The Bike Ride

We had gone to visit our friend Reinhardt in Freiburg, Germany.  He was an artist we had met during a residency in Paris.  I should start by saying that he was very health conscious and wanted to maintain a strong physical and mental outlook.  He said things like, "if the mind is free, than the body is healthy" or in reference to chocolate and sweets "I must stay away from these things."  The food he ate most regularly was Quark, which in my understanding was a mix between curds and yogurt.  He ate this everyday for breakfast along with fruit.  Rather than have fixed mealtimes throughout the day, he preferred to eat fruit or a piece of bread as he was hungry.  Sometimes he would eat dinner very late at night, if he had not yet felt hungry.  He occupied a small apartment along the river, one where you could hear the sounds of the water as you fell asleep at night.  The room was painted white, like a gallery, and was sparse save his files for artwork and his collection of African Sculptures that he had bought in Paris.  In some ways he lived a Monk like existence, quite, contemplative, and it was fitting that his minimalistic artwork reflected these same qualities.

Reinhardt's collection of African Sculptures
He was an avid bicyclist.  Days before our journey as we spoke on the phone about our visit he told us how he enjoyed "biking through the mountains" every few days.  I remarked that Cam and I had a wonderful time biking throughout Florence and we would like to take a bike ride with him and so it was agreed that we would go on a ride.

We had a late night arrival in Freiburg so we took the Metro to his house and then walked the rest of the way based on directions he had given us.  As we walked, college students whizzed past us on bikes.  The neighborhood appeared to be small apartment buildings and single family homes with rich gardens of plants and trees.  The streets were lined with bike lines.  We saw a weasel crawl around under a car and asked a woman for directions. She pointed us towards the sound of the river, whose size remained a mystery to us.  Arriving at Reinhardt's apartment, Cam used his tablet to provide light for the buzzer numbers.  Within minutes we were whisked up to Reinhardt's apartment, happy to share a beer and fresh salad he has made for us.  Then we slept.

Eager to catch up, since we hadn't seen each other for three years, we spent the next morning and afternoon talking with him in his apartment.   We shared with him what we had been doing since we last saw him. 
That night we went on a walk along the river. The river was shallow I was impressed with how the river was a social space.  There were people cooking, playing music, swimming, reading, playing with pets.  After walking for awhile we sat on some rocks to share a few beers and admire the dusk turning into night.  At some point Reinhardt asked Cam if he thought we would be ready for the mountain.  Not knowing the difficulty or distance of the ride, which he claimed took three hours and he did with ease, we said we were interested.  We planned to take the ride the following day.  The rest of the night he took us on an informal tour of the city stopping at breweries, a famous cathedral, and a funny town sculpture for tolerance- that did not tolerate the teens that liked to hang out around the sculpture at night and play music.  I noticed the abundance of bike paths throughout the town and felt jealous that we did not have the same network back in St. Louis.  There were so many bike paths that it rendered driving a futility and in this town, people actually stopped for bikers at cross walks!

View of the Rhine River

Reinhardt located a bike shop "Radikal" that rented mountain bikes.  The next morning Cam and I walked to the bike shop and then rode our mountain bikes back to his place to meet him.  The day was already getting hot, we didn't know the temperature, but having come from Prague and Vienna, where the weather was in the 60's and 70's, we could feel that the heat was a shock to our body.  Reinhardt once again asked us if we thought we could handle the ride to the mountain.  Not knowing, we agreed to start off on the journey and then take stock after a few hours.

Leaving his house, he started off on a fast pace.  For the first part of the journey we retraced our path from the previous night walk.  We passed numerous bridges, rock formations, aspiring Goldsworthy like rock piles, and people hanging out all along the river.   The path was wide and paved, sometimes shared with walkers and roller bladers.  We pedaled under bridges and overpasses, through tunnels, and past the path of the river until we were in the open country.  Beyond us the Black Forest and it’s mountains towered overhead, dappled by little houses and swaths of green trees. The grass waved in the fields next to us as we whizzed past.  Cam and I were hot and thirsty we stopped and shared water under some cherry trees.  Reinhardt picked off some fruit to share with us.  While it was beautiful vistas, I can’t say this ride was easy for me, between the heat, and the slow gradual uphill, I was tired.  Reinhardt whizzed around us and laughed, calling us "old folks".  My mind was playing tricks on me, like when I used to run cross country, and it would encourage me to give up.  I knew that if I kept going I would hit my positive zone.

Reinhardt our bike "trainer"

Cam was feeling heat sick so we stopped at an inn and restaurant for a beer.  He drank an apple juice as Reinhardt and I had beers.  Reinhardt tried to get us to eat cherry cake, a specialty, but we were both so hot, we though it would make us feel sick and throw up.  As we sat at the restaurant, we contemplated the rest of the journey up hill.  We had traveled about 12km, the next part was roughly 6km uphill.  Cam and I shuddered to think about doing that ride in the heat.  Another option was to turn around and go through the town to a lake.  Feeling more inspired at the thought of ending our ride with a cool lake swim, then mountain vistas, Cam and I agreed to go to the lake. 

Heading back to town, the ride was a slow downhill.  We moved fast along the paths, now familiar.  As we rode I hit my mental zone.  Physical exhaustion, air in my lungs, rhythmic pedaling, flying down the roads, curving with them, like I was in my own Tour de France, I met my inner critic.  I just started to let it go.  My film, fuck it.  The success of my film. Fuck it.  It existed. I did my best.  I presented my heart as always.  My art career. Fuck it.  Someone I let down.  Fuck it. A friend who hurt my feelings. Fuck it.  Unfinished projects in St. Louis.  Other peoples expectations.  Knowing what I was doing next.  Fuck it.  Suddenly it was just me riding on my bike through space totally present. 

We rode across town, past sites we’d walked slowly around the night before.  We reached a bridge and Reinhardt encouraged us to carry our bikes down a set of stairs.  Suddenly we were on a similar path alongside a river, only this path was surrounded by open fields not forest. I pedaled hard.  Past other bikers, past little kids who cooled us with water guns, past a day care and a bar.  There were loons wading in the water.  The landscape changed again and suddenly we were once again in the country.  The paths continued until we reached a road with traffic.  Turning onto the road we paused to drink water, I accidentally rolled over into the wheat plants.  I popped back up unharmed.  Cam did not look so good but he seemed like he was committed to keep riding.

“We’ve got to get through here fast,” Reinhardt said- he wanted to avoid the traffic that was lining up for a concert.  Lines of bikers joined us and we weaved around the cars and past the parking lot as a group.  We kept going through the concert venue, past its poster of events, its men waving in drivers, the people setting up sound and lights.  Bikers dropped off to park for the concert.  We turned right onto another country road and once again we were surrounded by mountains and wheat fields.  There were large wooden signs indicating a camp and we entered back into the forest.  We crossed a wooden bridge and kept going.  The path became congested as bikers tried to slowly ride up a now rocky path, which forced some riders to walk. I began to see glimpses of the lake through the trees. I saw silhouettes of people swimming, sunbathing.  We entered a clearing and a larger path formed as the lake loomed large.  I noticed there were people clothed and naked. 
Reinhardt slowed down at a shaded area and considered stopping so that we could lie in the shade.  Cam looked at the spot longingly. 
“Nope”, Reinhardt said, “there are ticks there”.
We rode further finally arriving at a large hill facing the sun.  Tons of people- naked old bodies lay out in full glory and absolute comfort.  There were a few younger people dressed or perhaps topless sunbathing as well.
 “I’m sorry, this is a bit of a naked place.”  Reinhardt told us as he took of his clothes and ran into the water.

Cam and I lay back on the ground exhausted from the long ride. Cam was near heat sick.  He lay on his side.  I asked him if he was ok.  He told me he wanted me to leave him alone.  He needed to concentrate so that he would not get sick.  I took off his shoes and socks for him.  I poured water on my extra shirt and gave it to him so he could wrap it around his neck.  This seemed help him a little bit.
I was tired and my butt hurt, but moreover I wanted to swim.  I had to contemplate the nudity.  Did I want to swim naked?  Where would I put on my swimsuit, if I wanted to wear a suit?  Previously Cam and I had spent a day discussing our body issues and how hard it was being in Europe where everyone is very fit from the walking lifestyle- a reminder of my own problems with weight.  I wasn’t comfortable being naked for the entire afternoon.  But I decided I could just change into my swimsuit on the beach.  (I preferred swimming laps with a suit on anyways).  So I just put on my bathing suit there.  Cam said he would be fine if I went swimming.  I walked to the water and then did a small surface dive submerging my head.  The water was the perfect temperature,  the antidote to the heat.  I turned to watch Cam, just to make sure he appeared to be alive.  As I swam out, I had to laugh to myself, there was Cam, surrounded by a field of naked people, fully clothed, fanning himself occasionally with his shirt. 

Eventually I got out of the water and rejoined Cam.  I convinced him to go in the water and it made him feel immensely better as well.  Reinhardt returned shortly giving Cam and I the chance to swim together.  We later laughed about our predicament, two body insecure people taking a long bike ride and then forced to to reckon with their body issues at a nude beach.  It probably did us both good to see the people, much older than us, comfortable with their flab, fallen bodies, genitals.  I think it both made us feel a little gentler towards our own bodies. 

We biked back home as the sun began to set.  The ride was hard but we knew we could make it.  Once back we realized that we had ridden nearly 40km in 100 degree weather.  Not too shabby for two out of shape Americans.

Cam alongside the River


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