Detour aux Vosges

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A wet week post-Luxembourg has sent us looking elsewhere for good weather.  Clay-rich French soil has caked our drivetrains more than a few times, and soaked our socks to the point that you don’t want to be behind us in line at the supermarché.  After nearly two months of rain, excepting my hiatus while visiting New York, we began looking south– at Provence, Spain and Italy.  Instead, in the face of potentially more wet weather, we set our sights east to the Vosges mountains, and a new long-distance mountain bike route through Alsace, the forested northeastern corner of France.  Notably, the region is home to the Rhine basin and cool-weather grapes, but the uplands rise quickly and sharply, in Appalachian style, in a way that continues to remind me of home.  They are also responsible for some of the only beer brewed in France, a continuing theme of our trip.  The Traversée du Massif Vosgien will be our home for the next week. 

The only risk of this decision was more wet weather, making muddy mountain trails unrideable, and no fun.  We broke from the GR5 after drying out in Metz, and hit the road for two days to reach the start of the trail.  Lael and I swore that if the rain continued, we would, absolutely, ride south as fast as possible.  Two days of road touring reminded us why we ride off-pavement whenever possible, although we did encounter many peaceful canals, voie verte and country roads.  Road touring in France is blissful, for sure, although we still find it more peaceful, and interesting, to ride dirt.

With barely the chance to check the weather forecast in the past two weeks, a funny thing happened when we arrived at the start of the route in Wissembourg near the German border– the skies cleared, and the sun promised to stay all week.  What lucky kids we are!  We made a brief tour along the Rhine to Strasbourg to let the forest dry for a few days.  Strasbourg is surprising– perhaps our favorite city anywhere– boasting pan-European style, bikes of all kinds, hip kids and old French, and the mighty Rhine.  There is more to say, but make a visit if you can.

Below: Near Metz, in the north of France near Luxembourg, at the top of a muddy hike-a-bike that convinced us to begin looking elsewhere.

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Riding to Wissembourg from Metz, to see for ourselves if the trail was in rideable condition.

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Crossing the northern stretch of the Vosges Mountains.  Camping in public forests is straightforward in this part of the country.  Always comparing to the familiar, this feels much like Oregon, or the Lost Coast of California.  The southern Vosges are supposed to be much taller and more rugged.

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In Wissembourg, Espace Cycles is a good place to check in for parts and repairs.  Cheap 29″ Schwalbe tires are in abundance.  Lael has got a new Nobby Nic in the rear for 30€.  Wissembourg, like a very little brother to Strasbourg, is also amazing.  Situated at the north end of the Vosges on the German border, it is a haven for hiking and biking.  Germans visit daily in hordes.

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The TMV, on verra.

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12 thoughts on “Detour aux Vosges

  1. I hope you find that pot of lasting sunshine.

    This is one reason I don’t take New Mexico for granted (though we did have a few drops of rain the other day, and the monsoons are threatening). But as you say, if you have to tour on pavement, France is a wonderful place to be doing it. In the meantime, it all looks good from the outside.

    Looking forward to seeing you back on dirt soon. Sage says a big hi.

    • We found it! We found it!

      Supposed to be nice for the next week. Quick, ride south fast.

      The Traversee du Massif Vosgien is great so far. Sorta mellow as it excludes narrow singletrack most of the time, it does find some very nice dirt roads and doubletrack, with some wide singletrack to keep us interested. It is refreshing to have a purely rideable route, compared to some of the GR routes. About 90% dirt, and the soils around here are very sandy, so they drain well after the rains. A highly recommended route for new or veteran bikepackers. Also, rideable on an old rigid 26er, like the High Sierra. Looking towards the Jura and the Massif Central soon. Maybe Alps and Pyrennees too.

      Hi to Sage and Nancy.

  2. I absolutley understand that you are thinking heading south. Green forests are lovely, central and northern Europe incredible, but I find difficult to stand more than one day of pushing my bike through muddy roads, I guess that´s something natural being from southern Spain 🙂

    And Andi is right, weather forecasts are foreseeing some dry and sunny days for the coming weeks in central Europe.

    • I grew up in central New York, so muddy trails and snowy winters are familiar. After a winter in New Mexico, I am definitely coming to appreciate endless sunshine.

    • What happens in Bitcherland, stays in Bitcherland.

      Bitche is a town at the center of the northern Vosges mountains, famous for the citadel on the hill and the surrounding forest lands. Bitcherland is the surrounding area. Many places have German names here. Surprisingly, lots of great routes are to be found in France, and elsewhere in Europe, including mapped and/or signed routes.

  3. Hey Nick!

    Still reading and living vicariously through GBT! Thanks for getting the CT Data book back to me. I’ve done a couple overnights this year, but I have to save my vacation days for Meg and my wedding later this year. Hoping to do an extended tour next year!

    Looks like you guys are having an incredible time. Keep the rubber to the ground, my friend!

    – Brad from Boulder

    • Brad, Lots of great dirt riding in Europe, probably even tame enough for a honeymoon! Still, you live at the foothills of the Rockies. I would fly around the world to ride where you live.


  4. hey nick!
    man I am so envious of your trip! I’m also glad that you are traveling through the Alsace. That region is very close to my heart as I lived in Strasbourg for over a year studying art history and riding as much as I could. Mel and I have also been talking since we met about doing a bike tour down the Rhine… so when ever that comes to fruition i’ll be picking you brain for sure!

    all the best!
    oh and ps… Abq is not the same with out you two… we miss you a ton!


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