It was the 25th of July 2015. For those of you that have read my previous post, you will probably be aware that my trip did not start on the best mental note. However the initial shock was now over and I would eventually to settle into ‘Cycle Life’ quite pleasantly.
Last night’s slumber had served me well. I woke up with a good amount of energy and two incredibly stiff legs. A very slow and ungraceful waddle to the restaurant was required for a morning brew. The tea on offer was sub-par for my British pallet, but no where does tea like good ol’ blighty.
I made contact with my friend Andrew in Brussels, double checked the address and the route I should take, then slowly loaded my peddle powered wagon. The ride today would take me less than an hour, which pleased me immensely whilst wincing as I sat on the saddle. The sky was overcast but non-threatening, and for a day near the end of July it could almost be considered cold.
My willingness to document this first journey of mine, as I look back now, was close to non existent, and the few pictures I did take are quite frankly awful. I have no pictures of the reunion with Andrew, even though it had been years since I last saw him. But nonetheless it was great to see a familiar face. He understood my feelings and took me for a short tour of Brussels, mainly to get ice cream and beer. Just what the doctor ordered.
We visited a Häagen-Dazs restaurant for some crepes and ice-cream that were incredibly indulgent. Then to wash it down we took a wander to Delirium Café for a beer. If you haven’t heard of Delirium then I suggest giving it a Google. They hold the world record for most beers on offer (around 2000!) Here is an awful picture of a small selection from their menu.
The bar/ cafe itself is very cool and picture-worthy. So of course I have no pictures of it… But Google images should serve you well.
The next two days I would spend in Brussels would comprise of going out for drinks with some of Andrew’s friends, being invited to a dinner party (where i was cooked a surprise belated birthday cake!) and wandering the city until i was prepared to venture north towards the Netherlands.
I was and I still am extremely grateful to Andrew and his friends for making me feel welcome and included over those few days. It definitely helped me relax a little and overcome that anxious head space. I was excited to continue my journey in a new frame of mind.
The next morning I headed due north. My destination was a campsite just across the Dutch border, but the universe had other ideas. It seemed that said universe had decided to test me. I fought a strong headwind all day, an unnoticed wrong turn added 30 miles (50km) to my original planned route and then the brackets holding my rear pannier rack decided to snap…
Everything aside though, I was having a blast! I felt so much more comfortable in my own space. I’d learned to stop, have breaks and accepted the fact that it would take as long as it would take.
After 60 miles (100km) of a much more enjoyable days riding, I realised that I was not going to make it to my original destination and decided to stop. My tent would just have to survive one more night without me sleeping in it! I had still crossed the border into the Netherlands and I considered that a win.
So my home that evening would be a small hotel room above a buffet Chinese restaurant. The gentleman who greeted me at the hotel was impressed with what I was setting out to accomplish, so much so that he gave me a discount on the room, a discount on the buffet dinner and free breakfast! However I think he was less impressed with me later that evening…. I had gone for a late night walk to help digest the unnecessarily large dinner I had eaten and locked myself out! After a good 10 minutes of banging on windows and shouting in the car park I was safely back inside and ready to catch some Z’s. I was a little sheepish the next morning at breakfast..
After the slightly awkward breakfast I was back on my bike and back on route. The rain that had begun with the day had stopped and for the first time since setting off I briefly felt the sun on my skin. I had a short ride today, but to make sure it wasn’t uneventful the second set of brackets for my rear rack also decided they were not up to the job… So I did what any self respecting, newly qualified vehicle technician would do and studied the situation thoroughly, then grabbed the zip-ties.
If it cant be fixed with zip ties or duct tape, then it probably cant be fixed.
I made it to my first campsite! It had taken way longer than I had expected, and my budgeting had been thrown out the window but I made it. I was in Zundert, a municipality and town in the south of the Netherlands and it was also the birth place of Vincent Van Gogh.
I pitched my tent on foreign soil for the first time and cooked myself some dinner on my little camping stove. The clouds had returned for the evening but it was still pleasant enough that I heard the faint sound of beer calling my name. The rest of that evening was spent drinking beer with my new friend, Campsite Dog.
The sound of rain falling on my tiny tent (that I lovingly called ‘The coffin’) awoke me the next morning. I was unable to sit up inside that tent, and if I laid flat my head would press against one end and my feet the other… So getting dressed was always a bit of struggle in unfavourable weather. I was the only tent in the campsite that previous evening and I guess the motor home campers took pity on me. When I emerged from my blue cocoon into the rain I was almost immediately ushered under a Dutch couple’s awning for cheese sandwiches and green tea. They spoke very little English but their hospitality was heartwarming.
Some time later, during a lighter spell of rain I took my leave from the comfort of a folding deck chair and rushed to pack my things away as quickly as possible. Passing by the campsite owner on the way out I noticed he was wearing wooden clogs for real, I didn’t know that was still a thing but it sure made me smile.
The rain picked up again but I was not worried – my expensive waterproofs would keep me dry. Or so I thought! I’d cycled in small showers before, but none that lasted long enough to justify me getting suited up. This rain was different so I pulled out my brand new head-to-toe waterproof overalls and donned them proudly. The heavens opened and within 10 minutes I was completely saturated. I couldn’t have taken on much more water without going swimming. What possessed me to cycle nearly 45 miles (70km) in a Dutch monsoon I will never be sure of, but it was a memorable experience.
Later that afternoon I arrived in Rotterdam wetter than an Otter’s pocket, but with a big smile on my face. I’d cycled 110 miles (175km) in 3 days and I told myself that I deserved a rest day.
Want more? Read the next story – Rotterdam.