In this article, I propose you to follow my last summer adventure, a cycling trip through Belgium, illustrated by a series of photos. You’ll find some tips and advices at the end of the article to prepare yourself if you start to plan your first bike packing.
Summer 2020 – A Thursday morning in July, first day, it is 5:00. My alarm rings, I have trouble opening my eyes, and I wonder why I am doing this. What I have planned is a tour of Belgium, 1000km spread over 5 days, from west to east and back. My very first bike packing, my longest distances, without any experience, without any real preparation, solo.
I make the final preparations (disconnecting my devices : GPS, smartphone, external batteries, etc.), and I do the final checks to make sure I have forgotten as little as possible.
6:00 am – I get on my bike, it’s very cold, the wind is razor sharp and my eyes itch and cry. I wonder again why I am doing this.
The first 60 kilometers are boring and don’t go by quickly, it’s a road that I know and have done often. Fortunately, the first rays of the sun make the luminosity exceptional and make me rediscover these landscapes that I thought I knew by heart. The morning dew covers the river that I follow, the pastures are caught in the mist, in which the silhouettes of the herds of cows are outlined. I’m starting to understand why I’m doing this and gradually forget the cold.
12:00 – Lunchtime arrives after about 100km, I take this opportunity to take my first break under a bright sunshine.
I decided to ride calmly, because at that time my longest road distance was 145km. That day, 210km are on the program with 1500m of elevation gain. The first 100km were flat. I know that the hardest part is yet to come and that I have to save my energy if I want to be able to last these 5 days.
After half an hour, I get back on the road again and then a real wonder follows, landscapes that will never cease to fill my eyes with stars and to forget all those kilometers that I have yet to swallow.
8:00 pm – I leave the restaurant where I stopped to eat a good dish of carbonara pasta and it is with a filled stomach that I head to the bivouac place for my first night under the stars.
8:30 pm – After 210km, I reach my destination. All I have to do is find a place to land. The place is beautiful, and the sunset will be breathtaking!
6:00 am – Second day. The alarm rings. I hardly slept all night. I think I made all the mistakes that can be made in choosing the spot of the bivouac. I chose a place on a slope, on pebbles, by the water.
Which means I slid towards the water all night, forcing myself to wake up to go back up the hill each time (not less than ten times), and the cold that literally kept me awake from going. From 4:00 am the humidity and morning dew only made matters worse.
I had planned to get camp out as soon as possible after 6:00 am, but I was so chilled that I stayed in my sleeping bag trying to warm up until 8:00 am.
So it’s very tired that I start to go into the forest on trails that my GPS does not seem to know.
6:00 pm – This second day will have been the most wonderful, even if the one with the most elevation. This is normal, we are in the heart of the Belgian Ardennes.
Excellent weather, beautiful roads, varied and splendid landscapes, and we finish that with a good friterie.
But the clock is ticking, and I’m going to have to hurry if I don’t want to have to look for a place to spend the night before it starts to rain. And this time around, I wouldn’t make the same mistakes. Not at the water’s edge, preferably on flat ground without pebbles.
7:00 am – Third day, I learned my lesson well and it paid off, I had a much better night, even though I couldn’t sleep deep. Always alert at the slightest noise for fear that an animal will attack me while I sleep. You can see in one of the following photos that I already look very tired after two days and two nights out.
11:00 am – It’s in Luxembourg, on this floating bank, that I realized that I had accumulated too much fatigue and too much sleep delay. My body isn’t the problem, my legs are fine and I feel like I can still do the miles. But the mind begins to falter. In fact, I’m just fed up, I’m having a little less fun, the wonder is a little less present and I realize that 3 days is more than enough for a bike trip and that I maybe have planned a little too big.
So it was from there, at 11:00 on the third day, that I decided to shorten my route and start a direct journey to Eupen station which is more or less 100km away. I choose the most direct route and I go for it, thinking I will no longer see beautiful landscapes. It was without counting on what my little country has in store for me.
7 pm – I arrive in Eupen just in time to catch the train. A few seconds after getting on, a torrential rain descends on the city, which I contemplate soothed and relaxed on this train seat which I find, for once, very comfortable. I took it as the sign that it was the perfect moment to stop and go home. Exhausted after more than 500km in total over these three days, my eyes swollen and my head filled with unforgettable memories.
A solitary adventure, an extraordinary experience.
You are still here? Thanks for reading this article to the end.
Hoping to inspire some to surpass themselves and try their own adventure.
Equip yourself with powerful, high-capacity external batteries, take several if you don’t want to end up at McDonald’s having to recharge your devices and waste hours waiting. Another solution would be to install a dynamo hub. There is nothing worse than a worn out GPS and phone.
Take only what is necessary. If you do not go far from civilization, avoid overloading yourself with water / food and take some cash. There will always be a place to refuel. I had taken bundles of « Aiki » noodles, along with a camping stove. I haven’t eaten a single one, and the stove was of no use to me except to clutter me up and weigh me down by a few grams. And besides, I don’t drink coffee, so really useless.
I stopped around 3 times a day to locals house to ask for water, I don’t know if it’s the area, but the door has always been opened to me, even during a pandemic, and we always have warmly agreed to fill my three bidons with water. Some even offered me food. You just need to be kind, and explain the adventure you are living.
Don’t neglect a good night’s sleep. Take the time to choose where you are going to spend the night. This place must be flat, if you do not have an inflatable mattress, choose a soft and regular ground (a meadow for example). It is important that you feel safe and secure if you want to be able to have a deep sleep without waking up to any noise. If you have food, move it a few feet away. If you are not afraid of animals and / or insects, there is no point in taking a tent. A tarp or hammock will be fine. The advantage of the tarp is that I use the bike to stretch it, which reduces the risk of theft (you never know). If you’re anything like me and the idea of having insects crawling around while you sleep bothers you, I recommend that you equip yourself with a single-person tent.
This is not a race, take the time to ride at your own pace, there is no point in going too fast, especially if you want to last for several days. Take the time to explore, admire your surroundings, and stop to rest a bit. Are you late on your itinerary and afraid of not arriving on time at the place where you had planned your bivouac? That’s okay, you can easily bivouac almost anywhere else.
Go to the end of the adventure. Right from the start, I wondered what made me hurt myself so badly. Waking up so early to do sport, the cold, the fatigue, … I must admit that this experience was not easy. I would even say it was made up of 50% hard times and 50% happiness. But in the end, today, it’s 100% satisfaction, 100% good memories and I can’t wait to start again.
I would like to especially thank George for lending me his gear, for providing me with valuable advice before leaving and especially for making cycling bags which were of great use to me and which allowed me to make this trip possible.
@soutien.george | @moga.bags
Thank you also to Théo for lending me his Ortlieb frame bag.
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