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Attigny to Villers-Sire-Nicole, France – 82 miles & 1,115 metres climbed

The route continued to be rural and despite my fondest hopes the road continued to go up and down. The profile was like a piece of corrugated cardboard with endless relative minor ups and downs. The plan was now to get to the coast. The Zeebrugge (in Belgium) to Hull ferry was booked by Anna. This is a car ferry that takes you to the north of England overnight. I’d used it most years lately, either with a bicycle or my sports car. It was relatively expensive but dropped me less than 50 miles from home and was a fairly busy but easy run home. I got a cabin.

Today felt like the beginning of the end of the trip and thoughts were on home. As usual I found a boulangerie and bought croissants to set me up for the day. Intriguingly across the road from the bakers were a couple who led out two horses, mounted them and trundled off up the high street of this small town.

Amongst cyclists there is a debate about listening to music or radio through headphones. Some think it reduces the awareness of the rider and jeopardises their safety. I’m not sure but maybe listening to Megadeth at Volume 12 would impair your judgement! I was able to get, intermittently, the radio from a BBC App on my ride. It seems very incongruous to be proceeding through the French countryside listening to a cricket match. However, I did and it was engrossing and a great time killer.

Some of these days were very long in the saddle: today was 7 hours and 59 minutes. This was quite typical and not my longest day. Added to this were times when I’d stop to eat or shop.

With the size of France there is a considerable scattering of the population. So many/most rural/small town settlements have abandoned properties. It seems improbable that they will ever be refurbished and restored. These buildings are in sun bleached and quiet locations but nowhere you’d probably want to live unless you had some considerable roots. The buildings often look very grand I wonder at what time in the 20th Century the occupants fled to a city?

Lunch at Aubenton was a ‘plat de jour’ at a restaurant I found along the route. I asked what it was and was told it was a ‘brochette’. I had no idea what was coming until a large white sausage appeared on a skewer. Delicious and needless to say it didn’t hit the sides!

On the drink front I was so tired of drinking hot water that I bought these concentrates to add to my bottles. At least the hot water was flavoured and more satisfying now.

The plastic bag contains peaches. My ‘go to’ motivator

Maubeuge eventually came into sight and I cycled through the centre. It looked an attractive large town on the Sambre river. This looked navigable. However time was getting on and I was now aiming for the one campsite I’d identified.

Campsites are now very few and far between in Northern France. This is not a tourist area. I’d identified one at a small town to the North East of Maubeuge. In reality it was a static van site and didn’t cater to tourers. Folk had permanent homes here and either came on the weekend or for holiday breaks. It was up a steep hill in a wood and was an attractive setting. It took me a while to work out where Reception was. Now could I find someone to check me in? When I did locate someone it seemed straightforward, except for the showers.

The madame took my money, around €8, but advised a shower would cost extra – €1. What the hell I thought, let’s live a little and wash. However, she wanted some humungous deposit to hand across the dongle that activated the system in the washroom. This would be refunded tomorrow when I returned the device. However, the office re-opened at 9am the next day. I planned to be well up the road by then. So ’Plan B’ was to surrender my Passport for the duration of the shower. This would be returned tonight.

So I had a shower and returned to swap our relative treasures. The madame had my Passport in plain sight but couldn’t locate it to hand back. I watched slightly bemused (being my usual tolerant self). In exasperation she eventually concluded that this document in front of her must be mine. Sadly the problem arises in the fact that the photo taken in 2010 of yours truly shows an athletic younger man with more dark hair than the specimen in front of her! I absorbed the blow.

Bar-le-Duc to Attigny, France – 66 miles & 646 metres climbed

They say to foreigners, who visit Britain, that if you have to eat British food then have the breakfast three times a day. I can see the attraction for the French as they don’t have hot breakfasts! And if I’ve complained how drab McDonald’s food is then finding that their Gallic restaurants don’t do the Breakfast Menu reaffirms that they’ve even missed out the best bit. With this in mind I pedalled past the Bar-le-Duc one knowing it was a ‘Sausage Egg McMuffin’ free zone. Inconsolable.

The harvested corn fields I cycled through were scenes of great conflict a little over a century ago in WW1. The Germans attempted their invasion in this area from the East and due to the nature of wide opened spaces it appears indefensible. Along my ride were cemeteries and memorials to these conflicts and horrific losses. As in British towns then villages always have a memorial with countless names on the cenotaph. The scale of the remembrance to the fallen throughout France is enormous. It is quite stark in its scale to the few monuments of the war 20 years later. Here you’ll see an odd roadside headstone to a member of the Resistance or maybe a plaque on a bridge that the Resistance defended or blew up against the Nazis.

In Saints-Menehould I stopped off at a roadside bar for a couple of Cokes and enjoyed the ambience of a busy Sunday social scene.

I soldiered on in the heat and the traffic was literally non-existent on this Sunday. I eventually dived into a town, Vouziers, and found a cafe in the square. Here I joined three Belgian lads in the shade having a late lunch. I had a large chicken kebab and they had pizzas. They were riding their motorbikes back from a wedding to Belgium and had stopped off to recuperate. We talked about the World Cup and my trip. One motorcyclist was interested in my thoughts on Croatia. I was positive but not as much as he was. One of his friends rather ‘popped his balloon’ by commenting that his enthusiasm was heightened by some holiday romance in Zagreb!

So where tonight? I decided Attigny looked good. In fact it would be my third visit – once by bike and once previously in the Morgan. I shall never forget my first visit when a Dutchman suddenly appeared on my pitch with a cold can of beer. No such luck today. Being such a short day on the bike I was able to wash and dry laundry and pop into town for a beer at a bar. This nearly proved embarrassing as I didn’t have any cash to pay for it and had to pop out to find an ATM.

Being Sunday the restaurants were shut but I found a boulangerie for a grim sort of pasty. In fact I can advise that if the French combine pastry and meat it is not a happy event, ever. It was a quiet night and the sleep was needed.

Heaven Is A Place On Earth (Belinda Carlisle)

(Hammer: French lady)

Vittel to Bar-le-Duc – 71 miles & 739 metres climbed

It was a late start. A combination of being tired, needing to wait until 8.30am for Reception to open to pay my fees and a great site. I wobbled onto the road in a tardy fashion.

Vittel is a spa town with gardens near its centre. I discovered most of this by the Garmin being unable to find a way out. As a consequence I seemed to go round in circles for a little while before making an executive decision just to head north, predictably it was therefore up a steep incline. I must add that I’ve toured in some parlous weather on many expeditions but yet again it was a flawless blue sky with bright sunshine and that threat of afternoon high heat. I shouldn’t complain too much.

Bar-le-Duc was the objective/plan and the route was broadly North West with quite a decent elevation profile of not being too difficult. As always I peeked at the Google Maps and Komoot Apps on my phone and then trusted myself to the Garmin and Michelin maps. It looked like my usual trawl through minor towns better known for their farming than anything else.

Fellow cycle tourers are now long gone. I’m alone on this journey. This is mainly due to my route – a fairly featureless several hundred miles. However it does cross my mind that in all this distance a lone soul with their back bent will eventually appear over the brow of a hill.

A word or two for the bike. Before every tour I do a dry run and as I embark on this I never can believe the weight I’m loading on the rear and the way the bike twitches/trembles at the front end due to the imbalance. However, it holds up well. I mentioned that I had a knee injury that I feared had stopped this long distance riding. A lot of rehab and some adaptation of the riding position had solved in large part any issues. The typical day is always spent going up and down the gears and chain wheels. The load on the chain and gear cogs are immense and the smoothness of the gear changes soon goes as chain stretching or wear kicks in. It doesn’t get chronic, or if it does then I get it addressed but the reality is that the failing is mine with my set up rather than the bike’s. My leather saddle keeps me comfortable and wear on my hands is protected by the gloves. The gloves however do become a health hazard with all the sweat and even after a shower I can smell something unpleasant in the palm of my hands.

McDonald’s becomes a regular stop simply for an ice cold drink. I haul out my charging cables and devices and plug in to top up wherever possible. I joked earlier about the sin of using them but they are now common throughout all of Europe and especially in France. I usually have the chicken sandwiches but I am increasingly avoiding the food due to it being tasteless, tepid in temperature or dull in variety. However, with predictable locations, wi-fi, toilets and air con it does provide a respite in the middle of the day.

Neufchâteau was such a spot. I descended gradually into this large town (knowing that there would be payback for such a pleasure) and as I checked my Garmin for the location of McDonald’s I was presented with a spiteful suburb 15% gradient hill to reach it. Being Saturday, then to quote Fats Waller “the joint was jumping”. I found my usual corner, plugged in and tried to catch up on my blog. Fathers struggled with young children excited by their Happy Meals and I bided my time whilst I used the bike as a clothes line. I have to do this because I get to sites so late, last night was 8.25pm, that I can wash kit but not have enough heat or sun left in the day to dry it at the site.

I always lock the bike when I’m away from it but if someone were inclined then they could rifle through the panniers and take items. The items they might take would be worth nothing to them but their absence would be an inconvenience to me. There is always a risk of theft but in small towns then I tend to have faith that the worst of human nature is not common.

Re-energised I pushed on to Bar-le-Duc and the municipal campsite. Municipal means that they are run by the local town. They have good washrooms, basic pitches and few other facilities. One bonus is that they are in the towns and nearer to facilities. When I got there it looked spartan but had a few motorhomes sprinkled around it; mainly in one field. I chose one of the other three fields with one motor home in it thinking that this would be quiet. It transpired that a millennial man by himself was the other occupant and he’d called up a pal to join him. A chap subsequently arrived separately in a car.

The protocol used to be that silence should reign after 10pm on campsites and believe me I was certainly tucked up for the night by then. However my neighbour and pal were only just warming up. They had gentle background music on, a few drinks on the go and incessant chatter. The guy had picked this field to be alone and I had stumbled on his Saturday night party. At 10 minutes past midnight I jettisoned my ear plugs, grabbed my bright bike light and clambered out of the tent for a chat. They were surprised I was approaching them. With their faces lit up by my torch I was astonished to see that they’d just started their BBQ, and the sizzling noise was not French House music but sausages on a grill!

They said they didn’t speak English and so I attempted to advise them that I was tired and had ridden a long way in my French. The music was unacceptable. A few grunts ensued and the music was switched off as I returned to the tent. Their chatter continued and next to the campsite was a children’s playground. In here teenagers were shouting, chanting and being rowdy. That wasn’t a problem I could negotiate. You have to remember that for the majority of the campers had walls thicker than canvas and were not too inconvenienced by all this.

I think I dropped off to sleep at about 2.30am when my neighbours decided to get some sleep or to retreat inside the van as it was getting chilly and the playground kids went home. I awoke at 6.15am as rooks in the trees engaged in a spat. I decided to pack up and get on the road as I wasn’t going to get back to sleep.

My neighbours were also up and about and I wondered if they’d been to sleep and whether they’d been popping pills as well as taking a drink? You live and learn.

Belfort to Vittel, France – 84 miles & 1,211 metres climbed

I maybe should have known that pitching next to construction contractors on a Thursday night may mean an early start. Having worked in the industry then I know that many contractors stay away from home during the week and then return home on the Friday afternoon. I knew they were contractors by their company flat bed truck logo. They must have been working locally and camping during the week. I imagine this makes it very affordable for the contractor and in decent weather it isn’t a particular hardship. What was a hardship, to their neighbours, was that they started to ‘break camp’ at 5.15am on the Friday morning. There was a reasonably responsible attempt at minimising the noise but I was frustrated to get woken up. Sleep is a fuel.

So this clonking about went on for around an hour and I must have fallen asleep again because when I next looked at my watch it was 7.30am and they were gone. I needed to be up to get a few miles in before the inferno started and I wasn’t pleased.

I wrote about the rest day and if it had provided any recovery; obviously it was a help but I was not as fresh as I was when I started in Split. The thought of lots of climbing up seriously demanding inclines was abhorrent as I turned out of the campsite. So I decided to aim a little west to get past the mountain range to the north in the Vosges. In the heat I trundled along to Lure and then had a splendid lunch in Luxeuil-les-Bains of risotto and another Coke and ice with that delirious pleasure of the first mouthful cracking on the back of your parched throat.

Food wise I was struggling. I simply had little or no appetite yet if I failed to eat properly then I quickly faded. Often I might pass a supermarket thinking that I should get something in but I felt so uninspired as I plodded around the aisles. All this is in stark contrast to the lectures I put in my Touring Handbook on my personal site called Cycle Tour Craft. Take a look as this is a literal A to Z of touring based on my travels in Europe and North America.

With my water bottles replenished I had a vague plan to get as far north as I could and also to a campsite. In this part of France then campsites were thin on the ground and there wasn’t much to see. The landscape went up and down and arable farming was on either side of the road.

However, today the heat seemed at a new level. The thermometer read up to 36 degrees C or 97 degrees F but it seemed more intense than other days and the road heat came up at you like as if you were opening an oven door. I found myself with a dry mouth all the time and I went on to drink over 7 litres of fluid for the day. Inevitably I ran low on occasion and I surprised two ladies, sat outside their house, in some small village by pulling up in front of them and pleading “excuse moi, avez d’eau s’il vous plaît?” Of course they helped.

Ahh… another hill ahead

Which, brings me onto another subject: the sociability of the French. After the indifference of the Austrians and Germans I was now being regularly acknowledged by pedestrians I’d pass on my ride, tractor drivers, other cyclists and little old ladies urging me on as I reached the brow of another hill. In fact I often used too much French language when stationary and a torrent would come back that I had no idea about. It was simply heartening to have some interaction during 7 or 8 hours on the bike. Viva la France.

Yet, was it? The football team won the World Cup a couple of weeks earlier and there was the odd French Tricolour draped on a wall but little else. In England half the nation wouldn’t have sobered up yet had we won it!

So all a sudden despite feeling less than sparkling and still thirsty I decided to push on to Vittel (of the table water fame) and came across a blissful municipal campsite. I got there at 8.25pm and the sign at Reception suggested I should find a pitch and pay in the morning. Okey dokey.

This day got me to a total of 1,079 miles for the trip.

(Hammer: Dutch motorcyclists).

Strasbourg to Colmar – 46 Miles & 83 metres climbed and Colmar to Belfort – 68 miles & 623 metres climbed

It was a gentle start after some time off and I rolled beside the Rhine through flat fields of maize. I’ d amassed 881 miles getting to Strasbourg and the meter started running again. The farming seemed all small holding with little tractors chugging everywhere. As happens during hot days then it seems everything in the town is deserted and the only movement is from another dog barking at me or perhaps the squeals of delight from some young children in a paddling pool at the rear of a house.

I never could see the river but it’s influence on the terrain was complete. Most towns had the suffix of ‘heim’, which is German for ‘home’. This told the story of its earlier heritage.

The route was flat without so much as a railway bridge to ascend. The legs liked this! The destination was Colmar, which the observant amongst you will recall I visited the day before. However, the objective was to reach a campsite.

This was a bit of a shock in that for the first time since Croatia I came across British tourists. On the road from Croatia I had had come across a handful of British registered cars, motor homes or motorbikes. The latter category had the kindness to acknowledge me. If the real British were here then there were also some pale imitators. As I’m stood there wondering where to place my small tent on a large available patch of ground my neighbour pipes up, in pure Cockney, “put it anywhere you like, it’ll fit!”

I just ignored this

So as I’m thinking to ask him if he was born within the sound of Bow Bells and supports West Ham when I establish that he’s actually from Copenhagen and a Dane. Now this isn’t the first time I’ve come across a Dane with an immaculate English, or in her case, American accent. I reckon they would make great spies as a nation. Breaking a habit I didn’t seek out a Dutch hammer but borrowed a Danish one.

The campsite had little charm. This was reinforced with lager at €6 for a pint.

Cycling off the next morning, as always in bright sunshine, the reality about the condition of my legs hit me. They had thought I’d finished the expedition and had in effect returned to York with Anna. So in their ‘absence’ Plan B was to grind the small gears and with the road still brilliantly flat I got back amongst the fields and made it to Mulhouse.

On one of these country lanes I experienced a lot of trucks. It must have been a cut through or was on the route to a factory. On the bike you get used to the steady growl of large engines behind you and I recollect hearing a large beast slow and that awesome large grumble dawdle behind me waiting for an opportunity to pass. When he did he hit his air horn. I nearly lost control of all bodily functions. He either did this to let me know he was there and or he did this because he was France’s longest surviving brain donor in charge of an articulated truck. I now know why Brooks saddles are brown.

Mulhouse is a large town. My reason for visiting was to visit, for the third time, the French National Automobile Museum. In a purpose built setting a large number of mainly French cars from the beginning until the end of the 20th Century are displayed. It has the largest collection of Bugattis in the world at over 70 cars. The collection was owned by the Schlumpf brothers. They amassed the collection whilst running a large textile business in the city. Many thought the collection and refurbishment of cars was their priority as they employed 40 people alone to restore and maintain them.

With global migration of textiles to Asia in the 1970’s the business collapsed, albeit the Schlumpfs had been selling off bits. With bankruptsy looming the Schlumps fled to Switzerland and the workers took over the factories.  The Schlumpfs were exiled abroad and the large collection of cars, never previously seen, were put on display.

Eventually  the collection was sold and is now part of the museum. I, personally, like the 1960’s designs and the more mundane saloon cars. It is bewildering to think how many manufacturers there were and so disappointing that they eventually closed down. Today we have a handful of manufacturers worldwide.

So after a spin around and some spaghetti I saddle up for a tough afternoon. The heat was unforgiving as was the Sat Nav that made me take a tortuous path to the South West and Belfort. I never actually went in that direction as I seemed to tack and zig zag like a small sailing boat up and down little hills.

Frazzled I got to a campsite that I last visited in, I think, 2011, some cheer was restored as I saw a large chill cabinet selling cans of beer for €2. Normal service was resumed as I reverted to asking the Dutch for a hammer.

Zwieselberg, Germany to Strasbourg, France – 47 miles & 486 metres climbed + Rest Days

So it was simply a freewheel downhill to Strasbourg? I wish. I’d found a hotel just west of Freudenstadt in a spot called Zweiselberg. The next morning even though I was at the top of the mountain range it meant a steep and long descent before a long climb back to the top to find the road to the bottom. This required an hour’s worth of climbing up hairpins deep in the forest to get back to the freewheel scenario. It was slow and painful in the Sunday morning cool of the sheltered valley. I wasn’t alone though as Sunday morning is motorcycle time in the mountains. I must have seen over 100 bikes that morning as they zipped up and down the valleys. Apart from the noise, which must drive the locals mad, then another joy was the speedsters who raced each other up the hills.

I’m on a badly balanced bicycle descending at 35mph. I’m leaning into some very sharp lethal corners and always on the brakes: not that would solve much in a hurry. I’m picking a line nicely on one side of the road to allow overtaking from behind but also allowing me to take the bends. Next comes three screaming bikes around a bend racing each other up the mountain. They need all the road (both sides) as they lean virtually to the horizontal. I can do nothing but reflect on whether it’s too late for me to embrace Christianity.

Sunday in Germany and the trucks are off the road

On the descent I find cycling strugglers climbing. I came across a number of disabled cyclists using their hands and arms to pedal. Even when assisted by an electric bike solution I loved the ambition and effort. I’ve posted an image of the type of bike they rode (minus the motor and battery).

Eventually I am towards the valley floor and either maddenly twiddling around on gravel cycle paths or trying to use main roads where I am prohibited. I’m aiming for Kehl. This is the last German town before you cross the Rhine and enter France.

Entering France might be described as low key because whilst the river is the border then in reality there is no border. This was my sixth country of the ride. The Strasbourg tram runs from the centre of the the town and across the river into Germany. I know this because last year I was in Kehl staying at a campsite and took the tram.

Next mission is to find the hotel and my wife! The Okko Hotel is just west of the centre in a busy area with lots of restaurants. I just find this as my bride is wearily pulling her cabin bag toward the front door. Perfect timing! She’s had a big effort to get to Strasbourg using public transport from York to north of London where Stansted is located. Her tribulation with delays and under manning seem to make my ride seem a doddle.

The hotel is very chic and apart from a trendy room with a futuristic bathroom pod it also has ‘The Club’ where you can hang all day with free drinks and some snacks. After having spent all the preceding days thirsty then to have tins of soft drinks available in a large fridge free is like winning the lottery.

I’ve always known how to show a girl a good time and of course after showering then the first point of call is the launderette. Anna had done her research but I expect that the hotel staff, when quizzed, never expected to be answering these typical ‘cyclist on the road’ mundane questions! The present Mrs Ives was mollified by a McFlurry for allowing me to wash my smalls properly.

All sorted we sauntered into the beautiful town centre to have a look around and have a spot of very late lunch. Strasbourg has a history of having been either French or German over the last few centuries. It is also full of millennials and I worry that many have jobs associated with the European Union. The Commission and Parliament have premises here and for reasons that beautifully explain the whole nine yards of fudge that the EU is then the Parliament convenes here 12 times a year for 4 day sessions by way of ‘away days’ for the MEP’s. (I noted that a hotel in the centre, in the district called Petit France, had rooms at €550 per room. I wonder how many of those I’ve paid for over the years).

We went on a boat trip. Canals are to be found in the exquisite centre and we had a dreary history by pre-recorded audio. Interesting facts include the fact that once there was a gas works supporting 360 street lights and that quite a lot of the city was developed during the second to last German ownership at the end of the 19th Century. After this we wandered back to the hotel.

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Day 2 of my rest days sees an expedition to Colmar, about 40 miles south. Another beautiful city that leans on that mix of German architecture and French style. We strolled around in the staggering heat. We had some lunch including exceptional cake and then made the trip back.

The French trains are sublime – air conditioned, spacious and new. A real pleasure to experience. That night we find some pasta for me and risotto for Anna. Also I have some delicious white wine – something that I haven’t had much of for a while. The next morning Anna’s steeling herself for Ryanair and I’m thinking of that long road home up through France.

We have some falafel at a Lebanese restaurant, kiss goodbye and I set off in the wrong direction as usual. That bloody Garmin!

Kohlhunden to Altheim – 84 Miles & 951 metres climbed & Altheim to Zwieselberg, Germany – 82 miles and 1,557 metres climbed

So I was up early and when clambering out of the tent found a man standing guard. I would describe him like a WW2 U Boat Captain – tall, fair, lean, 30 something and sporting a stubbly beard. (He wasn’t wearing a roll neck sweater and carrying a periscope). It was early, but nothing is ever early on a farm is it?

So I did my ablutions, packed the tent and then despite the ‘guard’ (who was probably ensuring that I didn’t kidnap any of the sacrificial children) I cycled off without paying.

Now, in my defence, I didn’t know where Mrs Farmer resided, whether she was going to charge me for a corner of a lawn and the use of a toilet overnight, whether we could communicate because she didn’t speak English and whether she was pre-occupied with Daisy, Ermintrude and her sisters who seemed to be very inconsiderate and needed milking again. Anyway I was gone.

So the usual pattern ensued of little busy roads in the towns and quite a bit of climbing when taking to the quieter routes. I have to declare that my focus was now on reaching Strasbourg as soon as possible. The present Mrs Ives had deigned to visit to break up my visit and with it also came the promise of three nights in a luxury hotel. (Apparently they have showers that you can use all the time). Anna had not dictated the schedule but those lovable rogues Ryanair who only flew into Strasbourg a couple of times a week did. When I say ‘lovable rogues’ then let’s be frank… we all hate them but they are cheap and fly to places we want to go to.

So I plodded on admiring the beauty of the countryside but frankly making a mental note never to pedal across this part of the world again. It was tough and hot cycling with little, other than the view, to detain you. Rosenheim was my late afternoon stop and in my quest to get west I found no campsites. Booking.com identified cheap accommodation (€40) in Altheim and I found it eventually in the back streets of a little suburb.

The German young lady who took my booking spoke wondrous English after a year out in Ontario. I dug out my phone and showed her the room availability and price on the website to confirm that this was what I expected to pay. She told me her boss wouldn’t take a debit card but needed cash. Ffs… We all know this is nonsense as he cannot run a hotel on cash. He personally helpfully gave me vague directions in German where back in the little town I’d find an ATM. I spent another 30 minutes on top of a long day sorting out this challenge. I got back and handed the cash across. I must add that he also ran a takeaway restaurant on the site and dealt with me whilst serving doner kebabs and pizzas.

I chose not to use Booking.com to save the hotel the 20% commission. Frankly, in Germany, I’ve twice been mucked about by Turkish gentlemen who push their luck on these matters. I will now use the Booking.com website and they can pay the commission. My irritation is that they don’t recognise that I know I’m saving them money by going direct.

I’d bought some food en route and after this and a quick beer I called it a day.

Well again I was on the road by 7.30am with, according to my Garmin, 108 miles to go. However, as the day unfolded then with more detours and roads that prohibited bicycles that figure went up. A really frustrating symbol was a sign with a blue background and a car on it. This meant only motorised traffic could use a particular road. I’d ignored a couple of these but they could be dangerous by incorporating tunnels or have cars seriously go fast. Inevitably I got a bit of horn blowing by plonkers.

What was on my mind was that on top of the ‘up and down’ I had the Black Mountains to cross. These rose up before The Rhine and Strasbourg. In principle all was good because my destination, Strasbourg, was 400 metres lower. However there was still the matter of these mountains.

As routes got blocked by prohibitions I’d stop to consult my map, Garmin and mobile. The latter had not been very useful because my 3G or 4G signal was useless in Western Southern Germany. So there I was at some junction, quite lost, when a very nice German lady, with her grand child, asked if she could help. Given the general indifference of the population I was quite overwhelmed at this intervention. I was so touched. Anyway, we didn’t have the ability to communicate and that was that.

By small steps I found my way down the country lanes where cereals were being harvested on either side and eventually made it to the top of the mountain. At Freudenstadt I was done for the day and had 45 miles left before France. A Google search found a campsite that professed to be full. I went back to Booking.com and booked a cheap hotel. The only rub was that it was another 5 miles away!

Eventually I got there and checked in. It would do, and so would the beer and schnitzel. One more day to ride before luxury.

Großseeham to Kohlhunden – 83 miles & 1,220 metres climbed

Rolling out of the campsite I joined the sort of rush hour traffic around the little towns. It was to be the first of three days of cycling over 80 miles a day. I’d not had any breakfast and so was delighted to find a bakery. Two croissants and a coffee filled the spot along with a sandwich and cake for later on.

I’d been used to most folk speaking English but here in the deep German south then older people could help with the odd English word but little more. One relief was that whilst I never faced hostility then neither did I find a German wanting to strike up a casual conversation! It was all business like and if you passed a cyclist then there was literally never any acknowledgement. As Donald would say, ‘sad’.

The pattern of busy towns and quieter but hilly rural routes were common and I toiled away. Even more disappointing was the occasional sign saying ‘umleitung’. This translates as  ‘road detour’ in English and can strike fear in the heart of any cycle tourer as this means a longer route and climbing.

On one occasion I simply ignored some long and hilly deviation and decided to push my bike through the roadworks. No one questioned my presence but as I pushed past a bulldozer, road roller, grader and assorted tractors with trailers I then came across the heavy duty construction kit putting wet asphalt down. At this point I conceded defeat and found a different ‘deviation’.

The schedule was always to do around 60 miles and then find a place to stop. Here with a good internet I’d see where I’d could get to for the night. In Schongau I decamped in McDonalds and embarked on eating something hot whilst charging my Garmin Sat Nav, iPhone and doing research. I’d taken to drying my laundry on the bike. However, whilst entering the fast food emporium to escape furious heat I emerged, briefly, into a torrential downpour. This saturated my previously bone dry laundry.

I really wanted to push on further west and hated not maximising that plan. On Google I found an understated campsite on a farm and decided to go for it. At around 7pm I got to the farming village and saw no signage for a campsite. At this point I’m thinking that I would be making my way to the largest local town to find a room of some sorts.

However going past one farm entrance I saw, unusually, a number of children riding bikes around the large farmyard and I turned in. I saw some scattered tents, loads of people with children and a lively scene. Fortunately a young mother with a prostrate child in her arms came up to me. She wasn’t the owner but said she’d help. She disappeared. An age later she re-appeared to say the farmer’s wife was milking the cows and later she’d find me after getting changed. I could stay but there was a toilet but no shower available.

Not good news but what could I do? She showed me a pitch (the corner of a small lawn/field) and where the toilet and washbasin were. (With a flannel I managed some tolerable ablutions).

Now who were all these folk staying on a working farm? The farmer drove into the yard at 9pm on his tractor. It seemed to be full of the same type of folk with young children. Apart from being together then the whole arrangement seemed a bit odd and whilst they all had shower facilities (!) then it was not in the least comfortable compared to other more recognised campsites. Again as I didn’t speak German and as no one cared to talk to me I never worked out what the attraction of a smelly farmyard was!

At this point I must add that like Holland the whole of the countryside in this part of Germany usually had the aroma of cow dung and urine. I suppose it is predictable but it followed me across the country.

So as light fell and the farmer’s wife had not appeared I climbed in my tent and wondered if the other campers were now all huddled around a large bonfire wearing face paint whilst sacrificing one of the surplus children to the omnipresent god, John Deere.

Salzburg to Groß Seeham – 76 miles & 925 metres climbed

I like to be able to dismantle my abode, pack and leave a campsite so quietly that the neighbours wake up to a shock that I’ve gone. I think my French neighbours will have scratched their heads when they surfaced. No such problem about Stupid O’Clock for the Swedes as they marched their brood to the washroom for calls of nature first thing.

I keep waking earlier and earlier and I’m now on the road between 7.15am and 8.00am. I also finish between 6pm and 7pm. These are long days with generally two breaks for 30 minutes or so.

Despite the site being rural in its setting I was soon in Salzburg city. Believe it or not I had cycled to Salzburg before. Around 18 years ago we had an organised family holiday (my wife and two young daughters) cycling in the foothills of the Alps on fairly flat routes. The ride was about 15 miles a day and the luggage was carried for us from gasthof to gasthof. We ended the trip in Salzburg and did all the tourist experiences such as a visit to the castle, Mozart’s birthplace, a ‘Sound of Music’ evening etc. It is a delightful place. Today I skirted it on the inner ring road, took some pictures and kept going west.

In fact I was soon over the border and into Germany. The traffic was busy on the main roads and my concentration was always intense to keep a straight line and not swerve into traffic approaching from behind. The road did not remain flat and whilst never mountainous then going up and down through the gears was a continuous job.

In a conversation with Anna she remembered well our visit to Chiemsee. This is a very large beautiful calm lake with steamers crossing it and bikini clad girls soaking up the rays on its banks. Her recollection, however, was less happy as apparently it was here that for reasons lost in the sands of time I chose one evening to try and keep pace downing Austrian lager with a much more talented drinker. Her memory told her that I was very ill before I went to bed and mine remembered feeling distinctly rough the next day as we pedalled off in search of apfelschorle and or ice cream for the children. (Only a woman would keep this transgression stored away!)

My friends, the ‘cycle paths’ returned. However they stopped and started regularly and often they were indirect and generally I preferred not to use them. The popped up in more offbeat rural areas (as in the photo below) and often on busier urban routes. However the volumes of cars meant that I often briefly used them to give the queue of traffic behind me an opportunity to get past.

Drying laundry became a problem until I started using the bike as a ‘clothes line’

In fact given my optimism that the brutal climbing was over then I had a rude awakening as I clambered up some unforgivable hills to get to a campsite on the side of a lake. It was a small site with mainly caravaners in transit. It was also close to a noisy motorway and the Danes, Dutch and Germans were stopping off on their drive to Croatia or Slovenia. The grass was mowed to the length of your front lawn and I had no complaints at €15. However the malarkey that you paid €0.50/3 minutes for the shower just seems plain mean and bureaucratic. As usual friendly Dutch were on hand with mallets and small coin change.

I think I zipped up the outside of the tent at 9pm and despite the hum of high speed traffic I was soon in the land of nod.

Mauterndorf to Salzburg, Austria – 68 miles & 939 metres climbed

So how resuscitating was one day off the bike after 440 miles in 7 days? Well, I’m not sure that I was a ‘new man’ after that brief sojourn but it was nice to wake up and think I had a day off (with a stiff back). You also feel a little restored by having clean clothes and other things sorted. However, it was time to throw my leg across that top tube again and go.

Bernadette shook my hand vigorously, in a bloke sort of way, as I paid and departed. (The two boiled eggs at breakfast are to remain a secret in case others request them).

So now for the next mountain up to a ski resort. This was another 600 metre climb. Fortunately the air was chilly and refreshing due to the altitude and I ground up on the ‘granny gears’. As trucks were passing I knew the climb was not too steep. They don’t ‘do’ steep climbs. Eventually passing these girls with their bells I reached Obertauern.

It is a large resort but quite empty at this time of year. Nearly a ‘tumbleweed scenario’ with loads of construction taking place in the off season. I felt that I should celebrate by having my photo taken. However the euphoria may have been misplaced as there was plenty of climbing on other days to come.

(I’ve had a Deep Vein Thrombosis twice, hence the stocking)

Meanwhile just over the summit Nicholas came into view. He’d left France with a pal (up the hill apparently) and was en route to Istanbul. He had no phone with Apps or a map. I’d also guess that he wild camped most of the way here. He’ll get there but it could be a journey of hell. I brought out my awful school boy French, which in fairness wasn’t much worse than his English and we pored over my map. He’d had enough of mountains! Frankly he may have to dig deep. I’d also tried to warn another chap from Dresden about the Katschberg. His grinning face suggested that I was a fuss pot.

Mon ami, Nicholas, near Obertauern, in need of a sit down

So I fell downwards into the heat. It was soon in the mid 30°C’s again. Burning and impossible to remain stationary in. My water consumption is immense. I always try and have a couple of litres on the bike. However when I stop an ice cold Coke is up there with a glass of Chateau Margaux or a pint of Timothy Taylor’s beer in terms of pleasure.

Funnily enough the number of cycle tourers exploded into double figures for the first time. All heading upwards whilst I mainly freewheeled down the long hill. Interestingly outside of Werfen, beside the road, in high viz jackets were two university undergraduates interviewing cycle tourers. They wanted information to go back to the town with. Werfen recognised this tourism cycled past their town and wanted a piece of it.

Lunch was at a roadside shed manned by some Bosnians. The curried bratwurst in a flatbread wrap with raw onions was sensational. I sent a photo to my Favourite Eldest in London for her authoritative assessment. She had spent a year in Berlin. Dismissive might be an understatement of her feedback! How these sophisticates move on…

Toward the valley floor that led to Salzburg the traffic picked up. Truly sharing the road again was not a pleasure. I stopped to do some research on my phone and found a campsite just east of the city.

I pitched my tent in a splendid field away from the caravans, motor homes and motorcycles. I was next to two French male millennials on their way to Klagenfurt (in Austria) for a wedding (in a Peugeot). I quizzed them on Emmanuel Macron and what they thought? One, being a socialist, didn’t like him and worried about his social and welfare changes. The other, more to the Centre, suggested that it was too soon to say. I noted how fabulous their English was and that they had the good manners when debating my questions between themselves to do it in English for my inclusion. Classy boys. On my other side were a family of 5 children with their parents from Sweden. They were beautifully behaved and the father needed a Transit van to ship them around and carry all the clobber.

So what did Austria offer? Just let me get a good night’s sleep first.