Deep in the woods of the Black Forest

The extended weekend due to Easter was the perfect opportunity to embark on a multi-day cycling adventure. Spring had just started, and the weather, still unpredictable but more encouraging than during the deep winter months, was good enough to spend back-to-back days out on the bike.

This time, we planned the bike adventure together with RPM Souplesse, a cycling collective based in Ghent. We share the same passion for adventure cycling and we all had to face the preceding rainy months in the same way, so there was a common need to go on a cycling trip.

As usual, there were alternative plans with some degree of attractiveness, making it difficult to decide how to make the most of the weekend. This year, the Tour of Flanders took place during the holiday period and, living in Belgium, the logical choice for us was to stay local and go watch the race. Nonetheless, our desire to disconnect from our weekly routine and put all our commitments on hold, led us to drive five hours south to the start location of our three-day bikepacking loop in the Black Forest, Germany.

Our first impression of Offenburg was, honestly, not good. We wanted to spend as much time as possible in nature, and not in the suburbs of a somewhat large city. It was however perfectly located as the front door to the mountainous region that awaited us, and we were not going to spend much time there. We arrived there on a Friday evening in order to get our setup ready and head into the mountains early in the morning.

Not much was discussed in advance about what to bring, as all of us had some sort of bikepacking experience. Once there, we could see the different approaches we took when it comes to gear and supplies. Javi went for a light setup and food for only a day, whereas the members of the RPM Souplesse collective were quite loaded. Cycling clothing for all weather conditions, big external batteries, lights in case we didn’t make it to the accommodation before sunset, and enough food to feed an entire pro team during a stage race.

Day 1 | 135 km +2.900 m

The first kilometers of our bike adventure were on an off-road bike path that brought us to the picturesque village of Gengenbach, with the characteristic building facades of the region. Once we left the urban world behind, the mist that initially had prevented us from contemplating the mountains in front of us, slowly disappeared.

If there is one thing that stood out when looking at the route profile of the first day was the climb that brought us from barely 200 m above sea level to almost the 1.000 m mark. We immediately realised who were the strongest among the five of us, and how tough it was to climb with all the weight we were carrying. The views at the top were worth it, though.

We spent many, many hours planning the routes of this trip. The amount of intersecting gravel paths, all in a good state by the looks of what we could see from our planning tool, meant that we could have simply chosen a start and end point, and the resulting route would already be nice. Nonetheless, we wanted to pass by the main highlights of the area so a curated selection of paths to follow was needed.

You may already know why this region is called Black Forest, and it was so obvious to us when we were there firsthand. The high pine trees filtered the sunrays and created a misty atmosphere that was only halted by some exposed sections. There was a lot of vegetation but the number of wild animals we encountered was low. We can only recall one shy deer crossing the path in front of us.

Time flew by while having fun, but the kilometers no so much. After linking gravel paths one after the other we descended back to civilization to fill our stomachs. No fancy restaurant where to try the local delicatessen, but rather a quick stop at Lidl. Were we entitled to eat what we ate given the kilometers we had covered until then? Probably not, but there is something about trying whatever is offered in the bakery section of a supermarket that we cannot resist to.

We had time to digest what we ate while we approached the second climb of the day.
The gravel we did over the weekend was mainly smooth, but in the last section of this particular climb we struggled to avoid putting a feet on the ground due to the combination of loose rocks and the steepness of the ramps. The forest opened up as we reached the summit and the first ones to arrive laid down on the grass while waiting for the remainder of the group. They say that you have to train every single aspect of what you will face on race day, so that day we practiced how to take a nap during a long ride. We are true ultradistance racers now.

Once everyone arrived at the top, we analysed the situation, taking into account how were the legs, the time until sunset, and the forecast of a storm approaching. Long story short; all of us made it to the accommodation in Titisee-Neustadt, in one way or another. And without a single raindrop!

Day 2 | 120 km +2.700 m

The route on day one paid a toll on our legs, and not everyone dared to face a similar challenge on day two. Luckily the accommodation we booked for that night was only 10 kilometers from where we started, as day two was mainly a circular loop that ended a bit beyond our starting point. Three brave soldiers would tackle the 120 km with +2.800 meters of elevation gain planned for the day, while Cole and Ward had the important task of finding a bar near where we would sleep that night.

A couple of minutes into the ride we were already facing gradients over 10%. It was all perfectly timed as the fog disappeared just in time to allow us to contemplate the magnificent views from the highest point of the first part of the route. From there we could also see the snow on top of Feldberg. The plan was to be up there later in the day, but at that moment it looked so distant.

For the next two hours, we always rode above 900 meters of elevation. No big climbs during that time, but we could feel that our bikepacking bags were extra heavy, as the previous evening we had to stock up given that we didn’t know if we were going to find anything open on Sunday or Monday.

Along the way, we bordered the Schluchsee, which is not only the largest lake in the Black Forest, but the highest reservoir in the entire country. That gravel path was super smooth and the number of hikers we came across with indicate that it is one of the most popular spots in the area. We also saw multiple mountain huts intended to shelter anyone crossing the Black Forest so, although we decided to spend each night in a warm accommodation, it is perfectly possible to tackle this itinerary in full bikepacking mode.

The next highlight of the route was our quick stop in Sankt Blasien to get a mandatory pretzel together with an average cappuccino. We started to get ready to tackle the big ascent coming up, as reminded by the climb profile shown on our GPS units.

Our way to the top of Feldberg featured unsuccessful attempts to find a smaller gear and screams of desperation but, in the end, we breathed a sigh of relief as we left the steepest slopes behind. Along the way, we had to ride over the last remaining patches of snow, which were melting so very slippery. While Obe did it with ease due to his skillset and his wider tires, Javi decided to literally taste the snow.

The highest part was more of a plateau than a single point marking the summit, so there we were, above 1.400 meters contemplating what was below and ahead of us. The views to the Alps were simple jaw dropping.

We spent a few more minutes at the top and once we started getting cold we went on the look for a place to eat. One can reach the Feldberg on a road bike because there is also a paved road on the other side of the mountain so, together with the many hikers making the most of their Easter Sunday, the area was quite congested with active people of all sorts.

The toughest part of the day was already behind us, which led us to think that the remainder of the route would be easy. That turned out to be incorrect. In between the multiple hills we were constantly checking the live coverage of the men’s Tour of Flanders, and we finished the route on time to watch the women’s race with a beer on hand.

There we were, the five members of this trip reunited in a rural house in the middle of nowhere after spending the day apart. We shared our experiences of the day while playing UNO, and it wasn’t long until it became a struggle to keep our eyes open.

Day 3 | 84 km + 400 m

When we woke up it was raining cats and dogs, and the weather forecast indicated that it would be wet the whole morning. The previous evening we already modified the original planned route to remove some unnecessary loops and try to reduce the amount of meters to climb, but that morning we applied some drastic measures. We would stick to paved roads as much as possible.

Our accommodation was at 1.000 meters of elevation and our van, parked in Offenburg, was located barely 100 meters above sea level so, as you can imagine, the route was mainly downhill. We couldn’t be completely mad with the weather gods, as luckily a tailwind would propel us on our way to the city.

The bike paths running parallel to the main road were in perfect condition. In no time we were already halfway there, and we started to think in the rewarding lunch after all these days living off bars, gels, and supermarket supplies.

We were more or less prepared so we got to our final destination without stopping, no matter the intensity of the rain. Nonetheless, as soon as we had the cars in sight, we immediately took shelter and changed clothes, so the portrait and bike setup photos that we had planned would have to wait for the next adventure.

It won’t be long until we embark on a similar bike trip, given the enjoyable and eye opening moments we shared. Add the Black Forest to your bucket list as, regardless of the time of the year, it has a lot of things to offer to adventure seekers like us.