Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Walnuts in the Brumath forest: I have no idea why these were there. I can't be held accountable for every darn thing that appears on this blog.

As I will soon be moving to a city where the car is king, I have been plotting for some time my farewell bike ride in Alsace. The weather here has been unreliable of late – each day for the past few weeks we’ve been blessed with a rolling sequence of five minute-bursts of pretty much every weather the universe has to offer – rain, lightning, hail, dust storms, tornados, plagues of locusts, windstorms and meteor showers. Oh yeah, and a weekly glimpse of sun, if the sadistic pagan gods who hold sway over our skies are feeling benevolent.

Yesterday, however, was clear, and forecast to remain so for the whole day. So, ignoring the slightly overstuffed feeling from the previous night’s Argentian empanada extravaganza, I hopped on my bike and set off, bright and early (well, after spending an hour to fail to find my maps and bike tools, and choking down my breakfast. I actually hit the road at 11:30).

My goal was to bike along the Rhine-Marne canal that connects Strasbourg to the town of Saverne, 55 kilomters away. Once there, I was going to hang a left, push my way past a hill or two in the Vosges, and connect to the old railway line that used to connect Saverne and Molshiem. Once there, I’d turn left again, and follow the Rainbows and Ponies Trail* back to Strasbourg. Total distance covered was supposed to be roughly 100 km.

It didn’t work out that way.

I’d ridden the Rainbows and Ponies several times recently, so I decided to take the Marne-Rhine canal. At first, it was glorious. I’d packed water and a decent lunch, and as it was a weekday, there was almost no one else on the path.

Even better, for a long stretch the canal passed through the Brumath forest, thus keeping me nice and cool (incidentally, I stopped for lunch at a platform that looked over he canal, part of the trail network through the forest. There I learned that Brumath was the Roman capital of the Alsatian region, under the nom de empire Brocamagus. I also learned that the Marne-Rhine Canal used to carry over 1,000,000 tonnes of shipping each year. Now it’s 60,000, not counting pleasure boats). And they used to have a bridge - it went all the way to the other side of the water! For real!

Pleasure boat on the canal, tragically unaware that there used to be a bridge on this very spot.

Sadly, the forest couldn’t last forever. By the time I passed through it, it was after 2 o’clock. I emerged into a fiery cauldron: the forecast high had been 29 degrees, Amynah tells me she thinks it hit 34, but I can say with some confidence that it was at least 7,000 degrees (12,000 Fahrenheit).

Though I didn't really perceive the heat on my bike, strange things started happening to me. Even though the wind had been against me all day, I'd managed to keep up a decent clip. As it dropped in force, I should have found it easier to keep my pace, but in fact my speed inexplicably dropped as well, and my legs were constantly on the verge of cramping. Nonetheless, I pushed on.

I made it to Saverne at around 3:00, and made a beeline for the grocery store, where I bought some more water. I then popped into the tourist office to pick up some maps. However, no matter which way I held them, I could not make any sense of the squiggles they contained. Plus, I was starting to feel nauseous.

The Rohan Palace in Saverne. According to sign outside, they wanted my blood. At this point, all I had was a sachet of reddish dust to offer

Disregarding my sudden cartographic aphasia, I pushed on. The section between Saverne and the dedicated bike trail went through several tiny villages. The bike route isn’t very well mapped, so riders have to know which village comes next on their itinerary, in order to follow the route.

As I pushed up the first hill leading out of Saverne, I knew I was heading to Otterswiller. But what came after that? I stopped, and pulled out the map. “Gottenhouse” – ok. I hopped on the bike, my head pounding, and pedaled fifty meters. Wait a minute… what was I looking for again? It started with a “G” – Geroldseck? I stopped, and pulled out the map: “Gottenhouse” – got it. Gottenhouse… Gottenhouse… pedal… damn it’s hot… I hope this is the biggest hill. Where’s the turn off to… what’s the name of the village again? I stopped, pulled out the map again: “Gottenhouse.” Right. I’ll grab some water while I’m stopped…. Ahhh, that’s good. Should have bought another bottle. Put it away, and off we go to… wait… where am I going? “Goldilocks?” All right… check the map…

I did eventually make it through Otterswiller, and then Gottenhouse. But on the first hill out of Gottenhouse, it hit me: I was going to be sick. Not immediately, but I was only able to go 8 km/h up a hill I’d normally be doing at twice that speed. Not to mention, if I was going to have to check the map every minute to remind myself where I was heading, something was probably not quite right.

Black and White and Red all over: me, as I turned back. I don't know how well you can tell in this photo, but I'm horribly sunburned

So, I did one of the few sensible things I’ve ever done on one of these bike rides – I turned back to Saverne, which was now 5 kilometers behind me. I rolled into the train station, bought a ticket to Strasbourg, and staked the spot on the platform on which I intended to expire. While I'm obviously disappointed that I didn't fulfill my ambition, I believe I did manage to accomplish some good: I think I heard a mother waiting on the platform tell her children who were gawking at my radioactive carcass: “That’s why you should always where sunscreen. You don’t want to grow up to look like that man, do you?”

* Strangely, someone recently landed on this blog using "Rainbows and Ponies Trail Alsace" as a search term. Word's getting out!


Victor Chisholm said...

I admire your consistency for having some minor (but not life-threatening) disasters on this, your last Alsatian bike outing. A perfectly uneventful ride would have been anti-climactic, right?

Mark Reynolds said...

Of the variety of disasters that could have happened, sunstroke's just Alsace saying "See ya, big guy" with a slap on the back. Comforting really.