The trip could have got to a better start: my cycling companion dropped out less than a week because he was hospitalised with Rhabdomyolysis (where your muscle breaks down and dissolves into your bloodstream, swamping the kidneys), after an ill timed session of spinning; a cold that was not helped by a less than restful night sleep on an otherwise luxurious night train between Hamburg and Basel; the bike stand buckled under the weight of the luggage at my first attempt to use it.
Arriving at Basel at 619am in the dark, there is nothing but to journey on north towards Colmar. As the day began to break after an hour or so, it was time for a spot of breakfast. This came in the form of a zip-lock bag of porridge I prepared before I left. It was then I realised it was chillier than I would imagine and the bike computer confirmed the temperature was a cold -1.1C which explained the rigid fingers and shivering…
Arriving in the fortified town of Neuf Brisach after endless cornfields and failing to find a bike shop meant carrying onto Colmar and getting there around noon. The journey had to be extended to some out of town retail park to fit a new kick stand to the bike. Altogether, not too bad for 91km in under 5 hours given the circumstances. The rest of the day was fuelling with potatoes, sausages and a banana split, plus one of the most terrible meal I have ever had in a long time but I was beyond caring.
Second day looked like a boring ride on paper along the Canal du Rhone au Rhin and it was exactly that: 55km of dull, straight canal path. At least it was empty and a nice lunch in Erstein to look forward to. The last 20 odd km after lunch was even more dull and not helped by the now sluggish pace with lunch on board. Strassbourg’s beauty did cheer me up but the half hour wait for the proprietor to deliver the key to a chic apartment in the centre of town dampened the spirit a bit, even more so having found it not having been serviced. It all worked out in the end but the lack of the availability of breakfast meant a little adventure finding somewhere the next morning.
Meals were certainly getting laborious for all the extra calories the bike trip demanded and an average of 2500 extra calories is required each day according to my bike computer. The ride itself was made up of energy drink powder, protein bars, fruit snagged from breakfast and any chocolate bar I manage to buy the day before and perhaps a bottle of coke. I would advise against a large lunch but a sausage and potato salad worked well, just as well I’m in Germany. And then came dinner of potatoes and turkey steak, a classic healthy post exercise meal, or anything for that matter.
A more varied day followed from Strassbourg towards Karlsruhe, no less I finally get to be along the Rhine for the first time. But immediately, I wished I wasn’t due to the clouds of bugs hovering on the water edge and a lesson in keeping your mouth shut while cycling. Crossing over to the german side brought better and quieter roads and eventually came across a rest stop for lunch. It is difficult to beat an alsterwasser, fried eggs and potatoes for a quick refuel. My welcome to Karlsruhe after 91km was an embarrassing encounter with a tram track in the middle of the busiest junction, full of after work shoppers. I duly got up and cycled away as quickly as possible.
A dreary start the next day riding along extensive industrial complexes is the appropriate farewell from a dreary 12 hours stay in Karlsruhe. But the scenery soon changed and became more varied than previous days: greener cornfields, small towns and the occasional glimpses of the Rhine. I must make a note to visit the Technikmuseum Speyer in the future, which featured some impressively machinery and the possibility to walk along the wing of a 747, dynamically mounted on stilts and with the option of getting down on a slide. This was the first great day (and probably the last) in terms of fitness and pain, with an average of just over 20km/h for 86km to show for it. Having failed to find lunch along the way, it meant an early arrival to Ludwigshafen and it is certainly no beauty. And Mannheim, a short jaunt across the Rhine doesn’t fare much better either. The lesson of the day is to load up with more food and Mannheim provided the opportunity to purchase some gluten free jaffa cakes, among other things, so less emphasis can be put upon finding a lunch.
The next leg to Mainz turned out to be a beautiful day, with better scenery of vineyards and idyllic paths along the river. The day was summed up by a beautiful moment, having a buzzard gliding right alongside to me for a stretch as I ride and eventually passed right in front of me. A little diversion from the main path meant I actually managed to find something to eat for lunch. A slow 85 km brought me to pretty Mainz, with its walkable old city centre and charming shops, concluded a great day.
Mainz marked the beginning of the upper middle Rhine valley which is a designated UNESCO world heritage site. The hills now lined the river were dotted with medieval villages and countless castles, strategically perched on hillside as the river twisted along. I finally succumbed to having an audio book to ease the monotony of cycling and it was certainly effective. Also, it was a good tool to distract me from a niggling pain around the right knee which was relived slightly by changing the cleat orientation. A good lunch at a tourist coach stop-off broke up what turned out to be the longest day of 103km to Koblenz. My reward was a night at the reasonably priced Stein Hotel where I first stayed 10 years ago and a great dinner at the well deserved 1 Michelin starred restaurant at the hotel.
Day 7 to Bonn was a combination of the anticlimactic feeling from the less impressive scenery, muscle aches and perhaps boredom after the long week. I found myself dwelling on irritations caused by hotels offering small bowls/plates; only refilling a small amount of fruit salad each time, as if to encourage guest to take less; asking to pay for wifi or breakfast and having a big argument as to why one is not allowed to keep a bicycle in the room. At least in the last few days, I came across more cycling tourist along the path. It’s not a big improvement from none in the first few days to three/four a day, but an increase nonetheless. I tried to inject some variety into the 70km day and hopped across from one bank to the other on the ferry but to no avail. All this makes a strong case for making Bonn my final destination of the trip. A nice evening out in Bonn trendier parts on a Friday night was a low key celebration of the conclusion of the trip.
The train journey from Bonn to Hamburg delivered its final surprise of the trip and not in a good way. Having had the luxury of spontaneity with arrangements of the trip, the downside is a 9 hour train ride consisting of 5 different trains using the regional services rather than the faster inter city service. This is due to the fact that there is no more bicycle space reservations available for the whole day. I accepted it without much thought and only during a train delay and missed connection that I realised I could very well have hired a car and drove myself back for not much difference in price between the two. A lesson learnt but all these add to the experience.
I certainly enjoyed much of the 603km and 7 days of cycling: Strassbourg and Mainz were a highlight; learning how to pack more efficiently for future trips; booking trains in advance; aiming for bike friendly hotels and finally, beware of tram tracks. It was a lesson in really listening to the body’s need in terms of food and drinks and adapting to aches and pains. I would have preferred to have my friend with me on this trip but there are other to be gained from it.