|The peloton on a forest trail, photo by Achim Walther|
PrologueTransGermany is a newly developed mountain bike route across Germany that was tackled for the first time in its complete length July 2016. The route starts in the southwestern corner of Germany - or rather just across the border on the Swiss side in Basel - and runs for 1600km/1000 miles to the northeastern corner of Germany on Rügen island in the Baltic sea. Not an easy ride, but no particularly mean or difficult sections either, and almost completely away from roads with cars. The website is here: http://btg.voidpointer.de/en/index.html.
|My progress on trackleaders, it took me 10 days|
The route also worked very well on the first try. Most inaugural events have teething problems. I remember a poison oak swamp hike on the first Los Padres, a reservation Sheriff chasing cyclists away on the Stagecoach 400, people getting lost at the end of the TransNorth California. No similar difficulties here even though the route often got to spots where a trail was not initially visible (and without GPS would have impossible to find). But it required a lot of attention to the GPS track. On other routes, I keep my Garmin GPS typically at 1.2 or 2km scale, here I had to use a very fine resolution of 120 or 200m because of many unexpected turns.
|Another section that would have been hard to find without GPS. Picture taken by Achim.|
|I think another picture by Achim Walther. Achim brought a high quality camera and took 800 photos, so many of the pics in this blog (especially with other riders) are his rather than mine.|
Day 1, Sunday: Rhein Valley and Schwarzwald
On Saturday afternoon/evening, the day before the start, people trickled in and we met at a shelter hut outside the town and grilled sausages. The gear was identical to any tour in the US: Revelate dominates the saddle bag scene, and Salsa is the most popular bike brand. Just a higher rate of Rohloff hubs here than in the US.
Official start was at 8 am in Basel, a total of 14 or 15 starters (there was a French guy who showed up just before the start and then was never seen again, not in the picture), and we lined up for the group picture.
And off we went! Keith Beard, a friend from the Valley of the Moon fiddle camps, happened to be in Basel on business (working in the tall building in the background) and took this picture at the start.
|photo by Keith Beard, who I know from Scottish Fiddlers.|
The route started to surprise right from the beginning. I expected a paved bike trail at the beginning. That surely also exists, at least on the Germany side. But we almost immediately went on narrow single track along the river, with roots, overhanging tree branches, and multiple hike-a-bike sections (all very short, often to get around ruins from WWII military installations). At km 6, Thomas Borst was the first rider to take a fall and tumble down the steep slope into the river.
|Along the Rhein on the Swiss side|
Day 2 and 3: Schwäbische Alb
|Hohenzollern Burg and Hechingen in the distance, day 2.|
Lots of climbing on the program these 2 days. The route crosses the Schwäbische Alb and despite being a smallish mountain range that barely scratches 1000m, my legs were tired at the end of day 3 and I even had sore quads.
Although I found a very nice camping spot, I just couldn't get comfortable and was restless all night. So I started day 3 early, but not rested, which made for a hard morning or really most of the day.
|View from the top, but it'll be down and back up many more times|
|Hotel Kronprinz in Ellwangen, recovery evening|
Some bike repair (mainly coating all potential squeak sources with vaseline - held up fine for the rest of the ride), shower, nice dinner, comfortable night, and I was ready for fresh start the next day.
Day 4: Transition along the European DivideNot a recovery day, but relatively flat and definitely an easier day and I almost made 200km. For a few hours, we seem to track the trail along a divide where water on one side flows to the North Sea and on the other side to the Black Sea.
|More of the theme "Trust the GPS". But within minutes, there will be a more recognizable trail.|
|I didn't say the trail would become more rideable, just more recognizable as one. But such stretches were always very short.|
|Dinner at the Erlangen Biergarten|
Day 5: FichtelgebirgeGgrrh, another restless night. Perfectly nice soft camping spot, I had a shower, everything was clean (I hate being sticky at night), and yet couldn't get comfortable. Bad nights make for less enjoyable days and having a good night matters a lot for a good ride. I would have one more bad night (but that was self-inflicted due to a planning failure), but otherwise the nights were good. So it would be a shorter day, although that meant I still wouldn't get to the halfway point of the route today. Another literally sore point were my hands. The bike I had bought for the trip had grip shifters and I just didn't get comfortable with them. Otherwise I had set up the bike similar to what I usually ride, including the Jones bar that I brought with me, but those grip shifters almost ruined it.
I arrived in Bayreuth (best known for its Wagner festivals), the last bigger city for a while around lunch time and left my bike at a bike shop to get a new rear tire and new chain. In terms of mechanicals, no issues. Chain and tire were expected replacements, otherwise I only had annoying squeaks that could be stopped with vaseline. The bike ran fine till the end, then creaks reappeared and now the headset bearings need to be replaced.
The climbing started after Bayreuth, into the Fichtelgebirge. Easier than the Alb. Confusingly, there is also the town of Fichtelberg here, but the highest point of the route, the top of the mountain Fichtelberg, is not here, but in a different mountain range, the Erzgebirge. One unplanned detour due to tree cutting activities, but easy enough to reconnect.
|Trail closed to work, but with all the cut down trees wouldn't be fun to ride here anyway.|
Day 6: Erzgebirge
|The Fichtelberg, about km840, is the highest point of the ride and roughly the midway point|
My day started at about the corner that joins Bayern, Sachsen, and Czech Republic and crossed into the latter. There would be a few back and forth across the countries today.
The route follows the ridge of the Erzgebirge and there is a marked trail for it, the Kammweg. This was one of my favorite stretches of the route.
The route approaches the Fichtelberg from the Czech side, a fairly hard climb, and I had a recovery beer shortly before the top in Bozi Dar.
The Fichtelberg itself is a skiing area, so we descend on the ski run before continuing on trails. Then comes a bit of a road stretch through some sad towns on the German side. The former East Germany has lost a lot of its population and many towns feel like they are dying. I had dinner in Jöhstadt, a town with a large market place, big buildings and hotels, yet virtually empty. The big Rathaus hotel closed its kitchen at 7, earlier today because the owner said there were no customers. There was only one restaurant still open in town after 7pm and even there I was the only guest.
|Czech scenery of soccer field and hayballs|
|Crossing the border is very easy these days.|
Or lamb filets!
Day 8: Surprise, more climbingNow I thought we were heading into the flat part of Germany, but not quite. After the Elbe, one more set of mountains, quite low, but also quite steep, the Sächsische Schweiz. I walked my bike uphill here. So the better part of the day and although at that point I had it with climbing, this is a good part. Just needs the mental preparation for it. It isn't a full day either, the route went downhill for good in the afternoon.
Flat does not mean easy. Along the Polish border, I encountered the first stretch of sand that would make regular reappearances. This day had a lot going for it (not the sand, but the trails earlier in the day), but I messed it up at the end.
The first problem was that I only brought tinted glasses. Then the sun sets and the bugs come out! Sunglasses don't work well at night and no glasses wasn't working either this evening along the Neisse river. Had to stop countless times for bug extraction, but sunglasses were just too dark. It was late by the time I got to Forst, which otherwise might be a nice town for dinner or even staying for the night, but continued right into the second mistake of the day (or night by then).
The route had a number of checkpoints, by now we passed 3 of them, and they were all in very pretty settings with good options for the night. And checkpoint 4 was coming up, plus it even showed on the track a shelter at this checkpoint. Seemed like a perfect place. I had used a shelter before the night before, just put my sleeping bag on the table, no need to fiddle around with a tent.
On to Checkpoint 4, almost midnight, almost there. But got smelly, and then what are those noises? Oh, this checkpoint is an open brown coal pit mining operation!
So on I went for a while, lost my way, but at least deadended in deep sand, which made for a comfortable sleeping place (nice weather, didn't set up the tent, just the sleeping bag in the sand). Near mining drain pipes, which sometimes sounded like a creek, but also had flushing toilet and space alien sounds in their repertoire.
|late night confusion documented on track leaders. My break was so short, it didn't even register as camping|
Made for a short and not very good night, but now I was 200km ahead of the peloton.
The last days: Lakes, Sand, and Mosquitos
The day started a bit rough after a short night and sandy riding, but later in the afternoon was some of my favorite riding on the whole route, the 66-Seen-Wanderweg, small trails going around lake after lake (presumably 66 of those, but we only did a small fraction of those lakes). So progress was slow that day, but certainly enjoyable. I ended the day around km 1340.
More riding through forests and along lakes the next day. Varying surfaces, there always was some sand and now more often cobblestone. Cobblestone is certainly pretty, but at times it seems more tedious than sand. Surprisingly, even some forest paths between towns were cobblestone here, nothing similar further south.
|cobblestone is pretty, but hard riding|
|Sand is just tedious. But it isn't as bad as in the desert in California|
Stralsund is the last city (and one of the biggest one along the route) on the mainland, then comes the final 70km finish run on Rügen.
One last ferry ride to get to the top of the island and the last stretch on its northern coast. Actually one of the more disappointing parts, although it looks good on the map. But there is a huge camp ground, so the last hour seems like riding through a camp ground, plenty of car traffic on dirt roads, and the trails are very crowded. I'd skip that stretch.
And finished: Kap Arkona, 10 days and 10 1/2 hours after I started in Basel. Adalbert had arrived here the day before and Olaf the day before him. The peloton of the remaining 5 riders on the route were still together about 300 km behind me and would arrive here almost exactly 2 days later.
I rolled to one of the next towns and enjoyed a relaxing evening in the hotel.
Epilogue: Berlin detour
The next morning, I rode to Bergen, the closest town on Rügen with real train service. Turns out that it isn't easy to get on a long-distance train with a bike. Yes, there are fast trains going straight to Stuttgart, the next one was in only 1/2 hour and would get there in 8 hours or so. But, no, can't take a bike on it. And really not that many other trains accepted bikes either. The best option was a regional train to Berlin and continuing the next day on a slightly faster train. By 3 in the afternoon, I was in Berlin starting my sightseeing tour by bike.
Berlin works surprisingly well for cycling, even in the city center. Having been in Paris the month before, the difference was stark. Paris is congested, noisy, packed with cars; Berlin is more spacious, quieter, and not dominated by cars. I liked it much better.
I did more than 30km through Berlin on my self-guided tour through Mitte, Charlottenburg, Moabit, Tiergarten, Kreuzberg. As annoying as the train limits for bicycles are, this required layover was great.
Hard to imagine that as late as 1989 people were killed simply for trying to cross from East to West Germany.
|Checkpoint Charlie, the end of the American sector|
|The worst scratches are always on pavement! Berlin Alexanderplatz|
|Remains of the Wall|
|Time to leave|