Part Two: Orbits Five to Eight
Greetings! I am riding my fifth Orbit in the mountains of the Rhön. The Orbit is called BIG BANG and is 160 kilometers with a total ascent of 3,350 meters / 10,990 feet. This event happens close to an area on the former GDR border, somewhere I am familiar with. In the past few years, I have often participated in the famous “Bimbach” marathon on my racing bike.
I made the trip to the small town of Fulda, and parked my car on the outskirts of town sans problems. The ride began at 6 a.m., with brisk temperatures hanging at around 11 degrees Celcius / 52 degrees Fahrenheit. After a few kilometers, the route turned to a steep uphill on gravel. Since it was so early in the morning, I encountered a lot of animals in the woods. In addition to deer and rabbits, I spotted many squirrels running across the path. I rode 85 kilometers without a break to Heimboldshausen. At a petrol station, I filled my bottles with 1.5 liters of Coke, and rode around the impressive “Monte Kali” (Monte Kali and Kalimanjaro are local colloquial names for the spoil heap or spoil tip that towers over the town).
The “Point Alpha” memorial is a little thought-provoking and a memorial to an authentic scene from the Cold Car. Here I could ride almost to the perforated plate paths directly on the old “death strip” that resided between the border. The border installations / towers still reside here, reminiscent of times of the Cold War.
From this point, our track ascends almost 700 meters into a dark forest. From here on to Fulda the “Milseburger Kuppenrhön” tends to go downhill. Inside the 1,200 meter long, illuminated Milseburg tunnel, the temperature hovers around eight to ten degrees Celcius year-round. On a steep descent on a narrow single trail, I took a spill and ended up with a light sprain to my thumb. However, I’m going full throttle because I want to finish in under 8.5 hours. Shortly before arriving in Fulda, my rear wheel starts to jump around. Upon inspection later, the carcass inside the tire had cracked. I met my goal, arriving back at the car in 8 hours and 28 minutes.
Two weeks later after my trip to the Rhön, I have to tackle the Orbit Thuringia with the name “Lunar Loops”. I spend the night relaxing in beautiful old Eisenach below the Wartburg. At 8 a.m., I start heading north and after 25 kilometers I’ve already ascended almost 500 meters in altitude. The course becomes really intense. The narrow forest paths are very muddy and I slide more than I ride. On a steep descent, I have to get off my bike twice to avoid losing the bike and hurting myself.
The “Hörselberg Trail” that follows is even more intense. Many stones and roots make riding difficult. After that, the course becomes flatter in between the upcoming and toughest climb on the course. From Georgenthal, the track heads uphill to the winter sports resort of Oberhof. I pass the ski jumping hill and the world-famous biathlon center on the “Rennsteig”. The “Rennsteig” trail runs along the Thuringian Forest. It is very nice to ride on with a gravel bike and there are only a few rough sections to disrupt the rhythm. Shortly before the highest point, the “Großer Inselsberg”, I notice that my rear wheel is losing air. During the following rapid descent, the air suddenly escapes from the rear tire. Repair is impossible and after 140 kilometers I have to give up. A disappointment for sure.
A week later I started over on the same route. I changed my tires from the light and fast Panaracer Gravelking Slicks in 650b x 42mm, to the Gravelking SS+ in 650b x 48m. Although this tire rolls a little slower, it provides better off-road traction and is more resistant to punctures. I use my new tires to tackle the Orbit of Thuringia with 170 kilometers and over 3,000 meters of ascending, sans breakdowns in less than nine hours.
Next Saturday, onto the gravel again. The Orbit “Putonic Piste” in the Harz Mountains is coming up. I’m staying in the small town of Bad Lauterberg and don’t get onto the course until 9 a.m., mostly because of the late breakfast in the Hotel. The longest climbs are early on the course. At the highest point of the day, the course drops down a wide road at almost 80 km/h before heads to the so-called “Dammgrabenweg”. It is here that I meet another rider who I will see several times during the day. The “Dammgrabenweg” will do you good, especially on warm days, because it is mostly in the shade, provides spring water, and is almost flat as a wider forest path. In some places, it briefly turns into a trail, which is, however, passable without any problems. This is followed by a short descent. This ends with a small stream crossing or over a small bridge, before a wide gravel road climbs high into the sky.
In the historic town of Wernigerode, I fill my bottles with Coke. The thermometer shows over 30 degrees and the course is getting more and more strenuous. After many more long and steep climbs, I meet the rider I mentioned earlier on the final climb. With two riders, the suffering is a bit easier to endure working together. The last descent is a gravel dream. First on a wide slope, then from the reservoir on a wide road down to the destination in Bad Lauterberg. After exactly eight hours, I completed my 7th Orbit with 164 kilometers and 2,885 meters of ascent. Now it’s time to recuperate after three hard Orbit weekends and focus on the eighth and last Orbit.
I rode my eighth and final orbit in the state of Bavaria. I start in Ingolstadt, the city of the Illuminati, Frankenstein, and the eponymous beer. Fast gravel tracks head west with a roaring tailwind. On the way, I encounter few people in this remote landscape. Near Eichstätt I spot the light-colored quarries on the hills. Many fossils have been found here, and down in the valley, the Catholic city is adorned with baroque splendor.
Along the Altmühl river, the orbit leads into a single trail that ends high up on a paraglider launch site. Riding pleasure comes soon after on luxuriously wide gravel roads through the lush forests and barren valleys. Halfway through orbit, I reach Kinding. At a petrol station, I fill my bottles with the obligatory Coke and quickly consume another chocolate bar. I conquered the steepest ascent of this orbit featuring a gradient of 20%. After a nice descent, I reach Riedenburg. Along the Main-Danube Canal, my gaze meets the picturesque Prunn Palace. After this flat section, the course rises again. I am rolling again on the Way of St. James, which is lined with hop fields. The “Kösching Forest” begins not far from here. The final kilometers traverse gravel bike paths into Ingolstadt. After almost 8.5 hours and just before the rain starts, I have finished my eighth and final orbit in 2021.
After eight successful Orbits, almost nine if you count my DNF, I awaited the final ranking which went online on August 17th, 2021. In the overall ranking of all riders, I finished the Orbit 360 series in 8th place. Adding to this good news, my ranking in the 40+ age category, first place! I feel a good sense of accomplishment considering I am a 55 year-old gravel cyclist.
You can read more about this series on the Orbit360 Website.