Sunday, May 25, 2008

Black Forest Tour

Black Forest

Thursday was a public holiday, so I took the opportunity to add a vacation day and do a long bike tour. The original plan was to do Grossglockner pass, but with forecast for rain and snow, a lower elevation tour seemed safer. Besides, Karlsruhe had a forecast for sunshine all weekend, so Chris and I bought train tickets to visit the Black Forest. Due to a train reservation snafu, we ended up with different start times on the train, but with the cell phone, I expected to have no problems linking up. Besides, Chris wasn't so sure he wanted to do as many big hills as I did, so it would be great for me to get a ton of climbing in before he showed up.

I didn't sleep well at all the night before, for whatever reason, and showed up on the train a little tired, but despite that couldn't sleep on the train at all. Once in Karlsruhe, I turned on my GPS unit and started to head out of town towards Ettlingen. This part was really boring, and I was starting to queston my desire to save a few bucks by riding. But soon enough, my GPS beeped and sent me off towards some hills towards Schluttenbach and Volkersbach. The road headed up steeply and I was soon having to stand up to turn the pedals. The views weren't great and the weather was looking iffy, but I saw enough cyclists that indicated that this was great. I had called Chris a few times on the phone, but he wasn't responding. We had agreed to meet up at Gernsbach, so I headed down that way after tooling around, and then visited both train stations there. No sign of him. I observed that the next train from Karlsruhe was due at 1:15pm, and it just started raining, so I decided to have lunch.

Chris didn't show up after lunch either, so I took off up along the Murgtal. With the impending rain, I decided not to take in any of the high routes. Sure enough, whenever I looked up, it looked like it was raining in the hills. The forecast was definitely not working.

At around 3:30pm, I found the bike path next to the Murg, and started riding alongside it. What a beautiful area this was --- green trees, a stream, and lovely cute little houses. I wasn't making great time, but I was having a great time. At 4:30pm I started looking for lodging, and encountered a full hotel which made me take this lodging search more seriously. At Heselbach, I tried a hotel but it wanted 60 Euros for one night. I rolled down along the main street and found one for 30 Euros. It was next to the street, but it didn't look like a noisy street, and the entire package was great --- dinner, breakfast, and lodging cost me 42 Euros.

I woke up the next day expecting rain, but found that the roads were dry! off I went past Baiersbronn, and past that, along a bike path towards Freudenstadt. The bike path brought me into Freudenstadt alright, but on a 20% grade! I wondered how many locals even bothered using that path, since I was the only one on it, and had to work hard, even with a 24x34 backing me. Once into Freudenstadt, I figured out how to work my GPS dynamically --- set it for the next town, and the GPS unit will navigate you through the biggest city on the most direct route possible.

Skirting Freudenstadt, I headed towards bad Rippoldsau, This was a beautiful winding passage in the woods, a favorite amongst motorcyclists, it seemed, and then the descent started. And what a descent --- no brakes were needed and I hit well over 50kph, and then the road followed the Wolfach river down alongside a glorious valley before terminating in Wolfach. I stopped in Wolfach to buy some bananas, a donut, and a pear, and ate a little bit before using my GPS unit to set my route for Vor Kirnbach. This navigated me into a little side road into Schramberg. Schramberg was at 426m and Wolfach was at 262m, so I expected a little climbing. What I didn't expect was to climb well over to 800m before descending a fast road down to Schramberg. Once in Schramberg, I decided that the weather was so good that I should do more climbing, so headed up the road towards Hardt.

Yes, it was a hard climb. I stayed in my 24x34 quite a bit, so the grade exceeded 12% for a good long stretch. It was then that I realized that single chevrons on my map meant 12% grades, while double chevrons indicated 20+%. Clearly, my map was designed far masochists! I felt the climb and once in town checked my altimeter that said that I had done 1800m of climbing that day. That's right up there with a tour of the alps.

From Hardt, I decided not to do any more huge amounts of climbing, and rode into Sankt Georgen, where I found an open bakery and ate a cake, flushed down with some orange juice in a pouch. I then set my GPS for Vohrenbach and followed directions. I found the traffic annoying though, so when I saw a sign for Unterkirnach, I took it despite the promise of more climbing. Indeed, the climbing was hard (and I was really feeling it by now), but hey, the views were worth it. My GPS beeped once again, and I looked and saw that it had found me an alternate route to Vohrenbach that wasn't on my map. I took the route and found it leading down a gorgeous valley filled with hillside flowers, dumping me back out on the main road only 3km from Vohrenbach.

I arrived at Vohrenbach to find the tourist information office closed at 12:00pm on Fridays. Obviously, tourists don't drop by on Fridays. I took the hint and pushed on to Hammereisenbach, where the hotels didn't look that good, so I pushed on to Eisenbach up the hill a bit. The first hotel there wasn't yet open for the season, but the second one had the German cycling club logo on the outside, so I asked for a room. I couldn't believe it when I was quoted a 25 Euro price for a room and breakfast. The dinner was excellent as well!

Breakfast the next morning was a little anemic, but I was confident in my ability to find food somewhere else as necessary. I pushed on up the hill towards Titisee as rain drops started falling. Once into Titisee, the sun came out long enough for me to put on sunscreen, but of course once I had done so it started raining again. I rode up into Barental, stopped there to buy 3 bananas and a pear for an Euro, ate a banana, and rode up to Schuluchsee. The lake was quite pretty, but I wasn't in the mood for it was the rain started coming down then. All desires to do a scenic route vanished and I spied a sign for Bonndorf and took it. Hopefully it being not marked as scenic would mean less traffic, which would mean that I would enjoy it more.

Sure enough, there was much less traffic. One thing that I'm learning now about the Black Forest is that it is hilly. Schluchsee is 951m, and Bonndorf is 847m. So you might expect a descent between the two, right? Yes, but not before climbing to well over 1100m. The traffic being so light, however, was quite nice, and I saw quite a scenic view towards the North in one of the open areas.

Down into Bonndorf I went, and there I ate a banana before heading towards Blumberg via Ewattingen. This was marked as a scenic route on the map, but it didn't seem that terribly scenic to me. The part from Ewattingen, however, was scenic and fun! Several hairpin turns one after another and a sharp turn alongside a river took my breath away. I had too much fun descending to take any pictures. Once in Achdorf proper, however, I discovered that I had a flat. I stopped at a bus stop, ate a banana, and fixed the flat, which had no cause I could discern from an examination of the tire. I patched the tube and stuck in a new one.

It was a good thing I fixed the flat then, because the climb from Achdorf to Blumberg was marked with a 15% grade. A car driver stopped as I was climbing the road to warn me about the steepness! I sat in my 24x34 and spun up it, not even daring to stand up because the road was wet. That was a doozy! After that, the ride through Nordhalen, Tengen, Engen, and Neuhausen was unremarkable except for brilliant hillside yellow flowers. I started making my way through the built up areas, following side roads and bike paths as much as possible, until in Nenzingen where I could finally set my GPS for Ludwigshafen on the Uberlingersee.

There, I spotted a sign: 68km to Lindau. Since it was only 3:30pm, I thought I could make it. Well, I underestimated how tired I was because once I got into Ludwigshafen and the bike path, I found my butt a bit sore. I stopped at a bathroom and changed to a fresh pair of bike shorts, which helped quite a bit. But by then I had eaten all my food, and was tooling along slowly. At that point, I had to find lodging or keep going. I elected to keep going a bit more through Uberlingen, and that was my mistake. Past Meersburg, there was no lodging to be had at all, and I had to keep going in search of lodging. Finally in Friedrichshafen I saw the train station, got onto a train to Lindau, and from Lindau bought a Bayern ticket and took the train back to Munich, getting in at 11:30.

The total ride was 350km with 4027m climb over 3 days (the first day was only 77km and 700m of climb). Not bad at all but with only one day of sunshine and 2 days of rain, and one flat, I wish I could have done better. In any case, if you enjoy climbing, I think the Black Forest is for you. The scenery isn't as nice as the alps, but it was a good change of pace, and the climbs are as steep as anywhere you'll find. And the prices are amazing. Highly recommended for cyclists on a budget.
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