Monday, 3 August 2009

A Pleasant Trip to Hell and Back

We spent the weekend doing something totally unrelated to medieval garments for a change, by going to a small townlet in the Franconian Forest (the German Wikipedia article is much better, if you can read German), quite close to where I grew up, and spent Sunday in this region doing a lot of eating and some bicycling on a trip to Hell and back.

If you now wonder what we were up to: We participated in the 7th "Frankenwald Radmarathon", a yearly event where you can cycle up to 250 km, going up lots of inclines out of valleys and back down into valleys. The event is amazingly well organised, and it seems as if 2300 cyclists are no problem at all for all the organisers and helpers - everybody is friendly, relaxed and helpful. The tour includes several larger roads (Bundesstraßen), and there are helpers from the fire brigades who even stop the cars so that the cyclists can roll through smoothly, without stopping. That really feels like being very, very important. The landscape is absolutely amazing, with forests, fields, little creeks, and many quiet roads where you hear nothing but the wind singing in your ears and the tires singing on the road. There are also lots and lots of food, starting with coffee and cake on Saturday, continuing with all-you-can-eat pasta (with sauce Bolognese) on the evening to fill up reserves, there's a breakfast buffet on Sunday morning (you can start tucking in at 5 o'clock there), and after the start at 7 o'clock, there's a stop every 30 km or so where you can re-fill your bottles, have a rest and eat and drink. They call it "Germany's only all-inclusive bicycle marathon", and it really is all-inclusive. We even joked that it's just eating, with the buffet tables spread a bit apart so you can have room for more food again. One of the "food stops" is in a place called "Hölle" - the German word for hell. (Where, incidentally, one of the sponsors is located: "Höllensprudel".)

In addition to all the food and drink and the beautiful landscape, with wild forests and houses all covered in schist shindles, the organisers and helpers manage to turn the whole event into one gigantic party. There's show dancing, music, music and cheering people in Stockheim when the peloton rushes over a large roadbridge for the start in the morning, and there are commentators at start, goal and on the steepest climb 10 km before the goal. And there are spectators dotted all along the road: People sitting on the sidewalk in lawn-chairs and watching, people watching from their gardens or balcony or out of their windows. On top of the last steep hill, there's a "fan mile" with a bunch of people cheering, shouting, photographing, making lots of noise to help motivate the cyclists, and one of the obligatory professional photographers making a picture of all those creeping uphill (about 1,5 km with up to 17% incline).

All together, it is a wonderful event - beautiful views, interesting routes, wonderful food and a great party. And we'll be sure to go to Hell again next year in August!

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