Cross-country motorcycling - Part 3 (2001)

Day 17 - Friday, June 22, 2001 –

Sleep in a bit and miss breakfast, but the bright sunshine outside is an energy booster in

and of itself. Check out and load up the (mostly dry) gear and gas up around the corner.

Get a new map of Europe, find the road to Skagen (east and north) and take off over

land that is oddly flat after the Norwegian heights. And, of course, being flat and just

off the North Sea, it’s very windy.

This seems a peaceful land. The people are friendly, the roads small (two-lane); brick

houses with tile roofs sit astride what appear to be mostly small farms here in the north.

Along the road and passing through the occasional small town I note many bicycles

piloted by men and women of all ages, which in turn makes me think of the incredible

courage of these apparently simple folk, who stood up to the Nazi occupation’s edict

that Jews must wear (I think yellow) arm bands by determining that everyone would

wear them. Hannah Arendt spoke of the banality of evil. Apparently heroism comes in

some surprisingly simple forms, too.

After an hour or so I come into Skagen, a small port city that is known as an art colony.

The main street is lined with shops, many of them art galleries. Crafts and antiques are

everywhere. The main street is blocked for pedestrians only so I find a place to park the

bike and walk around a bit.

I keep seeing things that might be nice to take home to Shelley or the kids or friends,

but remind myself that I don’t have room to carry anything. It’s a friendly crowd on the

streets. Many are young people, but all ages can be seen browsing, laughing, enjoying

the sun.

Back on the bike I scout out a place to eat and decide to try a pastry shop. Danish

pastry, after all! But this one is a disappointment. Simple stuff is all she has and it’s

pretty much just sugar and dough. That and an odd drink I thought was orange juice but

turns out to be soda pop make for a not particularly nutritious breakfast.

Noting that the bike now has over 3000 miles on it I ask around for a motorcycle shop

where I can get an oil change. Nothing here, but I’m directed to Frederikshavn, down the

coast, so take off south. After finding my way through the seaside part of the city I

manage to find a road that parallels the coastline and breeze along. The wind is cold but

the sun helps offset its effect.

Nice country. Quiet. Friendly. Incredibly flat. In Frederikshavn there is no bike shop

(well, there are probably a lot of bike shops, but no motorcycle shop), but I’m told I will

find a BMW dealership in a town called Svenstrup, which is below Alborg, a couple of

hours south and inland. It’s now noon and I don’t want to get there too late, so head

toward the motorway to make some time.

On the motorway it’s more like Britain. These folks move along. The wind is strong and

cold, but tolerable, and in a couple of hours I’m through Alborg and finding my way to

Svenstrup. Along the route the sense builds that this is a very flat land filled with farms

and neat brick houses, and it is studded with windmills. The structures, sadly not the old

picturesque type but more modern sleek towers with huge propeller-like dual blades,

take full advantage of the constant wind and probably provide a significant portion of

the country’s energy needs.

Once in Svenstrup, after a few false starts I find the bike shop and make my way around

the back and up a ramp. The guys in the repair bay don’t speak much English but

summon one who does. They’re all very friendly and, though it’s now well into the

afternoon, agree to do the necessary oil change while I wait. (Being ‘on the road’ on a

bike tends to lead to getting priority treatment. That’s been the case in all of my trips

so far, in the U.S. and abroad. It’s a nice part of the culture of motorcycling that people

familiar with bikes recognize the inherent problems with such travel and usually will go

out of their way to help.) It turns out that even though they’re an authorized BMW

dealership they’ve not yet seen this model, so the mechanics are particularly interested

in checking it out. Kind of fun.

As they do the oil change I roam around in the shop and pick up a pair of gloves that are

supposed to be waterproof. My old ones have about given up any pretense of shedding

water. Though a nicely stocked shop, they don’t have any rubber boot covers here

either. The ones I got in Voss were too small to begin with and have now torn. Even

with duct tape all over the place my boots – and of course the feet inside them -

continue to suffer in serious rain.

And, naturally, as I wait for the bike the dark clouds pile up in the once-clear sky.

Everything done, we’re faced with a problem. They don’t take credit cards. And they

don’t like traveler’s checks. Hmmm. What to do? One of the guys drives me to a local

bank, which is closed, and their ATM doesn’t recognize my card. Back at the shop we

look at each other for a bit and I offer to either write a check, which probably won’t

make anyone happy, or pay in American cash. The owner likes that idea best, so

computes the exchange rate and we’re fine.

Outside the rain has begun, so I pull out the rain gear and cover everything, put on my

stuff – and my new gloves – and head out. Kobenhavn is four hours south, they tell me,

and that’s all on the motorway. It’s late, getting colder and the wind is up, but what the

hell, I’m free!

I have a couple of options, as it turns out, in getting to Copenhagen: another ferry or a

very long bridge. They’ve now completed a bridge from the Danish mainland that

connects it to the island (Sjaelland) where Copenhagen sits. Who knew Copenhagen was

on an island? In fact, it’s on the eastern edge of the island, just across from Malmo,

Sweden. They’re separated by a channel, or Sound, that juts north out of the Baltic Sea.

So, my geography is improving, I’m having a hell of a good time and the windmills are

saluting my effort. Danke.

Tearing on down the motorway again and yes, I’m soon in need of gas. Towns are

scarce along this route, so I’m quickly doing some calculations as to how far I dare go

without getting off the motorway and searching something out. After a few miles it’s

getting darker fast and it becomes clear that I’m not going to find something without

going hunting, so take the next exit. Before long, thank heaven, there’s a gas station

and I pull in. It’s a fairly big place with only one row of pumps and a huge structure for

truckers to wash down their rigs. No attendant is in sight, so I try to figure out the

pump and can’t. None of it makes sense to me. It’s an automatic set-up of some kind,

but won’t take any of my cards. It keeps asking (digitally) questions that I can’t read,

let alone answer, and I’m stumped. A trucker is cleaning his rig and I walk over and ask

him, but the language barrier defeats us and he’s not anxious to come out in the rain.

As I stand there staring at the pump, willing it to somehow make sense to me, a man

pulls in to gas up. I ask if he speaks any English and he does, if haltingly. I explain my

dilemma and he shows me that I have to type into the machine how much gas I want by

indicating how much money I’m placing in the slot. It’s a cash-only transaction. Aha!

Thank God I have a 50 Kroner note, change from buying the pastries earlier, so can get 5

litres (as in Canada and England, gas is sold by litres, and I never have figured out how

many litres make up an Imperial gallon). With this amount of gas in the tank my warning

light goes off, so I know I have at least one gallon and thus the ability to make it for 30

or 40 miles.

Back on the road, it’s raining to beat the band and the wind is kicking up a hell of a fuss.

Figuring it’s not a good idea to go too far, I keep an eye out for lights in the hope of

finding a station with a human being in attendance. Soon I spot one and pull in, but

nope, no attendant and I don’t have the right cards and now have no cash, so I head out

again, fingers a bit more tightly crossed.

More rain, more wind, pitch black, now the gas warning light is back on and I’m freezing.

I’m beginning to consider spending a wet night beside the road when lights appear

ahead. Can’t believe it. I never thought I’d live to see the day that I’d thank God for the

sight of a McDonald’s, but there are those goddam Golden Arches, gleaming through the

rain. I pull off to find Ronald’s place complete with a gas station next to it and a living

person who will take my Visa card! He probably wouldn’t understand it if I kissed him, so

instead I fill up the tank and buy a bottle of juice, noting then that my hands are shaking

so hard with the cold that I can barely hold it to my lips.

Juiced up and gassed up, even warmed up a bit from getting out of the rain, I climb back

aboard and head down the dark highway toward Copenhagen. In a few miles I come to

the bridge that was described to me as being “very long.” What I don’t know as I

approach is if it’s a toll bridge, which is a concern because I have no Danish money. The

signs I see might tell me if I could speak the language, but here goes nuthin’.

“Long bridge” is putting it mildly. It’s actual length plus the force of the wind that

comes whipping off the water from the north (my left) makes it the longest, scariest

bridge in my experience. The cross wind that rips at me is so fierce – vicious is the word

that comes to mind – that I’m literally fearful of being pushed into the side and over.

Nothing I do makes any difference, though slowing down helps me control the bike a bit

better against the gusts. It also, of course, makes the trip longer. Jesus, this is a scary

ride! Fortunately there are few cars making the trip tonight. I have to ride in the left

lane in order to avoid being pushed into the railing on my right, but the gusts that come

up without warning still move me suddenly across the empty lane as if I’m a sheet of

paper instead of 500 pounds of man and machine, and put me dangerously close to the

railing.

Riding along, hanging on, I’m leaning to the left at what feels like a 45 degree angle in

order to maintain a semblance of balance, and realize, happily, that the rain has stopped.

This way it’s not fun, but if the surface was actively wet it would be impossible.

Then, thank God, I’m across! And it is a toll bridge. And I’m so glad to be off the

damned bridge that I don’t care. As it turns out, the few coins I have in my pocket

satisfy the machine and I head on across the island.

Copenhagen seems dark. As I enter the city and head for the City Centre, the street

lights appear to be dimmed, giving everything a kind of middle-of-the-night look. It’s not

that late, I don’t think, but looks it. Following the signs to the City Centre I pass rows of

apartment houses and ride along wide avenues with trolley tracks in them (which I have

to be careful to avoid – they can catch a tire and throw a bike off balance – they also

tend to be slippery). Finally I’m on what appears to be the main street, passing the

Tivoli Gardens on my left and the old-town square on my right. Pulling off, I spot a hotel

and search for a place to park the bike. The parking situation here is confusing. Lots of

cars, few spaces. Lots with tickets and slots for coins I don’t have.

Taking the chance, I park the bike in a lot and trust that my gear won’t be lifted while I

run across to check out the hotel. At closer inspection it seems kind of seedy. Of

course I should talk; wet, frozen, scraggly, I probably look like a bum. The guy at the

desk has a kind of tough, unfriendly look but he has a room. Parking? No garage, but

there’s plenty of parking on the street, he insists. Not that I saw, but I don’t feel like

arguing. Instead I ask to see the room and he gives me another unfriendly look and the

key and points to the elevator. The coffin-sized elevator is not my favorite conveyance

but it gets me to the top floor. The room looks pretty grungy and the place just doesn’t

feel like where I want to be, so tired as I am I decide to try my luck elsewhere.

Back down the main street there is a kind of ritzy-looking place, the Hotel Alexandra, and

I figure ‘what the hell?,’ park the bike on the sidewalk in front and venture in. A nice

young woman welcomes me with a smile, says she has a room and that I can lock up the

bike in their private space behind the hotel. I think I love her. Take the bike around

back, unload, schlep all the gear in the back way, through a short hall and over to the

elevator. About three trips back and forth, then I’m ready to go up. In the process an

American couple has come to the desk, apparently just in from having dinner. Nice folks,

they’re sure I’m me in spite of the way I look. Up in the elevator to the third floor (which

would be the fourth to us – Europeans count the ground floor as the ground floor, the

next one up as the first, etc.), out into a narrow hall and find my room. It’s small but

neat and clean.

The girl at the desk had said there are a couple of good restaurants, one Italian and

another Chinese, across the main street (apparently the Stormgade) near the old square

that stay open late, so I shuck the wet clothes, climb quickly into some dry ones and

stroll over for a late-night dinner in Copenhagen.

The Chinese place is closing, so on to Italy (The Vesuvio). A happy welcome, a glass of

Chianti, good pasta, and I listen drowsily to the chatty conversation of a group of young

kids speaking mostly English in the corner behind me, then head back to the hotel, call

Shel and collapse into the narrow bed, pull up my duvet and am quickly gone.


Day 18 - Saturday, June 23, 2001 –

As my eyes open, I’m rested and warm and delighted to see the sunshine coming

through the window, so get up, clean up, dress and take a walk around. The wide

boulevards here are reminiscent of many European cities and somehow, even when

crowded with traffic, lend an air of gentility. Room for everyone, not such a feeling of

compression. Here there are LOTS of bicycles. People of all ages ride sedately along, a

normal – and apparently respected – part of the traffic pattern. And there are lots of

tourists.

Danes are a great-looking people from what I can see. Lots of healthy, attractive young

men and women riding bikes, walking, enjoying the sunny day.

After roaming around a bit I head back to the hotel to check out. The desk clerk says

it’s OK to stash my gear and leave the bike behind the hotel for a while, so I do and walk

back over to take a look at the Tivoli Gardens.

Everyone here seems happy this morning. Pleasant guards at the gate direct me to the

proper line where I buy a ticket and pass through the old-fashioned archway. Inside

there are pleasant, flower-bed-lined brick walks, but I’m surprised that despite the lovely

and well-cared-for beds of flowers around the walks and the occasional larger floral

display with benches for those inclined to sit and appreciate – and some are here - most

of the park is given over to shops, restaurants, performing areas and a significant

amusement park. I guess I expected more flora and less commerce. Silly me.

After strolling through most of the park I walk back to the hotel and load my gear onto

the bike. Told by the desk clerk about two vegetarian restaurants within a reasonable

distance, I head out to fumble my way around the city in search of a healthy breakfast.

It’s a bit nervous-making to ride along trying not to get run over while searching out

streets, figuring out the local traffic laws and deciphering signs in an unfamiliar language,

but I manage to avoid any collisions while also managing to avoid finding the first of the

suggested restaurants. Undaunted, I head down a lovely, tree-lined lane toward what

turns out to be the rabbit-warren of the Old City.

Christiansborg, as the Old City is apparently known, has the very narrow (now mostly

one-way) cobbled streets and looming buildings that indicate significant age. Back when

people primarily walked, rode horses and pushed or pulled carts they didn’t need the

wide streets, I guess, but for a stranger on a motorcycle trying to keep from being run

over this can be a very confusing situation in which to try to find a street, let alone an

address.

Finally I give up trying to read the signs and follow my nose through winding one-way

streets and pull over, once there is an opportunity, to take a look at the map I was

given. Hello! I’m there!

Shelley would laugh, I think, as I stare at the restaurant beside which I’ve inadvertently

parked the bike. She swears I have some kind of inner radar that pulls me to these

places. This may be providing irrefutable proof.

It’s too late for breakfast and the place is more a kind of deli than I had hoped for, but

the people are pleasant and the food is pretty good. Coming out I’m back at the map

trying to figure my next step when a man on a bicycle stops and asks if he can help. He

speaks English well and begins to try to tell me how to maneuver my way out of the Old

City, explaining that because the government is trying to discourage automobile use and

encourage bicycles there are many areas I won’t be able to ride through. After figuring

for a bit, he finally asks if I can push the bike without too much trouble and I assure him I

can, so he smiles, says to follow him until he indicates I can ride no further and takes off

down the street.

It’s fun. What a great place this is! We cruise through lanes hundreds of years old

beside buildings that must be the same. Little shops and hole-in-the-wall restaurants

and bars dot the area. Tourists crawl all over cobblestones that tell of the many horses

hooves and coach wheels that once graced them. Ahead, my guide signals me to stop

and points across a lane to a large open square, beyond which is the Stormgrad and

across it the opening to the Tivoli. From there I’m back on familiar turf and can make

my own way. I thank him and he waves it off, smiles and pedals away. Kindness – what

a gift.

Pushing the bike across the lane and into the square I find myself appreciating the way

they’re discouraging cars in the city, encouraging walking and bicycling with special

lanes, special bike parking and many no-car zones. It’s very cool. These Danes are

extremely mindful of the environment around them and intent on preserving it.

Firing up the bike and heading out I am glad to see the highway to the ferry is to the

southeast. I’m not anxious to cross that bridge again, even though the weather is

better. The wind is still up and is apparently a constant in this flat country. Once out on

the highway it again pushes me around, shoving me from one lane to the other.

Another gas adventure ensues as too many of these places won’t take my VISA card,

but I finally find one that will and carry on.

The shortest ferry route to Germany is from Rodby Havn on the southwestern tip of

Sjaelland, the island home of Kobenhavn, so I let the wind blow me in that direction.

Another ferry complete with slot machines and other video gambling games, stores,

restaurants, fast food stands and plenty of passengers takes me across the Fehmarn

Belt of the Baltic Sea to Puttgarden, Schleswig-Holstein, in northern Germany above

Hamburg.

We disembark at Puttgarden and again there’s no passport check. I assume this is

evidence of the new European Union approach, which is convenient but keeps me from

getting all those cool stamps in my passport.

Not surprisingly, northern Germany looks a lot like Denmark. Windmills dot the landscape

here as well, reminding me now of the three-pronged propeller of the old P-51 Mustangs

from WWII. The farmland through which this two-lane road takes us is well-maintained

and we’re breezing right along, when suddenly everything stops. What’s up? I’m able to

pull onto the shoulder of the road and pass a great line of cars until, near a bridge, I see

the problem. There’s a great goose, or swan, loose on the road. Cars are stopped in

both directions in an effort to avoid running over him, which is kind of sweet, but people

are getting upset at the wait while he is chased by drivers from one side of the road to

the other. It’s very funny to watch. Finally a biker coming the other way stops and

between him and another fellow they corner the bird, pick it up and cart it off down to

the river bank and we’re free to move along.

Now onto the Autobahn, Germans revert to the speed demons I’ve been hearing about.

I’m comfortable moving along at 70 or 75 mph (the signs, of course, are in kilometers,

so I’m doing around 110 kph on a highway with a posted limit of 130) and virtually

everyone passes me. From my perspective, some cruise by, some race by and some

literally whip by. It’s a bit intimidating.

Riding along I notice that none of the riders coming the other way returns my “salute.”

It’s odd. As suggested before, Americans all do, except for the biker-gang types who

either ignore you or sneer. In Britain I finally realized their response was the crisp nod.

The few riders I saw in Norway waved or nodded, as did the couple I saw in Denmark.

Here, there’s nothing. At first, I can’t believe it. It can’t be that Germans are that

stereotypically Germanic, but I can’t get a response to save my life. Finally I resort to

exaggerated waves that they can’t miss – even laugh to myself when considering a “Sieg

Heil” salute – but get absolutely no response. Ah, well.

Oh God, it looks like more rain ahead. I hold out as long as possible but it gets darker

and more threatening and soon I’m getting wet, so pull off and under an overpass to see

if I can wait it out. Down there I run into another biker, a German kid on a Harley who’s

in the same boat. We wait. I’m reluctant to unstrap, unwrap and tear everything down

in order to get out my rain gear and all the necessary water-protection, so wait and hope

it’ll clear up. The German and I try to converse as we’re waiting, but it’s pretty

rudimentary and we make little progress.

Finally I figure it’s going to rain for a while, so begin the process of pulling everything off

and trying to find places to set it that aren’t muddy. The German rider shrugs and

decides to head out into the rain, so I wave him off and continue to suit up. Finally,

everything back on and the gear covered as well as possible with the garbage bags, I fire

the bike up and get back on the road south. Of course, in less than ten minutes the rain

is gone.

Deciding I want to try to locate a friend in The Netherlands, I cut west to avoid Hamburg,

cross the Elbe River and turn south toward Bremen. Once off the Autobahn the roads

are confusing and I’m sure I’m totally lost a number of times, but press on, coming finally

into the outskirts of Bremen, from where I follow the signs toward the center of the city.

I guess it’s simply the historical association, as there’s nothing strikingly different in this

country from where I’ve been in the last few days (except for the fact that here other

riders don’t acknowledge me), but I’ve noticed a feeling of darkness settling over me

here in Germany, and it persists as I find my way into Bremen. Objectively, this is a

somewhat typical European city, though, perhaps by comparison to Copenhagen, it

seems to offer little. Seems a bit dowdy, a bit dark and not particularly inviting. Just off

the main square I find a hotel with a garage and pull off my stuff, get it up to the room

and put the bike away under cover. After I change, the desk clerk tells of a vegetarian

restaurant out on the east side of the city (through which I’d just ridden) so I grab a

cab. Before we’re across the square the cabbie makes a point of being rude to a driver

who is trying to get out of a parking place, crowding him, yelling. The cabbie really gives

him a load of crap and the guy doesn’t seem to be doing anything to deserve the

treatment, so it appears to me that it might be because the other guy is black. That or

the cabbie is just an all-around jerk. I’m thinking of getting out of the cab in protest

when it’s suddenly all clear and we’re off.

About fifteen minutes back out east the cabbie, who has warmed up a bit in attempts to

converse but still seems rather bitter, drops me at the corner of the street described. I

walk a bit, looking for the promised restaurant, but it’s not to be found. Night has fallen,

so I decide to just walk for a while back in what I think is the general direction of the

hotel and look over the city.

Can’t tell much. Lots of walkers, quite a few on bicycles. The people seem neither as

open nor as friendly as did those in Denmark. I keep walking, thinking I’ll maybe find an

interesting place to eat, and am pretty soon making my way through a section of

apartments. Moving on and following my nose I notice a couple of landmarks and am

soon back on the road toward the city center. Kind of fun to be able to feel my way

around an utterly strange city. But even as I near the hotel I haven’t seen anything that

appeals, so take a detour north and walk through a shopping section that is newer and

more attractive, but the places most active are club-like and loud, so I decide to just

pass on dinner, head back to the hotel and make it up with a big breakfast. (All

European hotels seem to offer breakfast with the price of the room.)


Day 19 - Sunday, June 24, 2001 –

Up early and while it’s not big there is plenty of fruit and cereal for a filling breakfast.

Lots of meat and cheese is offered here, too, for those so inclined. And although I don’t

know the area and don’t recall seeing any mountains, even in the distance, there are

quite a few people here who look like they’re outfitted for skiing.

I put all my gear in the various bags and head downstairs to check out and load up the

bike once more. As said, it’s about a twenty-minute process to put the tinfoil in place

(the roll I picked up in New Orleans continues to serve) to keep the side-bags from

burning on the pipes and then get everything strapped on safely. But rather than being

a nuisance, it’s kind of fun. Part of the routine of this adventure. Man and machine - all

that stuff. Swap machine for horse and I’m back in the Old West.

Checking the map again I seem to be on track. I’ve decided, though I’ve long had an

interest in taking a look at some of the sites of the WWII concentration camps, to head

out of Germany for this part of the trip and circle back later (my flight home leaves out

of Frankfurt). Now, my thought is to see if I can make a surprise stop in The

Netherlands.

Linda Van Ardenne is a young Dutch woman who runs a web site about me. We’ve not

yet met, as she very shyly approached me about it originally by e-mail and our

“conversations” have been limited to that medium, but she’s been incredibly dedicated

to this effort and has been consistently thoughtful, considerate, tasteful, careful not to

over-reach, and charmingly polite and respectful since she first asked me to look at what

she had done up to that point. I checked out what she has called the “Mike Farrell

Appreciation Page” and was both embarrassed by the attention and impressed with the

care she had taken, the evident seriousness of purpose with which she had gone about

it.

Though I have to admit to a combination of feelings about it – this whole area of

organized “fan-dom” tends to make me a bit queasy – the idea that this clearly

intelligent young woman had dedicated so much time and care to putting together what

seemed to be a very well-done – professional-looking – web page all about me and my

career was incredibly flattering. Her request, as I recall, was, assuming I thought the

page OK, that I allow her to interview me and include the interview along with the various

articles and pictures she had already collected, arranged and displayed so artfully.

As I looked over the page I was very pleased with the fact that she had not only not

ducked the political and social concerns that are so important to me but had in fact

made them as prominent as the career stuff – perhaps even more so. She had found

things I’d written, speeches I’d made, etc., and used them right along with the moreeasily-

attainable “celebrity” material. So, after a little back and forth dialogue about who

she was and what her intentions were with regard to this whole effort, I agreed to the

interview.

Long story short, that was a couple of years ago now – maybe more, I’m actually not

sure – and my admiration for her has grown immeasurably in that time (as has the page,

I might add). Linda is a teacher – was on course as an assistant/student-teacher when

she first made contact and has now made the grade – who lives with her mother in Goes,

a small village southeast of Amsterdam. She’s very sharp, is dedicated to her students

and, if she devotes a fraction of the time to her own professional concerns that she does

to maintaining the web page – and I know she does – she’s a hell of a teacher and a

great influence on the kids she serves.

Linda continues to run the web site with my full approval – even cooperation, when

needed – and, I admit blushingly, it’s very pleasing to have such a thing available for

those who have an interest in knowing more. To Linda’s periodic discomfort, some who

disagree with the positions articulated in pieces she displays, or those infuriated by

views I’ve expressed on “Crossfire,” “Politically Incorrect” or even less confrontational

interview shows, use her site as a format for attempting to debate or simply blast me.

While she always passes these things on, if slightly apologetically, for me to respond to if

I choose, there have been times when she’s let fly on her own at some clown who is

being particularly ugly – and it’s a sight to see! For someone whose first language is not

English, she handles herself very well.

So, heading southwest toward The Netherlands and Amsterdam I avoid the main

highways and pick my way through the German countryside. The sun is out, the

farmland well-tended, houses in the small towns lovely, neat and well maintained. In all,

Germany looks a lot more attractive to me today – and, I discover with a laugh, the

motorcyclists are not the robotic icebergs I had imagined, but in fact do respond with a

friendly wave. They even initiate it. The difference, idiot that I am, is that these are

small roads and rural highways. The riders clearly make the distinction between these

roads and the Autobahns, probably feeling it unsafe to take a hand off the grip when

racing along at high speed in response to a waving lunatic going by so fast they can

hardly see him. Boy, do I feel like a judgmental fool!

As I loaf along through the small, manicured towns, I kind of follow my nose, sensing that

I’m going in the right general direction. Soon, though, it’s clear that I’m lost. The dirt

track ahead of me isn’t going to get me to the German border soon… but it does look

like fun, so I investigate it for a while before doubling back to a more well-traveled route.

This country is gorgeous! The thick stands of trees that occupy every undeveloped area

suggest that without the intrusion of man and machine this entire area would be

beautiful, dense forest.

In the next small town I pull over at an intersection and am looking at my map when a

man stops and offers to help. His English is better than my German, so we’re able to

figure each other out and he sends me on the way. The problem with this kind of help is

that the tendency one has when directing a stranger to a point some miles away is to

assume that time is of the essence and that the shortest distance between two points is

a straight line. Hence, main highways, freeways, or in this case Autobahns, are the route

of choice.

But it’s OK, because I’m not exactly clear where Goes is and my hope is to get there

early enough to possibly take Linda out to dinner. I hadn’t even let her know I might

drop by because I didn’t want to disappoint her if it didn’t happen, so only asked the

most general of questions. (She is a motorcyclist herself, and knows of some of my

other adventures, so I couldn’t not tell her what I had planned, but made it clear that I

wasn’t sure when I’d get to do it or where I’d have the time to go.) She had said that

Goes was a couple of hours south of Amsterdam in the direction of Belgium, so of

course I headed for Amsterdam. Fortunately, another guy on a bike at a filling station

knew of Goes and let me know it was well south of Rotterdam, so I’d be wasting time to

go all the way to Amsterdam.

Heading further southwest I cross into The Netherlands and am welcomed by pleasant

signs and cut-out figures at the side of the road waving a welcome. Nice as I had come

to feel Germany was, this country seems more friendly, more easy. And here again I am

struck by the number of bicycles, even more than I’d noticed in Germany. More like

Denmark. Families ride along together. It’s very nice.

Here there is more open land, more farms. There are areas of trees, but not as thick, as

deep or as tall as had been the case a few miles back. Evidently this area was once

under water. Work on the dikes beside the road suggests that it might still be under

water except for the industriousness of the Netherlanders. The road here tends to be

quiet, a single lane each way through rural countryside dotted with patches of

sunflowers.

Nearing Rotterdam, however, things get nuts. A confluence of highways becomes a

huge, six-lane freeway that feels, with trucks, vans and cars converging from every

angle, like riding through the middle of intersecting landing strips at an airport. This is

the Ring Road, a feature much loved in Europe, that allows one to circle the city entirely

and bypass it if so desired or find the entrance route one wishes and head on in. The

problem is I have no idea where I want to go or how to get there.

Trying not to be pulverized by the huge rigs careening around me while finding an exit

for the City Center is complicated by the fact that all the road signs are in Dutch. There

is certainly no sign indicating a place called Goes – assuming, that is, that Goes in Dutch

is Goes. Finally, without a clue where I am or where I’m going, some survival instinct

takes me dodging for my life across this wide expanse of concrete and onto an exit – any

exit! – and into the city.

Rotterdam is a big place. It’s a warm day and after the craziness of the Ring Road I’m

happy to be able to navigate my way in relative safety. The center of the city, as in so

many, is threaded with one-way streets and divided roads. Here, add a couple of serious

waterways. So I loop around a couple of times, cross over a river (or canal) and slip onto

the sidewalk in front of a large hotel.

Inside, they’ve never heard of Goes, but a large map tells me that I have to head much

farther south. I’m beginning to worry about the time, so look for a telephone number I

thought I had for Linda, but can’t find it. I call Shel (how’s that, call a few thousand

miles away to get a number for someone hopefully only a hundred miles away?) who

doesn’t have it, but will e-mail Linda and see if she can get it, then call me back. Modern

communications.

After gassing up it’s back to the Ring Road to retrace my steps east for a while before

heading south. After half an hour I check with Shel again. She’s had no response.

Further south I’m still seeing no signs for Goes and beginning to worry that I’ll be much

too late to even bother her, much less have dinner. Pull off at a filling station and a man

steers me onto a road west which, he promises, will get me to the road to Goes. (The

east, south and now west routes are dictated by the fact that the Netherlands coastline

is regularly cut by watercourses. Only later did I learn that there was a road that would

have taken me straight south from Rotterdam over a number of bridges and into the

area of Goes in much less time.) Shel has still not heard from Linda but is able to find

her address in my computer, so I trudge onward and finally ride into the incredibly lovely

little 14th century village of Goes.

On a cobbled street that hooks around an old-world quay filled with dinghies, sail-andother-

boats, I stop to ask a group of men if they know the address. One, an elderly man,

doesn’t understand the words but looks at what I have written, smiles, points up the

road and explains the route to me in perfect Dutch. As I look at him, non-plussed, he

smiles and waves to another in the group who comes over. They converse, the second

man smiles and goes to his motor-scooter, starts it and waves for me to follow. I thank

them and they wave me off in pursuit of the scooter. Around a couple of corners and

into an area of connected two-story structures separated by small cobbled lanes I see a

sign for Linda’s street, Smallegangesbuurt and stop, waving to my leader, who has

missed it. He comes back, smiling, and we head up the lane, passing doors until we stop

at the right number and the man, satisfied, nods, waves and rides off.

A curtain is pulled aside upstairs and before I can get the bike parked and my helmet off

Linda is coming out the front door behind a look of astonishment. In her early twenties,

she has short dark hair and an open face without make-up. Clearly stunned and quite

shy, she says the minute she saw my gray hair under the helmet and the bike with all the

gear she had put it together but can’t believe it.

Inside, I meet Linda’s mother, a sweet handsome woman who insists I sit and have a cup

of tea, and we sit for a few minutes talking as they try to sort it all out. I explain that I

had hoped to surprise them – which I have clearly done – and take Linda out to dinner as

a way to both say hello and thanks for all the wonderful work she’s done on my behalf,

but fear it’s taken so long to get here that I’m too late. (Though the sun will be up for a

couple more hours it’s probably after 8 PM by now.) Since it’s clearly only the two of

them here – Linda has a brother who is apparently away working – I indicate that I’d like

to take both of them to dinner if they haven’t already eaten.

Linda’s mother demurs, and they’ve already had dinner, but Linda agrees to come and

perhaps have a dessert while I eat. We talk a bit and they show me around. The living

room area is comfortable and feels very homey. In the back yard Linda’s mother – who

apparently loves to garden – has some plants and flowers, many in cans and pots waiting

for better weather. It’s not yet the right season, she tells me, for the tulips I’d expected

to see. Linda’s motorcycle – her means of transportation and another connection for us

– is parked in a corner of the small yard.

Linda and her mother are sure I should spend the night in a spare bedroom rather than

heading off after dark, but I assure them that I had planned to make it to Belgium

tonight so I can try to drop into the Human Rights Watch office as early as possible

tomorrow, and they understand. With that in mind, after a nice visit, Linda’s mother

suggests that we’d better get going to dinner if I’m to head out tonight.

Linda shows me how to get my bike around to the back of their place (the townhouses

are strung together and have a common area in the rear, separated by fences, where

people can have gardens or a small personal space outside). My bike, with gear

attached, is too wide to get through their gate, but there’s room to leave it nearby on

the common walk just outside what appears to be someone’s garage. Linda is a bit

concerned about the possibility of someone walking off with some of my gear (and since

she knows the neighborhood better than I do the thought is a bit discomfiting), but it

seems to me safe enough. Some of her neighbors are sitting in their back yard nearby

and she asks if they’ll keep an eye on it while we go eat. They’re fine, so off we go.

Goes is a lovely little place. We chat as we walk back past the quay and I ask her to

thank the men who had helped me find her. They’re a happy group, still enjoying their

drinks by the waterside. Moving on, Linda points out the city’s old church in the center

of this city of 35,000, its 14th Century roots still visible. The brick/stone streets weave

by canals and one has a sense of being surrounded by history. Then we come to a little

Italian restaurant, the La Dolce Vita, that is, thankfully, still serving.

It’s a good dinner, and welcome. Linda continues to apologize for not knowing what to

say and admits to being in a bit of a state of shock. She’s very sweet. I try to put her

at ease, but by imagining myself in a like situation I understand. After a nice meal we

walk back through the quiet city and Linda shows me the “smallest street” in Goes,

which is actually a tiny cobbled path maybe a couple of feet wide between the walls of

two buildings that didn’t quite close the space between them. She says it was a great

place to play as a child and I imagine it must have been. There’s actually a door about

halfway through that leads into the back of one of the stores. Great spot. Looks like

it’s eons old.

Back at their house, Linda insists on leading me on a tour of the area and to see the

dikes. After good-byes to her mom Linda leads the way back to the highway on her

bike. The sun sets very soon so it’s a quick tour, but impressive. The dikes hold back a

very powerful sea that becomes more ominous as one clearly gets the discrepancy

between sea-level and that of the land on the other side; all of the farmland, farms,

homes, communities and even cities behind them would be devastated if these very

substantial berms were seriously breached. (One relatively small breach a number of

years ago flooded this entire area and caused huge damage, Linda says.)

It’s a great ride - along the dikes overlooking the sea, through farmlands, beside canals,

along one road through what appears to be a very posh community built along a

waterway and complete with personal docking spaces – and we end up back on the

highway. A quick stop for a thanks and she peels off for Goes and I head into the night

toward Belgium.

Pulling into Antwerp, it’s late and I’m pooped. The first few hotels I try are full, which is

not fun when you’re beginning to see double. Finally I find one with a room and a garage

for the bike, so register, unload the gear, slog it upstairs and crash.


Day 20 - Monday, June 25, 2001 –

Nice room, big bed, pretty good sleep. The city out the window in the morning doesn’t

show me much, but that’s probably not a fair way to assess. It more likely reflects my

mood when I couldn’t find a room last night. All the same, Antwerp seems dirty. It’s

certainly busy, like all cities, so I just get the hell out and leave the decision to those

who live there.

On to Brussels. This is a test. It’s a huge city and it’s hot today and I have no idea

where I’m going. But a stop at a café provides a phone book and the number and

address of the office of Human Rights Watch. Fighting my way through traffic and the

inevitable one-way streets ends up taking me in circles, and after a few near-misses in

the midst of very aggressive driving, I stop by a truck from an express delivery outfit

and ask the driver – who luckily speaks a bit of English – how to find the address.

“Straight down that road” is what I can make out, so that’s where I go. More cobbled

streets. When the lanes converge, then disappear, and the road splits a few times, I

stop and scratch my head. A local gas station provides a clue and I’m off again. Traffic

here is a dogfight. Finally I’m on the street and, lo and behold, it’s one-way going the

wrong way. Around and back and there it is. HRW is housed in a two-story walk-up in

what appears to be a residential area but must also house some professional offices. I

have no idea what part of the city I’m in at this point, but am very proud of myself for

having found this place. And no one is here!

Nope, nobody here. Oh, well. Find a phone, leave a message and move on toward

Luxembourg.

It’s odd, now. Moving down the highway I find myself feeling something and have a

tough time pinning it down. I no longer have anywhere to go. A sense of aimlessness

brings with it a trace of loneliness, even fear. Seeing Linda was a goal. Dropping in on

HRW was a goal. Now there’s nothing I can tell myself about where to go or who to see,

it’s purely a question of being on my own and allowing myself to enjoy the absolute

freedom and utter aimlessness that this trip promised. What I hadn’t realized is just how

intimidating that prospect can be when it comes right down to experiencing it.

So? Mini-crisis? What to do? Where to go? Luxembourg seems the logical choice, so

that’s where I point the bike.

I’m on the AutoBahn again and it’s not a lot of fun. Riding on freeways or interstates at

home is the same thing. You go too fast to enjoy the countryside and you have to

protect yourself from the crazies around you, so unless you have to get someplace in a

hurry, what’s the point? So I pull off at the first opportunity and roam through a small

town looking for an alternative route. Not finding one, I ask. “No.” No? “There is no

other way.” No other way? How the hell did people get there before there was an

AutoBahn? Shrug.

Well, shit, that can’t be. So I look around. And guess what? People used to get there

on a beautiful little two-lane road that winds along a lovely little river and passes through

towns that look pretty much the same way they did when Napoleon and King Louis rode

through here. Flat-front, boxy stone buildings boast small, flower-boxed windows one

can easily imagine women waving their kerchiefs and hankies through as liberating Allied

Forces ride by in jeeps, tanks and trucks.

Gorgeous rolling hills become higher, pasture gets greener, cattle and crops nudge the

sides of the road as I race along grinning, Steve McQueen in The Great Escape, lacking

only the pursuing German soldiers. Crisis, hell, this is a blast!

Actually laughing aloud, I race along through fabulous terrain, leaving Belgium and

crossing into Luxembourg before I check the map and head south into France. Through

Sedan and Metz I decide to head to Strasbourg for the night. A call to Shelley to tell her

I’ll try to find the little restaurant we enjoyed the night we were there a few years ago,

then back on the road. But it’s farther than it appears and night sets in well before I get

there. Pressing on I find myself on a toll road, which is fine, until I come to the place

where I’m supposed to pay, which is not. Nobody there. It’s a machine. And it’s all in

French. And it won’t take my credit card. And I’m Franc-less. As I’m struggling with it,

a car comes into the gate behind me, which only makes things worse – until a kind

German man steps out of his car and pays my way, sending me onward.

Strasbourg is quiet as I aim for the center of the city. Down a lovely boulevard past a

park I’m surprised to see a woman standing alone at the side of the road in a very short

skirt. Odd. Oh, there’s another, in even shorter shorts. Oh. I see.

Find a hotel off the main square with a public garage just across the street. Once set up

I walk toward the old city in the hope of finding our restaurant, but nothing looks

familiar. Finding anything open becomes a trial, so I settle for a quick bite at a sidewalk

café where I toast my sweet Shelley and walk back to the room.


Day 21 - Tuesday, June 26, 2001 –

Up and out. Load up the bike and get some traveler’s checks changed for Francs. Easier

said than done, by the way. Some banks won’t take them and American Express – if you

can find one - charges a pretty stiff commission. It seems everyone would rather have

American cash than traveler’s checks.

Strasbourg is busy and I still can’t figure out where Shel and I ate. Too bad. I’m pretty

good at finding my way around and when I’ve been someplace before can I usually figure

it out again, but not this time. I’m reminded, as I notice a large and impressive building

that may be a ministry or courthouse, that I’ve missed an international conference on

the death penalty here by just a few days. Pity, but I don’t know that I could have

gotten in anyway.

Following the signs south out of the city I’m back on the AutoBahn, so once into the

countryside I take an exit and explore a bit. Soon a large structure is visible atop a

mountain in the distance, so I head in that direction. A beautiful winding climb through

forested lands brings me to St. Odile, once a convent, now a hotel and restaurant with a

fabulous view of the Alsace wine country below.

After a quick look around I head down the other side of the mountain toward the

vineyards. Great road, little traffic. Dark, cool, rich forests, glens, small hamlets.

Suddenly there’s a blockade. Can’t go any farther, according to the signs. Cars are

turning around. But the bike can get by the barrier, so what’s the harm in taking a look?

It’s a long way back if I have to retrace my steps.

So on I go, taking care, but seeing little evidence of a problem. Some road work has

been done here, but I can negotiate it easily. A few miles further along I round a corner

and come on a crew working on the road. They look up and see me as I pull to a stop.

There’s room to get by, but since I’m not supposed to be here I don’t want to presume.

We look at each other for a beat, then I wave. They wave back. I point down the road,

indicating I’d like to go on by. One of them makes a sweeping gesture with his arm,

which I take to mean ‘go right ahead,’ and I do, hoping I got it right. As I go by, I wave

again and they nod, smile and wave back and I scoot on down the road. What fun!

The road follows the small stream that has cut this canyon. It’s a perfect motorcycle

ride: gently winding narrow road through beautiful surroundings, no traffic, great

weather - and I’m in France!!

At the bottom of the mountain a small village with narrow cobbled streets appears to be

hundreds of years old. I stop to look around and pick up a brochure that boasts of the

local wine, the inns, the tourist stops and the general beauty of the area. A small map

shows the way through the area, so I’m off into miles of beautiful vineyards, small

winding lanes and a number of what look to be 17th century towns.

Finally tiring of this sport I head east, across the AutoBahn, toward the Rhine. I’m still in

France, per the signs, but there is soon a distinctly German feel to the area – even

Germanic names for some of the towns – all of which argues that borders are often

pretty ephemeral things.

Heading further east I cross some farmlands into a huge, densely forested area. Side

roads cutting deeper into the forest beckon, so I turn into one and stop to read a sign

posted on a tree. Fortunately it’s written in a number of languages and my own jumps

out at me: “Shooting Area.” Aha.

Well, the road I was on was serving me very well, thanks, so back I go. Finally I come to

a main road heading south and before long find myself in Mulhouse. From there the map

shows it’s a relatively short ride to Basel, so I head in that direction.

The Swiss border is the first I’ve seen where customs officers are even visible, and these

are, from what I can see, simply waving people through. Apparently it’s a spot check

similar to what one experiences coming into California from out of state. I’m waved on

and head into the frantic traffic of Basel. It’s loaded with cars, bicycles, motorscooters,

trolleys and pedestrians. One-way streets confuse and the density of the traffic,

compared to what I’ve experienced earlier in the day makes everything suddenly

claustrophobic and intimidating. The City Centre is jammed and finding a place to park is

impossible. I finally pull onto the sidewalk and leave the bike to dash into a Tourist

Information office. Here, a very nice young woman who reminds me of my friend Sarah

Pillsbury tells me that the city is very crowded – which I have already noted – and that

yes, a vegetarian restaurant can be found. Because of the one-way street problem,

however, I have to go out of the City Centre, cross the old stone bridge to the east,

head around to the south end and come back in from there.

It’s a lovely trip except for the fear of being killed by a car, a trolley or a motorscooter

terrorist (like mosquitoes, they buzz in, out and around traffic without much concern for

anyone). Cobbled streets, some very narrow, beautiful, open squares and old stone

buildings give a nice sense of solidity to the city. Finding my way back in from the south

I locate the neighborhood, squeeze the bike into a very full motorcycle/motorscooter/

bicycle parking area and walk around until I find the lane of open shops complete with

veggie restaurant.

It’s an OK-looking place with seating outside, so I grab a table and a menu. Can’t read a

word. The waitress is terse, unfriendly, speaks no English and doesn’t seem interested in

helping me understand what’s what. Getting to the bottom line I pull out my VISA card

to make sure it’s OK. It isn’t. Goodbye.

Oh, well. Who wants to stay in Basel, anyway? Checking my map I see that Bern isn’t

too far off, so figure I’ll try that. The highway out of Basel leads toward a very steep

mountain. Once out of the city I climb past beautifully manicured farmlands and begin to

think of Norway. Very similar. And, lo and behold, there’s a tunnel ahead. Very much

like Norway!

Out the other side I’m looking at more, higher mountains but am soon into a series of

three tunnels that eventually take me past them and out into a huge valley that seems,

oddly, to be covered with a layer of haze that looks very much like smog. Ugh. After

45 minutes I’m climbing out of the valley into the hills and head into Bern.

Once into Bern I find my way to the Old City and once there I’m thrilled to have made

this choice. What an enchanting area! Old, old stone structures, wide cobbled streets,

rows of 3 and 4 story, flat-fronted stone buildings with arcades extending from the firstfloor

level and out over the walks in the commercial area. The buildings are beautifully, if

subtly, decorated and well-maintained. People are all over, walking, riding bicycles,

astride the ever-present, pesky motorscooters. The place bustles.

Finding a place to pull the bike over and leave it for a minute, I walk over to the Hotel

Bern, where a sweet, bird-like woman says she has one room available and takes me to

see it. It’s small, but comfortable, and she’s very sweet, going out of her way to

accommodate me. She can even make room in a storage area beside the lobby for me

to stash the bike. I ask about a bookstore and she reaches down behind the counter,

comes up with a paperback that an American has left and offers it to me. (Turns out to

be a good book: “Harmful Intent,” by Baine Kerr. It contains a great passage, “In cynical

times right and wrong can be hard to sort out. Goodness and truth can seem beyond

our reach. But we have the option, the obligation, to put cynicism aside and exercise

the public virtues: to find truth, oppose wrong, protect innocence, promote good and do

right.”) Besides all this, she knows of a couple of local vegetarian restaurants!

It’s hot here, so after maneuvering the bike into a spot that still leaves them some room

for storage, I take a quick shower, change and take a walk.

The city has a great feeling. Arches, gables, arcades, wide cobbled streets dotted by

open-air patios bedecked with umbrella-topped tables. People, including many young

folks, sit around enjoying the warm afternoon, smoking (it looks like everyone smokes!),

drinking and happily engaged in conversation. A trolley car runs down the very wide

main street. This is a gorgeous place.

A few blocks walk and down under an arcade I find my way into the promised vegetarian

restaurant. It runs through the building, from one street to another, so I walk through.

Once outside again, I discover tables on the sidewalk, grab one and people-watch as I

enjoy a delicious dinner.

Afterward I stroll back through the now-darkened city. God, this place is comfortable!

Around another large block of buildings there is a huge, open square with what must be

hundreds of people sitting, drinking, laughing, eating talking, smoking. It’s as though I’ve

wandered into some sort of holiday celebration – and maybe I have.

But for me it’s back to the hotel and into bed.


Day 22 - Wednesday, June 27th, 2001 –

Sleep in. It’s warm and sunny outside. Shirtsleeve weather. I load up the bike, buy a

map of Switzerland, say good-bye to the nice woman and head out. Shel passed on a

message from Erin to not miss Spiez and Interlaken, two places she had loved when

traveling through this area, so I head east.

Erin’s right, it’s gorgeous here! High mountains (actually, Alps!) on all sides, but the

road winds through a valley dotted with lakes. Clouds are coming up from the south and

I get rained on in Spiez, but it’s only the edge of the weather front so I stay in my shortsleeved

shirt and outrun it. Continuing east I find an alternate road that’s fun, but then

it narrows from two lanes to one, then to dirt, and finally devolves into a track for

horses and bicycles. I stop at a farmhouse to ask if it’s OK to continue on the path –

“Moto OK?” “Moto OK!” comes the response, with a wave of the hand, so off I go.

This is truly wonderful, riding down a dirt path under a canopy of hanging branches, a

river on one side and a wall of shrubbery on the other. I don’t know where the hell I’m

going, but it sure is fun!

Finally the trail ends, but a road takes me to the main highway and on eastward. Now

I’m riding beside the Thuner See, toward Interlaken, which sits, as the name suggests,

between two lakes, the Thuner See and the Brienzer See. Interlaken is nice, and it’s

tempting to take the cable-car ride up into the 4158 meter high Jungfrau, but the storm

that’s been chasing me is catching up and the wind is blowing like hell, so I have to

decide between getting a place to hunker down - for how long then becomes the

question - or hoping to out-race it. Something tells me not to wait around, so soon I’m

racing eastward again, now alongside the beautiful Brienzer See, the incredible blue of

the water pulling my eyes from the road.

When possible I’m avoiding the AutoBahns, or main highways, so when yet another

alternative presents itself I grab it. Soon, however, this new road I’ve chosen is blocked

by a barricade; road work is being done, perhaps resurfacing, and a crew is hard at work.

Remembering the pass I got coming down from the monastery into the French wine

country, I pull to the side of the road and wave to one of the crewmen, then point

ahead. He smiles, nods and waves me on, or so it appears, so before he can change his

mind or someone can overrule him, I’m around the barricade and racing away on the new

surface, rolling happily along between huge Alpine peaks.

After a lovely time being the only motor vehicle on a new road, I come to the other end

and decide to head back for the highway. Ahead, the map tells me that Meiningen offers

an opportunity to try an Alpine pass, so with the storm still well behind me I decide to

give it a shot.

My God, this is incredible! Climb and climb and climb through countryside that makes

you expect Julie Andrews, then plummet an equal distance down a series of switchbacks

into an extraordinarily beautiful valley. Through the valley and up the other side and it’s

Katy-Bar-the-Door, climbing higher and higher until you know you can’t go any higher,

then you go higher. Farms and houses cling to hillsides at gravity-defying angles.

Everything so green and clean and well manicured it’s hard to imagine how they do it

without falling off. The houses have gabled roofs with two angles, perhaps the steeper

one because of heavy snow. All windows have shutters and everything appears well

cared-for. The landscape is very similar in many respects to that of Norway.

Suddenly I’m above the treeline and it’s too cold for shirtsleeves, so I stop and put on

my jacket. I watch many bikers go by, all of whom wave. Around me there are fabulous

waterfalls and peaks reaching for the sky. It’s so beautiful just being there feels as

though you’re praying.

Climbing yet higher I stop again to simply take a look back at where I’ve been. It’s hard

to believe. Two climbers come out of the rocks and walk by, heading for their car. They

smile and nod. I smile back, look out, then back at them and say, simply, “Wow.” Their

nods and smiles show they agree. Then a few raindrops fall and the woman looks up,

saying, “Storm coming.” Somehow comforted by the fact that they speak English I nod

and respond, wryly, “Coming too fast.” And it is. And I don’t want it to catch me up

here. I ask if they know how far it is to the top, wondering if it’ll be better on the other

side. 15 kilometers before a place to stop at the top of the pass, they tell me, and I

quickly calculate that that will be better than trying to go back the way I’ve come,

particularly since it’s suddenly looking very dark and angry down there. Actually, I

realize, “down there” is now sort of “up here,” as I see that the clouds have begun to

amass all around us.

Firing the bike up I head up the hill through a light but increasing rain, careful now not to

allow the bike to slip in the sharp turns. In a while I’m at the summit of Sustenpass, then

over and heading down. Oddly, up is easy, down is scary, especially when wet. The rain

continues to come, though now in spurts, so the road surface isn’t sheeted with water

yet.

The view, such as I can enjoy, is again breathtaking. The rain is lighter on this side, as

are the clouds, so I’ve made the right decision. Down now, through a series of

switchbacks; down, down, down – and more down. And the farther down I go the

warmer it gets, making me realize now how cold I was up high. Odd, what happens. I

was so concerned about getting caught in an untenable situation by the weather that it

never occurred to me to think about freezing until I started to thaw out. Adrenaline, I

guess.

Down lower I come to a small town called Wassen. Spotting a sign for a small hotel, the

Krone (which I take to mean “Crown”), I note that they boast a “garagen,” which is a

good thing to know as I want to protect the bike as much as possible. But, warmer now

and back in civilization, I continue on, soon coming to the major highway. One way is

Luzerne, the other, Italy. Well, I don’t want to head for Italy yet, so head (probably

north) for Luzerne.

Rain has eased up now, so I’m breezing along and feeling pretty good, though the black

clouds ahead are beginning to make me wonder if Italy wouldn’t have been the wiser

choice.

And suddenly, it’s a shit storm! It’s amazing how quickly things change here in the Alps.

Even before the clouds are fully here, blasts of wind are blowing me all over the place

and the rain is riding it, pouring down. This quickly becomes a very scary situation, with

gusts trying their best to unseat me and the bike very difficult to control, so I take the

next available exit and look around. Coming to a fork in the road, I see what looks like a

small town just down the road to my right, and since it puts the wind at my back I head

that way.

Things blow across the road, trees bend, it’s as though a hurricane has suddenly struck.

The force of the wind is reminiscent of the bridge in Denmark, if not stronger, but worse

because the rain makes the wet surface very tricky. I’m fighting to keep the bike upright

as I come into the town and look for a place to stop. There’s a very deserted look and

feel to the place, but I see that a man and woman have pulled their car up to what the

blowing sign says is a small hotel, so I pull in there. Hiding the bike on the lee side, I

follow them inside to hear a young man telling them that the hotel is closed. He says

there is another hotel down the road across from the railway station, so it’s back out

into the storm.

We literally fight our way down the road, the car ahead because I’d rather they weren’t

behind me if I go down, and pull in to find the hotel full. There’s another further down,

we’re told. Back out into it to find that this next one seems deserted. No one at the

desk, no one around. What the hell is going on? The couple goes back out to their car

and I’m about to leave when I hear someone talking and look around to see a girl on the

phone. I wait for a few minutes, sure she’s seen me, but she’s apparently not anxious to

end the conversation. I realize that my impatience is fueled in part by the fearsome

situation outside, so try to relax. And wait. And wait. Finally I signal her, only to have

her say something in Swiss that I don’t understand. Letting her know that I don’t

understand results in a brief exchange of mutually incomprehensible words and gestures

that I eventually take to mean that she can’t help me and there’s nobody here who can.

Or something like that. Jesus.

Back outside, the wind and rain seem to have lessened in volume to the degree that I

decide to head back to the main road and see if I can get back to the hotel I now wish I

hadn’t passed up in Wassen. Though still wet and pretty windy, it’s nothing like it was a

little while ago, so I’m able to get back to Wassen and The Krone without any problem.

Now completely soaked, I slosh in and find a nice woman who speaks good English. She’s

kind, but apologetic as she indicates that she has a bunch of military men in the new

wing and little else to offer. The one small room she has left is without its own bath or

shower. She says there’s another hotel not far up the road, so I figure I’ll try it, knowing

I’m going to need a hot shower. As I head for the door, she says, “Unless you want a

double room?” I turn back to her. “It has a shower?” “Ya. Everything.” “I’ll take it.”

And, she says, a garage for the bike. I love her.

This woman couldn’t be sweeter. She shows me the garage, actually a small, two-car

garage, but she’s happy to let me use it, and she gives me a clothes-line area in the

laundry room off the garage on which to hang all my wet gear.

Bustling everything else up the narrow stairway I’m shown to a nice room with two beds

(I’m so glad she asked about the ‘double’), a window with a view of the back yard and