I mean without a concrete route, without a look at the weather forecast. Just a rough direction, a few days to spare and then just spontaneously set off. To be honest, it's been far too long for me. In the office with my finger on the map - yeah, sure. With my head on the road to distant destinations - always happy to. With a heart full of wanderlust - almost permanent. But then something comes along and it just goes on in the hamster wheel. Ratio, you old grinch!
Escape from everyday lifeMotorcycle Diaries
Be serious. When was the last time you just took off without a plan?
It's Friday morning and the dialling tone of the telephone rings in my ear. Business as usual? Nope!
"Go for the Vosges Mountains?"
"Nah, not next week. Right now."
"Alright, then I'll meet you at the gas station in two hours."
It's good to have friends who don't ask too many questions.
In the early afternoon we cross the German-French border west of Stuttgart. The weather is treating us well, it doesn't show its best side, but at least the roads are dry. We decided to take the motorway for a quick journey. Ducked behind the fairings of our enduros, we unwound the 400 kilometres quickly. Near Seltz we finally hit the country road.
The landscape on the eastern foothills of the Northern Vosges is still gently rolling. The fact that the low mountain range rises further south to 1500 metres is not yet noticeable here.
Between the villages with their red roofs and colourful house facades are wide fields. Whenever possible, we turn off the small country road onto gravel paths. As a rough target we have the Grand Ballon in sight. We want to be there at the highest point of the Vosges Mountains by the following evening at the latest, to drink a toast to having escaped everyday life by a short distance.
The maize stands high; sunflowers stretch their heads towards us and disappear in the dust of our machines. At Krautviller we cross the Canal de la Marne au Rhin, which is a direct waterway between Nancy and Strasbourg for almost 300 kilometres. Completed in 1853, it crosses two watersheds and a correspondingly high altitude, making sluices a daily business for Alsace water travellers. An armada of leisure captains is anchored here too, waiting for the next pass of the local water lift.
We circumnavigate Strasbourg in the west, because conurbations do not fit into our weekend concept. We are rather keen on inclinations and adventurous detours on the Route Forestière. These small, mostly unpaved roads are the salt in the soup when you are riding enduros in the Vosges Mountains.
Although the passages are increasingly closed to motorised vehicles, here and there you can find one or two legally passable tracks with good research. Most of them are gravel roads, which are not too challenging, but give you the good feeling of having escaped civilisation at least for a few kilometres.
While threatening cumulus clouds pile up over the main ridge of the Vosges, we take a quick look at the map, aim for a potentially suitable trail and disappear with the onset of rain into the vast forests at the foot of the Petit Katzenberg. It doesn't take long and fate takes its course. The trail becomes steeper and steeper, narrower and, thanks to the increasingly abundant rainfall, mutates more and more into a stream.
Our high-spirited easy-peasy-route-forestière-can-be-ridden-by-everyone-attitude is slowly starting to crumble, because it's getting more and more violent in front of the wheels.
You can't go back either - too steep, too narrow and of course two enduro-egos that are too big. In a wash out I lose - zack! - the front wheel and roll downhill without the bike. Together we pick up the bike. Aluminium cases scrape over rocks. Sweat and rain run through our faces - we didn't want it any other way. Just as I have escaped the worst misery with a lot of brrrrraaaaaab and turn off the engine to take a short breather, the KTM falls silent behind me - also due to a crash, as I notice in the rear view mirror.
Short review of the situation. We agree: we have to get through it somehow until we reach the next road or at least the next gravel road, because the way back downhill seems too tricky for us. Sceptical glances behind steamed up goggles. As dusk falls, we turn back onto solid ground, soaked and happy.
The next morning is covered in fog. We still have a score to settle and despite the bad weather we hit the bushes again. We stay away from the very small paths today and instead take the somewhat better developed Route Forestière under the tyres. Unfortunately, we are often confronted with prohibition signs and have to get back on the road without having accomplished anything. But that doesn't matter, because even on asphalt the Vosges Mountains are a great spectacle, even if they are quite wet for us.
We make our way south, passing the pretty pearls of Alsace: Ribeauvillé, Selestat, Turkheim and Kaysersberg. From Lac Blanc on, the Vosges Mountains show their subalpine side and we are in full flow despite treacherous road conditions.
The Route des Cretes is a feast on the ideal line and because of the mixed weather there is not much going on here. Col de la Schlucht, a view of the Münster Valley, where the strong local cheese is at home and then on towards Grand Ballon.
The mountains to the right and left of the road are well over 1000 metres high and the barren landscape is adding to the high mountain feeling. When we reach the top of the pass and take the finish photo at the signpost opposite the Auberge, the clouds break up and let light spots run across the Rhine plain towards the Black Forest. What a spectacle.
Departure day: Quelle Malheure! We saddle up the motorbikes with a view of the cloud cover. But today from above. Inversion weather conditions - the clouds lie like a lid on the valleys. Up here the sun is shining, only occasionally shreds of fog are moving over the pass road. What a magical atmosphere! And because we can't separate completely yet, we take some time to go around the curves around the balloon. Then we ride down the valley, past Lac de la Lauch and off to Guebwiller.
A weekend could hardly be better. But the concept is simple: start the engine, turn off your mind and cheat your everyday life.