Good day people of the world and welcome to yet another tale from the crazy old bard at Bicycle Touring Apocalypse. On this trip I lose myself in beautiful medieval architecture, dramatically improve my French from velo to….velo aidez-moi….which basically translates to “ bike help ”, nearly get mugged, endure torrential rain with no proper waterproofs, learn that cycling 110 miles in 30 degree heat with a hangover is well…pretty stupid, hate my spokes with a passion, once again experience the incredible love and generosity of strangers and of course be in a constant state of bicycle touring euphoria!
On this trip I head to Belgium, a country that for some ridiculous reason has developed a reputation for being small, flat and ultimately boring. However, this perception couldn’t be further from the truth. This European gem encompasses some of the most quaint and beautiful medieval cities in the word, has an incredible network of cycle paths, features the colossal Ardennes and a cultural melting pot that incorporates Flemish, French, German and Italian influences. Oh and lets not forget its got some of the best beer in the world!
As per usual I planned absolutely nothing. I’m not kidding, even by my dreadful standards this was particularly bad. On the eve of departure I was still working in a London studio, three hours away from all my gear. However, that was just the start of my problems. I had no food for the trip, the bike was still in bits, a load of new equipment hadn’t arrived and my ferry left at midnight. There can be no question that I developed a newfound empathy for Cinderella. I guess it’s what a gentleman would call a spot of bother, but I’m not a member of the English gentry and therefore referred to the predicament as a f#*king disaster!
After zig-zagging through traffic like a character from Wacky races I finally got home at 9pm. At this point everything became a bit of a blur as I replaced methodical planning with hysterical chaos. Nevertheless, I shall confer the key details.
1. The initial arrival and subsequent swearing stage. Nothing complicated here, just me cursing profusely.
2. Build bike. Obviously you can forget any pre-flight safety checks and can guarantee that every screw, nut and bolt that appeared unessential was spared. Needless to say, If I ever establish a multi-billion pound airline…stay well clear.
3. Deciding what equipment to take on the trip. I mean, when you’re asking these type of questions the night before departure you should seriously consider a different vocation in life.
4. Food. There’s an excellent selection of exploration ready meals, energy bars and supplements widely available to the intrepid explorer and one day I swear by the gods I shall have some. However, for this trip I resulted to a selection of baby food from the local supermarket. I’m sure Ranulph Fiennes uses exactly the same stuff.
5. Loading the car…by which I mean sorting equipment into one huge unorganized pile and throwing aforesaid possessions into boot of car with no regard for fragile or potentially flammable items.
6. Drive to Dover, observing all speed limits.
7. Finally arriving at Dover’s passport control whilst praying border security don’t discover vast quantities of baby food.
8. At last resting in the departure lounge. This was a fantastic opportunity to remember every essential item I’d left on the dining room table.
After disembarking the ferry at Calais the excitement always kicks in, Soundgarden was set to deafening and I made haste to Belgium. On the outskirts of Bruges I finally succumbed to exhaustion and pulled over at a service station for some shut-eye. I forgot to set an alarm but was awoken by the sound of a revving Ducati 996…possibly the manliest alarm! After a brief chat with the rider, who was heading down to the Nurburgring, I head into Bruges. I soon found a quiet residential road, parked up and began loading the bike. I was under no illusion that my packing had not gone well and I could only hope that my driving style hadn’t made the situation worse. I opened the boot and was pleasantly surprised…only jokin….it looked like someone had thrown frag grenades into a jumble sale! After an hour of sifting through the wreckage I was finally ready to hit the road and it’s at this point that I’ll taper off my literary drivel and let the photos do the talking…ladies, gentleman, children of the realm, I give you Belgium!
As always here’s a short film documenting my trip. Expect awful production, worse editing and rain…lots of rain!