Crossing Germany – Den Bosch to Munich
26 September, 2010 7 Comments
Whilst Bex has (not) been enjoying her inter-railing mini break I’ve been crossing Germany by bike. After cycling through the first four countries in six days it has been nice to spend a bit longer in a single country to get more of a feel for the place.
We’ve crossed Germany from the west to the south east (as seen on our route map) and have followed river cycle paths where possible. After an obligatory look round the impressive cathedral in Koln we joined the Rhein, which we would follow for the next three days. It’s a massive and busy river, full of huge boats struggling along whilst weighed down by heavy cargo. Freight trains also rumble down the tracks that follow each bank which made for several noisy nights in the tent – I woke a few times thinking that an airplane was landing nearby!
Despite this, the Rhine made for scenic cycling. Steep green vineyards enclosed both sides of the valley and castles were perched high up overlooking the river. Each kilometre along the river is marked by a huge sign which I guess shows the number of kilometres from the source. At first it was satisfying to see these go past, however after several hundred they soon lost their novelty.
A quick check of the map in Frankfurt confirmed there was a challenge ahead – we had three days to get to Augsburg in order to meet Bex’s Dad and Grandma. This doesn’t look too bad as the crow flies, or at racing bike speeds. But on a loaded touring bike (typical average speed 12 mph) this meant some long days in the saddle were ahead. I decided to do two ‘quite long’ days and one ‘very long day’ on the basis that we wouldn’t have to camp and cook once we got to Augsburg.
The long day certainly lived up to its name – I set the alarm for an early start and got some kilometres under my belt during a cold, clear morning that required my winter gloves. Gradually a hot late summer’s day emerged with not a single cloud in the sky. The route that day consisted of mostly farmer’s tracks through endless rolling fields full of corn. A hairy descent on a gravel path brought a big grin to my face – it must be 10 years since I rode a mountain bike down a country lane, I’d forgotten how fun it is! The kilometres and sunburn accumulated whilst my food and water supplies diminished. Late afternoon brought with it the inevitable tiredness, so I played my favourite album for an immediate injection of morale.
All day from my saddle I had watched the sun rise up from the east and arc high above my head – it was now sinking in the west. Cycling through shadows had the same cold feel as the morning air many hours earlier – this was a full day spent on the bike, grinding out the distance. Despite multiple snack stops, the fact that a passing Burger King smelt like heaven confirmed I was hungry for dinner, but I resisted the temptation and pressed on. There was still 20km to cover and the only direct road was an autobahn… I did consider taking my chances on the hard shoulder for a few seconds before deciding on the indirect route using bike-friendly roads. The album was now on its second spin, but still having the desired effect of keeping the pedals turning. Finally, after some aimless cycling around the city centre I arrived at the destination – it was 7pm and it had taken 11 hours of cycling and eating to get there.
Food has been very simple so far – as Europe is relatively expensive we’re trying to use our limited funds as efficiently as possible so we still have some left for NZ! This has meant I’ve been eating baguettes and bananas for breakfast, lunch and snacks (two extra large baguettes does the job most days), and pasta or rice for dinner cooked on our stove. It’s good cheap fuel and seems to be satisfying our needs – fortunately after a long day on the bike almost anything tastes delicious (including our worst effort yet which was rice, pesto and a leftover slice of cheese).
We used warmshowers.org for the first time in Germany (similar to couch surfing but specifically for cycle tourers). We stayed with Michael in Koln and Oliver and his family in Frankfurt. On both occasions we received fantastic hospitality – a warm shower, a tasty meal, a comfy bed and company for the evening – exactly what you want after some wet weather camping!
I feel like I’ve adjusted quite well to long days on the bike (the 90 minutes between snack breaks passes surprisingly quickly) but I haven’t yet adapted to a cycle touring mentality, as opposed to chasing targets on the map. Part of the reason has been the need to pre-arrange a meeting place with Bex (e.g. 5pm at Koblenz station), so then the temptation is to put my head down and pedal furiously until I arrive. Also the enforced high mileage due (explained by Bex in her previous post) means there’s been no time in a typical day for me to do anything other than ride, eat, pitch tent and sleep. I was struck by a particular line from a post by Tom at Ride Earth:
“…the point of travelling by bicycle is not to reach a destination, but to watch the world unfold on the way there”
This articulates exactly why we choose to cycle to NZ but as yet, I’ve struggled to put it into practice. However, hopefully this will change when we leave Munich on Monday – we have no time pressure to get anywhere, so we’ll be covering only as many miles a day as we feel like. It should make for a much more pleasant experience, and allow Bex’s newly rested knees to cycle all the way as well. The total journey will likely be upwards of 20,000km, so the fact that Bex has been forced to miss a few hundred km’s in Germany will quickly pale into insignificance in a few weeks.
We’re now in Munich enjoying a few days at Oktoberfest and over the next few weeks we’ll be cycling down the Danube from Passau to Budapest, which promises to be excellent cycling. Arriving in Munich felt like a good milestone, but we’re both looking forward (especially Bex!) to the next stage of the journey, getting back on our bikes and visiting some countries for the first time.