Many thanks to everyone asking if we were okay or had been affected by the flooding in Germany this week. The really serious floods were well to the north of us near Belgium, or over on the opposite side of the Black Forest to the east. That region is partly drained by the Neckar river, which flows north through Stuttgart, and this caused some disruption in the valley but the family live in an attic apartment on top of a hill 100m (320ft) above the river; if they are ever flooded, then everyone is in trouble.

I’m in the Upper Rhine Valley. This is a massive flood plain at this point, which is probably why most rivers look like the one above: dead straight with wide channels and high levees, and generous basins to catch excess water and release it slowly. Of course these all drain into the Rhine eventually, which is why places like Cologne were so seriously affected, but the most serious problem I had was getting wet and having to take the train to work, and finding the fire brigade pumping out the subway at the station.

River immediately after the rain.

Now the weather forecast has changed to “Warm and sunny” and we’re all being warned to use sun cream if we go out from tomorrow…

As mentioned last week, I visit the family in Stuttgart every two weeks, or thereabouts. When I’m there, one of the jobs is to do a “big” shopping trip with one of the work bikes.

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The bike of choice this week was the Xtracycle, mainly because it is lighter for the uphill section than the Bakfiets. On the other hand, loading up the bike is a sort of 3D game of Tetris, with the added challenge of not overbalancing the bike, squashing the bread or breaking the eggs…

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Tinybug was determined to carry something and eventually settled on a bag of Müsli…

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We went a different route to Beautiful Wife and Middle Son, and there was a small delay to investigate some local wildlife and a stick which apparently was quite unlike any she’d seen before…


But eventually we caught up with the others on the ridge road. As usual Tinybug raced ahead to ride with her big brother leaving the old folks in their dust…

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Work is getting busy at the moment, and combined with the new commute over the last month…

…and gallivanting about to visit the family in Stuttgart, energy levels are dipping and I’m getting behind on things like blogging. I’ll catch up soon, just bear with me for a bit.

An example of a project at work. We have a group of Syrian refugees, and the day includes about 3 hours of practical work. This week we are making a “honeycomb” display for the local tourist information centre to sell local products, notably honey and beeswax candles.

After last weeks hill avoidance session, I decided that this weekend my climbing legs needed a bit of exercise. It was time to go into the Black Forest, which isn’t as adventurous as it sounds because it’s about three kilometres from my village.

Friday evening I got the map out. Three kilometres from my village it erupts in a mass of contours like geographical acne.

I decided not to be too adventurous & substitute climbing for distance, but a goal was needed. The Hochburg bei Emmendingen seemed a good starting point: a castle ruin in the shoulder of some hills, which would give me a good chance to collapse while pretending I was appreciating the culture.

This would be followed by a descent and climb up one of the valleys to a town called Freiamt. On the other side of Freiamt was a pass which led into another valley; the plan was to get there, turn around and come back via a more direct route, having proved my legs were up to climbing. Buoyed up by this success I could repeat the ride later this year and drop into the valley beyond; it was psychology versus geography.

To tip the balance in my favour I packed a bag of Skittles too.

The way to the castle was a bit steep, but I guess that’s rather the point: it’s a castle, not a guest house so they were not interested in encouraging visitors.

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Th castle has been made safe and generally restored for visitors but it’s free to get in. We don’t seem to have anything as ubiquitous as the National Trust and it’s looked after by a local organisation: It’s amazing the sort of charitable trusts which exist in every town in Germany.

It was also completely deserted so I could explore…

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I wandered around for about half an hour, found some interesting tunnels which I filmed for Beautiful Daughter, and eventually decided I should probably get moving as this was supposed to be a “quick” ride…

This is where the real climbing started, through deep gorges with pine forests on both sides. The road got narrow and twisted alongside the river.

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This is why I’d come early on a Sunday morning: I’d got enough “psychology” to deal on with the hill without lots of traffic to contend with as well. Every now and again I’d pass a single house, generally close to the road but sometimes impossibly high up the hillside in the trees. The discreetly ornate French style buildings had gone: rough stone and wood was much in evidence and heavy roofs to keep the snow off.

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Villages were squeezed into the valleys, clumped together where there was space, wedged between steep hills and the flood  prone valley floor.

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Also, I discovered steep sided wooded gorges don’t offer many opportunities for a discreet privvy break.

To my astonishment psychology (and bladder control) were winning: suddenly I saw the sky ahead, the trees fell away and I was in Freiamt: there were schools, and football fields, shops, and houses scattered across the rolling hills like they’d grown from seeds strewn across the landscape.

I found the “main” road to the pass I was looking for, and trundled along the ridge between the farms. This is a popular route for driving along, and I was passed on occasion by motorcyclists on massive bikes, the occasional classic car and on a couple of occasions quad bikers, riding in long convoys.

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Everyone else was still asleep though (or at least they had been until the quad bikes passed) so there wasn’t much traffic and I had plenty of time to faff about in the middle of the road taking photos.

At this point I started to see signs for the pass and a new valley closed in, with the difference that I was now near the top. The designers of the road had apparently seen one of those cartoon “cliff edge” roads that winds through hills with a drop on one side, and thought: “Yeah, that’s just the thing we need” To my surprise though, the road wasn’t climbing steeply: I’d expected uncompromising gradients to a sudden summit, but it pootled along followed the contours pretty closely and I could just trundle along until I noticed it I was now going gently downhill, and realised I’d better turn around or get trapped in the next valley, which would add about 50k to my ride.

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Next time…

Back along the cartoon road, I found a shop selling home-made ice cream. Well, I say a shop, it was more a freezer in a barn door next to a box with a slot in it. Unfortunately I didn’t have any change, so that will have to wait until next time too.

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The ridge road followed the contours closely, an attitude I fully approved of. It went back through the centre of Freiamt, past a few isolated farms and over a couple of small summits with views over to distant clusters of red roofed farms surrounding a church. The tourists were coming more frequently now; car horns were blaring as drivers got in each others way on unfamiliar roads, so it  was a relief to be heading back into the forest.

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The route back was more direct; the road followed the ridge again as far as it could, then dropped abruptly. Suddenly I was releasing all the potential energy I’d built up while climbing, and wonderfully, I had the road to myself and could indulge in wide sweeping curves around the hairpin bends.

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As on previous rides the sudden change from apparently remote villages to our county town as a bit of a shock, not least because of the long dog-leg up being translated into mere minutes on the way down. Suddenly I was back near my home village; the rugged stone buildings and forest was gone again, replaced by vineyards and plastered, neat farmhouses with big courtyards.

I’d covered 50k, with a respectable amount of up, and found a route I can follow for the future. Psychology had won the day…

backed up by large amounts of Skittles, but we’ll ignore that…

When George Mallory the mountaineer was asked why he wanted to climb Everest, he famously responded “because it’s there.” I take a different attitude when cycling: if it’s there, I’ll generally find a way to go around it.

This is why my last ‘big’ excursion was around the extinct volcano near my apartment and not over it.

It’s probably also why I’m an occupational therapist in Germany rather than a very famous mountaineer, but hey ho.

First step was crossing the main road through the village. This is usually full of cars racing towards the river bridge, but on Sundays Germany has a collective lie-in which is why it looks like we’ve had a zombie apocalypse.

Leaving the village the first major obstacle is the Autobahn. I’ve lived here twenty years and I still find the idea of just driving or riding into Switzerland incredibly exotic.

The route around the volcano is roughly triangular; section one is along the south to Breisach and the French border, which runs along the Rhine.


We have a “Mediterranean climate” here apparently, which doesn’t explain why it has largely gepinkled it down for the last few months. Nonetheless the hills to the north are terraced with vines growing on them, and every village has a fairly large wine cooperative. The vineyards are terraced and every bit of land is used, long fingers of land pointing out into the sky.

The wine wholesalers and bottling plants get bigger until a massive concrete bunker announces the edge of Breisach. This is the regional wholesaler and has all the charm of a nuclear bunker. Fortunately Breisach recovers pretty quickly and the centre is a very pretty place, with the old town standing on its own bonsai volcano right against the Rhine river.

These two facts of course meant it was very handy real estate for anyone in France or Germany with territorial ambitions. You know how it is: you aren’t actually at war but you may need this bit of high ground if you did end up in a war, so you start a war to make sure you’ve got it, just in case. As a result it has been burned down and occupied several times.

In keeping with my general principles regarding hills, I’ve been to Breisach many times but I’d never climbed the hill in the centre. This time I’d decided to find out what was up there.

The summit features a the Minster of St. Stephen, which is visible from a very long way away, but seen close up is smaller than some parish churches.

I found myself watching a pair of kestrels feeding their young on the roof of a house below, and talking with a Sri-Lankan German who gets a mention here by having immense taste and discernment; he said my bike looked cool. He switched to English when he realised I was from the UK; he has many happy memories of holidays in England, although he always ended up spending his spare cash in the Indian restaurant, because he didn’t like British food “They gave me beans in tomato sauce; for Breakfast…“.

The summit of the hill used to be the centre of Breisach until one army or another ransacked the place and they rather sensibly rebuilt the market and associated buildings down to the plain. In the days of the hilltop centre water supply was obviously a preoccupation and this tower housed the town pump, which was apparently operated by a treadmill. It also housed the town jail and torture chamber.

Back down on the plain I headed north between the Rhine and the Kaiserstühl again. If I had a hankering to take the direct route back to my apartment, I could go straight up that hill and down the other side. I doubt it would be any quicker than going around though.

The villages change here and feel more isolated; we’re away from the Freiburg suburbs and into the rural Breisgau region, historically more isolated and cut off from Freiburg by the Kaiserstühl itself. We’re also so close to the French border that I was frequently closer to a French mobile phone mast than a German one, so I’d get messages “welcoming” me into France. The villages seemed to agree with the phone company and took on a distinctly French feel.

All of these villages are also surrounded by vineyards: it must have been a relief when the railway came in 1895 so they could transport it to other places and didn’t have to drink it all up themselves.

Now crossing to the north of the hills, I wandered through a couple more postcard worthy villages before deciding that instead of taking the rather indirect cycleway I’d risk the road. I hadn’t cycled on a main road for a very long time, and there was no cycle lane, but It was in the middle of nowhere, and it was mid morning on Sunday; as usual the only people up appeared to have gone to church. Also it was only 4k so what could go wrong?

Nothing much as it happened: I was passed by very few cars who generally gave me plenty of space, and arrived in Endingen faster than usual.

Endingen is the centre for the north of the Kaiserstühl, as Breisgau is the centre for the south, except that being more isolated it’s a fair bit smaller. It’s one of those really pretty towns in Germany that would be famous, except that there are about twenty similar towns nearby. It also belonged to Austria for some time because… reasons something something, someone died, Hapsburg Monarchy. If you just change the names this sums up history for a lot of regions of south Germany.

Oh, and surprise surprise, it also makes wine.

It was also rather busy; either people wake up earlier there or I was meeting the Sunday tourists coming the other way.

The next section after Endingen always comes as a surprise. Endingen has the feel of an isolated rural market town, but it’s a fairly short hop the next town of Riegel, which is completely different. Riegel is perched right on the corner of the north east corner of the Kaiserstühl massif, the hills disappear and suddenly we are in the “main” part of the valley again, with fast roads and trains to Freiburg.

It’s also a startlingly short hop from my apartment: after leaving the touristy centre and a cut through an industrial estate (featuring a large stable and horse accessory wholesaler which shows a lot about local requirements), I was back on the river path following a dead straight route back to my village. I arrived about twenty minutes later feeling like I’d teleported back in to normality…

On the other hand I’d just cycled 60k for the first time in a while but I didn’t feel like my legs were about to drop off, which was nice. If it doesn’t get stupidly hot next week I may just be a bit more adventurous, maybe even involving hills…

About 35 million years ago, the mantle in the earths crust sank between what is now Basel and Frankfurt, creating a rift valley 300 kilometres (190 mi) long and 50 kilometres (31 mi) wide and changing the direction of the Rhine from Basel from west to north. To the delight of future cyclists, this valley then filled up with sediment leaving a wide flat flood plain.

You’d think that being in a flat region with relatively cycle friendly policies this would mean I’m spoiled for choice. Unfortunately “flood plain” means what it says so there’s a complex network of drainage channels wriggling haphazardly across the landscape, and only a limited number of bridges over them, meaning the choice of routes is pretty limited unless I feel like making large detours.

My new employer is 15k (9 miles) north of where I now live, instead of a mere 5k (3 miles) and for some reason this was becoming a bit of a mental block, and the only way to change this seemed to be to actually ride it before starting work and show myself that it really wasn’t a big deal. It only has about 10m of up, for goodness sake, how hard could it be?

So last Saturday I got out the touring bike and set off. Of course, it started to rain as I did. Summer was last week apparently.

Once I’ve finished wriggling through the village, the commute follows the local “B” road, which is like an “A” road in the UK, and is straight, if a little dull. Despite promising myself I’d take my time, I found myself running out of upper gears in the middle ring, which I took as a good sign. On the other hand the humidity was making my work clothes a bit clammy, so I resisted the temptation to bung the chain on the big ring: There will be plenty of opportunities for that when I’m late for work.

The meagre drizzle laid off as I followed the cycleway north, leaving only a few droplets on the bike. These dried as I rode leaving a sort of leopard skin pattern in the pollen and dust.

The path continued past small villages in the valley sides, squeezed in to avoid wasting good farmland, and close to the local castle for when marauders came across the plains.

The only sizeable town between me and my new employer offers the choice is between riding through the old centre or along an “agricultural road” following the edge of the hills. As the town government recently rebuilt the centre at great expense, taking great care to make sure there was plenty of parking for cars and very little space for bikes, the quieter agricultural road is the route of choice.

It could be worse.

At the north of the town, the cycleway restarted; My work is in Herbolzheim, 4km away according to the sign but this is a cruel deception; the sign refers to the edge of the town where the next speed limit begins. Work is a bit further away.

The agricultural roads form a network for pedestrians and cyclists, all traffic free with the exception of the occasional tractor. This section is a zigzag between fields of wheat and potatoes, stained red by poppies. I was happily trundling along appreciating the scenery when It dawned that it had an unfamiliar feel, and I realised I’d missed a turning somewhere.

Eventually I found the way, reached the edge of Herbolzheim, and promptly missed the next turning in a nondescript mass of housing on the edge of the town.

Note to self: the signpost is there for a reason…

My workplace is unfortunately is situated in a building so full of 1990’s ugliness I won’t spoil your day by putting a photo on here. Depressingly, it didn’t particularly stand out.

I did find the 10m hill promised on the route planner though:

The return was a bit more relaxed, i.e. slower, because as is often the case there was a headwind. The wind seems to blow to the north in the mornings, and then change to a generally southerly direction in the afternoons, at least that was my impression at my last job to the south of my apartment, and I’m trying to be optimistic by telling myself it will work in my favour this time around.

I also had to do some shopping at the “Drogerie Markt”, the local version of “Boots” In another burst of optimism I bought sun lotion. We shall see…

Back around the next town; at some point I’ll try and get a better picture of the church in the distance… Apparently this route is not only the “Breisgau cycleway” but also the “Upper Rhine Roman Cycleway.” Part of me is delighted at the fact I get to ride on a tourist route every day, but my natural pessimism suggests this just means it’ll be full of tourists in summer if the lockdown is eased.

I took the scenic route back, as this detour is about 100m in total and much prettier and quieter than following the main road I think it will become a regular feature.

It took 48 minutes to get to work, which included pictures and wandering off down the wrong road on two occasions, so I think I can safely allow fifty for the ride. I just have to look on it as time gained cycling and reducing waistline, rather than time lost commuting…  

Freiburg has the great disadvantage of being about 160 kilometres (100 miles) from the family in Stuttgart, and in the absence of a personal helicopter this means I’m reduced to visiting at weekends. A ritual has developed on Saturday, where Beautiful Daughter and I eat Marmite in Toast and watch cycle touring videos.

This steady stream of blatant Propaganda has resulted in Beautiful Daughter wanting to go on increasingly long bike rides, firstly on my bike, but now on her own as far as possible. She recently completed a 13k ride on her tiny bike, and had expressed a desire to go on a “really long bike ride”.

Today was the day.

Fortunately, we have the smug car fee hippy’s secret weapon:

The “Xtracycle” Longtail bike. Being able to carry Beautiful Daughter and tow her bike at the same time gives a lot more confidence taking her out: we can always get back regardless, and there’s a plan “B” for places which are too steep or where there are cars.

I chose a route around Stuttgart Airport: it’s a bit hilly, but everywhere is hilly around Stuttgart. This route would include most of the things vital for a successful ride with a small person: mostly on traffic tree roads, some interesting things to see, a forest which would keep the sun off, a very high viaduct that Beautiful Daughter loves to ride over and importantly, an ice cream shop at the most distant point.

Stage one, through the valley next to our village, followed by a “towing” section climbing back out through another village, so no pictures as I was distracted by things like breathing.

Once through the chaos of Stuttgart airport/exhibition centre/perpetual building site we inspected the end of the runway and watched a handful of planes fly in and out:

Past the entrance to the US military base and a memorial to the inmates of a local concentration camp.

Arriving at the furthest point. Beautiful Daughter about ready for that ice cream…

Raspberry and watermelon. “Because it’s pink”.

Beautiful Daughter had been flagging a bit but after her massive ice cream she rallied, and we followed the agricultural roads south of the airport. Halfway along we found a hollow tree which immediately became a “hiding place”, “camp”, and “Motor caravan” for twenty minutes:

More riding brought us past the other end of the airport, and to Beautiful Daughter’s “favourite Bridge” a 55m high viaduct across the valley which after some agitation from various groups finally has a cycleway/footpath.

This is a big hit wit Beautiful Daughter because of the view, and to the ageing parent because I means I don’t have to haul her out of the valley a second time…

From here we can see our village in the distance, and look down on trees and houses in the valley. And a sewage farm; this gave rise to much questioning about the destiny of poo.

We reached “our” side of the valley, and had some quick street riding lessons on quiet back roads. Beautiful Daughter is seen here drifting to the left…

After a while we were back on roads she knew so she rode ahead…

Until we reached a playground in the next village where we’d arranged to meet Youngest Son…

Of course BD found fresh energy and wanted to play… Fortunately Youngest Son came and relieved the Old Guard, and after sheltering for a bit from a thunderstorm, BD was persuaded to finish the ride by a promise of Salad and potatoes from Beautiful Wife.

BD and Younger Son completing the last couple of K’s:

Your correspondent being outpaced yet again…

A total of 28km (17mi) in about 5h, of which BD rode 23km (14mi) unassisted. Now she’s talking about an “even longer bike tour.”

I’m not sure how long I can keep up…

Another instalment in the occasional series of “Logistics For Smug Car Free Hippies”. In this case I’d finally finished painting a picture I’ve been working on for 5 years*, and had to think about how to transport it the 200 kilometres to the family apartment while maintaining that smug green glow…

Thank goodness for long tail cargo bikes, and the much maligned German railways.

The picture fitted snugly on one side of the bike, allowing other items to be packed in the usual bike bags and strapped down on the other.

To my surprise this had no effect when riding, although it did make pushing the bike along station platforms a little strange.

A small sketchbook would be more practical though…

*Or possibly more accurately “putting off for 5 years”. If procrastination was a sport I’d be a champion…. eventually.

Sunset in the village after a ride on the commuter bike.

My contract with my employer ended this week, and in three weeks I’ll be starting with another NGO, partly working with refugees and immigrants to help them get work, and partly… doing something else, probably with people with psychological and/or addiction issues, and if I’m lucky, working in a bike workshop where used bikes are refurbished and resold.

It also means a much longer if still picturesque commute. I’m not sure what my legs will make of it…

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