APPELDORN, West Germany — I'm a slow spoke. I have two philosophies on biking: "Hills are no thrill" and "No need for speed."
Before last summer, the most I'd ridden in one day was 30 miles. And that was by accident: I was trying to impress the guy I was dating.
But last summer something in my head snapped. I signed up for a bike tour in Europe. I figured it might kill me, but if it did, at least I would die in an exotic way. Besides, I enjoy biking--on flat land and slower than some people run.
So in August, I met 18 other North Americans for a three-week Euro-Bike tour of southern England, Amsterdam in the Netherlands, and Appeldorn and along the Mosel River wine valley in West Germany.
The riders' ages ranged from the early 20s to mid-60s. I was relieved to note that only a few looked like triathletes. (Though I'll never forget one woman who rode 50 miles, changed shoes and ran five miles the same day. I was exhausted for days after she did that.)
I liked biking in the Netherlands best, and not just because it's flat. I enjoyed the country's variety.
We biked on cobblestone streets, which makes you wonder if jackhammer operators still have all of their teeth.
We biked next to canals, crossed them on ferries, had picnics in quiet meadows and cooled off on forest paths.
We got stuck behind cattle going to be milked. The herder on his bike led us through the middle of the herd so we could pass. It took more agility than I have to avoid the cows and their droppings at the same time. It took my tires several days to recover.
We biked through villages on a Saturday, which is market day. Some sampled raw herring. I didn't. I felt I was pushing my luck to be still alive.
Along the Mosel River, between Koblenz and Trier, the pace slowed even more. It seemed like mist-enshrouded castles beckoned around every curve of the river. I didn't always heed the call, because all of them are on hills.
One day we got off the bikes and hiked through lush forests to Berg Eltz, a magnificent castle. A couple of hours later several of us met in the town of Cochem for a wine and cheese lunch along the river; we lounged quietly in the sun for a while. My kind of day.
I'll reserve comment on biking in England. It has hills.
The Europe of Dreams
At any rate, this was the Europe of my dreams. Around almost every bend was another "ooh" or "ah," with an occasional "wow" for a particularly deserving scene.
And biking meant that you could experience every "ooh," "ah" and "wow" up close.
I was enjoying it so much that I dragged myself to breakfast about 8 every morning--well, almost every morning.
At 8 a.m. we were given maps and detailed instructions for the day's ride and went off in groups of two or more. We didn't try to ride together; we'd just ride with whomever set the same pace. (I rode with a 2-year-old on a tricycle.) Eventually, we'd meet the others in interesting towns or cafes along the route.
Between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., we'd travel 30 to 50 miles at a leisurely pace, stopping at towns along the way to sample the culture. That may sound like 30 to 50 miles too much.
But even I didn't feel them go by. A few mornings found my posterior a little reluctant to climb back into the saddle, but that went away in a few minutes.
A Slow Pace
I was never tired, either. With so much to stop and see, we'd rarely average more than 7 m.p.h., even less, if you count hundreds of photo stops, a couple of coffee breaks and lunch. Even less, if you count a few pastry breaks . . . a few pub breaks . . . a few. . . .
Language was rarely a problem, especially if you learned to say "Please," "Thank you" and "Please move out of the way. I'm about to run you over."
And when we'd get lost, people in any language could point us in the right direction.
Weather wasn't much of a problem, either. It rained a few days in England, but we found other things to do. Only one day did we have to use rain gear and that was only for a few minutes.
So now that I'm feeling so confident, I'm ready for another adventure.
Is Belgium flat?
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Tours come in as many varieties as there are castles and cathedrals in Europe.
They are rated for difficulty, based on terrain and miles per day. You'll find tours around town with local bike clubs or tours for Africa and China. Some are self-guided; others do everything for you except pedal. Some last one day; others endure several months. Some accept children; others not.
A listing of tours is available for $3 from Bicycle USA. Its directory covers hundreds of tours and basic information about each. Write to Bicycle USA Tourfinder, Suite 209, 6707 Whitestone Road, Baltimore, Md. 21207.
Decide when you want to go, for how long and where. Then based on information from the directory, write or call several companies. They'll send you brochures.