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Okay own up…

Who stole the view?

Autumn has come, as can be seen above.

We are in a sort of “Lockdown light” so it isn’t causing quite as much disruption as before. Work continues as normal because we are an “essential” service working with people with Psychological disabilities. Of course it means I’m at a slightly higher risk of picking up the bug, but it’s swings and roundabouts…

It also helps that I’m not particularly sociable at the best of times, and live in a rural area so I can keep a good distance from fellow citizens.

Unfortunately there are limits to how many ways I can say “I went on a bike ride” without boring myself let alone anyone else, so I’m looking for ideas. What could I write about that would be of interest? Answers in the comments please…

I’m back in Stuttgart and one of the things I promised Beautiful Daughter was bike rides, so naturally on the first day back it absolutely piddled it down with rain.

Day two dawned and Beautiful Daughter announced that this was the day for a bike ride. I pointed out that it was still drizzling. Beautiful Daughter wasn’t interested.

“If it’s cold and wet we can come back and have lots of hot chocolate”

The promised ride is “To the cow farm and the rabbit farm”, two agricultural establishments nearby. As the name suggests one keeps a large herd of dairy cattle and one has a cunning marketing strategy in the form of a sizeable pen full of cute bunny rabbits alongside the farm shop.

After a steep first few metres, the road levels out for a bit and Tinybug accelerates, for a bit anyway. After a while the hill get steeper and she slows until I catch up with her and put my hand on her back. I wait for the usual instruction:

“Just for the steep bit Papa”

“Okay…”

At the top of the village, away from the shelter of the houses the rain comes at an angle, but Tinybug has her eyes on the reward for the climb: a second road that branches off from ours and around the hill we’ve been climbing. At the turn the pressure on my hand falls way and she’s off, disappearing behind a field of mangy looking sweetcorn; thank goodness for traffic free agricultural roads.

I trudge after her, the rain obscuring the view across the valley. We have an agreed meeting point at the junction between this road and the route to the farm, and as I round the hill I can see her in the distance.

I am a fairly introverted person, in fact for me one advantage of cycling is that I’m not expected to actually talk to people I know. Beautiful Daughter is the exact opposite and will happily converse to anyone who stands still long enough. Even here on an empty hillside in the rain she’s found some kind soul who probably stopped to ask if she was okay (A reasonable question when meeting an apparently unattended five year old in the pishing rain in the middle of nowhere) and is now probably getting an animated account of the ride, last week and matters arising.

On seeing me the relieved looking jogger carries on and we turn up the straight road to the cow farm. The cows are all in their nice dry barn; sensible creatures, cows.

It occurs to me that the rabbits are probably following a similar policy, and clearly Tinybug is thinking the same thing. At the next junction we can go right to the Rabbit Farm or left to take the short route back to the apartment. She is clearly weighing up the options

“What are you thinking?”

“It’s cold.”

She weighs the decision: Rabbits or hot chocolate? Hot Chocolate wins.

After a small hill the rest of the route is back into the valley and she’s off down a nice flat concrete road. I find her waiting by our regular meeting point, the “Red House”, home of a local sculptor who puts artwork along the grass verge. I find her looking critically at a complex abstract piece that probably took weeks to produce and is likely worth tens of thousands of Euros.

“Can we climb on that?”

From here I can watch her all the way down to the end of our road so she can roll ahead again until the corner and we come to the apartment together. Bike parked and she’s bounding up the stairs two at a time, no small feat for a five year old.

“What’s the hurry?”

I get that look children give hopelessly forgetful adults.

“It was cold, so we get Lots of Hot Chocolate…

My commute took an hour today, which is as long as it used to take when I worked in central Stuttgart.

On the other hand, it looked like this:

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And according to the signs, there’s even more where this came from:

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Further exploring will follow, although hopefully with a better camera.

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Saddles are possibly the most important part of a bike when riding: a poor saddle can ruin any enjoyment of cycling, not to mention the quite unpleasant health consequences that are the stuff of cycling forums.

A long time ago I needed a new saddle for the Xtracycle and finally sprung for a Brooks, known as the Rolls-Royce of saddles, and after a few hundred kilometres of “breaking in” (either of the saddle or of my anatomy, opinions vary) it has been resounding success, with many more years still in it.

I decided to get one for the touring bike. Unfortunately about the end of the “breaking in” process, the protective upper surface began to rub off the saddle, which looked ugly and also meant it wasn’t going to last very long.  The shop in Germany quickly replaced the clearly defective saddle and all was well, except that the process repeated itself.

Brooks in the UK lived up to their extremely good reputation, offering to replace the saddle if I sent it. Then they went into C-19 lockdown.

There are more important things in life than a saddle, so I used the old one for a while longer. Last month an email came through that Brooks were open for business, the old saddle went off to Wolverhampton and a replacement arrived quickly, along with a large tin of proof hide, cloth, and very nice rain cover.

Now it’s fitted to the bike, and so far has travelled about 500k with no sign of untoward damage to the saddle or to me. Everyone is happy.

I was feeling a bit rough today and it was entirely self inflicted…

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By which I mean I stayed up reading late on Saturday, then went for ride into the hills on Sunday…

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…in which I completely failed to make a metric century, because just after taking this picture the sky went black and the resident cycle touring expert had completely failed to pack anything waterproof.

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This resulted in a race 40k back down the valley to get back before the weather went all apocalyptic. I made it back dry but exhausted and compounded this by not eating properly, sleeping badly, setting off for work this morning in a slightly muggy state of mind.

On previous occasions when leaving the apartment in this state I’ve been known to forget to lock the door, thankfully the apartment is in a rural area and invisible from the road, but I wasn’t about to make a habit of this, so today I made a point of turning the key in the lock and left feeling muggy but smug.

However, on my return this afternoon I remembered that while locking a door is important, I should also attend to other details.

Primarily, making sure the door is actually closed first…

 

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I’m visiting my family in Stuttgart this week which will involve lots of hugs, being pounced on by Beautiful Daughter, reading stories and visiting local farms, but not a lot of blogging.

Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible…

 

 

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It’s 07:30 on a Sunday morning. I’m supposed to be half way to France but instead I’ve overslept and now I’m fretting. I’ve fretted about my toolkit (checked, all there) my pump (checked), the post C-19 border situation (Checked: open apparently) and now I’m randomly fretting about my saddle and if it will suddenly become uncomfortable halfway through the journey.

Decide I’m being silly and set off, a cold breeze sets me off worrying that I should have packed an extra fleece.

The village is silent. This is because Germany closes down on a Sunday and only really stirs at midday. The cycleway is inhabited by dog walkers and other early morning cyclists. At a road island, cross the entrance of an industrial estate; nothing is moving inside.

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Up and over the main Karlsruhe-Basel Autobahn. Three cars trundle along it. Another cyclist, an older gent on a sit up and beg bike wakes me up with a hearty “Gute Morge” and utterly indecipherable comment in the local dialect.

Pass joggers who smile and wave, and a large group of large storks prowling through a freshly cut cornfield. A bird siting in the middle of the road turns out to be a Kestrel eating breakfast. He flies off to an electric pole and scowls.

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There are villages every few kilometres; they are built on the same theme of enclosed courtyards with high walls and big gates facing the road. A group of teenagers waiting for a Freiburg bound train chase each other along the station platform.

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I’m winding between willow trees and fields but a hundred metres north the extinct volcano of the Kaiserstühl rears out of the plain, draped in vineyards.

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Breisach minster is visible from several kilometres away. Unfortunately at this exact point the cycleway is blocked by a spiderweb of temporary fences and diversion signs to prevent people using about 200m of entirely open road.

Of course I follow all the diversion and don’t squeeze through the fence. Honest…

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On the approach to Breisach the wall of hills turns north and the road crosses a wide open plain. There are fishermen by the lakes, and increasing numbers of cyclists and joggers. In the last kilometre to Breisach I receive my first “Bonjour”.

Pass the Mother of All Wineries, a massive concrete block that would rival a nuclear power station. Outside is a pickup truck with a sign offering an “Emergency wine delivery service”.

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Breisach itself has a pretty, old town centre with old walls and a minster which would make it famous in the UK. It is built on a hill, and when the Rhine flooded, which was a lot of the time, it would frequently find itself an Island in the middle of the river.

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Being the only high point for miles and on a natural boundary it obviously was fought over quite a lot and at various points was occupied by most of the local powers. At one point it even belonged to Austria because… reasons.

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One of these days I’ll stop making excuses and actually go up that hill to see the view.

Follow a cycleway around the hill to the bridge, tailed by a courier van that ignored the signs and promptly gets stuck. This route comes out above the bridge over the Rhine, and as it comes into view there’s a steady stream of cars and pedestrians in both directions, and not a policeman in sight, so I guess I’m allowed to go to France. The Cycleway goes under the main road and between casinos and cafes in the old customs building and a row of trucks from different countries with their cab curtains drawn, drivers resting ready for tomorrows journey. One has a satellite dish hanging off the mirror.

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Then there’s a sign saying “France, 400m” and a short climb to the bridge. The first French road sign I encounter says “Chausee deforrmee” and it isn’t joking. The Chausee is very deformee and to make it worse the sign was right on the first deformee on a downhill section.

On the other hand, I’ve made it I’m in France. There are French signs and people speaking French, although to be fair the buildings are largely the same and there’s a lot of German being spoken. There are even German murals painted onto houses showing that the culture on both sides of the river is largely the same.

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After celebrating this universal humanity by fulfilling a universal human need in some trees, follow a sign to “UNESCO Heritage site, Neuf-Brisach”. On the first corner there’s an irrigation machine doing to the road what I so recently did to a bush but Le scale grand. It dumps a torrent of water in front of a cyclist whose comment is instantly understandable in any language. After a few minutes waiting for the thing to spray in the direction of the field it is theoretically irrigating there’s quite a group of cyclists at the edge of the damp bit of road, and as soon as it turns we all race across damp section like an ecologically conscious invading horde.

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I’ve been riding through the outer fortifications of Neuf-Bresach for a while before I realise. The town was built after the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697. This brought an end to the Nine Years War between France and just about everyone else, although as was usually the case in Europe at the time, it was basically a ceasefire because everyone had run out of weapons.

Part of the treaty said the French should give up Breisach so they retreated in Le huff magnifique and built Neuf-Brisach a few kilometres away to be much bigger, better and more star shaped.

Three hundred years later they are still calling it “New” Brisach. It is a Vauban fortress; a massive construction big enough to contain a town, designed to withstand attacks by the new fangled cannon and with a complex maze of bastions, revetments and trenches to swallow entire battalions without trace. The gates, when I finally found them, were long cuttings through the walls which gave way to a grid of streets centred around a perfect square with a church. This being France on a Sunday, the square was hosting a flea market, and it was packed. I decided not catching any nasty bugs was more important than investigating this piece of French culture and headed west.

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The next destination was Wolfganzten, west of Neuf-Brisach and where the cycleway meets the road to Colmar and the Voges mountains, which are a future goal. I find all of these fairly easily, but unfortunately the local farmers had inconsiderately planted maize all around the village & I couldn’t get a clear image of the Voges, so here’s a picture of the church instead.

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This done It was time to return to Neuf-Brisach and do battle with the traffic in the central square; if France has a 2m passing rule French drivers don’t observe it.

At the border all the flags on the bridge are pointing south and stretched by the wind. Decide to scratch plans to ride north around the hills. There’s still a headwind on the other side of Breisach, but I convince myself I’ll be sheltered once I go behind the hills.

I’m wrong.

The highlight of the return turns out not to be beavers. Something very beaver like nearly becomes an ex-non beaver when it runs across the road, and I nearly drive into the ditch watching a second. When I see the third I actually have the sense to stop and we watch each other for a bit before he gets bored and wanders into the undergrowth. His tail isn’t the flat beaver tail though and I’m later informed they are Coypu, an invasive species from S. America. “Coypu” being a south American term for “Rat that evolved to look like a beaver so dumb Europeans will leave it alone”

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Wiggle back from village to village; pass churches, farms, wine merchants, and a very large gentleman on a tiny purple motor scooter. Cross the Autobahn again and see our local church tower ahead. I ran out of energy a few kilometres back so I persuade my legs to keep going over the last bit with the promise of a late lunch. At the edge of the village I cut through the gap onto my road.

There’s a paper in the letterbox and chickens all over the garden.

Time for some toast…

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Last week I finally made it over the border into France, see evidence above. It was… different, in a strange way: an odd mix of German place names and French street signs.

I will return to the subject at some point, but I’m visiting the family this weekend so it’ll have to wait for a few days.

 

 

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So I built a ramp.

I know, I can’t stand the excitement either.

Things at work and the apartment are gradually getting into a routine meaning that I have a bit more time and energy to spare, while a combination of introversion and a certain virus means my social life consists of Internet forums, building chicken runs and visits from the Landlady’s dog. Therefore I decided it was about time to make something interesting and use some of the machines being used for boring stuff like making pallets. I was also fed up with lifting the bike up the step outside the apartment.

Which is all fine, but brought up the question of how I was going to get it back to said apartment. For the last decade the answer to this would be a choice between using the Xtracycle or the Bakfiets*, either of which could have hauled this quite handily. Unfortunately both are still in Stuttgart.

Plan ‘A’, making some kind of cunning system to make the ramp fold down or assemble simply on arrival was rejected in the initial enthusiasm to make stuff, so now I had a 1 metre (3’3 5/8″) long wooden frame and a standard luggage rack.

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In the end I added two wooden cross pieces to the bottom of the construction whose main purpose was to fit snugly around the sides of the rack and survive for the fifteen minute ride. I backed this up with two trekking straps so the whole thing didn’t fly off at the blistering speeds I expected to achieve, and declared it good to go.

To my surprise this actually worked pretty well. I had to remember not to try riding through any narrow gaps and the weather was thoroughly uncooperative by sending a headwind, but on the other hand cars gave me a nice wide gap, and I didn’t get airborne.

Even better, it actually fitted my step. Plans to hold a proper opening ceremony were ruined because the Landlady’s Dog claimed a prior appointment.

Still had fun ‘testing’ it for a bit in front of an audience of bemused chickens…

*It really is ten years since I bought our cargo bike in Amsterdam, so it’s even longer since I started blogging: I’m getting old.

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