Belgium began with a bang – Charleroi is quite a shock to the senses when you’ve been ambling along on the back of a tandem staring across acres and acres of farmed land. We were suddenly surrounded on all fronts by heavy industry, literally reaching over communities, house fronts with nothing but waste land behind where family life was once enclosed in cosy rooms beside those still intact and inhabited. A small area that had a big impact. We then came past the first real traffic of the day heading to what was being advertised as an environment or nature fair and then on into the town itself.It was stiflingly hot in the centre and the cars sat bumper to bumper in the main shopping area, prevented from mingling with the shoppers who filled the pedestrianised routes.
From here we were directed down to the river – La Sambre where the cycle track started as a concrete ledge but soon stretched out of the confines of the town as we eventually left the industrial zone behind. Our only night in Belgium remiinded us just how hilly the south is. We just climbed for miles, found ourselves accidently on another motorway and then back onto rural roads, the elusive campsite finally presenting itself just as we were giving up hope and scanning roadside woodland for a pitch. The regular smell of chips tantalises the hungry cyclist in Belgium but sadly this was a treat we didn’t get to sample.
The best part about being the stoker is strangely what I thought would be the worst – you can’t see ahead. On the hills this is great if you like climbing. You place your faith in the pilot to get the right gear and then you simply drop down on the bars, get your head down and stoke. You quickly fall into a rythmn which removes awareness of time and distance. It’s the perfect meditation for the mind and body.
Cycling across France and Belgium our route has been regularly punctuated by war cemetries and still more memorials decorated with countless names reminding you of the loss and suffering over the past couple of hundred years of battles. It can fill the empty head of a stoker with some very poignant thoughts….