The Grand Traversée du Massif de Vosges by Peter Fairhurst
An early start for me on the 13th July 2020. I take a train from Chartres at 4:00 am which then with a run a cross Paris, a TGV to Strasbourg and then a local train gets me to Wissembourg at 10:25 am. No time to lose at 10:27 I'm off for the traversée hoping to complete the trail in approx 8 days. First idea is to get to Niederbronn les Bains for the first evening.
The day is hot, water resupply difficult, but the trails are wonderful and runnable. I jog on the flat, false flat and down hill and walk everything else. My pack with tent weighs around 5.5 kg without water. I arrive at the campsite hot tired and very thirsty. I was really surprised at the lack of water.
Next day is similar through the north Vosges national park, rolling hilly countryside, amazing rock formations and wonderful ruined castles. I am not racing and take the time to climb up the towers and admire the views. This night a hotel in Saverne and a chance to wash kit.
Day 3 the hills start turning into mountains and we hit 1000 m elevation for the first time. I'm still mainly running in forest however. I decide to wild camp but have to carry all my water over 20 km. It makes progress slower over the last part of the day. It then rains quite a bit of the night.
Day 4 I feel the effects of the first 3 days and it rains and is cold. I pass through amazing history of this landscape, Donon a Druid temple area, Struthoe the only French Nazi concentration camp and then on to the Mont Saint Odile the most important pilgrim destination in the Vosges. I spend the night there highly recommended. My feet suffer as I am running through wet long grass quite a bit and my feet are wet all day.
Day 5 I still feel tired and it is still raining so I opt for a short day "only 40 km" to Chatenois. I stay at the centre du randonneurs a good option which is empty due to covid 19 out of the 200 beds available there is only me !
Day 6 I feel strong again and target the water source of the white lake as a campsite for the night. I refuel in Ribeauville a beautiful Alsacian town. The mountains are getting higher and now up to 1200 m and I go through more and more ski resorts. The area is more touristy and as it is the weekend for the first time I meet a lot of people on the trails. The trails remain really good for running with few technical patches to slow you down.
Day 7 Another long day I wanted to stop at the Grand Ballon hotel but they were full and camping at 1400 m will be too cold for my light sleeping bag so I decide to push onto Thann. A good decision, a nice hotel and lovely church to visit. I'm a bit disappointed by the Grand Ballon the highest summit. There are a lot of people but the view isn't really any better there than earlier or later. At Thann I stay in a hotel and start reading about the FKT so I look to see what it is for this trail and find no registered time, so then I think well maybe I should register this effort, if I finish.
Day 8 after 2, 60+ km days I feel tired today and set my targets on Giromagny I know the last part of the trail having run the Ballon d'Alsace a few weeks previously. Just before the summit I trip and land on my right knee. My knee starts hurting on the descent and I have to walk the last km's into town.
Day 9 , only 22km left, I get up and leave early in order to arrive before 10:30 am to be able to say "I did it in 8 days". My knee feels ok and I run off at a reasonable pace, however at about 8 km after a short road section where I think I accelerated my right knee and quad start to hurt, I start walking "quickly" but it gets worse, by 5 km to go I am really really limping and pushing off my trail batons to more forward. The last 2km I do on almost one leg, it is crazy the last "flat" 2 km are the hardest of all and I only just arrive before my 10:30 target (10:04).
I then go into the Citadel pay the 1 euro to the Lion vantage point and don't move for over 2 hours.
Faster is certainly possibly. I have set an "easy" target and invite other enthusiastic runners to enjoy this route as much I did.
My advice is that food is no issue there are quite a few villages with bakeries and shops but water is an issue in the first half so plan this part carefully. Alternating camping and hotels worked for me in terms of resting and cleaning kit but enjoying "being out there" on your own.