Tuesday 29 March 2011

A Tin Donkey Milestone

I began to write this blog with the first postings on February 17, 2007. Today, just over four years and 423 postings later, my counter indicated that the blog has now received 100,000 hits.

Considering that it was meant to be a modest electronic diary to let me comment about trips and things two-wheeled of interest to me, and to entertain friends and let them know what I have been doing, the response has been great. I want to thank all those new friends for tuning in--hooray for you and for cycling!

Thursday 24 March 2011

Lost Boys Tour of Europe 2010: The Giant of Provence

June 23, 2010

Chill Week was never meant to be a totally-relaxed-sit-by-the-pool kind of holiday, but if ever there was an anti-Chill event, it is a ride up the legendary Mont Ventoux. For many years I had wanted to cycle this climb, one of the icons of the Tour de France. I knew of the great racers who had fought their way up this extinct volcano, rising above the plains of Provence. It was here that Ferdy Kűbler, the mighty Swiss champion and Tour de France winner, completely blew apart, and quit his professional racing career; where Eros Poli, a huge Italian domestique who looked like he would have had trouble climbing a highway overpass, rode away from the peloton and was never reeled in; where Lance Armstrong and Marco Pantani clashed; where only last year Alberto Contador climbed as if on a Sunday outing with the Schleck brothers. And, of course, it was here where former World Champion Tommy Simpson of Great Britain fell on a hot July day in 1967, never to rise again.

As our gite was near Carcassonne in Languedoc-Rousillion, it was never going to be the easiest matter to arrange the logistics to get eleven people and bicycles to Bédoin, the traditional departure town for the “hard” side of Mont Ventoux. In addition to two passenger vans, we rented a small cargo van and carefully loaded it to the gills with our bikes. I had first calculated the drive to be somewhat over three hours, but with pastry stops, bathroom breaks and getting somewhat lost in Orange, it was closer to four and a half hours by the time we rolled into Bédoin, in perfect sunshine and low wind conditions. Coming off of the autoroute, we had a clear view of the looming Mont Ventoux and could easily see the weather observatory at the top that was our goal today. Parking our convoy in a big field outside of the village, we put the bikes together, got a group photo, and, around 12:45, rolled out.

Clearly many others felt the way we did about Ventoux, as Bédoin was abuzz with cyclists, many of whom had clearly already finished their ride and were keeping the cafés going. We quickly sped out of town and the climb began as we rode up the D974. I tried to keep my spinning as smooth as possible, concerned that if I pushed too hard and got cramps in my abductors it would be the end of my ride. Things went well but the smooth spinning soon enough turned to slow grinding as my RPMs dropped and dropped down to 45-50 instead of the usual 70 or so. The road was relentless as it took us through dense wood, with no flat recovery places. The heat was also becoming difficult and I soon followed the example of many of the European riders and took off my helmet for the climb. At one point, one of our group asked how far we had to go, and a Dutch comedian riding by said: “Just one more kilometer ,” which was funny because it was obviously untrue.

I had only taken off my helmet on a ride once before, on the Albula Pass in Switzerland, but it was definitely cooler. Our group was spread all over the mountain, and I took some photos en route, catching up with Dr. Chef and with TriMolly, who was actually riding the climb on her P2C time trial bike.

A brief break at the Chalet Reynard restaurant for some canned ice tea was welcome relief, and we were now above the tree line. I felt refreshed and actually was able to increase my speed for the second part of the climb, the famous stone landscape of the upper reaches of Ventoux. I passed a rider on a red Trek who was wearing toe straps and who looked quite miserable and felt quite zippy. The road was not as steep as through the woods and offered fantastic vistas below. I stopped to photograph Dr. Chef and get in some of the famous striped poles that are used to guide snowploughs. And I soon passed the red Trek rider again.

Although I was sore and tired and hot, I was enjoying the ride immensely. The weather tower was getting closer all the time and soon I reached the point, on the right side of the road, where Tommy Simpson, full of amphetamines and cognac and burning up in the intense heat, collapsed on the road. Famously demanding to be put back on the bike, he wobbled a few feet further before collapsing again, then succumbing in the helicopter on the flight to the hospital. A monument to Simpson has been erected on the spot and on the steps are offerings from cyclists—small mementos, a bottle of English beer, a plaque from a Belgian cycling club. When the Tour passed this way again in 2007, the 40th anniversary of Simpson's death was marked in a low-key fashion. It is part of the Tour de France's mixed legacy: perseverance against the elements (it was surprising to me how close Simpson got to the top of Ventoux), mixed with the dark side of drug use and cheating.

Only three more turns and the last bitter steep climb took me to the foot of the observation tower and the hordes of visitors. I felt a real sense of accomplishment as I joined the other Lost Boys. Some photos were taken, including some by an enthusiastic Frenchman who had seen me climbing below and was very excited that I had actually made it to the top. Then on to business: the purchase of a miniature Mont Ventoux milestone, and on with the armwarmers and off down the other side of the mountain. I was joined by Greg, Terry and TriMolly as the others elected to return to Bédoin the way we had come up.

The descent towards Malucene is wonderful. It started off very twisty and steep and then opened out to wide curves as we accelerated. I am a perhaps over-cautious descender and I was using the brakes a great deal but I was still hitting speeds of 65 km/h as we rocketed onwards. Traffic was light, and when it appeared the drivers gave us plenty of room.

After plunging downhill for 14 kms, we reached Malucene and began the final 12 kms towards Bédoin to complete our big loop. The road rose and fell (aargh: more climbing ) and passed through gorgeous landscapes and past orchards of cherry trees ripe with red fruit. I even took a photo of Terry at the Col de la Madelaine which, at 448 m ASL, is not the famous one The final descent, under the shading boughs of roadside tress and smelling of sun and pine, was lovely as we dropped into Bédoin, the last of the group to return for a well-earned beer and some food, and the chance to watch Team USA defeat Algeria in World Cup action.

The ride back was long but not eventful. Unless you count our going the wrong way for 15 kms on the A7, or our attempt to drive a French highway interchange. Going from the A7 to the A9 in Orange requires getting off the highway, paying the toll, and then going around a traffic circle, getting another toll card and getting back on the highway, one of the stupidest arrangements in traffic engineering I have ever seen. But after driving in light traffic past many famous southern French cities (Montpellier, Nimes, Bexiers, Narbonne), we reached the right exit and drove the lovely, and empty, D135 from Trebes to Laure-Minervois and the gite. Mission accomplished.

Well, perhaps not entirely. Van No. 3 made it back to Laure-Minervois eventually, but Van No. 2 went on a rather lengthy excursion as the occupants seemed determined to discover parts of France not on our itinerary, ending up in an industrial park outside of Marseilles. Thanks to some helpful, and voluble, Algerians at a kebab shop they eventually ended up back on track and somehow managed to return to Laure-Minervois by 1:30 am, making for an exceptionally long day but providing some entertaining stories.

The Mont Ventoux ride distance was 55 kms in all, with 1900 m of climbing. Of that, 1600 m were in the first 22 kms, a truly relentless climb. Check out the crazy profile below. I feel like Eros Poli...

55.53 km | round trip
Altitude range: 1,600 Meter (300 Meter to 1,900 Meter)
Total climb: 1,951 Meter Total descent: 1,931 Meter

Lost Boys Tour of Europe 2010: Cruising to Corbières

If you want wine, this is the place...
June 22, 2010

Another beautiful day in Languedoc-Roussillon and it was time to try riding in a new direction. The insistent wind out of the north seemed to have finally lessened somewhat so we decided to take a ride southwards, knowing that a headwind would face us on the return. Not ideal, but the route looked promising. It would be another fine day of sunshine, vineyards, quiet roads and rolling hills and postcard-view vistas.

Climbing towards Corbieres
Most of our group rode the first 20 or so kilometers from Laure-Minervois along the D57 through Aigues-Vives and Marseillette to Capendu, but we split up here, near the famous Canal du Midi, with some riders going west towards Trebes and then northeast to our start but three other brave souls joined me as we pushed further south into Corbières, continuing on the D57 as it climbed over a high ridge and then took us down into Montlaur. The climb was at a reasonable grade but gave fine views in all directions and the descent was enjoyble.

From Montlaur, we struck out eastwards along the D114, a tiny road that brought us to yet another of the region's gorges. The wind was blowing hard here and particularly so as we left the gorge and ran into a mini-hurricane for a moment, probably a wind tunnel effect. Our continuing downhill ride brought us to Camplong d'Aude, surrounded like so many towns here by vineyards, and we turned right to get on the D212, which had recent chip-and-seal repaving done but was fine to ride on. I had been a bit concerned as the road was marked in yellow on the map and I prefer the lighter-travelled white roads, but the D212 was almost completely devoid of traffic this Wednesday midday so we raced, albeit with some climbing, through Ribaute and on to Lagrasse.
Much like Minerve, Lagrasse is a compact town distinguished by arched bridges. It boasted cobbled and extremely narrow streets in the centre of town, and a small commercial section on the main road, where we found a snack bar and had some sandwiches and where some of us also enjoyed my favourite ice cream treat, the Magnum bar. We enjoyed our lunch, sitting in the shade and watching the traffic, which included an old MGB and an older green-and-cream Austin-Healey 3000 sports car.

The big sprint finish

Deciding that the yellow roads would be fine, we changed our ride plan slightly and switched to the not-very-busy D3 out of Lagrasse, riding another beautiful scenic road albeit it into a rather stiff headwind. Greg quickly overtook a mountain biker, who latched onto his rear wheel, and we soon we able to catch up and pass the mountain biker as well. The wind was a bit tiring and we were all happy to see the small road that would lead us directly back to Montlaur and a retracing of our route back over the ridge and down to Capendu. We had hoped to find a café for a post-ride celebratory espresso, or stop in at the pastry shop in Aigues-Vives for something, but everything was closed, so we finished our day cruising back to the gite.

81.59 km | round trip
Altitude range: 261 Meter (59 Meter to 320 Meter)
Total climb: 855 Meter Total descent: 855 Meter

Wednesday 23 March 2011

Lost Boys Tour of Europe 2010: The Road to Minerve

Jen attacks the climb!

June 21, 2010

With the rain gone, it looked like the remainder of our stay in the Laure-Minervois area would be under sunshine. Several members of the group elected to go on a local wine tour with an English-speaking guide with a van while seven others decided to go with me on the route I had worked out some months before. The ride was meant to be without any extreme climbing but, of course, when sitting at my desk in Ottawa I had not considered the effects of the fierce wind!

The Thin Man sets the pace for Jen

The Lost Boys group has been fairly consistent over the years but we have added new members. On this ride we were joined by Jennifer, an American opera singer based in Leipzig, who is engaged to a regular Lost Boy, the Thin Man. As an engagement gift, they had gotten each other custom-built bicycles made by Sam Whittingham in British Columbia. The steel bicycles are beautifully constructed and his “Naked” brand’s fans include Lance Armstrong, who bought a fixed gear Naked show bicycle straight off the floor a few years ago at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show. Jennifer’s bicycle was a lovely blue and ivory and is designed for touring. It is a bit daunting to ride with a group of strangers who have put in many years together already but she did extremely well–although there were moments in the wind when I thought I was about to cry myself.

Taking the back roads, we quickly reached the village of Peyriac-Minervois, which is located on the busy D11 regional road, but we crossed over it and continued on some very quiet roads, passing through what seems like miles of vineyards. The road, the D52, through Pépieux and on towards Olonzac, was fairly flat but we had a good view of the mountains to the north. There was some irrational exuberance demonstrated by the sprinters and time triallists in the group as they joyfully raced down the road. The wind was not very evident and I was worried that we would feel it on the way back. I usually try to plan rides so that you have a headwind out and a tailwind back but you cannot always choose.

Heading north towards Azillanet (population 370), we took a energy bar break and looked around at the impressive old church, pausing for the requisite group photo, which took on a somewhat irreligious aspect, and then headed out on the D10, where we discovered where the wind had been hiding as it hammered straight down the road. It was very hard and we took turns pacing but not everyone could keep up. It was 6 difficult kilometres but suddenly we had a dramatic view of a river twisting through a canyon, surrounded by yet more vineyards, and we had reached our objective for the day: Minerve.

Located about 30 kms from our gite, Minerve, which gives its name to the whole Minervois wine region, is a tiny village of 111 inhabitants that is one of the three villages in Languedoc-Roussillon judged to be among the most beautiful villages in France. It sits on the Cesse River, which appears innocent but can seriously flood, and its narrow streets are very charming. Looks are deceiving since Minerve was the site of a massacre during the Albigensian Crusades. So goes the story:

In 1210 a group of Cathars sought refuge in the village after the massacre of Beziers during the Crusade. The village was besieged by Simon de Montfort, 5th Earl of Leicester. The attacking army besieged the village for six weeks before it capitulated. They set up four catapults around the fortification: three to attack the village, and the largest, Malevoisine, to attack the town's water supply. Eventually the commander of the 200-strong garrison, Viscount Guilhem of Minerve, gave in and negotiated a surrender which saved the villagers and himself after the destruction of the town's main well. However, 140 Cathars refused to give up their faith and were burned to death at the stake on 22 July.

Only one tower remains of the original fortifications, but it still is a beautiful place, and we enthusiastically crossed over one of the high bridges and began to look for a suitable place for lunch. The village is dug into the sides of the canyon and the pizzeria we found required us to leave our bikes on the street and climb up a set of steep stairs. It was a pretty place and the pizzas were the big, thin, generous European ones.

Sandra digs into the recovery ice cream

While we were eating, we were joined by our wine tourists, who were stopping on their route to look at Minerve and they saw our bicycles. A good meal and an excellent coffee or two later and we were back on the road.

The road took us westwards along the Canyon de la Cesse and we had a dramatic view on our right-hand side as we rode along a flat stretch. The canyon is deep and twists and turns constantly. Riding on the ridge, however, we caught the full force of the north-east wind, which must have been blowing at a steady 40 km/h, making progress slow. It was a long 11.5 kms of patient riding that brought us to our next turn, south onto the D12 at St-Julien-de-Molières. Now we had both a tailwind and a descent so this made up for the pain of the previous hour. Zipping through Saussenac and Félines-Minervois, we stopped briefly to look at a pretty restored windmill and then found ourselves in our market town, Caunes-Minervois. Dr. Chef and I split off from the group to look around the old town a bit and admire the big church and monastery before heading back to the gite.

Brett grilling zucchini

One of the advantages of staying at a gite is that you can do your own cooking if you so choose. With a group of dozen, there are always enthusiastic cooks (and cleaner-uppers) to count on and we were not disappointed. Wrong-Way Brett and Dr. Chef worked their magic and we took over the big patio at the gite for an excellent dinner, lubricated with a great deal of local wine.

68.85 km | round trip
Altitude range: 392 Meter (50 Meter to 442 Meter)
Total climb: 863 Meter Total descent: 863 Meter

Lost Boys Tour of Europe 2010: Chill Week Begins

As I presently sit in Canada, frozen and buffeted by a late March blizzard, my thoughts turn towards the warm and sunny (for the most part) second week of our Lost Boys trip ("Le Mauvais Détour") to Europe last summer. Week One, in the Pyrenees, was Hammer Week as we rode some of the hardest passes in the mountains of France. Week Two was Chill Week, enjoyed near the famous city of Carcassonne in the Languedoc-Rousillion wine region. But Chill Week was not without its challenges, as you shall see!

To the Black Mountain

June 20, 2010

We were happy to get set up at our gite (holiday home) and while awaiting the arrival of of our two vans from the Toulouse Airport with the group for Week Two of our trip, we got on our bicycles and rode the short distance to Caunes-Minervois, a larger town with restaurants, grocery stores and even a small farmers’ market. We loaded up on cheese and honey and various breads, although our carrying capacity was pretty limited. Getting back to the gite, we spread ourselves around in three different buildings, had a delightful lunch, and waited for the others. Mr. and Mrs. Badger went for a walk to the nearby vineyard and brought back a fine catch of local wine. And then the rains began and thus our first day was reduced to getting organized and hoping for better weather on the next day.

On June 20 we awoke to more hopeful signs as it looked like we would be able to do our first real ride from Laure-Minervois. The plan was to go north to the Pic de Nore, the Black Mountain, the highest point around. After getting underway, the four of us—myself, TriMolly, Terry and Greg—made good progress to Conques-sur-Orbeil but lost the trail that was supposed to take us northwards. For some reason, the signposting of the roads was incomplete and we could only find that part of the D101 that would take us towards Carcassonne rather than away from it. We rode up and down for a while, stopping to photograph a nifty castle, and finally, at a roundabout in an industrial park and after trying to deal with a brutal headwind, found a useful sign that led us in the right direction, to Mas Cabadares. As we passed Conques yet again found that we were indeed on the correct road.

The D101 climbed upwards gently alongside a little river, the Orbiel, and we enjoyed the ride on this nearly empty road although there were moments when the headwind was truly painful. But the scenery was great and the little towns, with their reminders of the ill-fated Cathars, were lovely. We took a short detour to look at Mas-Cabardès and then doubled back to take us along a small road signposted for Pic de Nore. It was fairly steep now and when we came to the village of Roquefèrre we saw a tiny cafe/grocery store and thought it was a good idea to stop for a break.

Four hungry/thirsty cyclists probably made the lady in the shop pretty happy as we ordered coffees and various bits of cake. The shop had lots of local products and I even bought a small glass jar of chestnut honey as I find French artisanal honey quite impossible to resist, even if I have to carry it around in my jersey pocket. TriMolly was impressed with the wine-in-a-plastic-sack on sale and was considering how we might carry this for the remainder of the ride.

It was a good thing that we did not take it, either externally or internally, as leaving Roquefèrre we soon found ourselves on a serious climb through Labastide-Esparbairenque and past the three-house hamlet of Les Jouys. Terry and Greg went ahead while I waited a bit for TriMolly, who was riding a bike more suited to time-trialling than climbing. She came up pretty quickly, however, and we headed together up the road to Pradelles-Cabardès, from whence we would launch our attack on the Pic de Nore. Or so we thought.

Mountain bikers came across the road, one at a time, as a cross-country race was being run. They were using a marked path and going at an impressive speed. But when we looked towards the Pic de Nore, it was covered in clouds and they were evil, black clouds. So a vote was taken and it was decided that rather than try the climb to the top, we would just continue our loop ride south back to the gite and call it a day. We would try our luck with the Pic de Nore on a better day.

The first raindrops began to fall as we rolled over the Col de la Prade (altitude: 925 m ASL) and began the challenge of the technical descent of the D112. We stopped briefly to put on rain jackets as it was raining lightly. It was nice to have a tailwind for a change and after we navigated the serpentines for 8.5 kms, we found ourselves on a fast fast road running alongside the scenic Gorges de la Clamoux for another 6 kms. It was a wonderful feeling to whistle down the road through gentle curves on excellent pavement and we reached Villeneuve-Minervois all too soon. We rode past the weird-looking plane trees that you see in many village squares in France and afer a bit more downhill riding we rejoined the D111 and it took us directly back to the gite. For dinner that night, we returned to Villeneuve by van to celebrate at the Auberge Gourmande.

The Spring Classics: My Latest Book Review at Pezcyclingnews.com

My latest book review, "The Spring Classics: Cycling's Greatest One Day Races," published by the nice people at VeloPress, has just appeared at Pezcyclingnews.com, and you can read the whole thing here.

There are a lot of great photos in this large-format volume, and I really enjoyed the stories as well. And the next time somebody says that cyclists all look malnourished, show them this photo of three-time Tour de France winner Louison Bobet, who has legs like I have never seen before. In the pantheon of Tour winners, Bobet seems to be somewhat forgotten. In addition, he was World Champion in 1951 and features quite a bit in this book as he also won, among other things, Milan-San Remo, Paris-Roubaix, the Tour of Flanders and the Tour of Lombardy. The photo shows him at Bordeaux-Paris, a ridiculous race that covered 550 km non-stop, using motorpacing!

Saturday 19 March 2011

Cycling the Mighty Erft: the Touring Season Begins!

Intrepid Cyclists at the Erftquelle

Living as we do in this modern world of electronics, it always delights me that I can ride my bicycle, a century-old invention, over sometimes-cobbled roads to destinations rich in history and communicate through this blog with digital photos and GPS maps of my rides to an audience (small, but select, I flatter myself) as quickly as I can type. My most recent bike tour in Germany, which took place last Saturday, March 12, not only benefited from fine Spring weather but also the presence of my Facebook friend Nick, a British expat teaching near Bonn. We have communicated by e-mail since we both arrived in Germany around the same time last August but have never actually been able to meet. Two attempts–to meet in Essen for the bike fair and to meet in Bonn for the exhibition on Napoleon–fell apart due to illness (and believe me, colds and flus seem to last forever here) but things finally came together for a day-long bike ride.

While looking at the very excellent Nordrhein-Westfalen (NRW) bicycle map, I discovered a reasonable-length bike route accessible to both of us and which would take us about 120 km to the Rhine at Neuss, very close to Düsseldorf, meaning access to the rail system so that Nick could easily get back to Siegburg and I could get back to my neighbourhood S-Bahn station in less than 20 minutes.

That was the plan, but it was nearly derailed by Deutsche Bahn, as my train to Cologne arrived five minutes late. With only a seven minute connection to meet Nick on the platform for the next train, I had to move pretty fast and made it just as the train pulled in. The regional train was not very crowded, so there was plenty of space for the bikes and we sat and got acquainted.

No lack of signs here!

Disembarking at Nettersheim, I saw a sign for the Urft River, which is not be to confused with the Erft, which we were planning to follow! Getting our gear together took a few minutes but we soon we riding off on quite country roads with no traffic. There was a bit of up-and-down for a while but it was great to have the fresh Spring air and I could feel my legs getting back into that cycling groove. Nick’s usual rides in the Bergische Land involve non-stop brutal climbing, so I think he was pretty relieved that today’s ride, once we reached the source of the Erft, would be mainly downhill.

A few minor wrong turns, but then we had a fast descent into Holzmühlheim, where the Erft begins as a spring coming out of a rock wall, 10 kms from our starting point. Time for some photos, and the chance to get the bikes a bit muddy as we walked through the little park that led us to the spring. There was also an old gristmill stone nearby, and once we were back on the road, we passed an old mill on the Erft.

We continued riding the quiet roads but then the route began to pitch up, quite severely at one point, as the bike ride led us off of main roads. Reaching the crest of a hill, we saw Bad Münstereifel spread across the river ahead of us, and with 20 kms in our legs, it was time for a coffee in the most scenic village in the southernmost part of NRW.

In front of the ancient mill (photo by Nick)

We entered the town through an impressive gate, passing a restored mill (now a hotel) dating back to 1112. The town was founded in 830 AD and has had a significance as a religious centre and a pilgrimage destination, with a number of monasteries (hence “Münster”) having been built. The wall around the town is mainly intact, as we entered through one gate and left through another one.

The last religious order, the controversial Legion of Christ, left the town in 2008. The “Bad” part of the name indicates it is a spa resort. This begin in 1926 and the town added “Bad” to its name in 1967. Today it is a major regional tourist destination, judging from the cafes, including one owned by the town’s most famous current resident, Heino, the he’s-an-acquired-taste German folksinger.

Enjoying a croissant break (photo by Nick)

The river runs directly through the centre of town and we propped our bikes up against a stone wall and enjoyed our coffee and croissants. Old men walking by gave the bikes the once-over, and I tweaked Nick that they spent more time looking at my classic steel bike than at his magnificent Serotta Ottrott. A bit further on, we came upon a bright red British telephone booth and a mailbox, both of which Nick tells me are becoming rarities, so more photos there.

The better part of the unpaved path

The next town we came to, at the 30 km mark, was Euskirchen. It was here that the bike route signs began to fail us, and then the asphalt failed us as we ended up on unpaved paths following the banks of the Erft. Nick’s research had told me that the river had been quite wide but through its use for irrigation it had become the rather ditch-like feature it is today. Euskirchen, which was founded in the 14th Century and has 55,000 inhabitants, was not very attractive and the traffic seemed quite bad on this Saturday at noon. The town is twinned with Kutztown, in the US Pennsylvania Dutch country.

The view towards Bad Munstereifel

As we had only covered 30 kms in the first three hours, we determined to push on a bit or else the ride would take us way past the fall of darkness. Although we were moving quickly, we were hampered by the poor quality of the bike route in many places. We passed Weilerswist, Erftstadt and Kerpen without seeing very much and then the route along the river was really bad through Bergheim and Bedburg. In Bergheim, we rode around the impressive Schloss Paffendorf, a 16th Century water-castle and in our attempt to get through Bedburg on the wrong road, we passed Schloss Bedburg, which has scaffolding around it. It was a school for the nobility from 1842 until 1922 and thereafter served other purposes but after all these years the foundations were shot and there was no economic choice but to demolish this fine building, rebuilt in the 16th Century, as the 12 Million Euro cost of renovation was not forthcoming.

Bedburg was also the scene of considerable violence between Catholics and Protestants immediately prior to the 30 Years’ War, and the site of the trial of the so-called “Bedburg Werewolf,” a farmer accused of murdering thirteen women and children. It is not clear whether the farmer actually committed these crimes, but his barbaric execution was meant to give troublemakers pause.

Kaster: cake and coffee soon!

On the other hand, rolling through the old gate at Kaster brought us to our first long stop after Bad Münstereifel, as we headed down the pedestrian zone to a bakery. We revived ourselves with some latte macchiatos and German high-sugar energy pastries and launched into the last stretch of the trip. After Grevenbroich (Km 110) we saw no further signs for the route and although we were heading for Neuss we were on a main road. However, a sign did eventually show up and using Nick’s GPS and our somewhat errant navigational sense, we managed to find the banks of the Erft again for the final push towards the Rhine.

At the confluence of the Erft and Rhine (photo by Nick)

Passing a mill, we gained speed and fairly flew to the end of the route, although it appeared we ended up on the wrong bank of the Erft at the confluence. No matter: we had a fine view of the barges passing on the Rhine and the end of the official.

A short ride took us into Neuss, which must be the only town in Germany where the Bahnhof is not prominently signposted. Nick, asking for directions, used his extensive German by first asking a passerby, in English, whether he spoke English. Nonetheless, we were pointed out the right way and headed north, yet again going through a pedestrian zone, this one with streetcar tracks in it. It seemed to be taking a long time so I thought I would ask a passing girl just to be sure. After I said “Excuse me,” I realized she had earbuds in but she looked directly at me and when I said “Excuse me” again, she looked again and kept moving. Nick laughed.

The Erft reaches the Rhine near Neuss

We reached the train station as dusk was approaching and as our trains were about to arrive we parted, saving the beer for another occasion. I was pretty tired as this had raised my mileage for the entire year from 58 kms to 188 kms, but luckily although I had felt some cramping coming on during the ride, I did not get the screaming muscle seizures while sleeping that night!

In spite of the bad sections of the path, it was a great day out and reminded me of just how much I love to ride in Germany. I think next time we should find a route that is a bit shorter and look around some more, or just concentrate on the more interesting sections of a bike route. I think I will also map the course on my GPS beforehand so that we do not go around in circles quite so much!