Okay after the Brexit diversion back the normal schedule of blog posts.. I wrote this a while back but its taken me a while to get the photos together.
I drastically overestimated how much I can do in a day. When I left Duisburg over a month ago I decided to take it easy on my knee by stopping early and often but by the third day my lack of progress was driving me nuts.
Dusseldorf with friends
The first ride was only two hours to Dusseldorf where I met Fred Van Camp and Samantha Hayden two old work colleagues who now live together and work for the Cologne office. They were really enthusiastic to show me around and I got a lovely evening tour of this polished town. Think of it like London’s west end compared to where I had just been. They took me out for a meal to one of the traditional German beer houses and treated me to a pork shank. After four days of eating vegetarian food with the Duisburg crew and making a vow to try and continue to do so I couldn’t help but think of Helena laughing at me saying the first thing I would probably do is eat a big meaty dish and low and behold what she predicted became fact.
Sam and Fred were excellent hosts and it was so pleasant to see them both as I had previously worked with them in London and only occasionally saw Fred when he passed through our offices. Here is a little video of Fred telling me a little bit about Dusseldorf and also that magnificent pork shank, I can still taste it.
The next few days I had a mild drought of people. I went looking for the town of Winnegen on the recommendation of Alex but when I arrived I got lost in the vineyards and unnecessarily climbed a massive hill, encountered a grass snake on the road and then had to turn back to find another way to Koblenz. Arriving very late I was worried about finding a spot to camp and trundled through this beautiful town looking at anything that might act as a shelter, a storm was coming. Koblenz is one of those places on this trip that I think if I had more time (and money) I’d love to stay for a weekend. Conveniently for me there was a huge park by the river which also happens to have two huge bridges that cross it. I found a fireplace, dry firewood under one of the bridges and no one in site. Tonight I would play troll for the evening and make this bridge my home. Hopefully no one would turf me off before I could get a good night’s sleep.
Onwards towards Mainz I started to encounter some problems. My bike weighs in at 50Kgs fully loaded – not ideal. I knew I would have to ditch some items but I was waiting till Italy before I would commit to leaving anything behind. You never know when you’re going to need something and I hadn’t yet covered different types of terrain or climates. My poor bike stand had had it though. Somewhere near Oppenheim I stopped for break propped my bike up on the kickstand then watched it promptly fall over on to my foot. The stand had bent under the weight despite the fact that there is also a front kick stand to assist it. Luckily I got lost. Yes thats right lost – I took a wrong turn into someone farmland and got talking to a farmer who told me the way I was going wasn’t exactly a path but that if I wanted I could cut through his vineyards. I said I’d rather find the road again but I asked if he knew anywhere I could fix up my bike. He pointed me in the direction of Motta’s Bike shop and he said I might have to knock as he’s retired.
Ten minutes later in the quiet neighboured of a tiny town named Ludwigshohe I pulled up in front of someone’s garage and there was a sign that said Motta’s bikeshop. I knocked on the door and Motta beckoned me into his little workshop. Within one hour he’d replaced my stand with a Swiss made beast that says its rated for 25Kg but is easily carrying the 50Kgs on my bike. He also fixed my loose gear shifters and gave the bike a hose down. It cost me 50 Euros – forty for the stand and ten for the servicing and fitting. That’s ten days budget but at this point I wasn’t really counting the pennies. Motta asked where I was headed and I told him I was going to cross the Alps he told me he’d completed the crossing near the French border in 3 days on a racing bike with his gear following in a car behind. This made me think it would be a week to cross the Austrian section with my heavy load… a prospect I was not relishing. I said my goodbyes and trundled happy in the knowledge that my baby had received a little love and attention.
I spent the rest of my time wild camping in some idyllic spots along the Rhine but I was becoming aware of the limit I’d given myself – four weeks to reach Italy and the hardest part was still to come. It can be no fun doing 100km days on the bike. Psychologically you have to get into the zone. This means the first day on the road after a couple of days break can be hard. Since my phone is my GPS at the moment (I do have a Garmin I’m saving for trickier parts of the journey) I can’t listen to music and ride which is annoying as it would be so nice to have a soundtrack to some of the scenery. I decided to leg it to Manheim and saw that it was only a days ride from there to Tubingen. 120Km later I found an idyllic spot in a woodland to camp. I slept like a baby knowing I had a place to stay for a while if I could make it the next day.
The ride to Tubingen was beautiful reminding me of Holland due to the many paths you can take through wide open pastures. It was at this point I started hitting the first hills I’d seen for 600 miles. Some of the climbing was a bit intense so I text my friend Elif to ask her if it was like this all the way to Tubingen. she said I’d be fighting to the last because lives at the top of a massive hill. With 100km still to go I realised I had to bite the bullet keep going. My knee was thankfully not playing up but I still didn’t have my SPD shoes.
Cycling with SPD (Shimano Pedal Dynamics) shoes is like swimming with flippers on your feet. You’re clipped into your pedals so every movement of your legs count – the push down and the pull up meaning that climbing hills is easier. Your feet also never move position on the pedal so you’re less like to slip off and you can maintain a good foot position which eases problems like knee pain. On the advice of my friend Greg I had left my SPD shoes at home and taken hiking boots as more general purpose footwear – this was a major error. In Duisburg I contacted my flatmates and had them sent ahead in preparation for the hill climbing to come.
The final section of my journey appeared to take me through a live ordnance range where I was informed not to stray from the path.
It was a lovely ride but I was worried about taking a piss anywhere! Finally I started passing through towns that reminded me of 1930s era expressionist cinema like The Cabinet of Dr Caligari and the original Nosferatu with buildings that over hung the streets and gave it a sort of horror movie vibe:
At last I was in Tubingen my destination and a place to stay for a few days to let my knee recover again.