The alarm clock explodes at 0630.
My sleep-addled brain tries to figure why I set it for that time. Then something switches on and I remember I’m supposed to cycle to Gutenberg today, a small village cosseted in the limestone hills called the Swabian Alb. Gutenberg is a fairly normal village by German standards. Indeed the only reason that we’re going there is that it’s 80km there and back, and it is along a valley, so although we’ll be climbing about 300m to get there, it’ll be gentle and not murderous, and most importantly, downhill most of the way home.
There are three of us riding today: Andi, Alex, and I, and we’re supposed to meet at 0730. We’re an odd mix in many ways: Andi is chronically deaf, so he has to lip-read a lot of what we say. There is a difference in German between the pronunciation for Andi and Andy, but it’s lost on both of us, causing headaches for Alex who is by default the best linguist despite growing up in Romania until he was six.
Leaving Ostfildern is easy. It’s an 11% downhill, dead straight, for half a kilometre. The Körsch valley is clear and the sun is just escaping the hills as we weave through villages for about ten kilometres and climb up a mercifully short hill headed for Köngen.
The Swabian Alb aren’t tall but they are dramatic, and we get out first view of them at this point, made deep grey by sunrise and distance, rising out of the plains like a distant army. We’ve got to get there, and My stomach is reminding me that I neglected my breakfast. Worse, I neglected to pack any food in the rush of getting the boys ready for the day before I left. We’re approaching Köngen, where there is a grocery shop, and I ask if we can stop.
Andi laughs and rolls his eyes, Alex looks pitying.
“You poor old thing. Have you taken your tablets?”
Andi suggests we cross the river on an old bridge, now reserved for pedestrians and bikes. It’s very pleasant but unfortunately we end up on the wrong side of the railway and have to lug the bikes down through an underpass under the station. At the other side we follow the railway along the valley. The cunning plan is to stick to the railway so that if we have a puncture or similar we can leap on a handy train and go home. I already did this on a previous attempt to reach Gutenberg in September when I ran out of time at Lenningen and had to go home. I’m hoping today will be different.
We make fast progress, mostly along a mostly surfaced cycleway alongside the railway. After Kirchheim the towns become villages, and the broad plain narrows to a steep sided valley. We follow Feldwege from village to village, crossing the river on stone bridges. We pass the end of the railway at Oberlenningen, and the valley changes again, taking on a more Alpine appearance. We are into headwater country, and the previously languid river is now a collection of narrow, busy streams. Two more corners in the valley and we reach our destination of Gutenberg, which could audition for a picture postcard except that its only one of dozens of small villages with timber framed houses and picturesque churches. I insist on making a celebratory lap of the village square. The others think I’m mad.
Unusually there isn’t a severe headwind on the return, so we’re far faster than going and cross the Neckar by lunchtime. Andi and Alex, being German take their food and drink very seriously, so Andi buys bread and ham, and turns his bike into a small kitchen, while Alex looks for a Cappuccino. I’m not sure the cheap sugar filled plastic imitation he finds fulfils all his dreams, but it’s that or nothing. It seems to hit the spot too: for the next 15km he’s a speck in the distance, burning up the road on a caffeine high.
When we get back it’s early afternoon and the computer shows 81km. (ca. 50 miles). We don’t even have to drive around the village to make it tip over the 80 mark. Not much anyway.