14 December 2016

The Rur by Rad, Pt. II

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The next morning a fine mist settled over the lake, and after some coffee, I got up to lay out everything to dry in what little sun was available. I underestimated the amount of moisture that would accumulate in an open tarp tent setup, but my bag was still dry inside a bivy sack so that’s all I was really concerned about. Noticing that my coffee tasted particularly bad, I check the water coming out of my filter and it was turbid, pretty much exactly the color of the water I was getting out of the lake. I guess at some point since I last used it, the filter had froze and was compromised. Looked like I’d be buying my water the rest of the journey.

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Once on my bike, I spent the rest of the morning winding through the streets of Düren trying to find my way back to the river. There was an access point behind some buildings that lead to the river trail, where I was soon departing the city and riding into more rural landscapes. I did stop at a gas station to fill up with water and get some snacks for the ride, and the lady working there was nice enough to give me the .25 cent deposit back on the bottle after I emptied it.

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Less than thirty minutes of riding later, I discovered that the route passes right through a campground, something that would have been great to know the day before. That’s the price you pay, I suppose, for just winging it. Sometimes you end up on top, sometimes you miss out. In any event, I did get to see this Pirate/Santa Claus garden gnome that was hanging out by one of the more permanent residences at the campground, and that was pretty cool.

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A couple bridges, some paved sections, and some dirt, but mostly flat terrain and easy riding for most of the way down to the next major town. The river was only a few centimeters below the trail at some parts, and I wondered if the trail flooded during heavy rains. I spotted a few people fishing, a couple people letting their dogs enjoy the water, and one person sitting alone and drinking a bottle of liquor. People come to the river for many things.

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Soon I was entering the Eifel National Park, and almost immediately the scenery, and the elevation, drastically changed. Gone were the pastoral rolling hills and farm fields, replaced by densely forested mountains and valleys. The route diverged into mountain-bike singletrack and a less-challenging, yet still unpaved path; as much as I wanted to have some fun in the dirt, I had a long ride ahead of me and opted for the easier course. The other thing that stood out to me was that the Rur was no longer in sight—the route and river wouldn’t converge again for some time, and I questioned whether all this climbing through the woods was necessary, as the river itself was somewhere far below. After getting back on pavement that snaked up a hillside resort for no apparent reason, I solidified my reservations with the German route planners. Little did I know that I had much, much more climbing ahead of me.

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I knew before setting out that by going north to south I would be gaining in elevation, but I didn’t realize just how much of a climb I was in for. All of a sudden, I understood the German obsession over e-bikes, or pedelecs, as I cranked up a climb with everything I had, only to be passed by a couple of Golden Girls wearing flip flops. Several minutes later I met up with them at a vista at the top of the hill, and they gave me a look like “isn’t it a lovely view?” and I gave a look like “Oh God, I can’t breathe right now.” At any rate, the scenery is more beautiful the harder you work to get there. That’s my mantra, and I’m sticking to it.

Actually, let me amend that last statement. There’s a certain threshold where the struggle is worth the payout, and I quickly found myself beyond that margin into the land of diminishing returns. Coming down a fun descent into the riverside town of Rurberg, I was faced with the decision to continue the officially sanctioned Rur Route to Monschau, my destination for that day some 21 kilometers away at a 9% grade, or a shorter, slightly easier road into Simmerath, a neighboring town at 7% and only 8.9 kilometers away. Naturally, I chose the latter, having no idea what a 7% grade translates to in terms of steepness.


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Half a dozen hairpin turns like the one above awaited me. Motorcyclists were buzzing up and down like it was Disneyland, a pretty good indicator that this road was a lot more fun for certain forms of transportation than others. I was in the lowest possible gear, spinning away and cursing the route planners that decided this was a suitable road for a national cycling route. It was grueling.

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Finally out of the valley and atop a plateau, I took a few minutes to appreciate the view and catch my breath before continuing on. This region was so picturesque with its rolling pastures and century-old farmhouses that I wanted to set up camp in a field next to some grazing sheep, but I doubt the farmer would have been on board with that. Instead, I rode for several kilometers into Simmerath, intending to find somewhere there to spend the night.

Interestingly, once I arrived at Simmerath, I began to see signs for Monschau, only these said it was eight kilometers away. I’m not the best at math, but I know I rode just under nine kilometers to get here, and it’s another eight to Monschau for a total of 17km which is a pretty big difference compared to the Rur River Route that would have taken me up a mountain pass at a 9% grade for 21 kilometers. Are you serious?, I thought to myself. Why would anyone opt for that route? 

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So I found a campsite just outside of the Monschau city limits and set up my tarp tent in the dwindling sunlight. I hadn’t touched my flask up until this point, but I felt like I deserved it after all I contended with that day. A friendly Dutchman with an RV also offered me his shower token, either because his RV already had a shower or because it looked like I needed one, but I was thankful either way. I got settled in to my sleeping bag and reflected on everything I’d seen that day, with my final day of the trip and the end of the Rur River Route ahead of me.

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- Bicyclist Abroad

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