The second Edition of Taunus Bikepacking started in Hofheim, close to Frankfurt, on the 22nd June 2019.
A challenging fixed route of 800km on quiet farm and forest lanes and tracks with a few trails and single track. Paved road connected the route through beautiful German towns and villages nestled in the steep valleys of the Taunus landscape. The ride was full of tough short climbs and blessed with a spectacular ride alongside the Rhine and Lahn rivers.
Rules of the ride were the normal unsupported ride conditions. No drafting or outside help and all riders had to keep their trackers on for the duration.
Why was I here? I first met Jesko von Werthern riding the 2018 TransAtlanticWay (TAW) race in Ireland which he was riding for the third time. We shared a bivouac camp stop one of the nights and I learnt about his plan for edition #1 of Taunus that year. Jesko is proud of sharing the opportunities to ride the beautiful Taunus mountains, hills and the Rhine valley and has spent many days and ridden thousands of kilometers planning the Taunus route. In addition my daughter-in-law, Shirin, lived her childhood in the same region and I was keen to explore that area and ride in Germany and experience cycling in a new country.
I drove to Hofheim in company with Ryan Davies (@rnides) having enjoyed a road trip together back from the TransAtlantic Way (TAW) in Ireland via Mason bikes and Hunt wheels in Sussex and home to the Isle of Wight. The visit to Mason Bikes to pick up a new Mason ‘InSearchOf’ – ISO – and Hunt Wheels for Ryan to sort a damaged wheel he needed for the North Cape 4000 he was riding in July. Ryan together with Richard (@richardmarshallphotography) were photographers for TAW and were continuing to cover Taunus. Both great guys to spend time with and experts with the camera.
I am a road rider with limited off road experience and was unsure of what the ride would entail. I was lucky to get great support from Dom Mason and the team to get the ISO set up ready for the ride. The ISO is Dom’s latest design and having entered off road events in Morocco (Oct 2019) and New Zealand (March 2020) I wanted to test the bike in similar conditions, fully loaded for unsupported ultra distance rides. Comforting to know that Cycling Weekly gave the ISO 10/10 in review – “Go anywhere capability and Set up for off-grid load lugging”.
Pre ride registration at the Speedway track north of the town brought together the riders for an evening barbecue organised by Jesko and his team, and not least Julia, his mum, who was in constant support throughout the days of the event.
Forty Nine riders gathered for a 0900 start and parade lap of the speedway stadium and then set off across the main road straight into the forest trails. I was determined to start slow and let the main pack of riders go. I had a target of at least 150km a day given the tough looking terrain and predicted hot conditions.
The morning was a lovely mixture of tracks and trails in perfect conditions. I followed the trail on my Wahoo and it was difficult to orientate as the route twisted and turned through the Taunus hills, villages and towns. Nearly every opportunity was used to gather food and top up the bottles.
I rode into the evening, picking up a tasty doner kebab for supper, and feeling good carried on through a beautiful dusk and sunset and into the short night eventually finding a spot to bivouac at midnight. I was on the hillside above a large town, with twinkling lights and settled down for a few hours sleep.
It was a good day. I felt strong, the ISO was looking after me on the trails and I was delighted with the set up. I had started quite cautiously but gained confidence in its handling on rough ground as the day progressed. Day one was 212km with 3,985m of climbing.
The good thing about long days and short nights is the birds wake you and after a lazy doze I was up and away before 0500hrs. An added boost was the knowledge that I had four hours riding before the first complete 24 hours after the start. Small things but good for the motivation and keeping your head in the right frame of mind. Oh – and the dawn was as beautiful as the dusk!
I rode out of the forest and onto a route taking me parallel with the River Rhine.
After about half an hour I came across a small bakery in Kiedrich that appeared to be open.
They were awaiting a delivery and not open but kindly served me coffee and I added a couple of energy drinks. Whilst drinking the coffee the delivery arrived so all was well and I set off feeling good.
One of the special things about unsupported rides is you end up riding with people of a similar speed, often overtaking, being overtaken or bumping into each other at rest and food stops. One such was Lukas and we stayed within a few kilometres of each other throughout the 800kms.
What a delight it was to join the Rhine at Winkel and ride the river bank passing cruise ships and some massive commercial barges as well as taking in the beauty of this spectacular river, a lifeblood of Germany. A few kilometres further downstream I stopped for a second breakfast at Rudesheim am Rhein.
The rest of the morning was one that will stay long in the memory as I rode through the Rhine valley vineyards for many miles. The route tracked the river, mostly on the eastern bank high up in the hills. I lost count of the times I stopped for photos or to simply take in the beauty of this great river.
My plan was to reach the half way Control Point at the 400km mark before dusk. Food and a welcome were promised together with somewhere to sleep. A good incentive.
After climbing from the Rhine for the last time there was a twisty descent to Friedrichssegen and then a beautiful ride along the banks of the River Lahn, a tributary of the main river. The town of Bad Ems, a spa town, was packed with tourists on a busy afternoon. Just before Bad Ems I was riding with Lukas and we came across a friendly local cycling group selling cakes and drinks on the riverside. They were supporting a charity ride – GlucksTour. I very welcome stop and some great homemade cakes!
The route was now at the northern edge of the Taunus and then turned and looped towards the Control Point. Approaching Hohenstein a castle was high up on the hillside and predictably the road visited the castle via a horrible 20% plus climb. I gave it a go but had to walk the last half.
The sun was going down as I rode through fields of golden barley and descended to the Control Point. A warm welcome from Jesko, Ryan, Richard and fellow riders was followed by some tasty barbecued chicken. The CP was based at Jesko’s family barn and I got a good night’s sleep in a giant teepee on a comfortable mattress.
Day two was 189km with 3298m Elevation Gain.
Awake at 0400 just before dawn I was away at 0440hrs and relished the relative cool conditions that were a precursor to a very hot day with temperatures of 35 deg forecast. Another spectacular dawn was breaking that demanded more photography!
After about an hour I came across a bench set in the corner of a field alongside a water fountain which was perfect for a quick wash and some breakfast.
The next few hours saw the route take farm lanes and forest trails north west back towards the River Lahn.
As the temperature rose it was good to have some relatively flat riding alongside the Lahn with a few short diversions and I stopped on a bench under the spectacular seven towers of the Catholic Cathedral at Limburg to rest and refresh a while.
Late morning now and the mercury in the thermometer was rising fast. I came across Dino resting alongside a fountain in the small town of Villmar. He looked how I felt but said there was a supermarket half a km up the road. I diverted to it – with an 8% climb – and got provisions.
A short while later I stopped under a tree with a bench on the hillside to eat a nectarine only to look up to see I was under an amazing cherry tree laden with ripe fruit! Perfect.
More shady forest trails were a blessing in the heat but I was suffering a bit in the conditions and needed plenty of stops.
Some good climbs followed – the first of three hill tops with massive wooded lookout towers. I started to climb one but after a couple of flights said to myself “this is nuts” and went back down!
Another day was drawing to a close. Nearly always a lovely time for the soft evening light to create memorable vistas that demand you stop and enjoy.
The final delight of the day was arriving at the town of Bad Camberg. Once through the town gates I found a great ice cream parlour and settled down for a real treat!
I rode on into the cooler night and started to look for a bivouac spot. I checked out a school yard in Hainchen but having set off the security lights decided to carry on and found a shelter with a park bench off a small carpark just outside Wolfenhausen. I pitched the Bivi and settled down to sleep only for a couple of motorbikes to arrive at 0130hrs and start to roar around the carpark for ten minutes!
A total of 199km and 3340m of elevation for the day left me with about 200km to the finish so I was hopeful that this was my last bivouac. People near me probably hoped for the same. No change of kit since the start! I was not a pretty sight nor smell!
I woke early and was packed and on the road before dawn at 0400. I wanted to get some distance before the intense heat of the day arrived. Dawns early light was again beautiful and I make no apology for another photo!
I had shopped for breakfast the evening before and after a while stopped for a yoghurt with some crisp bread and cheese. Sitting in the deserted countryside watching the dawn approach with the birds singing whilst eating breakfast is a pretty good reason why we do what we do!
I rode through forests and farm land and passed some beautiful villages and towns along the route which rejoined the River Lahn near Weilburg, a town sitting on a rocky outcrop surrounded by the river. Alas it was too early to get some food so I had to make do with a coffee and water.
The rest of the morning and afternoon was tough going in the heat. Looming in the distance I guessed I could see the last major climb of the ride up to the Grober Felberg – the highest mountain in the Taunus at 880m. It seemed a long way off in the stifling heat. In between there were more climbs, towns and some really nice single track riding.
I climbed the Groberg Felberg at dusk to find hoards of people watching the sunset over the valleys to the west below.
Riding off the mountain along some good tracks the descent was fun and soon I was meeting more populated urban areas as the finish approached. Jesko had still managed to keep us off the roads and in the darkness I overshot a couple of turns but managed to follow the track and arrived at the finish line just after midnight.
Jesko was greeting all the finishers which is a tough ask – great to see him and Richard and I was followed home shortly afterwards by Lukas who I had been watching on the tracker for most of the day and anxious to keep ahead! A bit of fun because its not a race but one always wants to go well!
The lateness of the finish meant another night in the bivouac at the finish line. I was beyond caring and fell asleep in a few seconds.
The last day was 203km and 3720m elevation gain. This made a total of 800km for the ride with 13,000m of climbing in 3 days, 15hours and 16 minutes. I finished 12th from the 49 starters – but its not a race!
The next morning it was difficult to get out of the bivouac. The body was so stiff – the ride was concluded so psychologically the mind had probably told the body to chill out and shut down a little.
The day was spent sorting a local hotel for the night and greeting riders arriving at the finish. Jesko was ever present and had run an very special event for us all.
The Mason InSearchOf lived up to is name! Having only ridden it for about 30 km before this ride I developed a high level of confidence in the way it handled on the rough terrain from single track with rocks and roots to big trail descents where the gravel was lumpy limestone shale. All that with a full compliment of Apidura bags which in truth were overloaded for this ride but I wanted to test it for longer rides I had planned. A very special bike – JennyBee. A big thanks to Dom and the Mason team for their help and support.
Thanks again must go to Jesko, his mum Julia and their team coupled with Ryan and Richard on the cameras. Thanks guys – a brilliant event.