Ride Report: Timo Rokitta - Orbit360 2021 Part 2
Gravel Union On
20 August 2021
I am riding my fifth Orbit in the mountains of the Rhön. The Orbit is called Big Bang and is 160 kilometers in length, with an altitude gain of 3,350 meters. I am familiar with the area, which lies on the former GDR border. In the past few years I have often participated in the famous “Bimbach” marathon on my racing bike in this region.
I parked my car on the outskirts of the small town of Fulda without any problems. It was a cool 11 degrees when I started riding at 6 a.m. After a few kilometers I hit the first steep gravel climb. Since it was still early in the morning, I met a lot of animals in the woods. In addition to deer and rabbits, I also saw many squirrels running across the path. I rode 85 kilometers without a break to Heimboldshausen. At a gas station, I filled my bottles with Coke and then set off around the impressive “Monte Kali”. The “Point Alpha” memorial is a little thought-provoking. Here I rode on the perforated concrete plate paths directly on the old "death strip". The border installations are reminiscent of the times of the Cold War.
Quite inconspicuously, it goes up to almost 700 meters on an ascent in a dark forest. From here on to Fulda the “Milseburger Kuppenrhön”, the routed tended to go downhill. In the 1.200-meter-long, illuminated Milseburg tunnel, the temperature is only around 8-10 degrees all year round. On a steep descent on a narrow single track I crashed and sprained my thumb, but luckily it didn’t stop me riding. In the last section of the route I went full throttle because I wanted to finish in under 8.5 hours. But, shortly before Fulda, my rear wheel started to jump. As it turned out later, the tyre carcass had cracked. I managed to get back to my car in Fulda in a time of 8 hours and 28 minutes.
Two weeks later after my trip to the Rhön, I have a go at the Orbit Thuringia, which is known as "Lunar Loops". I spend the night relaxed in beautiful old Eisenach below the Wartburg. At 8 a.m. I start heading north and after 25 kilometers I've already climbed almost 500 meters in altitude. Then it gets really intense. The narrow forest paths are very muddy and I slide sideways more than I ride. On a steep descent I have to get off my bike twice and can only avoid crashing with great difficulty. The "Hörselberg Trail" that follows becomes even more intense. Many stones and roots make riding difficult. Luckily after that it gets flatter and I arrive quite soon at the toughest climb. From Georgenthal it goes 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 through the Thuringian Forest. It is very nice to ride on with a gravel bike and is mainly smooth, with just occasional rough patches. 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 tyre. Repair is unfortunately impossible and after 140 kilometers I have to give up.
A week later I start again on the same route. I have now changed the tyres. Instead the thin and fast Panaracer Gravelking Slicks in 650bx42, I have now mounted the Gravelking SS+ in 650bx48. Although this tyre rolls a little slower, it grips better off-road and is more puncture-proof. I can use it to tackle the orbit of Thuringia which is 170 kilometers long and includes over 3.000 meters of altitude. Luckily this time I finish the loop without any mechanical issues in a time of less than 9 hours.
The following Saturday I was back on the gravel. The Orbit "Putonic Piste" in the Harz Mountains was my plan. I stayed in the small town of Bad Lauterberg and don't get on the trail until 9 a.m. because of the late breakfast in the hotel. I have to ride the longest climbs first. Once I reached the highest point, the route then went down a wide road at almost 80 km/h before it joined the "Dammgrabenweg" (an irrigation channel used in former mining activities in this area). Here I met another rider who I saw several times this 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 ended with a small stream crossing, before a wide gravel road corkscrewed up into the sky!
In the historic town of Wernigerode I filled my bottles with Coke. The thermometer showed over 30 degrees and it was now getting more and more strenuous. After many more or less long and steep climbs, I met the other rider again on the last ascent. For two riders working together, the agony was easier to endure after just 160 kilometers. The last descent was then a gravel dream. First on a wide hillside, then from the reservoir on a wide road down to the destination in Bad Lauterberg. After exactly 8 hours I completed my 7th Orbit. The route was 164 kilometers and included 2885 meter of climbing. Now it was time to recuperate after three hard Orbit weekends and then finish the 8th and last Orbit.
I rode my 8th and last orbit in the state of Bavaria. I start in Ingolstadt, the home of the Illuminati, Frankenstein and the eponymous beer. I headed out onto fast gravel trails heading west with a tail wind. On the way I hardly met any people in the remote landscape. Near Eichstätt I saw 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 route led into a single track that ends high up on a paraglider launch site. Riding pleasure comes afterwards on super-wide gravel roads through the lush forests and barren valleys. Halfway through the orbit, I reached Kinding. At a gas station, I fill my bottles with the now obligatory Coke and quickly ate another chocolate bar. Next, I conquered the steepest climb of this orbit with topped out at over 20%. After a nice descent, I reached Riedenburg. Along the Main-Danube Canal, my gaze met the picturesque Prunn Palace. After this flat section, the route headed up again. From this point I am again on the Way of St. James, which was lined with hop fields. The “Kösching Forest” began not far from here. The last kilometers led over gravel bike paths into Ingolstadt. After almost 8.5 hours and just before the rain started, I finished my 8th and last orbit in 2021.
After riding eight orbits (actually nine including my one DNF) I was really looking forward to seeing the final ranking, which went online on August 17th 2021. In the overall ranking of all riders, I was able to achieve the desired top ten placement and I finished the Orbit 360 series in 8th place.
However, the joy was even greater when I looked at the results of the Over-40 age group, which I won! I can confidently celebrate the victory here as a 55-year-old gravel biker.