12 August 2021

Friends, Gravel, The Vosges

Since this idea first came to mind, we couldn’t wait to put it into action and finally do this little point to point Gravel trip around the summit of Hohneck. Some time to put together the perfect team of motivated riders for this getaway on Dimanche 29s and to find the right weather window in a very temperamental summer, and we were (finally) ready to head off on this micro-adventure.

The objectives of this expedition were relatively simple: spend two days on bikes, two days of sharing, of discovering Gravel for some and two days of fun for all! Christophe, with his intimate knowledge of the paths in the Vosges, concocted a wonderful loop for us with small tracks, panoramic roads and unusual experiences. Juliette, already an expert in E-MTB, came up from the Haute-Savoie to discover our beautiful Vosges landscapes. For Valentine, it was her first time on a Gravel bike and she started this trip with a mixture of apprehension and enthusiasm. Clément, for his part, rides a Dimanche 29.5 often in the Vosges and he was keen to discover this new route. To complete the team, Jérémie once again accompanied us in order to capture this “ebike-packing trip” on video!

Our starting point was on the edge of the Gérardmer lake, the “pearl” of the Vosges. We begin with a quick snack at the local bakers and then it’s time for the small team to head off. The weather is perfect and we leave the chaos of the town center on a little road that climbs steeply in the Rochires woods to reach the high up Xonrupt-Longemer with a fantastic view over the chalets. A formality for our Dimanche 29 Gravel bikes that easily swallowed up these first kilometers.

The rain of the last few weeks has had its effect and the nature is luxurious, which of course does not displease us. We continue the climb on a narrow path, that’s fun and sometimes technical but so beautiful that we savour each moment. This path takes us to the “Saint-Jacques de Gérardmer” refuge situated at an altitude of 1075m. We don’t hang around too long and start the rocky descent (take care on this part) which takes us towards the Lispach lake.

Valentine has very quickly got familiar and comfortable with her Dimanche 29 and she is really impressing us by managing to stay with the group (thanks to the assistance modes 😉) and by riding sections where we thought she’d have to put her feet on the ground.

The arrival at Lispach lake is always a mystical moment with its peat bogs, its waters full of fish and its wild beauty. The ideal spot for a well earned bucolic lunch break! Once we’ve devoured our sandwiches, getting going again is always a little laborious, but the dynamic assistance of our Dimanche 29s makes us forget this.

We head quickly towards the resort of La Bresse and make a start on the long climb on a typical wide Gravel path. This winds through the forest before coming out on the Haut Chitelet plateau with the reward of a beautiful view of the Hohneck that towers over us. To head out to conquer this, we take a steep technical path that passes next to the Sotré refuge.

The weather is still just as good and we feast our eyes on the picture-postcard view of the Longemer and Retournemer lakes. We don’t hang around too much, the chamois are waiting for us on the top of Hohneck! We speed towards the summit which is packed with hikers taking in the 360° view from the most emblematic peak in the Vosges (and the 3rd highest in the Massif with an altitude of 1363m).

The route becomes much more technical as we head onto the Alsacian side with demanding passages but which still enable us to arrive on time at our refuge. We grit our teeth! We take the time to spot several chamois who run the gauntlet of the rocky peaks and to take a photo of the group, then continue in the direction of the resort of Gashney.

The toughest part is done and the team is together and smiling. A little surprise before the last descent on the road which takes us to our chosen place for the evening: Valentine discovers that her pot of coconut oil brought to help with any sunburned skin has split all over her rear brake… Oops!! We try to clean it, but prudence will be needed in the descent. The rear brake is immediately renamed “GRX-Coco”! We will obviously change the brake pads this evening. That’s us arrived at the Hinterberg farm, hidden in the middle of the forest.

We are warmly welcomed by Gaby, almost 80 years old and who continues to look after his visitors high up at Metzeral. This little typical farmstay is entirely reserved for us and we take advantage of the fresh air at the end of the day to have a drink on the terrasse and debrief the day. The morale of the team is high, no falls, no technical mishaps apart from Valentine’s “GRX-Coco” brake and the satisfaction of having spent an incredible day on the massif of the Vosges. Whilst we take advantage of this time to recuperate, Gaby’s busy in the kitchen. He comes back several minutes later with a giant Baeckoeffe [bèke-ofe]! This traditional Alsacian dish has already been cooking for several hours. Baeckeoffe signifies « Baker’s oven ». It’s a traditional dish, made from meat, potatoes and marinated vegetables, that housewives made before going into the fields and left to cook in the baker’s oven, the only oven in the village in that period. We did justice to the chef and devoured the delicious comforting dish before heading to our rooms in order to rest and regain energy for the next day.

A gentle wake up with a good breakfast so we have some reserves for this next day of Gravel riding. We say goodbye to Gaby and we get back in the saddle to continue our route. At the resort of Gaschney we ride on fantastic forest singletracks. We stop to get some images. Jérémie, who is filming this adventure, stops us regularly throughout the route in order to redo several sections. It’s the occasion to catch our breath and to be attacked by mosquitos… lots of them! After a long descent on a fantastic Gravel track, we arrive at the foot of the main climb with 300m of height gain and slopes of 10% gradient in places.

First, we’re on wide tracks, then steep technical singletracks where the wide tires and powerful motor come into their own! Finally, we finish the climb on a freshly tarmacked road with a view of the cliffs at the Frankenthal-Missheilme reserve. At the top of the Schlucht col that symbolically separates the Haut-Rhin and the Vosges, we don’t hang about for too long and flee the hustle and bustle of tourists on a long road descent which lets us go fast. Arriving at the valley floor, we ride the length of the Retournemer lake to then head to the Longemer lake.

Back on the tarmac to go round the lake and cross the village of Xonrupt. The end of our adventure is close and we take advantage of the last kilometers together to make a little peloton heading towards Gérardmer. We decide to finish these two days of riding and sharing with the last stop at chez Mémé (a nice café in the town center) to toast and sate ourselves. The bill, please! The last few hundred meters take us to our start point, on the shores of the Gérardmer lake, with the feeling of having lived a great human and sporting adventure behind the bars of our Dimanche 29s on a mountain range which didn’t stop surprising us throughout our rides.

A little bonus: we’ve included below the GPX trace of our route. For those of you that haven’t had the opportunity to visit the Vosges, simply take your bike and escape as a family, with friends or on your own. As we say, adventure can start at the corner of the road ;-{D

Feedback on the experience…

Valentine

« I’m really grateful and proud to have participated in this adventure. Having only a little bit of MTB technical skills and no experience of bike packing, for me it was a total unknown. But I couldn’t wait to live this experience, in nature, on bikes with passionate riders! Christophe prepared an incredible route for us, with magnificent Vosges landscapes, technical sections, and easy flowing sections… It was varied, I loved it!

I was the least experienced in the group but I didn’t have the impression that I really slowed them down. I must admit that it was at times difficult but not at all disagreeable, quite the opposite, I was happy because thanks to the electric bike, I was able to complete a route that I would have found difficult to do on a bike without assistance. And I would never have been able to follow the fit group without my Dimanche 29. What’s more, the second day I really gained in confidence thanks to the advice from Tof and Juju. They are experts and they are very patient. Their willingness to share their experience, I found that amazing.

It was a fun trip without trouble (well ok, apart from my GRX-Coco brake…). We didn’t have any moments of intense suffering despite the very long technical route. We laughed a lot, we didn’t argue, everyone was happy to live this experience! And above all it was a chance to “switch off”. The fact we left with just what we could carry on our bikes, to sleep in a hostel, that empties the head, we had the impression of recharging our batteries and that does us good. We want to do it all again soon, to head off and discover new horizons. Gravel for me it’s the all round travel bike that allows you to go where you want, when you want, accompanied or not. Freedom! »

Clément

I always approach these 2-3 day micro-adventures with lots of enthusiasm and impatience. All important elements were present for a successful adventure: a great team with varied personalities and experiences, Christophe’s knowledge of the terrain (so as not to get lost!), his jokes and general good humour, interesting people to meet, lovely trails and “picture postcard” views. A real letting out of steam to decompress, these escapades are for me a deep breath of air of which I have become nuts about, and what’s more if they can be shared with friends, it’s even better!

The route was extremely varied and fun from the start to the finish. On some technical parts that were closer to MTB I could feel to what extent the Dimanche 29 was capable. This bike is incredibly at ease everywhere and the position is really comfortable and secure to munch up the kilometers.

I’ve had the chance to visit a bit of the Vosges mountain range since I landed here in 2017. I never tire of the wild beauty and the richness of the territory, but also the incredibly warm welcome of the residents. It was a pleasure to share these two days on bikes with our great team and to show them our amazing region. I think that everyone really appreciated this Moustache micro-adventure. I think that I’ll soon come back to ride some parts of the route that I really loved, especially above the village of Xonrupt with its lovely trails in the woods where we had a green display. I’ve got pins and needles in my legs when I think about this adventure, I can’t wait for the next!

Juliette

My first experience bikepacking, and first experience of Gravel on unknown territory for the only “expatriate” of the group, as I was. A combo of new experiences that I couldn’t wait to undertake surrounded by a great team! Two days of pure fun crossing magnificent very varied paths on Vosges and Alsacian terrain under the sun, with the bonus of emblematic places such as the Schlucht or the Hohneck.

And what to say about this incredible hostel hidden in the forest where we had the chance to pass the evening and the night… A real haven of peace and serenity where we feel so good… and also where we could taste an excellent Baeckeoffe. I won’t reveal the size of the vacherin glacé that we tasted in order not to make everyone drool.

I should admit that I had some concerns about Gravel riding: to ride on off-road paths and trails, on a road bike with big tires… fairly strange. Coming from riding an MTB equipped with suspension and used to a mountainous region with demanding trails, I had difficulty grasping the potential of this famous Gravel riding which everyone speaks about. But this adventure brought me a huge bundle of surprises and I was bowled over by the versatility of the Dimanche 29. Beyond its “all-rounder” profile, I was surprised to have fun descending on a rigid bike with a low position (and yes, I didn’t think that would be possible!).

Christophe

At the beginning for me it was about creating a route on the Vosgian paths around Gérardmer, the “Pearl of the Vosges”, and La Bresse-Hohneck at an altitude of 1 363m. A challenge which should link bike-packing on electric Gravel bikes, with the mixed levels of the group members, the discovery of the practice and exploration of new landscapes (for stunning photos!).

For me, who is used to riding Gravel, fairly strongly much of the time, I really appreciated this moment sharing these little known paths with my teammates, a little like showing others some secret passages… The Vosges mountain range is known for being particularly hostile, as much for its severity in winter as for its stifling heat in summer, but we had the chance to ride on an exceptional playground with perfect weather conditions. The advantage with our Gravel bikes is that we can ride as easily on roads as on the off-road paths, even with some tough technical parts, and we felt perfectly at ease everywhere.

The cherry on the cake for me was to see the smiles and the excitement of my camarades during our trip, and above all the especially warm welcome from our host Gaby who looked after us as if we were kings in his most authentic hostel. We were treated with specialties of the Alsace region, such as baeckeoffe and an enormous vacherin…

Jérôme Gilloux | E-team

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