From the land of bike lanes to the land of endless forests, ah yes the ride from Holland to Germany was a beautiful one. I had almost completely forgotten what a hill looked and felt like till I found them having crossed over the border. As much as I love Holland’s bike infrastructure and boy do they have it figured out, my steed and soul were craving adventure. That I learned can well and truly be found in the small paths and back roads that weave their way through the forests. Despite the high density of people throughout much of Europe, I happily found myself lost (albeit deliberately) riding the muddy paths. With intermittent rain, the ground beneath would weave between soft soil padded by autumn leaves to mud bogs with pools I didn’t dare to disturb. It was bliss.
Every now and then I would pop out of the forest to civilisation with paved roads which were a rather nice surprise from the hard slog muddy bogs can be. It’s in that that I learned, despite my tendency to crave the wild and adventure while riding Belgium and Holland, relativity and perspective play a very important role in those intangible cravings we feel. Relative because compared to the paved bike lanes of Belgium, the forests felt like unchained freedom. Later in the swiss alps I was to truly appreciate bike lanes and paved roads as they are about all that you can ‘ride’ in the winter months. Perspective just as importantly so as looking back now to those endless bike paths, they represent civilisation as much as they do a bike friendly culture. When you’re up in the cold mountains far away from anything considered civil or friendly, a bike path seems like a refreshing break in that moment. Never again, even on my fat bike, will I point my nose up at the paved option as my mind wonders back to those tougher times with deep snow stretching as far as the eye can see.
Following the path in front of me I found myself rolling into Aachen, the rainiest city in Germany according to some. I was lucky enough to find a host, Miriam, a university student studying mechanical engineering and social sciences. As I was to learn from numerous people I randomly bumped into around town, “Aachen has one of the best mechanical engineering departments and is famous for it”. I must have heard that line at least five times. This reputation brought people from all over the world to this mechanically minded city to learn the discipline and then go out and make their mark on the world.
My stay was to be a brief one but all didn’t go to plan. A rather injured pedal of mine called it quits on my trip and decided life would be better off by being left behind. Quite literally he unscrewed himself from the crank arm as I was pedaling up a hill and fell onto the road, hoping I wouldn’t notice. His attempt was in vain as I collected him and my bike and made camp late in the night on the side of the road, right in the centre of Aachen. A short trip the next day to the bike shop Velo in town, Mr. Pedal and me had come to an agreement and he was back on-board and attached firmly to the crank arm. Mutiny leaves a sour taste in the mouth and so to play it on the safe side, I decided I would find a place to stay in town and ensure the pedal was not planning a coup in secret.
Angela was to be my warmshowers saviour as I spent a few days with her, cooking together and exploring the city. The Christmas markets were also on, with Angela treating me to Glühwein (German mulled wine). Made from wine, sugar, a range of spices and heated to the perfect temperate, it’s the type of drink you huddle around with your friends for a memorable night out.
Bike all sorted and having bid final farewells, I was off again to the forests and farms and adventure around the next bend. Winter was well on it's way, with the crackle of frost as i mowed over it and my bike decorated in icicle crystals each morning. I had been eagerly awaiting winter for months so it was with a smile that I woke up to frigid toes and putting on my thermals for the first time. The difference between riding in direct sunlight and shade was stark. I could be merrily riding and then suddenly feel my noes and fingers start to get cold, realising I had only moments ago passed in the shade. With the alps in deep winter to come, I told myself every cold finger and toe was a reminder there was still much to learn to prepare myself for the challenges to come.
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