For this edition of bike tour memories, we’re going to share a story from one of our bike tour-loving family clients. It’s an honest account of what touring with children is like, and for that reason, we love it! We’ve booked more and more families with younger children every year, and we hope to see that trend continue.
From: Mark Thalman
Our family has joined you on three tours: the Danube Family Tour, Tauern Bike Path, and Lake Garda based in one hotel. We could fill a book with great memories from these trips but th[is story] is probably our favorite. We still talk about it often.
In the summer of 2012, my family set out on your week-long “Danube Family Tour.” My wife Tria and I are keen cyclists and we were excited to share our love of bike touring with our children, eight-year-old Cailey, and six-year-old Heidi. The self-guided Danube itinerary seemed to be a perfect blend of safe, scenic bike trails, picturesque towns, quaint accommodation and just enough challenge for our girls to feel like they’d “earned their supper” at day’s end. When we told friends our plans to bike over 150 miles across Austria with our young daughters, most shook their heads in disbelief, convinced we were courting disaster. “Good luck with that,” chortled more than one neighborhood parent.
We departed Passau, Germany on a glorious sunny day and spirits were high. Cailey and Tria charged up the pristine path on their own bikes and I functioned as the engine for Heidi who sat, regally behind, on a tag-a-long, enjoying the sublime views unfurling around every snaking bend to Schlögen. Day two unfolded in similarly perfect fashion and, as we sat devouring tasty ice creams in Linz’s stunning central square that evening, we smugly remarked just how wrong those naysayers back home had been.
We were woken the next morning by the sound of rain pelting the window of our hotel. This was not just any rain; it was the kind of relentless angry rain that makes you want to sit on a couch staring at a log fire all afternoon. The view outside was a foreboding battleship grey and temperatures had plunged overnight. We tried to remain upbeat while kitting out the girls with colorful yellow and purple rain gear. “It’s going to be such an adventure,” I enthused, “Think of how much fun we’ll have splashing through puddles!” But the girls seemed unconvinced and eyed me suspiciously. Once plastic trash bags had been fitted on Heidi’s legs, we were ready for anything. We hoped. Tria and I exchanged furtive, anxious glances as we mounted our bikes and waded through the suddenly bleak Linz square. The 15 miles to Enns promised to reveal what we were made of and we could hear our neighbors on another continent chuckling at the prospect.
It took steely nerves and laser focus to navigate the slippery cobbles through Linz. Cailey and Tria formed the tet de la course, slaloming around shoppers darting about with black umbrellas and tourists snapping photos of Linz Cathedral in the deluge. Heidi, on the tag-a-long, wobbled back and forth like a punch-drunk prizefighter and was drenched before we’d left the city. Inexplicably, she kept complaining about dirt. Once we’d emerged from Linz, we glided along a tarmac bike path beside the Danube River. The rain was getting heavier and spirits were already sagging. Cailey fell far behind and Tria was now having to coax each pedal stroke. The waterworks were no longer limited to the oppressive skies as Cailey’s eyes flooded with tears. Heidi and I made a pact to pedal as hard as we could in an effort to outrun the rain. But we couldn’t. It continued mercilessly and it wasn’t the only thing splattering Heidi’s face as I discovered with a quick glance over my shoulder. Mud from my rear wheel had been blanketing Heidi from the start and now her cherub face looked like a Jackson Pollock original.
By mile five the girls were in full meltdown. Cailey declared, “I’m not doing this anymore” while Heidi, covered in grime, whimpered alone under the railroad bridge where we sought temporary respite to consider our options. Except, there were none. Our hotel was 10-miles away. Maybe our friends back home had been right. We gamely tried to convince the kids of what great accomplishment they’d feel once we’d overcome the torrential rain and arrived at the majestic hilltop town of Enns but they were having none of it. The whimpers became wails and our dreams of an idyllic family adventure were slowly washing away in the Austrian deluge.
Nearby, an older German couple in ponchos who had also sought refuge under the bridge were quietly observing our despair. And while Tria did her best to console Heidi, wiping debris off of her face with a bandana, I noticed the man reach into his rear pannier. He rifled around for a while before finally producing something in a brown wrapper, about the size of the waffle we’d had for breakfast. Then he motioned Cailey over to make a proposition. “This,” he intoned, “is nice German chocolate.” Cailey’s watery eyes widened as she considered the biggest piece of chocolate she’d ever seen. “You and your sister may eat it, all of it, if you ride the rest of the way to Enns,” he decreed. Then…he smiled. Cailey accepted the gift and the challenge immediately, turning to show the bounty to her newly-inspired sister. As the man and his wife mounted their bikes and prepared to tackle the rain, he turned once again to the girls, “You must ride all the way and not cry or complain. Not even once.” With this, they disappeared into the mist.
With renewed resolve, the girls climbed back on their bikes in pursuit of their German benefactors and the sweet reward at the end of the road. Suddenly, the torrent that threatened to derail the day had become simply an obstacle to overcome. With chocolate in hand, we taunted the Austrian skies to wash away our resolve and, miraculously, the skies relented. With each passing mile, the heavens brightened and the girls who had been sobbing were now singing. Before long, we were meandering through wheat fields illuminated brilliant amber in afternoon sunlight. The hilltop Shangri-La of Enns glowed like a beacon and lay just a few pedal strokes away in the distance. Cailey led the charge up the final steep climb like a Tour de France rider pursuing the polka dot jersey. Heidi pedaled now with the commitment of a devoted domestique and our lumbering tag-a-long surged to glory.
At last we emerged in the fairy-tale square of Enns, sodden and exhausted but victorious. And there, sitting in the café in front of our hotel, were our German friends. They smiled broadly and cheered our arrival as they toasted us with large lagers. The girls leapt off their bikes and immediately began devouring their tasty reward. There was beer and chocolate and all was right with the world.
Thanks for the memories!
If you have a memory you’d like to share, email us: [email protected].