The room was spotless. The shower had unlimited hot water. The pillows were fluffy and the window looked out on a bucolic pastoral landscape where a fat, sweaty German farmer shoveled manure into a cart wearing a tank top and boxer shorts.There was only one problem: the housefly from hell. Each time he’d alight on an exposed toe or arm I’d swat him, miss, and drive him over to Woodrow’s bed. We batted him back and forth all night until it was time to get up, which we did, thirteen hours later, as tired as when we’d gone to sleep.
“You didn’t have any dinner,” I said. “You must be ravenous.”
“There wasn’t any dinner.”
“Sure there was. Black bread and jam and raisins. And water. We had tons of water.”
Woodrow stared glumly at the breakfast spread which was identical to the dinner spread. “I’ll pass, thanks.”
“You can’t pass. You have to eat to keep pedaling.”
“I’m done pedaling.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I’m exhausted. Let’s take the train to Luckenwalde, spend the night, and then ride to Berlin.”
“We can do anything we want.”
So I gave him The Lecture: “It’s easy to grin when your ship comes in and you’ve got the stock market beat. But the man who’s worthwhile is the man who can smile when his shorts are too tight in the seat.”
“I’m taking the train. You can bike to Luckenwalde, Dad, and we’ll meet at the station.”
“Son, today is the most important day of the trip.”
“What are you talking about?”
“It’s the time when you’re done, when you’re cracked, when you can’t go another single step that you have to dig deep and overcome adversity. Today is the day we’ve been waiting for. Let’s do it.”
“Are you serious?”
“I’ve never been more serious.”
“That highway is death. You’re so tired you can barely get out of bed. This isn’t a scene from ‘Spartacus,’ Dad.”
Unwillingly, Woodrow followed. The next town, Bad Herzberg, was 13km away. Five minutes into the ride I felt worse than the last fifty miles of the 2012 BWR. Woodrow was fine, and dropped behind me to take over the job of truck-calling so we could hit the ditch each time a freight truck passed. After the tenth ditch run I was barely turning the pedals.
“You okay, Dad?”
“Yeah. Just. Need. Coffee.”
After an hour we reached Bad Herzberg and pulled into the Penny grocery store.
“The coffee will do the trick.”
Woodrow shrugged and ordered a small salami sandwich with orange juice. We went back out to our bikes.
“Hey,” I said, “would you be terribly disappointed if we took the train to Luckenwalde? It’s another 30 miles from here and the coffee isn’t working.”
“Of course it isn’t. You’re really old and really tired. You need some serious rest, not another all-day endurance test. Come on, Dad. The station is over this way.”
We reached the station, which had a giant “Train Station for Sale” sign on it. I wondered what one did with one’s own train station. We bought our tickets and sat down to wait. A group of ants had gathered around a dead comrade and we began following the entire path of various ants, marveling at their speed, unerring accuracy, and sense of purpose. We speculated about their home lives and what they did in their free time. We put little pebbles in their path and watched them climb over. Just like kids.
After an hour the train came and we were very happy. We settled in until the conductor checked our tickets. “You can’t take the train to Luckenwalde. You must get off at the next station and take the bus.”
“But what about our bikes?” I asked.
She shrugged. “That is a problem, yes.”
Fortunately the train ride had whittled off 15 miles of the ride, and more fortunately there was a bike path the whole way. Most fortunately the town square had about eleven gelato shops. The one we chose had a family at the next table chain smoking, even the three teens, one of whom looked to be about twelve.
But we didn’t care. We were one day away from Berlin.