Friday, 31 July 2015

Days 24-27: a summary

Day 24. Meerbusch - Wissel (95.4 km)
Up early this morning to beat the wind that had been forecast. The route was mostly along the flood wall between the Rhine and the interior, so was quite exposed to the (head)wind. Legs didn't want to get going and I struggled through to lunch like that.
Lunch was at a small restaurant in
Rheinberg: Spaghetti and chicken, with salad and a beer.
My legs finally started working after lunch and the day started to warm up.
The campsite in Wissel was massive, much like a small town, but I think there were only about 4 people in it.
Had a quiet night watching the stars.

Day 25. Wissel - Enspijk (114 km)
Another day riding into a headwind along the Rhine. Met a few people who took it upon themselves to see that I made it through the navigational spaghetti that the Rhine path threw u
p occasionally. Unknown to me, the path took some crazy dips and turns while the map showed a straight line. One elderly gentleman explained to me at length the complexities of one particular corner and how I could not afford to miss it. All in German. While SHOUTING!
I understood the jist of what he was saying and safely got through.
Another man rode with me for a few km's, pointing out all the bridges and signs and then, in the middle of a field, stopped, turned around and went home!
The campsite was even bigger than the one in Wissel the previous night. Loads of trailers and astroturf lawns, caravans and white picket fences. Little yappy dogs on long leads. Mobility scooters.
No tents.
Except mine.
The restaurant was closed so it was McDonald's for dinner...

Day 26. Enspijk - Hook van Holland (109 km)
Potentially the last day today.
The first half of the day wound through beautiful countryside, small villages and winding waterways.
The headwind was with me all day, softer at first but as I got closer to Rotterdam and the Hook of Holland, it strengthened. The clouds got heavier and lower and made the last few km's quite hard-going.
From Rotterdam to the Hook of Holland, the scenery is mostly dockyards, shipping containers and quite ugly. I think there are over 8000 different ports on this stretch of the Rhine/Waal/Lek (the name changes quite often)!
I was tiring quite a bit today, I was hungry when there wasn't any food about, I wasn't hungry when it was there - my body was suffering as a result. I just wanted to stop and sit and eat and do nothing!
As I neared the ferry I started trying to get a plan of action together: book ferry ticket tonight, go to campsite, have dinner, sleep.
Catching the ferry in the morning without worrying about the ticket was the plan, but when I was in the ticket hall at the ferry port, the clerk asked if I knew what the weather was about to do.
I said no, but could see that it was getting darker and had now started to rain.
The weather was about to get much worse, so I inquired about a ticket back to the UK that same night, leaving all plans of camping on the beach in the bin, along with a Clif bar wrapper.
On the ferry, the shower was amazingly hot and satisfying, the beer at the bar thirst-quenching and the food somewhat OK.
Sleep arrived on time. I don't think I had any dreams that night.

Day 27. Harwich - Home
A gentle bump stirred me awake, then the blaring PA announcement made sure there was no chance of going back to sleep.
We were back in the UK, in Harwich.
My trip was over.
I caught the train back to London, looking at the "smiling, happy people" confined to suits and ties, heading into work.
I knew then that what I had just finished was something special.

I felt free and relaxed and unburdened.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Days 16-23: a summary

Day 16. Landsberg-Am-Lech - Donauworth (98.3 km)
Another hot day today (36C), but the air feels cooler and cleaner following last nights thunder and rain.
Today was mostly flat and slightly downhill on average, following the river Lech.
Had a lovely swim in the river pre-lunch, clothing is very much optional in this part of the world. Lunch and shade in Augsburg - there is no breeze today, the air is still and the sun is baking.
On the way into Donauworth, a question from my elbow asked where I was heading. The ques
tion turned out to come from a man on a bike, who was heading to the local canoe club for a beer - he told me to follow him as I could camp on the lawn at the club.
He lead me into town, and then told me what route to take tomorrow, as it included some lovely castles.
(I keep getting this very useful information from people, without prompt.)
The campsite was cheap, the beers cheaper, and the company at the club amazing. One man was rowing a (tiny) boat back to Munich over the next 2 months, and two others where cycling to Austria.
The "Sous Afrika" got asked loads of questions about home, and got told many stories about their respective travels to Johannesburg in the mid-70s, looking for work.
The thunder clouds grew, the thunder rumbled and then the evening cleared, giving way to the killer mozzies waiting to devour you. Into the tent and batten down the hatches.

Day 17. Donauworth - Nordlingen (31 km)
The rain came early this morning, and it poured! The tent did its job but I was wide awake at 0537. The drumming of the rain on the flysheet was deafening.
Then the thunder and lightning started!
I have never been that frightened of lightning in my life, I normally enjoy a good thunder and lightning storm, but this was the closest I have ever been to being struck. My entire tent lit up in a bright flash, I started counting to work out how far away the strikes were. I had barely completed 'one-thous...' when the thunder rolled out, telling me the strike was about 200-300m away!
Frightening and exciting at the same time.
The rain continued to come down, but started to ease. I packed up my tent and moved all the wet gear under the canoe club where I could hang it. I had decided to hold off on my departure until the rain eased, giving me time to explore Donauworth and dry my gear as well.

I eventually left at lunchtime, by which time the rain had stopped but started again when I got to Harburg.
It proceeded to rain all the way to Nordlingen; cold, wet and windy it was. No campsite in town, stayed at the JUTA hostel (pricey), but the hot shower and good beers were worth it.
Met some Aussies at the bar, who were doing a similar route to mine, but going south as I was heading north.

Day 18. Nordlingen - Dorfgutingen (62 km)
Said goodbye to the Aussies at breakfast and headed out of town this morning after doing doing a lap of the walls surrounding Nordlingen. Met up with 3 Germans heading north as well, and was soon included in the group. We talked about bicycles, my Surly, their route, my route, and the surrounding countryside.
Ali (Alexander), Thomas and Yoshi had taken 5 days off work, left the wives and kids at home, and were exploring the countryside, wild camping each night. The route they were taking was well off the beaten track, so we saw deer in the woods, raced downhill 4 abreast, whooping as we went, and slogged uphill, discussing the demise of the local brewery. We stopped for beers (too) early in the day, had a hot 3-course lunch with more beer, and landed up spending the n
ight outside, but under a roof, next to a lake/dam in Dorfgutingen. The company was brilliant, as was dinner: diced sausages cooked in beer, eaten with mustard and rolls. Bacteria-wurst*. Amazing!!

* Sausages had to be cooked and eaten as they had been bought the day before, and had not been kept cool. Beer and heat to kill any germs.

Day 19. Dorfgutingen - Crailsheim (33 km) - Frankfurt (by train)
Blink. Blink blink.
Eyes open.
The first thing I saw today was a tiny frog, like nail on index finger tiny, hopping around just in front of my face.
Breakfast at camp then more breakfast at the local petrol station - pastries and tea.The McEttite is loving this.Know I need to get back on track today, and head towards the Rhine, options are to ride half day and train the rest, or train first thing and then ride the rest of the day. I went for the first option and rode with the boys until midday, where we had lunch in Wallhausen, and parted ways. I headed to Crailsheim to catch a train to Frankfurt, while they headed north to find a river trail which headed into Crailsheim as well.
The train journey was 3.5 hours long, and went through some amazing countryside. Lakes and forests and hills and valleys, castles and churches dotted the route, and before I knew it I was in Frankfurt and booking into a hostel for the night.
No further exploring. Had a shower, dinner, a beer then went to bed.

Day 20. Frankfurt - Koblenz (144 km)
Motivated today. I am back on track. A generally flat, albeit long, day ahead of me.
Up and out early to beat the heat. The river was my companion for most of the day as I wound my way westwards. Stopped for cheesecake and beer for a quick, mid-morning refuel and was soon on my way towards Koblenz.

Day 21. Koblenz - Cologne ( km)
Ashley arrived this evening for the weekend, in the middle of yet another thunderstorm, and we checked to our very cosy B'nB.
Had Portugese for dinner, good food and wine.

Day 22. Rest day.
Another hot day. Mooched around Cologne, had a massage and a swim at a nearby spa.
Headed into town for beers and food, and we weren't disappointed.
Live music, hen and stag parties in abundance, beer halls and good sunshine did a good job of taking my mind off the road and bike

Day 23. Half day rest. Cologne - Meerbusch (65 km)
Ashley headed back to London today and I had a quick, and uneventful, ride along the Rhine, passed Dusseldorf, to Meerbusch.
Once again I missed the entry cutoff to the campsite (6pm in this case), so pitched next to another group of cyclists. The weather looked menacing but I had been reliably informed that if an easterly wind blows, you will get rain. Tonight it was a westerly. Phew.