It's been a testing first few days to this venture since leaving the bright lights of Lübeck on Tuesday morning. That accounts for the lack of blog posts since then.
But today, Friday 3 October, is German reunification day, a public holiday, so an update is really in order. Sorry if it's a long one.
I left the city, heading south, late after shopping for bike bits and a few good photographs. By then the Indian summer northern Europe was enjoying had passed and I had rain all day.
More seriously, within 20km my rear wheel was getting badly warped - because, I discovered, at least a dozen of the spokes had worked themselves loose. I tightened them as best I could but 20km later they were loose again. The rear wheel is vital because it carries the vast weight of the luggage. So, a dud, despite it being brand new from my friend Yves at La Maison du Velo, Belgium's best specialist bike touring shop. He offered as much remote help by email as he could, but it was slowing me down and made me consider wasting more time by getting a train back to Lübeck the next day, thinking the small-town bike shops I'd be passing through my not have the skills or parts for a repair.
Bright side: I found a bike shop en route the next day and over 200km later the wheel is still solid. I shouldn't have doubted the German talent for engineering.
I didn't help myself that Tuesday evening by taking the wrong direction in the dark for the last 15km section of the ride. So I ended up taking a 10km detour off my map. Luckily the GPS unit in the swanky iPhone I bought for the trip saw me through the rainy murk to my digs, where I was met by wonderful warm German hospitality, a drying room and a chef who had been told to keep the kitchen open half an hour later than normal.
Rotten wet weather again on Wednesday. The bike repair shortened my riding time and some dyke repairs (more on that later) caused more delay. More wonderful hospitality at destination though.
No rain on Thursday, but a violent wind from the direction I was heading in. By the time I was up and running, though, the wind had swung round behind me and I had the first pleasant day's ride, all along the river Elbe, which formed the border here. I was 10km from my accommodation when darkness fell and at that point the cycling gods reminded me not to be complacent by giving me a rear wheel puncture that took 40 mins to fix.
Through all this I've had another worry - a rheumatic pain and swelling in my right hand which by this morning was starting to hamper its functioning. I asked the hotel about hospitals nearby but before I knew it they had called out an emergency doctor. He didn't inspire confidence. This was my first night spent in the old east and the doc seemed to be from the old times - well meaning but not giving off any aura of competence. After only a cursory look he diagnosed gouty arthritis. He had a bagful of odd vials of medicine and after a long (and, worryingly, short-sighted) search he found a couple to make an injection cocktail. He delivered the dose to my backside in a quiet corner of the hotel reastaurant,just as the first day trippers were arriving for morning tea. He told me not to eat any offal (I'd had calf liver Berlin-style the night before) and not to drink alcohol. He saw my face and quickly said a "well, less alcohol". We're in Germany, for heaven's sake! My Belgian health insurance card wouldn't work in his little machine and he couldn't give a receipt for cash so he waived the €30 fee with a friendly smile. I wasn't sure whether to feel bad about this, but at that point I wasn't sure what effect the injection was going to have either.
Through all this it was raining heavily again. And the accumulated delays have already put me a day behind my planned schedule, which I'm realising is very tight. I have found it difficult to establish a rhythm of early-morning departures, which are important even now but which will be vital as the days shorten and the clocks go back later this month.
I've constantly been torn between the need to move on and the desire to take photographs and speak to the locals, which after all is the point of the thing. There have been a few moments when I've questioned my sanity for choosing this time of year, and my faith in the project as a whole.
So it was good that the rest of today went very well. The rain stopped, the sun emerged, the pain in my hand eased (so the doc probably did know what he was doing) and I managed to ride over 100km in the day - the average target I've set myself for the whole trip - for the first time.
So things are looking up again and I have just finished a plateful of pljeskavica, one of my favourite dishes, at a Balkan restaurant in Salzwedel, also in the old east. Outside music is blaring as the locals celebrate 3 October with a street fair. Tomorrow I move on to Wolfsburg - Volkswagensville - and the following day I'll spend my first rest day there. Time to regain more strength and motivation and perhaps add some more to this blog.