... this time of riding through Europe on the red drop-handlebar bicycle I bought for myself when I was fourteen years old. Moving along fairly easily, even though I have done nothing since that time to maintain it. I notice that the chrome on the inside of the front wheel has blackened with age and neglect: I have not taken the time to clean it before setting out. I have also neglected to oil the machinery.
Still, it seems to perform pretty much as it did back then--with the exception of the gears. As a teenager, I was inordinately proud of my (then) ultra-modern Benelux ten-speed derailer gear, even though I never quite mastered the art of making it work to perfection. I was constantly having to adjust it to keep the darn thing on track. And now, in the dream, true to form, it refuses to function properly as I make a steep turn on a rocky track, attempting to overtake a couple, also on bikes, who have been riding in front of me for some time. I dismount, deciding that it will do me no harm to settle for a single gear, and to walk the hills where necessary...
Well, riddle me that one. Actually, I suppose, it's not too hard to figure out. I have, after all, been riding this same old bicycle all these years, and the imperfections are more evident today than I would like. The gears no longer shift as easily as they were designed to do, and I have to get off and walk from time to time.
I did, in actual fact, do a bicycle tour of Europe as a teenager. I must have been fifteen or sixteen years old. My parents insisted that I go with a companion, and I chose a school mate, Proctor, who soon lived up to the suggestions of his name: he was a bit of a pain in the rear end, always straggling and complaining about this or that... the hills, the weather, the hard work.
It was hard work, no doubt about that. The equipment, in those days, was not as light and handy as today's: we had a heavy canvas "pup" tent and bulky sleeping bags, a change of clothes, some basic camping gear--it all added up to a significant burden on a bicycle. And the rain didn't help. As I remember, it rained a good deal of the time. We forged ahead, often on slippery cobblestones, hampered by our oilskin slickers and our heavy gear, riding from the coast of the English channel at Ostend, through Belgium and the Eifel Forest (scene of the Battle of the Bulge, for WWII fans!) to Cologne, then turned south along the Rhine to Bonn, and south and east again down the Moselle River to Trier, and back through Belgium to the coast. A long trip, which we completed, as I recall, in the space of a couple of weeks.
In the dream, I do remember thinking how cycling was a good way to stay fit. The mood was one of pleasant nostalgia, I think--despite those recalcitrant gears. And the scenery was grand--green fields and hedgerows, an occasional copse, and wildflowers by the roadside... More English, really, than Belgian or German. Well, imagine that.