The Dornbirn days were hazy and lazy.
Over five days I drifted in and out of Katy and Barney’s flat – booking out my days to the tune of watching Adventure Time, playing cards and basking in the sun outside. When the time came (and often well beforehand) we picked up our pints and got to enjoying mild evenings watching the world cup in the main square or just drinking for the hell of it. I got in a rhythm where I wasn’t going anywhere – shaking off the vestiges of hangover all morning before heading off on another gallivant and rewarding ourselves with a beer or six at the end of it.
We ate early afternoon hot pork sandwiches in the metro station to help soak up the booze. Barney, Katy and I headed to Bregenz for a swim in the lake, which escalated quickly into setting all the driftwood in a thirty foot radius on fire and having ourselves some barbecued frankfurters and pombears. We’d got into a tacit bonfire competition with the family to our left, going so far as stealing the young boys prize log after watching him struggle and fail to carry it to his own campfire. I say log – it was as big as most trees – and it made a nice albeit excessive crown on our triumphant fire. Triumphant or not our bonfire met the same damp end as our competitors when the wet clouds rolled in over the lake. We’d watched them for the last hour, streams of grey soaking Switzerland ahead of us and Germany to our right, it was only a matter of time before Austria too would be held to account.
My birthday crept up on me, falling damningly on the same day as a new concept…Gin Friday. Needless to say it was a good birthday, but it marked one of the final milestones in my journey and bought with it a certain solemnity. I had seen what I had set out to see. I had less than 10 days to get back to the UK on my free European insurance, otherwise fork out for local temporary cover – which I couldn’t do because I had burned through all of my money in petrol costs, hostels and alcohol. I was suspicious about the health of my brakes, so investigated the costs of replacements at a local bike shop on Saturday before talking myself out of it. I was close enough to home to justify pushing on at a leisurely pace. Ok with me – I had nowhere in particular I needed to rush to.
On Sunday 22nd of June I bagged and tagged my gear, saddled up and waved goodbye to my hosts of five days. It had been an awesome catch-up.
I was at the border with Switzerland before I knew it, fumbling redundantly in my tank-bag for a passport no-one asked for. Still, better than getting to the checkpoint and finding out otherwise and holding up a queue of angry Swiss. For better or worse I’d been warned off Switzerland by a number of people so far. I’m sure it’s a great place, but its reputation for expensive living fitted too disjointedly with my tattered finances. I ran north-west bound along the coast of the lake on the number 13, straight to Konstanz, Germany for a coffee break to decide where next. Whatever destination, the Autobahns stretched north for miles of unrestricted speeding.
Picking an end point for the day was difficult. I genuinely lacked enthusiasm for everything that lay ahead. Candy Indy and I were well and truly back in the civilized world – the flat, civilized world. Wild mountain roads lay to the South while we rode North and I couldn’t figure out how to occupy my few remaining days with anything other than boring city tourism. I’d give Stuttgart a go. I left the dregs of my coffee and tentatively nudged my bike out of the tight parking spot between bike racks.
The autobahns aren’t really any less civilized than a motorway in England, although I could see how people, particularly motorcyclists, might worry when cars tear past at 150 mph. Still most of the traffic hugs the slow lane to avoid the bow waves of big Audi’s churning by, keeping the bulk of the road clear. I did a speed test – sure, but lacking any screen and fairing it wasn’t particularly pleasant to sit at 100mph. Neck already stiff I dropped it to a steady 80/85 until filtering off to Stuttgart centre. I needed to steal some wifi again.
Eventually I discovered somewhere close to sleep tonight, a campsite just out of Stuttgart. First impressions of the place were good, but I’d sink my teeth into the city tomorrow. I found the campsite easily, checked in for a night, talked to a father/son motorcycle trip from France and pitched the tent quickly. I had enough energy for a beer in the ebbing evening sun before turning in for the night. In the morning, later than I would have like, I disturbed the receptionist for a walking map and made the longer-than-realised trip into the city, nearly all of it on well kept footpaths in a sweeping green belt, nearly reaching the heart of the city. I was impressed.
By 3/4 pm I’d pretty much had my fill of wide shopping roads and quirky graffiti and sculptures. I was ready for my next foray into France, a country left pretty much untouched in my escapades to date. This time would be the same too, a quick pop in and pop out – I couldn’t afford to waste money on toll roads and, as my passage along the Côte d’Azur had taught me, the equivalent A roads added nearly enough mileage to warrant paying the toll fees if only to save petrol costs. Either way, France had been expensive or time consuming (and therefore expensive). Apparently Strasbourg was worth a look though – so close to the border it’s meant to be a fusion of German and French influence, historically violently contended. There was still time to get there. I struck camp and rolled out of town for a dull stretch on the motorway.
Signs overhead told me I was close, then told me to take the exit down the next ramp. The road slung into tall grass and farmers fields. Welcome to France.
As always, getting into the city wouldn’t be a problem. As always, finding somewhere to stay would be. The campsite I’d loaded into my GPS was closed for renovation, and had been for 6 months or something. Something you might reckon features on the website, but no. I rode around looking for somewhere to steal wifi before stumbling upon a McDonald’s near what I assumed was the train station. I used to buy a token drink while stealing the internet, but this time I could get the signal from over the road. Plan B scouted I battled my way along confusing figure of eights, bridges, tunnels, slip roads until I popped out of the sprawling mess of tarmac onto the same road I’d come in on. I passed back into Germany, the other side of the Rhine and followed a side road through a residential district. Rain had started to spit, so I was relieved to find a campsite compound gates soon after. I paid up, pitched up, beer-ed up and wrote up my overdue blog posts to the sound of an escalating storm. Stiff from the little autobahn work I’d done but loose from the two or three pints I’d drank I commando crawled over my stove, panniers and waterproof sacks into my tent.
Strasbourg tomorrow, but then what? How many more days could I eke out of this trip? Thick droplets springing from the taught canopy were my lullaby.