Beautiful Daughter views a Picnic as the height of adventure, and yesterday afternoon she was slightly put out that when we went to visit the rabbits we didn’t have one.

She was slightly mollified when we promised one in the evening, but insisted we had to make sure it was a proper picnic, with a cloth to sit on and everything.

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So we did.

I’m also delighted to report that civilisation is reaching Germany: we can now buy decent salt and vinegar crisps, even if they get the name wrong.

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Even better, her brothers came too.

We played Frisby. Here you can see them trying to retrieve the Frisby from the nettles. Again.

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Finally the bike rebuild project is finished, or at least close enough that we can ride it, so I’m calling her done. I’m pretty pleased how it looks as well, considering where we started from:

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Elder Son has frozen onto the machine for commuting: not only that but his brothers have decided they like it too, so I reckon it must ride reasonably well.

When I actually get a chance to try it out myself I’ll let you know…

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I’ve been getting interviewed again, this time so far down on the south end of Germany that I had to go into Switzerland to get there.

The most important question when going to the interview of course was if I should take my bike. I am an interminable and probably quite boring advocate of bicycles as transport but I had three trains to catch and wasn’t sure if lugging the thing all the way down there was really worth it. However, it turns out that German Railways are gradually working out that people who travel by train may cycle and offer this as a specific option when booking. Not only that but I had bike space on all the trains I travelled on.

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I was glad I didn’t bring the Xtracycle though.

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Basel railway station where your I changed from a German train (Right) that had just brought me through Switzerland, to the Swiss Railways local train (left) to continue the journey back into Germany.

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If the Swiss provide bike spaces like this, I’m not complaining.

It also turned out that my possible employers office is right next to a wide paved cycleway, so after my interview was finished and I found myself with about 3 hours before my train, there was only one thing to do, namely follow it.

And thus it was that I accidentally entered Switzerland. The first I noticed was that the cycleway signs had changed from green to red. Once the reason for this had sunk in, I went back to take a look. There was a small sign pointing out that this was in theory a customs border, and a playground on the German side with a low fence running along the exact border, presumably so no-one inadvertently exported a football. The German and Swiss character being what it is the two countries had tarmacked the cycleway to the exact border, so there was a fine, almost invisible, and completely straight line marking the point where I’d just become foreign.

To someone who grew up with the idea that any self-respecting national border should involve about 22 miles of sea, this always comes as a shock.

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I’d never cycled in Switzerland before. Not only that, this part of Switzerland is squeezed in between Germany and France, so I realised all I had to do was keep going and I’d probably run into France sooner or later, thus visiting three countries in one day.** Admittedly I didn’t have a map but France is about 640,000 km² (250,000 sq mi) so it is pretty hard to miss.

A quick look at a tourist map in the city confirmed that if I just followed the tram to the Rhine then turned right along the other side of the river, I should reach the border fairly quickly and get back in time for my train.

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The French border, closed for maintenance apparently, except for weekends.

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But I did ride my bike in France, if only for five metres.

In other news, the interview went well enough that I’ve been invited back to work in the company for a couple of days to ‘see how we get on with each other’. We shall see…

* It will be obvious from this that French is not one of my languages.

**I’m a geography nerd, okay?

 

 

Elder Son and myself finally got ourselves into gear to build the Randonneur bike to a ridable state, this was partly because it is important for Elder Son to experience a project to successful completion, but mainly because with my usual level of organisation I was pretty sure any bits that were not firmly fixed down would probably vanish soon.

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The first logistical problem was getting the bits for the bike down the rather steep hill into Central Stuttgart. We eventually decided to travel together on the tram, with Elder Son carrying the frame, and all the other bits on the Xtracycle. Once in the city, Elder Son would change tram, and I’d ride through the park to meet him at his employers shop.

Stuff like this becomes interesting when you don’t have a car

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Of course our plan assumed that Elder Son would have a bike to ride back on, which I hoped wasn’t over optimistic. Old bike frames can occasionally throw up awkward surprises.

Mind you, the first problem had nothing to do with the age of the bike and everything to do with yours truly not measuring properly, again, and buying a handlebar stem that was far too long. This was solved with help from a hacksaw: it isn’t pretty but it is out of sight so we’re pretending it didn’t happen. We’re also ignoring the way the front brakes are slightly lopsided, as they work perfectly well. The rear wheel gave some trouble but fitted after some ‘persuasion’ being brought to bear on the back stays.

On the other hand, and to my frank astonishment, the gears worked perfectly first time.

A few hours later we had a basically complete bike on the stand, so after fighting with the handlebar tape (thank goodness for online instructional videos) we took it out for a play to try it out. The bike passed all tests (stopped, started, gears changed, wheels failed to fall off) so we packed up and set off through the park.

At this point Elder Son vanished into the sunset, so I think that counts as a success.

Now it’s working we just need to add the bits to make it a “proper” bike, like mudguards, stand, and luggage rack et c, preferably before the planned bike tour later this month…

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We live on the edge of the old part of our village, and like a lot of oldish German villages the houses are packed together. Our back balcony is a few metres from another houses back garden and last night Daughter of the House Behind our Apartment (DotHBoA)* was having a party.

From experience a DotHBoA party is loud and lasts for ages, especially as the evening was going to be warm and dry. This is no problem for Beautiful Wife and Kids: they’re night owls and Beautiful Daughter could sleep on the roof of a train. I am an introverted morning person.

After a bit of thought about the matter, I realised that there was a simple solution:

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I stayed within ten or fifteen minutes of the village, in case I got cold or bored, went to sleep at a respectable hour and was woken by the cold and a very annoyed bird at about six. I trundled back through the woods and arrived refreshed and ready for the day.

*Really need to work on better anonymised names.

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I’m hoping to get some riding done when I visit Japan to see my wife’s family.  Previously I’ve cycled on a heavy city bike but Japan has Hills, so Elder Son and I are scheming to take lighter geared bikes more suited to the terrain, and we’re gathering information and videos from people who’ve been before.

On the basis that someone, somewhere may find this interesting, and I’m too tired from travelling to interviews to write a coherent post, here’s some of the links we’ve found:

Japan cycling Navigator. English language site with suggested routes for end-to end rides and journal entries and descriptions.

Bikemap works reasonably well for Japan. Having tested it around Ise, which I know relatively well, it doesn’t send you down too many odd routes. As Japan doesn’t manage to have a straight cyclable route to anywhere from anywhere, this is very helpful.

Positivo Expresso: Long term resident in Japan who rides frightening distances and writes about them, and also takes beautiful photographs.

Two YouTube accounts from by* people who live and work in Japan:

Rides of Japan (Tokyo area) makes very good quality videos about living and riding in Japan. Probably best to go to the playlists and find the “Cycling” and “Bikepacking” videos because he’s a self-confessed gear freak. He also has videos on types of tents and stoves you can use.

Two wheel Cruise Based around Nagoya, posts videos weekly about cycling and living in Japan and is very friendly and informative if you ask a question in a comment.

Also some videos from people touring:

Adam Hugill is touring all over Asia and recently posted his first video from Japan.

My personal favourites are Codey Ogill and The College Picker, who travelled together through Japan a year or two back, and both made a daily Vlog about it. They wild camped on most nights which saved a fortune in accommodation, and show how they ate low cost food from convenience stores.

If anyone has more information, please share it…

*Too long in Germany: I’m picking up German English…

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Beautiful Daughter recently discovered the potential for going on “long bike tours” on the Xtracycle, at the same time as I noticed that the Spraydeck, the hefty piece of wood that normally sits above the back wheel and acts as a seat for small passengers, was looking  a bit tatty.

This spraydeck was a home made version built in 2016, being a treehugging hippy I used a tung oil/beeswax mix to protect the wood. This survived relatively well considering the weather it experiences, but lately I noticed it had faded somewhat, and there were a few rough bits where water was finally getting into the pores.

Getting splinters would probably put Beautiful Daughter off riding with me, so I needed to get the top finished and in use as fast as possible. I attacked the deck with a sander at work, then rushed back to our village before the rain came and put the first coat of Tung oil onto the wood. The next day I gave it a gentle fine sanding by hand and added another coat of oil.

It seems to have come out okay. The colours are still a bit muted, which may be because the oil was a bit old, but I can worry about that when I need to and it down again.

In the meantime Beautiful Daughter won’t get splinters and we can go exploring.

 

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Looking at this blog of the last few weeks, you could get the impression I’m spending every waking moment gallivanting about and visiting exotic locations and wholesale art supply shops.

So let me hasten to point out that there are other things going on, not least regular job applications, fixing bits of the various bikes as they break down, and of course changing an ugly MTB into a Randonneur.

This last project has mainly been absent from the blog because there’s not much interest in multiple posts about spraying another coat of clear varnish onto a frame, and also because we had to wait until this month to replace some parts that were so worn even we wouldn’t use them.

Now the replacement parts are on order and the frame is properly wrapped up so it can stop cluttering up the apartment and head over to Eldest Son’s place of work as soon as possible, ready for us to put everything together.

Well, probably almost everything. I have no doubt we’ll find something else missing, but we can live in hope.

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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.

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This week I persuaded Elder Son to cycle with me to Tübingen. He wasn’t entirely convinced, possibly remembering my small topographical error on our last ride, where I managed to entirely forget a large hill, but agreed anyway on the basis someone should probably keep an eye on me.

We wriggled through the outer suburbs of Stuttgart until we got to the end of the Siebenmühlental cycleway, an old railway line that would take us through the valleys, and from which a dog-leg would bring us to a dip in the hills we could use to cross to the Neckar valley, which we could follow to Tübingen.

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This cunning plan meant we could cover the first 20 kilometres before hitting any nasty steep hills. Elder Son was less convinced, but once on the cycle route he proceeded to disappear into the distance leaving the aged one trundling in his wake.

It was the Xtracycle: they’re heavy bikes you know.

At the end of the valley we ignored the signs to Tübingen because we knew them to be a cruel trick to make us cross several deep valleys, and instead followed the Aich valley until we got to the dip in the hills that we could use to reach the Neckar river.

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This was decision time: turn left and we’d be going back towards our village, with a very respectable 60k in the bag, go right and we would be heading to Tübingen and a metric ton.

After a few minutes eating chocolate and looking at the view, Elder Son decided for Tübingen. We set off before he could change his mind and I completely missed the turning and had to bluff it out until I found the cycleway again. I don’t think he noticed.

At the next town we came across a “diversion for cyclists” sign pointing away from the cycleway and the nice shiny new bridge over the river. Lulled into a false sense of security by cyclists coming the other way, we followed this.

I know, this never works. As usual the diversion had been planned and marked out by someone in a car, and as usual by the time we’d realised this we’d climbed out of the valley and into the hills and the person-in-a-car had got bored and left us to work it out ourselves.

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Very pretty: where are we?

We followed trails largely by instinct, with some commentary from Elder Son on the general subject of old men and their supposed inability to read a map. I took this as a good sign: if he’s being rude, he’s probably okay.

Finally we found a sign, then a road, village, fast descent and the cycleway.

At this point Elder Son was struggling with cramps in one leg. We hatched a plan that he could catch a train back from Tübingen, having ridden a very respectable 55 kilometres. He wasn’t keen, pointing out that the return route is mainly downhill and we’d had a slight headwind along the Neckar, so we’d have the wind behind us.

We arrived in Tübingen to find that half of Germany and a large chunk of the Japanese population had had the same idea that day. So we went with the flow and became tourists for a bit.

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We also may have eaten some ice cream.
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Possibly buoyed up by the atmosphere and extra sugar, or possibly because of sheer stubbornness, Elder Son decided to ride back.

As we left Tübingen we found that the wind had turned in the last half an hour.

We did find the cause of the monster diversion we’d taken earlier…
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Notice the barrier on this end of the bridge, the barrier on the other end of the bridge, and the entirely empty and flat road in between. This had become a temporary pedestrian zone.

I’ll leave you, dear reader, to guess which route we took next.2019_06_03_Tübingen_with_Stephan_10

We also found a cast iron Post Box from the time of Edward VII.

The rest of the ride was uneventful until Elder Son’s leg went on strike again and he has to make a very dramatic dismount into a field.

He recovered, and by now determined to beat the cramp, ignored an opportunity to take the tram for the final few kilometres.

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I checked the map again when we arrived. Including our unscheduled diversion into the hills we’d ridden 109km, with 350m climbing.

I creaked a bit at work the next day.

Elder Son on the other hand was annoyingly unaffected…

 

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