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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
the mountain behind it, and a small bathroom. God, it’s good to be out of the wind and
The Krone boasts a small restaurant, with her husband the chef, and she tells me dinner
will be served in an hour or so. I gather she’s the only English-speaker in the place as
she confers with someone and adds, “You’re lucky, tomorrow is good weather again.” I
do love this woman.
After getting out of my wet clothes and drying off I stretch out for a while and stare out
the window. Small-town Swiss life. Quiet, still. Once in a while a train passes on the hill
just above town. A dog barks. Mmmm.
Dinner is fine. The menu is mostly meat dishes, of course, but they offer a nice salad
and provide me some vegetables, bread and a glass of wine, so I make do very nicely.
Locals come in for what seems to be a regular meal for them, as do a couple of police
and some of the soldiers. Everyone smokes, which is hard to get used to.
After dinner, the rain having let up, I walk through the small town, now closed, then up
the hill I’ve been inspecting through the window in my room. Steep road. Quiet. I make
it up to the railway trestle and stand for a while, looking out on the beautiful valley
below and the huge mountains on the other side. A very different life, this.
Back down the hill to call Shel and then to bed.
Day 23 – Thursday, June 28th, 2001 –
Up early. Whoops! Her weather forecast was a bit off. It’s very dark, cloudy and the
ground is wet. It’s not raining now, but clearly threatening. What now? My English speaking
hostess not in evidence, I shower and go out for a breakfast of toast and jam.
The sky looks lousy, so I figure I’ll have to cover up and be ready to get wet again today.
My friend comes in, smiling, shrugs at the weather and reassures me that it’ll clear up. I
thank her, pay the bill and head down to the garage, deciding that while I hope she’s
right I’d be wise to put on the rain gear. As I’m loading up, the rain starts. Ah, well.
Pulling out of the garage and bidding farewell to the warmth and charm of the Krone, I
head out to the road and try to decide if I should head east or south. The weather looks
the same either way, so I decide to head east toward Austria.
Soon the clouds break a bit and things don’t look too bad. A few showers, but the wind
isn’t so worrisome and the view, as the light breaks through, is breathtaking as I climb
toward Oberalp Pass.
At the very top of the pass there’s a small restaurant, so I pull into a dirt pad across the
road. The weather down the other side looks pretty rough and three bikers have just
come from there, so I stop beside them and ask, “Do any of you gentlemen speak
English?” “We are English,” comes the reply, so I shut the bike down and we talk.
They had just come up the east side of the pass through rain all the way. “You’re
following the storm as it moves east,” one says, and asks about conditions down the
west side. I tell them of what I’ve come through and they decide they’ll go into the
restaurant and have a cup of coffee to let the roads dry a bit before they head down.
Not too anxious to chase off down the steep roads into more rain, I join them.
Little Swiss mountain inn. Rustic, warm, crowded with travelers. There’s hardly room to
sit, so I end up with the three Englishmen and try a kuchel as we talk travel,
motorcycles, sights. The two younger ones claim to have ridden 12 hours straight down
the Autobahn at 130 KPH to meet their older friend (who does most of the talking).
Their bikes are all the road-racing models with wide tires, short bars and sleek styling.
They’re fascinated by the fact that I’m on a dual-sport bike set up for dirt riding.
The older guy is a type straight out of a British gangster movie, full of quick wit and
stories. He goes off – I assume to pay the bill – and comes back saying someone gave
him a weather report: it will ease up this afternoon.
The three say goodbye and head out. I finish my kuchel and ask for a bill. It appears the
gangster hadn’t gone to pay, as I had assumed. I get the bill for the four of us. How
I take it easy on the ride down the hill. The rain is light and sporadic, but wet roads are
not fun, especially when going downhill. This gives me more of an opportunity to enjoy
the beautiful, deep valleys below me and the occasional – sometimes huge – waterfalls
that seem to appear around every curve.
Once below the treeline the forest is often dense. I pass through small villages, beautiful
land that appears manicured, marvel at herds of cattle, sheep and goats, all on steeply
inclined mountainsides. The odd thing, with all the physical beauty, is the constant smell
of manure that is part of the ambiance of the Swiss countryside. That never comes
across on the postcards.
The road down passes through a series of the inevitable tunnels and before long I’m at
another fork in the road. South to Italy or east to Austria? The original plan, such as it
was, was to get into Austria, so east I go. Up and over another incredibly beautiful pass
and the weather seems to be rewarding me by lightening up nicely. There are still
showers coming once in a while, but sometimes they dovetail nicely with the longer of
the tunnels and I’m spared much of it.
Suddenly I’m in Lichtenstein. Suddenly I’m not any more. Not a big place. At the
Austrian border the guards give only a cursory glance and I’m into a wide Austrian valley
between majestic Alpine heights. A motorway here seems very convenient after the
mountain adventures, so I make good time toward Innsbruck. Stopping at a travel
information station outside of the city to see what’s available, I’m able to make a
reservation at the Hotel Sailer, a small tourist hotel with a garage for the bike. There’s
also, I’m told, at least one good natural food restaurant in the city, so I head on into
town, paying careful attention to the directions I’ve been given.
And soon I’m lost. Incredibly lost. Cities that are not built on a grid confuse me utterly,
and this one definitely was not. Round and round I go, unable to appreciate the beauty
of the city because the more questions I ask the more lost I get. Finally, after going
back and forth and up and down the same streets - and others I can neither understand
nor find again - though I’m never able to figure out exactly how, I find the street and the
Hotel Sailer, pull into the garage, sweating, and take a deep, much-needed breath.
The Sailer is an old, typical tourist hotel, with buses in front, lines of bags belonging to
travelers on an If-It’s-Tuesday-type tour. And it’s great. The man at the desk is friendly
and helpful. My room is on the second floor (third in the U.S.) and there’s no elevator,
so I schlep the gear up in stages one more time. It’s hotter in the somewhat spare
room, even with the cloudy, drizzly day, but the place has a familiar feel, so I find myself
mulling the possibility that I might have stayed here with Judy (my first wife) when we
did one of those If-It’s-Tuesday tours in about 1964. Would be funny if it were. I know
we stopped in Innsbruck… at least I think we did.
Freshen up and change into some clean clothes and take a walk. The city is very
Germanic in appearance. Or rather Austrian, I suppose. It’s surrounded by beautiful, if
largely cloud-obscured, Alpine peaks. The streets are wide. The old city, only a few
blocks away, is a warren of incredibly narrow streets and the now-familiar bevy of shops,
restaurants and tourist attractions. It’s quite beautiful, with cobbled lanes threading
their way through two and three-story structures that look (and probably are) hundreds
of years old.
At a main intersection not far from the hotel there is a kind of miniature Arch de
Triomphe. According to the woman at the travel information place the veggie restaurant
is only a few blocks from there, so I follow the directions I was given and this time find
my way easily to Phillippines. It’s a two-level affair, with the kitchen downstairs and the
dining room up, and is evidently run by a family. The dining room is nicely set up with
utilitarian wooden floors and furnishings, not elegant but certainly tastefully done. The
woman, who I assume is Philippine, is warm and very gracious. She seats me near a
window. She and a quite beautiful younger woman, whom I assume is her daughter, wait
on the customers. A very nice looking man, I assume Phillippine’s husband, does some
food preparation on this level, just behind a counter, and goes down to the kitchen
periodically. The menu is large and provides pictures of the various dishes (for the
language-challenged, I suppose). They all look good.
I ask a few questions and order something that looks promising. It is wonderful! I’m in
heaven and eat everything in sight.
After an excellent meal I thank them and take a walk around the city a bit more, intent
on remembering where I’m going and where I’ve been. Not a good idea to get lost again.
Lovely city. Back at the hotel I check the phone and find a message from Erin, who has
bad news. Jack Lemmon has passed away. I’m saddened, of course, but not surprised.
I’d been in touch with his office a number of times in the last few months about political
things and the excuses I was getting from his assistants about some of the requests I’d
made quickly began to add up to not good news. I didn’t press, of course, but definitely
got the feeling that all was not well. Poor man. Nice man. What a loss.
Another jarring piece of news is that our friend Paula Poundstone was evidently arrested
and charged with some kind of child abuse. This is confounding and extremely difficult
to believe because she is such an attentive and devoted mother to her foster and
adopted kids, almost all of them children with ‘special needs.’ Not much detail available
and the cellular network is having problems, so I go back to the hotel to use the pay
phone. Shel is very sad about Jack and shocked and deeply confused about Paula.
Doesn’t know much more than what Erin had said in the message.
Day 24 – Friday, June 29, 2001 –
Awaken to a dark and ugly day. Looks like lots of rain. Maybe I’ll just hang in here and
look around for the day.
Walking around I find a “Reform Kost,” which translates to a kind of health-food
pharmacy. There I get some toothpaste and lozenges for a scratchy throat. Then,
heading toward a peak in the distance, I walk for a good ways, cross the Inn River
(presumably by walking over an Innsbruck?) and reach the bottom of a Funicular, a twostage
ride to the top. At the ticket booth four women, three of whom are teachers from
the U.S., are sure I am who they think I am. The fourth is a local woman they’re staying
with who is acting as guide. They’re here as chaperones with a group of high school kids
and have a day off. A bit silly at first, mostly nervous, they seem like nice women.
Young, it seems to me, to be teachers.
The funicular reminds me of the one Shelley and I rode in Hong Kong, making its way up
a very steep grade, at first through homes on the lower slopes, eventually leaving all of
that behind. It’s a breath-taking ride right up into the clouds. At the top of this first
stage there’s a kind of station, very austere, where we wait for the next. This one is for
the serious riders only – Shel wouldn’t like it. If I said breathtaking before, it is truly so
here, and in every sense of the word. Passing through clouds you get brief glimpses of
the sheer, jagged cliffs we’re skirting, as well as the deep valleys below. The stomach
At the top is another concrete bunker, this one with a small shop and some snacks and
souvenirs for sale. What an odd place this must be to work. Outside are well-marked
paths, an occasional bench and another hill to climb.
It’s cold at first, but worth it. The view from the top is spectacular. As the clouds clear
away the view of this portion of the Austrian Alps is truly awe-inspiring. High as we are,
the jagged, snow-encrusted peaks jut up from below us, the line stretching away
reminiscent of shark’s teeth. The air is very thin here, suggesting difficulty for climbers
and skiers who aren’t used to it. Visible on the hills around, the guide for the three
teachers points out, are small white crosses. Some of them, she says, mark the
particular achievements of climbers. Others mark places where people have died.
One could sit in a place like this and contemplate the nature of things, the grandeur, the
sheer beauty of such peaks, the forces that shaped them, the relative insignificance of
everything below, for a long time. It is somehow intimidating and inspiring at once. The
attractions of the contemplative life, the question of what it would be like to live in
silence, in a monastery, for example, comes to mind. The thoughts that stir…
Climbing around a bit off the marked paths is too tempting to resist. There’s someth