PEDAL PUSHER

18. Januar 2017 zur Übersicht

Artikel erschienen in "The News & Advance" am 15.01.2017

Tim Moore knows a good book idea when he stumbles onto it, especially when it ties in nicely with his previous books. (Nothing like a recurring theme to draw readers in, right?) So when the author of the zanycycling books "French Revolutions" and "Gironimo!" got the chance to bike the 6,000-mile Iron Curtain Trail that traces the Cold War boundary that once separated East from West, it was a nobrainer.

Biking in arduous conditions? Check. Heading out above the Arctic Circle in March guaranteed pedaling through deep snows, sub-zero temperatures and a wilderness seemingly without humans. (As his wife tells him, "You probably won't die, but I do worry that you might go mad.") Likely to get lost? Check. Long stretches of the trail, which passes through 20 nations between Moore's start at Kirkenes, Norway, and the trail's terminus at Tsarevo on Bulgaria's Black Sea coast, "were as yet unsignposted, beginning with its entire 1,700km passage through Finland," Moore writes. "Other sections were no more than vaguely mapped with dotted lines — most notably through Russia, where it wandered distantly inland to avoid a long section of Baltic coast that was closed to foreigners, on account of an embarrassment of military and nuclear facilities."

Never been done before? Check. At least, if you're willing to exclude "a lavishly supported corporate team of electric cyclists, which I was, and to heartlessly dismiss a middleaged German for not starting in quite the right place, which I did," Moore writes.

Most importantly, would there be a strange twist with the bike choice — a Moore trademark? But of course.

In "Gironimo!," Moore wrote about his attempt to trace the 1914 Giro d'Italia on a 99-year-old bike with wooden wheels.

For his Iron Curtain outing, recounted in the minimum-one-laugh-per-page "The Cyclist Who Went Out in the Cold: Adventures Riding the Iron Curtain," his bike of choice was a MIFA 900, a folding, 20-inch wheeler produced in the millions for Communists hoping to haul a bag of potatoes home from the state-run store. It was, Moore tells us, "the default pedal-powered runabout from Vietnam to Cuba."

Moore admired the East German bike the same way he appreciated the Communists' much-maligned Trabant autos. (As he observes, "Who could not warm to such a goofy, hopeless, squat little underdog, other than perhaps anyone who had ever owned one?") But the shoddily made, poorly engineered "runabout" was hardly designed for what he had in mind.

Consider this passage, in which Moore, preoccupied with fantasies of a rescue helicopter, describes trying not to sweat while riding through "the frozen, lonely sticks" of Finland:

"Here they came, the opiate delusions of hypothermia, luring me off to a peaceful, stupid death. The very thought squeezed my sweat glands like ripe citrus; both armpits prickled and a rivulet wriggled its way down the back of my neck. No! I arched my back to blot this bastard harbinger against an inner layer, and in doing so made a discovery that sent a steamy shriek of terror across the Arctic wastes. My anorak — the whole thing, sleeves, torso, collar and all — had frozen solid from the inside, an exoskeleton of iced sweat that I could have taken off and stood up in the snow beside me. Then befriended and gone off with hand in stiffened cuff, over the snowy hills to find that helicopter." Better him than us, right? The Iron Curtain Trail isn't an endless Arctic wasteland, of course. Other dangers surface as Moore pedals south, including restaurant fare that's better encountered on the page than on a plate. One Russian restaurant's translated offerings included "Breath of Italy, Stewed Neck of Own Production, Big Man's Snack with Rap-Rap Sauce and Pork Ears."

Once Moore reaches Macedonia, though, an idyllic, even cinematic landscape emerges.

"The country I rode into seemed like a more venerably bucolic version of the land north of the border, its people far removed from the dour and silent types who lived east of it," Moore writes. "Beetle-browed ancients cheerily cajoled livestock and shouldered bundles of sticks across the rich, red earth of a plateau ringed by plump hills. A man with a grey moustache in a double-breasted Al Capone suit bounded out of a cherry orchard with a bunch of wild flowers in his hand and leapt into a waiting Yugo. There were mule-drawn haywains and a billion butterflies. I waved at everyone I passed, largely to acknowledge that most of them were having a visibly harder afternoon than I was. From horseback and hillside and the top rung of a cherrypicker's ladder, they all waved back."

It sounds lovely, at least in passing. But most of us armchair pedal-pushers will be happy to let Moore's record stand. (Spoiler alert: He survived.) Reading a laugh-out-loud account of another person's suffering trumps suffering ourselves, any day of the winter's week.