Wednesday 18 July 2012

Lux, Germany, Austria, Italy, Austria...

Day 15 - 30.6.12; Distance Cycle – 81.69km; Average Speed - 19.1; Max Speed – 49.5; GPS went loopy over the next week, no elevation data for many days!

This morning was the scariest wake up that I hope to have for my whole trip. As I think I may have mentioned in my last post, I was camping on the edge of a vineyard. There was perhaps 20ft between the outer most vines and the hedge; this is where I was.  I had set my alarm for 7am as I knew this was an actively farmed field and I didn’t want to get caught. I woke up at 7 o’clock, noticed that it was silent and decided that it was fine to go back to sleep (in that way which my brain somehow always justifies going back to sleep).

I was startled awake by a petrifying sound. I knew what it was but I couldn’t quite believe it. I opened both layers of my tent to see that a tractor had just driven past me. As in, a-couple-of-feet-from-my-head past me. I didn’t think there was room a tractor to get through. If I hadn’t moved my bike around to the bottom of my tent last night then that would have been squashed. Not only did I find it hard to believe that a tractor squeezed through that gap: I was amazed that the farmer didn’t seem to care that I was camping next to his crops. He obviously saw me as he would have had to do some pretty nifty steering to make it through the small space of grass track still available.

Maybe he just had no problem with me being there. I’d said hello to one of the local farmers late the night before while cooking my dinner at the picnic table, maybe that established within him a small sense of trust for me. Generally speaking, I have noticed a slightly more accepting approach towards ‘travellers’ in mainland Europe. It’s probably because, being an island, we don’t get that many people passing through the UK whereas here it’s not that uncommon.

I spent most of today writing my previous blog in the beautiful town of Speyer, Southern Germany. While writing, a couple posed for half an hour for their wedding photos.

Two seconds after I took this photo a man wearing nothing more than his underwear ran out of the bushes and belly flopped in the fountain right behind them. I wish I’d caught that on camera.

This is where I wrote my previous blog

On the way out of town I cycled past an aviation museum

The cycling this evening was rather frustrating as I was on a normal carriageway winding up and down steep hills while, no more than 500m from me,  there lay one of Europe’s largest motorways which bossed its way, with the use of tunnels and cut-up hills, through the hills I was climbing. I wished they’d just put a tiny cycle path on it!

Still, at least I captured this lovely out of focus picture – It was actually raining at the time but I was too hot to care; I took off my shirt and cooled down for a while

Not long after that photo was taken I saw lightning in the dark skies over the hills in the distance. Even though I hadn’t cycled far, I immediately stopped cycling, ran across the road, lifted my bike over a ditch and set up camp in the forest besides the road. Once I was all pitched up I went back to the edge of the forest to see the incoming weather. It reminded of whenever Mordor is shown from a distance in Lord of the Rings films; lovely sunny land in the foreground, then the mountain range that separates two lands and finally the evil lightning wreaking havoc down upon anyone unfortunate enough to be on the wrong side of these mountains.

My spot for the night

These guys love to come out and play in the rain. They’re much bigger here than in England. Unfortunately their slime is impossible to get of one’s tent. I even found one in my pannier 24 hours later; it had been kind enough to do a slug dump in there too.

Day 16 – 1.7.12; Distance Cycled – 129.67km; Average Speed – 18.1; Max Speed – 56.8; Elevation Climbed – 1155m; Elevation Dropped – 1051m

I had a long way to go today to make up for yesterday’s shortcomings. My rush was that I’d told my parents I’d be in Salzburg for the 5th of July. The cycling today was really pleasant; my whole journey was surrounded by either typical tall German forests or vineyards. I also encountered my first switchbacks of this trip!

I’ve learned and thought a few things about hills in the last few weeks – You may not find the following at all interesting, so skip ahead of you don’t want to read about hills:

•    Often I will think I’m on a flat when really I’m on a hill. This can cause me to be hugely frustrated and think ‘come on, step it up’! The simply way is to stop, balance my bike between my legs and see which way it rolls. Or if I want to be really anal (I haven’t done this yet) I can put my water bottle on the floor and do the same. Or for extra points I can pour some water on the road and see where it goes. If I’m going uphill then I probably don’t want the extra weight anyway (and there are normally streams near the bottoms of hills to refill bottles).

•    When going round the hairpin corner of a switchback, whatever you do, do not look at the road you’re about to ascend (leading away from the corner) while the road you just cycled (leading to the corner) is still visible! This creates the illusion that the road is twice as steep as it is, as the angle between the two roads is twice the angle between either of the roads and ‘flat’. This has been the main cause of me cursing while on this trip. If, like me, you’re unfortunate enough to make this mistake every time, start cycling up, as you do, and stop after ten metres to close your eyes for a few seconds. Once you open again, the image of the road you’ve come from will have gone and the road will seem half as steep; works every time!

•    Similar to above, I’ll often be cycling uphill and see that the road dips down in the distance, forming a horizon. Do not assume this means the road will be downhill!!! It’s the most demotivating occasion when you reach this change in gradient, whack the bike in to top gear and then come to a standstill. The opposite applies for going downhill :)

Looking back on the cloud I’d cycled into

Today, while cycling along, I remembered that Chelsea have won the Champions League. I punched the air, honked my horn and shouted a few “get in!”s to myself.

I reached Schwabisch Gmund (I don’t know the necessary keyboard shortcuts to write that properly) around 9pm. I was hoping to check into a youth hostel to catch the Euro final. It’s not worth writing it out in full, but due to a lack of preparation and information on my part, I couldn’t find any hostel or cheap hotel in the whole town and ended up checking into an expensive hotel at midnight, having missed the game.

An Italian-supporting bar in the centre of town, where I stayed for 15 minutes.

Day 17 – 2.7.12; Distance Cycled – 115.11km; Average Speed – 22.6; Max Speed – 48.5; Elevation Climbed – 515m; Elevation Dropped – 413m

Today I stopped for lunch under a tree as I approached a town called Kaiserslautern. Having sat there for half an hour I noticed that the sign on the fence behind me was in English. It said something about scary dogs patrolling the area and that it was a US Army base. Fair enough, I knew they have bases around the world. What I didn’t realise was just how big they were. It was literally bigger than the whole town, maybe 10km long. It was so large (this could be a ‘yo mumma’ joke) that it had its own Burger King inside it that only US forces could access. What if I want a Whopper?

Whenever I enter a new town I look out for the sign stating which foreign towns it’s paired with. In Europe they do a lot of pairings with US towns, unlike the UK. I’ve seen a few names of English towns I recognise but I’ve been holding out to find one which a friend is from. Sorraya, this one’s for you!

On a separate note, it’s really important to be able to control your mood when doing a long solo journey like this. Things can get you down and so I decided to create a box of items which will rekindle my spirits and make me happy once again. See photo below.

The cycling today was unusually flat and, with 79km done, I noticed that I’d been cycling well under 4 hours. I decided to go for it and see how quickly I get 100km done. My pace was also helped by a small rearranging of items from my handlebar bag.

This just looks so right to me. I should say that I only ever use my iPod on cycle paths. I’ve seen two aftermaths of incidents involving bicycles and cars already and they only ever make me cycle even more carefully.

I put on my ‘Rock’ playlist that I made when I was 15. I have to say that I was rather happy with my taste in music as a 15 year old. That probably just shows that my tastes haven’t developed much since.

Tonight Tonight, Breathe In The Air, Can't Stop, The Pretender, Throw Away Your Television, Little Respect, Reelin' in the Years, Best Of You, By The Way, The Zephyr Song, A Song For The Dead, First It Giveth, This Is The Place, 1979, Hotel California, Layla, Stairway to Heaven, In The Air Tonight, Time, You Think I Aint Worth A Dollar But I Feel Like A Millionaire, Dosed, Take It Easy, Venice Queen, Home, Is She Really Going Out With Him?, Us And Them, Teenage Dirtbag, But Honestly, Everlong, Don't Forget Me, Knockin' On Heaven's Door, Paradise City, Pinball Wizard, Universally Speaking, All The Young Dudes, Hey Joe, Spirit In The Sky, Comfortably Numb, Cabron, Numb, Warm Tape, The Boys Are Back In Town, Under the Bridge, One Step Closer, Times Like These, Crawling, In Too Deep, In The End, Fat Lip

Riding along from town to town while listening to rock music, punching the air every now and then; what more is life for?

In the end I did 100km in 4 hours, 18 minutes and 33 seconds, averaging 23.1 KM/H which I was rather happy with. It’s always nice to have a challenge now and then.

Now I remember, the reason my first few hours where so quick was that I was cycling on main roads. Unfortunately my Germany map wasn’t very detailed and so I had no other choice. In England, these are what we’d call ‘A roads’; normal roads with normal speed limits. In Germany the limit on these roads is 100 KM/H, or 62 MPH, the same as England. These were not dual carriageways, they were one lane each direction, no barrier in the middle. A road. I have no problems cycling on these roads as long as I’m surrounded by fields. As soon as the road goes up a ramp, or there are barriers either side, the Germans go crazy and start hooting like made. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I drew at least 20 horns today. They can all go stuff themselves as there were even bicycle signs now and then, warning drivers that cyclists are allowed on these roads! At one point I was going along, all the way to the right, as I knew that trucks and coaches were passing, then suddenly a noise louder than the horn of a cargo ship erupts from a couple of metres behind me. It was a German coach. Once he had passed, I let the driver know what I thought using official British DVLA approved hand signals.

Day 18 – 3.7.12; Distance Cycled 132.76km; Average Speed – 19.9; Max Speed – 47.7

I realised last night that not only would I make it to Salzburg for my parents’ arrival; I’d make it there a day early! Today I would pass through two major cities, Augsburg and Munich. Going through Augsburg reminded me of something Dziadziu (that’s ‘granddad’ in Polish) had told me; be very careful cycling near tram lines. Now I could see why; they looked absolutely lethal! Get your wheel stuck in one of them and you and your wheel are done.

On the way into Munich I saw a sign for the Allianz Arena. I was oh-so-tempted, but it was getting late already and I needed to get out of the city to find somewhere to camp. Getting out of Munich wasn’t too hard; my GPS only has really major roads on it but I could use them along with my map to work out where I was and where I needed to go.

Day 19 – 4.7.12 – Distance Cycled 139.05km; Average Speed – 19.5; Max Speed – 50.6

Today was the long haul to Salzburg to stay with my sister! I was so excited and motivated by the idea of staying in a flat for a few days that I didn’t even notice the huge distance I covered. About two thirds of the way there I took a small detour so I could visit Lake Chiemsee, right on the edge of the Austrian Alps.  The first thing I noticed was in fact the Alps. Normally, whenever I see a hill in the distance I judge in my mind how hard it’s going to be to climb. I had never (on this trip) seen anything like these mountains. Thankfully I would turn East for Salzburg just before reaching them.

Cooling down in Lake Chiemsee. I walked 100m out but the water was still only up to my knees.

Clouds hiding a mountain just outside of Salzburg

With about 10km to go I realised I was extremely hungry. It’s quite dangerous being hungry on the bike as it means you’re running out of energy. It’s the first time it’s happened to me on this trip; I get quite dizzy and find it hard to concentrate. I’d only let this happen as I’d wanted to use up all my food supplies before I arrived in Salzburg for 4 days.  Dad had texted me the coordinates of Lauren’s flat (the only information my GPS could digest) and, even though I knew I was less than 10 minutes away, I had to stop in a petrol station for a king size Snickers and Twix. I instantly felt better.

I then spent 15 minutes going up and down the wrong street looking for Lauren’s apartment; I even pressed the buzzer of an Austrian man who didn’t look too impressed. It turned out to be the next street that I wanted; it had a very similar name, I wasn’t paying enough attention.

I pressed the buzzer and the door unlocked. Lo-and-behold, 10 seconds later, there stood my sister! I’d made it to Salzburg!

My route from Luxembourg to Salzburg, Austria, highlighted poorly in Photoshop

Over the next few day lots of pleasant things happened. Time was spent with family and Lauren’s friends; picnics in the car (due to rain), rapidly changing weather, card games, drinks in bars and so on. Very enjoyable

Mum had booked me to see a physiotherapist to check on my knee. I was going to cycle there so he could see my ride position. Unfortunately a bungee caught around one of my spokes as I was departing. In the end I had to buy a new derailleur, change two spokes, two chain links and bend back the drop-out on my steel frame. A terrible mistake to have made causing hours of work needing to be done on the bike.

Photos from Salzburg

Salzburg in 1553, apparently.

The old town and castle at night

Day 24 – 9.7.12; Distance Cycled 64.87km; Average Speed – 17.4; Max Speed – 52.8; Elevation Climbed 644m; Elevation Dropped – 385m

While in Salzburg I reread an online journal that had originally inspired me to do this trip. Having read of these adventures in rural China and Tibet, I decided I was bored of easy Europe and that I wanted to do some mountains. My original plan was to follow the Danube river to South East Europe as it’s pretty much flat. Now I would take a huge detour and head west to try and cycle to the top of the highest road in the Alps (3003 metres if I remember correctly)!

Mid-afternoon, as I was cycling up a mild hill I saw another cycle tourist pushing his bike up. When he got to the top he lit a cigarette. Makes sense. I asked if he spoke English which he did. His name was Lee (that’s short for something else, so I’m just going to spell it like that) and he was from the Czech Republic. Lee was cycling to Italy to try and find work picking apples. We would cycle the same route for a couple of days. He is 32 and pretty much a hobo. That’s not a bad thing by the way. You have tramps, who don’t work and don’t travel. Then you have bums, who don’t work but do travel. Then at the top of the pile you have hobos, who do work and do travel.

(I realised a few hours after writing the last paragraph that this pretty much makes me a bum)
Lee had spent the last 30 months cycling around New Zealand doing the same thing. He had far less equipment than me but seemed to get by just fine. He asked what my sleeping bag liner was for which made me wonder if I’d over done it a bit. Then again, I am going all the way to India.

Stopped for a break

Lee’s watch seemed to be stuck on 16:20 – why not? There’s no rush!

Lee suggested that we camp without tents which I quite liked the idea of. We stopped near a bridge in case it rained. I laid out my tarpaulin, my clean carpet for the night, and cooked dinner.

At about midnight I awoke to a small amount of rain. I quickly got my tent out but by the time I’d constructed the support pole the rain had passed. I fell straight back to sleep.

At 5:45am I woke suddenly to a lot of rain falling on my face. I woke Lee and went into a ridiculously fast action mode. Find bag which bag which contains all other bags. Stuff sleeping bag away. Deflate sleeping mat. Roll up and stuff away sleeping mat. Put waterproofs on. Shake down, fold up and put away tarpaulin. Try and get everything on the bike and run for the bridge! I really don’t know why we didn’t sleep under the bridge in the first place! When we got to the bridge I dug channels in the mud with my shoes to divert the incoming water. Finally I had found a use for the many hours I spent as a child building damns on West Wittering Beach.

Day 25 – 10.7.12; Distance – 59.77km; Average Speed – 17.4; Max Speed – 60; Elevation Climbed 700m; Elevation Dropped – 557m

Waking up to a nice view the next morning and a great source of water

Drying our equipment during breakfast- Lee studying my map (he didn’t have one)

Today I would have to take on my first mountain pass. Pass Thurn (that’s ‘Thurn Pass’ in English’ stood at 1273m, a climb of just over 500m from where I would start. The final town before the pass was Kitzbuhel which apparently is famous. Whoopty-doo.

Leaving Kitzbuhel, just as the road started to climb, there was a queue of cars. I thought it would be cruely motivating if there was a queue the whole way to the top that I could cycle pass. Unfortunately this was the cause.

The hill on the opposite side of the valley

I found the constant battle with gravity to be a real struggle. Normally an uphill climb will reward you with a downhill ride after only a few minutes but unfortunately this isn’t how passes work.

About three quarters of the way up I noticed a clicking somewhere in my chain or gears so I pulled over into a layby. It appeared that one more link than I had realised had been bent by the bungee incident. Along with cutting my thumb, getting blood everywhere and breaking my chain link extractor tool (essential for the work I was doing), I eventually replaced the link with my final spare, altogether taking nearly an hour. It shouldn’t really have taken more than ten minutes.

A few hundred metres before the top of the pass I noticed this beauty. Having emptied almost all of the water from my bottles at the bottom in order to save weight, I couldn’t believe my luck at finding this.

A relatively steep road (maybe 8 or 9%) – At the bottom, the layby in which I did my repairs

Maybe you can tell from my obsessive photos of fountains (when I find them) just what a relief it is discovering something like this. My next source of water is one of the most important concerns I have to deal with every day, along with finding a spot to camp (no water means not only no drinking, but also no (cooked) dinner and trouble taking medication)! I should point out that I don't buy bottled water as it's not always available and is expensive when you're getting through 6-8 litres a day! The one exception to this is an Aldi I found in Austria where you could buy a 1.5l bottle of water for 19 cents and recycle the bottle there and then for 25 cents. No idea what they're thinking but hey, this is mainland Europe!

All visible parts of the fountain were crafted from wood

Pass Thurn!
A panorama of the valley I was about to descend into from near the top of the pass

Descending from the pass was great fun but I had to go relatively slowly; the road was busy and my whole load is something between 18 and 20 Stone, depending on how much water I'm carrying and how much I feel like exaggerating.

I was trying to capture the contrasting skies; a storm unleashing here and a sunny evening down the valley

Soon I was cycling along a flat road once more. Inspired by the luxury bridge the night before, I checked out the nearest bridge over the river running through the valley. 
Unfortunately there was little more than a few feet between the water and the underside of the bridge; useless to me! With a storm coming in I changed my focus and looked for other forms of shelter. I noticed all the wooden barns dotted throughout the fields (sometime three or four per field, used for storage) and went exploring to see if any were good to sleep in. In the field that I was in (the only one that wasn’t fenced off) there were three huts (they weren’t really big enough to call barns). The first two were both inaccessible due to wood pilled in the entrances. The third, however, was perfect. It was more like a stable with three separate rooms. The first two full with a tractor and a trailer and the third pretty much had a sign saying ‘Hotel’ glowing next to it.

A dry floor; some stones a lot of hay and a tad of horse crap; I laid my tarpaulin out and felt like baby Jesus.
 My room for the night (taken the next morning)
The great thing about sleeping somewhere with a roof is that you don’t have to put your stuff away when you go to sleep!

The storm that night brought in extreme winds. Thankfully my barn kept me toasty warm.

While taking extra care not to burn the whole barn down (I really have to be careful, overfill the cup a tiny bit before lighting it and the liquid fuel will drip down onto the floor causing dramatic scenes upon lighting), I took this photo of my stove being awesome

I’m thinking of starting a Tumblr entitled “Views from my Pillow”. Waking up to a view like this is one of the most beautiful joys of cycle touring that one would rarely otherwise experience.

If you've enjoyed reading this then please do me the favour of sharing this on facebook or whatever means you like! It does take me a lot of time to write and I'd love it if more people read it so I could get some more donations heading St. Margaret's way (the reason I'm doing this, after all)! Cheers Guys!

A quick up-to-date update! I'm now in Trento, Italy. I cycled in the Alps for a week or so, I want to have all that written up and published in the next few days. I have decided to change my course a bit; instead of doing the small Eastern European countries I am going to cycle the length of Italy as I just love this country and I have friends in the South. From the 'heel' of Italy I'll catch a ferry to Greece and the route will almost be back on track!

1 comment:

  1. Just brilliant! So smoothly written, I laughed out loud to the slug dump and DVLA approved hand gestures! and love the second Salzburg pic :D really enjoying this and can't wait for the next instalment! :) love xxx