We left France with our bags full of apples and any remaining space packed with walnuts that we had picked up along the Rhine. It was a windy day and everyone and their dog seemed to be out collecting the shelled treats that had been blown to the floor.
We were heading to the home of warmshower hosts Jutta and Benjamin and their three children. My (well used) sleeping mat had developed an unwanted feature of an integrated pillow. The glue somewhere had failed allowing the external fabric to separate from the foam and so the mat would expand like a balloon when inflated. More than ever we were grateful to have a place to stay for a few days to clean ourselves, fix up our bikes and to try and sort out a replacement mat.
Our day pedalling had been relatively long (for us), but notably flat in comparison to the terrain we had become used to. Crossing into Germany we were immediately greeted with a plethora of white and green signs specifically for bicyclists to navigate their way through the extensive cycle path network. The wind preceding the promised approaching storm was picking up and caught us by surprise anytime we changed direction along the straight, flat paths.
We were glad to reach our home for the next few days as the sky darkened and the wind became more insistent. By the time we had been introduced to the family and showered, the storm had broken – we sat sharing dinner watching the driving rain and listening to the claps of thunder in the distance. We were more grateful than ever to have been welcomed into the warm home of Jutta and Benjamin.
Over the next few days it felt like we temporarily became part of the family; Jutta gave us a tour of the local area, we helped out with the maths homework and made apple crumble – to use up the glut that we had picked and to satisfy my cravings to bake. We collected the two older boys from orchestra to help carry home the tuba that was as big as the tuba player, we picked grapes and learnt how to make grape juice, shared numerous tasty meals together and even stayed one more day to take a luggage-less trip to Freiburg. We never did learn how to do a back flip on the trampoline from Jenne, but we’ll just have to return on our way back or see them in Portugal one day. I really hope so.
We headed into the Black Forest with a route suggested by Jutta, wrapped up against the cold with long fingered gloves deployed for the first time since we left Portugal. Despite warnings, naïvely neither of us had expected the Black Forest to be so hilly – not just climbing upwards once, but repeatedly up to 1000m and back down to 400m throughout the day.
Despite the chilly mornings and evenings, we still found ourselves bathing in Schluchsee and hiding in the shade by lunchtime. Following forest trails through the trees, it was clear how the Black Forest got its name. Being on off-road paths was definitely the best way to enjoy the peacefulness of the surroundings. We wild-camped our way across the forest, staying in shelters or amongst the trees safe in the knowledge that we were generally far from civilisation.
We deliberated as to whether we should go north or south of Bodensee/Lake Constance, but decided that a view of the Swiss mountains across the lake would be better than cycling in the mountains and looking at just the lake. Unfortunately this did not quite evolve as we expected because it turns out that the path to the north of the lake goes through a lot of housing estates and along main roads rather by the lake itself. Nevertheless we appreciated the views of the lake and distant mountains when we got them, and enjoyed giving our navigational brain cells a rest.
We spent only a day or so cycling around the north of Bodensee, and despite it being late September we saw more cyclists over those two days than we had across the rest of our trip all together. It was somewhat a cycling highway – mountain bikes, road bikes, kids bikes and e-bikes. A-lot of e-bikes. For sure, e-bikes have their advantages – keeping people cycling for longer than they would otherwise as they get older, getting more people outside and enjoying the fresh air, and potentially reducing car journeys – but should a kid need an e-bike?! Ok, there might be a handful where a medical condition means they wouldn’t otherwise be able to enjoy the freedom of riding a bike, and maybe it’s better they ride an e-bike than play a computer game inside…. But oh how times have changed.
Having reached the Eastern end of Bodensee, we were happy to leave the e-bike cycle highway behind and continue on less pedalled paths towards Füssen where we would meet Pedro’s parents for a few days. Despite the blue skies, rain was forecast for the night and following day, so having had no luck finding someone to stay with on warmshowers we were aiming for a wild-camping spot that might provide some shelter in the form of a picnic site with a wooden hut that we had seen on osmand+.
As we made our way there we found ourselves cycling with two women on mountain bikes. After taking it in turns passing one another, we stopped to talk. We were heading the same way, so our chat continued as we pedalled. Once they realised that we were planning on camping and not staying in a guest house, they inquired further and decided that our planned camping spot was not so great and invited us to stay with them for the night – the caveat being we would have to be up and out by 07h as the decorator was coming to finish renovations in their apartment.
So suddenly and, yet again, unexpectedly we were welcomed into the house of two people that had previously been strangers – Sybille and Marjo. Soon we were sharing a delicious tofu thai curry together, discussing solar panels, politics and the benefits of living in Bavaria. With alarm clocks set for 0630, our evening was short but cosy. Again we realised how a few small words with people we meet along the way can transform our trip – from camping in a likely leaky picnic hut, to sharing a memorable evening with folk we would not have otherwise met.
The rain began shortly after our heads hit our pillows and was still going strong when our alarms beeped. We said our thank yous and farewells and headed out, geared up like Michelin (wo)men ready for a day in the rain. We spent most of the morning pedalling with our heads down, hopping into bus stops to shelter from the rain, eat a snack and to try and regain sensation in our frozen toes. Our jackets and trousers had proven themselves to be waterproof, but our shoes and supposedly waterproof socks missed the mark somewhat.
We ploughed on to the closest sizeable town -Immenstadt – to find a café with some soup and hot tea to warm us up and to plan our next moves. We’d been searching for someone to stay with, but had no luck. As we dried off, the rain eased off too and we decided to try our luck and pedal on a bit further in the hope we’d hear a positive reply. Alas a few hours later we found ourselves back under a bus stop hiding from the most recent downpour, staring at our phones looking for a place to stay, not feeling like staying under canvas that night.
There was a campsite 20km away or a guesthouse 150m back. We went to investigate the latter. Unfortunately all of their rooms were full, but a neighbour opposite had seen us and beckoned us to come in, saying that she knew somewhere else we could try. Andrea insisted we sit down as she made us some peppermint tea and hung our wet coats in front of the fire, before proceeding to put it upon herself to find us a place to stay for the night.
After calling her friend down the road to find that her rooms were also full, Andrea went on to call number after number trying, with increasingly dramatic introductions, to find a room for us. Everywhere seemed to be full, but eventually after calling atleast 10 places she struck lucky finding a room just 3km away. She even haggled the price for us. The room still needed to be cleaned and so we were to stay here for a while longer until it was ready.
As we chatted with Andrea’s husband and played with their overexcited dog (ever hoping that some food would be dropped from the table), not wanting us to leave on empty stomachs Andrea began making some dinner for us. After tasting some local cheeses and with our bellies full of the most delicious tomato soup, we left with our raincoats warm from the fire and our hearts glowing from their unexpected kindness and generosity and headed out into the darkness to find our bed for the night.
A few hundred metres from our destination my bike stopped moving. The pedals were quite happily rotating, but the back wheel was not responding. Too tired to investigate in the dark, I got off and we walked to the address we had been given.
We were greeted by a friendly older lady with an outpouring of German. I channeled my 15 year-old self and tried to remember the German I had learnt at school and communicated the best I could, whilst wondering why every school child is taught the vocabulary for the contents of their pencil case rather than something more useful.
As we stored away our bicycles in the barn next to the house, and took off our bags from our bike I saw a bracelet on the floor. Thinking nothing of it, I picked it up and showed it to Frau Hette. Before I knew it I was being embraced with a chorus of ‘danke, danke!!’.
It turns out she had lost the bracelet some weeks ago and had been searching high and low with no luck. Despite now being 70 and having had the bracelet since she was 5, with regret she and her husband had assumed the bracelet lost. So overjoyed was the lady that I’d found her bracelet, that as we bundled ourselves and our bags upstairs she insisted that we paid nothing for our nights stay and shelter from the rain. Despite our protestations, she insisted with more hugs and smiles. I suppose having sharp eyesight pays off – but seeing Frau Hette so happy was worth so much more than our free nights stay.
The next morning, we tried to work out what was wrong with my bike. We cleaned up the bearings and rear hub enough in the hope it would get us to the nearest bike shop – 10km and a hill away. With false optimism, we pedalled 1km before again I lost the ability to move my bike forwards.
We freewheeled and pushed our bikes towards the next town with a busier road heading up towards Wertach, and a bike shop. We pitched ourselves at yet another bus stop and tried to hitch a lift up the hill. Pedro wasn’t so convinced that we would get someone passing in a vehicle that would a) stop and b) be big enough to take at the very least me and my bike up the hill, but I somewhat stubbornly persevered.
Taking off all my bags and turning my bike upside down to look a bit more desperate, eventually after an hour of thumb waving a cheerful forestry worker appeared with a mountain buggy with two trailers on the back. He insisted we pile both bikes, all 11 bags and ourselves inside and we happily rumbled our way up the hill. Asking if we wanted a lift to the campsite we told him that actually we needed the bike shop, and dropped us off at the front door.
It’s good to know that even if we had just been feeling lazy, and didn’t want to cycle up the hill – with a bit of patience a hitch would have still been possible!
As things usually go, when we tried to demonstrate to the mechanic what was wrong with my bike, it seemed to be working just fine. Thankfully we had made a video a few hours before, so we pulled it out to help explain and he got to work taking apart my rear hub.
The number of problems that I’ve had with bearings and inner moving parts so far on this trip suggests that perhaps a bit more maintenance before we left could have been a good idea. But all lessons learnt and no harm done.
The time generous mechanic ended up fixing my bike during his lunch break, despite our insistence that it could wait. We sat in the cafe opposite drinking hot chocolate, until he waved us over to say it was ready. With a pastry-shaped gift in hand to say thankyou for his extra work we exchanged a working bicycle for baked product (and some euros) and went on our way with the reassuring whizz of a properly working free-hub in our ears.
As we pedalled through the rolling hills and distant snow-capped mountains towards Roßhaupten and our base for the next few days, we remarked in wonder at the succession of kindness and generosity that we had experienced in the last few days. We will use the rest of our trip to test our theory that kindness is like busses and often comes in threes.