The Golden Tandem Rides Again!

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Welcome to our humble blog!  Follow Christine and Ian as we explore the world from atop two wheels.  This summer, we’ll take you with us across Scotland, England, France, Switzerland, Germany, and Denmark.

Click Here for a map of the route!

Click here to see our daily rides in ridiculous detail!

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Eating our way across Europe

BONUS POST!

We’ve been back home now for two weeks, and our everyday routines are slowly falling back into place.  But our metabolisms remember the not-so-distant days when eating, and eating, and eating, and eating was the name of the game.  We were lucky enough to take full advantage of the culinary opportunities in several countries this summer.  As we begin to reflect on the past few months, memories of food anchor our recollections, and leave a nostalgic taste in our mouths.  So this post is a loving homage to the many meals that we devoured and the places in which they were devoured.  It’s not about the subtleties of French cheese or wine.  It’s about calories, and lots of them.  Enjoy:

Scotland:

Land of sheep, highland cattle, heather-carpeted mountains….and the classic “Full Scottish Breakfast,” complete with eggs, ham, bacon, toast, roasted tomatoes, mushrooms, baked beans, haggis, and blood pudding.  When there wasn’t time for a full sit-down, no worries!  Just pick up a hard-boiled, breaded, deep-fried “Scotch Egg” for the run.  These meals kept us going during our first two weeks of the trip.

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That, and whisky, of course.

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Paired sensibly with a visit to the pub.

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England:

Mmmm…meat pies.  Such a perfectly contained bundle of protein, fat, salt, and delicious.  Never a bad time for a meat pie calorie bomb.

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But, really, England was all about tea.  Black tea, or as they call it: ordinary tea.  And what’s tea without an indulgent side of scones with cream.  What kind of cream, you ask?  Squirty cream? No.  Double cream? No. Clotted cream? Well, ok, but our winner was the classic, thick, almost butter heavy whipped cream.

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They even served tea at the bike shop!

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Other things were good in England, too.  Like ice cream shakes, homemade bread from a generous WarmShowers host, visits to the local bakery, and Ian’s bad habit of Marmite with cheese.

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And, of course–we finished our stint in England with a final feast of fish n’ chips, gobbled down in the parking lot waiting to board the ferry to France.IMG_20150706_131558014_HDR

France:

Ah, the land of stinky cheeses, fine wines, and famed culinary arts.  We were too dirty for the likes of table cloths and table service, so we kept our patronage to bakeries.  The boulangerie–our life line.  France simply can’t be beat when it comes to bread and pastries.  We know–we tried them all.

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Combine the baguette with some stinky cheese with whatever fresh veggies and fruit you score at the local market, and you’ve got a picnic.

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Cycling through France’s champagne country, we were determined to sample a selection.  After a hot day of searching in vain, we finally settled on a grocery store bottle costing six Euro (the most expensive in the store!), and drowned our champagne-failure-sorrows during a particularly giddy night at a campsite.

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Then it was back to water.

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Occasionally, we treated ourselves to a meal involving silverware.

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But it was just a phase.

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Switzerland:

We’re on a budget, people!  Switzerland was expensive, so we survived off of bread, Nutella by the finger-full, Ian’s persistent left-over Marmite, simple camp meals, nuts, and the generosity of various hosts along the way.

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Oh, and chocolate.

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Germany:

Germany brought with it Spaghetti Eis.  That’s ice cream squeezed through a press to make it look like spaghetti–could it get any better?

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There was also, of course, plenty of beer, wurst, and potato-based meals.

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Cakes!

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Fresh fish from the North Sea!

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The occasional fresh vegetable matter:

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And weird meat out of a can.

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But family awaited us in northern Germany, and Ian’s birthday was richly celebrated!

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Denmark:

Denmark (or at least tourists visiting Denmark) will not stop obsessing about their hot dogs.  So, we participated in the fun.

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Island-hopping, we enjoyed the required seaside fish, beer, and potato meal.

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And experienced the largest, most elaborate breakfast spread we’ve ever encountered.  And that’s saying something.

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What a journey!  What an indulgence!  What a lot of meat (we’re going vegetarian for a while…)!  It’s been tough entering the realm of normal portions–but let’s be honest, we’ve always been enthusiastic eaters.  We’ll have to satisfy our urges with the occasional tea party.  With scones.  And cream.  You’re all invited!  Feel free to bring the whisky.

All Paths Lead to Copenhagen

This is being written in a Laz-y-Boy recliner, fueled by cucumber-mint tea served in a massive mug.  That’s right folks, the GT is back in the states.

Since we last wrote, the Golden Tandem has carved a fiery arc across northern Germany and Scandinavia, creating a mini-media sensation.  Thanks to some family connections, we were interviewed in Husum about our trip, why we would do such a silly thing, and why we would end up in the glorious but lesser known northern lands of Schleswig-Holstein.  We want to say it didn’t go to our head, but we definitely did a few extra laps around town before heading north, bound for Denmark.

We’ve commented on it before, but cycling on a bike path is generally way better than riding on streets: no traffic and a more intimate tour of the landscape can be found by turning off the country highway.  We enjoyed the paths along the Rhein, and the cycle routes of the UK, but nothing we rode this summer compares to the extensive network–nay! interweb–of bikepaths that lace across northern Germany and Denmark (and probably Holland and other places too, we just didn’t get there this time).

We were joined this week by Christine’s dad Wallace, who joined us for our ‘victory lap’ into Copenhagen.  If Ian’s parent’s superpower is finding fruit, Wallace’s is finding ambiance.  W guided us to the end of our trip and back into polite society by gently reintroducing foods like vegetables into our lives, as well as encouraging us to find places where using a napkin is more appropriate.

We easily found a set of maps for the end of the trip showing local cycle routes which inundated the landscape.  Between every town we could choose from two or more routes, all traffic-free or very low traffic.  We could navigate on the fly, knowing that even if we took a wrong turn we could probably get back on track within half a kilometer.

Why are there so many bike paths up here?  We have no idea, go read some articles on it.   What we do know is that the norhern half of Germany and all of Denmark is saturated with bike infrastructure, and as a result everyone, their mother, their three year old, and their grandmother is biking.  It’s that convenient, safe, and easy.  If you think spending money on bike paths is a waste of time, go to northern Germany or Denmark and check out how people get around.  When seeing 80 year olds independent and mobile on a bike is common, you know you’re doing something right.

Day 61-63: August 7, 8, 9 resting in Husum

We had a lovely time with family in Husum swimming in the Nordsee, wandering in the Watt, eating delicious food, and biking as little as possible.  Ian got some sweet-ass kicks that he’ll be rocking at work this year.  Thanks, Ulli!  Ulli, Christine’s mom, completed our all-parents-must-ride-with-us project by cycling with us ten miles out to Haselund for a grillfest, and she did it on a wacked-out bike seat that kept shedding intregral parts.  Respekt.

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Day 54: August 10, Husum to Haselund, 37.4 miles

Ian turned 28 this day, so it was guaranteed awesome.  We saw some awesome sheep antics along the dikes holding back the Nordsee, enjoyed an awesome headwind cycling inland to Christine’s cousins, stopped at an awesome café to buy an ungodly amount of birthday cake in Viöl (four varieties, lots of cream), and were surprised by an awesome birthday celebration and presents by Christine’s ever-awesome cousins!  Everyone was jazzed.

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We often cycle to Haselund along a bike path next to a main road (but separate), but this time our route was brand new.  With our maps and ubiquitous cycle signs pointing to the next town, we simply meandered out by the sea and then followed our noses back towards town.  In the future we can simply wend our ways around the countryside, free from traffic noise.  These maps were worth every euro.

We finished the night making mixes on Spotify, drinking beverages, and eating potato chips.  Quite lovely.

Day 65: August 11, Haselund to Glücksburg, 30.6 miles

In Glücksburg we were very fortunate to have the use of Christine’s great aunt’s summer house.  We could have gone straight there along the main drag, but again, with the power of maps (and decades of investment in bike paths), we simply cut inland.  We spent sometime by the main road, but the worst cycling we experienced in Germany was better than some of the best in the US.

We arrived in Glücksburg with enough time to shower, eat caprese salad, and enjoy some zombie time on the internet before cousin Lilli arrived with her family for an afternoon of fun.  Activities included shaming Ian into swimming in the super-scary fresh water pond with muck on the bottom, long boarding, tandem rides, dinner by the Ostsee, and water bottle fights.  This was our last chance to see family in Germany, and we enjoyed every minute of it!

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Day 66: August 12, Glücksburg to Svendborg (Denmark), 77.3 miles

Sticking to tradition, we did a ton of miles with family!  Wallace was a good sport, and even did a little bike hiking with us on the way from Flensburg, Germany, across the border into Denmark.

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Denmark, like Switzerland, has a series of national cycle routes that ensure gorgeous views and lovely roads and bike paths as you cross the country.  Once in Denmark, we simply started following the Route 8 signs and focused our energy on making fun of Danish names.  We are as inept and immature about the Danish language as we were in France.  We need to work on our cultural sensitivity.

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We had our first taste of Danish cuisine in Sønderborg, where we ordered hotdogs a la Denmark.  Just to make sure he understood the subtleties of taste, Ian ordered three.  Full of food, we cycled from mainland Jutland to the island Als, from whence Christine’s family’s name comes, and then to a ferry to the island of Fyn.  Along our way we were amazed to find that Danes cycle tour with the whole family, apparently starting at the age of zero.  Seven-year olds were out there, laden down with mini-panniers on their little bikes.  Babies snoozed in trailers, and parents pulled massive loads of child and food split between trailers.  Our theory is that the Danish thigh circumference must be, on average, half again as big as any other country.  These guys are bad ass.

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Our evening, though late, was some of the prettiest cycling of the trip.  Route 8 kept looping out to the edge of the island, where farmland and woods met the sea.  The pictures are the best way to show this, but if you’ve cycled on Block Island or in Maine, it was a bit like that, but on bike paths or country lanes.  Any exhaustion was well worth this evening.

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Day 67: August 13, Svendborg to Guldborg, 69.4 miles

We spent our day on protected cycle paths in cool, breezy weather, but after the paradise of yesterday we mostly harumphed at not seeing the see. Spoiled.

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Any entitlement was forgotten, however, when we arrived at the B&B where W would be staying.  A renovated farm under the care of a kind older couple, it was the most picturesque homestead we’ve seen.  W’s room was glorious, complete with Danish literature, half-moon windows and thatched roof.  This place was the lovechild of Rivendell and Hobbiton.  We almost stayed ourselves, but contented ourselves with camping down the road and crashing the party for breakfast the next day.

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Day 68: August 14, Guldborg to Rødvig, 52.9 miles

Breakfast.  BREAKFAST.  We’ve eaten a few, but this was the one.  Served in an impecably decorated Danish farm house dining room, we were presented with more food than we can emotionally process.  The challenge was made explicit when our hostess kept coming in to check on bread levels with a scolding: “but you haven’t eaten anything!” comment.

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Denmark may have rocking cycling infrastructure, but it’s got even better wind.  The highest quality, we experienced: unadulturated, relentless, soul-searching 20-30 mph headwinds all the way to Rødvig.  In an attempt to find a more sheltered way to town, we asked W’s hostess about Rødvig, but our accent was so bad she couldn’t find out where we were going.  Danish ≠ German.

The road was gorgeous, and the windiness was tempered by ocean views and a lunch under a willow by a pond (to be fair, branches broken by the wind kept falling on us).  Wind beaten, we arrived in Rødvig a little emotionally raw and seriously hungry.  We made it into bed without fighting over the last  tortellini, our minds reeling over the fact that tomorrow was our last day of cycling.

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Day 69: Rødvig to Copenhagen, 54.3 miles

The big closing.  Our legs were tired.  Our asses just COULDN’T.  Our hearts weren’t quite done with our trip yet, but Copenhagen loomed near.  And a thunderstorm loomer nearer. Inspired by a rest in the city and an intense desire not to get wet, W dropped the hammer.  The tailwind may have helped, too. Dancing along the edge of a massive storm system, we watched lightening bolts hit nearby farm fields, which evidently sent energy jolts of speed through W’s-still-dry self.  We even passed by a field recently struck, still smoking with patchy burn-marks.

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Our ride in was appropriately curated with sea-side cycle lanes and a steady increase in biker density as we approached the city.  Ten miles out we were slow-moving rollers in a speedy current of spandex-clad roadies.  Five miles out we were just one of thousands of tourists out to enjoy the weather.  In the city limits, we weren’t even an aberration.  Massive cargo bikes, laden with children, cargo, and lovers trundled along in a surging stream.  We experienced our first-ever bicycle traffic jam, as well as our first ever left-turn light for cyclists only.

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Coming into the city center and our host’s neighborhood, the crowds crescendoed in a blur of bodies, glitter, and color.  It was Copenhagen Pride!  Giddy, we followed the parade floats with the crowds, showered in confetti and dancing to Madonna.  Our introduction to Copenhagen was seriously rad. As a gnarly old German man once said to us, Respekt.

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Day 70: August 16, Copenhagen

Our hosts Iann and Marlene were amazing.  Not only did they let us into their lovely home and feed us, they also let us shower them, emotionally and physically, with the bags, boxes, and logistics of leaving.  We spent the day before flying home frantically searching the city for a bike box on Sunday, a day when almost all shops were closed.  We managed to get a single-bike-box from a kind rental company, along with some scrap cardboard.  In the cool of an apartment basement, we dismantled a very battered Golden Tandem for its trip home.  It’s earned a full once-over, and maybe new wheels.  It shall bike another day!

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W then made sure we enjoyed the city a little before leaving with a lovely afternoon walk and muscles in a cafe by the city lakes.  That man knows ambiance. Also, just look at these bikes!!!

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Day 71: August 17, Copenhagen to Boston, ~3,655 miles

We bid goodbye to Ian, Marlene, and Katzen the cat Monday morning, and set out for the Copenhagen train station.  Each carrying a 40 pound duffel full of rank clothes and bike parts, carrying two extra backpacks, two personal carry ons, and a tandem, it was a rather trying ordeal, but it gave the morning wave of cycle commuters something to look at.  We gawked one last time at the bike parking lot at the train station, hucked our gear onto the train, and set out for home.

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In Rekjavik, halfway home and starving, we ate in the airport food court.  We realized this was exactly where we had eaten on our way there, and wondered at how it felt like yesterday.  Somehow this summer, as full as it was, has blipped by in its own little time bubble.  Like a python digesting a cow, we will, little by little, over the next few months, process all we’ve done this summer.

Long trips work this way.  We are privileged to leave our home, and normal rhythms of life for these summers.  We endeavor, in fact, to make such trips normal for us. Every trip ends, however, and all we can do now is post our photos, think back, and annoy our friends by saying “one time, in France…”

Thanks for reading.  Get on a bike and go outside if you haven’t in a while.  It’s a good time.

TANDEMONIUM

When you’re riding a tandem, it’s less like riding a bicycle, and more like riding a freight train, or a ship.  Like a freight train because it takes forever to gain momentum (although once it does, the Golden Tandem does NOT like to slow down), and like a ship because parking the GT anywhere is liking docking the Queen Mary.  It’s a slow, cumbersome, glorious machine.

When you have two tandems, you have a flotilla.  You manage corners en mass, signalling each other and scattering bemused pedestrians as you plow around the turn.  It’s rather giddy, to glide along in a tandem-fleet.  In Scotland with Peter and Gemma we rumbled along cliff edges and through the rain.  This week, with Ian’s parents, it was TANDEMONIUM along the Rhein in the sunshine.

Two tandems intensifies all aspects of the cycling experience.  We receive twice the number of comments, and turn twice the number of heads as we sail by.  We eat twice the amount of ice cream and at least ten times the amount of fruit (we’re not sure how this works out–ask Ian’s parents).  We are a traveling spectacle, and the traveling was spectacular.

Day 48: July 25 Zürich to Gurtweil (Germany!), 54.2 miles

After a much needed day of rest, recuperation, and hygiene at Christine’s cousin’s home on the banks of the Zürich See, we reluctantly left the haven of the indoors to cycle north to the German border.  Renate housed us, fed us, gave us a TV to watch the Tour de France, and sent us on our way with ten or so kilos of food.  Not only that, but she cycled us to Zürich herself, and made sure we stopped at the Lindt factory along the way.  Renate was truly a Trail Angel, taking us in along the road.

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It wasn’t long before we saw the Rhein and German flags flying on the northern shore.  Once again, thanks to the EU, our crossing was anti-climatic and simple.  Ian tends to get edgy around border authorities, so this was a good thing.  We celebrated our first evening in Germany with pizza and Rothaus Bier, the only beer for sale between the border and Freiburg.

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Day 49: July 26, Gurtweil to Freiburg, 51.5 miles

Into the Schwartzwald!  So-named for a dark understory, the Wald in this area is indeed rather schwartz.  We climbed into the steep ridges of pine and dined by the Titisee, an uproariously trafficked tourist hotspot.  One man tried to sell Ian a cuckoo clock, while many, many people surreptitiously took pictures of us and the Golden Tandem.  Even a tandem alone can cause an uproar.

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The Schwartzwald is famous for German kitsch and for scenery, and we found both.  After Titisee we once again climbed into the wooded hills to stumble across a Bergfest–real-deal oomp-pa-pa bands and lots of beer being dished out on the Berg.  SUPER SOUTHERN GERMAN.

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Our day ended in the university town of Freiburg, only 30 miles from France.  We stayed with a lovely French couple, newly transplanted into Germany.

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Day 50: July 27, Freiburg to Strasbourg, 63.9 miles 
and Day 51: July 28, Strasbourg rest day

By now we were ready for rest, and we descended from Freiburg toward the Rhein as quickly as we could.  The transition was surreal; from the high Alps to the banks of the Rhein in less than a week.

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We found our way back to France in Strasbourg, and enjoyed a lovely day exploring the old city center by boat and by foot.  We also took advantage of French boulangeries one final time.

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Day 52: July 29, Strasbourg to Speyer, 98 miles

Time to make tracks so that we can tandem it up with Ian’s parents.  We ground gears through rain and grit, enjoying a tailwind and gorgeous pastoral scenery along orchards and fields tucked behind the Rhein’s Hauptdeich.

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This was when shit started to get crazy with the GT again.  A small, persistent noise started in the rear wheel, and wouldn’t stop.  Anxious, we stopped at the fine bike shop BIKEFABRIK, where the kind mechanic immediately gave the bike a once over: he reassured us that YES the rear hub is loose and YES our front bottom bracket is loose and YES our rear tire is worn and YES our wheels need truing but NO he doesn’t have the parts for the hub or bottom bracket and NO we don’t need to replace the tire or bottom bracket just yet.  More confident, but nervous of what another 100 mile day would do to the GT, we creaked away.

Day 53: July 30, Speyer to Bacharach, 97.7 miles

One more day to double-tandem fun!  We hauled ass.  That’s it, folks.  Sometimes you’ve got biking to do, and you just have to ride it out.  Again, tandems are the best for this.  Between chocolate, GORP, and favorable winds we found ourselves eighty miles north by the afternoon, surrounded by vineyards and hills.

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We finished our day in castle-country, where steep ridges topped with fairytale castles overlooked the river, which by now was full of barge traffic and cruise boats.  There may have been more cycle tourists along the Rhein at this point, but we didn’t see them because we were going so fast.

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We met Alison and Duncan at the castle-turned-youth hostel (AKA Jugendherberge) in the town of Bacharach.  A&D, like us, had had a long day, and the TANDEMONIUM commenced as all four of us took on the hostel buffet.  We were hunger squared, and no brötchen escaped our ferociously hungry grasp.

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Stuffed and happy, we all fell into bed, exhausted and ready to rest for the next day.  What we didn’t know was that two hours later we (and every VERY EXCITED German child in the castle) would be awoken by the castle ghost, who spent thirty minutes dragging chains around the hostel moaning.  The kids loved it.  Ian was dangerously close to committing ghosticide.

Day 54: July 31, Bacharach to Bad Hönningen, 56 miles

Again, double the tandem riders=double the food eaten.  Breakfast was awesome and epic.

Well-nourished, we strove forth for a day of riding, when the GT suddenly started wobbling in the rear wheel, enough to shake the entire frame every revolution.  Double the tandems=double the mechanical issues.

We were lucky to find Richard, an autodidact in Sankt Goar who taught himself excellent English using TV and tourists.  He trued our wheels to within 0.3 mm, and reinforced the rear wheel with zip ties, which looks pretty boss.

Repaired (for now), we managed to enjoy another beautiful day along the Rhein, passing by the famous Deutsches Eck where the Rhein and the Mosel converge.

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We crossed the river and made it to our campsite quite late, only to find the place PACKED.  We squeezed our cumbersome bikes into the tent-scrum, bunjied them into a self-sufficient A-frame, and snuggled in for the night.

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Day 55: August 1, Bad Hönningen to Weiß, 41.2 miles

Double the tandem=double the morning preparation.  By the time tents were dry, breakfast eaten, tea drunken, it was already quite late.  Not only that–upon leaving the camp the GT immediately got a flat.  Double the tandems=double the swear-fest-flat-fixin-funtime.

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BUT double the tandem also=double the awesome.  We had a lot of fun riding up the gorgeous Rhein, dodging travelers, meeting dogs, and stopping for ice cream.  We even passed a Comicon convention in Bonn, where Alison and Duncan got their first taste of that sub-culture.  Dunc snuck in a post-Comicon-cruise nap while we had lunch and consulted the map.

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Day 56: August 2, Weiß to Herdecke, 59.7 miles

Alison and Duncan got a real taste of Germany by bike: switchbacks over some good hills between the Rhein and the Ruhr, a Weinfest (Wine Party, for those not in the know), slate houses, and closed food stores on Sunday.  We had no food whatsoever, and only survived by eating out for every meal, which was rough.  Duncan further displayed his uncanny knack for getting extra sleep whenever the opportunity arises, including at the lunch table.  Pretty badass and efficient, if you ask us.  We’re trying to learn.

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Day 57: August 3, Herdecke to Münster, 64.6 miles

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This would have been another day of biking efficiency if not for the fact that the GT once again decided to fall apart.  This time, our rear wheel got so loose it was clunking back and forth between our rear break pads.  Double the tandem=double the issues… except that all the issues were on the Golden Tandem, and not Alison’s and Dunc’s bike.

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The next shop we have to thank for our continued forward progress is Lucky Bike, in Dortmund.  Not only did they fix our wheel completely, but Alison got to enjoy a good cup of joe, Ian got to drool over bike parts, and Duncan once again snuck in a ninja nap, ending up better-rested than any of us.

Once again securely fastened together, the GT rolled away toward Münster, where our tandem flotilla would part ways.  Next to Alison’s and Duncan’s sleek new Comotion tandem, we now appreciate that the GT is a battered veteran.  It knows its way around the battlefield, but it’s getting mighty creaky…  As if to punctuate this fact, we endured yet another flat on a trail late in the afternoon.

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Our day happily ended in Münster, famous for its bikeyness.  It was super bikey, and we road the last eight miles into town on a canal path overflowing with the beautiful population of Münster, out to enjoy the sunshine in various states of undress and sobriety.  We were greatly entertained by the scene, and our TANDEMONIOUS flotilla was a big hit with the crowds.

Happy and exhausted, we spent our last evening together with Christine’s cousins, Friedericke and Jan, who walked us to the harbor for pizza.  Twice the tandem=twice the tired.  Combined with food and beer, we were a sleepy bunch, and we sleepily bid Alison and Duncan farewell after a full and tiring week before making our own stumbling way to bed.

Day 58: August 4, Münster to Dümmer See, 68.4 miles

The tandems may have split, but the TANDEMONIUM continued.  We had a goal: Husum by Thursday August 6th for a Grillenparty with Christine’s family.

We totally would have set off at 5am or something super badass, but we had to enjoy a delicious, relaxed morning with Jan instead, talking about teaching, dentistry and life.  Sometimes the TANDEMONIUM needs to wait in exchange for a good breakfast, good company, and caffeine.

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We still got our miles in.  We even got to see Alison and Duncan on our way out of town!  By eight pm we were tired and DONE.  Luckily, we had our pick of campsites by the Dümmer See, a massive lake in the middle of Münsterland.  We picked the right one–private camping pitch, nice showers, and the camp director let us stay for free when he heard what we were doing.  As the Germans say: respekt.

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Day 59: August 5, Dümmer See to Wischhafen, 113.1 miles

At mile 80, the TANDEMONIUM really sets in.  We made it through this day thanks to the fact that we were in it together, suffering on the same torture rack of golden steel.  High points included an amazing sunrise.  Low points include butt pain to the point of numbness.

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Our day was made all the more awesome by a TANDEMONIOUS tour of the city of Bremen, officially the easiest city to bike in and out of.  Ian piloted like a bat out of hell in order to maintain our average speed (dork), but we did stop for a delicious lunch break and a much needed rest of our kiesters.

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By the evening we felt we were really approaching the German north, as we road along cow fields and through small forest stands.  We camped on the Elbe, our last watery divide before entering Christine’s family seat: Schleswig-Holstein, land of the mighty sheep.

Day 60: August 6, Wischhafen to Husum, 75.6 miles

Indeed, sheep were the first thing we saw when we stepped off the Elbe ferry.  We could smell the sea-salt, and the deich stretched along the coast as far as the eye could see.  Welcome to northern Germany!

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Take the prettiest, most pastoral scenery you can imagine, jump on it a few times to flatten it out, sink it about twenty feet below sea level, and sprinkle a bit of briny sea culture all over, and you’ve got northern Germany.  Seriously cute, and excellent for cycling.

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We were massively relieved to see the grain elevators of Husum in the distance.  After so many miles through strange lands, for the first time we felt we were coming home.  Indeed, Christine has been coming to Husum since she was a drooling babe, and Ian knows his Rollmops from his Krabben (the takeaway: never eat Rollmops).

We are dirty and smelly, and the GT may or may not fall apart at any time, but we have officially cycled from Scotland to Nordfriesland via most of Western Europe, over 3,000 miles.  Christine’s family awaited us with open arms.  Open arms full of meat, which we ate.  It is wonderful to have family awaiting your arrival.

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Coming soon: the Golden Tandem goes public!  See how the GT handles celebrity during its first photo shoot!  Bis bald, Freunden.

48,347

Since we last wrote in Quingey, France, we’ve climbed 48,347 feet.  That’s a lot of feet; 10,000 feet shy of biking up Mount Everest TWICE.  BOOM.

We’ve been put through the ringer, but the last ten days have been some of the best riding we have ever done in our lives.  During the hottest July ever recorded (eek), we have soaked in not just UV rays, but outstanding landscapes, life-affirming climbs, and breathless descents.  We have EARNED the Alps.  Now on the other side, in Zürich, we look back on a week full of rewards, worth every Swiss Franc and pedal stroke.

Day 38: July 15, Quingey to Nozeroy, 50.74 miles, 5,112 feet climbed

We awoke early to a fine French sunrise and set off in the cool semi-darkness.  One of our last days in France, we enjoyed the distinctive “je ne sais quoi” of French towns and landscapes.

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After a morning of flats, the Jura hit us flat in the face with steep climbs through beautiful forests, quiet except for the ferocious buzzing of carnivorous insects hell-bent on eating Christine alive (Ian, naturally, kept his cool).  We enjoyed a proper French lunch by the President les Sapins, a massive tree deep in the Jura forest.

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Our final climb to Nozeroy, a medieval hill-top walled town, hinted at the mountains to come and rewarded us with a tent-side view of the valleys below.

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Day 39: July 16, Nozeroy to Saint-Claude, 68.6 miles, 6,503 feet cllimbed

Between Nozeroy and Switzerland, the Jura lies like a mussed up table-cloth; ridges one after the other in steep succession.  We climbed up from fields of grain into high mountain pastures and forest, passing bemused cattle and roasting under the sun.

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In one valley we came upon Lac Ilay, a beautiful turquoise oasis in the 95 degree heat.  A lunch break was unanimously voted for, and we enjoyed baguettes and a quick leg-dip in the cool waters.  Before we left we had a brainstorm: what if we soaked our shirts to keep us cool?  As Christine is fond of saying: “GAME CHANGER.”  The feeling of cold water on your skin in hot weather is an instant mood booster.

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The day ended deep in a valley between ridges.  We slept at the foot of one final mountain ridge: the gateway to Switzerland!

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Day 40: July 17, Saint-Claude to Rolle (Switzerland!), 47.2 miles, 6,762 feet climbed

We awoke at 5 am ahead of traffic and heat and immediately found ourselves climbing steeply.  Despite our pre-soaked shirts, we were soon sweating profusely.  The road climbed along dizzying cliffs and under massive rock formations, a fitting overture for the Alps.

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We proudly crested Col de Magnard, flew down to the small skiing town of Mijoux, and struggled yet again up the Col de la Faucille, which sounds way too much like “the Easy Pass.”  Remember, sixth-grade French education.

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On the crest we suddenly saw Lac Léman stretching below us, barely visible in the haze.  Eager for that cool Swiss mountain air, we flew down the valley, our shirts freshly soaked.  For every 100 meters we dropped, however, the temperature climbed.  By the time we had reached the edge of the lake, we felt like we had been put through a high-heat tumble-dry cycle.

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Luckily, our campsite in Rolle was directly on the lake.  We got our first taste of Swiss prices (50 franc campsite!?), swam in the lake’s cool waters, ate our weight in food, and fell asleep, sweaty but content.

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Day 41: July 18, Rolle to Aigle, 49.6 miles, 2,073 feet climbed

We awoke to a sunrise thunderstorm, and gleefully rolled onto the road in a cool rain.

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The northern coast of Lac Léman is dotted with resort towns, but we soon retreated into the hills onto 15th century terraces of stone climbing the ridges, where famous Swiss wine is made.  At the urging of a local rider we climbed an extra 500 feet or so in exchange for several extra miles of ridge-top riding.

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The day felt like a real respite from the heat and climbing.  We arrived early at our camp in Aigle, where we enjoyed a waterslide and pool underneath an afternoon sun, and fell asleep in preparation for the day ahead.

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Day 42: July 19, Aigle to Estavannens, 39.3 miles, 5,052 feet climbed

Not our biggest climbing day by far, but it came all at once, in one leg-destroying, sweat-soaked, fear-inducing suffer fest.  By 11am we had climbed for three hours on grades up to 18%.  If this was our first Alpen pass, what would the rest be like?

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Despite any crises of confidence, we arrived at the top to dazzling views and a long, slow, rolling descent to our hosts.  We shall not waste time with adjectives.  Look at the pictures and enjoy.

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Day 43: July 20, Estavannens to Seftigen, 57 miles, 4,531 feet climbed

Up until this point, Christine had endured Ian’s terrible French as our main form of communication, but on this day, upon leaving the gothic city of Fribourg, we left la Suisse and entered die Schweiz!  Sweet communicative relief!

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We road from classic Swiss city to picturesque Swiss chalets, giddy with the landscape’s beauty and lack of passes.  It was too good to be true, however.  On a steep climb out of a river gorge, 20 miles from our destination, we heard a series of metallic pops, and watched with dread as something small and important looking flew off our rear wheel and rolled away.  Upon inspection, we found our rear derailleur had somehow gotten caught in our wheel spokes and twisted into modern art.

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Stuck in hilly Switzerland, we chose problem-solve over panic, and turned to our maps and Google.  The closest bike shop was at our destination, up a gentle climb and a steep descent. With the Swiss hills in mind, we transformed the Golden Tandem into a single-speed.  The most hipster.

With a maximum pedalling speed of eight miles per hour, we made  our stately and leisurely way to town.  At first we gritted our teeth at the enforced slowness. But we remdined ourselves that this simply meant we had more time to enjoy the landscape.

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Hurrah for mechanics.  After an hour, our bike shop savior had cannibalized one of his new bikes to rebuild our own, and even trued our wheels.  We still don’t think he charged us full price.

Another night with another incredibly hospitable Swiss family.  Well slept without the fly under stars and next to a field of clanking cattle.

Day 44: July 21, Seftigen to Alpnach, 75.9 miles, 9,463 feet climbed

Nine thousand, four hundred sixty-three feet climbed.  We feel we need to say it twice.  We’re rather proud.

Yes it was hot, but good lord, what a day.  Switzerland’s bike route 4 took us through clean, quaint towns, each with a water fountain that we could drink from and soak our shirts.

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Our day was centered on two passes, which rushed by in an endorphin-soaked haze.  Again, we simply want you to enjoy the pictures.  Feast your eyes.

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By the end we had been reduced to two year-olds emotionally, and whimpered our way up one final climb to our hosts in Alpnach.  It was all worth it; again we were welcomed by characteristically Swiss generosity, this time in a beautiful home perched on a steep mountain slope.  We ate dinner and slept under the stars, while thunderstorms lit up the horizon.

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Day 45: July 22, Alpnach to Klontaler See, 48.3 miles, 7,421 feet climbed

At this point we had entered physically sketchy territory.  Our knees ached, our backs twitched, and our butts had reached a new level of hot and saucy.  The scenery, however, drew us on.  It’s impossible not to grin a big, goofy grin as you grind up 15% grades in these mountain valleys.  We weaved around tractors delivering mountain-side harvests, and smiled our way into the hills.

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This day we had cloud-cover, for which we were truly grateful, but as the day wore on and Pragel Pass crept closer, the clouds towered above us and promised thunder.  Four thousand feet up and exposed,we heeded a concerned driver and found some cover in a river gully as a massive storm system roared over head.  We assumed the fetal position for an hour, crouched together with a bar of chocolate and some peanut butter as water ran down our necks and lightening flashed directly over head.

The minute the sky lightened we continued on, determined to cross into the next valley before getting hit by another thunderhead.  Our adrenaline sparked a second wind, and we flew (relatively) up the mountain.

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Down the other side we found a lake deep in the crook of a mountain valley.  We fumbled our way through dinner and set up camp as gray clouds ripped across the peaks overhead.

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Day 46: July 23, Klontaler See to Au, 40.2 miles, only 1,430 feet climbed, thankfully
and Day 47: July 24, Au, REST DAY

Sweet, sweet relief.  We were sore, wet, and impressively smelly.  We hadn’t done laundry for over a week, and the stains on our riding shirts were drawing unwanted attention.

Our goal for the day: reach Christine’s cousin Renate  and her partner Daniel in Au, near Zürich, and enjoy a day of rest and recovery with family.

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We made it by mid day and immediately were taken care of: laundry, a massive food shop, and a barbecue by the Zurich See.  This is our first stay with family since London, and there is truly something special about feeling a sense of home here.

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Home, indeed.  Tomorrow we leave Switzerland and enter Germany, Christine’s second home.  Soon we’ll ride with Ian’s parents, and then Christine’s.  Amazingly, the end of our trip draws near!

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Que Será, Será

Smiling, the cashier kindly points to our nectarines and begins rapidly explaining something in French.  “Pardon?” is about all Ian can muster in reply.  More patient French explanation.  “Je voudrais,” Ian exclaims, trying to point at the fruit.  The woman smiles and nods.  “Ici, je voudrais,” Ian repeats, concerned he’s not coming across.  If it were socially acceptable, the woman probably would have comfortingly patted Ian on the hand.  After about five minutes of fruit, here, I want, we realize we need to weigh the fruit ourselves.  There are half a dozen harried French people behind us, so red faced and hungry, we wander off to the produce aisle to weigh our fruit.

Ian’s sixth-grade French and Christine’s abject fear of miscommunication have guided us through the week, and it has changed the way we travel considerably.  Instead of knowing where we’ll sleep, how we’ll drink or eat, or what roads to ride, much of our trip is now left to chance. Ignorant of local customs or the ability to engage in coherent conversation, France has an edge of unpredictability.  Thanks to the kindness of strangers, excellent roads (and signs), and a plethora of boulangeries, this unpredictability has largely been a joy rather than a struggle.

Day 30: July 7, Saint-Omer to Beaumetz-les-Loges, 50.6 miles

We were taken back by how immediately different France seems compared to England.  We passed through tiny towns, sans tea-shop or village green, made up of funky stone houses, shutters closed in the heat of the day, tiled red roofs… not English at all.

Nothing was ever open, or so it seemed.  But catch it at the right time, and these little villages open up into bustling markets.  We were lucky enough to happen upon a market our first day, and learned French lesson #1: always, always buy food when you can.

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That night we stayed with a very friendly and patient French family.  They spoke almost no English, but between the lot of us we could communicate through German, Spanish, French, and English.  It was a verbal jigsaw puzzle.  We enjoyed some delicious French cuisine, sampled some mysterious French cheese (“that puts hair on your chest”), and fell into bed almost as exhausted by our linguistic adventures as our cycling ones.

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Day 31: July 8, Beaumetz-les-Loges to Albert, 22.1 miles

Le Tour, le Tour, le Tour de France!  By fortuitous timing, we got to watch the Tour for one day as it flew out of Belgium southwest into Britanny and Normandy.  This was our day off, and we looked forward to a short ride to Authuille, a tiny town 50k from the finish.  By CHANCE, however, our rear tire sidewall blew out in the middle of a field on our way.  With no extra tire (we usually carry one but had recently used the spare and hadn’t replaced it), we suddenly felt quite vulnerable.  Le Tour was under threat.  Luckily, using electrical tape, a granola bar wrapper, and heavily medicated with chocolate, Team Golden Tandem managed to get the tire up to 60psi, and we limped our way to the race.

WHICH WAS AWESOME.  We arrived four hours early, stocked with pate, cheese, and bread, and spent a happy afternoon wrapped in rain gear, watching the town slowly get ready and the crowds trickle in.  We found ourselves next to a British couple obsessed with the Tour, and got a running commentary on Tour politics and news throughout the day.  A pre-race caravan roared by, from which soggy and miserable employees flung free candy and sausage at the spectators.  Then from around the corner flew the riders.  Mouths fixed in a grimace, squinting against the rain, we watched the world’s best riders fly by in about thirty seconds.  What a thrill!

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Suddenly, it was over.  The spectators evaporated in a moment, and we rolled a few miles on to camp.  Again, through no achievement of planning, we happened to find a bike shop nearby with e-bike tires, specially designed for high loads and torque.  AND the shop owner gave us free drinks.

Day 32: July 9, Albert to Pierrefonds, 72.7 miles

French lesson #2: boulangeries/pattiseries are always open in the morning, and you should always go.  We got two pastries, strapped a massive baguette to our bags, and took off in a tailwind.  By lunch we had found another market, where we followed lesson #1 and stocked up on fruit and veggies (plenty of language comedy therein).  We ate by a lovely canal in a tiny hamlet under cloudy skies and a cool breeze.

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We arrived in Compiegne, an important destination for Christine’s bicycle research, in time for a tour in French of the transportation museum.  This was housed in a Napoleonic palace, which combined with the language barrier made for a bemusing but fruitful couple of hours.

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We headed south through estate woodlands, imagining Napoleon on massive imperial hunts in the fall.  We emerged from the trees into the stunning town of Pierrefonds, overshadowed by a massive 19th century medieval-revival chateau.

Day 33: July 10, Pierrefonds to Montmirail, 59.4 miles (and lots of climbing)

The free-flowing French culture must be getting to us, because we decided to throw our itinerary out the window, and spend half a day in town.  Who wouldn’t?  We enjoyed crepes, another fine French market in the square, and bought out a  boulangerie.  We took our pastries, and quiche, and baguettes, and sandwiches to the chateau, where we feasted in the shade of the walls.

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After such an enjoyable morning, we struggled through a baking afternoon.  Long, slow “humps” through wheat fields took forever to climb and offered no shade.  More French lessons, specific to summer:  #3) Don’t fall behind in hydration; #4) Don’t fall behind in water-supply; #5) Shade is the best.

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Day 34: July 11, Montmirail to Gerauldot, 95.14  miles (dang)

A rough day, but epic.  We started our day with tea, which in the long run was a ridiculous move, as it was a billion degrees, and the time spent brewing meant it was hotter when we left.  To further compound matters, we had a loose rear hub, which the local mechanic didn’t have the tools to fix.

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Wobbly, we headed off for the next mechanic, 80 miles away.  We kept ourselves upright with a shaded lunch stop, but the French summer heat is relentless.  Ten miles outside of Troyes, city of bike mechanics, we ran out of water.  Town after town passed, shuttered against the sun, with no water to be found.

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We eventually begged for water from two women on a doorstep, the only humans we could find outside.  Not only did they give us two liters of ice-cold water, one of them then, with a look of genuine concern on her face, insisted upon escorting us by bike to a nearby canal path.  This was shady, flat, and fast.*  It led us straight into Troyes, an ancient Roman city.

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We arrived with zero interest in history, anxious and dehydrated ten minutes before the bike shop closed.  The owner deftly tightened our hub within five minutes, and wished us “bon courage,” which we think means wash your clothes, you smell terrible.  We get it a lot.*

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Ten miles later on a beautiful lake we finally rolled into our campsite.  And were turned away. We had gotten used to fortune going our way, and this disappointment, at the end of a long, hot, tiring day, was crushing.  The owner of the camp must have seen this, because he was desperately apologetic, and also suggested we wash our clothes (“bon courage, mes amis!”).

Three miles later, and possibly crying a little bit, we made it to camp.  We had had the foresight to buy champagne, tortellini, and chocolate pudding, however, and managed to make a pretty excellent night of it.  We are in champagne country, so it seemed obligatory.  Bon chance, indeed.

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*We would like to award these kind strangers with the Golden Tandem award for turning our day around.

Day 35: July 12, Gerauldot to Villegusien, 74.8 miles

Lessons learned.  We changed our rhythm, and awoke at dawn for an early start.  We drank a lot of water before leaving, AND filled our 6-liter wooby (water bladder).   Instead of suffering through the heat of the day during which everything is closed, we spent the hottest hours in the shade by a football field eating a slow lunch and refilling water.

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We arrived in camp with water to spare and in much better spirits.  It turns out we had our hilliest day yet this trip–5,700 feet of climbing!  All this and we still felt human by the end.

A real treat awaited us.  Our campsite had a POOL and LAUNDRY, and we went to bed smelling like soap and chlorine.

Day 36: July 13, Villegusien to Quingey, 67.7 miles

We have made it to the Jura!  After traversing France by the seat of our pants (seriously, our butts really hurt), we will follow a pre-planned route through this hilly province.

We bid fairwell to endless hayfields, humps, and golden wheat as suddenly the Jura reared up before us: mountains!  Trees!

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Our excellent strategy of early departure, long breaks, and lots of water paid off.  We arrived into camp in the afternoon, a shaded stretch of river-bank in the small town of Quingey.  On the eve of Bastille Day, we strolled through town to watch children lining up for a latern parade, punctuated by the explosions of fire-crackers set off down small alleyways.

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Too tired to move, we fell asleep to the thunderous roar of a professional fireworks display.  It was interesting to not see the explosions, yet to hear the sound echo down the valley.

Day 37: July 14, Quigney, NO BIKING.

Again we throw our hands up, and let chance decide–today is Bastille Day, this town is gorgeous, and we are tired.  We shall spend the day with our feet up, in the shade, eating pastries and bread.  Perhaps we’ll write some postcards.  When next you hear from us, we’ll likely be somewhere in the Swiss Alps, but who knows?  We are two lonely travellers with the vocabulary of toddlers in a strange country full of chocolate croissants.  Anything could happen, and we’re OK with that.

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Infrastructure and the Archive

I am a Road; a good Road, fair and smooth and broad;
And I link with my beautiful tether Town and Country together
Like a ribbon rolled on the earth from the reel of God.
Oh, great the Life of a Road.

I am a Road; a long Road, leading on and on;
And I cry to the world to follow, past meadow and hill and hollow,
Through desolate night, to the open gates of dawn.
Oh, bold the life of a Road.

-from the West Midlands and Wales Cyclists’ Touring Club Preface, 1931.

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