In this blog-entry I recall my experiences since I started self-coaching after the 2016 Leadville Trail 100 (13 August). Details include post-race season tours through Europe and a successful 10,000 mile (16,000 km) distance goal, the second year in a row that I rode over 10,000 miles on a bike. By December 2016, I was adapting to a gym plan that would, in hindsight, lead to significant power improvement on the bike when I re-saddled-up on 4 February, 2017, the day after I arrived to Mallorca for a European-style month of "spring" training. This entry wraps-up with a summary of training from February through April. In my next blog, I'll talk about changes I made to my primary race bike just before the season began in 2017 and begin what I'll complete in a subsequent blog, to lay-out the details of nutritional mistakes and the effects that those had on my performances at the FoCo 102 (6 June) and 12-hrs of Mesa Verde (13 June).
For the first time since I called pro-roadie Alex Hagman in March 2013 and asked him if he'd coach me through my goals to qualify-for and subsequently compete in the Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race, the beginning of my non-recreational (training and racing) cycling history, I set-out in the fall and winter of 2016-17 to self-coach in the gym and on the bike, Backing-up from present to that first call to Alex, Alex coached me in 2013, 2014, and 2016. In between, 2015, I was coached by a Northern Colorado Grassroots teammate, Pat Nash. This season I've received valuable advice from Clint Knapp, a former top national and world pro mountain and trials bike athlete.
Following the 2016 Leadville Trail 100, I let me my race fitness decline, as I have in the past about this time, and instead focused on riding with friends before I made the "cat jump" back to Hamburg on 13 September. Upon arriving in Hamburg, I settled-in and enjoyed some local, chill, rides. Nearly three weeks slipped passed and then I was departing (5 October) for a journey that unfolded one day at a time until day 16 when I returned to Hamburg on my Niner Bikes RLT 9 Steel gravel grinder. It took me weeks to transfer that story from images and my mind to the digital interface of my blog. However, that effort behind me now, visitors can explore each day of my trip by clicking on links to each day on my home page. But note, in the future I'll remove those links (replace them with others) and users will instead need to click on October 2016 under Archives (top-right on this page) and then scroll through each daily blog entry, look for Europe Tour | Autumn 2016, each day includes many photographs.
Upon arriving back to the Bismarckstrassa in Hamburg on 20 October, I took some time to recover from 1600 miles (2575 km) of cycling in 16 days through seven countries. But then I was back on the bikes that I'd flown over with from the US, Giant TCR Composite 1.0 and the RLT, to conclude the last few hundred miles of my 10,000 mile (16,000 km) cycling goal. Unfortunately for my fingers in particular, I delayed my decision to complete the 10,000 mile goal for a couple of weeks. Then finally, on 22 November, well into the onset of winter in Hamburg, I awoke from my slumber and attacked the remaining 622 miles (1001 km). On a very cold day, 29 November, with snow on both road shoulders and often ice between mixed with wet leaves, I completed my fourth and final hundo distance ride (160+ km) in seven days to complete my goal and just in time given weather predictions at that time.
It's always a relief, and deeply satisfying of course, to complete a difficult goal, such as cycling 10,000 miles (16,000 km) in a year (second year running), and my experience as the sun set on November 29th was no different. Nonetheless, I can't imagine what the same conclusion would have felt like when British cyclist Tommy Godwin completed his epic cycling year in 1940 in the midst of WWII. Tommy cycled over 75,000 miles from January 1939 to January 1940 and then went on, without a break, to set another World record, 100,000 miles on a bike in 500 days. After completing the latter record, which he still holds, Tommy "... dismounted [his bike] and spent weeks learning how to walk [again] before going to war in the RAF". You can read more about Tommy's accomplishments here and at Wikipedia.
Returning to what can only be regarded as a relatively modest accomplishment (10,000 miles in a year) compared to Tommy and other cycling legends, after I completed my last hundo I initiated the first phase of my self-coaching experiment: (1) I hung up my bikes (for two months); and (2), initiated a structured, four times per week, weight training regimen in Kaifu Lodge, a well-equipped, diverse, training and recreational sport facility about five minutes walk from my home in Hamburg. I allowed myself a period of burn-in, a concept that I'm borrowing from another period in my life when I found myself deep down the rabbit hole of Statistics, whereby I allowed my body to undergo the physiological and structural changes that would be beneficial when I upped the weight and intensity for four weeks in January. I also traveled during the first two weeks of December, nonetheless I managed to lay the foundation of what would be my weight training work-out plan for the next eight weeks. By January, I was routinely making my way to the gym, often seven days a week. On the off-weight days I stretched and relaxed in the various saunas offered at Kaifu.
During this time, I also returned to running, mostly on the treadmill. As part of this component of my athletic training, I set a goal to run a 5k in under 19 minutes 30 seconds. I accomplished that goal on 22 January and subsequently, on January 26th, set a personal record for a 5k distance on the treadmill of 19 minutes 4 seconds. The day before I ran the same distance on the treadmill in 19 minutes 6 seconds. My ambition was to repeat the sub-19:30 goal outside but weather and other factors derailed my good intentions. No doubt I'll suffer again into the sub-20 realm in the winter of 2017-18 and perhaps find the window that I need to repeat the sub-19:30 goal outside. Or perhaps I'll up-the-prize and embark on a plan that will bring me to sub-19. Stay tuned!
Back to the gym and January, to the right is a seven-day block of training to give readers an idea of what my 'structured' training looked like as far as daily and weekly doses. Within those doses, I was increasing weight frequently, and gradually. My foci were legs, upper body, and core, enough to keep me in the gym, with running, each day for about 2-3 hours. And as a rule, in addition to weights and running, I typically finished with stretching followed by relaxation in one or more saunas after each workout. I'll highlight just one of those stretches, captured in an image below (scroll down). That stretch demonstrates my commitment to stretching my quads, in part to reduce the tendency for my back to sway with uncomfortable implications (low back pain). It took me weeks of gradual stretching to go as deep as the position I'm holding (all the way to the floor) in that image. Prior to going deep into this particular stretch, all of the cycling hours and miles I was inflicting on my body were resulting in reliable back pain even after short walks. Now that I'm stretching my quads regularly, during the cycling season as well, back pain almost never arises and when it does it's far less uncomfortable than it had been in the past.
My two month block of weight lifting, intensive stretching, and incrementally increasing my 5k pace were all very successful as far as contributions that each made to my physical and mental strength, health, and wellness. Inspired by those successes, I'm now looking and thinking about an even better plan, especially the weight lifting component, to implement during the 2017-18 winter break from cycling. At the moment, 28 June 2017, I'm in discussion with Clint Knapp, my primary adviser in 2017, and I anticipate that I'll fully-integrate his 18 week gym plan starting in October. Given my success after just two months, I'm guessing, anticipating, that Clint's plan will deliver very exciting results when I return to racing in 2018.
At the conclusion of January, 2017, as I was wrapping-up training in the gym, I was already preparing my Giant TCR Comp 1 road bike for a short flight to Mallorca, Spain, an island east of mainland Spain about 320 kilometers as the hoopee fly's. For all of the details from February, a month of cycle training in Mallorca, head-over to this blog entry or scroll down this page. For what remains of this entry, I want to briefly describe my self-coaching dosages and structure during the months of March and April.
My objectives in Mallorca were to reboot my cycling body, with the new strength I'd added to my legs over December and January, and quickly build-up my endurance engine. Both objectives went well, I often felt good on the bike and my power had clearly improved following my commitment to the weight room. By the way, I feel fortunate to have a Quarq Riken R Power Meter bolted to my Giant road bike, and I'm grateful to a friend, Bill Lutes, for gifting me this unit a few years ago. Since then Quarq has warrantied the device twice, so I presently have the state-of-the-art Riken because of Quarq's exceptional customer service policies and Bill's initial generosity. If you're considering a power meter then I'd look no farther than Quarq. In my view, customer service and quality offered by Quarq is the very best in the industry.
I continued to build my endurance base through March and April. After riding 1187 miles (1910 km) with 65,726 feet (20,033 meters) of climbing in February (all in Mallorca), I added 1232 + 1113 miles and 56,053 + 64,824 feet in March and April, respectively. By late March, I was also integrating threshold efforts and shorter efforts intended to exercise and develop my anaerobic zone. My strategy for these efforts was then and continues to be, basically, to ride hard, as if racing, for 2-3 hours and during those efforts to push into my anaerobic zone on short climbs sporadically over the course of the whole ride. As this implies, March and February (and up to present) contained very few structured intervals, so few that they are not worth mentioning here. Yet despite a lack of structure, I came into May, my first month of racing, feeling strong with the numbers to back that up on the Performance Management Chart (PMC) provided with a subscription to Training Peaks.
Similar to how I've been researching better ways to weight train in the 2017-18 winter period, I'm also asking questions and narrowing down a better way to interval train in 2018. Although I made obvious gains in performance with my unstructured method and certainly had some fun keeping it unstructured, there is no doubt that what I've struggled with the most this season was the cost of (unintentionally) dropping structured intervals. I'll pick-up with those details, and many more from my experience racing and training in May and June, in my next blog entry. In the meantime, ride on ... and perhaps I'll see you at Wednesday Night World Championships this evening?
Below I recall the development of my decision to travel from Hamburg, Germany, my winter residence, to the island of Mallorca, Spain, to initiate training for the 2017 endurance, mountain bike, racing season. This is followed by my thoughts and a few of my experiences on the island over the 26 days that I based my cycling, personal, and business life out of the Village of Santa Margalida in a house built during the lifetime of Galileo Galilee in the 17th-century. In my next blog entry, I'll discuss my experiences from August 2016 to April 2017 self-coaching for the first time since I initiated non-recreational cycling (training and racing) on April 1st, 2013.
From my winter base camp perspective, gazing-out the window from the third floor of an old brownstone on the Bismarckstrassa in Hamburg, Germany, it has been easy for my mind to slip comfortably into day-dreams framed by relatively nearby places where a motivated cyclist could, sensibly, spend part of the winter. I recall being afflicted by these dreamscapes shortly after I arrived to Hamburg for the first time, in September 2015. However, foremost in this evolution of an idea were days spent wandering on my Giant TCR Composite 1.0 road bike through the picturesque countryside of northern Germany. Despite this early contemplation, crystallization and the courage to go where I had not gone myself, despite an obvious and well beaten path pioneered by countless European cyclists, did not make it's debut until part-way through my second and most recent stint in Deutschland. From that point, however, my arrival at a 17th century doorstep in the modest, remote, and generally sleepy, retirement village of Santa Margalida, on the island of Mallorca, Spain, moved along with some haste; and in hindsight I anticipate 'no regrets' forthcoming, only very special memories to celebrate and inspire.
After nearly five months residing in a city known to Charlemagne, "King of the Franks from 768, King of the Lombards from 774 and Emperor of the Romans from 800" (Wikipedia), I boarded a local air-carrier on 3 February, 2017; from Hamburg, a few hours later, I landed in Mallorca or Majorca. Spelling preference aside, shortly after arriving I picked-up a scheduled rental car which I rarely used but nevertheless retained for the entire month of February for less than 100 Euro, no doubt one of the benefits of visiting the Mediterranean island, located about 320 kilometers (ca. 200 miles) east of Valencia on the Spanish mainland, during a month when the majority of European cyclists felt the island was too cool and too wet for their pleasure. Regarding those goose bumps and wet fannies, respectively, I'd conclude, in contrast, that I suffered almost not throughout my stay, from cold, or wet, conditions. Much more prominent was the wind, an atmospheric disturbance reliably detected any month of the year on Mallorca. But that too was easily forgotten, on most days, a few notables withstanding, and thus certainly not an omnipresent deductible that had to be factored out of my otherwise unfettered, often gleeful, cycling happiness.
Thanks to modern conveniences, namely a cell phone paired with a carrier (O2) providing EU-wide access to the internet with a whopping 7 GB of data for just 40 Euro a month (when I returned to Germany they dropped the monthly rate to just 20 Euro), navigational and other challenges I encountered in Spain were easily overcome in the usual way, tapping and sliding across the various made-for-smart-phone interfaces. Those conveniences allowed me to quickly locate my home for the next month in Santa Margalida which I booked through AirBnB for about 1200 Euro all inclusive (ca. 1350 USD, 25 nights). Here's the link to the property which I would recommend without any hesitation, the property and the managers, including the home owner, were fabulous. Below I've shared a few photos of the property including the view from the 3rd-floor rooftop sitting and dining area. Keep in mind, if you contact Mateu (owner) and Natalie (property manager) about renting this property, that the rate I received was off-season. You may have to pay more per night to rent the Galileo House but the conveniences (location) and experiences (the village and the house) will easily make-up for the cost.
The morning following my arrival, 4 February, training officially began for what would be, and only the universe knew then and now, my 2017 season as a amateur, endurance mountain bike, racer and athlete. Armed with a route I'd built using software familiar to me from my European Tour in October 2016, ridewithgps.com, and my Garmin eTrex GPS, I rolled downhill from the Galileo House into wonderland. By the way, I nicknamed the house after Galileo because the structure was built in the 17th century, the century when Galileo published his best known contributions to Science, such as The Assayer (1623). As I rode into the countryside on a typical, mostly sunny, comfortable, no doubt breezy (can't recall) day I mentally pinched myself several times to ensure that I was in fact not daydreaming and still somewhere far to the north in the German countryside. What lay before me was a place with similarities to other places I'd visited but it was still a picture of it's own.
Dominated by limestone bedrock that was formed during the Cretaceous when most of central Europe was under a warm, tropical, inland sea, that same limestone remains prominent in all of the architecture noteworthy on the island, including walls, houses, churches, etc. It also dominates the sites between, from stony fields to remnant crags of a foregone continues layer of stone that was once a soft, gooey mud, at the bottom of a nearly forgotten sea (by all but a few geologists and curiosity seekers like myself). The only exceptions to this limestone predominance were formations, granitic and metamorphic types, that I encountered in the Tramuntana Mountains. The Tramuntana present a towering northeast-southwest trending series of summits and valleys that stretch the full length of the island, from Palma to Cap de Formentor. Most of the island is below those mountains and consists of a gently rolling landscape. On the valley floors within and below the mountains, agriculture including potato crops and other vegetables in the lowland valleys and mostly (it seemed) olive production up high are the norm including extensive orchards arranged on ancient terraced slopes. Citrus down low was also common as was much more than I was able to identify whilst whizzing past on my bicycle saddle. Fortunately, each week I visited the local, Santa Margalida, market, a few blocks from the Galileo House, I discovered the full extent of food types that were grown or raised on the island. And for just a few Euro, I struggled to haul all that my eyes desired, it seemed, back to the Galileo House.
On my first ride (4 February) I quickly arrived at the village of Muro, about seven kilometers from Santa Margalida. Later on I'd find my way, by chance or planning, to many more of these seemingly ancient towns peppered everywhere on the lowlands, well spaced and defined by agricultural lands. The many images below hopefully capture the feel and the age of these communities. I was often distracted as I rolled through each one, several of them many times over the month I resided on the island, enough so that it was not unusual to miss a turn and then decide to, or not, forge ahead into a new piece of what seemed like my own, private, and splendid cycling infrastructure over the initial 2-3 weeks that I was on the island.
After that initial period, it became clear that many more cyclists were arriving each day and by March the island might be accommodating more bikes than cars, something that the locals claimed was true at the peak of the tourist season on the island, a tourist season obviously dominated by cyclists. So-much-so that some hotels on the island hosted not just one, but two fully stocked bike shops! Long ago I discovered that anything is possible in wonderland, nonetheless that little detail, bike shops integrated into hotels, still sends me into the depths of my childhood with all of the naive satisfaction that the description implies.
From this point twenty-six days vanished but not without delivering more adventures than any other 26 day period in my life. Whether I was training in the lowlands, below the mountains, or navigating above views of the Mediterranean Sea, partially concealed by peaks rising to as high as 1445 meters (ca. 4740 feet), Puig Major, I was always stitched into a reality that inspired me to consider, almost exclusively, the good parts of life including adventures that I might otherwise have not considered but were now firmly entrenched in my day-to-day dreamscape.
Before I reluctantly departed the island, along with my girlfriend, Clarissa Knorr, I exercised my body and my Giant TCR Comp 1 a distance covering 1896 kilometers (1178 miles). My biggest week was 655 kilometers (407 miles); my biggest ride was just over 324 kilometers (201.5 miles) including 4681 meters (15,358 feet) of elevation gain (that was a personal record by the way, distance and climbing). From the perspective of a cyclist opening-up their season of training and racing, Mallorca couldn't be much better, no doubt it is one of the very best options for so-called "spring" training in Europe. Whatever is needed, as far as terrain, flats, short and long climbs, etc, the island delivers in bountiful diversity. And for those travelers that are primarily interested in culture, history, and a slower pace, the island also delivers in copious portions, including tombs that date back to the 7th-century BCE. For sure, anyone that makes their way to this splendid little Spanish island will come away glad that they gave way to the wanderlust inside them.
A Cycling Tour Through Seven European Countries ...
On 5 October 2016, with a notable reluctance relative to my previous adventures into the unknown, I departed my winter home in Hamburg, Germany, first south to the Elbe Tunnel and then, from the south bank of the Elbe River, west towards the Netherlands. I was anticipating about 10-16 days of light touring on my Niner Bikes RLT 9 Steel gravel bike. Along the way, I planned, using GPS maps and other digital tools, to explore six (not seven) countries. Four would be firsts for my modest country life-list: Netherlands; Belgium; Luxembourg; and the Czech Republic. And many of the regions in formerly experienced countries, France and Germany, would also be new, such as the département de moselle in northeast France. Sixteen days later, with 1534 miles (2454 km) in my legs and 122 bicycle touring hours in my body, I returned to Hamburg via the celebrated Elbe River Bike Path with a life's worth of experiences from a cycle tour of seven countries including Switzerland. In a suite of day-by-day blog entries, 16 in total, including maps for visualizing the routes I took through the various countries, I will soon publish totally revised, expanded and revisited text previously posted to Facebook as the trip was unfolding. The upcoming blog version of my experiences on a tour of seven countries will offer a more detailed recollection whilst taking care not to depreciate the moment-by-moment expression of my original Facebook posts. Here's a sneak preview, the first day of the tour, Europe Tour | Autumn 2016 | Day 1. Days 2-16 will be published and made available soon at Andre Breton Racing Dot Com ...
Update: As of late December 2016 all 16 days have been updated and posted to my blog page, scroll down this page to view each entry.
A cycling tour of seven countries in sixteen days (5-20 Oct 2016) riding counterclockwise from Hamburg, Germany. Over the sixteen days I rode 1534 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 trip. With one exception, colored lines on the map represent a day of riding. Day 1, for example, is the brown line extending west out of Hamburg. The exception is Day 12, when I completed two short rides to (pink line) / from (line not visible in this image) train stations in Sinsheim, Germany, and Ústí nad Labum, Czech Republic, respectively.
One More Race Across the Sky ...
On 4 and 9 July 2016, I competed in back-to-back fifty mile (80 km), high elevation, endurance mountain bike races, the Firecracker and Silver Rush 50s. I was disappointed by my result at the first event but despite only four days to recover, I was excited about my finish at the Silver Rush. On 24 July, I completed my July racing calendar with an exciting second place overall finish on my Niner Bikes Jet 9 RDO at 40 in The Fort, a difficult 40-mile endurance race hosted by the Overland Mountain Bike Club in Fort Collins, Colorado. You can read more about these events, and my thoughts leading-up to them, here at Andre Breton Racing Dot Com. In a soon-to-be-released blog entry, One More Race Across the Sky, I'll be writing about the last race on my 2016 calendar, the Leadville Trail 100. Writing retrospectively, many weeks after the event from my winter base-camp in Hamburg, Germany, in this forthcoming post I'll be reflecting on my thoughts and experiences preparing for, and then racing in, one more, perhaps my last, Race Across The Sky. On 13 August 2016, after 7 hrs, 58 minutes, and 59 seconds of racing, I crossed the finish line on Harrison Avenue in Leadville, Colorado, on my Niner Bikes Air 9 RDO for the fourth time in four years. The sub-eight hour finish, something I attempted but failed to achieve in 2015, was my best finish to date in the Leadville 100: 68th/1800 overall, 18th/523 among age 40-49 men. I finished just 15 minutes off the age 40-49 male podium. But palmarès reveal only a small part of a much bigger story. When, just before I crossed the finish line, I raised my arms and formed a deep, penetrating, mind and body smile across my face I was reflecting on a monumental journey ... a treasure trove of highs, lows, and lessons learned ... and expressing my gratitude for all of the events and relationships that made that journey possible. I attempt to share some of my thoughts about this bigger journey in One More Race Across the Sky ... coming soon.
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.