Austria passed in a blur of beautiful river vistas, ferries, bridges and campsites. I found a gorgeous little pet shop run by Steffi Graf…yeah no, not that one, who makes and sells collars and leads and stocks tonnes of natural treats and food and basically is awesome and also spoke pretty good English so we chatted dog equipment while I waited for the ferry to take me over the river. I also, of course, bought Scout some treats and a slip lead – she has an elastic bungee one so that if she pulls while we’re cycling I’m less likely to crash but it means I can’t give lead corrections at all effectively when normal walking so we got a handmade bright orange one and it’s very smart. Thanks Steffi! This is her fb page: Der Hundeladen
Camps along the Danube were simple affairs and quite lovely but wifi was still proving elusive and/or extremely slow. Between Vienna and Linz the Danube is surrounded by hills and for a few days it felt very closed off – quiet, isolated – I was told wifi hadn’t really found its way here yet which was charming, if a little annoying. Big cruise boats sailed up and down and I occasionally tried to jump on their wifi but they were too quick for me. It was fun to try though! As we camped in a little place called Melk we realised KD had a flight to catch in a few days and we weren’t anywhere near Passau yet – it would have been good to get to Germany but her flight was from Frankfurt so she had to make her way there and we said goodbye at my campsite after a crazy few days along the Danube. I’m really excited to see what the footage looks like, I’m pretty sure it’ll be great. The nights were most definitely growing colder as we headed West and KD made sure I wouldn’t forget her for the rest of the trip by leaving her sleeping bag at the reception of her last campsite for me to snuggle up with. Absolute legend.
And then, before I knew it I was in Germany, and then Passau at an adorable little cycle-only camp site just fifteen minutes’ walk from the old town and ice cream and pretzels but, unfortunately, not a whole lot of wifi. I managed a blog post all the same and found a brilliant camp store called Pritz Globetrotter Depot who helped me replace my knackered stove and stocked footprints for my fancy tent which, given the forecast, and fanciness of said tent, seemed prudent to have with me. I was camped next to a lovely Dutch couple who offered me a bed when I got to Holland and a Spanish couple who we’d camped near in rainy Vienna. I chatted to a Polish cyclist who takes 5 months off a year from his IT job in Perth to tour Europe. He told me I had too much stuff. I’m sure that’s very true but it’s my first tour, I’ve got a dog and all the paraphernalia associated with video documentation and yes, I am probably still packing too much but, I didn’t really know what to do about it…you live and learn, right? I wish I could have stayed longer and eaten more ice-cream in Passau; it seemed a beautiful city – the Venice of Germany, apparently, but come the morning I cycled up to the post office to send a 2 kilo package of unnecessaries home and on into Bavaria where more pretzels awaited.
And that’s when the wheels really came off. Well, one wheel. But it really came off. Surprisingly, German cycle paths are pretty gravelly affairs a lot of the time and Jeeves, trailer and my bum weren’t all that keen on them to be honest. And then the left trailer tyre, which had been working loose all trip eventually abandoned ship and properly bent itself as it flew off. I’d just started down a particularly bumpy and steep patch of gravel when the vibrations rattling my body suddenly got extremely intense. Something was not right. I came to a halt and looked back to see an abandoned tyre in the middle of the path and trailer at a decidedly jaunty angle. Balls.
I’d been making good progress and wanted to press on but wasn’t sure my attempt to straighten and right the wheel was going to last. So I stopped at a small campground and used my depleting internet to search bike shops, spare parts and a route that would only involve silky smooth tarmac tomorrow – riding along country roads with zoomy lorries and cars again, it was a compromise I had to make if I wanted to get anywhere with two wheels still attached. Two other cyclists heading the opposite direction arrived, one of them a woman – possibly the only solo woman cyclist I’d spoken to on the whole trip. We appear to be a rare breed. Indeed, a lot of people have remarked that it’s good I have a dog with me so I’m not alone. Anne was travelling all the way to the Black Sea via the Danube and I told her what I could of my time in Bulgaria and Romania – we hadn’t taken the Serbian route because Scout’s EU passport doesn’t give her free passage there. She was an older German lady, although living in Holland and we managed what we could in Germanglish. I was envious of the cycle through Austria ahead of her, aware that my time near the Danube was dwindling. The next day I started out early and rolled up my wet tent, enjoying my early starts and enforced coffee/tent drying stops. It was Saturday and although I wanted to get to Regensburg – the next big old town on the Danube – I realised I might not get there until the shops were closing and nothing opens on a Sunday in Germany. Seriously, a lot of restaurants even have short or no opening hours on the holy day. It took some getting used to and some petrol station dinners before I realised I needed to plan in advance on weekends. I’d planned to avoid Straubing but it looked like the only chance of a good bike shop and as it happened there was a big one on the cycle path on the outskirts. It was too hot to leave Scout in the trailer outside so I pulled out the wheel and took her inside with me, walking the 50m to the back of the store where it said ‘reparaturen’. And then Scout peed on the shiny white floor. She’d been in the trailer for a few hours. I should have given her a little walk before taking her inside. My bad. A lady gave me kitchen roll and I cleaned up, spluttering my English apologies. Luckily the repair guys hadn’t seen the incident and they were very helpful. It would take three or four days at best to order a new part but they could try to straighten it out. Which they blooming well did – after some banging and crashing it came back to me, straight as an arrow and with some nice white grease. It fit perfectly and the quick release skewer bit hard into the axel tube. I felt confident it was going to stick around. Thanks to the Stadler bike guys and sorry for pissing on your floor…
The day was so hot but we managed to find bike paths and an encouraging countdown of the kilometres to go until Regensburg and even a delightful stop next to a small river where Scout finally, finally decided that water could be fun and swimming wasn’t just a way to get out of the water as quickly as possible. I have no idea what she was actually doing but she was sticking her face in the riverbank, digging, snorting, and having a mucking great time. I was content to dip my toes and watch her as she tired herself out, until it was time to leave. Now. Scout’s recall is not very good. In fact it’s terrible. It’s the sort of thing you really need to start work on when dogs are very little and quite impossible to work on in an environment like Street Hearts where there are lots of dogs and no way of directing commands and rewards. It’s quite hard to do while cycle touring as well as it happens but as soon as we’re on home turf that dog will be going through intensive obedience training.
So I packed up to leave and Scout was far too interested in the secrets of the river banks to pay my calls any heed. She swam across the water, hopped out the other side and dashed around to find a new place to snort mud and water and I resolved simply to do the ‘Ok, I’m going then, see you later’ ploy used with toddlers. She’s always kept me mostly in sight and run to find me when she’s been distracted by, say, dead stuff. So I took off, and called to her, rolling back across the bridge to continue on the route.Now that confused her. She knew how to get to the lunch spot on one side of the river, but she could not for the life of her work out how to get to me, now on the other side. She ran up and down the bank she’d spent the last 45 minutes jumping off and swimming from, a little anxious, a few yips escaping her as I patiently called to her and made a show of rolling off. It honestly took her about 10 minutes of trying to reach me, getting distracted and then trying again. I had to turn around as I’d gone out of sight and pretend to ride off again before she remembered she could get into the river and run up the other side and find me there. Problem solving is a great skill and I knew she’d get there in the end, at least, I really hoped she would…I’m reevaluating her intelligence level as we go.
And then Regensburg. Beautiful, friendly, historic, wifi-laden, vegan restaurant having Regensburg. I had a vegetarian burger and salad (pretzels are great…but fresh veggies are a little difficult to work into my day sometimes) and then ice-cream for good measure and we rolled on to a tiny little campsite on the Danube that was actually the local Kanu (Kayak and canoe I think) club’s grassy area. On my to the two of Regensburg’s campsites a lady cycled up to me and told me I should definitely go to the Kanu club – it was cheaper and quieter and all I would need. Decision made. It was all she’d promised and some club members who were having a ukulele session showed me around before the owner got there to take my money and make a fuss of Scout and tell me more about Regensburg and the crazy Walhalla on the mountain top I’d passed on my way in and had greatly confused me – something to do with a mad king I think.
I was utterly exhausted by the day and even when four young German men arrived with their canoes and beers at 10pm, I couldn’t muster the energy to sit carousing with them. What a waste. They were barely awake when Scout and I left for Ingolstadt in the morning. It was a bright and sunny Sunday and people were out with their dogs along the river – I stopped and spoke with quite a few, I’m constantly amazed by the level of English everyone has! I’d realised yesterday that my Uni friend now living in Ulm had taken days off work to spend with me and I was going to miss her if I didn’t get a move on. And I’d not had a rest day since Budapest, a full 14 days ago. So I cycled like a demon to Ingolstat Bahnhof and bought a ticket for a person, a bike and a dog and made the most spectacular sweaty fool of myself trying to get trailer, bike and me in an elevator. Twice. In 8 minutes. I had to unhitch and managed to get us all inside, just about, Jeeves wobbling and swooning all over the place (get a bloody grip mate), then push Scout out into the underpass, leave her, race Jeeves to the elevator to the platform, prop him up and tell him to stay still, run back to rescue the dog, most definitely drawing concerned looks, push her into the lift and then grab Jeeves, by which time the lift had been called and Scout had gone up on her own, luckily also descending still inside so we could all go up together, crash our way out (seriously, Jeeves) and onto the waiting train.
Ah the train. The train had an electronic display that told you not only the destination and stations etc. but also the time and the speed. I’m aware of my speed pretty much all the time so it was rather nice to be able to keep tabs on that. And seeing 160km ph flash up was pretty exciting. The day had been long and thunderstormy and sticky and I was not the freshest of daisies so I sat as still and small as possible, certain I was offending all nostrils around me and desperate to wash everything I owned. Janina met me at the station platform to avoid any similar hideousness exiting the train but there were no lifts to contend with and we began the cycle to hers. Up a massive hill. I could not have been more ready for a shower and a bed and good food and clean clothes and all the delightful things that Ulm provided, not to mention a few cards from my mother and new tee shirts from my bro. I was a very happy little lamb, even if I’d had to cheat to get there.