Today's Route: https://www.strava.com/activities/750525683
At about 10 am, following a few last minute work commitments, I departed my German winter residence at 77 Bismarckstraße in Eimsbüttel Quarter, Hamburg, on a journey that concluded today, at the same location, 16 days later. A journey indeed, an adventure for my mind, body, and soul, nourishment that I anticipate will have many beneficial effects including a slowing of time.
I hardly know where to begin now that I'm on a familiar couch, in a familiar living room, the sounds outside of children playing at a local school and the many birds above the canal, all familiar too. But I am here, now, so begin I must, and in a moment, anew. Sometimes it helps to start with the simplest tasks, so I've taken a hot shower, clipped my nails, and eaten, somewhat ravenously, locally made falafel. But not too much because Clarissa and I will have a nice dinner together this evening! At home, with tea and laughter for desert. I think our coming back together will be the best so far, and we've already had some wonderful reunions.
After uploading all of my rides to Training Peaks, I can provide an accurate recount of average distances, etc, from the tour of seven countries: In 16 days, I covered 1,534 miles (2454 km), 96 miles (153 km) per day on average. The shortest day was the day I set-off by train for Dresden and, last train, the Czech Republic, two short rides totaling just 16.22 miles (26 km). Total time cycle touring, including grocery stops, 122 hours. My longest day was 9 hrs 57 minutes, I pedaled 128 miles (205 km) that day, it was the tenth day of my tour. My weight before and after the trip: 71.2 kilos (157 lbs) and 69.2 kilos (152.5), respectively. Svelt.
In a moment, I anticipate a reunion with my roommate and girlfriend and, sensibly, I want to start without an iPhone attached to my hand! But before I go, I want to thank ALL of my friends, sincerely, a big cyber hug and a kiss on both cheeks, for following my most recent adventure. Looking ahead, I have ideas for the future, something very big perhaps, much bigger than my 16 day tour, so be sure to check back with Andre Breton Racing Dot Com from time-to-time. Meanwhile, I send you best wishes, including tours of your own, and good health from Hamburg, where "Emperor Charlemagne ordered [a castle] constructed in CE 808."
Today's Route: https://www.strava.com/activities/749933875
As I rolled along the river in Magdeburg this morning on the Elbe bike-way, I was treated to fall colors, sunshine, and an impressive, towering back-drop, above the trees. The back-drop comprised architecture from bygone days including what the German's refer to as Magdeburger Dom. In English, the church is known officially as the Cathedral of Saints Catherine and Maurice. Construction began in 1209 and concluded a mere 300 years later! It's the oldest Gothic-style church in Deutschland. A church with an exceptional history withstanding, the scene from the left bank of the Elbe on a sunny Autumn day is well worth a visit to Magdeburg and I suspect that many other parts of the city would inspire similar fascination. For the horse-lovers among you, if you find yourself in Magdeburg don't miss the Magdeburger Reiter dating from 1240 CE, it is "the first equestrian statue [erected] north of the Alps."
Unlike the previous two mornings, one involving a hangover and the next a body that demanded more rest and got it, this morning went as planned: out of bed about seven, coffee before breakfast, followed by coffee with breakfast at 7:30. I also had enough leftover bread, etc, to make two sandwiches for the road packed with locally-grown German apples. Not to take advantage of an already generous deal, I offered Inge and her husband another five euro for the on-the-go lunch and they obliged.
On the way to the river from Inge's splendid AirBnB, I discovered my first mechanical issue of the trip, a lose tire valve, easily repaired once I was able to find someone that would loan me some form of plier. A city crew cutting and chipping tree limbs along the road had what I needed. Shortly after a friendly chat with the keepers of the city vicegrips, I experienced my second crash in fifteen days when I foolishly caught my front tire between widely spaced cobble stones. Fortunately, there was no harm done to bike or rider. I rode on whilst enjoying a chat with a local commuter named Thomas before I cleared the city limits.
The weather was promising from the start, other than a few rather wet looking, scandalous clouds, here and there. Promising aside, there was a fairly strong wind coming from the north and east, a sign, among others today, that I had returned to Northern Germany and the vicinity of Hamburg. But from my perspective, riding as I was under a mostly sunny sky, it was an easy task to focus on something other than an unexceptional disturbance in the troposphere. Among the 'other signs' that the second largest city in Germany was looming on the horizon, about mid-day I returned to trail markers that made the presence, the inevitability, of Hamburg known.
Today's pedaling resulted in another 104 miles traveled on the trip, about 165 km covered in 7 hrs 14 minutes including stops. I've not had the opportunity to add up all the daily distances but my average must be close to 100 miles per day including the shortest day (day 12, just 16.22 miles), so roughly 1500 miles in 15 days, or 2400 km. Although they'll be skeptics, there was plenty of climbing too! From the Belgian Ardennes to Strasbourg across the south of France. Within the obscured visibility of those famous hills, I topped some memorably steep ascents, nearly vertical from the perspective of the rider at times.
Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Switzerland, and the Czech Republic, not bad for a quick Autumn tour after a busy season of training and racing. Five of these countries, in bold font, were new for my life-time travel log. But much more than miles and places along the way, this trip was, for me, about proving to myself, a proof of concept, that I could get on my bike and ride to anywhere in Europe. It was also about pushing-out the edges of my comfort zone in my newest home, the continent of Europe and Northern Germany in particular. I discovered, as I have in many other instances in my life, that there really was nothing to be concerned about. Quite to the contrary, what I discovered out there in the great unknown, where I had no previous experience, was opportunity, excitement, and ideas for the future. Along the way, I also bagged an education worthy of many inspired (you'll have to search for those) university courses.
It's been another fantastic and enviable day of touring on Niner Bikes RLT 9 Steel, a versatile, comfortable, and race-level performance bike on any surface. I really owe a big debt to the friends that led me to the purchase, assembled it, and educated me on the details including what bags to purchase. The workhorse on this trip were my Blackburn Universal Panniers, an unbelievable quality product. This Outpost top-tube bag from Blackburn Design was also exceptional.
Short, Autumn, days and cool mornings, which often delayed my start to the day, led to another near-dark arrival to my lodging for the night, Karsten's AirBnB. in a remote German village known as Lenzen on Elbe River Cycle Route. I had some trouble locating the BnB but thanks to a helpful bartender and a friendly hotel clerk in the village I was able to access the internet and the confrimation details from Karsten. A hiccup in the AirBnB procedure, you can't access your reservation including the BnB address without internet access. At Lenzen, my cell phone was unable to connect to any cell phone network, the hotel wireless system saved me a ride out-n-back, in the dark, to at least the slightly larger village of Gartow, a village with an archeological history dating back to the stone age.
Lenzen "was the scene of an early victory by the Germans over the Wends in 929. Frederick Count of Zollern [subsequently] confiscated [Lenzen] from the von Quitzow family in 1420 for their part in the uprising of the Wendish nobility, and mortgaged it to Otto von Blumenthal. He redeemed the mortgage and restored the von Quitzows in 1422." More recently, Lenzen found itself within the restricted zone east of the Soviet-controlled east German border, the Elbe in this part of Germany: As the cold war escalated and tensions rose, "in June 1952 ... numerous families, including businessmen, small tradesmen and farmers, were forcibly resettled from Lenzen within a few hours [by the soviet occupiers as a way to secure the border with West Germany]."
Today Lenzen is nearly a ghost town, many of it's residences and shops in the tightly built town center are empty, some have even been abandoned. The town has not (unlike many other villages in the region) recovered from economic hardships previously experienced in Germany. According to my host, Karsten, you can acquire a building in downtown Lenzen for no cost. Of course, you'll incur a significant cost to recover the structural integrity of the property. Karsten's brother took advantage of property depreciation in the remote village when he purchased a unit a block off the main village road, which Karsten is now expertly renovating, and managing as an AirBnB. I enjoyed part of my evening with Karsten where we discussed, primarily, the history of Lenzen and our mutual passion for cycling! Before the night concluded, Karsten offered, and I accepted his offer, to ride part of the way towards Hamburg with me in the morning!
As I inefficiently type on my iPhone 5 the time is steadily approaching mid-night. Time slows when we do what we love, and the time that we need for resting becomes even more nourishing. Tomorrow I anticipate that I'll arrive to Hamburg by five post meridiem, possibly earlier, though I will have to complete another 100+ mile day (160-200 km) to get there. I'm hoping the weather will be reasonable. Until tomorrow's conclusion, which will hopefully include my arrival to Hamburg, I bid you one last Guten Nacht on this Autumn tour of, turns-out, seven countries, not six as I had originally planned, from Lenzen, formerly part of the Old Hamburg-Berlin Post Road.
Today's' Route: https://www.strava.com/activities/748630853
After sleeping through breakfast and subsequently receiving forgiveness for the second time in 24-hours from Wolfgang, the patient BnB owner, my day settled-into its usual routine, albeit a bit late, though not nearly as late as yesterday. Breakfast with all the coffee I could drink, four cups this morning, maybe more. My companions for the morning meal, a lovely German couple touring the local and regional history, were patient listeners as I rambled on and on, from one topic to the next. A lone traveler does become a bit of a liability at times.
Caffeine withstanding, I started the fourteenth day of the tour, in the 2,016th year of a widely anticipated but nonetheless absent lord, with a casual, exploratory, spin through the historic town ot Torgau. Foremost on my brief rendezvous with Torgau was the time that I spent alongside the 16th century Hartenstein castle, a castle that was likely constructed on the foundation of a 10th century stone castle ordered built by the Holy Roman Empire and a suspected wooden castle built centuries before by the Slavs, presently the "the largest Indo-European ethno-linguistic group in Europe." After my brief tour, I concluded with a moment of reflection overlooking the Elbe with my back to the grand wall of Hartenstein castle, a wall that countless, no doubt, senselessly died whilst defending or attacking. Despite the gravity of those losses, a moment later, respectfully, I had returned to my own here and now, a migration along the Elbe River Cycle Route towards Hamburg's populous and their brethren elsewhere in Northern Germany.
As the photographs imply, cloudy with occasional rain, never heavy, and cool temps persisted well into the day. Late afternoon delivered moments of sunshine, seemingly "on cue" in historic Wittenberg, but otherwise here and there, apparently, at the whim of my Goddess, the ruler of the known Universe, Epona. My Epona is fickle but she is nevertheless a delight to worship, naughty but not overly so and always on the look-out for opportunities to exercise her Holy sense of humor.
Cobble stones and classic European architecture from ages gone-by but not forgotten, were served-up large along the Collegienstraße and Schloßstraße in Wittenberg, Germany. Wittenberg is another example of places I've arrived to on this Autumn tour without anticipation. Although planning would no doubt reveal much more even to a constantly on-the-go traveler, an unanticipated introduction offers it's own suite of benefits.
Famously, although it has been contested as being fiction rather than fact, Wittenberg is the place where "Martin Luther [supposedly] nailed his 95 themes to the door of the Schloss Kirche and [by doing] so heralded in the Protestant Reformation." I owe a debt of gratitude to my friend David Conlin for reminding me of this event in history; and for sharing the location of the blasphemous act, Wittenberg, a detail I never knew or copied-over somewhere amidst neurons allocated to my subconscious long ago.
After my brief rendezvous with Wittenberg, I was once again on a country tour, navigating as I was across an agricultural and horticultural landscape with occasional wee villages and forest patches between. During this time I arrived at and crossed another ferry, bringing the total up to about six crossings for the tour including those that I can easily recall across the Weser, Meuse, Rhine, and now the Elbe. Despite long periods of time spent pedaling in the open spaces between population centers, a time-lapse of my entire tour would be an enviable and fascinating treasure to look back on. Perhaps advances in digital video and photography will provide travelers in the future with this Orwellian luxury at an affordable cost, images from the latest NASA mission to Jupiter suggests they will.
I approached my next ici et maintenant after a fairly lengthy, perhaps an hour or more, tour of industrial mankind east of Magdeburg, on the bank opposite the main part of the city. But as with other less-than-satisfying moments from my life, persistence delivered in the form of another trip into Europe's middle ages. Of course, much of Magdeburg is modern, including tracks for hauling students, tourists, and locals (if you can find one) here and there. But nestled into the latest trends are obvious outliers from the past.
Here is a peppering of sorts, a dash from the shaker, a small sample of the story: Magdeburg "was one of the most important medieval cities of Europe." If you know anything about the former Hanseatic League, then you won't be surprised to know that, given it's historical importance, that Magdeburg was " a notable member of the Hanseatic League [in the 13th century]." Reaching back farther, well before the Hanseatic League came to fruition, to the man that reorganized Europe half a millennium after the dissolution of Rome, "Charlemagne [founded the city] in 805 as Magadoburg, probably from Old High German magado for big, mighty and burga for fortress, the town was fortified in 919 by King Henry I the Fowler against the Magyars and Slavs." Regarding "the fowler", a avid hunter, Henry the 1st "is generally considered to be the founder and first king of the medieval German state, known then as East Francia ... a successor state of Charlemagne's empire and [a] precursor of the Holy Roman Empire." A bicycle can really bring you to some fabulously historic places; and along the way, to many, more subdued but equally enviable, places less trodden.
Cycling aside, I'm once again impressed, as I have been at the conclusion of each blog entry, by the history that was revealed to me from even the superficial details provided by the open-source encyclopedia, wikipedia.org. As I did for OpenFietsMap, I made a donation to the Wikimedia Foundation when I returned to Hamburg. I've really enjoyed assembling a small part of the story of some of the places that I've visited on the tour.
Returning to the here and now, it's my impression that an evening at "the cottage", two nights ago, continues to exact a toll my critical body systems (most of them). For this reason, my trajectory towards the north and Hamburg today was certainly not at a fast pace even for a relatively heavy bike and tired legs. With all of that in mind, I really should get some rest!
I'll hope to finish much earlier tomorrow so that I can ramble on (perhaps while humming the popular Led Zeppelin song) with my usual ad Libitum modus operandi. Guten Nacht from Inge's AirBnB, clean, spacious, and friendly, and for just 49$ including breakfast. You'll arrive and depart smiling if you decide to visit Inge and her husband in Magdeburg, a city where "Matthias Flacius and his companions wrote their anti-Catholic pamphlets and the Magdeburg Centuries, in which they argued that the Roman Catholic Church had become the kingdom of the Antichrist." Strange, I thought Barack Obama (a non-Catholic) was the antichrist, perhaps the nit-wits that have popularized this claim in the United States would benefit by a history refresher. No doubt, along the way, they'll find many suspected antichrists, each one a scapegoat for a despised adversary.
Today's Route: https://www.strava.com/activities/747972261
Given that day twelve of my autumn tour didn't conclude until five ante meridiem on day thirteen, I experienced, literally, one very long 48-hour day. And that's about how I felt, too, when I awoke and prepared to start day thirteen at 9:30 this morning.
But if that's the price I'll have to pay each time I visit David, Jana, and Vašek at "the cottage", as David calls he and Jana's wonderful home above the Elbe in Ústí nad Labem in the Czech Republic, then I'll do so willingly and with great haste! The food, company, and conversation were the very best. And the view the next morning, despite low clouds, was exceptional. As implied, the cottage is a special place, inside and out, including all of the personalities that roam its open spaces, two cats included.
Breakfast was served at about 10:15 with plenty of coffee. And the leftovers were generously transformed into a cyclist's lunch-to-go by Jana. The first sandwich didn't make it out of Bohemian Switzerland National Park (Národní park České Švýcarsko), a park with an eccentric English translation. Established in 2000, it is the Czech Republic's youngest national park. More on this park, and other details, in a moment. The second sandwich provided the fuel that I needed on the night portion of my ride that began at the witching hour in Meissen, overlooking Albrechtsburg Castle and Meissen Cathedral on the opposite bank of the Elbe, and concluded in Torgau about three hours later with only moonlight to guide me. Torgau is famous for at least one event in history, it's the place where the red army first encountered the green, US, army in 1945. It also sports a 16th century castle on a 10th century foundation, well preserved, above the Elbe. And in general, it's a poster village, cobble stone streets, a fountain in the middle, and all the architecture that you might anticipate filling-in the scene.
Thick cloud cover remained the status quo throughout day thirteen of my cycle tour, not ideal for a human being wearing lightly tinted Native Sunglasses that was hoping to establish memories of a landscape celebrated for its natural beauty. More importantly for anyone following my tour on Facebook, capturing details in a digital photo was difficult, to say the least, given that one of the primary effects of such cloud cover is the complete removal of shadows. Nonetheless, so not to disappoint my mother, Evelyn Breton, or the leader of my fan club in Iserlohn, Germany, Brigitte Knorr, I did my best to record the day's scenery with a few photos, which I took the liberty to improve using Snapseed from Google. On my cycle tour, Snapseed has proven itself to be an effective and easy to use photo editing app for optimizing images intended (my suggestion) for small screen viewing, such as Apple's iPhones and iPads. The app has been my primary resource for improving photos and I anticipate that I'll continue to use the app well after my Autumn Tour concludes.
Two national parks, one overseen by Germany, Saxon Switzerland National Park, and the other by the Czech Republic, Bohemian Switzerland National Park, meet at the border of the two countries about halfway between Dresden and Ústí. The conjoined parks are bisected by the Elbe. With no private lands between them, the result, for biodiversity, is a two-nation national park on an impressive European scale, a combined 172 sqaure kilometers (66.5 mi²) of land set-aside for life other than the human form. Respectful human recreation is, of course, encouraged, as in other national parks, by bike, boot, and, for these parks which contain part of the Elbe River watershed, by boat too.
In the order that I experienced the parks, the area known as Bohemian Switzerland in the Czech Republic was placed under some form of protection as early as 1972, a year after I was born to Evelyn and Rodney Breton, my parents, somewhere in Norwood Hospital in Massachusetts, a state named for a Native American tribe from the Boston area that succumbed to European diseases. Following the establishment of Saxon Switzerland National Park in 1990 by the German government, "efforts were stepped-up to place the Bohemian part of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains under national park protection." Despite heated opposition from hunting organizations and the forestry industry, Bohemian Switzerland National Park was formerly set-aside for all to enjoy, rather than a few to profit from and depreciate, in 2000.
Saxon Switzerland National Park (Nationalpark Sächsische Schweiz) was established before the post-WWII reunification of Germany, a statement that alludes to the scenic splendor of the region and it's recreational importance for the many visitors that the region attracts annually. Like it's neighoring park to the south. part of the name of this German national park, "Switzerland", was inspired by the Elbe Sandstone Mountains. and their similarity to the dolomitic (I assume) region of the Alps. The sandstone in particular and the impression of mountains that the Cretaceous rock formation provides in general, on a backdrop reaching high above the peaceful and scenic Elbe River, are the primary sources of inspiration for visitors that recreate in this part of Germany and Czechia. Naturally, a popular recreational activity in both parks is climbing, free-climbing is the only form allowed in Saxon Switzerland: "... characterized by its sandstone rocks which draw many rock climbers there are some 14,000 climbing routes on over 1,100 rock pinnacles. Ropes and bolts may only be used for safety but never as a means of climbing. The use of chalk and common means of protection such as nuts and friends is also not permitted; instead knotted nylon slings are used."
The Elbe Sandstone Mountains, locally referred to "as Saxon Switzerland and Bohemian Switzerland in German and Czech", came about because of erosion rather than a mountain building event involving plate tectonics (an orogeny). Like the Catskills of New York or the Ozarks of Missouri, the cliffs and valleys of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains were made possible first when the land uplifted; and subsequently, over geologic time, by the natural demolition of that uplifted landscape by flowing water and other forms of erosion. The Grand Canyon of the United States, in Arizona, also demonstrates the result of uplift followed by erosion, principally by water. And I suspect the grandest canyon in our solar system, considerably grander than our celebrated Grand Canyon on Planet Earth, Valles Marineris on Mars resulted from the same processes.
The Elbe Sandstone Mountains are composed, primarily, of a massive sandstone formation that formed from sand and other debris deposited by rivers in a Cretaceous sea that once covered a large portion of the European continent. These deposits were subsequently compressed, compacted, and cemented due to massive, Earth scale, overburden throughout geological ages before they were exhumed by uplift and erosion ultimately taking their present form in relatively recent time. The Cretaceous "was a period with a relatively warm climate, resulting in high eustatic sea levels that created numerous shallow inland seas [, including a massive inland sea that covered all of today's Great Plains in the heart of the North American continent]. These oceans and seas were populated with now-extinct marine [organisms] while dinosaurs continued to dominate on land. During this time, new groups of mammals and birds, as well as flowering plants, appeared. The Cretaceous [famously] ended with a large mass extinction, non-avian dinosaurs, pterosaurs and large marine reptiles, [among many other species], died out." The Elbe has cut deeper into Cretaceous formations than any other river in Europe.
No doubt mined from the local sandstone and perhaps containing fossilized fragments of extinct flora and fauna, I encountered what was by far the roughest, cruelest you might say, cobble stone road on my cycle route along the Elbe today whilst riding through the German national park. Fortunately the section was less than 2-3 kilometers and the apple that I had begun eating a moment before did not dislodge from my verklemt jaw as I awaited a kinder moment to devour it.
Shortly after the cobble stone flogging, I neglected my instincts and as a result came to the end of a paved cycle route. Making matters worse, or better, depending on how you conclude, I overcame my instincts one more time as I plunged onto single track and rode into the forest not far away from the east bank of the Elbe. Before it was over, I had biked, mostly hiked, and literally climbed, a set of near-vertical stairs (see the two-pointed spire on the elevation profile at the end of the blog), to the top of the aforementioned sandstone formation where I had the pleasure, a welcomed turn-of events, to overlook the countryside, river, and villages below. As this implies, it was a happy ending but the slog to that end was certainly not something you could sell in a cyclists tourist brochure. Unless, of course, that was directed at mountain bikers carrying no gear, but mountain bikes are not allowed in the park.
Cobble tracks and hikes on an otherwise "cycle tour" through a national park aside, foremost from the days memories will always be my night journey to Torgau. Just as the last wisps of light were fading on the French horizon, I was enjoying a relaxing pee overlooking the beautiful River Elbe and the lights from the village of Meissen, Germany. The lights illuminated Albrechtsburg castle and Meissen Cathedral, two notably historic buildings whose construction dates back to the 10th century. As the golden stream flowed deliciously into the green Earth, I began my mental preparation for a final push, in the dark, to Torgau.
Shortly after leaving Meissen I rolled over an undetected and unfriendly pointy, I assume, object that released the pressure, and most of the sealant, from my rear tire with the force of 85 pounds per square inch. Wishing for a miracle, as cyclists often do during these moments of despair, I nonetheless rode on for a short distance as the last whisps of air audibly departed my Hutchinson Sector 28 mm tire. Much to my jubilee, nearly on the last rotating gasp, what remained of the Stan's NoTubes Sealent sealed the offending hole! After a short stop to replace the air that had escaped, I was satisfied and rode on.
About an hour before I rolled into Torgau, two hours into my evening asault on what remained of my hangover, my primary headlight ran out of power. It seems that the battery realized only about 20% of its expected life, it's no longer charging close to capacity. I doned my headlamp in the meantime, but unfortunately within 20 minutes that light died as well. From this point to Wolfgang's AirBnB, I occasionally salvaged a bit of light from my bike light (battery recharges a little when it's off) but otherwise navigated by moonlight. Fortunately, the road that remained was nearly abandoned this time of night. I easily avoided the few cars and lorries that passed by. Finally, at about 10 pm, exhausted beyond memory, I settled arrived to Wolfgang's charming AirBnB and Knackered as I was, the following morning I managed to sleep through my scheduled breakfast! Wolfgang was patient throughout as he was when I arrived late the night before due to my flat tire. What a way to conclude a 48 hour day. But I would still, the whole show withstanding, say it was one of my best adventures to date, certainly inspiration to tempt another tale.
As my long blog entry implies, it's been an exceptional day of exploring exceptional places. Nonetheless, all I can anticipate at this moment is a long, much needed, rest. Until the conclusion of that sleep, I bid you a Guten Nacht from the west bank of the Elbe in a town that "fell under the rule of the Holy Roman Emperors in the 10th century. [At that time], a stone castle was built, round which the settlement congregated." I'm looking forward to a quick tour of Torgau in the morning.
Trains were always part of what I considered possible during this trip, especially a long or short train ride back to Hamburg if my body decided it was finished. I'm feeling better than anticipated on the bike, despite many long days, and fatigue between rides has also been less than anticipated. This likely means no bail-out by train. But bail-outs aside, I have considered, before my departure from Hamburg and during my tour, other possibilities involving trains.
One scenario in particular became more and more attractive as I diverged, grandiosely, from my original itinerary on day six, a decision motivated by the allure of auto-free bike trails, a random encounter outside of Metz (France) with a 70-something cyclist named "eh-mo" (Herman), the historic city of Strasbourg (France), and the possibility of exploring the famous Rhine Cycle Route between Strasbourg and Switzerland. Of course, the unplanned divergences that followed, collectively hundreds of saddle miles, had implications. Foremost, I delved into a significant proportion of the '16 days' I had comfortably allocated to the entire cycle tour when I departed Hamburg on 5 October.
The idea that's been on my mind involves a giant leap, a "bishop's move" as my friend David Conlin called my idea, to the city of Dresden on the Elbe River in east Germany from a train station somewhere in the vicinity of Frankfurt. With Clarissa's help, a chessic collaboration begun yesterday well before I reached the Speyer bridge, this morning the "bishop's move" became a plan, hatched this morning, and then revised le long du chemin from the comfort of one of my comfortable, wind and rain free, carriage seats. Given that I was en route to Dresden by bahnhof, I thought "why not get in touch with a friend that lives close by?" I knew that David was roughly one hour south by train from Dresden. And conveniently, since I was planning to follow the Elbe River Cycle Route all the way to Hamburg, his cottage was high-up on the east bank of the Elbe in (bonus) the city of Ústí nad Labem in the Czech Republic. If the plan was successful, then I would visit the Czech Republic after all, part of my original plan, despite the time I spent riding to and from Switzerland along the Rhine.
After a massive day by train across the German heartland, from Sinsheim to Hof to Dresden then south to Usti, involving five connections and two short bike rides along the way, I found myself well inside of the Czech Border, in the village of Ústí nad Labem, about 70 km south of Dresden. It was close to eight pm when I stepped off of the train in Usti into the darkness, among strangers, in a strange land. A short ride, 15-20 minutes followed, lights blazing off the bike, despite the long day I smiled all the way to my core, my next adventure was underway.
At the cottage I was greeted with shouts, maybe some clapping, hugs and other greetings from Jana, Vašek, and David. A moment later I was holding a Czech beer. A long night celebrating new and old friendships followed, and followed, and followed, until it was nearly 5 o'clock ante meridiem. Well before this time, Vašek, a local golf pro (David's instructor) and a fabulous guy, had sensibly gone to bed. Food, libations, and enviable conversation were all on the five course menu this evening, a festival of laughter and happy taste buds that started as soon as I arrived to David and Jana's cottage high above the Elbe River about one hour after arriving by bahnhof to Usti.
So here it is, nearly 5 am and I've not closed my eyes despite starting my day at 5:30 am in Rauenberg, Germany, the day before. My hosts, David and Jana, really rolled-out an exceptional evening, German Riesling, Czech Rosé courtesy of Vašek Froněk, that five course meal I mentioned, and much more. Thanks to their generosity, I'm stuffed, completely exhausted, and full of the excitement and refreshing comfort that an evening with good friends delivers after a long period of solo, introverted, travel. Sunrise is less than three hours away. That gives me some hesitation after so much Riesling, but I'm nonetheless committed to starting my last push, towards Hamburg, by noon-time.
The final stage of my trip will begin with a cycle tour through two national parks that are bisected by the Elbe River Cycle Route. The parks converge at the Czech-German border (see map on the right). The Elbe River Cycle Route will be my guide all of the way back to Hamburg, that's my plan anyway. The section of the Elbe River Cycle Route that I intend to ride is over 300 linear miles (480 km), considerably longer than a rook might fly if she was to fly directly from Usti to Hamburg. As this implies, by committing to the Elbe River Cycle Route I'll also be committing to the very convoluted and scenic route. If I depart tomorrow, with what will for sure be a significant hangover, I should be in Dresden within three hours and hopefully three hours farther north by four post meridiem, perhaps even as far as Torgau where on "April 25, 1945, Soviet and American troops met at the Elbe River, marking an important step toward the end of World War II in Europe. This contact between the Soviets, advancing from the East, and the Americans, advancing from the West, meant that the two powers had effectively cut Germany in two." I want to thank my friend David for making that bit of history known to me, among others.
There is much more to say about a very unusual day, evening, and morning, but I'm not up to the task at the moment. I must surrender to the pillow and my bed before the sun makes its next debut on the horizon. I'll provide more details tomorrow. Until then, Guten Nacht from the Czech Republic, a country that "ranks 27th [on the list of] most environmentally conscious countries in the world [by the] Environmental Performance Index. The Czech Republic [has] four National Parks and 25 Protected Landscape Areas."
Today's Route: https://www.strava.com/activities/745583189
Last night I laid my head onto the pillow at about 9:45 pm, was asleep by 9:50, and woke at 4:30 feeling rested. It seems I needed some rest after yesterday's three cul-de-sacs and more, including just under 130 miles on the saddle. I rolled-out of Offenburg, "a city with about 57,000 inhabitants", at about nine o'clock, roughly two hours after I exited the misery frame. Right away, within a kilometer, freelancing led to two flights of stairs; I was happy to climb and then descend them, on foot, respectively. Shortly thereafter, I found myself in rolling foothills, mostly furbished by apple orchards and grape vines, on an enviable one lane road which was sometimes deeply entrenched, so much so that you could lean your bike, nearly vertical, on either road bank. As always, I cherished the country setting. The air was warm relative to most of the mornings I've experienced on the tour. And even better, by noon the sun was shining through partly cloudy skies.
After roughly 20 country miles, first northward and then (most of the miles) westward, I was again approaching the Rhine, my companion for the last few days. At the east bank, I turned right, to the north, and resumed my commitment to the Rhine Cycle Route. It was often fast and smooth, but just as often convoluted, resulting in a grand tour of the region. Which is excellent unless you're hoping to bag many miles in a day. These and other circumstances led to a switch from river bank right (east) to left (west), by ferry, and soon I was rolling along at 18-22 mph on smooth pavement where naughty cars are not allowed.
Ferry crossings have been an important part of my trip, as they were when I was undertaking the bulk of my North America touring, from about 1996 to 2005, by motorcycle in my 20s and early 30s. A decade of off-and-on-again touring, including five major tours (one of these covered 24 states, 16,000 miles, and 6 months) and many smaller tours. Along the way, I explored all of the lower 48 states and Canadian Provinces east of Manitoba including Newfoundland and Labrador. My preferred lodging in those days was always, exclusively, a tent! Most of the touring was from the perspective of a 1982 CX 500 Honda motorcycle which I purchased for 250$ from a family friend. The bulk of the total mileage was absorbed by this very reliable motorcycle, close to 80,000 miles (128,000 kilometers). In my 30s I acquired, for a short time, a 1983 GL650 Honda Silverwing on which I continued to tour by motorcycle. My last purchase of a motorized two-wheeler was in my 40s, a 2004 GSA 1150 BMW. During my years of touring by motorcycle, I discovered that the path less followed was always best, and sometimes, to avoid major bridges, those paths led to relatively sleepy auto and passenger ferries across North America's most famous rivers including the Ohio and Mississippi. I've carried-over my fascination with rivers and ferries, developed as a motorized touring adventurer, into my latest passion, light bicycle touring.
So far, on my first bicycle tour of Europe, I've used ferries, a convenient and inexpensive option, to cross three culturally, economically, and historically significant rivers: on day one I crossed the Weser River at Sandstedt, Germany; day three I crossed the Meuse River on my way to lodging in Baarlo, Holland; and today I crossed the Rhine close to Leimersheim in Germany. The Weser "River is the longest river whose course reaches the sea and lies entirely within German national territory ... eight hydroelectric dams stand along its length (744 kilometres [462 mi])." The Upper Meuse River "from 1301 roughly marked the western border of the Holy Roman Empire with the Kingdom of France. The Meuse and its crossings were a key objective of the last major German WWII counter-offensive on the Western Front, the Battle of the Bulge in the winter of 1944/45." And regarding the Rhine, "The Rhine and the Danube formed most of the northern inland frontier of the Roman Empire and, since those days, the Rhine has been a vital and navigable waterway carrying trade and goods deep inland." Of course, this brief lesson in history from Wikipedia is just, the tip of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet.
On either bank of Europe's major rivers, access to ferry crossings are not uncommon and hours of operation easily accommodate a traveler that can never be certain when they might arrive to the loading area. And beyond convenience, cost, and other practical reasons, crossing a river an a small auto and passenger ferry is a wonderful way to experience a river. You'll be forced to get off of your bicycle, or motorbike as I was in my youth, breath the air rising-off of the river and adjacent wetlands, listen to the sounds, and perhaps even have a short conversation with another traveler that might lead to previously unknown opportunities down the road.
From Leimersheim, on the west bank of the Rhine, I maintained a comfortable, unimpeded, light cycle touring pace north to Speyer. At Speyer, a town inscribed as "Noviomagus on the world map of the Greek geographer Ptolemy [in AD 150]", I climbed a set of stairs, attached to the southwest quarter of the Speyer bridge. This unconventional cycle touring move gave me access to a route over the Rhine, to the east bank, and beyond into the foothills of the Alps in this part of southern Germany. After a successful search for lodging using the AirBnB app, as I was clipping each shoe into my RLT 9 Steel bicycle, I found myself feeling a little sad as I looked down, over my right shoulder, on my ageless friend for what I knew would be the last time on this trip. The Rhine, despite centuries of manipulation, easily inspires. Even in its modern form the river remains worthy of everyone's bucket list. No doubt, I'll reflect, with fondness, on my experiences along this historic river well into my old age, whatever "old age" that happens to be.
As I rolled off the bridge, towards the east, I began what was some hasty, to avoid darkness, navigation to a supermarket followed by the same to my resting place for the evening in the village of Rauenberg, 15 km south of Heidelberg. I arrived just as the sun was dipping below the horizon, early enough for a few photos of St. Peter and Paul Church in the village center. Any time I'm forced to slow down in a village, and even better, to sleep there, I'm thrilled. For the most part, I've had enough of navigating through cities on this trip, though those experiences have not been wasted either.
Anyone following my blog entries should anticipate a big surprise tomorrow, a "bishop's move" that will completely change my perspective, and yours. In the meantime, this evening I'm settled-into Maik's AirBnB, a gem of an AirBnB lodging option. Maik offers, for 56$, a spacious room, covered area to stash your bike, and a home made breakfast including brotchen picked-up fresh in the morning at one of the village bakeries. Maik, his two daughters, and his wife are open, friendly, a joy to visit and talk with. And if you forget anything, Maik has you covered: beer; wine; tooth paste; and more. Just outside my door the voices of excited youngsters are contagious. From this enviable perspective, I bid you a Guten Nacht from a village in the foothills of the Alps "first mentioned in 1303 ... where in the Middle Ages there were two settlements, Wederswilre and Ruhenberg."
Today's Route: https://www.strava.com/activities/744435501
A long day as I followed the Rhine on the German (east) side, 129.9 miles (208 km) with a modest 1039 feet of climbing. That's my longest ride out of ten days, as far as I can recall, since leaving Hamburg. Despite the few ups, the distance combined with cool, wet, overcast weather was enough to wear me down by the time I arrived to my intended destination for the day, Offenburg, Germany.
Offenburg is directly east of Strasbourg, where I stayed in France at the conclusion of day seven, on the opposite bank of the Rhine. At this implies, I rode for about 1.5 days on the west side of the Rhine ultimately concluding in Laufenburg, Switzerland. After today's effort, I'm back where I started after just one day of riding in the opposite direction, all close to, and often directly on, the east bank of the Rhine.
On my way to Offenburg, I intentionally bypassed the famous town of Freiburg, Germany. This decision allowed me to avoid inevitable route finding challenges and in effect maintain an average 15-16 mph pace all the way to Offenburg. Along the way, other than a few exceptions, most notably the route I took to bypass Freiburg, I took full advantage of the well marked and cycle-friendly Rhine Cycle Route (EuroVelo Route #15). My priorities on this trip aside, Freiburg will be well worth visiting on a future cycle touring adventure. A small sample from Wikipedia leaves an appropriate impression: "[Freiburg] was strategically located at a junction of trade routes between the Mediterranean Sea and the North Sea regions, and the Rhine and Danube rivers. In 1200, Freiburg's population numbered approximately 6,000 people. At about that time, under the rule of Bertold V, the last Duke of Zähringen, the city began construction of its Freiburg Münster cathedral on the site of an older parish church." In the middle ages, "the need to find a scapegoat for calamities such as the Black Plague, which claimed 2,000 area residents (25% of the city population) in 1564, led to an escalation in witch-hunting that reached its peak in 1599. A plaque on the old city wall marks the spot where burnings were carried out." The word parish refers, in this context, to a territorial unit of the Catholic church. The foundation of the "older parish church" was no doubt part of a human presence in Freiburg dating back many more centuries beyond 1200 CE, and perhaps into antiquity (ancient times).
Offenburg has it's own colorful history to offer the curious traveler: "Remainders of Roman settlements have been found within the city's territory. Offenburg was first mentioned in historical documents dating from 1148. [By] 1240 Offenburg had been declared a Free Imperial City [same as nearby Freiburg]. [Dreadfully,] in September 1689 the city - with the exception of two buildings - was totally destroyed [by naughty French troops] during the Nine Years War. [And a century later, following] Napoleon's dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1803 and [the] reorganization of the German states, in 1803 Offenburg lost its status as a Free Imperial City and fell [instead] under the rule of the Grand Duchy of Baden."
By this point on my trip, I was occasionally concerned, but not overly so, about the number of days I could, comfortably, allocate to the cycle tour given existing work commitments. I had this concern in mind when I set-off to Offenburg from Laufenburg, a nine hour ride covering about 130 miles, and the same when I made plans, in my mind, to depart Offenburg tomorrow morning without stopping to sample the city's exceptional history. Despite these conclusions, Offenburg and Freiburg nonetheless provided a delicious morsel to fuel my mental gymnastics even if the bulk of that inspiration, a main course, will have to wait for an adventure with different priorities. For what remains of this trip, my priority is to ride from somewhere in the Czech Republic to the River Elbe then follow the Elbe River Cycle Route back to Hamburg. I hope to return to Hamburg within about 16 days of my departure date (5 October). As the "somewhere in the Czech Republic" implies, I'm reconsidering my route to, and including, Cheb. I'll hatch those changes, if any, soon.
The EuroVelo Route #15 on the German side of the Rhine is fast, for the most part well signed, and scenic. Unlike the same route on the French side, the Rhine Cycle Route in this part of Germany is often alongside the Rhine rather than alongside canals. My only complaint for the day, other than my own blunders that led to three cul-de-sacs (more below), is that I could have done with less riding on the tops of levées. From the vantage of a levée a solo rider has a lovely view of the river and adjacent wetlands but they also experience the full wrath of the wind, which was blowing into my face and over my left shoulder most of the day with moderate intensity. It was the wind that drove me, not mad, but towards alternate routes, some of which I cannot recommend.
Despite more than sufficient signage and a GPS staring-up at me, today I still managed to ride myself into not one or two cul-de-sacs, but three! Each time, I was faced with the river or a canal on my left, the end of the road ahead of me, and a canal on my right. Each time, I had to turn back and repeat, in one case many miles, the ride back to where I'd gone awry. On the third and worst trial of them all, a attempted shortcut back to the main route resulted in a rendezvous with bait used to draw in pigs and the offending hide directly ahead of me. Fortunately, a man on a bike starkly contrasts with a pig on a hoof, and so perhaps, for this reason, I was not shot dead. However, for reassurance, I offered a few verbal "don't shoot, helloooo" requests from my RLT 9 Steel bicycle as I made my way past the hides inky shadows, no doubt in a verklempt state. By the time I recovered from the third cul-de-sac of the day, I was searching for wisdom from which I can offer this sage advice: when navigating within the network of river and canal along the Rhine stick to the main, well signed, route; taking shortcuts will almost always lead to disappointment and perhaps even a morbid conclusion.
Cul-de-sacs and the inky shadows of a pig blind withstanding, I did survive to tell the tale of a memorable and enjoyable adventure today, the tenth day of my tour. I'm going to recall the day this way while my subconscious smooths over any rough edges. In the meantime, my eyes, wet and running most of the day because of the wind, will be getting some much needed rest in the space allocated to me within Susanne's lovely AirBnB which includes, for 56$, all the Illy Espresso I dare to drink (a fair bit in the morning), an espresso machine, and a secured basement for stashing my bike. From the city that witnessed the "first democratic demand" in what is now modern Germany, I offer you a Gute Nacht und freche Träume.
Today's Route: https://www.strava.com/activities/743349153
Each day unfolds as it wishes, and this morning was no exception. The day unfolded slowly starting with four Illy Espresso's made in the kitchen a few meters from my room, for which I paid 41$. My slow pace was motivated by the cold, likely the coldest morning so far, just 2.8 C (37 F) at 9 am; by the weather forecast, windy and overcast with rain possible throughout the day; and the stage of the trip, 1,333 kilometers (833 miles) in my legs since leaving Hamburg at the conclusion of yesterday, day eight. For this suite of reasons, I departed Srdjan's, a Serbian from Belgrade, at a few minutes after 10! The air was cold and thick with moisture from the night before, my glasses easily fogged-up if I wasn't careful, and my nose ran like the Rhine.
As I implied, I wasn't sure where I was going when I rolled onto the tram tracks in front of the building containing Srdjan's flat, except for the first mile, a short section of bike trail that I could easily see on my OpenFeitsMap base layer. If you own a GPS and are not aware of these open-source maps, then I recommend checking them out for cycling in Europe. The cycle route detail is exceptional and, so far, 100% accurate. Much of my freelancing through the countryside would have been much more difficult, led to regrettable route choices, without these free maps. The base layer was so helpful that I made a donation to the open-source effort shortly after returning to Hamburg.
Despite the weather, drizzle, cold, thick cloud cover, and a light wind, my planned mile serendipitously included a fascinating ride through old Basel starting with the "middle bridge", das Mittlerer Brücke or Mittlere Rheinbrücke, in the German language spoken by native Baslers: "The Mittlerer Brücke is the oldest crossing of the Rhine in Basel. The first bridge in this [location] was built in the first half of the 13th century," The original stone bridge, renovated many times throughout history of course, was replaced by an iron bridge in 1903 which remains to this day.
Digging into a bit of history associated with this bridge led to some challenging translations, but enough of the details to get a sense of a shockingly morbid past: "The [stone] bridge ... served [throughout medieval history] as a [place for conducting executions] ... the death sentence was [typically] carried-out by drowning ... child-murderers, adulteresses and thieves [were] thrown into the river on their hands and feet. If they were still alive ... at ... Thomasturm, which is about 800 meters away, ... the then border, the ... death penalty was [dropped] and [they were] banished ... from the city instead. Resuscitation measures for the drowned ... had been known and spread throughout Europe since the early modern age. For this reason, too many condemned survived, so that drowning was replaced by beheading in 1634. [In] another form of [execution carried-out from the stone bridge the convict was] tied up and [tethered] to [the bridge], the convict [was then] flooded three times under the bridge."
After pausing, mid-way across the Mittler Brücke, for a few photos, I covered the short distance to the opposite bank of the Rhine and, after missing the turn the first time around, turned-back and made a hard right and was then immediately faced with a steep, 18% plus, climb on a narrow cobble stone track. At this point, it was clear that I'd entered a popular tourist area, some were off their bikes, pushing towards the summit, a few more were chatting as they sauntered, hands-free up or down the Rittergasse. At the top of the short climb, I encountered a common feature of old European towns and villages, a constantly flowing water spigot with a bathtub like pool below the spout. I dodged the few tourists that happened to be sharing the less-than-ideal weather day with me, added another horrible suite of photos to my morning collection, and rode on to, my surprise, the historical Rathaus ("council house") and marketplatz.
The council house dates "from the 16th century ... and is decorated with fine murals on the outer walls and on the walls of the inner court." The market place, including the Rathaus, conjured up an image of bygone days, when beggars and guilds were the norm and religion was the source of all knowledge. After exiting the marketplatz, I soon found myself descending a narrow, slippery, cobble-surfaced road back to the river. Along the way, I cycled past many more picturesque scenes of old Europe, including a stream that descended via a series of man-made water falls between houses down to the Rhine . All told, from the bridge to the descent, most of an hour, I enjoyed a wondrous mile. But it seems that everything comes with a cost, as it was in this case, because at the end of my serendipitous tour of old Basel I entered a very different scene, what we might call "modern" Basel.
Industrial, smelly, trafficked, without cycle lanes or even much of a road shoulder, a place where lorries make the rules and cyclist focus on breathing and staying alive. It was quit a shock for a naive visitor from North America that was carrying with him images of a storybook land, including clean water, the smell of forests in the air, green hills, and the majestic Alps in the background. At the time, as I struggled to find an alternative route, each time returning to the main road and the traffic, I thought this was going to persist for much longer. But after roughly an hour, and following a few false starts on sections of, what turned out to be, short dirt tracks through the forest, I eventually found a dirt cycle route (one-lane road) along the river that went on for many kilometers. And it was worth the wait. I was not deep within the forest, in reality, but it felt that way and that's all that mattered as it allowed me to come down from an over aroused state-of-mind. That short ride through industrial Switzerland ultimately led me to fond memories of natural landscapes, the river and the forest, shags and other bird life commuting over the Rhine, images for reflection when I am old and withered.
What I tolerated through "modern" Basel and adjacent communities is an example of something I've reflected on a few times on this trip: mistakes are not necessarily a bad thing, like choosing a route through industrial Switzerland; they can instead, if you allow them time to mature, lead to a serendipitous conclusion. Today, I considered ending my short ride through Switzerland early, crossing the river and turning north into Germany, but instead I persisted. The result was beautiful vistas along the Rhine and at the conclusion of my day, a place to explore and sleep in one of the prettiest villages I've been lucky enough to visit. My mistake was an awful route from about mile three to fifteen. But it worked-out well, very well. I'm planning to make more mistakes tomorrow!
For my short day, and in celebration of reaching the southern extent of my little tour, shortly after rolling into Laufenburg I went to another restaurant! That's two in two days, null the previous seven days. And wow, so good, so good. Salad, pasta, and more. Plus an alcoholfrei beer. Prost! After lunch-dinner I asked the restaurateur about lodging and she knew of a BnB owner two doors down on the same little cobbled street in Laufenburg, Switzerland. A moment later she was off the phone and I had the last room for about 50 Euro. I'm living a privileged life this evening.
Before I close I want to share some of the history of the twin villages of Laufenburg, a village split by the Rhine and overseen by two countries, Germany on the east bank and Switzerland on the west with a car-excluded bridge between them: "This strange situation dates back to the Napoleonic wars. Before that, both sides of the Rhine were Austrian territory. The former Austrian province was divided in two along the Rhine, the north Bank going to the Duchy of Baden, and the south bank to the Kanton of Aargau. Ever since then there have been two Laufenburgs." As the images, below, demonstrate, the villages offer, in their architecture and their placement on either bank of the Rhine, a storybook scene worthy of my North American naiveté. The German village of Laufenburg was first noted in 1207.
Despite by far my shortest distance in nine days, it has nonetheless been a tough day at times, wind and cold, trucks, noise, and the smells of industry. But the result, the here and now that it all led to, is my own private Wonderland. I'll smile into sleep and look for more rabbit holes in the morning. Until then, I bid you Guten Nacht from Janet's beautiful Bed & Breakfast on the west bank of the Rhine where in 1792 the French Revolutionary Army established its base camp.
Today's Route: https://www.strava.com/activities/742499350
The EuroVelo 15, aka, Rhine Cycle Route, follows the Rhine from its source in the Swiss Alps to its end at the Nordsee in the Netherlands. As the number fifteen implies, there are other EuroVelo routes: as of October 2016, fifteen are either completed, like the Rhine Cycle Route, or in some stage of development, such as the EuroVelo 9. When the EuroVelo 9 is completed, cyclists will be able to ride from the East Sea in Poland all the way to the Adriatic in Italy; a distance of 1,930 kilometers (1,199 miles) all on a well-marked cycling route. The list of EuroVelo routes on this web page is truly enviable fodder for any contemplative cyclist. If you're addicted to your bike(s), then I advise that you check it out right away and start making your own plans to explore a portion of the over 70,000 kilometers (43,495 miles) of signed cycling routes. Put that in your dirty bike sock and eat it!
Whilst sipping coffee this morning, I was thrilled when I discovered that the EuroVelo 15 was less than 200 meters from my room at Eric and Julie's AirBnB in Strasbourg. That proximity made the start of my day far simpler, or at least it should have anyway, than navigating through the city of Strasbourg in search of the famous bike path by the Rhine. Nonetheless, as I approached the city center, by this point already on the Rhine Cycle Route, I still managed to miss a few turns, each time requiring that I turn-around and relocate the route. Those errors withstanding, it took less than 30 minutes to exit the city where I was on my way to Switzerland via the Rhine Cycle Route on the French side of the river.
As I exited town, I was aware of a famous church, Strasbourg Cathedral, easily visible at times, to the north, from the bike route. But I decided to ride on, perhaps on my next visit to Strasbourg I'll make my introduction to this exceptionally historic building: "At 142 metres (466 feet), it was the world's tallest building from 1647 to 1874 (227 years), when it was surpassed by St. Nikolai's Church, Hamburg. Today it is the sixth-tallest church in the world and the highest extant structure built entirely in the Middle Ages. [It was] described by Victor Hugo as a "gigantic and delicate marvel", and by Goethe as a "sublimely towering, wide-spreading tree of God."
On the French side of the Rhine, as this implies the Rhine Cycle Route is available on both sides of the river, at times a moderate headwind shaved some of my speed. Otherwise, on varied surfaces including hard-packed dirt and pea gravel, I managed to keep a reasonable bike touring pace, average 15-16 mph (24-26 kph) but often 20-22 mph (32-35 kph), with a body that is now eight days into a long bike trip without a break.
Three hours into the ride I passed through a small village, wandered around, was nearly run over by a kid on a scooter, and eventually found what I was looking for, a baguette! The last few days I've had one hanging out of a kit pocket or two, broken in half, for refueling on the go as I pedal across the countryside. They're excellent bike food, along with fresh apples, cherry tomatoes, and nuts. And when I stop cheese, sliced meats, and other easily carried foods have also been popular on the shop-as-I-go menu.
Despite the #15 being complete, including signs, it's still tricky to follow in and out of human population centers, even small villages. That's led to many mistakes, including one that I decided not to recover from, instead I rode on, a decision that turned out to be serendipitous. Soon I was spinning through a forest, alone, just the bird chatter to keep me company. It was a nice break from route finding. I continued south on a very straight line for many miles, made-up some time along the way (recovered my average 15 mph pace for the day), and enjoyed a road, and cycle route, less traveled.
My biggest surprise today was the absence, with rare exception, of the Rhine on the French portion of the Rhine Cycle Route that I followed from Strasbourg to Basel. Instead, the French route favors often paved (not exclusively) bike paths along a network of canals that parallel the Rhine. I was slightly disappointed by the absence of the famous river. Nonetheless, the route did not disappoint an adventure seeking cyclist and if I'd had more time there were plenty of opportunities for side trips, especially the famous Alsatian Wine Region including the self-proclaimed capital, Colmar, France: "[Colmar} considers itself to be the ... capitale des vins d'Alsace. The city is renowned for its well preserved old town, its numerous architectural landmarks and its museums." For a cyclist, an evening in the old town to sample the wine and a part of a day to make a quick tour is certainly an enviable objective. Hopefully, I'll get a second chance to sample the Alsace.
Basel made itself known in typical urban fashion as it grew out of the woods and verge until it surrounded me on all sides, a wee bike rider in contrast. Basel is small relative to New York City or even Hamburg, but it's nonetheless a city by any measure, "urban" and all that the word implies. As has become my habit, I located a grocery store and purchased what I needed for an evening meal, breakfast, and snacks the next day (on-the-go bike food). Then I did something I've not done since I departed Hamburg, I went to restaurant! For this occasion I chose an Indian take-out option that also had stay-and-eat seating. I ordered an appetizer followd by two entrées, I could have eaten a third. My body celebrated each bite of the warm, spicy, food. Up until this foray into an Indian kitchen, warm food had been on the menu only one other time, at the conclusion of day two.
I have some ideas about tomorrow but at this moment I'm still contemplating most of the details. Uncertainty aside, soon I must begin my northward migration towards Hamburg and Northern Germany. Following today's unplanned ca. 100 mile ride from Strasbourg south to Basel, I'm now over 500 miles, 800 km, from Hamburg by the shortest auto route. That confirms that I'll be riding on for some time, apparently, before I perform the last pedal revolution at the end of the tour.
This evening my AirBnB host is a fellow from Belgrade, Serbia. Srdjan eventually met a Swiss lady, Mirijam, in Switzerland and never left. Srdjan kindly offered me a beer in the evening and we discussed, mostly he educated me, his experience living in Serbia, including the period from 1992 to 1995 when adjacent Bosnia and Herzegovina were at war and carrying-out awful, really unbelievable, war crimes. One comment that stuck was "the story told by the media was very misleading", paraphrased. In fact, he informed me that people, including himself, that wanted the real story to be told, eventually gave up and accepted that the media was not something that they could influence to the extent that was necessary to clean-up their misleading story.
But wars aside, and instead, a comfortable place to stay for less than 30 Euro foremost, I agree with Katia, another guest of Srdjan's, "[that] Srdjan [and Mirijam's] house is simple ... cozy and charming. [Srdjan] is a lovely, helpful gentleman. Don't miss staying at [their] place." In the morning I'll have a go at operating Srdjan's espresso machine, perhaps the best AirBnB espresso so far? We will see, and see as well how the day unfolds ... in the morning I'll make some decisions about the next here and now. I bid you Guten Nacht from where I am sitting, feet up, a beer on my right, less than a handful of kilometers from a border, in the middle of the Rhine, shared by France, Germany, and Switzerland. If you set it free, life delivers marvelous in large doses.
Today's Route: https://www.strava.com/activities/741473291
I'm starting to forget how many days have passed since I left Hamburg. How about seven? And what a day it was. By the time I finished yesterday in Metz, France, I was already many kilometers off my planned route. I had freelanced my way from Belgium and about 1/3rd of the way across northeastern France towards Germany and the Alps. Today I continued, without a GPS trackline to guide me, to the Rhine and the French-German border. My average pace was a little better than 15 mph, including stops. Along the way, I covered 108 miles (172 km) not counting the few miles from the grocery store to Eric and Julie's AirBnB close to the city center of Strasbourg, France, a city of exceptional antiquity: "The human occupation of the environs of Strasbourg goes back many thousands of years. Neolithic, bronze age and iron age artifacts have [all] been uncovered by archeological excavations. [Strasbourg] was permanently settled by proto-Celts around 1300 BC."
Long before I arrived to the ancient city of Strasbourg on the Rhine, the day started fast for my relatively heavy touring set-up, nearly 20 miles (32 km) in the first hour. But subsequently I pedaled into a significant headwind which persisted most of the way to Sarrebourg, a city about half the distance between Metz and Strasbourg. Adding insult to injury, the D999 and D27 were occasionally uncomfortable, you might say, for a cyclist. Despite light traffic most of the time, the few vehicles that did drive past, including lorries and tourist buses, showed very little concern for my safety. One bus in particular left me no more than a few inches as it zipped past in excess of, what felt like, 120 kph (75 mph). With no bike lane or road shoulder whatsoever, the incident with the bus gave rise to an exceptional state of shock that was shortly thereafter followed by a middle finger wave. Given the company on the road and the distance I wanted to cover today, on the ride from Metz to Sarrebourg I focused on staying alive while maintaining a steady pace. I stopped only when necessary to reassess my route which was mostly via dead reckoning using the horizon and the sun as my guide.
I was expecting more wind and possibly even the foothills of the Alps, which I could occasionally see on the horizon, as I approached Sarrebourg but neither concern materialized. Instead, I made my way through a portion of the medium-sized city then made a right turn, to the south, and crossed the La Sarre River. Straight-on I arrived to and rode over a canal before I turned left onto, something close to, Rue de River, "river road". Finally, the river road led me to the same canal that I'd crossed, Canal de la Marne au Rhine, and soon thereafter I was celebrating a wonderful event that happened, for the most part, by chance (aka, serendipity). The wind and traffic I dealt with for ca. 68 miles (110 km) was quickly a distant memory as I pedaled my way along Canal de la Marne au Rhine. As the light improved, I slowed down for photos, by this time well into the afternoon.
I had detected the Canal de la Marne au Rhine earlier in the day while studying Google map images and was planning to check it out once I reached Sarrebourg. However, my expectations were only half as good as what lay in store for me. The Canal de la Marne au Rhine, part of a network of canals that connect, e.g., the Rhine to the Moselle in Metz, allows boat traffic deep into northeast France. Shortly after locating the canal along the Rue de River, I was spinning comfortably on a (most of the time) paved bike path that, at the end of the day, delivered me to French villages overlooking Strasbourg and the River Rhine. The city and river below were magestic, but the small villages themselves were, for my senses, even more picturesque and memorable. Winding mostly down, down, down, along narrow, steep, cobble stone roads the last few kilometers before entering Strasbourg proper I was treated to an old Europe as much as anywhere else on my trip.
I rolled into Strasbourg at about 5:30, found a grocery store and then my bed for the night at Eric and Julie's AirBnB. Looking out my window, as I type on my iPhone, I can see, 1/2 km away, the European Union Parliament building. Life is full of surprises, but certainly some days deliver more than others. In the evenings I'm wasted, nonetheless I'm surprised how well I continue to feel on the bike day after day. As of this moment, seven days into the tour, I've covered over 700 miles (1120 km) through Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and France. My shortest day has been about 70 miles, my longest close to 120. Since entering the Ardennes on day four, I've climbed and descended several thousand feet of elevation, including some very steep grades in excess of 18%.
However, the excitement of arriving, as I have, to a River that, like Galileo, is nearly always referred to just by it's first name, "Rhine", quickly dissipated any consideration I might otherwise had allocated to reflecting on my fatigue. And there is the city itself, Strasbourg, a city with a history as impressive as any other in Europe. The name, "Rhine", has been adapted by many languages from the original Gaulish name Rēnos. The Rhine has been and remains so significant in Europe that it has it's own linear measurement, the "Rhine-Kilometer", "a scale introduced in 1939 which runs from the Old Rhine Bridge at [Lake] Constance (0 km) to Hoek van Holland (1036.20 km)." From antiquity, "The Rhine was not known to Herodotus and first enters the historical period in the 1st century BC in Roman-era geography. At that time, it formed the boundary between Gaul and Germania. Augustus ordered his general Drusus to establish 50 military camps along the Rhine, starting the Germanic Wars in 12 BC. At this time, the plain of the Lower Rhine was the territory of the Ubii. The first urban settlement, on the grounds of what is today the centre of Cologne, along the Rhine, was Oppidum Ubiorum, ... founded [by the Ubii] in 38 BC." And that's just the first few breaths when it comes to humanity and their comings and goings from the Rhine. It would literally take, it seems after a quick scroll through Wikipedia's Rhine page, minimum two full university courses to cover the entire history in detail.
On the left bank of the Rhine, in what has been Germany in the recent past, is Strasbourg, a city with a tireless history. Artifacts unearthed in Strasbourg include relics of the Neolithic Period (ca. 10,200 to 4500-2200 BC), Bronze (ca. 3300 to 1200 BC) and Iron Ages (ca. 1200 BC to 600 BC). Nearing the conclusion of the third century BC, Strasbourg "developed into a Celtic township" before a long period of Roman rule: "The Romans under Nero Claudius Drusus established a military outpost belonging to the Germania Superior Roman province at Strasbourg's current location, and named it Argentoratum. (Hence the town is commonly called Argentina in medieval Latin) The name "Argentoratum" was first mentioned in 12 BC and the city celebrated its 2,000th birthday in 1988[!]" And following God(s), one would assume, displeasure with Rome, "In the fifth century Strasbourg was occupied successively by Alemanni, Huns, and Franks. In the ninth century it was commonly known as Strazburg in the local language, as documented in 842 by the Oaths of Strasbourg." And on and on the story goes until a lone, unexceptional, traveler glides down narrow streets through villages on his RLT9 Steel into Strasbourg on 11 October 2016.
With so much already behind me and so many possibilities ahead, the question of 'how to proceed' seems foremost this evening as I prepare for sleep. Should I accept my "farthest south" as Strasbourg and turn north, tomorrow, on the Rhine Cycle Route? Or, should I instead turn south, on the French-side of the Rhine, and adventure my way to Basel, Switzerland. You might be able to guess what option I'm favoring. I will sleep on it, and decide in the morning over an americano or a second espresso. It's 89 miles, about 150 km, to Basel from Strasbourg. Well within the reach of a cyclist inspired by nearly every moment of the last seven days. Dormez bien et réveillez-vous avec une inspiration pour suivre vos rêves.