(pictures on the photos page)
We’re writing from London, where we arrived yesterday evening after a stormy passage from Dunkirk to Dover; our flight to Nairobi is in a few hours.
It has been a good few days biking to the coast, though really after all the stress and drama of our departure (up to the point of having a meeting to get Dave a Tax-on-web token at 8.30 am on the day we left Brussels) felt somewhat anti-climactic.
For five years we’ve been planning this trip and saving money, for the past year we’ve been getting our gear together and discussing the route, for the past few months we’ve been packing our lives up, for the past ten days we’ve been running around like mad to get everything ready, and then finally, at last (three hours later than expected) we are on… the Avenue Terveuren….
And we bought lunch at… GB…
Though still we were glad for the experience. The route we took, through the Flemish Ardennes to Kortrijk and then from there on to Dunkirk, is certainly not typical Flemish cycling, and even if the hills are nothing compared to what awaits (though certainly the wind can’t get much worse), it was good for us to have to work our way a little bit as we got used to our bikes and our loads, figuring out how best to pack our gear, how best to pitch our tents, how best to ask for a place to sleep from small farms along the way.
We had nothing but luck in that area actually. Our first night’s hosts were skeptic, but they still gave us a place in their garden. The second night we were lucky enough to stop and ask for a square of grass from a wonderful couple on a small farm just north of Kortrijk. They let us pitch our tent and then invited us in for a drink later. Anna spoke for both of us obviously, and Dave just tried to follow what he could. They were interested in the agricultural aspect of our trip, and had story after story of frustration with the treatment of small farmers in Flanders.
“To make enough money, you have to be big,” they told us. Their farm, with 120 pigs and 35 beef cows, is not.
This little warmup was also the occasion for Dave’s first flat tire. Yes, Dave had another flat tire. If you heard about our bike trip last summer from Vienna to Istanbul, then you probably heard that Dave had 17 flat tires in the span of five weeks and managed to run through two tire treads in the same time. And if you heard about this trip, you probably heard Dave ramble on about Kevlar tires and about how there was no worry about flats now because the Schwalbe Marathon XR would be there to save the day.
It’s the age old story – the king of the flat tire against the unpuncturable tire in a battle for humanity – who will win…
Well, the unpuncturable tire lasted 92 kilometers before something very staple-like managed to drive its way in through the tread and give a nice little slow-leaking puncture.
Suffice it to say Anna has announced that we have to buy two new tubes and two new treads before we even set foot in Africa. This is up for debate, but something will be added no doubt when we run around London buying our last things before heading off on our flight.
Always something to do, always an errand to run, it can be hard to take a real rest day at the beginning of a trip. It’s all a pleasure though, and as we get ready for the end of the familiar, we’ve been keeping in mind the advice a cyclist we met this week gave us – one of two cyclists we met who had just returned from biking in Africa in fact (and neither of whom showed the slightest sign of having been eaten by lions).
Anna had stopped to wait for Dave before a little restaurant-boat along the Ieper/Ijzer canal, and though it was officially closed, someone came out just as she pulled up. He was on his way somewhere else and so couldn’t talk long, but he asked Anna where we were going and when she told him he said great – he’d done the same thing a few years before. In fact they’d just finished making a movie about it. Istanbul to Cape Town, via Iraq.
“Just keep pedaling, straight, always straight, just keep going.”
Well, that’s the plan!
We’ll post again from Kenya, probably after we’ve already been biking for a few weeks. If you want to know when we put something online, feel free to sign up for the Google Group, and we’ll send out an e-mail next time we get somewhere.