By Judy Steffes Special to Published Jun 11, 2008 at 11:25 AM

HEPPENHEIM, GERMANY -- Clocked in with 58 strong miles on Friday as a series of hills made up the distance between Swabisch Hall and Billigheim.

I took a lot of back roads today, which was nice but extremely hilly. Downhills were massive with speeds topping 40 miles an hour; wet roads made me cautious and often I strangled the brakes.

Up hills were killers, especially hauling about 80 pounds of gear.

Making good time and was almost to Mosbach when dark storms came up behind me and I was caught in a tiny town called Billigheim.

The church wasn't as friendly as Father Bernard in Buhlertahn. I took shelter from the downpour inside the butcher shop and just gave a shout out for any one who spoke English.

"Yeah," came a call from the corner. Christine was shopping with her two kids. The eight-week-old was in a basket and the three-year-old was dropping money out of her small coin purse. After the money went her circle of liverwurst. The five-second rule applied and she was no worse for wear.

Christine was in her late 20s; her English was awesome. She had worked as an au pair in Washington, D.C. for a year, and she had 10 years of English in school.

We paraded around the corner in the rain to her parent's grocery; Christine with the stroller, the little girl covered by her Winnie the Pooh umbrella and me pushing the bike.

No, Billigheim didn't have a youth hostel, camping or a hotel. However Christine was connected and she hooked me up with a room at St. Lukes, an old folks home, and I'd have the entire basement area to myself.

Geraldine Steineck was in charge and she made me feel at home with a towel for a shower and an invite to breakfast.

She understood my plight and rolled out the German red carpet.

I'm in the suite labeled Gruppenraum. It includes two hospital beds, a pair of couches and some chairs.

An old, blonde Grundig stereo sits in the corner. If you turn the dial to set the station a bar moves on a measure of notes. There are preset buttons up front with selections including jazz, sprache, wunschklang, orch and hi-fi.

It's old and I can't get it to work.

Neckar River

Left early the next morning for Mosbach and with the wonderful recommendation from a transplanted New Yorker, I follow the Neckar river trail to Heidelberg.

The paved trail winds directly along the Neckar. Turns are well marked, castles in small communities can be seen in the distance. A single euro will buy a ferry trip across the river at Zwingenberg and that's where I meet brothers Dieter and Manfred Strassburg.

Every year the pair take a week long bicycling vacation together. I hitch my wagon to theirs and we follow the river chatting about everything from politics to movies and music.

Their political views fall in line with much that I've already heard while in Germany which is Hilary seems cold and Obama has more of a world vibe.

Dieter is a chemical engineer and watches little television. Manfred has a 12-year-old son and has "TV viewing on the half hour," according to his brother.

"Married With Children" is one of Manfred's favorite shows along with "Dallas" and "Dynasty." Dieter watches the History Channel and favors "CSI."

Manfred's eyes light up when he talks about NASCAR. Jeff Gordon is his favorite and he also has a passion for Indy cars.

Kelly Clarkson is popular in Germany as is Brad Pitt and Bruce Willis. Britney Spears has fallen off the top of their charts and Amy Winehouse is known but comments about drugs follow and that leads to opinions about Lance Armstrong. "He had a lot of pharmaceutical help," said Manfred also admitting the German bikers have had their fare share of medical assistance.

The Strassburg brothers make my biking day easy. They map and I follow which takes a lot of stress out of the day.

We stop for photos at the oldest church along the Neckar; Ersheimer Kapelle was built in 773 and features mournful displays of religious figures in prayer as short soldiers stand above.

Inside the narrow church has faded paintings along the walls and ceilings. It's quiet and feels a sin to take a photo.

Back on the trail we wind our way into busy traffic and downtown Heidelberg; it's a tourist trap and the main street is teaming with pedestrian traffic surrounded on both sides by trendy shops, cafes and beggars.

At the end of the mile long walkway is a huge Woolworths.


Judy Steffes Special to

Judy is a Milwaukee native who is ever exploring the country. Her favorite mode of travel is her 21-speed, blue Centurion bicycle, which she bought after high school. Judy has worked in the local media for the past 20 years. "I need to do something to support my biking habit."

Judy has an extensive history in radio news, having worked at WISN, WUWM, WTMJ, WKTY in La Crosse and WBKV in West Bend. A strong interest in sports also had Judy reporting for ESPN Radio covering the Packers, Buck, Brewers and Badgers. "One of my first Brewer games at County Stadium the security guy yelled as I walked into the locker room ‘LADY IN THE LOCKER ROOM.’ Now it’s so commonplace. But that story makes me sound really old."

Judy is currently working at WISN-TV in Milwaukee. She is a freelance writer and her pieces have been seen in The Small Business Times and The Business Journal. Her travel journal has appeared in Minnesota Trails Magazine, The Statesman and the West Bend Daily News, to name a few.

Aside from biking, running and being active in her community, Judy is known as someone who is "very, very thrifty." "I get candles for Christmas. My friends call them my space heaters because I normally keep the heat in my house at 40 degrees during the winter. It’s not that I can’t afford to turn up the thermostat, I just hate paying for heat."

Judy said her "conservative attitude" plays a part in her bike tours ... not needing to pay for gas and frequently spending nights camping inside churches. "First of all, it makes me feel safe since I’m traveling alone and second all you’re doing is sleeping, so why pay for that. It’s no wonder I can’t ever get someone to travel with me."

Judy grew up in Whitefish Bay and graduated from Dominican High School and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Judy is the second oldest among seven siblings and spends a lot of her time working as a "park tester" along with her eight nieces and nephews.