Honoury Hell’s Angel

Cooooollllldddd

Up until a few nights ago I’d say my memory of Germany would have consisted mainly of rain. Lots and lots of rain. The campers amongst you would know that rain is your enemy. Everything gets wet and then it stays wet. You never get to dry anything so, at night, you just get back into your wet tent, on your wet mattress into your damp sleeping bag. Then you get up and cycle in your wet clothes on your wet bike. You get the picture. On more than a few nights I haven’t been able to find anywhere to pitch the tent so it’s a case of climbing under the tarpaulin and trying to get some sleep which, once it starts raining, just doesn’t work. To get round this I bought a bivvy bag. Basically a waterproof sleeping bag. Easier to pitch and requires much less ground space. Turned out to be an inspired buy because it hasn’t rained during the night since. Just rained lots during the day. Now I need a bivvy bag for cycling in.

On the cycling front it’s also been a lot tougher than Denmark or Sweden. It’s been difficult to keep up my target of 60 miles a day as the landscape has taken on an almost Norwegian feel to it but without the 16 hours of sunlight so I’ve had less cycling time. The hills have been short, sharp and painful. An analogy I thought of while riding was that it reminded me of a time when I was a kid and I got trapped in the surf break in Durban. Everytime a wave hit me and I’d come up for air, there’d be another waiting for me , looming, ready to break. That’s what the hills felt like In South Germany.

On a personal note it’s been tough. It’s mainly my fault for picking a non-tourist route and for not learning German. It’s been very difficult to meet people and that, coupled with the rain and the hills meant I’ve had a few of those wtf am I doing moments. My idea has been to initiate a plan I call the Pob plan. It’s a bit like town twinning but of some actual use. The idea is that each town nominates a group of Pobs. Their basic role is to ensure that if a foreign visitor turns up in the town then a Pob is called upon to meet him in the pub. From there they get drunk together and then in true Pob style they just shout at each other so language becomes irrelevant. After 4 pints or so they basically speak the same langauage anyway. The night will end with the foreigner being invited round for a night of poker where he’s fleeced for a fiver or two.

On the subject of rain it was the rain that led to one of the more bizzare nights of my life. I’d been riding in the rain as per usual except this was torrential to the point I couldn’t see where I was going. I took cover under a tree in this field that contained a massive tent. German heavy metal music was coming from the tent so I figured I’d stay pretty much where I was. I was just about to leave and Rolling Stones started playing and I figured what the hell, anyone playing Rolling Stones has to be half decent maybe they’d let me camp there for the night. Went round to ask the question and it turns out I’ve walked into what appears to be a Hell’s Angel meet. About 20 bikers standing there looking as hard as nails. I can’t back out now so I ask the question and luckily a couple of them speak English so they agree on the condition I sit and have a beer with them. “No I’ll just camp thanks” didn’t really seem to be on the cards so I figure wtf, in for a penny and all that.

Leader of ze pack

Turns out to be one of the best nights of my trip so far. Nicest bunch of blokes you could wish to meet. The president was hammered but seemed to take a shine to me and even though he couldn’t speak a word of English, after 4 double JDs, neither could I so we just said cheers all night and kept knocking them back. Every time I had an empty glass someone would bring me a drink. At one point I had three glasses of booze and two plates of food in front of me. On top of that they even gave me my own tent so I didn’t even have to pitch. We stayed up till 2ish singing German songs as by this time I was fluent in German and generally having a cracking time. This was the type of thing I’d come for. German unification was discussed and it was great to hear how people feel about it. The differences between the older guys who felt East German and the younger who felt German. These guys loved their bikes as well and I was given a full tour of pretty much every bike with the differences and reasoning for the differences explained. Later on in the night they made me an honoury member and gave me the badge of the club to be sewn on my panniers at a later date. In the morning I set off and they’d keep motoring past me shouting “Englishman” and generally scaring the shit out of me.

Burn baby burn

Since then it’s been mainly hard riding again. I’m currently averaging about 400 plus miles a week. After the hills of Southern Germany I joined up with the Danube trail at Regensburg which is a cycling mecca. It’s hundreds of miles of flat cycle path which follows the River Danube all the way from South West Germany to Budapest. I haven’t had a day off the bike since Gothenberg but last night, I found a great little campsite in the centre of Passau and decided to give myself a full day off before I head out into Austria in the morning. I’ll probably stop off again in Vienna and then it’s a case of deciding whether I want to head down into Italy or the Balkans. The Balkans seem favourite at the moment as this would negate the need for a ferry across to Greece.

Campsite in Passau

Church in Passau

The speed of my progess has led a few people to question if I’m giving myself enough time to enjoy what I’m doing. tbh it’s also the sense of achievement of putting the miles away that I’m enjoying. I know when I reach the right place I’ll take a breather. I knew Hamburg wasn’t the right place. It’s a great city but too cold, too city. Today for example I’m going to play the tourist. Passau is a beautiful city built where three rivers join and has what looks to be a great cafe culture. More importantly it has some bookshops which I’m hoping have enough English books to get me to Vienna. I finished my John Irving book yesterday and one thing the lone traveller needs is a good supply of reading material. Then I’m going to hit the cafes and sit, read and watch the world go by.

Passau

I’m still enjoying what I’m doing. It’s different to how I imagined. It’s much tougher for one and I’m aware it’ll get tougher. The thing is that I know I can do it and tbh that’s a great feeling. Everyday holds the potential for something different although in Germany it’s usually just been rain but hey it can’t all be fun and games. The interesting thing is the appreciation it gives you for the smallest things. I kind gesture from a stranger, a conversation, a piece of music, a sunny day. Everything just feels more important. I’m still not sure how this will end. I mean how it’ll effect me. In terms of distance I’m around 10% of the way through so I’ve tried to analyse how it’ll change me if at all but I’m still not sure. When I started I thought it’d change me into someone who was more inclined to seek people out. Less introverted. I don’t think it’s going to be like that though. I’ll still be the guy who sits and watches people. It’s just the way I am and maybe this is more about accepting that than changing it. We’ll see.

Apologies for the introspective nature of this email but as I said at the start this is also for me. I’ll look back at these email and it’ll be interesting to identify how I felt and why. I gues that’s the defintion of an introvert. Someone who looks inside for the answers.

Anyways catch you guys later. Once again a cafe awaits me.

Love Craig.

XXX

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