"Please don't do this," said the salesman at the bike rental place. "Take my car. You can have it for the weekend. I need it back by Tuesday, but it's yours."
When the man who gets commission based on how many bikes he rents out to tourists begs you to take his car free because the path you have chosen is too dangerous, the smart thing to do would be to listen to him.
I've never been very smart.
My friend Ben and I were backpacking Europe. We had stumbled across an article about Germany's Romantic Road. A trade route from the Middle Ages, it is 350 kilometers of highway that connects a number of tiny fortressed villages. Biking seemed the best (and cheapest) way to experience this paved swath of history. And 350 kilometers didn't seem that long. There are like, what, 10 or so kilometers in every mile? We'd be fine.
"Is there any way I can dissuade you from taking the bikes on this route?" the salesman asked. We shook our heads. "I don't even see how you can do it. There is no clear path. Tell me you're both experienced bikers." We nodded our heads.
Sure, I hadn't been on a bicycle in nearly a decade, since I had accidentally ridden into a highway, fallen and smashed my head on the curb. But doesn't the expression "like riding a bike" exist for a reason? It couldn't be that difficult to get back on the banana seat. The 50-pound backpack probably wouldn't help. But hey, who doesn't like a challenge?
"Here's my phone number," the bike salesman said. "Please call if anything goes wrong. I'll pick you up."
We threw out the phone number. What could possibly go wrong?
Before sunrise the following morning, we set off on our 350-kilometer bike ride. We expected that it would take us until about noon. We hadn't anticipated the hills. Or the poorly marked roads. Or, as it were, the actual distance.
About an hour into our trip, we were exhausted and hopelessly lost in a sleepy town of about 50 people. A service truck came up the road we were biking down the center of. Ben popped a wheelie and jumped the curb onto the sidewalk.
Looked easy enough. I went to follow suit. I sped up as fast as I could, and right before hitting the curb, I lifted my handlebars. Only they didn't budge. Rather than jump the curb, I slammed right into it, catapulting my body over the handlebars and slamming my head into a stone retaining wall.
I couldn't stand for a while. I was bleeding from my head. My hands. My shoulders. My knees. Eventually, Ben helped me stand and walk. He had seen a local woman hanging up clothes on a line and suggested we go ask her for help.
I moved like a zombie, hands stretched outward, feet shuffling. I moaned with each step. When we turned the corner, the German woman took one look at me, screamed and ran indoors.
Nothing makes a girl feel her finest quite like making someone run for her life.
Ben knocked on the door and somehow, despite the fact that the woman did not speak a word of English, persuaded her to let him and his zombie friend inside. She bandaged up my wounds and found a German-to-English translation book she had from the 1970s. She looked from me to Ben. "Married?" she asked.
"No, just friends."
"Good," she said. Then she made eye contact with Ben, pointed at me, rolled her eyes and laughed. "You. Marry."
"Someday," Ben said.
The woman nodded, pointed and laughed at me again and then left to get gauze.
When we returned the bikes, the salesman was aghast by the sight of me. "Why didn't you call?" he asked. Ben replied, "We had committed to the ride."
This weekend, Ben marries his love. And I have the highest of hopes that it will be a wonderful union. If the bike accident taught me anything about my friend, it's that he has a sense of adventure, a desire to defy the odds and the commitment to the ride needed for marriage. There will be bumps in the road for him and his bride, but Ben can effectively jump the curb. And best yet, if the zombie apocalypse ever does come to fruition, Ben will know how to persuade unsuspecting German women to invite the two of them inside.
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