Monday, August 13, 2012
A mere 522 steps.
Perhaps not the best way of relaxing my weary legs, but the views were amazing.
The evening before resuming the ride I went to Peter’s Brauhaus to sample some of the local Kolsche (the local beer in Cologne).
I had 8 beers.
That might seem like a bit much for someone needing to be hydrated for a long cycle ride the next morning, but the thing about Kolsche is that it is served in 200ml glasses, so it was only 3 pints really. The waiters continually walk around with large roundels filled with fresh glasses of beer, so despite sounding like an inconvenient quantity, the refills usually arrived immediately, and the score is kept by marking your beermat.
The traditional accompaniment of Kolsche Kaviar was not as fishy as it sounded.
It was black pudding, but poached rather than fried and served cold with raw onions. Interesting, but not as good as the English, French and Spanish versions.
I had a big ride planned for Saturday, so made sure I was properly hydrated before leaving the hotel at 8am.
I was making very good progress for the first 90 minutes, before the cycle track turned to dirt, then dirt tracks and finally just a grass field.
I must have missed a turning, and even worse than that I was in another nature reserve, my traditional means of getting lost. I didn’t get lost this time, but instead found a route out to the road and slowly rode my bike along it in fear of my delicate spokes.
I was half way back to the road when the wheel suddenly buckled again.
I’d broken another spoke.
This time the bike was at least a little more rideable, and I made it to the 35km point without any further issues before stopping for breakfast. Chatting to some locals it became clear there was no bike shop in town so I was forced to push on, eventually arriving 12km later in Neusse where I set about finding a bike shop.
It was just before midday, so I used the downtime to good effect grabbing an early lunch while they worked on my bike, and at 1pm I was ready to roll again.
I took a route slightly inland through Krefeld, and then using the sun for direction up through a large area of nature reserve arriving early evening in Xanten having covered another 89km.
The final 37km to Kleve was completed in double quick time, and I arrived at 7.30pm hardly feeling tired at all – despite having covered 173km.
I wasn’t very impressed by Kleve.
Despite being a Saturday night in a fairly large town the place was completely dead, and very uninspiring. So, after a 20 minute cycle around I decided I would be better placed heading to Emmerich on the east bank, and felt confident I had another 11km in my legs.
Arriving in Emmerich I stumbled a huge event going on that involved a 150 strong brass band playing in the main square, carrying flaming torches and a bustling promenade along the Rhine.
In short I had discovered life.
Unfortunately life came at a cost, and despite my best efforts over the course of an hour I could not find a single empty hotel room in town for the evening.
I reluctantly headed back to Kleve, looking forward to a hot shower, food and a cold beer wherever it was.
Every single hotel room in Kleve (which has very few hotels) was full as well. I couldn’t believe it, and in all my travels round the world this has never happened before.
By now it was 10pm and I had no choice but to head out into the night and continue the journey.
At 11pm I reached the first small town just over the dutch border where I found a small takeaway mopping the floors and getting ready to shut for the evening. I had no idea how long I was going to be riding for, so I needed some food.
They say everyone in Holland speaks good English, but not here.
They were however happy enough to give me some chips and engage in a game of charades, during the course of which I managed to learn that there was a hotel 1.5km down the road in the town centre proper.
I was feeling more positive when I set off down the road at 11.20pm, only to have my hopes dashed yet again by the owner of the hotel. No room at the inn.
Could this really be happening?
She advised me to head for the City of Nijmegen, some 18km away. She obviously thought it was a long way at that time of night, but compared to the distance I’d already put in I was happy to do it if it meant getting a bed for the evening.
Another hour of riding and I arrived to a bustling Saturday night out, with hundreds of people sat in cafes lining the main square – the kind of life I had not seen in the whole journey so far – the Swiss and Germans being a much more reserved bunch.
This was more like a Saturday night out in Camden.
My hotel search didn’t start particularly well, with the first couple of hotels also full, but I sought the advice of a taxi driver who pointed me in the direction of the Mercure at the train station.
I checked in at 12.25am, showered and went out for a pint.
I really needed it.
Distance, 223kms (not including hotel searching)
Time, 16hrs 25mins (14hrs 30mins ride time)
Total distance so far, 1499km’s
Pints needed, 4
In case you hadn’t guessed, this was the other long tough day of the trip.
I tried very hard to get accommodation, and would probably have been able to make Nijmegen in the light if I hadn’t wasted two hours doing so. I really had to think hard before putting on the lights and heading off into the night, but my only other option seemed to be rough sleeping.
The visibility with my cats eye lights was ridiculously bad.
I can only be thankful for the amazingly well maintained cycle paths that run alongside, but totally separate from the main roads in the Netherlands. I might have been in danger of cycling into a ditch, but I wasn’t going to get hit by a car.
I was totally off-piste at this stage, and quite prepared for the fact that I might be cycling all night without hitting anywhere big enough to find a hotel. I’d never heard of Nijmegen when I got directions to it, so was delighted when what could have easily been another small town proved to be the Netherlands oldest city.
The beers I had that evening were the most deserved of the whole trip.
Nijmegen turned out to be a real watershed moment, and from here the pace and atmosphere of the trip changed completely.