Week 3, freezing nights in the tent, Belgian chocolate and dodgy knees. Total 1184 km
Week 3 kicked off camping on the border between Holland and Belgium, a secluded little spot in the woods about a km north of the border and close to a small town called Zundert. I woke up at about 5 in the morning with heavy rains smashing against the walls of my tent, the odd leak or two dripping ice cold water over me as I started to gather my things and pack my panniers waiting for sunrise. I rustled up a cup of coffee to keep my mind off the conditions outside that I would soon be cycling in. I found out later that day that it was 1 degree Celsius that morning, plus rain and a wind chill factor and you’ve got yourself a rather chilly start to the day.
I crossed into Belgium and made my way down to Antwerp where I proceeded to get lost, now it’s one thing getting into a city on a bike but it’s always a bit trickier getting out. The network of motorways and freeways which don’t allow cyclists are far more set up for motorists and generally better sign posted than the smaller more cycle friendly routes. Throw in a language barrier and cycling on the wrong side of the road and every city becomes a project to get out of.
I must have asked a handful of people for directions in English and Afrikaans which is my second language and a lot closer to Flemish than most, without any progress, finally I struck gold when I met “Lucky Luc” a 58 year old local gentleman on his daily 30 km ride about town, we got chatting and Luc kindly offered to escort me out of Antwerp and set me on my merry way south, but not before taking me out for lunch to sample some traditional “Belgian Fries” with mayonnaise and proceeded to tell me how the world had mistaken the Belgian fry for the French fry. We must have cycled close on 15 km together before Luc and I parted ways, feeling a changed man with my new found knowledge on the history of the fried potato I cycled off into the sunset.
Entering Brussels to do laundry and plug back into the grid for a couple of days after camping in the woods, I decided to do the clichéd tourist thing and get myself some overpriced Belgian chocolates and beer, sit in a bar near the Grand Place for a day and soak up the ambiance and architecture of the city whilst filling in a few postcards.
My luxurious lifestyle was short lived and I soon found myself pounding the pavement of the N5 south through Charleroi and fighting a steady headwind en route the French border, I spent that evening wearing the lion’s share of my clothing inside my sleeping bag and still freezing my ass off, I had been experiencing some pain in my right knee and had pulled over and set up camp on some recently ploughed farmland behind a wind break. Did not sleep well that night and tossed and turned cursing my aching knee, I rose to some reggae music on my phone to lift the spirits and deliberated about going outside to get my coffee mug out my pannier for at least half an hour before braving the morning frost and starting the day.
Mixed emotions as I crossed the French border, crossing into country number 4 had brought jubilation and some serious pain in my right knee, an old skating injury that was flaring up in the cold was starting to bother me and the pain had gotten to the point where I had to get off and push the bike for 3 or 4km’s into the town of Rocroi. I needed to rest the knee, have a good hot shower and regroup, so I scouted out a budget B&B and checked in for the evening.
That rest did me the world of good as I set off from Rocroi rejuvinated on a freezing cold morning with spirits high and a heavily strapped knee drenched in Deepheat, it was onwards and upwards from here. An 85 km day in the saddle that ended with a good nights camping and a hot mug of soup, I woke early the following morning to the Beatles and “Baby you can drive my car” to start a 105 km haul of which 35km was a detour in the pouring rain( thanks to the French police ), which sees me camping on the side of the N77 about 50 km north of Troyes in the province of Champagne.
And congratulations to Ryan, one of the Global Wheeling Foundation trustees and his wife Tam who gave birth to a healthy young lad called Matthew while I was in Brussels and whom I will be nicknaming Brussel Sprout.