24 March 2016

Trails and Canals [Berlin Bicycle Week #2]

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Before we left Sven’s house in the morning, he gave us two pieces of advice. The first was to stock up before we left Hannover, because we’d have problems finding supplies once we were beyond the city limits. That turned out to be mostly untrue, as we passed numerous grocery and convenience stores along the way. The second piece of advice, however, was invaluable; he suggested we follow the Mittelland Canal. We looked at a map and, sure enough, the canal runs through Hannover and nearly all the way to Berlin. This was great news, because now we didn’t have to put any thought into navigating. Stay on the canal, and we would always be on track. So Sven made us a map from his house down to the canal and we were on our way.


The Mittelland Canal stretches over 300 kilometers and is the longest artificial waterway in Germany. And as canals tend to be, largely free of elevation change (except for when we had to cross over bridges to the opposite side.) The towpath we started out on was pretty much dirt double-track that turned to gravel every now and again.  Some of it was really great riding. Other parts… not so much.


We encountered one section in particular that disintegrated into a rocky, jagged path that made for a pretty jarring ride. Thankfully, it was a brief affair, and we were back onto a relatively smooth trail before too long. Then there was another section that was more or less a giant gutter, and I took a spill on some wet leaves but managed to stay out of the canal (almost every time I ride with Will I have a difficult time keeping the rubber side down).


For lunch, we departed the trail and rode into the town of Peine for some baked goods and coffee. Not exactly the barren field or ghost town we had expected, but then again, we hadn’t yet crossed into the former GDR.


A funny thing happened after we got back on the canal after Peine: the sun came out. All of a sudden, we were in good moods and, were it not for my increasingly worsening knee pain, I think we could have covered a pretty substantial distance…


Well, maybe not. There were actually a few other factors working against us. Firstly, the further along we progressed, the more headwind we encountered—the steep embankments on either side of the canal gradually diminished to small mounds that did little to provide a wind break. Then there was the string of consecutive flat tires on Will’s fatbike, all caused by the same branch that neither of us had noticed until he was pulling quarter-inch thorns out of his tires.


He replaced the rear inner tube, only to have it go flat on him again—pinched on the rim during installation. So that one got a patch, and we were good… for a while. The front tube had a slow leak as well. It was deflation city.

We decided that we’d head into the next town and try to find a bike shop for some new tubes, but Calberlah only had a gas station and a café, and we had only a couple hours of daylight left. So while Will worked on his bike issues, I grabbed some coffee and slices of cake. Whether it was the craving for carbs and sugar or not, that cake was damn delicious.


We’d have liked to have made it to Wolfsburg, just another 8 kilometers from the town we were in, but we decided to make camp while it was still light out and so we picked up some beers, rode to our campsite, and called it a night. At this rate, there was no way we’d make it to Berlin by Thursday, but we’d see how far we could go before we needed to take the train again.

- Bicyclist Abroad


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