Thursday, July 14, 2011

Rest Day at the "Lake" and Big Climbs on the Road

We rode a good solid half day, heading straight for the large lake on the map. At one point the route went down a somewhat intimidating road, all gravel and bumps, and then took at turn into the woods. Maybe it's the wrong way?

Turned out to be just right. But the lake itself was a little disappointing. Mostly the product of a few huge dams, you could only swim in a couple of designated spots. There's lots of jetskis, though. Loud and obnoxious.

We worked our way around to where there was supposed to be a campsite, and this time it was actually there. They were even happy to have us! Woo! First campsite in Belgium where we weren't rejected. We paid for two nights, to ensure we would rest the following day, and then realized that things were in kind of a sorry state. No laundry facilities, but we were welcome to wash in the sinks. Showers were a bit grim, but the water was hot. Toilets were hit and miss. The camping area was awesome, and we met a Dutch couple, touring from Amsterdam to Italy. They had four months off to enjoy each other and all that Europe has to offer. I think (and hope) that we will see them again one day.

We did a little laundry (in the shower) and took advantage of the sun. However it was not to last very long. After a warm and relaxing afternoon it started to look like rain. So we hoofed it to the store without all our gear and bought supplies to last a couple of days. It didn't start to rain until after we got back (luckily), but then it rained most of the following day. Which was good for our resting. We spent most of our time next to the shut down restaurant, where the teenagers usually hang out.

We were told to expect similar weather the following day. Cold! Wet! I thought we left this in Scotland! Oh well... we planned. Back before we hit Charleroi, we were already contemplating a train sooner than later. We talked about a train to Strasbourg, or Worms, or Mainz. Something to get us back on the Rhine so we could ride into Switzerland. We didn't have enough time to ride the whole way, but we had hoped to see what we could of Belgium and take a train from Luxembourg, or even Trier, Germany. After a lot of deliberation and thinking, we decided that we should just go for it - conquer the Ardennes. The maps we had were enough to get us on a south and east route, with a little planning and a serious effort we could make it to Luxembourg in three days. Big days. So we pumped each other up about it and I sat and planned a route.

Joshua kept himself busy with the charging of various electronics.

And late in the afternoon the rain stopped for a while, so he took down the tarp and we did what packing and re-organizing we could when things were a bit drier. After a nice dinner we got into bed early, to the sounds of a camping group of kids, the rough but friendly family (of sorts) in the pop-up trailer close to us, and dance music.

We got up early in the morning, when we both woke up and realized it hadn't been raining. Things were dry, we ate a nice breakfast, and busted out a huge day.

Beautiful rolling hills and farms, not a lot of rain, a pretty good route.

Climbing. We finally did some semi-serious climbing. Riding up and up, sometimes on pretty steep roads, and being rewarded with a long, beautiful descent. Maybe I like hills.

We had one route hiccup, which I don't think I can blame on the mapmakers at this point.

See the large truck in the photo above? Well, that's where the bike route came out. See the barriers between the truck and us? Joshua lifted our bikes over those. Apparently, someone thought a freeway that is uncrossable was a good idea through here. Thanks a lot!

By 10:30am or so we were already at an impressively straight and almost flat bike path running along an old rain line. With 30kms under our belts already, this meant we would continue to make great time and cover lots of kms. The sun even came out for a little bit.

And then a funny thing happened. We reached our dinner destination city by lunchtime. Now, last year on July 14th we were in Colmar, France, and had a bit of drama related to everything being closed for Bastille Day. Not a lot of food around. This year, we were fully aware of the date, and even joked that maybe Belgians in the south (who speak only French) might also celebrate Bastille Day. In the early parts of the day we had found plenty of open stores and nobody seemed to be on vacation. However, we neglected to notice the pale grey dashed line on the map, indicating the border with France. The city of Givet is surrounded on three sides by Belgium, but to the south it is just barely connected to France, and therefore when we rolled into town everything was closed. Joshua said, sarcastically, "what is this? France?" And amended it with, "we're boned! This is France!"

Everything was closed, it was France, but due to expert food planning we had plenty of lunch to eat in the park (and even enough for dinner that night). Plus we figured out that we would be back in Belgium within a few kilometers anyway. A really gorgeous part of Belgium. 

More mountainous, forested, and a satisfying ride up and down.

That evening we had at least two too many beers at a bar where the final hour of a Tour de France stage was playing, and then found a lovely spot in the woods to camp.

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