Day 1 : 600 km by local trains
I (Bart) needed to get up around 6:30. I quickly ate breakfast and made some sandwiches for the road. At about eight, the first train would leave from Eindhoven. That involved cycling 13 km. Bram and I arrived on time and didn't have much trouble buying tickets to Luxembourg. Twelve euros per person seemed cheap. We discovered those were only for our bikes, so we also bought tickets for ourselves. Thus far, everything was still going well.
Now we just needed to get our bikes on top of the stairs towards the platform. As long as we kept pushing our brakes, carrying them up the escalators wasn't too bad. The train had a separate section for bikes. There was someone else with a nice bike, a nearly brand-new Koga Miyata traveler. She wasn't bad either and had nice panniers, but she also smoked. Everything in life is in balance.
In Maastricht, we needed to transfer to the train to Liege. The trains in Belgium have a separate section for bikes in the front cart. Our bikes barely fit, and it was quite a workout with all our gear. In Liege, we had to transfer again to get to Luxembourg. We needed to wait 1,5 hours, which wasn't too bad as the weather was nice.
The train from Liege to Luxembourg stopped over ten times along the way, just like all other trains today. You weren't allowed to bring bikes in intercity trains, so we weren't going fast at all. In the ideal situation, we would arrive in Besancon around 10 o'clock, a two-hour bike ride from the 100 cols tour.
In Luxembourg were no escalators, so we had to carry our bikes down the stairs, buy a ticket, and then lift them back up again. The train arrived only just in time, and the conductor was in a hurry. There were two other people with bikes and panniers. The front of the train only had room for two bikes. The four of us ran towards it as quickly as possible. The conductor seemed slightly annoyed by the first two bikes, which would take even more time. Then he saw Bram and yelled 'trios velós!!' three bikes. He hadn't seen me yet.
Our bikes were stuffed in the 1st class cart, but didn't really fit. We were still on schedule. From Luxembourg we continued to Nancy. There we went to Epinal and then to Belfort. We decided not to continue until 10 o'clock, but already leave the train in Belfort. From there, it was only a 30 min ride to a campsite on the 100 cols route. That way we could start the next morning.
On the train from Nancy to Epinal we had to show our tickets again. We had tickets for ourselves and the bikes. But bikes can be taken for free in Luxembourg and France, so the conductor got really confused. At least he approved. Later he came back to ask if he could take a picture of the tickets. I think it was for his collection.
The last part of the train journey was from Epinal to Belfort. I had bought the tickets this time. The train went super slow and we stopped in a different small village every 5 minutes. The conductor came by and looked at the tickets. I hoped everything would be fine, but he started to say 'valider'. We need to 'valider' the tickets. I didn't get what he wanted, the tickets were for Epinal - Belfort and the bikes were free. The previous winter Bram had been hiking in France and he remembered that on some tracks you needed to push the tickets in a machine, which would stamp the date on them. That way you can't use your tickets again even if you don't get checked. Of course, they don't mention that when you buy the tickets. There was also no text on the boxes that would stamp them saying 'put your tickets in here before getting on the train otherwise the conductor gets pissed and starts yelling at you in French'. Fortunately, he let us go with a warning.
We arrived in Belfort around 8:30. Half an hour cycling later we arrived near the Ballon d'Alsace mountain. The campsites' helpdesk ('accueil') was already closed, so we cycled around to find a good place to pitch our tent. Then a French guy came asking something in an urgent voice. I had no clue what it was but tried to figure it out in my best French. However, he just kept repeating the same word over and over again. When I said 'accueil' he realized we tried to sleep on the campsite. We also asked for a stamp, we needed to collect stamps or receipts to prove we cycled the entire 100 cols tour. It was nearly dark when we went to sleep.
Distance cycled : 31.37 km