Saturday 30 October 2010

Riding in the Bergisches Land

Coat of Arms of the Dukes of Berg

Once my shipment of personal effects arrived from Canada, I was very anxious to assemble the bicycles and get out for a ride in one of several scenic areas that I had marked on my maps. The most promising of these looked like a tour in the Bergisches Land which I found on the Internet. I worked out a GPS route and put it onto the Garmin, hoping that perhaps this time my homemade route planning might actually work!

The weather in Düsseldorf had been pretty wretched since my arrival, with perhaps five days with rain in every seven. After two weeks, I ended up with the Mother of All Head Colds and suffered a great deal. I was feeling better at the beginning of October and tried to arrange a ride with a Brit living near Cologne, but then it was his turn to get sick! Feeling still so-so, I went on Saturday evening to the Düsselstrand , a swimming pool/sauna near my apartment, for their Midnight Sauna event, in the hope that I could clear out my breathing passages. It seemed to help, and I was able to sleep well enough.

The next morning I rode the Tarmac to the Wehrhahn S-bahn station, a short distance from home. The train took me in the direction of Cologne, past the massive Bayer chemical works in Leverkusen. One transfer and I was on the next S-bahn to Bergisch Gladbach. Incidentally, I have noticed “No Smoking” signs at S-bahn stations in Berlin and Düsseldorf, completely unenforced as there are always smokers standing around and puffing away. So much for the German reputation for following rules...

Bergisch Gladbach is kind of an ugly place, with heavy traffic everywhere. I started the GPS and, to my amazement, it actually showed the correct direction to get out of town! Hooray! Getting out of town was not so much fun. It was a holiday (October 3: German Reunification Day) but since it was a Sunday anyway things were closed, but everyone was out in their cars. I rode through the city on the rather narrow bikepath, working my way around obstructions like parked cars, and as the road began to gently climb I came to the sorry realization that seven weeks off the bike had done terrible things to my form as I was starting to feel the first little uphill stretch. But then again I had not had much of a chance to warm up either.
Following the signs to the Odenthal, I was soon in the Bergisches Land Park, which covers much of this region. There was a very wide paved bikepath next to the main road, which was much pleasanter than what I had experienced in Gladbach. The GPS was pointing me the right way and soon, off to the left, I saw the imposing bulk of the cathedral in Altenberg. Ignoring the GPS’ suggestion, I rode parallel to the cathedral and then turned onto a small road that took me directly to it.

There were many people standing around the cathedral, and there were a pair of fancy restaurants there as well. That pretty much looked like all of Altenberg to me. The cathedral is not really a cathedral since the town was never a bishopric. The Dukes of Berg had had their family seat here and in the 13th Century they moved to Schloss Burg on the Wupper, giving the property to some Cistercians who built an abbey. The cathedral, begun in 1259, is owned by the State of Nordrhein-Westfalen, and is used for both Protestant and Catholic services, as well as for concerts.

A comment on names is in order here. The Bergisches Land refers not to mountains (Berge) of this quite hill region but to the Dukes of Berg, who reigned in one form or another from 1101 to 1666. The second linguistic oddity is that their new castle, which still exists near Solingen, was Schloss Burg, which translates to “Castle Castle,” or, more accurately, “Palace Fortress,” which is a contradiction in terms.

Leaving Altenberg, I discovered the Berge indeed as I had a very steep climb up a hill to get to Scheuren. I was proud of having used satellite images to plot my course on very obscure backroads but of course you don’t get a feel for the gradient when you are looking straight down at the photos! There were quite a few hikers enjoying the sunny weather but this wheezing cyclist eventually made it up to the top, enjoying the sight of the neat farms and little patches of forest in the rolling countryside.

I stopped at what would turn out to be the only Konditorei en route that would be open on this Sunday and enjoyed a wonderful piece of Heidelbeerenkuchen with a cappucino. I stocked up with some buns for later in the ride and took off my arm warmers as the day warmed up rapidly.

The weather was really terrific now and I was enjoying myself. There was no traffic at all and the road was in excellent condition. I felt much better after the cake and pushed the speed up past 30 km/h at a steady pace. I passed one of the few cyclists I was to see that day at a good pace but then again he was on a mountain bike.

As I was enjoying the great weather and the fine scenery, having put in 22 kms of my 80 km ride, I carelessly let my front tire slip off the asphalt. There was a lip on the side of the road and not much of a shoulder. I turned the wheel back towards the road and suddenly realized that I had not turned it sharply enough, meaning the rim was about to hit the edge of the asphalt at a flat angle. This meant in turn that when the wheel slammed into the pavement, the whole bike would flop over sideways and then fly over to the left. As if in slow motion I watched the whole crash take place, thinking as I went down that this was going to hurt but I had to protect my teeth.

When I stood up there was a lot of pain. I had ripped my right glove and there were abrasions in the knuckles; my nice Pezcycling jersey was torn in the middle of my chest; my left elbow and my left knee were bleeding and there was a cut in my upper lip and the right side of my chin. Even though I had felt an impact on my mouth, my teeth seemed intact.

I mopped up the blood as best as I could and the mountain biker arrived and offered to help, although I could see he was pretty distressed by the way I looked. He offered to call someone for me but since there is nobody to call I thanked him and said that I would probably be able to get back on my own. He thought that the clipless pedals were partly to blame and was very sympathetic. I thanked him and he rode on.

I felt pretty terrible and was not sure if my nose was bleeding as well or this was just from the cut in my lip. I used up some of my water to clean up as best as I could and then looked at the bike since I was in the middle of nowhere and really needed to have it functional if I wanted to get back to Düsseldorf somehow. Fortunately, there was no damage whatever to the bike. The seat was twisted far off to one side, as was the front wheel, but all I had to do was loosen the bolts, reposition everything and tighten it all up again. The water had revived me and the pain was not so bad (although I must have looked scarey), so I decided to just keep on going. After all, my GPS route was plotted perfectly so far and I wanted to see if it would get me back as promised!

The road was extremely rural and most of the time I rode in empty countryside, passing only the outskirts of a few villages. The course was a big Figure 8, with Biesfeld at the centre, and I found myself recognizing the place names I had entered on the course. One section was a dirt path but although it was a bit muddy it worked out fine. It was quite hot now and I was being careful with consuming liquids as I had used up quite a bit of water cleaning up the blood. I was also not feeling in the best of condition and when I reached Thier, the furthest point on the ride, I suffered from some bad cramps in my legs. There was a bench on the edge of a little forest, so I sat down and ate some energy bars and drank a bit.

After a bit I felt better and enjoyed the nice stretch that took me from Thier back towards Biesfeld, riding along the Sülz river and passing a nice golf course. The route was quite lovely but there was a lot of climbing and occasionally the cramps returned under the exertion. At one point the GPS took me off the main route and up a brutal little climb, so hard I had to walk for a few moment to compose myself. Fluids were now getting to a critical level and I was not even able to find a water trough or fountain in a village. Luckily, as things were getting particularly painful I found an open gas station.

I had some change and gave it to the cashier for three bottles of ice tea. She then said I had to pay extra for the deposit but then she laughed and said that cyclists always drank everything on the spot, so if I promised to stay on the premises I would not have to pay. I filled one of my water bottles and then drank down the two remaining bottles on the spot. I think even by the standards of German cyclists I had consumed those ice teas at a record rate!

There was the odd bit of downhill left and I soon rolled into Bergisch Gladbach again. The GPS brought me to the train station without a single misdirection and soon I was heading back to Düsseldorf. There was a marathon run in Cologne and quite a few people got on the train, so it was pretty much standing room only to Leverkusen. I noticed people looking at me strangely and realized it was from the wounds, although they were not bleeding much at that point. I did chat with another cyclist who got on the train, and we talked a bit about helmets. I never ride without one and am always surprised to see people on racing bikes in Germany that don’t wear them.

Getting out at Wehrhahn, I was on the platform putting on my helmet when a lady came up and offered my some Kleenexes. At first I thought my nose must have been running badly but then I realized it was because of the abrasions on my knee and elbow! I thanked her but said I would be home soon and would look after the mess there.

Once I was home, I cleaned up the wounds. When I had last had road rash, in 2000 in Mallorca, they cleaned out the abrasions with what felt like a wire brush to get out all the little stones. I thought this was the usual method and I gently rubbed the wounds to get out any foreign material before having a shower, which was not all that warm since I could not bear any heat. It turns out that scraping out wounds is no longer the approved method of dealing with road rash, as I looked things up on the Internet afterwards. I was pretty sore and probably dehydrated and was not sure how I was going to shave with the cut on my lip.

On Monday I went to the pharmacy as the Internet recommendation was to get some disinfectant cream on the wounds and bandage everything up. The star at the pharmacy were horrified by the way I looked and thought I should get a tetanus shot. That probably would have been the right thing to do but I did not think the abrasions were really all that bad, looking worse than they were. As I write this four weeks later everything is pretty much cleared up, with the only evidence of the accident being the cut on the knuckled on my right index finger, and the small crack in my right front tooth. I was very upset about the jersey, which was really nice and had only been worn a few times, but Pezcyclingnews is sending me a new one. And my old Swatch chronograph watch was so badly scratched up from the impact that I have treated myself to a new 60 Euro Haas & Cie pseudo-Swiss chronograph.

I am still angry with myself for making a stupid beginner’s mistake but also relieved that the damage was not worse. The Bergische Land is ideal for cycling but perhaps the 82 kms I rode was a bit too ambitious for an out-of-training rider on a hot day. I will go back, and may even do this route again, but will work out the water/energy drink situation better. On the other hand, the GPS functioned flawless and although I had one in my little backpack, I never opened a map for the whole day.

Distance ridden: 81.74 kms in 4:21 Average speed: 18.8 km/h; maximum speed 56.5 km/h Elevation gain: 1324 m


RobN said...

Sorry to hear you dropped your bike Lesley. You must have been in worse shape than you wrote, judging by the way people reacted when they saw you. But then again, us hardy Canucks won't let a few missed teeth and a few scrapes and scratches slow us down...

I hope Germany is treating you better!

The weather in Burlington / Oakville has been alright (plus 6, plus 10 in the day) but the wind has been too fierce to ride - 50 kph, and constant...

take care my friend!

Groover said...

Glad you are ok after that little mishap. I don't know this part of Germany at all but it looks worth discovering.