Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Smelling Wolfsthal

The Spouse has been riding his bike on the weekends, and usually I drive to the destination with the girls and we have lunch or something. The last time was that fish restaurant in Austria I told you about. It looks like fun and not THAT hard and I thought it would be a nice thing to do together, so he, very generously, found me a place to rent a bike. (Which, let me tell you, was no small feat. I've had people asking where to rent bikes for years, and I couldn't find anywhere). But a Slovak-speaking secretary is a wonderful thing. I got a bike. And a helmet.

We wanted to ride in Austria just because it seemed flatter. They have this nice bike trail system, and you could go all the way to Vienna. He plotted a course for a small town on the Danube called Eckartsau, because it has a little castle, and it was about 40 miles, round trip, and frankly, I thought it was a conservative length.

So we get on our bikes, the sky is clear, and off we go. Sort of. I've mentioned, I'm sure, that we live on top of a rather steep hill. But we see people biking up it all the time. And then flying down it at high rates of speed. I think the last time I was even ON a bike was 1997 and that was riding around at that alligator park in the Everglades which is flat as a pancake. So I probably burned out my brakes creeping down the hill. But ok. One hurdle over. We rode through town and over the Danube and reached the bike path. And it was sunny and flat there. And WINDY. He mentioned wind on his earlier rides, but I thought he was just being a wimp. We haven't even crossed the border yet, and I'm struggling to keep pace.

And then we get to what he says is the First Windy Stretch.

Let me just pause here to reflect on how different the world is when you are in a car. Since he started doing these bike rides, I have been more aware of changes in elevation, even slight ones. When I drive to Hainburg, I notice now that there's a small rise by the farm that is just before the hospital. But it is one thing to ride along, listening to the radio, and admiring the wild flowers and the rabbits and pheasants in the Austrian farms. It's another to be intensely, personally aware of each bump in the road, each rise and fall of the path, each wind break of trees. Did I mention the wind?

My God! The wind in Austria is a force to be reckoned with. I always thought those windmills were sort of exotic, but sheesh! Now I understand. It's always windy in Austria. And that brings me to another point. It doesn't matter what direction I am heading. Like the currency exchange rate, it is never in MY favor. We rode into the wind heading west. We rode into the wind heading east. When the wind should have been at our backs, it stopped completely.

The other interesting thing I noticed was how things smell. It was nice, really, all of it. But Wolfsthal, the little village right over the Austrian border . . . I'm always asking, "What DO they do for a living in Wolfsthal?" Now I know. Animal husbandry. When you're riding a bike through Wolfsthal, you have the chance to peek into gates and over fences. That big estate house on the edge of town? They have satellite TV. And lawn furniture. And there are tractors and big farm machines for hauling hay and manure! I kept saying to the Spouse, "I don't think I've ever REALLY smelled Wolfsthal before. Not really."

The rest of the ride was uneventful, really. The castle in Eckartsau was someone's weekend hunting lodge, but what was noteworthy, I thought, were the gigantic, mutant snails on the bike path. And the gigantic mutant rabbits. The snails are a hazard to your tires. The rabbits . . . maybe they are really "hares" . . . just stood there in the path, fearless, making eye contact like they were playing chicken. Daring you to swerve and miss them.

I only cried once. Coming back into Hainburg for lunch, my legs were just about shot and we had to go up a hill . . . a small incline, actually. And I just couldn't do it. I tried to imagine I was being chased across the ice floes with my infant in my arms, being chased by some Evil Bad Guys. But in the end, I had to stop and walk my bike the last ten feet up the hill. It was shameful, really, but the Spouse was kind: "I thought you were having fun . . . it's sort of a rush kicking it like that right before the end!" Later, he confessed, that although he knew I was working hard to keep pace, he felt like he was walking with a toddler through the mall.

I'd like to try again, as I'm sure it will be easier next time, but I'm not sure when we will be on speaking terms again.


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