Sunday, March 05, 2006

Europe Bicycle Trip Of A Lifetime - We Begin

In May 1998 Alice and I completed preparations for a four-month bicycle trip through parts of Europe. I had resigned from the Internal Audit Department of Kaiser-Permanente in Oakland in early May, and Alice was wrapping up some pet projects at her company, Vulcan Incorporated in Hayward.

We had our bicycles and our gear ready to go, but had only ridden the bikes a few miles and had never tested them carrying the packs or being packed for a trip in an airplane. As a matter of fact, Alice and I had done very little bicycle riding since we got married in 1989.

In our favor, Alice planned the trip very carefully, and I was happy with my choice of bicycles and packs. Alice devoured travel guides, such as Fodor’s and Rick Steves, which proved valuable during the trip. Not only the advice was valuable, but just the sight of her Rick Steves or Fodor’s travel books got us better service from our B&B hosts. Alice also studied books specifically about biking in Germany, England, and Ireland, and made copies of the pages that covered the bike paths on our route.

The bicycles I chose were foldable Dahons with full-size 26” wheels and a 7-speed Shimano internal hub instead of a derailleur shifting system. The bicycles were easy to assemble and disassemble, pack in a carry bag, and take along with us as part of our airline luggage. We were very lucky to buy the bikes we did. Nothing comparable is on the market now. The closest I could find on the Internet now is this.

The night before departure, Alice worked at Vulcan until past 2 in the morning. We barely had our heads on the pillows before it was 5:30, time to be up and off to Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, via San Francisco Airport and Baltimore.

We had high hopes of getting a free military stand-by flight, called a hop, from Dover AFB to Ramstein Air Base, Germany, but we had delayed our departure too much. It was now mid-June, all the kids were out of school, and the regular military and their families were traveling with higher travel priority ratings than we military retirees. After ten days waiting, and little hope for a change, we bought commercial tickets and flew from Newark to Paris.

Our time in Dover was far from wasted. While there, we finally had time to ride the bikes and get used to them and carrying the packs. Also, I got to disassemble and reassemble them, and pack them for transport, almost on a daily basis. Learning these skills, which should have happened before we started, came in very handy throughout our four-month bike tour.

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