We woke up from a night at the 'Bridgeview' campsite. The low hum of the Rhine barges and the rattling of the trains overhead meant that we were up at about four o'clock. After a less than hearty breakfast of cereal bars and dried apricots and a bit of a freshen up using wet wipes- we forsook a dip in the Rhine- we set off on our tour of industrial Germany.
We started to cycle at about half past six, just as the lorries and heavy traffic were streaming out from the factory gates. This just reinforced our impression from the night before of purposeful activity. Good to witness but not so good to cycle through.
A real frustration throughout the day was that the signs were uniformly poor- they would take us so far and then disappear or they would send us on huge loops and deposit us in the middle of nowhere- or the middle of towns [ which was worse].
Reassuringly, throughout our trip we spoke to a number of German cyclists and they all remarked upon the poor signage and many of them recounted stories of being sent in the wrong direction due to inadequate and hard to follow signs- this made us feel a lot better.
We did our early morning tour of factories and industrial plants and eventually ended up in a small village called Serm. There was a bakery that also served coffee- we found this to be a good combination throughout the trip- so we stopped for a very late breakfast. The bakery staff and regulars seemed fascinated by these three Englishmen who had appeared out of nowhere.
Fred and Bruce engaged the people there in conversations and I continued in my role as their mute and grinning friend. When they knew we were going to Vienna one fairly elderly- he was older than us so he must qualify as fairly elderly- regular pointed to a plane flying overhead and said that he would wave to us as we returned home.
Some time later when we were engaged in our regular activity of trying to find the Rhine the same elderly gentleman appeared on his bike and told us to follow him and he would take us to the Rhine footpath- which he did. All through the trip we met people who went out of their way to help and direct us. The uncanny thing was that these people would almost appear out of nowhere and offer help and advice. This usually happened when we stopped and looked lost and confused - a look that we perfected over the two and a bit weeks of the trip. These kind Germans appeared so regularly that in the end we gave them the collective noun of German Shepherds.
We enjoyed a ride along the side of the Rhine until we reached Dusseldorf. Here we met a sign directing us away from the Rhine and through Dusseldorf. We followed the signs to the outskirts of the city and then the signs disappeared. This left us cycling on the roads through the middle of the city. Without panniers this would have been daunting. With panniers and all the other weight it was an experience that certainly sharpened the senses but one that none of us would care to repeat. At times we had to move into the middle lane to keep to the main road, we had to stop and start at lights and take off with without wobbling, tram lines and parked lorries had to be avoided and whoever was at the front couldn't afford to look behind to see if the other two were still following.
We made it through to the other side but the signs still didn't direct us back to the Rhine. We spent most of the afternoon bouncing from one town to another and resolved to go to a forest campsite that was signposted as we left the town of Held. We set off on a long straight road but Bruce, using his compass knew that we were not heading in the right direction. When we got to a junction we got back on the road that should take us to the campsite. After reaching the town and getting lots of conflicting advice we eventually found the Fruden de Natural campsite about ten miles outside of Leverkusen.
This was a campsite where there was no hot water, the showers worked on a token that gave you a two minute burst of tepid water and, because it was miles away from anywhere we had to eat there and the dish served was a bratwurst sausage with two dry slices of stale white bread- thrilling.
All in all we had only done about forty eight miles, had felt that we had made no real progress and ended up in a cheerless campsite- fortunately the days got a lot better than this and we knew that the maps we had for the next few days were much better than the ones we had been using.
One bright spot was that although my first repair on the tent did not work I then used a teaspoon as a splint held on by duct tape and this repair held for the rest of the trip.