Off the bike in Offenburg and the many freedoms in Freiburg
Offenburg was the solution to needing an extended knee-based rest. Off our bikes we were blessed to be able to stay with Paul Van der Ploeg and one of his team managers, Erik Vollmer, in their expansive, comfortable and clean penthouse apartment just outside the centre of Offenburg.
We planned only to stay a few days, no more than a week but ended up staying twelve days and thoroughly enjoying every minute of it. If you haven’t met him (you may well have heard of him) Paul Van der Ploeg is part of Australia’s mountain bike racing elite. (http://www.paulvanderploeg.com/) He lives in Germany and races the Worlds (among many other races) for six months of the year. First and foremost, Paul is a gentleman. He is a self-proclaimed lover of riding and believer in bikes (“I’m happiest when I’m riding a bike”, remind you of any other people on this holiday?!) and is a mate we are extraordinarily lucky to have. On our cyclingabout bike trip, we were tackling the last section of the Rhine ride but my knee was misbehaving and Alex was firm about getting it sorted and not hurting it any further. Also, I’m pretty sure Alex was pants-wettingly excited about seeing Paul and that helped the decision to hop on a train from Speyer 100kms or so to Offenburg.
Bikes on a Train
Luckily no snakes, but apparently bike tourers are regularly sighted on these railways – they seem to be as frequently on a train as on their bikes. We scoffed, a little prematurely perhaps. On the two trains we rode over two hours, edging ever closer to Pauly VDP, there was hardly a pocket of space for us, let alone our bikes for all the bikes and Lycra-clad people shoved together in the bike area of the train. Although it’s a revolution to have sections on some trains specifically reserved for bikes, there is still not all that much room for people and bikes to share the compartments. I have recently been informed that the DB administrators are debating whether or not to have any bike spaces at all on trains because booking out seating is far more cost effective. However, for the time being DB trains remain far more progressive than any Aussie trains.
We arrived in Offenburg in a timely manner – Paul greeted us st the train station, in full sponsored lycra of course, and we three sang our way home. Alleykat then stayed a further few (read quite a few) days as Pallykat (Paul, Alex and Kat are pals indeed). There was much enthusiasm (almost to the point of giddiness) to be hanging out, it felt rather perfect – the Black Forest was ours for the taking (although Alex and Paul did most of the actual seizing of funtimes in the forest), there were many delicious meals to create and buy and consume, there were sights to see and Germans to meet and mountains to mount. Our three-way companionship stayed just as warm as banana bread toast throughout the entire stay.
Because of the perfect location of Offenburg (known as a bit of a backwards-ish country town to other Germans, but to us, it was quite delightful and not at all like the Hicksville it was alluded to be) we were able to go on day trips on our bikes to the many wine regions surrounding and luxuriate around in the little streets and towns that punctuated the trails. At one stage were joined by one of Paul’s brothers, Evan and his girlfriend Mea for a few days. We frenched it up in France eating crépes and getting in our waitress’s way (as it was just a hop over the border from Offenburg into Strasbourg). Thanks largely to the ever-wonderful Erik and his ideas, we found many wonderful occupations to keep the fun flowing during our few days as a fivesome.
We had our senses heightened and tickled and squeltched and massaged during a barefoot walk and got in a lot of singing practice of varying quality (and in varying measures of entertainment vaule) along our merry way.
There is something magical about letting go of one’s inhibitions on a dance floor.
Alex ‘the robot’ Denham, Paul ‘heroic-hat-tricks’ Van der Ploeg and Kitty ‘hip-shaker’ J Webster blasted away the competition. Or we would have, had there been any.
We were on the D-Floor of the Rooftop Bar in Offenburg for a good three hours one Friday evening. Only once we had made complete eye-sores of ourselves alone on the floor (and further, after we had continued this brazen disregard for the ‘cool’ way to act, we were joined by the contained shuffling and chatting ‘mock dancing’ of the Germans), did we see any indication of an incling that Germans enjoy what must be a very Australian pastime of gettin’ down. We loved the feeling of camaraderie we were allowed by this shared tom-foolery and the stares we all drew for our individual supreme talents at the disco.
Fried to be Freiburgians.
After 12 dizzying days of ‘The Tremendous Trio’ (or ‘The First-Class Foursome’, depending entirely on the time of day and on Erik’s work status, the man worked six days every week! He is a German, after all) we need to make a move. It was either that or simply become permanent residents of Erik’s flat and evolve into the higher state of being that is a German citizen, get jobs, work until we’re sixty and drop dead before any social benefit payments are required). We knew that Freiburg held promise of friends and fun and freedom so we hopped on another train – oh no! Now we’re bike-train-tourers! – and made it to JoJo’s apartment as Paul whisked himself off to a race somewhere in Belgium.
JoJo (said YoYo, short for Johannes) is an old friend of Alex’s. Funnily enough he and Alex met at BSC (sound familiar?) and upon his departure, JoJo left Alex with the invitation to stay with him any time Alex was in Germany. We are now sleeping on JoJo’s fold-out couch and have been introduced to much of Germany’s bike-world royalty. And JoJo’s friends. And JoJo’s family (we are going to his father’s birthday party this evening!). JoJo has taken us to downhill bike parks,dream with us in a beautiful lake, has shown us the beauty all around and throughout Freiburg and has done a lot of very helpful translation along the way. He has also extended his welcome to Paul Van der Ploeg who joined us for two days and a night (because we three apparently can’t stand to be apart from one another) to ride bikes and swim in the lake and be Ausmans (Aussie Germans) together.
Nauseating knee nastiness
Alright, so the reason we’ve been so sedentary for the past few weeks now is totally my fault. After almost five weeks of pain, continued swelling and a reoccuring reason to stop, my knee had to be delt with. In Offenburg I had an X-Ray at the emergency clinic and the doctor couldn’t see anything actually broken from the three black and white slides. D’oh! While the X-Rays were being taken and whilst wearing a lead belt to protect my innards, I whispered to the X-Ray gods for there to be something wrong, just a little break would be helpful. Obviously not really desirable as ailments go, but if there was at least a small reason for my pain and swelling and frustration then I would be oddly relieved.
So the tall, blonde, handsome doctor, Dr. Reuter showed me copies of the invasive pictures and said that he couldn’t see any breaks and that my knee was probably just inflamed and hadn’t had time to resolve itself. He prescribed a five day course of prescription-strength Voltaren and my heart dropped, I must admit I was deeply disappointed in the X-Ray gods and concluded once again that prayer in deities is pointless. I’m not a doctor, so I decided to trust in the professional’s diagnosis and submitted to swallowing the bitter pill of Voltaren and the realization that maybe my brain had just been playing tricks on me nd my knee joint for the past four or five weeks. Surely it couldn’t be that it was nothing!? I took the pscription-strength medicine, remained relatively still and waited for the pain to disappear. It didn’t.
Dr. Reuter had said after the initial diagnosis that if IF!! the knee continued to be a pain in the arse then I should come back and get an MRI done. So we trooped back to the hospital and after the necessary talking with hands and feet, the bookings were made. I was a little fearful of the MRI – mostly because of what little I know about the process (has anyone watched House or Scrubs?) and also because I was pretty sure it was going to cost an arm and a leg. Needless to say, actual arms and legs are more important than monetary representations of such appendages so I sucked it up and lay prone in the noisy machine for 40 minutes while my doctor, Dolores, made it do its magic and take amazing internal photography of my knee. While being possibly the most ingenious machines of the medical profession, it is the most claustrophobic and noisy as well. Dolores implored me to “please not move during the noisy parts because that’s when the machine is taking photos”. I assumed that it would be a minute of noise and then silence but the were sometimes stretches of many minutes in a row – in fact the longest was almost 20 minutes of full-on digitalised-jack-hammer-on-concrete noise in one length. I didn’t realise trying to stay still would be such a challenge.
I’ve heard that staying quiet, not speaking a word is near impossible (I wouldn’t know since the longest I’ve managed to stop talking is while I sleep and I often decorate the night with various one-sided conversations and non-sensical ramblings according to Alex) but staying still is definitely up there in terms of an internal challenge. Your body is in on the joke too, and you can feel the movement reverberating from a single thought, laughing all the way down the length of your spine, tingling and vibrating with potential energy like fingertips brushing the skin of your leg and just niggling you, suggesting a jolt of movement here or there. I was paralyzed with movement, if that makes sense. I felt the need to stay still so intensely that I was almost sweating with the effort to not jump up and shake every cell of my body – bopping around like Australians do on the dance floor.
After the MRI, Dolores walked me down the hallway and we had little getting-to-know-you conversations (she was fascinated and a little jealous of Alleykat’s world bike tour and said that she always wants to be on her bike, that no matter where she is, she simply wishes to be biking in the mountains) and during one such conversation she mentioned offhandedly “I can’t do too much cycling because I am injured too” and that little wonderful word “too” made my heart beat just a little easier. I know it sounds kind of perverse to wish an injury on one’s self, but if it really still wasn’t anything after having the most intensive and invasive medical checkup available, then I was lost for what the heck my brain was doing. That maybe my brain and knee were working in devious collusion to destroy the adventure we are on. But no! Another radiographer, Dr.Laubenburger, read the MRI for me and showed me the two fractures in my knee.
Two fractures, of course I have two fractures and have been riding my bike for more than a thousand kilometers over the past weeks. That sounds just like me really. So, there is one on my patella at the site of the initial impact (while falling out of the coupè’s front door onto concrete tiles, rememeber that dastardly mishap right at the start of the trip?! Oh yeah!) and another one internally on the head of my tibia where it connects into the joint of the knee – thus there is pressure on it most of the time and it just needs to be allowed to sit, rested and unhampered for six to eight weeks (maybe up to twelve if it’s stubborn, but given that I’m young and healthy and active most likely sooner) until it’s better. He said that there was no need for reconstructive surgery at this point because healing should happen if I rest properly (read not riding a loaded bike around, more reading a loaded book or seven)?
Six to eight weeks of being a vegetable. I’m no good at being a vegetable in an extended timeframe (I suppose unless I have the full seven seasons of The West Wing to keep me occupied) especially not when we’re on this holiday to ride our bikes, not sit around. I am allowed to do minimal riding and activity so long as my knee isn’t painful. I am to use my pain as a guide for limiting my activities. The frustrating thing is that my knee hurts me most often when I am sleeping or when I am sitting – having any bend in it means it seizes up and throbs and I feel as though I can feel the pressure falling squarely on the fracture (although that could be my brain working a little over-imaginatively. Who, me? Being prone to creativity and hyperbole? No, couldn’t be) I am awoken with pain some nights and then, conversely, when I am riding my bike the soothing circular motion of pedal strokes on the flat is relatively painless and fortifies me. Until it’s painful again during the closing kilometres of the ride or a few hours prior to hopping off and exclamtions of ‘it feels good!’ being emitted…and then I’m dismayed and angry and probably a rather large bore to be around.
Tomorrow, we are leaving JoJo’s comfortable cavern for a return to our tabernacle tent and are heading to EuroBike.