Shortly before 7:30AM, whilst the campsite was still quiet and relativity motionless, I was packed down and ready to go. I walked my bike past dozens of slumbering tents towards the gate and began my day feeling fresh and rested. The clouds that were low and threatening began to lift as the world woke up and I was blessed with another dry day.
I was headed towards Arnhem, another city in the Netherlands, and from there I would cycle to the border with Germany and join the Rhein river. More importantly, I had a cup of tea on a sandy river bank.
My route would take me through picturesque little towns, down scenic waterways and all of it on wonderfully kept cycle paths. The Dutch really do have that part figured out well.
As the day went on and I was approaching the 50 mile (80km) mark, my knees started to become sore. After a seven day rest I was expecting to be back on full form, but I guess this was still new for my body. I was more than happy with the distance I’d covered, so I would reward myself by stopping for an early dinner at the next en-route campsite. I found and left the first campsite after being quoted €40 to pitch my tent on some very ordinary looking grass.
Later that evening, after my tent was pitched on some more affordable ordinary grass, I had a revelation. When the sun gave way to dark skies and the campsite lights came on, I noticed for the first time this trip that I had not set my tent up directly under a lamp post. With this new knowledge and the extra added darkness to my sleeping arrangement I fell asleep a lot quicker that night and every night after.
The day that followed would bring clear skies and the highest temperature I would experience on this trip. Perfect conditions for me to test out my solar panel.
I strapped it to the back of my bike and before long I had crossed the border to Germany! I made the most of the long, warm afternoon and covered an impressive – at least for me, 75 miles (120km). My knees did have something to say about that though, and I would have to take a day or two off in Düsseldorf to let them recover.
I could have saved myself nearly 10 miles. But a wrong turn led me off course.
At this point I decided to double back, I’d grown too fond of the well ridden and not-so-muddy cycle paths.
I arrived at a campsite in the early evening. My legs, bum and knee’s were sore from the cycling. My arms, face and the back of my neck were sore from the sun. I had take-out for dinner and spent the evening being entertained by a ferocious thunderstorm that invaded the horizon, cracking whips of lightning across the night sky.
The rain that followed the lightning was persistent for a few days. My waterproofs failed me again (more on that story another time) and in the end I caved. I booked a hostel in Düsseldorf and waited until the weather passed. During brief Interludes I did attempt to wander the city, the weather always succeeding to coax me back inside.
I think my favourite part of Düsseldorf was finding beer with my name on it, ‘Karlskrone’. It was €3.10 for six bottles, and €0.25 was reimbursed for every bottle recycled. You would receive almost half your money back just for recycling them! The beer tasted like someone had already drank it before you, but it sure did the trick.
The unsavory weather finally departed and the opportunity to cover some ground had me back in the saddle. Rather than simply following the Rhein I let my SatNav do the thinking, in hopes of moving some distance. It went well, to a point… I did later re-name the SatNav ”CrapNav” though. It was good for determining where you were, but no so good at determining where you wished to go. But it started off well. I left the city and cycled through lots of green space, past fields and woodlands, alive with colour in contrast to the grey clouds. I was directed to take a right turn and continue straight. Straight across this:
In fairness to the CrapNav, the path did continue on the other side of the water. There was just no way to cross it.
An educated guess told me that the water was likely deeper than the tops of my shoes and not really wanting to get wet feet I continued onward in a search of a bridge.
I was just about to consider myself lost when I met another cycling tourist. Her name was Maria, she was on a week long trip through Germany and knew the place well. Maria was headed through the same city as me, so I peddled with her for a while. Trying to keep her pace was hard work, Maria was an experienced cyclist with somewhere to be. Following her speedy directions we were swiftly back with the Rhein and its tailored cycling route. The city of Cologne (Köln) was behind me a flash and I ducked out of Maria’s slipstream. I wished her a good trip before taking the next bridge across the water.
That evening at the campsite I got talking a guy called Chris. I cant remember where he was from but he had been having an interesting summer. He would drive from city to city busking, singing with his guitar until he made enough money to head to the next. He was good with the guitar, generous with his beer and loved a chat. I don’t think I fell into my tent until gone 2 AM.
I remember I was a bit slow to start the next morning. The heat of the early sun had forced me from my tent and I may still have been a little bit drunk. I was pondering over a map and saw that I was a straight shot from Luxembourg. It would be four countries in four weeks if I made it in a couple of days! I explained this theory to Chris and he was very excited by it. In fact he insisted I drink no less than two more beers to celebrate.
It was quite late when I eventually set off that day. Later I would release I also lost my keys that morning… But the sun was out and I had a plan, I was going to Luxembourg.
Want more? Read the next story – Four weeks, Four countries?