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    Bicycle trip Saarbrücken – Baden-Baden (and back)

    5th July 2013

    On Monday, the 24th of June 2013, at 05:15 in the morning we (me and my bicycle-maniac coworker) started from Dudweiler, Saarbrücken towards Baden-Baden – on the bicycles.

    We thoroughly planned this trip:

    1. a ~160 km route was constructed and uploaded (as GPX) to a specialized handlebar-mounted GPS device (it was manually merged from several routes, with one of the parts found here);
    2. food/water/etc breaks (30-40 minutes long) were planned every ~30 km – a total of up to 5 stops;
    3. optimistic arrival time, calculated from the distance estimate (~160 km), optimistic average speed estimate of 25 km/h, and estimated ~6 hours of actual bicycling: 14:00. That left us 1 backup hour before the time we actually needed to be in Baden-Baden for the seminar.
    4. Every participant had 2 liters of potable liquid and enough food to last until at least 16:00.

    What really happened:

    • we started ~15 minutes later than planned, which shortened our initial 30km-break to ~10 minutes;
    • average speed was approximately equal to the optimistic estimate only during the first 1-1.5 hours;
    • when our average speed started decreasing, we cut down the length of all further breaks, so all of our breaks were up to 10-15 minutes long;
    • sometimes we missed proper route turns (up to 4-5 times), but we never had to go back more than 50 meters;
    • at around 12:45 we were ~20 km away from our destination (less than an hour bicycling – well within the optimistic estimate!);
    • near Baden-Baden itself, we deviated from the planned route a few times (“hey, that road looks better!”), and lost about 30 minutes exploring “better roads”;
    • we’ve arrived at 14:30 – sooner than our other co-workers, who were driving out of Saarbrücken between 12:00-12:30, and encountered unfavorable traffic conditions.

    My bike’s speedometer reported an average speed of ~22.5 km/h (this excludes breaks – only while moving), and total distance was ~160 km. My coworker’s average was 24 km/h. The weather was a little on the cold side – we started with air temperature around 12 degrees Celsius, and most of the way it was around 15 degrees; for the last 1-2 hours it raised to about 19, which seemed hot, and then the skies sprinkled us with some rain – literally a few hundred meters away from the destination :).

    Overall, the trip to Baden-Baden felt great! I’m fairly confident that both of us could have bicycled for some 20-40 kilometers more – which, I feel, sets the distance goal for the next trip…

    However, we still had to go back – also by bicycles – on Wednesday, the 26th of June. I’d rather not do this, but going back by train seemed too dull and entirely not challenging… ;)

    There were 3 problems:

    1. Legs did not restore fully from Monday to Wednesday, and
    2. the human sitting device (a.k.a. “ass”) restored even less than the legs; and, finally,
    3. we did not have the route back!

    We did have two routes: the one we used to go to Baden-Baden, and the alternative “flatland” route. However, this alternative seemed to only use Landstrasse (two-lane roads with a speed limit of 100 km/h), and we really wanted some nice Radwegs (bicycle-only roads). Feeling adventurous, we decided to go north along the Rhein river, then turn West to follow a supposedly well-marked bicycle route through Pirmazens. This route was supposed to be slightly longer – ~180 km.

    Here was the plan for the back travel:

    • depart when ready (after post-seminar social activities and buying food for the trip);
    • use a bicycle route as suggested by google maps on the smartphone;
    • no specific plan for breaks and rest.

    It did not fail entirely, which is good. I guess.

    We departed somewhere after 1 PM. (Quick math: it took us 9.5 hours of real time from Saarbrücken to Baden-Baden, which implied arriving at 1 + 9.5 = 10:30 PM, but we happily ignored this…)

    The first and likely the worst problem: neither one of us was able to memorize the map from the smartphone screen to keep going for at least a few km before having to stop, pull out the phone, and check the map. Things were fine still in Baden-Baden – it was relatively easy to get out of it – but then we had to stop sometimes as often as every 200 meters! I did not count wrong turns – possibly because most of the time it was too late to go back, so we just kept going in the roughly correct direction.

    Another candidate for the title of the worst problem: a very specific part of the route, where google maps sent us to… What was marked as a bicycle path, in reality was something not even walkable easily – a narrow uphill forest trail with lots of variable-size/shape rocks and fallen tree branches. We did have to get off the bicycles a number of times there.

    About 35km away from Pirmazens we did find the proper bicycle path. It was really well-marked, so we didn’t have to check the map at all until Pirmazens itself.

    At 20:30 we stopped next to the sign “Pirmazens Center 1.4 km” to find the railway station and trains schedule on the phone. My coworker had neither front nor back lights on his bicycle, and with routes sometimes using Landstrasse it was plain dangerous to continue. At 20:31 we learned that the last connecting train to Saarbrücken departs at…. 20:41!!! (Next one – after 5 AM next day.) These 10 minutes were the most psychologically intense in our trip. Long story short – we made it to the train; with the tickets still hot from the ticket machine, and having found out that bicycles are indeed allowed on EC/IC trains, we boarded the train at 20:40 :)

    Odometer statistics after arrival home (there + back): 282 km, 14:40 bicycling time, average speed 19.2.

    Looks like well-planned long trips are much more enjoyable and efficient than “let’s go that way!” long trips :)

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