20 August 2009

Bike Ride to the Lakes

Since the beginning of August I have been almost alone in Eichstätt, only a couple German friends remain in town during the summer break. I spent the first several days of the month enjoying my peace and solitude, but restlessness eventually set in. To help cure this ailment, this past Saturday I set out on a bike ride that I had been wanting to do for a while.

From Eichstätt I rode west, following the Altmühl River upstream. Bicycle touring is a popular activity in the nature park around town and the proper infrastructure for it is well on hand. In fact the Altmühl Valley rates as one of Germany's favorite bicycle touring areas, and in the summer caravans of bikes descend on the park and the towns within its borders. The main bike route in the park follows the Altmühl River from its source in the west to its mouth on the Danube River on the east, a meandering path of about 160 kilometers. Eichstätt lies at the halfway point of this trail. I was determined to take the trail westward in order to see the source of the Altmühl River.

Along the way I passed through the refreshing landscape of the river valley. At times massive stone formations jutted out from the green fields and forests, as seen below. Most of the route consisted of paved or gravel paths intended for cyclists and hikers, but occasionally the directional signs guided me over country roads.

The trail similarly led me through scenic towns and by occasional fortresses that turned obsolete long ago.

The goal of my trip awaited me near the town of Gunzenhausen. A little over halfway to this community was Treuchtlingen. Until this point the valley was realtively narrow and created an enclosed world of fertile greenery along the trail. The bike route had also been fairly crowded with other riders who likely had spent the night in Treuchtlingen or Eichstätt and were now continuing their journey. After Treuchtlingen, however, these conditions changed.

The valley and its forest covered slopes, along with the other cyclists, all but disappeared. With the frequent thickets of trees replaced with endless crop fields the sun burned brighter. The fact that I rode through only one village during the last 30 kilometers to Gunzenhausen helped the ride to quickly develope a lonely feel. Worse still, for much of that distance the trail paralled a set of tracks that brought the screeches of freight and passenger trains. The picture below shows a view of this poriton of the trail and a sign pointing the way to Gunzenhausen and the village of Aha.

After about 80 kilometers and a quarter less than five hours I reached Gunzenhausen and the source of the Altmühl River: the Altmühl Lake. Though the river was originally a naturally flowing body of water, the lake was created in the 1970s and 1980s through the construction of a rather simple and unimpressive dam. Therefore, the lake is technically not the source of the river, but suffices so in my mind. Together with other man-made lakes in the area, the region is today known as the Franconian lake distirct. In spring and summer the lakes attract large numbers of tourists to their sand beachs and recreational activities. The next photograph offers a view of a couple of the numerous sail boats and other watercraft that were floating on the lake that day. After that you can see the Altmühl River beginning at its modern source and flowing toward Eichstätt and the Danube.

Following a relaxing rest on the lake and a few snacks, I decided to ride a bit farther. The bike trails radiated out from the town in all directions; it is indeed possible to pedal completely across Germany while rarely riding on car-shared roads. From Gunzenhausen I chose to continue 20 kilometers eastward to the Brombach Lake and the town of Pleinfeld.

Brombach Lake is the largest of the Franconian lake district and the last to be completed. The trail mostly led through pine forests and over gentle hills. The closer I came to the lake, the more that vactioners rode ahead of and behind me. I could start to see for myself how popular the lake is for people from the region. After reaching the lake I rode past a few beachs crowded with Germans enjoying their vacations.

By the point I shot the photo above, my bike ride had turned into a game of dodging the hundreds of vactioners crossing my path. I was relieved to reach Pleinfeld soon after.

My complete ride strecthed along 100 kilometers of road and trail, approximately 60 miles. Six hours after first pedaling away from Eichstätt my bike and I boarded a train in Pleinfeld and returned home.


Anonymous said...

Wow, that was a long bike ride / I was wondering while reading if you where going to pedal back / bet that was a relaxing train ride back / great update!


Nick O. said...

Vati-O: As always, thanks for the comments. I don't think I would have been up for a return bike ride. And yes, the train ride offered several advantages over the bike, perhaps the best being the cushioned seats.