A wheely good evening to you all and as I sit here 5 days after my debut bike packing adventure to Belgium I still cannot believe I have done my first solo trip. All I can say is if you have never tried it then do it as it is an absolute must!!! When I was planning the trip I did not really know what to expect and the packing was a key thing, too much and extra weight is incurred and too little and I would be shopping over there. As it was I got this part down to a tee and I had just what I needed.
As i boarded the ferry at Dover there was one thing I really wanted more than anything, dry weather and bar the last 500 metres 4 days later in Dunkirk I got my wish. My first day took me up to the Dunkirk beaches and then over to Ypres my first stop over point. This was an evening ride and left me with 40 miles in the dark to Ypres. I met Tom Coley on the ferry who was also doing a similar thing to me all be it a longer trip and was great to become friends with a virgin bike packer like myself. The B&B was a welcome sight that evening and although only covered 55 miles on day one it was a challenging day with the night ride.
Day 2 I woke to gorgeous blue skies and sun streaming through the window and today was going to be a great day. First off I rode north to Tynecot cemetery. This is the largest one place that commonwealth soldiers are buried and was a moving experience to say the least. Having served in the Army myself it really brought home to me just what all those men went through serving our country those 100 years ago. After spending some time here I headed south to watch the Great Centenary War Race. The line up for the inaugural edition was good and a chance to see the pros racing on foreign soil. After watching the race in various point including race past Christmas point memorial I got back to the centre of Ypres for the finish. That evening I stayed for the incredible last post ceremony under the Menin gate before another late night ride to get to my next stopover in Avelgem. Arriving at 11pm I was met by Andy my host who I had met through warmshowers.com bike packing website. That day I had put nearly 100 miles in the legs with a fully loaded bike and was ready to sleep and that I did very well in the caravan accommodation in his back garden.
Day 3 again I woke to blue skies and bright sun, just what I needed for this days ride. Today allowed me to ditch all the bags and ride the bike in its naked state, this was needed as 105 miles of Belgian lanes, bergs and cobbles awaited me. Andy had put a great route together for me for this day and it encompassed all the famous areas of this part of Belgium. First up the Koppenberg, followed closely by the Kruisberg, Muur, Taienberg, Kwaremont and finally after 99 miles the 19 percent slopes of the Paterberg. All these climbs are steep brutal narrow cobbled climbs and the cobbles make it a challenge beyond any words one can describe. The one thing that was going for me was it was dry, I really would not want to do this in the wet!!! This ride was just superb and gave me the chance to fulfil my ambition of riding these immense roads. On getting back to base after some 8 hours in the saddle there was only one thing for it…….a piping hot bath and a couple of chilled blonde beers. Bring on day 4!!!!
So day 4 arrived and this was my final day of my mini adventure and the journey home awaited. I had 8 miles ahead to get me and my bike back to Dunkirk and today was dry but windy!!!!! The wind was battering me from all ways and the last 45 miles down the coast was a block headwind. Of course I would rather have had it behind me but it actually served as a really good training tool and allowed me to work on concentrated continuous power output. As I went through the likes of Middlekierk, Nieuwport, De Panne and Dunkirk all I could do was hope the rain stayed away. I knew from social media the UK was battered by storms all day and these were due to come across the channel to Europe so I kept pedalling and as I said earlier beat the rain by the skin of my teeth. All that was left was a ferry and drive from Dover back home to Swindon.
So my bike packing adventure was over and wow it was superb. I have already started to plan the next one and I seriously am considering the Trans Continental in 2020. If you have never done this try it as you will not look back. And all it leaves me to say is ride safe, stay safe and keep those pedals turning. Laters!!!!