Working my way through engineering school at Purdue, I cooped at Caterpillar, gaining about two years work experience. I saved for the bike trip during a spring work session. Instead of going to summer school in 1981, I bicycled through the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, West Berlin with a day trip through Checkpoint Charlie to East Berlin, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Scotland, England, Wales, London, then back across the Channel, starting and ending in Amsterdam.

I had spent 7 weeks in Krefeld, Germany (near Köln – Cologne) in high school. The first rule for this summer program was “kein Englisch”, except for letters home. I spoke fluently enough in the German-speaking countries that some people thought I was Dutch. In Scandinavia most people spoke English. When they asked me where I was from, I replied “I’m an American.”

Asked the same question as I checked into the youth hostel in Edinburgh, Scotland after the ferry ride from Norway to the UK, I replied “America”. The guy behind the desk said “I can tell that from your  accent. Whereabouts?”

Busted! I quickly learned to say: “Indiana, near Chicago” and moved my mirror to the other side of my helmet. In the UK, I had more trouble as a pedestrian, continually looking both ways crossing the street. Riding on the left side of the road was usually less trouble. Except on narrow roads I instinctively dove for the right side of the road (the wrong side in Britain) if approached by a car.

In 1981 rode 3700 miles in 100 days, averaging about 50 miles / day, plus sightseeing in cities. Train trips made up some of the longer distances.

I enjoyed the trip so much that when graduating in May, 1984, I told employers I could start work at the end of August. This time I had taken a semester of French. I visited Luxembourg, France, Suisse (the French speaking part of Switzerland), northern Italy, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Austria, back through Germany to Luxembourg, stopping in Iceland for a day on the way home.

I have two good friends who are from Croatia (see Yuri’s presentation). The other friend’s hometown is Zagreb, the capital city. Yugoslavia was one of my favorites – met a lot of friendly people there, like most countries. People were often curious about this mode of travel and my equipment. See presentation on Bicycle Camping on our USA Melting Pot website.

Page 3 has photos of the Arlberg Pass in western Austria and me wearing one of my three faded Tshirts before flying home. The presentation also covers what to pack for a bicycle trip.

Page 16 has the route for the Little Fingers of Michigan bicycle tour, which I organized and led two different summers recently. It covers the most scenic part of northern Michigan, including Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Europeans generally did not wear bike helmets in the early 1980s except for the traditional leather racing helmets (which don’t protect you well from head impacts, only abrasions). I also had a mirror which clipped on to my Bell Biker helmet. Kids sometimes teased about my helmet and Zahnartzspiegel (dentist’s mirror).

My next post in this series will be “A Memorable Day in Zagreb” (capital of Croatia, July, 1984)

#bicycletouring #Europe