Sunshine, Good Fortune, and the Mighty, Mighty Elbe

It’s 7:00 a.m., Thursday morning as I write this. I’m in my single bed, inside my six foot by eight foot cabin, looking out at the beautiful sunny morning, listening to the colorful music of birds as they help me welcome the new day. I’m staying at a campground, outside the small village of Werben. I hadn’t intended to “camp” last night, but a series of circumstances – very fortunate ones I’d say – led me here.

The day was one of my best in the saddle so far. Sun. I had sun! And a lot of it! It came as such a welcome relief from all the wet weather I’d learned to count on during the first several days of my trip. While biking in the rain is definitely a downer, the best part about riding on a sunny day like yesterday is I can take breaks. I can stop, enjoy the surroundings, have a picnic, relax and soak in the beauty of the world around me and stop and smell the roses, as they say. When it’s raining, the last thing I want to do is have a picnic!

My first stop yesterday was at the cutest little family run “kiosk,” just off the trail and just behind the levy from the Elbe River. These kiosks exist all around Germany. They are typically at farm houses and are like vending machines or self-service, honor system places to grab a snack and a drink, sometimes including cheese or eggs or other products produced at the farm. This one was an absolute joy! The little hut was filled with snacks, a refrigerator with drinks, a freezer with ice cream treats and shelves with various souvenir items from the area. Photos of their farm and the surrounding area covered the walls and were also for sale. A sign said coffee was available, but as there was no coffee machine and nobody around, I didn’t know how to gain access to that much-wanted item. So I opted for a Cornetto ice cream cone and took out some money from my saddle bag.

It was then that a woman appeared, smiling and cheerful. She said hello and asked if I was doing okay. I said I was but inquired about the coffee. “Oh of course,” she replied and asked if I’d like it with milk and sugar. “Yes, please.” She then offered me to sit at one of the outdoor tables and scurried back into the house. Several minutes later she reappeared, carrying a tray complete with my cup of coffee, a tiny little pitcher of milk and a small canister of sugar. She placed it in front of me, and I just sat, kind of awe struck by the whole experience. I mean, hot coffee with milk and sugar, on tidy little tray at this crazy, beautiful spot just off the bicycle trail. Damn! It was heaven! After slowly savoring my warm coffee, I had a quick chat with the husband of the house, went out back to snap some pics of their camels (yes, camels), and somewhat reluctantly got back on my bike. It’s at times like this that I almost wish I could make time stand still.

But the journey continued, again mostly along the Elbe River, but sometimes veering away from it, through the countryside, forests and into small villages. At one point, looking at my map, I realized I was traveling on what is called The Iron Curtain Trail. That’s because, in this part of Germany, the Elbe River was the chosen border dividing Germany into East and West during the Cold War. I’d passed by several large watch towers the day before, but it wasn’t until today that I stopped to take a more in-depth look at one. I read and realized that the banks of the Elbe, on either side of the river, were known as “The Death Strip.” This was a large zone of land where no people were allowed to enter, for if you did, it was assumed you were trying to escape to the other side. These tall, concrete watch towers served to “protect” that border.

What was a rather dark time in history had, as it turned out, its unintended, quite beautiful consequences because while no people were allowed in this large zone during that time, of course nature was then left to thrive. After 1989, when the wall came down and things began to radically change in Europe, this area remained a protected zone, not from people and not guarded with guns, but instead it became officially designated as The Green Belt, a nature preserve still protected and celebrated today. From my stop at the watch tower I had a gorgeous view looking over this “belt” and pondering a different world that existed here, just a mere 35 years ago.

Because I’d had an early start that morning, and because the weather was finally on my side, I was making really good time on my ride. I intended to stop near Losenrade and Wittenberge but I arrived there around 2:00 and just didn’t feel like my riding needed to end yet for the day. I didn’t have accommodations secured for last night. After three consecutive nights staying with Warm Showers hosts and the night before that having shared a simple hostel room with Peter the German, I felt it was time to treat myself to a hotel or a private room. But… I didn’t know where. Being glad I hadn’t booked a room in Wittenberge, but not sure where I’d bunk for the night, I continued onward feeling that fun sense of adventure heading into the unknown. How bad could it be? I asked myself. I’d find a place. Maybe not the perfect place, but I’d find something. So I set my sites on Werben, about 25 kilometers further along the trail. My supply of food and water had completely vanished by this point, so I figured even if I can’t find a room for the night in Werben, at least I’d find some food. I’d refuel, take a break and continue.

As I pulled into town, a sign led me to a hotel. But upon entering, the young man informed me there were no rooms available. He directed me into town toward another place. I biked there, crossing my fingers because honestly I really didn’t feel like biking much further. By this point I’d biked about 85 kilometers and I was ready to be done. Unfortunately this next place was also full. In fact there was a woman inside who had just booked the final room, right before I’d arrived. Dang, if I hadn’t lingered at that watch tower for so long, I’d have gotten the room. Hahahaha. But, the owner suggested a campground, on the edge of town, complete with little rooms for those without tents. OMG, yes! I immediately called the campground, but the woman on the other end couldn’t speak English. I asked the woman at the hotel to please talk to her on my behalf. She was kind enough to do so, and sure enough, they had a cabin available for me. Glory Hallelujah! It sounded perfect! I thanked the woman, I sped toward the campground, a happy smile on my face.

The campground was even better than I’d imagined. My cabin – small and simple, sure – was everything I needed. My own little sleeping quarters, all to myself, in nature, a roof over my head. I was giddy. I registered and paid, chatting with the owner (his English was very good). I took a beer from the fridge and some snacks from the shared kitchen and asked him to add them to my bill, then he showed me to my cabin. With a little front porch and a small table and chairs, I parked myself, with my beer and snacks and contemplated the various twists and turns that had gotten me to this place. I was happy. Just genuinely, perfectly happy. Life is good.

I’ll take just a minute to write about the previous day – Tuesday – since I haven’t yet done so. However, my typing fingers are a bit sore, and I’m anxiously waiting to head into the dining room for coffee and breakfast that begins in a few minutes.

Tuesday was a glorious day of biking, the first in which I got my first taste of extended sunshine, and a day in which I was on a path that mostly kept me in, or up above, the gorgeous Elbe River valley. I was happy to have Hamburg behind me and knowing I wouldn’t be dealing with challenging city cycling for a couple more days, when I’ll arrive in Berlin. The scenery was stunning, and the sheep were many. They are everywhere, cordoned off on sections of the levy, munching on tall grass and wildflowers, and as I learned later, slowly, methodically, day after day, patting down the earth of the levy, keeping it in place. Wow. What a concept. At one point, amid a slight rain, I warmed up in a small cafe, enjoying the soup of the day – hot and salty, yum! – some bread and a beer, then afterwards a piece of almond cake and some hot coffee. Warmed the cockles. Prior to arriving at my destination, I needed to cross the river, and again the means to do so was a small ferry. Then I was in Hiztacker, my home for the night, a stunningly beautiful village, on the banks of the Elbe River.

I cycled up the hill to my Warm Showers host family, Anne and Andreas, their children, 10-year-old Kaya and 13-year-old Mia, and their 18th century farmhouse. The home is in a state of renovation, with some rooms having been finished in the previous years, but others still works in progress. It was quite a cool place! Anders is a furniture builder and has done all the woodwork and even all the doors and windows himself. Anne is a sculptor and carver and has beautifully finished the ceiling beams and posts in an awesome coat of smooth clay. After settling in and taking my “warm shower,” we had a simple dinner of bread, cheese and salad with hot tea, then Anders, Kaya and I played a card game called Ligretto which is very similar to a game back home we’d call double or triple or quadruple solitaire. A little more conversation afterwards, and I crashed.

One last note… Maybe you’ll find it gross. I found it interesting. The previous evening I’d woken up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat. It was the 2nd night this had happened during my ride, and not knowing quite why, I Googled it. Sure enough, when you push your body really hard throughout the day, and you perhaps don’t eat enough, something apparently can happen to your thyroid as your blood sugar drops, which can cause night sweats. I guess I need to take a cue to eat more. No problem there! I made sure to eat a ton the last two days, and it was really fun. I felt like I was back in high school when I was playing sports and eating whatever the hell I wanted and never gaining weight. Bring on the Pringles and Ritter Sport chocolate squares!

OK, I hope it’s time for coffee, ‘cause I need it! Today I cycle to Rathenow and another Warm Showers host stay, this time with Judith on her horse farm. She mentioned there’s a concert in town tonight and that I should join her. Sounds pretty good already! Oh, and the forecast calls for sunshine all day long. Yippee! I’m ready for another great day.

10 thoughts on “Sunshine, Good Fortune, and the Mighty, Mighty Elbe

  1. Tom Baker

    Chris, you really know how to capture the moment …literarily as well physically. Travel book in the future? Good read!

    1. Christopher Kreie Post author

      Hey, thanks Tom. I appreciate that! And that you took the time to read and comment. That means a lot! Not sure about a book. My adventures aren’t all that grand. 😉

  2. Laura Guadalupe Carreon Jimenez

    Chris las aventuras se leen increíbles, me asusta un poco este vivir al límite, cuando la aventura y el cuidado de tu persona (a nivel alimenticio) andan caminado muy de la mano, Por favor evalúa tu ingesta calórica y sobre todo de proteínas, porque estas exigiendo a tu cuerpo y mente pasar por experiencias que no se si están calculadas desde el punto de vista de un profesional. Cuídate porque llegar a la meta es parte de esta aventura, pero hay que llegar fuerte. Mi recomendación regálate mas días previamente organizados para descansar en lugares que te recarguen pila al 100%.
    Seguimos leyendote!!


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