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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Running away with the circus

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Jo Emmers ran away with the circus fourteen years ago.  He has been at it ever since.  He is a performer of all kinds– a comedian, acrobat, puppeteer, vocalist, and a dramatist.  He, like others in the circus, are responsible for all aspects of the operation, both on stage and off.  Circus Ronaldo has been in existence for over forty years, with a familial history even more storied, which now includes current members that count six generations of circus performance.  The circus travels from city to city, in a caravan consisting of everything needed for their performances.

Jo caught us filling our water bottles in the park.  He wandered over to have a chat about traveling by bike, as he says he also enjoys riding and traveling by bike.  Shortly, he invites us to stay for the show.  And for a simple meal after the show. And for the night, in the back of the circus’ box truck.  Jo rides a nearly original Raleigh three-speed bicycle with a pair of modern canvas panniers.  The bike features an original sidewall dynamo and lighting (which works!), and a small leather tool bag attached to the saddle that suggests many useful years.  I parted with an official pin from the Society of Three Speeds, and suggested that he may be interested in membership.  Jo is one of the nicest people we have ever met, willing to offer anything to make our day better.  There aren’t words for the kindness that Jo exudes, but he inspires us to keep smiling and to remember to be kind– simple, but profound.  Thanks Jo!

Out of the woods and into the city of Lier.  Each city offers new sights, a different history and new opportunities.

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While filling water bottles in the park, Jo invites us to the circus.  The show is sold out, but he offers to sneak us in the back.  First, he shows us around.

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The tent is divided in half– one half serves as an entrance and a bar, with standing room.

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The other half presents an ornate, and portable stage.

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We break for dinner before the show.  After a week of rain, skies finally clear.

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Dressed as an Italian bartender, Jo serves drinks and hustles some extra business from behind the bar.  Below, he is dancing atop the bar and singing in Italian.

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Amaretto liqueur, per favore.

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Most people ride bikes to the show.  Belgium is not quite like the Netherlands, although it is still home to millions of bicycles and daily riders.

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Above all, the show is a comedy, while acrobatics, marionettes and drama are involved.

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As the show ends, we embark upon an evening ride to explore the city.

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We sleep in the circus’ box truck for the night which keeps us dry without the hassle of a tent.

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In the morning, croissant et café au lait.

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We say goodbye in the morning.  Just across the street, we are back on the route, currently riding GR12 towards Bruxelles.  The GR12 connects Amsterdam, Bruxelles, and Paris.

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Within a few minutes, we are out of the city once again.

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