Monday, May 6, 2019

Sabbatical Preface–or–Becoming Bike Dude, Begrudgingly

Well, I suppose it started the way most things do in life – in a bar. Here and there, I'll ride my bike to my local – sometimes straight from work, more often when I don't wanna incur a 10-minute walk – and I'm usually in full bike commuter mode at the bar. Bike lights in pocket, backpack, helmet on head till I find an open hook...

It's not that I want to rub my bike-ness in people's face, but I'm not gonna stow my shit somewhere out of sight, where it could be filched, or more likely, forgotten.

In true introvert style, I'm usually reading a book or magazine, or the occasional inobtrusive people-watching session. I'm friendly with the bartenders, and know a few regulars, but don't have a regular crew or specific night of the week – all these are justifications for rolling solo as a thirtysomething with a genetic inability to make new friends.

EuroVelo 6, Vienna to Budapest.

On this particular weeknight in 2017, I nod at a regular I recognize while wedged up against the bar for too long not to talk, and we end up talking bikes for a few. Game recognize game. Ed references a ride in Europe he and his friends have done and documented on a website. I specifically remember how relaxed he said the ride was, tracing a river valley so flat that his friend ten years older had no issues riding. He writes the URL on a cardboard coaster and we head our respective ways.

The coaster becomes a bookmark in my library book...and then New Yorker issue...and then near a stash of library books. I visit the website at some point, see some photos and strange place names, and file it away in memory.

Over the winter, I began several scuttled attempts to plan a sabbatical trip – with a coworker expecting in the summer, it became imperative to take time off sooner than later. My initial sense was to do some serious city-hopping, taking budget flights to cities in the EU that had been on my list to visit for awhile.

At the same time, it seemed most of my time would be spent solo. I remembered the bike voyage I'd heard about, and, without doing any research, threw it out to my best-friend-group-text as an open offer: "Anyone want to join me for a week of my sabbatical? Probably either go to a couple cool cities, or do a leisurely bike thing." Undersold so as not to sound too intimidating – I'm the only regular biker in the crew.

"Great, I guess this is who I am now."
Don't worry...I refuse to wear all spandex, still rock skateboarding shoes,
and no way am I passing you at 30mph on a mixed-use trail. How gauche!
(Ok, I did ride 25mph in Carmel 'cause I wanted to break the speed limit.)

To my surprise, I got some immediate interest! Uh oh ... now I had to plan it. Back to the bar – as luck would have it, the same week I ran into Ed at (another) local. He gave me a good amount of route detail, as well as informing me the route was part of the EuroVelo system – a network of 15 cross-continent bike routes that cover 42 countries and tens of thousands of kilometers. 

At this point, my obsession with Google Maps took over...and I was off determining day-by-day distance, planning where nights would be spent, and poring over the BikeLine guidebook that Ed recommended, which takes you kilometer-by-kilometer through the entire trip, from alternate routes, to historical tidbits, basic town information, and road/path quality.

5 months later, post-Reddit /biketouring research, learning how to awkwardly wear padded shorts, and 30-mile training rides (after which I'd house a burger like Wimpy himself)...we're about at the eve of departure. After a quick weekend in Vienna, we'll depart down the Danube over the course of a week. Fingers crossed for good weather, good friends, and good cheer. And probably sausages and pivo. Hope to post an update or two from the less-than-beaten path...until then! ✌️

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