Bawl And Chain

By Jane Mountain | September 14, 2013

175 km so far this weekend.

Remember yesterday when I said how awesome it is to bicycle tour alone? Today I’m going to admit that there might be a little downside.

For instance, when you’re alone, there’s no one there to help you understand why people go all the way to a campground in order drink and smoke and yell at the top of their lungs, as if they were in some seedy nightclub in the city. I suppose I could have asked the reprehensible people in question, but it would have been more fun to make up silly answers with Stephen.

Also, I noticed a strange thing this morning. No one brought me tea while I lay in my sleeping bag, and no one washed the dishes while I broke camp. Weird.

Chain Reaction

I had a longish day planned for today, from Wendisch Rietz to Potsdam, which was going to be somewhere between 85 km and 100 km depending on the curviness of my chosen routes.

There are like 5,000 bike paths that spider web their way across the south side of Berlin, so today I just planned a bit of the route at a time, stopping every so often to decide on the next leg.

Even after riding two days, I'm still this close to Schoenfeld Airport.

Even after riding two days, I’m still this close to Schoenfeld Airport.

The bike trails are not signed at all here, and they hop on and off of paths, roads, and pedestrian routes. I think it would be almost impossible to follow them without GPS.

Even with GPS, I wandered off course a few times. After one wrong turn, which I noticed but decided not to rectify, I ended up on a dirt path in the middle of the woods. It could have all gone wrong here, but the path was just on the good side of passable, so I ended up having a little fun, skidding through deep sand and bumping over tree roots.

Not long after, I noticed my pedalling was feeling a little gritty, so I stopped to check it out. Sand was caked onto my chain, filling the spaces in the links and sticking to every part of the drive train. It was filthy.

I guess the good folks at the bike shop were a little overzealous with the chain lube the other day. That kind of thing is fine for road bikes, but for anyone who might need to ride through a forest, over-greasing your chain means you end up taking half of the forest floor with you.

I wiped it as best I could, but without a tub of hot water and soap, there was no way to even begin to get it clean.

Chain Of Fools

About 10 km from my intended campsite, the road I was on became a dirt track, right through another forest. I really didn’t want to be dealing with more sand this late in the day, but sadly, there was actually no way around it without adding a lot of distance and retracing my route. I hate being inefficient, so for me, the only way was forward.

This path was sandier and rooty-er than the last, and much less pleasant. I was running low on water and energy, so really just wanted to be done already. (When I mapped my route later, I discovered I’d already gone 95 km).

But nope, the universe was having none of it.

I hit a deep patch of sand, pedalled a little harder to pull myself out of it, and suddenly, pedalling became really easy. Too easy.

I looked down at my chain, only to see it sagging. Had it come off? I looked closer. Oh, damn. I could see the ragged end of the chain hanging down to the ground, broken in two.

“That’s not good at all,” I thought to myself.

In 6,447 km of riding together, the worst bike malfunction Stephen and I have experienced is a flat tire. On my first weekend alone, my chain breaks! We have been carrying a spare chain link for 6,447 km. Fat lot of good that does me, since I left it in Berlin. We’ve also been carrying a whole spare chain since Kraków. Also in Berlin.

Oh Universe, you scampy little devil, how you love to toy with me.

I was in the middle of the forest. Night was coming on. My chain was broken. I had about three swallows of water left. And I was alone.

Awesome.

Back On The Chain Gang

It would have nice to have someone else’s brains and muscles and moral support to rely on, but truth be told, if Stephen had been there, I would probably have let myself be a lot more upset.

Getting upset doesn’t solve problems though, so, after determining there was no way to fix the chain, I started to hoof it. Thanks to GPS, I could estimate that I had about 2.5 km of sandy path before the next road.

The sandy path near Potsdam.

The sandy path near Potsdam.

Have you ever pushed a grocery cart with one wheel stuck? Now imagine all four wheels are stuck and the cart is full of rocks. That’s what pushing a loaded touring bike through sand feels like.

After a while, I stopped to pee, more to rest my body than anything. I briefly wondered if I ought to be collecting my urine in a bottle in case things went all Man Vs. Wild on me. Since I was only a few kilometres from the nearest town, I decided that probably wasn’t necessary.

Still, when I finally got to the road, after crossing paths with exactly nobody for the last hour, I was pretty glad to see tarmac.

God bless the little children and the tarmac.

God bless the little children and the tarmac.

Then I checked the map. This road did not lead anywhere useful. My best choice was to cross the road and head back into the woods for another 500 m of trees and sand.

Yay! Fun!

Unchain My Heart

The closest accommodation was the campsite I’d been aiming for all day, and the end of this trail got me to a water taxi that would deliver me within 3 km. That equated to another hour of walking after the ferry, getting me into the campground around 8pm. After the day I’d had, I wasn’t too thrilled about the prospect, but what else could I do?

With a few minutes to spare before the ferry came, I stopped at a little waterside cafe and asked for some water and a Fritz Cola. When I handed the girl my money, I could see the astonishment on her face. My hands were covered in chain grease, and judging from the look on her face, I don’t think she’d ever seen anything so filthy.

Sunset from the water taxi, Potsdam.

Sunset from the water taxi, Potsdam.

When the ferry dropped me off, I briefly considered checking the price at the fancy hotel and conference centre right next to the ferry dock. The only thing that stopped me was my assumption that I wouldn’t get a decent veggie meal there.

So I set off down yet another bike trail in the near dark to begin the long walk towards…

Wait a minute! Are those caravans I see before me? Yes! There is a campground right here!

Universe Devil had obviously had enough fun with me for one day.

This is the best campground I’ve stayed in since Solaris. It has a fully equipped kitchen that is nice enough to actually want to cook and eat in.

Goodnight campsite, Potsdam.

Goodnight campsite, Potsdam.

And better still, they have bike rental so may be able to help fix my bike tomorrow.

If not, I’ll just be getting on the train to Berlin, because, guess what’s not open on Sunday in Germany? Everything. And that everything includes bike shops.  

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Hi, I’m Jane, founder and chief blogger on My Five Acres. I’ve lived in six countries and have camped, biked, trekked, kayaked, and explored in 50! At My Five Acres, our mission is to inspire you to live your most adventurous life and help you to travel more and more mindfully.

1 comment

  1. Comment by Cassie

    Cassie Reply September 17, 2013 at 9:07 am

    Well-handled!! Good lordy. Hoping all is well!

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