Amerikanische Fernwanderwege wie der Pacific Crest Trail oder der Appalachian Trail sind Deutschen inzwischen ein Begriff. Aber Radfahren in Nordamerika, abseits der Städte? Wer Amerika nur aus dem Fernsehen kennt, kann sich das nur schwer vorstellen. Dabei ist Radfahren die perfekte Methode, das Land kennenzulernen, denn “die Amerikaner” sind mitunter weitaus gastfreundlicher, als man sich das in Europa vorstellen kann. DVÜD-Mitglied Benjamin Morris schildert einige persönliche Erfahrungen.
More Than We Asked For
A few days into our three-week pedal tour from Albany, NY to Madison, WI, we discovered the truly indispensable usefulness of our map. The Erie Canal had spared us a lesson in the devastating deception of following water (one unnoticed turn onto an arm can drain half-a-day’s morale) and provided orientation, plenty of chirping PB&J stops and grassy flats for our tent. It led us to Niagara Falls, where we spent most of a day marveling at the mist, sipping at coffee while applauding the sun and parading the boardwalk, invigorated by the thunderous roar and joviality that accompanied it, rainbows playing hide-and-seek with our shiny wet frames. Late afternoon came, we left. Still rollicking from the wonders of the falls, we whizzed through Canada, inching our way west. A couple hours later, the claps at the border long behind us and the sun ever longer in front, we stopped on the shoulder and pulled out our map. Hmm.
Not sixty seconds passed before a pick-up truck pulled over. The passenger-side window rolled down and a gem leaned over: “You boys need some help?” We asked if she knew where two scrawny best friends could set up camp for the night. “Why don’t you just stay with us? We live two minutes up the road.” Her kindness was quicker than our response – baffled silence, unintelligible utterances of bewilderment, hesitant politeness and finally exuberant acceptance. This is what a map can get us?! The wooden house of a golden marriage, the walls covered in their paintings of portraits and schooners, a guest room with a goose-down blanket and a view of a sailboat speckled lake?! That was in 2009. Skimming through the following summers, they all offer similar stories. Farmers on gigantic tractors with wheels taller than me in the endless corn grids of the Midwest stop to say, “see this land? It’s mine. Camp wherever. Better yet ride that way and you’ll see a barn house, I’ll leave the door unlocked. Sleep well;” the sparse population of a Pennsylvanian countryside condensed under a great white tent at the top of a hill erupts in festivity as we ride by – a wedding! The groom’s father in his three-piece suit waves to us sweaty fools in bright yellow spandex and welcomes us to celebrate and crash for the night; fire departments host us in their backyards and community halls. And so on.
Let ‘em in Y’all!
Ten years later, in the fall of 2019, seated in the narrow ad hoc rows at a café in my Black Forest hometown waiting for a dance performance to begin, I overhear the man in front of me speak of America to his wife, accompanied by that European hand-wave-in-front-of-face gesture clearly signifying incomprehensible senselessness. Germany has been my Wahlheimat for nearly a decade, the last four years of which have been underlined by a wearisome onslaught of subtle-to-not-so-subtle references to the lunacy of the USA’s governing condition and cynical plays on ‘make America great again.’ I tapped the man on his shoulder and asked about his thoughts. Though kind, the conversation was painful and familiar; his justified criticism of America had become not an observation of a wondrously multifaceted country, but rather an exhaustive understanding of the entire nation.
Just a month prior, my wife and I had returned from a ten-week bike tour across the US, a modified version of the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail from the West Coast to the East. The landscapes stunned, the cinematic skies dazzled and the bubbling earth in Yellowstone delighted us with the awe of a brand-new discovery. But a wrinkled, off-white piece of printing paper quoting Hebrews 13:2 may have topped it all: let ‘em in y’all! (I’m paraphrasing.) It was taped traditionally off-straight to the entrance of one of the dozens of churches along the way that opened their doors to us and other bikers to spend the night, letting us use the kitchen and showers in their parish hall if they had one.
It is a shame that no one’s first association with North America is that of a land with wide open hearts for bicyclists. When we arrived late in Yorktown, Virginia, the final stop, the one where we could run into the Atlantic and lie gloriously in the sand, the church – that building we had learned to seek out first – was under renovation. Hmm. In need of a plan B, we took out our map again. Rest assured, a parishioner, a stranger, a gem offered us the apartment above his garage: a cozy wooden alcove with a view of sailboats, geese and the sea.
DVÜD-Gastautor Benjamin Morris hat Germanistik (B.A.), Philosophie (B.A.) und Germanistik/Sprachwissenschaften (M.A.) studiert und ist staatlich anerkannter Erzieher. Als leidenschaftlicher Radfahrer übersetzt er schwerpunktmäßig im Bereich Umwelttechnik, Umweltpädagogik und umweltverträgliche Verkehrslösungen vom Deutschen ins amerikanische Englisch.