Just a few weeks to go before we pack our touring bikes and head for the airport. One of the first things that bought home the impending nature of our trip was shopping at supermarkets. About a month ago we had to stop picking up the 3 for 2 deals, and in the last week or so 2 for 1 deals are now off-limits. This is a very hard habit to break, but we will just not get through even the best deals before we go. My recent inactivity has meant an embargo on Xmas pudding deals. On that subject, the foot is improving very fast. If it was not snowing outside I think I could now manage a jaunt on a bike just 5 weeks after double Morton’s Neuroma surgery. I have been injured or inactive for 4 months this year, but we have still managed to do so many things. One of those is our mountain bike holiday on the island of Rügen.
We had taken our carbon race bikes on the back of the Bongo on the ferry from Newcastle to Amsterdam. From there we drove to Hamburg to take part in the Cyclassics 107K sportive around the city. We had trained like pros for this, up and out a before 7 in the morning and mashing gears that we hardly ever use. It all worked out and Esther managed to come 13th overall and 9th in her age group out of a few thousand. I am now 9Kg heavier and any thoughts of averaging 25 mph will have to wait a while.
We took the Bongo up to the island of Rügen after the race and visited Esther’s grandparents. We have done a bike tour on the island every summer for many years. We were the first cyclists with helmets that some had ever seen 13 years or more ago. Now the island is a cyclists honey pot with a great infrastructure of miles of bike paths. It is now linked by long distance routes along the Baltic to Hamburg or south to Berlin. Cold war tank paths and disused railway lines and a maze of farm tracks from the collective East German farm system mean that rides of 60, 70, 80 or more K per day can be found all over and linked together.
We have two mountain bikes that we store on the island but increasingly paths are being up graded and a sturdy touring bike or similar would do the job. We stay at Palmer Ort, which is the most southern tip of the island facing back towards the mainland. In the past I had tried to ride every path on the map (a great bike map is available at the tourist information and many shops), but we now tend to return to our favorite routes and this year, with the van we could explore the north more without the 50k trip to get there and back.
The railway line route up the center of the island is a great single track bike route. We drop into Putbus and then go down to the harbour at Lautebach by the sea for the first coffee and cake of the day or smoked fish treat. You can leave most of your energy bars and gels at home on the island. Here, as in most of Germany, you are never too far from a cafe. On Rügen you have the added joys of seaside Spa resorts; Binz, Sellin, Baabe and Göhren on the East coast.
Much of the island was held in a time warp of under investment during Communism which is a good thing. A generation of developers who no doubt would have replaced charm with concrete has been avoided. I think that all of the island is a U.N.E.S.C.O. World heritage site now and much is labeled as Nature reserve. I am not too good at birds, but I know what a Sea Eagle looks like and have seen several and many other big birds that I can not name. It is a migration hub for thousands of Stalks and Cranes making it an early Autumn treat for bird watchers.
I guess if asked who made Rügen famous, then Casper David Friedrich would be on the list and quite near the top. Big skies and chalk cliffs were his motif here and many are similar to how he painted them (being a Romantic, he does exaggerate). The frozen Baltic of winter with ice pushed up in sheets on the beach has his artistic licence applied, but I have seen it here. Hot summers and very cold winters are what you get. They had a hot summer this year, very hot. Snakes love warmth and a good hot summer and are one of the things that make me scream like a girl. This year we had 5 snake contacts, one involving long grass that made me scream and run. I am told most are harmless but my snakes of Northern Europe knowledge is even less than that of my bird knowledge. “More scared of you than you are of them”, well I would have to disagree.
If you are after somewhere to go with your touring bikes then I would commend you to have a look around the web for German routes. There are a series of maps produced by Esterbauer Verlag, called cycline or bikeline, that show the thousands of miles of touring routes many of which link into other countrys. From the well known Danube and Rhine paths, to routes linking wine or beer growing areas or castles and fairy tales. There are so many to pick from – have a look know.
In the second summer of our big adventure we hope to be cycling up through Germany towards Rügen and then catching the ferry to Sweden from there. It all feels a long way off at the moment but I know that buying three, family sized shower gel bottles is not going to help in our preparations at all.
The trip was not all cycling and cakes. Esther did a series of sketches that she worked up into woodcut prints to produce a book for her Grandparents wedding anniversary. You can have a look at it here: http://www.blurb.com/books/1769575