Hello friends, family and occasional browsers. We have arrived in the United States after thirteen months and ten thousand miles. Our journey to Charles De Gaule Airport in Paris found us biking through deserted city streets at 4 a.m. Oct. 21 in the gathering rain, but we missed the heavier traffic so we arrived newly wet and safe for our 10 o’clock flight. Packing up the bikes went smoothly, the check-in set us back about $60 per bike, but considering everything we were hauling (trailer, two guitars, laptop, drum + all our stuff) we thought we made out pretty well on Aer Lingus. Going through the scanners I lost one of my cheeses, (it was too soft…) but otherwise we made it complete. In Chicago we were met by my parents and sister (the Spidahls), and Kate Ritger and Amanda Schmitz — Chicago residents and graduates of CSBSJU. We gorged on deep-dish pizza and soaked in the traffic noise and curious familiar language of strangers’ conversations… After several days of enjoying Chicago and reconnecting with some friends, we’ll be off tomorrow morning to brave the late October weather of these United States in the north, headed towards Minneapolis but not forgetting friends along the way. Homecoming is an odd affair, with mixed emotions, but I can say for my part I am happy to be back. More soon, from this side of the border.
Archive for October, 2008
Two days out of Paris we biked under blue skies to a small village where we dined on pasts soup. A curious carpet layer enjoying his day off joined us onthe grass across from the church After hearing our story he saw fit to buy us beer, which we eagerly gulped down. We biked out of the vineyards that surrounded town, considering ourselves lucky to have met such nice people. Soon the light grew soft. The sun fled westwards. I thought forward to the night, when I would be crouched around my campstove, chopping veggies into my pot before sleeping on the ground. I savored the rough nature our lives had assumed in the past few months.
You can imagine my surprise when one hour later I found myself sipping champagne while seated at an exquisitely set table in a wonderfully remodeled farmhouse. We had asked Laurent for directions as he collected walnuts from a lawn in his village. I spoke with him in halting, ungrammatical French until he established we were English speakers. He invited us back to his house to look at a map. Soon we found ourselves sitting around his table, sipping yet another free beer. He then extended the use of his shower to us, and in a shockingly wonderful escalation of offers, he invited us to stay for the night.
Perhaps it was only natural then, that the evening led to champagne. What surprised us about Laurent’s offer is that he and his wife, Christine, are attempting to raise sixteen month old twin boys. At first, they regarded us shyly through wide eyes. Upon release from the living room, they abandoned shyness and they tore into the kitchen, bent on raising hell. As Able attacked the lower cabinets and their contents, Hugo assaulted the steep stairway leading to the guest room. Managing the twins took the best efforts of both parents.
Over our cooperatively-cooked meal, Laurent explained that he had worked on a farm in Canada for half a year. He and Christine enjoyed several travels overseas. Perhaps this explains both their eagerness to host us and their adeptness with English.
Whatever caused our hosts’ invitation, we passed an enjoyable evening, punctuated though it was by wails from the baby monitor that sent Christine scurrying upstairs to try to restore order in the nursery. Laurent communicated his fears about the fate of a world addicted to petroleum. We agreed we all must do whatever we can to avoid use ourselves while trying to educate others.
After dinner I realized I would have to add ice cream to champagne and other things I would have to offer cyclists in the U.S. if I intend to repay some of the hospitality extended to me on this trip. Guys like me probably don’t need any more excuses to keep ice cream, but oh well.
Laurent left early the next morning and Christine prepared breakfast. We loaded up the bikes while the twins stumbled around the road. Able often fell down and used the opportunity to stuff his mouth with small stones. Christine extracted them, and after a photo we biked down the road, warmed from the extension of kindness and gleeful to be able to present slightly cleaner versions of ourselves to Paris.
We are scheduled to give a presentation in the Alum Lounge on the campus of St. John’s University Tuesday, November 18th at 8:15pm. The Presentation is open to the general public.
We will also appear at the Festival of Cultures on the College of St. Benedicts on Saturday, November 15th in the Hahen Campus Center Field House from 5:00pm - 8:00pm.
At Pete’s church, Holy Name of Jesus, we will present in the evening on Wednesday November 19th.
Don’t forget about other important FBR events coming to a zip code near you:
Nov. 8th: We begin biking from Rochester to the cities. Everyone is welcome to join us.
Nov. 9th: We arrive in the Twin Cities and have a huge Chili Feed with friends and family, sometime in the afternoon at an as of yet undisclosed location.
In the midst of maps and streets seeming more like spaghetti than roads,
the natural stress of biking into a major world city, and with light rain, as the trend has been in Germany and France, coming around the bend of the Seine River to get our first glimpse of Notre Dame Cathédrale met with emotions gone numb, but still having the fuzz of excitement buzzing in my head.
and then we followed the Seine further to The Tour Effel
I need more time, more down time to process and just comprehend that we are here. But, we have already had 1 great host, Eric, from www.hospitalityclub.org:
and now we are staying with our 2nd host, Julien, whom we again found online (Eric had to go to Berlin this weekend). Julien is generous and friendly… and yeah, his best friend is getting married tomorrow and the party is here in his amazing ground floor studio apartment with small yard. But that wasn’t any reason to not host us this weekend!
Cecilia Xiong - twin sister of one of my previous students and good friends, Tracy Xiong, and Drew’s Chinese tutor back in Beijing - is here with us to be the only person to both see us start this trip back at Matt and Austin’s apartment in Beijing AND finish it here in Paris. She moved to France last spring to study for 3-4 years.
From Sacre Cours Cathédrale overlooking central Paris, with Cecilia Xiong
Moreover, Sara, one of Nakia’s good friends is coming in from the UK this morning to celebrate with us this weekend too.
I’ll do my best to take it all in. Interestingly, all of us FBRers have been to Paris before, reducing some of the pressure to see the sights, for this city is packed with amazing things. Instead of rushing all around town, a little leisure on the Effel Tower lawn with some wine and strong cheese, and maybe one or two muséum exhibitions will be enough. Jen also recommended the bathhouse at the Paris Mosque to soak and relax, which sounds like a worthy splurge to me.
But this is not the end. Stay tuned for our American tour, Chicago to Minneapolis beginning Oct 21, arriving in the Twin Cities on Sunday Nov 9th, inshallah, in the late afternoon for a Chili Feed at a park TBA. Again, you are welcome to join us!
September 25th was a long day. We biked over mountains, along streams, down huge hills, broke the trailer, fixed the trailer, broke Pete’s spoke, fixed Pete’s spoke. And that was all before lunch. We had spent six days on the road since Regensburg zithout a shower or shelter from the blowing wind, the often driving rain, or the cool to cold temperatures to which Germany seemed determined to subject us. We eagerly anticipated the end of the day, for we were supposed to arrive at the home of Tommy and Juliet, my friends from college, and thus escape the weather. By 3:00pm, however, we had only gone 20km. We had another 60 to go, but often we barely do that with a full day. We resigned ourselves to staying another night in the open air, and putting off the paradise of Tommy’s to the next day.
However, we kept plugging away. We biked down a river valley, and the kilometers ticked away faster than expected. Darkness fell. We turned on our lights and clung to the protected bike lane, hoping against hope we would muster the fortitude for the final few kilometers.
Tommy and Juliet. Yaaayy!
Finally it was clear we had made it. I called ahead to let Tommy know we were coming, after all. He apparently set out immediately in his car in an attempt to do what Juliet later described sardonically as “find you”. But he actually managed to find us, and good thing too as we had passed his house and were headed back out of Heidelberg.
He reeled us in to his and Juliet’s apartment. We found cupboards full of American food (Jiffy, CEREAL!, maple syrup) and a table set to the T. Even though it was nearly 9:30 and we had told them we weren’t coming, they had waited. We gobbled up the meat they offered us with extra zeal. At bed time, we found that we each had a bed made for us with matching sets of towels and wash-clothes on top of which rested a packet of gummy worms.
The next morning, we slept in as they rushed off to work. We awoke late and consumed embarrassingly large quantities of CEREAL! and milk and toast toasted in a real toaster. Every day, Juliet and Tommy insisted on cooking for us, though we occasionally managed to help with this or that. Juliet and I engaged in a sort of bake-off. Her crusts were better than mine, but I tried to pursue victory through prolificness. In this I was aided by long days with nothing to do, whereas she had to work all day, and prepare dinner.
We enjoyed our time with Tommy and Juliet immensely, and not only because of the food, the warmth, the hot showers or even CEREAL! We traded stories around the dinner table and played games like telephopictionary late into the night. It was bitter sweet indeed when we left several days later and biked into the rain. Tommy and Juliet provided warm company and what was undoubtedly the most organized barrage of hospitality I’ve perhaps ever enjoyed.
We biked into a soccer field east of Heidelberg around 2:00pm to eat lunch. A man in thick clothes and clad in a motorcycle helmet greeted me with curiosity, but without a smile. I prepared to be told that we ought to find some place else to eat. Instead he said something ambiguous in German. “Essen,” I said, miming the action fashion models disdain. ”Nicht hier,” said the man. My heart sank. FBR was again being banished on account of looking too homeless.
Luckily, Drew came over and cleared up our misunderstanding. The helmeted man thought I meant to buy food. Of course there wasn’t much food to be had in the soccer field. Once Drew explained the purpose of our peculiar stop, and that we had already purchased food, the man retreated from his motorcycle and searched for a key. ”Don’t you want to sit down?” he asked as he opened up the food and drink stand usually opened only during games. Our legs, used to being cramped and pinned into unnatural angles as we squat or sprawl on the ground, quivered at the site of the table and chairs inside the stand.
Werner Winterscieid, as we later discovered our lunch sponsor’s name to be, hastily swung open the shutters, instructed us to not drink the water from the faucet, and scribbled down his name and phone number in case anyone came by and wondered who authorized us to use the concession stand for a picnic area. The lights for the field didn’t work, so he scrambled about trying to get them on for a game that night. He kept saying he was going to leave, but instead just wandered around. He finally did leave, but came back right away. He offered us each a lemonade beer from a crate we’d been eyeing since we gained entrance into the shed.
He left again, and this time didn’t come back till we had almost finished cooking the soup. Pete used his German to chat with Werner, who not only acted as caretaker for the field, but also coached children’s and adult soccer. He said he enjoyed working with younger kids though he is currently coaching the adult village team. Once the kids got older things became too serious. “If the team wins, the players are good,” Werner explained the philosophy many coaches have to deal with, “but if the team loses the coach is bad.” He said he didn’t like the way Germany has changed in the last few decades. He’s seen people become more and more private and self’-interested, less trusting, and caring less about the community. ”Things are too easy here,” he claimed as he shook his head of greying locks, ”so people have to manufacture problems.” “In Poland people are poor but happy,” he claimed through a rueful smile. “Here they are rich and unhappy.” He left again, but not before giving us a basket-full of heart-shaped waffles.
He returned with a car and distributed coffee. The warm brew revitalized us on a cold day. We cleaned up the concessions stand and wished him good luck with his games. We traded addresses and he walked off into the field wheeling a chalk line-painter. I added heart-shaped waffles to the list of things I owe random travelers in the U.S.
After numerous calculations we have zeroed in on an arrival date in Minneapolis with bicycling in from Chicago: The late afternoon or evening of Sun Nov 9th. We are planning an arrival Chili Feed party at a park TBA that will idealy have a shelter so we can eat rain or shine. You are most welcome to join us, so please mark your calanders!
We will be bicycling in that weekend from LaCrosse, WI (leaving Weds Nov 5 or Thurs Nov 6), and will either go through Rochester or Redwing… Route post LaCrosse TBA.
Again, you are welcome to join us for all or part of the ride from Chicago to Minnepolis. For most of you, the weekend ride Nov 8-9th will be easiest to schedule. We will set up a start point for Saturday morning from Rochester OR Redwing. Stay tuned for more details!
Thanks for your continued interest and support!
Rain in Germany, Wind in France, Cold in both, but tonight, a spontaneous Warm Welcome that’s become rare in Western EuropeSaturday, October 11th, 2008
Written Oct 6th
We are cozy and snug inside a new friends’ home on this windy rainy chilly evening in Epinal, France. Wandering our way off of our Parisian route southwest from my family’s ancestrial home, Climbach, to visit a French friend of Nakia’s (whom we just found out will not be home for 2 weeks) we wound up in Epinal, a mid sized French town. While Nakia, Jim, and I were on-line this morning getting the bad news about Nakia’s friend not being home, Drew was meeting new friends working at the City Hall, one of whom happens to be married to 2-time kaiyak Olympian, Manuel DelRey, and all three who love bicycling and bicycle touring. Bicyclist enthusist, Michel Albert, who biked 5,000km in a 33 day France tour alone last June introduced Drew to Zoe, who after hearing about our trip told Drew, ”You are welcome to stay at my house tonight. My boyfriend is dreaming of a world bicycle tour and would love to talk with you. You can eat all of my food!” (A kind of fantasy world for any Fueled By Ricer’s ears!) Manuel is, actually, already planning a “north pole” bicycle trip from France up through Scandinavia and back for next year…or 3 months of next year. Zoe also printed off a sign explaining our trip, giving the city’s permission to play music on the street, and even encouraging passersby to contribute to help us finish our trip. Too good to be true, when Drew told us about the homestay offer and asked what we thought, no one really answered, minds and bodies numb from the last week’s ride through cold, wet, and windy weather, and night after night of camping in cold damp forests (though also providing wood for fires). Finally I said, “Are you serious?”
And here we are, treated as old friends by Zoe and Manuel, now with full bellies from a pasta feed complete with cheese course, showered up (after a week with it too cold to jump into rivers now) and clothes washed. Just after Drew had talked about wanting a small town French homestay, we get it, even with Nakia’s friend’s stay falling through. And Drew has been talking up a storm now as our main French speaker with Jim close behind. Heck, Manuel also speaks Spanish, finally giving Nakia an opportunity to use her language skills! Again, we have been provided for, just when we needed it, after 1 week of riding from our last homestay with the O’Keefes in Heidelberg, Germany.
Unfortunately though, this is only the first homestay in Western Europe that was not previously arranged through old friends or the www.hospitalityclub.org - a fantastic organiztion FYI, I won’t stay in hotels or hostels again! As we have moved into wealthier parts of the world, some people have become a bit colder, a bit more ultra individiualistic, a bit more distrustful, and a bit more dissapproving of our disheveled… I mean well-traveled appearance. Its sad to see that often people with more give less-often and people with less gave more freaquently in our experience; people in China, Vietnam, Lao, Cambodia, Nepal, and Turkey (though Turkey is quite developed). Insteresting and disappointing also that this trend is also connected to our moving into Christian areas from Muslim (Turkey), Buddist (SE Asia, Nepal, and China to some extent), and Atheist countries (Vietnam and China). Gandhi also found Christianity rich in ideas but lacking in practice and application of those ideas in daily life. I have faith we can do better.
But tonight, all that matters is that Manuel, Zoe, and Michel are showering us in their love and generocity. THANK YOU!!!
With Manuel, Zoe, their son (far Right), and bicycle enthusist, Michel Albert (center)
Update: When we left, Zoe and Manuel blessed us by wishing us good weather, gentle wind, and a good route. The last two days have been sunny for the first time since Austria. We are now only 120km from Paris and are getting quite excited for our ride in on Weds. Until then, we’re going to relax a bit in the countryside with our time to spare. So grateful to be sitting in the sun now…
We crossed the German-French border at Wissembourg Oct 2 2008. Being right on our route west from Heidelberg, we spent an afternoon and camped in Climbach, a small village in northeast Alsace (a region that has gone back and forth between France and Germany - well, Prussia and the Holy Roman Empire among other names present day Germany has had - over the centuries and is abounding in beauty with fertile rolling green hills mixed with forests and farm fields) just west of the Rhine Valley where my great great great grandfather, Peter Ehresmann, lived before emigrating to the US near 1870 as a 21 year old. This was my 2nd visit to my ancestral roots, an honor and a blessing; something many Americans would like to do, but is often buried low on their “to do” list.
Almost as soon as we entered Climbach, we met Mr and Mrs Wurtz and their daughter out for a walk, who happen to be greatly interested in Climbachian history. Stopping to ask them about a post office I mentioned my Ehresmann ties to the village of 500, and they immediately sprang to life. They excitedly talked with me (Mr Wurtz translating his wife’s local dialect, a mix of German and French) as I told them of my parents’ and grandparents visit in 1985 and my own previous visit in 2002 while studying abroad in Germany. Mrs Wurtz, a native of Climbach, eagerly went to speak to Mr Lorentz on my behalf, the expert village historian who lives across from the Catholic church who oversees the village’s historical records, to learn about the Ehresmann ties. Interestingly Mrs Wurtz’s maiden name is Urlacher, which is the name of the wife of an Ehresmann man (likely Peter’s father) living in Climbach in 1886 whose family donated money to build a stone crusifix monument “For the honor of God” (written in German) with both Urlacher and Ehresmann names written on it which I had found before in 2002 - a familial connection! Amazing. It was the kind of thing one dreams of happening when going back to your roots. The Wurtzs accompanied me to the stone monument after a stop into the Catholic church where they were married.
We wound up camping near the famous ruins of the 12th century Chapel of the Virgin Mary overlooking the village.
Although beautiful, that evening our fireside time was cut short when the German rain that fell on us every single biking day in Deutschland found us even across the border.
view from our campsite before the rain