We are now on Oma and Opa island. Rugen is Germany’s biggest island and sits near the start of the Baltic, just before Poland. We have had what was intended to be a week of rest here. The problem has been that we have taken the opportunity to repair and replace our beaten up equipment. Parcels have been arriving here over the last month as the grandparents have been bought up to speed on the down side of internet shopping. They have met people from the village, with parcels that have been wrongly delivered . More worryingly, they have been become cranky on the days when their afternoon nap has been disturbed with a delivery. Internet shopping is not all excitement and glamour and they will be sticking with the dozens of catalogues that Oma has by her desk.
The whole resupply thing has become almost a piece of theatre. Yesterday a massive box turned up with just one tyre in it. There must have been a theft! So, off to McDonald’s to check the order on the WWW. The company have split the order for two tyres,and sent them separately, each in a box just a little under 2 metres in length. They could have got 30 tyres in the one box! The economics of it fail me, and perhaps we should never have moved on from catalogue shopping. Time and again we try to explain the internet to Oma and Opa, and then it does this to you. Well, you try explaining it.
I have worn out the rubbery hood things on the brake levers. This being one of the three points of contact with the touring bike under you, it is better done through something with a bit of give, rather than hand to metal. Getting a replacement pair is complicated, and eventually you will have to use a hand lens to look up a code on the levers. It is also frustrating, and on that subject I will quote Douglas Adams. ” Getting any film made is like attempting to cook a steak, by getting a succession of people to breath on it “. Bits of kit to a sparsely populated island in the Baltic, likewise.
So, you now know that we got here, but when you last looked we were a few hundred k’s South of here with a 1:500,000 map in our hands. As usual, to avoid road touring, we were going across country to pick up a river. This one being, the River Elbe, which would take you up to Hamburg and the sea if you wanted to go there. As ever, we are searching for minor roads and we have found one that goes where we want to go. We are heading for Schoneberg and are being treated to the whole spectrum of concrete block road construction. Some are fine, but others were intended to get tanks quickly from point A to point B and stuck to their design brief. It is challenging riding.
We join the Elbe at Magdeburg and the outskirts that we are riding through are a little bit grim. Esther’s wheels have more than 30,000k on them. Up the road, a new set is being put together by an artisan builder. The law of Sod dictates that any one of these concrete blocks will be the one that destroys these ageing hoops. They are now laid end to end and dimpled to make it impossible to find a smooth line.
Magdeburg perks up as you get into the middle and perhaps you guessed this already, but once again we are on the Compostella route. Another link with our route through Spain, is the collection of dozens of padlocks and chains on the bridge that we first came across there. We have no idea why they are here, but luckily a couple of young girls are in the act of fixing a padlock to the bridge. They are a little hesitant to talk as we may be part of an anti vandalism unit disguised as touring cyclists. Eventually, we are told that the padlock thing is French in origin. The lock is fixed and the key thrown into the water as a sign of lifelong love. The lesbian thing may also explain the girls being a bit coy. See how you learn stuff when you travel.
Riding in rural areas in what was the political East of Germany over almost 20 years now, we have come across works caravans. I stop to photograph one as, despite their rugged construction, they are becoming rare now. We saw them deep in forests, and told of a life that Thomas Hardy would have written about. I hope someone is documenting them before they all go.
After a bit of a navigational battle, we end the day at Campground Paradisio. It is an eccentric collection of mostly self built shacks, huts and pole structures. It is wonderful and becomes our ‘ top tip ‘ for the area. It is right by the River Elbe, and in common with many people who live close to rivers, they have a big pole with dates on it showing the area’s history of flooding. I am not sure that this is a thing you should show to your insurance rep. Here, the truly mind blowing highs have historic dates. Worryingly though, many of the rather big floods are recent. Best not to have a passion for Persian carpets here. We are at 36 meters above sea level, the lowest point on our journey.
Rain overnight, which continues and becomes harder just as we leave. Our chains have very little life left in them after over 5,000k and our pedals are worse still. One day in the wet can put on weeks of wear and here there is a fine sand that turns to a grinding paste in the wet. The rotating bits of the bikes sound like a paper bag with two dozen washers and bolts being rotated in a plastic salad dryer. It is difficult to ignore and sounds terminal every time you apply the brakes.
We catch the ferry across the Elbe at Rogatz and ride through a series of agricultural villages. All very beautiful indeed, but we now have concrete blocks and, in the heart of the villages, cobbles. As we ride North, we are moving into what is called the Hanseatic areas. This was a trading alliance, with links along a huge stretch of the coast of Northern Europe. It spread a common architecture and culture that included the East coast of England and Scotland. If your great great grandfather lived in Leith, he may have travelled to Tangermunde, the next town we passed through.
We are on a line with Berlin now, and not far to the West. As we go over a rail bridge, there is a memorial on the other side with two dozen names on it. It is such an insignificant bridge to have given your life to defend. It has rained all day and we take a B&B in the village of Arneburg. Across a field a few hundred metres away, the Elbe runs fast and high and rain hits our room windows with stinging drops. The B&B is run by a lovely old lady and both she and it should be in a museum. It is a perfect time capsule.
We start the day with yet another ferry. We cross the Elbe to Klietz in search of what looks like a short cut. Today, the wonderful straight road shown on the map is a rutted farm track brimming with water. The landscape is unquestionably stunning in a Constable painting sort of way of Willow and Ash trees, who are now all showing the pale underside of their leafs to us. It is a horrible North wind and we are riding straight into it. No horizon has less than two church spires and many have more, all of a brick construction. We are just 28m above sea level now and it will get lower.
It is mid summers day for goodness sake and we are freezing. We get a meal in Tangermuende and try to warm up. The place does a brisk trade serving cyclists as the Elbe is a very popular route and they must get used to wet weather gear dripping puddles onto the floor. As ever in Germany, the food is good and great value but it does not stop me going straight into a bakery for coffee and cake. It is a little gem of a town and Esther goes into yet another church. It is nice enough but I have seen so many. I have however, found a new game to pass the time ‘ Statue face recognition ‘. The rules are simple. Can you guess if the statue will trigger the face recognition software in the camera? For a bit of variation, it works with paintings as well.
At Havelberg on the River Havel, we leave the guiding Elbe and go cross-country following the gps. It leads us along roads through woodlands of Pine and Birch that even in summer smell of mushrooms. In a few weeks time they will be carpeted with a wild harvest of bilberry. We link together all the roads that run as arrow straight North as possible.
There is very little population and you can see how Germany is ranked so high in ‘ European countries area under forest ‘ tables. Kilometer after Kilometer of it pass as we go through Breddin, Kyritz and end the day in a hotel just South of Wittstock-dosse. An insignificant little place unless you were here on Oct 4th 1636 when the course of German history was changed. The local Saxony Emperor, with home advantage and 22,000 troops managed to fall to a 16,000 strong army of Swedes. The Swedes were helped by a strong section of Scottish mercenaries who had turned their natural belligerence and quick temper into a career qualification. Sweden ruled the North for many years after the battle and it all happened here.
We wake up to find that the wind has turned 180, and is now a tailwind which we thoroughly deserve. A bit of European money means that the bike paths are tarmac here, and we ride the wind through Wredenhagen, Robel and Sietow. We are pushing hard and have been for two weeks or more. We want to get to Grandparent Island for this weekend. Esther’s mum is there, and we want to see her if possible. It has meant doing without rest days and going longer per day and has worn us out. We have rules to make sure this does not happen and that things remain fun and we have broken many of them. Camping and cooking are hard and use energy that we have not got and we have bailed out and taken rooms.
The bike path stops abruptly by a busy road. I had got so excited that I had gone around pumping up the tyres to find a bit more speed. Now we are on tracks that go through deep sand and we are back to walking and pushing the bikes. We make a lot of distance though and near the village of Malchin stand next to a rather smart sign. It points down a side road and amongst offers of Spar treatment and Sauna it clearly says ‘ camping ‘. Brilliant.
We end up being the only guest and have a quiet night despite Germany playing football somewhere in Poland. Cuckoos join in the dawn chorus, which I guess is obvious but I did not know and a blue sky morning dawns. This, if things go well, should be our last day to get to Rugen. It is a very strange feeling after so long on the road, to know where you will be that evening and to be able to hold that image in your mind already.
We head for Lake Kummerower See with the wind with us again. It is a popular biking area, and the upright Butterfly handlebar cycling tourist is out in good numbers on this hot Saturday. We head East and away from the lake towards Demmin. My legs are screaming as we end up doing time trial riding along the road sections. I flick through the screens of the gps to zoom out far enough to catch a sign of the blue of the sea and our destination. It says 36k and I flick back to fine detail for navigation which is getting difficult. The population is getting denser and roads more numerous with many murderously fast and busy.
Every time we have to kink left or right to find a quiet route we add distance. It is turning into that fractal thing where you measure the circumference of an island in ever-increasing detail. In the end you go in and out so much that the coastline becomes infinite. We are never going to get there. We start to see things that we know but have never seen like this. We pass over the main road from Hamburg and pass through villages with familiar names.
13k to the ferry and we have not stopped all day. The gps has been giving altitude figures in the minus quite often, but now, near the coast it goes up to 10m for a little crest before the Baltic. We reach the ferry terminal which is busy. Very busy. There is a boat in so we do a very un German thing and skip to the off road to push up the row of standing traffic. We make it.
Now we are on familiar roads and heading for the family summer home by the sea. We are letting the bike hit stones and concrete slabs that we would have swerved to avoid 100k ago. We are in a hurry and riding fast and hard. Turning onto the grass by the side of the bungalow, there are no cars. There are no cars and no people. No one is there. They have all decided to go early to the village 15k away. We have worked like slaves today to get here and they have gone two hours early to save bringing two cars. It is hard not to feel more than a little let down.
We sit and look at each other. We have crossed a continent, ridden 5,700k and climbed 49,000 metres in doing that. It is a week later now and for the last three days I can sit in a room with a bar of chocolate and not eat it. We are recovering on rations of Oma Cooking. The bikes look fantastic, and we have a few new bits of kit packed and ready to look old within a week. We are ready to catch the ferry to Sweden as we ride on and around the Baltic Sea. Finland, Estonia, Latvia and so on here we come. The rubber hoods for my shifters are here and this time they may be the right ones.