It was 1993, and I was on my first European bicycle tour, riding solo in Austria. I was a freelance travel writer, and the LA Times had commissioned me to write an article on Austria’s newly-opened Tauern Bike Path.
My first day of riding took me to Zell am See, an impossibly scenic lakeside town surrounded by mountains. When I arrived at my hotel, I found a note from the local tourist office. Would I have time to join one of their staff members for dinner? I responded, and we settled on meeting in the lobby at 7 p.m.
As I descended the stairs to the lobby, I saw a beautiful woman who looked up with the sweetest smile. To this day, that moment was the only time I experienced love at first sight. My knees buckled.
I regained my composure, and we made our introductions before walking to a nearby restaurant for dinner. Our server approached with the wine list, and both my new friend and I pointed to the same wine: Carpe Diem. Seize the day.
Our stomachs growling, we realized that we’d been talking for nearly two hours and hadn’t ordered dinner. We did along with another bottle of Carpe Diem.
After dinner and until well past midnight, we walked along the lake promenade, eventually hand in hand. I told her I’d come see her in her office before I continued my journey, She warned me that she was going to be helping out in a different tourist office about 15 miles in the opposite direction of my destination—adding 30 miles to a 45-mile ride. I promised I’d visit.
I woke to the sound of thunder and of windswept rain against the windows. But a promise is a promise, and, sprayed with mud, I walked into her office. She gave me a broad grin, a huge hug, and a large cup of hot tea.
An hour later, I left, reluctantly. With 60 miles of wet riding before I’d reach my overnight lodging.
It was painful—and not a pretty sight—but a shower and change of clothes brought me back to life. I headed to the inn’s restaurant. Mid-meal, the front desk clerk approached me and said someone was calling for me. It was my new friend, and we talked for more than a half-hour. This repeated itself every night for the rest of my tour.
Eventually, I had to return home. As I sat aboard my Delta flight, I found myself writing a long letter to her. I told her that, if I had stayed any longer, I might have stayed forever. I’d never met anyone like her.
I mailed the letter from the U.S. and soon started the daily ritual of walking to my mailbox to see if she’d responded. When she did, I tore open the envelope and found a four-page letter. I can still recite the first paragraph almost verbatim:
“I am sitting in a train car making my way down the Danube. There are beautiful castles and vineyards across the way. I am listening to Vivaldi on my Walkman. It’s almost perfect. The only thing that’s missing is the presence of a dear friend. Which brings me to the topic of your letter: Your words could just as easily have sprung from my pen.”
Since that time in Austria, we’ve visited each other multiple times. Although our friendship has deepened over the past 26 years, it never developed into a romantic relationship. Let’s just blame it on “logistics.” But we still are in touch with each other 28 years later.