Without too much hesitation, I said goodbye and cycled into the centre of Cologne. I’ve never really liked goodbyes, so kept it short. I much prefer something less final.
Two days before, I rode the side of my bike into a barrier. The force sent the right rear pannier into the air. I stopped to review the damage – one of the hooks had completely broken. I reattached the bag and it seemed to hold its place fine with just one hook intact. Back in Cologne, I was cycling beside the river when another cyclist crashed straight into the broken pannier, breaking the second hook. The bag now only stayed on the bike with one strap. A very temporary fix.
After the collision, I continued to follow the river Rhine south towards Bonn and then onto Koblenz. If it wasn’t for the direct headwind, it would have been great, but headwind makes the simplest of routes gruelling work. Pace slowed to an average of 11mph.
I booked a campsite just south of Spay, an old German village that hugs the riverbank. I arrived shortly after 6pm and was more than happy to be done for the day. After the sun set and the spring heat had faded, I laid in my tent and reflected on the first day of cycling solo. It felt pretty natural.
I woke up early to the sound of music blaring out of the shower cubicles. It was a sign to get up. On the road before 8.30am, and with the wind behind me, I got almost 30 miles in the legs in just over two hours. How one day can make all the difference.
The route took me through small picturesque towns along the Rhine – which I appreciated more today than yesterday. The journey had been pretty flat up until this point, so after a short coffee break in Bingen, I headed inland towards the hills. I made steady progress, following single track roads that meandered through old, quaint villages with traditional gothic architecture. The countryside felt familiar; similar to that of the UK, with farmland and greenery for miles upon miles.
I arrived at Worms, a large town situated on one of the Rhine’s bends, at 3.40pm. Being solo meant I’d minimised stoppage time, and arrived at a destination hours early.
The campsite I wanted to stay at didn’t exist, so I cycled across to the other side of the river and found a small section of grassland. When I arrived, I met a guy called Urk. Urk owned the land, and after jolted conversation through Google Translate, he let me stay there. Urk also gave me a 5L container of water and went on his way. Lifesaver.
Easter was approaching, so I made a last minute decision to head for Stuttgart. Germany shuts down for four days over the holidays, and I needed to sort out the broken pannier. It was literally held in place by one strap.
With another slight tailwind, I left the Rhine to head east. Worms and the surrounding areas are extremely industrial. In fact, a lot of the big towns I cycled through in Germany had an industrial element. Germany still seems to be heavily focused in this area – with energy, coal, steel and food factories dotted throughout the country.
As the miles clocked up, so did the elevation. This was a nice change from the flats of the Rhine. With red raw arms and sunglass tan marks, I arrived in Stuttgart in good time. I was surprised at the size of the city. It felt vast, with apartment blocks, office towers, shopping malls, and big green spaces covering every hill as far as the eye could see. The roads were three lanes deep with traffic, and the trams busy with locals heading into the city centre.
After trying one bike shop with no luck, I went to the large outdoor retailer Globetrotters. Globetrotters fixed the hooks on the pannier there and then. Job done.
After broken sleep, due to a roommates’ noise, I was more than happy to leave the hostel. I was deep in thought about how little tolerance I now have for hostels, when a 22% gradient climb brought me back to the present.
Before this, I’d never got off the bike due to a climb being too steep – this was a first. I pedalled twice before giving in, and pushed the bike to the top. This took 45 minutes. Apart from the 22% gradient, the first 20 miles were relatively flat. But, when I hit the 30 mile point, the elevation took a sharp incline and I saw the first switchback of the trip. Stopping a number of times to reach the summit pass, I was surprised at the lack of strength I had. During Land’s End to John O’ Groats, I rode a 7,000ft day, so why did I find it so difficult?
I was headed to the city of Ulm, a mere 55 miles from Stuttgart. It took almost all day to ride those miles. The climbs wreaked havoc on my legs.
That evening I was looked after by Warmshower’s host, Olivier. Olivier is a Frenchman who had a free house as his wife and kids were in Finland for Easter, so I think he was more than happy to have company. Olivier is the proud owner of a solar panel powered tandem bike. He took part in the Sun Trip, a race around the Alps, designed specifically for solar-powered bikes. We both couldn’t think of a better way to explore the city, so took the tandem for a ride.
We watered down the excitement with a couple pints and food in the Old Town.
Since leaving Cologne, the conversations I had with Olivier were the first with any real depth. It’d only been four days, but I hadn’t realised how much I value ‘long-form’ chat. We spoke about Ukraine, differences between Germany and our home countries, climate change, and cycling.
After eating breakfast and discussing whether I’d make it to Munich, I left. It was quite late in the day, but I was optimistic. The heatwave was well and truly over. The mercury had dropped from 24C to 8C overnight, so I stopped five miles in to add more layers. At least my sunburnt arms would receive respite.
Not only was it colder, but the headwind was back. If anything’s going to dampen your mood, it's that combination. From the moment I started cycling, I was counting down the miles. As the day went on, Munich was looking less and less likely.
The past two day’s cycling had caught up with me and my body begged for rest. I arrived in Augsburg, some 50 miles from where I started, and packed it in. Mood was low. Augsburg is a beautiful city; like other historical towns in Germany, the centre was paved with cobbled streets and lined with designer shops. There seems to be an abundance of wealth in south east Germany – or, it gives off that impression.
That evening, I bumped into another bike tourer. Florian is on a two month pilgrimage-ish cycle to an island in Greece; we were staying in the same hostel room, so we went to the pub, and shared routes, tips, and travel stories. It was great to chat touring with another tourer. I went to bed, my mood lifted.
Tomorrow, we go again.