Wherein my plan to cycle over the mountain pass causes a German man to walk off in astonishment - Find The River - CycleBlaze

July 25, 2018

Wherein my plan to cycle over the mountain pass causes a German man to walk off in astonishment

Day 4: Altkirch (FR) - Oberried (DE). Rivers followed: Rhine

Day 4 started so unassumingly. I rather liked Altkirch, and it had treated me well. My only aim today was to get over the Rhine and into Germany. Little did I know that this would be, by far, the biggest day of the tour. By the end of the day any questions I had about my fitness were very much put to bed.

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Now thoroughly appreciating the need to avoid the hottest part of the day, I was up good and early again, and rolled - slightly groggily - out of the campsite at 7.30am. My plan for the morning was to bypass Mulhouse completely, and so instead of following the canal I would strike off across the rolling country side, directly East and towards the Rhine and frontier.  Between the river and Mulhouse lay the huge Foret de la Harth.

There is no convenient crossing of the Rhine South of Mulhouse (until you get to Basel) - the river is so wide at this point that crossings are few and far-between. My limited research suggested that I could cross on a bike-friendly route - I didn't particularly want to have to wheel alongside a highway bridge - on the Ilse-de-la-Rhine, at the power station south of the forest but still North of Basel. I knew this was parkland and easily crossed by bike, but it was now considerably out of my way. To the north, there was a similar place where the islands split the river, and indeed another power station at Fessenheim, where the map indicated a crossing. I decided to take a chance on getting across there - I would head North through the forest, and bypass Mulhouse. If I couldn't cross for some reason I could always keep going North.

This plan in mind my first task was to get out of Altkirch and cut across country. This turned out to be a bit more of a challenge than suspected: Altkirch forms a fairly major junction between Mulhouse and Basel, and at 7am the roads were full of commuters heading to the city. For the first time on the ride I had to jive with heavy traffic. I briefly stopped to put a little more air into the front tyre - it was a bit spongey - but pushed on. While clearly in a hurry, the traffic was courteous - even the large trucks that got stuck behind me - and I made it to Wittersdorf without mishap. With some relief I turned onto the unclassified roads that would take me away from the traffic.

I was dramatically surprised by how much I enjoyed the next 15km of rolling, fast, open road, after the sweltering linear relentless push the previous day had become. On paper it should have been much more effort: I had significant rolling hills for the first time, there was much more traffic and I was a touch hung-over from my relaxation the night before. But I seemed to actually go faster - even compared to starting fresh the previous day. My old friend the headwind was still there, but seemed greatly reduced - and at least the topology and changes in direction kept it from being too relentless.

In this way I rose and fell over Maize fields, and through a series of little villages. The German influence was now very strong: these had names like Obermorshcwiller, Steinbrunn and Lander, and had many wooden-framed old houses that I think of as the Black Forest style.

The cross-country route cuts across rolling, open Maize fields. I was quite glad to get away from the canal and its headwinds, even with the extra traffic
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Black Forest-style wooden houses, and indeed fire house
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There was one very steep hill climbing out of Landser, and then a long descent into the Rhine valley, flying over the main highway going South into Switzerland from Mulhouse. I was again slightly uncertain of the route here, but immediately signs indicated I was entering the Forest. Remarkably quickly any sound of the highway was lost, and I had the familiar sense that I was being far too over-cautious in selecting places to wild camp: the forest is huge, dense, and away from the main cycle routes very quiet.

It still would have been a lot of extra effort to put in the day before: at least another 20km, and I would have needed to find somewhere to get water before. I did stop now though for more of a proper breakfast, at a bench near to a proper cycle-route cycle I picked up. The day was heating up again, but the forest canopy was keeping everything cool, for now.

Crossing over the main Mulhouse-Basel route, busy with morning traffic
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Entering the Foret de la Harth
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It wasn't long before I picked up the North-South cycleway that cuts through the forest, and heads towards Mulhouse
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I rejoined this well-worn route, and pedaled North towards Mulhouse. My intention was to avoid the town entirely, and stay in the broad corridor of forest that ran alongside the Rhine, until I could cut across to the crossing point at Fessenheim well North of the city. The going was very straightforward, until I passed under a large road junction and came to what could only have been the stretch of the Rhine-Rhone canal passing out of the town.

I continued to follow this what I thought was North. After 4-5km of vigourous and flat cycling, and manifestly heading West, I started to get suspicious. The only way I could be following the canal North is if I had drifted all the way to the East side of the Forest and then bending round to the West. I popped out onto a plainly suburban street, fringed with bungalows boasting plaster pillars and giant metal gates, in poor taste even to my untrained eye. I was evidently in Mulhouse. It was early in the day and hardly a disaster, but it disturbed my otherwise smooth running: by the time I returned to the road junction, I'd added nearly 10km onto the route. 

I took a shortcut across the smooth, grassy verge - surprisingly bumpy- and as I approached in the other direction, a sign to Munchhouse became clear. This lead up to the junction, and it transpired that to continue North I had to cross the canal on the unappetisingly fast road bridge that led to a giant Peugeot factory. On the other side, the way was clearly marked again and dove back into the forest.

Howitzer and war memorial near the bridge
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Crossing the dead-straight Rhone-Rhine canal. I mistakenly cycled to the end of there, and back again, to pay an unintional visit to Mulhouse.
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The going became easy again, and I was well shielded from the sun by the dense forest. At time the surface became rougher, but it wasn't anything that my comparatively wide tyres couldn't handle with ease. The benefit of being sheltered from the sun, and freed from the persistent wind of the last few days, was enormous - it was an almost effortless journey to the Northern edge of the forest.

Near Munchhouse the road emerged from the woods, passing a number of enormous stables in pleasant forest setting. I pushed on into the open country, and soon joined a much faster road cutting across the valley towards the string of villages - Rumersheim, Blodelsheim, Fessenheim - on the banks on the Rhine. A somewhat fast-paced cycle, with courteous traffic as ever, and I rolled into Blodelsheim.

It was nearing midday now, and I compelled myself to break my good progress to buy some supplies so I could break for a decent lunch in the middle of the day. I hoped to find somewhere amenable while crossing the Rhine, but I'd quite exhausted my supplies. Thus followed a display of both my incredible ineptitude in French, and the dreadful confusion caused by frankly overcomplicating what should have been very straightforward transactions.

First I stopped outside a newagent to get some general supplies. The sun was beating down with its old intensity now, so I thought I'd have an ice-cream as well. When going to pay, I did my usual jolly patter, and was met with a stream of French. As I cast around for any acceptable response that would allow me to pay: "d'accord ... bien ... merci...", the shopkeeper girl looked mystified, and just sort of froze. After some moments of confusion, it transpired that she just wanted to know if ... I wanted anything else. Again, I was the victim of my tiny knowledge of French giving a false impression of competence, and a somewhat illogical way of dealing with someone who doesn't understand. If someone is struggling with the language and the context is clear, surely it's not best to ask them a bunch of peripheral questions and then grind to a halt when they get confused.

Next I went into a lovely bakery, where they had some great baguettes and confections. Determined to be confident and forthright this time, I launched into a booming Bonjour, Madame! only to be met by a look of panic, and she was on the phone. Fairly embarrassed now - the boreish Englishman again - I apologised profusely. Equilibrium restored, I made to leave the village.

Huge stables near Munchhouse
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Hurrah! Entering Rumersheim, home of awkward transactions
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A Fete worse than death
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I did enjoy the presence of the mobile charcuterie, though
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Rather than head to the village of Fessenheim, I planned to cut down to the minor road heading up the banks of the Rhine, all the better to find the putative crossing. There were some closed roads, but I wiggled through the back streets of the Blodelsheim, and soon emerged on what turned out to be quite a major a fast route.

I could see the steep bank of what must be the Canal d'Alsace on the far side of the road, and a gravel track leading to the top. Figuring it might have a tow-path that would be preferable to the road, I headed to the top. 

I was partially successful. The canal was huge, and had a sort of gravel-bedded path along its top side. The going was not necessarily easy, but it was deserted, and I could grind along at a reasonable pace. I kept a slightly nervous eye on the road below, which soon peeled off and was separated from me by several fields - I wanted to make sure I could get back to the route communicating with the Rhine crossing. I couldn't see the Rhine, but I could see in the distance the bulk of huge buildings, which could only be the power station specially indicated on my map.

After 20 minutes of quite tiring gravel grinding, with some dismay I saw that a fairly epic barbed-wire fence blocked any further progress North along the canal. This was the perimeter of the - nuclear - power station, and was well secured. I was slightly concerned that I had wondered somewhere off-limits, but fortunately there seemed to be a public track heading around the perimeter, back towards the road. It was a hard scramble and a 20m drop down the very steep gravel banks, but I made it down without mishap. If they were watching me from the power stations CCTV I must have looked very strange.

The track indeed took my back to the main road, which I rejoined, passing the enormous entrance to the power station and the huge carpark accommodating the workers' cars. The industrial infrastructure went on and on, the nuclear station grading into an equally huge hydroelectric station that seemed to predate it. After negotiating and passing a confusing series of turn-offs, and hoping that my map was accurate in depicting a crossing of the Rhine here, I eventually saw a clear sign for "pont sur le Rhin". Next stop, Germany.

The sort-of towpath atop the embankment of the canal d'Alsace. Hard going, but somewhat better than the road (on the left). You can see the nuclear power station rising up in the distance. Sadly there were lots of "no photography" signs, so I have no closer photos of it.
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Rheinbrucke! Pont sur le Rhin! Germany here we come...
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The turn lead to a winding, narrow road devoid of traffic, and I knew I'd found a good place to cross the Rhine. I passed some curious power plant-related paraphernalia, including a giant turbine (presumably from the hydro plant) and the Fessenheim nuclear station visitors centre. Finally, the road led around the enormous front of the hydro plant, decorated with a gigantic, art-deco frieze depicting a Nepture-like figure holding back the waters and shooting bolts of electricity from his fingers. It's very cool and amusingly over-literal at the same time.

The power plants are not actually at the side of the Rhine, but are on a cut-off called (according to my map) the "Grand Canal". A further tiny island splits the great river in two, so you actually have to cross three expanses of water to get to the other side. Each was impressive, the Rhine looking blue in the summery conditions, and the banks densely wooded. 

Gigantic and wonderfully literal freize on the front of the hydroelectric plant
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Turbine from the dam
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Crossing the "Grand Canal" and the intake of the hydro plant
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Looking North up the canalized Rhine
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Dedicated bike lane crossing the last bridge. Welcome to Germany!
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The last branch of the Rhine, flowing around the little island on the right
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As I crossed the last bridge between the attractive island and the German side, I noticed a picnic table on the island side. Unfortunately it was occupied by some other cyclists, but it seemed like a fine idea and location for a spot of lunch: I was well supplied, and the sun was at its hottest. On the German bank, then, I pulled off the road and found a promising looking dirt track that lead down to the water. It lead under the the bridge I had just crossed, and had a little stony beach.

Unfortunately I wasn't alone down there, and had what was frankly the oddest lunch of the trip. There were four sunbathers (it being Germany, half naked of course) - with two dogs. These knock-off Rhine maidens proceeded to completely lose control of their dogs, so though I was sitting a hundred metres away, they continually ran over to me and tried to steal my lunch. When they weren't doing that, they (i) managed to catch a mouse, leading to a tug of war and shouting/barking match with one of the sunbathers and (ii) attacked each other and pooed everywhere. It was somewhat funny, but also fairly annoying, and after giving the owners a few glares and gesturing for them to keep the dogs away from me, I ended up shouting at them (the dogs, but either way) to keep away in fairly forthright English.

It was a shame, because otherwise it was a beautiful place: quiet and sheltered from the sun, and the river was so teaming with tiny fish at first I thought they were just pebbles on the bottom. The fish would regularly leap out of the surface, flashing in the sun. I ate my baguette quickly though, and left as a band of amiable-looking swimmers arrived, to be themselves disconcerted by the dogs.

My weird lunching spot, and the ludicrous sunbathers who couldn't control their own dogs
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I was covering distance faster than I expected, and had got ahead of myself as to my final destination. I could head North and aim for Freiburg, where I could be sure of finding a campsite; or I could strike to the East and begin the crossing of the Black Forest. Optimistically I might get to the lake of Titisee, which looked to be something of a resort and had two campsites marked on my map.

Either way, the natural next stop was the first town of Bad Krozingen, some 15km of so to the East. I resolved to head there, replenish my water (as the day had truly heated up again) and make firm plans from there. The quality German cycle infrastructure immediately made itself apparent, with clear signs to Bad K appearing just after I rejoined the road, leading to a dedicated cycleway alongside the main road to Bremgarten.

I crossed over the A5 autobahn, running from Freiburg down to the nexus of Basel,  and soon peeled off through the village of Bremgarten. The cycleway then took me over the fields, a pleasant route, if now slightly exposed to the wind which had risen again from the East. I could clearly see the mountains rising in that direction as well - black and hazy for now, which made their distance from me difficult to judge. For some reason I convinced myself that those were far distant, and I wouldn't be climbing them if I wanted to get to the East and Titisee. I think I was in a state of some wishful thinking, to be honest.

Dedicated cycleway coming into the village of Bremgarten - the German cycle infrastructure really is excellent. In the distance the black mountains of the Black Forest glower - I was studiously ignoring them for the moment.
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Now here's an intersection of enthusiasms you don't often see
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I was still feeling strong, and it wasn't long before I arrived in Bad K. The cycle route entered around the back of the town, along quiet side roads which lead past and enormous hospital. It quickly became apparent that Bad Krozingen is a major spar town and favourite for convalescing Germans - as I rolled through the complex on the West side of town, it was sometimes difficult to tell the hospitals apart from the spa hotels.

I had real difficulty finding the centre of town: there seemed to be many parks through which it wasn't clear I could cycle, and the road simply seemed to loop around the hospitals. In the end I found an unambiguous cycle sign indicating the station leading across a park - but them felt somewhat bad that a whole troupe of elderly Germans, walking in the park with Alpenstocks (!), got out the way to let me pass. I thanked them profusely, and they didn't seem too put-out.

This got me to the railway, and the main road that ran along it, but I couldn't figure out how to cross the rails and get to the town proper, other than wheeling through the station (which as it involved steps I wasn't keen to do). After some riding up and down the main road, I eventually discovered that the only way to get to the town was to peel away from the rails, descend a slope, and then loop back to cross underneath. None of this was signed (and indeed was blocked to car traffic) - they really don't want cars driving through their town!

After this confusion, I fancied getting a cold drink and ice-cream, and so hunted around for a shop. A place by the station sold me a coke for 2euro! It was cold though, and I appreciated it.

As I drank my coke and cooled in the shade, I considered my dilemma. It was still only 2pm, the day wasn't too hot, and I had lots of energy. Frankly, going through the city seemed a bit dull: it seemed the time to make some progress into the Black Forest. I wasn't sure I could make Titisee - but I could see that if I headed East towards Münstertal, I could stick to relatively minor roads and there were a series of camp sites I could fall back to if I got too exhausted. Beyond there, if I made it over the peaks - which I could see plainly marked on my map as 1200-1300m but had developed a sort of selective blindness for - then I could strike out East for Titisee, or else head for a campsite makred at Oberried.

Personalised parking spaces in Bad Krozingen. At least, I assume it's the resident's name (and they're not just a fan of the roaring twenties)
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I had a bit of trouble finding the right road out of Bad K, but eventually picked up sings to Staufen, which was the next town along the road to Münstertal. Initially I cycled along the road, which was fast and quite narrow. The traffic was courteous as always, but I felt a bit exposed. The landscape was really rolling now, and I could see very green, forested foothills rising up in front of me. I think at this point the reality of the mountains in front really hit home, but I felt ok - I had plenty of opportunities to bail if things became too much.

Before Staufen I spotted a signed off-road bike route, and gladly took it to escape from the road. Staufen was an unremarkable place I passed through quickly, sometimes losing the bike route and returning to the road, and then picking it up again. I passed one huge and very busy campsite, was deposited back on the road, and pressed on towards the hills. There I passed the second site, and found the route again. This ran parallel to the road, around the back of tiny railway and series of stations that were improbably strung up the valley.

The gradient smoothly increased and I started to climb. It amazed me how easy-going it was: the cycleway was so well-graded that it was easy to keep a constant, steady speed. The weather had clouded in, and the air was heavy with cool humidity and promise of a thunderstorm. After my days of slaving against the headwind and the heat, to climb in such conditions was positively enjoyable. As the first cooling raindrops fell, I felt both adventurous - heading up into the mountains as a storm gathered- and secure: I could always turn around and roll downhill back to camp.

Open road heading towards Staufen. The weather is changing, and the round green foothills of the Black Forest are rising up to the East, the way I'm going.
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Heading up the cycleway towards Münstertal, alongside the little valley railway. The gradient is steady, and clouds shade me from the sun while rays of sun illuminate the hills.
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The climb continued, as the bands of rain passed by. I didn't feel thirsty and felt like I could keep climbing up the 3% gradient almost indefinitely. I really was feeling my fitness now, after several days of being punished by the headwind and feeling like I was dragging myself along. It was less than half and hour to reach the village of Münstertal, which was where the narrow railway ended. I looked around for a promising graveyard from which to refill my water, but in the end just used the ("Kein Trinkwasser") fountain in front of the town hall.

Impressive town hall in Münstertal
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Nice spiky horse!
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Looking at the map, the B road continued for what looked like a very short distance - only as far from Staufen to Münstertal - and then almost doubled back in a hairpin. At the tip of this hairpin I wanted to branch off on a tiny road that would take me over a mountain pass. As I continued up the cycleway, I say signs for Schauinsland - a bit of searching of the map and I eventually found this wasn't a village, but an upland region on the other side of the pass. It was only 20km away, and looked to be my destination. Again, I wasn't registering what was plainly written on the sign: gradient of 18%.

I continued my climb on the good cycleway, and the route began to get steeper and steeper. I dropped down into my small chainwheel, but was still happy using the third sprocket. On the shift I have a megarange casette, so the 34-tooth granny is really low, and I only need it when things get really serious. My speed fell to 10-12kph, but I was still happily and sustainably spinning away.

The weather was properly clouded in now, and I was thankful for the cool and simultaneous lack of rain. I passed many hotels and guesthouses by the road, and outside a large one there was a tour bus, and a older chap dressed (for some reason) in Bavarian costume. He approached me with a grin as I passed slowly by, and asked me in effect where I was going (though I didn't get the exact German). "Um ... Schauinsland" I mumbled unassumingly - and he immediately turned away and walked off in astonishment, making a splashing gesture and without saying another word. Maybe I should have taken the hint at that point.

"Secure energy, for our children - yes to wind"
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Up and up, steeper and stepper the route became. I passed few cyclists or pedestrians now, just one old chap who was climbing the hill at a glacial pace, but to his credit didn't get off to push. I was solidly in my second-to-lower gear now, grinding away at 8kph, but it still felt sustainable.

My next landmark was Obermünstertal, which was only 5km away, but the climb seemed to go on forever. It was at this point that I realised my appreciation of the mountain had been skewed. I was used to rolling hills, where the steepest gradient is at the bottom and the going gets easier as you continue. But in this approach, as the highlands of the Black Forest sweep up from the valley of the Rhine, the first part of the climb was up the valley and a carefully graded route, and it was only as I climbed and pulled out of the valley that the real gradient kicked in. The slope was now more like 5%, and I was beginning to feel the weight of the pannier pulling me back. For the moment I was still feeling strong, though, and had no desire to get off and push.

The spire of St Trudpert above Münstertal. On the left is the Gasthöf in the carpark of which I had my disconcerting converstation with a guy in traditional costume
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Little wooden cabin ... on wheels!
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After what seemed like an eternity of pushing, the road began to twist and hairpin. I was on the road itself now, the cycleway having petered out some time ago, but there was barely any traffic, and I was left to puff along slowly undisturbed. At a 180 degree bend of particular steepness, I saw the tell-tale yellow sign ahead and knew this must be the turn up through the pass towards Schauinsland. I propped my bike up (with some difficulty, as the gradient was steep), caught my breath, and took stock.

I was surviving the climb pretty well, but was beginning to gain some appreciation and respect for the mountainous terrain. What I had come up I could now see on the map was marked with a couple of single chevron (5% grade); the pass ahead had three double chevrons, indicating >10% and climbing to a high point of near 1200m. The signs I'd seen before indicated a max grade of 18%, which should have been a triple chevron, but I had my doubts as to how precise my (motoring) map would be on that point. The alternative was to continue along the B road, but while less steep, it was still a climb to over a thousand metres, and most importantly led only to the major route 317, the cycleablity of which I had serious doubts. It was now early afternoon, and I figured I should press on up the pass.

The road peeling off towards the pass above Obermünstal. You can see the hairpin, with a grade of roughly 6%, looking pretty hairy
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Almost immediately the gradient went to another level, and I went straight into the granny gear. I actually had no choice - it wasn't feasible to push hard enough to drive it up in any other gear. This was an 8-10% gradient, and my speed fell to about 5kph. The sign indicated it was only 4km to the village of Stohren, near the top - but could I make it over this grade?

Though the going was very tough, I established a rhythm that felt, if not sustainable, then at least tolerable. I forced myself to go as slowly as possible, trying to keep the speed down below 5kph and my breathing regular. There's always a tendency on these climbs to try to take them faster, to get them over with - but I knew that any attempt to go faster would exhaust me, and force me to stop. Actually, that was the main thing keeping me going: I knew I'd have a devil of a job getting the bike going again from a standstill. 

The road was narrow and went through hairpin after hairpin. Fortunately there wasn't much traffic, but when there was, cars often had trouble squeezing past each other on the bends. The hairpins were where the gradient became worst: some of them were so steep on the inside of the bend I had to zig-zag my way up them to reduce the effective gradient. I would round the next bend hoping to see some relent in the slope, but each new straight was steeper than the last.

The average grade was now over 10%, and the according to the elevation track there are significant patches of 14-16% slope. On the very steep sections, I started to despair, but it was somehow harder to stop. I started using tactics like favouring one leg to give the other a rest and reduce my speed even more. In this lopsided way I was going sometimes less than 4kph, wobbling and close to stalling the bike. The front wheel never lifted off the ground, as I had experienced on some very steep (but brief) climbs in Wales - but that was probably more to do with my even pannier distribution and very low speed. I knew that if I stopped, it would be almost impossible to push the loaded bike up the slope, and the only way I'd be able to get back into the saddle would be to pick up speed downhill, then somehow turn around.

Every hundred metres felt like a new trial - I would count them off, promising a reward like a drink of water for getting through the next hundred. In practice I was so wobbly that I could rarely even do that. At least the road was tree-lined and cool.

After 2km of this torment, I was almost done. I passed a turn to my right that wasn't marked on my map, and then a layby on the left. I veered rather wildly into it, and saw it led to the side of a stream a picnic table. I shakily dismounted, and found that walking slowly back-and-forth was better than sitting down. I then devoured a whole maltloaf  and an apple and downed almost a litre of water, not really thinking of what to do next.

There wasn't really anything else left to do: I had to keep going up. On the relative flat of the layby it wasn't too hard to get going, but my legs felt it again as I got back onto the road. I knew I was over half way, to the village at least - somehow I knew it was physically possible, so it was all about psychological milestones now. 

The slope did not relent: the elevation track indicates that it proceeded from here at 14%, with peaks of 15%. Not thinking at all now, my only aim was to stay on the bike. Never mind kilometres: the metres crept by now, and I began to take a perverse pleasure in covering the distance as slowly as I could. You would by slow walking up that slope unladen, but I doubt you could walk much more slowly than I was going. Me, my tent, sleeping bag, water, food and repair kit, not to mention that heavy steel bike, were being dragged up the hill bit by bit.

The hairpins became more pronounced, and I welcomed them breaking the route into short, self-contained sections - while dreading the sometimes wall-like gradients on the inside of their bends.

I spent over an hour climbing this hill - really, it was a matter of endurance. After one of the tightest hairpins, I saw a lolly-pop speed sign in the distance - and knew it must be the beginning of the village. Very, very slowly I approached a wooden farm sign - and gave a muted cheer when the address Stohren became clear.

At this point, I thought I might not make it any further - so I took a photo to prove I'd got to the village of Stohren, at least. That speed sign is a particular mockery: 70kph is about 18x faster than I was going
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My troubles were far from over, though. Stohren wasn't the top, and was a long, alpine village strung up the valley of the small stream. But the gradient was becoming sane, and dropping below 10% for the first time since I'd left the main road. I had to pass up through the village, and reach a church and junction: then there was one final climb, with a single chevron, to get to the "viewpoint" that could only be the top. I didn't have the exact height on my map, but knew it to be close to 1,200m.

As the gradient reduced, and the valley opened up below me, my mind returned and I became conscious of the great beauty of the surroundings. The climb through the village was a pleasure in comparison.

Climbing up into the "village". The gradient is only about 10% here
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The road cuts in a tight series of switchbacks through the sparse village
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...affording some terrific views back down into the wooded and hazy valley from where we've came
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Tremendous alpine views: that's the road I'd come across
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Looking North and West, as the foothills march back into the valley of the Rhine
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Soon I was high above the village, which actually looks like a coherant settlement from above
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As I drew above the village, the gradient truly mellowed off, and fell below 5% for the first time. I could drop a gear, and felt much more relaxed. Out from the trees and the valley the sun was warm again, and I began to get hot. I passed a series of streams bubbling down from the hillside, and at one I stopped and thrust my whole head under it. The coolness as I continued on was wonderful.

Sooner than I thought, I saw the church spire up ahead on a wonderful promontory viewpoint. This was where the junction was, and - to my amazement - there was a gasthöf beer garden, with fantastic views out into the valley. Without thinking twice, I leant the bike up on the wall, and shakily found a seat. I looked a right state, obviously streaming from the climb, with soaked hair and what must have been a very harrowed look in my eyes. Bless them, they served my immediately with great German efficiency. I could also bask a little in the attention of the other guests - all families drinking beer together - when they asked me if I had really cycled all the way from the bottom. "Do you have an e-bike?" they asked: oh no, I said as casually as I could.

With the sudden hospitality and beer, I felt mind bogglingly good, just ecstatically high for about 5 minutes - and then really like I was going to faint for the next five. I drank up in about 10 minutes, worried that if I didn't get going again I wouldn't make it to the top.

Very wobbly now, I remounted, and took the right fork. The gradient was apparently back to 10% again now, but I took it in my stride, the anaesthetic properties of the beer certainly helping here. I had a kilometre and a half to go - and there was no way I was going to stop now. Slowly, slowly the gradient began to decrease; I went over false summit after false summit; but I could feel the top was close now. I increased speed, and started to switch out of snail hill climbing node; it was probably poor judgement from the beer, as I was getting really exhausted again. Finally, what seemed to be the real summit drew into view; I could see cars whizzing along what I knew to be the main road at the top; and I pushed and pushed, the gradient only 5% now, heedless of my tiredness.
As I breeched the top, I frankly - and I'm not particularly proud of this - went bananas, just shouting at the top of my lungs and waving my arms about. As my vision cleared, I realised that this wasn't as lonely a place as I thought - it is of course a great viewpoint, and a couple had just got out of their car a few hundred metres away. To his great credit, the guy pumped the air, and shouted "go on!" at me. Blushing now, I pulled out onto the main road, on the flat at last, my legs burning.

I of course had to stop almost immediately, not knowing which way to go, and with every direction being downhill I didn't want to accidentally descend the wrong way. I wobbled to a halt in the windswept carpark of the viewpoint.

Looking at the route now, I can put the climb in context. No doubt for serious climbers this would not be considered the monster I found it: but on the other hand, I was doing it on a fully loaded and heavy touring bike, at the end of a considerable distance. From the Rhine valley floor, near Bad Krozingen, I climbed 968m: to put that in (UK-centric) perspective that I completely lacked when picking the route, this is like cycling over the top of Snowdon. This was over 23 relentless kilometres: that this gives an average of 4.2% is interesting, and demonstrates how much of the climb was the initial, gentle stretch out of Munstertal. The elevation map pretty much backs up the gradients advertised on the signage I saw: the maximum there was 16%, so the 18% on the Schauinsland sign may well have been right. The climb took me over 3 hours, albeit with a break for a pint, so it wasn't like I was flying up it. An interesting fact is that this wouldn't be the largest climbing total even of this tour: I "only" climbed 1,348m over the whole day - but consolidated into one big climb, was by far the biggest physical challenge. Actually, I can say with some confidence that it was the hardest physical thing I've ever done!

At the time, I lacked this detailed information - my Michelin map didn't have contours on it! But I knew that I couldn't trifle with these sorts of climbs any further. I had made it to the top, but it was now 6pm, and I couldn't make myself do any more climbing. The map indicated that I was in the upland region of Schauinsland, and all the roads had chevrons on them - but facing the other way. It looked to be possible to descend through the village of Hofsgrund and down to the campsite near Oberried, all descending. Since I had 11km to go, had little energy, and despirately wanted to make sure the campsite was open, this was all to the good.

I deviated from my map, and instead of following the main road, went straight ahead on a signed road to Hofsgrund. I almost immediately began to descend, first slowly, and then with more and more hair-raising straights. The village was as tiny as Stohren, and apart from some puzzled looks as I flew through it on the loaded bike, was gone in a flash.

The road opened out and I started to get long, wide descents between each hairpin. Foolishly, I failed to record my max speed, but I think it was in the 60-70kph range. I was braking all the time, afraid to let the bike get too fast, especially with the huge inertia of the load. The Shift's disc brakes performed wonderfully: after they warmed up following the first couple of squeaky applications - I had hardly needed brakes since the Rhine - they make a satisfying, fluttering noise, and consistent smooth braking. I alternated front and back anyway, to give them a bit of a chance to cool down, but never got any brake fading.

Soon I joined a more major road running North down the valley towards Oberried. The straighter road allowed me to get safely to higher speeds - and, combined with the physical harrowing I had received on the way up, the adrenaline of the descent and the constant, blasting air in my face started to make me feel quite ecstatic and otherworldy. I was flying downhill, the hundreds of metres that had each been such a tormet coming up were now flying by in seconds, and I began to feel dangerously indestructible. Laughing wildly, I checked my descent - I really didn't want to fall off now and at these speeds, but did feel that I had entered some other element.

In less than half an hour I had covered the 11km to Oberried, and - mercifully -saw a sign on the main drag to a campsite. The site was a few hundred metres up a very steep little hill, and I almost buckled trying to push uphill again after my descent. The last hundred metres was agonising, and it was great relief that I saw the reception was open, and I leaned my bike against the wall. High as a kite, I was gabbling a bit and trying to speak German to the lady on reception - once reverting to English I made much more sense, and she seemed unnerved that I had come over Schauinsland.

The only photo I took on the descent - a sort of theme park
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Thank God, a campingplatz!
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I wheeled the Shift up the steep terraces that consituted the campsite, and found the tent area, which was pretty flat. I set up and showered as quickly as practical - which wasn't particularly fast - and then headed into the village. The sun was just setting, and after checking out the couple of restaurants which were open and doing a good trade, I picked one that did a Greek salad. Thinking it would be light, I ordered chips as well, but it turned out to be truly enormous. I ate this very contentedly in the falling light, rather drowsily studying the map: I knew I had a long way to cross the Black Forest, and couldn't take many more days like this one. As I watched, a bunch of mountain bikers came roaring down the hill as well, well lit up - must be exciting, if perilous in the dark. Adrenalin now completely exhausted, I staggered back to the tent and passed out.

The campsite. For some odd reason I decided to take a photo of this teepee, instead of my tent.
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Massive, solid church in Oberried, in the sunset light
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Today's ride: 118 km (73 miles)
Total: 428 km (266 miles)

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Mike AylingWell done cuz!

Mike
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2 years ago
Jon AylingTo Mike AylingThanks Mike!
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2 years ago