New Expectations – part 2

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Day 3

We were soon to stumble upon the town of Garz and followed signs from the cycle path to the ‘Castle Wall Restaurant‘. We were two of five cyclists and were able to cycle right up to our table. The waitress came out and greeted us with a gorgeous ‘Rügen scowl’, tolerating us long enough to take our coffee orders. I popped inside and spying the high water-tap at the bar, asked if I could fill our water bottles. I was promptly directed to the toilets. I sat outside suffering a terrible coffee and realised that if I was to enjoy this journey; once again I must lower my expectations. From now on I was to presume that I would be greeted by long downturned mouths and narrow petulant eyes.

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Garz was a great busy wee place with a very modern and cute supermarket. This was an essential stop, because beef burritos were on our lunch menu. I sat outside, waited burning in the hot sun and chatted to a gentle old man. When Sharon returned with a handful of food, hungrily and eagerly we cycled the cobbled footpath out of town. We were following a sign down a muddy track when I asked the shopper what cheese she had purchased. The answer was none. This led to a noonday dash past blurring brightly coloured cottages and back to the shop. Lunch was spent on a forest track in the middle of nowhere. It was absolutely scrumptious and our cooking it provided much entertainment for many smiling senior-citizen cyclists.

After lunch we promptly got lost and ended up on a dark leafy road travelling into the uneventful town of Putbus. We cycled through its crowded streets as quick as we could and rushed on to the delightful harbour of Lauterbach. Here we hunted for replacement sunglasses and enjoyed an overly juicy mango whilst yachts sailed by. Leaving the sails behind we once again took a wrong turn and followed a pretty esplanade until the path run out. Back-tracking about a kilometre we eventually found a track behind a villa and were on the correct route again. We rode through some shady cool forest, fought stiff coastal winds and generally wore ourselves out.
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Following a collection of roads and tracks, we ended up in the campervan and tourist infested village of  Seedorf. Despite this ‘theme park’ being full of things we definitely didn’t like, its quaint late afternoon outdoor restaurants were very inviting. Time was no longer on our side and we cycled past them all. We journeyed past posh homes and strolling elderly couples until the track descended into sandy muddy potholes. With my new expectations I was perfectly happy pushing our bikes up nasty steep sandy tracks. Sharon on the other-hand was affirmatively not. She was rescued by a stern young couple who clearly thought we were nuts and sided with Sharon’s moot to turn back.

So once again we turned around and cycled past the posh houses and inviting cafes until we found a road running up a very steep hill. This mini-mountain was an insult to our legs at the work end of the day. The summit was worth it and provided a vista of undulating wide open spaces. My highlight for the day was waiting for us in Moritzdorf. After a gloriously fast downhill the track turned into a narrow muddy trail through a hobby farm and eventually finished at a pier. After quite some time a huge serious-looking man with smiling eyes arrived. I presumed he was our ferry pilot. I wheeled my bike up to what can best be described as an aluminium dingy with an outboard and asked if he wanted me to take my panniers off. He grunted a ‘no’ and proceeded to bend down and pick up my extremely heavy bike. I was very very impressed. With my pannier-clad cycle in his hands he walked past the dingy and gently dumped my bike in an oversized wooden rowing boat. When he had finished he did the same with Sharon’s bike. We, a couple of meandering oldies, a dog and the oarsman all jumped in for a short leisurely paddle. It was a fantastic experience and we made sure we handsomely tipped him for his display of unfettered strength.
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We followed the map south and once again were left confused by multiple signs pointing to the same place. Sharon asked for directions. The next thing we knew we were heading down a grassy paddock taking the tough route in the correct direction. After regaining the trail we hit a very steep and narrow concrete track. I was tired and hit my internal turboboost and speedily powered up the hill, scattering a gaggle of day-walkers.

From here we quietly descended into Middelhagen and the camping ground. The young people in the Naturcampingplatz office genuinely took me by surprise. They actually seemed happy to see me, they smiled and asked questions about our day. We pitched our tent in the fading light and ate supper in a dark little dinning room attached to a camp kitchen. All in all, it was a good day we got lost more times than I can count, but made it to our destination with our marriage still intact. Our mileage for the day was a very, very long 68km.

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Introduction
Day 1 – Setting Sail
Day 2 – Training, part 1
Day 2 – Training, part 2
Day 3 – New Expectations, part 1
Day 3 – New Expectations, part 2

New Expectations – part 1

bannerDay 3

I awoke about three in the morning to the sound of very quiet fishermen loading their dingy and paddling out on to the lagoon. I awoke next around 6:30 with noises of yet more fishermen preparing for their expedition. This was my signal to rise and greet the day. I dragged my tired body out of our tent on to glistening dewy grass in time to witness morning sun dancing through the spires and domes of Straslund.

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We had met a couple of tour-cyclists this year and I’d asked them what was the one thing they could not ride without? Their answer was: ‘when the ground is wet, a tarpaulin to sit on’. I pulled out our new-to-us long and narrow groundsheet, threw it on top of the dew, plonked myself down and started cooking. Breakfast lagoonside was a slow affair enjoying morning reflections, lapping water and coffee. Our hope was the sun would majestically ascend over the trees, provide us with warmth and dry our tent and damp sleeping-bags. This magic was to slow to materialise and we ended up borrowing the services of a boat trailer that was conveniently parked in the sun.

P1000517With everything dryish and packed away, we jumped on our bikes and started along the road. We were going just fine until about the three kilometre mark, where we suddenly ran out of track. There were two possibilities; a busy road running east and a minor road heading north. Neither of them seemed to match my maps. I used the opportunity to take off my leg warmers and lower my expectations on German cycle tracks. The results were amazing: emerging from the mist, forcing its way through a ploughed field, a ragged gravel track appeared. This was to be the new normal; my expectations were now searching for unsignposted crappy old dirt paths. With relief and joy we steamed our way through empty harvested autumn fields. The joy from these pastures was stolen by a peculiar looking arrow imprinted in the gravel. To my astonishment someone with too much time on their hands had poked into the dirt, in the form of an arrow, dozens of bottle tops. Some creative time-waster was trying to tell me what side of this empty scruffy trail I was supposed to cycle on. It is a shame he couldn’t have spent his time erecting red D2 signs for hapless travellers.

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We stopped in Gustow at a lovely local produce shop and purchased delicious organic yoghurt for our second breakfasts. After crossing miles of ambling fields we stumbled upon our first helpful sign and a hedgerowed paved cycling track. We thought we were in heaven right up until we stumbled upon a cafe in the village of Poseritz. It was a peaceful looking pit stop. On the driveway I dismounted my bike and went exploring. I discovered empty outdoor seating, an angry barking shaggy dog, but no hosts. Giving up on the idea of peaceful morning caffeine, I returned to my bike to be greeted by a car. I can only presume it was the owners inside. The passenger wound down her window, flashed me her beautiful scowl and commanded me to get out of the way. So I did, I jumped on my bike and showered the village with my dust as we stormed down a lovely fast paved escape-route of a cycle trail.

Our track changed to predicable farm trails and eventually spat us out at the harbour haven of Feriendorf. This village was one of many fairytale hamlets we were about to encounter. The southern side of Rügen with its townships of whitewash and thatch was exceptionally peaceful. We encountered our first cobblestones in Schabernack and shortly afterwards our first sandy track. Both surfaces have the potential to make tour-cycling utterly miserable.

We were soon to stumble upon the town of Garz and followed signs from the cycle path to the ‘Castle Wall Restaurant’. We were two of five cyclists and were able to cycle right up to our table. The waitress came out and greeted us with a gorgeous ‘Rügen scowl’, tolerating us long enough to take our coffee orders. I popped inside and spying the high water-tap at the bar, asked if I could fill our water bottles. I was promptly directed to the toilets. I sat outside suffering a terrible coffee and realised that if I was to enjoy this journey; once again I must lower my expectations. From now on I was to presume that I would be greeted by long downturned mouths and narrow petulant eyes.

Our track changed to predicable farm trails and eventually spat us out at the harbour haven of Feriendorf. This village was one of many fairytale hamlets we were about to encounter. The southern side of Rügen with its townships of whitewash and thatch was exceptionally peaceful. We encountered our first cobblestones in Schabernack and shortly afterwards our first sandy track. Both surfaces have the potential to make tour-cycling utterly miserable.

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Introduction
Day 1 – Setting Sail
Day 2 – Training, part 1
Day 2 – Training, part 2
Day 3 – New Expectations, part 1
Day 3 –  New Expectations, part 2

Training – part 2

bannerThe journey to Lübeck was a very pleasant and peaceful affair. We had ten minutes to exit the train, find elevators, find the next platforms and embark. First problem: we were hampered with being two of about six cyclists all frantically trying to use the disability access elevator. The elevator only carried one bicycle per trip. Second problem: there were three huge stairs on to the cycling carriage. We did not have time to take our panniers off and with Sharon on one end and me on the other, were forced to manhandle our bikes on to the train. In the middle of this manoeuvre I lost my footing and fell between the train and the platform. In itself a minor slightly-annoying issue, however what bothered me was the sound of my new chain-guard cracking and snapping as it failed to hold the weight of my bike bouncing down the stairs. New bikes have to break sometime why not on an old German train?

Fifty minutes later we lumbered our bikes off the train at Bad Kleinen and could not find wheelchair access to the platforms. We ended up dragging our fully-laden bikes down a flight of stairs and up another. It was on the up section that I heard broken glass; I just presumed I had kicked a beer bottle or something. Wrong. What I had heard was the sound of my expensive sunglasses breaking. Everyone had told me that German trains were set up for cycling. Wrong, very very wrong. At least the train to Rostock had simple cycle access. Sitting on this train silently sulking, I was confronted by a particularly officious conductor. He charged us an extra 5€ each for our bikes. I was sure I had read on the Deutsche Bahn website that they did not charge for bicycles. Grrrr.

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We had a very simple change of trains at Rostock and a quick and beautifully boring journey to Altefähr Station. The station was deserted and looked like a scene from a bad spaghetti western. We jumped on our bikes and started cycling towards the exit. My front wheel immediately locked up. I spent the next ten minutes on the platform with my bike upside-down fixing all the damage that had been caused on German Rail. At least the ordeal was over.

We could not find the disability exit; we had walked all through this particularly grubby station and not found a single sign. We ended up wheeling our bikes across the tracks on to a gravel car-park and then down a steep-grassy-scrubby bank. On the way down, my front wheel hit a pothole and twisted my handlebars around. My brand new bike was taking a beating, but at least we were on Rügen Island and all we had left to do for the next week was follow beautifully sign-posted and paved cycle tracks.
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Standing straddled over my bike in front of the station, I could see neither cycle path nor signposts. Back in Kiel, Sharon and I had miss-communicated, resulting in us not actually having supper on board. We were trying to decide should we ride west into Altefähr, find a supermarket, spend a night at the camping ground there and then double back past the station in the morning. Or should we ride east, free camp and eat our emergency rations. We decided to head to Altefähr. After cycling all of ten metres we were confronted my a busy road. We crossed it and simply could not find any signs pointing the way. Because everyone, absolutely everyone, had told me how well signposted Germany is, I had not bothered to find detailed maps. We turned around and headed back towards the station. At the station we ardently searched for signs or cycle paths. It seemed logical to just follow the road east, but my maps seemed to suggest that we needed to be closer to the water. It was about this time that I spotted a sign and a couple of dirt tracks heading into a rather large ditch. After an initial unnecessary foray into the ditch, it became clear to us that this was the cycle path we had been searching for.

Hallelujah we were on the map. Light was fading and we were hungry, so immediately we started looking for a place to camp. We found a lovely, somewhat exposed possible pitch overlooking the Kubitzer Bodden and the Rügendamm bridge. After studying the map and noticing a possible restaurant ahead we decided to ride a little further. What we found was an old, slightly rundown red brick Prussian-looking two storied building. It had outdoor seating, a place in eyeshot to park our bikes and a view of Kubitzer Lagoon.

We took a seat and even managed to find cushions and blankets to put over our knees. It was September, so things were cooling down in the evenings. Eventually a little old lady shuffled out, fussed over the other patrons and handed us menus. Of course everything was in German, but this was not a problem for my very smart wife, so we ordered fish and chips. Halfway through our meal, the guests beside us finished their meal, walked down to the bodden and sailed off into the night. It was somewhere around this time that we decided to camp on the lovely soft looking mown grass right in front of the rustic restaurant. We lingered as long as we could, then wheeled our bikes about twenty metres around the corner and right on the water’s edge, pitched our tent and fell to sleep to the peaceful sounds of water lapping up the shore and trains thundering over the bridge.

It was a long day, sometimes comically disastrous, but finished on the map with a good feed and comfy bed. Between ferries, trains and the restaurant, we managed to push and cycle a staggering 9.49km.

P1000505Introduction
Day 1 – Setting Sail
Day 2 – Training, part 1
Day 2 – Training, part 2
Day 3 – New Expectations, part 1
Day 3 –  New Expectations, part 2

Training

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Training

My best ever sleep took place on a crowded dog and chicken infested Filipino ferry. This Baltic morning I woke rested and ready for adventure. First job of the day was to stuff myself with as much buffet breakfast as possible. I had learnt on previous crossings that the morning grub on these ferries is only just passable for food. We were dining with a rather helpful German friend and her son; together they provided a happy distraction that enabled me to scoff a huge cooked breakfast, almost totally without gagging.

Then next thing we knew, we were rounding the heads of Kiel Harbour. It was another pleasant day, so I whiled away the morning leaning over the deck trying to spot the camping ground we would be staying in on our last night. I spotted three possibilities and am not sure if any of them were correct.

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I learnt from my first pannier carrying exercise and rearranged some of my straps and had a much easier trip from the cabin to our relieved-looking bicycles. One thing for sure, bicycle panniers are designed for bicycles not people. Loading our bike was quite a scary ordeal; men were screaming, trucks and forklifts were zooming around us and metal chains were bouncing off metal floors. We got off that boat as quickly as we could. We had cycled all of 20 metres when we were greeted by our first efficient and stern German. ‘Stop, wait, follow the bus.’ I froze and moved towards the designated waiting spot. We had been waiting only a few minutes when another stern man who secretly was smiling on the inside commanded us to ‘just go’. So like a flash we were gone, cycling on smooth tarmac between containers, logs and articulated lorries. We stopped and asked some startled official-looking types if they wanted to perhaps see our tickets, passports or anything. They waved us on and out into the big dangerous Federal Republic of Germany. It was so exciting, here we were actually cycling through a German city.

I am dyslexic, I live with a continuous cinema of pictures, diagrams and maps floating through the sparse recesses of my head. Finding Kiel station was going to be a simple process. Keep the water to my right and cycle until we intercept a red D2 sign. The red D2 sign signifies the Baltic cycle trail that runs from Poland to Denmark. Everyone had told me how Germans love their cycle paths and signposts, so this was not expected to be a problem.

We cycled south along the road until we hit our first cycle path. Joining the path, we continued. There were signs, quite a few of them, but the red D2 one seemed to be rather elusive. I spied a familiar-looking corner and decided perhaps it was worth stopping to examine my printed google map. Yep, we were for sure on the D2, yep the D2 turned right down a minor street towards a bridge at this very point and nope, it was not signposted at all. Oh dear, was this a sign in itself, a sign of things to come? Yes it was; we were soon to learn that Germany has a lot of signposts, however not that many were going to prove to be useful for us.

So we rode on over a really cute little bridge and into a rather smart residential suburb. We stopped at the first supermarket we could find. Designated cycle racks in cities are next to useless for our well-laden tour bikes. We pulled into a car-park. Both our bicycles have two stands each attached to their undercarriage. This means our bikes can independently stand under the weight of six panniers. Sharon dashed into the supermarket, I stood point on our bikes. A few minutes into my duties, I watched another cyclist rush into the marked cycle rack zone, jump off his bike and start to lock it, only to be attacked by a leashed dog. Mental note, keep away from public bike stands and German dogs.

Eventually Sharon resurfaced with our lunch and supper and we were away again. Kiel was beautiful for cycling: there were flat well lipped cycling paths running everywhere, just no signs telling us what these cycle paths were and where they were going. Before we knew it, instead of crossing a bridge in front of Central Station, we were heading down a hill and on a cruise liner. The only thing that really stopped us was a barricade and an ounce of common sense. We were supposed to have taken the unsignposted second right.

We found a lovely sunny spot to people watch. Sharon sat there, snacked, and kept an eye on our bikes while I moseyed into the station’s ticket office. I had two goals: I wanted a map of German train-lines and to see if we could catch on earlier train than planned. After a few minutes of trying to read German in an effort to find a map, I bumped into our friend again. She was also in search of an earlier journey.

The person at the ticket counter spoke excellent English for me. Yes, we could get earlier tickets and no, we couldn’t have the layover between trains extended. This was mostly good news, but it also meant that I now had about twenty minutes to find Sharon and get us both onto the train. I sped out on the concourse found our departure platform, rushed off searching for the station’s disability/cycle entrance, then ran down the stairs in search of Sharon.

I could see my wife in the distance sitting enjoying the sun, looking the other way and oblivious to her rushing husband trying to run in cleated cycle shoes and chaffing chamois shorts. As Sharon turned, she was greeted by her husband slightly sweating waving his arms frantically and pointing towards the train station. We were about to leave two hours earlier than planned. We jumped on our bikes just as it started spitting and quickly followed a painted line on the pavement that took us all the way to the station’s disability entrance. We quickly pushed our bikes through the station, on to our platform and directly on to the cycle carriage of a very modern train. It really could not have been much easier; I was impressed. I secured our bikes beside a very serious-looking young couple and tried unsuccessfully not to bump their child’s stroller. Suitably scolded by this friendly couple I sat to relax just as the welcome smiley face of our German friend appeared in the doorway. Sharon had lost her boggle; I had mentioned that I was trying to find a new one. She handed over one of hers, wished us well and snapped a fantastic photo of the very excited Mrs and Mr Fowler. Shortly after, the doors closed and we were on our way.

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Introduction
Day 1 – Setting Sail
Day 2 – Training, part 1
Day 2 – Training, part 2
Day 3 – New Expectations, part 1
Day 3 –  New Expectations, part 2

Setting Sail

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Day 1

As far as first days go, this whopping big 8.47km was an easy one.

It is always a palaver leaving our flat. Bicycles, bottles, bags and anything else and whatever else we have, needs to be painstakingly carried down two flights of stairs. And because of local opportunistic drunks, nothing can be left unattended. However, being a crisp sunny day and an afternoon sail, we had all the time in the world.

P1000486We quietly loaded up our bikes, set the camera on timer and took our ‘before’ shot. Slightly over-exposed and backdropped by sickening city apartment blocks, this was a view that I was looking forward to leaving behind. Our morning meander to the ferry took us along paved pedestrian thoroughfares, busy streets, quiet streets and finally flanked the water’s edge on a new smooth independent cycle path.

We had been given two different sailing times, so were a little unsure what time we needed to actually be at the terminal. We turned up two and a half hours before departure to be greeted by Dutch tourists travelling in a pack and oblivious to their surroundings. There were no instructions at the ferry terminal for bicyclists, so we jumped in amongst the Dutch and lined up with the cars. After a confusing long wait, eventually the Dutch sorted themselves out, got out of everyone’s way and allowed us through.

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At the berth we were greeted by a long line of cars; having no clear instructions we just rode past them, to be greeted by a smiling man, motioning us to cycle straight on. This turned out to be both our last stranger smile and our last display of simplicity until we re-boarded the ship a week later.

Inside the vessel we were confronted by a collection of tired looking bicycles haphazardly strapped to the hull. We managed to find an old trucking tie and used this to add our bikes to the mess. Next came the hardest part of the day; carrying between us our 12 panniers from the belly of the boat up many flights of stairs to our cabins. In my bags I had our first two days’ food and water as well as drinking water for the sailing. They were heavy and complicated to carry and if I only learnt one thing on the climb to our room, it was how ‘not’ to carry my panniers. I will do better next time.

The afternoon was spent on deck watching sunny Klaipėda slide by and eventually finished with an average beer and an excellent book.

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Introduction
Day 1 – Setting Sail
Day 2 – Training, part 1
Day 2 – Training, part 2
Day 3 – New Expectations, part 1
Day 3 – New Expectations, part 2

Peddling the Dirt, Baltic Germany

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Oh Rügen Island and German north coast, how impossibly imperfectly perfect you are.

This ride involved two international ferries, two local ferries, seven train trips, 388 cycled kilometres and way too many cobblestones. It started and finished in the stairwell of our Lithuanian Soviet-built flat and covered almost every kind of road/track/trail surface possible. It was easy, it was hard, frustrating, fantastic, heart-breaking and heart-warming. It was an adventure.

I spent hours meticulously planning every painful little detail of this journey. A big thanks to Ride with GPS .com and your cycle route mapping software.  Also thanks to Susanne Hill, who gave us actual physical maps along with a wee bit of porridge. Without the two of you we would have been even more lost.

Germany: big brother cannot see you. How come you do not have Google Street View? Do you have any idea how much easier and more boring our trip would have been if I could have seen the road surfaces before setting sail?

I had been led to believe that German cycle tracks would all be lovely, wide, flat and happy stretches of asphalt. Oh how drastically wrong I was. I would not recommend this trail for other tour-cyclists. It is over-signposted, liberally peppered with the upside down smile-lines of the indigenous population and has absolutely nothing out of place.

If you are as stupid as us and don’t like your butts and bicycles that much, then give it ago, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.  If there is any intelligence in you, then perhaps the wiser option would be settling for reading this story.

This was the best cycle holiday that we have had to date. Please do continue to read for the grit and grime of our body odour stricken peddling exploit.

Introduction
Day 1 – Setting Sail
Day 2 – Training, part 1
Day 2 – Training, part 2
Day 3 – New Expectations, part 1

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