Updated: Dec 9, 2019
At the end of this road lies Brussels.
Surprise. It's more Macdonalds
Where do you go when they have removed the entire bridge?
Some people like horror movies. Personally I hate them. I don't know why anyone would deliberately want to be made to feel scared or uncomfortable. But there are people who just like the scary stuff more. In the same way I know there are some readers of this blog who are absolutely looking forward to reading about the misery of me cycling through Belgium. They want to hear the worst of what can happen. Mrs B for one. She suggested last year that my blog was at its most entertaining (sic) when I was miserable.
Up until the final 10 seconds of today, there was no horror. There were no cobbles. No rain. No fields or gravel pathways to cross. Sure there was the usual Belgian crap of missing cycle lanes, missing roads and at one point a missing bloody bridge. The latter forced Michael and I to sneak onto a service road through an aggregates storage facility. It drove Michael crazy, but honestly I just laughed at it all. This is Belgium after all. True enough the terrible road surfaces and the worst winds we have encountered all week made this a very hard 115km. We were both tired, but thankfully were able to take turns as either 'hard man on the front' or 'whimpering wreck on the back'. I think either of us can cope with any two of fatigue, bad weather and crap roads, but not all three together.
But still, this was super tame compared to last year. Riding East to West into Brussels is clearly easier than South to North. The final 6km across the city to Brussels Midi station was almost all downhill and so we coasted to the station. Then right outside the station, literally 10 seconds from the end, I swerved to miss a pedestrian looking at his phone, hit a drain with broken paving stones and then hit the deck. In the process I caught my right foot in the back wheel, twisting my ankle and buckling the back wheel. It's locked solid and there's no way to ride on. It's like Belgium saying "take that you fucker - we read your blog".
Right now I'm sitting in the station trying to work out alternatives that will work for me. Michael can and will ride on alone to the finish. I may just come home on the train, swap bikes and go back to meet him en route. It looks like I won't finish riding the long way home this year, but my boy will and that will make me incredibly proud.
Idiot of the day. Me. I can't blame anyone else.
Belgium. I don't know what I think about Belgium. The day began with an early departure from Maastricht, the eerily quiet roads snaking out of Holland, bound for the Belgian backroads. Breakfast was an overpriced coffee and a bag of 'Cheetos', not exactly continental. I expected to hate Belgium. The preceding days had been filled with my Dad's stories of bone-shaking cobbles and imaginary bike paths. "It's not so bad", I thought as we weaved around ROAD CLOSED signs for the millionth time. And then, water. A huge great river very much lacking that rather important feature - a bridge. While a brief trek through an industrial yard did get us back on course, I was moody. The rest of the day was one long slog. Powerful winds, uphill, a constant threat of rain, and of course, crappy bike paths that changed their mind all the time.
That's the thing with Belgium, it's so on-and-off. The whole country feels like a compromise, from the multiple languages to the four national flags; and the bike paths reflect that. They can be painted red blocks on the road, or brick sidepaths, or rivers of tarmac through fields, or white lines on the road, or more commonly: non-existent. The cities too mirror this countrywide feeling, some are utterly gorgeous where you practically trip over monuments, boulevards, and palaces; and other cities are just shitholes.
I was so ready to laugh when my dad fell off, I was lining up the jokes about Zimmer frames and the like, as I wondered back on over to him. Disaster. The prospect of riding home from London alone is daunting. 160km/100 miles. My longest ride ever was earlier this week, and my longest before that - the day before. I am not used to this, but is it possible? Yes. Will I try? You bet.
Numbers for today:
-Number of different types of Belgian bike paths: 9,000
-Number of times I fell off: 0
-Number of times I let my dad do all the work in the wind: 20+ (it's all about the strategy "Come on I did the last 5k" no matter that the whole 5k was downhill)
-Total distance: 672km