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Cold!

It snowed last night, and this morning it was round about freezing. Most of the club were sensible enough not to go out in the cold, so it was just me and one other mountain biker this morning. I put a couple of extra layers on and thought that would be enough, but that turned out not be quite right. Not only was it snowy, the ground was also very swampy, I guess because it was either frozen or saturated lower down. To make matters worse, the snow acted as camouflage for a number of quite deep puddles. So that meant that, on several occasions, my foot went down into a lovely mixture of water/snow/ice, deeper than the top of my boot, allowing icy water to seep in around my feet. Add to that a spray of damp snow from my back wheel onto my backside and I was very forcibly reminded of just how much colder damp snow at zero feels than much lower temperatures. My wife made it clear to me before I set off that she thought I was insane going out in such weather, so was she right? Well, maybe a little, but it was incredibly beautiful despite the cold, with the fresh snow lying everywhere, the snow gave some extra technical challenges and yes, despite the cold it was well worth it.

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Back to the future

I had been looking forward to the Veluwe Challenge for the past few weeks, with the steep and slippery slopes of the Goudsberg as its high point. However, that was not to be as, on Tuesday, I pulled a muscle in my back by simply getting out of a chair after a meeting. It is also possible that then running for the train was not the smartest thing to do, but it was clear that cycling a Challenge would be considerably less smart. Nevertheless, sitting around all day was probably also not what the back would want, so in the afternoon I went for a short ride in the woods. The leaves are beginning to change colour, especially of the Birches and American Oak and there was plenty of blue sky and sunshine, so it was all quite spectacular. And amazingly, my back did indeed feel much better by the time I got back.

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Zeddam

Yesterday we cycled the Montferland route (officially 'Zeddam') and it was glorious. We arrived in dense fog and for a few minutes, I wondered if it was going to be miserable but the sun soon came out and it was perfect. Not too hot or too cold and just enough moisture in the air to make the sun rays through the trees spectacular. The trail has over 400 height meters in its 25 km length, which means that it is one of the hilliest in the neighbourhood (readers of this blog who think that mountain biking is something you do in mountains can stop laughing) and slopes of up to 15 degrees, so it certainly felt different compared to the virtually horizontal areas round Wageningen. The woods there are also much more diverse with a richer understory of herbaceous plants and some lovely moss-coated areas. And to cap it all, we finished with coffee and apple tart. What more could you want?

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Autumn already

Saturday morning dawned, and the excuses started coming in. It was too wet for the new bike, it was too wet for the injured hand, it was too wet. Those were the sensible ones. In the end, only three of us turned up and that was a problem. Not because of the small group, but because it meant that we combined two of us from our normal slow group with one from the fast group.  Maybe I could have kept up better, but the torrential rain of the last days not only meant that we got rather muddy (see the photo for proof!) but that the sand turned into some sort of evil glue, sticking to our tyres and clawing us back. With that to contend with, it was all I could do to plod along, let alone keep up with someone used to going considerably faster. But it wasn't all torture.  The rain stopped, the sun came out and a group of three wild boar sat close to the track, apparently as amazed to see us ploughing through the mud, as we were delighted to see them. 

Muddy legs

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The Apeldoorn hospital tour 2017

As always, a great tour, well organised, beautiful woods, huge numbers of participants and even including lunch. Great!

Apeldoorn Gelre Ziekenhuistour

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Mountain biking in South-Limburg

The Netherlands is internationally famed for its overwhelming flatness, but there is one part for which that is not true, right down in the south of the country, there is a relatively narrow 'finger' sandwiched between Belgium and Germany, called South Limburg (or Zuid-Limburg in Dutch). The hills are still not as large as the Ardennes in Belgium a little further south, but in a couple of hours cycling you can notch up 6-800 height meters, which is not bad. What is more, the landscape is a treat.

Near Valkenburg

Much of it is rolling pastures with twisting country roads (very different from the straight lines everywhere else in the country) and little villages nestling in the hills. The underlying rock (a novelty in itself, much of the country just has sand or peat under the soil) is chalk, which means that there is a diverse flora and so also a lot of insects and so on. On one cycle ride I saw at least eight different butterfly species.

Hollow roads

The landscape also has a more ancient feel to it than the more constructed landscapes further north. There are a lot of hollow roads, formed by a combination of natural features and centuries of use, with trees arching over the top to make a complete tunnel in some cases. The network of mountain bike trails makes good use of these tracks, many of which are rough and steep. There are eight official routes in the district, as well as a few close by just over the Belgium border. The Dutch routes can be found on http://mtbroutes.nl/ and the Belgium/Flemish routes here: https://www.sport.vlaanderen/waar-sporten/sporten-in-de-natuur/mountainbikeroutes/.

Here is an overview of the Limburg routes:

  Km HM

Rating on

mtbroutes.nl

Maastricht 30 302 3.5
Epen 26 629 4.5
Mechelen 25 359 3.5
Margraten 30 359 3.5
Meersen 30 490 3.5
Nuth-Voerendaal 35 308 2
Sint Geertrud 35 441 4.5
Valkenburg 30 439 4.5
Gulpen 25 536 4

It is well worth downloading the GPS routes from those sites as some of the signs are hard to see or missing due to fast growing vegetation (nettle-proof gloves are also useful!) and vandalism. Some have more tarmac than others (not a problem seeing it is mostly pleasant back roads and you can regard it as recovery between the tougher bits) and some have more hills than others. The hills are often steep (up to 20-25%) and difficult (depending a bit on the weather) with loose pebbles and rocks (though it must be said that the photo below was a 'short cut' on one of the Belgium routes).

rocky road

The general consensus on mtbroutes.nl seems to be that the Epen route is the best one. It is indeed a super ride, with lovely diverse woodlands (photo below), including the Vijlenerbos, famous for its wild cats), some difficult hills and little tarmac.  However, my favourite was definitely the Voeren route (blue+black), which you can start in the village of Mheer (in the Netherlands) but is otherwise virtually all in Belgium. That has a great combination of gorgeous scenery and challenging trails.

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