Location and Dates: Gerardmer, Vosges, France, May 9-12
Participants: Rainer, Katja, Inge, Rich, Carlos, Tony, Ann, Alec, Alexi, David
Trails: Marked trails belonging to the Hautes Vosges VTT trail network
Weather and Trail Conditions: "Late winter" conditions with alternating rainy and dry days. Moist but relatively firm trails with some puddles here and there.
Accommodation: B&B Chalet des Roches Paîtres, Gerardmer
As per the plan, the trip started with meeting up at the B&B on Thursday afternoon after an early morning departure from Brussels for some of the participants. The idea was to squeeze in an introductory ride and fire up the legs for the rest of the long weekend. The rest of the group would arrive that evening after work, or even the following day, Friday.
Needless to say, the drive down to the Vosges was a harbinger of the extreme weather we would encounter, as it had rained non-stop. We made an effort to gather our courage and head out into the pouring cold rain for our intro ride. Long story short, we chose a trail that was located close to the B&B for convenience’s sake and got soaked to the skin while riding mostly wide forest tracks.
Luckily the next day dawned clear with partially sunny skies and dry weather, albeit still cold for the time of the year with temps hovering around 10 deg. We made the most of that day by riding two separate loops before and after lunch. We enjoyed lunch at a mountain restaurant appropriately called "Le Montagnard" which was very welcoming towards muddy mountain bikers. Maybe being the only customers that day had something to do with it?
We knew that the following day, Saturday, would be the worst day weather-wise. The weather forecast was predicting temperatures of 4 degrees at the higher altitudes with wind gusts of up to 75 km/h (hello, windchill anyone?)! So what did we do? We planned to ride the longest 60k loop with 1600 height meters of climbing, duh! I wonder whose idea that was…? Well, in the end it was "fun" in that kind of epic sense where you will be able to tell your grandchildren that you managed to avoid hypothermia and survive to live another day. Ok, so maybe we cheated by bailing out after 40k because it was no joke that we were risking hypothermia from being completely soaked by rain, hail, and snow, all while being blasted by high winds!
Fortunately, Sunday morning was sunny and dry, albeit still a bit cold. We went for our last ride on a loop that took us to a belvedere above the Lac de Longemer which had amazing views. It was nice to end the trip with a dry ride.
Some takeaways of this trip:
Mountains are mountains, and weather can be extreme even in the month of May.
It is impossible to keep your feet dry in persistent rain, so the best bet is to wear thick wool or neoprene socks that still retain some warmth even when they are waterlogged.
The Vosges mountains are very scenic and the views are fantastic, but in general the marked trails follow wide forest tracks with only a few rare singletracks and technical descents. On the other hand, the hiking trails were all singletrack and looked very inviting. Many of these walking trails looked very steep and difficult to commit to riding without knowing what we were getting into. A future trip to this area should consider following a GPS track recorded by a local or someone who has explored the area to find rideable singletrack trails.
Even after heavy rains the trails are not too muddy since the ground seems to absorb the rain well, but there are puddles to avoid in the places where drainage is impeded by bedrock or compacted soil.
The local gastronomy is based on different ratios of cheese, creme and lardons, with each combination of ratios being given a different name just to give people the illusion they are eating something different each time.
More seriously, the Chalet Roches Paîtres was a fantastic choice of accommodation with a very cozy atmosphere, a drying room for wet gear (go figure), ample secure bike storage and washing facilities, and excellent food. Thanks Inge for recommending this place and arranging the booking!
We had a great time together as a group, and really looking forward to another BigM trip in the future!