Into the Woods

Last Sunday morning, on the 21st, the agenda for our seminar included a train trip to Titisee, a local resort town in the Black Forest.  Most shops are closed on Sundays in Germany, but Titisee is very popular with tourists, and stays open for them, which was probably why our excursion was scheduled for that day.  However, the day broke with gray skies and a drizzly rain that threatened to remain for most of the morning, so that our directors decided to postpone the meeting time at the train station from 9:00 until 2:00.  Well then,  I thought to myself.  That gives me time to take the bike out.  

I reconsidered my options.  I could use the quiet rainy morning to read or write, explore Freiburg or sleep.  Or I could ride my bike to Titisee and meet up with the group there instead of taking the train.  From what I could tell, it was a little over 20 miles (34 km) and some 600 feet of elevation gain.   Although I’m getting a little better at interpreting elevation changes on topographical maps, this particular Sunday I had a fairly vague idea of what those numbers would mean on the ground.  I’ve done twice that distance with no problem, but a flat 20 miles is really nothing to compare with 600 feet uphill stretched over six miles.

I settled into my bike gear, packed the luggage rack with a few items, and set off for Titisee, following the Dreisam, the main river through town. Actually, I went about three miles northwest before I realized which bike paths would take me in a southeasterly direction. Most of the bike signs give directions for places just a few kilometers away. The automobile roads point one towards farther destinations, but there is no shoulder for bicycles. Cyclists have to follow the bike paths, which meander through all the little towns along the way. So, after heading back in the right direction, and asking quite a few people along the way, I ended up in Kirchzarten, a sort of halfway point between where I came from and where I wanted to go.  At the train station in Kirchzarten, I met a a group of cyclists who were also heading to Titisee, but via train, with the intent to ride their bicycles in the area after they arrived.  I asked to look at their bike map, and I discussed the possibilities of two different routes, both of which included very steep terrain towards the end, a few miles before Titisee.   I figured that if I needed to, I could just take the train if it became too difficult.

I set off again to try and find a signpost towards Hinterzarten, and after I stumbled to the ground while coming to a stop at a signpost, one woman rode over to ask if I needed directions.    She was very kind to me but had a severe speech impediment, and I struggled to make out exactly what she said.  She volunteered to accompany me a little ways down the road to see that I set off in the right direction.   When I arrived in Himmelsreich, the elevation really started to become steeper, and the road narrower.  In Felsteig, the bike paths disappeared altogether and there was only the road.  I stopped at a farmer’s market to buy black cherries.  When the man noticed that I was cycling, he asked me where I was going.  Finding out that I was headed towards Titisee, he motioned towards the mountain with a wide swing of his arm and made it clear that I would have to go over the mountain to get there.  He had a very strong dialect and I asked him a few times to make sure of what he was telling me.  Apparently there was a tunnel up ahead only for cars and the bicycles had to take a very steep mountain path instead.


I turned around and found the mountain path for bikes, and continued up a very steep path, until I left the village, reached the woods, the pavement ended and became a dirt path.  I kept on going, doubt growing in my mind all the while, and when I came to a place which opened up in the trees, and saw what lie ahead, I stopped pedalling.  The mountain went on and on, and it definitely take me two hours to get over it riding uphill, or walking the bike.  I turned around and was back in Himmereich in five minutes.  I rode over to the train station, bought 2 3 Euro tickets –one for myself and one for my bike, and waited for the next train to Titisee.   Within fifteen minutes I was on the train, which sped away, up and over the mountain, cutting the trip down to a twenty-minute journey.
Upon arrival in Titisee, I went to the station cafe, ordered a Milchkaffee, and found a table, where I would spend the time waiting for our group.  The plan was that they would leave the Hauptbahnhof at 14:00, so I expected them to arrive in Titisee around 14:40.  I read Rilke, translated a few passages which I especially liked, and made a few notes in my journal.  A couple of trains came through from the west, but no one from my group stepped onto the platform.  Twenty after three I decided to leave the train station.  Either they changed their plans or something went wrong, but they were not coming at  the time I had expected.  I went to the tourist center, hooked up with WIFI, sent a message to our seminar facilitator, and decided to head back to Freiburg by bicycle.  Now that I was at the highest point, it would surely be a simple matter of going downhill to get back, and I wouldn’t have to take the train.


I found a bike path to Hinterzarten, and followed the signs leading back towards Freiburg.  From Hinterzarten to Kirchzarten was about six miles of wooded, downhill trails, along which I used my brakes much more often than I used my pedals!   I am convinced now after traveling downhill from Adelboden to Bern and from Hinterzarten to Kirchzarten that the best way to travel by bike is to take public transportation to the highest elevation point, and then bike downhill to the next destination.   I traveled the same distance, 22 miles or so, in two thirds the time, and was back in Freiburg by the evening.   A experienced a little thrill when I passed by the farmer at t he balck cherry stand in Felsteig, this time coming down the mountain, several hours after we had spoken, and he saw me and waved.


I found out the next day  that my group had actually gone first to Hinterzarten to enjoy Schwarzwaldkuchen, and so that’s where they were when I was in Titisee.  Then after I had left, they all traveled by train to Titisee, and visited the shops while I was biking back to Freiburg.  I really think I enjoyed my day as it was, biking through the woods and down the mountain, through the streets, and asking people for directions.  Titisee is quite  touristy and I had been there in 2013 with a small tour group.  It’s a good place for tourists to go on a Sunday when everything else is closed they would like to buy gifts or have a nice afternoon meal, or coffee and cake.   But I generally feel restless and disconnected in such  places.


All told:  24.7 miles from Freiburg to Himmelreich, which took 3 hours and 8 minutes.  Then I took the train, hung out, and after a while decided to leave.  From Titisee to Freiburg, I traveled 22.26 miles in 2 hours and 33 minutes.   The weather was rainy, drizzly and gray in the morning, but by afternoon it had dried out and become sunny.  On the ride back, I had no problems with orientation or way-finding, and really enjoyed the whole journey.


I’d had to realize that what I’m normally able to do as a cyclist is under different kinds of circumstances here, and so the planning has to take that into account.  For example, on a flat road with no luggage and little obstruction from traffic, I can keep up a pace of 18-20 miles an hour for an hour or more.  But when you’ve got luggage and extra weight, you’re finding your way, you’re taking in the scenery and dodging traffic, it’s different.  Add to that elevation, and it each day is actually a different sort of journey.  It’s not really possible to plan exactly when things will happen, or how.  I figure more by intentions than anything anymore.


It’s becoming warmer, true summer weather in Germany now, and I expect that tomorrow’s bike ride from Freiburg towards Basel will be pretty hot.  I’ll try to keep as little in the backpack as possible, and mount what I can on the luggage rack above the back tire.



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