Today was the 22nd of August and thus marked one full month since leaving home and starting this adventure with my pedal powered companion. Aside from the recent torment of hills, the journey had other ups and downs, but really I was loving every minute of it.
I made an executive decision to enjoy a day of rest today. I was going to perform the strangely therapeutic task of hand washing my clothes and sample some of the beverages from the well stocked bar downstairs. My complimentary breakfast went down a treat and I even attempted to drink a coffee (it would take another year or two for me to start enjoying them)
I excused myself from my breakfast for one to return upstairs and begin washing my clothes. I was maybe 60% of the way through when I received a knock at the door of my modestly sized twin room. It was the breakfast chef, the barmaid and the guest house receptionist. Well, it was just one woman but she held at least three roles that I had witnessed. In my naivety I had assumed the room would still be free this evening as I was the only guest here last night. But she politely asked me when I would be leaving as other guests would be arriving, and that she was now fully booked for the weekend. I am sure she could see my hand wrung clothes attempting to dry on what ever surface would accommodate them, but I smiled and told her I would be downstairs in 10 minutes.
Cleverly I used my Bicycle as a clothes rack and deemed 10:15 AM a suitable time to ask for a beer. Even if I had to cycle today, I was still going to treat it like a rest day.
Even in the warmth of this cloudless August morning, one beer was not a long enough measure of time for my clothes to dry. After a brief moments thought, I told myself that maybe two beers would be long enough. It wasn’t, but it was still a great idea.
Using the WiFi at the guest house I plotted a rough route into my GPS to take me back towards the Rhein. Of course my ”CrapNav” added an extra 10 miles (16km) onto the journey, but I was happy having some directions to follow.
The days ride began with long, smooth, down hill slope on a very quiet road. I was not away from the hills yet, I still had some small climbs. But I didn’t mind, today was a rest-cycling day and the last day of inclines before I rejoined the Rhein. The sun continued to heat the air around me, and I could see the tarmac shimmering in the distance.
Intermittent cloud cover, at the will of the wind, would offer me moments of shade. But it was incredibly warm. I climbed my second to last peak and the next hour bought produced a relaxing smile as I coasted downwards, catching the cooling breeze and barely having to pedal.
The hour of downhill riding passed all to quickly. On one hand I was now two-thirds of the way through my day, feeling fresh as a daisy. On the other I had one last big climb approaching. On a third hand I found a pub with a very inviting presence. Its lure so strong that I did not consider leaving after just one refreshment. I stayed for a second, had a chat with a local and by 3 PM I had the will to stand, the strength to leave and the courage to climb that 200 meter rise.
I stopped to catch my breath at the top, dripping with sweat but with a sense of quiet accomplishment. My last descent would take me to a river, and I could follow that back to the Rhein without facing another hill. This final downward run would be rather steep with many switch back turns. Tall trees kept the view a secret and I picked up my feet, placed them on the pedals and let gravity do the work.
Leaning left and right I would tuck into the corners, a one man race down the hill. A fast approaching right turn had two roads I could take. One following the switch back and another, shallower turn off. Carrying speed I followed the shallower turn and didn’t think twice.
It was only when I had gone too far to turn back that I realised I had taken the wrong turning. It was quite evident when the tarmac gave way to gravel, gravel to dirt, and dirt to tree roots. The initial attempt to climb back up that steep road I just hurtled down was too much. I was committed.
Wherever this path would lead is the route I would now take. I felt my bike straining over the lumps and bumps of tree roots while bearing all that weight, so to save myself a puncture or worse I got off and walked.
The path continued unevenly down hill until I reached a clearing in the trees. There the path stopped and there really was nowhere else to go but down. I was on a ridge of a small cliff face with a fairly steep drop either side.
It looks pretty in the picture, but it was actually quite high from the little valley below. I had little other choice than to descend it with a bicycle that likely weighed close to 45kg. At first I tried to turn around and push my bike back up the hill a little to see if there was a safer route down, but between a heavy bike and protruding tree roots, I was stuck. Downward it is! I wasn’t nervous….
Behind me on the shady side of the ridge, there was no foliage on the steep face. It was loose rocks and shingle, I decided this was the better route to take because I could at least see my footing. Slowly and carefully I staggered my bike sideways down the loose rocks, carefully placing each step. On two occasions I lost grip under my shoes and slid white knuckled a few feet. I did however make it to the bottom in one piece, I’d scraped holes in one of my panniers and bloodied my shin after kicking a pedal but i made it!
I joined a dirt path at the bottom and little more than 10 minutes later I rode upon a campsite. Salvation! I pitched my tent next to the river, ate a well deserved meal and enjoyed the evening sunshine until it disappeared between the peaks and valleys of rolling hills.
Want more? Read the next story – Back on the Rhien.