We finally escaped Donaueschingen on Thursday 16th June and rode across a huge saucer-like plateau to where the Danube disappears down a karst sink. Now you see it, now you don’t. At least, that’s what we’d hoped it would be like. Unfortunately the cycle-route doesn’t run close enough to the river bank to see the actual point of disappearance. We pedalled back up the dry river-bed for a while but soon gave up on that as it was very rocky and also about to rain.
Rejoining the river further down we entered a dramatic gorge through the Swabian Alb with soaring cliffs and precariously perched castles. That evening we found an excellent place to camp in a small wooden hut with a concrete floor. This was most fortuitous as, after 4000+km of loaded tandem abuse, our freewheel had just died. It had been intermittently sticking and clicking for a while but finally got to the point where it no longer freewheeled. Sheltered from the wind and rain in our cosy hut, Keith dismantled the axle and unscrewed the freewheel, whereupon a multitude of tiny ball-bearings disgorged all over the floor, and Keith pronounced the freewheel to be ‘cattle-trucked’. We had a spare with us so after a quick service on the hub bearings Keith reassembled everything and the wheel was good to go again. Earlier that day we’d also had to replace the rear tyre as it had picked up a cut in between the treads which we hadn’t noticed until the carcass began to fail producing a large bulge in the tyre. It was easy enough to swap it onto the trailer, to be replaced at the earliest opportunity, and put the good tyre from the trailer onto the bike. The weather continued to be wet and grey for the remainder of our German trip. There’d be blue sky for some parts of some days, but mostly the skies were overcast or there would be prolonged drizzle for several hours. Undaunted, we continued on our way albeit somewhat soggily at times. Even though camping at a campsite in the rain is not really any different to wild camping in the rain, it was still something of a mental challenge knowing we’d be passing a campsite at around 7pm one wet evening and that we should really do some more kms before finding a sneaky site…I gritted my teeth, averted my eyes and kept pedalling….but what was that noise??? A loud whistling drew us to a halt, and running out of the campsite came Fabrice. 10 euro a night and had tables and benches under a corrugated plastic roof. Our plans for wild camping evaporated (unlike the rain) and we had another very nice evening with our French friends and also a Swiss lady called Elizabeth.
We’ve cycled through some really pretty towns in Germany, and we particularly liked Ulm which had a real zest about it. The Danube had swelled to an energetic river with a current strong enough for people to wakeboard on from a static line. Ulm has the usual share of pastel-painted buildings, but also an old fishing quarter (all canals and bridges) an enormous gothic spire, beautiful riverside walk, buzzing centre and leaning tower with a tiled turret that looks like dragon’s scales. It felt like the kind of place you could happily spend a few days….but we kept on pedalling as we’d arranged for our replacement trailer to be redirected to the campsite in Regensburg and wanted to make sure we got there in time.
En route we passed through a small town called Günzburg where we were just caught the tail-end of a 3-day trikefest. Chrome, leather and beards abounded and we saw some fantastic Giger-esque paintwork and heard some insanely grunty Chevy V8 engines (yes, you could buy a motorbike – or trike – with a Chevy V8 engine in it!). The bikers (trikers?) seemed as intrigued by our transport as we were by theirs and we were the subject of a number of photos.
More petrol-related entertainment was found the following day when we arrived in Ingolstadt, home of Audi. The museum only cost €2 to enter and despite getting there two hours before closing time, we both felt rushed and wished we’d had more time. The history of the company (formed from a merger of four separate brands) is fascinating, particularly when set against the backdrop of the two world wars and intervening depression, and then of course there’s the cars (and some bikes and motorbikes) and a whole floor full of Lamborghinis since Audi bought them a handful of years ago. Well worth a visit….just make sure you go early in the day not at 4pm.
Leaving the industry of Ingolstadt behind we then pedalled through the world’s largest hops fields (according to our guide book at any rate) and back down to the banks of the Danube where we came across the first of a number of zip wire ferries. These are small flattish boats with a large oar at either end to act as a rudder or a paddle, and they’re attached by a cable to a zip wire across the river. As we noticed in Ulm, where we saw people wake-boarding on the current, the Danube is a much more vigorous river than the languid and elegant Loire. Despite being about 150m across the water rushes energetically and provides all the power needed for the boat to ferry-glide across. The captain simply uses the paddle to push off from the bank and point his nose diagonally upstream. The current does the rest and the cable/zipwire stops the whole thing being carried away. Just downstream from the hopfields is a monastary at Weltenburg, where the guidebook recommends stopping for an award-winning monk-brewed beer. However, it was heaving with tourists and the beer was €3.40 a ½ litre so we rode a kilometre back to some shops where we bought the same beer for €1.50 a bottle and enjoyed it with our lunch of bread and cheese on the riverbank next to the monastery. From Weltenburg the cycle route goes up a steep climb with heavy traffic, so we opted for the ferry for the 6km down to Kelheim, travelling through a twisting gorge with stark limestone cliffs.
We made it to Regensburg as planned on Tuesday 21st June but were horrified to discover that the campsite cost €24!!! And they didn’t even offer free wi-fi. We would have moved on except we’d arranged for our replacement trailer to be delivered there. For once our trailer posting plans went to plan, and the trailer arrived 10 minutes after we did, just as we were putting up our tent. It was quite tempting to return to the reception and ask for our €24 back and look for a wildcamp….but in the end we decided that that conversation would just be too difficult and ultimately probably unsuccessful.
Regensburg itself was the usual Germanic mix of pastel-coloured buildings, cobbled streets and squares, and it’s from this point that the Danube becomes navigable by large ships. We visited a restored paddle-steamer tug-boat and Keith went to poke around the docks (I left him to it as I was worried about ending up where we shouldn’t be and getting shouted at).
The weather had been kind to us in Regensburg and we got some washing done (by hand as I wasn’t prepared to pay the avaricious campsite owner a single cent more on top of the exorbitant site fees) that dried beautifully in the blazing sunshine, but then as soon as we packed up to leave after lunch the drizzle began again. We pedalled in steady rain until around 7pm when we found a secluded spot next to the Danube and with serendipitous timing the rain cleared up leaving us with blue skies under which to enjoy our dinner. We spread jackets and trousers out to dry, emptied the contents of our ‘kitchen’ panniers onto the blanket and I started to prepare dinner whilst Keith got the laptop out. 10 minutes later it didn’t seem so sunny and glancing up I saw a thick bank of grey-black cloud barrelling towards us. I urged Keith to put the tent up, he thought it unnecessary but complied, whilst I packed away dinner and everything else we’d strewn around out of the panniers. Not a moment too soon! We managed to get everything packed up and I leapt into the tent just as the first fat raindrops fell. Keith stayed out to watch the storm but soon regretted it. The wind came from nowhere. It was a vicious, fickle wind that alternated between trying to rip our tent from its moorings and trying to flatten it to the ground. I sat inside, clinging onto the outermost edges of our cross-pole trying alternately to hold it down and then hold it up as the wind tore and snatched and pounded. Keith ran round putting the tent pegs in more firmly, and rescuing the bike from where it had been blown over against a rock. He then heard a crack and thought one of the tent poles had snapped so rushed back to the tent and crouched outside in the torrential rain, thunder and lightning trying to hold the poles together and stop them from possibly ripping a hole in the tent’s flysheet. I was sitting inside with my back to him, but eventually I turned and could see through the mesh inner that the pole was not snapped but merely displaced and we were able to get it all back together and Keith could get into the tent, leaving his sodden clothes outside. It felt like an age, but it was probably all over in five minutes, and in ten the sky had returned to blue and the air was still, as if it had never happened. The only thing to show it hadn’t been a dream was Keith’s pile of sodden clothes outside the tent. As Keith’s habit is to leave his pannier on the bike his dry clothes were not to hand and because the blue sky soon returned to drizzle he decided to just get into his sleeping bag for the evening. An amusing result of his nakedness came as darkness fell and he nipped down to the riverbank to get some water for washing up. On the way back he saw two walkers so sped up and tripped over the guyrope in his haste. The two guys who were walking by must have seen Keith’s naked ass disappearing over the end of the tent because they were absolutely rocking with laughter as they passed us…as was I.
Now that there’s shipping on the Danube we’ve realised just how small the enormous barge we saw on the Rhine/Rhone canal actually was. The Danube’s barges are at least twice as long and twice as wide, but because the river’s so huge and the locks for the barges are gigantic, it doesn’t seem as impressive as when we watched the sunflower seed barge squeeze into the diminutive lock on the Rhine/Rhone canal. It’s noisy camping near the water now as you first of all hear the throb of the engine, which becomes a roar, then fades again to a throb and then a minute later the banks are lashed with waves from the ship’s wake.
As we neared Passau, the last major town before we’d leave Germany, we put in a longer than usual day to try to claw back some time after the trailer delays. Approaching the town of Deggendorf we’d knocked out 60km before lunch and by 2.30 were starving. As usual, it was beginning to rain, heavily, and we were frantically looking for somewhere sheltered and wondering whether to be content with bread and cheese or to blow the budget at a cafe. Our minds were quickly made up when an all-you-can-eat Asian buffet appeared before us and we spent an hour gorging ourselves whilst the rain got heavier and heavier outside. It was a tip-top feast and fuelled us to within 10km of Passau, taking our daily total up to over 100km, and we didn’t need to eat that evening either so was well worth the money.
Passau was just as pretty as the other towns and cities we’ve been to. There’s a large baroque cathedral housing the world’s largest organ, so we stopped in to hear a recital before taking a stroll round to the confluence of the Danube, Ilz and Inn rivers. From Passau it was only an afternoon’s easy pedalling to see us leave Germany and enter Austria.
Auf wiedersehen Lidl and Aldi, hallo Hofer (the Austrian name for Aldi).
To Passau on Friday 24th June, we’ve covered about 4,650kms (divide by 8 & multiply by 5 if you need it in miles). We’ve had 2 punctures (both rear wheel – one a failure of valve on inner tube & one a normal thorn). We’ve had one tyre failure (bulge appeared in tyre after about 4,100kms, so replaced it). And we’ve had one free-hub-body failure (also after about 4,100kms). We also replaced the main drive-chain & cassette the day after replacing the free-hub, so about 4,150kms. We’ve also used 2 sets of brake-pads – the pads on the back wheel wore out after about 2,400kms and the pads on the front wheel lasted until about 3,700kms.
Most days when cycling, we cover about 80kms (divide by 8 & multiply by 5 if you need it in miles & I won’t say that again) and from setting off in the morning to stopping in the evening, our cyclo-computer records an averge speed of between 18 and 20 kph – however that includes times when we’re going slow looking at signs, going into shops and checking into the occasional campsite etc. On the open road (preferably very flat) we can cruise along at between 24 & 28kph, but with the wind on our backs, and on a smooth surface, we can cruise at between 30 & 35kph.
Uphills causes major problems. On the day that we left the Rhine to climb up into the Black Forest, we were on a gradient of about 1.5% and we could only manage about 15kph – and when the gradient hit about 2.5%, we were reduced to about 9 or 10kph. But downhill is a complete hoot as 50kph is quite easy – 60kph is going some – but 70kph is quite achievable. Max speed to date was our 76kph in the Yorkshire Dales (min speed is about 6kph as going much slower than that is very difficult and you really need to stop and push).