Day 4: Vive la France!

Date: 25 September 2014
Route: Tournai (BE) to St. Quentin (FR)
In the saddle: 09:45 – 19:00
Distance: 100 km ish

I woke up hurting! And feeling sick. But at least the sun was shining! After a nice sit-down breakfast and a 70 EUR cheque, I was off on the road again, batteries fully charged!(Physical ones, not metaphorically speaking!)

I crossed into France just before lunch time. You would hardly notice the difference, except for the hills. They seemed bigger. And everywhere! Downhill was always fun, but you have in the back of your mind that at some point, you will need to go back up again…! All the villages seemed to be built in the valleys, so you would glide down into them with fantastic views, and then climb your way out of them on the other side. The countryside here reminded me a little of the Dordogne:

Northern France

Except they had potato mountains. Everywhere!

Potato mountain!

I was very tempted to pinch a few for my dinner, but I resisted.

Just outside the village of Tilloy-les Cambrais I rode past a Canada Cemetery, containing First World War burials.

Canada Cemetery, northern France

As I didn’t pass through any large towns, I stopped for lunch in a small village. The local tabac only sold croissants, so I had two for my lunch, with a hot chocolate. The croissants in France seem a lot bigger than those in Belgium, which suits me very well!

French croissants

Overall, the riding is going well, and I’m getting up those hills that I was daunted with the thought of back in Holland. I’m started to lose feeling in a couple of fingers in my left hand though, so I keep shifting my grip to not aggregate it any further. My knee is also a bit numb – probably from the hills! Oh and a bit of a pull in my achilles tendon, and a sore bum. But other than that, feeling on top of the world!

I arrived at a quiet campsite in the evening, and it only cost me 4.50 EUR to camp. It’s getting cheaper by the day! Love it! I think it’s around 700-800 km to go from here…!

Day 3: Belgium rocks!

Date: 24 September 2014
Route: Viersel to Tournai (BE)
In the saddle: 09:30 – 20:00
Distance: 150 km ish

I seemed to shave an hour off my getting-ready time this morning, which I was very pleased with! Headed out towards Mechelen, which I thought was very beautiful as I cycled through:

Mechelen

And then onto Aalst for the most welcome hot chocolate with a delicious free cake:

Hot chocolate in Aalst

All for 2,50 Euro (you wouldn’t get this in Amsterdam!). I had a great view of the town hall too:

Aalst town hall

So I decided to stay for a hearty lunch:

Hearty lunch in Aalst

As much as I love Holland, I have to say, Belgium beats it hands down for food. I only ordered a plain omelette and I got a salad bowl and bread on the side too! For less than 10 Euros! Maybe the chef was a cyclist…..

The sunshine had gone, and was threatening rain, so I pushed on through some lovely quiet paths (the first time I actually saw a signpost for the Camino de Santiago!), and I came across this lovely set of twins:

Belgian twins

In the afternoon I hit the French part of Belgium, Dutch disappeared altogether, and it was bon voyage from here on in! I was actually quite surprised how little Dutch they spoke in these parts – on some occasions, my Dutch was better than theirs!

The heavens opened this afternoon, with torrential rain, thunder and lightening for over 2 hours. I pushed on through it all as there was no where to really stop, and once you’re wet, you can’t really get any wetter!

Belgian downpour

Still, I had a nice easy route to follow all the way along the river Dendre which helped because navigating with my map or phone would have been very soggy work indeed!

As the afternoon wore on, I realised I wouldn’t make it to my intended destination, Tournai without completely destroying myself, so I headed off-route to the biggest town I could find close by on the map. It was 19:00 by the time I arrived in Ath, but there was no campsite, and the only hotel I was directed to by a local was completely closed up. I really need to recharge my battery pack, so I needed to find a hotel or B&B, and not just camp anywhere, so I very reluctantly decided to push on the next 30 km to Tournai.

By this time it was dark, and the most direct route was a very busy main road, with cars flying past at around 60km per hour. I felt very vulnerable with my tiny led bike lights! And completely exhausted! I ate my emergency energy bar by the side of the road, and pushed on up a long hill for the next hour.

Thankfully, around 10 km out of Tournai I found a hotel/restaurant right by the side of the road. I was overjoyed when they had a room! This was the toughest day of the trip by far. Everything hurt, and I had nothing left in me.

Worn out!

The brake-light on my head was a very tired attempt to increase my visibility on the road.. I have a feeling it may have just confused a lot of drivers though!

I was too tired to sit at the restaurant and wait for food so I just cooked on my stove in my room, then had an amazing bath and crashed out in my first proper bed of the trip!

Day 1: Off we go!

Date: 22 September 2014
Route: Almere to Schoonhoven (NL)
In the saddle: 14:30 – 19:00
Distance: 80km ish

Kevin de Koga is loaded, off we go!

Kevin de Koga

I left sunny Almere at 14:30 after buying some final bits and pieces for the trip in the morning. This was the first time I’d ever ridden a fully-loaded bike, and the first few kilometres were pretty wobbly!

Went through some lovely, typically Dutch countryside along the way:

Dutch windmill

IMG_1577

I made a good distance today, had the wind behind me and of course, it was all flat! The area in the south of Holland that I was heading for has a lot of water (like most of Holland!) and there was a key river that I needed to cross by ferry to prevent me from having to ride about 40km off route to get to a bridge… in typical lack of planning though, I didn’t think about when the last ferry would be leaving. Turns out, I got there about 20 minutes too late!

End of the road, and no ferry!

It was around 18:30 by this time, so I headed back to the road to look for a spot to camp. Found a lovely campsite in a place called Schoonhaven. 12 Euros to pitch my tent, and a nice ‘tranquil’ spot right by the river. As I was pitching my tent, it did briefly cross my mind that the few other tents that were there were so much further back from the river… but I thought maybe they just didn’t appreciate the view….

Camping at Schoonhoven

Little did I know that cargo ferries plough this river all night long! And are actually quite noisy! Still, I was very happy to successfully set up my tent for the first time ever, and cook my first brew!

First campsite brew!

This also meant that my stove worked, so no frustrating Reece Witherspoon moments (a la ‘Wild’) with the wrong kind of gas. Which also meant I could whip together a real delicacy of a dinner:

Dinner time!

This has to be one of the best things about a bike trip – you use so much energy in the day that literally anything you cook at night will taste like Michelin-star grub!