always a good thing to make some goals larger than life. So to remember that, I went out and found this elusive delicacy.

Sachertorte mit Schlag

To be completely honest. The presentation and expectations are wonderful. The praise stops there. Maybe my palette has not been properly educated.

A beautiful day in Vienna. Bicycle bridge in downtown.

I don’t mean to be negative on Vienna. I really haven’t spent enough time to get to know the city. On my next pass this way, maybe I should give it a second chance. At the moment, I need to keep it moving.

Museum of Natural History in Vienna

The forecast for today was rain. I took the day off to see Vienna and catch up on my blog. At least the blog is up to date.

Doing some quick calculations on rate of travel and time remaining, I find that I average between 60 and 70 km/day, based on markers placed on the Danube. Thus I am not including some kilometers I spend getting lost. I will need time to negotiate visas and pack up my bike for air travel, once I get to Budapest.

All in all I think I’m on a good track. Though I have some challenges ahead. I still have to get through Slovakia, then part way through Hungary. I don’t speak the languages there. I will need to set up visas for Russia and Thailand. So the plan is: I will get to Budapest on Oct 14 and fly to Moscow on Oct 19. I will fly to Bangkok the next day.

Sept 22 Danube River Marker. Indicates distance in km to the Black Sea
Danube marker Sept 28

Danube marker Oct 3

An earlier version of this blog was published with an error. Bernard is the recumbent rider I met in Pondorf. The original version had his name incorrect.

To the Source of the Danube and Beyond

Abensberg, Germany September 24, 2019 Odometer: 2289 miles

From the last post, I had broken a shift cable and was waiting for the bike shop to open.

In Schwetzingen, the bike shop opened on Monday morning. It was a bustling place. The mechanic offered that I use one of the stands in the shop and fix the problem myself. I was able to get part way through it when the mechanic joined me to finish it up. I was happy to have him working with me.

The control of the Rohloff Speedhub is unlike anything I have ever worked with. Most shifters use a single cable with a spring return. The Rohloff uses two cables. Pulling one cable advances to higher gear. The other for lower gears. While one is pulling in the other is letting out. The two cables move simultaneously like a belt drive.

This design makes it easy to reverse the direction of the twist grip. The way my bars are set up, my hand sits upside down from a normal bike handle bar. So, we reversed the cables to make the shifting back to the normal sense. Now I will not have to think about shifting so much.

Heading south from Karlsruhe, I stopped for a picnic lunch at a table on a wooded path. I was joined by another recumbent rider, Karsten. He was riding a HP Velotechnik as well. His was a trike.

Though I have not seen many HP Velotechnik bikes here in Germany, Karsten insists that there is an active group of cyclists touring Germany on this kind of bike or trike.

Coming south to the town of Donaueschingen, the start of the Danube river, it was necessary to cross through the Black Forest again. Between the towns of Gengenbach and Sankt Georgen is a thousand meter climb, some of it at a very steep grade (~19%). This was my second time crossing. Komoot chose the exact same roads as it did for me in August. This time I knew what lay ahead.

Traditional Thatched Roof near Gengenbach
Dairy Cows sporting a stylish cow bell, Just like the ones in Switzerland
The 1000m climb starts in Hornberg.
Climbing through Black Forest back country.

I had excellent weather for the climb. It was 14 C (57 F) with a gentle tail wind. There were almost no cars on this road on a weekday morning. When I got to the top, I was not so exhausted as last time. Better temperature? Better training? Who knows? I felt good cresting the pass, knowing it would be mostly downhill or flat for the rest of the ride to Donaueschingen.

The Danube in Donaueschingen is wide and shallow
Trail marker for the Danube Cycleway (Donau Radweg)

Typical Danube Cycleway trail
Naturepark Obere Donau is a most beautiful part of the Danube Cycle way

Once I got to Donaueschingen, I turned off Komoot and simply followed the signs that guided me along the Danube River, mostly. The path goes through countryside small villages and major cities. It appears that the route is designed to show off the best parts of the country.

About twenty kilometers downstream from Donaueschingen, is the start of the Naturepark Obere Donau. A most beautiful part of the journey. This fifty kilometers is mostly through the forest. It is punctuated by magnificent castles, forts and farms. Any of which would make an excellent fairytale setting. Also, it has the ring of authenticity. There are no gift shops, no admission fees, no advertisements.

I stayed at a farm that had been converted to a hotel and restaurant. An adjacent barn had horses and goats. The place was also still a working farm. The sign at the hotel reception indicated that the Innkeeper was out in the stalls and would return soon.

While waiting, I ate a wonderful dinner of wild pig, and homemade noodles, during which the chickens were running around near my table. Maybe one of them would lay an egg for my breakfast?

Farmhouse along the Danube Cycleway in the NaturePark
Castles dot the hillsides in the distance.
Friendly Chickens pose for a picture, while I dine out on the patio
My second floor room in a converted barn. Notice the woodwork.
Maybe Rapunzel lived here. There was no visitors entrance. Actually no signs at all.

A newcomer to Germany might have the idea that yes, there are many castles, and cathedrals here. Maybe it would be possible to stay for a month and visit all of them. It is not possible to do this. There are too many. Nearly every town has a castle, fort, or cathedral. It would take a lifetime to see them all.

Traveling in Germany is quite affordable. It is easy to find a comfortable private room with its own bath and maybe a kitchen for sixty euros or less. Beer is about $3/ pint for a local brew served in a restaurant or bar.

A German beer bottle from the brewery in Donaueschingen

Typically German beer is sold in a standard bottle. The idea is that once the beer is consumed, it can be cleaned relabeled and reused. It is evident in the photo that the glass is worn at the shoulder. This bottle has been through a few cycles. Because the bottle is standardized, it is not important that the bottle is returned to the original vendor. This bottle may have contained beer from several different breweries in its lifetime.

Upstream from Ulm, the Danube is used to generate hydroelectric power
(Left to right). Michael, the home owner and Andrew a guest, and amateur race car driver.
Michael’s ongoing project car, a turbo charged Lotus 7. Weight 650kg Horsepower unknown.

Heading further downstream from the NaturePark, I find the Danube is still too small for commercial traffic. But it is used for hydroelectric power generation.

Along the way, I booked a room in a private home. There I met Andrew, who was preparing for a big race the next day. The event is called a slalom race. Here pylons are placed on a flat track. Contestants will complete a tortuous ten kilometers without touching a pylon. A winning car must have good cornering ability and high horsepower to weight ratio.

The homeowner, Michael was a race car fanatic as well. Before long we were in his garage oogling the project he calls his ‘Shoebox’, a turbocharged Lotus 7. He was proud of the fact that he modified and installed the BMW turbocharger himself. He told a story of out running a Ferrari on a section of the German autobahn which was particularly curvy. My understanding is the Ferrari was far more powerful and could easily win on a straight course. The Ferrari was also heavier and not nearly as nimble. The Shoebox did well in the corners and stayed well out in front overall.

That evening we had a home cooked meal of Mau Taschen. These are very much like ravioli. It was explained to me that here in Germany they are also known as ‘God Cheaters’. It is customary that at certain times it is not acceptable to eat meat. In a ravioli, one could hide the meat, so God doesn’t notice. Clever idea.

Airbus Helicopter plant on the Danube
Kilometer marker on the Danube.

Rainer, the hotel owner Gasthaus Pfafflinger In Neuburg, Germany

I have now covered a few hundred kilometers of the Danube. As I move downstream I find the Danube Cycleway is only part of a complex network of cycleways. The signs get complicated. It happens at times that I lose the path, but it doesn’t worry me. Finding the Danube is not difficult. Following the Danube will eventually lead back to the cycleway. On one such departure, I found the Airbus Helicopter plant. Also I see that there are kilometer markers along the Danube, just as I found on the Rhein. The numbers decrease as I head downstream. Does this mean I am ~2500km from the Black Sea? Probably.

I have found that hotels here in Germany are not so much a corporate entity that you might find in the US. So many places, are small businesses. Some do such an excellent job at making me feel at home.

Late in the day, I found Gasthaus Pfafflinger in Neuburg, Germany. I walked into the bar and asked, where is the reception desk for the hotel? Rainer answered, here it is, me. I am what you seek. He poured me a beer and there at the bar we filled out the paperwork together. He upgraded my room. The beer was free.

Rainer noticed from the paperwork that I was born in New York and live in San Francisco. He had spent some time in his life in both places. We got into a good discussion about cycling and the Warmshowers philosophy of paying it forward. I told him I would really enjoy teaming up with him on this journey. He demurred, saying that he had this hotel to run.

Before the evening was over I got personally introduced to many of his staff. It became clear to me that they were looking out for my best interests. During the evening there was much drinking going on without careful accounting of who was buying exactly.

In the end, it was all sorted out. My bill came to only 11 euros. I believe the clerk was making sure that I didn’t get stuck with more than my share. I tipped her well and then had to explain that this is an American way of showing gratitude for being treated well. I hope my German was good enough to get this point across.

The next morning, Rainer and I traded email addresses and hugged goodbye. I headed out into the rain.

With the rain also came a good tailwind. I was happy with the trade off. I also noticed that my bike on the wet gravel trail throws up a lot of gritty mud. It became clear to me the benefit of fenders. After fifty kilometers the lower part of my bike became caked with something similar to wet cement. The topside remained relatively clean. Best of all the bike functioned perfectly throughout. Shifting, brakes, etc. no problem. Also my hotelier pointed out that no one would steal a bike that is so mud covered.

The internal gears of the Rohloff Speedhub are not perturbed by mud.
Fenders keep the topside of the bike fairly clean
Disc brakes have no trouble in the mud
Waterproof bags come clean in the hotel shower.

Today is my birthday. I celebrate by spending the day in a Café bringing my blog up to date and enjoying German chocolate cake, a favorite in my childhood.

Further South through Germany

Sept 15, Schwetingen, Germany. Odometer: 1850 miles

Following the plan to head south along the Rhine into the Black Forest, I find it is relatively easy to make one hundred kilometers per day. The road is flat and navigation is not difficult. The scenery is also quite nice.

In Düsseldorf I had to find a dentist to fix a crown that had come loose. I was impressed with how easy this was to do. Without an appointment, and no dental insurance that would be relevant, I immediately got an appointment. The dentist looked at the issue and agreed to reattach my crown for fifty euros. With the receptionist, we spoke German. With the dentist, we spoke in English. The whole thing took ninety minutes or less and was handled quite professionally.

Heading south from Cologne, A cyclist zipped by me on the cycle way. I gave in to my racing instinct, and sped up to catch him. Staying within a meter of his back wheel, I could reduce my wind resistance and keep a faster pace than I could on my own. The rider was on a carbon frame racing bike with no luggage except a small pack on his back. We rode together for quite a ways when I came around him and we introduced ourselves.

Christian from Holland

His name is Christian. He started from his home in Holland that morning. He is headed to the Italian Alps to meet some cyclist friends. He travels two hundred and fifty kilometers a day on average. This average he can keep for several days without any problem.

Christian spoke German and English very well. I assume he also spoke Dutch. He grew up in a town not far from Woudenberg. His easy going style reminded me of our departed friend, Steve Purcell.

I followed Christian to his hotel just south of Koblenz. We ate and drank well. There we shared a table with a German couple from Munich, on vacation exploring the wine regions of Germany. I explained that I was fortunate to find Christian, as I probably would not have made as much distance without his help.

The next morning we left together, the plan was to make it to Speyer. When we left the Rhine in Bingen, the road became hilly and I was no longer able to match Christian’s speed with my much heavier bike. We parted ways.

I turned to Komoot to find me a way back to the Rhine. It took me through many miles of vineyards in the German countryside. I checked into a hotel in small town south of Mainz. It became obvious that small towns have cheaper hotel rooms than large cities. There I met another cyclist. A German named Markus.

Marcus at a restaurant set up by local farmers in Nieder-Olm

He was on a five day trip, traveling by mountain bike. His English was pretty good, but I tried to keep the conversation in German. We wandered through the town of Nieder-Olm. We found a restaurant which was set up by local farmers. Markus explained that after harvest season, the farmers try to make extra income with this kind of restaurant. The menu is limited to typical dishes from the region made from locally harvested food. The food was good. We also went to a wine bar nearby which served small glasses of local wine so that it is easy to sample many different wines. Markus had a more discerning taste than I. I thought all the wines were pretty good.

The next day I found Franka, a German woman who had just finished high school and was on an extended trip by bicycle. Her English was excellent. We spoke almost entirely in English. She rode an ancient Motobecane which she bought for about fifty euros and restored it herself. She worked in a bike shop for a few months and learned lots of skills. She laughed that even with the experience, she will sometimes still puncture a new inner tube when installing it.

Franka. A German high school graduate with remarkable agency

Franka was familiar with Komoot and was amazed as I over its ability to sometimes find tiny paths through the woods. She taught me how to read the cycle way signs and navigate without Komoot or maps. She also was a WarmShowers member. She thought it was a great organization.

Franka had an interest in philosophy. She told me about Das Kapital, a famous book written by Karl Marx which is still quite relevant today. She was able to describe the concepts in some depth, all in English.

We got into Manheim, a big industrial city. This far upstream on the Rhein, the river is fragmented into many smaller rivers. In a city of Manheim there are lots of bridges, lots of traffic. It really became complicated to navigate using only the cycleway signs. However, Franka was able to find a cycleway that crossed the bridges we needed. It took some trial and error, but she remained confident and succeeded. I was impressed.

Manheim cycleway is quite different from the German countryside

Franka planned to head south to Spain. Our paths split in Manheim. We said our goodbyes there with a challenge. I said I would probably get to Budapest before she got to Spain. We exchanged email addresses.

Heading south out of Manheim back into the German countryside, I noticed that my shifter was getting progressively harder to use. Then the cable snapped. At that point my bike became a single speed bike. Normally I carry enough spare parts to fix a problem like this. However, the Rohloff system is new to me. I was uncertain about what to do.

I booked a nearby hotel. I rode the bike for three miles to the hotel. Fortunately there was a bike shop close to the hotel. I spoke to the owner as he was closing up shop late Saturday afternoon. He did not have a mechanic on duty. But he gave me a shift cable and said the mechanic would be available on Monday morning.

Broken shift cable

I emailed Dana. He replied that I could probably fix it myself, but I would need some tools I am not carrying with me. So here I am in Schwetzingen for an extra day. It’s not a bad place to get stuck. I have time to catch up on my blog.

An odd stature in Schwetzingen downtown