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GERMANY!

GERMANY!

Today started with a train ride to the Sumava National Park.  We would be cycling through the park and crossing into Germany on our bicycles.  We’ve been particularly excited about this day because of Craig’s German heritage.  This will be his first visit to Germany (if you don’t count our 3 hour wait at the Munich airport last Sunday).

Today we encountered another new thing only this one wasn’t so good… a weather forecast of freezing rain and snow.

Through the Sumava National Park

Through the Sumava National Park

The train dropped us off at Nova Pek where we got bundled up, guzzled down some last minute coffee to give us some warmth, and pedaled off down the trail in the cold.  And it was COLD!!  Around 34 degrees when we started off.  I was layered well and my new rain jacket performed wonderfully.  My core stayed warm and toasty all day.  My hands did well also.  I wear fingerless biking gloves and then cover them with fleece mittens.  I sing the praises of mittens for hand warmth.  I think I was the only one whose hands remained warm that day even after my mittens became sopping wet in the impending rain.  Your fingers crave each others company; they don’t fare well in isolation!

Fairytale scenery

Fairytale scenery

My feet were a different story.  I was wearing my tall leather riding boots and wool socks.  It wasn’t enough.  After 10 miles or so my big toe on my left foot began the mutiny.  It was cold and didn’t want to do this anymore.  The rest of my toes fought against his bad influence for another few miles but it was no use.  One by one they each caved in and soon my feet were dreadfully, uncomfortably cold.

But let me tell you about the scenery.  GLORIOUS!!!  We were cycling through deep murky silent forest.  Soft green moss cushioned the ground below the towering pines. Fog wisps hung between the trees.  We could see far into the woods as we pedaled by and I half expected to see little gnomes scurrying from tree to tree.  Magical.  This bike trail gets quite busy during the warmer seasons with cyclists, hikers and runners but today in the damp cold it was deserted.  We had the magic all to ourselves.  Even the cold couldn’t dampen our awe.

The German KATY Trail

The German KATY Trail

We reached the border into Germany just as the rain began.  I snapped a few celebratory photos of Craig’s first visit to the motherland and then scooted over to the van which was set up for us at the border with a large umbrella, hot drinks, cookies and snacks (COOKIES AND SNACKS!!!!!)  We all huddled under the umbrella together, holding our warm drinks.  No one was raring to get back out there in the cold rain.  But no one was ready to give up either so we tightened up our scarves, pulled down our caps and jumped back on our bikes for our first cycling experience in Germany.

Then we cycled down the KATY Trail.  Only it was the KATY Trail transplanted in Germany on a cold, rainy day.  It was amazing how similar the two trails looked.  Both are rail trails where the rails and ties have been removed from old unused railways and converted to bicycle paths.  Same hard packed chip and seal surface.  Same soft grades.  Same beautiful fall trees lining the trail with fiery orange and red leaves.  It was breathtaking even in the rain.

Lunch was recorded by my foggy camera lens

Our excellent lunch was recorded by my foggy camera lens

Our lunch stop came none too soon.  It was in a quaint cabin restaurant next to the trail.  And it was WARM!!  We all peeled off our sopping outer layers and appreciated our blood flowing back into our extremities.  The buffet table was full of warm soups, breads, cheeses and meats.  The restaurant was closed for the season so this party was only for us.  When our hostess handed me a cup of hot wine I melted in ecstasy.

We stuffed our bellies and warmed our bodies for as long as we could, hoping the rain would stop.  But it never did and all too quickly we had to pull our cold wet clothes back on and get back out there.   About half the group opted to skip the rest of today’s ride and go back to the hotel in the van.  And I don’t blame them one bit!

Andrea (one of our guides) handed out plastic bags to cover our bike bags which were getting plastered with mud and sand from the wet trail.  I didn’t care about my bike bag.  I took two of them and wrapped my feet in them under my boots.  That’s a trick I learned when I was a kid spending long winter days playing in the snow in the mountains of North Carolina.  Several others followed my lead and wrapped their feet in plastic bags as well.

It kept getting warmer

It kept getting warmer

Our tour partners kept asking me if I was still having fun (I’m the perpetual “sunshine” of the group and I suppose they were understandably testing my authenticity).  Wellllllll…. I wouldn’t exactly define this experience as FUN.  But we are certainly having an ADVENTURE!!!

Craig and I continued on with the others. The scenery was still stunning.  We still were having an “adventure.”  We still never reached the point where we wished we weren’t there.  Life is good.

So on we pedaled in the cold and the rain.  We stopped to consult our maps at one point and several others caught up.  Yvette was missing.  Karen and Barry told us that Yvette had a flat tire and was waiting for Richard (our guide who was following along behind us) to catch up to her.  We felt guilty leaving her behind but there was nothing we could do to help so we continued on.  Richard had the needed tools to get her going again.

And funner

And funner

The trail gradually descended over the next several miles and as the altitude dropped, the temperature rose.  The rain stopped.  My feet warmed up.  Life got better.  I began to have FUN!  The land we were cycling through was still marvelous. Green rolling hills.  Smoke rising from the chimneys of quaint Bavarian cottages with the postcard rococo trimmed wood balconies.

But the cold had taken its toll.  By the time we reached the van stop at the 29 mile mark, we all were ready to go home.  There was an optional 15 mile extension that Craig and I had originally planned to do but we were done and gratefully piled into the warmth of the van and waited by the roadside for Yvette and Richard.

Passau.  GET OUT!  This cannot even be real!

Passau. GET OUT! This cannot even be real!

Next thing we know, Yvette and Richard go sailing past us.  Regardless of the fact that she had a flat tire and had to wait all alone in the middle of the woods for help, regardless of the fact that several hours before her feet and hands were painfully frozen… Yvette alone among us had opted to cycle the 15 mile extension.  Yvette is the youngest of our group (40). She’s a cutie and a sweetie.  But what I didn’t realize until then was that Yvette is also one kick ass tough mudder super chick!!!!  SHE ROCKS!!!!

So the rest of us wimped out on the bus to Passau and only Richard and Yvette enjoyed the final 15 miles in the sun (YES IN THE SUN!) to Passau.  I am ashamed.  But I tip my hat to Yvette, the undisputed winner of this day!

This is the view from our hotel window.

This is the view from our hotel window.

Passau is simply astonishing.  The city drapes over the bluffs above the confluence of the Danube and Inn Rivers.  Castles, villas and monasteries perch upon every peak.  You cannot look anywhere without witnessing architectural magnificence. Craig and I hiked around town for an hour before dinner and we were simply stunned by this amazing city.

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