So the luxury of the flatness and straightness of Holland certainly caught up with us as we entered into Belgium. Days 6 and 7 were really tough physically and psychologically, we hit the hills and really struggled. We expected to be able to maintain the mileage and pace of the flats of Holland, but on day 7 we’d achieved 30 miles, a 700 metre climb and we were exhausted. We camped that night in a forest full of midges and howling animals, we had to get Taylor to Luxembourg the next day to catch a flight home, we were miles off our target and it was at this point that I started to question my ability to do what I’d set out to do. Missing our target would inevitably mean catching a train to get Taylor to the airport on time, this wasn’t the plan, I wasn’t supposed to be getting a train, I had fallen at the first hurdle. To further darken my mood, my beautiful tent had broken, pole snapped, fabric ripped, it felt like everything was against me. A sense of panic had set in, I was worrying about targets, failing, broken equipment, fitness, little niggles. One week in and I was already unsure I could do this.
On day 8 Taylor flew home for the weekend and I was left on my own, with my weakened ambition and aching thighs I wasn’t sure where the next couple of days would take me. Part of me just wanted to go with him, but a much bigger part of me would never allow that. So with my route slightly altered to take in a city that Taylor could catch me up at, I had the short term aim of getting from Luxembourg to Strasbourg in 4 days.
I set off alone from Luxembourg, via an outdoor store to buy supplies to attempt to repair my broken tent and set myself a 40 mile target for the afternoon, something achievable. The ride was different, most noticeable was the quietness, I couldn’t hear the squeak of Sassy (Taylor’s bike), no singing from Taylor and also I didn’t hear my own voice for the whole ride. My mind however wasn’t quiet, each undulation focused my mind on driving my thighs and getting to the top, the flats allowed my mind to wander into the unknown. Quickly I realised I had found a pace, a slightly slower, comfortable, enjoyable pace.
I rode all afternoon, stopping only for a cold drink, arriving at my destination to a sunny evening. I set about repairing my tent, which was a success. Set my camp up for the night and then raced a thunderstorm to a restaurant for dinner. The thunderstorm won and I was subject to a 30 second drenching before entering the restaurant. It was weirdly satisfying to lose the race against the elements, I chuckled to myself. That evening I sat in the restaurant and wrote my journal whilst my clothes dried out. I walked back to my tent beneath a glorious double rainbow. Perhaps things would be OK after all.
After the night in the forest of hounds and us failing to meet our target, the thought of hills begun to scare me. They were the thing that could potentially defeat me. Over the next 3 days I would climb 2000 metres alone. I climbed each hill slowly and steadily, but I climbed them.
Whilst alone I followed rivers, I climbed hills, I visited cities, I went to a hard rock gig in Saarbrucken, I basked in sunshine, I survived and I was loving it. Eventually I arrived in the beautiful city of Strasbourg, with enough time to explore before collecting Taylor from the train station. For the first time I was really really loving my choice for taking on this adventure. I had restored my own faith in myself.
By my very nature I set high expectations of myself, I strive to be the best I can be and with that can come major disappointment when those expectations aren’t met. But over these last few days I realised that I had set myself unrealistic expectations. Of course I’m not going to ride as quickly as a seasoned road biker, I’m carrying a years worth of stuff, on a monumentally heavy touring bike, with very limited training. So yes, I might get off my bike and push it up a hill, so what, but the next time I might just have to have a 30 second breather, and then maybe the next time I won’t have to stop at all. I feel myself get stronger each day, mentally and physically.
I can do this, I will do this. At my pace, in my way, with no expectations. As my Gramps would say, “you’re doing alright kid!”