Aug 14

The roads up into the mountains of the Black Forest have been fun and today I am taking things one step further. Up until now I have had to find roads that lead up into the hills and have had to turn back when the road turned to dirt. My road trekking bike just wasn’t suited to the stony rough trails along the ridges. I needed a better solution.

The bike shop in Haslach had offered to rent me a mountain bike, and so today that’s exactly what I did. It meant starting out later, 9AM rather than 6AM. The lad at the shop leant me his own bike and assured me with a smile that if any mountain bike was tuned to the hills around here then it was his. He was quite non plussed with my plan to ride up the asphalt roads as far as Biereck and then head of onto the gravel. “I thought you wanted to ride through the forests”, he quipped and proceeded to show me a path beginning right at the outskirts of the village that he thought much cooler.

Mountain Biking in the Forest

Mountain Biking in the Forest

With some trepidation I set off up the trail, which soon turned stony and rough. It took some time to get used to the gears. The right hand lever you pushed forward to go up gears but on the left hand lever you pushed forward to go down gears. If you are climbing and need to shift down but instead shift up you are left more or less dead in the water. It is very difficult to get the bike back into a gear that will get you going again. This problem would plague me all day as I constantly switched around the order in my mind.

My first goal was a trail called the Jakobsweg, which runs along the ridges in a big circle around Haslach. I would follow it as far as Hönhauser, where I had been on Tuesday. Most of the ridges around here are around 500m to 600m high and the trails don’t mess around to rise to that height. So although the gearing on the mountain bike made it much easier to climb the trails were far steeper and in some cases very rough indeed. Rain had washed away the topsoil leaving nothing but exposed roots and large stones. This, it turned out, is exactly what the lad from the bike shop meant by “much cooler”.

Rocky Road

Rocky Road

I have to admit it is a load of fun riding on dirt in the forest, especially when it wasn’t too rough and I could build up a bit of speed. The landscape changes dramatically from one kilometer to the next. One moment I was riding through Beech forest, the next it would change to tall pine trees, barren and dry beneath. From time to time it would open out into rolling fields, with picturesque, traditional farm houses. The experience is very different to riding on the road. On the road tours it had been much more a pain-reward experience, first climbing 700 odd meters then gliding back down. Here I was going constantly up and down. Pain and reward sort of merge into a more intense expereince, in particular because the roughness of the trail means you are always concentrating on where to ride next, when to change gears, when to slow your pace.

You can gain more speed on the gravel paths

You can gain more speed on the gravel paths

At this point I should mention that navigating in the forest can be a little tricky. I am a very visually oriented person, so I tend to orient myself with a map, using the angles that roads meet to determine where I am. This approach doesn’t work for the trails I was on, since the crossroads don’t always show the correct angle and there are often umarked trails meeting at intersections that may also be unmarked. After a while it became clear that a “point to point” approach is better. With typical German efficiency, most points are clearly marked with signs indicating the distance and direction to various next points. The downside is that you have absolutely no guarantees as to the condition of the trail that leads there. It might be a nice gravelled road or it might be a thouroughly rough and stupidly steep dribble of a path. You pays your money, you takes your chances.

Follow the signs and take your chances

Follow the signs and take your chances

Another thing to say about this mountain bike is that it is not at all happy about being made to ride along asphalt roads. The tyres were expensive track specialists with a wide heavy profile. When I reached Hönhäuser I therefore needed another trail to follow. I set my sights on the next destination – an observation tower that had been built in the middle of the forest with 360 degree panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. From this tower at Hünersedel, 750 meters above sea level, you can see all the way to the Vogses Mountains in France.

View from the Tower

View from the Tower

This was a nice spot to take a break and so I consumed the last of the provisions I had brought along. This was to be the beginning of the end. I needed more water and after nearly four hours on the trail my blood sugar was beginning to drop dangerously low. My plan was to cycle directly downhill to a place called Schweighausen and try and get something to eat there. It turned out to be too small, so instead I climbed back up via the main road and followed a few trails along the ridges back home. No point in over doing it – in total I had been pushing things for around five hours. Quite enough for a first time out on a Mountain Bike.

So what do I think? Well, it is definitely a load of fun. I need to improve my condition, learn to ride the damn thing properly and I need to prepare for the trip a little more responsibly. I still like my road bike for the sheer thrill of the downhill storm after climbing at a crawl up the mountain.

written by OzJeff \\ tags: ,


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