Tuesday, 31 August 2010

10/11-08-2010 : Vienna Rest Days : 19km

In the morning, Milans gives us breakfast. What a host. I wish I spoke more Serbian because it would be nice to express my appreciation in his language. Mihailo assures me that I know all the important words: coffee, beer, water, thank you, cheers ... and an untranslatable (but excellent) swear word.

We spend a few hours in Milans's van helping him move various bits of junk and furniture around the city. Some of this time I spend bouncing around in the back because there is nowhere for me to sit up front. This experience was a regular feature of my childhood and the memories come flooding back. Now, as then, it's like being on a really low budget city tour bus, without narration, and where the open top seating has been exchanged for a semi-obstructed pain of dirty glass. Today, I find it's a very small price to pay for our B&B and I'm happy to do it. The best I can say about my similar childhood experiences is that I don't recall feeling obliged to pay for my B&B.

Milans drops us downtown and we fall into a funky coffee shop. I sample a variety of green teas while Mihailo goes to apologise to Eva who he recognises as the girl from the cyber cafe nearby. They both join me and several hours pass with good coffee and even better conversation. Eva has lived in Austria all of her 19 years and most of that time has been spent in Vienna. I am very interested to hear her thoughts on life in this city. She seems much more politically aware than I was at that age and speaks passionately about her views which we discuss for some considerable time. Interestingly, she is for Austrian independence and against a united Europe. We all arrange to meet up again tomorrow when she finishes work.

After the cafe, we take another mini tour with Gane then go to meet Dan and Claire. Stocked with cold beers and crisps the five of us head to the Stadt Park where we sit for hours drinking and chatting. I play some rusty guitar and we sing some songs. Everyone has a go on the harmonicas. Impressively, Claire becomes an expert at note bending after only a few goes!

Dan and Claire tell us they are both climbers and talking with them, I feel a strong urge to dust off my own climbing shoes. As the light abates, we head to a restaurant for schnitzel and pitchers of beer. Everyone is great company and it has been a good, relaxing day. I think we could all talk long into the night but sadly, our host Milan needs to let us in when we get back. So earlier than we would wish, Mihailo and I amble through the streets and tram surf back to Milans's place.

I smile for a while through more incomprehensible Serbian chatter. Slowly, the odd word is becoming familiar.

Another night with a mattress that doesn't deflate!

Remember not to say please and thank you!

After breakfast, I borrow Mihailo's laptop and head off to my favourite coffee shop. As I ask for my coffee with a 'please' and offer 'thanks' when it arrives, my thoughts drift off to my new Serbian friend. In his attempt to make me more 'Serbian', Mihailo tells me not to say 'please' and 'thank you' all the time. Unfortunately, I think this behaviour was bonded to me at an elementary level and I have recently learned that it will take some shifting. So any 'Serbian' conversion (no matter how voluntary on my part) will be a slow one because I find it hard to stop uttering automatic 'pleases' and 'thank yous' all over the place.

Maybe it might work better the other way around as I am often surprised to discover that Mihailo isn't 'English'. For example, if he needs anything, Mihailo will almost always ask for it without a 'please', and then accept it without a 'thank you'. My initial reaction when I experience this is "Huh. That's a bit rude!" - forgetting completely that the Serbians I have met don't appear to be bound by such trivial politeness. It seems that in Serbia, when you are with a friend, there is no need to say such things. It's always implied. In fact, to keep proffering 'pleases' and 'thank yous' is to suggest that the two of you are not such close friends after all and the relationship is purely a formal one. It sort of makes sense really. I may experiment with this when I return home ... but in the meantime, thank you for reading!

After the coffee shop, I head out on my bike to explore Vienna in greater depth. I really enjoy riding through cities. It always galvanises my view that the bicycle is the ultimate machine. My geeky side has always enjoyed map reading and navigation so I create a need for the map by getting myself lost intentionally (figure that one out!).

It would appear that either I am following sports events through Europe or they are following me. In Vienna, Moto GP is on and many of the streets are closed off. The race isn't actually taking place in the city but crowds have gathered to watch it on huge, outdoor TV screens strategically positioned in parks and squares throughout the city. The race isn't starting until later but I come across one such TV screen with its crowd swelling in the afternoon sun. Austrian beauties in minimal sponsored Lycra stalk the crowd so I decide to linger for a while :-).

Where was I? Ah yes, Lycra lingering done, my exploration takes me onwards to the Museum quarter. This is a wonderful and vast area littered with gardens and statues. It is a joy to walk through and I could spend days here. So, I opt for an unsuccessful hunt for a camping shop and then return to my coffee shop to utilise their WiFi once again and update my blog. The music is chilled. I munch on focaccia and slurp vanilla mochaccino (roughing it as ever then!!). Mihailo pops in to say 'Hello' and then goes to meet his Serbian friend Tica, who is studying architecture here. I must say, Vienna is a very suitable place to study architecture!

Caffeine levels rising, I move on to green tea. Hours pass. Mihailo returns with Eva to join me and I abandon the blog to chat. Eva suggests she could show us some sights of the city that we've missed and off we go. Later, we all head for a bar to meet Tica and her friend Jovana. Another evening passes in the midst of great company.

After too many beers to be in control of a bicycle (by Austrian law at least) I make my way back to Milans's while Mihailo gets the tram.

I am going to miss Vienna, it's been a welcome break from the road and I never thought we'd be able to stay here for free (thank you, thank you Milans!). I feel strangely attached to the place. Much like with my visit to Prague, while the architecture and history is great to see, I know that it's the company kept and connections made that I will remember and cherish.

Making the most of my last night with a mattress, I listen to music until 2.00am. I find myself irritated at not being able to remember lyrics, which doesn't make for such entertaining sing along sessions - the curse of playing lead guitar.

I suspect we will not be up at 6.00am as planned.


Monday, 30 August 2010

09-08-2010 : Tulln to Vienna : 37k

Returning from the 'land of nod' around 07.00 (quite early for us), I notice that I slept right through for the first time on the trip.

After breakfast, we pack up under light rain. It doesn't look like it's here to stay so I don't bother with any rain gear. Ah ... the rain. The only time Mihailo and I really have a difference of opinion is around the topic of rain. That is, I hate not to do something because of the rain. Mihailo likes to wait until it stops. I suppose that if I think back to the Eagle's Nest day (which was the last time we didn't do something because of the rain) the whole thing would have been pretty pointless given that our main aim was to see the view and this was completely obscured. Perhaps it's something to do with country of origin? Serbia sees comparatively little rain so it probably makes sense that Mihailo prefers to wait for it to stop. But in England, I see so much of it that if I waited until it stopped, I'd never do anything. In the compromise stakes, I think we're doing fine. I missed out on the Eagle's Nest but then Mihailo is sometimes happy to dress up in (occasionally orange) plastic bags so that he can bear to cycle in the rain.

I smile to myself as we set off (it's raining) and make a mental note that my weather experience is all part and parcel of the trip. It seems it's up to me to adjust accordingly. I just hope I can remember this when it's 40 above in Iran and 40 below in China!

After a while, we stop at a Spar shop for breakfast. I calculate that I just nailed over 2000 calories - awsome! Seriously, if you like your food, get into cycle touring and eat whatever you like guilt free. Having said this, I recognise that by eating huge quantities of jam sandwiches I am doing exactly that and acknowledge that my teeth may fall out of my head a few months down the line!

With breakfast sorted, we roll on down the river through the outskirts of Vienna. I soon notice that Vienna appears home to the most talented graffiti artists I've ever seen. The graffiti is actually nice to look at.

We stop and ask for directions to a particular street where we intend to meet Mihailo's friend Gane. Not for the first time, the guy we ask happens to be Serbian. Those Serbs get everywhere. We follow his directions and once there, find a nice cafe for a green tea while we wait for Gane. I take the opportunity to nip into the Hilton next to the cafe for a 'not so wild' poo noticing that I am surrounded by suits, boots and elegant dresses. I don't exactly blend in.

When Gane arrives, he is not sure if he can sort somewhere for us to stay but reckons we can figure that out later. We make arrangements to catch up with him early evening. Mihailo and I then head off to the tourist information office to stock up with a fresh supply of maps.

Next, we head for a cyber cafe. The price of getting online takes some swallowing but I decide to crack on with a serious blog session anyway. While blogging, I get chatting to two guys next to me from England, Doug and David. Turns out they are on an inter-railing tour of Europe.

Meandering through Cyberspace, I lose track of time and recieve a bill for 32 euros! Unfortunately, there is some confusion and Mihailo is charged exactly the same even though he arranged to use his own laptop just to upload a few files via their WiFi. To add to the confusion, there has been a change of staff and he is now dealing with a different person behind the counter. She is just caught in the middle. Mihailo doesn't want to make trouble for her but her boss is on the phone and being difficult. In this situation I would probably just pay - though I accept this is perhaps not the right thing to do.

Dan and Claire (from Linz) recongnise my bike outside and stroll in to say 'Hello'. We laugh at the coincidence. They then disappear off to get some food and explore. Meanwhile, Mihailo's argument is still continuing so I go outside and talk to my friend Mongy on the phone.

As Mongy and I say goodbye, Gane returns to tell us he hasn't been able to find anywhere for us to stay. I notice it's now 8 o'clock. While I'm wondering if the hostel will be full as it was in Salzburg, Gane gets chatting to two guys leaving a building a few doors down. He asks them about places to stay. The conversation continues for some time and I'm unable to follow it but I quickly realise that once again, our new friends are Serbian (told you they get everywhere).

Having sorted his issues with the cyber cafe, Mihailo comes to join in the conversation. After a little more chatter, it appears that we now don't require a hostel at all as one of the men (Milans) has offered us a bed at his place. I can't fault the Serbian friendliness and hospitality. We have only just met this chap and he's happy to offer us the shelter of his home! Sorted.

Later, during a mini tour of the beautiful city with Gane, we bump into Dan and Claire yet again!

Afterwards, Milaiho and I head away from the centre on our way to to Milans's house which we find quiet easily. When we get there, we discover that we each have a bed. What a bonus!

Saturday, 28 August 2010


More wandering around Salzburg in the morning. Lots of nooks and crannies in which to get lost so I do just that. I can't afford the museum so continue to wander the streets like a vagrant until I find an internet cafe. I see a cool place called the 'Afro Cafe'. It has very funky decor and serves a vast array of teas and coffees. It turns out to be a nice place to read a paper and dodge the rain for a while. This is very welcome as we have a tough day ahead if we are to get to our accommodation in Linz around 140km away.

We leave Salzburg at 12:30 and follow the bank of lake Attersee. Even in the grey cloud, the water is the kind of blue you'd expect from a Caribbean beach. It looks amazing and I'm itching to go for a swim. Many campsites litter the shoreline and I'm gutted we don't have time to stop. I get a sensation that perhaps mine and Mihailo's trips are ill matched but I remind myself that had I continued on alone I would have missed the experience anyway. As I spend a little time pondering my detour decision, I decide the positives outweigh the negatives many times over.

At 17:00 we take a quick lunch break knowing that there's 90km left to cover. Afterwards, we get off to a great pace. Assisted somewhat by a tailwind, we are able to ride at over 30kph. This is great as it gives you a feeling of being much fitter than you actually are. We stop to call our potential host in Linz and get some bad news. She can't, or doesn't want to host us. She is after all a contact of a contact rather than someone we know personally. Pity, I was quite excited about sleeping in a Serbian church!

We ride on from Vocklabruck making the most of the assisting wind. Then after a while we stop to take some photos. The barren remains of this season's wheat fields extend all the way to the horizon where the remnants of the Alps disappear up into the clouds. The wind that's been pushing us all day is moving the clouds at an impressive pace and we take a moment to appreciate the scene before us.

We reflect on the day, which has been a good one. Funny how our mood can be coloured by the direction of the wind. I find I'm also excited by the prospect of wild camping again later. Wild camping is several steps removed from arriving in a town without a hotel booking and going in search of a bed. Seeking out the most suitable location to camp and weighing up all the factors involved can be challenging but quite good fun. Every night is a new learning experience:
  • What's the proximity to houses/roads?
  • How deep is the grass? (surprising how wet you can get walking through long grass on a dewy morn)
  • What's the ground like? (plants, rocks and roots make for an uncomfortable night)
  • Where's the wind coming from?
  • Are there any trees for shelter if the wind/rain direction doesn't suit?
  • Am I in a hollow that will fill with water if it rains? (you only make this mistake once)
  • Will my 'wild poo' be discovered?

We press on for a while longer. The rain has turned the road to a glossy black strip through the countryside. Advanced porous tarmacadam has yet to find it's way to this part of Austria. During a piss stop down a little country lane, we decide the location could prove suitable for camping. We eventually settle on a track off the minor road which is covered with pine needles in various stages of decomposition. This will make for good insulation and a warm night.

Once we're setup, I use the last of the light to have a wander through the woods. After only 100m or so I come to an animal feeder - an odd location for such a thing, given that I'm in the middle of a pine forest! The feeder is still in use because I notice it's surrounded by animal poop. (Check out Sherlock here! Sadly, my country upbringing lets me down as I am unable to specify either the species, the age of the shit or indeed the direction in which the 'shitee' left. All in good time hey!)

Back at camp, we adopt a new technique with Mihailo's shelter, suspending the tarp from trees and setting up the inner tent underneath. It would look quite 'Survival' if the tarp was Cammo rather than Sky Blue. I heat some calorific tins on the stove. We eat in the dark and then head off to bed. I've always been crap at going to sleep so I lie in my tent staring into the infinite black...

After a little while, I hear a noise!! "What the fuck was that!!" I whisper (to myself as much as anyone else). It's clear that it's an animal and it's not too far from my tent. It scares me a lot because I can't tell what it is. My country upbringing fails me again because it's like no sound I have heard before. Back home, I live near to a copse and am quite used to hearing various animals eating, fighting and shagging. But having never heard such a noise I quiver, not feeling quite so invincible in my thin nylon enclosure.

I don't quite know how to describe the noise but it isn't pleasant. I'm no Dr Dolittle but I can be sure it isn't an  "I'm happy...... Isn't my life great" sort of sound. It's more like "FFUUUCCCKKK!! I'm being attacked by a baddy... AAARRRRGGGGHH... Please don't kill me... PPLLLEAAASEE!!!". I hope you get the idea.

After a while, the noise sounds like it's moving further away and it eventually disappears. Unfortunately, by this time fear and imagination are operating in perfect harmony and rationale is taking a back seat. Now for the most part, I like to think I'm a pretty level headed type but you won't believe the hideous beasties my mind is creating and positioning just outside my tent. Fear is an interesting thing and wild camping brings you much closer to the natural world. That is, I feel much more in touch when I do it. So I guess to begin with, it must be surrounded by an air of vunerability which I suspect will be diluted by time.

The frightening sound saga happens once more in the night. To be honest, I couldn't tell if I'd been to sleep in between or not (it didn't feel like it). I was however certain that not enough time had elapsed yet for the fear to be diluted in any way!

Distance 115km

I wake up to rain after my night of fun. Mihailo is no fan of the rain and is somewhat reluctant to get going. I have no timescale so I'm happy to wait as well. He sits in his tent amazed that I am just standing around in the rain. Coming from a country as dry as Serbia, it probably makes sense to wait for the rain to stop. But I don't like to use rain as an excuse for inaction. We devour a box of cereal for breakfast and then make our way to Linz. I ask Mihailo if he heard the animal noise. The git slept right through it!! Maybe I was dreaming?

In Linz, we try to contact our prospective host from last night as she did express an interest in showing us around. She doesn't answer so we explore of our own accord. Mihailo would like to get some Wifi and escape the rain. McDonald's it is then! Actually, it turns out their Wifi is pretty unreliable. Thankfully, the quality of their coffee and salty fries is more reliable. Still in McDonald's, we see two cycle tourists park their bikes next to ours and head inside. Dan and Claire are a recently married couple who are currently on sabbatical. They are cycling to Ethiopia from Scotland.

If you would like to follow their progress then here's a link to their blog:


We find some Wifi in an interesting building next to the tourist information office. The upper floors of the building appear to be for business use but the ground floor lobby area is visited by tourists. The reason for this is that the floor is covered by a huge, Google Maps style image of the city which is maybe 20m x 30m in size.

With our emailing done, we head back into the rain. Fuelled by hunger and rain, Mihailos is not in a great mood. I feel my own irritation rising also. Funny what an empty stomach can do to you! We decide to split up for a bit. I go to do the shopping while Mihailo bodges some waterproof cover for his legs. This consists of two plastic bags which are cut down the sides and secured around him with white electrical tape...   I like this guy!!

After laughing at his outrageous appearance, we head out of town and crack on down the bike path. The rain eases briefly so we snap some pictures next to the grim greyness of the Danube and eat some cookies.

I then discover an untapped seam of energy and lead the pace at 24kph (no tailwind) feeling like I would never need to stop. Unfortunately, because of my trailer, Mihailo is unable to draft behind me. He asks if we can drop the pace and we take it a bit easier. I think he's had a lull in energy today, perhaps because of the spirit crushing rain. By contrast, I'm as happy as a pig in shit. Maybe this is an advantage of living in rainy England. I observe that we both find it difficult not to ride at our maximum sustainable pace. I know that I particularly have struggled with that from the beginning.

At 20.00 we roll by a wooden hut seemingly for cycle tourists. One of the walls is covered with maps and information relating to the local area and its cycle paths. The hut itself is around 8' x 16', of wooden construction and has a flat concrete floor. Although we were hoping to get further tonight, we decide it makes a very reasonably priced hotel with the opportunity for a dry night's sleep. We unpack and check in. the hut's only disadvantage its that it is visible from the road. Every time a car passes, we shuffle to its corners and turn off our torches. After eating tins of stew in the dark, we settle down for an early night.

Distance 97km, Jam of choice: Plum

We wake early to a crisp morning. At various stages throughout the night, I remember hearing the hourly chimes of many of the local clocks. And thanks again to the lack of air in my mattress, I didn't get the best night's sleep. But mist is rising from the fields and the sky is cloudless. Today will be a good day. 

Once packed up and on our way, the 'Donau Radweg' signs make for easy navigation. This, coupled with our leisuely pace makes for a relaxing morning. We pass through a few towns but the majority of the morning's route is rural and the post-rain smell from the air that fills my lungs feels great.

At lunchtime we arrive at Melk. Good weather flatters most places and Melk is no exception. It really does seem worth the visit. We notice that a street basketball tournament is on using two courts in the middle of the main street. We work out that two teams of three are playing with one net. We don't stop quite long enough to work out what score they're playing to, or the duration of each game, but we notice the teams rotate quite quickly.

All around us, throngs of people are drinking beer and enjoying the sun while bars play chilled sunny hiphop. The place has a good vibe. But alas, we can't find either a WiFi connection or tourist information office so we move on out of town and on our way.

Still intent on scrumping success, I liberate some apples from a tree but they turn out to be slightly under ripe cooking apples - failed yet again! Later, we stop to snap some pics of a cool castle, which turns out to be owned by the Catholic church. As we're pulling off, I notice my trailer flailing around behing me. On closer inspection I see I've lost a rather integral bolt that holds the trailer chassis in place. At first I think the situation is terminal, but thanks to my rather generous collection of supplies, the problem is quickly fixed. Being handy with the spanner has been useful several times - and not just for me. Back in Linz, I helped a guy whose brakes were sticking. I not only fixed his problem but showed him how to sort things himself next time. And my good deed earlier today, was helping a lady who got her chain jammed in its guard.

By 16:30, we've done 100km. This could be a new record for me. Not for Mihailo though. He has only been riding a bike for one year but has already managed to fit in serveral big rides/tours each with daily distances in excess of 100km. As my position in the 'daily distance' pecking order is becoming established, he chooses this moment impart some of his biking wisdom:

"There is one good thing and one bad thing about cycle touring... When you return, you're so fit that you can fuck for hours. But because you haven't fucked for months, it lasts only five minutes!"
We laugh along for what seems to be several kilometres on our way towards Tulln. The journey seems to go on forever. This is probably because every 5km, we spot a  signpost indicating 12km to Tulln!

At last we arrive. The riverside area of the town is very nice. Many restaurants overlook the river and several float on it. Couples walk hand in hand silhouetted by the setting sun. As the two of us are not feeling particularly romantic, we just take the opportunity to fill our water  bottles and continue on with the Danube. Knowing that this will be my record day it seems like a good opportunity for me to push the pace. Side by side (and I imagine, silhouetted by the setting sun), we steam down the cycle path at 32kph. At this stage of the day, it's nice to know there's still something left in the tank - and it's quite good fun. I think we're both secretly quite competitive.

The path doesn't display many camping possibilities. The left bank drops 2m to the river and the right bank drops 10m to a road. Mihailo is also concerned about our proximity to residential areas but as we're now only 15km outside of Vienna, things are not likely to improve. We carry on in the last scraps of the day's light and eventually spot and area of river bank just big enough for two tents - perfect. I toy with the idea of christening my mosquito net but Mihailo reminds me of the dew in the morning so I chicken out and setup the tent instead. I had a monstrous pizza earlier so I don't feel the need for food. I opt instead for a gander down the riverbank and speak to Jess on the phone.

On my return to the tent, I spy what at first looks like the stars reflecting in the river. Upon closer inspection, I realise they are tiny insects glowing like tiny white LEDs. I give in to sleep easily this time...

Distance 165km, Jam: Plum, Music: Richard Thompson

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Alps, Austria and the Vinegar Strokes

I wake up to the sound of a roller blader with ski poles wizzing through the tunnel, I snooze again, another cyclist passes. I wonder what folks think when they see us....homeless? drunks? travellers? Guilty on all counts I think! The pack up happens a little quicker thanks to the lack of tent collapsing. We roll down hill for a few km's into Traustien where we take breakfast. I've converted Mihailo to the delights of the Jam Sandwich, I think together we will sample to whole spectrum of confitures. he tells me his Auntie makes the best Apricot Jam - I have to meet this lady.

We know we are heading for the Alps today and are somewhat concerned that we seem to be heading downhill, only slightly, but for perhaps 20 or 30 km's we cruise easily, a little too easily - I think we will pay dearly for the luxury. We constantly stop for photos I haven't seen the Alps for 10 years or so and never in the summer. Mihailo takes a great video of me cruising downhill through switchbacks and tunnels. I scream downhill and hit a new record of 83kph...I can taste the ton!! Soon Jimmy soon.

We reach the bottom, the sign reads 12% for 6km, nothing crazy but sufficient to get the legs burning I think. Having conquered the Black Forest I feel my climbing has progressed considerably, and while I may be along way off Himalayan fitness this hill, I can cope with. The last kilometer was though but music helped me through as it often does. I've decided to call the last few pedal strokes of any worthy opponent the "Vinegar Strokes" - the release at the end is not quite so ejaculatory by nature, but the felling of "yeeaaa I think my work here is done" is identical...if only I could roll over and go to sleep afterwards! We get to Bad Reichenhall, home of the Eagles Nest by mid afternoon. We attempt to ride up the hill - ha! At 24% it's just not possible which is a shame. It gave me a real appreciation for the energy required to heave 1000gk+ of car up the hill. I think if I took everything off the bike and maybe cycled up naked it would be possible, but Mihailo with his road biased gear ratios has no chance. We lock the bikes and get to walking. It's pissing it down for a change and Mihailo is not a happy chappy. We get misdirected several times on the way up which didn't help the situation. The owner of the last house we ask at meets us down the road in his car and montions for us to get in. My German isn't good enough to say 

"Actually, my intention is to use minimal amounts of carbon on this voyage and while I'm most grateful for the offer, in this instance I shall decline".

And "No" would have sounded pretty rude. I reluctantly get in, technically breaking my rule. It's not really a principle that makes sense to most folks I mention it to, I don't think I fully understand my motives. I guess I just want to see as much of this fascinating planet as possible, without denting it too much in the process. I never felt quite right cruising the beautiful welsh mountain trying to appreciate the glory of nature - while spewing Hydrocarbons from the exhaust of my motorbike. But anyway, best not get to preaching -  though I'm in the process of finding some additional reading for any interested in such matters...

So the rather nice guy gave us a lift up to the bus stop where we then have to get a bus to the top. Perhaps fortunately, we get chatting to a German couple who have been to the top, and thanks to the rain/fog seen S'F'A'. Dissapointed though I am, we make the decision to save our precious Euros and take their car back down - double fail!! They tell us that there is little at the top in terms of educational reading and fill us in on what was available, but really it's the kind of place to go for the view.

We snap some pics at the Austrian boarder - a new country 4 weeks in, sweet! We ask for directions into town though I feel I know the way. I don't know why I'm bothered by it so much, I don't even like to stop when we stop to ask - like the teenager who can't walk through town by their parents side. So, I've learned something about myself -  I really don't like asking for help!! Who knows, maybe after this Mihailo will be a kickass map reader/navi and I will be able to ask for help. One of an ever growing pile of reasons why our decision to pair up is a good one., I hope it's of use to him too! We ask again for directions and it turns out to be the right thing to do as we are just about to pass the centre of town. Salzburg is a beautiful city, even in the pissing rain. We snap some pics and get the tourist info. There's lots to see and Mihailo wants to spend the night. I'm reluctant despite having no real reason - only child wanting to swing his weight maybe?? I tend to forget that he is not so well equipped for a night in such weather, it really wouldn't be much for for him. We head to a youth hostel, time to pop my cherry then - something I've wanted to do for ages but never had any reaosn to do. We get 2x successful directions to the YH. We arrive and go to check in, they only have room for one and wont allow the other to crash on the floor or even pitch a tent outside! Kindly the receptionist rings another hostel which also has one space and I volunteer to ride to the otherside of town where my hostel awaits. It's a grim night, with heavy rain, I enjoy the ride all the same and Tom Waits provides a suitable soundtrack. I consider sleeping under one of the many bridges, I'm getting quite a taste for it, and Salzburg has plenty to choose from. I figure the youth hostel will be good fun, and a new experience. I lock up/dismantle my bike which seems to take for ever and head inside to check in. Anna my room-mate has also only just come in from the rain, she is from California and doing a few weeks inter-railing through Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Our other room mate is out already. I figure it's useful to get in early as this is when plans are made to hit the local town bars etc, the hostel is pretty quiet, it appears I missed the boat on this occasion. I inhale some kebab type thing from a very friendly Turkish guy and then go to sample Austrian beer. I don't get much beyond pleasentaries with the local drinkers thanks to my limited German. So I'm content to sit at a table made from tiny Jagermeister bottles drinking Gusser and listening to Johnny Cash. Back to the hostel and to a matress that doesn't go flat in the night.

Distance 96km, Jam: Apricot, Music: Tom Waits.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Germany and beyond

You wont be surprised to hear I had another lazy start, though the rest did feel good. It felt like hard work today, I couldn't quite get in the zone and find a pace I was happy with. I follow the river bank and come to a dead end. A monastery built into the cliff catches my eye, unfortunately it's surrounded by stall/cafes and is full of tourists - not my bag baby! I bump into my French friends from two nights previous, they have had more success scrumping than I and offer me plums, yum. They tell me there is a boat that takes you down river to Kelheim for 2 Euros, but they are crossing the river and riding the other bank for the day. I "umm and arr" for a while and then remember my rule. I am prepared to take public transport but the cirumstances much be pretty extreme - this is not the case today.

I head back the way I came and find an off road route, which keeps me entertained as my bike slips and slides through the mud. I get to Kelheim having forgotten that it's Sunday and thus I'm unable to stock up on food. I've also dropped off the main river route and have abit of fun getting out of town - I can feel a sulk coming on! I have to push my bike up a spirial staircase to get back on route. I take 5 and drink some water, it's a beautiful day and my mood lifts as quickly as it came.

I get into Regensburg and the campsite is sign posted from the path, bonus. I make my way through the park. There are lots of people around and there seems to be a running race on. I weave through the crowds and find the campsite. I have a wonder round and the owner follows after me "We are full!! There is no space, NO SPACE!!" I don't stress about this particularly, it's 15:00 so I have plenty of time to explore other options. I head into town to explore. It turns our the race is actually an "Ironman" - and ambition of mine ever since seeing them on Trans World Sport in the 90's. There is loads of support for the teams who are no into the running stage of the race. It also explains why the campsite was full. I find an internet cafe for some blog, and with that done I consider my options, I'd really like to stop here and see the city without all the people, but 60 Euros could go along way!! I decide to follow the river until I find a suitable place to stop, and if that happens to be close to the city I will return in the morning. I leave town heading Eastish with a mix of emotions. I have an unexplainable reluctance to wild camp, and this irritates me. I'm irritated that I can't get a cheap room, and irritated that my megre budget wont allow for hotels etc - so I'm irritated you gather. For a while I forget the intentions of this trip and what I hope to gain from it and wallow in the mud of my mood. Fortunately this doesn't last too long. It's so hard to stay pissed when the weather's nice! : ). While it would be great, I don't intend to sail through Europe on a tsunami of cakes beer and hotels.

I see a touring cyclist on the other side of the road, he montions a wave and I cross to have a chat. We quickly exchange trip details, he is coming from Belgrade Serbia (his home town) and doing a lap of Middle/Eastern Europe. For tonight we have the same intention, head out of town and sleep, I'm happy to be wild camping with company. On the way out of town he says "I have a proposition"

"Aye aye" (wheres this going, come back Franko all is forgiven)

" Come with me, you have time and no fixed route, when we camp tonight I will show you where I plan to go".

"Ya know what, that sounds good, I'm in!"

I shake hands with Mihailo and the deal is done, now we both travel with company. The decision to re-route feels very liberating, just what I'm after. 21.00 rolls around, we scoure the land for camping spots laughing and joking as we go, both quite excited and relieved to have company. Not used to riding with another Mihailo stops when he spies a field, I'm follwoing too close as I'm not used to it either! It takes a while to bring my (roughly) 130kg's to a stop, too long infact. I opt for the grassy embankment rather than the rear end of my new companion. Drop 6ft down through thick grass, over the bars and onto the floor in a giggling pile. "I vote we camp here!" And we do. Fortunately my guitar was fine as it was wearing my helemt at the time! Damn friendly these Germans, no sooner had I disappeared from view two or three cars stop to ask if I'm ok.

We set up camp and chat in the dark, I cook hot food which we eat with Mihailo's bread. He shows me his route, looks good fun, we get on well and I'm happy with my decision to deviate. I'm not sure I've picked the most appropriate riding partner though. He has a road bike with rear pannier and soaking wet might make 20kg's of luggage, on his biggest day he cycled 230km!!! "Oohhhhhh shit" Is all that comes to mind when he tells me this. Whereas I have a mountain bike and trailer with front and rear pannier racks, with food and water I guess my "rig" is around 50kg's minus bike and me. He's 28 and has lived in Belgrade all his life. He speaks great English and is happy to be able to practice. He has only been cycling for one year and has already racked up several big distance trips, pretty impessive huh!? His route goes South to Munich, onto the Alps and then Salzburg, up to the Donau to Linz, Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest and home to Belgrade. All before his sisters wedding on the 21st of this month. He has a super tight budget so in that respect we are well matched. I'm abit daunted by his daily distances - which regularly double mine, but figure I'll do my best and see how I get on, if it doesn't work out I can let him crack on. In the back of my mind I prepare to beat myself to death to keep up... : )

I go to sleep feeling good, the adventure seems to have moved up a gear.

Distance 91km

First day with a friend. Still daunted by his fitness somewhat, but he assures me not day is greater than 120km - I don't think I'll be doing 120km through the Alps, but we shall see. As Mihailo's first English friend I can't give a poor show, it's just not cricket! I try to stay aware of my body (particularly my knees), if I feel I'm burning out we may have to part company - my race being more af an ultra marathon than a sprint. That would be a shame though as we get on well and I get the feeling this will be an interesting chapter in my adventure. I think it will also throw up some additional challenges/test which is no bad thing either. I'm curious to see how I cope with the company, the sharing of decision making etc etc. I think at home I'm often happy to let someone else make the decisions and I can just go with the flow. Whereas on tour, I make all the decisions, or nothing happens. I like the fact that this makes me more independant and self sufficient, but I expect it also makes me more self centered and stubborn. Not often do I feel I lack independence, but I make a mental note to try and keep track of the rest.

We have very different approaches to our trips, but then I guess they are very different trips. Mihailo has a lightweight bike and minimal gear ( I hope I get the opportunity to describe just how minimal). No map, no compass, he smacks out the k's and asks people for directions everywhere. I think my approach is a little more "Joe Fraisier: Rumble In The Jungle" - The Slugger. My stout steed is built like a tank, and weighs about as much! It's built to take a beating carry all my gear along with several days of food and water. The compromise of which is reduced km per day. I have a map and a compass and I ask for nothing. Oh how noble of me! pfff!! So, I think it will be fun, interesting and difficult - all of which are a good thing.

We ride at a good pace together, both gently pushing each other along we tend to cruise at 24kph - faster than either of us would alone. I think when I was young I was one of those annoying kids who wanted to be at the front of everything. Front of the bus (I eventually caught on that the back was cooler), front of the queue for lunch, front of the group on daytrips with school - you get the idea, that little shit was me!

We take a late breakfast and have a most awsome feast, a loaf of bread disappeared with impressive speed. In Landshut we pinch some free wifi by teh river so Mihailo can email a contact and potential host in Munich. We eat a bunch of bananas and push on until 17.00 for a very late, and much needed lunch. Another epic feast done with we continue. We take a poo stop at a garage and fill up the water bottles. Disappointingly Mihailo isn't one for wild pooing, not a true traveller till you plop in a hole dug by your own hands - thats what I say : ) Some missed calls and messages on Mihailo's phone confirms that we have a place to stay, we prepare ourselves for the last 30 km's. Bizzarely after every break we have taken today it rains as soon as we hit the road. This time is no different, but the rain is more persistant, and through the last 10k's of industrial parks it's hammering it down. We sing at the top of our voices and laugh as we ride making the going abit easier. The advantages of travelling with compnay become apparent. We asks for directions far to many times for my taste, and get sent in various directions before we have seen one set of directions through to their conclusion. I cross a wet tram track and my front wheel drops in, SPLAT - for the second time in to days!! I just slide across the wet tarmac so no damage done. Unfortunaly one of the securing pins for my trailer has snapped and now it flails around behind me. We get to the train station and meet Marius there, we were abit late but fortunately he's still around. I throw my bags in his car and with an empty trailer my bike is road worthy. We follow his car through the city for 4km's and eventually arrive at his flat knackered and drenched. He sorts out a fair old feast for us including fresh baked pretzels, but most notably, beer, cold beer....heaven! We chat for hours, he's a top guy, and doing very well for himself here in Munich doing software development. He is 28 same as Mihailo and they have a mutual friend which is how we got to stay here. He has a fold out sofa which we get set up, Mihailo is in the spare room. We alternate showers with chatting until 2am and finish the night off with a watermelon fest' - good times. 

Distance 137km

Rest day in Munich, a lazy morning doing very little, allowing my body to recover I guess. I eat the leftover pretzels and enjoy the salty goodness, I dust off the guitar and noodle for a while. Around lunchtime I head out to explore. Mihailo is amazed that I would choose to get about by bike after the punishment of yesterday - I'm glad he's feeling it too, I had started to think he was a robot sent from the future, his mission being to cycle me to death!! I take the broken trailer and panniers and water off the bike. With all the weight off I feel like I'm trying to ride on the back of a frolicking spring lamb - it's all twitchey, responsive and quick! I ride through the Olympic Park which is beautifully landscaped. I have a slight sense of lostness but inspired by my new cycling buddy I ask my way!! I know!! I never never ask my way, maybe I am learning. Check me and my un-stubbornness!! In the right direction I come across an interent cafe, with "internet" being a recent world i tends not to be translated which suits me well. My German isn't progressing as much as I'd like. I have a blog session, get my bearings courtesy of Google Maps and head out to find a bike shop. Nothing turns up, however one clever fellow suggests I use a spoke, which he gives me for free! I go to a bar - can't not sample the beers!! I sit outside and chat to Mum and Bob on the phone. They want to send me some fancy device to make the blogging more convenient. At first I was dead set again the idea, my hope was to detatch from technology and become some kind of Ray Mears rip off. However I have an ipod, a mobile phone and digital camera - not exactly detatched is it! And I'm actually enjoying doing the blog, much more than I expected, so we'll see - perhaps I will give in, perhaps not. I'd like to spend less time in stuffy i-net cafes thats for sure!

I get back to the flat but no one is in so I have to wait. My friend Mongy calls and I speak to him and his girlfriend Sarah until my phone dies. He's planning to come out for a weekend, so I need to start planning for when and where. It turns out Sarah was in Vienna with work recently. It's a shame we missed each other! We could have shared a hotelroom courtesy of "Nom", with a sturdy bed for a good sshhhhaaa-night's sleep...I haven't had one of those in a while : ). Marius comes back with his Russian friend/collegue Demitrij, we get aquainted over a few beers and a rushed tea. We drink some home made Romanian spirit made from plums, it's very fragrant and wouldn't take many to have the desired affect. We head out to a CouchSurfing meet in a local bar. It seems quite a popular event with a very international crowd. I think you have to be fairly open minded to CouchSurf/host, and a bar full of such attitudes makes for a great night!! Marius orders the beer for me and picks some good stuff, I always did like my Wheat Beers. I chat with Emma from Finland who's in Munich for 3 months on a work placment, she's like Munich very much and I get some tips on what to see. Taylor is from Montana and in Munich as an Au pair, another fan of the city, he offers me a night on his couch but Mihailo has a tight schedule so reluctantly I decline. At the end of the night I catch Lizzie, her and a friend are backpakcing and couchsurfing from England. Amazingly she's a fellow Mark Baeumont fan and thus takes interst in my trip also. I wish I had found her eariler in the night - she's an animated story teller, but we have an early start tomorow to get to the Alps so make tracks around midnight. I decide I'd really like to get more involved in the CouchSurfing scene and consider slowing my process through Europe. We say our goodbyes having made some great contacts. Back at the flat we have another watermelon session and discuss our problem of getting out of the city. Dimitrij comes up with an interesting suggestion.

"Simple, you just ask for directions to the centre of town, and go the other way!"

Distance 13km (taking my total to over 2000)

Slow start to the day, I think we lost some momentum with the rest day. I do our laundery - first clean clothes of the trip! Normally I just shower with them on and then drop them and jump up and down in the shower. It works ok, but is like bailing out the Titannic with a coffee mug, eventually the smell doesn't wash out an it'S time to do it propperly. We make a start at noon, getting out of the city is slow and we both get frustrated. We find the country side and put in some good pace. I'm secretly pleased when we swap bikes and Mihailo cant get on with the wollowing caused by excess weight. We do a great pace, with Mihailo up front taking the wind i took in behing with the extra kg's. We snap our first views of the Alps on the way. We reach Chiemsee lake in the early evening, it's gorgeous. We hang around for some time, sitting on the brige or following the bank and just soaking up the scene before us. Mihailo has the excellent idea that we camp before the drop down into Traustein then we can caost down to breakfast in the morn. We hop on the cycle path as it allows a better views of the fields/woods. The path dips and goes under a road adn we immediately know this is the place. Dry and flat - about all you can ask for, ok maybe not all you can ask for, but all we need. We roll out the sleeping mats and eat dinner in the dark. Four cyclists roll through our bedroom with their lights on just as we settle into our sleeping bags - how rude!!

Distance 129km,  Artist of Choice: Eddie Vedder(acoustic), Jam of Choice: Apricot

Wow this took ages!! I really must get quicker!! Until next time....

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Germany (Teil Zwei)

After the afternoon of climbing I was decending gradually down to Horb all morning, a nice way to start the day! A few stretches had steeper decents and I was able to match my current top speed of 66kph. I wondered if aerodynamics were restricting me from going any quicker - time to tape up the seams on my panniers and pin the ears back maybe!? The decent continues and I see a sign indicating a 14% slope, know that my previous record was on a 9% my face cracks into a grin and I prepare myself for warpspeed. I push the pedals to see what the bike can do, I'm up into the 60's with ease but my gear ratio's wont allow allow for any more. My arse is back over the saddle and my chin all but resting on the bars and I hit 75kph (another laugh out loud moment), a sniff under 50mph which obvioulsy is my next target. I was doubly chuffed as the speed limit for the road was 70 - awesome!!

I stop at a supermarket on the way into Glatten for my lunch break and food stock up. Whilst sitting on the floor scoffing sandwiches I'm approadched by lady, I guess perhaps in her 60's. I explain that I only speak a little German and so the conversation continues in English, an ability I've found many Germans to have (and one I'm most envious of). She has a good look around my bike as I explain my route, she's impressed with my progress. She says goodbye and returns to her car, and I figure tells her waiting husband about my plans. As the leave the carpark she hands me 10 Euros and tell me to get some coffee to keep me going, I was shocked at their kindness, but most greatful. So if they stumble across my blog...

"Thanks Ellie, the coffee was great!" : )

I spent a while wondering round the town of Rottenburg, situated on the river Neckar it's a pretty town so I leave the bike and spend a while ambling through the streets with an icecream. I find a supercheap interent cafe so spend an hour or so there. It just so happens that the place is also a pizza delivery shack, 5 Euros for a monster slab of pizza see's tea taken care of! Though note to self - not a huge fan of Capers.

Blogging done I head to the campsite. It's really quiet, the Lady owner speaks no English, but my requests are simple and we manage just fine. She opens the bar just for me so I can have a beer too!! I'm liking Germany more and more! I make a start on my latest book Walden, I think I'm going to like it....

Distance 68km

I lie in until 09:30 - lazy boy!! I eat breakfast in the shelter of a gazebo as todays rain appears to be the persistent kind. I still havn't worked out wheather I'm best with or without rain gear, as I either get soaked form sweat or from rain. For now I conclude that I just need to keep warm, and generally while I'm on the bike that's not too difficult to achieve.

I struggled abit with directions today. The cycle paths are good but I get pissed of with having to go quite away off track simply to cross an intersection of main road. My time and energy is precious to me, I don't take kindly to wasting it - though I'm sure to some this whole thing is a grand time wasting exercise. After some experiamental cycling I discover I'm not too welcome on dual carriage ways. Wheather this is law or simply frustated motorists I don't know - but I take the hint regardless. I stop at a camping shop to perv on some matresses but they're very expensive. I pump mine up at night and it's not long before it's completely flat, it's only a matter of time before I have to splash the cash I think. When I get to the colder climates I will be in need of the warmth they can provide, so will have to get that sorted before I leave Europe. Coming out of Eningen I'm climbing in twists and turns, waterproofs come off despite the pissing rain, ipod on (Lynyrd Skynyrd this time), munch a few cookies, glug of water and away I go! Having not used the ipod for a few days I didn't feel the k's slipping by. Another 14% downhill but this time the roads are soaked and little with hairpin switchbacks, and thus I decide against a record attempt. I stop on one of the corners and go for a quick wonder through the woods. I discover my best view on the trip so far. A plaque tell me I'm 669m up and I can see for miles up and down the valley. Lush green hills everywhere disappear into UV haze. The town of Bad Urah is directly below me - and I mean directly. The crop of rock that I stand on is a huge overhanging cliff face, I prance around for a while trying to take some pictures that communicate the drop. I drop into town and then climb straight back out, squeeze another 10k's out of my legs and head for a campsite. It's pissing it down when I arrive, so I find a sheltered bench to write this and wait for a break in the weather - the break comes. Fin.

Distance 68km

Thunder wakes me at 6:15 and rain follows soon after, I need little in the way of excuses to go back so sleep. Snnnoooooooozze until 8:30 and it's 10:30 before I leave the site, I'm going to have to get quicker at this! It's a cooler day at 14C - most German campsites have a thermometer. The ride into Blauburen goes well, I stop there for cakes - what else! A cinnamon swirl takes my fancy, and I'm dissapointed to say it doesn't stand up to the might of the Starbucks offering. I head on to Ulm where I intend to pick up the river and spend the night. It's a big town and getting through the "burbs" and industrial parks takes a while. Not helped by the fact that I stopped at a bike shop. I take the plunge and invest in my derriere, my rather expensive Brooks saddle is not up my ergonomic street and my arse protests daily - and I think I ruined it with a soaking too many. 60 Euros gets me a Terry saddle, a name I've heard banded around by cycling tourists, though mainly in the US. It's raining heavily in Ulm, I muddle my way through the streets for a while then find the Donau (Danube). It doesn't hit me straight away, but after a moment I realise that this is my escort all the way to Bulgaria!! Crazy!! A kind lady takes my picture when she see's me attempting to balance my camera on a bench. As I'm pakcing my camera away to men stop to say hello. Horst and Helmut have alot of respect for my choice to go "solo". I don't know about choice - try finding someone to join you on such a trip, all friends and aquaintances seem to disappear into the woodwork!

Inspired by my first view of the Donau, conversations with strangers in Ulm and the potential for happy buttocks I head on up river - the blog/hostel will have to wait. The path along the Donau is great, just what I've been looking forward to! Great road surface and mainly flat makes for easy riding. I loose the path at the first town but eventually find it again. The Radwegs (cycleways) have been good in exercising my observation skills. Some signs are great - about the size of a number plate, green letters on white and with not too vague(for the most part) directional arrows. Then there are other signs, about the size of a postage stamp, and if your lucky the arrow hasn't faded away from continuous sun exposure. I blunder through Elchingen and onto the path which is now through dense woodland. On Cannock Chase they'd be classed as "fire roads", a firm well packed gravel bed wide enough for a car, they make for good cycling. I pop out into the town of Leipheim just west of Gunzburg. There's a campsite sign posted so I head towards - though I can feel the urge for a wild camp soon. At the moment I'm not riding late enough and giving in to fatigue.

Distance 76km

Reasonably early start to today after a chate with Veronique and Pierre two French cycle tourists who are on the last day of their trip. I follow the Donau path - sometimes through towns, sometimes on roads, and sometimes next to the river. It doesn't stay as tight to the banks as I pictured it, but hey, that's what you get when you do no research! The pathways through the woods tend to be my favourite sections. I come acrss an interesting seciton of woodland, almost swamplike in appearance. Odd trees, birch I think spring up from a spikey 2ft high carpet of grass. Sunlight penetrates the leafy canopy above illuminating single strands of grass like fibre optics - an eiry sight that I try my best to capture with the camera.

Just out of Gunzburg I follow signs for a campsite - which turns out to be more of a hotel/bar with a beer garden that they let you pitch-up in. Everything looks very groomed and tidy. I young waitress gives me the tour and I learn that their is a party on tonight, glad I have ear plugs then! I test the water to see if I might be able to crash, but this seems to be a bad move. Particularly when you consider my "dressed up" consists of my least smelly shirt and hiking boots - not much different from a night out in Stafford then!

There are three other campers and I get chatting to them. Tim, Andy and Cathy are from South Africa (love that accent) and they are on a 6/7 week tour of Europe. They are really friendly and tell me about some of their destinations and things that I mite like to check out. The Hotel owner brings some party for them as payment for moving their tent (to make room for their party guests). Andy brings some over for me while I set up my tent, a nice change form peanut butter - Thanks Andy!! : ) I take a shower and find an extra token on the floor, worth a heafty 3 Euro's I consider taking it for a refund but instead I offer it to Andy in exchange for the grub. He generously elects that his brother Tim needs it more than himself. 

A while later a trio of cyclists roll in. I recognise them from the campsite I was at the previous night, and they spot me also. I get chatting to Annick - who it turns out is keen to practice her English though it's very good already. She introduces me to her sister Marite and friend Jac. We exhange trip details, they are doing the Donau too. In 3 weeks stages each year. I fire up my stove and select my tin of choice - yes folks I've progressed to warm evening meals, how civilized! As I do this Annick invites me to join them for dinner. I don't need much selling on the idea and pot up my slop for tomorrow. It's fair to say this was a good call, Jac is a passionate and well practiced cook - he can make wonderful meals with merely a good knife, pan, pot and stove. The first course was grapes and cheese, wine of course, in glasses - of course! My first fresh vegetables of the trip were well recieved. A selection of cheeses and bread after this. They are sampling as many bread varieties as possible - much like me with my cakes. The light faded and we drank South African Red Tea and chatted in the light of their candles, it was a great night. Washing up was the least I could do, I went to be feeling inspired to get abit more creative with my cooking.

Distance 93km

A late getaway but it was good to chat some more with Tim, Andy and Cathy who by the end of the converstion had sold me on Cape Town - add that to the list. They also told me who won the World Cup, I'm sure some of you reading are appaled that three weeks after the event I was unaware of the outcome. It's been odd having no contact with the media, I'm quite looking forward to getting hold of a copy of the Times or similar.

My first rainless day in Germany, I was treated with some great views and some odd buildings too. Makes for good solar charging too! It's great cycling through random tiny villages for miles, away from the crowds and typical tourist attractions. I wouldn't say I've seen more of Germany because of this,but I've definately seen a different Germany, one that no package holiday or city break would allow. My first dog chase went well - and rightly so consider it was no bigger than a rat! The polar opposite of the Mastifs I'm told to expect in Turkey. No cakes today....shocker I know!! Just didn't go past a bakery. My temptation to do some "scrumping" grows daily as I'm constantly passing fields of root veg' and orchards. I push on all day boosting my avarage speed. I experiment with some "Low Cadence" cycling - which basically means I sit in a higher gear and do fewer pedal rotations per minute. I like it! It's more lung busting which is refreshing - I don't get out of breath often expect for on the big hills. Sadly it's also knee busting so I don't puch too hard as I can still feel something wrong with my left knee. I wanted to get to Regensburg today, but at 5:30 I've already done 84km so cop out and take a campsite in Nuestadt. I meet Arno there, a cycle tourist in his 50's with his wife. It's his first 3 week break in 11 years. He is envious of my extended time off, I am equally envious of his commitment to a career - for it appears I am not so inclined...He think I will be unsuccessful in getting to India, in his words "but I am a pessimist". "Fair enough dude...my glass is half full".

Distance 84km

Sunday, 1 August 2010


I didn't get started quite as early as I planned - is it me or is there a pattern emerging here!? I got chatting to a Swiss lady before I left the campsite, another cycle tourist, doing a stretch of the Rhine with her son. She has built her own trailer but wanted to know more about the B.O.B (that's my make of trailer if I haven't already mentioned. Then I head to central Strasbourg for a German map and phrasebook, so I can enter the Country feeling a little more prepared than I did for France.

There's a bridge for cyclists/walkers over the Rhine which is a cool way to cross the boarder, the weather is nice so I snap some shots of my exit from France. I pass over the river Kinzeg(I think) on a foot bridge and see what I assume to be a Terrapin - how cool!! So out comes the camera again.

I stop at Oberickh to get some food and camping info from the Tourist Office. Germany has a vast network of cyclepaths, nearly all of which are well sign posted and well maintained. I you were considering popping your cycle touring cherry, Germany is well worth your consideration. I make my way East to Oppenau, stop for a water break and study my map for a route through the Black Forest. Following some signs (that I now realise are off road routes) I climb steeply for 20 mins or so, by which point I am pissing sweat. The path get smaller smaller and eventually it dawns on me that I've cocked up. I have to break my rule on pushing too in order to turn the bike around - que monumental sulk...

It turns out that it's a difficult rule to break, allow me to explain. The bike I've built is designed for carrying heavy loads for long distances, a job which it's incredibly effecient at doing. The limiting factor in terms of gradients I can climb is grip, at which point I have to get off and push. But when I do I'm made aware of just how much load I'm carrying. Pushing the bike about 20 feet up a slippy path wiped me out. If I'm fortunate enough to get as far as the Himalayas, I'll be riding them all, pushing is just not possible.

But I digress...

So sulk done with I get my self on the right road, and leave Oppenau. I'm only 300 yards down the road when a cyclist stops me. My German at this point is still Kack, but I figure he asks me if I know where I'm going. Confidant that I do infact know this I say "Yes good fellow, for I am heading for Zuflucht!" He tells me that this is the most challenging cycle climb in Germany. "Ahh..." is all I can think to reply. Im told it climbs to 900 meters for the next 9km. It has featured twice in the German equivalent of the tour de France, and is considered to be a Grade/Class 1 climb. This means nothing to me. Though perhaps one of my lycra clad readers back home can enlighten me, nay us! As to the meaning of this??? He tells me he can do it in 45 minutes. "Riiiigght, I'd be best to allow two hours or so then!". He flashes a look over my gear and for the briefest of moments his expression betrays a "yea, and the rest pal". None the less I'm sold on the idea, on a good day it's possible to see all the way to Strasbourg, and it is indeed a good day!

I waste no further time and buckle down to the job at hand. I keep reminding myself to drink, and stop when I need to. But that's for wimps right!? : ) It's going well, I'm about 2km down, my breathing is steady as I grind away in my lowest gear. Thunder explodes above my head making me jump, and the rain begins to fall. "Come on then!! Let's have you!" Mother Nature hears my taunt and rain hits my body with surprising force. Small waves are running down the road under my wheels. At one hour I take a break in a sort of mountain shetler and eat my tea, it's nice to have a break from the rain. I consider stopping there for the night, I would be a cool place to sleep. It's a wooden shack with a flat dry floor and only forest for miles. Sadly it's only 5.30, and it would be really good to do this climb in one go, so I head out to face my foe and set the wheels spinning. Standing on the pedals I'm doing 3kph, I tell myself it's better than 2kph or 1, obvious I know but bizarrely I was comforted. The bike handles pretty shit at these speeds and I veer towards the barrierless drop so many times I lose count. 30 minutes pass and I come to a bend, there are several benches on the verge - I figure this would be where the views are if I wasn't surrounded by clouds. There's an un-manned fruit stall so I dig in to Blue Berries, Cherries, Plums and Apples, not wishing to bring about any bad karma I do of course leave a suitable dontation. With renued energy thanks to the influx of vitamins I crack on. Alomst unbelievably the ground gradually flattens out and I see a signpost for the next town. I roar a "COME ON!!!" to the clouds and rain and a few "Yeehaa"s for good measure! I'm so happy that I made it, and bang on the two hour mark.

The 10km downhill goes pretty quickly, and the rain picks up once more. 41kph, the cold is seeping in and I'm drenched head to toe. I use the rain peak of my jacket to keep the rain off my face. 51kph the rain begins to sting and the wind bites my exposed hands and face. 55kph I can't really see and so duck my head behind the bars. The gradiant eases and I'm freewheeling at 30k's, it's almost pleasant at this speed. Involuntarily I laugh out loud, unable to remember the last time I felt so "alive".

In a strange way I'm glad it was a monster hill(allegedly the worst) I'm glad it rained, I'm glad it was cold and I'm glad I didn't geet the view from the top. The accumulation of factors required I dig abit deeper in order to continue, the satisfaction from this is all the reward I need.

Campsite in the Black Forest by a tiny brook. Shower feels great, as does sleep.

Distance 76km.

I'd hoped to get more done in this session. I may come back to Regenburg tomorrow for more updates as I'll be leaving Germany in the next few days and have some cathing up to do. Right now I'm going to head down river and disappear into a bush for the night.

Until we meet again friends....

Just a note: I'm aware this blog is now be read by a few writers, both amature and professional, and by plenty of folks simply more achademically inclined than myself, and other who may simppply have an opinion on the matter....

If anyone has any tips/ CC regards the blog it would be much appreciated. The comments everyone leave are great for me to read, but if it can be improved/tweaked then all the better!! Or perhaps there are aspects of my journey you want to now more about, and aspects you don't care for so much. Anyway, get in touch!!