Distance: 211.3 kilometres / 131.3 miles
Elevation: 3,281 metres / 10,764.4
What a week! Riding through the Black Forest in Germany has been incredible. It's easy to see how it inspired Grimms' fairytales, every turn offered up spectacular views – hauntingly dark woods, steep mountain passes, picturesque towns and fantastic castles. There were some challenges – and ticks – but overall, it's been one of the best bits of the trip so far.
After meeting Dan's brother, Jacob, at a campsite on the edge of the Black Forest we were off… to a slow start. Jacob managed to leave a pannier clip at home, meaning he had no way of attaching one of his bags to his bike. Bungee cords were his saving grace from the airport, then we stopped by a bike shop to get him some more pannier clips. Thankfully Ortlieb panniers are German, so spare we easy to find. I'm not sure we'd have the same luck at home.
This later than usual 12pm start set precedent for the week’s rides. Even when we wild camped and had to be up and packed by the sunrise, we didn’t actually start cycling until after 9am. It was a very relaxing week, but meant we gradually fell behind our Stuttgart end target.
Day one saw us climb 1,258m up Feldberg Mountain, the highest peak in Germany outside the Alps (walking summit 1,493m). On route, we met a local who told us about ‘hüttes’. He said they’re basic, wooden shelters, which hikers and bikers can stay in for free – we imagined like a Scottish bothy. They sounded perfect, as there was no way we were going to reach the planned campsite before the end of the day and there was a hütte at the top of climb.
As it turned out, however, this hütte was in fact basic ski accommodation and was closed. Cold and wet from the heavy rain we climbed the mountain in, we decided to check into the youth hostel at the summit for an eye-watering €98. Ouch. If that wasn't bad enough, there must have been 10,000 school kids there, too.
In comparison to the first day, the second was a doddle. We only had 37km to go to reach Freiburg, where we planned to have a couple of days off. Oh, and it was all downhill. I'm not sure you could even call it a ride, as we barely peddled. We flew down the hill, although speed did not stop us getting drenched in the thunder storm.
The tent stayed packed in Freiburg, as we treated ourselves to a caravan (flashpackers) and spent a couple of days wandering around the town. Dan and Jacob’s parents recommended a bar called Hausbrauerei Feierling, which brews its own beer right in the venue. Naturally we tested a few pints, just to make sure their recommendation was sound. It definitely was.
Rested and dried out, we pushed on through the Black Forest, taking a route directly through the middle. This involved some tough climbs, wild camps, and an unexpected bank holiday. I swear Europe have so many more national holidays than we do in the UK – and everything closes.
We carried what we calculated as three days' worth of food for the bank holiday. Our maths can’t be that great, as we pretty much ran out. This wasn't helped by the fact that we also ran out of gas, which meant the food we did have left we couldn’t even cook. And as we were in the thick of the forest, there was no where we could buy any more – not that it's been easy to find around Europe anyway! I don’t think Jacob wants to see another cheese sandwich again after this trip...
And then there were ticks. We didn’t think we’d be battling these little bugs until Scandinavia and Russia, but we picked seven off Dan and one off me. How did we get them? Dan. He crept out of the tent in the dead of night wearing only shorts and peed in the long grass. The ticks saw their opportunity and came back to bed with him. It was not pleasant.
The Black Forest is the perfect place to wild camp. Views on it are similar to those in the UK, in that it’s not technically legal, but if you’re discreet and respectful, you won’t get into trouble. We ended up camping at an abandoned mountain restaurant in overgrown grass (before the tick attack). By dawn, we had a list as long as our arm on what we would do with the place if we bought it. Then, would you believe, we ended the week wild camping outside another closed hütte. This one was a mountain lodge you had to pre-book for a hefty price. Again, not what the local guy had described to us, but never mind.
With a couple more days left in the Black Forest with Jacob, we'll try and reach our planned end town of Stuttgart... but we're hedging our bets on a plan B.