So partly feeling demoralised that I’d failed at the first attempt with the mountain bike route, I headed off down the river valley, secretly happy to be on flat tarmac. Every so often I would come across little signposts with distances to all manner of places pointing up footpaths. Cyclists use these so I thought I’d head up just south of Bad Liebenzell and try to cut the corner off the valley, work my way through to a place further down the valley and see how it went. Maybe there was a way of going a little cross country without the masochistic up and down of the Bike Crossing route.
It turns out that these footpaths are a massive network of routes between towns and villages, crisscrossing the hills. The Schwarzwald isn’t that high an area, only up to around 700m above sea level in the north and 1400m in the south, although I guess that is the height of Ben Nevis. However, even in the north where it is relatively flat on top, the valleys cut into the plateau very sharply meaning that the initial climbs out are very steep. So I ground my way up a gravel path which turned into a rougher track. At junctions, more signposts indicate distances to a whole bunch of places, only some of which I could identify on my map. A couple of mountain bikers gave a surprised “hallo..?” as they sped past me downhill in a blur, me hardly moving my laden bike uphill.
Eventually, however, I was up on top and I managed to navigate between villages and make some progress. There are so many signs to so many paces, it can be a little confusing if you have no idea where some of these places are. At every junction I would have to get the map out again and try to identify which direction these places on the signs were. Often it wasn’t obvious which direction I needed to follow as half the villages on the signs didn’t seem to appear on my map, and the valley walls were so steep I didn’t want to risk screwing up and heading downhill only to have to come back up again. A one junction I would identify the way I wanted to go, only to discover another junction 100m down the path with a whole different set of destinations on. I guess its a lot easier if you’re familiar with the places in the area. But junction by junction, I made some progress.
Some of these footpaths are waymarked trails crossing large sections of the Black Forest and seem to vary between paved roads, gravel tracks and forest trails, passing through villages, farmland and woodland. As I was diligently following the route back to the river through the forest, the sign suddenly pointed of down some steep(ish!) singletrack that looked hardly used. “Really? Down there?”. Thinking I must pretty close by now, I thought I had nothing to lose by heading downhill so I rolled down… It was cool! A nice, not too long, slightly slimy, narrow single track through the woods.
This stuff would be a doddle on an unladen bike with off road tyres but felt a little nervy on a heavy, packed bike with touring tyres. But, the bike felt surprisingly ok and handled getting over roots pretty well despite a bit of excessive rattling. I popped out on another gravel track and followed another sign down more singletrack.
This continued pretty much all the way back down to the bottom of the valley. This felt very cool, and slightly more successful than the mornings aborted attempt. I’d managed to get away from the valley, find a mixture of forest tracks and singletrack that was all rideable and make some progress in the right direction. However, it had taken me about 3 hours and a lot of sweat to get just a few miles further along the river valley, which would have taken just half an hour breezing along the river path. The combination of very slow climbing and having to stop and pore over the map at almost every junction had made things pretty slow and I figured that the next day I might still just head down the river to get some miles under my belt.