Rotation rotation legs pump wheels spin rotation rotation creeks and metal grinding rotation rotation pins and needles in the hands from gripping too tight rotation rotation grateful sigh of graceful downhill glide painstaking exertion of uphill crawl rotation rotation dripping sweat stings the eyes hamstrings and buttocks burn rotation rotation Leiden, Hoofddorp, Utrecht, rotation rotation the sun blackens the skin the rain drenches yet quenches rotation rotation smooth traverse over tarmac rattle and bounce precariously over potholes and damaged surface rotation rotation Arnhem, Emmerich, Rees, rotation rotation gooch pounding arm aching rotation rotation tail wind propulsion head wind barricade rotation rotation gradual geographical morph of regional identity rotation rotation reprieve of ubiquitous bench/bin combo usurped only by bench/bin/shrine combo rotation rotation fuel farmed from biscuits, beer, sandwiches, pasta rotation rotation erroneous signs and capricious detours rotation rotation Duisburg, Sechtem, Bonn, rotation rotation sunset surreptitious wild campsite searching rotation rotation sunrise scarper from scene of slumber rotation rotation unmarked boarders identifiable through architecture, street signs, language rotation rotation guided by meandering rivers impeded by topographical undulations rotation rotation international language of gesticulations invitations of food and shelter from strangers rotation rotation Aachen, Luxemburg City, Saarbrucken, rotation rotation accumulated filth and grime repugnant stench rotation rotation serpentine skin-shedding rebirth metamorphosis of a scalding shower rotation rotation calendar pages strewn like leaves days marked by distance or destination rotation rotation Duntzenheim, Kemps, Basal, the road stretches out before us unfathomable and majestic rotation rotation liberation of the bumbling wanderer exhaustion of the physical toll rotation rotation horizon chasing free-wheel basing star gazing rotation rotation Lausen, Olten, Luzern, rotation rotation relenting to the rhythm of the road rotation rotation rotation rotation rotation rotation………………….
Email from Anna telling us not to forget to visit them on our journey sees us take a sideways detour to Aachen. We move away from the Rhine for the first time, the landscape squeezes like an accordion, flat to spikes as we leave the river plains behind. The hills are arduous and reveal the true weight of the equipment we carry. We use a lunchtime bench moment to solve the curse of masculine pride with the simplicity of a few words. We camp in some trees far from houses, near to Zulpich. We play chess and slip into the shadows to sleep.
Raw cabbage for breakfast followed by mini bike maintenance. Discovery of a bent chain link is remedied with extraction and replacement with the donation of a detachable link from Jochen. We cycle into Bonn to sit with students and drink into the night. Bottle opener hangs on a chord next to the off-licence door to facilitate immediate street drinking. We teach Jochen the word grope with disastrous consequences. Natalie concerns us with her love of knee-capping mice for scientific research and her connections with the German underworld.
I love nature, insects included. It’s beautiful. A deer bouncing through a corn field, its head appearing every few seconds, buzzards circling in pairs above our heads, wild boars that snort and stamp and burrow for food in the night. But something changes when you become part of the wildlife, sleeping in a tent and bivi bag almost every night. Exposed in everything you do to the outside world in ways you don’t experience as part of a ‘normal’ modern lifestyle. The biggest irritant is the mosquito. They have a habit of making things that should be pleasurable uncomfortable. Like when you sit down after a long day’s ride on a bench with a view of the rolling European countryside and begin to cook your spaghetti. They don’t come straight away, they scout you out, tell their friends, gather and attack on mass. The first thing you notice is the itch on the back of your leg, then on your back, your neck, your finger… how the fuck did it bite my finger without me noticing? It’s not just the good times either. When you’re struggling to pitch your tent they bite your hands. When you get in your tent – your only sanctuary – they are there. When you’re trying to shit in the woods they bite your ass. When you sleep in a bivi bag, they come and bite your cheeks. In every conceivable situation the little fuckers are there making it a misery. I count 27 bites from the last 3 days and the itch is getting to be unbearable. I don’t like to hurt insects, I’m not a Buddhist but I try to avoid killing them. With mosquitos however, it’s fair game. Blood for blood. Bastards.
Next there are slugs and to a lesser extent snails. There are two sides the slug situation, it’s kind of a love-hate relationship. I try to avoid killing slugs as they are just harmless lumps of shit with no brains but it’s not always possible. Like when I wake from fitful sleep at 5:30am, rub my eyes and notice the dark spots on the outside of the tent. ‘Ah, we’re in a slug zone’ I think to myself. Great. What I really want at 5:30am in a damp field when trying to pack up is 30 slugs to remove from my tent. So I clear out, load the bike, shake the tent to remove as many as possible and then begin to flick the more resilient ones off. I always miss one though and he gets rolled up with my tent, so that evening I get the nice treat of a squashed slug with its organs and shit smeared over my tent to deal with as I’m trying to once again stealthily pitch my tent in the dusky half light. It’s all fun and games.
Another slug interaction occurs when on the bike. Everyone knows a slug loves to hit the road after a good downpour but in England you don’t see even a fraction of the slugs that Germany has to offer on the meandering cycle paths here. Slugs love a cycle path. It’s like having their own little motorway, moving from village to town. They come out in their hundreds but even when I’m eager to get to my destination, I can’t bring myself to run them over. I would rather put my life in danger by swinging my bike, 75kg when loaded, out of the way. I’ve had near misses with trees, bushes, lorries, posts, signs and crash barriers to spare the humble slug. Sometimes it’s unavoidable though and the poor fucker meets its maker. At which point, the most curious thing happens. All the other slugs descend ever so slowly on the dead slug and begin to feast on its insides. Weird little turds.
Beetles are a less frequent annoyance and whereas I generally find them somewhat beautiful and intriguing, sometimes they can be a massive pain in the arse. You hear the buzz a few seconds before and then without warning they dive bomb with full force into your face, hair, pocket or most annoyingly your boiling pot of spaghetti. Once in there, they get scared and begin to struggle leaving a leg or two (or if you’re really lucky, an antenna) in your pasta sauce. Its all protein though and protein is expensive. Thanks nature.
Day 14 – July 15th 2014
We rise from our castles, to repel the slug onslaught. In Dormagen we meet Dieter, a mercurial man on a bike.
We pass through Cologne amongst the unexpected tourists and the street drinkers who whisper promises in our ears. At traffic lights in the countryside we meet Heinrich cycling home from work. He invites us for coffee and at high speed we follow him to his home in Setchem to meet his wife Connie. The coffee is a prelude to dine until we reluctantly depart to race the sunset and arrive hours late in Bonn to stay with Jochen and Natalie.