There’s something innately exhilarating about solo travel. Put yourself behind handlebars and you’ve upped the ante quite a bit. If anything goes wrong, you have to rely on your wits and physical strength to bail yourself out. Sometimes, however, whether for better or for worse, strangers reach out unexpectedly to lend a hand.
Let me first say something about Germans. I mentioned last post their notorious rudeness. I don’t think Germans on a whole are actually rude; rather, I think they enjoy to point out (sometimes loudly) when they think you’re wrong, which is not inherently rude although can manifest itself as such. The Alte Säcke on their electric bikes definitely fall into the latter category. Otherwise I don’t think Germans intend to be rude, they are just “being” – such as walking purposefully on a predetermined path, regardless if it happens to cross with yours, forcing you to adjust to avoid a collision in the Bahnhof.
Okay, now back to bikes.
About 12 kilometers from my camping site in Koblenz, I stopped to take a breather and realized I couldn’t unclip my right foot from the pedal. I struggled for at least ten minutes to yank my shoe out, pulling every which way with all my might, sweating and cursing all the way. A woman cycled up next to me and offered to help. Was?! I have to say, I did not expect this on a bike path in Germany. Then again, in the so-called friendly USA I sat on the side of the cycleway for 20 minutes clutching my sagging collarbone and not a single person offered to help – incredibly, a woman was even jogging towards me, witnessed the whole accident and continued to jog past without a single word. No worries though, she’s probably still trying to jog off the fat rolls.
This wonderfully nice German woman offered to ride with me to the Koblenz city center, where she was meeting her daughter, who could then show me the nearest bike repair shop. After I managed to get my foot back into the still clipped-in shoe (and yes, this did involve a fall), we rode together, chatting the whole way in German. She was surprised to hear I grew up in Texas, as her son-in-law was from there. I think Germans fail to realize that Texas is literally twice the size of their entire country. They also seem to find it strange that I’m Texan and yet don’t sport a cowboy hat. I guess that’s fair since most Americans think Germans go around day to day in lederhosen and dirndls.
I’m sure I could have managed to get to Koblenz and find the bike shop alone, but it sure was a breath of fresh air to experience such friendliness and generosity from a stranger, especially after the nearly 200km I covered that day.
At the bike shop, the good vibes continued to flow. The mechanic screwed the clips in for me, and when I asked if I could pump up my tires he insisted on doing it himself. Afterwards I just had 1.5km to go to my planned campsite, right on the north side of the Mosel with an incredible view of the Deutsches Eck (as pictured in last post.) I had JUST cycled up to the checkin hut when… PFFFFFFFFFFFT. Tire went completely flat. Really, digger?
I was able to leave my gear with the desk and walked my bike all the way back to the shop, where I tried to contain my anger and irritation when I pointed out that they completely fucked up my tube – there was a gaping hole right at the base of the valve. Just like I would later experience with the ER asshat over my broken back, the mechanic didn’t apologize or admit his mistake – just laughed and looked sheepish, then offered to put in a new tube. I’m wondering if this kind of behavior is related to the German desire to be right, especially in front of strangers, combined with the generally terrible customer service. It doesn’t seem out of the question to receive a simple “sorry,” but I guess that shouldn’t be expected here.
At any rate, I changed the tube and pumped it up myself, still politely chatting with the mechanic in German – really, I was too exhausted and didn’t want to ruin my good day by being pissed at him. After a 5-minute ride back to the campsite and quickly setting up my tent, I rehydrated at the biergarten whilst re-reading Dharma Bums. I felt that just as Jack had set out for a life as a bum, equipping himself with a backpack and all the necessary means for survival in the wild, ever striving towards self-actualization, I’d done something kind of similar with my first bike trip. I fell asleep staring at the stars, drunk off two beers and totally blissed out.