Since getting our new bikes around April time, I’ve been impatient to take them out for a “proper trip”. None of this cycling to work and back bullpoo, or going for a little bike ride on the weekend, but a real load-everything-on-the-back and do like those cool cycle touring people do and see the world.
Well, it happened.
We did load what felt like everything we had on the back of them into bog-standard shopping panniers, which were not at all suitable for cycling adventures. We did see the world, a very limited Belgium-sized world. And we were definitely cool cycle-touring people for the first 10km and then we were inexperienced cyclists with poorly organised bags, uneven distribution of weight and some serious boob-sweat for the last 20km. Still, my hair accidentally matched my running shoes and my helmet, so there’s that.
Oh and we had to lug our bikes in and out of trains as well as up and down stairs which was quite painful and a little life-threatening at times. But still, great time were had by all! And by all, I mean just the two of us because we have no friends.
The original plan was to take the train from Leuven to Jemelle (somewhere in the south of Belgium) then cycle to a Bivak zone in the Ardennes. Easy-peasy. 30km, no problem. 30km up hill? Oh.
Still, we made it. I’d never cycled so hard in my life, but I’m pretty proud of us for getting there in one piece. I didn’t even push the bike. Although the same can’t be said for the return journey, I pushed it up that hill and I don’t even care. The journey took us through some really picturesque places and some incredibly peaceful nature. Hills aside, it was the best weekend in a long time and I can’t wait to do it again. It’s a bit of a bummer that I don’t have more photos of the places we passed, but I keep forgetting to stop and take photos whilst cycling. But I’m working on that.
We arrived at the camping area around 6pm; just to explain, these little bivak zones are areas where you can wild-camp for one or two nights depending on the rules. It’s free, there’s sometimes a water source or fire pit and occasionally a compostable toilet. Who doesn’t like a bit of composty-eco-ness, Our spot only had a fire pit and a picnic bench. Of course, we made a little fire and toasted our sarnies that we’d packed for the trip!
We had considered checking out the campsite and then cycling to another zone nearby – pfft 10km, nearby my butt – and then choosing which we preferred but as we were dead inside when we arrived, this place took top position on the most perfect camping spot list. So up the tent went!
Later on in the evening we were joined by a group of three people and then a couple who just happened to be from Leuven too! Hashtag small world. We engaged in some of that socialising thing until the small talk fizzled out and then we hit the sleeping bags. Not before making the executive decision to head home the next day instead of moving on to other campsite and then having a 40km cycle back on Monday. A day of rest and recovery was most definitely needed.
The free camping was just perfect for what we wanted: a little break without spending money. OK, there’s no facilities that a real campsite has, but for one night who really needs a toilet anyway. I was quite nervous at first, what with it being just outside in the forest, but when the other people turned up, we were a lot more at ease with the whole situation. There’s comfort in knowing that other people are doing the same as you and you aren’t the only idiot. I hope next time, if we’re the only people there, it’ll be just as nice. Got to say, I’ve never slept so great whilst camping!
The ride back was much the same as going, except more downhill stints. Glorious downhill stints that make your heart race a little and the wind whip tears from eyes. It was good.
My only wish is that I had more photos, but I’m working on the whole stopping, photographing and then getting back on the bike thing. And there’s the whole remembering to change lens for the scenery shots which I haven’t quite mastered either. Next time though, I’ll have more photos!
I say that as if there aren’t twenty-two photos in this post.
But yup, a perfect weekend. I can’t wait to go again, I also can’t wait to get some new panniers. What do you think? Is free camping and cycling rides for you?