Thursday, November 14, 2019

EuroVelo #6: Vienna to Bratislava

Maybe a good place to start would be the night before. Yeah, I'd crossed the Atlantic with an accent-so-thick-I-couldn't-understand-a-word Irishman who couldn't turn off the flashlight on his new iPhone and soon after, fell asleep snoring on my shoulder. Made it to sunny Vienna, basked in the park, pounded some train station currywurst, and passed out after a rauchbier and schnitzel.

But an hour after Ben arrived, the weather turned (it would drop 30 degrees in 24 hours) and a bit of dread set in before we even got on a bike. Had I convinced my friends to Do A Thing; only to have weather bite us in the ass? How would everyone fare if we had steady rain, 40-degree temps, and gusty wind for an entire week? I knew how unpleasant it was to commute 2 miles to work in that shit, and I expended way too much logical thinking trying to smart my way out of nature.

Nature wasn't having it. I was wigging – a bit – after cold and gray and rain had driven us from the Museum Quarter back to a pre-dinner nap zone in the hotel, I scoured forecasts and figured the only thing that'd prevent a mutiny was taking an off-day on day two – even though we'd already spent our other off-day as an extra in Vienna (which was the right decision, especially with the excellent late night spent at Jazzland).

(Pre-ride in Jazzland's many-hundred-year-old cellar.
Right after this, a slide flute solo blew my mind, no foolin'.)

The mania passed – Tyler was able to book a second night at the hostel in Bratislava, and the dudes didn't seem as anxious as I, so I finally took their queue and mellowed. Assisted by pints and piping hot goulash down the block at the local watering hole, where we watched the world's sleepiest dog pass out in 8 different formations while his owner & friend absconded for an equal amount of smoke breaks. Back at the hotel, we holed up in the corner nook, me perched in the window, sucking room temperature bottles of lager and listening to our friends' music on cell phones. I was still a bit nervous, but the omens seemed to have turned for the better.



Though this would be our longest ride, we couldn't pick up the bikes till 10, so we woke up early to fully pack, then walking to breakfast at nearby Café Sperl – pots of Viennese coffee service with rolls, butter, and jam – the ornate interior full of billiards and periodicals-on-rails almost made me take up rolling cigarettes and arguing philosophy. The swift servers, tall ceilings, wood paneling, and quiet bustle made it a place where you wanted to stay and read for hours. But we had miles to ride!

(The view from the hotel, just before loading up.
A couple little kids on scooters definitely blazed past us while
we struggled to get used to the gravity of fully loaded touring bikes.)

We walked next to Pedal Power to snag the bikes – getting some efficient tips from the nice dudes at the shop, rolling through a quick test ride, and signing approximately 8 different forms. From here, another walk back a mile to the hotel to load up and check out. Still getting used to our gear, and balancing it on the racks, this takes a minute, and we swing through a bougie grocery for sandwiches and fruit before finally walking+riding bikes across the Donaukanal (not the river!) around noon.

The first stretch was a damp (from 2 days of rain), tree-lined, flowering road through the Prater – a large park that had a few joggers and dog-walkers out mid-day on a Monday. A delicate whippet wore a jacket and trotted beneath the giant bridge that emerged from the trees – his elegant owner, and older woman, turning around, while I made the first of many GPS gaffes riding past and then back to the bridge, where we passed a biker sleeping under the overhang, and crossed the expanse of the Danube via a bike-only bridge underhang. I see you, Austrian infrastructure, and I like what I'm seeing.

(Before crossing the Danube. Vienna graffiti was a highlight of walking around the city.)

The first ten or so miles was mostly silent along a broad path in view of the river. We passed an occasional fitness-focused runner or biker, and a grubbier figure pulling a bike trailer (which had a baguette hanging out) who was fishing the choppy waters. The paths took us past multiple mothballed cafés (one cheesily Jamaican themed; another closed but quietly playing creepy piano music while a single door stood ajar...), where we got the first sense that we might be undertaking this thing a bit early.

Temperatures hovered near 50, and without much wind, it was pleasant once you worked up a sweat. Near a railyard, I gaffed again and took us down the incorrect divergent path...probably 2.5 miles down till it dead-ended on a pier where river barges were tied up. We pedaled back and took the high path across the railyard, crossing a road to ride a narrow gravel spit next to a road trafficked by tanker trucks rumbling into a refinery, the air thick with heavy metals and petroleum; the three of us all reminiscing about the smell of the Continental Steel mill, defunct from our Kokomo childhood but overly ripe with metallic fumes until it was declared an EPA Superfund site and bulldozed.

(Riding down what looked to be a popular path in the summer.
Our timing was off – not a single trailside joint was open for a Radler,
although one was piping out hella creepy circus music while open doors
flapped in the wind...)


As the industrial trail ended, we passed two touring bikes headed West – little did we know we'd only see 2 more bikers for the next 30+ miles. At this point, we ascended a river-dike path that ran through national park & forestland in Lower Austria. Completely absent of people, the freshly paved path was extraordinarily silent, except for birdsong in the trees that, for the most part, blocked our view of the river. In the hazy distance, it seemed that we could see the water glimmering, and we rode for hours in its direction, only pausing to pass the occasional construction crew who were working on seasonal improvements to the path.

One required us to "walk" our bikes down a steep hill – pro-tip: walking a fully loaded touring bike down a steep hill is a fool's errand. Most of us ended up bloodied from half-sliding, half-running, half-tripping down the embankment, and then at the trail interruption, we were invisible to the workers. Eventually, we figured out we had to trek a half-mile into the wood, popping out on a country lane that took us back to the river-dike path.

For ten minutes or so after this, silently enjoying the birdsong, the sun came out and it was almost warm. My ass was hurting already, which in hindsight (pun intended) was perhaps an omen that the day was about to turn. The path continued on, but the fresh pavement ended abruptly by a defunct rest area, and the dike path turned to gravel. Normally, this would've been pleasant, but a month of rain had rendered it loamy like a sandbank crusted with gravel that gave your bike tire purchase.

The actual bad omen was, 10 miles from any other human, and somewhat near a moss-covered fifth wheel tucked into the woods next to a stable and small pasture with a few longhorn cattle, we passed a woman pushing a large, black stroller.  A mile later, we all confirmed that its sunshade was fully extended such that none of us had seen or perceived a child's presence. Most certainly this was a Danube witch – or, we were suffering the effects of intense hot dog consumption whilst in Vienna, only now suffering the ill visions of withdrawal. 




The path continued – and continued – river mostly blocked by a span of trees that gave glimpses of the wind-blown surface, the other side alternating national forest and meadow, just dense enough to be creepy. We must've gone a dozen miles without seeing a soul – and in fact, what appeared to be a bend in the river in front of us for several hours turned out to be a stony bluff.

(Yep, that bluff, visible for miles...looked like the surface of the river.
Look, I wasn't *that* hungover, and my blood sugar was really low
from only eating bootleg eastern euro candy and bougie
prepackaged sandwich...it really did!

At the same time, the wind began to howl, gusting so hard diagonally across the path that several times I had to plant my foot in the dirt shoulder to keep from tipping over. Meanwhile, the paved path ended and the river dike continued on a small-graveled, grass-median'd path that was extra soggy from a month of rain. It was like riding on sand.

Several times I looked behind me, after feeling like I'd ridden ten minutes into cold oatmeal, and Ben & Tyler emerged around a bend fighting the wind. The two dike paths diverged nearly a quarter-mile apart here, a sunken median in-between. A ruddy Austrian flagged us down from a half-mile away, only to tell us, "American? Yes. These paths not for bikes. Go back to road." We ignored him, to his chagrin, and continued our futile pedal into the wind's teeth.

A figure in the distance eventually drew closer, then pulled off to the shoulder. On two bikes loaded with four saddlebags each, and tent gear balanced on each rack, we passed an arguing couple with Australian accents debating angrily whether to camp in the median or head away from the river in search of an inn. Their riding speed was somehow beneath our own, though, so we passed them with a polite nod and despite an hour delay at the bridge, didn't see them again. I can only assume they murdered each other crossing the median...or found a pension.


Finally abreast of the rocky outcrop that now hovered above the river, we needed to cross the bridge (according to the GPS) to reach Hainburg, the Austrian town nestled between said outcrop and the Danube. Looking into the overgrown riverbank, there didn't seem to be a path up to the bridge running at least 50 feet above our heads. As the energetic one, I volunteered to cross the median via a circuitious, U-shaped path that must've ran a half-mile curve between dikes.

Across the median, the freshly paved dike had a small stair up to the bridge that was blocked by multiple guardrails and jerry-rigged plywood barriers with NO ACCESS warning signs, all overgrown with weeds and trashed with highway detritus. It seemed as though we were too early – that this would likely be opened during peak summer, but for now was off-limits. After calling Ben's cell phone but unable to be heard due to high winds, I rode the half-mile back across the dike, feeling like I was the scout sent ahead.

We studied the GPS and it looked like the next river crossing ...was nonexistent. Otherwise, we'd have to detour miles down country roads, enter Slovakia, and make our way to Bratislava – the route, if it even existed, was the opposite of direct. Not ideal. The wind continued to intensify, with a newfound cold edge and the occasional pebble of cold rain, and dark clouds now hovered menacingly on the horizon.

(Porting bikes up to this bridge was probably physically
the most difficult part of the entire trip. On the last hill, 
Ben and I gripped my doubly-loaded bike–yep, my idea to frontload
a backpacking trip with a bike tour...–and heaved the last 10 feet up,
shoes slipping on the muddy embankment while I grabbed a wooden
barrier for purchase. After steadying myself, I noticed that the sharp-end
of rusted nails protruded every 2 feet out of the barrier. Though I'd grabbed 
it blindly while slipping, I managed not to impale myself and incur a tetanus
shot in Slovakia. Whew.)

The group mood was low, and exhaustion was setting in. We rode across the median and, eyeing the blocked stair, began porting our bikes, full up with gear, up the muddy, overgrown hill, poison ivy and warning signs be damned. Turns out that carrying fully-loaded touring bikes up a muddy hill is a fucking workout. Not only were my shins bloodied, but at some point, we had to two-man every bike under a crudely-nailed barrier to access the bridge's bike-lane (thank you, EU infrastructure). Soaked in sweat, bloody, grass-stained, freezing, and anxious from dealing with the first day of normal touring shenanigans, we crossed the fuckin' bridge, victorious, pumping fists with adrenaline found from pedaling on pavement instead of wet gravel.



The path into Hainburg was near bucolic (not to mention, shielded from the winds!) – the bridge leading down to some riverside marshy farmland, green and redolent with the recent heavy rain, which followed single-lane roads (flat! firm!) into the walled town, where we skirted a river cruise picking up vested, older Austrians before heading down a gravel farming lane. Spirits were high–so high that we cursed the God of Wind (Windseidon, obviously)! The fields opened up and we could see, in the distance, a mass of residential towers that we thought were the bloc-style Communist apartments of Bratislava. The end was in sight.

(Riding down a single-lane farming road just before leaving Austria.
Right before shit turned atrocious and we almost found out
what the laws on international murder were.)

The gravel lane eventually turned into a cobblestone path, then bike lane that merged onto a stressful 2-lane road that would take us across the border into Slovakia. Not only was traffic heavy, but the wind was back with a vengeance, not to mention a cold, wet edge, and ominously black clouds hovered in the distance above Bratislava. Occasional spats of rain slapped my helmet, and my quads, 45 miles in, threatened to seize up from the suddenly frozen winds.

Crossing the border into Slovakia, the path veered to a wide bike trail astride a roaring 6-lane highway. The traffic noise, auto detritus, road debris, and complete lack of people minus a few hardcore joggers made everything seem more gritty. We passed behind a shuttered border station and abandoned roadside casino, where we paused to adjust saddlebags and hide from the wind for a moment. Silent minus cursing and breathing for the last couple rough miles, Tyler flatly stated, "Well, Drew, you have two options. I'm going to murder you behind this roadside casino – or I'm going to lay down here and die, in which case, please tell Pamela I love her."

(Entering the cold streets of Bratislava's old city.
Not cold enough, however, not to admire the fantastic
stone mosaic walkway that made up this plaza ringed
by bars and restaurants, terminating at the Slovak National Theater.)

He did not appear to be joking, but soon enough, we rode on, passing beneath the expressway, ending up beneath the passenger bridge to the city. Due to construction, we walked bikes up the ramp and across the Danube, depositing ourselves smack in the middle of Bratislava's old city. From here, the weather continued to get worse, the rain now falling intermittently – but we still had an awkward 15-minute walk to the hostel, down narrow sidewalks and cobbled streets, soaked in rain and sweat and grime.

But there it was, just as dusk fell – an American Blues Rock themed hostel, tucked in a small brutalist block on a 4-lane road with streetcars and a Tesco. Never felt so good to roll into a place that, gratuitously, had the vibe of a YMCA with skimpier towels but beanbags and a small, cozy bar. Ben and I secured the bikes to an iron door leading to the basement laundry while Tyler checked us in. After passing the passport checks, we plopped at the bar and immediately pounded two 75-cent beers.

(This isn't the hostel, but was the view from my hot bunk
of an empty hotel across the street. There was a club called
LUNAbar at ground level, which seemed like a positive omen.
Also, Tesco carried room temperature corn pizza in the bakery case.
Word to the wise.)

Nothing had ever tasted better. Despite the near-mutiny in the last hour, as the pils went down and our asses (mine felt aflame) melded with the barstools – spirits returned. We lived. We rode 50 miles, in 20% terrible / 60% not good / 20% decent conditions, and made it through. Backslapping commenced, and after the 2nd beer slid down, headed upstairs to peel off bibs and grab a pre-dinner shower.

(These men almost murdered me.
I can promise that laughter rang out soon after
this photo, depicting our mutual rise out of a nadir,
was taken.)

Monday, September 2, 2019

Not Much Water Comin' Over The Hill

I

(David Berman, courtesy Drag City Records.)

David Berman passed yesterday at 52 – if you don't know who he is, imagine a richer baritone-d, off-kilter Leonard Cohen who softened his all-encompassing darkness with acid-country wit. Imagine Leonard disappeared near the height of his powers, occasionally sighted in the Internet's bowels, only to reappear after a decade with arguably the best record of his career and a slew of self-effacing, brutally honest interviews – only to pass away less than a week before hitting the road for his first performances in 10+ years.

I have to use a terrible comparison of two completely different artist in a weak attempt to express the simple fact – Berman had no peers. Very few songwriters of his (my? our? I'm 17 years younger, but grew up playing with many bands who out-aged us by a decade) generation can measure up – and certainly, his style and wordplay made him singular, even amongst aging indie demigods whose very existence in 2019 are challenged by the realities of the music industry. "Icon" doesn't feel right, but good friend Pete said it best today: "I've never read so many eulogies."

To hear him was to love him – to know him. Probably why I left a bar record night yesterday to go cry quietly in my car, feeling exactly like and completely different from the 19-year-old who did the same in his dorm after Elliott Smith. Maybe it's the additional generation that's passed since then, or just 16 years of sleeping, driving, drinking, and worrying – all that living formed callouses that yesterday's news sloughed straight through.



II

Vienna, Austria has an amazing fast, modern train whose terminal is just down a few escalators from the international airport – for 10 euro or so, you can jet right to the city center on one of the smoothest, quietest, most comfortable airport transit systems I've ever ridden on. In May, Tyler and I flew in together and had settled into said train, when I connected to WiFi to get that first news drip after hours spent on international flights.

In a tumultuous spring, I had publically asked for – then received! – news of a new Bill Callahan record. Thought I'd try my manifestation luck again in April by asking the Gods for Dave Berman to return. The first thing I saw upon turning on my phone was the Purple Mountains news. I'd done it! Manifested another record out of the ether – I put my phone in Tyler's face, we high-fived, then bounded out of the train into a sunny Vienna, late afternoon, basking in the Stadtpark while watching toddlers scoot over a pedestrian bridge and summer revelers sip wine and chat in earshot of a quiet city stream. 

2019 was looking up, ripe with the return of possibility – right as we overcame the bland vagaries of adulthood to take a group ride down the Danube.



III

It's Spring 2006 and Everything, Now! is touring in a disused airport shuttle bus with handicap lift built into the rear door – most of us are in school at Ball State, so we've called the tour SPRING BAKED. Not only is the band a 6-piece at this point, but we've also got two good friends and roommates along for the ride. It's basically a rolling party bus – one overnight drive, I hear screaming and nervous laughter and it's because one of the guitarists is pissing out the window while driving through Georgia's foothills so fast that the pee is just streaming back the side of the bus in warm rivulets, losing additional flow in each gap between the cheap sliding windows like a leaky irrigation channel.

At the close of this tour, we made a 2-night stop in Athens, GA (our lead singer/songwriter's hometown) to play one of our favorite DIY spots – a multi-story-tall basement set into a hillside beneath street-level commercial storefronts. Because it was a weekend, the show was scheduled early-ish, 7pm, so as not to compete with all the other venues in town. 

We'd begun making friends in Nashville with a bunch of angel-voiced, bearded dudes who played multiple instruments and had a shit-ton of great rock-n-roll bands: Hands Down Eugene, The Carter Administration, and some others I can't remember. Through one of these connects (God knows how any of these super-talented Nashville folks dug our shit-gear, longhair, psych-punk-junk-prog jams...) we met a brilliant slide guitar player. That night in Athens, he was sitting in with a band opening for the Silver Jews at the 40 Watt.

[Note: I'm realizing with some research tonight that this was the first Silver Jews show ever. Previously...I was only aware that it was their first tour.]

I was 3 or so years into a deep Pavement obsession that started the second I heard S&E – Silver Jews ambled into my ears via a burnt CD from some friend and the laconic sounds of what I first thought were Pavement gone honky-tonk eventually seeped into my veins. When Tanglewood Numbers came out in 2005, I was Music Director at WCRD – and songs from that LP that should be goddam standards today ("Punks in the Beerlight", "Sometimes A Pony Gets Depressed", "I'm Getting Back Into Getting Back Into You") rapidly made their way onto our automated playlist and my regular show. 

Back to Athens – slide guitar guy gets ahold of Jon and asks if 2 of us want on the guestlist for the Silver Jews show. We figure we can make it straight out of our set, and agree. I'm not sure how we decided it was us who could go out of the 8 other than...we were the biggest fans? It was Jon's band? Regardless, I remember squeezing into the packed club and hearing the Joos rip through a great set, Dave dressed in a maroon blazer and towering over the stage and band. Once he started singing, all felt right. 

This was a musician's dream – the best night of my life! I was pretty sure – I remember coming down from the basement keg beer, thanking Slide Guitar, and leaving 40 Watt on cloud nine, a completely different person than the shy, uncultured nerd who nervously moved into a dorm 3 years earlier. We decamped back to the DIY space and drank through a 3rd show of the night – some fast-as-fuck punk via Guyana Punch Line that jackhammered thankfulness into my skull.

(Everything, Now! circa Spring 2006, on a beach in St. Pete, FL.)


IV

As I sit and stare at my wall of records, I suppose that the reason my shelves are always overflowing (besides an addictive personality) is that music affords you a workingman's way to connecting with a higher power – 5, 10, 15 bucks to see or experience art created from some body/soul/sweat/tears – art that takes you places, bridges divides between strangers, and attaches itself, barnacle-style, to events in your life, accentuating and colouring in the meaning of life events and decisions that you don't recognize the Power, Importance, or Heft of when you are in them. 

Only later. The gift of hindsight is a weird drug for self-analysis. In some ways, a curse: it's hindsight and our need to shape stories in order to make sense of the World that forces Berman's existence into an arc, when, like our own, it was more likely a squiggly line, frayed here, grayed there. We wanted to see Purple Mountains as a redemption, as someone defeating something inside themselves, for a moment or a hundred moments, and emerging the victor.

Upon his passing, the arc shifts: the album becomes a presage; and who but ourselves can parse the two-sided coin of self-lacerating wit and darkness? Sometimes we don't even know what side of our own coin is heads up.

I'm deeply sad that DCB won't be able to look back at the outpouring of love inspired by Purple Mountains and his passing. I hope he found peace.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

EuroVelo #6 – Vienna to Budapest: 10 Things I Learned From My First Tour

1. Eat regularly, snack often.

Not only did we leave close to lunch hour and have a coffee-heavy, protein-free breakfast of rolls, butter, and jam...but the first day's ride neared 50 miles in cold and wind, and we mainly had prepackaged grocery sandwiches and fruit, along with a couple small candy bars. We learned our lesson as we were all pretty hunger-weak by the end of the day.

That long of a bike ride, plus pulling weight, plus fighting elements = major calorie burn. After Day One, we learned our lesson and packed plenty of snacks in addition to lunch every day. (Not to mention the dumpling-and-pork-heavy dinners that were housed each night. We might not have been the fastest riders, but dammit, we made the Clean Plate Club every night.)

For Ben, a 1.5L glowing jug of Dew provided essential mid-day calories
as well as expressed the trail message: Don't 'F' With Us.

2. Continuing your trip after you get off the bike? Send your luggage ahead.

Carrying an extra 10-15 lbs of travel gear was a fool's errand. Actually, it wasn't terrible for the first few days beyond my inability to figure out a way to keep my 35L backpack from randomly splaying itself on one side or other of my pannier, precipitously throwing off my balance, not to mention making me look like some amateur on my first bike tour (which...was completely accurate).

Next time, I'd either send my luggage ahead (which Pedal Power in Vienna does provide, but you must reserve in advance) or store it long-term via NannyBag or some similar service. Probably because I'm not 23 anymore (which is crushingly depressing) I haven't met anyone who has used one, though...have you?

My last options would be biking in a single weather season (impossible due to this spring's fuck-you-weather) OR taking a modest trip that...doesn't last for a month! I've also heard tell of folks buying powdered detergent, then using water and a non-leaky pannier as a basin in which to wash their clothes.

3. Fitness is great, but it's the consecutive days that'll get you.

I would describe my current level of fitness as pretty high: I generally workout 4 to 5 days a week and have been somewhat of a cardio junkie for almost 10 years, in addition to biking 4 miles roundtrip to work daily. For the trip, I maxed at 30 contiguous miles, and had a week where I biked 90 in addition to my 20 miles of work riding.

That said, three consecutive 35+ mile days was enough to leave me falling asleep before dinner – and besides dinner being the highlight of every day... I never nap. Had we had a fourth consecutive day, I can only imagine it would've been even more rough, as the temperature had edged past 80-degrees. Luckily, we just had a dozen-odd miles to Budapest. Next time, I'll be sure to include some back-to-back or three consecutive long rides. Since coming home, I've been doing a long ride on Sundays followed by 3 or 4 consecutive days of running – and yep...pretty thrashed after day 5. Turns out 30+ miles of cardio is a serious amount!


4. Download the GPS tracks.

While we passed a touring couple who had laminated flipbook-style maps lashed to their handlebars, I can't imagine how much more time I would've spent navigating if I'd had to read a physical map. While the book was essential for getting an idea of how best to break down the trip into daily chunks, and also planning each day's route, the GPS route provided was super easy for real-time navigation.

The only time we suffered because of it was on the first day, where we took the river-side branch of the path when it split into a Y – riding a couple miles to where it dead-ended at a pier full of river barges. The real path was exactly parallel...atop the hill at our side. Later, the path took us across a bridge that was currently walled off from the river dike path for construction – this was more on the delayed construction than the fault of the GPS, and we managed to heave bikes up a hill and over the construction barriers.

A couple of bonus tips: snag a portable phone charger if you're going to keep your GPS on all day. And a bike mount for your phone is useful for the small portions where you need to make consecutive turns. Just don't let it bounce out while hitting a pothole in the middle-of-nowhere Hungary...

The weather beginning to turn – luckily, this wind was at our back.
The wind was so stiff that it was impossible to park your bike without it blowing over.
Which it did. Repeatedly. Into thick, farm lane mud. 
While pissing in a scrubby treeline, still in sight of traffic.


5. Need to make up time or avoid weather? Hop a (regional) train.

Day two saw a forecast that hovered around 45F with heavy rain and dropping temperatures likely after noon. Since we'd already used our only off day in Bratislava to avoid a full day of cold rain, we had two options:

  1. leave as early as possible and gut out 45 miles and risk the back half being miserable.
  2. leave early, bust ass for 20+ miles to Mosonmagyaróvár, and take a regional train onto Gyor
Since we didn't feel like getting washed out, we opted for #2. (Cold rain is the absolute worst biking weather – I'd take snow and 100F sun above it for sure.) We made it to the Mosonmagyaróvár platform and boarded the train just as the first fat drops were hitting the window pane. The Hungarian railway ticketing machines have an English option, and are quite easy to use – just be sure to buy a ticket for yourself and your bike. The 30-minute journey cost us about $4 a piece – well worth it to stay dry! You might also check with a platform attendant for which car allows bikes. On our train, it was only a single car at the very front. 

By the time we disembarked, we did have to port the bikes about a mile through an increasingly heavy downpour to our hotel. When you're that close to a hot shower, though...you barely feel a drop.

6. Beware weekend traffic.

The EuroVelo routes do a good job of keeping you off roads and away from traffic whenever possible. However, in order to stitch together the greenways, bike paths, and gravel-trails-cutting-through-industrial-wastelands...you have to take a road or two. More, likely, if you do any of the suggested excursions.

In the guide, they're color-coded for traffic amounts, so you can choose the route you're most comfortable with. However, the GPS just suggests the best route – likely accounting for all factors (quality of path, speed, etc.). Most of our road riding was on side streets and the occasional country road – with the exception of the ride from Esztergom to Szentendre, which had multiple road segments alongside the Danube.

Since it was one of the first nice Saturdays of the summer, traffic was heavy, full of travelers likely from the Budapest area getting out of the city for the day. We even incurred a couple honks just for riding on the shoulder (which was definitely, due to road deterioration...not a great place to ride); I thought to myself, "What is this, America?"


7. Everywhere you stay will have dedicated bike parking.

Somehow, this was the biggest surprise for me. I just kinda figured when I was told the rental came with a nice bike lock, that we'd figure out where to lock the bikes most nights. Maybe we'd get lucky and have a courtyard a night or two. A funny thing happened though.

When you're riding a bike for 6-8 hours, you acquire a certain wind-blown, sun-warmed (or rain-doused) look. Maybe wearing some of your gear for the entire week has even given you a certain aromatic je ne sais quoi. So, the first thing each host said upon entering the building was some version of, "So you're on bike? Let me show you the parking."

While it ranged from courtyard bikeracks to a skeleton-key wooden-doored alleyway to squeezing all three bikes together and locking a single mega-lock-chain to a laundry room chain-link fence; without exception every hostel, penzion, and hotel had a spot for bikes. ...just thinking about it makes me ready to go back.


Only had to walk 15 feet from the bottom of the stairs to obtain this garlic soup
(Slovakian specialty) and two pints of Zlatý Bažant – Golden Pheasant.
And yes, those croutons were amazing.

8. ...everywhere you stay will not have a bar or breakfast. But it's great when they do.

Whether it was the copious amounts of pork and dumplings, minimum three medicinal pints of pils, or simple combination of being outside for 6-8 hours while riding 30+ miles...then walking around before and after dinner...I don't think I've ever slept as well or as soundly as I did during the trip. And that includes nights where we shared a room with each other, doubtlessly full of snores and mumbling and squeaky, cheap beds.

When you roll out of bed the next morning, increasingly stiff with each day...God, it's pleasant when you can pull on some pants, walk downstairs, and feast on a European breakfast of bread, cheese, yogurt, poorly scrambled American-style eggs, fruit, juice, and as many coffees as you can pound without triggering your bowels mid-ride.

Otherwise, you've got to figure out your schedule to acquire food and snacks pronto. Grocery store breakfast just isn't the same, and packing on those calories in the morning is gonna make you feel way better when you stop for lunch. Not to mention, most lodging I was able to find was priced comparably with breakfast than without. It's worth it to just eat, and not think.

Oh – and in-house bar? You're going to have a terrible ride or terrible weather one day, and I'm telling you, that pils is medicinal.


9. You'll walk more than you think. With your bike!

Well, maybe you won't. But we did. Not really a fan of biking through busy cities where you are more than likely in some sort of commuter rush hour (or, honestly, any amount of bikes in the EU qualifies as rush hour compared to American bike flow) or just not familiar with cramped streets, drivers, and various transit modes, all while trying to navigate with a phone that is very likely to wobble out of its holder the first time your wheel smacks a lippy cobblestone..

So, most of the time, when biking became unsure close to our destination, we hopped off and walked bikes the rest of the way to the lodging. Sometimes, this was a couple of miles. And yeah...walking a touring bike loaded down with gear, saddlebags, lock, etc...not the most pleasant experience. Not to mention feeling like you're sticking out like a sore thumb while navigating crowded sidewalks, hopping across intersections, and generally being in the way.

Anyways. It feels good to walk after 30+ miles biked; but if you want to get there faster, brave the city routes. Or even smarter – book some shit just blocks off the route. We did so in Komarno, and the 2-minute walk and immediate shower was right as rain.

10. Run into other folks touring? Have them take your photo!

Thanks Jon & April, the most friendly Canadians on the 6! See you in Nantes.