Saturday, 10 April 2010

Day 2 - Cochem to Rosenheim

The first thing to do was to get fuel. I have often run the tank down until the dashboard is warning me that I am low on fuel. But this was not one of those times. I was just close to empty, but not empty. I was really surprised to squeeze 18 litres into the tank, 16 litres being the previous record. This lead me to check in the manual to see what the tank capacity was and it is supposed to be 25 litres. Clearly, I need to be more ambitious about how far I can go on reserve.
After paying for the fuel, I made my way up the side of the valley to leave the Rhine behind me. The morning mist was thinning, the sun was shining in my face as I headed south, and the roads were excellent. There is a really nice winding road with great hairpins going up from Bruttig-Frankel to Mösdorf. After a happy few miles of whizzing round bends and over hills, I got back to the autobahn and headed south to Baden-Baden for the B500, Shwarzwoldhochstrasse.

The B500 was everything that I'd expected and more. Because of the hills that I was climbing, it was getting colder, down to about 6° again. And the clouds were low, as the hill rose to meet them. Then, as I finally got on to the stretch I had head so much about, I was surprised to see snow lying all over the place, but it was not fresh snow, and there was not enough to ski on, despite the preponderance of ski lifts and ski hotels in the area. The road was just perfect: massive long sweeping bends that could be taken at 90-100 mph. I've never ridden anything like this before. The road had no potholes, the bends had excellent visibility, they did not tighten as you went around them, when I encountered a bus or lorry, it was always at the beginning of a straight stretch ready for a good overtake without missing a beat, or perhaps this was because the forward visibility was so good, I could time it that way - the slow traffic probably occurs on bends, too, but being able to see and anticipate made the overtakes safe and well-planned (as they always should be). This road made me very happy indeed, and I look forward to doing it in the sunshine one day, rather than this drizzling mist. I hope I can get some photos on the way back.

After that, the autobahn was a little bit dull. The A8 had the most enormous roadworks and contra-flows that went on for a long time. The bits without roadworks were relatively short, but that might be because they were without speed limits, too, and it was exhilarating to be riding legally at speeds around 120-130 mph. The straight road and fast moving traffic was in marked contrast to the UK version of motorways. There is something quite different about the habits and expectations of drivers on the autobahn. Of course, moving at this speed meant that I was frequently slowing down as I approached any other vehicle, and was anticipating anyone moving out for an overtake. All too soon, another long drag of roadworks slowed the traffic to 120 kph or less.

At one point, the traffic had slowed to a complete halt. It was approaching the junction with the A8, the main road to München. The cars and lorries had clearly been stationary for some time because their engines were off and people were getting out for a chat and a leg stretch and a head scratch. Bizarrely, they had pulled to the edges of the carriageway, leaving a really wide space, big enough for a truck, so that I could pootle along past the envious motorists. I had to go really slowly, though, as so many people were getting out. I thought that an emergency vehicle must have come through as they slowed, forcing them all to the edges of the road, leaving this lovely space for me to filter through. After a few miles, the traffic started to move, and people hurriedly dashed back to their vehicles to start them up. And shortly after joining the congested and busy A8, I could see on the hard shoulder police cars and other cars, as the police tried to sort out what had happened. The congestion was just he queue clearing itself, and off we all went as before, lurching between roadworks.

By about 2 pm I was getting quite peckish, and pretty tired, so I stopped at a service station and had a sandwich and a coffee. I was trying to skip lunch, in order to make good progress, but realised that I was not going to arrive at my destination until about 16:00 and with 680km to do today, I needed to keep up my energy levels and concentration.

After many more miles of autobahn, I finally got to the hotel, finding it was still in Germany after all, and not Austria. The border is near, but runs along the river Inn, before the road crosses it a few kilometres south of here. I rolled up to the front door, and a handwritten sign with a “P” on it said “hintern haus”, which I recognised as meaning park around the back. I did so, and there was no way into the hotel from the car park, so then I had to walk back around to the front. I should have unloaded first, parked later.

This was a slightly larger hotel, a bit more formal than the last one, and I registered at reception and got my room key, moved my bags in, then went for a walk up the nearest hill to get a good look at the locality. I am in the foothills of the alps; there is no snow on the nearby hills, but plenty on the distant peaks. I am intrigued by the churches and crosses placed at the summits of the nearby hills. It is beautiful here.

On the way down the mountain, a boy in his early twenties caught up with me, walking more quickly. He had what looked like a mattress on his back. We walked together and chatted. He'd been "bouldering" on the mountain. Basically, this involves placing the mattress on the floor below a boulder which is anything from 1m to 6m in size, then climbing up the boulder. You place the mattress on the floor below you. If you slip, you land on it, thus protecting your knees. Perhaps it lost something in the translation to English. He was very enthusiastic about it, though, and very interested in my camera because he has used a Canon 1D for his work, a much bigger and more professional model, but not his own, and too big to take scrambling over boulders. He was interested in getting a 7D like mine. At least, he seemed to be quite knowledgeable about all that kind of stuff, and it was nice to chat to someone after a day of solitary biking.

After my walk, I was hungry and thirsty. In the bar/café/restaurant, they had a log fire burning and music playing. English pop songs from the seventies: dreadful. I survived six songs before caving in. When the waitress brought my meal, I felt compelled to grumble about the awful music. She couldn't find anything else, so she put the radio on instead. Half music, half sports spiel, in Austrian. Ice Hockey special, and Rosenheim have a chance to get into the championship league! Exciting stuff, eh? At least it made me feel like I was outside UK, which was the main thing. Anyway, after my pizza and salad (the only vegetarian option, again!) and a few beers, I was ready for some sleep.

I was up at 05:00 again the next day, and ready for a leisurely ride to Motovun, across the Austrian and Italian alps. Only 430 km to ride today, so it should be a lot less tiring, and there is a chance that I might not be too late arriving. However, there are a lot of mountain roads to play on this morning…

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Day 1 - Reading to Cochem

The tunnel crossing was booked for 8:20, which required check-in by 7:50 am.  Although I thought I'd left in plenty of time, at 06:00, it didn't turn out that way.  The sun was just rising as I left home, and the blue skies augured well for the journey.  Although the temperature was about 6°C It was uncomplicated, and the route was mostly free of queuing traffic, but this was  an ordinary week-day morning and there were many places with slow moving traffic due to road-works.  It must have been this that extended my journey time, because I checked-in at 7:51, and the nice machine told me that I was to late and had missed my booked train, so I was allocated the next available one which was at 08:21.  I still don't understand how this works, given that there are three trains per hour, but, as always, I was immediately directed to the train, avoiding the terminal building and waiting time that other vehicles are generally subjected to.  I was slotted on at the back of the train, unusually the only bike, and there was one empty carriage behind me.  The crossing was as straightforward as ever, and I advanced the time on my phone and satnav by an hour, wrote a few text messages and checked the security of the bags on the bike, and we arrived in Calais on schedule at nearly 10 am.

The journey to Brussels through France and Belgium was unremarkable, but I stopped for coffee to ease the discomfort in my knee, which has been getting weak lately.  I must exercise it more.  As I had filled the tank in England at Maidstone (Junction 8, M20), I didn't need petrol again until Rotselaar in Belgium, about half way.  This was perfect as it lasted until my destination, which had a petrol station practically next door to it.

The route I had chosen to get to Bruttig-Fankel was nearly on motorways, which were busy, and pretty dull to drive on.  The sun disappeared behind clouds in the middle of Belgium, and it started to drizzle.  For the last four hours of riding, it had rained constantly, though lightly.  My new Hein Gericke gear kept me nice and dry, but once the rain started, it did get cold, even though the temperature was now around 11-12°C.  I was quite tired and cold by the time I arrived at the hotel, about 16:00.  But the welcome from Klumke and Matt de Bruyn was wonderful.  Almost the first thing Klumke asked me, after welcoming me was, "would you like a coffee, or a beer?"  Beer it was, and I was surprised to find it was Bitburger.  In fact, because of the way I had found the hotel, I had not realised we were so close to Nürburgring until I passed signs for it not far back, and to get here came right through Cochem, which is a short way up the road.  I was here in October with my friends when we stayed at Adenau and hired Nürburgring for the day.  I had done eleven laps of it and earned the right to put the sticker on my bike!  Well, here I was again, so I lost no time in texting my pals to tell them I was drinking Bitburger near Cochem.  They were envious!

Matt knocked me up a lovely pizza with spinach and tomato and cheese on it, while I supped draft Bitburger and chatted to Klumke in the bar (her name is a nickname that means little clog in Dutch, as she is quite small).  There were various people in the bar, one German man who had worked on the trawlers from Penzance and the oil rigs off Aberdeen.  He had spent a lot of time living and working in UK and his kids had been born in Scotland.  Divorced now, he does odd jobs around the place, but holds out no hope of getting a full-time job again.  He was up and down a lot during the conversation as he seemed to be advising or helping with some building work here to install a bathroom in one of the rooms, a job that was behind schedule as someone is supposed to be staying in that room tomorrow!  It won't be ready. He asked about my route here and suggested a much better one for next time - from Brussels ring road, head towards Luxembourg, on E40 (A3), stick to E40 around the edge of Liege, then the E42 (A27) towards Malmedy, Wittlich, Cochem. Much less traffic and good roads, apparenetly.

After dinner (which was thankfully quite early, as I was really hungry), I walked around the village and took some photographs.  On returning to my room I was very tired, so I thought I would have a rest for a moment before returning to the bar and the conversations there, but I instantly fell asleep until my phone made a noise.  So I got into bed at 20:45 and slept solidly until 05:30 the next morning.  This place is brilliantly quiet at night, not a sound.  I heard the birds waking up one by one, and then got up myself and redistributed my luggage in the panniers and top box.  I was ready for my breakfast at 07:00 and had a few more nice chats with Klumke and Mat.  It wasn't like coming to a hotel, more like visiting friends.   I must make a note in the online booking pages about what a good place this is to stay!

I packed up and loaded up and was ready to go at 08:00 on schedule.

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Reading, Berkshire, United Kingdom

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