Photos by Joe Harper
The bare trunks stood shoulder to shoulder constructing an impenetrable wall on each side of me. These enchanting, forested corridors, dimly lit from the few sunbeams capable of puncturing the thick canopy of branches overhead, spread through the region with their labyrinthine passages. Each turn threatened the potential of becoming lost for eternity or stumbling into the words of a Grimm fairy tale. Tucked down onto my top tube, I descended through the narrow passageways. Down the long straights, tunnel vision took over as tears filled my eyes and my peripherals melded into a brown/green Pantone as the shadowy foliage rushed past me. The long, narrow road continued ahead, ostensibly dissolving into the darkness. The silence of the forest is broken only by the buzzing of freewheels and whirring of sectioned carbon rims reverberating off the endless walls of firs.
After sitting idle on a driveway somewhere in Belgium for the better part of five months, the Destination Everywhere van made its 2020 debut this month. Departing from Stuttgart, the year's first Destination Everywhere adventure would take seven riders on a 650km journey towards Munich. Planning an A-to-B adventure like this has always followed the same simple recipe:
Step 1: Pick a starting city (A);
Step 2: Pick a finishing city (B);
Step 3: Take delight in devising the most convoluted route between A and B that passes through picturesque towns and up challenging climbs.
These adventures have always held the mountains in their good graces, and a long day of climbing in the final days before reaching the destination was their coup de grâce. With the Alps slightly beyond reach, we turned to the Black Forest to try and seek our thrills. The route was designed to spend the first two days following the hilly roads which cut through the dense, wooded area. At 10km and boasting a 9% average gradient, The Kandel HC climb would greet the team halfway through the second day and prove to be an early test of everyone's legs. But even with the directions illuminated on your GPS screen, once you head into the woods of the Black Forest, you come to realise how easy it is to completely lose yourself.
Climb the Alps and as you ascend above the treeline, the vegetation gives way to a craggy, barren surface that offers a panoramic vista of your surroundings. Often with relative ease, you could pick out the town from whence you came and the village to where you will be heading. The roads which permeate through the Black Forest do not offer such vantage points. Waves of green rise hundreds of metres above you and then come crashing down, dragging you with it like a rip current back to the depths of the forest floor. Sprawling over an area of 6000m2, the rare glimpse offered from an opening on the crest of the forest's uplands leaves you feeling marooned eternally in a sea of deciduous giants.
I think of what it is like to ride back home. Stressful weeks, busy jobs, and the general chaos of life present this constant desire for you to escape. You hop on the bike, circumnavigate the city's congested streets, watching as the highrises slowly give way to suburbs to rolling farm fields. But you never really escape. Even on a day filled with empty roads, you still encounter some semblance of humanity. Small towns and villages with corner shops. Hectares of farmland with livestock that have been put out to pasture. Even without these things, you still feel connected to the rest of the world, knowing that, even for the smallest emergency, help is just one phone call away.
But in the Black Forest, you are on your own. No cell reception, no lifelines. We ride together as a group, but as the roads turn towards the sky, one by one, we slowly start to break apart and drop off the back, fading into the darkness. You follow the route on your screen but feel an overwhelming desire to leave a trail of breadcrumbs behind you in hopes that you will be able to find your way back home. Any thoughts of stress or the chaos of life back home vanish. Your life exists only in this moment. You are alone in this forest and nothing else matters.
Eventually, our time in the Black Forest comes to an end. We continue on our route, passing through orchards and picking fresh cherries off the trees as roadside snacks. But the near-constant thoughts I once had of returning to work on Monday have withered away. We will soon be in Munich, but my thoughts are still lost in the woods. I know that the stress and anxiety from everyday life will eventually return. It will only mean that it is a matter of time until I return here, ready to lose myself in the woods.