From home to Laon in France

Start of the ‘Grand Tour’ 20th of May 2012

After a very warm and surprising ‘goodbye’ from friends and relatives I start at 9.00 in the morning, it seems to be a promising day and full of joy mixed with a feeling of unbelieve I start the journey with Begijnendijk as my first goal. Although I carry 36 kilogram with me, I cycle as fast as without it. I got two very good tubes of sunblock in my panniers but in all the excitement forgot to apply it and red as a lobster I arrive in Belgium where I meet my parents at my cousin’s place.

My cousin Monique takes very well care of me, not only she let me soak in a bath with natural oil, she also got a soft bed for me, a complete vegetarian meal with fresh asparagus in truffle oil. And she put me in contact with her husband who’s working in the field of security in Gabon. I got updates about where better not to cycle and so my plans have already changed, it seems.

The following day I cycle to Brussels. Never knew that was such a hilly city. I have no mapwith me and because I started the day at 15.00 o’clock I enter the city in rush hour. Here I will meet a friend whom I met 10 years ago in Bangladesh, all that time we kept close contact. In Brussels I have to ask a few people for directions and when I think I am close to where I have to be, I make a wrong move. Right in front of a tram, where I am in the wrong direction trying to cross a roundabout, lights red for me, I put some power on the pedals but hitting the wrong gear and so I overstretch the muscle in my upper leg. Not only this, but both my elbows are swollen, plus that I am sunburned already. I better take some rest.

Gora, my friend from Bangladesh, whom I met at a temple in his village Dinajpur, are going to get some fish which can only be bought at an Indian shop. We walk hours in the wrong direction but I get to see the difference in countries very well. This seems to be much greater when cycling from one to another country than I ever had noticed: a lot of beautiful necklines are to spot here, old Turkish couples together in the park. Men from Morocco gathering in the same park, drinking beer, seemingly lost. I already feel I am travelling, wearing slippers, the new presented anklets and the sun which is wonderfully beginning to shine since I start this cycle trip.

Gora’s taking excellent care of me. Food’s piled up highly on my plate, got my own bedroom and my cycle’s carried upstairs to third floor, brought into safety. Being in this shared apartment I feel I am in Bangladesh already. Surrounded with colourful cottons, curries and masala’s, naan and chai, all in big quantities. Gora’s supplying me with loads of fish fry, enough for days and so I cycle on Thursday to a point from where I take the scenic route to Paris. Up to that point I cruise through hilly towns, valley like villages and my power is being tested immediately. I do well, take it slowly and am mentally strong. I do stop when my heart beats too fast, to continue when it’s beating back to normal. This day I cycle 78 kilometre in about 6 hours.

When I come to the point where the scenic route start, it becomes more easy as it follows a former train track. I cycle a couple of times wrong in Namur and scratch my ankle against the sharp pedal. Around 7 o’clock I start to search for a place to camp wild. I go up to a beautifully old castle and start to look for places into the forest but am a little worried to camp here, all alone. When I see an old man sitting in front of his house I ask whether he know if there’s a camping around. I know it’s not but hope he will invite me to stay somewhere here. He does. I can stay in his garden, or better, in his house. ‘It’s my pleasure,’ the old man says, ‘I give you pleasure, you give me pleasure,’ he continues. I start to wonder what exactly does he mean with this? When I see a pair of handcuffs dangling on the wheelchair he’s sitting in, I leave with ‘au revoir’. I find a place near a busy road, behind some bushes and in the cold shadow of a huge granite wall. Not ideal, cold and having a terrible sleep.

That’s why I decided to keep the following day a short one. I lack energy because of a bad sleep and stop in Mariembourg, also the end of the Ravel-route. I decide to stay another day on this campsite and in the warming sun of the cool morning where the birds sing happily and softly, I read a book from Ram Dass when two hands blindfolded me. They appear to belong to my friend from Brussels, Gora. I am very much surprised by his sudden visit and wonder how he could have find me here?! Obviously, with the satellite ‘Spot’ message I send each evening to my family, it’s also visible for anyone on this weblog where I am. Gora took a box with freshly fried fish with him so that I have a few lunch, dinner and breakfast portions again. We have breakfast under the shady trees on a white blanket and I devour an apple pie kind of pastry, almost a whole bread, 3 pieces of fish fry and some cheese. I certainly do eat well.

Time for action!

I cycle further through hilly landscape, green fields, yellow ones and lonely agricultural land without shops. I find one boulanger which is closed from 1 to 4 o’clock. I am hungry and it is 2 o’clock. Because Monday 28th of May was a holiday -which I did not know- coming after a Sunday –where the shops closed at 12 o clock-  it happens I have no food. Gora and I have to eat French fries for breakfast and thankfully I have the habit not to throw left-over-food so in the evening I eat cooked rice, fish fry and salad given by Gora. But the morning after it becomes worse, I start with an empty stomach and soon find out that I have no power. Leaving the campsite, which was actually closed, I can’t overcome a small hill, stop in the woods, eat my last two pieces of fish, my last 3 slices of old bread and have enough power to stop at the first supermarket. This is a bad quality supermarket with not much protein-, high calorie- or fatty food. I take two bananas, two kiwifruits and a package of fig biscuits. I hope to find a good supermarket. Which won’t happen and I have to cycle a 10 kilometre detour to find a decent Carrefour.

The foresight of a huge Carrefour supermarket gives me instant power and over quite hilly roads where Dutch caravans speed up, I do too. I race with 53 KM per hour down the hill, where the maximum speed is 50! Through lush fields of green, flowing wheat, under a burning sun and enjoying cycling I buy as much food as I can carry and peddle happily across roads in a way we could not do with the car when I was a child. Full of happiness, joy and double power I cycle trough France, through car free forests, over finest D-roads and ‘silent’area’s. Up to now I enjoy the countryside full of farmers and little petit villages with fortified churches. I slide easily through cities like Namur and Dinant.

In the surrounding of Montcornet I follow my feeling, have to find a spot to camp wild. Learned from the previous campsite, I now do want some eyes to look after me and I make my moves to a doorbell of a farm with a wonderful big garden behind it. A dog barks and a car being driven back home, stepping out Marie-Helene. ‘No problem’, she says, ‘find your place to camp.’ Voila. The moment I clean and tighten my chain, husband Pierre appears and invite me to come drink some beer, or wine. I choose tea and get ice cream as well. Pierre is a farmer and Marie-Helene an artist. How lovely. I rise with barking bullfrogs, dew, mist and the slimy tracks of slacks everywhere on my tent. I roll my wet, slimy tent on my bicycle, visit the very local style toilet made by Pierre: it’s an exact copy of the toilets in Nepal and North India and he will use the excrements, falling into a box, for his land.

I leave rested and satisfied. Have a second breakfast two minutes after I leave and warm myself up in the lukewarm rays of sunlight breaking through the misty farmland. I go to Laon, a city pilled high on a hilltop. I worry about the steep climb but only almost hit by a car, I find the campsite easily without too much climbing with my 36 kg of luggage. I may stay here for free and I do so for 3 nights.

I meet a Dutch couple on the bicycle and also a Brazilian ‘film crew’ on bicycle. They both bought the bike at the same shop as where I got mine. They would like to film me, as well as the Dutch couple. Later more about this. More photo’s can be seen at the post in Dutch, just below this one.

Total cycled from 20th of May to 30th of May: 500 kilometre.

Average speed: about 18 km to 13 km per hour.

Distances a day: between 90 km (no hills) and 44 km.

Hours of cycling: at least 3 hours and maximum 6 hours (no hills).

Maximum speed: 53 kilometre per hour!

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