Photo Journal 4: Rhine Mini Bike Tour

Format: Digital & 35 mm

Dedicated to Björn

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Last Easter, Rachel and I decided to pack up our panniers and cram as much bike touring into the four day weekend as we could. Thanks Christianity! While we have a fair amount of touring experience between the two of us (read: Keys to Freeze), my bike was still in need of some TLC after being destroyed by Alaska’s Dalton Highway and Rachel’s bike is, as of this writing, still sitting in a cardboard box in my parent’s garage rusting slowly into oblivion.

We made the best of what we had, I riding my Surly which had all but completely lost its braking function and Rachel riding my roommate’s Simplon. We came up with a vague plan of riding down the Rhine to Heidelberg and set off.

DISCLAIMER: Whether or not you like this next section will be largely dependent on how stoked up you get about castles. As a citizen of a place devoid of castles, who grew up dreaming about being a knight, to the extent that my father dressed up as a king and actually knighted me (read: ‘Rise Sir Braden!’) castles get me incredibly excited and the photographs I took reflect that.

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There were castles everywhere! We could hardly get into a rhythm before another castle would rear its head and scream “Hey Brady! I’m so old and knights totally used to live in me! Take a picture.” You don’t say no to that.

I know that the feudal system gets a bad rap in the history books, but if I had the chance to live in a castle, I would absolutely have indentured some peasant folk.

Road-side castles, castles on top of vineyards, castles by train tracks – if you can think of a place for a castle, chances are the 30-odd-mile stretch of road between Koblenz and Bingen has it. Castles even make people doing manual labor look picturesque.

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Rachel was stoked about castles too.

After so much unfettered enjoyment of things older than the Declaration of Independence, we had worked up a serious appetite. We found a nice bench that was clearly marked as being against fascists, parked our bikes, stuffed our faces and got back on the road.

Rachel is always a real trooper when it comes to posing for the camera.

The tour itself was a somewhat spur-of-the-moment decision and through a combination of leaving late and assuming that we were still in the kind of shape that we were in at the end of our 8,000 mile bike tour, we ended up arriving to Wiesbaden after dark.

My friend Björn, a Wiesbaden native, had hooked us up with someone who was on vacation and cool with letting us urban camp in their garden. After navigating some gnarly city streets in the dark we found the address and were pumped to get the tent set up in our little backyard oasis.

Pictured above: Urban camping at its finest.

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My Brooks Cambium saddle looking sexy in the morning light.

Known for its natural hot springs, a Viennese Cafe and how much Russian aristocrats and Kaiser Wilhelm II dug it, Wiesbaden is a rad place.

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

Off the bike and into the forest the Minolta, my 35 mm camera, got in on the action

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

The ol’ Duke Adolf of Nassau built this here fancy Russian Orthodox church atop the hill of the city after his royal Russian wife died during childbirth. Note: Top left is digital and the other two are 35 mm.

A Note on Spas in Germany

A large part of our time in Wiesbaden that was not photographed at all was the Kaiser Friedrich Therme or thermal baths. The old Roman baths use water from the hot springs in town and with vaulted ceilings and mosaic-adorned walls, they are quite the spectacle. Hot pools, cold pools, hot saunas, really hot saunas, lounge rooms and steam rooms, the Kaiser Friedrich thermal baths have something for everyone who likes water of variable temperatures. Where things really get exciting is that to partake in the baths you have to be naked. All across Germany, at every spa that I know of, you have to strip down to your birthday suit before you can join in on the fun. After doing this myself I’m a big fan. Part of the prudish well-mannered anglo saxon in me finds being naked around members of the opposite sex who are also naked utterly terrifying, but it all works. When everyone is naked there’s suddenly nothing odd about being naked or seeing other people naked. The rules change. From clearly timid younger people to give-zero-fucks-let-it-all-hang-out older people suddenly all forms of nudity seem perfectly normal. It’s certainly an experience I would recommend.

The next day we made a b-line back to the Rhine and more importantly back to the castles.

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Heidelberg bound.

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The bike infrastructure in Germany is IN-CREDI-BULL! There are bike highways everywhere and they are all clearly marked with relevant towns and distances to said towns. We did not share a road with an automobile for almost the entire duration of our trip. After 6 months worth of close-calls and often single-file no-conversation riding through North America this made for an absolute walk in the park. If you are interested in getting into bike touring or touring with kids or something, Germany is the place to do it. That being said, the US is getting much better.

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We saw every kind of cyclist imaginable. Groups of lycra-clad middle-aged men pumping out a tempo on carbon-fiber road bikes, older folks cruising on frames with the top tube at the bottom bracket or flying by on e-bikes, young folks on mountain bikes and the ever present full spandex suit aggressive roller bladers. God bless them.

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We largely followed Google Bike directions until it began sending us exclusively through private property and I ran out of data. If I can learn anything from history, it is that following Google Bike with any degree of caution is a lesson that I will never learn.

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I almost ran over this rat. Fortunately he escaped.

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Stoke-o-meters (pronounced stoke-aw-meter like thermometer, but used for measuring stoke) were getting pretty low at this point. Even though we were quickly losing daylight, we had to make the mandatory German afternoon cake and coffee break.

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The sun begins to set over the suburbo-industrial waste on the outskirts of Mannheim.

Running out of light, we decided to make moves for the nearest train station and hop a quick Zug to Heidelberg (what an absolute luxury that this is even an option).

We were directed by an elderly man to a train station on the outskirts of Mannheim that was for our morale, unfortunately no longer being serviced by any trains at the relatively early hour of 6:35 PM. Ultimately, we were forced to ride all the way to the Mannheim main station, which was a pretty un-cool experience as Mannheim is a rather large and rather industrial neck of the woods.

These are the only two pictures I took during the end of our ride. Both are out of focus and generally bad, but I feel like they capture the vibe pretty well. The train we finally ended up catching to Heidelberg was anti-bike, but Rachel didn’t care because she’s a rough and rowdy rule-breaker, a regular raucous rebel ready to rip it up. All tough like.

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

We dosed up on caffeine and took to the cobbled streets of Heidelberg.

Heidelberg is a beautiful city, with a well-preserved old town and a monumental castle. It should be towards the top of any list on a visit to Deutschland. I could write about the city at length, but I will let the photographs and Mark Twain do the talking:

“One thinks Heidelberg by day – with its surroundings – is the last possibility of the beautiful; but when he sees Heidelberg by night, a fallen Milky Way, with that glittering railway constellation pinned on the border, he requires time to consider upon the verdict.”

Y’all come back now!