To Basel and beyond

After a week based in Zurich with friends for hiking adventures in the marvelous Swiss alps, I needed to head north again. I can do hard things, yes. But I didn’t have the desire, nor time, for a slow burn to Basel.

Olive gets her go on well-timed Swiss trains

Instead, I arrived mid day by train, watching the rain streak the windows as we sped by the towns I rode through just a week ago. Magically, it was dry when I arrived at the station, and just 5 km later I was ringing the bell at Anna and Rolf’s place. They work from home as artists and energy consultants (helping homeowners do the calculations to convert to greener appliances,windows, and heating, etc. and receive tax benefits and grants) and offered me a chance to drop bags. I changed into my Chacos, and pushed off by bike for some city exploration, paper map and some local suggestions in hand.

I rolled through an old city gate, marveled at more narrow streets and cobblestones. I stumbled on the deep red and gold rathaus, still in use as the government building where Rolf later told me that’s where they go to vote in person. I crossed the Rhine on a lovely wide, mostly bike and pedestrian bridge, and pulled into an alcove to peer over the edge. The river had receded so much in a week that people were now hanging out on the banks, the lower walk ways, and one man was swimming. I biked along the other side, heading north towards a container construction hipster zone suggested to me by my hosts. There was some route finding across the tracks and the peninsula that required a small back track and get on the main road. But this was rewarding as it lead me through the pre EU German boarder check-point to the Rhine center, where 3 countries meet.  I crossed the drëislanderbrücke hoping for a mark on the ground like at the US four corners of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah, but no, just this sign in the middle of the bridge.

Rhine hang time in Basel
Three countries, one happy gal

I stopped at the COOP shop on the way back for ride snacks and dessert for our shared meal. We enjoyed Biang Biang–“dinner and an activity all in one.” Anna had made the dough for hand pulled noodles and we all pulled and participated while we talked about cycling, environment, and art. Such kindred folks.

I woke and shared a lovely breakfast with Anna. Walking down the three flights of wooden stairs with my bags in a single trip, I was reminded of the great “be able to carry it all in one go” advice of my bike shop owner, Carolyn. Olive was ready to roll the last of the velostrasse and onto France.

I rode towards Huningue where I had ridden a week ago and then cross the three countries bridge this time from France, now into Germany. The bike paths are well signed and clear, even if gravel and along the road beside port industry before swinging back along the river.

Ah, the Rhine. The river of transport, stories, culture, boarders, connections, and recent international flooding news. In Strasbourg, my guide shared a tale of how Zurich an independent city, and Strasbourg, also independent, made a pact to help each other if needed. To prove that the Swiss would be there in a hurry, they planned to arrive with hot soup. 19 hours later, they arrived in Strasbourg. This was in the 1576 or so, but in 1976 they tried to recreate it. It took 3 days. Dams, locks, and barge traffic delayed the journey.

Today, I’m riding with the direction of the flow, and feel the slight downhill as I spin with ease despite the small gravel. Olive had been a great bike for the adventure and rolls smoothly. The Rhine is swollen but the trail is high and dry, wildflowers line the trail, and often I try to reach out and snatch a bloom. It reminds me of trying to catch the golden ring on the carousel as a kid. Instead, I catch folks in the river. First a group of researchers in a small metal boat marked University of Trier, pulling up a fish net from the bow. I ask them about the study and learn they are measuring chemical content in fish. The second is a group of outdoor school folks in their final briefing before hitting the water. It was both a surprise to see them and to know they were heading in. I watched them carry the paddle rafts to the river, red PFDs unified the motley crew.

Rhine
Olive leads the way on the great gravel
Among the wildflowers

There is a bridge out along the Rhine on the cycle route to Neuenburg so I follow a friendly family on bikes into town for the small detour before making it back to the Rhineweg.

No go

It’s warm, sunny, and oh so sticky and humid, as is on any just-a-break-in-the-weather day of a season of summer storms. I’m making good time and take a lunch break on a bench in the shade. I had to shake off that post food coma heat nap reaction. Later I grab a gelato break in another town, so small that the teen ice cream scooper had to write down the price of the small cup of watermelon gelato on a piece of paper so we could communicate the exchange. Then I turned north east, and follow along a road, in a clear wide bike path besides newly tasseled corn, towards Freiburg.

The Germans encouraged me to go to Freiburg on my trip south, but I sided for Colmar at the time. I’m glad I made the trip this north bound section for so many reasons.

One is this serendipitous scene. A man is on the trail pedaling beside me with his boxfeits, his youngest in the box, while his two other children are on their own bikes. With a gentle hand on their back, he pushes one, and then the other. It’s a cute scene and I smile. Later, I hear him speak French to his kids and the next thing I know, in a mix of broken French and English, we are chatting about my trip and he suddenly invites me for coffee, or a cold drink. Just as spontaneous as he asked, I say yes, and follow the family a few blocks off route to their home. His wife is surprised, and I still am too, but even more so to learn we are all teachers. He’s French and teaches chemistry and physics in a French high school. She’s German and teaches Spanish in a German school. The inquisitive 6 year old twins are hanging out, measuring things with a measuring tape and exploring the magnetic properties of the end of the tape on different metals in the kitchen.

I’m full of juice and gratitude, and excuse myself. My hotel is not far, just past the university with a vibe of young intellectuals hanging out in the park, on the artfully designed urban seating, and filling the clearly marked bike lanes.

I could see the church from my hotel window, but I even skipped the shower and headed quickly on foot to the train station to make plans for my rail return to Luxembourg.

Through the window

I walked the old cobblestone streets, admiring their shape and color, and even design in a way I hadn’t in other towns.  So much so that I painted the round, purple, and taupe stones while I waited for dinner. A bubble man entertained more than the children in front of the cathedral, many of whom stopped playing with their wooden boat in the open “sewers ” characteristic of Freiburg’s old town.

Bubbles and the Freiburg cathedral

The Pils went down easy; the service was slow, and it gave me time to paint, stare, and enjoy the platz scene. I got to stare at the cathedral’s clever waterspouts, listen to the guitarist in the square, and just be here. Moments after I returned to my hotel room, the sky, already appraoching dusk, darkened suddenly, and the thunderstorm began.

Freiburg schlossplatz

The Rhine is high and I’m rolling on

Sunday July 18 Huningue to Zurich

I woke in France and followed my host’s directions to the Rhine. Indeed the water was high and the current cruising alongside of me. I sang about it, parodying Debbie Harry’s The Tide is High. “The Rhine is high and I’m rolling on.. I’m not the kind of girl who gives up just like that.”

I crossed into Basel, Switzerland with a joyful smile and then crossed the Rhine. Sandbags were piled on pallets, police lines marked stairs to the lower  walkway that was completely flooded. The river noisily lapped the stone banks like the chops of a hungry wolf at little Red’s door. I was slow-going admiring  the near miss devastation along the Rhine, the architecture, and the velostrasse infrastructure.

Since being in Switzerland, I’ve learned that Swiss German language is not a written language. And while there are many words from French in there too, I don’t really understand it. Take velostrasse for example. Velo is the French word for bike. I’ve been wanting to write this mash up of my iron horse for a while: OliVELO. Teehee. Strasse is the German word for street.

In France one cycles on a piste de velo. In Germany a farhadweg. Here a velostrasse. The maroon signage is a change from the green and white, and it seems to appear only when you may need to make a turn. The placement on a post is also inconsistent. Sometimes at eye level, most often not, instead up high and I have to crane my neck up high and back down to my GPS.

I got distracted by a family of cycle tourists and followed them, despite my GPS, up a hill and saw a sign for the EV 15. Then crossing the Rhine again, I lost the sign. Instead I followed cyclists.

It was Sunday, the first nice weather day in a week, and heaps of folks were out and about cycling. Kitted road racers, families, and casual riders, many on e-bikes which are very popular in Europe. I just followed where the cyclists came from and tried to follow the signs, the yellow markings on the roads, and such. I did notice that the EV 15 merged into a local route 2, and it took a while to adjust to this new sign, where the number 15 was really small in the corner.

After winding through a lovely city park along the Rhine, the route turned into an industrial park and the number of cyclists I saw were fewer. The sun beat down and the day promised to be very warm. A dramatic shift from earlier weather and shade was not easily available. I was a bit cranky and suddenly I wasn’t sure where I was going or where I was. I hadn’t a paper map in a scale that was usable for details, and I began to get rather uncomfortable. I asked for help, directions, and followed a woman up over a bridge over a high way. She turned right, and told me to go left.

On a bike lane along a more car trafficked road than I expected I pulled over again to check the Google map. Swiss curbs were a bit bigger than I expected, and suddenly Olive lost balance banging the front wheel wall. In struggling to right her, I tore skin from my index finger. Blood, sweat, and ego hit the pavement. Expectations seemed to curb my flow and I had to just shake it off. Well, the first aid kit got used. I had a snack, and I got on with it. I knew it was a big day, and sulking wasn’t going to help.

I continued along the Rhine, crossing the raging river in the beautiful town of Rhinefelden. Sunday visitors strolling the bridge and eating in the riverside cafes. Parts of the route were so close to the swollen river, that there were places still wet, and some still closed, or at least with warning signage. A woman with her dog walked from behind a sign and told me, despite what it said, it was safe to go. I took a lunch break with ice cream in the markplatz of Bad Säckingen and noticed another Salsa bike nearby. The rider was a solo woman out for a few days. This photo even made the Salsacycles Instagram story! Laufenburg was beautiful. I pushed my bike up the steep cobblestones to leave the town.

In the shade of a lovely tree I sat again to check the route. I pulled out all the books, maps, and GPS. It was clear, in my effort to delay the hills, I was now on the wrong side of the Rhine. I either had to backtrack or go ahead, perhaps further than needed. I wasn’t sure what to do not wanting to roll those steep cobblestones.

Again, I asked for help, and again, my German communication is far from clear. But the kindhearted woman called her “man” and I understood her to ask which was better, for this gal on her bike, back or go forward. “Back is better” she spoke in accented English. Wasting time wasn’t helping and I when I was done waffling in my uncertainty, I pushed on, resetting the GPS for Zurich and committing now for following it. I was already 60 km into my day.

Backtracking wasn’t as bad as I worried and the signage became clear, and I left the Rhine in Sulz heading uphill to Ganzingen. I saw two road cyclists heading down, so my GPS must have been calculating a popular route, but still it was steep. I wasn’t ashamed to walk it some of the 3 km climb to the pass. The hills were alive in Switzerland, agriculture sprawled out around me and the winding steep decent was the best breeze of the day, even if I was pumping the breaks.

The uphill however wasn’t done. I continued to climb, sweating in the heat, singing a mantra, and pausing longer than any trip partner would have wanted. The carrots and apricots warmed in my feed bag, and went down with ease. So did the water and I was out.

It was nearly six PM and I spotted two young women walking through a small town. One was walking a dog, the other a small boy. Nearly desperate I hollered, “damen, wasser, bitte”, and thrust my water bottle in their direction. “Sure, I can fill that for you,” she said in perfect English. They were my trail angles and we talked a bit while I chugged one bottle and asked her to fill it again. “You are spending your holidays on a bike? I would never do that!”

Their kindness, and the cool water (with  electrolytes in added), provided a new energy burst. While there were some moments today I wanted to call for a ride, or search a train, I was now clear I was going to ride it in on my own. I was feeling tired but strong. I can do hard things.

Before Baden I stopped at another red and white ribboned police barrier. A fellow cyclist came from the other side and we chatted. “Just days ago, this was a lake, but it’s passable now as you can see. I bet they will take down the barriers tomorrow.” As I rode this section, I could see mud and debris on the road and a mud line on the side of the vegetation to my left. Switzerland didn’t see the kind of river damage as other northern countries, but did have flooded cropland and swollen lakes. As I crossed the line on the other side, I gave similar advice to an on coming Belgian cycle touring guy who already rode more than 150 km today.

At 7pm I called my friends from Baden, still 17 to 20 km out to state my goal. I was tired but riding in by 9. I ate the hard boiled eggs Noemie made for me, at a closed cafe and powered on.The light was magic, the traffic light, the climbing was slow but comfortable.

Then, fields, raspberries, wheat, and wonder. Zürich in the distance. At 8:40, I rolled some gravel, past cows and a large old barn. I looked down to see I had just 100m to go. I turned up the steep driveway, dismounted and walked up to my friends’ apartment. Federica was there to meet me!

I walked, I cried, I made it to Zurich. A minor crash, a major hill, a minor meltdown, a major accomplishment. 103 km, hot, hilly.

Art and Architecture: Colmar/Neuf Brisach to Huningue

I roll out of Colmar with two older German guys, and when they stay along the main road and my GPS tells me to head into dedicated bike path in the forest I wave goodbye.  I enjoy the green calm of the morning air there.

I see them later and we roll through the Colmar gate of the UNESCO fort town of Neuf Brisach together for a moment. I meander the streets, and find a museum of street art under ground in the fort walls. It’s been a while since I’ve been to an art museum so I go in for my lunch break, reflecting on color, form, line, and creativity. I roll out the Bale gate towards Basel.

I have ample time to reflect today on these solo miles. This, all, ultimately is about time in nature rather than the sport of cycling. If you’ve ridden with me before, or hiking such, you know I’m not fast because I spend time looking around; I wonder as I wander. I’m in awe.

Perhaps it’s the insects, the slugs and snails on my path, or the birds that soar overhead in a way that I feel like I’m flying with them. Or maybe I’m watching the way the trees move in the wind.

Today I spent a considerable amount of time listening to the rustle of the corn leaves, admiring the different colors of red in the roof lines, and the colors of half timbered Alsace buildings. The path sometimes passes under the buzz of the electrical wires overhead that reminded me of skiing under them at Steven’s Pass. I pay attention to the difference in the tarmac– the smooth asphalt, or the chip seal, or the tiny pale gravel that sprays my shins. Or how the seeds of the Tilia trees pop under my tires with a pleasant snap. This wander lust leads to wonder– is it chard or turnips in the side agricultural field? Is the cooing of the dove the same species from my childhood? How close to the Rhine does the path come today, and will that section be flooded still?

My head often spins faster than my wheels. But, also, frequently I am thinking about nothing, which is a joy of riding my bike.

Small villages are linked by these cycle paths through the agricultural fields. Open spaces about five to ten kilometers between towns. Thomas, the German with whom I rode part way to Colmar, told me that you can’t really get far away from the influence of humans in Europe which matches what Kerstin and Saarbrücken said as well, when she had to go to Sweden for her orienteering course.

Despite that, I saw two foxes or coyotes today.  A raptor hovered in mid-air cantilevered his wings and tail feathers around the fulcrum of his neck. Amazing.

47 miles later, I’m in front of Noemie’s place. She’s a seasoned host and bike traveler– a 10 month journey along the northern coast of the Mediterranean from Portugal to Istanbul, she also hosts a warm shower guest once a week or so. She makes a delicious chili. Great music is playing from her computer in her stylish flat, with color coded book shelves that make me miss KEXP. She’s an architect, with mid century modern furniture and accents from her travels. After dinner she introduces me and her girlfriend to an after dinner liquor of mastiha-a liquor, made from tree sap in Greece. This is the third new drink I’ve had on this trip! Salut!

Counting the seconds to Colmar

The route is a straight shot along the canal du Rhine. The pavement smooth save for a few bumps from the roots of the beautiful sycamore tree lined canal. It’s like biking on the Burke Gilman and the Arboretum Drive at the same time. Or as if  Frederick Law Olmsted had designed it.

Thomas rides up behind me and starts chatting in French, then German and finally settles on my paltry bits of both for English. He rides along side of me from 11:30 to 2:30. I am being my best self and not apologizing for my speed but instead thanking him for riding a bit slower than he would like and in turn he thanks me for riding a bit faster than I would like. Ultimately I’m grateful for the push and his company as we chat about holidays with the bike.

We passed more cycle tourists in the hours together than I have seen on the entire route of my trip so far. Maybe it’s because it is (currently) the nicest day,  maybe it’s the flattest trail or simply because there are no other alternatives but here, with few “exits”.

We have matching orange panieners and we talk gear and birds, including the ice bird, as they say in German=  Ice Vogel which, of course, shortly after flies by me with its iridescent blue-green feathers. A swan flaps it’s swings on the surface of the water as tries to take off. It’s a surprising ruckus and we giggle. Lizards sometimes scurry across the path in front of our tires. His wife, he says, is slower and likes to enjoy the plants and the insects as she rides. Me too, and he seems to have picked up a bit as he spotted nutria swimming in the water.

After a sit and a sip, and about 5 km of great gravel, we part ways.  I turn down the Colmar canal and almost immediately the skies begin to darken and the wind begins to pick up.  I fear it may rain before I hit the hotel, only 12 km away.

I put away my real time writing and head for the next underpass, and there don my green rain jacket. I survey the scene. It looks like I’m heading right into it. I begin to play roulette with the rain, racing to another bridge, and another. After a few thwaps on my head, I linger under this last one, and look up to see a bolt of lightning ahead, framed perfectly between the greenery of the canal.

I commence counting.

1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi, 3 Mississippi, 4 Mississippi, 5 Mississippi, 6 Mississippi, 7 Mississippi.

Boom.

Light travels faster than sound and every 5 seconds is a mile. So you have to do this counting at least twice to know if the storm is coming or going. I figured I’d wait a bit to see which way it blew over, but I knew. The signs were there. The tarmac smells like ozone, the wind was picking up, and the thunder rumbles again for a good ten minutes.

I step out to take a photo when the sky flashes. 1 Mississippi 2 Mississippi 3 missi- boom. Crack.  Again, and this time the resonance makes me and the pigeons shudder.

Flash, 1 missi…
Crack,
Winds, that make me stand behind my own bike for protection.
Hail,
Downpour. 


I’m filming when a couple walks by, their car just meters from where I pin myself to the wall. I’m in an echo chamber, it seems, and when the next thunder bolt snaps I jump.

About a half hour after this started, I count again. 9 Mississippi. And I see blue skies ahead. I’m grateful for canal overpasses, but more importantly my outdoor knowledge, science savvy and skill, if you can call it that. I hope I’ll have dry socks and a smile when I ride out of the hiding spot.

Flash, 14 seconds.

In less than an hour the storm was heading out. And so did I, finishing the 10 km into town.

I walked onto the old city for dinner and spotted one of the cyclists I met briefly this afternoon just a half hour or so before the storm. In fact, I was thinking of how he and Thomas fared. So I invited this guy to join for dinner. Lucas had already eaten, but while I munched escargot and creme brulee, we traded videos of the storm, and stories from our previous long haul cycle tours.

The Alscasian pinot gris was as lovely as the old city and the company of the day. All in an adventure.

Hope it don’t rain all day

The key to the garage was left out on the foyer table. Karin grabbed the gate keys and started that while I pulled the garage door up to finish up yesterday’s chain maintenance routine. The previous gravel and mud was everywhere and I was thankful for a little squirt of wd40 yesterday afternoon. Hoping things wouldn’t wash away with today’s forecast, I lubed the chain.

Heavy duty

You see, it wasn’t raining when I was packing up the bike to leave from Ursula’s in Weinheim. It’s also easier to roll when the weather is in your favor and have it turn than start in a deluge. At least it’s more motivating. I said my goodbyes, and pushed off.

The drizzle began and I soaked it up, smiling and riding among the sunflower blumen, and agricultural landscapes. I rode by Carl Benz house and crossed the Neckar River. Near a park and ride I pulled over under the bike parking shelter to don the poncho. Fair to say now, 15 km, it was actually raining. I recognized where I was, having taken this photo on Friday, but instead of pushing on to Heidelberg, I turned right to Grenzhof.

Sunflowers. Look closely you can see the rain spatter on my handlebar bag.
Raspberries and tomatoes
The Neckar
Benz lived here
Taken on Friday when we went straight. Today, I went right.

Soon after the rain picked up in earnest,  and I started looking for an awning or open garages to hide out. I looked up from my rain splattered Garmin, and out from the dripping hood of the poncho to discover I knew EXACTLY where I was. I was at the junction of the street of my parents friends (who I had dinner with just last night). What?!

Last night on Leopoldstrasse

I turned right down a half a block and jumped onto their covered porch. I pulled off my poncho, shook it out over the deck with a snap like one does a filthy carpet. I was giddy as I pushed the doorbell.

They were quite surprised, and I still was too. Sigi opened the garage door and I rolled my bike inside. Helga made me tea and gave me a towel. It was 11:30 and it was positively dumping out, filling a bucket on their porch within the hour. Sigi suggested the train. At 12:30, I geared up to ride to the station, but the wind was whipping so hard and Sigi was so soaked just coming in from the car having picked up his grandchildren that he had to change his shirt. Wait, he said. No use going now. So I waited it out at their place, checking the train schedule and watching the rain.

I followed Sigi in his car to the station and get stalled by the firemen in the rail underpass. The underpass was flooded and they were not letting anyone pass as they mopped, squeegee-ed and wet vac-ed. I went up over the bridge and Sigi met me at the station to help me buy my ticket.

Floods and firemen
The train station…Schwetzigen to Karlsruche

A 30 km ride with a 40 km assist. I had time to paint on the train, and was in Karlsruhe under an hour.

Olive gets an assist
Sitting and staring, in awe

It was dry when I rolled the 5 km from the station to the bed and bike hotel I had booked. I kept my soaking wet gloves off, but kept my jacket zipped tight. Is this summer?

The sky lightened as I strolled the historic fan city this evening, admiring the markplatz, the palace, and the rathaus tower. I took dinner at a vegan burger place and painted between bites of sweet potato fries.

Schloss Karlsruhe
Townhall tower

G is for…part III: belGium cyclists and Geburtsort

Day 4: Caitlin made it clear there was no reason to rush off, and I could spend two nights. As I was expected in Weinheim Friday, this plan worked well. When I woke to the rain, it worked even better. And after a day of rest, rearranging, route planning and writing, when the next guests–a Belgium couple biking from Belgium to Vienna, heading to Heidelberg tomorrow–showed up, the plan was the best yet!

Day 5:
Three cycle tourists (all teachers) headed out by 9 a.m. with navigation not nearly as difficult through the city as it had been through Saarbrucken. We passed US bases and it was strange to see so much English in Germany.

Leaving our warmshowers host together
Post

A lovely bike path through the forests, along a winding road, all the way to Hochspeyer and Frankenstein where castle delighted us. Then we climbed, slow and steady for about 2 km to the top of the pass, which meant for a stand in your pedals, squealing with delight, decent for at least a dozen km into Bad Durkheim passing paper mills along the way. Vineyards here in the Pfaltz region striped the landscape. I was feeling so good I decided to ride into Heidelberg with Alice and Guillaume for a celebratory beer, before going to Weinheim despite the extra miles.

Along 37.
Admiring the castle in Frankenstein
Pedaling through town

Sprinkles and sunshine played with us throughout the day, and playful puddles in Mannheim were signs of an earlier rain. It was overall great weather for riding. We crossed the Rhine, and followed the Neckar through Mannheim into Heidelberg.

Alice rolls through puddles with a smile

That radlerweissen and pretzel were rad, with the delightful company. Merci mes amis.

I pushed the last 17 km across the Neckar to my family friend’s home for a total of 100 km. There was a barbecue going on and within the hour I was well fed, and well wined on the local Pfaltz variety, and sharing stories of my dearly missed mother.

The first leg of my journey is complete as I visit here a few days.

Crossing the Neckar in Heidelberg

G is for…part II: GPS, gravel!?#$, and Germany

Day 3, July 7: After a hearty breakfast of warm muesli, photos in the sun, and goodbyes, I headed out aiming to trust the GPS.

Sunshine in Saarbrücken

Kerstin suggested I go through the forest to get to the university, but I was concerned about the mud and gravel. Plus, the GPS had me back down the hill on the road. But then… scheisse. Back up the steep gravel path in the forest we walked last night. Hike a bike, here we come.

I spent some 5 km on gravel, walking or riding. Alternatating between cursing and contemplating the cool forest, and the joy of adventure. 

What I thought was the end of my gravel grind. #notgravelspecific

The thing about traveling alone is that there is no one to argue about route choices. That has been great for me on foot wandering streets of Kathmandu or Kuching. And its generally still great on a bike, but as I age I’ve become my own worst critic, and hold new anxieties about cycle touring solo in Europe. I gasped a few times–for both the beauty and solitude of riding a bit of hard packed gravel in the hardwood forest AND then heightened alert of being solo out here with no one knowing where I am. Yet, I could also breathe–I am carrying an emergency phone, thanks to my Luxembourg hosts; I know how to ride on gravel; and I can ask for help in a few languages.

The bike routes are well signed here in Europe, but t I hadn’t expected gravel. Expectations get in the way of adventure, and being uncomfortable doesn’t equal unsafe. So I had a snack, dug deep, and let go to simply trust the way.

After a bit, the way took me on a another dirt track and I just breated in the air, stopping to pee near some cows. In the centre of Skant Ingbert there was a lovely cityscape bronze sculpture and I stood admiring it with an older woman.

Cityscape

By 11:30, going uphill on the red brick bike way in front of pastry shop I made a stop for a sandwich and a pretzel. The day warmed and the remaining way was cruisy, including a road closed to cars on route to Landstuhl. I followed a woman on her upright bike, and in town the same women caught me napping on the stairs in front of the closed information office. The map available to take from the plastic holders on the exterior of the building would prove helpful, and fun, and motivating for the last 15 km into Kaiserslautern and beyond.

Entering the state of the Rhien/Pfalz
On route to Landstuhl

My warmshower host was a woman I contacted over a year ago, planning the original trip. An American in Germany, for the last 11 years, and from her I learned of the 60,000 Americans in the area due to US military.  Caitlin works on base as a civilian. She left me a key to her place in the center of town, and I walked up the three flights of stairs to her crowded apartment. She left towels and a beer, and by the time she got home from work at 7, I was human again, ready to go to dinner.

She took me to the center square and we sat outside at an open table, uneven for the cobblestones, for a meal. My radlerweissen and spaetzle when down with ease. She toured me around to a favorite fountain with significant animals important to the city. Then on to cap off the meal with spaghetti ice cream. (Ice cream pushed through an extruder, topped with sauce, and coconut to look like spaghetti!)

Spaetzle and radlerweissen
Kaiserlautern fountain
Silly cyclist

I slept well after my 45 miles.

G is for…Part I: generosity and gratitude into Germany

Day 2: I woke up before my alarm clock. The thunderstorm cracked and I bolted awake to hear the rain pounding on the roof of the hotel, racing down the cobblestones, and spilling from the downspouts. Merde. This, plus the lack of a clear route into Germany wasn’t motivating me to get up.

From Luxembourg to Germany was the part of my trip I had the least planned. Of all the things I had been anxious about, this route finding was one of the top.

Thus, I reached out the night before on a Eurovelo FB group inquiring about the EV5 (still under construction) from Schengen on the Moselle River to the Saar River valley.

Rain be dammed, I still needed breakfast so I went downstairs to eat and talk myself into the journey. I knew I had a warmshowers host in Saarbrucken, that was a good goal. I just had to muster the legs and rain gear for the hills, the route, and the ambiguity along the way. Tea helped. Muching on bread and cheese, I was messaging with someone who responded to my post. He included a strava elevation profile for my planned route, and a warning: it was steep, even without a load. He suggested backtracking to the confluence of the Moselle and Saar back in Kontz, which really wasn’t an option for me. I asked him to confirm my Google maps research–was better out of Remich or Shengen. He said Shengen, but not by much.

I was digging for motivation and I packed one of the baguettes to go, and went to the bathroom to kill time and think some more. When I returned to my phone, there was a surprise. Paul said he lived close and offered to drive me to the top of the hill, and bring tea and sandwiches.

I know other riders who would have refused his offer. I’m here for the riding, sure, but I’m also a people person and was here for those adventures and those stories. So I said yes. Paul texted a photo of him and his wife Julie and we made a meeting plan.

I had time for a little bike maintenance, finished packing up and loaded the water bottles. As I checked out, the host suggested I check out the EU museum in Schengen. So I pulled the tennis ball on a string in the garage to lift the door, and rolled out in a drizzle to Shengen.

In preparation for this trip, as I was trying to check covid regulations for each of the countries I was interested in visiting, I kept seeing information about the Schengen area or the Schengen States. I had no idea what it was about.

But here in Shengen is where the EU happened. The beginning of a borderless Europe began with an idea between Francois Mitterrand and Helmut Kohl. These leaders originally just opened the border between Germany and France on the Rhine near Strassbourg. Benelux countries were very excited and wanted to join this agreement. Schengen, Luxembourg was chosen for its symbolic character as it is located at the intersection of France Germany and the Benelux communities. On June 14th 1985 the Schengen Agreement was signed aboard a vessel on the Moselle River.

Paul and Julie met me in the flag pavilion, under now sunny skies, where just this morning it was “pissing”. It was my first hint Paul was a native English speaker. Sure enough, the Brits have been in Luxembourg for 18 years, with a stint for Exxon in Georgia, USA, keen cyclists and eager to assist. We loaded my bike on their rack, and drove over the bridge, chatting along the short way.

EU museum flag pavilion
Olive at the EU museum. Each star is carved with characteristics of each EU country.

I was a wee bit sad to miss the mini Eiffel Tower I spotted out the window, but as we climbed the “damn chip seal” higher and higher, I was content. Paul continued to narrate the climb from past experience, and the nature of the road, no shoulders and the grade. And just as we crossed into Germany the road smoothed out.

He pulled over at the crest, IN the actual bike path. The wind whipped, the wheat swayed and the wind generators turbines spun in the distance. Julie handed me a banana and a piece of cake, and after a quick photo, they were off about their day. I was stunned and soaked up the moment next to cows and barbed wire fences, just breathing.

Top of the hill
Great gratitude for these generous folks

It was all downhill from here to the Saar. But even flat roads are tough in a headwind. In a tunnel of green, and then industrial steel mills and concrete, the day turned gray again, and windy, and I simply pedaled on along the Saar River. My GPS occasionally told me to turn into towns, but I went along the river until I couldn’t. I followed it carefully through the city of Saarbrücken, in front of buses, and through the markplatz cobblestones and uphill to a residential neighborhood. I stopped in front of Kerstin’s appartment and texted her. She came out to welcome me.

We enjoyed a delightful dinner together with her and her boyfriend Rudolph, with conversation about traveling, biking in Quebec (she was an exchange student in high school and returned after undergraduate school to cycle the Gaspe Peninsula), and service. Rudolph was one the last group of the country’s compulsory service program. He spent a year in Israel. We talked about the opportunity for connecting with people who are different than you.

The very next morning a friend sent me this article https://nyti.ms/3agm1mn about suggesting that this is now the time for American compulsory service.

After dinner we took a walk in her neighborhood woods. A huge park, with a high ropes course too. I enjoyed the stroll talking with her about beech trees, nettles, and jewel weed.

Wonder in the wandland

The woods walk would be serendipitously important for the next day.

On foot and bike this weekend Luxembourg

Brian had been waiting for visitors for over a year-and-a-half since he moved to Luxembourg from Seattle. He had already proved to be an excellent host and now proved to be an excellent tour guide for 2 days. On Saturday we set off from his house on foot to explore the city center. And on Sunday we set off for a bike ride around the city.

We walked all over checking out the history and the architecture, from the fortified walls, the river bed, and the cobblestone streets.

We stopped to rest and enjoy a famous Aperol Spritz

We took the public tram, to the big grocery store to buy dinner ingredients and snacks for the bike ride. Then we took the bus to the appartment. Since March of 2020 or so Luxembourg has decided to make available to all people, thus there was no fare collected. I was impressed with the transportation infrastructure.

Over dinner Brian had shared to 3-ring binder books. One was a compilation of all of the hiking trails in Luxembourg that one could take by connecting train routes throughout the country. The other book was similar and but for all the cycling routes. I was amazed about them both but also that they could be unclipped and you could carry just a section you wanted wall on an hiking stroll. Seemed like Luxembourg was out to chide me for tearing out pages of the Lonely Planet before I packed for this trip.

Sunday we woke to damp ground and even more humid air. But it wasn’t raining, so we took off on our bikes for a route that Brian had planned. We aimed to ride piste cycleable number one, a route around the city, on mostly dedicated bike paths. Within 15 minutes we were already passing farmlands, horses and cows. It was amazing how much natural beauty we rode through.

The humidity was thick and that may have been why the deciduous hardwood forests reminded me so much of my childhood. Birch, Chestnut, and Beech trees with an open understory. Nettles and honeysuckle at the disturbed edge. The gravel path through a park well-maintained as we followed the wooden bike signage. We followed along a river passing an old mill and a kayak shop.

As we approached near the center of town I recognize where I had been from the walk yesterday. We pushed up some steep narrow alleyways and wound our way under the train bridge to the city walls. We turned into the old brewery for Brian to show me a night life area, quite now at noon. But suddenly it wasn’t quiet.

The rain drops came fast and furious as we ducked under cover of a bar closed in Sunday. We checked radar and waited out an hour, eating our packed sandwiches. I painted.

Rainy rooflines

We pushed off on damp pavement under the train bridge again, to an elevator, again a marvelous transportation service.

Olive at the city wall
Brian under the railway bridge
Olive gets a lift

And I seemed to know the way back. So I lead on, grateful for a great tour guide, street signage, and my Garmin.

And the weather gods, because as I wrote this post from the comfort of a nap and cozy dry homebase, the thunder storm was in full force. Cold winds, thunder, lightning, pouring rain. I’ll have a few days of similar weather, perhaps, as I take off solo tomorrow towards Germany.

#rideonwriteonrighton #olivemybike #Luxembourg #pc1

Along the Divide, Along the Rhine.

As Irena mentioned in her previous post, we are each spending a summer on cycling adventures. She’s already a week in to the Great Divide Bikebacking route from North to South, grinding the gravel and posting stories to Wheelyadventurous.com.

I’m less than a week away from cycling in Europe. These plans began with a dream 2020 spoke and hub tour out of Luxembourg in the each of the four cardinal directions–North to Amsterdam, West to Paris, South to Zurich, and East to Heidelberg. But instead I stayed closer to home and Pedaled the Puget.

We are all altered by the pandemic. Countries are now more open, my heart is far more stretched, and I’ve modified the path. Now, I’m heading to ride from Luxembourg to Heidelberg and along the Rhine on Euro Velo 15 along the Rhine to Zurich.

Cycling and culture; spoke and stories.

I’ll be posting some highlights here, as well as on my instagram @olivemybike.

Ride on, write on, right on.