Today we find ourselves in Maastrich, a beautiful ancient city and lively college town in the south of Holland. I am sitting in the town square writing this and eating my first burrito in 7 months. Unfortunately, Karen has food poisoning and is unable to enjoy this lovely city.There are no cars in the square and instead hordes of cyclists on their Dutch bikes. I love Holland so far.
Our original plan was to ride dirt roads and tracks in the Vosges Mountains of northern France. After a long and arduous train trek pushing our bike boxes through the stations we made it to the start town of Wissembourg and spent our first night camping at a quiet picnic spot. By the second night we began to suspect that the route might be more difficult than we expected as our track led us onto incredibly steep grades up and down and lots of bike pushing. We camp on logging roads and wake to find the local Saturday hiking group trekking through our camp with their poles clicking. The camping is okay, but there is not much water and the days are heating up. This route was supposed to be moderate, but it is proving to be too hard for us.
It is always nice to camp in the wild for us, but there is not much water in these hills and no public lands to pitch your tent. We find remnant bunkers from the Maginot line scattered in the woods and farmers fields, a permanent reminder that the land we are crossing has not always been so peaceful and green.
Much of the route is gravel roads through the trees, and we realized that we can do this kind of riding in the States with more views, better water and legal camping. So after 5 days of pushing our bikes, getting bitten by a dog and two ticks, getting on and off route and managing to cover 200k or so, we headed for the town of Saverne in the Alsace region of France. Karen’s knee is locking up occasionally and the weather forecast is frightening for cyclists. Europe is going to have a heat wave-a scorching blast of air from out of Africa. We decide to bag our bikepacking route and head north to follow the Moselle river into Germany. It has to get cooler in the north? And maybe we can jump in the river to cool off?
Unfortunately, the Moselle is a working industrial river- swimming is not an option and it is really getting hot.
In a cafe in Saverne we met the first of our new Dutch friends, who suggest that we follow a part of their route from Maastricht to Rome. Pieter sent me his GPX tracks and the next day we headed out to follow a track that these clever bike riding folks have picked out. The routes are from cyclingeurope.nl and select interesting towns and villages, quiet roads and cycle paths to follow.
GPS tracks, John and Ike, and John tapes Karen’s knee
On the way to the Moselle, we traverse the rolling hills and fields of the NE corner of France. We ride through dozens of villages in the Lorraine region without finding coffee or open restaurants or grocery stores. The roads are quiet and the towns are eerily empty, and we are down to eating crumbs and M&Ms; or in Karen’s case sour gummy worms. We stumble across an open Michelin restaurant and are willing to spend any amount to get some food. (It was delicious).
It gets hotter every day and we start using paid campsites to ensure access to water, a shower and some shade. The temperatures are getting into the mid 90s with 60-70% humidity and it feels a bit dangerous to ride very late in the day.
On the third night out from Saverne, Karen’s phone dies in a pool of water. We make it to a larger city and she is able to replace it. Her new phone is French and Siri is now bilingual and sending some really weird messages. She still has not figured out how to get her keyboard into English. We restock our gas and supplies and after three 80 km days we reach the Moselle River and head toward Koblenz in Germany.
The next day fate intervenes in the form of more new Dutch friends. We meet John and Ike at a coffee shop near our campsite. A few minutes of conversation and they invite us to follow them on their way back to Holland from Sicily. They have been on the road for 7 weeks and are a wealth of information and ideas, along with being a whole lot of fun. We form an instant bond of friendship. So we download some more routes and leave the Moselle to spend the next three days winding between France, Luxembourg and Belgium and camping with our new friends. A fellow cyclist gives us an impromptu history lesson on the Battle of the Bulge as our cycle path crosses the battlefield. We share our food and coffee with John and Ike, drink beer at the end of the days ride and take shelter from the heat. We try to leave early and get the riding in before it is too hot.
That brings us to today in Maastricht. John and Ike have left us and we are taking a day off to see the town. Our current plan is to ride north to the sea and then follow a bike route along the North Sea. If all goes well we will go through Belgium and follow the coast to Normandy in France. We hope to see some history and enjoy easier terrain and the best cycling infrastructure on the planet. Karen’s knee is fine on the bike, but walking is not great for it.
In the midst of all this, I celebrate my Medicare birthday and turn 65. We eat Belgian waffles in Belgium and enjoy a nice dinner out- in contrast to our rice/noodles glop. We pass 5000 kilometers and it seems likely that this will be our last tour in Europe this summer. We start to make plans to head home sometime in August. We want to have time this Fall for a couple of desert rides before winter sets in.