Four weeks, Four Countries?

I left the well signposted route of the Rhein, heading inland and south, towards Luxembourg. It was a lovely days ride through sleepy towns and unblemished countryside.

On a break in the mid afternoon, once I had cycled off my beer breakfast, courtesy of Chris, I took inventory. In less than 4 weeks I had lost a wallet, a towel, headphones and now my keys. I was honestly quite impressed. Luckily a spare key for my lock was tucked away in one of my panniers.

I was not going to cycle much further today. It was already approaching 4 PM and my route soon went uphill. I needed a good rest before tackling those tarmacked elevations. For the second day in a row and much to my delight, I happened across more cycle tourists. A friendly Dutch couple, Leo and Anneka, invited me on a short ride to a local campsite. I was happy to tag along and the route we took was stunning.

Finally, some good pictures!

Saying “No.” when being offered a cold beer on a sunny day is an almost impossible task. So I didn’t hesitate when I was offered a cold one at the campsite later that evening. I watched the sun set over the hills, illuminating the clouds a glorious pink whilst I spoke with Anneka and Leo. I told them of my plans to make it to Luxembourg in two days and they warned me of the hills. I was not phased though, I was sure I’d sail up them no problem.

The warmth and sunshine carried through to next morning and I awoke when the sun spilled over the hilltops. I had slept very well that evening and was feeling ready to tackle some inclines. Leo and Anneka had cooked their breakfast and happily offered me their extra boiled eggs. I was particularly thankful because my food was running low. Usually I would keep stock of at least three meals worth of food, but I hadn’t passed a supermarket in a while. The guys were taking a rest day, so I thanked them for their generosity by giving them some of my English teabags and mounted my steed.

Immediately after leaving the campsite I was cycling uphill. I took it in my stride to begin with, but after 25 minutes my legs were on fire and the actuality of cycling up hills set in. After two and a half hours of peddling slower than I could walk, I had climbed 460 meters (1500ft) total elevation. It was great viewing, but in this sun and heat it was incredibly hard work. The fact I was riding a full suspension mountain bike didn’t help. I could not lock out either front or rear. So the harder I peddled, the more of my effort was soaked up by the shock absorbers.

My average pace during this trip was a steady 10 mph (16kph). Today however, it was about 2.5 mph. I’d cycled for hours and barely moved anywhere. In total that day I had ascended 915 meters (3000ft) and boy did I know it. I chose a campsite on route close to Schleiden and savoured the 3 mile (5km) downhill cruise into the valley. I pitched my tent by the stream that flowed through the centre of the campsite then switched off. I watched the sun fall and the stars appear one by one by one.

Good intentions got me out of bed the next morning. Intentions of making it to Luxembourg before nightfall so I could claim the proud achievement of four countries in four weeks (Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Luxembourg). I had approximately 45 miles (73km) to go.

Hills, hills and more hills filled my morning. I think those good intentions woke me up too early, because my reserves of patience for these hills were fast dwindling. I was covering very little ground and sweating buckets doing so. The picture above and below will hopefully give some idea of how steep some of these inclines could be.

What would normally take me two hours took nearly five as I struggled to haul my bicycle laden with all that gear up those hills. They really did take it out of me, not just physically but also mentally. To save my knees and my more importantly my sanity, I binned the idea of Luxembourg, turned my wagon around and flew down the hills I’d spent so long climbing.

I was going to head back to the Rhein river. Back to that horizontal tarmac that had treated me so well and I sorely missed. I had learned that going for two bike rides before setting off on a multiple month long cycle trip does not suffice as training, especially if you’re going to come across a hill or two. The main thing though, is that I tried and gave it my best shot. No one fault me for trying.

My way back towards the river was not all downhill of course. I still had some smaller climbs to make that would make me shout all sorts of naughty words through gritted teeth, but the end was in sight. It was just past the summit of one of these smaller inclines where I found a guest house. I planned only on stopping to catch my breath, but when I was offered a room with a free drink and free breakfast my legs said yes quicker than my mouth did and I collapsed into a shade dwelling chair.

My choice of free drink was wine or wine, so after some deliberation I went for wine. It was sweet, cold, and it went down surprisingly well, for someone who does not like white wine. I barely moved from that spot all evening. I set up my gas stove and cooked dinner there, wrote frustrated words about hills in my journal and enjoyed another drink or two. It was a relaxing end to a day that had started off anything but. I did not make four countries in four weeks, and I was okay with that. Three countries in three weeks was an achievement enough.

Want more? Read the next story – One month in the saddle.

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