Saturday, 26 May 2012

Day 7 - At last, the sunlit uplands

Motten - Eltmann (using
 The bells in the village church woke me at seven o'clock, and after a quick chain change I was off on the road by eight. I had imagined a pleasant glide down the valley towards the Weser (I supposed), but after a few miles suddenly found myself on a three-mile long 5% climb, immediately followed by a three-mile 5% descent into Bad Bruckenau.

But this sharpened my appetite for breakfast, and I went into the local Lidl, scored some muesli, milk, fruit juice and bananas and found myself a riverside park where I sat on a bench and enjoyed muesli from the collapsible camping bowl that Rachel had given me as a birthday present. It was very pleasant indeed sitting in the park.
Muesli for breakfast
I sat and looked at the map and tried to work out where I was heading for. On a journey like unless you find yourself focusing on the next point on the map ahead, and this becomes the most important place in the world. It then disappears from importance as you pass through it to be replaced by the next one. My particular next target was Hammelburg, 20 km further along .

Fuelled up with oats, raisins and other natural goodies, I set off again, to be immediately confronted by 10 miles of up and down over steep hills, including one long 13% climb which I took at little more than 2 mph. It was very tough going. As I approached what I hoped was the top of the climb a bewhiskered gentleman of advanced years wearing cycling gear in German national colours and riding a heavily laden bicycle came past in the other direction, waving happily. I waved back grimly, and reflected on the perversity of cycling, that other people always seem to be going downhill when you are struggling uphill. Riding along this road was perhaps how the German word 'schadenfreude' had been invented, the joy from seeing someone else grinding up an endless series of hills. But of course, it does not work like that, as you can only enjoy going downhill if you have done the work to get up it, but sometimes it is hard to see the truth in this when all you can feel is the aching and exhaustion in your legs.

Indeed, the long and winding climb emerge from woodland into open farmland, flattened out a little and then set off on an exhilarating twisting descent down into Hammelburg. Time for a coffee, so I pulled into the attractive main square and headed towards a cafe. A lady came up to me and started talking in German, clearly asking where I was coming from and where I was going to. She spoke no English, but again we managed to communicate in some way. All I caught from her was that she thought I was "mutig", which I then discovered to mean "brave". My goodness, if I thought I was being brave I am not sure I would be doing this.
Main square in Hammelburg
Anyway, as I sat feeling life coming back into my legs other cycle tourists appeared, the first I had seen for many days. I was particularly struck by one group, four middle-aged people, two men, two women, who all seemed to be wearing identical clothing, riding identical bicycles equipped with identical panniers sets. The panniers were perfect, like a suitcase set, and I felt somewhat embarrassed by my own bicycle, with its green rear panniers and black front panniers, each one bulging in different directions with their miscellaneous contents. I wondered whether this was touring German-style or whether they had rented all of their equipment from one place.

The physical effort of the previous few hours made me wonder why on earth I was doing this, why I was being so 'brave'? Well, it was actually very exciting, constantly heading into the unknown, making decisions, seeing new things and having no idea what was round the next corner. It felt much better than working for a living. It is also a very intense experience, you just go on and on with little space to stop and think about other things. You are constantly aware of the road, the gradients, the noises the bike is making, the feel of the bike moving along the road, the brightness of the light, the aches in your legs and your increasing tiredness.

Well, of course, after all of that philosophising I left Hammelburg and soon found myself struggling up yet another long, long, 13% climb, out of a little village called Fuchstadt, the worst of the journey so far. Again, the yellowhammers in the fields beside the road kept up their demand for bread and no cheese: it is a song that I love very much, but there were moments in the climb when I felt like throttling every last yellow bird.

Then, suddenly, the terrain changed. As I approached Schweinfurt the land flattened out and it looked as if it would stay flat for some distance. It was now mid-afternoon and I cycled into the city looking for the tourist information office hoping that it would be, like Fulda, able to point me towards a campsite. However, the people there were useless. They said they only had access to local information and could not tell me about anything near my destination of Bamberg, which was after all, 60 km away. I refrained from pointing out that in the Internet age I could find out about camping facilities in Tierra del Fuego from my home in Sheffield, and so found it difficult to understand why she could not tell me about facilities in the next German city. A German might have put it down to the fact that I was in Bavaria.

However, while she was uselessly searching her computer, I did pick up a leaflet which told me about the Main Radweg. This was the cycle path which followed the River Main all the way up to Bamberg. And one of the magical things about rivers is that they are more or less flat. After my experiences of the day so far, this seemed like absolute magic.

Note flatness of path
So clutching my leaflet I set off and soon found myself speeding along a flat tarmac track along the banks of the Main. I felt pretty good. This took me as far as Hassfurt, after which I needed to follow a cycle track along Route 26 which took me to Eltmann. I had now done about 70 miles, most of which had been over the most difficult terrain so far, so I decided to look for a gasthaus, and found the Pension Maintal.

By now I felt on the verge of collapsing, and had to turn down the proprietor's invitation to join him and other guests at a music festival that evening where they would be beer, music, food and dancing. It sounded wonderful, but I could barely make it to the shower, let alone to a wild night out in the Bavarian countryside.

I dragged myself out into the pretty little town, and found a Chinese restaurant where I wolfed down huge plates of bean sprouts and noodles. Somewhat revived I looked at the map and tried to figure out the next day's journey, and with nervous excitement noticed a thin blue line connecting Bamberg with Nurnburg called the Main-Donau Canal. A canal? Which would have a towpath? Which would be flat? Which would go all the way to the Danube? It all sounded too good to be true.

I went to bed with a feeling of excited anticipation.

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