Luxemburg | Fastpacking along the Lee and Eisleck Trails

After finishing the Bello Gallico 50 miler a few months ago it seemed like a splendid idea to plan a 100-mile foot race, which will be my focus in 2017. I opted for the Great Escape, 160k and roughly 7000m elevation from Ettelbrück in Luxemburg to Maboge in Belgium along the beautiful Lee and Eisleck trails. The race (just to finish, I'm not fooling myself thinking I will compete) is made possible by the loving community and organisation of Legends Trails. And as I have plenty of time left to train, there's really not much which can go wrong, is there?

My first step in the right direction (I will need many more) will be a weekend recce in Luxemburg. To keep the logistics as easy as possible, I opted for a two day recce along the trail. The Great Escape mainly follows the Escapardenne Trail, which consists out of two parts, the Lee Trail from Ettelbrück to Kautenbach (53k), and the Eisleck Trail from Kautenbach to La Roche-en-Ardenne (104k). This weekend I will do the Lee Trail and the first part of the Eisleck Trail until Clervaux, combining for 75k and 3000m elevation in total. This weekend will also be my first experiment in fastpacking, a very interesting grey zone between ultra-running and trekking. Looking at it from a trekking perpective, you leave as much as possible at home and set out with minimal and ultra-light equipment so you can go further, faster and longer. From a running perspective, you are carrying a ridiculously heavy backpack containing everything you need to be self-reliant for a few days. Pitch your shelter, have a sleep, tie your shoe-laces and go! At the outset, my bag weighs around 9kg, including a warm shelter (Mountain Laurel Design Trailstar and a Marmot Hydrogen down sleeping bag) an Esbit stove and some food to last two days.

I take the train Friday morning at 7am to arrive in Ettelbrück around 10am. The weather is ridiculously warm for this time of the year, and I can spend the day in shorts and t-shirt. In the evening, temperatures drop a bit in a pleasant way.
The trail starts immediately after leaving the parking lot at the station, and continues along gorgeous single trails, among the most beautiful you can find in the Ardennes. I try to go a bit faster on the broader forest roads, but don't manage to get in Kautenbach before dark (the backpack does slow me down, who would have thought?). Upon arriving at the campsite, I head straight to the bar, where I receive some suspicious looks from the locals. A Chouffe and a warm meal later, I feel ready to pitch my trailstar at the campsite which is almost empty. Although it is pretty windy, the Trailstar feels bomb-proof, which is encouraging!

The rain, which started in the night, continues during the morning, so I need to push myself a bit to put on my wet running gear from the day before. Don't overthink it and don't whine, you're not on holiday! Just pack your stuff and leave. Although I'm in for a wet day, I am very pleasantly surprised by the beauty of the trail, and I actually start looking forward to starting this beast of a race in 6 months time. The first experiment in fast-packing was also successful. The pace is obviously somewhat slower than without a backpack, but still manageable, providing a whole world of opportunities!

Mervyn Van Gompel