From Linz to Basel

The two rest days I spent in Linz passed remarkably slowly, and I was glad to eventually leave the city derierre my derriere to begin the tour of the Danube. I’m not a big fan of museums or galleries, not having the attention span for that sort of thing. However, the Ars Electronica Center was quite good. Futuristic digital stuff.

I mainly wandered around without a map, half-intending to get lost in order to discover the town, which I found altogether quite dull. Perhaps this was a change of temperament as I entered Lutheran Großdeutschland.

I have begun to adapt to touring. Every morning, I make sure that I have a bag of lollies on my handlebars to pick at as I ride. I also get a copy of the International Herald Tribune and stick it in my bag for some light reading and a copy of The Sun and stick it down my pants for some light padding.

In any case, a mere 10 minutes into my cycle along the Danube and I couldn’t have wished for anything more. The route was largely made up of perfectly flat, well paved cycle paths that stuck to the river’s edge.

As greater western Linz gave way to the Danube Valley, the scenery changed dramatically.

Being the most developed part of Eurovelo 6, and consequently one of the most travelled tours in the world, as well as the small villages that line each bank of the Danube, cafes, bars, and inns sit along the cycling paths and small ferries boat cyclists from one side of the river to the other in lieu of bridges.

I got the distinct feeling that my age bracket was thoroughly underrepresented, with the vast majority of tourers – 80 per cent being a fairly conservative estimate – being beyond the age of retirement.

I made Passau with very little effort, despite the stage being around 100km – easily the greatest distance I’d covered in one day. I suppose that’s the difference made by a flat route. That being said, the novelty of my accommodation being in an old, cliff-side fortress was quickly deflated when I reached the path to get to the aforementioned cliff.

Needless to say, the ascent up this cobblestoned path, followed by another climb after it, left me slightly off-pissed. After a shower, my spirits returned and I set about exhausting what few hours I had in the town’s centre. Passau is known as the ‘Venice of Bavaria’ as it lies on the confluence of three rivers that marked my crossing the border into Germany.

I would’ve loved to have stayed a day longer, but my schedule demanded I carry onwards to the city of Regensuburg, so I returned to my hostel in search of a sack to hit. Unfortunately, my roommate was all over a computer game and didn’t quite share my desire for 10 hours’ sleep. Needless to say, the desire was not fulfilled.

The prospect of the 150km cycle to Regensburg was as daunting as it was unprecedented, so the next morning I woke early and made as much noise as possible in the vain hope of stealing my sleep back from the shnerd.

The stage wasn’t quite the lark of the previous day. Unsure of my capability to make the distance with weary legs, I flogged myself early at an exhausting pace – my first pause was for lunch at 80km into the ride. The spectacular Danube Valley had given way to agricultural lands which soon became a little mundane. It wasn’t helped by the uncomfortable heat along the path, which often deviated from the shade of the river banks.

Nevertheless, I made Regensburg by the late afternoon, tired, but pleased with the effort. Germany is in the midst of its own election campaign and the town square was the scene of some sort of rally or political appearance.

By dint of this, scores of heavily armed and armoured riot police were on their scene. It’s fair to say that the presence of stone-faced, khaki-attired cops at a German political rally replete with passionate speeches and enthusiastic cheering was enough for me to make some ahistorical mental associations.

The main cycle and pedestrian artery into the city is the oldest bridge in Germany and the town itself is quite ancient. Narrow, winding cobblestone streets seem to be the theme of most towns I’ve visited and it really doesn’t get old. So I Derrick Rose’d the knees up in Regensburg for a few days.

Very strong city.

After a couple days’ rest, I set out on the next leg along the Danube – a relatively easy 90km ride to the city of Inglostadt.

It was a welcome return to the idyllic first day riding the Danube. For the first 20 or so kilometres, I tacked myself onto the back of a caravan of middle age men on mountain bikes who were stretched out, single file on the cycle path like a decently portioned breakaway looking to make some distance between it and the peleton.

When they paused for a rest stop for one of their elder statesman, I continued onto the town of Kelheim.

In Kelheim, I had a choice of a pleasant ferry ride through the Danube gorge, dotted with fortresses and geological curiosities, or alternately, a slog over a mountain along a busy main road.

I went with the marine option.

The remainder of the leg to Inglostadt was fairly easy, so I pushed on to the next major settlement 25km upstream in order to eat into the next day’s 150km ride to Ulm. It was the large town of Neustadt, which was very quiet for a Saturday night, but there was a nice photo to be taken entering the city:

The next day began well enough, but it all went pear shaped when I all but erased the extra work I’d done the day before by accidentally taking the Danube Rideway’s “alternative scenic” route, which was just an extra long, hilly route.

On regaining the riverside path, I set about getting lost again and ended up in a farmer’s paddock while I cramp began to brew in my left calf. To make matter’s worse, it began to rain as I approached Ulm, which one can see from a fair distance given it boasts the tallest church in the world.

Despite the Ulm Münster being 161.5m tall, it does not constitute a cathedral because it has never been a diocese.

I quite liked the district of the city that used to be the old fisher and tanners’ quarter. It is a riverside part of the city that has retained its medieval structure, with small canals running through the narrow cobblestone streets and old timber dwellings packed densely together.

In Regensburg a few days prior, I had booked accommodation in the village of Hinterzarten, in the north of the Black Forest, intending to ride half the Black Forest Cycle Trail to Basel in Switzerland. Circumstances kept me in Ulm an extra day, so i didn’t have time to cycle the 250km to Hinterzarten. Consequently, I had to catch the train to the charming winter village, where the temperature markedly dropped and the weather soured.

The next day’s cycle could have been so great, but fortune was against me, with a number of factors making the ride unachievable.

The rain had persisted throughout the night and into the morning, making the gravel and dirt paths muddy and thus both tiring to cycle through and a hazardous surface on which to ride. And then I took a wrong turn while in search of the town of Bonndorf, cycling 10km up a hill. I know it was 10km because the signpost in the town at the top of the summit of the hill had increased by that number and I can remember my rage.

It was during this excursion that my bike tried to kill me. My rear brake pad decided on a steep descent to give way, leaving me with inadequate means to decelerate. Again I had to drag my shoes along the ground as emergency brakes until I reached the town of Bonndorf.

By the time I had got there I was roughly an hour behind schedule, fatigued, and damp. The mechanic at the bike shop kindly replaced my brake pads on the spot. His name was Nicholas, but it probably wasn’t spelled that way. He had cycled along the coast of Australia from Cairns to Adelaide a few years prior and was a big fan of the country.

After Nicholas was done with the bike, I was 40 euros and another hour poorer, but the brakes were essential as I knew I had a sharp descent on a slippery main road coming up after a short climb out of Bonndorf.

The descent was pretty treacherous, but exhilarating all the same. At its conclusion, the route opened out into fields. The rain had reduced to a light shower, but a firm headwind had entered the fray, and this, combined with the dense, muddy paths, worked to make a flat course seem as though it were uphill.

So at the 100km mark, two hours behind schedule and with the weather setting in, I decided to squib the trying conditions and catch a train the remaining 60ks.

So far, Basel seems bike-friendly and expensive. I look forward to France where the language barrier will finally be raised to a height under which I can limbo.

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