Mark queued up with a sense of excitement and a degree of impatience. This trip was going to be one of those things you remember forever, the fact that he'd used all his savings and every bit of spare cash he had to make it happen was immaterial. For over a year he'd been planning his route, the accommodation and budget. The queue shuffled forward again. It was the culmination of a dream and a desire to do something a bit more adventurous than a week in Lanzarote for the annual hols.
He looked around him at the crowds in the check in hall, the families off for some Spanish sun, businessmen - and women, in suits with the bored look of regular travellers, a few back packers. He smiled to himself as his particular journey really will be exciting, no fall back's, just a necessity to get to Munich airport in a fortnight's time. Then it was his turn, the check in girl efficiently sorted out the paperwork for his bike and he checked his small case in leaving him with just his hand luggage. Having flown once before he knew the drill but the excitement was starting to get to him. Through security then another queue for immigration, yes! It really felt like he was on his way at last.
There was best part of an hour before the Bonn flight was due to be called, time enough to stock up on duty free batteries and get a cuppa. None of his family or friends thought he'd ever do it - with some reason. After all he'd been talking about doing a trip like this for years but there was always a reason to put it off. He pulled his iPaq out of his bag and for the third time today looked over his plans. Once more he went over the route and mentally went over his preparations.
There was his bike of course, his biggest expense for the trip, 24 gears, custom spec, in fact it was unique. Over the last few months he'd scoured the Internet and outdoor shops to get just the right stuff, the super lightweight tent, even titanium stove to shave those few extra grams. Yep, there was no denying that he'd done his homework with the kit. He opened the budget file, not that he needed to - having studied it and tweaked it for weeks. He'd factored in everything he could think of from accommodation to on the road snacks. Having ruled out staying in hotels for the whole trip due to cost, the combination of hotels and camping meant there was a bit more cash available but not a fortune.
His main doubt however had nothing to do with kit or money; no it was his ability that preyed on his mind. Although a regular cyclist it was mostly the commute to work, for the next fortnight he had to cover something like 1000 kilometres! Quite a challenge. Like most travellers he worried about his luggage, particularly his precious bike but when the flight was called his only concern was getting on the plane. The sight of the bike box and his case on the pile of luggage at the rear of the plane was reassuring and he happily settled in for the hour or so flight across the Channel and Belgium to Köln / Bonn Airport. There was a bit of a queue to clear immigration but soon he was out to the baggage reclaim, with the hold up at passport control, the bags were already on the allocated carousel. There was his case and a brief stop at the control desk delivered his bike box.
Now the madness started. He pushed the trolley laden with case, bag and bike out into the concourse and found a quiet corner for the next manoeuvre. So far things were going well and when the bike emerged from its cocoon things still looked good. Ten minutes refitting wheels, pumping tyres and adjusting a few bits had Foxy; well some people name their cars so why not a bike, Foxy was ready to roll. If things continued to run to plan he'd be in Frankfurt for dinner! He clicked the case onto the rear carrier, what a neat idea, a decent sized case with fixings for a bike rack!
He wheeled Foxy out to the bus stands; you didn't think he was planning on riding from Köln to Frankfurt did you? The bus to Bonn arrived and unlike at home, the driver actually helped get Foxy onboard for the thirty-minute ride to Bonn city centre. Mark checked his Pda, fifteen minutes to get the ticket for the train journey down to Frankfurt.
He sank into a seat on the upper deck of the busy Rhine Express, would the journey be anything like the Rhine Valley train sim he'd been playing? The train, full of Saturday shoppers, eased out of Bonn Hauptbahnhof to start the almost three hour ride down to Frankfurt / Main. After the rush of the airport and railway station he could relax for the first time in hours. 'This really is Germany, I've done it!' he smiled to himself letting the meaningless to him chatter of the coach wash over him, 'yep Mark Jenkins has really arrived, roll on Frankfurt!'
As the train headed south alongside the muddy waters of the Rhein it spewed forth passengers at every stop, hey the stopping train was €50 cheaper than the ICE for the same journey, so what if it takes forty minutes longer. By the time it stopped at Koblenz the carriage was fairly empty, a few long distance travellers like himself, stayed on board, a few more people joined them and then they were off again. The August sunshine glittered off the river, Mark stared intently out at the passing scenery as the train headed down through the Rhein gorge. A toilet and bike check run caused him to miss the departure from the riverside and a scant few minutes later the train pulled into Mainz Bahnhof. Collecting Foxy, there was a frantic dash across to gleis 56 for the connection on to Frankfurt on the S-Bahn - it looked just like another train to Mark.
It was however a smaller urban train, but Mark was impressed by the large bike storage area, with retaining straps even! The doors hissed shut and after crossing the mighty Rhein the four-car train sped East towards Frankfurt. At some point all the travelling caught up with him and Mr. Jenkins dropped off only to be woken by a flurry of activity. The train made a slow final approach into the terminus and Mark emerged onto the station concourse to find a bright but cooling evening sun bathing the city. He checked his map - tonight would be a hotel night as there was a bus to catch at seven in the morning! After a couple of false starts he tracked down the Ibis that he'd booked on the 'net a month ago.
Foxy was locked away for the night and a weary Mark dragged his bags up to his third floor room. He collapsed onto the bed and luxuriated in the lack of movement. Once again he congratulated himself on getting this far. Tomorrow the adventure gets started with a vengeance; tonight it's shower, dinner and an early night! The shower was hot, powerful and relaxing and he felt pretty good when he'd finished. He swung the case up onto the bed and unzipped the lid and pushed the top back.
'What the hells going on? This isn't my stuff!' He started to pull stuff out, this most definitely wasn't his kit, and closing the top he checked the obligatory label. 'Noooooo!' It can't be! How could someone else have the same case? The name on the label was Anna Freund but the address section was ripped off, that means that this Anna person has my case. Bum! All thoughts of dinner were forgotten as he confirmed the contents of his other bags. Ten minutes later and things were somewhat clearer. All the camping gear was present, likewise the camera and documents, no what was missing was, apart from a few maps, all clothing. In short he had what he had travelled in today plus, thankfully, his bike shoes.
Day one and a disaster already. What to do though? Its not like he was near the airport still and there's no telling where this Anna Freund was headed. The desk staff in the hotel were very helpful, an hour later he'd spoken to the airline, no his case hadn't been handed in, in the meantime he was to look after Ms Freund's bag. This is going to put a strain on resources, two weeks with one set of clothes isn't going to happen and even if the right case turns up, how, without abandoning the trip could he collect it? He stared at the offending piece of luggage, of all the luck, two identical cases on his flight!
Sunday morning dawned dry and bright, Mark assembled his kit, including the' borrowed' and after a quick breakfast, reclaimed Foxy and headed for the railway station. It only took ten minutes of traffic free riding and he arrived at the same time as the bus that would carry him onto Würzburg. The Romantische Straße Express runs daily between Frankfurt and Füssen, one journey north, one south with connections to Munich and Ulm from Augsburg. Mark had decided to do the southward run of the German Romantic Road; the bus would take him the 100 plus kilometres from Frankfurt to the northern terminus at Würzburg. With Foxy stowed on the bike rack and his kit in a side locker, he settled in for the one hour thirty ride across the Spessart region.
Today the adventure really starts! The bus arrived at the city of Würzburg on time, the streets were still airing and there were few people around. It wouldn't be ideal but Mark zipped off his trouser legs to make shorts and after a short ride around the city centre set out to start his odyssey. The map wasn't totally clear, he missed the turning and had to retrace, but he was soon climbing up past the Marienberg Citadel and away from the River Main. The day was looking promising and even with his clothing problem, he had a lightness of heart, an excitement at finally starting the trail.
It was a fair old gradient, not much in the way of traffic, but as the first real riding since arriving in Germany it was a rude awakening! He emerged from the trees and found himself on a wide dual carriageway, the Würzburg bypass a stark counterpoint to the old road. Then, there on the grass banking was the sign he'd been planning on seeing for so long, the start of the Deutches Romantische Straße! That was cause for a [welcome] stop to take a picture, welcome as he was already perspiring freely!
He took the opportunity to check the map, about another kilometre; he'd set the bike computer to show km's, then a left turn off the main drag. Does this hill never end? Well eventually the road spat him out into rolling countryside and once over the Frankfurt autobahn the road swept him southwards. The early morning promise lost the clear skies and became increasingly overcast, although the temperature remained fairly constant. The traffic remained fairly light - the odd tractor, a police car, an old guy creaking along on an ancient roadster who gave a cheery wave as Mike sped along. Foxy was performing beautifully, the unaccustomed weight forgotten after the climb out of Würzburg.
According to the map there was a motorway nearby, the occasional sound of traffic blew across the plain but the road itself remained somewhere just out of sight. The road slipped away and seemingly in minutes but in reality nearly two hours after leaving Würzburg, the road started to dip and Foxy started to pick up pace. By the time the rooves of Tauberbischoffsheim hove into view the speedo was hovering around the 50kph mark, a passing camper van gave Mark a panicked moment setting Foxy into a bit of a speed wobble. The brakes came on and it was a slightly more sober rider who ten minutes later steered his steed into the still quiet streets of Tauberbischoffsheim.
This was more like it, chocolate box buildings and cobbled streets; Würzburg was brash by comparison! To be honest though there wasn't a lot to see, the place has a lot of history but lacks a focal point. After a few photo's Mark decided to press on, it's still a fair way up the Taubertal to tonight's stop at Rothenburg. At least following the river should keep the ride fairly flat!
Picking up the cycle route avoided using too much of the main road although it had a nasty tendency to disappear through the villages and swap from one side of the road to the other. But although overcast it was still quite warm and he happily hummed Bohemian Rhapsody to himself as Foxy gobbled up the kilometres. The next town, Bad Mergentheim, was in a bit of uproar with road works and diversions, which somehow took him past the centre. Ah well, its not far to the next likely lunch stop. The road was narrower than he expected, less travelled too although there was a definite increase in the amount of two wheeled traffic.
The map showed a likely place to eat at Weikersheim but shortly before reaching the village of Igersheim the heavens opened and a stop for the donning of waterproofs was in order. The cycle route chose this point to move onto trail alongside the railway line running a short distance from the road, not having to contend with traffic on the narrow road was a bonus of joining the off road route. Thankfully the rain was short lived and by the time Weikersheim came into view the sun was doing its best to poke its head out of the clouds again.
When he found his way to the main town square it was to find it already occupied by a large number of other cyclists using the town as a lunch stop. How come there were so few riding the trail? Finding a table at one of the taverns was easier said than done but not impossible and soon a foaming beer was sat in front of a tired but happy Mark. Sitting back and taking a long draught of beer, he watched the world go by as he waited for his order of 'Gulasch suppe', he wasn't quite sure what it would be but it was cheap and hopefully filling.
The next little downpour, had people scurrying for shelter, wisely he'd sat under a big umbrella so he watched the fun with a wry smile. The soup arrived shortly after the rain ceased once again and he attacked the generous helping of lightly spiced meat with some vigour. He was tempted to hang around for the concert that was advertised for three o'clock, a steady stream of musicians had passed his table and a crew was setting out seating even as he finished eating. But days end still lay more than a few km away so, refuelled at least he departed the town and picked up the route once again.
The road remained amazingly traffic free but he still took to the disused railway line that now became the featured cycle route. Another downpour necessitated the rain gear once again and this side of lunch there were more bikes on the trail, old, young, racers, trekkers, all populated the revived rail route. A brief detour for a look at Röttingen then once more jacketless he started the home run to the campsite at Detwang. The roads were steaming and the sun returned for the last leg of the days ride but it was a still damp Mark that arrived at the Tauberromantik camping ground a short while before five.
There was good news and bad though, the good was a quiet plot dedicated to walkers and cyclists, the bad was that the restaurant was not serving the full menu but they were doing breakfast if he wanted. For six Euros he'd be pushed to organize a buffet breakfast for himself so he booked that then pitched his tiny tent for the first time on the trip. It was as he sat on the still damp grass afterwards that he realised that the loss of his case was more significant than he had originally thought. Essentially he had the clothes he was stood, well okay, sat in, and very little else. Wash kit but no towel, trousers but no underwear other than what he was wearing, likewise socks and shoes. Sure he still had all the camping kit, which had been packed with the bike, but you can hardly wear a tent!
Hmmm, wasn't there a towel in Ms Freund's bag? She surely wouldn't mind him borrowing it given the circumstances would she? He opened the bag and sure enough there was a travel towel and wash bag stowed to one side. Well at least he could get a shower, and boy did he feel ready for one!
Forty minutes later and a much-refreshed Mark emerged into pleasant early evening sunshine. The problem wasn't him personally; no it was his one change of clothes! They were sodden and like Foxy, covered in assorted gunk from wet trails. Putting them back on after his shower was not pleasant; he balked at his pants and was currently uncomfortably going commando.
Back at the tent he soggily went through his options. 1 - rinse his stuff out and hope it dried by morning and stay in the tent all night, not a bad idea but he needed to eat and really wanted to explore Rothenburg a bit this evening. 2 - explore the case to see if there was anything he could borrow for the evening. Well it wouldn't do any harm to just look would it?
The news wasn't good. Whilst Ms Freund was, as her luggage suggested, a cyclist, the current contents were not exactly unisex. Indeed, why should they be? But one could live in hope. There was however a lot of it, Mark carefully looked through the neatly folded piles, tops, skirts, underwear, what appeared to be a dress, even some footwear, same size as he took by coincidence, but nothing halfway to trousers.
Bummer! There were some cotton panties, so at least he could borrow a pair of those. He wriggled out of his own soiled clothing and gratefully pulled the dry underwear on. Much better. Hmmm, new problem, something to wear to get to the washroom to rinse his kit out. He eyed the case again, the campsite is quiet, and I'll only be a few minutes. What the heck, he retrieved a vest like top and a skirt and was soon fully dressed, albeit in women's clothing.
Talk about feeling like a pratt! The feeling of the evening breeze having free access to his nether regions was - well different, not entirely unpleasant in fact. The short walk to the library was trouble free but life is never that easy is it? Rather than use the big washing machine he decided to hand wash the few bits, he could rinse the sand out better himself after all.
He was up to his elbows in hot soapy water when his worst nightmare came true.
"Abend" a singsong voice greeted him as the door was opened behind him.
Oh sugar! She'll think I'm a right pervert. To not reply would be rude though. At least with his limited German any conversation would be short!
"Er hello" it came out in a high falsetto, nothing like his usual voice.
He kept his attention on his washing and prayed that she'd leave - quickly. Instead she started a one-way conversation in German that he could only recognise the odd word of.
“Er sorry, English?"
She started her own washing and continued a conversation with herself. I tried to finish up as soon as I could but sods law, the quicker I tried to rinse, the longer it took. I finished eventually and with a 'tschuss', my German runs to hello and goodbye, I slunk out.
To Be Continued
Maddy Bell 08.09.04© 2004
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