Saturday, 30 July 2011

The Italian Job

Mauthausen  -  Schwanenstadt      85.7kms        451’ ascent
Remarkably, we have dried out and, after discovering what we were doing, our landlady became positively effusive and insisted on our making an entry into her guest book.
We found ourselves sharing the breakfast lounge with another couple, the male half of whom hailed from Newcastle! (Just can’t get away from these Geordies, although he did have the good grace to support Everton!). We enjoyed a long conversation with the pair of them and discovered, amongst many other things that they now lived in Switzerland, he was a musician and she was a teacher of English.
Leaving a little later than planned, we did a quick shop for the day’s supplies and then came the hard part. Finding our way to the right place with only the map Alan had ‘borrowed’ from the last b&b. This was no mean feat and a lesser man than Mr. Master Navigator may well have thrown his toys out of the pram but not our man. After much head scratching, communing with the GPS, and swearing, some twenty kilometres later, we were on our chosen route. Much relieved, we set off with renewed confidence along a well signposted, and well surfaced route towards Saltzberg. The riding was relatively undemanding, although Alan had omitted to mention that, although we were following a river, it was upriver! After some fifty kilometres of slight, but incessant climbing we hit a gravel track. Simultaneously, the clouds started to gather with an ominous deep grey hue. The wind velocity increased and we readied ourselves for a second drenching in 24 hours. We were quite successfully outrunning the rain when our path was a ‘no go’ with big red crosses through the sign. Now, at more than 75 kms, and threatened with an imminent soaking, we headed for the nearest town and, hopefully, somewhere to stay. In the process, we met two tandem riders, one of whom was blind, who found themselves in the same predicament. We approached a passing couple with a request for information on a guesthouse. They were local, but unsure of what was available, and generously offered to give us a lift to find somewhere. An offer we declined but appreciated. Up the hill into town where a full blown Italian market had been installed in the main street! There seemed little evidence of a guest house and we had resigned ourselves to a soaking and more riding, when one appeared on the horizon. ‘A room?’ ‘No problem.’ Ten minutes after installing ourselves and the bikes under cover, it tonked down. Lucky or what! We even like Italian food. Might stay here for our rest day. We’ll see what the morrow brings.

Rain Stops Play

Willowitz  -  Mauthausen  (Nr. Linz)      70.5 kms         1608’ ascent
 It was with a sense of relief that, when I received the bill from our hostess, I did not find myself in the embarrassing position of having insufficient funds to meet it. I even had 10 euros left over. She waved us off as we turned left and on into Austria. What a welcome we have received! Our turning left took us up a three kilometre climb, fairly steady it has to be said, but with early morning sluggish legs it was a real wake up call. Our overriding need for money, food and maps was sufficient encouragement to reach the next village. Here, we succeeded with our first two requirements but the information office, as we have often found, had no relevant information, let alone maps. However, Alan had found two copies of the cycle route maps in the guest house, taken one and left, in its place, all the maps we no longer needed. Clever fellow at times. He has mused today over his affinity for Austria. A clue might just be that everything is neat and tidy; fields are bordered by straight lines, the roads have defined edges, the houses have symmetrical flower boxes on the windowsills and even the trees stand straight! I think all that might just be a clue.
As we rode through these sunny, tidy fields, the storm clouds began to gather in some strength. As usual, we were a bit slow to react and, as the thunder and lightning moved closer we were still out in the open. Then all hell broke loose as the rain and hail hurtled earthwards. Once we were soaking wet, we finally found shelter in a petrol station. The last time we had seen a storm of this ferocity was on my first trip, and Alan’s second, to (guess where) Austria, when we were camping in a mountain tent inside another frame tent and frantically digging trenches with ice axes to direct the flood water away from the canvas. This time we were ushered into the service station by a concerned owner who was worried about the proximity of the lightning to the fuel!
 After about 30 minutes the velocity of rain diminished sufficiently for the proprietor to wash his fork lift and for us to take to the road; it was still pi……… down! We downed a Red Bull each and have sworn never to do so again as it produced the most bizarre results – Alan couldn’t stop shaking and I just spaced out! Will stick to lemonade or beer. Now very wet and with rather suspect brakes, we now found ourselves going downhill………..downhill and more downhill for some 15 kilometres! What a chortle. At the bottom, the rain stopped (well actually it hadn’t been raining) and we began to blow dry our clothes.
Now seemed like a good time to find a stopover. We tried. The first was shut for the holidays, the second required a telephone call to ask for a key, the third (at the top of a huge hill) was shut and derelict and the fourth was full.  Never mind, we soldiered on and found a very adequate b&b and are in the process of drying out. Welcome to Austria!


Hluboka nad Vltavon  -  Willowitz    69.3 kms      1641’ ascent.
Well, what a day! We passed our 4000kilometres and crossed into Austria and all before breakfast: well, not really.  Can’t do anything too taxing  before we have recharged batteries with a hearty breakfast. Nonetheless, it has been a very positive day and even the weather was inclined to celebrate.  The forecast rain was notably absent and instead, we enjoyed warm sunshine.  The first 15kms ran along almost flat country with excellent signing (we didn’t get lost once.) Didn’t last though. Shortly before we reached the inevitable hills, we met again the Dutch couple who had shared the hostel with us in Borotin. Like us, they had found the steep hills of the previous day a real challenge and were less than optimistic about reaching Austria today.
Despite Mr. Master Navigators best efforts, we still went up/down, up/down………hot/cold, hot/cold……… The last 14 kilometres were necessarily along the main highway and, if we thought this would be any flatter, we were WRONG. The biggest ‘up’ was 12% - again, but made even more exciting by the roar of lorries rushing up our bums. Lounging in the laybys we saw an eclectic mix of prostitutes. The best offer Alan got was a half- hearted wave from a very pretty young lady. She probably decided he couldn’t afford her fee! Or maybe it was the smell emanating from his feet!
It had been our intention to spend this last night in the Czech Republic in a border town and use up the Kronor we had left. Not a chance. The suspect morality theme was even more evident in this unwholesome little town. Every ‘hotel’ was a club or a casino (it really was very, very seedy indeed). Feeling very uncomfortable, we rapidly made the decision to continue over the border, despite having no maps and very few euros. Fortunately, within a couple of kilometres, a guest house hove into view.  Having garnered together our pathetic collection of euros, we hoped we had enough of them to buy a night’s accommodation and a couple of beers. We did – just. After one beer, I felt quite squiffy and realised that the stuff we had been downing in the Czech Republic had about as much potency as orange squash!  As ever, our best laid plans had gone tits up. Actually, plans are becoming ever more flexible.  Quite a departure for Mr. Organised.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011


Borotin – Hluboka nad Vltavou     75.5 kms         1968’ ascent
Breakfast, this morning was another bit of pantomime while we tried to convey what we would like to drink. Our fellow guests were Dutch (who can always speak other languages) and they knew that the Czech for tea was chi (ironically the same as in India). They wanted chi and we wanted coffee. Somehow I ended up with raspberry tea! Ugh! Alan, however, pointed at the coffee jar and enjoyed a cup of coffee. Despite these difficulties of language, our hosts were delightful and always eager to please. I used Alan’s trick of pointing and succeeded in getting the flask filled with coffee.
Bikes loaded, we pedalled just over a kilometre before we had to partially unload to find the magic tool for fixing a suspect link in Alan’s bike chain! Reloaded, bike fixed, and off we set up the first of quite a few more hills! Much less complaining in the muscle department today, so last night’s rest paid off. We are though, more or less convinced that our beloved track planners have been determined that we should view their country from every high point available.  Even beautiful panoramas pall after hundreds of feet of lung bursting ascent. The incline of the hills reduced a little after lunch and we were enjoying a moment of flatness, when a passing cyclist waved us down. Had we passed his mate? No. Somehow the two of them had become separated and it seemed they had no contingency plan. We agreed to tell his mate, if we saw him, that his friend would be waiting in a village whose name I have forgotten. Over an hour later we waved down a fellow who fitted the description of lost and lonely cyclist and passed on the message. We hope they were reunited.
The ride today has been a real pleasure and at its end we have treated ourselves to a hotel and a meal in the restaurant. Alan is now busy trying to find the Czech for dumpling having consumed main course dumplings and dessert dumplings! He is confident, however, that they will fill out the wrinkly skin which has not shrunk with his weight loss. Could be a whole new market for dumplings!
Tomorrow awaits with 4000 kilometres on the clock.

Pantomine Time

Tynec – Borotin             52.8 kms         2284’ ascent
We made a cracking start this morning and even the ascent of the hill, as we departed the hostel, was less of an ordeal than anticipated. However, my friends, you may have noticed in the preamble, that the ascent did not stop there! Having spent the last couple of weeks meandering along the river bank, this confrontation with real hills again startled the legs and lungs. If we thought Sweden was like a roller coaster, the Czech Republic is no mean competitor. For those of you who remember life before bubblewrap, these hills were like the corrugated cardboard we used to use to protect precious objects in a parcel. Some small compensation was the return to scenic views of the countryside observed from dozens of summits! After several hours of up/down, up/down, getting hot on the ride up and freezing cold on the way down, it was time to appraise the situation. We were somewhat underwhelmed at our efforts of the day, having completed only 52 kilometres, but a reality check revealed that the next hostel was some 17 kilometres further on up several more hills. Common sense won, and we made for the hostel which was but 10 metres from our consultation point! After much pantomime gesturing, we finally secured a room for the night and a meal for the evening  -  and all this for less than £40! 
PS From Grumps

"One of those Days"
You’re on a long and winding hill. You’ve run out of gears. Your thighs are burning. You leave the saddle and stand on the pedals to round the next bend. It’s steeper. There is a split second between checking behind, deciding to stop, and in half a turn of the pedal, releasing your spd with an outward flick of the heel, squeezing the brakes hard and getting your foot to the floor. At my age, this considerable co ordination does not come without a rush of adrenalin and my lungs  desperately searching for air. Today was full of moments like this! 

No More Cities!

Prague – Tynec      60.5kms               1201’ ascent.

Yesterday was our rest day. Bit of a misnomer is that. It just means that we don’t get up at seven and we don’t ride. Otherwise the day is often more frenetic than a normal cycling day. This was true of yesterday. Just trying to buy tram tickets to take us into the city was a challenge; locating the map shop was easy following excellent instructions from the manager of the hostel but it was shut as was the information centre (it was, after all, Saturday when all the visitors arrive! Hmmm). We did find a bookshop with masses of maps including the ones we needed. The bit of Prague that we saw was generally a bit of a disappointment so we returned to our hostel and a more tranquil pastime, that of watching international canoeists working the slalom course.
 The hostel itself was part of the water sports centre and so, for us, its familiarity made it a very comfortable stopover. Add to that the unfailing help and advice we received from the staff for whom nothing was too much trouble (even picking our room lock when Alan left the key on the inside of the door!) it rates highly on our places to stay.
Today has been a triumph for Mr. Map and Compass. After diligent research, using the correct maps and very careful navigating, we/he successfully negotiated our way out of Prague with only one tiny blip which resulted in a mad dash along a duel carriageway (or was it a motorway?) for a couple of kilometres. The man deserves a medal! It still took us a couple of hours during which time we covered only some 15 kms and were slowed even further by having to bump our way down a set of steep steps! 
Finally clear of the city and its suburbs we discovered that the Czechs have spent all their road allocation on the ‘posh ’roads while lesser mortals are playing dodgems around the potholes. Still, stress levels had subsided sufficiently for us to take a lunch break and relax a little – until …………. I got lost! Alan, quite correctly turned right, and I sailed straight on having missed sight of this manoeuvre. When there was no sign of him at the top of a very steep hill, a bit anxious and breathless, I resorted to emergency measures and rang. A headlong flight down the hill and we were reunited. This slight mishap delayed us further and it was time to start looking for shelter for the night. As luck would have it a road sign appeared advertising a cycle friendly hostel some 2 kilometres further on. Its location at the bottom of a steep downhill was not very cycle friendly, but we made it just in time to get some food and book a room. Apart from the hill, the location is very attractive – on the banks of a fast flowing river.
No more cities! We’ll do those by ‘plane!

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Fed Up and Filthy with Fortitude

Veltrusy – Prague     30.8kms      223’ ascent
Sometime during the night, the generator had been shut down so that, when we woke at seven, there was no power anywhere. I cannot pretend we were surprised and, although still overcast, there was sufficient daylight to re-instate our trailers, prepare breakfast and pack up. It appeared that the magic hour for power was nine, just when everyone had left! Good ploy.
Our plan for the day was to rattle along the 25 kms to Prague and then attempt to negotiate the city in an effort to find the continuation of our route. How circumstance can contrive to upset the most organised of plans. (If you have noted today’s mileage, you will realise that all did not go well). After about 11kms of fairly indifferent paths, and intermittent signs, we were relieved to discover that we were still on the right track. The relief was very, very short lived. Within five minutes or so we found ourselves attacked by a jungle of plants growing tall on the side of a track. Track is an inappropriate term for a three feet wide muddy path. Unimpressed (especially Mr. Grumpy, who had recently reappeared) we pressed on, optimistically hoping that this foray into the jungle would be a short one. The situation got progressively more difficult as our already narrow path threatened to fall some three metres into the uninviting brown and sluggish waters of the river.  The decision to continue was inevitable as we were, anyway unable to turn around for a return trip. You are quite correct in thinking that we were now walking and had been for some two kms! At this point on our jolly, we spotted bikes coming in the opposite direction and we laughingly hoped things were improving. Ha, ha! We unhitched the trailers and squashed ourselves into the bank to accommodate the oncoming traffic. We were greeted with a worried frown and ‘I don’t think you will make it with your trailers.’ Going back though was not an option as it appeared we were half wayish, so we thanked the other mad couple, manhandled the trailers over rocks and went on our merry way. Now the width of the path decreased even more with the edge ending abruptly several metres above the water with nothing at all to stop an unwary cyclist meeting his maker. Our progress was SLOW. To compound the level of difficulty, we were now on a slope which encouraged the trailers to lean alarmingly towards the river and did, indeed fall over that way several times but fortunately, without dire consequences. We now met a second tribe of oncoming cyclists; experts this time, riding up to the mark mountain bikes. Despite their gear many were looking very nervous and uncomfortable. They quite obviously thought we were demented - two old wrinklies with touring bikes and trailers. (I hope they all made the trip safely). After several minutes of negotiating the passing process we ploughed on.
Just when you think things cannot get worse, as we have found out before, they do. Our next obstacle was a multitude of exposed tree roots standing well proud of the path. Trailer wheels and tree roots are not compatible so there followed more unhitching and carrying. Finally after two and a half hours, that path ended and cobbles took over. I never thought I would be glad to see cobbles! Exhausted, we stopped, had a coffee and decided to make Prague our destination. We two, the bikes and the trailers were filthy – not to mention the smell that emanated whenever we waved an arm or a leg. We really needed somewhere to hole up and get sorted.

We found that place, next to a canoe slalom run and where all our needs can be met. Tomorrow is another day, so we will find maps and routes, check the beauty of Prague and be on our way on Sunday.
P.S. Expect additional comment from Mr. Grumpy!

Friday, 22 July 2011

Who Pays the Ferryman

Litomerice – Veltrusy    69 kms       (too wet for the GPS so no height, but it wasn’t much)
If we had hoped for an improvement in the weather, we were disappointed. It was tonking down and had been for most of the night if the surface water was anything to go by.
 We are getting much more inventive as time goes on and so this morning, by manoeuvring two bikes and shifting a bike rack, we had about two square feet of dry land to load up the trailers. After which, we were still quite damp mind you. After a few photo shots of the town, we located the signs for our route. Ten metres later we were presented with the steepest set of steps so far!  Only Hercules would have attempted to carry a bike to the bottom, so off we set to find the inevitable, but always unsigned, alternative. Mr. Navigator took only seconds to find the way. We now had a tail wind for the first time in several weeks; the payback was the rain and the inevitable puddles. Afraid to go round them for fear of a bump from the rear, we had to hope that they were not hiding a missing drain cover of wheel bending proportions. Once onto the cycle track though, the going has been mostly the promised asphalt. However, when the asphalt has run out, the alternative has been potholes, puddles so deep our trailers would have floated had they had a little more buoyancy and mud glorious (or not so glorious) mud.
Still, we Brits, although unafraid of torrential rain, did seek refuge for lunch in a pizzeria. Smelling as we do (that is to say – not pleasant) we remained in the garden under the protection of a large tent, where the waiter, bearing two huge pizzas, eventually found us. A very sustaining and satisfying meal is pizza. Still, we couldn’t stay in the dry forever, so once more into the breech.

With the luxury of an accurate map, we knew that we must cross the river and had elected to do using a small bridge marked on the map. We found the bridge. It was small. It was also up steps almost ladder steep. A few head scratches later, we decided on the ferry. Five kilometres further on, what looked like a homemade sign for a ferry indicated a left turn. Turn we did down a gravel slope to the water. (A good place for a ferry we thought) A rickety jetty existed and tied to it was a little green boat attached to a line running across the very fast flowing river. No one was in sight and we were not quite sure how two bikes, two trailers and two cyclists would access this wee craft. A man appeared (this seems to happen quite a lot) and seemed quite unfazed by our entourage. A push and a shove and we aboard and on our way to the other side all of 50 metres away. Another push and a shove and we were off again. Did I mention the rain?
We have found a campsite of sorts and a cabin of sorts which doesn’t defy description, but as my mum used to say, ‘If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all’ so I won’t. But we are dry – so far!

Czech Again

Schmilka -  Litomerice  (Czech Republic)   68lms     340’ ascent
At 05.15 I woke suddenly to what I hoped was the sound of a large goods train. No such luck. It was a fully mature thunderstorm and the crash that had woken me was rapidly followed by a shattering crack. By now fully awake and almost (but not quite) envying Alan his deafness, I peered out of the window. The rain was coming down in stair rods onto the cover of our trailers, but they were fine  and with that as consolation I went back to bed and waited for the noise to abate, which it must have done, for the next event was my alarm.  Another storm broke as we ate our breakfast, but undeterred, we hauled out the heavy waterproofs and went to investigate the situation. A very handy roof offered us shelter while we packed the trailers. A group of very wet, and quite old, walkers greeted us happily. (They had ordered a mini-bus!) We were then approached by a couple who told us in German that they had hiked in England and it rained. Impressed that I had understood this comment, I translated for Alan. My comments were overheard by our new acquaintance, who then proceeded to speak perfect English - because he was! They were as surprised as we were to meet compatriots from the UK. We are a rare breed in this part of Germany. We wished each other well as we headed for a repeat performance of our journey over the border, just a smidgeon more prepared than the previous evening.
The entry into the Czech Republic at this point had not been very attractive the day before, in the pouring rain the effect was quite depressing. Rocks (really huge ones) had fallen onto the road leaving one lane open for the brave. We’re brave. Still without much in the way of maps (nothing actually) we followed Route 2 to Decin where we felt sure we would fulfil all our needs. Another incorrect assumption! Not a map to be had anywhere, but we did manage to find a bank which presented another problem. The exchange rate?! A very accommodating bank clerk changed a 50 Euro note for something in excess of 1000 CzK! Armed with that information, I took out a reasonable sum from the ATM. Now we could buy food if only we could find a supermarket. We did……eventually and were approached by a young man fascinated and impressed with our trailers. He was slightly less impressed with these two old English folk when we told him what we were doing. ‘Nicht normal’ was his comment and I am forced to agree.  However he did arrange to “look after our bikes while we shopped.
Someway behind our schedule by now, we rushed for the river and the R 2. Well now, according to our route guide, this was asphalt all the way. They were having a laugh. We spent a good part of the ride swimming through puddles deep enough for ducks and struggling to stay upright on gravel and (you’ve guessed it) cobbles now slick with water.  And more steps – this time passed the locks. A very irritable man, waving his arms like windmills, managed to convey to us that there was a way round which we followed, but why he couldn’t just let us through his gate, I do not know. Job’s worth I suppose.
Very wet, very dirty and tired, we arrived in Litomerice. A large green ‘I’ indicated a tourist office and hallelujah, we managed to converse in English, find a B&B, and purchase a map for the following two days. It seems we have more rain to look forward to tomorrow. And asphalt!

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Czech Mate

Radebeul  -  Schmilka               67.9 kms        340’ ascent
We made a much better effort at getting away this morning having managed to buy a map locally and dispensed with food altogether! The tracks were well signed, well surfaced and we made Dresden without a hitch. The route continued along the river and avoided the centre of the city, which from our point of view was a very good thing. What we could see was beautiful – good enough for photos. Having nothing to eat was going to be a problem at lunch time but as luck would have it, we came upon a small food market on banks of the river and supplies acquired. 
As we rode further south, the scenery changed dramatically from the wide flood plain of the last couple of days, to steep sided gorge. I don’t know why we were surprised, but we were. Shows how bad our geography is! There was often the dilemma of which side of the river to follow as the track used both banks. Which side is best? It did seem as though lots of folk were riding in one direction, catching a tinsy winsy ferry and riding back on the other bank. And why should they not, except that they crowded our way! Not to be beaten, we crossed as well towards the end of the day and in a short time found ourselves across the border in the Czech Republic. For some reason this took us by surprise. (Probably because we hadn’t fully studied the route the previous night.) So unprepared were we for this event, that my confident expectation that the currency would remain the Euro was dashed when Alan commented on the advertised price of fuel. It was either very expensive or I was wrong. Guess what! I was wrong! Not a novel situation really.  The tourist office was entirely useless, so tired and totally bemused, we turned round and rode back into Germany to collect our thoughts and study what maps and information we had. What a dopey pair. So tomorrow the blog will be coming from the Czech Republic…………


Belgern – Radebeul      78.5 kms                         243’ ascent.

Bit of a frustrating start to the day. Our pension was ideally situated to allow easy access to the tourist office and a bank, both of which we needed. The tourist office was shut for some reason until 11.30 and the bank ATM not allow my withdrawal or attempted withdrawal. A very helpful bank clerk explained that it didn’t take VISA! “But I need some cash,” I wailed. Maybe the bank two doors up will provide.  This machine accepted every card I had ever heard of and spewed out my cash within minutes. Well now, we had cash but no map and no food. As I say – not a good start. Lidl provided the food and we decided to wing the route. This meant that we had to stick slavishly to the signs for the Elberadwig.  The sign posting was excellent and we enjoyed almost uninterrupted views of the river and the traffic thereon. What provided cause for considerable chagrin (and I think Mr. Grumpy may have more to add to my comments) was the sheer number of cobblestoned paths. Apart from being very cycle unfriendly, they are the most labour intensive surface to lay. It is undoubtedly an art form and requires great skill but the artist must have a grudge against cyclists. However, worse was to come; cobblestone steps! Big, steep steps! The concession to bikes was a rail running from bottom to top which would allow the wheels of the bike to run smoothly up the slope. No extra ones for trailer wheels though, so these two old wrinklies had to separate trailer and bike and physically carry Herman and Sherman to the top. We were not amused. As if the penny had dropped, a few kilometres later, the planners had instigated a deviation for bikes with trailers! Wow! What clever people. By this time though, little would appease the ire of my man, who swore and spat tacks at these lardy planners. The first real casualty of all this bumping around, was Alan’s water bottle, which he noticed was missing when he went for a drink. With all the shaking and rattling, I hadn’t noticed it fall. (I always bring up the rear – very important position.) Add to all this the fact that often the path was too narrow to allow cyclists to pass easily in either direction, stress levels were running a little high.
By 75 kms , we were ready for a rest and with the usual friendly phoning a friend we found ourselves in a B&B the size of an aircraft hanger. (And that was just our room). Tempers abated with the imbibing of a glass or two of the local wine which had been highly recommended and we accepted that cobblestones are attractive if entirely impracticable.

Below the Wall

Elster (Elbe)  -  Belgern     71.1kms             290’ ascent
The statistics indicate that this was not an arduous day although our old friend nostril wind was apparent for most of it! One advantage of a wiggly cycle track is the constant change of direction so nostril wind doesn’t have it all its own way. Otherwise the route was well signed and well surfaced so we did have a chance to observe events at a level above road surface.
As we were now to follow the river Elbe, I was looking forward to watching the flow of the water, the river traffic and the ducks. Not so. We saw the river around three times and one of those was taking a very short ferry crossing from one bank to the other. At this stage in its passage, the river has formed a massive flood plain and, in order to utilise the land to best advantage, the land has been protected from flooding by a series of levies, which when you are only 5’2”, are as good as castle walls!  We passed through Thorgau which had seen its fair share of activity during WW2 but had managed to retain some of its beautiful buildings. Outside the towns, the land was used mostly for arable farming, and farmers were working with very heavy plant to harvest crops (and the odd cyclists who got too close). Other workers, however, were sitting/lolling around drinking bottles of beer by nine o’clock! Alan’s theory is that they drink so that they are in no fit state to take their women shopping! I did point out that, actually, women don’t need lifts; they can drive.
We have enjoyed an early finish today, but I fear tomorrow will be a tad longer and wetter. It is probable that access to the internet may be sporadic over the next few days, so I should like to take this opportunity to thank all those of you who have contributed financially to Medecine sans Frontieres and to all those of you, through your comments, who have kept our spirits high. All your efforts are much appreciated.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

A Second Handbag

Beelitz  -  Elster(Elbe)          91.5kms   595’ascent

Just when we thought they were gone, we started today’s journey with 16 kms of trees! (Exactly the same as Swedish trees). The most exciting thing was trying to navigate silently through the fallen pine cones which sounded like gunfire when run over by the trailer wheels. It was even more fun when they shot off like bullets (a fiver for the first of us to hit a squirrel – not a chance.)
At some point we managed to miss a sign and paid a heavy price. The track deteriorated into a sandy path which was impossible to ride in some places and felt like we were dragging the trailers through treacle.  If we thought that was hard, the worst track by far was still to come. We had some forewarning from a lively couple we met on the road, who checked their route with us and then warned us of some gravelly paths to come. Hmm! The warning was mild – the track, on a scale of 1 – 10, was well into the minus category. It would have been a challenge for a mountain bike, with touring bikes and trailers it was tiring and frustrating. What part of international cycle touring route do the planners NOT understand. You have failed miserably in this small area of Germany. Rocks, smashed tiles, stones and sand do not constitute a suitable surface for most touring bikes. Twenty kilometres later we finally hit asphalt and flew into Wittenberg. It was here that we hoped to locate the signs for the next section of our journey along the river Elbe. They appeared, magically, in front of us in the town square. Buoyed up with enthusiasm, (it was now about five o’clock) we hit our new trail. And guess what? We acquired a second lady with a handbag who said ‘Follow me’. And so the race along the cycle paths began again! A much shorter sprint though this time, but just a useful as it is likely that we would have followed the signs in the wrong direction for a while. More thanks to ladies on bikes.
Time was now rushing on but we were at least on the right track if very tired (f………d actually). Two unsuccessful enquiries later, we were beginning to look forward to a wild camp until we met the second charming and helpful German. His pension was full but he phoned a friend and seven kilometres later we landed an exceptional hostel, showered and collapsed. Back on track tomorrow.

Vaguely South

Hennigsdorf – Berlin   -  Beelitz       75.5 kms
Navigating our way around Berlin was a bewildering experience. Berlin is to be congratulated on the sheer number of cycle tracks it has provided for cyclists. However, it is exactly those numbers which make locating the path you actually want, something of a challenge. That is a very polite and  subdued way of describing the stresses involved in continually having to refer to a map, which in its turn requires a stop and fumbling with the map case. At least these halts today were not accompanied by Alan’s best friends! It may have been too cold for them to whizz very fast. ( We appreciate even more the guidance of our lady of the day before yesterday.) We were, though, offered guidance by a man today, who having observed our bemused observations of the map, proffered his advice on the best and most effective route to follow to our next destination – Potsdam. And once again the information was right. It was Potsdam which was the problem. It turned out to be much bigger than the little dot on the map and had added trams to its road communication system. (Actually they have probably been there for ages). Anxious not to lose a wheel in the tram lines, we resorted to walking along the streets and eventually found the information centre which was of no use at all. There are dozens of maps of cycle routes but they all stop at the equivalent of county boundaries! Frustrated at having wasted so much time, we gave up on detail and shot off along the road in vaguely the right direction. As ever, Mr. Map and Compass was on the ball and a further thirty minutes of frantic pedalling, we/he found our cycle route. Since which time, all has gone swimmingly well. No more cities and big towns for a while and tracks which, so far, have been well signposted.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Divine Intervention

Mildenberg – Berlin     64kms      144’ ascent.
This day began very well and even ended well.  The morning commenced with breakfast taken outside in the sunshine. We considered that we had been well organised this morning and had everything packed and ready for the off before we took breakfast. We were put to shame by the family in the photo. Despite having two small girls, four bikes and goodness only knows how many panniers, they were still on the road at least 15 minutes before us. Seeing whole families on bikes with camping gear has not been an unusual sight, and one about which we are enthusiastic. This particular group were typical, in that they were taking two weeks to cycle to their destination, a week in a cottage and then the train home. And the kids loved it.  We wished them well and left shortly afterwards.
Our route today has been without much in the way of gradient. Hoorah! And has been generally well signed and surfaces okay – just the odd few cobbles to keep us in training. Following a canal made navigation, very straight forward for a time until the path ran out along with the signs. Hoping for divine intervention, Alan set off in the wrong direction. Divine intervention was at hand in the form of a voluble German lady on a bike who made it clear by gesticulating wildly, that we were heading in the wrong direction. ‘Kommen mit mir!’ So we did. If we had any thoughts that this was to be a brief encounter, we were wrong. After 20 plus kilometres of following our lady friend, whose handbag swung dangerously close to her front spokes, at speeds rarely dropping below 20 kms/hr, she finally stopped. ‘I live here. Would you like a drink of tea or coffee?’ My understanding of the language was just sufficient to understand all that. We declined the kind offer and said we would locate our track and carry on. This divine creature insisted on ensuring we found our right path and did not leave us until she was satisfied that we were heading along the right route for our destination. Many thanks to that lady who probably saved us at least an hour and many arguments.
Arrival at our hotel for our stay near Berlin was early and gave us a chance to take stock and explore the options of visiting the great city on the following day without bikes! Crucially we need maps for the next stage of our journey. Divine intervention is unlikely to occur twice!  

Mixed Emotions

Gross Quassow  -  Mildenberg        69.2 kms               523’ ascent.
Well, what a difference a day makes! Except for a little blip this morning when Alan received a tongue lashing from the cleaning lady. Alan was doing his bit for queen and country by vigorously brushing the outside step of our rented mobile home so that we got maximum brownie points for cleanliness. BUT he was using a brush reserved for the interior! Such a bad boy and Helga was not amused. He meekly handed her the broom (half expecting her to fly away on it) and shrugged his shoulders in English.
We seem to have entered a different Germany, where the general population smile and nod in response to our ‘hello’. The route has been spectacularly devoid of most of the really difficult surfaces of the other day although a day would not be complete without a few cobbles. The paths ran through the trees which provided very welcome shade as the sun has once again been very hot. So, I apologise to our German friends and applaud their efforts in this region – long may it continue.
There has also been much of interest. The route has often run along a complicated series of waterways which appear linked. A system of canals has been built for the purpose of transporting bricks. This area had the largest brick works in Europe although now defunct with the clay pits now large lakes. The waterways are busy with pleasure craft of all shapes and sizes and remain in excellent condition. Somewhat more sobering was an old German tank, and a sculpture of two women carrying an apparently dead child. A little further along we passed what looked like old barracks and then an old watchtower. By now, feeling a little uncomfortable, we came upon the explanation for it all. This was an old concentration camp for young women and girls. We know little more than that but shall investigate further on the internet when we get a decent connection!
Unsure of where we would find a campsite, we pedalled on until we spotted a sign for Wallapoint. What a little gem; right on the banks of the river/canal with an enthusiastic welcome for cyclists. (Did I mention the beer garden?) We opted for the expense of a pension room for 8 Euros each, downed a small beer and organised our gear. Then we returned to the garden and downed a large beer!

Monday, 11 July 2011

3,000 plus

Niendorf – Serrahn    84.1 kms    723’ ascent
Serrahn -   Gross Quassow    104.6 kms   1018’ ascent
These two days have been remarkable for all the same reasons so I have decided to put them in as one entry. They have been similar in a number of ways and so I present you with our second two days in Germany.
 Both days have required the covering of longer distances than planned, because of a paucity of accommodation which had any vacancies. My polite enquiries at the site prior to Serrahn met with a very surly ‘full’ and left me in no doubt that my charm was not going to have any impact on this particular Mr. Grumpy. The next two bed and breakfasts met with a similar ‘full’ but also with an apologetic shrug. After 84 kms we despaired of finding anything other than a field, when a third b and b had a room! Hooray. Another first floor epic but we hauled the trailers up the stairs as delicately as Herman would allow and plonked them in the only available space – was a bit tight but there  is not much of us these days. AND I didn’t have to think about breakfast, just how we were going to smuggle a couple of rolls out for lunch, there being also a dearth of shops of any sort, on our planned route. The expected (and mapped) campsites didn’t even exist and the only B & B we passed was ‘full’. Our only option was to continue along our allotted route for to deviate too far  would, almost certainly, result in our getting lost! After over 100kms, a real live campsite promised a possible comfortable night after a tough ride the reasons for which will become clear further into the blog. A mobile home was available! Were we dreaming or hallucinating now? Thank you, thank you or danke schone danke schone. It meant that we could have off the following day as planned. I use the word ‘off’ very loosely as we seem to be more shattered with all the catching up than with the riding.
During both days of riding, we saw little that was remarkable. We did ride through lots of trees and no doubt the Germans’ intended this to be a pleasure. When one has ridden through central Sweden…………? The shade they provided was, however, a bonus as the sun hotted up quite quickly. (We are sporting the brownest of knees!) We passed quite a few lakes but when one has ridden through Sweden………….? We had anticipated some rising and falling of the land but had no expectation of the continual steep ups/downs. These required short bursts of high energy on our part and so getting into any sort of rhythm was impossible. Not that this seemed to bother the fit and lightly laden youngsters who overtook us. The great thing about beingold, is that one feels no shame in being slow!
We had registered a few comments from books and the internet, that the Germans were not fond of cyclists. And so we found. Gone were the cheery waves of the Scandanavians, replaced by at best surly ignorance and at worst being almost driven off the road. On tracks that would barely accept a vehicle and were on our designated cycle route, we continually gave way to any car approaching in any direction. Not once was this gesture acknowledged and thus very fed up with this lack of response, we played ‘chicken’ which was much more fun!
This general dislike for the long distance cyclist may be, in part, the reason why these designated routes have an infinite variety of surfaces, few of which, are conducive to comfortable riding. The list runs as follows:-
Asphalt – smooth as a baby’ bottom. VERY ,VERY RARE!                                                                        
Tracks with stones of all sizes interspersed with fallen pinecones and pitted with potholes.
Tracks with horizontal ruts that swallowed the trailer wheels and almost stopped you dead.
Tracks which were predominantly sand and impossible to pedal without serious danger of a rider dislodge.
Cobbles (large and small and very decorative!) which rattled brains, bones and bike and any other loose object. (Why cobbles on a newly made designated cycle track?)
Two lines of concrete with a ditch in between so that the unwary could lose a trailer wheel.
(All the above shared with motor vehicles albeit intermittently.)
Muddy paths (at least it was dry) which were so narrow passing on the move was impossible.
Wooden board walks (sometimes flooded)
Don’t for a minute think that we are daunted. Tomorrow we tackle them all again.

Ferry to Germany

Marielyst – Niendorf (Germany)   43.1kms  nil? Ascent.
Well, if yesterday was the best, today has lagged a long way behind. We woke to the sound of rain pattering on the roof of our cabin, rapidly followed by rain thundering on the roof of our cabin. A dash to the loo confirmed that the sky was entirely overcast with much wet stuff dropping from it. With a whistle and a smile (bit of an exaggeration) we downed tea and muesli, packed our bags, cleaned our cabin, paid our dues and set off in the right direction for the ferry. Just prior to leaving the campsite, Alan had spotted what he thought might be a camera crew but, if it was, they missed the biggest story of the day! We are, after all, professionals!
It continued to rain so we thought to reduce the journey to Gedser to a minimum, which involved a head down run along the main road. Brilliant idea, except that we were one and a half hours early for the ferry, and this ferry port offered nothing in the way of comfort. I mean nothing. We shared a corrugated roof with three bikers who appeared to be genuinely interested in our journey. They had shared the Nordkapp experience and then travelled through Norway where it had rained every day! So we stopped whinging. With about 10 minutes to spare before the ferry departure time, at least a dozen cyclists suddenly appeared in our shed. They obviously knew better than to arrive early!  Boarding involved pedalling like bug****y along the deck and then trying to find a spot where the bikes could lean without falling over on the first wave. We did quite well until a biker (a really grumpy one) wanted our bikes miles away from his motorbike. Remaining very cool, Alan offered to help him secure his vehicle at which point he didn’t know how to react. Some twenty minutes of fiddling around ensured the bikes and trailers were sensibly secured and we went in search of food. In many ferries of our experience, there is usually a restaurant, which is only marginally more expensive than the food hall, and where eating can take place in relative calm. We found it and enjoyed salmon and as much salad as you could eat, which in our case probably wasn’t enough and we longed for the appetites of a few people we know who shall remain nameless but who assuredly know who they are.
Disembarkation was frantic and fraught, dicing with juggernautes as to who had the right of way. For a second time, we were fortunate to be able to follow those who had done all this before and we shot off at great speed and also in the right direction. For us this had to be the middle of town and a tourist office. So well prepared were we, that we lacked any information on the route or of places to stay on the way or even of Germany in general.  So 14  Euros poorer, we had all the information we needed, the sun had replaced the rain and we were off and running again. Despite all this expensive information, the campsite we had marked down as our destination for this night, didn’t exist but we found, instead, a guest house and here we are lodged with full bellies and a long day to look forward to tomorrow.

The Best of Days

Praesto  - Marielyst       74.8 kms   496’
Today has been the very best of days. The weather has been without flaw and the route of the cycle way has been an inspiration on the part of the designers, who have come in for a lot of criticism on this blog. On this section, they got it right. We hardly noticed the effort involved in pedalling as the views were all encompassing. We spent much of the time riding through forest with a sparkling blue sea and sandy beaches immediately on our left. It has been a day which needs no comment so include some photographs and hope that they will be sufficient for our readers to share our pleasure.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

They just love their bikes

Koge – Paesto      78.3 kms     315’ ascent
For our avid readers, you will have noticed that the last couple to days have been almost without ascent and, in addition, we have enjoyed almost unbroken sunshine; the price exacted has been the nostril wind. Today, as a result of the meandering nature of the cycle route, it has sometimes been off the port bow so only a relatively minor hindrance. Today, it all began so well and so it continued! Shortly after leaving the campsite along the designated cycle path, we came upon a group of ladies with very large panniers on the front of their bikes containing small children! (Photo included) This was an outing from the local kindergarten and we marvelled at the freedom from political correctness that these teachers enjoyed. The children were entranced with their surroundings including this bizarre lady who asked them smile. So refreshing.
 We commenced the main part of our ride along the sea shore, passing along millionaires’ row which went on for tens of kilometres!  It was a truly astounding example of the fact that wealth and good taste do not always coincide. It was an eclectic mix of design from the original (Just one) to lego lookalikes. All with sea views and private beaches and jetties.
Despite our route meandering through the countryside, it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. We were only two of many cyclists enjoying the sunshine – everything from the serious road cyclist to the youngest on the back of mum’s bike and the oldest just enjoying still being able to push the pedals (Yes, I know but there are others older than us).
According to the designers of the route 9, it was going to be only 63 kms to Paesto! (Anyway 75 kms later we found ourselves in this very neat little town with a campsite that was full. A very helpful tourist office located a B&B which wasn’t full and so off we set. Well, we have seen a lot of ‘half open’ ‘half shut’ and ‘will be ready next week’, but this was something else. It will/could be absolutely fabulous. An old mansion with outbuildings and barns and some magnificent original features. But in need of massive investment.
Tomorrow we head for the last of our overnights in Denmark. Germany awaits. 

"Wonderful, Wonderful Kopenhagen

Niva – Koge   80.7kms       331’ ascent
Everything began so well. We left the site in good time, still smarting from the fact that it had cost us the equivalent of £1.30 to take two showers! However, we had got over that and at least we smelled fresh and new as we enjoyed the sunshine and a beautiful ride along the sea shore. I have to say there is a smell which accompanies this close proximity to the sea which Alan assures me is just a sea smell. Mmm, to me it is a mixture of rotting seaweed and raw sewage! All went very well until we reached the outer reaches of Copenhagen. In common with many other European countries, Denmark is undertaking copious road repairs, the significance of which will become obvious as this blog continues. At this point in today’s journey Mr. Grumpy emerged briefly from hibernation to exhort blistering comments on the designers of the cycle routes. ‘Why must we climb the steepest hills of the entire journey?’ he complained. They were in fact so steep that with Herman the Sherman of the back we were obliged to get off and walk! ‘If they are going to dig up the road, why do they not replace the cycle track signs so that we don’t end up in the middle of a huge social housing estate?’ he moaned. (The inhabitants of which were very helpful in relocating us). The final straw took the form of a vital bridge which was fenced off and definitely NO GO. Mr. Grumpy was having none of it. He separated bike from trailer, pulled violently at the wire netting, and succeeded in crossing said bridge (with a little assistance) with both bike and trailer. On re-assembling the two, a nice dog walking lady suggested that a simpler solution might be to ride the second bike (mine) along the river for some 500 metres to another bridge. I nodded my thanks and set off and promptly sank several inches into the muddiest track of the journey, but it did, eventually, deliver me safely to the other side. Mr. Philosophical sent Mr. Grumpy back into hibernation as we continued to get lost, find ourselves again,  and eventually exit Copenhagen having seen nothing at all of the centre. With some relief, we enjoyed a rather late lunch by a lake ,observing the antics of various sea birds all trying to establish their superiority. (Too much testosterone!)
By now, thoroughly fed up with the thought of another 20 kilometre detour, we finally rejoined a main road with a cycle path and went head down for the campsite at Koge. We were sharing a track with the serious bikers of the area, who gave no quarter, indication of their presence, or acknowledgement of us as they shot passed. I assume this is normal for Denmark, but I much prefer the cheery hellos of the competent bikers in the Pyrenees who overtook us at some speed as we puffed our way up to the cols.
Our destination was finally reached and we enjoyed yet another bottle of wine with our supper. (No, this will not become a habit.) Hmmm?
 Note from Alan
Now those of you who know me, will be aware that I am a placid kind of bloke, rarely given to outbursts of self-opinionated twaddle . So today was no exception. I was evil. I had back ache and the beginnings of a boil in my crutch when the national cycle route 9 (this part designed by a lardy, fat arsed, cycle hater) took us away from a beautiful coast into a swamp ridden forest with little hills in excess of 12%, midgies (just done 2000kms of them) AND nettles overgrowing the track. I now have a nettle midgie sandwich of stings and bites up my shins. Not happy with that, Mr Lardy has not checked his sign posts in the last couple of years. Sprayed over in graffiti, scratched out, pulled out of the ground and thrown to one side or simply nicked leaving an empty holder, all added to the enticing image of Copenhagen suburbs. More glass on the track in one day than we’ve seen in the last 30. There were some good bits. I was almost enjoying the trip along the ramparts till they shut the bridge!

Monday, 4 July 2011

We're Not Alcoholics - Really

Hellingsborg (Sweden) – Niva (Denmark)  49.5 kms + the bit on the ferry.   248’ ascent.
Having now spent over thirty five days of cycling, we have established something of a ritual in the mornings which begin with the alarm sounding at seven o’clock. Our actions are now pretty well honed to maximum efficiency without being obsessive. So, when Alan began to load his trailer at about 8.30 all was going to plan. He stood observing his trailer with a perplexed expression: ‘What is missing?’ says he as his load appears somewhat deficient. ‘It might just be that huge blue bag standing against the cabin,’ say I, and collapse into hysterical laughter. Last laugh was still with ‘himself’. To ensure we leave nothing behind, Alan undertakes a ‘final inspection’. Thus far he has found n

othing, not even knickers under the bed. Today he could crow – I had left the drinks bottles in the ‘fridge. So, I guess  the score to be one all.
Our ride to the ferry was a real pleasure as the cycle track, which we managed to locate, closely followed the coast, so for the most part we had the sea on our right and not much in between. We reached Hellingsborg in good time and even found the port. Locating the access was something of a challenge as the Swedes had hidden all the signs. Doggedly determined as ever, we found a man, who somewhat disparagingly, told us to enter with the cars. For a very reasonable sum we bought our tickets and took to lane 13. Fortunately for us, we were preceded by two local cyclists who were familiar with the system – head down and go for it up the gang plank! We beat the lorries by a heart- beat and our fellows suggested that we stayed with the bikes for the 10 minute duration of the crossing. Actually, there was time for each of us to visit the loo, but little more. To exit the ferry was a repeat performance of the entrance, so heads down again. Totally disorientated by this time, we found ourselves in Helsingor admiring Hamlet’s castle. A visit to the information centre seemed a sensible option and so it was. Armed with very heavy ‘information’ we then decided a currency change and a bit more cash might be prudent. Back to the info centre who, ever helpful, directed me to the nearest bank. (We now know why the ferry route is so busy. The streets in Helsingor are not lined with gold but the next best thing – the shops selling liquor overflow onto the streets!)
In less than half an hour after our arrival in Denmark we were off, following the correct cycle route and stopping on the beach for a well- deserved break for coffee and rolls.
Having booked a cabin at the most convenient site, we enjoyed another leisurely ride along the coast through delightful, and no doub,t very expensive villages. Not a long ride today, but even so we barely noticed the distance as there was so much to look at. Our site is very comfortable and we have just finished our evening meal without the company of midgies but with the accompaniment of a bottle of reasonably priced white wine. Cheers!  

Alan's Really Boring Bits

To those planning a similar trip - notes on our route down the middle of Sweden:-
This alternative to the EV7 suited us. We prefer country to town and there was just enough of interest to satisfy our cultural needs. However 1500+kms of lakes and trees might not be your cup of tea! The route also provided us with the opportunity to “pile on the miles”.
We entered Sweden in early June and the tourist trade was just waking up. It was not unusual to find campsites “half open” with no one at reception (Just the phone number on the door) and facilities still being repaired from last year.  Having said that, we found cabins available at almost all the sites. ( provides a very useful brochure)
The Roads - A country of two halves
Road surface was generally good with occasional road works where the entire top surface would be removed. In the North, the minor roads, outside towns, are generally dirt tracks in various states of repair.
Traffic levels were low increasing near larger towns and generally increasing the further south we travelled
Generally  drivers are very respectful of cyclists to the point of stopping in anticipation that you might want to cross the road from one cycle track to another.  However there is always the occasional idiot and tourists might not be aware of the rules! It was also noticeable that many drivers, including those of large lorries with trailers, were using their mobiles)
Towns and villages were generally very cycle friendly with cycle routes everywhere and you are expected to ride on the wide pavements where they are provided. However you do need a cycle route map to know where they are going!! Cycle routes were excellent but occasionally much longer than the road alternative.
Route signs occasionally run out when you need them most.
Not many options to explore alternative routes in the north but increasing further south
Main Roads in the south are much less cycle friendly
Route 26 directly south of Mariestad the most dangerous road I’ve cycled on. 2 standard lanes divided by wire crash barrier and crash barriers on the nearside of both lanes. Heavy duty rumble strips just inside the crash barriers on both sides. Maybe 40cms of tarmac between the nearside crash barrier and rumble strip. Speed limit 100 kmh but traffic travels (much) faster. For the very short time we were on this road (big mistake), lorries could only give us ½ metre clearance and that was with our trailers very close to the edge of the tarmac and the bikes on the rumble strip. Very few vehicles slowed down.
We came across several short sections of road with similar “improvements” to this section of the 26. A major part of the E4 in the north is of this type. 

Next Country Please

Halmstad -  Molle      82.2 kms     839’ ascent
We are nearing the end of our journey through Sweden and we have clocked up a total in excess of 2500kms and I have no idea how much height gained (or weight lost!). At twenty something one is described as slender, at forty something the description would be slim at 60 something the word to use is scrawny. No matter, we can eat what we like and we could drink what we like if only we could source the alcohol. Maybe Denmark has a more liberal attitude to the selling of wine and Scotch.
We started our journey in an area so under- populated we could ride all day and spot an occasional passing motorist. We leave a very different Sweden. Not heavily populated by UK standards, but nonetheless, distances between urban areas has decreased significantly and the traffic is incessant. Campsite facilities are now out to make a fast buck and lack the fastidious care of those further north. It feels as though there is a real north/south divide.  In fact, I am quite surprised that this end of the country hasn’t sunk with all the extra habitation. Must be the weight of all those trees that keep it so perfectly balanced! We now understand why so many little cabins have sprouted among the trees and around the lakes. It’s the ‘get away from it all’ syndrome. Mind you, a penchant for fishing is an essential requirement for owning such a dwelling for there seems little else to do except swat armies of midgies. The Swedish and the Sami people in general (except for the tw** who peeped Alan) have been friendly and endlessly helpful, if not actually exuberant.
Today has not been without interest. We had, as ever, carefully planned a route which would keep us clear of the motorway but, as usual in the towns, signposting for minor roads and minor villages, is intermittent at best and non-existent at worst. We picked a non-existent one and spent a few tense minutes discussing our predicament! Locals to the rescue again; their advice – just carry on and they were right. Having located the right road and partaken of coffee and bananas we surveyed what was to come. Sweden had one more sting in its tail! The hill ahead looked like the head of a cobra and was just as unpleasant; two and a half kilometres of 8%! The strong Northerly wind, which had been forecast, and would have assisted our ascent, was nowhere to be found until we reached the summit! By now very hot and sweaty (NOT glowing – don’t know who dreamed that up that one) we were hoping for some relief on the downhill. Thwarted again, for the clouds disappeared unexpectedly and the sun shone with a vengeance and we were now inappropriately dressed for hot. Undaunted, but a bit pink, we reached our final site in Sweden where we plan to take a day to repair more holes in the trailer covers and render a little TLC to the bikes – (Alan does most of that clever stuff). Then the final few kilometres to Helingsborg and on to discover what Denmark has in store for us. Watch this space.    

Back to Civilisation

Smalandsstenar – Halmstad    87.4kms    425’ ascent
Yet another 70 something which turned into an 80something! For two reasonably good map readers, our calculations of distance lack a certain degree of accuracy. This morning we were up with the sun except there was no sun; the promised clouds had covered the sky. No matter, it was much cooler, cold actually, so out came the long johns.
Suitably attired we left the site and just 500 metres down the road, we found a bike shop – just when you need one. And so we replaced the brake cable used yesterday just in case we have another such rupture. What luck. As we left the town/village we entered the Sweden that we have come to know and love – ups, downs, and trees! The latter now, though, includes trees other than birch, spruce and fir, like oak and beech. Now, we have been in Sweden for over a month and, despite our best efforts of observation, we have seen no moose. Today, that changed as one appeared from the woodland and stared for a moment at these weird folk before lurching off into the trees. It did not sport any antlers so was probably a female, but DEFINITELY a moose. We were very excited and wobbled dangerously in our tiddly bit of road space.
Sweden boasts an extraordinary number of bike routes which have one major drawback – they lack any clear signposting. In fact, in many cases, signposting just stops. Now in a car, this is inconvenient; on a bike it can be measured in energy output to the point of exhaustion! When they work, they are excellent and reduce the risk of death by juggernaut to nought. Today, they worked moderately well with the aid of the GPS. One such led us through Halmstad where we suddenly emerged from trees into a very modern, large, bustling city. Bit of a shock, really. We stopped for a while to inspect a promotion of sea kayaks (maybe next year?) and got caught up (well I did) in watching a game of canoe polo being played on the river. Alan finished his negotiations with the canoe rep (not sure how many boats he bought) and dropped a minor bombshell, that with 72 kms cycled we still had at least another 10 to go. Onward once more.

Braking Too Hard

Ulricehamn – Smalandsstenar      78.4kms    240’ ascent
This morning the outside temperatures were well into the 20’s before eight o’clock and by the time we had loaded the trailers and hauled them up the steep steps, we were already not nice to know. Our railway line of the previous day did not disappoint and we sailed alongside the lake under the shade of the trees for several kilometres. We even went through a little tunnel! And like yesterday, at about 20 kilometres we discovered another jewel at a small village named Manstad. A large, well-manicured area of grass (lawn really), picnic tables, a water feature and a small enclosed hut had been made available for use by any passing traveller. Most astounding of all were the facilities for toilets and showers. They looked like they had been lifted from a top notch hotel. We were so overcome that we forget to take any photos!  After 30 kilometres and ONE FOOT of climbing we reached the end of the easy ride. It had been very tranquil but now we needed our adrenaline rush. And guess what – we got it! (For a short while anyway. ) We found ourselves, unavoidably, on one of those roads with the wire barriers, but fortunately, the weight of traffic was not great and, in general, seemed a lot more sympathetic to cyclists than had been our previous experience. Even better, from my point of view, there was no nostril wind, or at least none to speak of, so I was up at least two gear cogs. However, in my enthusiasm for my excessive speed, I yanked on my brakes as we arrived at our campsite and bust the cable. My man has now replaced it with a new one! He is a marvel!  Tomorrow is forecast to be a little cooler but, I suspect, also with a wind blowing up the nostrils. Can’t have everything.

Follow that Train

Falkoping – Ulricehamn     56kms    126’ ascent
Having climbed ‘The Hill’ we had the pleasure of the descent this morning. A whoopee experience, if somewhat nerve racking with the following traffic trying to decide whether to overtake these flying  bikes or tamely follow behind. We gave no quarter!  At the bottom we faced something of a dilemma. In his extensive research, Alan had read an entry referring to this part of the route which stated that there existed an old railway line which would take us all the way to Ulricehamn.  The only problem was how to locate it as none of the maps we had showed the slightest inkling of such. Being extraordinarily intelligent, we decided that the best option was to follow the existing railway line (not literally). As luck would have it, we both spotted the tiny red sign simultaneously. What luck! As those of you who read this blog regularly will know, I have a theory that railway constructors built rail tracks to climb hardly at all. And guess what, I was right.
It was another gloriously sunny day and an opportunity to take in the quite significant changes to the countryside that have taken place as we have come further south. Without the interference of road traffic, we were able to note the emphasis now on agriculture and stock rearing (not that we were actually without trees). The natural flora had attracted a vast number of butterflies, which insisted on committing suicide in the spokes of my front wheel, probably in the back as well.  After some twenty kilometres, and at about coffee time, we came upon a hut at a place called Hog. This old railway hut had been lovingly restored, was open and made available information about the local area and the horrendous crash which had occurred between a train and a milk tanker in the 1980’s. We made use of the picnic table which had been build nearby and thereby met the man involved in the restoration. He was justly proud of his efforts and keen for us to make an entry in his little visitors’ book which I had overlooked.
To reduce the boredom (I know, some people are never satisfied) the local farmers had constructed  cattle grids disguised as areas of verdant greenery. Fortunately, this sudden change from grey to green had alerted Alan to a possible anomaly and thus he stopped before his front wheel disappeared down a great hole.  By now my trusty nostril wind had got going with a vengeance  and it was with some relief that we found ourselves in Ulricehamn. We stopped to check our whereabouts and met another of those nice old ladies who suggested that if we continued for just a further 100metres or so we would find a seat, shade and a wonderful view. She was right on all counts. By now, very hot, we pressed on to our site for the night and discovered that the railway line continued for a further 30 + kilometres! (A great start for the day tomorrow)
Our accommodation this night was a very well appointed apartment in every aspect except one – It was at the bottom of a flight of very steep steps but it did have a balcony!  The exercise did us good!