Thursday, September 11, 2008

Theux Red route and then some

Today I rode to Banneux to ride the Red Adeps route of Theux. I always start in Banneux because that way the most difficult parts of the ride are at the start - the Forges de Thiry descent and the climb out of Theux towards Sassore. My plan was to also include a trip into the valley of the Ambleve - Ninglinspo, Chaudiere and Vieux Chera - and do some extra heightmeters there.
I arrived in Banneux around 10.30am. I had to look a bit to find the parking spot I prefer - it is more than a year ago since I last was here and things fade easily. When I left the parking lot I came on the N62 and from there I could easily get on the Red trail. I didn't feel very fit in the beginning of the ride and the Merlin took some getting used to. I suspect I put a little bit too much air in the tyres. The descent into the Forges de Thiry was as I remembered it. Steep with some nice switchbacks and sadly still blocked at a couple of places by fallen trees. I mean, its more than a year ! Can't someone do something about this? Getting around them meant sliding down the steep slope - man and bike. But I arrived safely at the Hoegne borders and before long I was climbing up to the Maison-Bois. I had been here recently on the Verviers marathon WC track recon and it was a lot dryer now. Which suited me fine. The sun was out and it was hot, with a warm wind blowing from the south and thunderstorms forecast later in the day. I was secretly hoping for cloud cover because I forgot to bring some sun cream. The Theux trails are very typical, lots of loose stones, embedded rocks and a lot of thorn bushes next to the trails when they go though the fields. I would have to walk with my bike in my hand on a few occasions because they had been pruning the thorn bushes and left all the fallen branches on the trail. I have NoTubes but still that doesn't mean that I can ride though anything. I found the trail to be better arrowed at some places, but still lacking at others. You still need a map because at some crucial points arrows are missing. The trail going out of Au Fays up to Laboru was wet with big puddles filled with yellow water - I suspect they never dry up - and the track following the E42 demanded a lot of concentration because of deep gullies. In all the times I've ridden the Red this was the first time I came here. I always seemed to have missed this section. But now the arrowing is fine here. A bit later I was dropping down the Tier de Polleur into this nice little town with its twisted church. I had a little bit to eat here before attacking the climbs into the Bois de Staneu.
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In this forest I was also treated to a section I've never done before. After the split with the Blue route my map shows the trail dropping towards the road from Theux to Polleur. But just before reaching this busy road I noticed an arrow pointing back up the hill. Yeah, another climb and a steep one - a VERY steep one. The trail then stays on the plateau for a while before dropping down again, and going up again. This time over a track with lots of loose rubble and also over pure bedrock. I was so glad it was reasonably dry and I had a full suspension bike. I made the steep climb and the following downhill was a real bonecrusher. Wow. A nice extra section. Riding though Devant Staneu as usual and then I was preparing for the long climb towards La Reid. Dropping down on tarmac towards Sur Le Thier a funny thing happened. Braking hard on the steep slope I felt my tyre go flat.. just like that. Indeed, the unthinkable had happened. My front tyre - NoTubes and all - had flattened. Hmm, perhaps the heavy braking forced a thorn out of the tyre, I heard the hissing of the air escaping and the fluid could not close the hole. So I had to put in an inner tyre - after peering out 3 other thorns - which went surprisingly easy. I had expected a sticky mess with the NoTubes fluid but it was all but dried up. I think its overdue to be changed. Anyways, after 10 minutes - and a chat with a passing biker who was on the Blue route - I could continue. Towards Banoyard and Vert Buisson I managed to stray from the trail - I'm sure there is a Red arrow pointing to the right which is WRONG.. but thanks to the GPS and the map I could quickly connect back to the trail.
The sun was hiding behind some clouds now and I was thinking about giving the Ninglinspo a miss. But no, this was dreamland and I was here so I had to go . Down following the Ruisseau des Blanches Pierres and the blitzing fast and steep stony track after passing the Point de Vue Drouet. The bike felt good by now - there was a bit less pressure in my front tyre - and I blazed down - but always keeping the speed under control. I managed to squeeze one Pepsi Cola out of the machine at Sedoz and felt a couple of drops of rain while I was eating my second powerbar and sipping my Pepsi. I wanted another drink but the machine wouldn't take my 2€ coins. On the Nonceveux ride I had discovered a steep uphill along the Vieux Chera and I decided to take that again and see where it would take me. As it turned out it took me from 164 to 340 metres before I foudn a way back down towards the Ninglinspo valley. Great, at the point where the Chaudiere drops into the Ninglinspo I could commence the long uphill back to the Porallee at 410 metres. Great , I did nearly 13K in this area and it yielded me 530 heightmeters.. and that distance includes the downhills. Thats a Hill Factor of 40. So all who want to do some climbing - you know where to go. And the downhills are mean as well.
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After this intermezzo my legs felt a bit fried and I still had some way to go towards Banneux. Especially the long uphill towards Menobu was hurting. I could see the heightmeters accumulating on my GPS but I knew the trail would mellow out a bit on the uphills. Not on the downhills though, and on one I had to go heavily in the brakes because 4 or 5 big trees where blocking a very steep section. Took a bit of mountaineering to get me past this barrier but after that I was nearly home. With more than 1700 heightmeters accumulated today I had a great but tough ride. And remember, I wasn't feeling my best so I was glad I did make all the climbs and survived the downhills as well. When I arrived at Banneux again even the sun came peeping back though the clouds.
Ride Stats : 72K and 1715/1733 heightmeters (Polar/Garmin) in 4h50mins
Hill Factor : 23.9
Ride Profile : Banneux 11 09 2008


Friday, September 5, 2008

Dreamland Revisited in Nonceveux

It was about time I visited the Ardennes again and today I felt like I won the lottery. I rode to Nonceveux , not far from Remouchamps in the Ambleve valley to ride the O2 Bikers roadbook . From the figures it looked like one of their toughest roadbooks ever, both physical (5/5 stars) and technical (4/5 stars) as well as offering almost 1100 heightmeters on a 36K distance. What more does a real biker need?
It starts easy from the little church of Nonceveux, over the river Ambleve and then taking the busy N633 for a couple of 100 metres and then the first offroad climb takes me through a few hairpins up towards the Tilleul des Pendus. The climb is steep and the legs have to get in gear. But I feel fine and the Merlin is in top shape too. I am following the track on my Garmin Edge 705 and I would experience no major problems with that throughout the whole ride. I saved the track in Course format (.crs file) which proves to be THE format the Edge 705 really likes. Only in some of the deep valleys did it hesitate a few moments because satellite reception was not optimal.
That being said, lets continue the ride. A rocky path takes me down towards the N697 which I follow briefly before climbing on a tarmac road towards Pierzay. At the top I turn left into a freshly mown path - brambles and other thorny branches lie scattered over the trail. I am on NoTubes but still I felt like having a flat every moment. But nothing happens, and the trail gets gnarly as it changes into a rocky underground and the downhill gets steeper - better keep concentrated. A few switchbacks and I am at what looks to be an old quarry. The soil is red and there are some puddles here. I follow the little Gergova river upstream before crossing the N697 again. I follow this busy road for a short while before an impossible climb takes me right up a plateau and on to what looks like a Fagnes track. Before long I turn right and head back towards the Tilleul des Pendus. Wow, 10K far and already almost an hour of biking.
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A broader track drops me down towards Sedoz where a very steep climb takes me up to meet with one of the many small rivers that drop down from the plateau towards the Ambleve valley. My pace is little more than crawling and it is very dark and damp under the dense tree cover. My GPS loses signal for a few seconds from time to time but I have no trouble following the set track. I cross the little river and cross over towards the Chaudiere valley. This little ruisseau I follow - the little rivulet in a deep valley left of me - down to where it crashes into the Ninglinspo. I have a little bite to eat at this point, enjoying the elfin quality of the little babbling brooks. The climb that follows now - following the Ninglinspo river upstream - is very well known to me. I relax in a comfortable pace and start the 200m vertical ascent. Along the way I cross the little Ninglinspo river several times before making my way away from it towards Blanches Pierres. A fast downhill brings me close to the Tour Drouet and I decide to have a look at this magnificent viewpoint. This means I have to climb back up again around 50 heightmeters to take the rocky road into the Hé des Graviers. Steep sections strewn with rocks take me towards the 370m mark. I have to follow another fagnes road, with wet patches and a lot of roots. The Merlin laughs at these conditions, its suspension working like a charm . In the Bois Bablette a fast downhill takes me to the bords of the Chefna river.
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This might easily be one of the most beautiful spots on this ride. The climb with the little river babbling on my right is tough, steep and rocky. Luckily it is reasonably dry. I have been here before but the beauty of the terrain still gets me. At the top I take almost an 180 degree turn to follow the river on its other side down again. This descent is a difficult one. Wet patches, rocks, roots and gullies force me to be very attentive and I enjoy the Merlin again whilst I lead it over the rubble downwards. Two big deer cross my path and scatter themselves with unseen grace down the steep slope towards the Chefna. I stop and watch them in amazement. After a while the track gets broader and I storm down into the Ambleve valley.
Crossing the Ambleve only one more climb awaits me. The first bit is amazing. Pure bedrock and steep steep steep , there are no words for it. I admit I had to walk a few bits. When the dense forest opens up I have an amazing view over the valley and I see the lush green forests on the other side of the Ambleve, where I was less than half an hour ago. At Rondai Fontaine I am sent into what seems to be an off-limits road, there is a sign stating that no entry is permitted. But what can I do but follow my GPS track, right? The track drops down slowly at first, approaching the E25. But then it gets serious - and wet with the first real mud I saw today - and I have to hit the brakes hard from time to time to keep the speed on the safe side of sorry. Just before dropping into Nonceveux it gets downright dangerous when the track turns into some kind of rocky garden.
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Wow, what a great ride this was. 36K and indeed a whopping 1100 positive heightmeters - my GPS and Polar agreed on the number for once - and at times the track was indeed very challenging and technical. The climbs were of the steep kind and you need a bike that provides traction over rocks, loose stones, roots and bedrock. A great trail but not for the meek.

Ride Stats : 36K and 1100 heightmeters in 3h3mins
Hill Factor : 30.5
Ride Profile : CLICK
Maps (GPS and NGI) :
Nonceveux04042008 NonceveuxRB2007


Saturday, August 16, 2008

Rando des 4 Chateaus

After a dry thursday it looked like we would have a nice and quiet ride in the sunshine today. When I got into my car at 6.50am the clouds were clear and there were wisps of mist hanging over the land. The river Meuse was breathing some heavy fog when I approached it and crossed the "Pere Pire" bridge in Huy. When I arrived at Stree there were already people getting ready to go. I met up with Geert aka Schijfrem. He also rides a Moots YBB and we decided to ride together as long as possible. I enscribed first and forked over 3.5€ for the 55K distance. There were also rides of 25, 35 and 45K. When I asked at the inscription if they had an emergency number, they replied they did not. Some joker suggested I call 100 in case of trouble. Yeah, that one minus point I honestly did not expect on a ride that carries the Stany Smol tag. Pity.

The Ride:

Geert and I set off for the first couple of K's which plunged us almost immediately into Outrelouxhe. I recognized the trail from my Nandrin rides and knew we were in for a treat. The trail plunged into a rift and then followed a little river into a narrow valley. The dropoff was very steep - I walked it, later I noticed it was a 37% gradient on the GPS track ! - and the singletrail following the river was ondulating up and down just enough to keep the tension on the muscles. Great section. A little later we emerged on tarmac for a short stretch taking us down to the first heavy climb of the day. Over loose rocks and shifting pebbles we worked our way up the slope that approached 19% at places and took us some 100 heightmeters up the plateau. From there we dropped down again - this downhill is well known to me from the Nandrin trails were it has to be conquered uphill - and again care needed to be taken. Heavy rains have seriously deteriorated this track and at times the slope was 21%. Try doing that on loose stones and you get the picture. Very concentrated and a great experience. Below we followed the river again until we were at the lowest point possible in this forest. The Fond d'Oxhe as it is called. Obviously another 100 heightmeter climb was bound to follow. Not as steep as the first one but the trail was very beautiful, with rocks, roots and gullies making it tough to ride. At the top the 45 and 55K distances were splitting off and Geert decided to follow the 45, leaving me alone to continue on the 55K. I made a picture of him before we parted .

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The trail now entered some kind of walking trail nicely circling through rock gardens and forest outcrops. We met some walkers here - girls with dogs - and it was nice to notice they were all very friendly. Especially the dogs.
We stayed on the plateau a while and after an hours ride I came to the first ravito. This must have been some 17K into the ride. All distances merged here . There was some water and grenadine drink, cookies, waffles and also someone who was offering high-energy food and drinks of Nutrilite . I had a taste of everything and went on my way. I dropped down the slope again, before following a nice singletrail along the forest edge. On my right I could see the cooling towers of the Tihange nuclear plant. Impressive.

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A long climb followed and gradually I was leaving the forest , coming out into the open fields before crossing the N66. A little later and after crossing the N641 there followed some very difficult climbs on rocks, roots and stones where I had to walk several times due to the slope and the wetness of the rocks. Just before Marchin I enjoyed the second rest stop of the day. This time there were some Red Bull girls to sheer us up and offer us some tasty beverage. I declined because I already have Red Bull mixed in my water bottle. But they were nice to look at.
I passed the strangely curved church of Marchin and a tricky downhill - roots, stones, wet rocks - demanded my uttermost concentration to keep the rubber side down. A climb and descent into the field - with some grassy gullies to spice things a little and another steep descent before turning right onto what looked - and felt - like an abandoned railroad track. Nice section but I was glad I had a softtail bike here instead of a hardtail. The ondulating track brought me a few K's further before entering Modave. Here we had to follow some tarmac which led us to the entry gate of the castle grounds. Nice little downhill-uphill section here before I got to the 3rd rest stop of the day, exactly 40k into the ride. A great passage on the castle grounds followed , with a very tricky downhill and a passage through a ford. I didn't notice there was a bridge until I got my feet wet from the splashing water. But the sun was out and with some 20 degrees and no wind I didn't mind getting my feet wet. After Modave the slopes were getting a bit milder and before long I was out in the fields again. I noticed my rear tyre was slowly losing air so I decided to replace the inner tyre. Some stony fieldtracks and field passages giving way to amazingly narrow but very beautiful tracks brought me into Ramelot. Another ravito some 50K into the ride and the last couple of K's consisted of twisting trails into moist forests and a passage over a freshly harvested field. Crossing the N66 not far from Tinlot I knew what was coming. An uphill passage through a hollow road edged with trees but followed by a very wet downhill leading back towards Stree. I took the edge of the field on the left of the track instead of all the puddles and was rewarded by an almost clean bike when we finally made it back to the start.

There Geert was already tasting some fine beer and we shortly exchanged our experiences .

The Lowdown:

What I liked:
+ Great trails, with attention to lesser visited tracks
+ the region and the use they made of what is offered
+ dangerous downhills and road crossings well marked on shared trails for all distances
+ distance splits well marked - before AND after the split
+ arrowing sparse but suffiecient and very noticeable
+ 4 rest zones - fruit, cookies , grenadine and water.
+ Red Bull and Energy Drinks stands.

+ all this for only 3.5€

What I did not like:
- no emergency numbers provided by the organisation
- less heightmeters than announced
- no danger signs on the 55K-only sections


Obviously the trails were beautiful, in the beginning very tough in the forest section south of Tihange, with some very steep downhills and a couple of 100 heightmeters + climbs, difficult and long. In the end the ride didn't deliver the amount of heightmeters the organisation had promised, but I didn't really mind. We got nearly 1100 heightmeters on the 55K - that turned out to be almost 60K. And the tracks were never boring, instead surprising me all the time with nice finds and great views. A good knowledge of the local tracks leads the organisors to produce one hell of a ride. The arrowing was sparse at times - I missed an arrow twice - but the arrows used were very visible - black on yellow - and you could spot them from far. The distance splits were very well marked - both before and after the split. A minus point would be the fact that on the loops the 55K did seperately from the other loops, there were no danger signs before tricky downhills. They had danger signs on the shared loops with the other distances. Do they think that the 55k riders were all so experienced they didn't need to be warned? I would include the signs the next time.
The 4 rest stops were well stocked, water and grenadine and some cookies, fruit and waffles. Nothing fancy but with some Energy drinks and food at the first, and the Red Bull girls at the second rest stop who can complain? And all this for a mere 3.5€ ? Yes, indeed. I have no idea about the showers and the bike cleaning facilities since I didn't use either of them. I returned home happy and with a few more tracks to possibly include into my Nandrin trails.
The only point that I would suggest the organisers fix urgently , is the lack of emergency numbers. Some of the downhills were really tricky and I saw a lot of people with broken chains and other mechanical problems. Provide an emergency number please.

The Bare Facts:

Profile of the Ride : CLICK
Profile the organisors provided:
profil 55 km_html_m769eee6c
Map of the Ride :

Pictures of the ride by Schijfrem : CLICK
[the Moots dude with the long pants is ME]

Ride Stats :
60K and 1090/1145 heightmeters (Polar/Garmin) in 3h46mins
Hill Factor: