"Each step forward has a sacred meaning of its own" Sri Chinmoy
Freyming-Merlebach to Pujaloy - 180k
I started out from merlebach at 7 after the usual budget hotel breakfast where I downed as many cups of coffee and juice as I could. I expected another long day in hot (if at times also wet) weather.
At first it was an undulating suburban route, then in and around saarbrucken properly urban with the usual navigation hassle. Also my bottom bracket was starting to knock and clearly needed replacing. I hoped it was the kind of thing that wears out gradually and doesn't fail suddenly leaving you immobile! I had the accumulated tiredness of 4 full days riding and the endless stop/start of junctions and traffic lights, coupled with the challenges of heavy traffic and constant stops to check the route, began to wear me down. I was used to riding through physical fatigue but the mental fatigue had caught me unaware, sneaking up behind me in an attempt to rob me of my adventure-pilgrimage-self-transcendence-joy. Well I wasn't going to let it win! I stopped at the roadside once I'd hit open country and filled up on lotus biscuits from my seatpost bag. A stop at a village shop where I drunk a litre of lemonade and filled my bottle up also helped get me back in shape. I sang to myself and felt invigorated enough to ignore a bolshy driver shouting at me because I wasn't in the rubbish cycle lane.
The sun came out and the hours began to multiply until I'd successfully ground out a full morning's riding at the kind of pace you'd expect of someone doing the longest ride they'd ever attempted. Not very fast in other words! There was more urban shenanigans through kaiserslautern and then finally, at just before one o'clock, I was on the excellent cycleway following a highway into the hills of the pfalzerwald.
Here the mental challenges disappeared to be replaced by the physical challenge of climbing on worn out legs. The gradient was easy though and it was more of a long, long drag than a proper climb that got me into the cool pine woods of the palatine forest. As each town on my routesheet came, I told myself I'd push on just a few km more before resting, so I fooled my mind into letting me ride all the way over the high forest to the intriguingly named village of frankenstein before I actually got off the bike. I was thinking I should be about half way so I was very happy when Google gave me only 80k to go. The only thing open was a bar with outside tables overrun by tiny black flies, so I went in and ordered coca cola (same in any language) and crisps (just pointed at them). Sitting on a bar stool I sent a few WhatsApp messages and enjoyed a few minutes rest.
After frankenstein came another big but very gradual climb/drag through deep, cool pine forest then a slow and cautious descent on slippy road in a heavy shower. Kms were passing easily enough and I was soon down out of the pfalzerwald and looking for a place to eat in the picturesque town of Bad Durkheim. I got a kind of melted cheese bap that was salty and delicious, apple juice, water for the bidon and coffee. All good. The sun was shining again and the temperature much higher than in the cooler, higher forests I'd just passed through. I wasn't on the ball mentally though so I forgot my GPS was still showing me the distance to the neckarlux Hotel in heidelberg/zeigelhausen by bike... I'd forgotten to set it for the next town on the routesheet and compare car and bike options....
Initially this meant a long climb out of bad Durkheim on to a lovely tarmac cycleway through vineyards. Then of course the route became a tractor track and I was struggling to find a way forward. I couldn't take the motorway so the cycle option, although a bit of a detour, seemed to be the only one. I got on the good tarmac bike route and it was heading for maxdorf as intended, when I came up against impassable security fencing.... Route closed with no warning and no diversion. I worked out a route on highway that wasn't motorway, but once again this meant going cyclo-cross style, hefting the bike down an embankment and over a barrier to join a slip road. Fortunately it got me on a direct route to maxdorf and then on to oggersheim. From then on it was going to have to be cycleway as mannheim is a contorted confusion of motorways, bridges and busy urban highways and my brain and subtle nerves were never going to cope with that. Another challenge came in the shape of tram lines... The Google bike route was avoiding major roads by taking me on the tramway. OK for cars but unnerving on a bike as you are a bit trapped by the the rails and have to constantly keep one eye on the road to keep your wheels out of the lethal tram rail. At one point I was pursued by an impatient tram with a high kerb on my right and the tram rail a foot to the left leaving me nowhere to go. Luckily I spotted a drop kerb ahead and semi sprinted on to the cobbled pavement to let it pass.
I crossed the rhine on a high, huge, concrete bridge with a cycleway bolted to its side then found relief in the form of the river neckar and its promenade. There were lots of cyclists, even some roadies. The surface varied from perfect tarmac to less than perfect conglomerate that rattled the bike a bit but was OK for short distances. I stuck with the path as long as I could then when it got too rough I got on the flat roads to heidelberg. I totally bombed the last 10k now that the end of the epic was in sight. Over the ancient bridge with its statues and tourist crowds, not caring about the cobbles, then down the bank of the neckar on smooth road until finally I saw my goal, the temple of Pujaloy. I got off and leant the bike against the wall at the entrance and took a moment to Meditate before taking a photo to send to everyone in Bristol who'd been encouraging me on the way. The message that came to me in the silence was to forget everything negative about myself and think only of the good things I have done, the good things I can do in the future and the good person I can become. From there it was only a few metres to the hotel where I was able to bring my bike inside, get the cycling kit off and have a very welcome shower.
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