So, I’ll try to keep the word count down, but the next few days kind of built on the first only getting better all the time! On day 2 I had intended to head off down the river to get some miles covered but took the wrong turn as I headed out of Nagold and ended up with a gravel track rising in front of me with a bunch of signs. I knew this wasn’t the way I’d planned on heading but again the thought of ‘how steep can it be?’ got the better off me and I worked my way up. It actually wasn’t too long before it flattened out and I was back on forestry roads again.
This day was pretty long. I wasn’t sure how far I could get and as I progressed and saw signs to places further down the river, I kept tweaking my destination until it looked like I could get to Freundenstadt. This area seemed a bit short on campsites which means that the ‘do I keep on and head for the next one or stop here early?’ decision was often flittering around my mind. The area is also pretty well populated with farmland intermingled with forests, so wild camping (which I’ve been told is a big no-no in the Black Forest) seemed a little risky, though it felt good spotting places where it might be possible if needed. The route covered roads with lorries trundling past, gravel tracks and lots more forest trails and singletrack, and would suddenly pop out of the woods into alpine meadows. I can’t remember what the technical definition of how high you have to be for a meadow to be classed as ‘alpine’, but whether it was high enough or not, that was certainly the feeling!
I watched four black kites (I think) soaring and wheeling over fields as they hunted, took cake stops in cafes, got lost on the edges of towns that I past through and loved how the paths would suddenly head off not the forest on little more than an animal track. On a couple of occasions, I saw the sign I was looking for, thought I had seen the path it was pointing down only to realise a few seconds later that in fact there was in fact a second trail that I had almost not noticed. Some of these trails were just shortcuts down a hill that you could easily avoid (if you wanted) but some were paths linking up other trails, so I had to follow them, no matter how unused they looked.
I approached Freundenstadt around 7 and was pointed in the right direction to the campsite on the other side of town by an old couple out walking. Ten minutes later they were next to me in a little car weaving about the road as the husband (who was driving) leaned across to the window and asked ‘Do you vant a bed for zee night…?’ (apologies for the stereotypical German-English but it really was like that!). It seemed silly to refuse so I followed them through town to their house where they let me use their kitchen and sleep in their spare room. We spent a couple of hours awkwardly conversing in my awful German and his patchy English and in the morning he made me follow him to the local book shop (for a map) and then to the next town – Lossburg – (via a very fast main road, which I was less than happy about at the time), with him speeding off and then pulled in to wait for me at each junction. He left me at the start of a forest path heading along the river and I pretty much kept to the river that day to get to a campsite at Steinach for the night.
Leaving Steinach I took a route up into the hills which turned out to be a tortuous 3 hour climb. It’s not the length of the climb that I find difficult really, it’s the steepness and this felt hard as I ground away in my lowest gear, stopping at flat sections for a rest. On at least 3 occasions I could not help but just check my gears again, hoping that when I pushed the lever another, easier gear might have somehow materialised. But of course it hadn’t. During this climb I came up with whole paragraphs describing the way my mind starts to wander, how every little annoyance that you normally ignore becomes a major distraction, and how all the focus has to be on just keeping the pedals turning. As I reached the road at the top at Hohenhauser, I let out an audible whimper. And then helped myself to coffee and a big slice of apple pie at a cafe sat next to a strange middle aged clothing store in a very odd location. The depressing thing was that I’d only climbed about 500 metres up to perhaps 700m altitude, but the steepness and weight of the bike had made it hard. On the Jura route I’d have to be at twice the height, and for the Panorama route, have to manage 1000m climbs.
From the map it looked like now I could breeze down some roads to Elzach back in the valley but I passed some walkers looking at an information sign and after a bit of investigation it appeared that there was a long circular walk around the hills here, 15 miles of which went almost all down hill from where I was to Waldkirch, further down the valley. It seemed too good an opportunity to miss and turned out to be awesome! A great mix of forest track, singletrack, and what seemed to be dried out stream bed heading across country and generally down hill. All of it was rideable on the heavy bike – even muddy, rocky, and rooty stretches – apart from one steep and rutted section where I didn’t trust myself not to let the front wheel slide off into the rut and end up gliding down on my front panniers. I passed walkers intrigued about where I’d come from, a mountain biker coming the other way who looked shocked to see me on his local trails, had to unload the bike to negotiate a fallen tree and didn’t stop grinning all afternoon!
This was exactly what I’d hoped to find, and in the end it hadn’t really been that hard. I descended down a steep trail onto one of the bike paths around Wildberg feeling thoroughly satisfied.
A really helpful guy in an amazingly quick powered wheelchair that looked like it could tackle some of the trails I’d been on gave me directions to the campsite out of town. To top off a great day, the campsite was the first I’d come across that wasn’t based all around caravans and motorhomes, with gorgeous views over the valley and the had a lovely outdoor restaurant. That night I ate a huge flammkuchen (like a pizza but very thin and made with cream instead of cheese – kind of a regional speciality) AND rumpsteak with chips. And the odd beer.
The following day involved more hills. After a bit of consultation with the campsite owner, and eventually finding the right cycle path, I headed up towards St Peter. The day before a passer by who helped me find the right way out of a town had said ‘But there are many hills in that direction…?’ when I’d intimated my proposed route. I started out on a footpath again but for the first time encountered rock steps! Feeling like I’d come too far up a steep section to go back, I hauled the bike up the first few. Trying to change direction as the steps were on a dog-leg and get some weight behind the bike, there was a horrible moment when I had to clench everything and pull the bike in towards me as it threatened to topple off the side and into the stream below. Don’t get me wrong there was no big drop or raging torrent or anything, but the last thing I needed was a bike I couldn’t lift upside down in a stream with broken pannier racks. I decided the rest of the day might need to be on the road and spent the next few hours grinding my way up switchbacks on the main road pausing in St Peter for lunch and then heading onto St Margan. This was the highest I’d managed so far, at around 1000m. The end of day destination at Titisee was all downhill from St Margan but, as seemed to be happening a little more frequently, the comprehensive signposts seemed unrelated to the map I had. When the footpath signposts pointing to Titisee were clearly at odds with the map, I resorted to getting the iPad out to assure myself that I was where I thought I was. Even with the morning of climbing, the day felt pretty good as I coasted down the roads and purely by chance, picked a great campsite out of a choice of four, where I could camp by the lake. I set up next to a couple of English guys, also mountain bikers but who had come on a week long ride down through the Black Forest on their motor bikes. I must have looked slightly dazed by the day as Dave pretty much immediately asked if I wanted a brew, and pretty soon I had a cup of coffee in my hands. After nearly three weeks of avoiding swimming in the Rhine (no-one seems to do it, either due to the currents, pollution or shipping I guess) and more recently passing open air swimming pools but not feeling like I had the time to stop for a dip, I was pretty much straight into the lake. It was such lovely place to camp that my plans to head straight on to Basel the next day went out of the window the next morning and I had a nice day by the lake fixing bits on the bike.