Avoiding the Vosges

29/6/18. (Almost.) For those who don’t know the Vosges are a range of mountains running parallel to the Rhine that separate the main part of Alsace from the rest of France. While not as high as the Alps or the Pyrenees they are still a sizeable barrier as we discovered 35 years ago when we went over the Grand Ballon (1,400 metres) on a day ride, having left all our luggage other than waterproofs and lunch back at the hotel. This ride was memorable both for the difficulty and for Stephen overtaking a car for the first time (on the descent, of course) – exhilaration for one of us and cold shivers for the other!

We (well, Christine if truth be known) had plotted our route from Paris following the canal reasoning that it wouldn’t involve long, steep climbs. The theory was fine and had has largely worked out in practice. What we didn’t expect was a strong easterly wind. It had has become increasingly annoying and growing in strength over the last few days with the previous afternoon having been quite hard work as previously noted.

However, Stephen used extra pegs when erecting the tent last night  which seemed to do the trick and the wind died overnight! So we thought we were going to be all right.

Wrong!

By the time we got going (after the visit of the mobile boulangerie with still warm baguettes and croissants) the wind was starting to blow again. As the morning progressed so did its strength to such a point that even downhill stretches became a struggle requiring pedalling rather than freewheeling. It was tough going and we were more than ready for the mid morning snack of croissants after 20 km of battling against the wind.

The saving grace was that the route we were following was mainly very quiet country roads with the occasional dedicated cycle route – if it had been along busy roads it would have been too depressing for words.

As mid afternoon approached we were conscious that we did not have much in the food bag for dinner or breakfast and our intended campsite was not near a town so we headed into Sarrebourg to find a supermarket to top up on supplies.

Getting out of the town was a bit of a slog uphill. It wouldn’t have been so much of an issue if we hadn’t had such a tough start to the day and a slight drop in the wind’s strength went almost unnoticed as our legs tired.

One last long uphill (not really very steep but the wind made it hard work at the end of a tiring day) took us to the top of a gorge where we rejoined the canal which suddenly looked uncared for, with reeds choking the channel and lock gates missing. We realised to our amazement that we had reached the high point of our crossing of the Vosges! We were at the top of a series of 17 locks which had been rendered redundant by a high tech lift which takes boats up and down the eastern edge of the Vosges saving water and manpower (one person per lock v. only 2 at the lift) .

There was a campsite conveniently placed at the bottom of the disused locks which we were more than ready to use for the night with Christine in need of a good night’s sleep while Stephen went to the adjacent restaurant for a glass or two of Alsatian wine.

In the morning we continued our descent from the pass on the towpath alongside the canal. Although the wind had again dropped overnight, by the time we reached the wide valley floor of the Rhine at the pretty town of Saverne it was starting to build in strength and we were grateful for any shelter from trees as we continued heading east.

The towpath continued all the way into Strasbourg and, even better, it started to head southwards which made the wind more of a crosswind.

With our major objective achieved (and very limited options on campsites around the city) we decided to celebrate/treat ourselves by going to a hotel and so we headed for the one we had stayed in about 11 months ago when riding down the Rhine.

Crashing on the bed we started to crystallize thoughts we had both been having over how to fill the week before the house rental on Lake Constance with the “kids”. It quickly became apparent that both of us wanted a rest and a wander round the Capital of Europe rather than to move on the next day so we have extended the hotel reservation by an extra night.

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