Introducing Herr Donau (13th, 14th, 15th of May)

And so it was that I would leave country two and head east to the Franco-German border. I hate to say it, but the ferry which crosses the Rhine was genuinely really efficient.


Maybe that’s something which reflects well on the French because apparently they are the ones who pay for it. I met a French guy called Yves (Bonjour Yves!) who showed me some good shortcuts avoiding the big roads and helped put down a solid pace from the Rhinau ferry  to Emmendingen. From here I made my way to Waldkirch and onwards up towards Gütenbach, strongly tempted on to swing via Sexau on the way. I spent the night more or less on the foot of the Black Mountains and paid my respects to the Waldgeist of the Black Forest.

Winding up through the mountain roads made for stunning scenery. I continued onwards to Donaueschingen, where I would meet my new best friend for the next 2500+km, Herr Donau, aka Europe’s second largest river the Danube. I picked up a town plan with Sehenswürdigkeiten marked on it. One attraction stood out: The Royal Fürstenberg Brewery “The beer of the Princely Brewery in Donaueschingen is rightly known as one of the best beers in the world”. No there was a statement in need of substantiation. I found the nearest café selling the stuff and, well, after 500 odd miles sweating on a bike I was inclined to agree. Mouthwateringly thirst-quenching. Crisp. Superlative – all adjectives that accurately describe this Prince among beers. I got chatting to a Latvian barmaid who upon hearing my chronicles produced a good luck chocolate treat. Liels paldies! 

On the subject of gifts it is worth mentioning that the amount of food I have been offered to help me along the way has been nothing but heart-warming. In crescendo order: Bag of walnuts complete with maggots. Check. 1kg bag of rotten potatoes. Check. Woops how did that bag just split? Bread. Check. Butter. Check. Bananas. Apples. Cherries. Check. Check. Check. Cereal bars. Check. Powerade. Check. Beer, wine, Schnapps. Cehkc. Schnitzel. Check. Salami sandwich. Check. Foot-long Wurst. Check. And still topping the list (drum roll)….. freshly laid goose egg. Check fuggin’ mate =]

I made my down to the Donauquelle – the historical source of the Danube ever since the Roman general Tiberius visited in 15BC (yes – copied straight from the tourist handout). Now unlike most places where people chuck coins in water e.g. that water feature with the bell in Kernow Mills, this place was not tacky but genuinely impressive. I was massively tempted to do a running but shallow dive into the pool. Afraid that this was ‘strengstens verboten’, instead I hung over the edge when no one was looking and dipped my hand in the water to shake hands my new best bud. Not only was this beautiful spot the source of a mighty river, but it was also the source of free electricity (see bottom right of above photo with the chocolate). I took the opportunity to juice up my iPod for a few more hundred clicks. I threw in a Poohstick and challenged Herr Donau to a race to the Black Sea. I’m not sure how long it would take for said stick to arrive at the river’s mouth and I can’t be bothered to do the math but here are the stats for anyone who’s bored and has a bit of free time on their hands. Ofsted workers? 😉

From the source I rolled down to the start of the Donau Radweg – one of Europe’s major and surely most illustrious cycleways. The start was a little underwhelming to be honest. Not that I was expecting some sort of fanfare grand archway, but you would think there would at least be some kind of information board. Maybe I missed it. I checked out the confluence of the Brigach and Breg rivers and then it started to rain. I donned my raincoat and cracked on with it. It has to be said that the Danube cycle path is great if you are hellbent on avoiding traffic, however it really does twist and turn more than Alton Towers’ Corkscrew on acid. You end up doing a third on top of what you normally might if you were just to travel by road. I wasn’t particularly fussed about putting the miles in so I just mindlessly followed the signs. The problem is sometimes it is not signposted very well so multiple times per day I ended up asking which people which way bitte zum Radweg. A decent map might have solved this problem.

The temperature really dropped and even with thermals and gloves I struggled to stay warm in the wet conditions. I asked two ladies who were out walking if they knew anywhere in der nähe where I could pitch up my tent. After not a very helpful reply I tried to pedal off quickly, not so much to show off but more because it was so frigging cold that I wanted to keep moving. Suddenly CLONK. What was that? I looked down to the crank arms but couldn’t see anything. Every 2.5 or so rotations of the pedal the same noise emanated from bottom bracket area. Must be something with the chain ‘cos otherwise the noise would be more regular, I thought. I stopped to have a closer inspection but still couldn’t see anything. Naja, whatever, I’ll have a closer look tomorrow when I stop for lunch or something.

That night I pitched my tent in the rain and already had to towel down the insides before I even got in. It took about 20minutes to warm up my feet and I soon crashed out thereafter. I woke up in a wet sleeping bag. Not nice but at least the rain had temporarily relinquished. I really really hope this tent is gonna cut the mustard for this trip. I must have spent the best part of 10hours researching which tent to go for. It was a £170 RRP tent. The only other person I have met who has done this kind of thing purchased a £300er. It really isn’t worth scrimping; a good night’s sleep is worth all the money in the world if you have to realise a considerable physical exertion the next day. I already triple waterproofed my tent before leaving the UK but I think now l ought best make that a duodecuple coating. Buying a properly waterproof bag and fiddling around with the tension strings will hopefully help too. …(More on this as Mother Earth throws different weather conditions at me).

So I set off the next day in my only dry clothes and in my comfy trainers not my still soaked cycling shoes. The clunking continued then after not more than 5km the source of the problem reared its ugly head.

"You are the weakest link..."

I got to work and within about 25minutes I had removed the rotten chainlink and reattached the chain. Must have put it together imperfectly in the first place. I’d been up since about 0730 and it was getting on for 1100 and I’d only put in about 10km. Fortunately the rain held off and the scenery of that early part of the Danube was enough to take my mind off the rough start to the day. The Radweg follows the Danube in a steep sided valley. It’s much like the Avon gorge near the suspension bridge but with only one steep side which switches every 700metres or so, and continues for about 6 km+. Way cooler than anything I was anticipating and recommended to anyone who fancies a day trip cycling holiday…

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