Today the wind came up against me. The tall poplar trees along the river bank clapped their leaves. Sounds like a standing ovation – tree applause. Birds of prey skim from the blue sky over the bristling wheat fields searching for mice.
A river of this magnitude begins with a twinkle on a mountain peak then joins with others until it becomes a powerful moving force, such magic. Thinking about the dams, locks, dykes, canals, chemicals, barges, all strangling the loveliness. I ride on the incredible eurovelo 15 cycle path and appreciate it very much of course.
Getting out of the city of Ludwigshafen is a snakes and ladders game. On the outskirts of town in the industrial area under a bridge there is a kiosk that makes a hot brown beverage. The three old men who shared the stuff with me won’t believe I come from Rome.
I’ve noticed a strange phenomena too regular to be sheer coincidence. Maybe I’m getting a bit googledy-gook, but if I need something it just comes, like riding through a pop-up story book. Each page swings up at me, whether it be a kiosk, or a sign post, a cycle track, or a place to stay.
I dare not let anxiety pop-up, in case it manifests. But it is very reassuring to know that all you need is proper attention and consideration at every intersection, then the journey goes on.
Worms had no redeeming features. I ask a girl near the station: ” Juligung Juligung, where is the centrum, the altstadt…innerstadt??”. She replies “You are in it, this is Worms”. At the bakery-cafe, three large flies rest on the cheesecake. The cakes look huge and delicious. I ride around town looking for somewhere I can sit down to eat my slice.
Later at lunch, sitting at a table under a big green umbrella eating salad on the banks of the mighty Rhine, a large spider lands on me and I do a sudden little jig and beat my chest like Tarzan. I hope I didn’t damage it.
Extremely long barges come sailing upstream loaded high with containers or piles of sand. Surprisingly they don’t make much of a wave.
Pedal and pedal all day, usually along the dykes. There are a handful of other cyclists, and some of them are loaded with panniers for longer trips. I follow a man who looks like he knows where he is going. He has a one-wheeled trailer attached to the back of his bike loaded with his camping gear. At a wider section of cycle track, I ride alongside him and say ‘Guten Tag”. He immediately tells me he had just completed 2000 kms, but when I say ‘me too’, he gives me a contemptuous look. I should have just said ‘BRAVO’ then he may have chatted longer. Every bit of solo cyclist conversation out here on the lonesome dykes is precious.
Back in wine country this evening, there are hills here, and a microclimate ideal for viticulture.
Fortunate to find a room at the Landhotel in Nackenheim. Feeling quite knackered myself. I telephone ahead this time but the owner tells me he is fully booked…but wait, yes, there is a single room. A good price at 50 Euros including breakfast. The chef is sick so the hotelier sends me to the Sports Bar for a large schnitzel and beer. The clientele are all dressed in German red, black and yellow. War painted faces sucking on cigarettes. I am the only happy person here. Apparently Germany has just been kicked out of the world cup soccer tournament. What misery.
Bitte schön – danke schön…Tchuss (sounds like cheers).
I have been happily illustrating and writing about the cycle ride for 25 days now. Only a quarter of the way in distance – which gives you an idea of how long the long distance ride was. After some thought I’ve decided the story can be divided into three parts to prevent OVERWHELM. lol.
Part ONE being the ‘Italy and over the Alps’ section, The Rhine river and crossing through Germany to the North Sea will be the second section, and then Scandinavia the third.
So I thought this a good moment to take a little break from the writing. My house is rather neglected and Simon has invited me to go for a bike tour with him next weekend in the Rome region. That means a small interruption in the long distance story, although in reality it was never interrupted.
Thanks for all your dedicated reading, and all the wonderful comments and encouragement. All most appreciated and motivational in getting this story written down.
I will be back on the 3rd June for PART TWO. That’s our official end of quarantine in Italy. An auspicious day to continue with the bike tour. Until then I will be painting and preparing the illustrations. Putting the “Lockdown” blogs into a book, and getting my summer clothes out.
Looking forward to seeing your escapades on facebook and Instagram in the meantime.
No sign of the famous Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte so far. Maybe the world-famous Black Forest Gateau will make an appearance at my next destination, which would be Freiburg, although I doubt I would make it that far in today. The world famous black forest is looming on my right (north). That’s where they make the Kirschwasser or ‘cherry water’ with a volume of 40% to put in their delectable cake. Apparently the Swiss also add it to fondues.
The journey is not without highs and lows, although the terrain is flat. The river runs into water works! A blockage, necessary to prevent flooding. Everything is under control here except the weather. Sunny and hot.
After a good breakfast, I rejoin the river at the Aluminium works. There are more clean looking manufacturing parks around here. Very important to the economy and to improving our comfort zones. The big mish-mash of pipes and chimneys and blank buildings hum with chemical smells.
Back to pedalling along the edge of the shining river, along the weed free cycle track, and thinking about all the people I love.
Swerved up to the big city of Basel to see a bit of Switzerland again before diving into the depths of Germany. Basel is immaculate and beautiful, definitely worth a visit. They take great care of their parks, fountains and signage. There are explicit rules for cyclists though, and beware if you don’t follow them. I cruise through town gaping at the amazing architecture.
The lipstick-red signs tell me where to go at every street corner. In a roundabout traffic circle, a sign points to Freiburg 77 kms. Golly, that’s a long way. I follow the arrow but find myself circling a few times in search of further pointers. I stop to ask a policeman which road to take. He replies “I don’t know anything about the way to Freiburg”.
So veer off on a random road which takes me to Huningue. It sounds good enough but I’m horribly lost. The map on the phone screen just cannot figure out where to go next. So I ride on over the border into France and through many vacant chic French villages, and then Niffer and Blodelsheim and Fessenheim. None of which had people in them.
At a greenly painted hotel I come across the first rude woman of my trip. She rolls her eyes dramatically when I ask if she could be so kind as to charge my battery a little bit. I offer to pay. She climbs up a ladder and plugs it into a hanging cord with an impatient gesture. There were some very long and lonely stretches here, and I have to admit to performing my first bush-pee. Being open and flat country anyone could see me squatting amongst the sugar beet blushing in my luminescent pink top.
Lunch consisted of stolen goods from B&B Jasmin. My bike served as a picnic table. Nutella, hard boiled egg, apple, and a slice of horse food (sour bread). Washed down with the last gulp of water. There are no water fountains or places to buy water along the this route.
On the way to Freiburg
The photography of the day is dismal due to my speedy urgency to reach Freiburg before dark. My brother said I should definitely go there, it’s his favourite town in Germany. It’s way off my track but I obey my brother as usual.
The final hours on the bike included a few incidents: a side-on collision with a boy on a push scooter … golly that was a close call! He shot off the pavement without looking. Then I hit a large hole which clattered my teeth and sent my phone flying out of the little handlebar pouch. I only noticed it was gone about 2 kms down the road so raced back and found it lying in the middle of the path. Thank heavens! It would be a disaster to lose that. And, I had a wasp up my sleeve which stung me repeatedly while I was on the phone booking my accommodation.
The stings hurt but were nothing compared to the fatigue pain.
Negotiating the chaotic bike traffic in the university city of Freiberg at 18:00. No rules apply. There must surely be a million bikes here!
I forgot to enquire about a lock up area for my beloved bicycle. Gasthaus Löwen does not have a place so after removing everything possible from the bike, including my whale bell, flower, carriers, lights etc, I reluctantly push her in amongst all the other bikes parked on the street and lock her up nicely for the night.
New record distance: 114 kms.
The person in charge of the rooms is not around with the key, so I sit down for dinner with flat hair and smelly clothes. A gentleman who has retired to Lago Maggiore bravely sits next to me. He knows all the Alpine cycle tracks. He tells me that my bike will definitely be stolen, whether chained or not. Thieves will cut the chain in seconds.
According to the restaurant staff, there is a secure bike parking at the train station. So I wearily take my bike downtown to the modern train station in the dark. Rows of bikes are parked under the bridge. To leave it there is more dangerous than being locked outside the hotel! So I ask the eyelashy girl at the info desk in the station building. She says “no, there is no parking for bicycles”.
There is a large spiral bike parking tower 50 m down the road. A pretty young lady, who is also locking up her bike, helps me figure out the in’s and out’s of the ticketing system. All written in accurate German. One must stand on a sticker spot and then the gates open and close. It’s weird to see bikey stripped bare and caged like a boney zoo animal.
My clothes need washing, so I have decided stay here tomorrow and pick up a bit of culture at the same time.
Hardly slept last night in the overheated attic room. A large extractor chimney, originating from the kitchen by the smell of it, blasted hot oily air directly into my window. There was no way I could spend another minute in that place, so went out into the morning, staggering under two panniers, battery, handlebar bag, carrier bag, handbag…down the street to somewhere else.
A more expensive place run by university students. They couldn’t allow me to put my bags in the room before 15:00 and they had no place to store them, so I sat in the dining room all day. A shabby looking person like me is the type you move to another table when guests arrive. I was asked to move five times. It was necessary to occupy the kitchen door in order to get my lunch order in.
When the room was finally ready, I dumped my luggage and went out to find a laundromat. A very-very thin man dressed entirely in black helped with the money.
As my friend Jane says “no matter how fast you ride laundry always catches up with you!”
The thought of cycling over any Alpine pass makes me nervous, especially this one, so I delay it and dabble with my paint-box instead. Sitting flat on the road in the still sunshine and painting the river bank full of chaotic lupins, dandelions, daisies and the bright water. I’m trying to have poetic thoughts but all I can think of is the upcoming monster.
According to the hotel manager, I must most definitely go by train through the tunnel, but Simon says “Go over the top, you’ll be sorry if you don’t”. It’s true, my goal is to ride all the way to Oslo. Some people suspect me of cheating which is understandable, they probably would in my position, but I really don’t like cheats so why be one.
Almost immediately the road turns up through an avalanche gallery crowded with zooming cars and buses. The booming echo sets off my tunnel panic. I look up and see a bus full of people staring down at me. A big sorry sob comes bubbling up, and I need to make an imaginary emergency call to my backup team.
The answer is immediate “Mom. Just pedal!”
No sympathy at all!
Well, I go through 550 meters and come out the other side where the views are astonishing. Scree slopes at oblique angles, all dotted with Norwegian Spruce. Pointy peaks streaked with white ice. A luminous sky leaning toward the colour of purple lupins.
I plug in my earbuds and play some music to get me up the hill. Not something I do very often because my phone runs out of battery too soon. Today I plan to stop overnight in St. Christoph which is just up the hill. So for once the battery power isn’t my main concern.
Oliver Sacks said “Music can lift us out of depression or move us to tears — it is a remedy, a tonic, orange juice for the ear. But for many of my neurological patients, music is even more — it can provide access, even when no medication can, to movement, to speech, to life. For them, music is not a luxury, but a necessity.”
Avoided a second tunnel by going over it on a service road. Stopped for lunch at an Alm in St. Christoph am Arlberg, where I’m sitting under a bright orange umbrella at a dizzy altitude, eating delicious Tiroler Gröstl. A copper pan filled with roasted potatoes, fried eggs, bacon and onions. A bowl of krauti salad on the side, and an Almdudler to drink. Most satisfactory. Seems as if my appetite is coming back. Good thing because my arms were beginning to look like two brown chopsticks.
I ride around to find a room at one of the hotels. They are all closed for the summer. So I’m forced to ride on. The battery is almost empty…and the thought of another vertical climb puts me in a spin. But the road wiggles along some curves and then gratefully falls, zigzagging steeply. Harley Davidson motor-bikers come up against me, blasting with noise and shining colours.
I stop at a panoramic viewpoint to check the app and book a room at the next village – Stuben. The Après Post Hotel is the only accommodation available and at a reasonable rate. After almost falling down the cliff, I arrive at the hotel and think “oh golly” this is going to be expensive. Way too posh for my budget. These new polaroid glasses of mine probably blurred a zero when I was making the booking.
However, my happiness level soars when the receptionist confirms the price. Golly, how lucky! To top it all, the pretty waitresses dressed in traditional dirndl costumes, help me carry my panniers to the room.
Use of the spa is included in the price, so after a good shower I find myself wallowing in a large whirlpool made of stainless steel. At first the dark shimmering shadows play games with your imagination (jaws) but if you calm down it turns into a fabulous undulating rainbow-flecked reflection of the steely peaks above. There is also a basket swing chair pod to snuggle into, making it really easy to fall asleep and almost miss dinner.
Only 40 kilometres today. Over the Arlberg pass which is 1793 mt high at St. Christoph.
Lessons – avoid shortcuts….. and expect the unexpected.
At the dinner table now thinking about all those people on the tour bus, and how they missed the transparent stream hidden by the barrier rail, missed the cow that talked and the two running weasels. They didn’t catch the scent of that marvellous flowering tree in the fresh air… and they missed having a sob in the tunnel.
The room has no frills. A small writing table and chair. Eleven electric plugs in the space of three square meters to charge up all my appliances. Other than the battery, there is the phone, the camera, the laptop, two extra lights, and a little recharger for the phone.
Up the slope from Burgusio is the magnificent Marienburg Monastery. Incredible to see, the highest (altitude) Benedictine monastery in Europe. The library there has recently been rebuilt for the valuable book collection. Architecture and technology have come together here in a brilliant way, well worth a visit.
After a good German-style breakfast I set off … warily checking for the man.
The sky is royal blue but there is a strong head wind blasting over from Austria.
Lago del Muta Haidersee passes to my right. Then I cross over the wall of the next lake Reschensee. The water is all blustery with rows of white waves. The famous old church tower stands in the water. When the authorities built the hydroelectric dam, they were compelled to drown a large area including a couple of villages. They dismantled the church but left the tower which stands a forlorn memory to the past.
My smoothly tarred cycle track winds up to the high point of the Reschen/Resia pass at 1500 meters and then down into Austria. I’m quite sad to leave Italy. There are European Union flags proudly declaring peace and co-operation on either side of the hill. But also a Republik Österreich flag painted in red and white. A group of motorcyclists are taking selfies. The lovely track swoops down through curved meadows of flowers. Small groups of houses and farmsteads huddle fresh and white with darkly weathered wooden gables and steep slate roofs. Bright flowers hang in baskets below patterned window frames. Their facades a-swirl with painted scenes and figures. Roses spill over picket fences.
The exhilaration of swiftly going down the other side of a pass is incredible. You grow wings.
Then things get crazy. My kids would absolutely love going down a switchback road like this, dropping meters per second into a crack in the Earth excavated by the Inns river. Wild noise!!
At the bottom of the ravine, sheer cliffs on either side rise up so high you can’t see the tops. I cross over the bridge to the Swiss side of the river. My second international border of the day. A sign points left to “St. Moritz” but I follow the water. These fancy new polaroid glasses tend to enlarge things and make them more vivid, adding an astronautical dimension to the scene. Quite an overwhelming feeling of becoming a jellybean, a tiny bag of complexity wrapped in a very fine membrane balancing on a precarious instrument called a bicycle.
The river is a heavy raging torrent of deep white water that crashes off the staggering cliffs, thundering at immense boulders and ledges in a wash of foam. The sound magnitude of vibrating rocks and water is beyond hearing, you can feel the rumble in your chest. My claws cling to the handlebars as clouds of turbulent vapour blast me along.
Such real awesomeness that breaks open your brain to stuff it with the universe, and your heart forgets to beat in the face of raw power. The road draws on down the valley and the world begins to calm down.
People who make a living in these brutal mountains must be admired. As for the cows, they all have brass bells around their necks and graze on vertical banks of flowers. No wonder the milk is so sweet and fragrant.
There are quite a few other cyclists on the pass, mostly couples, some on e-bikes. Fleets of racers too, both men and women. I haven’t seen any solo female bikers since leaving Marino.
Next stop, Landeck, where the Inns river merges with other catchment streams then snakes its way to Innsbruck. Simon had suggested I might stop at Landeck for lunch. But I cycle into town at 17:00 – with 85 kms on the screen, flat out exhausted. The wind pushed against me all day. What a beautiful ride, but the seat has left me wounded.
Found a hotel, Bruggner Stub’n, with a nice big room. Dinner and breakfast included. The manager is chatty and knowledgeable. He says I absolutely must take the train through the tunnel tomorrow. He worked on the QE2. I presume as a chef by the way he so lovingly talks about food. He gives me the choices on tonight’s dinner menu, and it takes less than a second to answer yes to most of it. So hungry, I go down to the dining-room as soon as the doors open at 18:00. I am the only guest, and my table is set for one. A blonde waitress brings soup, “Tafelspitz” she explains “beef broth with apple sauce, horseradish and chives”. It is delicious. but I manage just a few spoons and my appetite disappears. So strange.
Logistics status. haha.
Now that my first one thousand kms are done, I feel more qualified to tell you more about the body management.
At 7:00 I toss myself out of bed and put on my sometimes damp outfit which I always wash the night before. If I’m lucky there will be an egg at breakfast. Then quickly pack up all the paraphernalia, battery charges, laptop, diary etc. Everything goes into specific ziplock bags which makes less mess when you need to dig down in the pannier for something. The body is adapting to a clockwork toilet routine, for the first time in my entire life. That business is done at 7:30 just before setting off. For those who wanted to know what one does about a loo when you’re out there all day in the countryside. That worry seems to have taken care of itself. Squatting down in the bush hasn’t been necessary yet.
I have a stash of energy bars in the bag, and my water bottle is filled when I stop for lunch.
Most days at around mid-afternoon I stop to check my phone for a room on booking.com. I try to get the cheapest one with the best reviews and a lockup for my bike. Unfortunately, rates for a single room are almost the same price as a double room, and mostly they are double rooms anyhow. I prefer places recommended for their ‘especially clean rooms’ for obvious reasons. Most places in Europe have a bathroom with a hot shower, sheets, towels and little bottles of intensely fragrant shower gel. Most appreciated after a sweaty day.
I know some people think an e-bike is a scooter. You just sit on it and go places. That is half-true if you ride for a couple of hours with battery set on turbo. One must pedal to actually move forward. However, a fully loaded bike will soon run out of battery power and leave you struggling especially in the Alps. One has to be thrifty and use the lowest assistance possible at all times.
Shoes are important, and my Colombo hiking shoes have been very comfortable. They have cut-outs which allow air and sunlight in. The feet are tanned in giraffe-like spots. The nose is dangerous terracotta colour and the legs are shaping up a bit. I think.
Austrian food has nothing to do with Roman food. Animals and their milk appear in almost every dish here, while in Rome it’s all about tomatoes and olive oil. Sipping on a little glass of wine is a luxury I allow myself after all the bumping and steering and pedalling of the day. Pasta is the easiest thing to digest, can’t seem to manage a whole portion. Today for lunch I had half an energy bar and felt full.
Off to bed now, it’s 21:00. Simon says I must ride over The Arlberg pass tomorrow, “don’t take the train”. The pass is 1800m high. The sound of it gives me the heebie-jeebies. I’ll check the map in the morning and decide.
The day begins with a bit of light pedalling up through the Val Venoster/Vinchgau valley towards the Resia/Reschen pass. This is another historical route called the Via Claudia Augusta. The locals are Italian by law but they are trilingual, German, Italian and English. Tourists are cycling down the valley to Merano in droves. They whizz down then catch the train back up to their hotels.
This fabulous cycle track winds through vast plantations of apple and pear orchards. Following the now chalky blue Adige river to her source. The second longest river in Italy. Stone peaks break the skyline high above, patches of ice lie on the upper slopes. The temperature down in the valley is around 30 degrees, the hottest day ever recorded here.
A huge apple packing shed is covered with solar panels. Farmers spray clouds of chemicals on the emerging apples, forcing me to speed up to avoid getting caught in it. Perfect little apples hang on their stalks like green beads. Petals carpet the ground in snowy white.
My little computer shows 999,99 kms for a while until I realise it needs to be reset to zero. Hallelujah 1000 kms exactly at the apple store. You can pour yourself a glass of fresh apple juice, or bite an apple, just pop some money in the box and off you go. One hopes the chemical spray is not too harmful. In Italy, genetically modified crops are not permitted, forcing farmers to use more chemicals instead. Wonder which is better?
A young Italian couple stop their bikes next to me at the apple store. I raise my cup of apple juice towards them and say “cin-cin! Can you believe it, I have cycled one thousand kilometres from Rome to this very spot?” The couple say “Auguri” and offer to take a photo of me standing next to my bike. Pride comes before a fall warns the inner voice.
A man on a racing bike stops to tell us about cycling 800 kms in Siberia and raves on about something which I can’t quite follow. The couple tell him that “this Signora” nodding at me, “has just completed 1000 kms from Rome”.
The man changes direction and says he is going my way. He rides off ahead of me shouting about all his cycling accomplishments. He stinks. Following in his wake leaves me wafting through a cloud of body odour. I do my best to overtake and shake him off by surging forward when the track is clear, but he hangs at my side. E-bikes are fabulous but the battery only assists you up to 24 kms per hour. Beyond that it’s up to your own pedal power. Eventually I get ahead and pump away at my pedals.
A beer garden packed with cyclists looks likes a good place to hide. I hurriedly park my bike amongst the hundreds of others and run inside. The bombastic man miraculously appears and offers me a drink. I gabble something about friends and plonk myself down on a bench next to a German couple who are eating lunch. They immediately understand the situation and play along. The man vanishes.
After nice lunch with the Germans, I turn out of the gate onto the road without checking. A speed-biker almost collides with me. We both swerve, but he screams curses at me. Quite demoralizing curses. Shaken up at first but then realise how lucky I was, what an important lesson without having to learn it the hard way. Negotiating speeding cyclists is another skill I must learn on these crowded cycle tracks. Gone are the long dreamy days on the dykes.
Soon I see ‘the man’ again, washing his shirt in the river.
He waves. I speed away. The cycle path takes me into a thickly wooded area. I’m crunching along on the grit, nobody in sight, happily looking into the depths of the woods for a glimpse of an animal or bird. Suddenly the bombastic voice booms over my shoulder and I wobble with fright “Non devi preoccupare – don’t worry it is only another 4 kms of dirt before we get back on the tarred road”. He jabbers on and on. He says “Germans are harder than Carrera marble, I worked in Germany for five long years and never made a single friend.” No bloody wonder, I think.
I put my bike in turbo mode, rudely overtake him and go as fast as I can to the next town Prato Allo Stelvio. Turning in my seat to check behind me and nervously look in my rear-view mirror at intervals. Seem to have shaken him off.
A little way beyond Latsch, a pretty lake-side cafe beckons, set in a green garden just the type of place I like. Afternoon sun glimmering on the water. The perfect spot for a delicious Apfel Kuchen with a bowl of hot custard and an Einspänner coffee piled with whipped cream. Calories galore. A weeping willow tree gently trails her leaves in the breeze next to my table. I take a leisurely stroll along the lake shore and photograph some yellow poppies. Sit down on a bench in the sun for a while and smile at the children feeding the fish, enjoying thoughts of my grandchildren. Feeling a bit lonely about my one thousandth kilometre, so call Simon tell him, and also mention the man.
When I go back to my bike, up jumps bombastic man who was lying on the grass. He continues his vaunting. He wants to know if I’m married and where I’ll be staying tonight. It may be harmless goodwill, but he is intolerable and ruining my day with his smell and verbal diarrhea. I take a photo of him and send it to Simon. As I ride off he is at my side again, hovering like a fly. The pepper spray and a knife are in the handle-bar bag. I wonder if I should I take them out and keep them handy in my pocket?
Annoyance and anxiety tarnish what should be a glorious ride. The wind is coming down hard from the pass and it is difficult going head first into it. I ride off as fast as I can with bike on full power. It’s getting late and there are no riders on the track but I seem to have lost the bombast.
Coming up the hill into a quaint village called Clusio he rushes out from a side road across my path shouting “Ecco La”…. there she is!
“Oh no! Va via!” I shout… GO AWAY!
Switch the bike turbo mode again. Going as fast as I can up the swerving path. The track leads steeply up into a dark wood. Totally alone, my fibrillating heart makes me giddy.
I have booked a room for the night at Burgusio. The next village comes into view but relief is short-lived when I see the sign – Malles. Then I miss a turn which is hard to imagine considering the number of bike route signs. A woman with a pitchfork tells me to go back. Panic floods me when I realise my battery will run out before I reach the safety of Burgusio. The hideous man is hunting me down like a rabbit on this Alpine pass.
I pound desperately at my pedals, panting heavily with strain. The battery is set to ‘eco’ the lowest setting with only 1 km of battery power remaining. Will I make it? Probably not.
Miraculously a tower appears at the top of the slope, a sign of civilization. I can see the town ahead now as my battery runs out. Luckily it’s only a couple of hundred meters to go.
I rush into town to find the Garni apartment hotel with the help of the Google girl voice on my phone. Hoping the man isn’t watching me as I push the bike around to the back of the house to hide while I get my breath back. Then sneak around to ring the front door bell. Nobody answers. I call the number, and a young person answers “I will phone my mother, she is at the hotel but obviously did not hear the bell”. My nerves are on edge waiting like this in full view of the street. A few minutes later the door opens and a small dark woman allows me to scamper in.
This is about a 4200 km ‘solo’ bike ride, from Marino to Oslo in Norway, in the summer of 2018. It will be quoted from my daily diary kept during the trip. It was quite difficult to find enough time to paint along the way, so photographs had to suffice. I did some paintings of course, but now is a good time to go back on that track and fill in the gaps. Many of you have asked to come along for the trip and you’re most welcome. So hop on your virtual bikes and let our bicycle story begin!
Getting the bike…
“È cosi!” – it’s like that! – He throws up his hands, fingers splayed wide in supplication.
We are inside a swish bicycle shop in Rome, the athletic-looking manager shakes his smooth head “You most certainly will NOT be able to have an electric-bike delivered for at least three months Signora! There is a backlog of orders and a grand shortage of electric bikes, so if you want one then you must wait until mid-June… ”.
It’s April already, and to wait two more months for a bike will be way too late in the year to begin a long trip. It will be too hot to cycle through Italy in July and by the time I reach Norway, it will be freezing.
We leave the shop feeling bitterly disappointed. But soon a surge of relief neutralizes that uncomfortable feeling. Our couch is quite comfortable after all. I flop down into my usual position and tell myself “Never mind, there’ll be another opportunity in the future”.
But my intrepid husband Simon won’t accept such an easy defeat. He searches online and after some setbacks and phone calls, finds a CUBE trekking bike. Apparently just the bike for me. Correct frame size, electric, with all the necessary components. I don’t know exactly what components are, but if they are necessary then I had better have them. He immediately orders the bike and has it shipped home.
One week later…
It has arrived in a huge box, and I think Simon is more excited about it than I am. The ‘bicicletta’ (bike) now stands waiting calmly for departure day, glinting with red reflectors in the dark grotto below our apartment. Tall and elegant, her machined proportions as perfectly balanced as a race horse.
But the sight of her makes me quake. After months of dreaming about the ride to Oslo to see my children, enthusiasm seems to be evaporating and my imagination is running wild with dreadful scenarios. I lie awake at night thinking of things that could go wrong, convinced something unimaginable will happen.
My parents are absolutely horrified: “How silly to risk your life like that, when you can fly to Oslo in a few short hours… what for? Now that you have grandchildren to enjoy?” In contrast, my adult children who are all adventurous themselves – but not reckless mind you – cheer me on with a resounding “Go for it Aunty Mom!” (that’s what they call me to get my attention when I’m being deaf).
My friends roll their eyes and ask “Are you nuts, why do you want to ride all the way to Oslo?” I defensively mention the story of Anne Mustoe, a retired headmistress of a posh English school, who rode a bicycle around the world a couple of times. Her stories of solitary adventures were proof that a woman of my age could journey alone, and so she inspired me to make a pilgrimage of my own. People say “why go alone, why not ride with a friend or a group – go on an organised tour for heaven’s sake!?”
I ask around if someone would like to come with me, but nobody has the time for a two month joyride. Some have offered to join me for a day or two when they can. Life is short at my age and delaying an opportunity for fear of loneliness may lead to regrets later. I want to be outside, feeling the wind, the sun, the joy and amazement of going somewhere new.
The reason for going is certainly not about finding myself. I already have enough of myself in my painting studio, actually too much. I need to escape my ego, get ahead of it and leave myself behind. You will find out the real reason later.
Picking the destination was easy, our daughter and son are living in Oslo, and two of our exquisite grandchildren. To make it sound like a work trip, I will take my art materials and camera along and paint the scenery along the way.
Up here in Marino perched on the edge of a steep volcano, bicycles are rare. According to the locals either you are too poor to afford a car or you are a very sporty type who joins a club and rides out with a fleet of cyclists wearing yellow jerseys. An older woman like me, riding a trekking bike into the far distant northern realms is “no woman of ours”. They probably think this is a disguised attempt to escape my marriage.