Guest blog: Big Game Hunting by Bicycle

My big brother, Jeremy, joined us for a couple of days cycling as well as looking after us exceptionally well with his wife Marie-Agnès and daughter Laurie-Anne at Marie-Agnès’ family home in Alsace.

He wrote us a blog, we hope you enjoy reading it!

[Disclaimer : the author was riding his shiny Scott Solace (5kg) with a +/- 5kg tyre around his waist; the principle characters were riding 2-wheeled tanks with 50+ kg of panniers]

I very much doubt that when James and Emily set off on their adventure to Africa, they intended that the first of the big game to spot would be the giant cuckoo but that was James’ primary objective on cycling day 10. More of that later.

Disappointed to have missed the Grand Départ in London and having been scheduled to climb 4 cols in the Alps on Sunday, I eventually (after a nano-second of thought) decided a more enjoyable day would be spent accompanying my sister Emily and her partner James across the Vosges to my in-laws in Alsace.

So, I pitched up at 9.15 in Grondexange, which is a typical village in Lorraine (no pictures required) for a 9h30 depart. At 9.45 (which I think is pretty good punctuality for Emily), two figures in white appeared on the other side of the little lake and promptly turned right not left so Marie-Agnès jumped in the car to give chase.

It had been a long and hot week in France so the two protagonists probably cursed when they saw my unladen bike and didn’t appreciate the humour when I suggested a little col over the Vosges instead of the Northern detour avoiding the climbs. A few ‘pain au chocolat’ later, however and the challenge was on.

It was a pretty uneventful journey into the Vosges; some excellently maintained cycle paths and quiet Sunday roads and before long we were slowly climbing to the entrance to the village of Dabo. This is where all the stories one hears about GPS taking lorries into fields became relevant for bikes. Garmin said left, the road went right and fortunately there was consensus that the track to the left didn’t look such a good idea.

Heading out of Dabo village, the climb continued, I enjoyed the leisurely pace and the two tourers behind me no doubt wondered why they‘d let me talk them into taking the high road. We soon reached the Rocher du Dabo (or at least a bit below it), a church unnecessarily built on the top of a rocky outcrop providing a good excuse for discussing the merits (or otherwise) of religion in the 21st or other centuries. Soon afterwards we paused with a few other tourists to admire the view of said outcrop, where Emily – who apparently reacts badly to insect bites, inexplicably lay down in the grass to provide the insects with their lunch. A few more meandering bends and we officially reached the Col de Valsberg (653m) where we would have taken a picture except I was to discover that our cameraman is a rather keen descent specialist so he’d gone and it would have been harsh to send him back up the hill to capture the moment.

A quick descent into a deserted Wasselone in search of some lunch ended with a pretzel and warm sweaty dried apricots. Emily and James then took a unanimous and instant decision not to take the direct route over a few short sharp hills and we enjoyed a leisurely last leg along the cycle path by the Mossig to Bergbieten. After a sunny/cloudy but muggy day the heavens opened with about 2k to go for an early shower.

Day 2 of my mini tour, and the queen stage awaited. Emily & James had spent the rest day diligently cleaning their bikes, checking their equipment and battling my mother in law’s attempts to force feed them. A clear blue sky awaited and we set off only about an hour behind schedule. The pace for the first 3k was blistering with 6yr old Laurie-Anne determined to forge ahead. To our relief she was soon collected by the ‘voiture balai’ and we were able to settle into a more leisurely rhythm.

The plan for the day was simple enough. Find the giant cuckoo clock. James’ Lonely Planet guide had picked out a giant cuckoo clock near Triberg in the Black Forest as a site worth seeing. So there we headed. Now, I was under the impression the lonely planet was a young people’s guide but I’m afraid to say that if the giant cuckoo clock is considered a site worth seeing, the authors were probably escaped from a Saga tour. Give it a miss.

The journey into Strasbourg was pretty idyllic – super smooth shady cycle paths along the Bruche and the Canal de la Bruche. Strasbourg by bike is a pleasure – a bike path almost to the city centre where Emily and James were able to marvel at Petit France, get some photos and wave goodbye to France before crossing the Rhine into country number 3.

Emily Conrad-pickles and Jeremy Conrad-Pickles in Strasbourg

Emily with her brother, Jeremy in Strasbourg.

The scenery changed from sumptuous Strasbourg to concrete Kehl and the bike paths changed as well. All of a sudden the two-wheeled tanks were looking a better option than a fancy road bike, as we hit stony gravel paths. Fortunately I emerged with tyres intact and we took a left at Offenberg and headed away from the Rhine valley up the Kinzig river to the Black Forest, the scenery reverted to beautiful, the bike paths (mainly) reverted to tarmac and the temperature started to rise close to the 40c mark.

One particularly pretty Germanic castle made me stop for a photo; Emily and James pressed on unknowingly. Of course there was a junction in the cycle path and by the time I got to it, they were out of sight.   It took me 3 different attempts to choose the right path off from the junction, by which time they had noticed they’d lost me and Emily was cycling back to check the ditches. They both decided that scrumping apples and plums was a good idea (justified survival training I guess) – ignoring the ‘local’s advice, that the season wasn’t quite upon us yet; to be fair the plums weren’t far off but the apple was on the sour side.

Through the afternoon we climbed gently upwards, and the temperature seemed to soar upwards. We finally made it to shaded mountainous roads and in Hornberg we came across our first mountain road tunnel – 1.9km long, we gave it a miss and cycled through the town centre. Our friend Garmin lead us to a footpath, which was kind but the detour did add the discovery that Hornberg is the home of toilets … at which point I learned that James’s distant relative invented the flushing toilet – which you won’t find in his bio.

A series of mountain tunnels followed, where there were generally pavements – much to our relief since oddly enough they cut big pine trees in the Black Forest and need very big lorries to transport them – except of course when workmen had blocked the pavement with street furniture.

Close to our target (the cuckoo clock, remember?), we were passed by my support vehicle (carrying daughter, wife, mother-in-law) who were no doubt stressing mainly about those tunnels and lorries.

The objective was achieved at about 18.40 but of course we had to wait another 20 minutes to see the Big Game Giant Cuckoo emerge. Not knowing how much further there was to climb to find a beer (or for Emily and James to find a bed), waiting for the 7pm chime was perhaps a risky choice. And I think it’s probably fair to say that rarely has 20 minutes been worse spent after more than 8 hour’s cycling. Apparently Germany’s highest waterfall is also in Triberg – go see it; it surely can’t be worse than the World’s largest cuckoo clock.

World's Largest Cuckoo Clock

World’s Largest Cuckoo Clock

At 19.45, we were finally installed in Triberg in front of a German lager. We were at 864m and James and Emily had to bravely climb and another 150m to their youth hostel after a couple of beers. By which time we’d been out for about 11 hours, and covered 110km.

3 weeks ago, I was fortunate to spend a couple days cycling with my family on holiday on the Ile de Ré; Sunday and yesterday I had two fantastic days cycling in great company a small piece of London2Capetown.   For me riding my bike for whatever reason is an absolute pleasure; for many in the world, it’s an access to education, to work. If you enjoyed reading this blog, put another £10 in Emily & James’s World Bicycle Relief campaign.

Thanks to both of them for letting me join them & I look forward to seeing the GPS tracker in Cape Town.

If you’ve enjoyed reading this blog post, please donate to World Bicycle Relief. Every penny goes to the great work the charity does in Africa – not to fund our expedition in any way.

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