BIKIN’ IN BELGIUM – March/April 2012
When Alannah & I first decided to go to Belgium, it was originally to explore some of the caves which are abundant in the Ardennes area of the country. I realised, of course, that in a cycling-crazy culture, this was a perfect opportunity to notch up a few hours on the bike…
GETTING INTO GEAR
On the journey down to Wallonia, the French-speaking south of Belgium, we stopped to take in the sights at the riverside town of Dinant. Early on a Sunday morning, it was amazing (and heartening) to see so many folk out and about: some walking, others cycling in groups or solo.
We parked up next to a chap struggling with his racing bike, his young son patiently waiting beside him with his own racer. They were both adorned in swish-looking cycling kit. Getting out of the camper, it was obvious the guy was having trouble with his gears, so I dusted off my schoolboy French and offered my assistance.
For ten minutes, we worked together to get his gears into some sort of satisfactory shape, during which time he told us (speaking a mixture of French and English) that he was training for a triathlon & had already lost a lot of weight – although he admitted losing a few more kilos wouldn’t go amiss in enhancing his performance!
Evidently chuffed with my intervention, he offered up some energy drinks & gels he’d got from his sponsor – which was great, as I hadn’t bothered to bring any specific nutritional products along with me.
We thanked him, heading off to find a pâtisserie with tasty morsels with which to refuel my energies after the gear-mending session.
Moving further south, we eventually found a picturesque campsite we decided to call ‘home’ for a few days. Situated between the towns of Remouchamps & Aywaille (south of Liège), it was a perfect area for cycling in general, so we purchased a cycling route map which highlighted the VTT (Vélo Tout Terrain) trails as well as the roads. And with my trusty ATB (that’s ‘All Terrain Bike‘ to the unitiated), I had the choice of switching between road and off-road and could go out for a few jaunts with Alannah (on her old MTB) as well.
FLEMISH, NOT PHLEGMISH!
At the start of our holiday, Alannah spotted a Flemish chap (called Gaston) cycling back to the campsite. Thinking of me, she asked if he’d like some company on his rides, so we teamed up for a few afternoon jaunts. Now, Gaston was 70 years young and able to cover 70 or 80kms with relative ease. But he also delighted in telling me of his cycling colleague back home in Antwerp who, at 82 years of age, was faster than him. So much for the idea that you have to become a wheezing old codger when you get older!
Gaston knew the area well and we had a good few rides together in perfect weather. The cycle trails were suitable for any bike and the roads had lanes marked out for cyclists. Pedestrians & motorists alike seemed to accept our presence, with the latter giving cyclists a respectfully-wide berth – in contrast with many of my experiences in England. Along the trails everyone greets each other with a ring of their bell or a simple “Bonjour”.
THE LAST LEG…?
One day, returning from some sightseeing in the ‘van, we spotted a cyclist waving at the top of a hill. Was he beckoning the two other cyclists further down? We weren’t sure, so we pulled over just in case. The chap asked where we were going and if he could possibly have a lift. He was obviously a serious cyclist: his cranks were fitted with an SRM power meter. Wondering why he needed a lift, I enquired what the problem was with his legs, light-heartedly prodding his quad with my finger. I immediately regretted doing so, as he explained (in excellent English) that he’d crashed some time before & was struggling to turn his legs over.
With groin strain and a scuffed arm, this guy was going nowhere for the moment, so we strapped his bike onto the back of the camper and set off. As I drove, curiosity got the better of me & I had to know his average power output for the ride. He had covered 80km at an average of 245 watts. Impressive! It turned out that the cyclist had driven down from the Flemish-speaking north of Belgium specifically to ride this heavily-wooded area. By the time we dropped him off at his car in Aywaille, he said he’d be fine – in fact, he was more concerned about the grazes on his bike than the ones on his arm (no surprise to all you Cycling Widows out there!).
WHEN PUSH COMES TO SHOVE
On another day, Alannah and I thought we’d check out the local area using our newly-acquired cycle route map, and we ended up knitting together bits from several different routes. This would give us a shorter, closer-to-home route that would be suitable for Alannah’s abilities. Or that was the plan, anyway. I’d noticed beforehand that part of the route was in fact used for the 1998 VTT European Championship Course, and might have neglected to mention this to my other half!
Not long into the ride, we entered the woods and the terrain soon became rather steep. I was impressed with how well Alannah was managing to get her heavy old bike up the slope – although she did complain that she’d hoped to actually ride her bike that day, not push it! Finally, though, at the top of the hill, the terrain levelled out, giving expansive views for miles around. Then we wound our way down the sheer valley, soon to return to Campervan HQ for a hot cuppa.
I could have stayed in Remouchamps for much longer but after a week we had to move on, as we’d planned to go north to check out the Tour of Flanders…
SO, STAY TUNED…
…because another post is coming shortly on Steve’s Cycle Shorts, our Campervan Capers sub-blog… Not only will you get the low-down on the Tour of Flanders, but we’ll also be exploring the Wieler Museum in Roeselare!
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HAPPY CYCLING (and campervanning), FOLKS!
CAMPERVAN CAPERS BOOK UPDATE
If you’ve been waiting to hear about the forthcoming release of the Campervan Capers book, you’ll be pleased to know that the end is now in sight! It’s now available at all major outlets online. Click here for more info.