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."