Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - October 21, 2022

Unexpected entertainment

The roads in the rural farming community where I grew up were mainly graveled. Melting snows or recent rains could turn them into soupy quagmires. So riding a bicycle was fraught with challenges. As a result, traveling anywhere by bike was pretty much limited to youngsters as they had few transportation options. I remember looking forward to when I'd have a driver's license and could use the family car.

Yet sometimes what goes around comes around. Today, large numbers of adults are again riding bicycles, just as they had when they were young. However, the focus for these folks is not transportation, but staying physically fit. And whether it be an urban neighborhood or a scenic country road, the experience is far more rewarding than riding the stationary variety in a gym.

But it isn't just the age of the rider that has changed. A modern-day bike is frequently made from high-tech materials to reduce weight and increase durability, making the price tag well above what most youngsters can negotiate.

During our recent trip to the Alps, we frequently met cyclists peddling their way up steep grades that continued for miles. While I was envious of their determination, not one fiber of me wanted to change places. But husband Art and I did bump into a good example of how far this return-to-cycling has gone.

In Salzburg, we booked a "Sound of Music" tour for ourselves and two traveling companions. Art thought we should visit on our own some of the places the 1965 movie had been filmed. He reasoned the tour would have little time at each location and might even skip some we would find interesting. An added benefit would be during the tour, we could concentrate on the guide's presentation, rather than splitting that time with gawking at the actual site.

This notion came to fruition at Mondsee, a village of 3,000 people in perhaps the most beautiful part of the Austrian Alps. It was the movie site for the marriage of Julie Andrews� character Maria and Christopher Plummer's Georg. Being too large to travel the small village streets near the basilica, the bus was parked some distance away. The time allotted to see the church would be small when reduced by the walking time to and from the church grounds.

So Art stayed behind, his attention having been drawn to a large number of fancy bicycles clustered near an equally-posh dark-blue bus parked nearby. Men, most judged to be in their 50s and 60s, were standing about chatting, clad in the tight-fitting cycling garb serious riders wear.

Art said his attention was soon drawn to the bus' trailer. The driver opened its rear doors and then pulled what amounted to a side-to-side-width metal shelf most of the way out. After attaching a small ramp, one after another bikes were guided onto the shelf, starting with the portion nearest the front of the trailer. A post containing a large padded "bumper" was inserted into the shelf between each bike. Once in place, adjacent bikes could neither move nor scratch their neighbors.

After about seven bikes had been positioned, the first row was filled. The driver then began another row directly behind the first.

When the shelf was full, it soon became apparent what a well-thought-out matter this bike transport business was. The now-full shelf was first shoved into the trailer's body. Then a raising mechanism was engaged, lifting the shelf of bikes until it had been elevated to the point there was now room below it for yet another complete set of bikes! The driver then pulled rearward a lower shelf and repeated the previous loading process. By the time that shelf was full and pushed into the trailer, there were nearly 30 bikes inside.

The trailer would move the bikes while the bus that pulled it transported their cyclists to a hotel. The following day, the bikes could be unloaded, reclaimed by the owners, and another day of cycling commenced. The bus and trailer would then move on to the next destination in anticipation of a repeat performance.

But the bicycle story didn�t stop there!

The �AMTC (�sterreichischer Automobil-, Motorrad- und Touring Club), an Austrian equivalent to our AAA (American Automobile Association), provides a range of services to make travel a bit easier and breakdowns less traumatic. But when Art saw the �AMTC markings in their signature yellow-and-black colors on a strange-looking post nearby, an investigation was clearly called for.

A variety of tools - screwdrivers of various types, wrenches of different sizes and configurations, small pry bars - were perched atop the post. Pulling on any of the tools revealed they were tethered to the post with strong, yet flexible steel cables. These tools were not leaving in anyone's pocket.

The fastening was such that any tool could easily be used, yet when released, the cable would gently return it to its location. It was, in effect, a tool box without the box.

Protruding from one side of the post were two prongs about a foot long and a few inches apart. They could be used to hold a bike at a convenient height while it was being worked on.

So our pre-tour tour did provide a bonus, just not the one we had expected. Still, it did fit into our general attitude toward travel - to be open to the unexpected. A bicycle repair station in a park or a fancy transport system for bikes may not be what typically pops to mind when thinking about visiting the Alps. Yet the unexpected nature is also why such a discovery can be as satisfying as encountering some famous landmark.

Or maybe it's only we who see it this way. After all, as I have often said, we're easily amused.

Top-left: bus driver is loading the first bike in the bottom row of the trailer. The top row is complete. Several of the protective bumpers are near his feet and another has already been installed to the right of the red bike; top-middle: five of the seven bikes in the front row of the bottom shelf are now in place; below-left: the last bike is being loaded with help from two of the riders; top-right: cable-tethered tools on the bicycle repair station post; bottom-middle: the repair station includes a tire pump, seen at the lower right; our "Sound of Music" tour guide Birgit, in red.

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