4.15.2004

currently reading a good book METAL COWBOY
so far it is a good read
he is a talented writer with a wealth of experience
the tales are about the people he meets and the experiences he has as a he tours about the country and the world via bicycle....guess that will get me to try and put a rant on that topic
lets see if I can get a story to surface


here it is
the year is 1990
just graduated from St Mary's College of Maryland
in Europe with Rob Hardesty and our bicycles


We were just a week into a five week trip in Europe; three countries Holland Belgium, and France
it was set out to be a mixture of travel and touring
we were flexible
flow with the river
blow with the breeze
just a rough idea of places we wanted to go and things we wanted to see
a plan that could be revised at any second
maps purchased when we arrived
no Lonely Planet, nothing
there were a few contacts we had here and there
and the ground we wanted to cover
we opted to mix bicycle touring with riding train
each day was an adventure
Rob and I were young and wet behind the ears
neither of us had done much touring or traveling
nor had either of ever been out of the United States
sure there had been a few long rides to the beach or along the canal
but never more than a few miles from a Super Big Gulp at the 7-11
so one week into the trip we had already discovered that things do not always go as planned
sometimes they work out better
sometimes they blow up in your face
we had flown into Amsterdam, spent a few days tooling around the city
taking in the sites, some museums, and the culture
most of our days were spent in the park making our own sociological surveys
we rode from Amsterdam to Osterbeck (near Arnem) where we stayed with a high school friend's Dutch grandmother
actually, she was headed out of town for the weekend, so we did not stay with her, we stayed at her place
Rob managed to get her to entrust us with the keys to her home, or more clearly her home
in exchange we did a few chores around the house
nothing too taxing, just things she was unable to accomplish herself
even got proactive and switched her refrigerator door to open in a more logical direction
she returned happy to see that we had not robbed her and that we were leaving
from there we rode south towards Belgium
it was glorious riding
very flat
clean crisp air
a castle in the distance here and there
and canals everywhere
and very very green, wide open and green
the only thing more present than tulips and castles were the cyclists
people of all age on bicycles
all cruising at a leisurely pace
we passed them all with our heavily loaded aqua marine green Bianchi mountainbikes
then when we stopped to have lunch and refuel
these same cyclists would pass us
we were being taught the touring equivalent of "The tortoise and the Hare"
one day we set out for the next town on the map with a Youth Hostel
we made some calculations and set on our way
it was a long day
our course was clear
we got directions from helpful a cyclist or two and felt confident about our direction
as it turns out our course was correct
while our calculation of the distance was incorrect
the flat Dutch country side started to roll as we got closer to Belgium
never a climb
but with our untrained bodies these long rolling hills were taxing on our body
to break the monotony and to use a different set of muscles we walked our bikes for small stretches
as the sun set we contemplated sleeping under a tree on the roadside
but I figured we had gone that far, we could make the final 7-10 miles
Rob agreed, but he saw the measure in my eyes
he had to fight my desire to "just knock it out"
often spirit is as good as strength and conditioning
and I felt that a 7-10 ride could be an easy sprint, like riding from downtown to Bethesda after a long night of drinking
put the body on auto pilot and pedal way
the legs move with the ballistic power like the wings of a bird
rob was not ready for such an expenditure
we were a team
so we moved and worked as a team, settled in on an agreeable pace and made it to our destination

(here is where the story starts)

we were overjoyed
we rolled into a small quaint little village
what may have been considered a European city at one point in time
beautiful old architecture
we rolled in a little after sunset
too tired to do much more than check into the Youth Hostel, unpack our gear, and fall into a deep sleep
once in the town center we got our barings straight we went to the Hostel
or at least we went to the address where the Hostel once was
this was the second time we had arrived only to find that our information was not up to date
there had been a Youth Hostel there, but no more
the 6.95 we spent on the Youth Hostel book and the 20 dollars each for an American Youth Hostel membership was proving to be a waste
we pondered what to do
as we rested our legs and thought about our next move
just then a pack of teen age boys passed through the town square on mopeds
either a gang of geeks or perhaps some delivery boys just released from work and on their way home
the one in the lead of the pack came to a stop
threw down his moped and began stomping on it
we approached the young men and tried to make an introduction
we tried what Dutch we had learned in our week in Holland
rob tried his three years of French with Madame Kitze from high school
and we tried english
we got nothing but blank stares
very different from Holland where everyone claimed that they did not speak much English, yet were able to convey abstract concepts and talk about world affairs
here these boys spoke and understood nothing but Flemish
it was a frustrating moment
we were exhausted from a long day's ride
they were frustrated with their moped being out of gas
then the inability to communicate did not help matters at all
they went back to the bike and surveyed the situation
one of the young boys pulled out some beers and they started drinking
they were drinking a local beer whose name I can not recall
the bottles were small 7 or 10 ouncers, what may be known in the states as Ponies
rob and I watched as they fiddled with the bike
more kicking than anything else
as a man I wandered over to lend a hand
men are very good at giving advice
even on issues that they know nothing about
I walked over and stopped them from kicking their moped any longer
made eye contact with one of the boys
and gestured for his empty beer bottle
with the bottle in hand I walked to one of the other mopeds and pulled the fuel line from the carburetor and filled the empty beer bottle with gas
replaced the fuel line
then walked to the moped that was lying lifeless on the sidewalk like a beached whale
poured the gas into the tank
and fired the moped right up
there was a cheer
friends were made!
immediately we were each handed a beer
I took that small bottle popped off the cap
flicked the cap off into the far far distance with a snap of my thumb
and chugged that Pony in one gulp
respect was earned
the gaggle of boys stared in awe
this tall american man with long brown hair and a bright green bike was doing things that they had never seen before
things that are common place to any american playing drinking games in their parent's basement
and then we talked
there was no language so we began a game of Charades
I motioned that we were looking for a place to stay
with the universal sign for sleeping (hands together like in prayer, resting beneath the ear of my tilted head)
they understood and took us around to various hotels
no Motel 6 in this joint
not sure how costly things were
as exhaustion never helps with the conversion of foreign currency
we chased behind them on their mopeds in this little city in Belgium until we were back in the town square
the boys talked amongst themselves
they made an offer
one of the boys said we could stay at their house with their family
it was only 8 kilometers away
I was excited
the notion of being invited into their house and getting a taste of their culture and maybe some pancakes for breakfast was appealing to me
rob would not have it
from what we calculated once back in the states we had ridden over a hundred and thirty miles that day
with overloaded panniers
rob put his foot down
he was not going to ride any further
not for a free place to stay
not for a warm bed
not for a Belgian breakfast
he did not trust their rough estimate of distance
and was not confident that their parents would invite us in upon our arrival
rob has the stubbornness of a mule, the harder you work to change his mind
the hard he stands his ground
there was no effort made to sway him towards the moped rider's offer
so we moved back to the game of charades
we asked it there was a good hidden spot to sleep on the street
night prior we had slept in someone's carless garage
which was great cover from the rain
but they did not think that this was a good idea
one boy put his hand forward and close together as if in hand cuffs
that was a result that was not attractive to anyone
soon enough it was getting later and darker
they needed to get home
and we needed to get settled in on a place to stay
we meandered about the city
and found a dock near the river
I scouted out some small sail boats hoping to sleep in one of the cabins
it was starting to rain
the cabin of the sailbboats seemed like the best cover
rob was right in thinking that it would be an awkward situation to wake up to the enraged owner of the small boat
the image of the imaginary handcuffs was in both of our minds
so we opted to sleep on street
we found some large cardboard boxes and made shelters in a classic homeless style
we were tired
rain, cold, and wind were not going to keep us from sleeping
there was talk of one of us staying awake and sleeping in shifts to protect our gear and our lives
rob took the first shift
he was asleep before me
I was too tired to complain
and too tired to bring my lock out of my bag

that was just one day and one night of an adventure that lasted for five weeks
we learned a great deal about ourselves and the world on that trip
we are still great friends and still ride bikes together
even if we did part ways 2/3 of a way through that 5 week journey
lucky for us we made a pact to stay friends after that trip no matter what
it was a good deal to make and a great deal to keep

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