Story by Sofie De Clercq – Taunus Bikepacking No. 4

Photo by Nils Laengner

Day 1

With a start at 8h57 there is plenty of time for coffee and cakes thank you Julia (Jesko’s mum), they were delicious !

Photo by Nils Laengner

The start line, one last chat with Jesko and of I go. I recognize the first 15km. Only one navigation mistake. That’s much better than last year. And I realise that the riding is easy, it helps to settle in. Temperatures climb and I stop at every fountain. There seems to be one every 5 km. It feels a bit ridiculous (it’s not that hot yet ), but soaking my cap in ice cold water keeps me in good shape.

New landscapes, sand, first break of many in the shade of a chapel, struggling up steep hills, even pushing becomes hard, and finally the ferry. I go for a quick round trip to Rewe’s salad bar, thank you for the brilliant tip last year Katleen, and for the first time I’m ahead of 2 riders. Norbert and Heike overtake me again while I’m in complete tourist mode eating my pasta salad by the ruins of a castle with some great views. Harder than the TPR, Heike says. Is that proof that memories are pretty selective ?

Pushing on to find a classy looking bivvy site on the edge of a forest with much more wildlife than I bargained for. Falling asleep only after having a talk with myself and shouting harder than some local deer partying on through the night. I am now fully aware of what a barking deer sounds like, and that snorting belongs to wild pigs. The next few days I might just read Jesko’s descriptions more carefully, “it’s not unusual to meet more wildlife than people here … “

108 km

Day 2

I love waking up with the birds. It must be one of the best parts of sleeping wild. My first thought is that I have slept. I don’t feel scared or worried anymore in the morning. Somehow I have managed to relax around 2 am. No problem getting out of bed today. I pack, have some breakfast and jump on my bike… because I remember an excellent bakery in Lorch. One more big hill, a brilliant fast descent, great views of the Rhein and there she is, the best bakery in the Taunus, in Lorch. The same lady as last year serves me. This time I get her to smile. I limit my stop to half an hour, all part of my strategy as the red lantern ?. I happily climb the next hill.

Norbert, Heike and the other riders at the back of the pack pushed on a lot further than I did last night and I will not see them again, which is a shame. I could have continued some more. Imagine my surprise when I stumble on Faruk after the first climb of the day. He’s riding on the most amazing bicycle, he doesn’t have a smartphone (a very conscious decision of his) but he’s dying to know how many riders remain behind. I have to disappoint. That’s it. I’m the last one.
He seems to lack some sugar and warns me that we won’t be able to resupply for another 60 km. I was blissfully unaware, but luckily I still have food from shopping at Rewe last night. He wolfs down my extra pastry from Lorch’s bakery. Ever the gentleman he offers to wait for me. I convince him otherwise and he speeds off as the sugar hits his bloodstream.

More events stand out that day. Around km 134, riding along the edge of a forest up on the plateau, I spot a giant rabbit hopping across the road. Yep, a huge rabbit, taller than a St Bernards dog, big floppy ears, little bunny hops, not a deer, fluffy … help me out … anyone spotted something strange ? ?

Later on, I spot a kiosk, shade and walkers sat on benches leaning against a church wall. It’s real, not a mirage. A guy calls out to me, come on lady, bring your water bottles, I’ll fill them up for you ! He sells Magnums and Apfleschorle. Heaven. Hey Bernd, this is the kiosk I told you about, I think it’s in Lykershausen.

Further on I run into Faruk again, walking next to his bike in the middle of nowhere. He’s got a flat and can’t find the adapter for his pump in his luggage. Not much later he catches me again, having knocked at the door of the only house around for miles and he got help. Brilliant bit of optimism and luck. What Faruk lacks in speed on the descents (his bike is a vintage bike with a small front wheel), he makes up on the flat. As a bike messenger he is a really strong rider and I’m pretty happy to let him go. Surely this time is going to be the last time that I meet another rider. But just in case, I wave him off with a hopeful see you later.
Finding a bivvy spot is easy. I sleep like a log.

108 km – in his write-up Jesko says this is the hardest part of the Taunus.

Day 3

Early morning start and an easy stretch along the Lahn. Short of water, I find a fountain in Bad Ems with some very salty mineralised spring water. Hmmm … a small sign explains it’s benefits for the intestines and mentions not to drink too much of it. Hopefully it won’t disturb my digestive system.

Nassau has an ED service station with a great breakfast. I stock up on cheese and egg sandwiches. Brilliant energy food. It’s not yet 7 am and the next stretch is a magic trail in the forest following the Mühlbach. Signs of wild boar again and surprise surprise, an hour or so later I stumble across Faruk having breakfast at the 250 km point. I’m sure he was 30 km ahead of me last night.

Later on (after having turned back for my spare bib shorts happily drying in the sun at km 250) Lissa publishes a photo of an ice cream on Instagram that makes my mouth water. I ask where, it’s in Nastätten. The image gives me wings. Still, a 20% hill with a castle on the top slows me down a bit and it is 5 pm before I find an Eiscafe in Bad Schwalbach. They’re busy, but I get a table and a fabulous strawberry ice cream. Coppa Italia. Little did I know that Italy were gonna kick Belgium out of the Euro. Eating the ice cream takes me to heaven and back.  Once I’ve finished, I notice a random cyclist. The owner of the Eiscafe promptly invites both of us to go and check out his gravelbike complete with bikepacking bags. He is a fan and a dotwatcher and explains the entire Taunus Bikepacking concept to the rather bemused cyclist. After a selfie of the three of us, I push on but quickly feel the need to stop again at the first forest shelter.

It is 7 pm and still hot. I need more fuel. A cheese sandwich, a couple of rounds of babybel cheese and a lie down with my legs in the air give me some much needed energy. I push on, without jersey (I hope the friendly villagers won’t mind the minimalist outfit) and really enjoy the fresh air and the fast rolling tracks of the remote valley of the Wisper. A beautiful shelter on the edge of the wood seems to be waiting for me. I loudly warn the deer to behave and fall into a deep sleep. 

125 km

Day 4

Breakfast is at Nastätten gas station. I love ED service stations but I don’t quite buy enough food and drink. God knows why.

Around 9 am I enter a forest that I remember. It’s a long climb but it’s easy. The forest feels majestic. The air is pure, magical. It doesn’t take much to imagine eyes following my progress. Benevolent, not scary. Again it’s only afterwards that I properly check the preview. The Hinterlandswald still has roaming wolves, Jesko says. What a place, what a privilege to ride here on my own. I regret the end of it, but the view on top of Espenschied is wonderful. My photos don’t really do it justice. And then it’s all downhill, well that’s what I think ?, to the vineyards of the Rheingau and yet another souvenir of a great bakery.

But the bakery never materialises and I run out of water. It’s hot and I start to struggle. There are lots of short steep stretches. I’m relieved to get to the town of Winkel and I leave the track in search of another Rewe supermarket.
A first shopping round for water and tomatoes … tomatoes (?) ! Outside I take the time to rehydrate before going for a proper shopping spree. The air conditioning is just what I need.
An hour later and I need to stop again. At 4 pm, after a deep sleep in the only bit of shade to be found under a single tree, I manage to extract myself from the vineyards of the Rheingau. The Rheingau is beautiful but today’s souvenirs are all about furnace like temperatures.

5 hours later, just as Lidl closes, I make it to the Beergarden at Niederhausen. I get a salty bretzl and a drink, watch 10 minutes of the England/Scotland match and find a sleeping spot just outside of town, apparently next to a parking lot ?. I forget that there is a weather warning for thunderstorms and that I meant to find a shelter for the night. Sure enough, the first rain hits as soon as I fall asleep.
Jumping up, I store my kit, hoping it’ll stay dry, I promptly tear my bivvy bag, limit the damage, sleeping soundly for the rest of the night.

110 km

Day 5

Up early with the birds after a good night’s sleep and rearing to go. My bed’s a little damp in the morning but no damage done. Just one more heavy shower in the middle of the night.

I skip the first bakery, it’s not very clear in my mind where the next one is but I’m too happy riding in the fresh air. Pushing the bike through high grass on some singletracks, I startle an early dog walker. Not surprising, I’m quite high up, close to a television tower, the views are brilliant.
Rationing of food and water seems appropriate. Again, I’m not very good at working out where I’ll find food next. Water’s becoming less of a problem. As soon as people start waking up, I ask. Nobody refuses. People even offer bottled water. It is pretty relaxed out here.

A second bakery arrives out of nowhere, saved ! Over coffee and pastries I manage to work out the next stop. Historic Idstein. Yogurt and strawberries. 30 minutes later I’m rolling again.
Today is truly effortless. I’m flying to the checkpoint, meeting Jesko and Nils on my way.

Photo by Nils Laengner

Bernd ( @dr_chain on IG) and his wife are waiting at the checkpoint for me. We have a great chat over lunch, I have a proper siesta in the shade and leave refreshed at 5 pm.  What a fabulous organisation, thank you all !

Massive electrical storms are forecast for the night. I receive some warnings on Whatsapp by concerned dotwatchers. I aim for a cabin in the woods. It turns out to be private. Nobody’s home, I use the covered terrace. Thunder and lightning all around. Heavy rain. Violent wind gusts. Impressive show. I’m safely tucked up.

95 km

Day 6

5 am, the storm has finished. But it hasn’t cleared the air, which remains heavy and warm. I’m in the Lahn Valley again, the riding is easy, but before I can fill up my water bottles, the route leaves the Lahn to go up over a pass. Reaching the top, I drink the last drops. I’m parched. Luckily a man’s returning home with his dog. He’s kind and he fills up my empty water bottles … with sparkling water.

The town of Diez is only just stirring when I arrive at 9am. Sunday blues ? Breakfast is just out of this world. Scrambled eggs and bacon, yogurt, fruit and honey. Coffee to die for. I feel a return to a more civilised version of myself. Sleeping outside for 5 nights in a row is really special but starts taking its toll. It may be time to spend a night in a hotel.  

The afternoon comes and goes, taking us around about every single windmill and poppy field of the Taunus. It is a stunning colour combination ? ! I make an early decision to book a hotel room in Schmitten. Check-in is possible till 10 pm. Plenty of time to get there, I think. There’s a long push your bike section though, and the track takes me high into the forest. I pick up the grunting of wild pigs in the undergrowth. Not a place to hang about. Still, even at my fastest pace, I don’t get to Schmitten before 9.40 pm. Phew, I made it ! The room’s perfect. 39 euros. I finish every crumb food left in my bags and go to sleep smelling of soap.

120 km

Day 7

My snack bag is empty, I wait for the bakers opening at 7.
I climb out of Schmitten to an idyllic forest track. Shortly after, I reach a majestic wooden observation tower. Another nature reserve. More windmills. This place is beautiful.

I go for a sugar lunch in Weilburg and buy dry cheese sandwiches for later. Weilburg is magnificent but I can’t find the shops. I’ll let this be a warning for next time … Can’t find the shops ? It means it’s time to eat decent food.
At this stage I’m a whole day faster than last year and I can make up another 12 hours if I continue moving swiftly. It is very much on my mind and I enjoy the ride.

Photo by Nils Laengner

A quick swim in a lake and I make it to Wetzlar’s health food shop at closing time. They let me in. I hurry and as a result I don’t buy near enough food.

It’s almost dark when I stop outside a village. The next part is a long stretch through the forest. I prefer sleeping on the edge of a wheat field. I don’t notice that the other side is uncultivated. It’s a field of wild grass, uncut. The hunt cabin on stilts should set off an alarm in my head. It doesn’t. A couple of wild pigs wake me up in the middle of the night. I don’t see them. But they are noisy and too close for comfort.

130 km

Day 8

Waking up with the birds, I set off for another magnificent tower, pushing my bike up a steep single to get there. It’ll be the first steep single of a whole series this morning.
I’m running low on food and can’t quite believe my luck when I find a service station. I’m disappointed to find only chocolate bars and sweets on the shelves. It’ll have to do. I use my last half breadroll to make a Kitkat sandwich, a trick I remember from long ago sailing adventures. It’s a small energy bomb that just about gets me to Brandobendorf for a party at the Rewe supermarket. It’s taken me 6 hours to cover 35 kms. Not my best stats ?.
For some reason or other, I had fancy ideas of putting in a really big day today. It ends up being the shortest one at 94 km.

Photo by Jesko von Werthern

I add a detour at the end to spend the night at Gästehaus Köhler. That’s definitely my best decision of the last 24 hours. The owner is waiting for me when I roll into the yard just before 21h. Having warned him by phone that I was arriving by bike, covered in mud, I don’t resemble his usual guests. Out of curiosity he’s looked me up and found me on the TB website. Impressed, he reserves me an absolute superb welcome. Sleep comes easy.

94 km

Day 9

Last day. Jesko sends a message to enjoy. I do.
Riding is easy again.

Breakfast. I raid the supermarket for a last breakfast sitting on some concrete steps by a bin.

Trail magic. A lovely couple wait for me with water, coffee, an apple and much needed chain oil.

Lost phone. I add some kilometres retracing my steps to recovering my mobile phone lost on the edge of the forest.

The last part. Happy place. I can’t feel stressed. My only worry is the weather forecast. A thunderstorm on the Feldberg and maybe 4-5 hours of rain. I take a siesta while the sun is still shining and watch the thunderstorm on the summit from my resting spot way below.

The highest point. Grosser Feldberg. The weather’s fine. The downhill is pure pleasure.

The end. Kapellenberg. Everything seems easy today. I don’t want it to end. It does.

Photo by Jesko von Werthern

Riding long distances. It feels like the journey is only just beginning. On the bike.
A good place to be.

Photo by Jesko von Werthern

Thank you all so much !

124 km

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