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Veurne to Halle

We ride the single track road, slightly raised in the midst of rolling arable fields for as far as the eye can see, all lilting in the breeze against the grey, sky blurred with mist. It’s the first time my heart has lifted all day, the first time I get hold of who I am, among this verdant peace. I spot the sign to the Hostellerie de Petit Spinois – the same that directed us, half desperate off the main road, having few other options at this late, hungry point in the day – and apprehensively pull in to check the tariff posted outside. I can’t help feeling a little like we failed today.

I think Mickey feels a bit the same. We’ve had a rotten day on the road and we’ve ended up in a B&B again despite the best intentions to camp. Belgium is not making things easy for us. The weather has been miserable since we arrived here and I mean miserable, the water hangs in the air, restricting visibility and daylight, fogging my visor and soaking everything that moves through it. I find myself bearing a grudge against this country that seems to want us gone. We are driving through a part of the country which seems devoid of small, inexpensive eateries and campsites and all fuel stops are automated meaning that we are almost totally isolated and adding to the feeling of being generally unwelcome - we’ve hardly spoken to another living soul all day. How to interact and meet people? Even couchsurfing is proving unhelpful.

The thing that is really dampening spirits though is the getting lost. We’re avoiding motorways and are on A roads due to the speed of the bikes but we don’t have decent GPS. Both of ours want to send us on the motorway constantly and google maps on my phone requires data. I was recommended an offline app by a friend but it isn’t compatible with my phone. I think that tomorrow we may have to pick up a Belgium sim deal to provide us with internet, saving on that is costing us a heap more on B&B costs so it’s proving a huge false economy! I’m rapidly finding that being lost for a reason works better in places with an abundance of sleeping options than not.

I keep telling myself that it’s early days. We’re yet to settle into a routine of not having a routine and I think we’ve yet to really readjust our expectations from ‘normal’ life. Make no mistakes, as I once did, conventional life is easy. It may not seem it but by comparison to living against the grain it is. I often wonder at how easy it is for people to fall through the gaps of our system. I’m realising that without a permanent address or a mobile phone, you can feel pretty much incapacitated in today’s society but I chose to do this, and I (as yet at least) have cash in the bank; what of those that didn’t and don’t? I’ve wondered more and more these last few months. I think if I settle again in a country and I see someone looking lost and alien I will make a point of approaching them and striking up a conversation. One man did do that today for which I was grateful. To be ‘visible’ is a grounding thing.

Another question that pops into my head repeatedly is…”did others go through this?” Did others get to the end of the day, not having eaten and take the decision to splurge on a B&B because there was nothing else available and they knew it would be unsafe to carry on riding or did they push through regardless or just pitch at the side of the road? I’d love to know. But people rarely document those things, the real low points. There are plenty of blogs out there talking about the processed low points, what they realise it means a few weeks down the road but I’ve not found many that document the low point whilst in it. The difficulty in adjusting to travel, the mistakes made, the wobbles of conviction had. It’s too close to the bone. And too mundane. But I said I’d do warts and all so here it is. Right now, I’m not loving it at all – I’m pretty close to hating it – and I don’t know if I ever will love it. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to do it. I said I’d do this, and I will.

I have a feeling I’m rebelling against something. I could label it with labels I dislike: western, capitalist, modern living. Sanitised, disconnected, numb and materialistic. Maybe that’s accurate, but in reality I think I’m rebelling from a world that makes it difficult to be anything but what it wants from you. Everything is difficult now because I’ve chosen a different route. But then remember, everything was difficult before now, it’s just that everything was difficult and safe then. It’s only the insecurity, the discomfort that makes this different. Identified this way, it’s not so scary, just something to be conquered.

I break from writing, we eat. An amazing meal of perfect steak, bread, frites and salad. With two local beers. I find smaller things come with greater appreciation even now, this early on. I remember why I’m here. Mickey and I chat, reconnect after the stresses and snipes of the day. Time with the one I love, undisturbed and devoted time.

So screw you world and screw you brain, I’m having my damn adventure even if I have to hate every single minute of it. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll learn to be a bit more patient with my adaptation in the process and a bit more appreciative of my lot through the hardship.


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