The weather forecast was uncertain for today, some rain was expected but no-one was sure how much and when. So when I met up with my friend Guna we decided to go for a 4-5 hour offroad ride. I had found a GPS track of the 2006 Houffalize marathon, distance of 60K and around 1400 heightmeters. This looked like a good challenge so we decided to go for that. It was for both of us the first Ardennes ride of the year so it would take some getting used to the longer, steeper climbs and descents. As for the technical sections, I didn't expect them to be that numerous, but we'd have to wait and see. The trail makes a big counterclockwise loop around Houffalize .
From the start we had to get out of Houffalize which meant a steep climb on tarmac. The sun was shining and I was thinking that maybe I was wearing too much clothing. But then we turned offroad and things became serious. It is impossible to describe 60K of Ardennes in this writing so I will concentrate on a couple of highlights. Sometimes it wasn't easy to understand which track I had to follow. At one point about 7K into the ride I took a wrong turn which had us ending up on the wrong side of the river Ourthe. It took me a while to understand because we were in a deep valley and GPS reception was bad. Also, there was a road on both sides of the river and the GPS still placed me on the good road. But then the road stopped and we could barely distinguish a small path going upwards. No, this could not be the track for sure.
So I turned back and rode back to the fork. This time we crossed the river and moved on the other side. A little bit further I spotted a small roedeer. I brought this to Guna's attention and we stopped, keeping very quiet. The roedeer just looked at us, but did not run. I took out my camera and made a picture. It's amazing this animal was not scared of us. Just curiously looking in our direction, sniffing the air and turning its ears as if to judge if we were friend or foe. We were still in a deep valley not far from the river Ourthe - which , at this point, is only a couple of meters wide. Next we climbed out of the valley and ended up on one of the Houffalize arrowed trails (I believe the blue number 5)
Another highlight was a passage in the Bois de Cedrogne. We had to pass a gate and came into what seemed to be a parc naturel. Indeed, when I checked the map later, it was the Parc Naturel des 2 Ourthes. I saw some very old pine trees, thick and high, almost majestically so. There were lots of little rivers and at one point it looked as if we were in the Hautes Fagnes. We dropped onto a GR route which we followed for numerous kilometers, ondulating and twisting through this large forest. Near Dinez we came back into civilization. A great section, this one.
But a little bit further, still on the GR, was another beautiful passage along what seemed a very old riverbed, twisting down towards Mont.
Near Achouffe we dropped down to the river Ourthe again. I missed another turn and we had to connect back to the trail by following a very technical singletrail next to the river. We arrived back on the trail, which again coincided with a marked route (number 2) and now had to climb for ages before being sent down towards the road that connects Houffalize to La Roche. We had felt a couple of raindrops and the cloud cover was menacing. But so far no real rain had fallen. The climb towards Bonnerue was really starting to drain our forces by now and we still had a while to go. Stopping regularly for a snack - and to rest a bit - the combination of climbing and descents was taking its toll. At one point a series of trees had fallen over the trail. They must have been there for a couple of months now and it really is a disgrace that they haven't been cleaned up by the local authorities. It took a lot of effort to climb over and through the debris before being able to ride again.
We were now on the south of Houffalize and after crossing the E25 began to feel we were nearly at home. But no, there was one very long climb waiting, which took us up 130 heightmeters in a little more than 3 kilometers. From there it was all downhill, first along a wonderful singletrack, later on a bigger trail down towards Houffalize were we stumbled on the Rue de La Roche were we had to negotiate the crowd that was following one of the supporting races of the World Cup. You can download the GPS track from the following link but please bear in mind that there is an extra section around km 7 and also a very difficult technical section in Achouffe around km 43. Other than that the track is correct .
We were very lucky with the weather and the track conditions. It hadn't rained for 2 weeks and the tracks were as dry as I have ever seen them. Of course this is the Ardennes so keep in mind that at one point or another you will have to cross a river or follow a riverbed. Technical difficulty isn't too high, except for the bit I described near Achouffe but of course the physical difficulty is high with more than 1400 heightmeters on a 60K loop.
Ride Stats : 67K and 1385/1420 heightmeters (Polar/Garmin) in 4h52mins
01-05-2010, 00:00 geschreven door Big Bad Wolf