Hospitality in the Black Forest
Next morning I awoke and dismantled my tent. My host had to go run some errands but had left breakfast for me and said she would be back. I took my time and enjoyed the view. With no sign of her return I packed up my things and got ready to push off back down the hill. Just then I heard a car and she and her husband came up the hill. I was glad to be able to say a proper goodbye.
Down the hill I sped trying not to wear out my brakes on the bends. Back into Oberkirch, I visited the local supermarket for supplies of food and drink.
As Stevens says, Oberkirch sits at the entrance to a narrow valley. It is as charming today as it was for Stevens. It was trying to rival Alasace for the most picturesque section of my trip.
Up to Oppenau I rode and here I went a little wrong. I'd not spotted that Stevens went to "Petersthal" or Bad Petersthal as it is today. On a tourist information board I saw a route towards Freudenstadt that seemed to be indicated as suitable for bicycles. I took it. I should have been worried at the bottom by the sign warning of 20% gradients but I carried on. The road wound its way up the side of a huge hill into the Black Forest and went on for miles in what felt like a vertical direction. It was the biggest climb of the trip and far harder than anything I'd been up in the Sierra Nevadas or the Rockies. Why had Stevens not mentioned this? It. Just. Kept. Going.
I thought I might be nearing the top and stopped at a little spring by the side of the road to re-fill my bottles. An older couple were already filling their own bottles and they started to talk to me in German. I apologised using German I'd picked up from Stevens' book saying "Sorry. Ich bin ein Englander". They immediately switched to perfect English and congratulated me on getting this far up the hill. They'd passed me in their car a little earlier and were wondering where I was going. They were Christian and Evelin who were retired university professors from Tübingen and were just out for a ride. They filled my water bottles for me and were genuinely interested in my trip as I showed them the route on my phone. They said that I was welcome to stay at their house in Tubingen that night! How wonderful. I am so grateful for the kindness of strangers. It restores faith in the basic decency of humanity.
With my lodging sorted for the night ahead I had a target time to aim for. However I still had the rest of this enormous hill to ascend. Was Stevens's way via Bad Petersthal easier? It presumably still had to get up over this summit no matter what. I finally reached a vantage point near the top. The view was stunning. I sat and ate my lunch whilst contemplating a school of handgliders planning a future launch.
Over the summit and past a ski lodge I then descended through forest tracks that were for cyclists in summer and cross-country skiiers in winter. I made it to Freudenstadt where I had a hot chocolate and cake to load up on calories.
I left the town on the main road and quickly realised that the car drivers weren't great and that some roads were forbidden to cyclists. So I tried to find my way on smaller roads and local cycle routes. I'm not sure who plans cycle routes in Baden but they may need their head examining. They regularly send you up 20% gradients and have so many routes as to be confusing. I had to stop and gesticulate for directions more than once. At one point a German man on an "e-bike" gave up trying to get me to understand his German directions and just got me to follow him for a couple of miles.
Down a hill I sped towards Horb am Neckar and was run off the road by an overtaking car coming up the hill towards me. I had to run into a ditch to avoid being hit and saw the driver apologetically waving as they sped off.
At Horb am Neckar I'd reached the other side of the hills and was in a flat valley bottom. I was glad to be off the dangerous roads and able to follow a nice cycle path along the Neckar valley. I followed it all the way to Tübingen which, being a university city, was full of bicycles and cycle infrastructure. It felt great to be amongst the throng of so many other cyclists.
I made my way up to Christian and Evelin's house and knocked on the door. I was late but they didn't mind; they appreciated how far I'd cycled. They showed me the shower (one of the most important things to a touring cyclist's mind at the end of the day) and let me do some laundry - my first since Paris! Ahhh. Clean smelling clothes. What luxury?
After my wash, they made me a dinner fit for a king. We had beer and conversation and later we sat down to watch a topical German comedy show. Such hospitality.