Day 26: When they were young - Heidi Ho - CycleBlaze

July 6, 2012

Day 26: When they were young

Today I thought of Leo. Not the Leo who is currently roaming around Italy and beyond, but the Leo who set off on a bike tour around England, at the age of 14, with his friend Mike.

The two I met are from Austria and heading to Portugal, and were older than 14, but not by enough to be significant to a 40-something touring cyclist. I came across them in the early afternoon, on my way from Murg to Unterageri, and part way up a painful grade. They had stopped near an overlook. One spoke English fairly well, the other a little less so.

We exchanged the usual touring cyclist pleasantries and questions. I was intrigued by their mix of inexperience and enthusiasm, with a slight hint of, this is harder than we thought kind of thinking, that seemed to be just under the surface.

"We stealth camp," they told me proudly, before producing a camera, loaded with hastily taken and crocked night pictures of startled goats and cows, with red eyes on a pitch black background. "We snuck into a barn last night to sleep, and took these pictures of the animals. Sometimes we just find a place in the woods after dark. We always get up early and leave before the sun comes up, before the farmers come out."

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After a little more talk we set off, and UP. There were grades; not as long as some days but steep. So steep that I would pass the guys, and then they would pass me. We weren't riding "together," except the terrain forced it on us. We crept along; partly alone, partly together, stopping at a farmers fountain, the intersection of two roads, in a church parking lot.... At every rest stop we talked a bit more.

It was steeper than it looks here
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"I'm a teacher," I told them. It was something they could relate to, I think.

In one town we stopped at one of the cycling maps showing the routes in the immediate area, like the ones I have been posting.

While we studied the map, one asked, "Do you think we can make it to Portugal?" Maybe they were starting to trust me, and were showing some doubt in themselves?

I suppressed a smile. I had no idea if they could make it to Portugal? I didn't know how strong they were, or how much time they had to ride. I wondered how they came up with the idea of Portugal in the first place? Hey, I hear Portugal has a lot of hot chicks! And sangria! Yeah, Paaaarty! could have been the catalyst? It's as good a reason as any at that age.

"I think you can," I told them confidently. "But remember, even if you don't make it all the way. Ride as far as you can. What does it matter if you don't make it to Portugal? Maybe you'll make it to Spain, maybe southern France. It doesn't matter? You will have had a great adventure no matter where you end up. And it will still be a long way to travel on a bike."

They nodded. Perhaps a little relieved that they would not be failures if they stopped short of their initial goal?

"Is the route hard, from here to Toulouse?" They asked. I thought of my ride with Leo and Steph. The long, hot climbs. The Puy Mary, which took hours to climb. The Col du Beal. The flies.

"Some of it's hard," I said after some thought. "Some of it's not. But that's what makes the adventure."

They thought about that. "What route do you recommend across France?"

I suppressed another smile. They really hadn't planned much out. They had a road map of a scale of major roads and highways. They didn't need better maps in Switzerland, because of the signed bike routes, but they would need them in France and beyond.

We talked about some possibilities, though I only have a rough idea of possible routes myself. I suggested they ask someone more knowledgeable about going south to Provence, and then west, that it might be longer but flatter. And I recommend they pick up some Michelin maps. They said they would.

It was during this exchange that I thought about Leo.

"You know," I said. "This is your first bike trip, and an ambitious one at that. This is something you will remember for the rest of your lives. One day you will look back fondly, with more good memories than you can imagine now. You may take more bike trips, but this one will be the most special, because it is your first."

"Yes," said the one who spoke better English, with a slight nod. "I think you are right." He seemed to understand that, at least on a level of a teenager, who can't totally understand yet. But he struck me as a bit more thoughtful, and the leader of the two.

I remembered asking Leo if he had pictures of his trip back then. He didn't and regretted it. Of course the technology was different.

"Take a lot of pictures," I said. "Don't erase them, ever. Put them on a DVD and save them. Some day you will want them." They said they would.

Studying the signs for which way to go
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We split up soon after that, when the road went left, and up the steepest grade of them all. I had a feeling there was a faster, flatter way, that probably involved nothing more than traffic, and as I got out my map to check, 80-year old Hans came coasting down the hill on his electric bike. We flagged him down and asked about possible routes. He confirmed my hunch of the easier, more direct, yet more traffic-y, road below.

After some discussion, the two young men decided to stay on the steeper, yet established route. I wished them good luck and gave them a coin from America for luck; I had nothing else to give them. They thanked me and I turned and followed Hans, who offered to show me the way.

Hans, who rode me down to the easier route on his electric bike
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I wonder if, some day, they will laugh about their half baked plan to cross half a continent and 4 countries, learning the ways of the world by the seat of their pants? Getting into jams, and out of jams. Suffering like dogs, and wondering what the hell they were thinking, going off to Portugal on their bikes? And in the end, if they are as determined as I think they are, making it to the end.

Maybe they will remember the American, and will save the coin as a memory of the trip? I wonder if, in 40 or 50 years, they will ride to Portugal to retrace the adventure, like Leo did?

They were fine young men. And I hope so.

Other pictures of today

The weather was a bit iffy this morning, but it made for pretty conditions
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Some tourers from France on one of the bike paths
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A pig, a gnome and a flower pot? I'm not seeing the connection with this yard art?
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Cool tunnel...
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...just for bikes and pedestrians.
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Whoooooa. Glad I was on the down side of this one.
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New Mexico?
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Aaaaaaw. I'm going to miss the muffin festival! What a jip!
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I don't know what this road sign means. But doesn't it look like a computer emoticon?
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Today's ride: 83 km (52 miles)
Total: 2,565 km (1,593 miles)

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