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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Day 57: August 3, Herdecke to Münster, 64.6 miles
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Coming soon: the Golden Tandem goes public! See how the GT handles celebrity during its first photo shoot! Bis bald, Freunden.