Stories from the Single Track

Not All Those Who Flanders Are Lost

Disclaimers:

  1. The views and opinions expressed in these stories do not necessarily reflect those of the person writing them.
  2. Names have been changed to preserve the dignity of the same people who worked so hard to throw it away.
  3. Nothing in these stories has been written with malicious intent. I am at peace with the world and all the crazy people who live in it.
  4. Even though all of the following is true, certain parts may be a lighter or darker shade of true than others.

All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who Flanders are lost

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Day 2:
Cycling: Bruges – Roosendaal Antwerp Hellestraat
Transfer: Hellestraat – Roosendaal

Not all those who Flanders are lost. We, on the other hand, were Helle lost, and Vlaanderen aimlessly in the Belgian Bewilderness.

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Brugge to Antwerpen is more or less a straight line. It was not complicated. We set our first meet-up with the motorbike for the town of Maldegem, about ten miles away. That was about all the route we were trusted to plan, as mere bicycle riders. We cruised from the hotel into Brugge, and from Brugge down some gloriously smooth, segregated roads towards the little town of Maldegem. Just before arriving in Maldegem, we met the outrider who took over the navigation, and so we hooked a left going back on ourselves up the N498, and then a right onto the Expressweg N49 – which is a great road if you’re riding a Harley.

We weren’t riding Harleys, and had made it about a mile down the road before one of us noticed the ‘no bicycles or mopeds’ sign. Most of us were able to pull off onto a side road running parallel, however Pharrell (think Daft Punk) and Urquhart (A Bridge Too Far) were already out of sight.

I set off to try to hunt them down, but eventually found the Harley just out of reach at a fork in the road, where they had presumably gone left, and I could only go right. After much toil, we were able to get in touch with the support vehicles and were told to sit tight until Pharrell and Urq rejoined us, which, we assumed, meant they were going to get picked up by the van.

So we’re milling around by the side of the road, when a dumpy little Belgian Politie van goes rocketing past. After realising it had nothing to do with us – we were on legal road by this point anyway – we sat back and ignored it, waiting and wasting the day away. Eventually one of us noticed the van had stopped a few hundred metres down the road, partially obscured by trees and the bend. With a sinking feeling of disbelief and dwindling hope, I grab my bike and pop off down the parallel side road to check my suspicions.

The two police officers were stood by the fan, having a civilised but stern conversation with Pharrell and Urq. The two wonderboys had not been stopped for cycling on a road on which cycling was not permitted. They had been stopped for cycling the wrong way on a road on which cycling is not permitted. Against traffic. They were cycling against the flow of traffic, in the hard shoulder of an expressweg.

After explaining and apologising to the officers, who politely but firmly showed us the nearest road to the Netherlands and told us to get out of their country, I walked the two boys back to the rest of the group, and most certainly did not totally lose my rag and scream blue murder at them until I remembered that a couple of years ago I got pulled over for doing the same thing and have to force myself to keep a straight face until I’d finished yelling… No. That did not happen at all.

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So we headed north into the Netherlands, and continued our roundabout way towards the next breakpoint (!) in Zelzate. Before long, we were back in Belgium and had rejoined the Expressweg N49 – only this time all of us were on the adjacent cyclepath. About 5km outside Zelzate, disaster, or rather the Unguided Missile, struck. And by struck I mean cycled into. And by cycled into I mean into one of the other riders. Completely bollixing the other rider’s rear derailleur and snapping the hanger.

Fortunately, this being Belgium, there was a bike shop/workshop 500m away, so a couple of us went to check it out, and the rest carried on to the lunch stop. After finding the bikeshop, we left the unlucky rider and one of the support vehicles in the capable hands of Belgian customer service, and headed back the way we came and on into Zelzate. After lunch, there was a bit of miscommunication and confusion, and we set off back the way we came to hopefully pick up the cycle route back towards Antwerpen. We got back to Ground Zero, and discovered that the cycle path for Antwerpen ran through Zelzate (it was at this point that someone volunteered that they knew we had to go through Zelzate but never said anything first time around).

Much to everyone’s delight, we got back on the bikes, turned around, and headed back into Zelzate. Again. Eventually, we made it to the other side of Zelzate, and once again rejoined the expressweg (now the E34) towards Antwerpen.

As all hope of making Roosendaal had been blown out the window several hours ago, and even making Antwerpen looked unlikely, we figured we’d just cycle until we ran out of time, and so spent an incredibly pleasant last hour cruising on through the Belgian countryside until we finally RVed with the RV just outside Hellestraat and Stekene.

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The final 20km were on a gloriously golden cyclepath, and promised great things ahead. Sadly, we got to it about five hours too late. Lessons were learned: Trust no one. Plan your own route. Try not to cycle the wrong way down a motorway.

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