After nowhere near the requisite 9 hours of sleep, our kind hosts gave us a ride into Ulm this morning, where we did the final stuff trade-off with Andrew’s parents and then saw them and Zeke off to the train station. These goodbyes are really getting old! Only one more, next week in Bregenz, and the next time we meet after that they will be in a camper van and track the whole distance with us through Italy.
We took one last turn through Ulm—Luther surely would have seen the Rathaus and the Geschwörhaus, both of which were built before the 16th century—and then headed down the bike path along the Iller River. It was one of our first clues that we are approaching the Alps; the Iller flows north, contrary to our direction, coming as it does out of the Alps, which also means it’s prone to flooding during the spring melts. Another clue was the sudden appearance of birch trees, which require a fairly cool climate. Until we get into Italy, the climate is going to get cooler the farther south we go, not warmer.
In the town of Senden we left the path for a bit to seek out a grocery store and eat a bite of lunch. So as not to retrace our steps we tried to take a shortcut (har, har) but this time the outcome was beautifully serendipitous—an elderly couple hailed us lost-looking pilgrims and asked where we were bound. “Ah, pious Catholics!” he said. “Nope, pious Lutherans!” we replied. We explained our purpose and they smiled—he’s Lutheran, she’s Catholic, and as I mentioned yesterday, “mixed” marriages are the seedbed of ecumenism! They invited us for coffee so we got to visit one of the many garden plots you see all over Europe on the edges of town. Horst and Rosemarie’s was in pristine order, full of flowers (espeically marigolds), with a darling little house.
We noticed once again how quickly “the war” (always World War II) comes up in conversation. Horst grew up in Silesia, what’s now Poland, and had to flee west into Germany when he was 13, the flight lasting a whole 3 months. They told us all about their family and their bees and how after Horst spent his career installing televisions they threw theirs out—“Every hour in front of the TV is an hour of your life lost.” Not owning a TV ourselves, we were pleased to find such kindred spirits in such an unlikely way! After loading us up with a jar of their own honey and cherry tomatoes picked right off the vine, they walked us the whole way back to our correct path, a mercy indeed. As one of our readers commented, in accepting hospitality we can find ourselves entertained by angels unawares.
That was the highlight of the day all right. What followed was a three hour march through a long green tunnel, the continuing bike path along the Iller, with the river itself blocked from sight most of the way. It’s amazing how numbingly dull pilgrimage can get when there is nothing to look at. Without scenery and ever more keenly missing my books, I got downright restive. Once I even found myself thinking, OK, my mind is clear of distractions, how about some profound spiritual insight, huh?!—though most assuredly spiritual insight does not arrive in that fashion. The one welcome interruption was another couple cycling past us who were so intrigued at our response to the question “Where are you headed?” that they stopped and chatted with us for awhile. We finally got into a campground at 7 and installed ourselves in a cute little wooden bungalow. It will definitely be an early night.