Day 16: Stolpen to Herrnhut, 85 km. End of the ride, total 1137 km
The last day of riding and a tough one, with mountain after mountain in the Zittau range. I spent much of the day in first gear or pulling hard on the brakes. And when a downpour hit soon after departure from Stolpen, I was preparing myself – reluctantly – for a wet day. But it cleared and the sun bore down upon me. By the time I was pedalling along the Spree River, close to its source (the river runs to Berlin), I was on tracks I knew. More than four years ago, I had ridden these parts, and the closer I drew to my destination, the more I remembered. A warm welcome in Herrnhut!
The end of the ride: weariness after a long, long day ( I arrived at dusk); elation at completing the ride; a sense that I wanted to pedal on after a rest … which always leads to me to look forward to the next ride.
Day 15: Tharandt to Stolpen, 68 km
Passing through Dresden today, I signalled two achievements: at 1000 km I felt as though I had covered a reasonable distance. And at the end of the day, at 1052 km, I had ridden further on one ride than ever before. By now I had been following, on and off, the D4 sign for quite some distance. I was also beginning to believe what I had read: it is regarded as the hardest long distance bicycle route in Germany.
A mixed day of riding, with city riding (usually not so enjoyable), a fast run down a section of the Elbe, which divides most of east Germany from the western parts, and then the beginning of the mountainous sections of eastern Saxony. The fortress at Stolpen was a complete surprise. Rising out of the fields is an old castle, dating back some 8 or 9 centuries. For long occupied by a local bishop, it also boasted sloping cobbled streets, and the great Burg Hotel. A relative treat for the last night, but immensely enjoyable.
Day 14: Augustusburg to Tharandt, 68 km
From the mountain top of Augustusburg to the forests of Tharandt. For the first time, I encountered a part of the track completely overgrown with grass. It appeared on the edge of a forest and required me to cross some farms. I had wondered why the cyclists I had encountered earlier had opted to follow the main road – now I knew why. Another sunny day, quiet corners, and a Trabant – one the great symbols of eastern Europe during the communist era (but also a signal of its limits in comparison to China).
I stayed at the Altes Wirtshaus Tharandt, where I was greeted on arrival in Dutch!
Day 13: Meerane to Augustusburg, 66 km (850 km so far)
Serious mountain climbing today, the most significant so far. Add dirt tracks and the almost complete absence of bicycle signs and the day was a challenge. To be sure, there were signs for horses and walkers, but the only bicycle sign had been thrown down in frustration by some previous cyclist. The last 2 km up to Augustusburg went up and up and up. Perhaps it was the adrenalin, or the prospect of a beer at the end of it, but I rode the whole climb. Hotel Morgensonne and its lively septuagenarian owner were simply unique.
Day 12: Bad Köstritz to Meerane, 56 km
On the road again, on a relatively short ride as I crossed into the province of Saxony. I was now in countryside with a deep and somewhat radical religious history. In these parts, the ‘theologian of the revolution’, Thomas Müntzer, was active in the early 16th century, leading the Peasants Revolution. Of less interest to me, but far more to the German authorities, is the fact that Martin Luther spent much time in these parts in the 1500s. At every turn, it seemed as though he was following me – but then I realised that this year is the 500th anniversary from when he nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg and sparked the German Reformation (the Bohemian one, further to the east and under the inspiration of Jan Hus, had begun 100 years earlier). I stayed at another great (and cheap) place, Pension zum Bauernstübel, in Meerane.
Rest day in Bad Köstritz.
Two questions: what do you eat on a long bicycle tour through Germany? Massive country breakfasts, amazing German salads and solid dinners, anything you can get your hands on at lunch, and – at that crucial point in the afternoon when energy is waning – German küche. One is a meal normally, but at these times I could eat three or four. Oh yes, endless bananas.
And what do you do on a rest day … apart from rest? For me, a sublime pleasure is to clean the bicycle carefully, check it over and do any maintenance required. For this, the Brompton tool is magic.
Day 11: Kipperquelle to Bad Köstritz, 77 km
A day of long forest paths along streams, paved bicycle paths, fascinating communist era architecture, and cobbles, cobbles, cobbles … which the small wheels on the Brompton do not like so much. The day rolled by relatively quietly, with clouds billowing but the rain only coming in a late downpour. I stopped in the village of Bad Köstritz, which is also – I found out on a late evening walk – the home of Köstritzer beer. Pension Egerer was my home tonight, a quiet corner in which to have a rest day as well (see next post).