When I began bike touring in my early twenties, I was a student on a tight budget. I had a cheap bike, camped mostly in the woods, and occasionally stopped in a campground for a shower. Ten years later, my knees and butts tended to hurt more, but I had assembled enough savings that I did not have to feel bad about waking up feeling refreshed from my hotel night in Merzig. Instead of heating water in my alcohol stove while the tent dried in the morning sun, I went down one floor to enjoy coffee served at the table.
Where nature meets industry
With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, everyone circulating in the hotel had to wear a face mask. I was impressed by the professionalism of the staff. I took advantage of the hotel’s internet and electric plugs to process recent photos and to write until the checkout time. It is there that I published my first blog post.
It was late morning when I checked out and stepped on the bike. The skies were still gray and a few drops fell from time to time. The bike route along the Saar River was not particularly scenic but very comfortable. The road was flat and wide enough to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians. There were signs everywhere, including temporary signs for two sections under repair. Every now and again a large map displayed cycle paths in the surroundings and a topographic profile of the main cycleway.
Upstream of Saarelouis, the Saar River valley opened up and the skies cleared. The road passed by several impressive factories, and I marvelled at how urban planning merged industry, city life and nature. In the state capital of Saarebrücken, the riversides was busy with activity. While riding through this landscape I realized how communal wealth is important to people’s quality of life. I could feel how access to nature and recreation grounds for all, regardless of the place or standard of living, has the power to hold a society together, even when individual wealth is unequally distributed. If more places on Earth were built like this we would certainly do better.
While thinking of all that I suddenly pedaled over a bilingual sign on the ground. I was once again back to France. For the second time in two days, rain started to fall right when I crossed the border. And again the infrastructure appeared poorer on this side of the border. Factories were older and had not been renovated for years. The bike path became narrower but still very enjoyable to cycle on, especially since I was nearly alone. Most other cyclists were Germans adventuring into the neighbouring country without even bothering trying to speak French.
Sleeping among fireflies
After somewhat late cycling I reached a camping I had spotted on the map, well into the Vosges Mountains. Simple but well thought, this was my favourite camping on the trip so far. The owners were friendly and the view fantastic. A man in his sixties came ask me where I cycled from and we ended up talking late into the night, until we couldn’t see our faces anymore. He was apparently not impressed by my evening meal, an unequal mixture of pasta and a trappist cheese that had travelled for three days in my bags. The cheese looked like melted raclette before I started cooking it and now formed a sticky layer at the bottom of the pot. He was a regular customer of this campground for thirty years. He was Dutch and somehow we ended up speaking German, which was good for my practice. We talked like philosophers about following one’s heart or following others, about people who take and those who give, and how people who give can fill a place with positive energy. He thought this campsite was such a place, and I guessed he is right. When I finally returned to my tent, fireflies were peopling the bushes and the grass. Needless to say that I slept well.
Down to Alsace
The next day I crossed the Vosges mountains. The Northern Vosges are much lower in elevation than the southern part of the range, where I was originally planning to cycle through. In fact I had completed much of the ascent on my way to the campsite the day before. After reaching the plains I turned south towards the outskirts of Strasbourg where my cousin lived. Today for some reason my butts began to hurt badly. I had lunch in a deserted restaurant in a deserted town. A Belgian-Japanese family sat at the next table. A flood of memories from my one year of living in Japan came back. But I was too shy to speak Japanese with them.
I approached my destination in mid-afternoon and decided to wait for my cousin in the Ravito des cyclos, a seemingly popular café by the canal accessible only by feet or bike. It is maintained by a bike touring couple, but they were very busy serving customers on this Sunday afternoon, so I did not have time to discuss with them. By evening, I was quite exhausted from the wind and rain, and really glad to get a dry bed at my cousin’s place.