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Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Photo copyright John Coefield 2012.

Photo: self-timertastic. VP's John riding in the Vosges.

I've just got back from a holiday in the Vosges, France. Very nice it was. You know the deal: sunny and hot every day, lovely scenery, nice food and drink, and so on.

Despite it being primarily a family holiday, a few weeks before going I realised I'd be a mug if I didn't take my bike, not least because we were keen to get our little boy going on his balance bike (a roaring success, incidentally!). Thus followed a week or two's frantic research on where I might actually be able to ride it, and how you might go about finding the Good Stuff. Maps were ordered, faster rolling tyres fitted, and off we went.

There is some ridiculously good riding in the Vosges (after all, it is where Enduro wad Jerome Clementz comes from): super-fast woodland singletrack, rock-tech ups and downs, and super-scenic ridge-top trails. You earn the downs after the ups (there are a couple of bike parks, but I was on a natural singletrack mission). And finding all the Good Stuff came about by being able to read the maps.

I think if you're into biking – or in fact anything outdoors – then being able to read a map, and read it very specifically for whatever you're up to (in my case here, mountain biking) is a really valuable skill. Tracking trails against contours, looking at features: Will that be a wide track or a narrow one? Which trails can be linked together? Which trails should be ridden in which direction? Judging by the riding I found, I reckon I did a decent job.

It brings home that one of the things I really like about biking is finding new stuff. Sure, I have my favourite rides close to home, but I get a real kick out of finding something new and really great. Exploration has its downsides – the trails where you're pushing (or carrying) for ages before or after the good bit, if the good bit even existed. Slogging through endless mud/brambles/hell. But there always seems to be more good than bad.

I rode a new one last night actually. Tom invited me along as he was heading out on some local trails with 'the guy who keeps beating me in the Gravity Enduros'. Having ridden with Tom quite a bit, and knowing he's s**t-hot, alarm bells should have been ringing at this point. I must have been sleepy. Holey-moley those boys were fast, and up to that point I had felt like I was getting fitter/faster from the riding I've been doing this year. Tom was trying to keep up with Dave, and I was trying not to break myself far behind. They were kind enough to keep waiting for me.

One particular plus was a new bit of trail which Dave introduced us to, and it's as close to home as I can get, starting from the park where I take my little boy to the swings, slides and zip wires (a definite plus of having kids is being able to go to the parks with them – I think you get arrested if you hang around parks without kids). Really fast riding, ace tight corners, drops, roots, everything.

I think I'll ride it again tomorrow.


p.s. If you're off to France and you want to research maps and routes then the 1:25,000 maps (and other scales) are produced by IGN. They're really good, and the paths (sentiers and chemins) on the maps for the Vosges area are overlaid with the trails waymarked by Club Vosgien. There's also a free web portal which is good for checking stuff out at various scales, although it's been misbehaving and crashing my browser today (it has worked brilliantly in the past), so try it at your peril [no clicky link!]:

p.p.s. I also found this chap's blog handy for researching stuff.

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