The ground blurred below the frame of my bike. There was no time to consider my thirst or hunger, only to escape these woods. I zigged and zagged to avoid potholes, somehow with precise accuracy, given the situation.
The only sounds I could hear was that of my heavy breathing, heart thumping, and the debris snapping below the weight of my wheels. I was waiting for my bike rack to snap at any moment, distributing my panniers across the forest road, but I couldn’t worry about imaginary scenarios at the moment. All my mind could focus on was escaping these woods in time.
Dave loves pretzels. One of our favorite happy hour snacks back home in Portland include two pints of beer from Hopworks Brewery and an order of pretzels.
So heading into the mecca of the twisted bread, the symbol for bakeries throughout Germany and Scandinavia, suffice it to say, Dave was on a pretzel mission. A pretzel a day, at minimum.
And it is pretzels that saved us from a rare, angry thunder and lightning storm. But I’m not talking about the yeasted, baked, salty kind of pretzel, I’m talking about an entirely different type of pretzel.
Scandinavia’s rain seemed to follow us into our first several days in Germany. Knowing we had a few days of riding before reaching Berlin, Dave and I spent a lazy morning debating whether or not to take a day off or brave the dark clouds off in the distance and press on. Ultimately, we decided to pack up our bags and continue our journey, saving our rest for another day.
There was little in terms of grocery options in between the small town we departed and our final destination for the day. After riding for several hours without food, our bellies began to growl and our pace slow. We were in need of calories, yet we were without a grocery store for another 20 kilometers.
With ominous clouds quickly approaching, I noticed a chalk sign on the building near where we paused that read “cafe.” Inside, we discovered an adorable restaurant that would make us a vegetarian plate, allowed Sora to sit with us at the table inside, provided free WiFi, and also supplied us with a variety of streusel options for dessert. It was all delicious and incredibly affordable.
We delighted in our discovery and waited out two bouts of heavy rain that passed while we refueled. Our trusty Norwegian weather app indicated blue skies ahead, so we continued on our way.
Riding along the Berlin-Copenhagen Bikeway, we had just entered a nature preserve. The route took us right through the woods, which made for two very contented Pacific Northwesterners. We cruised merrily through the trees, not minding the rocky and rooted dirt path.
Then, we heard a rumble.
Was that thunder? we wondered.
It couldn’t be. The trusty Norwegian weather app predicted clear skies. And the weather is always correct.
Then another rumble. Louder this time.
We were in the middle of the woods, with 8.5 kilometers until the next town and the thunder was getting louder, with some of the darkest clouds I’ve ever seen making their way in our direction.
With each clap of thunder, our pedal rotations increased as panic flowed through our body, propelling us away from this imminent storm. At five kilometers left to go, we noticed a wooden shelter.
Briefly, we discussed whether or not to ditch our bikes and hover in the shelter, or to get the hell out of the woods. We chose the latter.
Under his breath, Dave said, “They say you’re not supposed to try to outrun a storm.”
The intensity of the thunder grew and the clouds made their way closer, creating an eerie darkness in the already shaded woods.
Despite our heavy loads, our legs carried us over the bumpy road at a rapid clip. My adrenaline surging me forward, my mind vacant, containing only the thought of vacating these woods. I wasn’t thirsty, hungry, or tired, just on a mission to flee this storm.
Like the crack of a whip, another crash of thunder reverberated through the trees. Dave shouted at me, “go, go, go!” with such urgency that I thought he had seen something I had missed, like a bolt of lightening strike a nearby tree. Though I thought it impossible to pedal faster than I already had been, I somehow increased my speed and watched as the dirt below blurred below my feet, kicking back dirt and cracking twigs as I rolled along.
I surged ahead and realized that Dave was no longer behind me. I slowed and yelled “rickshaw!” our word that requires an echoed reply to indicate that the rider in back is within hearing distance. I heard only the sound of my heavy breathing and bike rattling as I awaited his response.
With the increasing thunder, I became feared that Dave and I had separated and a sickening feeling of dread flowed through me veins with the worry that he had been struck by lightning.
I looked back and screamed, louder this time, my desperation reverberating through the woods, drowned out by the roaring thunder.
This time I heard a garbled reply and saw the yellow rain covers of our panniers lead Dave’s way around a bend. Relieved, I slowed my pace and allowed Dave to catch up.
Please, please let us get out of here before this storm traps us inside, I willed to the universe.
Up ahead, on my left, I noticed a field. Great. An open field with nowhere to hide and nothing to take on the lightening other than our own rigs. Now we were really in trouble.
To make matters worse, the packed dirt turned to thick sand which slowed our speed to a crawl. The sludge stuck to our tires and caused us to fishtail as we continued our getaway.
Fearful of falling, I was about to unclip from my pedals and push my bike through the porridge, when I saw a house ahead, on the left, and a paved road just beyond. I couldn’t believe it. We were going to make it out and beat this storm.
We turned the corner and onto the road, stopping in front of the first house we saw. A German Shepherded guarded his home beyond the gate, his barking muted by the storm.
An older man emerged from his house and Dave, generally the more shy one of the two of us when it comes to asking for favors from strangers, yelled, asking if we could come in. He pointed to Sora’s trailer and shouted “hund, hund!” the German word for dog.
In what seemed like an instant, the man, whom we later learned spoke no English, opened a slot in the detached garage and his dog disappeared into the hole. He came over and opened the gate to let us inside. His wife came out to the porch to see the commotion. I ripped the handlebar bag containing my camera from my bike as Dave scooped Sora from the trailer.
The woman beckoned us into her home as the sky released its heavy bladder, announcing its arrival with a boom and flash of lightning. We narrowly avoided a baptism from the clouds as we barged our way inside.
In the chaos, the growth on Sora’s paw had begun to bleed heavily, and before another word of thanks or hello, I inquired about the toilet to find her some tissue. I then made a tourniquet with her battered Grateful Dead bandana to alleviate the bleeding.
The man asked if we would like coffee, which he prepared as we tended Sora’s cut. Once our pounding hearts settled and we recovered from the adrenaline, we said proper introductions, and learned their daughter and grandson were visiting. The child watched a Russian cartoon similar to Tom and Jerry, while the adults chatted in broken English and German.
We stayed for about an hour as two storms passed over the region. We were told storms are very rare in this typically dry region.
I noticed the calendar on the wall that displayed a photograph of two fox kits. I asked if foxes were common in the area. He replied by bringing me a new calendar, wrapped in plastic, and pointing to the photographer’s name, said, my son. His name was Andre Pretzel.
“Your last name is Pretzel?” I asked.
He nodded yes, with a grin.