In the Netherlands, the GR5 was an interesting ramble through town and country. In northern Belgium, the route frequently follows managed forest tracks and local mountain bike routes, often abandoned doubletrack. Passing near Maastricht and Liège, the routes enters the famed Ardennes Mountains, famed for being the only mountains in Belgium. If this were Pennsylvania, which is how it looks from squinted eyes atop a hill, we would joke that these are mere hills. But the same is true both here and there, these are steep hills approaching 1000ft in elevation range, and after riding up and over a couple I am happy to regard them as mountains. Finally, this is real mountain biking. The diversity of the trail has not diminished, simply more time is spent off-pavement and even off-road– yes, there is a distinction. Some hiking required, and many challenging ascents and technical descents, but mostly pleasant riding. ‘Bikepacking the Ardennes’ may be a ready made route, and an instant classic.
These images are from the last three days, as hills turn to mountains. Only 1550km to Nice. Not sure if we are going there. Always passing through tunnels.
We never leave at first light, but we ride until the last hour almost every night. The sun retires past 10PM, lingering below the horizon for another hour. As the days get warmer, evening becomes a nice time to ride.
Mornings are equally nice– cool and full of excitement for the day. Change is the essence of this route, and scouting the next turn keeps us busy all day. Shopping for food, picnicking, and swimming revive our muscles and our interests in riding. Belgian beer, chocolate, and waffles keep our energy levels high for the next climb. More than a few locals have been interested in our curious ‘touring bikes’.
We share the route with a few others, including farmers, cattle, cars, hikers; nettles, raspberry brambles, deer ticks, tall grasses, overgrown trees, mud, rock, roots; and very infrequently, other cyclists.
The Ardennes are wonderful. Growing up in rural New York, I hunger for these kinds of landscapes. Touring in the Rockies the past few summers and living in New Mexico, I had forgotten about humidity altogether. Mud and nettles; rocks and steeps; cities and steps all got together.
Many stone buildings do not have provisions for exterior plumbing, which can make it hard to find unattended water sources. Cemeteries are a safe bet. In the mountains, streams are always found in the valleys.
Camping has almost never been easier. Much of the trail passes through public forests. A bench, like a picnic table, is a nice feature.
In 2009, the GR5 marked its 50th anniversary.
Here, our descent to Stavelot– a half-day in the life of a GR5 thru-biker.
A tunnel completes the route to town. Both natural and manufactured features make the GR routes exceptional. The footpath shares this tunnel with a small stream.