The Black Forest
Last winter I finally succumbed to my lustful infatuation with the Surly ECR. My obsession had reached breaking point. As my girlfriend slept beside me, completely unaware, I would deviantly browse the web on my phone. However, fantasising was no longer enough, I had to have one. Hence, last year my affair with chromoly steel was finally made public…my ECR had arrived…and I have never looked back!
Like all my purchases, the Surly ECR was not going to be a shiny toy I rode on a few dry days during the summer. Instead, this two wheeled monster would allow me to embark on the epic singletrack rides I’d been dreaming of. Consequently, it wasn’t long before I was planning my first Bikepacking tour, Germany's Black Forest.
This ancient woodland was a key protagonist in my History degree, but don’t worry I won't bore you with the specifics…AD 235 - 84…ahum…also known as the Third Century Crisis saw the Roman Empire almost self implode as a result of endless imperial depositions and more internal fragmentation than the Kardashians. The Black Forest had long been home to various Germanic tribes and it was during this period that the barbarians took full advantage of imperial dissension (…see the opening scene of Gladiator...historically inaccurate…but still great!). The Roman army was drastically overstretched and thus military force alone was not going to appease the Germanic tribes, but all was not lost! Play the music…not sure what…something cheesy from the 80’s and bring on the bureaucrats…and a highly fictionalised script that does nothing more than highlight my complete and utter lunacy.
Bureaucrat: “ Oh hey Mr Barbarian…what a fantastic beard you have there…truly a thing of beauty…oh and what a lovely wooden hut, it reminds me of the imperial palace…just don’t ask me how…ahum…so yeah me and the boys…the imperial senate…have been thinking. We could obliterate you and your possy with sheer military force…but we’re the Romans son…we hate fighting…our empire was built on love, flowers and star dust. Hence, we’ve come to offer you an alternative…did I say how much I love your beard…seriously great work! Anyways, as you know the Roman Empire is basically perfect. The cities are paved with gold, money grows on trees, all the women are well fit and dig the filthy sodden and unshaved look, every day is a debauched fairy tale…oh and when you join you get twelve months free Netflix or Spotify…now listen I know what you’re thinking, textbook sales jargon, but you’re wrong! After all, why would I lie, it’s not like I’ve come here today in total desperation because our military forces our completely exhausted and internal strife has led to widespread famine and civil unrest…no no no…my friend, last time I checked my fellow countrymen were naked…eating cheese…drinking wine and burning excess currency…”
Barbarian: “ grunt “
Honestly, my historical prowess puts the great works of Tacitus and Ammianus Marcellinus to shame and best of all I bare this immense talent with a truly inspirational humility. I don't like to brag, but I’m undoubtedly the greatest historian to have ever lived and probably the best looking…Anyway, it was after this completely accurate historical encounter that many of the barbarian leaders were made provincial leaders and local officials. This solution may have appeared sensible at the time, but in the long term it resulted in further fragmentation and gradually led to the formation of many of the European countries we know and love today. So there you have it, you expected a cycling blog, but instead were bored senseless with an abbreviated and completely ridiculous account of Roman and Germanic relations in the third century AD. My apologies. In other words I was quite excited about immersing myself in this ancient woodland. Obviously, I would need a barbaric companion, someone who laughs in the face ofdeath, willing to sacrifice his life for mine, someone with a degree of common sense to compensate for my complete cluelessness…this lunatic was of course Mo. Now, those of you who haven’t read my John O’Groats to Lands End blog will not be familiar with this mythological hero, but he is, indisputably, the brains behind some of my most epic trips. If I’m honest, I wondered whether he’d answer the phone after LEJOG almost killed us, but to my shock, he did…and bloody hell did he regret it!
I may have a lot to learn, but one thing that had definitely sunk in after LEJOG was making the bike as light as possible. The length of the UK left both knees and achilles in bits and was the result of a brutally heavy pack list and inadequate gearing. Hence, I replaced my Raleigh’s compact double with a triple (…in preparation for Italy ) and began an expensive process of replacing cheap heavy equipment with lightweight purpose-built gear. Moreover, I left my Ortlieb panniers in the shed and instead put together a Bikepacking set up with the help of Wildcat Gear, Revelate Designs and Carradice. The result of all this bankruptcy was dramatic and my huge 24” Surly ECR fully loaded with gear weighed a mere fraction of my set up for LEJOG. For once, I had done something right, get in!
Neither of us had any idea how long the trip would take and therefore decided to book the ferry one way, with the intention of booking our return upon completion. However, deep down, we both knew we would probably end up hurtling down some mountain pass, completely out of control, screaming, before plummeting off the side of a cliff like some fleeing Bond villain. Thus, it made more sense to save our money for pizza, cakes and chocolate before our untimely demise. We loaded the car, ate a monster pizza and disappeared into the night. Neither of us had slept the day before and faced 48 hours without sleep, but twenty coffees and more excitement than my little brother on Christmas morning meant that none of that mattered. The sense of adventure, driving into the unknown, through the dead of night and into the gradual light of day is all part of the experience. Further still, it’s the perfect opportunity for some serious music appreciation…Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Black Sabbath, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam…..the list goes on and on!! Hitting the road, with one of my best mates, listening to great music, taking in the scenery, stuffing our faces and chatting about anything and everything…perfection. That said, one thing did slightly concern me. As we travelled further towards our destination the temperature continued to drop. It may have been the early hours of the morning, but minus four in France seemed a little off . Fortunately, I didn’t have to worry about the rapidly dropping temperature for too long, because something far more catastrophic took place. I give you….bike roof racks + low French toll station barriers = TOTAL DEVASTATION. Now, my immersion in Zeppelin, croissants and good company was all very well. However, when Mo is explaining that the new IP address system has enough numerical variations for every grain of sand on every planet in the galaxy, well, your concentration does tend to take a leisurely stroll. Hence, the first I knew of my truly horrendous mistake was the almighty crunch and smattering of Thule components on my windscreen. DOH.
At this point the sensible thing was to pass through the tolls and pull over on the hard shoulder…so, blinded by panic, I got out in the middle of the road and in a state of caffeine fueled consciousness assessed the damage to my Surly ECR whilst desperately hoping Mo’s tourer had taken the brunt of the impact. Luckily the Surly ECR’s 29 x 3” Knards had done a monumental job in cushioning the blow, selflessly protecting Mo’s bike to my disdain and doing an almighty amount of damage to the toll barrier. I figured it was best at this point to deal with the situation like a sensible adult. Thus, I exercised my years of experience on GTA San Andreas, jumped in the car and made a run for it…repairs would have to be made elsewhere. After laying low for several months we decided it was time to assess the damage. With the use of cable ties, bungee straps and of course gaffa tape we were soon back on the road and if anything we’d improved the Thule carrier. Whereas before the rack glided through the air silently and securely, our dodgy repairs rattled precariously ensuring there was literally no chance of forgetting about the bikes again…I give you:
“ The new Thule Rattle Tat Tat carrier. Have you ever felt the bikes were just too secure? Too silent? You need the Rattle Tat Tat. With the Rattle Tat Tat speeding is not an option as the bikes will simply fly off the roof …#safetyfeature…Whilst the relentless rattling ensures your trip is a constant blur of panic and stress, preventing tiredness behind the wheel…..#yetanothersafetyfeature….and even conversations about the universe won’t cloud your judgement….#nailedit “
Hence, with the superlative Thule Rattle Tat Tat shaking uncontrollably, we continued on our journey. After another six hours of getting our heads around the new IP address format we had arrived. The first port of call was locating a safe spot to leave the car. Now, as a recommendation I would suggest locating a quiet residential road (…preferably one that’s not on fire or riddled with gangs). Obviously, do not leave anything of value on show and maybe throw some rotten vegetables on the back seats as a deterrent. A designated parking lot is always the best option and far more secure. However, for someone like myself…i.e. the equivalent of a medieval peasant…the often extortionate prices can be a significant dent in my pizza trust. So we found a spot just ten minutes ride from the start of our route, loaded up the bikes and began our epic trip through the Black Forest.
At this point you’ll be pleased to hear that my literary drivel takes a back seat and instead I invite you to indulge in my visual feast below…so sit back…crack open a beer…chocolate milk…or whatever takes your fancy…make sure you’re stocked up with crisps, popcorn and ice cream…remove all your clothes on a webcam and send all footage to my personal…jokingggg…leave all the stripping and indecency to me…Enjoy.
So there you have it. Once again Bicycle Touring Apocalypse has lived up to its name. We are, after all, a brand, with staunch moral values and a tireless drive for the complete opposite of perfection. That said, I believe on this ride, I may have exceeded all expectations, making a monumental hash of just about everything and almost freezing to death. Needless to say, I’m very proud.