After the trip down the Pacific coast last year, I was thinking of doing the East Coast next, possibly in 2012. Then, out of the clear blue, a friend of mine I've known for over 20 years - who has never shown any significant interest in bicycling - says, "Hey, let's do a bike tour of Germany."
Kelly Lofgren and I met around 1990 when we were both still in the USAF and showing up regularly at a local game store for weekend gaming events. We eventually became roommates after leaving the Air Force and went into business together, along with Rob Glass and later Dan O'Connor, running the "Agents of Gaming" game company. The company closed in 2002 but the web site (which is still hosting these pages) is kept around for archive purposes. Even after the company closed, Kelly and I have stayed relatively close, getting together on a regular basis for food or gaming events. He's talked about going to Germany on vacation on many occasions, but never showed any interest in bicycling there until some people he knew from work came back from just such a trip and told him how much fun it was. Kelly determined at that point that seeing the country by bike was something he wanted to do, and since he knew I was a huge bike enthusiast, invited me along.
We started planning this sometime around June 2011 with only his friends' description to go by. As it turns out, there are many bike tour companies that offer a wide variety of tours all over Europe. You can take short trips (just a few days) or long ones, simple (flat) to hilly, guided or self-guided, loops or long country-spanning rides, and ride just a couple dozen miles a day all the way up to challenging marathons. Basically, there's something for everyone.
For a while we discussed the possibility of just flying over to a particular city (probably Munich), getting a hotel there, and doing daily rides to wherever we chose (possibly inculding a train ride out to some distant location, then riding back to the hotel from there). This would skip the tour company altogether and let us change our itineary as we wished....plus, it would be cheaper, as these tours are somewhat expensive. Eventually, though, various issues (such as the cost and difficulty of carrying our own bikes, the language barrier, and other factors) convinced us to just do a tour so we didn't have to worry about so many details. We chose a self-guided tour, which meant the tour company (Eurobike) would provide us the bikes, the route information, hotels to stay in, daily movement of our luggage, and support by phone, but we were free to ride the daily trips when we wanted and could make side trips whenever we felt like it.
So, with all that figured out, on the morning of Friday, September 2, 2011, we headed for the airport.
Although it would've been nice to travel only using carry-on luggage, that turned out to be impossible. There was just too much to take for an 8-day visit to Europe. If we weren't biking, I probably could've managed it, but not only did I need clothes for that length of time, but also biking gear. A helmet, biking shoes, rain gear, tools, pedals, seat, and everything else was more than I could fit in a tiny carry-on suitcase. Plus, the overhead bins in European planes are slightly smaller anyway, so I just didn't worry about it and decided to check a bag. I expected this would cost a fee, since airlines these days are big into charging extra fees for every little thing, but apparently on international flights they don't do that. The bag was checked without incident, as was Kelly's, and off we went.
By the way, yes, I carried my own pedals and seat (including seat post) with me. We had no idea what the rental bikes were going to be like, and I didn't want to sit on some uncomfortable seat, without my SPD clip-on pedals I'm used to, for a week. I really wanted to take my own bike, but the costs for that were just too prohibitive - about $200 each way plus any other fees anyone decided to charge, and the usual risk that any small plane on a connecting flight might not have room for it. So it was rental bikes for us.
The flight to Washington DC (Dulles) wasn't too bad and they had free wi-fi there, which was the last time I was able to get on the internet for a bit. We endured a 2-hour layover and then got on the 8-hour flight to Frankfurt. I've only experienced such a long flight once before, when traveling to England back when AOG was still running (I took my bike back then...they didn't charge a fee for it at the time). Eight hours in the same seat (a middle seat, and a full flight) was something of trial, but they had 6 different movies running on different channels - you had your own screen on the back of the seat in front of you - and I did manage to sleep for about an hour. Flying east that far also pushed the clock forward 6 hours, so essentially I spent the rest of the day running on about an hour's worth of sleep...which meant a lot of nodding off, catching catnaps when possible and basically feeling run down. They did feed us (again, for free) on the plane...a pasta dinner, and continental breakfast, so I wasn't feeling too hungry at the other end of the trip. Kelly chose to get a frankfurter in Munich, but I passed and spent the majority of the two and a half hour layover unsuccessfully searching for wi-fi, and either reading or dozing off.
The last hop was an hourlong jump to Salzburg, and this time I had a window seat (behind the wing, unfortunately) and could enjoy a decent view. The approach brought us towards the Alps, which looked amazing. Upon landing we took a cab to the Holiday Inn, where we met the Eurobike trip representative and collected all our maps and route info, and got a look at our bikes. They're fairly generic hybrid types, with the wide handlebars (not what I'm used to), moderately fat tires, and 21 speed gears, plus a saddlebag for anything we want to carry. Along with our backpacks, we should be able to take what we need and still have room to pick up anything we might want to buy along the way. They'll do, we concluded.
Of course we had to try them out, so we took off on a little 18-km (I'll do distances in km for this trip, since that's what all our route guides are using and so that's what we need the cyclcomputer to be set for) ride around town (see link below). Then we got dinner at a local restaurant (we went for spaghetti for the carbs, resolving to try more traditional German fare along the way) and by the time that was over we were both so tired we went back to the hotel and crashed. It wasn't even 10pm.
After that, starting the next morning, it was on with the tour! Click on the links below for individual day's route info and photos.
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