Neunburg vorm Wald
(Maasland to) Werkendam
10:40am. Was awake at the usual time of 6:20. No journal this morning as I decided getting the route for the day down off maps.me on my iPad took priority. Was pleasantly surprised to see the E-Werk cache battery had been able to add 30% charge to the battery while we slept (well). But the app’s a right battery-drainer, so, by the time I’d taken me notes for today’s 54-or-so k, 10% had already been used; and that’s with the bez nadziejny GPS locator switched off. Don’t know why it’s so crap on the iPad. Maybe because it’s only using wi-fi and is not SIM-card enabled? Yup, that sounds feasible. But that leaves me with just under 40%, which should serve to survive till at least Tuesday evening with no economising, when, all being well, we check into a hotel for two nights, to enable us to have a proper rest-day.
Despite having had three easy riding days since setting off from Melton, Thursday 03 August, some eleven days ago, we have ridden every day since then, making today the twelfth consecutive day in the saddle; with tomorrow, too, and prospectively a tiny skip to the hotel check-in Thursday, that’ll be fifteen days in a row with some kind of pedal action; and, while we’re feeling good – great, in fact – and I’m feeling stronger each day and enjoying the spontaneity of camping ever ever more, it doesn’t hurt to rest before you’re proper tired, eat before you’re proper hungry, and drink before you’re proper thirsty; and Agnieszka has expressed that she’s feeling a little tired and wants or needs a proper rest day; so two nights in a hotel it is 😄
Still, it may give me an opportunity to have my front derailleur looked at, which is an issue that’s been bugging me for some time, and now it does seem to be becoming an issue on its own now: kicking my chain off a cog on two sensitive occasions. So, better to get it seen to as something minor before it turns into, or causes, something major.
‘Just’ a question of finding someone who knows what they’re doing, and is able to understand that minor little thing I’d like them to look at and adjust – and no more, because, apart from that, the bike is a dream, which is why little niggles maybe speak a little louder than they did on my previous bike.
I find certain bicycle maintenance things frustrating, not because things need maintaining or issues need to be resolved, but because I cannot do them on my own. I’m an independent sort, always have been, and when the power to resolve something is taken away out of my hands, I’m not completely at peace.
As we rolled into an industrial shopping park today to stock up on supplies, I scuffed a front pannier on a cement bollard. An edge was caught, so the surface has been taken off that part of the pannier. Not a hole, but a weak point that I’ve hopefully reinforced sufficiently with some duct tape. We’ll see, but I’m happy enough.
Slowly but surely our equipment is betraying the signs of use, of knocks and scrapes, and wear and tear, which is fine: every mark tells a story. No-one expects, or wants, nothing to go wrong – as long as there’s a means to attempt to rectify the problem within our grasp … which returns me to my front derailleur – grrrr!
Anyway, we definitely feel like we’re in a different climate now. The sky is a slightly different shade of blue, the earth is a little lighter to the touch, the trees reach a little more up than out, the bugs are more elaborately assorted, the buildings are less dense, and Monday in a business park seems a little less hectic than on a Sunday further North, which is nice to see at a time when, sadly, shopping has become a leisure and pleasure activity for far too many in this consumerist world.
Today, we head generally South. From here we’re stopping in some attractive-looking park in Chemille-en-Anjou. Great to have the choice of the World for your eating and sleeping locales – and to always be a part of it as we make our way between them. Then to Toutlemonde – I love saying that word 😃 – some 22 kilometres from the park. From there, West, South-West, to a tiny village just South of a river – about 23 kilometres further on. So, about 55 kilometres for the day, though we’ll stop somewhere before the final village at some suitable-looking place to lay our heads.
But where? we know not yet – and life is great (don’t bug me further chain/derailleur) 😀
2225. Crickets, grasshoppers and electrohoppers – in fine fine chirrup. It’s so nice that you only register it as a song, but, knackered as I am, after almost five hours of upwardly undulating riding, in a Sunny 30º-plus heat, that song will not allow sleep to claim me. What the fuck are they playing at? Can they hear it? Or do they feel it? Do they have ears? Do we have ears? What we hear are only words formed from vibrations, after all, so I guess they do feel and, therefore, hear it.
So can I.
That magical evening song of Southern Europe. That beautiful harmony. The insect chorus.
They rule the world, don’t they – insects. Oh, they’re not so large, individually, not so visible, but they are everywhere, inconspicuously going about their business. Meaning no harm to anything except their next meal. Almost oblivious to you and to me. Unless an odour you emit suggests lunch to them, then you are the meaning of their world – the lightbulb to the moth. Then they barely give a fuck that you’re a huge lumbering Goliath who can swat them with the nonchalant swing of a drunken limb. Or they nip you in the place they know – yes, know – they’re not going to get disturbed. Whatever they are, they’re different and they’re everywhere – whether they’re coming for you or not.
We share the world with them, but not them alone – they have their predators. We’re not really one. We may commit mass genocide on them with our sprays, our modified plants and our habitat theft, but we’re not a bird, a larger insect, a spider or a small mammal, who we’re also killing through sprays and plants and theft. And all for whose sake?
Ha-ha, not who you think.
For our insect lords to come.
And not the nice ones,
but the ones who can deal with the toxins we’ve developed,
who’ve mutated to fight all wiles.
They’re mutant insect superbeasts – and they’re coming for you and for me 😃😗
So ‘Bicycles, Trains, Trains and More Trains’ has turned into ‘Bicycles, Lots of Trains and Back to Bicycles’.
We arrived in Brussels early yesterday afternoon – after disembarking our eleventh train since mid-Saturday afternoon, spunking €500 on tickets for the stress-inducing privilege, plus €200 in hotels, and around €100 in sundry employing-more-typical-means-of-travel expenses – with a renewed sense of vigour.
Some way into Belgium our proximity to the UK seemed heightened. As the more clearly Germanic architecture gave way to the more delicate, bricky houses of Belgium, something suggested home wasn’t as far as it had been when we mounted the train in Austria.
Its geography seemed easier to navigate, too. Zeebrugge announced itself, and the sentiment: “I’ve had enough of trains,” had already been expressed and shared along the way. “Maybe rather than getting at least a couple more trains to Calais, we can ride some of the way? And how far is Zeebrugge? there are also ferries to the UK from there.”
‘Zeebrugge and ferry’ will always be imprinted on my mind due to the one that went down in February 1987 at a similar hour to me rousing to a kind of consciousness in an ambulance, and then a hospital, following a rather spectacular – I can only speculate, as I wasn’t able to witness it, obviously – motorcycle accident.
We referred again to maps.me. Despite its flaws, it has proved a useful tool to have so far. Zeebrugge: just up the coast from Dunkirk and Calais, and we wouldn’t really be going out of our way to get there. Also, it arrives in the North of England, and working our way South to Melton Mowbray would be preferable to North and having to circumnavigate London.
The ferry takes a considerably longer route, but there’d be fewer days riding in England; plus, we could stop this train-business in Brussels, ride to Gent, stop overnight there, then on to Zeebrugge some time Tuesday. The only thing is: I’m not sure if the ferries that go from there take bicycles on board as they are. When we get to Brussels, we’ll head straight for a cafe and make use of their wi-fi to check.
Negotiating our way out of Brussels Central Station, disappointingly, was not that easy with fully-laden touring bikes. With lifts to platforms in Germany already providing challenges there, and locating ways to get to ground level here, we got a tiny insight into the kinds of challenges that wheelchair-users face every day! Not easy. Your ease of access is much more restricted than I think you would imagine; and in countries like Germany or in a central European hub such as Brussels you’d think that facilities would be better than most. If they are, Jesus! Much much much more needs to be done. Much!
We sat in an overpriced cafe drinking overpriced cappuccinos – not eating, as it was so ‘drogo’, as Agnieszka had said to me in Polish to disguise our embarrassment for only ordering what we did amongst the flows of free-spending tourists. It was a good coffee, but a bad cappuccino. I’d have begrudged €1 from a vending machine – but €3.50?!
Still, we were there for the wi-fi. Zeebrugge. Ferries. Aha, P+O go from there, so the bicycle option is an option. Let me just check how much. “Jesus, it’s a lot more expensive than Calais.”
“For one, £175. That works out at about €400 for both of us.” Agnieszka’s face sank in a way that steals the joy from your soul when you see it in a loved one.
We both started manically doing sums, working out various permutations until we reached the conclusion that, wherever we travelled from or to, on our present course of trains, trains and hotels, we were fucked!
This was fucking up our finances. Big time! Smashing them. With no idea of the day or date the funeral would be as of yet, we had no idea how long we’d have to stay in the UK stringing out the meagre amount of money we’d have left.
Fuck, we may not even have enough money to get out of England. It all became too much. The adrenalin and the emotion of the previous days flattened and tumbled out of us. Hope and optimism vanished. We clawed at alternatives, desperately, frantically, trying to maintain at least our position on this smooth road that had suddenly become a vertical cliff-face.
It was a moment of clarity and a moment of crisis.
It was a necessary moment when we returned to defining our lives and situation rather than being defined (too much) by them.
Despite ourselves, as the goal of being back in England became paramount, rather than ‘just’ travelling from here to there to here, we had silently slipped back into dependence on the illusion of convenience – the convenience that comes at such a cost the more ‘convenient’ it is – and the whole convenient lifestyle it condones, fosters and nurtures as part of its package.
We were bicycle tourers and travellers: this was our way of life. And here we had been, since the realisation that England had emerged on the horizon, travelling expensively and uncomfortably (I like trains, but with a fully-laden touring bike they’re not fun) on innumerable trains; therefore buying and eating overpriced and life-destroying crap for our stomachs, and checking into overpriced hotels along the way.
How quickly we had reverted to Western-Consumer-Type! How easy, once you buy into one part of the system, all the other parts seem so unavoidable, too! How quickly, aside from taking the bikes with us, we had abandoned bicycle travelling when travelling was imperative! Oh, there were extenuating circumstances that had taken over, sure, but we had abandoned so much so quickly; or, at least, lost sight briefly of who we were.
We had, of course, planned to cycle when in England while we could, but were letting our desperation to be on hand in the UK when need be over-ride any other concerns … or even logic.
And it was costing us. This was not who we were – we were bicycle tourers. We were already travelling, pointing our bikes forwards. We had been told on numerous occasions that time was not of the essence. We were carrying everything we needed to travel from A to B, and stop, and go and stop again.
We were exhausting ourselves – spiritually, emotionally, physically, financially – for what? We had achieved a little speed. We had shot through much of the beauty that is Germany. We were nearer a goal, but losing ourselves.
And the goal was ill-defined, in terms of time.
We are bicycle tourers…
…and we are on our way!
15:55. Gent. Break. Due to odometer issues – ‘Sigma’ is Latin for ‘unreliable piece of shit’: maybe should’ve checked that before I bought it – I can’t be very precise as to the number of kms we’ve covered or to the amount of time we’ve been rolling, but it’s been fairly easy going: Belgium isn’t known for its mountains or hills. We’ve been riding on and off, on our third significant break, since about 9:30am, so maybe four hours of riding and close to 50k would be a fair estimate.
Just stopped for a vital refuel and refresh, and to work out today’s kind-of target – Aalter Brug. About another 30k and maybe three hours max’ of riding – to find somewhere to camp, which doesn’t feel easy in Belgium: every inch of land feels like it’s been bought by, sold to or allotted to someone. Doesn’t feel like there is much public land, at least, not in the areas we’ve travelled so far.
Think it’s a question of just getting somewhere and asking around: we did OK last night, asking a helpful guy, Peter, who, despite being unsure how to react at first when we asked him about camping possibilities in the area, hesitatingly offered us a spot in one of his fields – he looks after competition horses.
As we have found to be the case so far when asking for a patch of land to pitch our tent, after a while our hosts begin to develop a sense of responsibility towards us and feel that they should offer us more. In Czechia it was the lady mentioning bicycle storage, use of the toilet, then bringing us the chairs to sit on; here it was, again, the toilet, asking if the noise from his water-sprinkler was OK – it was – asking if we need electricity to charge our devices, and the sweet surprise this morning when we opened our tent to discover two fresh croissants from a local bakery sitting outside waiting for us.
Fingers crossed for tonight; you never know in this game.