- Jamie Shannon
Back on the road. A short ride through Belgium
After two weeks in Amsterdam and with far too much money spent, I felt it was time to leave and I left my friends boat with a stonking hangover and no water left with which to hydrate myself. I felt terrible.
Having forced myself to mount everything on my bike before leaving a note and the key to the boat inside, I made my way south through the city towards my friends whom live near Utrecht. It's a route I’ve taken a few times before so I won’t bore you with the details. Needless to say though, my head was pounding and I was gasping for water.
I stayed in Woerden for two days to enjoy King’s Day with my friends, Esther, Leon and Simone. I also met Esther and Leon’s daughter again, who in just over a year had grown into a real person. What a difference a year makes! Feeling thoroughly reinvigorated two days later, I left and headed south through The Netherlands before camping on the outskirts of Breda. I couldn’t believe my luck when I found the perfect spot to camp by a small lake and a forest.
I headed to Antwerp the next day, a route which I had done a couple of times previously, hence the lack of pictures here. I did however visit the very last Albert Hein supermarket before the border to pick up my very last kass broodjes before I headed over to Belgium. These came with a cup of free coffee also, a luxury I probably won’t have in the coming months and so, I went back in and got another one.
In Antwerp, I picked up a gas canister for my stove as the night before, I had to use my multi fuel stove and the only fuel I had was kerosene. A fuel so dirty, it blackened everything, my hand’s included and was really difficult to wash off. This multi fuel stove on the other hand can run on almost any type of fuel and thus would come into use in the more developing countries.
Anyway, having crossed over to the southern side of Antwerp, I took a south easterly road in the direction of Kruibeke and Gent, receiving some directions from a chap on a bicycle in the process. I didn’t even ask him; he just took the opportunity when passing me to ask if I needed help. That’s always nice I thought and always puts a smile on my face.
The ride through this part of the country wasn’t particularly interesting nor was it very pleasant weather with the rain constantly dripping down and heavy clouds hanging overhead. As it was beginning to darken I was becoming slightly concerned at the lack of camping opportunities. They were so scarce that I actually lifted my bike down a metre high ditch and onto a dry river bed in order to camp there. No easy feat if you look at my bike. I knew however from other peoples experiences that a river bed probably wasn’t the smartest place to sleep for the night and decided to continue looking. With the rain spraying harder now, I found an actual woodland area with no fences! NO FENCES! Wow I thought, could Belgium really have some actual public land?
As I was cycling back to the highway the next morning, and realising that I needed to put in a big day if I wanted to be in Paris by Sunday, I heard a very unpleasant screeching noise coming from my front hub. The same hub that I thought I had been repaired back in Amsterdam. Having taken the wheel off to examine the hub, I found it to have a lot of play which was probably caused by some ball bearings falling out. I had neither the cone spanners to fix it nor extra bearings with which to fill the gaps and so I cycled on, a little tentatively, after tightening the outer bolt which had caused the noise.
I went into an outdoor store in Aalst in order to enquire about a bicycle shop. They told me in their strange Flemish language that there was indeed one back down the road and so it was here where I headed next. When I reached it however, they said I would have to put my bike in overnight to have it repaired but this simply wasn’t an option for me. I didn’t want to stay here any longer than I had to and so I headed back out and onto Ninove and the border.
Crossing over the French/Belgium border meant I could no longer understand anyone and it was from this moment on that I actually began to feel like I was doing something new, like I was on holiday and I was starting my journey proper. It was a great feeling.
The weather became increasingly better and before long, I was being drenched in beautiful sunshine. The landscape was changing too and I began cycling over rolling hills and through forest for the rest of the day. I will admit that some were difficult but they were getting easier simply because my conditioning was improving. As long as I was getting enough food and drinking a sensible amount of water, I felt I could cycle until dark if I wanted to. It’s amazing to see your body adapting daily to physical exertion so long as you fuel it sensibly. I wasn’t yet superman, but I could have been his little brother.
Just before coming into the lovely little town of Tournai near the French border, I received a nice gesture from a guy outside his house. It was located just at the top of a rather large and steep hill going into the city and, as I stopped for a breather, he came out of his house and asked if I needed anything. I had absolutely no water and he said no problem. Having filled up four litres for me he asked if I needed anything else but I said no and thanked him profusely.
The town of Tournai was a welcome break from the countryside I had been passing through. There stood a huge cathedral alongside a beautiful canal and the centre, although not very friendly to my bicycle, was paved in cobblestones which always gives an inviting, medieval appeal. As I made my way out, and realising I was but 10km's from the border, I found an abandoned defence site ideal for my sleeping needs.
Waking up early the next morning and realising I was crossing into France gave me a tremendous feeling of satisfaction; I had conquered my first country! Albeit only tiny Belgium, but a country nonetheless.