BAUMHOLDER, Germany – When I accepted the offer to come work for the Army in Germany, I had visions of gallivanting across Europe every weekend.
Then, COVID-19 happened.
So, while I did get a couple of short trips in, it wasn’t until the recent Fourth of July weekend that I took my first trip through the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Outdoor Recreation.
After listening to a co-worker describe the intended trip, I decided to sign up for the All-Terrain Vehicle/Utility-Terrain Vehicle trip leaving from Baumholder on Independence Day.
I am old enough to have ridden the original red Honda 3-wheeler ATVs back in the 1970s, so I was looking forward to four-wheeling through the forests around Baumholder. But, because I signed up late, the quads were gone and I would be driving a utility vehicle.
The UTVs are perfect for two or three people (as long as you don’t mind being close). I thought I would be disappointed with the UTV. I wasn’t. I still had the wind in my face and still had that open-air feeling. The trip wasn’t just for single riders/drivers. There were several couples and a family of four, with a child seat, who rented a UTV with a back seat.
I had no idea where we were going and, most of the time, I had no idea where we were. The only forest trails I saw were as we sped past on the road. We were on pavement all day. It’s still foreign to me (no pun intended) for quads and UTVs to be street legal on major roads.
In the 90 minutes to our destination, we must have went through 15-20 villages. We received incredulous looks from people at crosswalks and from their driveways. I laughed at the looks of normal vehicle drivers after they decided to be nice and let the first quads turn in front of them, only to be held up as the next eight UTVs came rolling through like a parade.
UTVs don’t have power steering. Turning the UTV is more like wrestling a cow in the direction you want it to go. The tires grab the pavement in a turn and chirp when you make a turn. They feel top-heavy. It takes total concentration. Another rider, the aforementioned co-worker, almost wiped out his family and himself twice in a span of three seconds. It’s easy to start sightseeing, take a turn too tight and suddenly you’re staring at the Audi emblem on the hood of an oncoming car, over-correct and almost bounce off the guardrail. I’m not saying he did that but, he did that. However, you get used to it.
And, we weren’t just putt-putting down the road. Most of the roads had 70km speed limits and we easily did the speed limits, which, in an open-sided golf-cart-on-steroids, was exhilarating. I looked down at one point and saw I was doing 83 km, but only for a second.
Then, we were in a parking lot. Our ears still ringing from the motors and wind, our arms tired from jostling with our steeds, the guides said something about a castle and something about a town with great photo opportunities and great food. And, the group ambled down a cobblestone path through a tunnel of trees before the world opened up and we saw the castle Berg Landshut.
Many in the group properly oohed and awe-ed.
As we stepped out into the sunshine, we were able to see the real view, which was the steep vineyards that make up the Mosel wine valley dropping at a ridiculously steep angle to the Mosel River. The river splits the city of Bernkastel-Kues, which looks like it came straight off of a postcard.
It was quite an impressive surprise.
Berg Landshut was great to walk in as it sits perched on the side of the hill. The sun glinted off the tour boats far below. Traffic noise failed to reach up to the castle, so it was easy to imagine what life in the berg might have been like when it was built in the year 1247.
After all the photos were taken, it was time for the most difficult part of the trip; the steep walk back up to the parking lot. It’s no joke. It’s about two hundred yards, although it felt like 80 miles. Then, back in our UTVs, down switchback after switchback, through a tunnel and right into Bernkastel-Kues.
What a fantastic, this-is-what-you-expect-to-see-in-Germany town. You are encouraged to take in the sights of Bernkastel-Kues at your own leisure. We had about an hour and a half to do whatever we wanted. Many grabbed lunch at any of the numerous outdoor restaurants and toured the streets of the village.
Time passed quickly and it was time to head back to the vehicles and begin the drive back the Baumholder.
We took a different route back. Much of it along the Mosel. It was amazing. Yes, you have to pay attention to the road, but you can’t not look at the green vineyards towering above you on one side and the river full of history shining in the sun as it flowed on the opposite side. The tranquility only interrupted by an occasional car or motorcycle pack passing you.
Ninety minutes and another 20 villages or so later, we were back at Baumholder Outdoor Recreation. Our bodies vibrated and ears rang from the UTVs. Our arms sore from wrestling those machines around turns and our faces grimy and windblown.
I’ll do it again.
While going off on your own throughout Europe certainly has an appeal, don’t be afraid to take advantage of the tours offered through DFMWR Outdoor Recreation in Kaiserslautern and Baumholder. It’s well worth it.
Bring a jackets. Starting off in the mornings and riding in an open cab, it can be chilly.
Baumholder Outdoor Recreation offers the ATV/UTV trips every Saturday in July and August. The prices are $95 for the quads, $125 for the UTVs and $175 for the family truckster UTV. You must sign up before the trip. Outdoor Recreation pays for the gas for their vehicles.