So an update on my progress… with an extra four days of preparation at home after cycling from London to my house in Kent I finally set off for Folkestone to spend the night there with Jane and Chris, the operators of an airfield and some friends of friends.
I can’t thank them enough, they fed me dinner and were excellent company, especially Jane’s 95-year-old father Henry, who recounted his experiences as a Lancaster bomber pilot and his four successful flights in the Pathfinders unit. Henry recounted his fifth flight where he was shot down above Berlin, I listened with mouth agape, in awe, I felt so lucky to hear this.I think it’s so rare to come across someone with those experiences, let alone one who is willing to share them with you. That night I slept under the wing of one of their planes that they fly.
The next morning was a mad dash to Dover, catch the ferry to Dunkirk and then spend the whole day cycling and wondering what the hell I’m doing trying to cycle to Japan. I really didn’t enjoy that first day on the continent, but I think like most things in life that are challenging and worthwhile, the first time you start out probably won’t be much fun, you just have to persevere and you’ll be rewarded.
The next day I cycled through Bruges. Just as I expected, it was very charming, and I’ll have to go there again after I have this trip under my belt. That night I found a great wild camping spot 10km west of Gent, sat down for my stove cooked dinner of chickpeas, sardines and tabasco sauce, (not as bad as it sounds), and contemplated what I was doing and how to make the most of it.
I realised I had been worrying a lot, first about the unknown, what was to come in the next six months and secondly about the day to day problems like how to buy food without getting your bike nicked. I decided to just accept that there will be bad days, when I’m hungry and thirsty and cold and tired and lonely but that they will all be worth it for the people I’m going to meet, the stunning landscapes and night skies I’m going to see and what I will learn about myself while I experience all of this.
Brussels was my next stop but I needed some water and didn’t want to buy any. Instead, I turned around and cycled 100m back to a hotel I had seen, you never know…
The man who owned the hotel – his name was Norbert – seemed shocked and amazed by the scale of the challenge ahead of me, but told me that of course I could have some water. When he came back he had two bananas and an orange with him. This act of kindness put a massive smile on my face and confirmed in me why I was doing this. I sat down, was about to start eating when Norbert came out again with a full plate of food, something that looked like a chicken casserole, I was elated, I couldn’t believe the random kindness I was experiencing, my day went from a good day to an amazing day. I sat and enjoyed my meal and spoke to Norbert who told me he used to be the chef for the Belgian cycling team. Again I felt so lucky to meet such great people.
Onto Brussels, where I spent my first night behind solid brick walls rather than a layer of fabric. I stayed with Benoît, the brother of my best friend’s girlfriend, and his wife Anne-Lynne. They were both incredibly supportive of my project and took me out to dinner, gave me breakfast and lunch to take with me the following day, and donated to my two charities!
Again, I was amazed by peoples’ hospitality, I can’t thank them enough. The next night I camped within 30 metres of a motorway in a small clump of trees completely invisible to anyone, and slept like a baby. The night after that it was another farmer’s field, and now here I am in Germany, another night wild camping enjoying eating dinner in the dusk, under a pink star-spotted sky, with nature’s evening chorus in full swing.
So what am I enjoying about the trip so far? The wildlife. People watching. The exercise. The unfounded fears being dissolved. I’m enjoying the sunsets, seeing that giant fusion reactor that hangs in the sky get redder and redder as it slowly dips below the horizon. I’m enjoying cycling through people’s bubbles of reality, for me I get to see the roads, landscapes and the people change, and even the smells from the various restaurants, urging me to go in. Yet, the people I go past know each of these places as their homes where everything is more or less permanent and they except that that’s the way it is. I already miss the silky smooth cycle lanes of the Dutch parts of Belgium, now I’m mostly confined to the edge of the white line.
The bike seems to be holding up well with its 40kg of luggage attached to it like some sort of giant parasite.
What am I eating on my travels, you might ask? Mainly rice, for breakfast lunch and dinner.
Breakfast: Rice with cinnamon, allspice, mixed nuts and honey, and a cup of coffee.
Lunch: Rice with a tin of fish and some chopped vegetables. Dinner: Rice with tinned tomatoes some spices and whatever I’ve bought, maybe some sausage or fish. Plus some ketchup because I’m immature.
Snacks: A piece of fruit and some nuts, the flapjacks my grandmother made me disappeared three days ago and are sorely missed. The last mouldy piece of chocolate cake that my mum baked for me I ate two days ago, mould scraped off. It was still delicious and I feel fine.
Also, I smell. Bad. But, I’m having a terrific time, so it’s all okay.
More photos to come!
Please head to my Virgin Money giving page to donate. Over the course of my trip, I’m hoping to raise at least £5,000 for CLIC Sargent and Hope and Homes for Children.