As usual I finish packing after midnight. Last days have been hectically but exciting. Good thing my mother joins me this first stretch to Barcelona, wouldn’t have had much time otherwise to say goodbye to her.
And then I’m off again. Can’t believe it. I’ve left once more, this time to cycle South and North America.
We have a fast start over the flat Belgian roads. The new bike still needs to prove itself though. The handlebar is shaking like hell and the front and rear wheel are all over the place, even at a speed of 20 km/h. It’s like the bike is a spring and that it can’t hold the weight. I never imagined a bike could move this way. I made some small test rides before leaving, but never with all the kit on it. I think of South America where sometimes I’ll have to put more than 10kg of food and water on the bike, and I’m a bit worried.
Same evening, when wild camping just outside of Tournai, I ask advice of a friend. Turns out this ‘shaking’ is a whole topic online, known as ‘shimmyen’. With his advice, I’m able to reduce it to a minimal in the next few days, changing only one thing at a time, noticing the impact and learning about this odd feature.
Anyway, sun is shining and we find beautiful camp spots every night. Seven years ago, when I did my first bike trip to Santiago de Compostela (with my mum as well), we stayed at campsites every night. A lot has changed since then, and I’m rarely seen at campsites anymore.
My mother soon falls in love with the wild camping and she starts to think like a real touring cyclist. “Well, we have enough water, so we could just camp here, no?”
The freedom, the silence and the lack of stress not having to reach a certain place are hard to fight off, I guess.
We’re cycling the route to Santiago again. It’s just very easy to follow with the booklet and we stay away from busy roads too. When cycling to Africa, I also followed this route across Europe (so it’s the third time…), but it’s still exciting cause I was hoping to see some people again that hosted me two years ago. And there are a couple of alternative routes, so it’s not all the same for my mum.
From Tournai we head to Cambrai, across the forest of Compiègne towards Paris. We enter this huge city by following a small canal, so no stress. We head to the apartment of Yoann an Fréderique, a French cycling couple we hosted earlier through Warmshowers.org at home in Bruges. When we met them, they were at the end of a two year cycling trip through the world. Now they were trying to make the best of staying and working in one place. It seemed hard, but they were still full of energy and made us feel very welcome.
We took a day off to visit the city. We thought of getting some rest by strolling through this beautiful city. But school had just started again and it was very busy and hard work to get around all the cars.
At night, I joined my hosts and about 150 other cyclists to sort off occupy the streets and cycle around. Staff members were holding all the cars back to let us pass, and it was obvious that not all ‘Parisiens’ were happy with that. With no police escort following us, not everyone took us serious and incidents were inevitable. Only with smaller damage to one of the staff’s bike we continued to the Eiffel tower. I met Rafael, who owned a beautiful randonneur bike. He turned out to be a brilliant guide!
We had now about 800 km left to our next address in Tarbes, with Vincent and Nathalie whom I met while cycling in Malaysia four years ago. We ended up doing it in 8 days! Good job mum!
We had some wonderful encounters by surprising people again that hosted me two years ago like Jean-Pierre in Longpont and Céline in Chattellerault. When they met me then, I had no clue yet what Africa was going to bring me. Now, I told them stories about Mali, Gabon and Namibia, countries I knew nothing about before leaving.
I feel like the encounters form the essence of my travels. You go, feel like stopping somewhere and you meet people you feel very connected to and may see from time to time your whole life. It gave me a warm feeling and motivation to keep traveling.
So when we were not wild camping, I asked people to camp in their garden. It still worked wonderfully and with a hot shower, a cold beer and a cosy evening we got a lot more than we asked for. Bless you, French people!
When we reached the beautiful Loire river, we also started to meet other cyclists. This way we met Herman from The Netherlands and Koen from Belgium. We also saw Nic from Amsterdam again whom we first crossed in the North of France. We teamed up and with many campsites along the route, we went from one to another.
In Tours I also stopped at a bike shop to buy a new saddle. Hard to tell after a 3 km test ride, but the one I had definitely wasn’t going to get me across the Americas.
The Charente and Dordogne regions offered quite a challenge with many small climbs in 35°C heat. But the views really did made up for it.
Then a last push through the Landes where it’s flat and easier, but still very hot.
Arriving in Tarbes was therefore very welcome. We had made very good progress and could now take our time to cross the Pyrenees.
A lot had changed in Vincent and Nathalie their life. Last time that I was here (on my way to Africa, 2014), she was 6 months pregnant and they were in the middle of renovating their house. This time, they showed us their beautiful house and adorable children: Heloïse and Simon.
We stayed a day to relax a bit, plan our crossing from the Pyrenees and check out Nathalie’s bees. We saw them from very close (got stung, haha!).