Europe Tour | Autumn 2016 | Day 13
Today's Route: https://www.strava.com/activities/747972261
Given that day twelve of my autumn tour didn't conclude until five ante meridiem on day thirteen, I experienced, literally, one very long 48-hour day. And that's about how I felt, too, when I awoke and prepared to start day thirteen at 9:30 this morning.
But if that's the price I'll have to pay each time I visit David, Jana, and Vašek at "the cottage", as David calls he and Jana's wonderful home above the Elbe in Ústí nad Labem in the Czech Republic, then I'll do so willingly and with great haste! The food, company, and conversation were the very best. And the view the next morning, despite low clouds, was exceptional. As implied, the cottage is a special place, inside and out, including all of the personalities that roam its open spaces, two cats included.
Breakfast was served at about 10:15 with plenty of coffee. And the leftovers were generously transformed into a cyclist's lunch-to-go by Jana. The first sandwich didn't make it out of Bohemian Switzerland National Park (Národní park České Švýcarsko), a park with an eccentric English translation. Established in 2000, it is the Czech Republic's youngest national park. More on this park, and other details, in a moment. The second sandwich provided the fuel that I needed on the night portion of my ride that began at the witching hour in Meissen, overlooking Albrechtsburg Castle and Meissen Cathedral on the opposite bank of the Elbe, and concluded in Torgau about three hours later with only moonlight to guide me. Torgau is famous for at least one event in history, it's the place where the red army first encountered the green, US, army in 1945. It also sports a 16th century castle on a 10th century foundation, well preserved, above the Elbe. And in general, it's a poster village, cobble stone streets, a fountain in the middle, and all the architecture that you might anticipate filling-in the scene.
Thick cloud cover remained the status quo throughout day thirteen of my cycle tour, not ideal for a human being wearing lightly tinted Native Sunglasses that was hoping to establish memories of a landscape celebrated for its natural beauty. More importantly for anyone following my tour on Facebook, capturing details in a digital photo was difficult, to say the least, given that one of the primary effects of such cloud cover is the complete removal of shadows. Nonetheless, so not to disappoint my mother, Evelyn Breton, or the leader of my fan club in Iserlohn, Germany, Brigitte Knorr, I did my best to record the day's scenery with a few photos, which I took the liberty to improve using Snapseed from Google. On my cycle tour, Snapseed has proven itself to be an effective and easy to use photo editing app for optimizing images intended (my suggestion) for small screen viewing, such as Apple's iPhones and iPads. The app has been my primary resource for improving photos and I anticipate that I'll continue to use the app well after my Autumn Tour concludes.
Two national parks, one overseen by Germany, Saxon Switzerland National Park, and the other by the Czech Republic, Bohemian Switzerland National Park, meet at the border of the two countries about halfway between Dresden and Ústí. The conjoined parks are bisected by the Elbe. With no private lands between them, the result, for biodiversity, is a two-nation national park on an impressive European scale, a combined 172 sqaure kilometers (66.5 mi²) of land set-aside for life other than the human form. Respectful human recreation is, of course, encouraged, as in other national parks, by bike, boot, and, for these parks which contain part of the Elbe River watershed, by boat too.
In the order that I experienced the parks, the area known as Bohemian Switzerland in the Czech Republic was placed under some form of protection as early as 1972, a year after I was born to Evelyn and Rodney Breton, my parents, somewhere in Norwood Hospital in Massachusetts, a state named for a Native American tribe from the Boston area that succumbed to European diseases. Following the establishment of Saxon Switzerland National Park in 1990 by the German government, "efforts were stepped-up to place the Bohemian part of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains under national park protection." Despite heated opposition from hunting organizations and the forestry industry, Bohemian Switzerland National Park was formerly set-aside for all to enjoy, rather than a few to profit from and depreciate, in 2000.
Saxon Switzerland National Park (Nationalpark Sächsische Schweiz) was established before the post-WWII reunification of Germany, a statement that alludes to the scenic splendor of the region and it's recreational importance for the many visitors that the region attracts annually. Like it's neighoring park to the south. part of the name of this German national park, "Switzerland", was inspired by the Elbe Sandstone Mountains. and their similarity to the dolomitic (I assume) region of the Alps. The sandstone in particular and the impression of mountains that the Cretaceous rock formation provides in general, on a backdrop reaching high above the peaceful and scenic Elbe River, are the primary sources of inspiration for visitors that recreate in this part of Germany and Czechia. Naturally, a popular recreational activity in both parks is climbing, free-climbing is the only form allowed in Saxon Switzerland: "... characterized by its sandstone rocks which draw many rock climbers there are some 14,000 climbing routes on over 1,100 rock pinnacles. Ropes and bolts may only be used for safety but never as a means of climbing. The use of chalk and common means of protection such as nuts and friends is also not permitted; instead knotted nylon slings are used."
The Elbe Sandstone Mountains, locally referred to "as Saxon Switzerland and Bohemian Switzerland in German and Czech", came about because of erosion rather than a mountain building event involving plate tectonics (an orogeny). Like the Catskills of New York or the Ozarks of Missouri, the cliffs and valleys of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains were made possible first when the land uplifted; and subsequently, over geologic time, by the natural demolition of that uplifted landscape by flowing water and other forms of erosion. The Grand Canyon of the United States, in Arizona, also demonstrates the result of uplift followed by erosion, principally by water. And I suspect the grandest canyon in our solar system, considerably grander than our celebrated Grand Canyon on Planet Earth, Valles Marineris on Mars resulted from the same processes.
The Elbe Sandstone Mountains are composed, primarily, of a massive sandstone formation that formed from sand and other debris deposited by rivers in a Cretaceous sea that once covered a large portion of the European continent. These deposits were subsequently compressed, compacted, and cemented due to massive, Earth scale, overburden throughout geological ages before they were exhumed by uplift and erosion ultimately taking their present form in relatively recent time. The Cretaceous "was a period with a relatively warm climate, resulting in high eustatic sea levels that created numerous shallow inland seas [, including a massive inland sea that covered all of today's Great Plains in the heart of the North American continent]. These oceans and seas were populated with now-extinct marine [organisms] while dinosaurs continued to dominate on land. During this time, new groups of mammals and birds, as well as flowering plants, appeared. The Cretaceous [famously] ended with a large mass extinction, non-avian dinosaurs, pterosaurs and large marine reptiles, [among many other species], died out." The Elbe has cut deeper into Cretaceous formations than any other river in Europe.
No doubt mined from the local sandstone and perhaps containing fossilized fragments of extinct flora and fauna, I encountered what was by far the roughest, cruelest you might say, cobble stone road on my cycle route along the Elbe today whilst riding through the German national park. Fortunately the section was less than 2-3 kilometers and the apple that I had begun eating a moment before did not dislodge from my verklemt jaw as I awaited a kinder moment to devour it.
Shortly after the cobble stone flogging, I neglected my instincts and as a result came to the end of a paved cycle route. Making matters worse, or better, depending on how you conclude, I overcame my instincts one more time as I plunged onto single track and rode into the forest not far away from the east bank of the Elbe. Before it was over, I had biked, mostly hiked, and literally climbed, a set of near-vertical stairs (see the two-pointed spire on the elevation profile at the end of the blog), to the top of the aforementioned sandstone formation where I had the pleasure, a welcomed turn-of events, to overlook the countryside, river, and villages below. As this implies, it was a happy ending but the slog to that end was certainly not something you could sell in a cyclists tourist brochure. Unless, of course, that was directed at mountain bikers carrying no gear, but mountain bikes are not allowed in the park.
Cobble tracks and hikes on an otherwise "cycle tour" through a national park aside, foremost from the days memories will always be my night journey to Torgau. Just as the last wisps of light were fading on the French horizon, I was enjoying a relaxing pee overlooking the beautiful River Elbe and the lights from the village of Meissen, Germany. The lights illuminated Albrechtsburg castle and Meissen Cathedral, two notably historic buildings whose construction dates back to the 10th century. As the golden stream flowed deliciously into the green Earth, I began my mental preparation for a final push, in the dark, to Torgau.
Shortly after leaving Meissen I rolled over an undetected and unfriendly pointy, I assume, object that released the pressure, and most of the sealant, from my rear tire with the force of 85 pounds per square inch. Wishing for a miracle, as cyclists often do during these moments of despair, I nonetheless rode on for a short distance as the last whisps of air audibly departed my Hutchinson Sector 28 mm tire. Much to my jubilee, nearly on the last rotating gasp, what remained of the Stan's NoTubes Sealent sealed the offending hole! After a short stop to replace the air that had escaped, I was satisfied and rode on.
About an hour before I rolled into Torgau, two hours into my evening asault on what remained of my hangover, my primary headlight ran out of power. It seems that the battery realized only about 20% of its expected life, it's no longer charging close to capacity. I doned my headlamp in the meantime, but unfortunately within 20 minutes that light died as well. From this point to Wolfgang's AirBnB, I occasionally salvaged a bit of light from my bike light (battery recharges a little when it's off) but otherwise navigated by moonlight. Fortunately, the road that remained was nearly abandoned this time of night. I easily avoided the few cars and lorries that passed by. Finally, at about 10 pm, exhausted beyond memory, I settled arrived to Wolfgang's charming AirBnB and Knackered as I was, the following morning I managed to sleep through my scheduled breakfast! Wolfgang was patient throughout as he was when I arrived late the night before due to my flat tire. What a way to conclude a 48 hour day. But I would still, the whole show withstanding, say it was one of my best adventures to date, certainly inspiration to tempt another tale.
As my long blog entry implies, it's been an exceptional day of exploring exceptional places. Nonetheless, all I can anticipate at this moment is a long, much needed, rest. Until the conclusion of that sleep, I bid you a Guten Nacht from the west bank of the Elbe in a town that "fell under the rule of the Holy Roman Emperors in the 10th century. [At that time], a stone castle was built, round which the settlement congregated." I'm looking forward to a quick tour of Torgau in the morning.
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Adventure Guide, Mentor, Lifestyle Coach, Consultant, Endurance Athlete