Bike travel involves the worst kind of bastardy, cobbling together the mismatched Frankensteinian body parts of horrendous luggage, distant destinations, clumsy connections, jagged time zone adjustments, airport cesspools, and staggering feats of meticulous planning in order to effect what is ostensibly an act so simple a child can do it, that is, pedal a bicycle. And all bike travel begins with the conundrum presented by that most awkward piece of luggage known to man, the bicycle.
Golf clubs you stick in a slightly rotund tube, like skis. Tennis rackets fit snugly in your rucksack. Even cellos get shipped in their daily form-fitting hardshell case. But with bike travel you are chained to an astonishingly ugly partner, a clumsy piece of geometry that defies sexy packing the same way it defies looking good in your living room or on your bridal registry.
Options are limited. You can rent, which has all the disadvantages of a mistress and none of the pleasures, or you can ship. Shipping comes in two flavors, cases and cardboard boxes. The cases offer the illusion of protection for several hundred dollars, whereas the boxes dispense with the lie and blandly assure you that you will likely receive your precious all-carbon frame smashed into 100% carbon bits. At least the box is free.
We were headed off to central Europe in November, when the temperatures are cold enough to be miserable but not horrific, when the skies are gray, when the days are shortening and rainy, and when the pro bike shops are only open a few hours a week because hardly anyone rides a fucking road bike in Austria in November, or works, for that matter. This is why Austrians are the world’s best skiers.
So it made perfect sense that, as I packed my tuxedo and braces and cummerbund and bow tie for my eldest son’s wedding, I would also pack all my winter riding clothes and rain gear and my bike. You get married in an instant, but over ten days you can log some serious miles, and it’s during momentous family events that I’m famed for staying focused on what matters.
Vienna, it turns out, is a world class place to get married, especially when your fiancee is from there, but it’s also a hell of a place to cycle. The fact that relatively few people do means that it hasn’t been discovered yet, and it was my mission to introduce cycling to the Viennese, and perhaps teach them about classical music, coffee houses, and dancing horses while I was at it. Always happy to educate, that’s my motto.
And speaking of education, I’d prepped meticulously for the trip with Sima, Daniel, Lars, Leo, and Abdu, my Internet German teachers. Every morning for a month I dutifully awoke for my 5:30 lesson. My favorite teacher was Abdu, an Arab dude who spoke atrocious German but charged outrageous hourly fees. He had learned his German from an old textbook, then ruined what he’d badly learned during a stint in Berlin selling fake passports and parting out stolen cars.
“Germany is for scheisse,” was his favorite phrase, in addition to adding “scheisse” and “beschissend” to everything.
“But I’m going to Austria, not Germany.”
“It’s no difference, alles ist scheisse.”
“Wie geht’s? You look like scheisse,” was his favorite greeting. I ended up paying Abdu $32 an hour to let him practice his English on me, showing what a sharp businessman he was. At least I learned how versatile the word “scheisse” was, probably even for wedding speeches.
Although my German was now pretty spot on, certainly in the “scheisse” department, I still had a big obstacle between me and some gloriously drizzly, bone chilling riding. That obstacle was of course the pizza bar at LAX. After reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” I had recently converted to near-vegetarianism, which involves wanting to quit eating meat but not actually doing so. It’s kind of like being a #socmed bike racer. Near-vegetarianism requires you to really feel strongly about something but not actually do it. So as Mrs. WM and I sat at the gate waiting for the flight I battled mightily with the moral implications of eating meat, and after a solid hour of anguish felt like I’d done my part for the environment and dashed over to consume an 18” sausage and pepperoni and meatball deep dish pizza.
With that obstacle cleared, we boarded and began the fully loaded flight to Heathrow, which I’m told is in London, which also supposedly belongs to England, a place I’ve never visited simply because I have a principle of never touring a country unless I can speak at least a few broken phrases of the local idiom. The flight proved eventful exactly 2:35:35 into the trip, because that’s when the baby in the bassinet began screaming her head off, and the nasty French lady next to the poor mom demanded that the baby be moved. “Yeah,” I said, “put that six-month-old brat back in the galley.”
Actually what I did was offer the nasty lady my seat, one row back in the sardine section. I’d take a crying baby with the extra legroom any fuggin’ day, but the nasty woman saw through my ploy, looked a few daggers my way, and kept bitching at the flight attendant. Before long the other passengers helped broker a compromise, which was that if the nasty lady would quit complaining about the infant, we’d agree not to kick her off the plane.
Somewhere over Hudson Bay the pizza kicked in and I fell asleep. As I nodded off I hoped that when I awoke there would be someone at Heathrow who spoke English.