Grenzstein bikepacking

Grenzsteintrophy self supported bikepacking

By Paul Errington

Embark on the Grenzsteintrophy, where borders blur and the spirit of adventure knows no bounds.

Bike packed.. bag packed… feeling pretty stressed. The event starts today.. 800 miles to ride… got a schedule to ride too .. lets hope the legs and the mind decide to play ball and all goes well.

The Grenzsteintrophy (Border Stone Trophy) is a self supported ride over a distance of approx. 1300 kms (800 miles). It is mostly off-road following the former border line between East and West Germany.

Ride organiser Gunnar lists the Tour Divide race as an influence and model on which the event is run, and the spirit of the event is enshrined in a riders code that has been devised to provide a level playing field on a minimal budget. What this means is that there is no prize money, no support, no time control and no organization along the route.

Riders are expected to carry everything they need on their bikes, we are permitted to visit shops for supplies along the way.. but this does not mean any kind of prearranged services or assistance! Riding alongside with other riders is permitted, but sharing of equipment is not allowed. “It is the goal of this event to challenge the individual rider and not a support crew.”

Day 1

The Grenzstein Experience
“A Political border does not take into consideration the topography of the land which it crosses, the surface upon which it travels or the need of a rider to eat and drink”.. Paul Errington, 2011

I couldn’t find a quote which summed up my feelings towards the 2011 Grenzstein Trophy course so I quoted myself ;)

The short story to this adventure is I went to Germany .. I started the event.. I rode 700km in 3.5 days .. I called it a day and came home.

For those that need more detail than that it went like this…

I flew out to Germany and met up with fellow Grenzstein rider and an American living in Germany ..Phil Fogg .. Phil is an awesome guy that even though we had never met went out of his way to help me out with this trip ... Huge thanks first of all to you Phil.. I can see many more adventures for us in the future .. also thanks to Phil’s son Eric for helping with both the drive to the start and my lift from where my Grenzstein ride ended.

After the long drive up to the north of Germany to the start in Priwal we met with other riders at a pre race dinner ... we soon realised our 8 day time limit was going to be a stretch with most guys shooting for 10 days plus ... from the start we had our work cut out.

The next morning saw some group photos being shot on the beach before a 9am start. We started on the beach with some pre race pics of the riders later than we would have liked but we were at last underway and the relaxation of if I had forgotten anything now it was too late so why worry… myself and Phil seemed to be on the front of the pack… the 2 singlespeed riders setting the tempo for the geared boys until an error in GPS reading saw us back in the comfort of the middle of the pack.

The first few days of the Grenzstein we were told were pretty flat so plan of attack was to knock out some big miles.. sorry Europe… kilometre’s in the first few days to take the pressure off when the course got hilly.

200km seemed a realistic target for the first day so that’s what we went for. The first few km’s of day one were as expected, nice wide gravel track with sections of sand to keep you on your toes but then we fired straight into singletrack, an unexpected surprise, the riding was good, the temperature was hot… happy days.

We rode mainly gravel and some tarmac but also got our first taste of the infamous Grenzstein Trophy tank plates… these concrete sectional plates laid to allow tanks to patrol the border… each section a few metres in length.. each plate punctuated with brick size holes which were orientated length ways on the flat and across on steep slopes… riding had to be done on the flat strips between these holes or a teeth rattling vibration would be produced.

One thing that was immediately apparent on this route was that opportunity to replensih food and water without going a way off route was limited… in fact as we were mainly reliant on a GPS route we had no idea if venturing off into nearby towns would bear fruit ... so when we could we stopped and stocked… this meant our first stop came at 140km when a small town bakery provided some welcome breads, cakes and drinks and a 10 minute time out from pedalling… the flatter nature of these initial days were tough on singlespeeders as we were having to turn a pretty high cadence to keep the few faster geared boys within touch.

After our late afternoon break we no longer had any riders in sight in front or behind so could settle into a more natural pace on the bikes… wasn’t long before the ‘flat’ first day got a little hilly with a section of steep rolling hills within a forest which were a push up and then pedal as much as possible on the backside to allow you to gain the most amount of distance up the next climb… this went on for a few km’s.

As the evening drew in we took dinner at a burger place, this is where my introduction to the drink Vita Malz was made… alcohol free beer of sorts, extra sugary and everything a rider needs after 12 hours plus of riding.

After burgers we made a final 7km section to a campground, 195km ridden, 5km short of the target but the opportunity of toilets etc was too good to pass up. As we settled into the bivvi bags for the night the mosquito’s descended. I was using a head net but the noise of the little fellas buzzing around my face was keeping me awake… then as a light rain started I saw Phil get up dragging his sleeping set up off in the direction of the toilets… no more than 20 minutes later I set off in search of his hideout.

I circled the toilet block… confused to not find him in the warm shower block as that would of been my spot of choice. I shone my headtorch into the communal recreation room but couldn’t see anything… as I opened the last door to try into the communal kitchen area I found Phil startled looking like he had just been busted :) ... good find by Phil and it at least allowed some sleep away from bugs and rain.

Day 2

Day 2 was approached more business like… alarm at 4.30am.. we were packed and moving by 5.00am.

The riding in the morning featured a lot of equestrian trail, this means sand.. lots of horrible dragging sand. There is no real technique other than to soft pedal through this stuff.. impossible on a singlespeed so these sections were torture.

Another ominous highlight of the morning was riding past the Gorleben salt mine… now used for storing toxic materials. The huge structure of the mine towering out from forest that surrounded it, guards with alsation dogs patrolled inside the high wire fence.. I was happy to pedal on passed this particular landmark.

Our early start had put us on the route in first place overtaking those that had decided to catch a few extra minutes of sleep that morning. As we pondered the logic of following the gps track through the middle of a corn field we were caught up by course record holder Rene ... he let us know of a spot for breakfast so 10km later after riding a total of 70km that morning we got to have some breakfast… Vita Malz and Schnitzel :)

Soon after breakfast and back on the trail Rene rode away from us leaving me and Phil again to ride our own tempo ... the track was severely overgrown in places with more than a fair share of nettles to keep myself and Phil yelping for a few kilometres.

The lack of opportunity for food and water was again proving a real difficulty to deal with… temperatures were pretty hot so drinking plenty was a necessity. We must have passed through 6 villages with not only no sign of a shop but no sign of any people !!! Eventually we spotted a women getting into her car and before I could react Phil was out the saddle sprinting and performed a highly dramatic skid alongside to emphasize our need for water :) Although in general a very reserved nation of people their willingness to assist never came into question and we were soon riding with full hydration packs and water bottles.

Mid afternoon we came to another confusing section of gps route forcing us through the centre of a copse with no obvious route on the road… at this point we met Gunnar the race organiser who himself was circling trying to figure out what the hell was going on with the course.

Our now group of 3 enjoyed the quiet roads and good weather… taking time out to grab a pizza by a canal.

By the time we hit 200km we had picked up another couple of riders, Edward and Stefan, and the search for a spot to bivvi started… 20km later we were down to a group of 4 riders and by the time we actually found a spot to sleep we had covered 230km. The bivvi spot however was superb, located back off the road a local school had a sheltered walkway around the edge of the building and the trees and bushes at the front of the building meant we were out of sight to passers by, a good opportunity to dry out some kit after the few showers we had had towards the end of the days riding but also break out the stove and have a hot drink ... little pleasures in life :)

Day 3

The start of day 3 was the same deal as day 2 ... 4.30am alarm and away by 5am.

This time we were straight onto the tank plate then off for a short while then back on for what was the longest straight I think I have ever ridden 3 or 4 km long. Gunnar had warned us today was the start of the ‘real’ Grenzstein… kicking off with the 1100m peak called the Brocken… we would pass through the Harz mountains that day and the hills would start.

We made the first 50 or so km pretty easy and found a guesthouse for coffee and a coke. Then we started the 7km ish climb from around 200m to 1100m, the climb started nicely through woodland on gravel then onto tank plate, a brief break from climbing on a rocky fireroad descent then back into it with the final 3km being a push up 20 % plus gradient tank plate… nearing the top the weather was raining hard and misty ... a mast appearing out of the mist signified the top.

I knew Gunnar was ahead but when I reached the top and circled the many little cafe’s I couldn’t locate his bike… guessing he didn’t wanna stay up there long I descended off the top in pursuit.. the descent chilled me and it took a while before feeling came back into my hands. I rode pretty hard for an hour with no sign of Gunnar ahead of me on the trail.

I kept riding until I reached a section crossing gravel, here tyre tracks were obvious and there was only one which must have been Renes. I decided to stop and wait for 10 minutes… then 20 minutes… then 30 minutes… when 40 minutes passed I switched on my phone to receive a message from Phil to let me know that he had met with Gunnar at the summit of the Brocken ... somehow I had missed them. I waited getting Grace at home to try and track them down using the Spot trackers we carried… after an hour they showed up and we were back riding as a group again.

The weather continued to get worse after descending the Brocken and we were riding in pretty miserable rain, after 125 ish km ridden we reached a small town, Neuhof, the guys managed to locate a guesthouse… it was only 4pm in the afternoon so I wasn’t keen to stop but was keen to eat so we stopped in for food. After a while it was clear that Phil and Gunnar were not keen to continue riding in the rain. As a Brit rain is our thing… we always have it so always ride in it… I toyed with the idea of continuing alone but knowing myself decided I would fair better in a group so stayed.

Gunnar suggested that night a possible alternative to the set course… some 300km shorter… I really wasn’t keen to go down that road so was happy when it seemed this idea had gone and we were focused on getting this thing finished.

Bikepacking Bags

Dual-ended handlebar dry bag: fully waterproof, 13L
Large dual-ended handlebar dry bag: fully waterproof, 20L
Tapered saddle bag dry bag: fully waterproof, 13L
Small, waterproof handlebar bag: lightweight, 3L
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Waterproof handlebar bag: lightweight, 13L
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Large waterproof handlebar bag: lightweight, 20L
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Waterproof top tube bag: lightweight, 0.65L
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Waterproof stem-mounted bag: lightweight, 1.4L
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Waterproof frame bag: lightweight, available in 3 sizes
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Waterproof saddle bag: lightweight, 0.5L
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Waterproof saddle pack: lightweight, 12L
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Canister handlebar bag: UK made, weatherproof, 4L
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