Monday, July 22, 2019

Decompressing and Reflection After Months of Letting the Road Lead the Journey

Bill Heimann is a veteran tourer and retired bike shop owner. Every time he goes out he sends back a few paragraphs via e-mails to his friends and family whenever he reaches a new town and has some rest time. No public Instagram. No Facebook journal either (even though he participates on Facebook cycling groups.).
This most recent tour was to pedal from Athens, Greece to Norkapp, Norway with no clearly defined route. That is how he likes to do things. This was a particularly tough and significant adventure: learning how to ride big mountain hills agains, failing to finish a climb with 15% grades and having to go back down and find an alternate route, and turning 75 along the way.

This is his final entry of the tour written from the comforts of home after returning to Ashland, Oregon.





This morning I got up and made coffee.  Standing in the center of the front window of the humble abode enjoying the steaming cup, I viewed a doe, a fawn and a buck, an unusual site to see such a family.  But the viewing from my favorite morning place was also unusual for me.  It has been over 3 months since I last stood in this place.  A very good 3 ½ month journey has ended and another chapter has begun.

All my journeys have chosen their own paths and their own times.  I seem to have little say in the matter.  When I found myself in the very small Greek village with a broken bike I had no desire to return to the island of Evia, but the trip had its own idea of where I was to go.  After the repair and a stop in a cell phone store to talk with island born young man, I spent another, almost 2 weeks on the island.

My original trip plan was to try to find a way to cycle to Norkapp in Norway but the road would not have that plan.  Brussels and the Tour de France became the destination.  A wonderful hostess in Brussels, a friend in Prague, a meeting with a family from Tanzania at the Tour, all combined to show me the end of this journey.

As I sit here at my home computer talking with you, flashes of this journey come into my vision. The first days with John visiting an old touring friend in Phoenix, cycling to Bisbee, AZ through the Sonora desert and camping on Lake Pleasant for a farewell to John and the US. 
The first days of cycling, out of Athens in heavy traffic and up the steep hills to find a campground that had burned down in their version of the fires of our west, comes to my eyes.  The long, yet short ride to Thessaloniki that I thought would mark the end of Greece but again the road had other ideas.  A night with a wine producer added another day to my stay in the country before the final crossing into North Macedonia and the bringing of a new country to my tires.   
The meeting of a missionary family in the Skopje, the capital, a food tour and enjoying the old bazaar, where my hotel was located added 3 days to my stay in Macedonia.  Then Serbia, a country I had heard a lot of negative about, most of which turned out to be untrue.  The wonderful mountains with their great climbs, the friendly people and good food left me with a whole new picture of what is Serbia.

An unplanned short stay in Croatia, because I followed the river the wrong way did not give me enough time to really appreciate what I was finding to be amazing people.  Leaving the town of Mitrovica, I followed the Ibar NW instead of NE, forcing me to turn north into Hungary much earlier than planned, producing another example of the road leading the journey.





Budapest, Hungary brought the beginning of the end.  Now I was headed to Brussels and the Tour. 
Next, Munich instead of Passau due to a train mix up.  I wonderful mix up as I met a Spaniard living in Munich, Mixx.  How more appropriate could that have been.  We spent 2 great days together enjoying Munich and its beer gardens.  It is always great when what appears to be a problem shows itself to be a wonderful opportunity. 

Then to Karlsruhe, Germany, the home of a long ago friend I could not find, and back to cycling.  Up the Rhine River to the Saar and then along the Mosselle River and into Luxemburg, trying to be in Brussels by the 5th of July.  Good riding along the rivers with paved bikeways, no climbs or motor vehicles. Soon the bikeways became a little boring, just pedaling along though the little changing scenery – not really why I tour but great for making time.  One hundred kilometer plus days are easy.  I finally pedaled off the rivers into Luxemburg, back into the mountains and their ever changing views. 
My hostess in Brussels and I had been talking using What’s App and she suggested that I find my way to Wiltx, Luxemburg and pick up a ravel (pronounced havel) a rails to trails facility and follow it to Bastogne. Then another ravel to Libramont-Chevigny, Belgium to catch a train to Brussels as my time had run out.  No matter how tight my schedule is, I try not to miss the opportunities of meeting the locals and learning about their lives. So, extra delays always appear on my agenda. 

Marilyn is a great hostess.  She met me at the Brussels train station and we cycled to her narrow 5 story, 100 year old downtown home.  From then on we toured Brussels, watched the Wimbledon finals, ate good meals, worked on her 8 bikes, her son’s commuter and enjoyed each other’s company. 

The Tour de France was exciting and fun.  We walked around the Fan Zone buying once in a life time items, seeing the riders, talking with the sponsors and soaking up the atmosphere on Friday.  Then on Saturday during the Grand Depart I stood on the starting line.  While seeing the wonderful backs of all the taller folks in front of me I watched the start on the big screen in the Royal Plaz.  Sunday brought the Team Time Trial, with a great viewing place within touchable distance of the teams as they flashed by.  It also gave me the opportunity to meet a wonderful family from Tanzania there for the race.  The son is studying architecture in China, the daughter is studying in a Brussels high school and the mother and father work and live in Tanzania.   It was fun sharing with them how the race worked and learning about their very unusual lives.

Oh, you are talking to an international bike mechanic.  I went to visit a friend in Prague, leaving Marilyn with some instructions on getting parts for her son’s bike.  While in Prague she texted me asking what had to be done with the parts.  After a couple of texts back and forth we got the problem solved.  Think about that process, an American bike mechanic in Prague working on a bike in Brussels.

The trip to Prague was very nice.  To meet an old traveling friend, share a wonderful city with a food tour and learn about the culture while staying with a local, how much more can I say?


The road brought me to all I have seen and experienced on this journey.  Over many years letting it decide and direct my travels has always been my way.  I say that like I have a choice, I do not.  I hope the road continues to guide me the rest of my life and maybe beyond. 


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