Thursday, May 26, 2011

Back on the bikes again

This is a article written by Judith earlier in the year that had got mislaid.
Our increasingly oppressive summer temperatures have been followed by cold, snowy winters with roads and pavements left as icy skid pans for weeks at a time. Finally spring seems well on the way and we’ve dusted off most of our bikes and pumped up the tyres. Our trusty Bromptons get used almost everyday as soon as the ice melts, for shopping trips or local errands, but those for longer trips take a winter break. Then we start to re-explore our local woods and trails across the fields, gradually extending our range ready for touring. Even to ourselves we do not usually admit this is to check whether we can still ride or whether our ageing joints have finally seized up, more proposing a trip to buy an English paper or to collect compost by trailer. A longer tour had to be postponed when the ‘workmen’ at last decided that temperatures were warm enough to renovate and seal the join between house and terrace - a long and tiresome saga.
That completed, we were free to think about continuing our journey along the Rhine, upstream from where we abandoned it after being washed out in autumn deluges. We decided to continue our training programme with the Worms to Ludwigshafen section, which we could do from home.
In the Viernheim woods only the merest suspicion of spring greens could be glimpsed and the Spargel (asparagus) fields of Lampertheim to the northwest were fully shrouded in black plastic. There were no headscarfed figures bent double, wielding their sharp knives to liberate the ‘queen of vegetables’ and we had the quiet roads almost to ourselves. The sun was shining and the hills either side the Rhine Rift Valley clearly outlined against a deepening blue sky. Worms, with its bridge tower and the prongs of its cathedral drew nearer to the northwest. We negotiated the bends and ramps of the cycle/footway over the new road bridge and paused to check the progress on rebuilding the old bridge with the massive and photogenic bridge tower. Once customs were levied here on goods crossing the Rhine from one statelet to another. Winter high water probably slowed work but there were men dangling over the water, scaffolding and machines buzzing on the embankment.
Mothers with young families and the usual gaggle of pensioners were checking on the landing stage and the restaurants on the Rheinland-Pfalz shore, the left bank of the river.
We steered our 20 inch Dahon folders under the bridge and south, through a cluster of old pumping station and market buildings, now evidently occupied by some metal-working activity. Soon we were bowling along the high water embankment, past fields and old orchards with black thorn and cherry trees dwarfed by ancient willows and alders along the river. Around a corner suddenly we came across a large industrial complex, complete with delivery trucks, seemingly producing car body parts. We were quickly back into a rural landscape, sometimes close to the Rhine, sometimes separated by a couple of fields and occasionally the cycle way swung us alongside the B9, a north/south major highway. It was noisy for a few minutes and then our trusty Rhine cycleway golden man sign pointed us back riverwards.
On the Rhine itself, the upturn in industrial output is clearly noticeable in more shipping, carrying sand and gravel, oil, LPG gas, also Mercedes truck units and John Deere agricultural vehicles. The Ro-Ro container port south of Mannheim also probably loaded some of the container barges we saw.
After crossing under the Autobahn bridge we found a bench to eat our sandwiches while watching volunteers from the Pfalzerwald walking club tidy up their clubhouse for the spring. They seemed to have a major mole infestation in the picnic area. There is a walkway/cycleway in the middle of the Autobahn bridge, but it is a breathless climb up several flights of steps inside the bridge abutments. The ride across the bridge is not for the faint-hearted, though there are big concrete slabs separating you from the traffic.
However we wended our way south into Ludwigshafen and found the new Rhein Gallerie shopping area which has opened up a stretch of the Rhine bank formerly occupied by warehouses allowing good views of Mannheim. There is a Migros, the Swiss supermarket, there, but we decided to press on and cross the Rhine into Mannheim to cycle back to Viernheim on familiar trails.

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