As ice formed on the inside of my tent for the third morning in a row, I realised this wasn’t exactly what I had envisioned whilst cycling across Europe. But as I sit inside by a wood burning stove belonging to a family I met 4 hours ago, writing this, you could probably say the same thing.
Quite frankly, the Romantische Straße, the route that took me from the river Main to the Danube, was miserable. Select two out of a choice of cold, windy, and wet (rain or snow) and you’ve got yourself a good idea what a day’s ride was like. There were some amazing cities that were a lovely surprise: Rothenburg, Dinkelsbuhl, and Nordlingen are all picturesque, traditional Bavarian towns you’d expect in a classic fairytale animation. Nevertheless, as you can tell by my constant moaning, I was getting tired of the cold and the stark difference between my overly-optimistic perception of what cycling in North West Europe would be like in late March and the reality. Alas, when you daydream about these big outdoor trips, it’s always summer in your mind’s eye.
After weeks of following the same, uninterrupted flow of water, the huge artery of Europe that is the Rhine had reduced down to a mere stream – the Taber. These dwindling rivers acted as a good indication of progress and, as I continued through Bavarian villages with onion shaped church towers that wafted the envy-enducing smell of wood smoke from the warm houses, the water eventually began to flow in the opposite direction towards the Danube: my final river that will take me all the way out of Europe to the Black Sea.
On the final night of this road and after a long day’s ride to get this stretch ‘over and done with’, I was not particularly lucky when looking for a place to sleep. There were no campsites in the area and wooded banks of the river valley were too steep to get to. So I eventually did what I had meant to do for a couple of weeks: look pathetic, lost, and incompetent, and ask a local if they knew anywhere I could camp.
I stopped by a Beergarden and asked in terrible German if they knew anyway I could stay. I arrived at a family gathering – the father, Peter, had just taken over running the establishment and was preparing to open for the summer. I expected to be given directions but, without any hesitation or without asking for anything in return, I was guided to a part of the Beergarden where I could camp. No problem. As I was setting up my tent, I was greeted by his sons who brought a couple of glasses of some delicious beer, more of which came as the evening progressed and got chatting to the rest of the family.
And as the sun went down and temperature plummeted, I was invited inside to the warm to spend the night and was given some spare food, which was certainly more sustaining than the tiny bit of spaghetti I had left in my food stash (every shop was closed on the Monday after Easter). So here I am, in the warmth as my tent remains outside, unused and slowly turning into an igloo as the frost sets in. Peter even found me a camping cot to sleep on.
After the grim and demoralising time I had on this particular route, it’s amazing what a night like this can do to resurrect your enthusiasm for another couple of days of cycling and it is all thanks kindness and generosity of complete strangers. Lesson learned: all you have to do is ask.