The day everything changed

The following is an entry dated October 10 from my 2003 Training Log. It was my normal 22-mile lunchtime ride from Chesterfield to Frontenac along Conway and back to Chesterfield along Clayton and Baxter. I was near the end of the ride when my  world was (literally) turned upside down:

Solo ride on a beautiful day. Today, however, everything changed. I was descending at ~30 mph down Baxter just N of Clayton. There’s a sewer grate about halfway down the hill – I look back and I see this landscaper’s type truck behind me. He wasn’t real close, so I signal left, take the middle of the lane until I pass the grate, then move back over to the right. I hear the trunk revving up – he passes me fast and close and then veers hard into my line – that’s when I realize he’s also pulling a trailer! The trailer broadsides me before I have a chance to react, and I go down hard. I remember hitting the back of my head on the street and tumbling over several times. As soon as I stopped, I crawled over the curb onto the grass and just layed there face down. People were there to help me within seconds, including several witnesses. The driver left the scene, but one of the witnesses chased him down and got his license. I spent the next 8 hours in the ER at St. John in a neck brace. Eventually, x-rays cleared me and they let me go with a bruised back and shoulder, a wrenched knee, a few stitches, and lots of road rash. My helmet is destroyed – big cracks all over the back half with chunks of foam missing – it saved my life!

No broken bones makes it seem like I got off easy, and considering I was still alive I guess that was the case. However, it would be ten weeks before my knee heeled and I could get back on the bike (a loaner from Mike W—my Kestrel was destroyed). Here is the entry from my training log dated December 12—the day I first got back on the bike:

Solo ride on cold, gray day. FIRST ride back after being hit by the truck. Not surprisingly, I’ve lost a lot of strength and stamina. I winded quickly and had to use very low gears on the hills, and my butt really hurts! My knee twinged a couple of times on me – it still has some pain – but overall it held up fine. I’ve got a long road back – which is depressing, but it was really great to be on a bike again. The cold didn’t bother me even though the last time I rode I wore short sleeves. Mike W. gave me loaner to use for now – a Cannondale CAAD7 will full DuraAce and Ksyrium wheels. It’s an all out racing machine – quick and super responsive. The frame is much stiffer than my Kestrel (may she rest in peace!), so I’m not sure how much I’d like it for long training rides.

 I didn’t know it at the time, but that ride was the first small step towards what turned out to be my breakout season as a bike racer.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2003, 2013

2003 Missouri State Time Trial—my first state TT

I’ve been reading through some of my old training logs and found this entry dated June 8, 2003—almost exactly 10 years ago—for the Missouri State Time Trial Championships in Jefferson City. I was a 2nd year racer and had just moved up to Cat 4, and by this time I had done only a few very short time trials and was still racing my old Kestrel with standard wheels and clip-on aerobars. Despite all this, for some reason I had the feeling that time trialing was something I would enjoy. After reading this entry, considering how excruciatingly painful an experience I describe it being, I’m almost amazed that I ever did another time trial. However, I guess that first tantalizingly close taste of success was enough to light the fire.

ABSOLUTELY THE HARDEST RACE I HAVE EVER DONE!!! The course was along Hwy 94 in the Missouri River bottoms north of Jefferson City – 20 km (12.4 miles) straight out and 20 km straight back. I raced Masters 45-49, got an early start time (#8), did a 45 minute warmup with three progressive intervals, and arrived at the start line about 3 minutes before I was set to go. Awesome tailwind going out, but I pushed as hard as I could anyway to try to make up as much time as possible. I passed #6 just before the split (25:51, 29.4 mph), made a nice, sharp, quick turnaround and started back into a BRUTAL headwind! I held 22-23 mph the first 2-3 miles and passed a tandem (#7). Then the winds became excruciating – I struggled to keep it above 20 mph. I started playing mind games to force myself to keep cadence and not shift down a gear – counting pedal strokes, counting my breathing and matching it to my pedal strokes. I passed #5 with a decked out tri-bike. I switch my computer from avg speed to distance traveled and counted down the 1/10th miles. I hummed Slayer’s Angel of Death. The last 4 miles I thought I was gonna die – my thighs were on fire, I couldn’t get comfortable on the saddle, my mouth was dry but I couldn’t risk interrupting my cadence to drink. I was going about 17. 5 mph. Then, finally, I could see the finish line. I had nothing extra to give – no standup sprint or anything. All I could do was just keep doing what I was doing until at last I crossed the line. My time was right at 64:04 (23.2 mph). At first, I was a little disappointed, but as more and more people came back and I heard them talk, it looked like times were off by about 2 minutes from last year (which was a straight crosswind out and back). Everybody was saying this was the toughest TT they’d ever done. I started feeling pretty good about my time. Then the officials came back, and I learned that I got 2nd place. I got a silver medal that says “State Championships” on it. The winning time was 62:35. I would’ve also gotten 2nd place had I done the Men’s 4/5.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2003, 2013.

1988 Europe Bicycle Trip – Finale

…continued from 1988 Europe Bicycle Trip – Part 10

[Saturday] 9/3/88—Didn’t get up today until 11 AM! I slept for about 10 hours and I could have slept longer but I made myself get up so I didn’t waste the whole day. Today was the most relaxed day of the whole trip and it was very enjoyable. We just kind of sat around this morning listening to albums [yes, albums—those big, round, plastic discs that you set a needle on!], eating that wonderful bread that he buys, and drinking coffee. We finally got going around 1:30 PM, we decided to hang out downtown and do some petty shopping. And of course, hit the cafés. We started out at this one café where the passing women had been especially beautiful last time and had coffee. Then we wandered down to the Grand Place and experimented with some more Belgian 12% beer. This time we had Duval. By now, I have really developed a taste for the European beers (biers, I mean) and the coffee. Both are much stronger, bolder taste, it’s going to be interesting going back to the American styles. Not to mention how good the 12% makes you feel. We both bought some Leonidas chocolates for gifts and ordered some pita gyros at one of the many Greek pita stands, it was great (especially for only 100 fr.). By then it started raining so we used that as an excuse to duck into another café and try still another Belgian beer, this time Kwak. It was similar to the others, a little darker and only 8.5%. I never thought I would actually enjoy dark beer.

Eventually it stopped raining and we headed home after buying train tickets for the airport for tomorrow. We played some more albums, drank some more coffee, and continued our diverse conversations. I was really having fun with Bill today, he’s such a good friend and I had really missed being able to hang out with him like we did before he moved to Brussells. [Bill and I hung out almost every weekend for the seven years we were in St. Louis together after finishing college. He called to tell me he was moving to Brussels a few days after my wife and I split but before I had told anybody—even him. I think that hurt almost as much as the split with my wife. I know he felt horrible about it later when he learned what had happened.] I wanted to go to dinner at Prince d’Orange, but we were afraid it was a suit & tie dress code. We walked there anyway (it turned out to be about 2 miles) and our fears were confirmed. Also, I had only about 1300 fr. left total cash so we decided to go to a little French restaurant near his house that he likes to go to.

Inexplicably, the journal ends there. I vaguely recall intending to finish up during the plane ride the next day but just never getting around to it, and by the time I got back and resumed my familiar routine the details began to fade quickly. I do remember having roasted duck at the restaurant (my first experience with duck) and thinking it tasted a little “gamey” but still enjoying it. I also remember the next morning being quite hectic—to avoid paying another $50 to hire a truck to bring my bike to the airport, Bill actually rode my bike to the airport while I lugged my bags there on the train (probably should’ve been the other way around!). From that point on it was the unmemorable vagaries of travel, although I still remember the shocked look on the airport security officer’s face when he asked me if I had any weapons and I replied “Knives!” The Henkel set was in my checked luggage, and he was eventually satisfied with my explanation that they were fine cooking cutlery purchased as my souvenir for the trip.

This may conclude my 1988 Europe Bicycle Trip series, but for me the trip really marks the beginning of what I consider my adult life. It was the first time I had done something so adventurous, so challenging. It required a lot of self confidence—something that I had lacked for most of my life up until that point. Shortly afterwards I would find the courage to leave the safe but unsatisfying security of state employment and pursue a more challenging but also more stimulating career path in industry, move to California (if only temporarily), and marry my current wife (of 22 years now!). With her and on my own, I’ve pursued dreams that I would have been too afraid to pursue before—traveling to many other parts of the world (both professionally and on my own), adopting two beautiful Russian princesses, and pursuing jobs I previously thought beyond reach. Not to mention the cycling, eventually taking it on as a lifestyle choice with an eight-year stint as a racer and twice completing the Etape du Tour!

For those of you who have read all the way through to this point, I hope you’ve enjoyed this peek into one of the watershed periods of my life. It’s been an enjoyable, almost cathartic, exercise for me to relive these moments after having set this journal aside for 25 years! If you’re interested in more of my trip journalism, I highly recommend my 2007 l’Etape du Tour experience—not only is it richly augmented with photographs, but I promise the writing is also much more polished!

1988 Europe Bicycle Trip – Part 10

…continued from 1988 Europe Bicycle Trip – Part 9

[Friday] 9/2/88—I got up this morning at around 8 AM. The plan was to delay my departure for Brussells till around noon and spend the morning here in Maastricht. It’s such a pretty city with lots of things to look at. I walked around the centrum some more, there was a bronze sculpture right by the hotel that I really liked, a man with his body segmented in a stairstep fashion [here it is]. Outside of the centrum I came across an old fort. A long row of cannons faced the Maas River, and a scenic park surrounded the remainder of it. It was built in 1516 and had been left in a condition of partial decay. I actually preferred it that way rather than if it had been restored to its original condition, it had a lot more flavor to it the way it was. Maastricht is very close to Germany [right, Germany bombed an abandoned fort and left the rest of the city alone...], I suspect that the damage to the fort may have been incurred during WWII. There was a little lake in the park with lots of geese & ducks, it is apparently popular with the residents to go there and feed the birds. I got some terrific photographs of an elderly lady and a small girl feeding them. I would be leaving Holland for good today so I wanted to spend what little Dutch money I had left. I only had 80¢ and some Belgian francs, so I went to a bakery, showed them what I had and asked if I could buy anything. They took most of it and gave me two, delicious, custard-filled donuts with white icing.

By the time I got on the bicycle, it was about 11:30 AM. It was about 70 miles to Brussells, so I figured it would be a nice 6 hours ride or so to complete the trip. What actually lay in store for me that day was the most brutal, grueling, willpower-testing ride of the entire trip. It made the first part of the trip to Amsterdam seem like a piece of cake. To begin with, I immediately encountered stiff, persistent headwind. It would be a headwind that would not let up during the entire day. Under the best of circumstances, the headwind was strong enough to make 70 miles a very tiring trip. However, I was not graced with the best of circumstances either. Next was the terrain. To start with, it was rather dull. I crossed the border into Belgium shortly after leaving Maastricht, and the countryside that I encountered was mostly crops and rangeland. There was not much forest and the scenery was not too interesting. The bad thing, however, were the rather long, steep grades. The terrain was fairly hilly, though not quite like southern Holland, and that combined with the headwind made the hills tortuous to ascend. I spent much of the ride in first gear, and at times wished I had an even lower gear. The next difficulty was the weather. It was very cool, one of the coolest days of the trip. The sun came out only for very brief periods. Much of the time there was a very light drizzle, and actually rained very hard three different times. Fortunately, I happened to be in towns where I was able to duck out of the rain whenever it came. It made for a very slow ride, but I would not have been able to make any better time had I not had the rain to contend with. Because of the strong headwind and the steep grades, I was thoroughly exhausted by the time I reached each town. The towns were spaced about 12–15 miles apart, and it was all I could do to make it to the next one, find a café or bakery, and rest and refuel.

After several eternities, I made it to Leuven and refueled with an ice cream dessert. It was the last city before Brussells and I was ready to start the last leg of the trip. I had just gotten out of Leuven when the bike started riding funny. I looked down at the rear tire and it looked low on air. I didn’t think too much of it at first because I had had to add air to the rear a few times during the entire trip. But when I got off to pump it up I was it was getting very low. When I checked the tire close, I found a nail and when I pulled it out, all the rest of the air gushed out. I was never so disenchanted. Here I was, I had already travelled over 400 miles, I had only 15 miles to go, and after the brutal ride I had been experiencing today, now I have to get a flat tire. And of course the rear tire so that I have to remove all the luggage from the bike in order to take the wheel off. It was almost as if somebody was saying, “OK, he’s made it this far and been able to overcome everything, let’s dump it all on him at once and see how he does” [a little melodramatic, wasn't I?]. I repaired the tire on the side of the  road with cars zooming by, and it seemed to be holding air so I was on my way again.

After about 10 miles I could see another storm rolling in up ahead. It looked like a monster and I knew I didn’t have long to find shelter. I saw a frituur up ahead so I ducked in there and ordered up some frites and a Jupiler. Then it hit! The rain came down in sheets, and then it started hailing. At the rate I was going, it was going to be a close call to get to Bill’s house before dark. When I finished the frites, the rain had stopped and for the first time all day the sky looked mostly sunny. I hoped there would be no more delays. I got back on the road (by the way, I do mean the road! The bicycle paths once entering Belgium were almost nonexistent. There would be a nice path for small stretches, much of the time there was simply a wide asphalt shoulder directly on the road, and the majority of the time there was not even that, I had to ride on the edge of the actual traffic lane [and to think now I routinely take the right tire track in the lane]). It didn’t take long for me to get soaked. Even though it wasn’t raining, the traffic rushing by continually sprayed me and the front wheel from my bike sprayed onto the frame by my feet, completely waterlogging my shoes. At this point, I really didn’t care anymore, I had encountered so much adversity that my only thought was to make it to Brussells in spite of everything.

I finally got to Brussells around 7 PM. Believe it or not, the worst part of the day was yet to come! I thought I knew the way back to Bill’s house. I found the main boulevard connecting the east part of the city to the south part. I figured all I had to do was go south on the street until I recognized the area around the Forest where Bill lives. I was on the right track, I recognized his office building and knew I didn’t have much farther. Then things began to look unfamiliar and I began to fear that I had passed up his area. I stopped at a bus stop to look at the maps (which were no help) and a lady waiting there spoke just enough English to tell me to turn left at the next street. Wrong! As it turned out, I hadn’t gone far enough and if I had gone just a little bit farther I would have reached the forest and known exactly where I was. Instead I turned left, and so began the most frustrating wild goose chase of the entire trip. To make matters worse, my rear tire was slowly beginning to lose air again, and it was getting close to dusk. I couldn’t find any maps other than the bus stops, nobody I stopped to ask how to get to the forest knew what I was talking about, and I couldn’t find a telephone anywhere. Because it was starting to get dark, I eventually lost my sense of direction and gradually became totally and utterly lost. I wound up in a residential area and I figured I better get help quick. I came upon a rather posh-looking French restaurant and decided to go in and ask for a telephone, regardless of how scummy I looked. The maitre-d was very nice and pointed the way. Wouldn’t you know it, Bill was not home! So I went up to the maitre-d and asked him if he could draw me a map to Avenue de la Floride. He discussed it with an attractive woman behind the desk, then the woman told me that it was nowhere around here. She spoke with a very heavy French accent, but I was still able to converse with her easily. I was not surprised to hear that I was way off course by then, and I replied, “I’m really lost.” There must have been some desparation in my reply, or I must have looked awfully pitiful, because after further discussion with the maitre-d, she asked me if I would like to put my bike in her car and she would take me there. They had another restaurant that was not far, she said, and she needed to go there tonight anyway. I was stunned by such a gracious offer of assistance and accepted without hesitation, thanking them profusely. She took me right up to Bill’s doorstep, and I was very happy about it because it had gotten totally dark by then, my tire was totally flat, and the drive from the restaurant to Bill’s house was a rather long one. My legs were totally shot and I couldn’t have faced the prospect of several more miles of riding.

When we arrived at Bill’s house, I again thanked her and offered to pay her for the trouble. She stiffly refused, explaining to me that she was the owner of the restaurants (Prince d’Orange) and that I should tell my friend to try them sometime. It had been an unbelievably brutal day, but that act of kindness combined with the fact that I was finally at Bill’s made me feel real good inside. Bill was still not home so I let myself in with the key he had given me, put on some Black Sabbath at a suitably deafening volume, and jumped in the shower. Bill came home shortly, he had given up on me arriving that night because of the weather and late hour, and had gone to the train station to check about bringing my bicycle to the airport. I relayed my tale of horror and then we went out for dinner. It was getting to be an emergency situation and I didn’t want to spend much money (which is hard to do in Bill’s neighborhood) so we ended up at a Mexican restaurant that had an all-you-can-eat buffet for 695 fr. ($17.50). Yes, that’s inexpensive in that neighborhood! The food was very good and featured a do-it-yourself shish-ka-bob, quite unlike most Mexican food I’ve had. The atmosphere, however, was very crowded and noisy. It did the job, however. We got back to his house, put on some music and talked. I had fun with him that night, it was good to see him again after having been on my own for the past week. When I went to bed, I told him not to expect me up early in the morning ’cause I was really exhausted.

To be continued…

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 1988, 2013

1988 Europe Bicycle Trip – Part 9

…continued from 1988 Europe Bicycle Trip – Part 8

[Thursday] 9/1/88—I got a bit of a late start today. I ended up going to bed rather late last night and needed the sleep. I was in no hurry though. Brussells looked to be about 120 miles from Cologne with Maastricht almost exactly halfway, so I planned to make it a two day ride. 60 miles in one day is just about perfect, and counting lunch and rest stops takes about six hours to do. As long as I get to Maastricht before the VVV closed, I was not too concerned about when I got there. This was the first day I can honestly say that I never got lost, not once did I have to do any sort of backtracking. Getting out of Cologne was a breeze. I didn’t hit the road till about 10:00 AM so rush hour was over, and I just headed straight west. The German countryside was much like the ride into Cologne, lots of farmland, not too many woods, gently rolling terrain. That is until I approached Duren. From then on I encountered much hillier country, apparently the area between Duren, Germany and Maastricht, Holland lies right at the northern foothills of the Ardennes Mountains. On several occasions I had to shift the bicycle into first gear in order to make it up the grades. The final grade I had to climb before I got to Maastricht was the longest, it must have been a good 2–3 miles long and I was in first gear for about the first 2/3 of it, farther up the grade softened and I was able to shift into some higher gears. Along with the increased hillyness came an increase in the amount of forested land. When I crossed the border into Holland, I was stopped and had my passport checked, that was a first after all the border crossings I had done.

Once into Holland, I could tell almost instantly. There’s something about the countryside in Holland that makes it so lovely. It seemed cleaner, the buildings have more charm and all the homes are so well landscaped, making bold use of yellows and reds in their annuals. And, of course, the quality of the bicycle paths was instantly increased. I was really happy to be back in Holland. I enjoyed it so much before and the prospect of another day their [sic] made me feel good. Shortly before I got to Maastricht, I stopped at a bank to exchange some money. It had been very lightly sprinkling for the last hour or so and cool and cloudy all day. Now it was raining , and rather hard. Then I knew for sure I was back in Holland, the same thing happened the first time I entered Holland. Well I was in no hurry this time and I wasn’t about to ride in the rain so I went to a Frite-Snack Café across the street and waited the rain out with some frites and ice cream (ijs that is!). Eventually it did stop raining and I started out again. That was when I encountered the incredibly long, steep grade I mentioned earlier.

When I got to Maastricht, I found the VVV, got a hotel, again right in the Centrum, for about $25, and it was fairly nice. I fell in love with Maastricht right away. Of all the towns I’ve visited on this trip, this one is by far the most beautiful. The city is not nearly so big as the true big cities, but it is definitely not a small town. The centrum is rather large and seems to be very much intact in its original condition. Old building, churches, plazas, and statues abound, and it has all been maintained very well. The city is also relatively clean. There may be a college here, there seems to be a disporportionate amount of young adults and a lot of cafés, shopping, and record stores. The town is split by the Maas River and several bridges span it. At the center of the city, it is spanned by a beautiful, old, stone-arch bridge. Most of the centrum is closed to automobile traffic. I took a look around and then had dinner at an Egyptian Restaurant. It was my first experience with that type of cuisine, and was very good. Then I hit the cafés for, what else, dessert and coffee. I have really taking a liking to the coffee they serve over here. I guess it’s actually expresso. It’s very strong, and I need to have lots of cream in it, but the flavor is wonderful and I’ve been drinking it like I’ve never had good coffee before [it was earlier that same year that I even began drinking coffee at home]. It’s so pleasant to spend the evening at the cafés (outdoors of course), drinking coffee and looking at all the beautiful Dutch ladies with their diverse and sophisticated fashions (both dress and hair) and their large, hooped earrings. Call me an art lover!

All evening, I’ve been trying to think of a way to move here, I love this place so much. In addition to being such a lovely city itself, it is in what I consider to be the prettiest part of Holland (from what I’ve seen). It’s green and lush and beautifully landscaped like the rest of the country, but unlike the other parts, it’s not flat, the landscape has real character. Its location in northwest Europe is ideal with Brussells to the west, Germany to the east, Amsterdam to the north, and France and Switzerland farther south. The only problem would be the continued rain, but this is the closest thing to paradise that I’ve found yet.

I have to continue on to Brussells tomorrow, but I think I’ll start out the morning looking around here some more and taking photographs, and then get on the bike after lunch. Bill’s not really expecting me till Saturday though I told him maybe Friday, so if I get there Friday evening, that’ll be OK. I can get there pretty late too because I wont have to mess with getting a hotel, I’ll just go straight to his house. As long as I get there before dark [famous last words].

To be continued…

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013

1988 Europe Bicycle Trip – Part 8

…continued from 1988 Europe Bicycle Trip – Part 7 (my second day in Cologne, Germany).

Today I started out with the Flora Park and Botanical Garden. In St. Louis, we’re spoiled by the Missouri Botanical Garden. Probably the only gardens in the western world that surpass it are the New York Garden in Brooklyn and the Royal Garden in Kew, London. As a result, just about anything else pales by comparison, but it was still a very enjoyable couple of hours with lots of photographic opportunities. I had a little trouble with one lady there. She looked Muslim or Turkish and stood about 4’8″ tall. She came up to me and started speaking to me. I asked her if she spoke English, she said “neine,” then continued to talk to me in German. I tried to tell her I could not speak German, but she seem to think I could understand her. So I politely said goodbye and walked away. She followed me and when I stopped to look at something she started again. Only this time she began pointing out plants as though she were explaining things to me. When I tried to leave, she very emphatically motioned for me to follow her. I did not want to be with this lady, but I reluctantly followed while I tried to think of a way to escape diplomatically. I saw something of interest and began to walk towards it and she told me to follow here, only this time she began snapping her fingers at me. At that point, I said forget diplomacy, I’m getting the hell away from her and made a bee-line in the opposite direction. I don’t know what she wanted but fortunately she didn’t see me again.

Next was the aquarium-insectarium. They had quite a large number of live insect exhibits including a butterfly room that you could walk through. It had all sorts of plants with butterflies flying around, mostly heliconiines. I was pretty hungry by now so I went back into town and did the sausage and pastry snack thing again. Then I crossed the river and went through the Rheinpark. It’s a beautiful park with lots of boldly colorful plantings. There were hardly any people there though. Then I walked along the river before crossing again and actually collected quite a few insects, mostly leaf beetles and hymenops [= hymenopterans, or bees and wasps]. When I got back into the old city, I spotted it, Haagen-Daas! Real ice cream! None of this “Italian eis” business. I was so glad and missed it so much these last two weeks that I experienced a total collapse of willpower and went there three times (oh heaven on earth!).

For dinner, I decided to try one of the restaurants. I went to one of the many Italian restaurants (I think they were more common than German restaurants) and ordered a pizza with salami, champignones, and peperi. I though the latter was pepperoni but it turned out to be whole peppers (as in jalapeño) so I picked them off. When I ordered, I asked for plain tap water. They brought a bottle of Perrier, so I said “no, water out of the faucet,” he came back with a glass of sparkling water. I couldn’t make him understand so I said just water like from the sink. He came back with a menu and asked me to show him what I wanted. I said no, just forget it. I never imagined it would have caused such a ruckus to get a glass of plain water. Finally he came back with a glass of plain water. I said “yah!” He set it down, kind of looked disgusted and walked away. [Ironically, I now always order sparkling water in restaurants, especially abroad—I don't even know when I started doing this.] The pizza was heavy on the “shrooms” and cheese and light on everything else but I was hungry and it did the trick. When they brought the bill, they had added to it 2.50 DM for the Perrier. I pointed out that that was in error. When I paid the bill, the girl shorted me 20 cents. Normally it would be too small an amount to worry about but I felt they were kind of rude to me about the water so I asked her to check her addition. She had thought she made an error, then saw she did and slammed 2 dimes on the table before huffing off. Gee whiz! You’d think some restaurantiers would actually want to make their customers happy.

[Okay, this is really embarrassing, but I promised to transcribe everything as written, so here goes...] I checked out a dance bar afterwards. It was funny to see, very few couples were dancing, mostly people danced alone, both guys and girls. Also, guys would dance together which is unheard of in the states unless you’re in a gay bar [head now in hands]. I got bored with that pretty quick though so I called it a night. [That's right, I was in a gay bar and didn't even know it! Everybody all together—"Not that there's anything wrong with it."] I think I’ve seen enough of Cologne so I’ll leave tomorrow morning and start heading for Brussells. I hope to do it in two days so I can arrive at Bill’s Friday night and save a hotel charge.

To be continued…

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 1988, 2013

1988 Europe Bicycle Trip – Part 7

…continued from 1988 Europe Bicycle Trip – Part 6

[Wednesday] 8/31/1988—I was able to get up rather early yesterday morning, by 8 AM I was on the road. I had some apprehensions about bicycling into West Germany, I envisioned the bicycle trails ending and riding on the side of narrow, winding roads all the way into Cologne. Although not quest as nicely laid out as in Holland, the bicycle trails in West Germany are still adequate, and my fears were unfounded. I crossed the border immediately after leaving Venlo, and I had a little trouble getting headed in the right direction, but a passing bicycler pointed the way and I was OK from then on. The main differences are the lack of signing on the trails, the trails always follow whatever highway is headed that direction (except the interstates of course), the trails are normally on only one side of the road, and the trail quality is lower. Most of the trail is constructed of asphalt, which could make a very nice surface except for the action of tree roots. The roots grow underneath the asphalt and push it up, resulting in transverse ridges across the trail that can be quite jarring, especially with a heavy load such as mine. The trails are also narrower, and the usually “Ende” as the highway passes through towns, forcing one to hug the curb as motorists zip by.

Despite all the difficulties with the German bicycle trails, I still managed to find my way to Cologne without any real problem. I was at the tourist information center by 1:30 PM so I had most of the day left to spend in Cologne. I stopped in Grevenbroich to exchange some money, I had no Deutsch Marks at all, and this little, harsh, German lady at the bank made me feel like I was going through the Spanish Inquisition. I think she was speaking English to me, but her accent was so strong I still didn’t understand her. I just nodded and say “yah” a lot. The weather was great, mostly sunny, a little cool early on but warming up nicely. The countryside that I passed through, however, was not all too interesting. Very little of it was forested, lots of crop and rangeland. The terrain was not really flat anywhere by now, but the grades were still very gentle so biking across it was not strenuous. I encountered very little headwind, and even had some tailwind in places. That was nice for a change.

The hiway into Cologne took me straight to the Cologne Cathedral, with the tourist information center right next to it. A long stretch of the road was being reconstructed in the metro area, but Cologne has nice bicycle paths along its major roads so there was no problem getting into the Centrum. The first time you see the Cathedral is an incredible experience. It is truely the most awe-inspiring structure I have ever seen, perhaps rivaled only by the Golden Gate Bridge. Its immensity is one thing, but what really struck me was the way it literally dripped with detail over its entire surface. The plaza around the Cathedral is a real gathering ground for tourists and residents, making the whole scene seem very alive. I just stood there a while and took in the experience, then went into the tourist information center. They booked me a hotel about three blocks away for 42 DM (about $23 US). I was really surprised when I arrived there, this place was first class compared to the other places I had stayed in. Everything was so clean and nice and well kept. I wondered how I got such a nice place right smack in the center of the city for such a good price.

I got cleaned up and headed for the city. I ended up in the main shopping district and found a store that sold Henckel knives. I had bought a few knives in Amsterdam, they were about half the price of what they cost in the US. I wondered if I would see them for even cheaper in Germany but hated to take a chance on passing them up and then not seeing them again or seeing them only they were more expensive. I should have waited. The knives here were about one-third of the US cost. I had bought only the minimum of what I wanted in Amsterdam, so I decided to go ahead and make a full set, complete with a block holder with the Henckel logo on it. I ended up with a total of 6 knives, a sharpening steel, utility scissors, and the wood block for $160 US. What a steal! Not only that, but I selected the pieces individually instead of buying preselected sets (the former is much more expensive, but its the only way to get exactly the pieces you want and only those pieces). If I had done the same thing in the US, it would have cost around $400. And remember, the price I paid included sales tax. So I had my souveneir for the trip and I felt pretty good about it.

I hadn’t eaten lunch yet, just snacked on some fruit and pastries, so I decided to forgo the formal lunch in a restaurant and sample the various food stands. There are hundreds of them all throughout the city. I did the same thing for dinner and it turned out being much cheaper that way too. The bockwurst, bratwurst, and mettwurst are great. There are also an incredible number of pizza stands around too, but they lacked the spice that I grown to expect from good pizza. And the bakeries!! There must be a bakery on every block, each with a slightly different selection of breads & pastries. I really almost overdid it on the pastries, but I figured how often will I get to do this? [I still take this approach whenever I travel.] I spent the evening in the old part of the city, by the Cathedral. I was really struck by a feeling of similarity between the old part of Cologne and the old part of St. Louis. Both sit on the west bank of a major river. The Rheine and the Mississippi Rivers are about the same width at the point they run through the city. Both have a massive, world-known structure on the river at the city center, with an old-style bridge on the north side of the area and a newer, hiway bridge on the south side. Both have the oldest section of town adjacent to the main attraction and have been refurbisheed into an entertainment center with bars, cafés, and restaurants in addition to the shopping. Both have park-like areas along the river. There are two major differences, however; the rivers flow in opposite directions and the east bank of the Rheine is much more attractive than that of the Mississippi. Still though, I couldn’t help feeling that it was all so similar.

To be continued…

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 1988, 2013