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Crossing borders: Riding 400 miles from Northern France to the Black Forest

Tim Wiggins
16 Apr 2018

The Black Forest 400: Arras in Northern France to Germany's Black Forest, in one go

It is pretty simple really: you ride your bike, ride a bit further, and then ride a little bit more. Eat enough French pastries, Belgium frites, and err… German McDonald's, and you will be amazed at how far your legs can take you.

The Black Forest 400 was a solo adventure: an exploration of Flanders, the Ardennes, Luxembourg, and the German Black Forest.

The challenge came from the fact that the 400 miles was to be ridden in one hit: non-stop, without sleep, over the course of 28 hours.

The Black Forest is a beautiful place to ride a bicycle; a hidden gem in the crown of road cycling's top destinations. I am lucky enough to have close family in the area, and on previous visits I have noted the sweeping empty roads, hidden climbs, and expanse of shaded pine forest.

They have left me longing to clip in and ride…

This Easter, the opportunity to explore arose. The birth of my nephew, coinciding with the winter snowmelt, meant that on a family reunion I would have the opportunity to ride in the spring sunshine.

Not a fan of the long drive to southern Germany though, I decided to ride it…

402 miles (648 kilometres), 8,172 metres of climbing: It was never going to be an easy spin.

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Notes from a bike ride

Day one

09:30 Arras, France

Clip in, and push off. It is good to get the wheels rolling. The long straight road out of the historic city is lined with war cemeteries.

This route could legitimately be labelled the 'European Divide'; traversing the Maginot line, and constantly crossing country borders; it is a tour of battlefields and border disputes from centuries past.

12:30 Bavay, France

100 kilometres logged, through the windy flatlands of northern France. Signs for Paris-Roubaix aren't quite enough to tempt me onto the cobbled sectors (this time), but I do dive into the last patisserie before Belgium, for a late morning croissant and coffee.

15:00 The Ardennes

Eventually turning southeast at the Belgian border, I had started to feel like I was making progress. Then the Ardennes arrived.

There is little wonder this region acted as a natural blockade to many wartime advances; some of the hills are wall-like, and whilst the sweeping roads and pristine tarmac make for beautiful riding, I am left wondering if I will ever make it out the other side.

My average speed tumbles, as the sun begins to set.

21:30 Florenville, Belgium

I had stopped in the town of Bouillon, but it turned out to be ghostly quiet; perhaps the towering castle should have given that away.

My search for a takeaway pizza proved unfruitful, so I carried on (up a 25% incline) to Florenville. The kebab shop owner just gave me an odd look when I ordered two coffees and frites mayo.

Fuel for the night ahead…

Day two

00:01 Somewhere in Luxembourg

It is the night before Good Friday, so the roads have emptied; even the nocturnal truckers have gone home. The temperature has plummeted too, and I am left in a deserted landscape, hopping between villages looking in vain for an open petrol station where I can get a hot drink.

03:00 Nearing the German border

My heart rate seems to be following the same downward trend as the temperature. 18 hours of riding, and fatigue is beginning to kick in.

I stop at a vending machine in a nameless Luxembourg suburb, and make a rare purchase of a can of Cola, in an attempt to kick-start my system.

It has little effect.

06:00 Saarbrucken, Germany

Never before have I been so grateful to see the golden arches of a McDonald's. Descending down a cycle path alongside the river that links the industrial monoliths of Saarlouis and Saarbrucken, I escaped the freezing fog to neck two coffees and a McChicken Burger.

Needs must.

09:00 Back into France

The road takes me skywards, onto the plateau around Bitche. With 24 hours in the legs, that name feels appropriate.

I buoy myself up with a late morning coffee and pastry in the first patisserie I find; there are some quizzical stares as I sit wide-eyed on the steps of the Marie as the village files into the church for the Good Friday service.

13:00 Strasbourg, France

A descent has never felt so welcome. I flew off the top of the plateau, and down into the metropolitan city of Strasbourg.

The final border crossing back into Germany signals that just 80 kilometres remain. I am now at the energy low phase of shovelling liquorice allsorts into my mouth at a rate of knots; but I don't care, this milestone seemed unreachable just six hours previously.

15:00 Offenburg, Germany

The climbing has to start soon. I know it will: both the horizon and my elevation chart confirm it. I have over 1500 metres of ascent to gain before reaching my destination, and only 50 kilometres remain.

For now though, the road is just rolling steadily along the valley floor.

16:00 Hornberg, Germany

I stop. I need to take off my glasses; the sign ahead of me is unusual to say the least, and in all honesty may as well feature a middle-finger gesture: "19% 6 kilometres".

That is a hell of a sting in the tail…

There is nothing for it. I refill my bidon at the local fire station, and eat my last remaining flapjack. Saddle up: bottom gear engaged.

How long can these final 20 kilometres really take?

17:00 Sankt Georgen, Germany

The sight of the finish line is enough to boost me up the final incline. I am met at the summit by my 'support car' emitting friendly paternal shouts of encouragement, and tempting me with a can of German weissbräu.

Pulling up at the farmhouse, I almost need a shoehorn to remove me from the saddle. That beer tasted unbelievable.

Food. Bed. Sleep. Already dreaming of where I will next draw a line on the map…

Black Forest 400: The stats

Total distance: 648.35 kilometres (402 miles) 
Elevation gain: 8172 metres (26811 Feet) 
Elapsed time: 32 hours 13 minutes
Riding time: 27 hours 19 minutes
Average moving speed: 23.7Kph (14.7mph)
Calories: 15,702 Kcals
Average heart rate: 120bpm
Bike weight (loaded): 11.9 kilograms

Kit List


Fuelling the ride

7x Litre of water
5x Coffee
2x Maurten 160 Drink Mix
1x Coca Cola
2x Pain au Raisin
2x Packets of Nairn's Snackers Oatcakes
2x Nutella Sachets
1x Veloforte bar
1x Packet of Rude Health Ginger and Turmeric Oatys
1x Packet of Nairn's Fruit Oatcakes
1x Packet of Liquorice Allsorts
1x MacDonald's Chicken Burger
1x Jar of Belgian Baked Beans
1x Frites Mayo (kebab shop)
1x Fori Piri-Piri Chicken Snack Bar
1x Clif Bar Shot Blocks
1x Chocolate Chip Cookie
1x Chia Charge Protein Bar
1x Chia Charge Peanut Butter Flapjack

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