The Upper Middle Rhine Valley

May 16, 2015

First off, I must apologize to the town of Bingen for unfairly calling it a dump.  While it’s not going to win the Rhine’s most charming town award, it’s a perfectly fine town.  Our problem is that we missed most of it!  Yup; we discovered it as we were heading out.  Sometimes, you just don’t venture very far when you’re tired, cold, hungry and on a bike.

An idyllic view of the Rhine
An idyllic view of the Rhine

Today was spent riding through the Rhine gorge.  Above the river are impossibly steep vineyards, and alongside the river, on both sides, are very active train tracks.  And I mean active; we saw dozens of trains, both passenger and freight.  The river, too, is transporting oodles of people and freight — barges, cruise ships, day cruises.  It’s a busy place, yet picturesque; a working river that has maintained its charm.

Another castle
Another castle

Then there are the castles.  Every time we rounded a bend, there was another one perched on the top of a hill.  Some are crumbling, most are well preserved, and some are active tourist attractions with cafes and umbrellas.  There was no amount of charm that could entice us to even consider climbing up to one of them.  It’s the flat lands for us.

The tiredness is starting to set in.  Jeff is still only a few days post chemo, and I, of course, am not trained.  The repeated days on the bike, and hours spent outside, all day take a toll.  We’ll be cruising in a few weeks, but for now, we ache all over.

We spent the night in Boppard, another lovely town on the Romantic Rhine. After the previous night’s hotel debacle, I opted for a very civilized river front hotel.  I don’t know how Jeff goes bike camping.  I crave comfort after a day of cycling.  A shower, dinner, wine, clean sheets.  Ahhhhhh.

Tomorrow should be an easy one. We’ll ride a short 20KM to Koblenz, then take a train to Saarbrücken, which is on the Saar River, right by the French border.  The current plan, always subject to change, is to cycle along the Saar and Mosel rivers, back to Koblenz, then continue north on the Rhine until it becomes too industrialized for our tastes.  I’ve got a hankering to make it to the Netherlands this trip; we’ll see.

May 17th, 2015

The cycling today was short, but delightful — sunny, quieter than yesterday, and equally as lovely.  Before we knew it, we were in Koblenz, where things got more complicated.

Caught in a marathon
Caught in a marathon
In Germany, even nuns bike tour!
In Germany, even nuns bike tour!

I’m just going to say it now:  Our tandem and trailer combination is a beast in cities.  It’s fine riding around the countryside, but trying to navigate it in traffic, crowds or on public transportation is not for the faint of heart.  It’s enormous, heavy, unwieldy, and wants to fall over, or jack-knife at the slightest provocation.  Today we had to jump through hoops and resort to stairs when the tandem was too big to fit into bike specific elevators. And then there’s the crazy dash onto the train, with the tandem and trailer separated, dodging throngs of people as we search for the bike car.  Jeff got a good laugh out of my blood curdling scream “NOOOOOOOOO!” when I thought the train doors were closing on us before we could make it in.

The beast on the train platform
The beast on the train platform

But all’s well that ends well.  We made it to  Saarbrücken and even had dinner in a Mexican restaurant.  European Mexican restaurants are always a crap shoot, well actually, worse than a crap shoot.  As usual, this one wasn’t very authentic, but it tasted good and had lots of vegetables.  No complaints here.  We’re ready to get on the road.  Saarbrücken is way too big and crowded for us.

They call this a margarita? I swear, I wasn't even tipsy when this was taken.
They call this a margarita? I swear, I wasn’t even tipsy when this was taken.

On the Road

It’s supposed to begin with training, except that didn’t happen for me.  I’ve done nothing, zippo, nein!  What was I thinking? I used to ride a thousand miles in preparation for one of these trips, and I was a lot younger then.  It’s a good thing it’s flat.  It’s a good thing that Jeff’s been training.  Mostly, it’s a good thing we’re on a tandem.  I know I’ll be able to keep up with him!

At the Asheville airport, with all our luggage
At the Asheville airport, with all our luggage

It looks like we’re bringing a lot — 4 suitcases and 2 -carry-ons– but it’s actually quite minimalist.  Most of it is bike, trailer and tools.  Everything else easily fits in a single suitcase.  You’ll notice that we’ll be wearing the same clothes in all our pictures.  It’s all we’ve got!  High tech clothing and a commitment to daily hand washing is the only thing that gets us by

A very jet=lagged Jeff
A very jet-lagged Jeff

We landed in Frankfurt, bleary eyed, and took a short 20 minute train ride to Mainz, which will be our starting and ending location.  Mainz isn’t a big tourist attraction, although it does have the Gutenberg Museum.  We’re staying in a nice hotel, across from the train station, in a somewhat gritty section of town. Having left Holland 10 months ago, it all feels very familiar.  We look forward to getting into the daily routine of cycling.

Putting the bike together
Putting the bike together
Ready to roll
Ready to roll

It was a rough start.  The bike didn’t go together happily, Jeff was sick as a dog from his chemo a couple days ago, and getting out of Mainz was no fun.  It’s noisy, congested and industrial; perhaps not our best choice of launching cities.  We made it 40K to Bingen, a dumpy town on the  Rhine, with a castle and not much else.  Our decision to go for the cheap room has made us vow to give up on that cost containment strategy.  Jeff had to be rescued from his shower when the automatic lights left him in a pitch black bathroom with scalding water.

Bingen's castle
Bingen’s castle

The next section of the Rhine, from Bingen to Koblenz is reputed to be some of the finest cycling in Germany.

It's asparagus season!
It’s asparagus season!

Two Months Cycling in Germany

DSC00631-C This isn’t a “Bucket List” trip, although we probably wouldn’t be taking it if Jeff didn’t have lung cancer.  His cancer has taught us to not defer those things that are important to us.  Jeff was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer in September of 2013, and given a prognosis of 8-17 months.  Eight months later we took a one month cycling trip in Holland.  It is now 20 months post diagnosis and we have just arrived in Frankfurt, Germany with no definite plans other than a return ticket home, and chemotherapy half way through.