We started out the day with a lovely breakfast, but…
I suppose every adventure trip worthy of the name has one day that can appropriately be titled, The Slog. So today it was in our case. We had 750 kilometers on the slate. The one factor working in our favor was that today, unlike yesterday, we didn’t have an initial section of mountain roads. The whole ride would be pure highway. In theory we should be able to accomplish the longer distance in not much more time.
In practice, that hope went out the window pretty early on when we hit our first “stau” on the A6 on the way towards Frankfurt. Apparently these jams, which we’d experienced a particularly bad example of on the A9 down to towards Austria at the beginnning, were not at all uncommon in Germany. The heyday of the autobahns must have been in the 80’s and 90’s, but they are now crumbling under the twin demands of increasing truck transport and a growing European love affair with the automobile. One would hope they would have observed and learned from the mistakes of the US in its failure to curb the excesses of autophilia that have so unfavorably transformed our landscapes and lifestyles, but it seems the same problems have snuck up on them here anyway.
Anyway, we were speeding along happily on a three-laner about an hour into our ride when everything came to a grinding halt in the space of a few hundred meters. We were in the middle lane with an exit coming up on the right, and once we saw people casually getting out of their vehicles up ahead to see what was happening, we decided we’d better take it. We got off and found ourselves on a divided B highway speeding west. We pulled over to a parking area to assess the situation and mapped out a loop back to the highway some 30 kilometers further north.
This went smoothly, in fact so smoothly that when the GPS started directing us back towards the highway I decided to override it and take the B road a bit further north. This turned out to be a bad move. First we got stuck behind some trucks, then we found the road itself blocked due to construction. It took us a while and some backtracking to eventually find a route back to the highway. About an hour lost all told. If we had too many more of these it would start to be quite a grueling trip to make it to the boat.
Fortunately things settled down for a while after this and we began to make steady progress. For most of the day after that, all I remember is a blur of riding and gas stops. We would stick to the right lane when possible, or the middle if the right was full of trucks, with occasional forays into the left when the coast seemed clear. We were always looking behind us as much as ahead, as well as to the sides to make sure no one jumped into our lane. For the most part people saw and avoided us, but some cars seemed not to believe we had a right to our entire lane and would blithely drive halfway in it. I have no idea what they were really thinking, if they were thinking at all.
German gas stations were a bit of a hassle. Electronic pay-at-the-pump systems had not made it here for whatever reason, so it was necessary to fill the tanks, then leave the bikes, go in and pay for the gas, go back, move the bikes, and finally go back in again for food or coffee. Invariably there was a line at the counter to pay in both cases (and often a line at the pumps as well), so a simple process could become quite long and involved.
But these shortfalls, surprising in a country with as modern and competent a reputation as Germany, were nothing compared to the incredibly low quality of the bathroom rest stops. They seemed more appropriate to a third-world country than one of the leading developed nations of the world. Parking facilities were uniformly cramped and poorly designed, landscaping was nonexistent, and when there were actual bathrooms (half of them had just porta-johns) they were invariably graffiti-covered, rarely-cleaned concrete blocks where soap, towels and tissue, and even running water could not be taken for granted.
At any rate, we carried on through all of this, making occasional snack, coffee, or gas stops until finally we rolled in at 8 to the Hotel Gruner-Jäger for a dinner and drink while we waited to board the boat at 11. It had taken us two hours longer than yesterday, one lost to the first stau, a half hour to a later stau outside Hamburg, and the last half hour simply due to the distance, which clocked in at nearly 800 kilometers.
Food always tastes better when it has been earned, and our meal and beer at the Gruner-Jäger were most enjoyable indeed.
Afterward we rode the three kilometers over to the boat, checked in, and waited an hour until boarding. We made short work of strapping down our bikes, got on board, collapsed into our cabins, showered, and tumbled into bed. Hallelujah!