Friday, 16 September 2011

The Belgium-Germany border: 16/09/2011 to 18/09/2011

Dark brooding forests and grey days and rain. I checked into a campsite and only realised my mistake when the two minibuses of insufferably jolly young Dutch persons parked to either side of me. Even with earplugs and a buff round my head they were making enough noise to wake me at one in the morning.

I'd stopped on the long climb away from Verviers, telling myself any number of reasons - the road would be quieter on a Saturday, the weather would be better - but really I stopped because I couldn't be bothered. My mood had nosedived, I felt lonely and isolated and I was asking myself what I was doing there. Nothing unusual in that, except the usual answers didn't hold their usual power to keep me going.

I plodded along in isolation on the Saturday and the Sunday, and spent a terrible couple of nights where I kept waking up unable to breathe. I opened the tent and gulped in the cool night air, read for a bit until I felt tired again, fell asleep and started the whole cycle again. It also rained on the Sunday night and morning. Striking camp in the rain is a depressing activity - everything's wet and it's going to stay wet.

I grabbed a couple of apples from beside the Mosel near Zell and munched them at the roadside. I was in no mood to go on. I was on the verge of tears all day, not because it was wet or because I was on my own, simply because I was homesick. When I had slept I'd dreamt of home, and friends and family.

The climb out of the Mosel Valley is 7 km long. I know this as the information was shared by a cheerful local cyclist. Too cheerful for me - I was polite but I was in no mood to chat, and he soon dropped back to chivvy his friend along. The poor sod was going even slower than me.

The tears were coming all the time, and eventually I pulled into a layby and sobbed to myself for ten minutes. It didn't lift my brown mood, but at least I felt I could carry on. One of the thoughts that kept me going was that I hadn't tolerated a job I disliked just to turn tail after a week, and as my sister said in a text message, they'd all still be there when I got back.

A truly bewildering encounter with a mad old German next - I knocked on his door and asked for water, he ignored me and threw some nutshells into the road. I wasn't to be dismissed so easily, and said more insistently: "Wasser, bitte." He still refused to look at me. I followed him towards his house, though, and he knew I was there as he scraped his feet on his drive to indicate that I should wipe my feet. Despite showing my proficiency at this task, he obviously thought I was some sort of simpleton, as he wouldn't let me turn on the tap myself. I don't know what was going on - maybe he thought my grandad killed his brother in the war. Maybe he wasn't used to passers-by. More likely, he was just a miserable old sod.

Pondering this kept my mood up, as did the improving weather, though the proximity of ear-splitting engine whine from dozens of fucking too-powerful cars and motorbikes on their way to the nearby Nurburgring certainly didn't. Tossers.

Sunday in Germany is a miserable place. Nothing's open - it took me ages to find a garage where I could buy some milk and beer, and I got lost trying to avoid one of the Autobahns. I left Simmern, rode another 10 miles, then had to come back to Simmern and found myself back at the same, closed, supermarket.

I did at least have a good tailwind, so I struck east when I eventually found a cyclable route out of Simmern. I wanted to get to the Rhein that night. Unfortunately there appeared to be a huge hill in the way, near Bacharach. I said a little prayer that it wouldn't be too hard, as I hadn't the energy. I kept following the cycle route signs for Oberheimbach and Niederheimbach, but without much hope. "Ober" always means a bastard of a hill.

I had to stop a couple more times for a cry - the landscape was beautiful, gentle rolling hills and a deserted road winding through pine forests, but I could only think of home.


Something strange happened near Oberheimbach - I still can't work out the topography, but the hill which I didn't want to climb never appeared. The road tracked the Heimbach (Heim Beck) down, down and down some more to the milky waters of the Rhein. The sunset was putting on quite a display behind me, but I was far too relieved to stop - it's a strange feeling, when an obstacle you expect to encounter fails to materialise. I hardly pedalled through Oberheimbach and Niederheimbach, freewheeling all the way down to the Rhein. I found a campsite, which was rubbish, but there were some very friendly people there, and I had another night's disturbed sleep, but that was owing to the busyness of the Rhein Valley - two railway lines, two busy roads and endless traffic up and down the waterway. I still felt homesick and isolated, but I'd been to the Rhein Valley before, so I was in familiar terrain, and I'd come through a tough mental patch, and that gave me the fortitude to carry on riding.

Der Rhein!

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