Bike Touring

Rolling on the river

Now coming at you live and loud from Aalen, Germany. Have covered a lot of ground since my last post, passing through Luxembourg, and deep into Germany. Been on the road the last 5 days without rest, so today I’m taking it easy, and not planning on doing much.

After Namur, I pushed through the drizzle to Bastogne, along some fairly major roads, although most had a little lane on the side for me. Bit of a long tough day, and I was glad to get into the shower. From there I visited the memorial to the American forces involved in the Battle of the Bulge – I was all alone there on a cold, grey morning – just a pity it was too early in the morning to visit the Historical Center.

Through Luxembourg I mainly followed some of the nice (and unexpected) bike paths. Old railway lines are always nice, with great gradients. I tracked down along the German border, along the Sauer river, before finally crossing over the next day, and taking the Mosel river to Trier.

Yet more rain out of Trier, along the Mosel, then up and over the Hunsruckhohe, to Fischbach. I had been seeing all these signs up on the bridges, indicating what speed tanks could go over the bridge, if they were only going one way, or both ways – I didn’t really understand why they were there, until in Fischbach a Polish woman married to an American soldier told me of the huge US Army bases in the area.

I then came down out of the hills, and onto the Rhine plain, where I camped for the first time. Was good to get the tent out, and to cook a meal on my little stove. The sleeping bag was warm and toasty, and the tent well withstood the wind and rain in the morning. Luckily the wind the next day was a tailwind, and I roared across the Rhine plain to Ludwigshafen.

Germany has many bike paths, some long ones across regions, others just shorter ones across towns. It’s easy when crossing a city to get mixed up, and that’s what I proceeded to do. It took me far longer than was really necessary to cross the Rhine – I knew it was right there, but couldn’t quite see it, or work out how to get across. Eventually I worked it out though. I wanted to stop in the middle and pee into the Rhine, ala Patton, but I didn’t think the local burgers would have taken too well to it.

From Mannheim I joined the Neckar bike path, following it up to the edge of the plain at Heidelberg, and into the hills. I was riding along the path, feeling pretty tired at the end of the day, and thinking about where to stop, when I just about rode into the river – the trail led to a ferry crossing. I’d missed the last one, and was faced with a choice of backtracking 10km, or heading up the narrow steep road, up out of the valley. For some foolish reason, I decided to head up the steep hill – probably took me 45 mins to get 5km up the road. From there it was a nice downhill back to the river, in the fading light, all to get perhaps 2km up the river Would have been much better back tracking, but such is hindsight. I met a nice guy the following day who often rides in the area, and he said even he sometimes misses the ferry, even though he knows the departure times – but he knew it was better to backtrack.

Further up the Neckar the following day, then I joined the Kocher path, which has taken me through to Aalen. A beautiful Sunday, the first real taste of spring, had nearly every German and his dog out on roller blades, bikes, Nordic walking, everything. So nice to see a country of active people, unlike the UK, where faced with a beautiful Sunday like that at the the start of spring, they would have driven to IKEA. My personal favourite was the pair of yummy mummies I saw on roller blades, pushing three-wheeled prams. One guy told me they’ve all had to adapt to roller-blading, since they couldn’t do any skiing this year.

So hopefully tomorrow I can reach Donauworth, then follow the Danube bike path for a fair way. Not sure exactly when I will next rest, perhaps Regensburg. Will see how the legs feel. Only my quads are sore, everything else seems OK, which is a good thing. No joint issues, only muscular soreness.

The beard is coming along well. A few days growth in France seemed to appeal to the French women, but now I seem to be attracting weirdos. Yesterday while waiting for the hostel to open, a guy came up and asked for a light. While hunting around for some matches, and talking to him, he suddenly let out this weird moan for about 20s, then resumed his conversation, as if nothing had happened. He sat down to smoke his cigarette, after fumbling with the matches, dropping most of them, and eventually throwing the pack away. He then sat there laughing to himself about nothing for a while, before shambling off.

I am enjoying being in a country where I can speak some of the language. I have had several conversations with people who don’t understand any English, which is no doubt helping my German. A lady yesterday said I spoke very good German, but I do think she was being polite.

Hope all is well out there in the world – things are great on the bike, although I am concerned about the snow forecast for later this week…


Getting into the swing of it

Well, that’s the first 500km knocked off. Set off a week ago from Greenwich, under a glorious late-winter clear sunny day. Had a nice escort out of London with a local touring group who were going for a ride along the Thames path. They stopped for coffee at Erith, and then I was on my own.

Pushing on down to Dover, I got picked up by the cops in Canterbury for riding somewhere I wasn’t supposed to. I thought I was following a bike path, but I guess not. Got off with a warning though. Got the ferry over to Calais, and after some fun riding in the dark with no lights, got a hotel. The campsite doesn’t open until Easter apparently.

Got a rip in my sidewall, so swapped over the rear tyre – thanks to those who convinced me to carry a spare tyre. Will try and pick up another spare in Germany I think.

I was going to cross France and direct into Germany, but after taking into account the wind forecast, I decided to head more north-east, and into Belgium. I’m in Namur now, and will try and make it to Bastogne tomorrow, before crossing Luxembourg, and into Germany.

Has been hard going for the first few days, but I’m starting to get into the swing of it, and it’s getting a little bit easier now. Another week or two and I should be good. I had thought I’d have more time to do some thinking, but it’s funny how you keep occupied with stuff like route planning, food and water, where to stop, etc.

Perhaps it will be different when I’m camping, and I can’t watch the French version of “Wheel of Fortune”. Not sure exactly why, but it has been compulsory viewing for me. Hopefully I can find a German equivalent shortly.


Beer and Chocolate

And waffles of course. Just a quick post about a recent trip to Bruges, in Belgium. I went with some good friends for a long weekend, via Eurostar. Definitely the way to travel – so much less hassle than flying anywhere. I like arriving in the centre of town, rather than some godforsaken industrial wasteland miles from the city.

I learnt several things about Belgium:

  • They understand nice dogs – this pleases me greatly, for it will make riding through there so much easier next year. All the dogs were nice friendly breeds, well kept. I think I equate that with nice people. It’s the f**kwits who want ugly fighting dogs.
  • They love their rotisserie chicken – I don’t believe I have ever seen so many chickens being rotisserised at one point, as at the market in Bruges.
  • You can drink copious quantities of Belgian beer without suffering from a hangover, provided you get enough sleep. 11-12 hours is good.

Work is ticking along well – I’m really enjoying my current contract. The only thing that is killing me is the commute – I spend between 3.5 and 5 hours commuting every day, depending on how Thameslink is feeling today. I was quite impressed by their effort today – it took us nearly half an hour to cover the distance that Southern manages to cover in about 7 minutes. I haven’t quite worked out why, but for some reason there is a train pecking order, and Thameslink is the very bottom of the heap. Frequently trains stop – not at a station – for no apparent reason. Some times they roar along, proving they can go fast. Other times they just trundle along at about walking pace. My personal favourite is when we are forced to stop at a station to let other trains go past…but we don’t let anyone on! I also can’t work out why we trundle through stations when other trains fly through, barely slowing down.

Oh well. Less than 7 weeks to go, and then I’m going to go to NZ for 2-3 weeks, before coming back up this way, to set off home again…the slow way