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Mountainbiking in the Hochwald

Hochwald is an area in the Southwest of Germany, on the border of both Luxembourg and France. That means it is a bit off the beaten track. It is hilly to mountainous  (valleys at 250, tops 700m) and with vast areas of forest (the name means 'high forest'). If that sounds to you like it would be an excellent location to take your mountain bike, then you would be right. There is a good network of signed trails and if you travel a half hour or so to the West there is a trail network based around Sankt Wendel (famous for being a previous location of the mountain bike world cup).Typical Hochwald landscape.  Near Bonerath on MTB route 2.

The official routes are all available as GPS from gpsies.com and also as printed leaflets available from tourist information offices.  The leaflets are with good quality maps, height profiles (a bit small) and detailed instructions.  The only thing they lack is information about what the surface (tarmac, gravel, singletrack etc) is like. It is certainly not enough to expect to be able to follow the signs as some are missing or damaged (see below), some are overgrown and some are a bit hidden.  If you do not have GPS, the map and description should do.

There are three categories of track (blue, red and black).  There is only one blue route, and it has nice views, but all tarmac. If you are used to the flat Netherlands then even the blue route feels very hilly, so this can be a good one to start with. The black routes are tougher than the red routes, partly because they are longer, but also because they have more interesting surfaces.  Quite a lot of the red tracks are on gravel forest roads, whereas the black ones have more singletrack. The roots on the photo above are a good example. However, the black routes are also rather long, which is all very well, but not so convenient if you want to combine mountain biking in the Hochwald with a family holiday. Fortunately that is easily solved, most can be cut short (see some examples on gpsies).

 

As the name implies, the Hochwald has a lot of forest. Much of it is conifers, with huge trees and fern understory reminiscent of the Black Forest. But there are also large areas of varied mixed and broadleaved woodland.

 

There are a couple of areas which are rather special.  The Wadrilltal has very impressive nature, including a couple of beaver dams, and a magnificent medieval half-ruined castle, which you can climb all over. Quite a few of the official routes run through or across that valley, which was definitely a good decision.

The Ruwertal (below) has fewer mountain bike routes running through it, although the long distance cycle path going to Trier does pass that way, but if you venture off the official routes and follow some footpaths/bridleways then there is both some challenging cycling and really beautiful landscapes.

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Wild boar

The Veluwe, which is the area of sandy forest to the north of Wageningen, is locally famous for having a large population of wild boar. But the strange thing is that, despite having spent many hours on the mountain bike, in all weathers and at all times of years, I have never seen a single one there. Until today. We were out cycling near Mossel and all of a sudden a young one ran off in front of us.  And then about six more scattered and ran off.  They were still young enough to have their ginger and white stripes, but quite a large size already. Wonderful! Fortunately I did not make the mistake of missing the show by fishing for my camera, but that does at least mean that you can see that the flowering heather is also quite spectacular at the moment. 

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Nijmegen Red route

I am always surprised at how close Nijmegen is.  If you go there from Wageningen on a weekday, odds on you will be stuck in traffic for ages, so it feels like a long way.  But on a Sunday afternoon, you are there in only half an hour.  Half an hour, but a world away.  The landscape is completely different from here because of one dominant factor - hills.  Whereas you have to go out of your way in the woods round here to gain a few meters of elevation, by Nijmegen you could almost imagine you were in another country.  Maybe that is because Germany is less than ten kilometers away, so you are almost.  The official signposted routes there, both 'red' and 'green' ('rood' and 'groen') Nijmegen Red Nijmegen rood mountainbike routemake the most of the elevation,with numerous hills and relatively few flat bits.  The tracks are in attractive woodland and it is an enjoyable route.  The routes are signposted, but unfortunately they are notorious for people thinking it is amusing to steal the signs, so if you have a GPS, taking the track file with you is a good idea.  Even if you do not normally use GPS to navigate, you can copy the track to your phone and make sure you have an app like Oryx Maps installed so that, should you miss a signpost, you can find your way back to the trail. It also makes a huge difference what time of year it is.  I was last on the Red Route a couple of years ago in December, and still have distinct memories of deep slithery slurry. Hard work. Last weekend it was completely dry. That came with its own problem.  On some of the downhills people have made little ridges, so that even mountain bikers with my level of skill can bounce into the air for a short distance with no problem all.  Great fun.  But landing on a pile of dusty sand that will just slip away from under your wheels made many of those jumps just a little too scary for me. All in all, great trails, and nice they are so close.

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Back to normal

After last week's epic ride, this week it was back to a more normal 21 km round through the woods with my daughter. Here she is coming to the top of a really steep bit, hence the low posture.

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Hell

The Jan Janssen Classic has been a tour for road bikes for 28 years, but the last few years mountain bike routes have been added, 'the hell of Ede-Wageningen'. Today about 6000 mountain bikers and road cyclists took part. So that made it quite an event! The weather was perfect (except for the strong wind); not too hot or cold and the rain held off until I was already finished. It has been quite dry here, but in the last couple of days there has been some rain, so the ground was just about perfect.  For the mountain bikes there is a choice of 56 or 95 kilometers, but 56 was quite enough for me.  The tour was very well organised, with efficient signing in using bar codes, clear and comprehensive signposting, a nicely chosen route and cuckoos and sky larks to listen to as we went along. Of course seeing it started in Wageningen I knew most of the paths, but nevertheless there were a few sections that were new to me (perhaps in the areas not normally open, I'm not sure). There was a nice friendly atmosphere - stopping for a wine-gum break it was surprising how many people asked if everything was all right and did I need any help? Even with nearly 1000 mountain bikers, it was not crowded in the woods, people set off at different times, so we were all spread out and it was only at the start and breaks that you got a sense of just how many participants there were. All in all a great tour. Maybe if I had attempted the 95 kms it would have been different, but this was more like heaven than hell!

The 'hel van Ede-Wageningen'

Official website: http://www.janjanssenclassic.nl

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