The Bike and Other Stories
Cycling adventures around London, New York City, and Berlin.
Geoffrey Armes
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Looking For Jens
Geoffrey Armes - 2020-09-26 00:40:33+02:00

It was while out on one of these cold rides that I got to musing first about pedalling, and then second, about what had been the coldest ride of the year, possibly the decade. Possibly ever?

Pedalling was pretty simple really. On my favourite sections of the Krone, the undulating but slightly resisting mostly uphill section coming back just where those two holes are before the speedy bit into Huttenweg I sort of experienced pedalling differently. Instead of pushing up and down I was suddenly turning, gurning maybe, heavy weights around and around and around, a heavy push, a follow through to get around the peak apex... it lasted a couple of minutes and then I couldn't hold it anymore and reverted to a more normal (for me) melange of thrust and follow through and small pull maybe and then spin and then change up a gear again and push and groan at a slower rotation... actually I can look smooth, elegant even, but only when not trying.

I was sweating, but this was a cold day, when the wind bites your face and brittle tree twigs look like they'd slash your board like cheeks open with a glance but to go home you have to do this anyway.

And anyway, it's not as cold as that night ride to Jens. That night when Jens had decided on his madcap scheme to “Everest,” Teufelsberg which meant some hundreds or even thousands was it, summits of Berlin's highest climb, the one that was built by the Trümmerfrauen after the war and features the remnants of a Cold War spy station at the top. So Jens was doing this and we were all invited, and that includes me, to accompany him.

I couldn't go during the day, although I saw some coverage of the event, you know, interview, lone rider against a stark copse of trees background and so forth, and resolved I would go that night and climb a bit with him. Family accepted it, Vincent was away or something, Sascha had to work or something. I was alone, underdressed maybe (but two jackets?) and doing what I never do: setting out after nightfall. In winter and the temperature dropping fast.

By the time I rounded Auerbach, by the S Bahn the road was starting to ice in patches and I was slowing down, nervous, but a guy came by who seemed to know how to ride these streets in these conditions – and whose back light was busted. I tagged on, lending my light as I followed his line through the suddenly unfamiliar corners and had him down as going to the same place as I. Once the road opened I went alongside and mentioned the light and we chatted a bit until he turned, apparently not interested in the antics of one crazy Jens on a seriously frozen night after all.

My tires hissed through the crystallised specks of moisture on the asphalt, some corners already hardening over. Time to be careful. I was in the last stretch down to the base of the climb where I could expect to find our hero Everesting to raise money for charity. I'd do my bit too! It was pitch black as I left the last street light behind, and almost immediately saw a gaggle of lights in a car park to the right, too short a distance to be the climb proper. I kept going, pausing only to adjust the front light from flashing to still so that my eyes could begin to adjust to the lack of light, and although nervous figured to soon arrive at some base camp of sorts.

I didn't. I was down at the gate to the eco farm, way too far. That lit up area must have been it. Nothing else to do but turn the bike and head north again. One could easily disappear here. One fall on the ice and a broken limb, stuck there inert, unconscious maybe – how long would you last in what was now an extreme freeze. And I was already cold because I was scared to move fast on this quick freezing road. And what if there were those far tougher than I, and more criminally minded, who fancied a bike (all lit up in an otherwise pitch black) and a wallet to possess? A police car came slowly into view, headlights wandering the road, I thought he would stop and interview me about what are you up to so crazy in this freezing night, oh Englander. Yes, mad dogs and Englishmen in the hard evening moon looking for imagined cycle events – but wait, slow now, the light gaggle was there again and clearly, actually, this was the base area for this ride. I went over and joined a scraggly crowd of adequately dressed individuals and enquired about the Jens. Oh yes he is there, will descend soon. Minutes passed, that felt like hours and then I overheard oh he's gone home for a break but he should be here soon. I waited on, chatted a little, was I wearing enough asked one fellow who purported to be a cycling naif. Yes was my reply, if I am moving but this stationary stuff.... just then there was a loud clatter by the ingress to the area we stood – a cargo bike over in the ice, the rider groaning on the tarmac. A few of us hastened, hesitantly he rose, we straightened his bike, he joined us, unhurt, but I was seriously cold by then, starting to tremor inside. Enough was enough, I would have to go without greeting the big man this time, as I needed to rescue myself and get home over these very obviously worsening conditions. I knew there was a coffee shop at the top of this road, that might save me, even enable a return to the event, although inwardly I felt done, and knew a hard return home awaited.

Bike dumped outside by the cafe window, inside I gulped as best as I could scalding hot chocolate and attempted to warm from the centre out. This was not frozen outer reaches in a wind, this was serious deep freeze. There was no way I was going back to that mountain, this evening, in fact I wondered if I was getting home on a bike at all, but there seemed to be no other realistic way. Whatever I did I was frozen, surely it was best to be moving? I'd had enough, more cocoa and I'd need to pee on the way; it was time to be moving. Back down through the Siedlung, past the stadium, shuddering, tires hissing, legs seeking to turn, eyes alert to the street light sparks and blinding beam headlights of cars. I opted to ride through the station underpass, instead of the usual extra 500 metres, barely moving, freewheeling through in the hope of some shelter such as there is not from this kind of sheer cold, Even here a couple of station employees admonished me, “better next time walk,” to add to my misery, wearily I agreed “next time,” and waved as I passed avoiding discussion. Once emerged into the city side I found the street not so icy. There'd been a real drop of temperature in the forest compared to the city area this night. I got home, and after a long hot shower sat for a long long time.