Thursday, May 1, 2008

Transfrontiere in Tellin

Tellin, in its 15 years it has build up some kind of myth. A ride that is epic because of the passages through the deep dark forest around Saint Hubert, a ride that has it all and in big proportions. Small attendance, lots of little tracks, lots of climbing, lots of descending, forest as far as the eye sees, green and lush on this traditional first if may ride, Rest zones where the people are friendly and you can get bacon and eggs and liquor, or did you fancy beer on tap?? Tellin has it. I had been here in 2002 for an epic ride of 70k and 1345 heightmeters. The weather was not great then and I remember lots of small tracks meandering straight through the forest. Descents through little rivers, a few river crossings, us getting out of the forest 2 or 3 times to cross a road and disappear again on the other side of said road, like ghosts in the night.. yeah, Tellin has a mythical ring to it.

The Ride:
I wanted to experience this ride again so I had made plan to ride here today, come what may. The last 3 days have seen a lot of rain so even though last weekend was brilliant I was expecting some mud. I had a ride companion, Miss Piggy from B-M-B, who in real life listens to the name of Julie, and she was also eager to give Tellin a try, not having done this ride before. We met around 8.30 at the start. I paid 6€ for the 80K inscription and got a pink wrist collar with the emergency numbers on. A little look at the map told me that there where 4 rest stops - roughly one every 15K - for the 80k ride. We set off on mostly dry tracks and even though the sky was clouded it didn't look like it was going to rain. In fact, it did but only during brief moments. The sun was peeping through from time to time and temps where around 7 degrees C. Arrowing was sparse - only using chalk - but proved sufficient under these conditions. After a few k's which allowed us to warm up gently over some mildly ondulating field roads and some woody crops, things got a bit more serious when the first climb anounced itself. We had seen few puddles so where not worried a lot about the conditions in the deep forest for the moment. That would change when the first big climb took us into the forest.. oh looky, its muddy here. Yes, indeed. The track was wet and the tyres had all the trouble in the world to dig in enough to find traction. You had to work really hard to guide the bike through all everything the rough track threw at us. Lots of stones, roots, ruts,rivulets of water either crossing or running along the track.; wow great, the Moots was performing beautifully and even though this was my first Ardennes ride this year, my legs were not too bad at this stage. When we arrived at the top, looking forward to a speedy downhill, this turned out to be a real toughie as well. The mud on the track made it very treacherous at speed and I time I felt like a skater losing control. Great bike technique training that is for sure. I had to pull out all the stops sometimes to keep the rubber side down. Some 15K and a whopping 315 heightmeters into the ride we arrived at the first rest stop. We had exactly ridden one hour. The rest zone was well stocked with all kinds of sugary delights and bananas, green and red drinks and a big pan with eggs and bacon.. steaming. They also offered a highly spirited drink for those who felt they needed that.
When we asked about what was still waiting they told us it would become less muddy and more hilly. Well, they were right on one account! Straight away we went on a steep climb and after a while we settled down for a very steep and long climb, taking us from 190 metres to 410 metres in a little more than 2.5km.. You do the math. Luckily the track was not too wet on this climb, making me enjoy it a bit more. A little passage on a tarmac road and we disappeared again into the deep forest. The views were beautiful , at times you could see the valleys deep below us, basking in a ray of sun. One time we rode into a pine forest and saw green and lush trees at the edge of it, the sun rendering it an eerie beauty. Oh yes, this is one beautiful ride. But the mud, oh the mud. The tracks now lead us downhill, sometimes fast over dryer roads, sometimes fighting with our bikes and the muddy trails to keep from falling into the mire.
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Down and there was the next climb, luckily a stretch of old tarmac road, leading us to the second reststop, some 33K and 730 heightmeters into the ride. Yes, thats a hillfactor of 22. A little less stocked than the previous reststop, no eggs, no bacon, no liqcuor but still it provided us with sugars and enough to drink. After this reststop, a series of tough climbs proceded to wring every ounce of strength slowly but surely out of my legs. Sometimes the trails were so muddy we had to walk - and I hate to walk - at times the best way to make progress was to ride through the watery puddles, the bottom was less slippery there. I began to think at this moment that at this pace - we were averaging 12.5kph now - the 80K would become a 6hour+ affair. Not to mention that I would be drained completely. Remember , this is my first Ardennes ride and I'm not as strong yet . I sensed Julie was also contemplating taking the 60K instead of the 80K, for the same reasons. Some 46K into the ride the mud eased off somewhat, enough to make us ride all of the uphills even though a particularly muddy singletrack had us dismounting again. We dropped down towards Mirwart and the trails became a little more rocky - what a relief. Some 53K and 1050 heightmeters into the ride the third reststop arrived. We asked the people manning it if they could tell us what was still waiting the next 30 or so kilometers. But they did not know. I left Julie to make the decision and she decided - wisely as women do - that we would take the 60k distance. In a way I felt very relieved. The last 17K went very well, the trails continued to be a bit less muddy and me me think a bit about the Vosges . Had we made the wrong decision .. ? No certainly not - on the last big climb of the day I could feel my legs turning to jelly. Luckily most of the climb was on hardpack or tarmac. A blistering downhill - dryer therefore the speeds could go up - and we dropped into Tellin. We had to wait a bit to rinse our bikes. After that we said our goodbyes. I took a hot shower before heading home. I felt tired but in a way very satisfied with the ride. The organisation can hardly be blamed for the wet conditions. The forests are what they are and if you accept to ride this TT you accept to go into them and undergo the conditions they offer.

The Lowdown:
What I liked:
+ the region, very beautiful, almost magical
+ well stocked rest zones - even bacon and eggs and licquor.
+ organisation provided emergency numbers
+ sparse but adequate arrowing, using chalk
+ friendly people at the rest stops

What I did not like:
- the abundance of mud.. but what can you do?
- only 3 hoses at the bike rinse.. although queues where not very long.

This certainly is one great ride. This year the organisation was let down a bit by the meteorological conditions, making the forest a tough nut to crack. But they offered distances ranging from 16 to 80K, with lots of points where you could choose to call it a day and follow a shorter distance back in. The ride started out easy to allow for muscles to warm up. Once into the forest you only had to take care not to topple into the mud or during one of the numerous rivers crossings. Wearing waterproof socks kept my feet nicely dry. The big forest around Saint Hubert makes one lyrical at times, even in these conditions I was dreaming away from time to time - memories of the Vosges, but also of other rides coming into mind.

The Bare Facts:
Profile of the Ride

Ride Stats : 60.5K and 1215 heightmeters in 4h38mins