My pace is starting to pick up now and I’m well on my way down the Danube, it’s been an interesting week or so since I last posted on the ride from Luxembourg to Strasbourg. Firstly I spent a day off resting in Strasbourg and spent a couple of hours seeing the place, I don’t know if it’s because I had no real expectations of the place (mainly stopped there as it was a logical place on the route to the Danube) or because of the nature of cycling all the way their but I really enjoyed just walking about the town.
The main sights are an epic cathedral, which you can choose to climb all up onto the roof of, the set of various EU buildings (Parliament, Court of Human Rights etc.) and also a picturesque region of the city called ‘Petite France’. Petite France was especially nice, lots of old architecture straddling a set of canals with a set of locks you can walk around on.
The region is also famous for it’s take on the well known German dish Sauer Kraut which they roast and serve as a garnish rather than a relish. Wasn’t that special I hate to say.
I spent most of that evening resting and researching possible accommodation down the Danube, it looks like the Germans are bigger fans of all year camping as most of the grounds are open. I was hoping to start wild camping in Germany but was dismayed to find out that it is one of the countries where it is specifically illegal to do so, that combined with what I’ve now heard to be very strict police in Bavaria have limited my desire to do so just yet!
The next morning I was off planning to stop in a camp just north of Freiburg in Germany so that I could do a short stint into the city the following morning and spend half the day there. Strasbourg is like a ghost town at 9am on a Sunday morning, I cycled back past the cathedral one last time and then made my way to the canal cycle path that would carry me about 25 miles south in a perfectly straight line.
I’ve mentioned before that these paths can get a bit dull but at least you get your distance covered really fast. Once again it also began to rain heavily but now I’m used to it I just wrap up in my waterproofs and power on finding the rain actually motivates to travel a lot faster!
I reached the point where I was going to cross over the Rhine only to find that the ‘B’ on my map didn’t mean border but meant boat! I loaded onto the small free ferry to cross the 30m over the Rhine and then cycled onto dry land in Germany, this time for good instead of small incursion the previous week.
I noticed signs immediately for a cycle route to a town about a quarter of the way I wanted to go so decide to follow those. The route quickly turned to gravel and many of the signs had been vandalised with black spray paint, I’m guessing cyclists are not as popular here as they are in France…
I reached my planned camp near Kenzingen way earlier than expected at about 1pm, the rain had really spurred me on, so I decided to carry on south to Freiburg and camp there in a camp just east of the city.
I reached the city centre at around 4pm and grabbed a cappuccino in front of the cathedral as reward as I’d found the last hour quite tough, mostly due to a weird wobble coming from my back wheel. I was slightly worried my rear wheel may have gone out of round due to weight of luggage and decided I’d pop into a bike shop the day after next once on the Danube as my map of the river conveniently has the locations of bike shops.
When the waiter brought out my coffee he asked if I’d also like a bit of cake, I thought why not and asked what they had. “Black Forest or New York Cheesecake.” I went for the Black Forest considering I’d just entered it, I wonder how many people go for the cheesecake…
After a quick walk round the town I was glad I had decided not to spend a whole day there as I really can’t justify the expense, whilst a lovely little city a quick walk round was enough when considering my budget.
Headed out of the camp early the next morning for a day I was slightly nervous about, only 65km horizontally but this also included a whopping 800m climb over only 10km, which a bit of simple with will tell you is an average incline of 8%!!! As I was cycling the 10km to the beginning of the climb I was getting quite worried about the wobble in my rear wheel, I stopped and span the wheel but couldn’t see anything unusual with my eye so I pressed one. A couple of minutes later I hear a mighty bang from my rear wheel, almost sounded like a small calibre gun going off!
Initially I though one of my rear spokes had snapped but they all seemed intact but the tyre was flat. I took the luggage off, flipped the bike and got the rear wheel off, took the tyre and tube off and noticed a huge hole in the inner tube. But it didn’t look like the tube had been punctured more that it’d burst! After feeling around the edge of the tyre I found a massive hole in the sidewall, I had no idea what could’ve caused it as they were a set of Continental tyres with only about 1000 miles on them at this point.
A woman passing buy kindly asked if I had everything I needed to fix the bike, I said sort of but does she know of anywhere nearby I can buy a tyre? Thankfully she new and I fixed up the tube with a puncture repair kit and the tyre with tyre-boot (a temporary way of fixing a hole in a tyre) and very carefully cycled the 4km to the bike shop. The guy working there explained that I was running the tyre pressure too low for the luggage I was carrying, 4 bar would probably be alright with no bags but I really needed to have 5-5.5 bar with the amount of weight on my bike. A lesson that cost me 40 Euros for a new Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyre!
With my new tyre on I headed towards the climb, the first 5km of which was only about a 5% gradient. This sounds nice but the that means to actually make the ascent the remaining 5km is going to have to average 11%. And that’s what those 5km did. I spent about 30 minutes making my way up it at barely more than walking pace but hey, at least I was cycling through the beautiful Black Forest, albeit now in torrential rain. (They should really call it the Orange forest in October!)
When I crawled over the top of the climb I was greeted by a sudden change of scenery to what looked like it could be the set of “The Sound of Music”. Huge rolling green fields with old barn houses dotted around covered the plateau. It was honestly one of the happiest sights I’ve seen being at the top of that climb! Despite the difficulty of it I can see why people get addicted to it though, I’m already looking forward to climbs I’ll be doing in Turkey.
My goal for the rest of the day was to make it to the source of the Danube river in Donaueschingen and I only had about another 40km to go which should be almost all downhill. It turned out the directions I’d been helpfully given by the bicycle mechanics wife (who happened to run the towns Tourism Office!) had taken me back down around 300m off the side of the plateau which I would need to climb again, with a bit more confidence in my climbing ability I powered up it no problem but was now more than ever happy with the fact the rest of the day was downhill on a more or less direct road.
After flying about 5km down this road I was met by a re-tarmacing crew and road a barrier closing the road. Bugger. There seemed to also be no information about a diversion (a theme that has turned out to be common in Germany). I managed to communicate my problem to one of the workers and he showed me the quickest way around them on my map. A 20km detour that included a long 8% climb. You have got to be kidding me. That is the last thing I need.
I then notice that a river that merges to form the Danube starts near me but takes a huge 35km detour to get where I’m going, but, being a river, the route would therefore be downhill or flat most of the way. At this point, after the 2 hours delay replacing my tyre, it was now looking likely that I may get to the camp too late as most of them close their doors around 6pm.
I push as hard as I can for the 90 minutes it takes me to get to the camp and thankfully the lights are still on just after 6. I bust into the reception, pay the 7 euros turn around, get a large beer and a bottle of Fanta out the fridge, pay 1.50EUR for the pair (not bad!) collapse into my evening routine making a call home just to complain about my day! (Thank god for 1 hour EU roaming calls only costing 50p). All in all I must say I actually did really enjoy the challenge of that day (as much as I swore and complained at the time!).
Up early the next morning to head back into town to see the Spring that is the famed source of the Danube. There is a very ornate stone surrounding around the spring that many a bicycle tourist has taken their photo next to on their way down the Danube. I spent about 20 minutes trying to find the damn thing only to realise my problem. It was in the middle of a construction site.
I managed to find an overlook into the site only to notice that to my horror they had dismantled the stone surrounding and the source of the river is now just a big hole in the ground filled with muddy water! I reluctantly took a photo of this, had to really, and then turned around only to spot a lost looking guy on a bike covered in luggage, I painfully realised that’s how I looked a few minutes ago and got the guys attention and pointed down to the source. He let out a defeated laugh, also reluctantly took a photo and then we went our separate ways.
A cycled the 100m to the gates of the Danube Cycle path, which thankfully were not also being dismantled, and headed on down on of the longest cycle paths on earth. The first 40km of the day were a bit dull cycling through fields and towns that have never seen the grace of an Architects pen but then suddenly you enter the upper Danube Valley where the river has carved a steep sided gorge into the limestone which the Black Forest has down it’s best to reclaim. The result is a 300m wide flat base contain the river, a railway, road and cycle path surrounded walls of right orange trees punctuated by brilliant white limestone outcrops.
I was constantly stopping to take photos but they never seem to capture what it’s like to see them in person. The scenery carried on all day with the occasional manor house or castle dotting along the skyline. At one point there was a class of painters sitting on a bridge doing studies of one of the outcrops, I got off my bike as to not disturb them flying past but nonetheless my presence still managed to startle on of them into knocking an expensive looking set of watercolours off the bridge and into the river. Much commotion began in German with many glances shot in my direction so I hopped on my bike and went on my way.
I eventually reached camp in Sigmaringen, my goal for the day, and had a cold glass of Pilsner looking over the river and savoured the last of what had been one of the top days of my trip so far.
The next day was to be either 60km to Munderkingen and see if their camp was open or press on the 80km to Ulm where the was a hostel for 20EUR. Again it started to rain and heavily and as it had done on my ride from Strasbourg to Freiburg it spurred me on and I smashed it to Munderkingen by 2pm and feeling really good I decided to press on to Ulm and treat myself to the hostel. On the way I spotted a small set of stairs running off the side of the street up into a cave complex where I decided to stop and have a late lunch.
Reaching the hostel in Ulm at about 4pm I checked in to the screaming of about 40 14 year olds who seemed to be populating the place. Just the place to relax after 4 hard days cycling and camping in the rain! After getting a room key and bedding I headed upstairs praying I wasn’t in a dorm with them. Luck was on my side and the other occupant of my dorm quickly introduced himself as Paul and once we got chatting it turned out we’re on trips of a fairly similar nature!
Paul is currently walking (That’s right walking!) from his home in Dresden, Germany to his cousins home in Switzerland as part of the old Walk to St. Jacobs burial place in Spain which he informed me has recently been signposted in Germany. This walk leads onto its famous counterpart across northern Spain (Camino de compa… I need to look this up and edit) which he had completed several years prior, you can see where he is up to on his site DefendThePlanet.net (or DefendThePlanet.de for those with the language skills).
We grabbed a couple of beers from the nearby supermarket (getting some Augistener on his recommendation, really nice stuff) and had a chat about the different challenges both of trips had presented and also what we were both hoping to get out of it. I have to say it was great bumping into someone doing something similar, I had imagined that I may have bumped into some other cyclists in some of the logistical bottlenecks (Istanbul, Kyrgyzstan etc.) but not so early on in my trip!
On top of this, while skimming my map of the Danube that evening, I realised that in the last two days I had not cycled 160km as I though but 200km. A bit of a shock but that meant I’d turned out roughly two 100km (62.5 mile) days in a row. In total I’d done 380km, including the day of climbs, in four days. I’m quite chuffed at this as on the last day I felt I could have done more, I really am getting used to these distances!
Anyway I was up the next morning to try and force down as much of the hostels free breakfast as possible (got to justify the cost somehow!) and set out on a half day ride to Dillingen about 50km away, I had woken up and was still feeling the last few days in my legs so decided to take it easy!
I first headed into Ulm city centre to checkout its cathedral (with the largest cathedral spire on earth) and whilst snapping a photo a guy waved me down and introduced himself as Bernt and was really interested in where I was cycling to! I decided to tell him the plan to China (instead of my Vienna cover story) and he was really enthusiastic about it and went on to tell me about spending his youth hitch hiking around the Eastern Bloc, a very different type of travel than what you can do today! He wished me good luck, advised me to not get shot (!), and then I headed off slowly to Dillingen feeling drained almost the whole day (Maybe last nights beers weren’t the best idea!) and finally reaching my camp at about 2pm spending a nice afternoon in the sun (with another Augistiner I picked up in a petrol station of all places!) looking forward to tomorrows 100km day to Ingolstadt.
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I also want to divert the interest this trip generates towards helping out a charity that made a big differance to some friends of mine. Samuels Children Charity are a Lewes based charity providing support to families throughout the UK who are currently affected by childhood cancer. I hope to raise the sum of £5,000 from people who hear about this trip to help them continue their work, and to also keep me motivated throughout the challenges this trip will provide! If you’d like to see how the fundraising is going (or even better would like too donate!) then click here.