IMG_2191.JPG

I'm Kevin Belanger - a trails professional with a few things to say about my own journey outside. Follow along as I share some of my favorite trails, adventures outside, and musings on life.

 

The Blog

Note: This post is the fifth and final entry in a series about my 2018 European bikepacking adventure between Strasbourg, France and Frankfurt, Germany with my friend Steve. You can read Post 1 - The Concept here, and you can find links to the other posts at the end of this entry.


Breakfast in Germany continues to one-up itself. Of course a winery would have an even stronger breakfast game than a youth hostel would. Thankfully, before we got drunk with Gerd the night before, they asked us what time we’d like breakfast to be ready. And thankfully we were smart enough to set an alarm to get up for the spread. More meats, more cheeses, delicious pastries, all the coffees and teas, we ate like kings. All while having a completely absurd photograph of Scarlett Johansson walking through a field of wine grapes watch us out of the corner of her eye.

Get your own breakfast, Scarlett

Steve and I certainly weren’t in our best form on this fine morning after our evening with Gerd, but our spirits were high. Gerd’s spirits were also high, which was good because when I built up the nerve to tell him about the decorative bottle of wine I opened last night, he just laughed it off. To make up for it, I bought two bottles of wine to take back to Frankfurt with us. The bottles were 6 euros a piece. I’ve been lucky enough to go to Europe 3 times in my life, and I am continually amazed at how inexpensive the wine is over there. D and I went to Spain in January 2020 and found it difficult to say no to a glass of delicious wine for 1.50 euros. I wish I could have brought more home but the panniers were only so large.

gif

Our spirits may have been high that morning, but our butts were sore and our insides were a bit scrambled. We spent much of breakfast looking over train options to cut out a portion of the biking on what would be our last day of the tour. We realized that if we hustled, we could make the next train out of Worms and cut about 20 miles off of our day.

Goodbye, Abenheim.

We were motivated and hit the trail back to the station. We moved with a quickness, which was kind of a shame given how we were saying goodbye to a beautiful landscape that we had barely begun to get to know. The place was just so goddamn dreamy, though I’m afraid a second visit may just disappoint. I wouldn’t want to tarnish the Beauty and the Beast-like innocence and tranquility that lives in my head when I think about Abenheim.

(Interestingly, when Steve and I later arrived in Berlin, a touring production of the musical Beauty and the Beast was coming to town, with billboards and ads everywhere. So I now know that a tale as old as time, a song as old as rhyme - die Schone und das Biest. (Just imagine Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson singing that in German. What a treat.)

gif

We got off the train in the town of Mainz and had a leisurely morning biking along the Main River into Frankfurt. The trail skirted the river almost the entire way, which led us about 40 kilometers on the day. It was lovely, and we could start to feel the imposing presence of a large city creep into the trail as we got closer, but the trail remained.

On this trip specifically is when I really started to understand the ubiquity of e-bikes. I had seen a few in the US, but I hadn’t really looked out for them. But I couldn’t help but notice the amount of them in Europe, and it was a lovely sight. Especially when I started to notice a trend on e-bike users. It was clear people of all ages were using them, but I did notice a specifically older demographic of people who were out on their e-bikes when they may otherwise not have been capable of or interested in using strictly human-powered bicycles. The trend was very clear when it came to older hetero couples - the male would often be on a traditional bicycle, and the female would often be on an e-bike. I loved it. I started noticing more of them when I got home. I suspect they were there before, but I noticed them more because they became a part of my consciousness.

Now, it’s hard to go on a ride anywhere and not see some e-bikes, and I love it. I’m down for anything that gets more people on bikes, period.

gif

As we got closer to Frankfurt, we got to enjoy a bridge along the trail that was particularly unique. Well, it wasn’t the bridge itself, but rather its elegantly-curved ramp. It felt very European. Such curves and grandeur would likely have been value-engineered out of existence in the US. But Steve and I had the pleasure of biking up the ramp, of course taking pictures along the way because #touristlife.

We made it to Frankfurt in the early afternoon with enough time to drop off our bikes and meet Dan and Melissa for happy hour. The bikes served us well, but to be honest, I wouldn’t need to experience them again. I know enough now to hopefully be able to find more suitable bikes for a future bikepacking journey in Europe, and god willing I will live to make that a reality again one day.

Steve and I made it to Frankfurt and showed off our Nats hats.

** Bonus Content! **

Steve and I still had a few days left in Germany, and some silly things happened on the rest of our trip that I’d be remiss if I didn’t share. So here’s a few rapid style bullet points. Go!

  • Later that night we did Karaoke with other Americans at an Irish bar in Frankfurt (because why not!). Some Austrian dude asked me to do a duet with him, which is why I found myself being Elton John to his George Michael in Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me

Random Austrian dude
  • We took a train to Berlin and I remember seeing the train’s speedometer (shown on the in-car video screen) at 300km/h. I hadn’t quite experienced speeds like that on land, and my stomach was less than pleased with the speed. But good for you, Germany!

  • We got to Berlin in just enough time to catch the full World Cup final, watching France beat Croatia from a bar with many holes in the wall

  • Speaking of holes, we were amazed with the bullet holes from World War II still littering the buildings of Berlin. Like, history wasn’t that long ago, man. Woah.

  • We walked by the Brandenburg Gate and my homosexual ass was like “wait, I know that hotel across the street.” And the tour guide was like, “yeah, that’s where Michael Jackson dangled his child, Blanket, over the balcony to wave at adoring fans below.” Yup, that makes a lot of sense.

  • I was floored with the number of hieroglyphics of penises at the Neue Museum in Berlin. Erect penises. Penises pointed at birds. Birds perched on penises. Birds with disproportionately large human penises attached to them. Truly, dick pics transcend time, place and medium.

  • I had my first Aperol Spritz. It was sweet and bitter and delicious and I fully came back to the US thinking I had discovered something new and had to introduce it to all my friends who were like "yeah, we know."

  • WOW Air should be congratulated for their hot male flight attendants. Every Icelandic flight attendant on our connecting flight home from Reykjavik was hotter than the next. Kudos.


Enjoy the rest of our European adventure!

Note: This post is part four in a series about my 2018 European bikepacking adventure between Strasbourg, France and Frankfurt, Germany with my friend Steve. You can read Post 1 - The Concept here, and you can find links to the other posts at the end of this entry, which will be updated as they are completed.

Breakfast in Germany is no joke. They are not afraid to start their day with a balanced assortment of sliced meats and cheeses and other animal and dairy products.

gif

I may not want to start a work day at a desk like that, but it was a welcomed way to start the second day of a 3-day bike journey between France and Germany. Steve and I got up early, though it’s not particularly easy for a couple of guys in their mid-30s to sleep in on plastic mattresses stacked on a bunk bed. The hostel had quite a breakfast spread, and we gobbled it up before hitting the trail again.


Heading out of Karlsruhe wasn’t easy. It involved lots of on-road cycling and crossing the Rhine once more to follow the route north. The bridge crossing the Rhine left something to be desired. But even the shittiest highways in Germany still provide a separated location for people walking and biking.


Later that morning, we passed a unique feature that I have not seen first-hand before: a nuclear power plant. We don’t have a lot of them in the US, and you certainly aren’t casually riding a bicycle by one, so it sticks out in your memory. Those curved smoke stacks that American millennials know best from the Simpsons rose from the landscape, and the trail snaked around them, comically large and hard to not be mesmerized by.


My French flag that I found on the side of the road was still going strong on the back of the bike, flapping in the breeze, and it made me smile every time I saw it. Near the power plant, two guys on fancy bikes approached Steve and me from the back. As they were passing, one of them shouted something at me.


When someone shouts at me while riding my bike in the US, I’m usually on edge. It’s usually a driver, yelling something inane about getting off the road, which is legally mine to use as well. I do not like when someone yells at me on the road. I’ve had friends loudly say hello to me while passing me when I’m walking or biking, and by the scowl on my face, you’d think they were my middle school bully or something. It’s just not a time or place where I want anyone speaking to me loudly.


It took me a second to process, but I realized this gentleman on a bucolic German trail wasn’t angry with me - he was wishing me luck.


Bonne chance au match dimanche!”

It turns out he was enthusiastically wishing the French soccer team luck on its World Cup Finals match on Sunday. It was Thursday, and the World Cup Finals were 3 days away, featuring France vs. Croatia. With my French flag, I guess he assumed I was a Frenchman.


I gleefully yelled back, “Merci! Allez les bleus!

We had planned about 60 miles of biking each day. Which is totally doable and would be enjoyable on regular bikes, but as you may remember, we rented heavy, steel beasts that are not quite the efficient biking machines we were hoping for. It became pretty clear that we were not interested in biking 60 miles 3 days in a row on these bikes.


This is not a problem in Germany. Their train system is so good and covers so much territory, we were able to find a way to cover a significant portion of our journey by taking our bikes on trains and calling it good.


We arrived in Speyer in the early afternoon. We checked in with the attendant to see if there’d be any trains that would get us closer to our final destination of Abenheim for the evening. We wanted to cut out 10-20 miles of our day just to make it a little more enjoyable.


We got lucky. A train that would get us to Worms was coming in about 20 minutes. That ended up cutting out about 25 miles on the day, and we didn’t care. We were not out there to bike every one of those miles or to prove anything to anyone.


The train from Speyer to Worms was a nice break on the day. I watched the German countryside go by. Every time we’d pass a new town, it would announce it on the speakers and on a crawling screen in the train car. As we passed through a very nondescript small town, I looked up and instantly recognized the town name.

Schifferstadt. No, not because of super babe Claudia Schiffer (schwing!). Growing up for part of my life in Frederick, Maryland, I immediately recognized the name Schifferstadt. It is on many signs throughout the city - it’s Frederick’s sister city. It would have been nice to stop off in town, walk around, take a few pictures, and talk to my fam. “My people, I’m home! I come bearing sweaty bike clothes and a tattered French flag!” A picture of the town name as we passed through had to suffice.


We got off the train in Worms and figured out our way to Abenheim, which was about 5 or 6 miles away. We had a reservation to stay in a much nicer place than the previous evening’s hostel. We got rooms at the Cleres Weingut, a winery in Abenheim. They have a guesthouse that seemed like the best option within 10 miles, and holy hell it didn’t disappoint.


Even the trail into Abenheim was charming, a dirt and rock path that was a little bumpy but so worth it. It’s off the beaten path, away from the road, and often nestled under some trees with low branches that hug the trail but don’t crowd it. It’s not fast biking, but it’s a lovely way to end a day’s journey.


On your way into Abenheim, you also start to enter wine country. It’s bucolic as shit.

We entered Abenheim and rolled into the winery. It’s a small venue with a house, a large shed out back, and a guest house across the street. A woman and a teenage girl were standing outside the house as we biked up to it.


“Hi! We have reservations for the night,” Steve said with our typical American enthusiasm.


The ladies gave us a quizzical look. Were we in the right place?


They spoke to each other in German. The older woman responded in broken English, “My daughter learns English in school, she will talk to you.”


Most people in Germany spoke enough English to get by with us, so it was nice to be reminded occasionally that we were definitely foreigners. The daughter figured out what we needed and went to grab her dad.

Gerd in his natural habitat

Gerd came out to greet us. It was clear we reached the winery at the end of their day, and they were packing things up and preparing for a night in. But Gerd, being the consummate professional, offered to take us on a tour of the winery and let us try some samples.


First, he brought us over to the guesthouse to drop off our stuff. We hit the jackpot with this place. The guesthouse has multiple units, and we were the only ones there that night. Which meant we got the suites. And they were indeed sweet. Steve and I each got our own rooms with their own bedrooms, living rooms, and large bathrooms. It was an absolute treat after the hostel from the night before.

The guesthouse at Cleres Weingut

And did I mention that it was for under 50 euros a night each? (Yes, I did, but it warrants saying again.)


Steve and I dropped off our stuff and headed back to the main property to hang with Gerd. Gerd was a handsome man of middle age with light-colored hair who would be played by Jeremy Renner in the action movie of our trip. He shared stories with us about learning English in his 20s by traveling around the US. We had plenty of time to swap stories as Gerd was pouring us wine. It started innocently like most wine tastings. A small pour here, a small pour there, a story about how he came to own the winery, all good stuff. The wine itself was delicious - I remember being particularly taken by their merlot and their weisserburgunder, which is a lot for me because I don’t usually love white wine (and don’t worry, I didn’t know that was a kind of wine until visiting there either).


As Gerd got to talking, the wine kept flowing. Here’s this new bottle we are just putting out there, you have to try this. Oh, this is my father’s favorite, have some of this. He opened what seemed like a dozen new bottles of wine for his new American friends to try.

Pretty soon, we were drunk. Gerd too, even though he started the tasting by telling us that his doctor told him he shouldn’t be drinking for a while since he just got out of the hospital. Well, actually, I bet Gerd wasn’t drunk, but these two light-weights trying to keep up with a hard-drinking winery owner probably did us in real quick.


We couldn’t believe our luck. A private wine tasting with the winery owner himself, and it was good shit! Then Gerd offered to take us on a tour of the cellar. What we thought was a shed in the back with a nice fridge and counter for tasting wine turned out to be just the above-ground portion of a sizeable wine cellar. Gerd took us downstairs and showed us the barrels and the other equipment.

Someone has to climb inside these barrels to clean them

It was really cool. And that’s about as much detail as I can give here since it was 3 years ago and I was drunk. A drunk American on a winery tour in rural Germany, just as slap happy as I could be.


Steve and I realized we needed to eat something, and fast. Gerd offered to walk with us to his favorite restaurant in town. Which also happened to be the only restaurant in town open that evening.

Ristorante Don Camillo

It was an Italian place (Ristorante Don Camillo), which was fine with us since we needed some carbs in our lives. Gerd told the hostess to take care of us (hell, or maybe he didn’t - maybe he told her that we were drunk Americans who love spit in our food, we didn’t care), and she sat us at a corner table on the patio. As we perused the menu, a slightly disheveled gentleman sat across from me in the open seat next to Steve. He lit a cigarette without saying a word and just sat there.

The day's headline on our table at dinner - the horror!

Steve and I were drunk and confused. We obviously looked uncomfortable because the waitress came over after a few minutes and said something to the guy in German. He begrudgingly got up and left to another table. It was only later that we found out that it is common in Germany for people to sit at open seats at tables in a communal style. I’ve done that in the US, but only after asking the people already sitting down and profusely apologizing for crowding their space. Granted, it usually turns out well, like when I was on my first date with my now-fiance and we asked to sit at a table with another couple since all of the other tables were taken. It turns out that an accidental double date on the first date is actually a really smart way to break the ice.


Steve and I ate our Italian food in Germany (pasta carbonara doesn’t quite translate into German, but the ambience was nice), and we went to visit the last place Gerd told us we had to visit in Abenheim. Up the road from the guesthouse, perched on a hill overlooking town, was an old church - the Klausenbergkapelle. With further research when we got home, the chapel was originally built in 1299 (like, the year 1299) and rebuilt several times over the years, most recently in 1720. It was the icing on top of the Americans in Europe fantasy. We walked up a steep hill through rows of wine grapes and explored the grounds. Turning around to look over the town, the sun was setting and it was beautiful.

Abenheim is a dream

Back in our rooms, we were at the level of drunk where having a nightcap made sense to us. Conveniently, there was a bottle of wine in my room, so Steve came up and we opened it while watching uncomfortable German cartoons. I got the bottle open and quickly realized it wasn’t a bottle to be opened by guests. It was just for show. At one point, the inside was just water or something innocuous, but it had since turned into a putrid rotting stank liquid. I realized I was going to have to fess up to Gerd in the morning, that I opened the bottle of wine that was just for show, but ha ha isn’t that funny? It was all for the better, we didn’t need any more wine that night. We had another 50 or 60 miles to go until we were back in Frankfurt the next day.


Come back and explore the last day of our European adventure!


Updated: Oct 16

Note: This post is part three in a series about my 2018 European bikepacking adventure between Strasbourg, France and Frankfurt, Germany with my friend Steve. You can read Post 1 - The Concept here, and you can find links to the other posts at the end of this entry, which will be updated as they are completed.

Steve contemplating how to sneak up on his pastries

I wish we had more time in Strasbourg. I had no idea how beautiful it was - impeccably clean, gorgeous architecture, strong bicycle infrastructure. It was our starting location but since we arrived late the night before and were too tired to go out, our main experience in Strasbourg was at the boulangerie for breakfast that morning. We bought several pastries and enjoyed them on the balcony of our rental. I distinctly remember seeing the flaky crumbs fall from my chocolate croissant and being sad that they were tiny pieces of delicious French patisserie that would not end up in my stomach.

gif

As we pulled away from our AirBnB, I was glad that I created a route file in Google Maps and downloaded it to Maps.Me. This way, I could track our location and follow the route without needing to use my data plan. I’m cheap and didn’t know if I’d have access in Europe. My only mistake was not installing some kind of hands-free phone holder on the bike. I found myself pulling over every so often to make sure we were going the right way. Almost without fail, we were. I quickly started to trust my instincts, though I did get really good at pulling my phone out of my pocket and checking with one hand.


From our overnight accommodations, we started at the Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg. It’s big. It’s brown. It’s covered in sculptures, both beautiful and demonic. I could have stared at it for hours, but we had 60 miles ahead of us and we hadn’t even really hit the trail yet.


We found a trailhead sign moments later. The EuroVelo people aren’t messing around. They have large signs in several spots and a system of smaller wayfinding markers strewn about the network. It makes me wonder how they were able to put so many up. Do they keep track of where they all are? Do they get permission from property owners or do they just put them up and hope for the best?

We followed the trail out of town via a canal with people in canoes and ended up on a dirt path in some public garden-slash-forest. It was all too idyllic. Straight out of something a Disney animator would draw and then be like “nah, I mean, I have to have some sense of realism, right?”

Even when we had to bike on the road through small towns, it wasn’t bad. Drivers were courteous, slowed down to give us space, and rarely drove up behind us so closely as to intimidate us. Which was a good thing because I wasn’t too distracted while biking through the Strasbourg suburbs of Robertsau to notice a very large strawberry on the side of the road. It pleased me greatly that there are tacky roadside attractions in France. And one simply must get a photo.

The French are into kitschy roadside attractions too!

Farther outside of Strasbourg, I do remember a stretch of highway that felt distinctly American. It had car dealerships, big box stores, and people driving very quickly. I immediately felt at home - tense and looking over my shoulder to make sure a driver wasn’t gunning for me. Thankfully that stretch of road didn’t last long and we settled back in on trails and low-volume country roads.


On one stretch of a low-volume country road, something caught my attention on the side of the road. I guess I was lucky that our bikes were so heavy and didn’t allow us to go particularly fast - otherwise, I wouldn’t have spotted the small, tattered French flag on the grassy strip next to the road. I stopped to pick it up (when I’m on my bike, nothing seems too dirty for me to touch). It looked like it was a car flag, like you’d see in the US with a football team’s logo on it, standing at attention on the passenger side window of a 2002 Ford Windstar minivan.

The little plastic post piece was mostly intact. I gave it a quick thought and put it on my bike rack as a filthy, threadbare rabbit tail. I was proud of my find. It was also a way for me to feel like I wasn’t screaming AMERICAN! with my shitty rental bike and overall demeanor.

As we got closer to Germany, the town names started to sound a lot more German. Drusenheim. Stattmatten. Munchhausen (!). It was interesting to me, studying French in school, how one would pronounce those in French. I guess the same happens in the US - border towns in Texas start to sound real Spanish, though I’m sure there’s some bastardized American pronunciations here and there.


Steve and I stopped off in the town of Herrlisheim for lunch at Au Cheval Noir. Immediately, we were out of place. The host looked us up and down, decked out in our sweet bike gear, and asked us if we had a reservation.


“Um, no. Do we need one?”


I spoke with him in French but he knew we were not from there and gave us the beloved exasperated sigh of a Frenchman dealing with American tourists.

gif

He begrudgingly found a table outside and sat us down. That worked for us. After several miles of biking in the sun, I’m sure we didn’t smell amazing anyway.


I asked if they had menus in English so Steve could know what he was ordering.


“Bof, non.” Strike number two.


No problem, I knew enough French to get us by on the menu. There were a few things I figured we’d be wise to stay away from - cuisses de grenouilles, or fried frog legs, might not have left the right impression as we finished our less than 24-hour visit to France. And the house foie gras sounded a little too heavy for a bike lunch.


We settled on two things I figured would be safe. I ordered une salade verte avec fromage frit (a green salad with fried cheese) and Steve ordered le jambonneau grille au Munster avec pommes sautees (grilled ham with Munster and sauteed potatoes). To be fancy, I also ordered a kir royale, a sparkling wine and cassis drink I had a few times in Grenoble in 2006.

Had to get a kir royale to match my ensemble

The kir royale was the only thing that came as expected. As the server brought our food, I quickly realized that English menu probably would have benefitted me too.


My salade verte looked great, but I found out that my fromage frit was no garnish. It was an entire wheel of brie, breaded and fried and served on the side of the plate. I can fuck up a plate of mozzarella sticks, but this was next level fried cheesery. I ended up eating about half of it (you know, so I didn’t offend anyone... yeah, that’s it). With all that cheese, I resigned myself - there went any possibility that I was going to poop on the rest of this bike adventure trip. #worthit

A side salad with an entire wheel of fried cheese

My wheel of fried cheese was delicate and dainty compared to the literal leg of pork Steve was served. It was the size of an adult human’s forearm, shellacked with melted Munster, served with a side bowl of potatoes. A meal large enough for two. Needless to say, Steve wasn’t able to finish the entirety of his new friend.

Quite the experience. Just a little light lunch to get these gays together, and very conducive to speedy bicycling for the rest of the afternoon.


I won’t blame the meal for the sluggishness with which we completed the rest of our miles that day. Even subsisting on a diet exclusively of energy bars and cocaine, we wouldn’t have been able to clock fast miles on those heavy bikes. Thankfully, we were on vacation and in no rush.

We needed to cross the Rhine River at some point, and I wanted to savor as much time in France as I could. There were not a whole lot of bridges we could have used to cross the Rhine. No worries, I had routed us to a ferry boat that crossed the river between Neuberg am Rhein and Neubergweier. Moments before, the trail crosses into Germany at, as Google Maps describes it, le point le plus a l’est de la France, or the easternmost point in France. There’s no signage, and I didn’t even realize we had crossed into Germany.

The ferry was fascinating in the way that White’s Ferry is fascinating. It’s another small boat ferry crossing between two municipalities (in the case of White’s Ferry, that’s Maryland and Virginia - read my write-up of White’s Ferry in my recurring segment, Behind the Name). It simply could just be a bridge, cutting out all of the manmade drama of queueing up for a small ferry boat to take you 800 feet across a river. Similar to White’s Ferry, the Rheinfahre “Baden-Pfalz” was probably the vestige of a place where a White guy decided long ago that he was going to collect a toll to get people across the river, and it’s just kinda stayed that way into the 21st century for some reason. People on bikes and foot are allowed on first for a discounted rate of 2.5 euros for a bike and 1.5 euros for a person on foot. It was a welcomed respite on our journey, and quickly we were on the other side of the Rhine and heading to our evening’s destination.


Steve and I rolled into Karlsruhe, Germany, our destination for the evening, well before sunset. We had reserved an evening at the Jugendherberge Karlsruhe, a youth hostel. Neither Steve nor I could be considered “youth” by this point, but thankfully there was no age limit for the hostel. We were trying to save money, so for about 30 or 40 euros, we were able to secure a private room with two beds and a lock on the door, so we didn’t have to worry about other people and our stuff. The room was very concrete chic, bare and sparse, but it was all we needed. We were tired and happy to rest our butts for the evening.

We walked around Karlsruhe for a bit. Cute town that felt very much like a college town in the US. We grabbed dinner and a beer (as one does in Germany) at the Badisch Brauhaus. I don’t recall being particularly hungry for dinner after our casual lunch that would make a linebacker unbuckle his belt. Looking back at their menu though, I am sad I didn’t try their desserts like Bieramisu, which is such a genius play on words that I wouldn’t care if it tasted like the devil’s piss, I’d still have to try it.


Come back and explore the rest of our European adventure!

Subscribe Form

Stay up to date

Thanks for submitting!

IMG_2191.JPG

Contact

Thanks for submitting!