Bike Tour: the Danube River November 09 2011

November 1st 2011 Noble Steed... is a term I often hear bestowed upon bicycles back home. More specifically back in Colorado upon extremely high-tech expensive full suspension mountain bikes. We see these 'Noble Steeds' throughout Europe, particularly in the ski area mountain towns and here & there throughout the countryside. I'd rather see my bike as a wild mustang... in really it is more of an old mare. We buy our bikes in Zurich and after a day of rigging & test riding we are off on the train heading to the Swiss border making final use of our discount train card. Lake Konstanz sits on the German/Swiss border and is the headwaters to the Rhine river. We escape Konstanz with a bit of stress, frigid weather, depressing skies, and ugly traffic of the real world. Having a bike in cities is stressful to say the least. You show up at a train station with out much bearing as to where you are or where you need to go, you have some signs a local map, and the church steeple at the center of town- now how do we leave?   Its been a bit of a mess figuring exactly how we will arrange this bike trip. In the simple mind of Kevin we choose a starting point and start riding into the distant sunset. It does work out this way... BUT... we also start in a region heavily overlaid with pathways (and signs) specific for bikes and 30km from a trans Europe bike path “EuroVelo 6”. Eventually we find a bike route specific book containing detailed maps with the marked route, city plans, and lists of cheapest places to stay.   The EU has funded creating a number of trans Europe bike paths going in various directions with various themes like 'Atlantic Coast', or 'Northern Coast'. Ours is 'Atlantic Coast to the Black Sea' and follows the Lorry River (France), Rhine (Germany), and Donau (Germany, Hungary, etc.) to the Black Sea. The theme of following rivers is super handy because it keeps things mostly flat.   Whilst there are seemingly dedicated bike paths everywhere and useful signs at each junction... you still need to have an idea of where you are going, and a map detailing these trails... or life will be stressful. Following an EV route means that at all significant junctions there are unique stickers on the sign indicating which way the EV6 route goes. This saves hours of map reading and confusion. With the EV6 symbols we speed through complex intersections that otherwise might lead us down a dead end roads into the middle of fields. So, adjacent to the Konsanz train station on the shores of the lake we find the sign post listing distances to all adjacent towns and head off in the direction that ours points. With our 1:600,000 scale map of Germany we at least know the name of the town that we are trying to get to. After 30km we have joined the EV6 path, it is late in the day and unsatisfied with the hotel selections in town, we keep riding to make camp outside of town.   After 60 km (next day) we have climbed through a very cold, foggy, & majestic Black Forest and been dropped out on the shores of the Donau river. 9 days & 700km later, we are at the German boarder heading into Austria. The river goes from a small Roaring Fork-esk river in the town of Tuttlingen to a Mississippi before reaching the boarder in the city Passau. Riding through Germany is a fairy tale. We swap between:
  • following along the river bank
  • wandering along country roads amongst fields of corn, sugar beets, cows, sheep, goats, etc.
  • passing through small ancient towns kept alive by summer tourism.
Did I mention that we are following the 'most popular' long distance bike path in Europe? The towns are very cool, but partly shut down for the coming winter. My previous experience with Germany was that a festival occurred in nearly every town each weekend. But, that was in the summer, and it is now October. For those of you not in 'the know' Munich's OctoberFest actually occurs in September, and by mid-October the beer gardens are mostly shut down. Some towns have OctoberFest later, but we do not manage to find ANY festivals in Germany... did I mention this is the off-season? Side note: In September, we knowingly gave up our chance to drink German beer with 500,000 of our closest friends in this famous city to instead find mountains in Switzerland before the snow really set in. (smart choice) I imagine that in the summer there are MANY people riding this trail... and is probably a nightmare trying to get around large slow moving groups and streams of other bikers out for day rides or multi-day tours. Trails are nearly empty with few day time riders on the weekends and midweek: people commuting or getting exercise in the brief after-work hours. There are no large groups in October. We cross paths with 20-30 long distance riders total. Most notable is a father with 2 of his kids (10-14yr) trying to finish 600km of route a few days faster than us and riding late into the night. Kudos to them for their motivation with a tight schedule, our relaxed schedule allows us to stop before nightfall. The days are short and a typical one goes something like this: 7:30 wakeup 8:00 Hotel provided breakfast (too cold to ride this early) (oats, yogurt, bread, jam, salami, cheese) 9:30 start riding, sluggish riding in the mornings! 11:30 pastery and coffee break to warm up 13:00 lunch break to warm up, clouds and/or fog might be starting to break; Try to call ahead to make a hotel reservation for the night. 14:00 Continue riding 16:00 additional hot chocolate, grocery, market, or ice cream stop (pending temperature) 17:00-17:30 finish riding and find the cheapest place to stay in town (sunset & darkness is immanent) 19:00 wander around the empty streets of town & find dinner Austria: We spend 3.5 days riding ~320km from Passau to Vienna. This is our first experience with Austria and although very similar to Germany- there are a few notable differences:
  • small variances in the language
  • smoking is allowed in the restaurants (often segregated smoking & non-smoking sections)
  • Pastries are a bit more expensive, and not as good. The chocolate croissants have pudding inside instead of real chocolate.
  • People are even more noticeably ready to provide assistance or directions.
The Donau through Austria is a bit less picturesque than in Germany because the river is now so large, and more industry exists on its banks. The path surface remains asphalt for the remainder of the route. We arrive in Vienna on October 30th. 1000 kilometers & 15 days is our total trip length with 3 semi-rest days in Ulm and Regensburg. You might think that biking for 15 days in cold mediocre weather would be boring: Absolutely not, the constant challenges of living & traveling in a foreign country area a constant source of adventure and entertainment.   Riding Summary: This is my first bike touring trip with panniers. They are great... I highly recommend the expensive Ortlieb waterproof roll top panniers- yes, worth the money. I'll be using them more often when I return home! Shammies, gloves, shoes, and warm clothes are also a must. We only have rear panniers which I like: it makes the front of the bike very light weight and easy to move around whilst walking, or roll vertically on the back of the rear tire in tight spaces. Our rear paniers provide sufficient volume for all of our gear (sleeping pad & bag strapped to the top of the rack). We also carry backpacks which are usually empty except for handy items like warm clothes, snacks, or freshly purchased groceries. Having the front handlebar bag which holds and displays the map would also be a godsend... but we have not bought one yet. The trails are really well done- not like back in USA. In USA, you follow a trail for some distance, then it just ends; you panic and ask where do I go now?' (aka Glenwood Canyon in high water, South Canyon, and every other bike trail I know of). In the EU paths are designed more as a biking transportation system: there are paths, maps, signs listing destinations & distances. If a trail gets closed, they create a well posted detour. When the path goes on to a road, it is well marked striped and pavement is correctly ramped. In cities, the pavement is often a special extra smooth texture for faster riding (whilst the walking sidewalk & road may be cobblestone or other). I expect to easily average 50-60 miles per day and do a few days exceeding 100miles. In reality we do average ~50miles per day, but with the limited daylight, heavy loads, route finding, cold weather, and variety of distractions, our longest day is 110km (~65 miles) and a pretty big haul. My assumptions have been made around previous long rides where we have >12 hours of day light, we know our route, limited sight seeing exists on route, and are only riding for 1-2 days (instead of 2 weeks)   Overall: I am pretty excited to come back and take another trip. Starting 1-1.5 months earlier would be ideal (aka Sept 1st). Perhaps heading through France, then north along the Rhine into Germany, Belgium, then to Denmark, and perhaps continue north bound into Sweden? Europe almost seems easy now... in contrast, surely any 3rd world country would be a huge challenge. We'll see! If you are looking for additional inspiration go to www.travelingtwo.com As I type, we are heading S & W across Austria and Italy heading to Corsica with a total of 7 train connections, 3 days of travel, various biking through towns, and soon: a four hour ferry ride in the Mediterranean. [Vienna – Insbruck (night) – Brennero (now Italy) – Bolzano - Bologna – Prato – Florenze– Livorno (night) – Bastia]. Train tickets totaling to 220 Euro for 2 people & 2 bikes.