Europe Tour | Autumn 2016 | Day 11
Today's Route: https://www.strava.com/activities/745583189
Last night I laid my head onto the pillow at about 9:45 pm, was asleep by 9:50, and woke at 4:30 feeling rested. It seems I needed some rest after yesterday's three cul-de-sacs and more, including just under 130 miles on the saddle. I rolled-out of Offenburg, "a city with about 57,000 inhabitants", at about nine o'clock, roughly two hours after I exited the misery frame. Right away, within a kilometer, freelancing led to two flights of stairs; I was happy to climb and then descend them, on foot, respectively. Shortly thereafter, I found myself in rolling foothills, mostly furbished by apple orchards and grape vines, on an enviable one lane road which was sometimes deeply entrenched, so much so that you could lean your bike, nearly vertical, on either road bank. As always, I cherished the country setting. The air was warm relative to most of the mornings I've experienced on the tour. And even better, by noon the sun was shining through partly cloudy skies.
After roughly 20 country miles, first northward and then (most of the miles) westward, I was again approaching the Rhine, my companion for the last few days. At the east bank, I turned right, to the north, and resumed my commitment to the Rhine Cycle Route. It was often fast and smooth, but just as often convoluted, resulting in a grand tour of the region. Which is excellent unless you're hoping to bag many miles in a day. These and other circumstances led to a switch from river bank right (east) to left (west), by ferry, and soon I was rolling along at 18-22 mph on smooth pavement where naughty cars are not allowed.
Ferry crossings have been an important part of my trip, as they were when I was undertaking the bulk of my North America touring, from about 1996 to 2005, by motorcycle in my 20s and early 30s. A decade of off-and-on-again touring, including five major tours (one of these covered 24 states, 16,000 miles, and 6 months) and many smaller tours. Along the way, I explored all of the lower 48 states and Canadian Provinces east of Manitoba including Newfoundland and Labrador. My preferred lodging in those days was always, exclusively, a tent! Most of the touring was from the perspective of a 1982 CX 500 Honda motorcycle which I purchased for 250$ from a family friend. The bulk of the total mileage was absorbed by this very reliable motorcycle, close to 80,000 miles (128,000 kilometers). In my 30s I acquired, for a short time, a 1983 GL650 Honda Silverwing on which I continued to tour by motorcycle. My last purchase of a motorized two-wheeler was in my 40s, a 2004 GSA 1150 BMW. During my years of touring by motorcycle, I discovered that the path less followed was always best, and sometimes, to avoid major bridges, those paths led to relatively sleepy auto and passenger ferries across North America's most famous rivers including the Ohio and Mississippi. I've carried-over my fascination with rivers and ferries, developed as a motorized touring adventurer, into my latest passion, light bicycle touring.
So far, on my first bicycle tour of Europe, I've used ferries, a convenient and inexpensive option, to cross three culturally, economically, and historically significant rivers: on day one I crossed the Weser River at Sandstedt, Germany; day three I crossed the Meuse River on my way to lodging in Baarlo, Holland; and today I crossed the Rhine close to Leimersheim in Germany. The Weser "River is the longest river whose course reaches the sea and lies entirely within German national territory ... eight hydroelectric dams stand along its length (744 kilometres [462 mi])." The Upper Meuse River "from 1301 roughly marked the western border of the Holy Roman Empire with the Kingdom of France. The Meuse and its crossings were a key objective of the last major German WWII counter-offensive on the Western Front, the Battle of the Bulge in the winter of 1944/45." And regarding the Rhine, "The Rhine and the Danube formed most of the northern inland frontier of the Roman Empire and, since those days, the Rhine has been a vital and navigable waterway carrying trade and goods deep inland." Of course, this brief lesson in history from Wikipedia is just, the tip of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet.
On either bank of Europe's major rivers, access to ferry crossings are not uncommon and hours of operation easily accommodate a traveler that can never be certain when they might arrive to the loading area. And beyond convenience, cost, and other practical reasons, crossing a river an a small auto and passenger ferry is a wonderful way to experience a river. You'll be forced to get off of your bicycle, or motorbike as I was in my youth, breath the air rising-off of the river and adjacent wetlands, listen to the sounds, and perhaps even have a short conversation with another traveler that might lead to previously unknown opportunities down the road.
From Leimersheim, on the west bank of the Rhine, I maintained a comfortable, unimpeded, light cycle touring pace north to Speyer. At Speyer, a town inscribed as "Noviomagus on the world map of the Greek geographer Ptolemy [in AD 150]", I climbed a set of stairs, attached to the southwest quarter of the Speyer bridge. This unconventional cycle touring move gave me access to a route over the Rhine, to the east bank, and beyond into the foothills of the Alps in this part of southern Germany. After a successful search for lodging using the AirBnB app, as I was clipping each shoe into my RLT 9 Steel bicycle, I found myself feeling a little sad as I looked down, over my right shoulder, on my ageless friend for what I knew would be the last time on this trip. The Rhine, despite centuries of manipulation, easily inspires. Even in its modern form the river remains worthy of everyone's bucket list. No doubt, I'll reflect, with fondness, on my experiences along this historic river well into my old age, whatever "old age" that happens to be.
As I rolled off the bridge, towards the east, I began what was some hasty, to avoid darkness, navigation to a supermarket followed by the same to my resting place for the evening in the village of Rauenberg, 15 km south of Heidelberg. I arrived just as the sun was dipping below the horizon, early enough for a few photos of St. Peter and Paul Church in the village center. Any time I'm forced to slow down in a village, and even better, to sleep there, I'm thrilled. For the most part, I've had enough of navigating through cities on this trip, though those experiences have not been wasted either.
Anyone following my blog entries should anticipate a big surprise tomorrow, a "bishop's move" that will completely change my perspective, and yours. In the meantime, this evening I'm settled-into Maik's AirBnB, a gem of an AirBnB lodging option. Maik offers, for 56$, a spacious room, covered area to stash your bike, and a home made breakfast including brotchen picked-up fresh in the morning at one of the village bakeries. Maik, his two daughters, and his wife are open, friendly, a joy to visit and talk with. And if you forget anything, Maik has you covered: beer; wine; tooth paste; and more. Just outside my door the voices of excited youngsters are contagious. From this enviable perspective, I bid you a Guten Nacht from a village in the foothills of the Alps "first mentioned in 1303 ... where in the Middle Ages there were two settlements, Wederswilre and Ruhenberg."
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Adventure Guide, Mentor, Lifestyle Coach, Consultant, Endurance Athlete