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Sallandse Heuvelrug

It had been a few years since I last mountain biked over the Holterberg and Nijverdal routes and having read on mtbroutes.nl that there had been some improvements, I was curious to see what it was like. I got the chance last weekend. There were not 'some improvements'; it had been completely transformed. What was previously a route through an impressive landscape but mostly straight and straightforward paths was now composed of twisting paths making the most of the smallest height differences and requiring enough concentration that in most places if you wanted to take in the landscape, you had to stop. It has been turned into a a superb route, well worth going out of your way for.

From Wageningen, it is not too far out of your way, being only an hour's drive to the North, or 1 1/2 hours by train (there is a station at the start of the route in Holten). However, the flora and fauna is quite different, considering it is so close. For instance, there are some extensive patches of Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi , 'Berendruif'), which is very rare in this country ('red list status 'threatened') and really belongs in more northern areas - in the UK there are a few patches in Northern England and it is found mostly in Scotland. It makes you wonder how it will cope on the Sallandse Heuvelrug as the climate warms up.

[text continues below photo of Arctostaphyslos

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

 Not surprisingly, the area is showing the same signs of suffering from the extremely dry summer as the heathlands closer to home. The bilberries are recovering nicely, but there are still great patches of dead heather where there is a big risk that it will be replaced by grasses rather than heather regeneration. The mountain bike paths are beginning to get very sandy in parts - in some places it is even almost too sandy to cycle, and I was glad that I had reasonably chunky Nobby Nic tyres on to give at least some grip. 

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Sallandse Heuvelrug

The loose sand is worst on the Northern route by Nijverdal and Hellendoorn, so doing just the Holten route is always an option. The signposting for both routes is excellent, though I did't see signs connecting the two loops (perhaps there aren't any) and the gps track on mtbroutes.nl was not always 100% the same as the route on the ground. I also found that with a combination of the twisty track and loose sand, it took me longer to go round than I had expected, so that is also worth bearing in mind. All in all, this is a great route now, fun mountain biking, a special landscape and even some rare plants to gaze at as you pass.

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Many and few

Normally I cycle every Saturday on my mountain bike with a small group from the club. These days, the mountain bikers are split into three groups, so everyone can go at their own pace, which means there is often only a handful of people in each group. But last Saturday it was different, we were helping with the 'Hell of Ede Wageningen' with 8-900 participants. Aside from having to get up at the unearthly hour of five in the morning to get the arrows all set out in time, it was a great event, with a smashing atmosphere and a treat to see so many smiling faces going past.

Today was forecast to be very hot, so instead I went cycling by myself yesterday. Quite a contrast from the hundreds of people last week and even more so seeing it was a Friday, so the trails were practically deserted. It was so quiet and peaceful that when at last one mountain biker did cycle past me, I nearly jumped out of my skin. It was also amazing how many wild animals I saw; deer (too fast to see if it was roe or fallow), red squirrel, wood mouse, and water vole (swimming across the small river Grift), as well as all sorts of birds including a lovely pair of oyster catchers. The experience of being part of a big event or with a small group, or cycling on your own is quite different, and when it comes to it, isn't it great that all that is possible?

Scots Pine near Amerongen

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August in April

Wolfheze heide

This weekend it has been the hottest Easter here in the Netherlands since records began. Last summer, a lot of sections of trails were closed because they were so dry that the surface was just crumbly sand and there has been nowhere near enough rain over the winter to make up the loss. On Saturday, the trails were like the hottest period of summer, with clouds of dust coming from our wheels in some places. I had to keep 10-20 meters behind the person in front of me some of the time. A lot of heather and bilberry plants died of drought last year. In some places I've seen them recovering nicely, but certainly not everywhere. If you look at the photo above, you will see that most of the vegetation is dead and grey, with just a few small patches of living green. There must be a good chance that this heath is never going to recover, which would be a big shame, but who knows maybe it will manage to regenerate from seed, with the right management. There is rain is forecast to come in the next few days, but it will take more than a couple of days of rain to get the water table back to normal, otherwise it is going to be even more closed trails this summer.Taraxacum

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New

The buds are bursting on the trees and shrubs in the woods, the skylarks are singing in the meadows and to cap it all we passed a group of Primulas (elatior or verna) flowering away in a verge this morning. What is more I saw at least four large buzzards flying around, two of them definitely together and we all stopped to look at a red squirrel playing in the branches overhead. But the new life of springtime wasn't the only new thing today. We had heard rumours of a new track being made near to Doorwerth, not quite finished yet, but still rideable. We were not disappointed. Because it isn't yet finished, some parts were more challenging in terms of loose sand than you might wish for on a twisty up-and-down track, but it was great. The builders had made the most of what elevation there was and we had to keep our wits about us as one after another twist came up round each corner. I guess it won't be long before it is finished off, the signposts go in and everyone else can explore it.

Doorwerth Track

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Stick

It has been ages since I wrote my last bog. It is not that I haven't been out on my mountain bike. Despite a few (albeit short) severely wintry spells, there has hardly been a week the whole winter when I haven't been out. But there simply hasn't been anything noteworthy happening. So when I was mountain biking yesterday with the club I was thinking that it was about time that something newsworthy happened. I am not one of those who subscribe to the belief that fate can be tempted by such wishes, I don't really think the inner workings of my mind have such a great cosmic influence, but it was remarkable that only a few minutes later a large stick jumped up and inserted itself between my chain and the derailleur, prising the lower of the small wheels off and sending the arm firmly in between the cogs of the cassette. One broken bike.

Fortunately, extracting the derailleur arm was no problem, but that still left me with a completely non-functional system, there being now nothing to hold the chain tight and in place against the cassette. All those hours reading mountain bike magazines came to my rescue; if I could make the chain shorter then I could bypass the derailleur and still be able to pedal, although not change gear any longer (see the photo below). That would at least get me home - we were (naturally) at the furthest point of the ride when this happened, so walking would have taken some hours. First of all, I tried un-linking the quick link, with a small pair of pliers and then a piece of string (another trick I had read about, but that one didn't work). However, after a few minutes struggling, it occurred to me that I had a spare quick link with me, so all I needed to do was to make the chain shorter and I would be mobile again. That was quite straightforward with my multi-tool, the only problem being that I hadn't noticed that the chain was not properly on the front cogs, so I made it shorter than optimal and ended up in a rather low gear.

I was now able to head for home, but if I pedalled as fast as could, I could go all of 11 kph. Once it became clear that I would be able to limp home, I had expected the rest of the group to go an and finish their planned route. However, they insisted in coming with me, not only keeping my spirits up, but sheltering me from the strong wind, picking up some key bits and pieces which fell off the derailleur as we went along, and giving me a lift by car the last few kilometres.  Two clear lessons learnt. Firstly, even if the tools and bits and pieces I carry around in my rucksack don't come out very often, it really is worth taking them with me every week. Hooray for quick links! And secondly, what a difference cycling with a group of friends makes! 

 

BrokenDerailleur

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Portugal

Last week I had to go to Lisbon for work, and luckily enough if I took a flight back in the evening, there was time to fit in a mountain bike ride before coming home. I searched on internet, first for the best places near to Lisbon (Sintra, 1/2 hour by train to the West came up) and then for bike hiring possibilities. I found portugalmountainbiking.com, but apparently their rented bikes always come with a guide, which wasn't really what I was looking for. On the other hand, they also advertised a shuttle service to the airport, which from the experiences I've had of that going wrong (or almost so) after trying to fit in as much cycling as possible before getting a train to the airport, sounded like a Good Idea.

Near Malveira da Serra
(c) Luis Lopes

If you have ever visited Lisbon, you will know that large parts of it are ridiculously steep, with roads that are hard work walking up, let alone for cycling, so I was a little nervous of just how bad it was going to be in the nearby hills of Sintra. That is of course the real benefit of going with a local guide, they know all the best trails and can adjust the route to the skills and fitness of the riders. That was indeed the case, my guide Luis found me the most brilliant trails to cycle along. That is not to say that they were easy, there are no trails there without steep bits. We had some serious inclines (18-20% maximum) and even steeper downhill bits. However, that was not the challenging aspect of the ride. Especially in the first half of the ride, the sand was quite slippery, and oddly enough in a quite different way from the sandy forest here. That meant that I was really struggling in some parts and annoyingly frequently had to get off and walk short technical stretches. That was quite frustrating as I had the idea that if only I could ride those trails a few times (and perhaps with different tyres) then it would have been ok. There were other technical patches which I didn't feel so bad about stopping for, especially the bridges made out of damp slippery logs at an angle and with scary drops next to them. Needless to say, my guide Luis not only sailed up the hills without even getting slightly out of breath but bounded over all the technical bits like he went that way on a frequent basis. Maybe there was a reason for that. More to the point, he did a super job of warning me about difficult bits coming up and showed great patience with my slow and cautious style.

Luis

Although I wished I had some more skills when it came to the technical sections, when it came to the landscape, it could not have been better. Beautiful forests bathed in glorious sunlight, completely stuning views from the top and stupendous waves crashing against the cliffs by the sea. Even the areas which had been damaged by the fires earlier this year were interesting to see with Colchicum flowers (C. lusitanum, I suppose) and fresh bright green shoots of bracken fern poking up through the ash. The top of the hill had old chapel buildings, some parts of which went back to the 12th century. Another advantage of a having a guide, who can tell you about those things.

Peninha

I would love to learn how to ride that landscape a bit better. A few days practicing round there would be nice. But for now I'm just hoping that another meeting will come up in Lisbon someday so that I can repeat the expereince again. That would be great.

For a few more photos, see my flikr album.

 

 

 

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