Sunday, August 10, 2014

Up and down the Swabian Jura

The Schwäbische Alp, in English known as the Swabian Jura, is a mountain range in the southwest of Germany, only a few kilometers from where my parents live. While the mountains are not particularly tall, they offer lots of punishing climbs, especially when leaving the paved roads and ride on the numerous gravel paths.

My original plan had been to ride to Heubach, traversing a steep incline I found on the German quaeldich pass database, and then figuring out the return route as I went. On the way to the incline I took a familiar way to the Rems valley and then started a gentle climb up on a rail trail. The little connecting path from rail trail to a lower road offered a rare 30% incline warning sign. However, I'm fairly sure that that was greatly exaggerated.

The way towards Bargau started climbing again and offered nice views of the mountains I would soon ascend.

The Himmelreich climb starts in Bargau, and with a length of 2.7km and 203m of elevation its quaeldich rating is at 3/5 toughness points. It certainly felt tough enough to me. My front derailer has some issues with getting onto the small ring, and at some point the was not low enough any more and I had to stop and manually shift onto the ring. Dripping with sweat I arrived at the intersection where I would have turned down towards Heubach. I saw, however, that I could also continue straight on a paved road with a grade no less relentless than the previous one. The pavement soon ended, and with the gravel came even steeper grades, maxing at somewhere between 25 and 30%!
The steepest part, requiring a photo break.
At the top I was greeted by a large crucifix, and even as an atheist I was tempted to pray: “Dear Lord, please have mercy and spare me any further climbs like this!”

The high plateau of the Alb, the Albhochfläche, provided much needed recovery. I had planned to take the main road back down to Heubach, but it was closed due to construction. I knew that there was an alternative route on forest trails but didn't quite know how to find it. In the little village of Bartholomä I found a hiking map and a sign-posted route in the right direction.

As this was supposed to be a hiking trail I was a little concerned if I would actually be able to ride it all.  In the end, though, it was mostly comfortable gravel trails through fields and forests with only a short section of grassy single trail—not a problem even for someone of my mediocre mountain biking skills.

In Heubach it was time for a longer stop, first at the Triumph factory outlet and then at a bakery. The two options I considered for the way back home were either to ride north and then take the new Leintal bike path to Welzheim or to climb the Alb again and continue towards Geislingen—the much longer option. Feeling adventurous, I opted for the latter. The first step was to climb back up the Rosenstein mountain.

Ruins of Rosenstein Castle
 In spite of the 13% warning sign, the climb wasn't particularly bad. A quick detour led me to castle ruins, providing stunning views.

Heubach from above

Bridge to the castle

Through the castle window
 From here on it was rolling hills and a final descent to Geislingen on either trails or quiet roads. In Geislingen I got a little lost but eventually found my destination, the WMF factory outlet cafeteria, where I refueled with Espresso from a futuristic machine, fries, and a Weizenbier.
Former granary, now housing a “treasure chest museum&rdqou;

WMF 8000 S—starting at 13 500EUR...

From Geislingen I followed the Fils valley downstream. The valley is densely populated and therefore the bike trail had lots of twists and turns. Fortunately, the signage was good, though, and I didn't get lost.

Bath and wash house of the 19th century worker housing project in Kuchen
 I wasn't quite sure how to best get from the Fils to the Rems valley and decided to just do it by sight-and-go: Aim at the Hohenstaufen mountain, located in between the two valleys, and try to get through somehow. This worked reasonably well but involved plenty more climbing, some of it in the 20+% range. In the village of Hohenstaufen I figured I might as well try to make it all the way up the summit but couldn't find a way that looked ridable. Oh well.

Tiger duck Club :-)

The elusive summit of the Hohenstaufen

View towards the Rems valley
 Through switchbacks I descended into the Rems valley, and after a final climb I was back in Welzheim. My legs and myself were pretty toast. Too bad we only had about an hour before riding another 15 kilometers to visit an old friend...

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Black Forest Passes

I'm currently spending some time with my parents in the southwest of Germany. Yesterday my mum had a doctor's appointment in Bad Krozingen, giving me a couple hours to go riding in the Black Forest. On a tourist website I had found a suggestion for a "Black Forest Pass Tour," crossing over three ridges. The route was rated as difficult and also was a bit too long for me to make it back in time. Fortunately there was a link that would allow to cut short the route and do only two of the three passes.

After some flat riding on the outer edges of the Rhine valley, the climbing began. I passed the former St. Ulrich's priory and made my way up the mountains on a road with good surface and surprisingly little traffic. Further up the hill I saw a sign that explained the latter fact: For motor vehicles this was a dead end; only local and non-motorized traffic was allowed to descent to Horben on the other side of the ridge.

Switchbacks and cows

It wasn't even that hot, but I was dripping with sweat

Looking back down at St. Ulrich
 Once I made it to the top, I was rewarded with a marvelous view in all directions, including a view of the Schauinsland mountain, my next destination. First, however, I got to reap the other reward for climbing: A fast descent on a narrow one-lane road.

No through traffic
 At the bottom of the descent was the base station of the aerial tram going up the Schauinsland. The sign on the road, announcing a 12% grade over 12 kilometers sounded a little scary, but it didn't feel nearly as steep. There were still signs and road stencils from the Schauinslandkönig, apparently Germany's largest mountain time trial, which had taken place just a day ago. The length of the climb—and the fact that I was wearing Birkenstocks with their flexible soles—made matters challenging.

 But the low gearing of the MTB got me all the way up, and once again I was rewarded with great views. I turned off the main road and rode a few hundred meters to the upper station of the tram, which also offered a restaurant with a terrace. Because we had had to be on the road so early in order to make it to Bad Krozingen in time, I hadn't had anything to eat yet, just a double espresso at the clinic. I also hadn't brought a water bottle, and so I was very happy to snarf down a shandy (which in Germany is known as Radler or cyclist) and a bottle of fizzy water.
Looking down towards Freiburg and the base station of the tram

You can't see it on the pick, but people were waving and cheering at me
 The temperatures up on the mountain were markedly cooler, and in my sweat-soaked state I didn't want to stay too long.
View towards the Münstertal
What followed now was a screaming descents into the Münster Valley. The road was narrow and full of sharp turns, and so I quickly got stuck behind a car. Awesomely, though, the driver soon pulled over and signaled me to pass. Thank you, unknown driver! Once in the valley, the rest of the ride was a gentle downhill all the way back to Bad Krozingen. What an awesome ride!