Beat by the slows

Today I finally cracked. Or rather, Woodrow cracked me. He didn’t do it with speed or strength or endurance, though. He did it with the slows.

Simply put, my son is the slowest rider on earth. The first day I chalked it up to having never ridden more than ten miles in his life and suddenly doing fifty miles uphill into the wind on an MTB with a backpack.

The second day I chalked it up to exhaustion from the day before plus brutal climbing. But as he got fitter and never seemed tired I began to wonder. Was he missing a quadriceps or a lung?

I tried all manner of tricks to speed him up. YOU KNOW THESE.

“Stay on my wheel!”

“Stay ahead of me!”

“stay even with me!”

“Find an easier gear!”

“Find a harder gear!”


“Lower cadence!”

And of course “Arrrrrrrrrgh!”

All to no avail. Woodrow had his speed, singular, and it was slower than a tooth extraction. There was only one time that he let himself be cajoled off his 9-mph pace, and that was between Gotha and Erfurt. We were passing a pasture and a swarm of horse flies descended on his bare legs. Woodrow hates bugs.

I didn’t know what had happened; all I heard was a yell followed by a near-fatal swerve followed by a 22-mph pace. I leaped to catch on and he drilled it for fifteen solid minutes.

“Damn!” I said. “How come you won’t ride like that all the time? We’d be in Berlin by now.” But he just smiled and notched it back to 9-mph.

It was that deathly slow pace yesterday from Weimar to Weißenfels after so many consecutive days of snailing that did me in. We reached the Sport Tourist Hotel to find it empty and the door locked. After a few phone calls the manager answered and drove over to take our money and give us our room. had assured me, of course, that mine was the last room so Hurry And Book Now! I laughed at my foolishness while we waited in the rain to enter the empty dorm.

Woodrow was untired and unfazed. “Awesome room, Dad! And the bathroom has soap!”

I lay on the bed wondering how I’d go out and hunt dinner on Sunday night in this tiny town in the middle of Noah’s second flood when everything was closed especially the grocery stores.

We finally found a Turkish place in the Altstadt and wolfed down the cheap cuisine. I noted a familiar pattern: Woodrow immediately recharged after food whereas I, like an old battery, never got back to the place I’d been the day before.

Fortunately our next leg, to Leipzig, was a mere 40km. We climbed out of Weißenfels and then hit the long effortless downhill tailwind all the way to Leipzig. Woodrow even notched it up to 11 or 12-mph, but the damage was done: I was crushed and could barely turn the pedals.

Ten kilometers from town we got lost and ended up on a Jay LaPkante dirt track along a fully graffiti-ized gas pipeline and when it dumped us out on the street we were hopelessly lost.

“Ask those two old ladies where the bike path is,” Woodrow said, pointing to two women in their forties.

“Excuse me,” I said in my best German, “can you direct me to the bike path?”

“I’m sorry,” the woman answered in perfect English. “But I don’t understand Polish. Do you speak English or German by any chance?”

At that moment a granny on a clunker came pounding by at a solid 20-mph. “C’mon, Woodrow! She looks like she knows where she’s going!”

“But Dad!” he protested, “She doesn’t know where we’re going!”

Despite the reasonableness of his objection we chased after her. She looked back. “Do you want something?”

“Yes, ma’am! The way to Leipzig!”

“Follow me, junger Mann, I show you the fast way!” Her previous pace was as nothing. She flexed her big legs and shot forward.

What followed was a combination between following Manslaughter down a cliff and Surfer Dan through stacked Santa Monica traffic and Wimberley through a crowded hairpin.

This old Frau was a hammer and she went over curbs, through muddy tracks, blew through orange lights, and passed other cyclists like a crit champ. Her legs were blocky and powerful and she railed the wet cobbled corners on her clunker with total confidence.

“Here we are!” she said, braking beneath the huge tower at Leipzig University. “You and the boy go well.” She put out her hand. “Christa Rothenburger.”

“You’re joking.”

She laughed. “No I’m not. Nice riding, really.” Then she blasted off on her clunker loaded with shopping bags. I wondered which one of them held her Olympic medals.

Woodrow had no idea who she was, he only knew it was the fastest he’d ever imagined riding on a bike and surviving.

We got to the hostile youth, checked in, and I collapsed. It was ten a.m. and all I could think was that the next day’s 50-miler through vales and up hills wasn’t going to be pretty.









43 thoughts on “Beat by the slows”

  1. Barbara Radnofsky

    Such great stories. I need to stop reading the news and just read and look at Woodrow’s smile in the photos. Thank you guys!

  2. Pepperoncini, black olive, green olive and jalapeño slice. Winning! p.s. Minus your presence on the Flog Ride last week the troops had thinned to two – Hines and Francis.

  3. I’ve got to subscribe. I hope your son appreciates how epic the memory of this will be for the rest of his life. Great stories, great adventure; just a little too much burnt orange.

  4. It’s true, we learn from our children. You’re blessed to have Woodrow for a teacher.

  5. I’m beginning to see a theme… Of how you perceive me… AND I LIKE IT!!! Great trip! Please remember what I told you before you left. If he is bothering you the gypsys will take him off your hands!!! 🙂

  6. I still remember bike-touring meals of 35 years ago–
    including a Viking-worthy brunch where the two of us split the breakfast menu, basically. The waitress thought we were planning some kind of prank. All really good, including the gallon of coffee w/cream & sugar. Left her a nice tip and she still couldn’t believe we hadn’t put half of it in our pockets or something. No strain, no pain, back on the bikes and hungry again in a couple of hours.

    1. When my riding partner and I stopped in Des Moines we stayed with a family that made us French Toast that first morning. Later I was coming up the stairs and I over heard a conversation she was having with her husband on the telephone saying “you are going to have to get more food. They ate 35 pieces of French Toast and the beer is almost gone!”

      1. And then there was the Beef & Broccoli at the all-you-can-eat dinner at that real nice Chinese place in Montrose, CO.
        Next time we tried to eat there, they were closed.
        Mea Culpa. Boy that was good, though!

        Thanks for the memories, Mr. W.

  7. OMG! That’s amazing that you stumbled across Christa Rothenburger! How cool is that!?

    When reading the “slow” part of the blog, I laughed and thought of the “claw” that sometimes comes out on our rides when I’m riding too fast and you slow me down with a hand on the shoulder. Maybe a madison sling or butt push would have a reverse reaction on Woodrow.

      1. It was great to read about her accomplishments and introducing her fictional appearance in your adventures was brilliant.

      2. I KNOW that, ssshhhh! That’s like after winning a race telling everyone there was only two people in the race. You just leave well enough alone! I’ve known you long enough to know that everything completely true… except the stuff that isn’t.

      3. Whether the Christa story was real or embelishment, I would be worried about that granny remark. I bet she still has a few friends that are former Stasi. 😉

        I will have dreams about that cinnamon roll. Was it as good as it looks?

  8. Just hang one of those choice choccy doughnuts on your pack and ride a yard or two in front. Woodrow will stick to your wheel like glue!

  9. Drop me a line when you make it to Berlin! We’d love to ride the the famous Wankmeister! ben (at) prioridata dot com !

      1. My cell in SoCal started with 424…not saying that you don’t know what you are talking about, but since typos are always possible it makes sense to question where the 434 comes from. Online lookups pointed to VA.

  10. Woodrow has the best smile in the world! Look’s beautiful there! We miss you ,NPR rolled out one minute late today all is falling apart my freind!!

  11. virginia eubanks

    ok so i’m your mom. but i think your writing is over the top entertaining and hilarious. loved woodrow’s longhorn sweatshirt! and all the photos of leipsig.

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