Dear L and J,

My International Women’s Day began very beautiful and ended as a bitch. The task at hand was crossing the big watershed between East and West Germany,  the so called Mittelgebirge, an assortment of mountain ranges best compared with the Appalachians. There is only one way around it, by going far north through the Northern plains (Hannover and the rest) which amounts to a big detour. So climb you must. Your only choice is where. I opted for a route from Erfurt to Schmalkalden in Thüringer Wald (“Wald” – forest – means “steep mountains” around here), basically for two reasons: One, it more or less was on the line the crow flies to Switzerland, and two, Schmalkalden was the place where during the age of the reformation a bunch of anti-Kaiser (and by extension Anti-Pope) local rulers banded together in the Schmalkaldischer Bund. The place turned out to be underwhelming.

Getting there was not easy. The first leg of the journey was pretty and picturesque. You leave Erfurt westward toward Gotha, then veer off the picturesque valley of the Apfelsädt river. The bike path is quite an educational one, you can learn about the history of local milling, flora and fauna  and such. I liked one placard talking about the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals. I bet you an Abraham Lincon that nowhere on your travels in the US of A you have encountered such reference (the SDGs are the UN global blueprint to achieve sustainability on the planet).

When the rivers you are following are reduced to brooks, the heavy lifting starts. Pretty suddenly the nice bike path is steep, gravelly a hiking path, at the beginning bikeable but soon not suited for a touring bike at all. Also not for an old trying to do what a young man on a mountain bike  would find quite a challenge. I won’t go into the finer points here. Suffice it to report that this rider was pushing his iron mare for the better part of 3 miles. Almost on top you hit the Rennsteig, a trail specially carved out for masochists, e-bikers or the health-conscious, fun-averse, never-smoking ilk feeding on protein bars, power liquids and vegan proteins. Not my demographic.

Of course, what went up had to come down. Luckily, there was a paved road downhill. You breeze down at breakneck speed. When I reached Schmalkalden, my tripadvisor app told me there was no hotel room available there. The next one was in Bad Liebenfels, another 8 miles uphill (“moderate hill”  according to Google – don’t trust them). Bad Liebenfels, a spa town,  offered a half a dozen restaurants. In the three best-looking there was no empty seat left.