Our Cycle Ride Along the River Rhine
Saturday, 9 July 2016
Never, at the ripe old age of 67, did I expect to be embarking on a cycle ride of more than 850 miles alongside the banks of the River Rhine with my 11 year old son - all the way from Switzerland to the Hook of Holland in The Netherlands. I really think I must be mad! I've lost the plot in my old age!
It all started when I just happened to stumble across something about European long distance cycle paths whilst surfing the internet. As we were living in The Netherlands at the time, I happened to mention that there was a long distance cycle path that started/ended near our home, not far from the Hook of Holland. My son was aged about 9 years at the time. Unfortunately for me, the idea stuck in his mind as being something he fancied doing as soon as possible. My casual words had got me into trouble as this trip was something he wasn't going to forget - or let me forget.
We returned to England where my wife gave birth to a wonderful little girl who we named Annelise Sarah. She was the happiest baby I've ever known - always smiling and laughing and no trouble at all to look after.
Sadly, our happiness was shattered when, at the age of 3.5 months, she was diagnosed with a massive, highly cancerous and aggressive brain tumour. We nursed her throughout her 8.5 month stay in hospital on a 24/7 basis, never leaving her throughout this time. She never complained and came through 8 brain operations still happy and smiling. What an inspiration she was to all who knew her.
She was discharged from hospital on her first birthday as there was nothing else her medical team could do for her. We then nursed her at home for more than 3 months until she went to Heaven at the age of 15 months.
During our stay in hospital, our son had to attend another school; one near the hospital. He knew all that was happening to his little sister to whom he was very close. She always reserved her biggest smiles for her big brother - she loved him dearly, as he did her.
Throughout this time our son never let me forget the proposed cycle ride along the banks of the River Rhine so we are now preparing for the adventure of our lives before he starts high school in September 2016. No doubt he will learn more on this trip than he will in a year at high school so the educational value to him will be of immense value.
And so, I'm letting myself (and my son) in for a huge adventure. I have to say it's quite scary to be even thinking about this undertaking but I can't let him down after all he's been through during the last year and more with his little sister. Throughout all of last summer we never had a break from being in the hospital. Now we're embarking on the adventure of a lifetime and one that will stay with him for the rest of his life.
Sunday, 10 July 2016
10 July 2016
If there is one thing I really hate, it's preparing for a trip - the planning. A trip of any sort, not just a cycle ride. I'd much rather just GO! That was one of the great advantages of living in The Netherlands; we could just get in the car and GO! No ferries or flights to pre-book. Just GO!
Of course, it is a great asset if one has a bicycle on which to ride when going on a cycle trip. That was the starting point. I ordered the two cheapest bicycles I could find on line ('Muddy Fox - Voyager 100' made in Bangladesh) and that's what we'll be riding. I also ordered two sets of pannier bags in which to load our stuff. As I write this, I still need to obtain some handlebar bags for our cameras to be carried in. And, believe me, our handlebars have a funny shape, as you can see in the photograph below.
We've been for a few short bicycle rides on our new steeds, including a trip around the Preston Guild Wheel; about 21 miles. They may not be top quality bikes but they got us round - albeit with a few missed gears! A tool kit is an essential part of our luggage as there are sure to be many running repairs required.
This cycle trip is causing me more stress than you can imagine as there are so many things to think and worry about. I've booked our flights and paid the extra for taking our bicycles. Our passports are up to date.
I took my cheapie bicycle into Halfords the other day to try and buy a few extras for it. I mentioned to the salesman that I was intending to ride it for the full length of the River Rhine. He shook his head. I asked him if he didn't think it would be up for the trip and he said I was putting a lot of trust in it. He obviously had considerable doubts. Or could it be that he was doubting me; not the bike!
I've arranged our first night's accommodation in Andermatt in Switzerland. We are staying on a farm and sleeping on straw! Have a look at URL: Sleeping in the Straw
After that, anything could happen - and probably will. No doubt it will rain nearly every day and be constantly overcast so we can't get any beautifully lit subjects in our photographs.
We had a practice at loading some of JP's stuff into his pannier bags yesterday. He was nearly beside himself with excitement. Anyway, we came to the conclusion everything will fit. Whether or not I'll be as successful with my things remains to be seen.
Another considerable worry is being able to get back home in time to get JP to his new school on the first day of the new academic year. Would you believe that the first day of term is on a FRIDAY! How silly is that! Last year JP had 7 weeks of summer holiday. This year he has less than 6 weeks holiday and only 5 weeks in the saddle. Anyway, if he's late starting school, then so be it. This will certainly be an educational trip for him - far more so than being in school. Of course, with the appalling weather we are currently enduring - RAIN! RAIN! RAIN! and more RAIN! - then we just may pedal like mad to get through the route as quickly as possible as it won't be worth stopping to go site-seeing.
21 July 2016
A lot has happened since my last posting of this preparation stage. I needed to buy so many things!
The weather has been much better recently too, so that has cheered me up somewhat.
I'm very relieved to be able to inform you that I've managed to obtain a pair of suitable handlebar bags. Getting them big enough to hold our photographic gear was the problem - as well as those strangely shaped handlebars that our bicycles are fitted with. Anyway, problem solved.
The photographic equipment we can take is very limited, so we'll have to make the best of what we can carry. For still photographs, I'll take my trusty old Canon EOS 5D - now 10 years old, together with my Canon EF 17 - 40 mm f4 'L' Series lens (this is a very wide angle lens). I would have liked to have taken my Canon EF 24 - 105 mm f4 'L' Series lens but that broke some time ago and I haven't bought a replacement yet. There is a Mk II version coming out in the near future so maybe I'll buy one of those. For video work, I'll take my Black Magic Design Pocket Cinema Camera with the Panasonic Lumix G Vario 7-14 mm f4 ASPH lens (also very wide angle). I have enough storage cards for more than 10 000 still photographs and about 1.5 hours of video. I also intend taking an external HDD for making back-ups as I go - and try to back-up on line as I go - if I can get computer and internet access en-route. JP will take his Canon EOS 1000D and his GoPro video camera. I don't know what lens he will take for his Canon - I hope he will take something longer than a very wide angle lens!
We've also tried out our new Vango tent - at least pitching it. This proved to be a very useful exercise as it wasn't as straightforward as you might think. This was mainly because the orientation of the flysheet was not at all clear. However, we managed it okay in the end. The hard part was getting it back into it's carry bag afterwards - Grace managed it for us, so I don't know how JP and I will manage without her during our trip.
22 July 2016
This afternoon we had a go at a practice pack, followed by a short bicycle ride to make sure we could ride well enough with the loads on our bicycles. All went reasonably well and nothing fell off!
Day One: Wednesday 27 July 2016
We didn't get off to a good start as the alarm clock failed to ring at just before 0500 hrs. Instead, I awoke at 0515 hrs. – about 20 minutes later than I wanted. That 20 minutes delay was crucial as we almost missed our flight to Zurich. Getting through Manchester airport took more than 2 hours – longer than the flight! All the signs stated 'Gate Closing' as we rushed through the duty free shop heading towards the boarding gate. I sent JP on ahead as he can run faster then me – and for longer! We arrived at the boarding gate barely time before the flight should have been taking off. We were so fortunate that the airline had also had problems and there was a delay of 30 minutes.
It took us about 2 hours to re-assemble and load our bicycles in Zurich airport, much to the disgust of one of the baggage trolley pushers who made a nuisance of himself a couple of times. He told me to move, but I informed him that we weren't going anywhere until we'd finished assembling our bicycles. He wasn't a happy bunny. We left him behind and headed for the railway station – down the escalator! If you've ever tried getting two heavily loaded bikes down an escalator, you'll understand just how much fun we had. We nearly went down those moving stairs faster then the stairs travelled. However, we grimly hung on to our loaded steeds and arrived at the same time as the stairs we were standing on. Just.
Our train journey to Andermatt began. I thought we were able to get a direct train, but no, that would have been too easy and nowhere near as much fun! The first train took us from Zurich to Zurich. That is, Zurich Airport to Zurich HB. We then had to disembark and find out where to go to find the next train, this time from Zurich HB to Arth-Goldau. This was a fairly simple matter, albeit that getting our bicycles onto the train would have taxed the muscles of Samson.
The next train took us from Arth-Goldau to Göschenen. By the time we'd struggled our bikes into an empty lift (we had to wait for one of those rare creatures) and gone to the wrong floor, then tried again to another floor, again, another fun ride on an escalator, we'd missed our connection. We eventually got on the train where our bicycles blocked the entire room reserved for bicycles, much the the disgust of a disgusting looking, dirty, scruffy, stroppy passenger who voiced his protestations without effect. He went off, probably to report this breach of safety and convenience to the ticket inspector who, after some time, showed up and voiced his protestations too. He said we should move our bicycle into another compartment as soon as we arrived at the next station. I said 'no problem'. And he looked much happier. I then asked him if the train would stop long enough for us to carry out this monumental task, assuring him that it would probably take at least 10 minutes to do so. His expression changed. He looked at his electronic timetable, much perplexed. The Swiss don't like their trains to run more than a micro-second adrift of schedule so he had to give this some major thought. After exercising his brain for some time he came to the conclusion that moving our bicycles would delay the train far too long and informed us ' never mind, leave them where they are'. Another unhappy bunny!
Our next train ride was from Göschenen to Andermatt. No excitement on this little trip except JP's bicycle falling over and various other cyclists coming to the rescue to help me stand it up – something that would happen frequently during our adventures. I soon learned that JP fell off quite frequently.
At Andermatt, we headed across the railway tracks and into town. The chain on JP's bike fell off another event that was to happen fairly frequently. We eventually arrived at a Co-op store for the first proper food we'd eaten since our very early breakfast, many hours earlier. The Swiss, true to their reputation, didn't exactly feed us well on the aeroplane – just a miserly croissant. We'd bought a couple of bottle of drink in Zurich airport but that had been many hours before, so we were very dry and hungry by the time we arrived at the Co-op. We weren't dry for long as the Heavens opened and we got a good soaking, especially JP who was wearing just a tee shirt on his top, his waterproof jacket being buried somewhere deep inside one of his pannier bags.
I zoomed off, with a bag of shopping in one hand, my bicycle in the other and with JP following. I got to the end of the road and looked around. No sign of JP! Nowhere to be seen – and it was a long road. I waited for a while but still no sign of him. I reluctantly turned round and started up the hill towards Andermatt in the rain and cold. As I rode up the hill the driver of a vehicle coming towards me started flashing the car's lights at me. We both stopped and he told me that he'd stopped to help JP with his bicycle chain which had fallen off again. I continued up the hill into Andermatt where I found JP. Back down the hill again, this time with JP close behind. Again, I stopped at the bottom of the hill where JP yelled at me to look at something. JP had spotted a double rainbow framing the town of Andermatt. Wow! This was special. There was even signs of a triple rainbow at times. I grabbed my camera and shot a few photographs of this spectacular sight.
We rode on, crossing the railway tracks and turned left, off the path, heading towards a bridge – signposted as taking us to the golf club. As we approached a farm, I noticed a Honda CRV heading towards us. As our paths crossed, slowly, the voice from within asked if I was Alan Cook. I confirmed this was the same and continued to the farm. The Honda CRV driver was the farmer, with his wife, who returned to the farm to greet us and make us welcome to their 'Sleep on Straw' (Schlafen im Stroh) accommodation. It was so good to have a shower and get some clean dry clothes on after our day – and no doubt the other occupants were grateful too as I'm sure we didn't smell too pleasant.
Sunday, 31 July 2016
Day Two: Thursday 28 July 2016
Oberalppass to Ilanz - 52 kilometres
We started the day with a splendid breakfast at the farm – sleep on straw, including Swiss Alpine Cheeses. JP had drinking chocolate, fresh baked bread and jam – he wasn't keen on the cheese which is most unlike him. It was great to have a cup of tea too – the first in more than 24 hours.
I got the laptop computer out of it's bag in order to back-up my photographs onto a separate HDD and found that the USB3 cable was missing – something of a disaster.
After some bicycle repairs and adjustments we loaded up and got going. We only got as far as the bridge before I realised I didn't have my handlebar bag (i.e. camera bag) with me. Back to the farm I went, leaving JP on the bridge. The farmer passed it to me – along with a few other things I'd forgotten. Back on the bridge I stopped to take some photographs. Onwards once again I stopped at the place where we'd stopped to take photographs of the rainbow and, as expected, there was my missing USB3 cable. Hooray!
Back up the hill into Andermatt. I walked into the Tourist Information office and told the girl something of the trip we were making. She said I might be better helped in the Tourist Information office – I'd entered the wrong door and found myself in an estate agents! Nevermind. I went through the correct door and bought our train tickets to Oberalppass – something I couldn't have bought from the estate agent!
We wandered off to the railway station. We had plenty of time. One of the station staff informed us that we would have to unload our bicycles. Not funny. I informed him that this would be rather difficult but he was quite clear – and insistent. I left them loaded. After I'd walked some way along the platform to find him, I told him that we weren't getting on board the train that had just pulled in, but were booked onto the following train, to Oberalppass. Eventually he said we could wait and see what space was available on 'our' train when it arrived. Sure enough, there was plenty of room on board for our loaded bikes and on the went – with a lot of huffing and puffing up the three high steps into the carriage.
The scenery en-route to Oberalppass was stunning. I rushed from one side of the carriage to the other as different views came into sight as I wanted to grab every photograph I could. JP said people were laughing at me – not that I cared in the slightest.
We arrived at Oberalppass where we met a family from Birmingham. On their bicycles too. They were very sensible as they were lightly laden and had a support vehicle. They would ride for a few days, then Dad would return for their car and take it to the place where they were staying. They only had to carry a few things with them. They were somewhat fitter than us as bicycle touring was something they did quite frequently and they'd already ridden the River Moselle and the Canal du Midi. I then made my biggest mistake. I elected to start our bicycle ride from Oberalppass, which is the official start, rather than trek uphill to the lake which is the official source of the River Rhine. It would have added a day to our trip but I think, in hindsight, it would have been worthwhile. This was the first time I've undertaken a bicycle tour under a lot of 'time pressure', so I was very concerned that another day would mean greater difficulty in getting JP to school on time at the start of the new academic year in his new secondary school. At this stage we still had about 1400 km to ride which seemed like rather a long way to me. We rode to the top of the Oberalppass with the family from Birmingham. They zoomed off at a rate of knots as it was their intention to ride the two most difficult stages of the trip in one day – something that would take JP and I three days, followed by a rest day.
The descent from the top of the Oberalppas was simply amazing, hairpin bend after hairpin bend, including one where we had to slow almost to a stop to allow a bus to make it round the bend on his way up the mountain. Some of the route today was alongside a wall on 'our' side of the road – scary.
We stopped for a picnic on the grass outside some cafe or some place like that. We ate the remains of the food we'd bought in the Co-op the previous day – bread with some sort of pasta salad tipped onto it. JP went to empty our garbage bag and ask for some drinking water. The man he saw wasn't friendly and refused him on all counts – another unhappy bunny. We carried on regardless.
Someway out of Rueras, just before we entered a tunnel during another rapid descent, I found I was running on a flat front tyre. I managed to stop where there was a small parking area on the other side of the road. It was burning hot in the middle of the day and there was no shade at all. I got the puncture repaired with a patch and put the tube and tyre back on the wheel. As I inflated the tyre I realised it wasn't getting hard. Off came the tyre, out came the tube. Another leak close to the first. I had already examined the tyre but could find no reason for the puncture, let alone two of them. Another patch stuck on. Wheel, tyre and tube re-assembled. Tyre inflating nicely when I heard a Pssssst! All that time and effort in the heat had come to naught again. The patch had blown off the tube under pressure. This time I fitted one of the two spare new tubes we carry and no Pssssst! as I inflated the tyre. By this time I was dripping wet with perspiration and roasting under the sun. Not a happy bunny!
Later, at some stage in the afternoon, I heard a yell and a crash as JP fell off and spread himself all over the main road. Luckily, nothing was following him or his bicycle might have got severely damaged. As it was, I managed to stop and park my bicycle and go back to pick him up, and his bicycle and set them on their way again. He'd managed to get a wheel in the gutter and this brought about his downfall.
A few kilometres from Ilanz, we got onto an off-road path which kept us both away from the traffic. We met quite a lot of cyclists, one of whom was an older man, not as old as me, with two children in a trailer behind his bicycle. The children were a boy aged 6 and a girl of 3. He advised us to stay on the right-hand side of the River Rhine.
We rode into Ilanz, hot, thirsty, hungry and very smelly as it had been roasting hot all day. I bought this biggest pizza they made at vast cost (CHF32 – more than £25) and a couple of Cokes and we sat and gorged ourselves. We got the pizza maker to package our remains into some aluminium foil – enough for breakfast – and set off back the way we had come. We rode out of Ilanz back on the path beside the river where I'd spotted a potential place to camp that night on the way into Ilanz. Sure enough, it seemed reasonable and was already occupied by another cyclist. We made camp at 2000 hrs. after covering a total of about 55 km. I was quite relieved to have got so far in one day – albeit much of it downhill.
Day Three: Friday 29 July 2016
By the river near Ilanz to Versam - only about 12 kilometres.
Cold Pizza for breakfast. JP was over the moon about the view from our tent.
We cycled back to Ilanz where we filled all our water bottles from the fountain, and headed out on the BIG CLIMB that would take us almost all day. This would be the toughest day of the whole trip, as far as climbing hills was concerned. Not something I was looking forward to with a great deal of relish. Soon after leaving Ilanz, we stopped at someone's home to check that we were heading in the right direction – towards Castrich, then on to Valendas.
As we entered Valendas, I stopped in a shady spot for a rest. I didn't feel I could pedal another metre. JP was still as fresh as a daisy so I asked him to walk into town and buy some food and drink. He returned after quite some time having found a restaurant where he bought a couple of slices of Wähe – sponge cake covered in fruit – delicious, and a couple of Coke's. Just what I needed. We sat on a stone wall in the shade and enjoyed our feast, before proceeding up the hill into the town square where we parked our bicycles against the wall of the fountain. I sent JP into the restaurant for more Wähe – four slices of two different flavours. That and with all the fizzy drinks we'd consumed meant we'd got enough sugar inside us to have kept a Nestlé factory going for a week but it helped us to keep going (not that JP needed much help in that direction).
We were very privileged to be able to see, and for JP to participate in, a boat race in the fountain. The boats were made from wine bottle corks and the whole party was in aid of disabled (mentally!) children from somewhere else in Switzerland. JP always fits in well!
After our sojourn in Valendas it was back to the climb. At some stage of the climb, I was in front and when I stopped for a rest JP was nowhere in sight. I waited and waited in the sun. No JP anywhere. I drank as much water as I could and had a rest. I had little strength left in this heat – and I like it hot. I walked some distance down the hill and still could not see him. I walked back up the hill. I found a hiding place for my panniers and other luggage and was just about to unload and ride back down the hill when another cyclist came past saying he'd rescued JP. Much to my relief, a short time later, JP came into sight. He'd actually seen me looking for him when I'd walked down the hill without seeing him.
We arrived in Carrera where there was another fountain from which we could refill our water bottles and where JP could have a cooling splash.
We headed on towards Versam. On one particular climb, JP went on ahead and returned to help his old dad up the hill. What a hero. While I was resting (again), he helped another cyclist up the hill for a way and when they stopped the cyclist gave him two Euros for his effort. We then climbed further and flopped out on someone's front lawn.
For a change, we came to a hill that was headed downwards, Great. We descended into Versam having covered a total daily distance of only about 15 km. Not exactly record breaking stuff. We found a really clean and comfortable public WC, where we could wash, shave, change our clothes and make ourselves look human again. It was in a building that had formerly been the (massive) home of the minister of the local church. It was now a block of flats – and public loo. The church was beautiful, as you can see in the photographs:
Whilst we were sorting out our stuff and getting loaded again I noticed there were three people in garden of the neighbouring property. I managed to get into conversation with them and, after going through the various non-options I suggested that it would be a good idea if we could camp in their garden. Two of the folks were visiting friends who quickly left and the lady of the house said she would ask her husband if we could stay. She returned with her husband who quickly weighed us up (good job we were clean and tidy after our ablutions in the public loo) and gave us permission to camp in their garden. How wonderful. We learned that they were named Ueli and Erika and Erika even offered to cook us a pasta meal, but JP said we were going to the restaurant, despite my glowering at him. We didn't go to the restaurant. JP stayed in the tent and I walked to the local, very beautiful church and took a few photographs.
Ueli and Erika's lovely traditional (as we envisaged it) was built in 1913. It had been designed by Ueli's Grandfather (an architect), for his father, so had been in the family for more than a century. They said there was plenty of space for the family to use altogether, all ten of them. It was a huge house. It was only used as a summer and weekend home as their main home was in Zurich. Erika told me that it was hard being there in the winter as only two rooms were heated by the wood burning stove in the dining room. None of the other rooms were heated. In the winter, hot stones were placed in the beds to warm them – which her grandchildren loved. The rear garden overlooked the magnificent Rabiusa Gorge.
Much to JP's delight, a neighbouring cat came to visit us in our tent. The cat settled down with JP on his sleeping bag and really made itself at home. JP was so pleased as he loves animals which, as I told him, was the reason the cat had settled so well with him, as animals know the people who like them - or don't.
Day Four: Saturday 30 July 2016
Versam to Chur - about 23 kilometres.
Erika came to see us and invited us for breakfast. JP kept his mouth shut this time. I went to the store with Erika and we both made some purchases. Mine included some chocolates for Ueli and Erika as a 'thank you' for their kindness and hospitality. The chocolates were named 'Merci' the French word for thank you.
We enjoyed a very pleasant breakfast and conversation with Ueli and Erika. JP wanted to buy some sweets from the store before we left and, I learned much later, that Ueli bought them for him. How kind this lovely elderly couple of strangers were to us was amazing and meant a great deal to us. Ueli and Erika were aged 78 and 77 respectively and were enjoying being retired. Erika told us that it had been over 50 years since she'd been to England so I invited them both to stay with us in our home should then visit England again.
The day's ride started with a descent into the Rabiusa Gorge and onto the new bridge. The view of the old bridge was somewhat spoiled by the washing lines of the construction workers hung across the gorge. Not something we were expecting to see. Having gone down, it was then turn to go up! JP, such a hero, helped his dear old dad up the mountain. It was quite some climb too – and more to follow. The road clung to the side of the mountain like the narrow ledge it was; a ravine on one side of us and a sheer rock face on the other. Near the top of the gorge, I wanted to stop to take some photographs of this massive gorge, so I shouted for JP to slow down. No way! Off he went like a racing greyhound. I never saw him again for some time – and a few miles. I stopped to take my photographs and with wonderful timing a red coloured train appeared dead on queue. I was so pleased.
Off I went in search of JP, the road now heading downhill in an arrow straight line through a forest of fir trees in the direction of Bonaduz. Much time passed before I spotted JP sitting by a tree some distance away. I too stopped for a break and reloaded JP's bicycle (quite a frequent task). We met a family of cyclists with a most amazing set of wheels and loads of children riding on them.
We crossed the level crossing and immediately heard the alarm sound, so I walked back to take some photographs of the train. Getting back to JP we got into conversation with a young man with a very sporty looking Suzuki motorcycle. JP seems to be quite into motor cycles. I'm not sure that's a good thing as he's dangerous enough on a bicycle! We turned into Via Campagne without going into the town centre and headed into farming territory. As he shot down the hill, JP found, much to his concern, that his rear brake wasn't working. He made it down the hill in one piece and managed to get his machine stopped without damaging it, so I fixed his brake and on we went. Passing through this lovely pastoral scenery was so pleasant. It was a hot sunny day and butterflies were everywhere, as they had been for much of our trip.
We arrived at Reichenau Bridge, the last bridge over the Vorderrhein nearby the confluence of the Vorderrhein and the Hinterrhein.
The flow of traffic was never ending. We parked in a small car park and JP asked me if we could go to the riverside beach for a dip. Back across the bridge we went and whilst he played in the water, I had a rest in preparation for the next climb. Once again we crossed the bridge and turned sharp left up the hill. Pushing, not riding, in the baking sunshine. I had to stop frequently to recover my breathing and slow my pounding heart, as always on these climbs. JP, ever the hero, never seems to run out of energy and stamina and helped me a great deal on these climbs. We were overtaken on one climb by a family on bicycles. The lady must have had legs of steel as she was towing what seemed to be a heavy trailer up the hill without dismounting. I was amazed. If only my legs (and lungs) were up to that!
We turned sharp right into Afuris Street where I stopped for a rest as JP cycled up the hill, saying he'd come back for me. After a while, I started pushing my bicycle once more. Part way up the hill I met JP heading back down towards me and together we pushed my bicycle up the hill to another fountain. JP swept aside the green algae and weed and we both dunked our heads into the cold water. What a shock that was.
I then decided to place my head under the fountain outlet and that was even colder. JP spent some time tipping cold water over himself, using our water bottles to do so. We filled our bottles once more and attached them to our bicycles before heading uphill once more. We pressed on, eventually arriving in the town square of Tamins where we were hailed by the family of the lady with steel legs. We sat in the shade with them and enjoyed talking with them. JP buzzed off to the store for some ice cream, the fist of the trip, which made life somewhat bearable again. I showed our new acquaintances the photographs I always carry with me of Annelise. I was nearly in tears as I told them about her. We downed huge quantities of the cold water we had in our bottles and suddenly the truth about 'lady steel legs' appeared in front of me. She rode an electric powered bicycle. I told them about what I'd been thinking and we all had a good laugh.
Day Five: Sunday 31 July 2016
At a campsite in Chur, Switzerland
I decided we'd stay at Chur for another night so we could have a rest day after our mountain climbing exertions. We should have gone sightseeing but the weather wasn't great so JP headed for the sports ground where there were plenty of swimming facilities.
I spent almost the whole day and evening working with my laptop computer, writing out blog and processing photographs. The internet connection was SO slow.
After eating a plate of salty chips for lunch, I walked to the sports centre to find JP. By this time the sun was shining and he was enjoying himself. I should have taken a picnic and drinks for him but didn't think about it in time. I perhaps should have stayed longer with him but felt under pressure to get back to my work on the computer.
There was a couple of folks there with the craziest bicycles I've ever seen. Have a look at these:
JP returned from swimming at about 1900 hrs. and we had something to eat in the restaurant. Camp site restaurants are always poor on food quality and high on price. After our meal, JP headed for his sleeping bag, exhausted, and I worked on until after 2200 hrs.
Day Six: Monday 1 August 2016
Swiss National Day
Chur to Buchs - 48 kilometres
I had to wake JP quite late. This was not going to be a good day for him as he was so exhausted from his day of swimming and we had a long ride ahead of us – about 50 km, which is a long way for us non-cyclists.
We headed into Chur in the rain and cold. The temperature had dropped like a stone in the early hours. We rode to the railway station from where we'd intended going sightseeing in the old medieval part of the town but changed our minds in view of the weather and JP's delicate condition. Instead, we got on our bicycles and rode towards Vaduz, the capital city of Liechtenstein.
We stopped at some place where there was a little hut where someone was into carving wood and doing things with stones - Willi's Bankli:
After a short while we arrived at Landquart where the signs weren't all that clear. We headed off in the wrong direction after looking at the right route and thinking it somewhat unpromising. As we rode along the side of the river, I commented to JP that the river was going the wrong way – or was it us? We stopped for a break – JP would need lots of these today. We were about to depart where two firefighters in their truck stopped and asked us if we needed any help. They got out their SatNav and soon directed us back the way we had come. We got about 1 km. Down the path when JP realised he'd left his helmet behind. Poor chap, He turned round and went back to find it. It just wasn't his day. He did this trick again later in the day and fell off his bicycle numerous times. Poor JP. He was so tired. He could hardly ride his bicycle. His pace was so slow, but he never gave up and I told him that he was my hero.
Fortunately, the cycling was mainly along a flat path and on the top of the River Rhine flood dyke. Numerous World War II pill boxes were seen and we sat on top of one having a rest and eating apples.
By the time we got to Vaduz it was 1700 hrs. and most of the place had shut down. We asked for directions to the campsite referred to in our guide book and after some travelling we were told that it was no longer in operation. JP fell off his bicycle again on a garage forecourt. The staff picked him up. Back into Vaduz we rode where we found a tourist shop still open. I bought a couple of mugs for Grace and sent a postcard. The lady who served my was Tibetan. I asked her how she'd found herself so far from her homeland.
“Through marriage”, came the expected reply. I told her that my wife was from the Philippines and was also far from home.
Not finding anywhere to camp in Vaduz was something of a blow, especially for JP who was worn out. We rode off once more, heading for Busch, over the border again into Switzerland.
We came across a Co-op attached to a filling station and grabbed some sandwiches. We sat on some grass to eat our food before hitting the road to Busch.
We got back onto the dyke again and after some miles, we saw some young lads setting off fireworks, this be Swiss Independence Day. Just past them we turned off the dyke and headed into Busch. Much of our route was chosen by guesswork as there was not a soul in sight. I eventually stopped a lady cyclist in the middle of the road and she pointed us in the general direction. After further stops to ask directions we arrived at the campsite at 2120 hrs. A very long day indeed – especially for JP.
The site was crammed but we found a small area where we could erect our tent and we pitched in near darkness with a grand firework display going on overhead. We were surrounded by some of the biggest, most luxurious caravans available; a Tabb art Capellini and Puccini amongst them.
Once the tent was up, I downed a full bottle of juice and we wriggled into our sleeping bags to watch the rest of the firework display through the door of our tent. Despite the loud talk and laughter from a group of German men getting drunk in the massive awning of the palatial Tabbart Celini caravan, we soon fell asleep.
Day Seven: Tuesday 2 August 2016
Buchs to Diepoldsau - about 45 kilometres
We were rudely awoken by the clanging of the local church bells at 0600 hrs. which annoyed JP intensely.
After striking camp and loading our bicycles, we cycled off in the direction of Grabs. We rode up the hill into Grabs where I stopped to ask for direction in the pharmacy. We'd ridden too far, so back down the hill we'd just puffed out way up. After asking several people who gave us inconsistent directions, we got onto the right road heading for Frümsen. The book said 'Turn R onto Gams-Haag road, then L onto asphalt lane to continue between fields for further 4 km.'. We couldn't see any asphalt lane, only a stony lane onto which we turned and headed through the fields. Some kilometres later. We ran out of lane and into the crops. Once again, we had to turn round. After some distance we turned left, onto an asphalt lane (not the one referred to in the book) and headed off at 90 degrees to the route we'd been on. Guesswork navigation again. Bear in mind that Frümsen is about 11 km. From Buchs and it left a lot of room for navigational errors. We had a fairly good chance of never even finding the place.
After crossing many field and farms we arrived at another road where we could have gone in either of the two possible directions. JP suggested we rode into the town we could see in the near distance and ask where we were. Not a bad idea. As we chatted and had a break, we saw a cyclist heading towards us from the general direction of the town. I flagged down the rider who was pedalling like mad and going quite quickly. The rider turned out to be a very pretty girl who told us that the town we could see in the near distance was indeed Frümsen. We couldn't believe our luck! She gave us directions as to how to get there on the bicycle path and off we pedalled. We were now back on track, our guess work navigation having been successful, and were now able to follow the book once more.
By about 1430 hrs, we were rather peckish so stopped in Rüthi to ask a lady where we could buy some food. She couldn't speak English but with the aid of signs and the word 'food' we got the message across. She pointed the Hotel Kamor a short distance away so we headed there - next to the railway station. We enjoyed a three course meal at a very reasonable price (for Switzerland) - far better than anything we'd eaten so far on this trip. The first course was Cream of Tomato Soup, with a few finely chopped spring onions. Next came a Green Bean Salad, also garnished. The main course was Chicken Fillets in a rather pleasant sauce, with chips and vegetables. We were really stuffed by the time we'd finished eating.
We continued on our way, alongside a canal and viewed several interesting houses on the way.
In Altstätten, JP spotted a crazy sculpture made from scrap metal and cars:
Apart from JP falling off his bicycle several times, there wasn't a lot of excitement I'm pleased to say, until, later in the day, we went off track trying to find a camp site. We arrived in a place named Diepoldsau, which wasn't exactly in our plan, where we found a site within a few metres of the Swiss-Austrian border. There we met Robert, a Dutchman also on the same trip as ourselves. JP went off to swim whilst I chatted with Robert.