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Time to Get Lost
Photo: Ben Ingham
WORDS: Cindy Lewellen
“Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.”
— Henry David Thoreau
I recently read in a research study that “even seasoned female riders feel uneasy going on long solo rides for fear of getting lost.” This finding bewildered me for two reasons. One, it implied ‘getting lost’ was always a negative. And two, given this was one of several reasons why women choose not to ride alone, it suggested most women feel riding solo is inherently unsafe or risky, or worse, unenjoyable.
I by no means consider myself a "seasoned cyclist” but few things make me happier than combining my passion for the bike with my passion for travel and exploration. By choice or default I do most of my riding alone. Which (apparently) makes me a prime candidate for getting lost. But I’m a firm believer that some of our most memorable experiences and adventures can happen in the process of finding our way. Getting lost can be a lot of fun.
"Not all those who wander are lost.”
— J.R.R. Tolkien
My job recently took me to Berlin. When my work there was done I made my way down to Freiburg, Germany, on the encouragement of my good friend and Rapha Continental rider, Ben Lieberson, and longtime ex-colleague, Kieran Riley. Kieran and Ben would be leading an organized ride in the Black Forest from the Freiburg Collective bike festival and convinced me that joining them in the hills of Germany would be far superior to riding alone in Mallorca, my other post-Berlin option. I decided Mallorca could wait.
The riding in Berlin was a challenge due to the sheer size and sprawl of the city. I’d spent my fair share of kilometers on each ride just trying to get out of town. Frustration aside, these ‘junk miles’ resulted in some surprisingly enjoyable and intimate tours of this historic city I hadn’t experienced on prior visits. Streets, neighborhoods and shops I never would have discovered by car or foot revealed themselves by way of the bike.
Needless to say I heeded my local peers’ original advice and trained to outlying towns to commence my last couple rides in Berlin. But now I was in Freiburg and the open roads and hills of the Black Forest lay right outside my hotel door. I could hardly contain my excitement.
Photo: Ben Ingham
"Getting lost is just another way of saying 'going exploring."
— Justina Chen Headley
Anxious to begin exploring my new riding grounds, I quickly reassembled my bike and passed on the opportunity to consult a bike shop for maps or route beta, instead relying on the lame hotel map and Garmin to guide me out of town. But it didn't take long to get completely off the map, aided by the fact that my Garmin crapped out five minutes into the ride, having failed to recharge it after my last spin in Berlin.
Many kilometers later I realized I was heading in the wrong direction. However, the scenic sampling of some spectacular vineyards and villages were well worth the detour.
I followed the signs back into Freiburg and headed in the opposite direction. I had little idea where I was going or how to get there and frankly didn’t care. My pedals were turning, the sun was shining, kilometers ticking away. I still had plenty of daylight and everything I needed in my jersey pockets should anything go awry. What’s the worst that could happen?
Eventually I veered off the asphalt into a vast forested area after spotting some spectacular single track and gravel paths sparsely populated by runners and a sprinkle of bike commuters. The joggers stared at me, puzzled at this lone girl in spandex on thin tires, while the commuters nodded with apprehensive approval.
After filling my tank with sufficient vitamin G (gravel), I found a way out of the forest and back into civilization. My little excursion now had me even more turned around and I couldn’t see the hills from my vantage. Seemed like the perfect time for a little directional assistance.
Photo: Ben Ingham
I stumbled on a quaint café and asked the barista the way into the hills. Immediately evident his English was as good as my German (nonexistent), I used the universal language of finger pointing and hand gesturing--refraining from talking louder thinking my English would somehow become more German—to communicate where I wanted to go (which I didn’t really know).
He waived his hands in yonder direction, prepared me a delightful cappuccino, and I was rolling, the hills finally within my reach. I passed through what appeared to be a university town: charming homes, cobbled streets. Follow the motorbikes, that’s always a sure bet. I veered off onto a smaller road that appeared vertically bound. Through a cluster of houses I went. Up, up, up.
Soon the dwellings became fewer and the trees became denser. The smooth pavement ended and the rough, debris-covered asphalt turned into a string of harmonious switchbacks. Up I went, the canopy of trees darkening my journey skyward.
The road narrowed then transitioned into a path of beautiful, packed gravel. Stray rocks pinged musically on my titanium frame as I floated over the forest floor. Pedaling, ascending, my heart pounded and my face grinned. I was on my bike. Alone. On a beautiful gravel road in a foreign country. It doesn't get more empowering or enjoyable than that.
I suddenly realized I hadn't seen another human for quite some time now and those “what ifs” I’m usually so good at suppressing consumed my head. What if I crash? What if I get hurt? I have no idea where I am and neither does anyone else…
Photo: Ben Ingham
But as quickly as those fears entered my mind even more quickly two mountain bikers streaked across my path. They were as surprised to see me as I was them. What’s a solo girl on skinny tires doing out here anyway? Startled, I regained my composure as the riders gave me a quick wave and continued their shred down the intersecting single track.
The forest was dark by default but I was now conscious the sun was swiftly setting. Daylight was fading; I'd lost track of time in my gravel-climbing euphoria.
I bolted down the hill, stayed off the gravel paths and followed the main roads and signs back to Freiburg, a strikingly colorful sunset looming in the distance. Darkness fell as I rolled up to the hotel. So my first ride didn’t go quite as expected: it exceeded all expectations, an incredible day on the bike.
Photos: Cindy Lewellen
The next day's ride was less directionally dysfunctional thanks to the expert advice and route info from Michael Frank at Extratour. The first of my three summits up the Schauinsland gave me a healthy spanking, but my giggles of elation on the fast and twisty descent caused me to overshoot the recommended turn home. Many clicks and ample climbing later, I found my way back to Freiburg, happily exhausted and happy to have logged some impressive miles and vertical.
My solo time in the saddle would take a pause the following day as Ben was due to arrive. I could hardly wait.
We caught up over breakfast, pulled out our laptops and eagerly downloaded our Garmin data of detailed routes Ben had gleaned from a friend. Another espresso then off we pedaled, eager to suffer in the hills that lay ahead. Only, to eventually, get lost.
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