Sunday, 31 July 2016

Day Two – Thursday 28 July 2016

 Day Two – Thursday 28 July 2016

Oberalppass to Ilanz - 52 kilometres

We started the day with a splendid breakfast at the farm – sleep on straw, including Swiss Alpine Cheeses. JP had drinking chocolate, fresh baked bread and jam – he wasn't keen on the cheese which is most unlike him. It was great to have a cup of tea too – the first in more than 24 hours.

I got the laptop computer out of it's bag in order to back-up my photographs onto a separate HDD and found that the USB3 cable was missing – something of a disaster.

After some bicycle repairs and adjustments we loaded up and got going. We only got as far as the bridge before I realised I didn't have my handlebar bag (i.e. camera bag) with me. Back to the farm I went, leaving JP on the bridge. The farmer passed it to me – along with a few other things I'd forgotten. Back on the bridge I stopped to take some photographs. Onwards once again I stopped at the place where we'd stopped to take photographs of the rainbow and, as expected, there was my missing USB3 cable. Hooray!

Back up the hill into Andermatt. I walked into the Tourist Information office and told the girl something of the trip we were making. She said I might be better helped in the Tourist Information office – I'd entered the wrong door and found myself in an estate agents! Nevermind. I went through the correct door and bought our train tickets to Oberalppass – something I couldn't have bought from the estate agent!

We wandered off to the railway station. We had plenty of time. One of the station staff informed us that we would have to unload our bicycles. Not funny. I informed him that this would be rather difficult but he was quite clear – and insistent. I left them loaded. After I'd walked some way along the platform to find him, I told him that we weren't getting on board the train that had just pulled in, but were booked onto the following train, to Oberalppass. Eventually he said we could wait and see what space was available on 'our' train when it arrived. Sure enough, there was plenty of room on board for our loaded bikes and on the went – with a lot of huffing and puffing up the three high steps into the carriage.

The scenery en-route to Oberalppass was stunning. I rushed from one side of the carriage to the other as different views came into sight as I wanted to grab every photograph I could. JP said people were laughing at me – not that I cared in the slightest.

We arrived at Oberalppass where we met a family from Birmingham. On their bicycles too. They were very sensible as they were lightly laden and had a support vehicle. They would ride for a few days, then Dad would return for their car and take it to the place where they were staying. They only had to carry a few things with them. They were somewhat fitter than us as bicycle touring was something they did quite frequently and they'd already ridden the River Moselle and the Canal du Midi. I then made my biggest mistake. I elected to start our bicycle ride from Oberalppass, which is the official start, rather than trek uphill to the lake which is the official source of the River Rhine. It would have added a day to our trip but I think, in hindsight, it would have been worthwhile. This was the first time I've undertaken a bicycle tour under a lot of 'time pressure', so I was very concerned that another day would mean greater difficulty in getting JP to school on time at the start of the new academic year in his new secondary school. At this stage we still had about 1400 km to ride which seemed like rather a long way to me. We rode to the top of the Oberalppass with the family from Birmingham. They zoomed off at a rate of knots as it was their intention to ride the two most difficult stages of the trip in one day – something that would take JP and I three days, followed by a rest day.

The descent from the top of the Oberalppas was simply amazing, hairpin bend after hairpin bend, including one where we had to slow almost to a stop to allow a bus to make it round the bend on his way up the mountain. Some of the route today was alongside a wall on 'our' side of the road – scary.

We stopped for a picnic on the grass outside some cafe or some place like that. We ate the remains of the food we'd bought in the Co-op the previous day – bread with some sort of pasta salad tipped onto it. JP went to empty our garbage bag and ask for some drinking water. The man he saw wasn't friendly and refused him on all counts – another unhappy bunny. We carried on regardless.

Someway out of Rueras, just before we entered a tunnel during another rapid descent, I found I was running on a flat front tyre. I managed to stop where there was a small parking area on the other side of the road. It was burning hot in the middle of the day and there was no shade at all. I got the puncture repaired with a patch and put the tube and tyre back on the wheel. As I inflated the tyre I realised it wasn't getting hard. Off came the tyre, out came the tube. Another leak close to the first. I had already examined the tyre but could find no reason for the puncture, let alone two of them. Another patch stuck on. Wheel, tyre and tube re-assembled. Tyre inflating nicely when I heard a Pssssst! All that time and effort in the heat had come to naught again. The patch had blown off the tube under pressure. This time I fitted one of the two spare new tubes we carry and no Pssssst! as I inflated the tyre. By this time I was dripping wet with perspiration and roasting under the sun. Not a happy bunny!

Later, at some stage in the afternoon, I heard a yell and a crash as JP fell off and spread himself all over the main road. Luckily, nothing was following him or his bicycle might have got severely damaged. As it was, I managed to stop and park my bicycle and go back to pick him up, and his bicycle and set them on their way again. He'd managed to get a wheel in the gutter and this brought about his downfall.

A few kilometres from Ilanz, we got onto an off-road path which kept us both away from the traffic. We met quite a lot of cyclists, one of whom was an older man, not as old as me, with two children in a trailer behind his bicycle. The children were a boy aged 6 and a girl of 3. He advised us to stay on the right-hand side of the River Rhine.

We rode into Ilanz, hot, thirsty, hungry and very smelly as it had been roasting hot all day. I bought this biggest pizza they made at vast cost (CHF32 – more than £25) and a couple of Cokes and we sat and gorged ourselves. We got the pizza maker to package our remains into some aluminium foil – enough for breakfast – and set off back the way we had come. We rode out of Ilanz back on the path beside the river where I'd spotted a potential place to camp that night on the way into Ilanz. Sure enough, it seemed reasonable and was already occupied by another cyclist. We made camp at 2000 hrs. after covering a total of about 55 km. I was quite relieved to have got so far in one day – albeit much of it downhill.

Sunday, 10 July 2016


10 July 2016

If there is one thing I really hate, it's preparing for a trip - the planning. A trip of any sort, not just a cycle ride. I'd much rather just GO! That was one of the great advantages of living in The Netherlands; we could just get in the car and GO! No ferries or flights to pre-book. Just GO!

Of course, it is a great asset if one has a bicycle on which to ride when going on a cycle trip. That was the starting point. I ordered the two cheapest bicycles I could find on line ('Muddy Fox - Voyager 100' made in Bangladesh) and that's what we'll be riding. I also ordered two sets of pannier bags in which to load our stuff. As I write this, I still need to obtain some handlebar bags for our cameras to be carried in. And, believe me, our handlebars have a funny shape, as you can see in the photograph below.

We've been for a few short bicycle rides on our new steeds, including a trip around the Preston Guild Wheel; about 21 miles. They may not be top quality bikes but they got us round - albeit with a few missed gears! A tool kit is an essential part of our luggage as there are sure to be many running repairs required.

This cycle trip is causing me more stress than you can imagine as there are so many things to think and worry about. I've booked our flights and paid the extra for taking our bicycles. Our passports are up to date.

I took my cheapie bicycle into Halfords the other day to try and buy a few extras for it. I mentioned to the salesman that I was intending to ride it for the full length of the River Rhine. He shook his head. I asked him if he didn't think it would be up for the trip and he said I was putting a lot of trust in it. He obviously had considerable doubts. Or could it be that he was doubting me; not the bike!

I've arranged our first night's accommodation in Andermatt in Switzerland. We are staying on a farm and sleeping on straw! Have a look at URL: Sleeping in the Straw

After that, anything could happen - and probably will. No doubt it will rain nearly every day and be constantly overcast so we can't get any beautifully lit subjects in our photographs.

We had a practice at loading some of JP's stuff into his pannier bags yesterday. He was nearly beside himself with excitement. Anyway, we came to the conclusion everything will fit. Whether or not I'll be as successful with my things remains to be seen.

Another considerable worry is being able to get back home in time to get JP to his new school on the first day of the new academic year. Would you believe that the first day of term is on a FRIDAY! How silly is that! Last year JP had 7 weeks of summer holiday. This year he has less than 6 weeks holiday and only 5 weeks in the saddle. Anyway, if he's late starting school, then so be it. This will certainly be an educational trip for him - far more so than being in school. Of course, with the appalling weather we are currently enduring - RAIN! RAIN! RAIN! and more RAIN! - then we just may pedal like mad to get through the route as quickly as possible as it won't be worth stopping to go site-seeing.

21 July 2016

A lot has happened since my last posting of this preparation stage. I needed to buy so many things!
The weather has been much better recently too, so that has cheered me up somewhat.

I'm very relieved to be able to inform you that I've managed to obtain a pair of suitable handlebar bags. Getting them big enough to hold our photographic gear was the problem - as well as those strangely shaped handlebars that our bicycles are fitted with. Anyway, problem solved.

The photographic equipment we can take is very limited, so we'll have to make the best of what we can carry. For still photographs, I'll take my trusty old Canon EOS 5D - now 10 years old, together with my Canon EF 17 - 40 mm f4 'L' Series lens (this is a very wide angle lens). I would have liked to have taken my Canon EF 24 - 105 mm f4 'L' Series lens but that broke some time ago and I haven't bought a replacement yet. There is a Mk II version coming out in the near future so maybe I'll buy one of those. For video work, I'll take my Black Magic Design Pocket Cinema Camera with the Panasonic Lumix G Vario 7-14 mm f4 ASPH lens (also very wide angle). I have enough storage cards for more than 10 000 still photographs and about 1.5 hours of video. I also intend taking an external HDD for making back-ups as I go - and try to back-up on line as I go - if I can get computer and internet access en-route. JP will take his Canon EOS 1000D and his GoPro video camera. I don't know what lens he will take for his Canon - I hope he will take something longer than a very wide angle lens!

We've also tried out our new Vango tent - at least pitching it. This proved to be a very useful exercise as it wasn't as straightforward as you might think. This was mainly because the orientation of the flysheet was not at all clear. However, we managed it okay in the end. The hard part was getting it back into it's carry bag afterwards - Grace managed it for us, so I don't know how JP and I will manage without her during our trip.

22 July 2016

This afternoon we had a go at a practice pack, followed by a short bicycle ride to make sure we could ride well enough with the loads on our bicycles. All went reasonably well and nothing fell off!

Saturday, 9 July 2016


Never, at the ripe old age of 67, did I expect to be embarking on a cycle ride of more than 850 miles alongside the banks of the River Rhine with my 11 year old son - all the way from Switzerland to the Hook of Holland in The Netherlands. I really think I must be mad! I've lost the plot in my old age!

It all started when I just happened to stumble across something about European long distance cycle paths whilst surfing the internet. As we were living in The Netherlands at the time, I happened to mention that there was a long distance cycle path that started/ended near our home, not far from the Hook of Holland. My son was aged about 9 years at the time. Unfortunately for me, the idea stuck in his mind as being something he fancied doing as soon as possible. My casual words had got me into trouble as this trip was something he wasn't going to forget - or let me forget.

We returned to England where my wife gave birth to a wonderful little girl who we named Annelise Sarah. She was the happiest baby I've ever known - always smiling and laughing and no trouble at all to look after.
Sadly, our happiness was shattered when, at the age of 3.5 months, she was diagnosed with a massive, highly cancerous and aggressive brain tumour. We nursed her throughout her 8.5 month stay in hospital on a 24/7  basis, never leaving her throughout this time. She never complained and came through 8 brain operations still happy and smiling. What an inspiration she was to all who knew her.

She was discharged from hospital on her first birthday as there was nothing else her medical team could do for her. We then nursed her at home for more than 3 months until she went to Heaven at the age of 15 months.

During our stay in hospital, our son had to attend another school; one near the hospital. He knew all that was happening to his little sister to whom he was very close. She always reserved her biggest smiles for her big brother - she loved him dearly, as he did her.

Throughout this time our son never let me forget the proposed cycle ride along the banks of the River Rhine so we are now preparing for the adventure of our lives before he starts high school in September 2016. No doubt he will learn more on this trip than he will in a year at high school so the educational value to him will be of immense value.

And so, I'm letting myself (and my son) in for a huge adventure. I have to say it's quite scary to be even thinking about this undertaking but I can't let him down after all he's been through during the last year and more with his little sister. Throughout all of last summer we never had a break from being in the hospital. Now we're embarking on the adventure of a lifetime and one that will stay with him for the rest of his life.

You can read more about our route at URL: Rhine Cycle Route