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Losing the way


I’m a reluctant navigator.
For one thing, it’s a position that rarely has an upside. Navigate correctly, and you never get a pat on the back, but miss a turn and you don’t hear the end of it. While I don’t consider myself bad at directions I’m not at the head of the class, either.
That’s why I was happy to turn over the chore to Alan and July on our recent trip along the Danube River in Austria. They proved to be good leaders.
You’d think finding your way around on a journey like ours would be a snap. For one, you’re following a river. Just keep the water on your right. For another, the company we hired to book our accommodations and move the luggage also provided a detailed map and cue sheet. Easy-peasy, right? Wrong!
Once we got on the main trail, it was easy enough, although not always foolproof. There’s still the unexpected detour or a missed sign that sends you off the beaten path into parts unknown. And then there’s finding your hotel at the end of the day. A rule of thumb is the older the town, the more unruly the layout of the streets that run through it. Also, the hardest to navigate is at the end of the longest ride.
These both proved true on our ride into Enns, Austria. Not only was the day’s journey one of the longest, but it was the most difficult.
True to form, Enns is Austria’s oldest city. The Celts had a settlement here as early as 400 BC, and the Romans took it over circa 15 AD. The town’s official Austrian charter is dated 1212. None of the civilizations, no matter how great, could lay out a straight street. The last five miles into town were extremely confusing and it was the only time on the trip our group got separated. Eventually, we all made it and had a lovely dinner at an outdoor cafe on the town’s ancient square.
The next morning, everyone but me wanted to take a detour to the Mauthausen Concentration Camp.
Everyone should visit a concentration camp at least once. While stationed in Germany in the late 1970s, the Dachau Concentration Camp was nearby. I went there three times, once to see it myself and twice to show others. The Nazi horror is hard to describe. More than 200,000 people– men, women, children, priests, gypsies, Jews, homosexuals, etc.– were either murdered outright or killed through starvation and disease. Impossibly cruel tortures under the guise of medical experiments were performed. Ovens burnt the bodies and the ashes fell like snow on the streets of the nearby town.
That’s why I felt so disappointed in President Trump’s refusal to immediately and unequivocally condemn the white supremacists marching with the Nazi logo. While I stop short of calling Trump a Nazi, his actions make him, and his supporters, Nazi sympathizers.
In the town of Dachau, the locals looked the other way as trainload after trainload of people were shipped in like cattle. When the ashes fell, they swept.
But I digress.
So I opted out and found myself one foggy morning trying to navigate the spaghetti the locals call “strassen.” With the map in my mouth, my phone in one hand and a handlebar in the other I rolled cautiously in the general direction of the river.
After a half hour, the GPS bade me turn on a road leading to a small village. I obeyed and followed the route through the hamlet and out the other side where the road turned to gravel, then to dirt, then to tractor path, then to path. Along the way, the trail split several times and I chose the more beaten of the two. Then I lost cell service. Next, I came to a puddle too deep to ride through. I got off my bike and considered my options. It had been more than an hour since I left the small town and I wasn’t positive I could retrace my steps. Then a horsefly bit me on the back of my arm.
I sloshed through and pushed ahead. Just as I was about to stop again and write a farewell note to Sabra, I came over a small hill and there, dead ahead, was the Danube complete with the paved and marked bicycle path.
Sometimes, for the lack of a good leader, people lose their way.
Other times, entire nations.