(Pt.1 of the story can be found >>here<<)
I’d heard hikers arrive late in the night so thought I’d make their day by leaving my spare 4 eggs and extra coffee just outside their tent. I know how much it can suck to wake up hungry and still need to find an open shop, even more so when hiking than cycling.
My half day rest had done wonders for my legs, but my mood was as grey and damp as the weather in the Mossel valley.
The morning was a series of steep climbs up and down the infamous vineyards of the area, with constant views of the sleepy villages on both sides of the river that forms the border between Luxembourg and Germany. I limped from snack break to coffee break to lunch, sliding on damp grass or zooming on the asphalt farmers tracks. By lunch time the sun put in a guest appearance, lifting my spirits just in time before the scenery leveled off as I cycled to the West to run parallel with the French border and tackle a cheeky headwind. The rest of the afternoon the route was fairly uninspiring and mainly on road, which probably wasn’t a bad thing after the heavy rains the previous night and morning.
Later in the evening after a longer than planned detour to find a supermarket the trail was once again in the woods just before crossing the border into France. I’d passed several rest shelters/huts just before the detour and hoped to find one near sunset to sleep in rather than in the bush.
The route near the border got a little confusing. Apparently there is a new Gr5 route in the area and an old route, it seemed that I had the old version on my gps, but the new route was a mess as it crossed forestry works and churned up trails. Eventually I found a rideable trail again and just before sunset found an even better hut than I’d hoped with the luxury of a table and a 40 year old rusty office chair. By the time I was settling into my luxury home in France after 12 hours in the saddle I had another 80km and 2100vm(vertical meters) in the pocket. It didn’t take long for the light to go out once I was horizontal in my tent.
An early start in the morning and by 9am I’d had my first 2 hours and 15km of muddy forrest trails and single track. Using 5 out of my 10 word French vocabulary I was able to order coffee at a cafe in town. The barmaid was either still there from the night shift or had a date after work, the high heels, push up bra and super short skirt seemed a little much at 9am, but it put a smile on my face so I wasn’t complaining when I ordered my second coffee. Being able to get good coffee early in the morning brought back fond memories of my recent trip to Spain and Portugal. Its funny how the small things form such an important part of your impression of a country.
The morning continued muddy, slippy and crashy, adding a new vintage to my collection of bruises and scratches.
At the 50km mark I was still feeling strong so cracked on well into the afternoon. Luckily the muddy forrest trails turned to a mix of dry farmers tracks and roads, meaning the last half a dozen hills were much easier. At around 5pm I took a detour and dropped off the hills to once again find a supermarket and campsite on the Mossel river (another 75km/1800vm done). The campsite was uninspiring but cheap, a shower and a chance to wash my socks and shorts were both overdue. The supermarket had even sold underwear, so I could finally stop going commando in the evening 🙂
Finishing on time gave me time to look over my plan now I was more than half way through my days. With it came the shocking realization that even at the ridiculous pace I was setting it would be impossible to make it to my night train in Basel on time if I continued on the GR5.
Most problems go away by themselves or can be solved with a good nights sleep and a good breakfast. This one hadn’t.
My quickly and ill conceived plan had been to cycle around 800km+ and climb around 18000m on a hiking trail in 12 days incl travel days. Ambitious at best. Naïeve at worst.
But, most bad plans can be fixed with a little flexibility and a little hard work. So, that morning I skipped stage 10 of my planned route and blasted along the Mossel river for 40km and continued onto stage 11, saving 20-30km but more importanty 1000m of muddy climbing. Winning me almost a day. Secondly I almost combined stage 11/12. (I found a campsite 10km short of the finish). Luckily about 70% of the route was good roads and tracks through the rolling countryside and only about 20% swamp. ( I can imagine this part of the route is very dull if you are actually hiking the GR5). I rolled into a campsite that evening after 130km and another 1800vm day. I’d missed the supermarket and the campsite shop was closed. I had a quick chat with a cyclist camped next to me then left him to his pan of tinned soup while I popped into the nearby restaurant for a flash dinner and ice cold beer. I was feeling inspired by another huge achievement, my flexibly and a hard day of cycling had made the trip do-able again, just a couple more days of hard work then I could drop down into the Rhine valley and blast for Basel on my last day.
Day 9: I woke late and predictably stiff and sore. I ate a breakfast of 200g of bacon and coffee (separate containers) I couldn’t find anything else resembling food in the campsite shop (My idea of good food can be quite complicated nowadays). I took the 20km to the trail head nice and slow to loosen my old man body up a little and stopped for second breakfast at the village. I was now in the Vosges mountains. The sign said it would be an almost 5hr climb to the top of Col du Donon, I was worried, and wondering if I could hike that long.
Luckily most of the trail way rideable so I was done in little over 3 hrs. The only real challenge was the last kilometer or so that really was almost straight up and a little rocky. The rocky climb was made more fun by trying to keep up with the Sunday afternoon hikers who didn’t know what to make of the weirdo with a bike on his shoulders on a steep hiking trail.
I ate the best salad ever at the hotel just after the top the col. Took the asfalt alternative down into town, only to find all the shops, etc closed. Apparently they still have Sunday in France. I pushed on a little to a campsite just outside of town with thoughts of a dull evening meal of nuts and coffee. But, karma had a better idea. Before I’d even unpacked my tent I was drinking wine and invited to dinner by a very kind retired Dutch couple.
With a full belly and empty legs after the days 55km and 1700vm, Col du Donon off road was ticked off my to do list. By now my unplanned dismount : beer ratio was at about 4:1. Maybe drinking more beer should of been on my to do list too?
Day 10: Heavy rains all night had turned the trail into unrideable mush, slippy grass and lethal slippy rocks. Almost 15,000m of climbing the previous days have turned my legs to mush. I took an on road alternative for most of the mornings 1000m climb in the rain, with hopes of a stunning view of the Vosges mountains but I only saw mush.
By now I was cold, tired, moral was low, my time was almost up , the weather forecast was for rain all day and the GR5 was unrideable. I chose to take a b-line on road out of the mountains and head into the Rhine valley. It was a bitterly cold decent and I had to stop half way in a hut to light my stove and try and warm my hands and body.
Once in a larger town I ended up hanging around in a supermarket cafe for a couple of hours to dry out and didn’t move until I could feel my fingers and toes again. The rest of the afternoon was an uninspiring ride to the River Rhine (days total 55km 1300vm).
The nice folks at the campsite suggested I camp in the games area rather than on the wet grassy field. I thought it a good plan, parents of whining kids were less impressed with the situation.
Day 11: I’d expect the ride along the Rhine to Basel to be scenic. Sadly I only got an occasional look at the river, most of the route was in the woods with the same view. Trees left and right, damp gravel path in the middle. I don’t understand that people can cycle the long published cycle routes like that, but each to their own I guess. I regularly crashed or rode into the grass because I wasn’t paying attention or fell asleep.
120km later I was in the bustling metropolis of Basel, where I booked into the most expensive youth hostel ever and ran up a huge bar bill at the Irish bar down the road. The next day I wandered around town looking at the endless stream of pretty commuter bikes and in wonder that people don’t attach their bike to something when locking it up. That evening I took the night train back to Amsterdam and home.
The grand total was 750km, 14,700 m climbing in 11 days. My brain felt just as fried as my legs after trying to be polite, ordering coffee/beer or getting a campsite in the 10 words of each of the 5 languages I encountered within 5 days. Usually while I was totally broken or looking like a drunk muddy tramp (wasn’t drunk promise). it was all quite confusing 🙂
The end . . . . .