Having a free weekend in August as a wedding photographer is a fairly rare occurrence. I kept looking at the diary and the weekend of the 8th and 9th of August just stayed FREE! I really wanted to put in a long ride that week and with the prospect of dodging caravans around the UK or riding in a cycle friendly Europe I started to think of somewhere to go. In hindsight I should maybe have spent more than a couple of hours planning the venture….
Having had a holiday following Germany’s amazingly beautiful Romantic Road a return to Germany was very attractive, and the flight with Singapore airlines was booked to Munich – the was only two seats left.
The plan was to leave start from Freising just outside Munich airport and ride North up to Nuremburg before turning West towards Wurzburg and meeting the Rhine at Mainz then following the Rhine through the industrial heartland of Germany onto the fabled Bridge at Arnhem in Holland. 800 or so km following Audax regulations of a 60 hours’ time limit. And from Arnhem I would meet Debbie, my better half in Utrecht after she had caught the ferry to Rotterdam and rode across Holland to meet me. We would then potter back to Rotterdam.
The start was good I even managed to find my way out of Munich airport – not as easy as it sounds last time I was there we went around in circles for two hours looking for a way out even stopping for food the task was so complex! And it was just a short ride up to my hotel in Freising, which was a typical beautiful Bavarian town, and it was hot. Baking hot. 32c, well I thought that was hot after landing from the UK miserable cold summer but it was actually easily the coolest day of the German venture. It gets very warm over in Bavaria as I was about to find out. Good job I don’t mind the heat.
Freising – Nuremburg 162km (100 miles)
Leaving my comfortable hotel room at 06.00 into Bavarian country side way before they started serving breakfast was rather special, the mist raising above the undulating Bavarian landscape and a long adventure to start and the first stage up to Nuremburg went well. I stopped at around 80k in a café for breakfast and was in Nuremburg for dinner and accompanied by 36c temperatures. The temptation to stick my head under the fountain was great but I resisted. Nuremburg is beautiful, such a shame it has a dark 20th century history. I had a few navigation issues – mainly my own fault, my (lack of) planning had put me onto a few busy roads and it took a bit of time to avoid them, not much but it was beginning to add up.
Nuremburg – Wurzburg 130km (290k total) 80miles (180 miles total)
This section was really difficult navigationally, I had plotted a route along the main road expecting a cycle path to be there (which is normal in Bavaria in my experience) and it wasn’t. So I spent an age at every junction looking for the smaller roads and cycle paths. Often on more dirt tracks and other surfaces not really suitable for a road bike and narrow tyres. A few more hours on the computer back at home would have saved a lot of time now, and my average speed which had been 28km per hour at Nuremburg started dropping. But it didn’t really matter too much as I knew when I got on the Rhine I could make up time no problem and Bavaria was just an amazing place to be travelling through. The approach to Wurzburg was fairly lumpy as I passed under vine groves and arrived into a noisy Wurzburg in the dark hours and behind schedule I think around 22.00, I found somewhere to eat as I really had not ate much and looked like I would be going deep into the night. Chips and some sort of meat – I think it was pork was purchased from the ubiquitous Turk owned take away. It was still nearly 30c and it was lovely sitting outside watching the world and revellers go by. Downside was it was gone 23.00 when I left to do the next section.
Wurzburg to Aschaffenburg 75km (365 km total) 46 m (225 miles)
On the map and route profiles this looked a lumpy section and so it proved starting with a 5km climb straight out of the busy town and then a steady few climbs till hitting the high point of the entire trip at over 600 meters and 20km of climbing, thankfully in the dark I could never see that far ahead! It was also never steep.
It was really beautiful high above Bavaria watching clouds swirling below in the darkness before being enveloped in the dark woods of central Germany. I think I had a vague idea of how the Roman Legions felt as I heard many a noise in the woods – even a few shadow figures which I presume where hunters out seeking the creatures I could hear.
The good news was after a 20km climb I had an even longer decent – it would have been nice to see where I was going! I’ll have to come back in daylight one year! After baking all day in near 40c temperatures (the GPS showed 42c at one point but I think that was a bit optimistic) the plunge from 600 meters to near sea level was a bit nippy, I had every layer of clothes I had on but was shivering uncontrollably by the bottom. One last 2km gradual climb warmed me up before descending to Achaffenburg and finding the hotel night watchman, who made me a cup of coffee and after showering and giving my clothes a quick wash I set my alarm for 06.00. A good two and a half hours sleep then. I was 6 hours or so behind my projected schedule.
Aschaffenburg to Mainz 80km (450km total) 50 miles (277 miles total)
I thought I would start gaining time back on this section but it didn’t start well, I over slept and sneaked and extra hours sleep and had a fine breakfast and navigationally it proved the hardest so far, I was now crossing into Germany’s industrial heartland of the Ruhr just below Frankfurt, the main roads where way too busy (in my opinion anyway) for safe cycling, towns and an amazing array of traffic lights seemed to merge in to each other and I seemed to be continually stopped at lights or cycling down a land-rover track!! Prior preparation prevents p$%% poor performance. I think I was slowly proving the point to myself. But the Rhine was close. And the legs felt fine and when I managed to find a good stretch of road the speed was good. All things considered it was a fantastic journey. It was also 38c by lunchtime. I was tanning nicely!!
Several hundred KM further North Debbie was also jumping on the overnight ferry from Hull to Rotterdam.
I arrived at the industrial and rather massive city of Mainz and got my first glimpses of the mighty Rhine (well on this trip anyway) I was to follow this river for 400 km to the Dutch Border.
Mainz to Koln 203 km (650km total) 126 miles (401 miles)
This for me was probably the highlight of the German adventure traveling along the might Rhine under a baking hot sun deep below cliffs and mountains with castles high above. It was wonderful, it was also full of cyclists on the Rhine Cycle Route. Passing beautiful villages, tourist haven towns and watching massive tourist boats and heavy shipping on the river. People where swimming and sunbathing, eating ice cream and drinking cold beer, but I was just passing through like a ghost.
Koblenz was stunning, I arrived here in the late afternoon/early evening into a carnival atmosphere and it was beautiful. I made a mental note that I’d stay here next time. I stopped for food and watched the world for an hour before once more heading north to Cologne. Somewhere between Koblenz and Cologne it went dark and into my second night hours behind schedule I continued arriving in Cologne around 23.00, and luckily being such a major city found a Turkish takeaway/restaurant to eat. Last time I was in this amazing city I had had one of the finest meals I can remember, this time it was just calories but I think I may have enjoyed it more! I was famished. It was kind of lovely sitting outside, still very warm watching the city revellers and enjoying a wheat beer. There where loads of bikes.
Cologne to Arnhem 200 km (850 km total) 125 miles (525 miles total)
The last leg. I left Cologne into a busy rush hour and slowly meandered through town and traffic lights before crossing the mighty Rhine and heading towards Dusseldorf. Beautiful views, beautiful towns, bloody nightmare amount of traffic lights and major centres to pass through. I tried to stay as close to the Rhine as possible but inevitably the amount of industrialisation forced me inland but once past probably Duisburg the world got a lot less congested and I could make up time once more. I loved being out in the open country side large fields, big sky and a simply once more beautiful day around 36c. In fact it was a near perfect end to the trip. I stopped for dinner about 18.00 and looking at the Turkish Takeaway’s menu suddenly realised it was in Dutch, I had unknowingly crossed into the Netherlands. Excellent and only around 30 km to Arnhem.
Well you need a sense of humour, I left the café and about 5 km away came to the ferry terminal (I didn’t realise I had to catch a ferry here!!) and had missed the last ferry. And I had two checkpoints to go through on the German side of the Rhine. I had been worried about the time limit for a while but this just finished off any notion of collecting any Audax points for the ride! After standing looking at the mighty river for a while and hoping for a man in a boat to appear I figured there was only one thing for it – I got on my bike and started pedalling north. There was a map and it showed a route through the ploder (reclaimed land). The was also a big yellow warning sign post but not speaking Dutch I had no idea what it meant but figured it meant road works – but hay I could always carry my bike. Which funny enough is exactly what I ended up doing!
After cycling on a road that then became a hard packed dirt track and then a rough nature reserve footpath. I zoomed out with the GPS and could see roads not too far away, and had to carry my bike over sand and up dykes. I’m sure SIDI didn’t intend their road shoes for this!! On the top of one dyke in open ground I saw two deer playing, they hadn’t seen me and it was wonderful to watch before them vanished into the dusk. Finally I made it to the top of another dyke and found a road, a good old fashioned tarmac road. I could go left or right. I chose left (navigating with a GPS in this area is not really feasible at night as it takes you to ferries which are numerous but have stopped running). After about 5km I found a lady walking her dog. Being Dutch she was friendly and spoke perfect English and when I asked how to get to Arnhem she pointed to a bridge in the distance, must have been less than 5km away. You can get the ferry in the morning….. Or you need to go to Nijmegan which as you probably guessed was back the way I came. Even at this late hour I passed groups of cyclist on the way to Nijmegan, it just how the Dutch get about. All ages, all in normal clothes. 15 or so KM later I reached Nijmegan. I had been this way before, I knew it was just a hope skip and a jump to my Hotel for the night. One thing about the Dutch and cycling the infrastructure is amazing, purpose built bridges, underpass flyovers, a complete system within a system. Bikes have their own junctions, traffic lights ect ect. However to install this amazing system you have to do a bit of building, and as luck would have it they had decided to do just that between Nijmegen and Arnhem so even this easy section took on a slightly epic proportion and around midnight I finally crossed the Bridge – it wasn’t a bridge too far for me but it was certainly a bridge far enough!. I stopped at the top (as I had at Nijmegen) and just remembered those who had come this way before and not returned. Even at this time the where hundreds of cyclists criss-crossing the bridge, and I got the only heckle of the whole trip as one lad shouted ‘Tour de France’ as I rode past his peloton!
I arrived at a rather swanky hotel at around 01.00 – it was the wrong hotel. I cycled around a bit looking for the correct one, double checked the address and it was the only one, so I went in – they had changed the name the week before…. A couple of wheat beers and a litre of water later and I was in bed, in a stunning hotel with my bike locked away in the board room.
I managed to find an extra 50 km of cycling to bring the total up to 850 km and would leave in the morning to meet Debbie just 60km away in one of my favourite cities, Utrecht.
It had been a truly magical trip across Germany in the hottest weather I have ever cycled in. It went a bit epic in places and next time I think I need to spend a bit longer planning these thing! All in all as an Audax it was a fail but as a journey it was superb.