The muddy track wound its way up a barren hill, the bitter wind turned westward and in our faces, the bike wheels became bogged in the mud … and she gave me the foulest look.
It had seemed like a good idea at the beginning: wind our way on quiet tracks following the banks of a stream as it bubbled its way to a larger river; turn to peddle along narrow country lanes with the wind on our back; make it to the intriguing Großhennersdorf, with its massive schloß-turned-orphanage-turned-retirement home. It used to be Hennersdorf, but at some time it simply grew too large, so the ‘groß’ was added.
Here almost 300 years ago the daughter of Count Zinzendorf (the local potentate, scion of royalty and spiritual leader of the Moravian Brethren) had established an orphanage; here the fabled count had visited, walking – or, more likely, riding along the old forest path between Herrnhut and Hennersdorf; here were ruins of great breweries and bakeries and a mill on the stream. Now a great sweeping road cut its way close by, making the journey by self-propelled motor machine between the two towns a matter of minutes – necessary of course in a world of speed.
We had come by a more round-about route, drifting gently downstream with the wind at our backs. The return entailed the opposite. At first it seemed bearable enough, for the bitter wind was broken up by the forest ahead, the gradient on the road persistent but not unbearable. In the forest itself, the road became even more acceptable, pleasant perhaps. But on the outskirts of Niederoderwitz we had to veer more directly homeward. The map called this road ‘Mittestraße’, the wide road to Birkmühle. The reality was a rough, muddy and steep track into the teeth of the wind.
The more we peddled, the more our wheels clogged with mud. We leaped off our bikes, or rather, we barely managed to avoid being thrown off our two-wheeled horses. With every step she cursed the wind, the mud, bicycles, the world and me … Colder it became, the sun was setting, our noses and eyes ran and the path through Ruppersdorf and Langsammer Tod (the ‘Slow Death’) seemed long indeed.
The step over the basalt threshold and into the warmth was never more welcome. Eventually hearts warmed too …