The Anti-Fascist Trail (on a Brompton)

I have been focused for the last week or two on writing daily reports about the Anti-Fascist Trail – a bicycle ride for a month along the former ‘inner-German border’ between east and west Germany. Some call it the ‘Iron Curtain Trail’ or the ‘Green Band’, but a far better name is the Anti-Fascist Trail.

If you are interested, you can find the reports at Voyages on the Left. They say that the heart of Germany lies east of the Elbe River. If this is so, then East Germany was in the heart of Germany and this history is even more important in Germany today than it was even ten years ago.

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Riding the Anti-Fascist border route

Some like to call it the ‘Iron Curtain Trail’, a bicycle route running from the top of the Russian-Finnish border to the Black Sea.

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However, in the German parts there is a distinct reluctance to name the route in such a fashion. Every now and then, you may come across signs like this:

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But they are quite rare. Instead, you may find the ‘Green Belt Route’.

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Why the reluctance? German unity has always been a problem, as Engels analysed carefully in the 1880s. So no need to exacerbate differences. Another reason is that citizens of the former DDR object to the demonisation of their country by such a name. I would add that the author of the phrase ‘iron curtain’ was an extreme racist.

A far better name would be the ‘Anti-Fascist Route’. The reason: the border was in parts described in the same terms, representing a visible line preventing for a time NATO forces from moving further east.

And yes, we are currently riding the German part of the route, with the aim of riding most of the DDR’s border.

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The Molten Bitumen Ride

That was the hottest ride I have ever done: 420 km in 4 days, from Armidale (up north) to Newcastle. On the hottest day, the temperature topped 45 degrees. On the others, it hovered between the high 30s and low 40s. That’s hot enough to melt the bitumen under my tyres. Day after day, I heard the clicking sound of tyres running over globules of molten bitumen. I saw strips and spots of the shiny black stuff all over the road. And from time to time, I had to stop for a while, when my vision blurred and I became light headed – drinking copious amounts of water and getting my body temperature down to reasonable levels. Today, on the last day, it was a cool 36 degrees, but only because of the gale-force headwind.

It began with a glorious train journey to Armidale:

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More than twenty years ago I lived in this town, a university town up north. The railway line to Armidale had been reopened under a Labor government, but I never had the chance to take the train. Now I had that chance:

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Beside the glorious railway station, the Gospel Hall (Brethren) still does its thing:

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I checked out old haunts, when my kids were little. At the house where we lived, I was blown away by the fully grown pine trees. I had planted two of them 23 years ago, knowing that they were slow growing. I nurtured them as seedlings and now they are grand trees:

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After a night in my tent in Armidale (where it is cool, even in summer), I set off through through countryside I still love:

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That’s an old signalman’s cottage on the railway line. After rolling up and down through the tableland, I had the breath-taking drop down the Moonbi mountain:

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Only to come across one of the highlights of the ride: the Moonbi chook (chicken):

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I have told stories about this chook, which adorns the park in the village of Moonbi. The village, you see, is a chook growing centre. I never thought I would see the big chook again, but it has a fresh coat of paint and sits there still, sagely surveying its fellows busily popping out bumnuts. After a stop in Tamworth, which boasts guitar-shaped pools (it is the country music capital of Australia), I was able to indulge in my fascination with abandoned cottages in the midst of nowhere:

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While coming to terms with the fact that the only thing blocking the blazing sun was my body and my bicycle:

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My next stop was the magical Murrurundi, which is almost as magical as Newcastle, only smaller:

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I tend to judge a place on whether I could stay a while and write. Murrurundi is such a place:

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The next day was the real scorcher: 45 degrees over 120 km. I was busted by the end. But not before I became intrigued by the regular appearance of bottles on the side of the road, filled with bright yellow or orange liquid:

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Yes, it’s piss. Drivers – truckies or whoever – seem to enjoy pissing into a bottle and tossing it out of the window. After viewing quite a number, I came to the conclusion that they either need to drink more water or see a doctor – soon.

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On the last day, with its stiff headwind, I rode on a new section of freeway – the Hunter Expressway. While I lament the fact that the billions spent on such constructions could produce some wonderful railways, I am also fascinated by the engineering. Local Aborigines were part of the planning and construction, with place names and routes marked by song lines. The treatment of water courses means they are now cleaner than they were before. And along the route much concern was given to animals and their need to cross the road. Along here there was very little road kill, for tunnels and overhead passageways had been constructed for their passing. I was intrigued by the possum bridge at one point:

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Too soon does the ride come to an end, even if you are knackered. So I tarried long in Jesmond Brush, in Newcastle itself. I had an early dinner, lit a fire and boiled a billy for tea:

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But eventually I wound my way home.

Meat pies, bumnuts and mountains on the road to Canberra

Why is a long-distance bicycle tour always too short? A week seems way too short, since I still want to be on the road, pedalling to the next stop. Anyway, the ride to Canberra went through some serious mountains, with some climbs feeling like walls:

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Sometimes we had bitumen,

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sometimes not:

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But it is stunning countryside:

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At one point, the only food available in the one shop (a pub) was …

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Yes, chunky beef pies. We bought out the whole supply. By the time we arrived in Gunning, they also had bumnuts:

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Along the way, we stayed in pubs for next to nothing:

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At the end, I decided to introduce my grandson to the glory of bicycles:

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And then read him a bedtime story (ht cp):

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Try this for estimating your fitness

The Norwegian University of Science and Technology has come up with an easy way to measure what they call your fitness age – without having to exhaust yourself on a treadmill (with the same result). They have put the calculator here.

For me, the vital statistics are:

Male

How often do you exercise? Almost every day.

How long is your workout each time? 30 minutes or more.

How hard do your train? I go all out

Age: 52

What does your waistline measure in cm? 80

What is your resting pulse (per minute)? 46

Estimated fitness age: under 20!

My weekly budget: $50

Since the itchy-fingered DG challenged me to substantiate my claim that I live on no more than $50 a week in the very expensive Land of Oz, here is a standard weekly budget:

$2.25  – 1.5 bags of rolled oats

$3.00 – half a bag of powdered milk, used for both breakfast (oats) and home-made yoghurt

$2.20 – two home-made loaves of bread.

$2.80 – 500 g of cottage cheese

$1.00 – usage of jars of honey, peanut butter and vegemite

$2.00 – 750 g of brown rice

$1.15 – a kilogram bag of pasta, if I don’t make my own.

$3.60 – assorted fresh beans (red kidney, chickpeas etc) and cans of beans

$10.00 – fresh fruit and vegetables – in season and on special

$1.50 – toilet paper

$3.00 – my indulgence: coffee beans (decaf)

$5.50 – occasional items, such as soap, detergent, toothpaste etc.

$12.00 – Meal out, transport, bicycle maintenance, etc.

$50.00 total

As you can see, there’s considerable room for luxuries, such as coffee, eating out, etc.

Note that this does not include accommodation, utilities, and internet costs: $180 per week. That’s a total of $230 per week for a very comfortable life.

All this comprises one reason why I argue that most people working at universities are grossly overpaid.