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Last week found your correspondent in a small village in the middle of south Germany looking at a map, and getting excited enough to startle the locals. I am easily amused (I studied Geography, for goodness sake) but there was a good reason for this: really.

Readers with long memories and an improbably high boredom threshold may remember one new years resolution to ride an imperial century: 100 miles, which translates into metric as 161 kilometres. I hadn’t been getting very far with this: admittedly this year had involved job hunting, exams, and an annoyingly long bout of flu, but on the other hand, it’s been a resolution for five years now.

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The previous ride to Tübingen had been a confidence boost because we’d broken the 100km barrier without collapsing, so I hatched a new plan. While on holiday this week I could ride to Tübingen again, then follow up the gently sloping valley until the next town of Rottenburg, and possibly go and see what was on the other side. Then I’d try a full century a week after.

I completely failed to pack my bag the evening before the ride and as a result ended up wandering about at 5am looking for bottles, maps, food and other bits and pieces. Despite this I managed to leave the house early enough to reach Tübingen (50k / 31 miles) before any self-respecting student had got up, and a good hour before expected.

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Rottenburg is about ten kilometres beyond Tübingen and I’d last cycled there a decade earlier. Most people would use a GPS navigator at this point, but being a Luddite I dug a map out of my bag instead. Unfortunately the map in question turned out to be of Freiburg, meaning the map for Tübingen which I had carefully laid on the table last night, was in fact still on the table in our apartment.

This is why you shouldn’t pack at 5am.

Fortunately the valley between Tübingen and Rottenburg is wide and flat, so much so that it’s possible to see Rottenburg in the distance from the edge of Tübingen, so I figured I couldn’t miss it. Hopefully.

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Rottenburg started with a rather down at heel industrial estate, but after a while I landed in the old walled city, which had the sort of buildings that would be famous in any other country. Even better I was feeling pretty fit, and the church clock said it was still only eleven in the morning, the time I planned to reach Tübingen. Confidence stirred. So did dormant memories of beautiful rocky gorges and empty cycleways beyond Rottenburg. So what if I was only 60k into a 160k trip and hadn’t got a map. I could do this. Sure I could.

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I left the old city, completely missed the turning and came to an abrupt halt in a loading bay for a textile factory.

I couldn’t turn around now, I’d have to admit I’d cycled into a factory and given up. A few hundred metres back towards Rottenburg, I found a lamppost with a sign pointing along the valley and followed same.

I decided I’d just go to the first village. Then I could turn around and come back, no problem. Except that in the first village there was a sign to the next village. And it was only 3 to 5 km away. And then there would be another sign to the next village… you get the idea.

This is how I ended up looking at a map, and finding that Eyach, the village I’d marked as the turning point for an imperial century was three easy kilometres away.
Those 3 kilometres turned into a few more on the main valley road while I skirted a golf club. This is in fact the only vaguely heavily used road I had to follow for the entire route so I probably shouldn’t complain.

Still did though.

After a fast descent a sign directed me onto a cycleway, which then became another factory, then a piece of overgrown singletrack. I was about to give up when suddenly I was back on a road, and there was a descent, and the station at Eyach.

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Immediate thought was “I’ve made it”.

Shortly followed by: “I need to get all the way back now”

Fortunately it was mostly downhill. And there was very nearly a tailwind. This was nearly my undoing: I got too excited that I could go fast and nearly clobbered myself climbing the last two hills to our village.

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Where the map of Tübingen was still on the table where I’d left it.

Still. 102 miles / 165km is a century. Even if I did it by accident.