Even thought it is not far away, I've never ridden the northern loop of the official Oosterbeek trail, either that, or it was so long ago that I don't remember. What a mistake!  We went there with the club this morning and it was really great. We did not get off to a good start, spending a lot of time faffing around mending a puncture; first we fitted a new inner tube, only to discover after pumping for a while that it was for a racing bike (how did we not notice that when putting it on?), then we tried to squeeze a 26 inch tube onto a 29"wheel (I had read it was possible, and maybe it was, but it was certainly a struggle), but before we had got that in place the original inner tube had been mended and we put that in instead. Finally we sort of pumped it up, but it must be said, not really enough so the person whose bike was had to work twice as hard as the rest of us, pedalling round a squishy wheel.

But once that was done, we set off under the tunnel (exciting, low enough that you have to duck and about 100 m long) and started on the trail. For the first few minutes I was thinking that it was not up to much, but then we turned off the cycle path and set off through a demanding twisty, slippy, muddy track through the woods.  Every so often we emerged onto a broad track to catch our breath, and then it was back into the woods again for another batch of curves. Great!  Mind you, it has been dry for ages now, and I dread to think what some of the damper patches might be like after some wet weather. After a bit the route calms down to some more relaxed tracks through pretty back ways and between double lanes of monumental trees.  There was even a stiff hill at one point (gradient about 15% and very slippery gravel under our wheels) to keep us on our toes.  More easy paths and then we arrived at Papendal (the national sports training centre), where our route went partly along the training MTB route there, and was suitably challenging.  But all too soon after that, we were back at the tunnel, and we could make our way back to Wageningen along familiar tracks again.

Close encounters of the mountain bike kind

Planken Wambuis

We quite often go mountain biking on the Ginkelse Heide, so much so that if I head north out of Wageningen up through the woods, I habitually turn left at the appropriate moment. However, today I decided to do the opposite and even took the trouble to look at the map before setting out to make sure that I ended up in the right place. Planken Wambuis is an area which is just to the East of the Ginkelse Heide.  It is owned by 'natuurmonumenten', which is (sort of) the Dutch equivalent of the UK National Trust or the US Nature Conservancy. That means that they are quite strict about keeping to the designated paths over a lot of their land, but also that landscape is quite impressive in places. Unlike much of the woodland on the Veluwe, there is a mixture of different tree species and ages and the oaks are not all with dead straight trunks, selected for forestry, but with more natural twists.

Planken Wambuis woodland

One of the habitats which is quite special, are the areas of inland dunes. They are not super species-rich (although I saw the rare Corynephorus canescens, Grey Hair-grass was doing well), but certainly form very impressive landscapes.  They also make for very challenging mountain biking, especially if the sand is a bit dry, it is almost impossible to cycle uphill through it and going downhill also requires you to do your best with your steering skills.  It can be tempting to go off the path onto the firmer group to the side, but this is not such a good idea as there are some rare lichen communities there, which are best left undisturbed, so it is best to rise to the challenge and take on the loose sand.

Planken Wambuis dunes

The route is a bit longer than I usually do (3 1/2 hours), but it was well worth it.  There was also a stretch of about 2 km on a cycle path next to a road, penned into the fenced off area of Planken Wambuis to the West (where the wildlife can rest undisturbed) and the fenced off Hoge Veluwe national park to the East (lovely area, but you have to pay to get in. But that is the only stretch of tarmac.  There are some other cycle paths, but then you always have the option to go an a sandy trail next to them (conditions permitting).  To get to the dramatic sandy bit in the above photo, I did go through a gate (at the top left of the map below), which might be locked sometimes, but if so you can just go a bit further along the road and then along a cycle path in the woods for a bit to join the trail again. You can download the GPX file here.

Planken Wambuis route

Trails for Wales

Wales has the potential to be a popular international destination for mountain bikers with its well-known bike parks and dramatic scenery. There is one aspect that holds it back, and that is that the network of natural trails is largely limited to 'bridleways' which are paths designated as being suitable for horse riders and by a quirk in English/Welsh law you are also allowed to cycle on them.  By contrast in Scotland you can walk and cycle where ever you want within reason (e.g. so long as you don't go into gardens, trample crops, interfere with people working in the countryside, etc). That works fine.  There is a campaign to introduce the same access laws in Wales as in Scotland. This has the potential to boost tourism in Wales and help the local economy. If you are a reader of this blog, the chances are that you are not living in Wales, but that maybe you and your mountain bike will go there on holiday.  I urge you to read about the campaign and sign the petition, and when you do add a line to the text explaining that you are a potential tourist and that is why you support the campaign.

Gelre Ziekenhuizen Mountain bike tour

Thirty-five kilometers in the sandy forest south of Apeldoorn did not sound like too much hard work.  That must be possible, and still have plenty of energy over for other activities in the weekend.  But that was reckoning without the weather.  According to the meteorologists , autumn starts on 1st September.  This year they were certainly right.  There had been an awful lot of rain the last week or so, leaving the paths in the forest a mixture of slippery mud, requiring quite some concentration to keep the bike going at least roughly the direction intended, and wet sand, which gripped onto our tyres like we were cycling through sticky chocolate cake with our brakes on.  And to make matters worse, after a sunny start, the heavens opened and those who like me were foolish enough to have taken their raincoats off got soaked to the skin. In other words, in a way that only real mountain bikers can appreciate, it was great. Skill, endurance and tenacity were all abundantly required.  The forest was really beautiful as well, especially in the moments when the sun came out after the rain and shined through the fresh green of the wet leaves. Part of the route was in the military exercise area near Apeldoorn, so that was an extra treat to be allowed in where it is normally forbidden.

The tour was well organised by the hospital in Apeldoorn and apparently 1400 people signed up (including the unfortunates who chose to go on road bikes). All very efficiently done, well signed and with a free lunch, donations to UNICEF and a goody-bag at the end. Of course, after all that effort, there is not much energy left for the rest of the weekend, but it was certainly well worthwhile.




Fuzzy GPS

Despite the image you sometimes see in the media of reckless young things flinging themselves off near-vertical slopes, in practice the majority of mountain bikers are middle-aged. This is doubtless something to do with the cost of a typical 'decent' mountain bike. And of course when you get just a little older, your eyesight starts to go and you need reading glasses.  No problem, you generally don't combine mountain biking with reading a good book, at least not simultaneously. However, there comes a stage when the GPS handily mounted on your handlebar is also fuzzy. It is possible to tweak the GPS a bit to increase the contrast (different map, back-lighting on, etc), but still, it was getting to the stage where I was having to stop and peer at it closely every time I came to a turning.  My optician told me that varifocus lenses were a bad idea on the mountain bike as that messes up your ability to judge distances. You can get special cycling glasses which take prescription lenses, but that is very expensive.

What to do?  I have found a solution! You can get thin plastic lenses which simply stick to the inside of your normal cycling glasses with a drop of water. They are made by Hydrotac and only cost about €20. They are like the reading bit of a bifocal lens, so that when you are cycling you just look over them, but when you look at your GPS , it is in focus. Being made of thin plastic, you can just cut them with scissors so that they fit exactly to the bottom of your glasses. You can peel them off and stick them on again as well. Doubtless the optical quality is not comparable with 'real' lenses, but seeing you normally look over them and only occasionally glance through them to look at the GPS, that is no problem. An additional trick is to only use one, for your dominant eye, then when you buy a pair you can use it for two pairs of glasses, or keep one as a spare.

Fuzzy GPS


Riding the Reichswald

The Reichswald ("imperial forest") is only just over the border, which makes it a short 3/4 hour drive away from Wageningen, at most. A couple of weeks ago my daughter and I found a nice camp site just on the border (near Groesbeek) and camped there for the weekend, in order to cycle the Nijmegen green route and explore the Reichswald.  I was last there some years ago on a botanical excursion and remembered interesting plants but rather boring broad straight paths. The latter may exist, but we discovered that there are plenty of windy tracks up and down hills in a magnificent forest. Even just those few kilometres away it is very noticeably hillier. The forest is also much nicer than those right next to us, there are more older trees and above all it is much more varied in species composition.  We tend to have quite a lot of stands of single species of trees, but that was much less the case in the Reichswald. Furthermore, the understory was quite varied, with lots of ferns and so on.  In some places the vegetation had grown across the path, blocking it with remarkably,  vicious brambles, which is why I have not put the track we followed on this site, I cannot really recommend following exactly the same route.

The Reichswald starts only a meter or two from the national border (which these days you need a map to identify, there was not even a sign), which means that of the few people you meet in that large area, some will be Dutch.  We met one couple on city bikes, in the middle of the forest on sandy, hilly tracks, who were without a map, completely lost and complaining that there were no sign posts in the forest. But the Dutch influence is not just lost tourists; just over the border, on the edge of the forest we found a delightful 'woodland pub Merlin' which combined a fairy-tale ambiance with excellent ice cream (it was a hot day!) and all the menus in Dutch (despite being in Germany).

The Reichswald is certainly a good mountain biking area and I'm sure we will be back to explore it further.