Cycling into a storm (Dreamstime)
Blog Words : From the Road | 30 October

How to cycle through a storm and come out the other side smiling

The Rowen sisters are hit by a fierce storm in Germany. Will it wash out their cycle trip to Hong Kong before it has even started?

Standing in thigh-high water, with lightening striking around us, I looked on helplessly as my front pannier started to float away downstream.

“What’s in it?” cried Lou. “Our passports?”

I frantically searched my mind. Was there anything important in the bag? And how on earth did I end up in a river, on a metal bicycle, in the middle of a fierce lightening storm? 

It had all started so differently.

After crossing the channel to Europe, we had decided Amsterdam would be our first port of call. We played at being tourists for a couple of days and then headed west towards Germany. The Dutch countryside was incredibly beautiful and full of lush green fields, cute waterways and picture postcard villages. The weather was glorious too.

“You’re lucky,” the locals informed us. “It’s not always like this.”

Mural in Amsterdam (Rowen Sisters)

Mural in Amsterdam (Rowen Sisters)

We crossed into Germany and followed the Rhine from Cologne to Mannheim. It was a stunning route that wound its way through villages and countryside and with a castle, seemingly, on every other river bend.

In Mannheim, we were reunited with some long-lost cousins and introduced to German beer and bratwurst. Buoyed by their well wishes, and a few pounds heavier, we hit our second river path in Germany, the Eurovelo 6, which follows the River Danube and would take us through most of Europe. “The Danube,” said Lou, cheerily humming a few bars of the famous song.

Two days later the storm hit.

The day of the storm started out pretty normally. There were a few showers here and there, but generally it was good cycling weather.

If we’d been paying a bit more attention we might have noticed a dark ominous cloud sitting on the horizon behind our shoulder, and we should perhaps have paid more heed to the rumbling thunder that started echoing across the countryside.

It all started so well (The Rowen Sisters)

It all started so well (Rowen Sisters)

We definitely should have followed the example of a group of cyclists we saw huddled under a bridge. “What are they worried about?" Lou wondered aloud. ”It’s just a little bit of rain.”

“We are hardcore cyclists from the UK,” I cried as we cycled past. “ We can handle anything.

It seemed we couldn’t. At least, not rain as intense and ferocious as this German stuff.

Within seconds, everything was soaked, lightning was striking all around us and we could barely see five metres ahead. There was no shelter in sight and the nearest town was still a couple of kilometres away.

“Let’s plow on,” cried Lou. “There might be a house or a bus stop we can shelter in.” Seconds later, a wave of water swept over my bike. The Danube had burst its banks and, because I was riding in front, I copped the brunt of it. I was thigh-deep in water and watched in stunned shock as one of my front panniers lifted off my bike and started floating away down the ‘path’.

Lou had seen the whole thing unfold, and noticing my indecision, abandoned her bike on dry ground and splashed after my pannier, fearing for our passports. Lou rescued my escaping pannier, retrieved her own bike and joined me on a high, dry spot (dry, as in: not under water) on the other side.

“Well, that was fun,” she laughed. I was still too shaken to agree.

Shoes drying by the Danube (Rowen Sisters)

Shoes drying beside the Danube (Rowen Sisters)

It was a Sunday and anyone who has been in Germany on a Sunday knows that everything is closed. But now that they’d had their fun with us, the Cycling Gods led us to the next village and the only pub open on a Sunday.  We stowed our bikes in an alley, dragged ourselves inside and ordered two cups of tea. As we sipped our tea, shivering, a huge puddle formed around us.

“So that’s why those cyclists were hiding under the bridge,” mused Lou. “You’d think they could have warned us.”

A little less cold and a little less shell-shocked, we timidly checked inside the pannier that had made a break for freedom. It wasn’t much wetter than the others – I guess that’s how heavy the rain was – and nothing important had been damaged.

Our plan to camp that night was abandoned and instead we pushed on to Passau, where a hot shower and a warm bed awaited at a hostel at the top of a 22 per cent incline. The Cycling Gods were being perverse again, because the road was cobbled too.

Smiling again (The Rowen Sisters)

Smiling again (Rowen Sisters)

We must have passed their test though, because the rest of our cycle along the Danube was wonderful. We rolled through the hills of Austria, explored the intriguing streets of Bratislava and cycled on through Hungary to our favourite city, Budapest. Serbia, too, was an unexpected surprise, although we could have done without the swarm of mosquitos that followed us like a cartoon cloud.

The Eurovelo 6 threw everything at us and we survived. But greater challenges lay ahead...


The Rowen sisters, Charlie and Lou, are currently cycling from Hartford to Hong Kong. You can follow their adventures on their blog, A Wheely Long Journey.

Main image: Cycling into a storm (Dreamstime)

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