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Europe by Tandem

From Castellon (Spain) to Northern Cape (Norway) by Tandem supporting the fight against cancer.

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Day 28- Dannemarie- Morteau

Posted by admin On Agosto - 9 - 2010

127 kilometers. 7 hours and 9 minutes.

IVAN: During today’s stage, we covered the French regions of Alsace and Belfort; it was one of the loveliest routes we had taken in Europe and one of the toughest as well. In fact, we are 20 kilometers from Switzerland, a country we wanted to keep away from at all costs because of its far-famed chains of mountains, I guess what I have just said speaks volumes. Today was one of the hardest days of this European trip (well, in fact, most of them are hard, aren’t they?); we wound up doing a beyond-category climb of more than 2100 meters above sea level.   

The day was seasoned with the following oddities: we left the amazing hostel in Dannemarie after 8:30 in the morning; we said goodbye to Ricardo, a Spaniard who has been living in France for a long time and who we met while having dinner, and his friends. A few minutes after we left, we suffered our first mishap: the bicycle chain fell off its sprockets and got entangled in a rather funny way between a hub and a spoke. This little mishap made us waste 15 minutes. We could then continue cycling as usual, that is to say, absolutely flabbergasted by the scenery, until we bumped into the first two ascents that went upward up to 600 meters and then went downward up to 300 meters above sea level; just to warm us up.

Later on, we got to Pont-de-Roide, the town where we wanted to have lunch. What a lovely place! We were only too delighted to be there. We ate on the cheap at a wonderful place (see the photo below). As to the flavors, no comment! Look, the food was really good in Norway and Finland; in Sweden, Poland and Germany as well; but the French have a thingamajig, don’t know how to put it,  they are far and away the best cooks. I tasted a dark and white chocolate mousse that made me shed some tears.

From here onwards, it was tough going. We had to cover a mountainous area very close to Switzerland. We went upward along a 900-meter mountain pass in one fell swoop; without taking a break; all the way riding uphill. We cycled for 10 hard but beautiful kilometers in one and a half hours at 7 kilometers per hour; and to think that we were carrying a bag of more than 30 kilograms… It shouldn’t have posed a problem for us if we had taken something to wet our whistles and fill our bellies with but, as we are the bomb, we jumped off the deep end without carrying anything in our bag. So, we were up there, hungry as a hunter and without anything to drink or to eat. There wasn’t a single spot where we could go into and shoveled food into our mouths. We finally cracked, hit the wall. We almost ended up going door to door begging for food. So much so that the moment we saw something that looked like a bar, J.L threw himself into it looking for food. Unfortunately, he proved to be unsuccessful: he went away empty-handed and he was saying angrily: “I don’t know if I can’t see straight but I think this bar isn’t an ordinary one but a gentlemen’s bar.” At that very moment, we caught a glimpse of the sign that read “Chez la Marie”.

After cycling for 10 kilometers more and after loads of minutes, we found, by chance, a fruit stand in the middle of nowhere…we stripped it bare! We gobbled down 4 fruit each, which helped us to get to the nearest bakery where we took 3 pastries each. I’m telling you all this one hour later, sitting at the table where I’m going to have dinner. My goodness! How ravenously hungry we were! Hope tomorrow will be a better day.

By the way, here go some crazy things we recorded with the video camera. Hope you like them!

Day 27. Ringsheim- Dannemarie

Posted by admin On Agosto - 9 - 2010

125 kilometers. 5 hours and 47 minutes.

JL:

“I have been keeping a watchful eye on you for a long time, where are you wheeling these two men to?”  said the wind to the tandem bicycle. “I’m escorting them to accomplish a mission,” replied the tandem bicycle. “What sort of mission do you refer to?”  inquired the wind. “The mission is to help people see things differently,” answered the tandem bicycle. “That is not hard to get; I am used to doing it since I possess the capacity to change my outlook continually,” said the wind with a laugh. (after thinking for a while)“You do it without really knowing why because you have an innate capacity; it’s in your nature. However, people do need to be deeply touched. The two men know about it. Follow them closely and you will be able to get a sound grasp of this,” said the tandem bicycle. And the wind remained silent.

Today we entered France through Marckolsheim. We crossed the border, the Rhine and the famous Maginot Line. This line was a line of concrete fortifications constructed along the French border to protect France from Germany and Italy. It was built to deter the Germans from attacking France. It was a linear defense and it was composed of a system of  forts and bunkers interconnected by anti-tank obstacles and by an anti-personnel obstacle system made primarily of very dense barbed wire. It was constructed 10 kilometers from the French-German border and spread along it and it varied in depth from between 20 to 25 kilometers. Striking figures show the marvel of engineering and the of military strategy. However, the Germans eventually flanked the Maginot Line, as it usually happens, where they least expected it: by breaking through Belgium. There is a cycle path today that lays out alongside the old Maginot Line. Crossing the path by tandem presented no problem for us; we were just equipped with a bicycle pump and a video camara.

Once you crossed the river, the road turned southward and it ran parallel to the Rhine, making use of a strip of flat land between two chains of mountains; orchard crops, apple fields and, above all, wheat fields dotted the landscape.

We are in Alsace, a beautiful, rich area strategically located in the center of Europe; a long-disputed region, such as the Duchy of Milan, which has changed hands many times in the last centuries. 

The road surface posed no difficulty to us; however, river valleys are, as usual, wind tunnels. Apart from getting a flat tire 400 meters after setting off, we had to cope with the wind, again.

Being in a different country entails getting used to a different language, different products with different uses, a different time zone… and a wealth of tiny details that make the process of adaptation easier. Coming across people who speak English is not an easy task, contrary to what happened in the Scandinavian countries, Poland or Germany. So much so, that I went into a drugstore to get some vitamins and the druggist wanted to explain to me the difference between 11-vitamin tablets and 11-vitamin tablets plus a ginseng complex. I guess she didn’t know how to put it so it occurred to her to make a gesture with her hand like saying “it’s for male sexual virility” as if it were the most natural thing in the world. So, imagine I was standing there wearing cycling gear and saying “Oh, I see” while I was trying to choke my laughter back. What a professional!

Today we are staying at a road hostel. Don’t get confused by its name. It’s probably the most decent place we’ve stayed at since we started this challenge. We didn’t miss the opportunity to introduce ourselves to the people at the hostel dining room. Full bellies, we go to bed to get our strength back.

See you tomorrow! More kilometers added to the counter!

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