Sunday, August 20, 2017

Munich, Germany to Heinrichsbrunn, Austria: The Strangest Sleeps

The original plan was to leave Munich on Wednesday, but Liviu and I were getting along swimmingly and I wanted to find a new rear wheel for my bike, so I asked to stay another day (Liviu: “Stay as long as you like!”). I spent Thursday searching bike shops for a compatible wheel (most said they could order one in; one shop, interestingly, had plenty of stock but only dealt in 26” wheels – more common on mountain bikes and in third world countries) and finally found one at the sixth shop I visited. There was much “Do you speak English”-ing and typing things into Google translate and gesturing. Many independent stores in Munich don't take credit or debit cards, which is fine, since it can be hard to make a profit by doing so (Visa takes a cut, if you didn't know). So, I went to an ATM, then back to the store, and got my wheel.

The second shop I visited had actually recommended the sixth shop to me, and their mechanic seemed quite knowledgeable and kind. So when the shop with the wheel didn't have the tire I wanted, I returned to the second shop to buy the tire. When I first visited, the mechanic was confused why I needed a new wheel – then she looked at my current one. Noticing the nice curve to the brake surface, she looked at me and smiled one of the most genuine smiles I have ever seen, as if to say, “Dang boy, you ride this thing!” It was a beautiful moment.

That night, Liviu and I (okay, mostly Liviu, I was wiped and fell asleep halfway through) watched my favorite movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. It's about a guy who works an office job but daydreams about doing more. You should all go watch it right now (trailer).

Finally, Thursday came. I didn't want to leave my newfound best friend, but as I know now, there are more friends to be found. We hugged, he went to work, and after packing up the explosion of stuff I'd made on his floor, it was time to go.

That day was fairly uneventful, except for the hubbub of trying to sleep. I scouted out three places all within half a mile of each other – a memorial, a race track, and a mini church. The memorial was covered in teenagers and I didn't feel good about the race track, so I went for the church. It was nice, until about 9:15, when a tractor started working the field next to it. I hadn't set up my tent or anything – I was just relaxing on the bench – so I went back to the memorial. Still covered in teenagers. Race track. After 20 minutes there, I started feeling nervous, so I went back to the church – the tractor was gone. But then at 1 AM, a car on a road I hadn't noticed saw me from far away – I woke to the initial flash of their headlights, then they backed up and put them on me for 10-15 seconds more. I assume they say the reflective sidewalls on my bike, which I had neglected to hide very well (“What are those random circles on the other side of the hay field?”). They drove off, but I was awake and nervous, so... memorial.

The usual "bike paths everywhere" leaving Munich.

Sunset from the church.

I have no idea what this is but most towns have one. Someone who knows German culture, educate me?

The next day wasn't terribly eventful either, except I made it to Austria. I found a picnic spot with a view and tried to set up my bivvy – but, having a view, people were in and out until about 10. I wondered: if I just set up in a corner and went to sleep, would they even notice me? But, I didn't want to risk it. I went hiking in the woods to kill time. Finally, after two couples, a trucker, and some other guy, I had the place to myself. As I was setting up, I noticed some lightning on the horizon, but as it was quite far off, I decided to think nothing of it unless it got close enough to wake me.

Bike paths in Austria: spontaneous rebirth edition.
Also, the well-dressed gentleman from Switzerland is back, and he has a kid now.

It woke me at about 11. I thought, “eh, what's a little thunderstorm?,” put the fly over my bivvy, and went back to bed.

At about 11:30 I woke up again – the lightning was coming so fast now the sky was practically on fire. Flash... flash... flashflashflash... flashflash! But I couldn't hear anything – heat lightning? I pulled out my phone and searched for the nearest church – 5 miles away, a 30 minute ride. Then I heard the wind. I heard it. Howling. I decided I couldn't make it to the church in time, so I started staking out the fly. The soil was really not good, I could only get the stakes in about an inch. Before I even got one in satisfactorily, the wind came in, and the fly blew over. Okay, I said to myself, time to find shelter.

As fast as I could, I threw all the tent supplies into a pile and rolled them up together, then stuffed them in the tent sack. My sleeping pad and bivvy I rolled up together as well. There was lots of standing on stuff and putting water bottles on things to try and keep them from blowing away. I was worried I would blow away, just standing there. Leaves and small branches were falling all around me; looking up, the lightning revealed tree silhouettes bending over backwards. As I bent down to pack something up, a small branch landed on my head. I was fine, but at that point I considered leaving everything as it was. Almost done though...

I threw what wasn't strapped to the bike up against a small brick wall and put the bike on top of it all, then dove under a picnic table to think. Just as I got under, the rain began. Slowly at first...

What were my options? The church was too far away now. I could stay under the picnic table, where I'd be safe from branches, but would undoubtedly – thunk, a branch landed on top of the picnic table -- get wet. There was a tiny roof over the recycling bins. Or... was that trucker parked out by the road?

Plan: run up to the recycling bins to check them out. If they're no good, go look for the truck. 3... 2... 1...

I could wedge myself between the recycling bins and the roof, but it would be a tight fit, and there was bird crap on one of the bins. Better bird crap on my pants than a tree on my head, but I would literally have had to wedge myself in. To the truck!

I sprinted the 100 feet down the path to the parking lot, my headlamp revealing a fallen tree just in time to jump over it, there's the truck!, ran up and knocked firmly on the door. The curtain moved aside for a moment and a face appeared, then the door opened a crack. He said something in German. “Can I come in out of the rain!?” I shouted. The door opened further and he beckoned. As I climbed up, the seat moved back. I got in, closed the door, and turned to look at him. He was sitting on a bunk just behind the seat, wearing nothing but underwear. He said something in German. I took a moment to remember the only complete sentence I knew: “Sprechen si englisch?”

He gave me the same “Are you kidding me?” look I get a lot with that question, then stood up and said what he said again, while pointing towards a second bunk folded just above the fist. “Ja,” I said. He pulled it down, then crawled back into the lower bunk. “Danke,” I said; then, taking off my shoes and jacket and leaving them on the floor, climbed into the upper bunk.

“Ok?” he said from below me.


He turned off the light. “Danke,” I said again, then again. I would have survived under the picnic table or on the recycling bins, but now, it seemed, I had a place to sleep. Rain poured on the roof and it took me about 30 minutes to calm myself enough that I could fall asleep. Finally, the adrenaline dissipated, and I closed my eyes and drifted off.

At 5 AM his alarm went off, he got dressed, and stepped out to smoke a cigarette. I knew I could have feigned being asleep still, but I didn't want to overstay my welcome. I got up, got dressed (it was really hot in there so I had also stripped) and climbed down the bunk, opened the door, then climbed down the steps into the fresh morning air. There was a carnage of tree parts everywhere.

The truck driver asked me something in German, but I shook my head in non-understanding. He pointed at me, then down the road one way, then the other, then shrugged. I pointed the way I was going. He then mimed walking. I mimed pedaling a bike with my hands. He nodded, then took a drag from him cigarette.

“How do you call yourself?” I said. He shook his head. I took out my phone and opened Google translate, then typed in “What's your name?” and held the phone towards him.

“Michael,” he said, though the “ch” sound was very German, not at all like a “k,” more like a throaty “sh:” Mee-shy-all. “Danke, Michael,” I said. He shrugged. “Alles gut?”

“Ja,” I said. “Alles gut.”

I went back to my bike to assess the damage. After some searching I recovered my belt, a bungee cord, and a few tent stakes that had gotten strewn about. Nothing else appeared to be missing and nothing had fallen on my bike. I re-packed the sleeping pad and bivvy sac, then went on my way. I rode by the truck again, but it looked like Michael was inside, and the curtains were drawn. I had already bothered him enough, so I went on my way.

Picnic table (center); recycling bins (right).

Michael's truck. THANKYOUSOMUCH.

On the bike path into town there was an entire tree blocking the path. I wondered if it would have landed on me if I'd tried to make the church. I heard two honks from behind, then Michael's truck blew by. I smiled and waved.

Tree blocking the bike path.

Old German-Austrian border, now just a BP.
The rest of the day was fairly uneventful except for the rain and needing to take a few detours due to fallen trees. My goal was to make it to Linz, halfway to a Warmshowers stay the next night. Did I mention that it rained? A lot? It was obnoxious. Also I stopped at a bakery and learned how to ask for a “regular coffee” in German. It started because I was trying to order from a non-English speaker. I said “cafe” (with the French accent) and held my pointer and thumb an inch apart, trying to indicate I wanted a small one. “Espresso?” she said – sensible, given the distance between my fingers. “No, like... an Americano,” I said, widening the gap between my fingers. We stared at each other for a bit, then another worker behind the counter said, in English, “So like a regular coffee?”

“Yes please.”

“Cream or sugar?”

“Just cream.”

Later I went up and asked the English-speaking barista how to ask for a regular coffee. “In Austria,” she said, “it's...” and then, I remember what she said, but upon reading some articles trying to find the proper spelling I wonder if I heard correctly? Apparently Austria doesn't just do “coffee.”

It's not the same as a chasson-aux-pommes, but it is good...

Anyways, throughout the day I battled the cold, knowing the best ways to keep warm are to eat and to pedal. All the same, there was lots of swearing every time I put on my rain jacket after taking it off under a bus stop for a snack. Also, since grocery stores are closed on Sunday – even the big-box ones – and it was Saturday, I tried to stock up at 5:45 PM, 15 minutes before they all closed... but then ate most of it anyways. It seems I might go hungry on Sunday.

I made it into Linz about 8, much later than I would've liked, and began looking for a place to camp. The rain stopped, so after going across the river, I celebrated by biking up the river promenade the wrong way, having a snack, then biking back. While I snacked I found on my map an isolated-looking picnic spot about 10 miles down the river, bike path all the way there. I kept my light off to save battery until almost clotheslining myself on a fence, then... kept not using it because I didn't think that would happen again. I passed a few barges anchored for the night (through the windows of one I could see a big-screen TV on... life on a barge: not so bad? Travel all the time, anchor in whatever river, get paid...), made camp, and fell asleep to the sounds of water dripping from the trees, swans pruning themselves, and cruise ships in the locks downstream.

Me trying to be artistic... maybe some color enhancement is needed? Nah, too lazy.

RVs have it so easy... "Ooh look, a parking lot! Let's park THERE!"

Fallen tree from last night's storm.


  1. It's a May tree: Similar to the maypole of Anglo traditions, the German Maibaum (May tree) is erected on May 1st or the day before. Residents in Bavaria, East Frisia in Lower Saxony, Baden-W├╝rttemberg and elsewhere celebrate this originally pagan ritual each year within their local communities.

    The tree (or pole) is decorated with colourful streamers, flowers and in some places with scenes showing local crafts or activities.

    Parades, brass band music and sausage-eating usually accompany the event of the actual raising of the tree. And don't forget the special dark Maibock beer, brewed just for the occasion.

    Locals from Ruhpolding, Bavaria ride a stolen Maibaum down the street. (Photo)

    Perhaps the most thrilling part is the tradition of towns trying to steal one another's May trees, requiring locals to keeps a close watch day and night to ward off their sneaky neighbours. If and when a tree is stolen, towns must then hash out a ransom for it, usually involving copious amounts of beer and food.

    In 2004, some clever thieves used a helicopter to steal a May tree that had been placed atop Germany's highest mountain, the Zugspitze.

  2. Love the story of Michael - kindness from a stranger who doesn't even speak your language. Glad everything, especially you, got through the storm. Also, “Dang boy, you ride this thing!” Yes, you do!!!

    Love you, Mom