We’re not Bicycle Athletes..

  Oostende to Brugge to Antwerp (Belgium) Stage
130 km Distance
 Sunny and all day headwind Weather
 Ann from Couchsurfing Companion

After an unexpected final 25km the day before and an inspiring dinner I awoke refreshed in a bed big enough for 3 - a luxury for the usual camper. Peeping into the kitchen I found Katrien enjoying a cup of coffee. We chatted briefly before she scooted off to work and left me to breakfast alone. 

As I left the kitchen for the garage to saddle up my steed I stole a photo of Henk and Katriens 'world domination' map tucked in an alcove aside the small dining table. Flagged with yellow stickers the only continent left to mark was Antarctica - and I wouldn’t have put it past them. With a thirst for adventure and no fear of confrontation I could see these two journeying well into an early retirement. 

Prior to connecting with Henk and Katrien through Warmshowers I’d also requested to surf Ann’s couch in Brugge. She’d been out traveling herself so couldn’t host me but mentioned she was without work and with a lot of free time - would I possible enjoy a travel companion? She thought that my plan of riding to Antwerp was brave. A quick googlemaps search on her end revealed at least 6+ hours by bicycle - a distance she’d not attempted before. Having completed a survival run (it sounded kind of serious) a few days before heading into uncharted biking territory would hardly be enough to deter her. Over email we’d reassured each other that neither of us were bicycle athletes and we’d agreed to take it easy.

While I waited for Ann in our designated park meeting place I decided to breakfast on some muesli from my favourite stainless steel bowl I’d picked up long before in Myanmar. I’d improvised many meals this way - sat under a tree in the grass - while I’d contemplated being and watched life pass by. Shortly after Ann arrived on her typical Belgian bicycle (flashing a glance at Chuck I felt a little apologetic) with supremely padded saddle - after a few hundred more kilometres I’d be wishing for something a with a little more cushioning. We greeted with two kisses and continued with introductions on the road.

As we rolled along the canals surrounded by farmlands and forests conversation with Ann flowed freely. We shared the task of navigation - comparing our points to make sure we were still on track. Hours passed as we steadily battled a persistent headwind and found ourselves much hungrier than we realised. We unanimously agreed on a sunny riverside picnic spot where we refuelled with dark bread and avocado. Although we’d ridden solidly for the past 4 hours Ann’s printed map revealed that we were still only halfway.

The afternoon we rode in shared silence - focussing on pushing forward one pedal after another. Earlier in the day Ann had mentioned home made ice cream from dairy farm houses - in the warm afternoon sun we remained vigilant for signs promising road side refreshments. During the longest part of the afternoon we heard the distant beckoning song of an ice cream van although couldn’t be sure if it had just been our imaginations. 

Rolling into a town an hour out from our destination we surveyed the limited fare available for much needed sustenance if we wanted to make the final stretch. On account of ‘doing as the Romans do’ I decided on waffles from a street side stall. Sitting on a stoop beside the town church I noticed an iron collar attached to a stone pillar. It wasn’t locked and the perfect size for a small neck - so I slipped it on just to make sure my assumptions were correct. Ann offered the theory of it being used to hold village wrongdoers to shame, potentially with stones - I’d thought tomatoes but Ann was probably right.

Riding into the outskirts of Antwerp I was reminded of Melbourne - large streets, city trams, commuter bicycles, a golden light reflecting from glass buildings and people out to play for the afternoon. We’d decided on a celebratory beer before Ann took the train back to Brugge and arranged to meet my Antwerp host at the station. We’d left him waiting, hopefully not too long, as the final 10km always takes longer than anticipated.

We tailed him to a known beerspot where I learned about a hand code for ordering beers in Belgium. Standing looking thirsty apparently doesn’t do the trick - I’d decided I’ll try his method next time. As we saluted our classes an ice cream van pulled up alongside the bar. Ann and I looked at each other and laughed. I guess that ice cream would have to wait until tomorrow. 

Henk and Katrien’s world domination map 
Riding through forests alongside the canals 
Enjoying the ride with Ann 
The biking trails meandered off into farmlands from time-to-time 
Houseboats in the canals 
Ann enjoying a strawberry topped waffle 
Doing as the Romans do 
Finally arriving at the Antwerp main station