Tuesday 20 August 2013

The Exciting Sauerland: an RTF Experience

With the summer in Germany rapidly moving towards its end, we knew we had to take advantage of some fine weather and go for a loooong ride somewhere.  The opportunity presented itself on Saturday with the SSV Hagen sports club's annual RTF (Radtourenfahrt).  Tom, Rudiger and I did it last year except that due to horrible painful muscle cramps I only limped through the 111 km course while the others managed to do the 156 km one.  I was feeling pretty good and determined there would not be a repeat performance.

The weather had been forecast to be excellent but on the 40 minute drive to Hagen we ran into some rain and skies remained grey.  After some minor navigational confusion (Tom's car GPS was not working) we managed to find ourselves at the big sports facility and arena where the ride had begun last year.  A quick sign-up, payment of our 8 Euros (2 Euros to be refunded when we turned our numbers back in) and we were heading out of the wet parking lot and into the countryside.  The tour is called "Durch das reizvolle Sauerland," or "Through the exciting Sauerland."  This is the wilder part of the province, the green heart of Westphalia.

After leaving Hagen, a fairly industrial town, we began the long climb of around 25 kms that took us to the first control point in Ilheim.  Now the clouds disappeared and we were enjoying beautiful summery blue skies.  The climb had been along a good road with heavy forest on either side and after only 29 kms we were still fresh.  The next bit of the climb was quite steep and I was careful to keep a steady but not too difficult pace as I had already had experience problems on this hill last year.

But I recalled also that this hill was not nearly as much a test as the next one, when the road took us into the small town of Neuenrade and a brutally steep climb directly out of the place which then turned into a more reasonable gradient but felt like it lasted for 4-5 kms.  Now at Km 46 we reached the next control at Affeln.  This was one of the decision points and last year I had opted to leave the others and take the shorter route.  This time I did not have any cramping and off we all went together.

As an aside, there was a sign posted at the control point, suggesting that "Fastidious Cyclists Do Not Piss Here and For All Others It is Forbidden To Do So."

Heading southeast we soon came to a truly glorious descent, with gentle hairpins and good asphalt until we approached the bottom.  The scenery was bucolic, with clear vistas of the hills surrounding us and the forests everywhere.  Logging is an important industry in the Sauerland, something you would not see in the Rhineland to the west.

Our downhill route speedily brought us into the very active town of Plettenberg, where the usual Saturday shopping and cafe-enjoying was going on.  The Sauerland also has an active tourism sector and is noted for winter sports.  We had passed Km 62 now and the ride was progressing perfectly, with good roads, excellent scenery and fine weather.  The others were ahead of me and I rode right past the turn but thanks to the GPS I saw immediately I was off-course and turned back to tackle the next steep climb.

We passed through many small sleepy villages--Oesterau, Attendorn, Neuenhof, Lichtringhausen, Windhausen--until, at Km 82 at the top of another climb we reached the Rohscheid control.  It struck us here that we were among the last riders to be doing the long course; many people had taken the shorter one after Affeln but we were surprised how few of us there were.  There was food at the control and several riders discussing doping in pro cycling (!) but we did not stop to hear all the discussion but headed onwards.

The route was very well-marked with yellow signs with a red arrow indicating direction.  They were positioned at every intersection and then a hundred meters or so along the correct course afterwards.  This system worked well until we came to around Km 105 and our GPS course told us to turn and there was no sign at the intersection.  We elected to go 1.5 kms up the road to the next intersection to see if there was anything but no luck so we turned around and rode back to the original intersection.  Sure enough, 100 m up the road was our sign, but the primary one was missing.  We were joined by two of the riders from the last control point who had also passed by the intersection.

Now we faced the last really hard climb of the trip, which I somehow managed to do with considerable agony in 2012: the so-called Col de Rosmart, as some way had put on a sign.  It was probably about four kms but quite steep in parts and we were starting to feel the effort.  At the top was our next control point and the chance to have something to eat in preparation for the last 35 kms.  Of course we were put to the test on leaving the Brunsheid control as a wonderful downhill segment of road suddenly turned into a steep potholed hell ride on what must be the Worst Road in Germany.  Luckily this did not go on for too long but it was no fun at all.

We were prepared mentally for the next control, which had been located last year next to a house where a big Canadian flag was flying.  The flag was there but the control point was gone; everyone had packed up and left so no more food or water but since we only had 16 kms left this was not a big deal.  The remainder of the ride was mainly downhill, except for two little but poisonous hills just before we reached the industrial outskirts of Hagen.  With 8 km to go I suddenly had a cramp in my right adductor but quickly stopped. massaged the muscle and drank a lot.  Shifting into an easier gear seemed to solve the problem. Rudiger, unfortunately, was having a bad cramp day himself and had to stop quite a bit but in the end he rolled into the arena parking lot only 10 minutes after we did.

We turned in our numbers, used the showers and headed back to Dusseldorf: mission accomplished!  With our little detour we had ridden 161 kms in all, with around 2200 m of climbing at an average speed of 22 km/h and getting to around 70 km/h on the downhill.  It is a really pretty area and the good roads (for the most part) and lack of traffic make it a superb cycling destination. 

(Since I was too darn lazy to bring my camera on the ride this time, I am grateful to Tom Fitzpatrick for letting me use his photos.  They are all his except the arena parking lot one and the control card image.  Thanks, Tom!)

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