Inspired by the write up on Bikepacking.com I’d considered having a crack at the GR5 (hiking route) for a while. The last line of the blog “Continue on the GR5 in either direction to lengthen the adventure” intrigued me. When my current contract abruptly ended and knowing I’d be starting a new permanent job less than 2 weeks later, squeezing in one more bike packing trip this spring seemed far more productive than whining about the loss of 10 days income or looking for work.
Thursday evening I quit my job, Friday was unpacking from the previous weekend and packing for a 10 day trip. Saturday morning I was on my way to the train station at 6am.
The Dutch rail service is usually efficient and on time or total chaos, there’s not much in between really. Rail works, detours and a cancellation 5 minutes before departure meant a tedious morning of almost 5 hours hanging around and jumping from train to train to get to the most Southerly station in The Netherlands. From Eijsden it was a short ride to pick up the GPS track for the GR5 near the Dutch/Belgian border.
As the GR5 is in fact a hiking route, it brings its own unique challenges to cycling. Challenges I’d anticipated and looked forward to. Challenges like up and down steps in town and villages (usually to get to the local church, chapel or whatever is part of some old pilgrimage route). Rural challenges include overgrown tracks, rocks, steps, fences and gates meant to keep routes only for hikers.
By 7pm I was in the Spa after a afternoon of obstacles, hills, thorn bushes, potholes and puddles. There was a certain irony to cycling endlessly around Spa looking for a supermarket, who’d of thought I’d struggle to find water in Spa (I was being a good boy and staying out of the pubs). I eventually found a supermarket and stocked up on food, water and a cheeky small bottle of wine. Then cycled 20-30mins into the hills and forrest above town, eventually finding a nice picknick bench with a perfect wild camping spot only 30m away. I enjoyed my dinner, wine, sunset and reflected on one of the most fun afternoons cycling I’d had in a long time. My legs were covered in thorn scratches, bruises and mud. I felt awfully tired and had discovered that I’d forgotten to pack underpants. But, had an inner contentedness that can only be brought by a hard day of being out doors and knowing you have many more to come.
The next morning I was awake early, so was able to enjoy a slow start with sunrise, breakfast and a second cup of coffee in bed, it almost felt like being on holiday….
It was a chilly day with the occasional sun, rain, wind, hail stones and just about everything else that can be called spring weather. The local mountain bikers and horse riders didn’t approve of me hiding from the wind by having my morning coffee right on the path. I was a little concerned that some people need to get so stressed and start shouting about such trivialities on a Sunday morning….
The stunning views, fun climbs and forrest trails more than made up for the occasional mud dive, crappy weather and kamikaze mtb riders coming the other way. Luckily the bank holiday weekend was almost over so I’d soon have the trail almost to myself. Around the time I planned to quit for the day I stumbled on a campsite. Google told me it was cheap enough and the idea of a shower and someone else doing the cooking while I drank cold beer somewhere warm was more than appealing. I wasn’t sure whether I was in Luxembourg yet so had no idea which language to speak at the reception. This is a confusing part of the world where it could be Belgian Dutch or French, or German or Luxembourg’s…I played it safe and went for English, only to find out the campsite is run by a Dutch family….easy life. One last evening a respite before the I went into parts of Europe where they pretend they don’t understand English (France and Germany).
I went to bed with a full and warm feeling, tired but content legs after the 140km and 3200vm(vertical meters) of the last 2 days. Choosing a campsite over wild camping had been a good choice. Well thats what I thought when I went to bed anyway, after 3 hours listening to music from 3 different directions I remembered why I don’t like campsites.
Day 3 started as slowly as the previous day. The full breakfast and 2nd, 3rd, 4th coffee in the warm campsite cafe making it almost impossible to move on. But, when I got moving, it was well worth it.
The track along the Our river was not only stunning but fun to ride, my light setup proving perfect for the slightly technical sections.
Soon after I crossed the border into Luxembourg at the 3 countries border monument. Here I bumped into a German cycle tourist just breaking camp at the monument. I don’t quite understand why you’d choose to wild camp at such an obvious and well visited place, but each to their own. Stefan is doing a multi month trip around Europe, the difference in our gear and approach to our current trips was too huge to resist taking a photo 🙂
The rest of the day after the border was cycling parallel with the River Our and cycling over just about every hill on the way. I was often reminded of my choice to cycle a hiking route by the stairs I needed to climb, overgrown narrow tracks, occasional long hikes because the track was too steep to ride and the fallen tree’s across the track from time to time. Not forgetting of course the occasional unplanned dismount because I’m really not a mountain biker (more bruises and scratches for the collection). I felt in my element, carrying my bike almost as much as riding it was just what I was looking for in this trip.
I was in two minds whether to stop in Vianden or push on a little and camp. At the start of town I stumbled on a Youth Hostel and it was practically deserted, so a no brainer. When the manager started questioning me about what I’d like for dinner and almost instantly notices I was looking for a low carb option the deal was done. The shower followed by a salad with Salmon and hard bed, the perfect finish to another tough 45km of trails and trials and around 18oovm.
As I fell asleep in my deserted dormitory I was smiling and once again, worn out and sore but happy. I had no idea it was possible to have such a challenging and fun adventure so close to home.
The ride out of Vianden gave a better view of the castle than I’d had in town. Despite only cycling a kilometer or two to the view point, my legs were already hinting that it was going to be a long, painful day, The almost two months of inactivity after my Trans-Andalucia trip were starting to show. It wasn’t the end of the world that my legs didn’t want to cycle on day 4 because today would be as much about hiking, bike carrying and stairs as cycling.
The first 30km went smoothly, as much on road as winding forrest singletrack. After Beaufort castle the route followed a popular hiking route along a small river in a canyon. This was fun single track with lots of rocks and bridges to jump over or off, Occasionally I dismounted to walk past or stop for hikers (the GR5 is a walking trail after all, so its important not to be a wanker, therefore giving right of way to the hikers, hopefully preventing bikers from being banned from such routes….).
If i’d known what was to come I’d probably done less “jumping” and playing around on the rocks and bridges. I’d been warned by a passing German hiker earlier in the day that this leg would be tough for me and I wouldn’t be cycling much, he’d taken 5 hours to hike the 17km and looked fit. The first set of stairs I took in my stride, and the second all the way to the 30th set and maybe 1000+ stairs up and down. Past shocked hikers, concentrated climbers and more steps. It felt like a climb into Mordor, luckily only my sore back and shoulders to distract me instead of a whining hobbit .. I arrived in town 3 hour after leaving beaufort. So apparently even on the hiking stages a bike is faster than walking the GR5 🙂
I zoomed along the paved river track thinking it would bring me easily to my end point of Rosport. Sadly the joy was short lived and I was once again in the forrest climbing steps, cycling 100m and climbing steps (sadly damp, mossy and slippery).
The campsite at Rosport seemed more like an old peoples home than a campsite and reception wasn’t open or answering the bell. I filled my water bottles in the laundry room and head off with the food and beer I’d already bought at a fuel station in town, pushing on a little to camp in the woods just out side of town. By the time my evening stew was cooking I’d travelled around 55km, 10-15 of that hiking with my bike on my shoulders and climbing around 1800m….Though no music from a campsite to keep me awake in the woods, the sound of the rutting Deer chasing each other through the woods was hardly tranquil.
Day 5 was an fairly easy day with only a couple of tree’s to climb over and as many hills. Before reaching the 30km mark the green grass of a campsite and cold beer at the campsite in Grevenmacher where too much to resist. My legs were running on empty and it was time for a half day.
The story continues here >>> http://www.shanecycles.com/bikepacking-the-gr-5-trans-ardennes-pt-2/