Monday, March 21, 2016

"Miracle Gabi" Day

Brent's sister's friend, Gabi, who lives on Bequia but is originally from Germany, rode with us on our European Cycle Tour from Donaueschingen to Vienna.

"Miracle Gabi" and the Canadians
To say that Gabi is a "character" would be a gross understatement.  Traveling with Gabi was thrilling, vexing, and never boring.  Of all of our adventures with Gabi, one day stands out quite spectacularly.  I call it "Miracle Gabi" Day.

Our good friend, Laura, joined us for the same portion of our tour as Gabi.  The four of us had been cycling together across Germany for about one week.  We were enroute to Donauworth for the day, cycling mainly down little-used side roads.  It was overcast and threatening to rain.

We were on a particularly small and quiet side road when Laura's bike decided to blow a spoke.  We stopped to have a look at it and hoped that it could be repaired on the spot, but we came to realize that that was simply not to be.  We were in the middle of nowhere, about 8km from Donauworth and it was starting to drizzle.  Our map indicated two bike rental shops in town, but no bike store or mechanic, so I expected the next few days to involve a lengthy solution in order to get back on the road.

Starting to formulate a plan, we were angling towards having Brent and Gabi continue on to Donauworth, and I would walk with Laura the 8km to Donauworth.  None of us was happy with the plan but it was the best we (and when I say 'we', I mean, the three imagination-less Canadians) could come up with.

One of Gabi's happiest moments on the tour
Completely dissatisfied with our inferior plan, Gabi pronounced "Don't worry guys, I got this".  She blew a kiss to the sky and said something to the universe, and then, quite confidently stated "the next vehicle that comes along is for us".  Doubty Doubterson became my name at that moment.

We didn't even have time to convince Gabi that "Plan A" (logic, reason, and "sucking it up") was the way to go when down the road, traveling in our direction, appeared a small car towing a small horse trailer.  Gabi marched out into the middle of the road, stopped the car, and had a conversation with the driver.

The horse trailer was empty.

The driver was a man, heading to Donauworth, with his son.

They piled Laura and Gabi's bikes and gear into the horse trailer, tossed Laura and Gabi into the back of the car, and before Brent and I could say WTF, they were off down the road.

Brent and I rode the rest of the way to Donauworth.

The man dropped Laura and Gabi off right at the bike repair shop in Donauworth.

The bike repair shop had Laura's bike repaired before Brent and I even reached Donauworth.

I will never forget "Miracle Gabi" Day.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Waschfreunde, Where Are You When We Need You?

Cycling touring in Europe last year was the best, and most aromatic, time of my life.  By definition, when you're cycle touring, you haven't got a lot of clothing along.  Brent had essentially two outfits along: one to wear and one to switch into.  I had a little more than that, but not much more.  Good thing I don't mind being stinky!

We skipped merrily through Iceland without needing to do a load, and when we hit France we found it wonderfully civilized, with a laverie (laundromat) pretty much every place we went.

When we got to Germany, though, things started to get a little weird.  Every town we asked in apologized for not having a waschsalon (landromat) and it seemed that they were quite uncommon in Germany.  A few days in we reached Mannheim where we found out first waschsalon of Germany.  Mannheim is a university town, which is why they have one.

The Waschfreunde (wash friend) in Mannheim was a wonderful modern place with brand new machines and a very VERY attentive attendant.  She greeted us, showed us how the machines worked and proceeded to help us through the whole process.  It was like she thought we'd never used a laundromat before, and we suspected that most of her clientele hadn't.

The further east we went, the harder it got to find any kind of laundromat at all, and in most of the countries we visited, it just isn't done.  People own their own washing machine, and if they don't, they use their family or friends' washing machines.  We managed to find washing machines occasionally in campgrounds, and occasionally said washing machines were actually functional.  It was a pretty special day when we found a spot with a machine, even though most of the machines we encountered beyond France took up to three hours to wash one load.

In Germany we stayed at a very nice campground that had washers AND dryers.  What luxury!  We were vexed, though, to discover that the dryers didn't dry.  Eventually Brent figured out that there was a water reservoir on the machine that had to be emptied regularly (like, several times per load) in order for any drying to occur at all.  Very strange.

Occasionally we'd get too desperate for clean clothes to wait for our next chance encounter of a machine so we'd have to make "laundry wine" which involved stomping our dirty clothes into submission in the bathtub with some water and laundry soap.

When we reached Croatia, we not only found laundromats non-existent, we also found campgrounds non-existent.  For the first couple of weeks we stayed in hostels and "apartmani" (furnished short-term stay apartments) and once in a while we'd encounter a washing machine in our apartman.  I was, shall we say, disproportionately happy to discover a washing machine in our apartman in Rijeka.  As we reached the more touristy areas of Croatia, campgrounds became more plentiful, but washing machines were still scarce.  Quite often we'd resort to the "laundry wine" trick.

Even that didn't always work out, though.  We stayed in an apartman in Dubrovnik and we were beyond desperate to do some laundry.  The apartman complex had an extensive list of "rules" including visitors being strictly forbidden to wash clothes in their rooms.  They would happily provide a laundry service for €30 per load.  Yes, that's approximately $45CAD for a single wash.  We declined and I stealthily washed a couple of items anyway.

We've been back home now for four months and I'm still not over the shock of discovering how much clothing I own, nor the luxury of washing it, and smelling sweet, any old time I want.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Look Out pStyle, Here Comes Stadium Gal

I love the freedom my pStyle affords me.  I can pee standing up while outdoors, avoiding trying to squat in the snow or in heavy brush or in bug-infested places.  I can pee standing up in unsanitary long-drops and gas station washrooms.  There is no doubt the pStyle is my favorite gear.

On our recent trip to Loreto, one of our first outings was sport fishing on the Sea of Cortez.  I'd been looking forward to it ever since Legendary Ed and I started planning the trip.  He's been going on annual fishing trips since he turned 90 and I've always wanted to tag along.

We were introduced to a fantastic fishing guide named Juan.  Juan took us out for the morning in his panga.  One of his first orders of business was to have a whiz over the side of the boat.  I was envious as I was already feeling the urge too and I wondered how I'd fare out on the water in a panga for several hours.

We fished for skipjack.  We fished for yellowtail.  We fished for marlin.  We fished for roosterfish.  Brent and Ed caught fish.  I lost a fish, took photos and tried not to think about my bladder.

After we'd been out for a few hours, Juan took his second pee over the side of the boat and I decided I'd have to ask to do the same.  Before I had a chance to ask for myself, chivalrous Brent asked on my behalf.  Juan suggested that I squat over the side of the boat.  I wouldn't be able to do that, but I thought I could give the trusty pStyle a try.

I asked the men in the panga for some privacy and they looked the other way while I tried to use the pStyle off the front of the boat.  The side of the boat was too high, the boat was too floaty (yes, I understand that's a good quality in a boat), and I had stage fright.  To clarify, the side of the boat being too high is a problem because:

  1. If I got the exact right pressure on the pStyle, it was angled back towards myself instead of over the boat
  2. If I got the pStyle angled over the boat, it put too much pressure on my urethra for me to pee
After my first unsuccessful attempt, the men politely all moved and faced the other direction so that I could try peeing over the back of the boat, which isn't quite as tall as the front of the boat.  Alas, still no success.

For the rest of the trip, I suffered with my full bladder and vowed that I would find a solution to this problem asap.

One of our fellow villa-dwellers lent me his "pee bucket" for our second trip out, which was great.  I happily used the bucket and Ed even used the bucket once.

A pee bucket isn't the kind of long-term solution I was hoping for, though, so I decided to take another look at the Stadium Gal, which I've been aware of for a few years.  The Stadium Gal is the female version of the Stadium Pal, an external catheter designed for men to enjoy sporting events without having to interrupt their fun by getting up to pee.  

Now, reminiscent of my first foray into peeing standing up with the dreaded Whiz Easy, my Stadium Gal has arrived and is sitting, mockingly, in my office waiting for me to muster the courage to try it.  Soon, Stadium Gal.  Soon.