From Germany to France, The Black Forest and Route du Vin
So often when we ride, we are following a specific route. That route may take the form of a GPX file on our bike computer, a highlighted line on a map, or just a mental picture created from years of knowledge of an area. There is a lot to be said for using a route—it helps us avoid getting lost if nothing else—but sometimes it is worth following your nose.
Two friends, Erwin Sikkens and Bas Rotgans travelled to the south of their native Germany to spend 11 days exploring the Black Forest and surrounding area. Despite being relatively close to home, neither had thought to ride there before, always lured by adventures farther afield. It was time to fill the gap in their knowledge. The pair set off with a loose plan to head south to the banks of the Rhine and then make a decision on the best way to return. Riding under pine, oak, and elm trees, canopies of leaves provided shade from the midsummer sun and their pace was always relaxed. There was always time to sit in the shade of a tree for a while or simply to see what was around the corner before continuing on their way.
Each evening Sikkens and Rotgans would find a schutzhütten (mountain cabin) to rest in. These huts are free to use and open to the public, providing basic shelter from the elements. Most are simple wood constructions with an open side. They would sit, looking out into the dark forest, and listen to evening rain showers gently drum on the roof, the sound deadened against the thick timber.
The route climbs to the highest point of the Black Mountains. The Feldberg stands at around 1,500 meters (4,921 feet) high and gives long views out to the rolling hills below. Reaching the top late in the afternoon, the pair kept as much height as possible, traversing the mountain and finding another schutzhütten as the evening air began to chill and the light drained from the sky, but not before painting it with pastel oranges and pinks.
Upon reaching Switzerland and the Rhine, a decision needed to be made: ride back north through the Black Forest, take the easy road via the flat Rhine Valley, or cross over to France and return through the Vosges mountains. They chose the third option. No longer shaded by the forest, riding in the Vosges was hot work following white gravel roads through vineyards. In a beautiful mountain refuge, the pair bumped into a French group celebrating a 50th birthday. As is the French way, they shared their wine, food, and fire, and they all stayed up late into the evening sharing tales.
The next few days were spent on the Route du Vin—and it lived up to its name. The pair slept in vineyards, rode more gravel lined with grapevines, ripe for the picking, and sampled the local produce at the end of each day, their riding kit white with dust and dried sweat. Finally, as time ran out, the twosome dropped into the Rhine Valley, passing through Strasbourg and crossed the border back into Germany, completing their clockwise loop.
By simply following their noses, Sikkens and Rotgans discovered new landscapes without the pressure of a flashing line on a GPS device, or the counting down of a clock. Almost two weeks had passed. Some days the kilometre count barely ticked over into double figures, while on other days, they made large leaps along the trail, fitting the pace to their mood and energy. The result was a route that was worth repeating and a fuller sense of how their path fitted into the landscape that shaped their experience.
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