June 9 – Schaffhausen to Basel
Those things that make riding tricky. Those things that make a day that little bit harder. Those things found us and ganged up on us today. We had a detour. We had hills. We had rain.
We packed up the tent under clear skies and the day looked like it was going to be another sunny one, to send us on our way along the Rhine. We got chatting to a couple of our tent neighbours, when I told them how awesome their choice of travel looked. They were travelling in a bright red motorbike and side car and it just looked fab. They were a British couple and after I commented on their fantastic set of wheels, they asked about the weight we are carrying on the bikes and chatted to us about our trip and previous travels in the U.K. We had a nice chat, to these two friendly fellow travellers and they finished by saying, “We’d planned to continue going through Switzerland but we’ve been told to head east because the weather is going to get really bad here for the next few days. We’ve been in so much rain, we don’t want any more, so we’re heading for Austria.” It seemed they had been on the receiving end of the big wet as well, and we told them about our own experiences with rain, before wishing each other a sunny onward journey.
We rode back into Schaffhausen and then checked our guide book for our route, found the route marker signs and we were on our way.
The first point of interest was Rheinfall, which is the largest waterfall, by volume of water, on continental Europe. We had the signs pointing us in the right direction, until…detour. Sigh and humph. Here we go. We turned and followed the detour sign and its bike symbol, but this detour was a doozy. It gave us the sign to turn up a different road, but that’s all it gave us. No other detour signs along the way to show us the way to go or guide us to the falls. No, just one arrow saying “can’t go that way, go this way instead” and then we were left to our own devices to figure it out for ourselves. We did make it, but the detour left us on the opposite side of the river to the one we should have been on, if we hadn’t been detoured. The falls were definitely worth a look. They weren’t big, as in tall, but they sure had a huge amount of water going over them, so I guess their “biggest by volume” badge is well earned. They were formed during the last ice age (14,000-17,000 years ago) and they’re 150m wide and have a 23m drop.
After the falls, we consulted the map and our guide book, to find where we could cross the river and pick up the original route again. First of all, there was the hill to climb, to take us back up from the base of the falls.
Then on through some villages, up more hills, then over the river through another little covered bridge near Rheinau and we were back on course.
From then on, it just seemed to be one climb after another. The hills came thick and fast and the gears went down, and the legs got to work and it felt hard. We did get a change of scenery which was good, but the ride just felt tough and soooooo slow. I don’t know why it felt tough and slow, but it sure did. We went up hills, down some hills, then up and up and up again. The river was nowhere to be seen, so once again, the river path didn’t give us a river and certainly didn’t give us leisurely, flat riding. We were on roads again and pedalled on, up some more hills and it just seemed to be taking forever. I still don’t know why, because it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. We’ve ridden hilly days before, but by elevenses, we’d been going for 2½ hours and only done 20km. We should have knocked that distance out in half that time. Yes, we did stop to have a look at the falls, but even taking that into account, the odometer seemed to be clicking over at the speed of a three legged sloth.
We stopped for elevenses at the top of another hill, at another bus stop, in the little town of Berg am Irchel. Before we pedalled on, we both added more layers, because the clear sky had taken a holiday and grey had taken its place, along with a dose of cool.
We rode on, on roads rather than cycle paths, through countryside. The landscape changed again and we had the palette of greens of fields and forests.
Then we had our own forests. If we can’t ride beside water, then I reckon forests are the next best thing. I love riding through the trees, with the dappled colours overhead, the sound of birds and the scratching in the leaves of animals scurrying around. This was a very nice forest, but…it had hills…quite steep hills at times…on gravel. I think my feelings about riding on gravel have been noted, but even harder than riding on gravel, is riding uphill on gravel, when your wheels spin in the stones and there are times you get nowhere, just spin and spit stones behind you. So this forest brought on a pendulum of peeves and pleasure as I pedalled the pebbly path.
‘Oh look, isn’t the green of the leaves nice…grrrrr, stop wobbling my wheels you darn gravel…I wonder what made that sound, I hope it’s a squirrel, I hope I see a squirrel…aaaaah, I really DO NOT like gravel!…we don’t get that sort of green at home, those changes of colour are lovely…is this hill NEVER going to end!!??…’ and on it went in my head, back and forth between admiring my peaceful surroundings and inwardly snarling at the gravel and incline that were messing with my head.
Out of the forest, past some more farms and we had a steep downhill, back to the river, just enough time to catch a glimpse of it, before we were hauling ourselves back up another hill on the other side. We were still passing some other cyclists, although not as many as yesterday. There were also a lot of people and families out beside the river and in parks enjoying barbecues, because there is yet another public holiday here on Monday, so everyone seemed to be making the most of their long weekend.
It had started to sprinkle rain, so I stopped to put on a spray jacket, holding off until absolutely necessary, from teaming up with Nora again. Then up the hill and into the town of Eglisau, just as the rain started to come down. We sought shelter under a roof and realised it was time to get out the slicks. Sigh. We put on our coats and realised our streak of fine weather had come to an end. It had to at some stage of course, but it chose today, on a hilly day, when we were already going so slow, to add being wet to the challenge. We were still making glacial progress. We had left at 8:30, it was now 12:30 and we were only at 30km, with about 35km left to ride. Yes, that’s still early, but four hours to go 30 km, that’s just ridiculous! Why was it taking us so long!? Surely it couldn’t just be the hills, we aren’t usually that slow, even when we had full days of hills in Croatia it didn’t seem to drag on this long. Then Steve said, “There’s a train station here, we could just get on a train.” That made us start to evaluate the situation. At the rate we were going it was going to be a very, very long day before we reached out intended destination, if we reached it at all, because the guide book had told us there were more hills to come. It was raining, which would slow us down too and make the ride less enjoyable. What to do? In the end, having decided we’d done our tour of duty in the rain and if we could avoid it again, we might like to do that. I still really don’t like getting on trains because it feels like it’s soft and cheating, but another four hours of riding, in the conditions as they were, wasn’t looking fun either. So, we decided to hop on the rails again and jump ahead of the rain to Basel, which is one of the stops on our route.
When we rode onto the platform at the station, we were joined by about six other cycle tourists who’d obviously had the same idea. We waited for the train and I thought it was going to be a bit of a scramble to get the bikes on, with four other bikes going on our train. The train pulled in, I power walked to the bike carriage, the doors opened and my shoulders slumped and I couldn’t help saying, “Oh no. Steps.” There were three steps to haul the bike up and there was no time to moan about it. I lifted the front of my bike up to get it on the top step of the carriage and the other cyclists travelling with us, took hold of the back and then the front and helped me get the bike in. We were half way in when the train started beeping and the doors started closing!
“Nein! Nein! Nein!” everyone shouted to the train and a man put his arm out to stop the doors closing. We all gave an extra heave and got my bike on, then they turned and helped Steve get his on too. We were cramming ourselves into the small space reserved for bikes and the last lady to get on had her bike half way in, with the group of cyclists helping her, when the train started to beep again and the doors began closing.
“Nein! Nein! Nein!” everyone shouted again and pushed on the doors to make the automated sensor open them again. The lady had tumbled back towards the platform, arms reached out to help her and grab the bike and finally we were all on. It was stressful getting on and we all smiled with relief when we all made it and scrunched ourselves and the bikes into the space, with us all standing, holding the bikes as the train jerked and swayed. It was a little community of cyclists, coming to the aid of each other and then sharing a smile of relief that team work had succeeded in the end.
As people got off at stops along the way, we all shuffled and leaned and made way as bikes got off and people got on, until there was just Steve and me and another lady with her bike. We had to change in Zurich, so when the train stopped, I held Steve’s bike while he lifted mine off, then he came back for his and I went back and lifted the lady’s down for her, which was a breeze, I couldn’t believe how light it was with just a couple of little panniers on the back and not an enormous weight like we carry! So, team work paid off again and we all made it to the platform. The next one was easy, we could walk the bikes straight on, they had a space in the carriage with us and we could sit down and rest for the 90 minute trip to Basel.
The rain followed us and when we emerged from the station into the streets, it was grey, wet and very cold! We belted our way through the city and traffic, with Steve getting a gold star for navigation and we found our way to our pitstop.
What a day. It didn’t feel easy, I’ll say that. We had a detour that was confusing and decidedly unhelpful to the day’s route. Then we had hills. We went through towns with hills. We went through farmland with hills. We went through villages with hills. We went through forests with hills. We went up roads with hills, tracks with hills, gravel with hills…they just kept coming. So, we were caught today. They found us. Those three tricksters ganged up on us and gave us the trifecta of detour, hills and rain, all together. I don’t think that’s playing fair!
Now we’re just deciding where to from here. We might just keep following our route on the Rhine, although the rain is forecast to get worse for the next few days and we’re not too keen on riding in that while being soaked and cold again. Been there, done that, many times over. We thought about what our side car friends at the campsite told us this morning…head east. We looked at some places in that direction and what did we see…sunshine and 32C! So, we may jump over there and ride on in sunshine again. Who knows. This is our style. Fly by the seat of our pants. We can go anywhere we like and we might go and discover somewhere completely new, if there’s weather that’s a bit kinder to cyclists. So much of this form of travel is dictated by weather, so if we can find friendly skies, we might just head in their direction. We don’t know. We’re still tossing ideas around. Like I said, this trip is full of surprises because we make our own all the time! We don’t know where we’ll be tomorrow. That’s the fun of our winging-it style of travel…the element of surprise, the spirit of adventure, embracing the unknown. We’re not sure what’s around the corner, because… we just need to decide which way to turn!
Distance ridden: 36.5 km
Time in the saddle: 2 hours 51 minutes
Time on the road: 4 hours 40 minutes
Weather: clear, then grey, then rain, 14C