Beware of all enterprises that require Lycra

Having recently spouted (blogged) about the new cake scale I thought it high time to put words into action and earn a 100 mile cake. The return ride from Breisach to Basle in Switzerland is roughly 130km and to earn a cake I would have to supplement my ‘Rhine right bank upstream’ route with some further meanderings.

The cycle path runs along the bank or levee of the river for most of the way but surprisingly the river is mostly out of sight or only glimpsed through trees and the ever-present pungent Himalayan Balsam. Is there any river in Europe that is not shrouded in the stinky pink seed-poppers?

At the first big break in the trees I spotted a familiar sight. A wading angler with double-handed fly rod. I leapt off the still moving bike, fair ran down the bank and paddled out for a chat.

The only salmon fisherman on the Rhine

All was not as it seemed. The angler was not angling. The somewhat startled German gentleman was trying out a pair of new rods, this one being a Loomis  salmon rod. It was then I noticed the Patagucci tackle bag and waders, Orvis reel and a second £700 rod. This was serious stuff for a planned fishing trip to Denmark. I hope the salmon realise how much he has paid and treat his bent pin with respect appropriate to his investment.

Even if he had a fly on the end of his line he would have scant chance of a take on the Rhine. At one time probably Europe’s most prolific salmon river, so far this year 47 salmon have made it past the big dam downstream of here in spite of the enormous effort that has been made to ensure clean water, install fish passes and build stocks. There were many more bikes than salmon, and I encountered a steady procession of heavily loaded downstream migrating cyclists.

The entrance to Basle is a mess of industrial outskirts and unattractive inskirts. The cycle path disappears and you find yourself on busy roads and in un-delightful suburbs reminiscent of nearby grim Mulhouse as you approach the border.

German/Swiss border

I had imagined a Sound of Music style entrance into the delights of Switzerland but ended up in a maze of road works. Crossing the border was uneventful, which is fortunate as I have yet to get into the habit of carrying a passport. Not sure what the procedure would have been if they had asked for my passport on the way out, perhaps they would make me stay in Switzerland, perish the thought.

The old town of Basle has its charms for a wealthy visitor but my favourite feature is the un-powered ferry that takes foot passengers across the Rhine. It dangles downstream from a pulley that runs freely along a cable stretched high above the Rhine and it is the play of the river on the rudder that steers it and pushes it across the river. To any fly fisherman this is a delight as for the crossing you become the fly swinging across the river to end on the dangle beside the far bank.

On the dangle on the Basle ferry

Basle is renowned as a cultural centre but most is too high for my reach and I prefer the feel of Strasbourg, the next similar sized town downstream.

Crossing back out of Switzerland the first hostelry reminds you of the cultural delights of Germany.

After diversions up into the western foothills of the Black Forest I arrived home still somewhat short of my cream cake. In the last of the light a lap of the vineyards, orchards and maize fields of Ihringen and Burkheim was necessary to earn my cake.

After a day on gravel tracks and towpaths the tarmac road is heavenly carpet cycling and I chanced to team up with a bloody fast arm cyclist and we slip-streamed each other the last 5 km home.

slipstreaming on the tarmac carpet

In spite of the advice of Thoreau, “I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes …………. If you have any enterprise before you, try it in your old clothes”, I must confess to the wearing of Lycra. Some days this summer have been open oven door cycling at up to 40° in the shade and this is uncomfortable in even the lightest Harris Tweed.

By chance I have just been reading John Maclean’s delightful blog  from the top of Iona.

……Lycra. It is simply shocking and an affront to any attempt at style. Middle aged men (like me) particularly should steer clear”.

“I used to wear a 1927 pair of plus-fours and a tweed jacket …………………extremely comfortable, warm and pretty well waterproof, and I still could happily do my hundred miles a day……”.

So when the cooler days arrive it will be old clothes as I head ‘Rhine right bank downstream’ to Strasbourg in my Tynwald Mills’ Manx tweed jacket to happily and more stylishly earn my next 100 mile cream cake.


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