So the last time I went mountain biking – like by myself, serious ride stuff – in Belgium, was September 2010, that is before today, eeeekkk.
After a great ride in Rotorua last month I thought it was a waste to leave my bike only hammering the pavement of Antwerp, so I went web searching for some hills. That was not easy to find, the biggest climb over the entire course I could find within 70 minutes drive of here was 300 metres – made up of several short climbs, with the largest being about 60 metres – and usually that required a minimum of 30kms riding (For wellington that’s about 3kms!)
I finally settled on a route centred around Holbeek – about 15 minutes from Leuven – just over 50 from home. It appeared to be undulating and have mostly friendly reports – though I appreciated the warning about missing markers, and downloaded a GPS route to my Hollux which probably saved me many miles and definitely saved me many frustrated moments.
At 37 kms on easy terrain I thought it would be 2 hours ish, however not being a road cyclist and not factoring for the Belgian mud, and a few snaps along the way 2:40 was closer to the mark, and I’m reasonably shot!
What was it like? Well sort of weird and kooky and boring and interesting and fun and novel, all at the same time, or in ‘closely followed moments’ may be a more accurate description. Not as addictive as Wellington or Rotorua but still worth doing again.
Some things just don’t happen this way in NZ – the following four shots were taken on the track for example from the same spot.
Like, you ride through peoples back yards almost, certainly across farmers fields; often you found yourself unexpectedly making a sharp left or right, simply for the purpose of the trail adding another few hundred metres of non-asphalt, because it was there, sometimes there was vague point with a bench seat to sit and admire the view over the valley the route sort of crisscross circumnavigated. at one point I past a local and his dog gently ambling along a path, I disappeared for about 10 minutes of slog and re-emerged about 5 metres behind them – he was aware obviously and happily turned and acknowledged me with an encouraging smile as I rode past looking slightly bemused.
Yes the trails are not of the most challenging nature – though my GPS really struggled on the cobbled roads at 30-40kmh
It was the mildest day we have had since early November – up to a tropical 14 and the sun almost came out for the first time in about 3 weeks, I know it’s there because the nights are so dark.
I saw some very pleasant properties – certainly there a lot of Belgians living very comfortably thank you – even if it is less than a stones throw to your neighbor. I saw some beautiful small farms, special sheep, chickens, roosters, a few draught horses, deer, plus a bit of wild life – including my first squirrel for some time as he/she scurried across the track in front of me.
I only saw four other mountain bikers – two who were lost at the start and a guy and his girlfriend coming the other way about 10kms into the ride – she look terribly unimpressed. However as the trail weaved in an out of small villages and across some quite busy roads at times, I would have seen no fewer than 10 small to medium sized groups of riders, most of whom in the best spirit of code rivalry appeared completely humourless.
All in all it was quite peaceful – out where I was it is more open country than in this part of Flanders, and the landscape is more varied and undulating. There were birds heard singing, kids playing (not seen however), horses whinnying, teams readying themselves for the local football derby, a young girl feeding her pony, locals preparing wood in the forests, older couples out walking and biking, and unfortunately not a single pub to be passed on the way.
So I’ll do it again, maybe try another track, and gradually explore the outer regions of east Flanders. Part of the reason is the slightly elegiac quality of the vistas you come upon – I’ll leave you with another 4 which I hope capture some of the mood of a mountain bike ‘stroll’ in the Belgian countryside. Oh, please a hill, a hill and an exhilarating downhill to go with it (I did get up to nearly 50kmh today and on a dry track that would happen, but …)