It’s gradually dawning on me that if I want to have a longer bike ride, the only way this will happen is if I start at an unsociably early hour in the morning and brave the cold. So on Saturday I took my startled Xtracycle off on an excursion into the dark. The goal was a small village called Gutenberg at the foot of the Swabian Alb: a steep range of hills rearing out of the plain bewteen Stuttgart and Ulm. I figured this was a reasonable distance with some climbing, and hopefully downhill on the return. It followed a railway for most of the time, which meant I could hopefully catch a train some of the way home if I was getting too far behind schedule .
The route started with an 11% drop into the Koersch valley (Körschtal) which cleared away any latent drowsiness, and I followed the valley for 10 km through the darkness, before reaching the cycleway up onto the plateau beyond. Having stopped at the top to take a picture -not remotely because I was out of breath, honest- I covered crossed the higher ground as the sun rose directly ahead. By now the great limestone tsunami of the Swabian Alb was silhouetted in the far distance. Which was pretty awe-inspiring, not least because I realised for the first time how far away they were.
I dropped down into the Neckar Valley (Neckartal) at a place called Wendlingen, crossed the river and found the railway. According to the ‘cyclists’ map I was carrying, there was no way through here, but the ADFC (German cyclist’s federation) website has a very comprehensive Google-based map which shows a route. I decided to trust the ADFC. I was aiming for an abrupt ridge called the Teck, which was the southern side of the small valley I hoped to follow right up to Gutenberg. The idea was that I’d find the cycleway up the hills for future reference, do a victory lap around a hotel in the village, and come back but I was beginning to wonder if this was going to happen. It was proving hard work, which isn’t a great surprise as I was going uphill, and I was losing faith in the map. I kept repeating the mantra- “It’ll be downhill coming back” but as I passed by the castle perched on top of the Teck the time display on my camera was showing 0800, and I could see that I wasn’t going to make it to the head of the valley and back home before ten. I pressed on, but by the end of the railway at Oberlenningen the station clock was showing 0830 and my goal was hidden away behind a shoulder of hills. I’d have to abandon pedal power to get back in time. The train was due to depart at 0839. I punched my destination into the ticket machine as the train started its engines, growled at the machine as it printed oh so slowly, shoved change and ticket into a pocket and yanked the bike on board just as the doors closed.
After the long ride uphill, being whisked back homeward at 80km/h was a bit of a shock, and I stumbled out onto the platform in Wendlingen with a sort of “How did I get here?” feeling. It left me with an hour to get over the last hills and race along a valley that’s always longer then I think, climb back up the other side and roll into our village. I actually arrived at 1025, but don’t tell anyone.
So close and yet so far… I’ll try again. Maybe this weekend…