Running in Brussels

Well tomorrow after next to no training I run the 20kms in Brussels – anything close to 1hr 50 I’ll be happy with.

Belgium seems to be conspiring to do it’s worst (read best) to ensure we miss ‘her’ when we go.

The weather has been brilliant the last week hi 20’s low 30, Sunshine – it didn’t even start out grey!

26c forecast fro tomorrow and 21 at the race start.

That’s why I’m writing this now, I may not be able to move tomorrow.

One of the best things about leaving anywhere is you start to see what is good about a place, much like you did when you first decided it was a good idea. The rose tint returns, things don’t seem to bad.

So today when I had Edie on the tow-behind and Olive rode her bike by herself in front of me and we went to Nordspark, and they ran about recklessly without concern for where I was or where they were – well it was sort of “Hey this ain’t to bad”

The coffee tasted better then before, the sun shone, people smiled (and grimaced and smoked to be honest), the setting was not to bad if you didn’t look past 100 metres, and, well, life could be a whole lot worse.

I think how contained we mange to live our lives has a lot to do with how much we enjoy it.

The Castle – the source of the forewarned post – Castle Catastrophes

If i kept my view to 100 metres a lot of time Antwerp would seem pretty spectacular, but I think NZ life has made me a bit soft. I’ve got used to having space and plenty of it, if you don’t want things in your face they don’t need to be, it’s easy to escape.

Nelson, one of my favourite spots in New Zealand – and where I lived for 8 great years – is a case in point. You could disappear to places that well almost no-one went to, yet they were still spectacular places. It’s very hard to do here.

Olive was asking today what the biggest country in the World was – Russia, Canada, China, North America..are the top four, New Zealand though comes in at number 75, only 10% behind Germany would you believe. do the maths on population the answer is obvious.

However by the same token North America offers us lot’s of space and freedom – that is part of it’s appeal to me, and part of what I want the girls to experience.

We’re all social animals, but for me being able to be just yourself in nature is the most special thing we can do, and I can’t wait to do more of that with our family.

Anyhow, back to the run – as mentioned I’m completely undertrained, and the heat will not be my friend, so it will be a bit of minor torture, though hopefully also an affirmation that once you have your base fitness up again as I did for the NY marathon then – well lot’s of things are manageable.

the plus as well for me is that while we have been here we have seen very little of Brussels, though what we have sen we have really liked, so running a 20km loop through it’s streets and parks will be a pleasure indeed.

Bismarck Statue from 1901 in the Tiergarten

Last weekend i ran in the Tiergarten in Berlin, and throughout I felt enormous pleasure and privilege in being able to cover so much ground under my own steam. A car or a tourist bus just doesn’t cut it for me, and if a bike isn’t at hand it’s a great privilege to be able to run, I’m so glad I got back into it.

Anyway I trust this finds you all well and happy , and I’ll look to update you soon

West Virgina – Country Mountain High

West Virginia – country mama

Tonight is my last in Virginia for a few days – I’m back to see Chrissy and the girls for 2 ½ days in Europe. It’s been a long break not heped by knowing I’m away again for another 2 weeks after. We’re going to make a quick trip to Barcelona, I fly out early Monday, then to Indianapolis for one day, then up to northern Indiana, then back to Winchester for 3 nights, off to San Fran and back on a horror flight to Winchester for two more nights before flying back to Belgium.

My investment - the bike has one speed - I had several!!

So there was good cause to go and thrash my new budget purchase a Trek Marlin SS 29r. I think I need to name her.

10 miutes in and onto the trail proper - nice

I checked with the local sports shop and got great advice to head to Capacon state park in West Virginia – about 28 miles away. I was there by 6:15 and on the trails for nearly an hour and a half, it was just awesome. I had actually finished my planned loop in an hour so threw in another half loop I was so buzzing (I admit – light became a problem).

This is my first 29r and my first single speed since the rigid steel framed all blue beast I used to ride to school in the late 60’s.

Picture postcard huh!

The frame felt great, the forks are a clunky piece of crap, and the breaks sufficient for someone who no longer looks to see how badly they can injure themselves on downhills and only weighing in at 66kg.

To be honest the 29r bit was, well hard to tell, maybe it was smoother maybe not, with crappy forks it’s hard to judge, suffice to say the bike rolled well and felt secure.

About now I think I'm crazy (for bringing my wifes brand new camera on this ride!). Rocks!

As for the single speed, what a drug!

I loved it.

I’ve never been a bike geek, but I have always celebrated the efficiency and effectiveness of bikes and nothing demonstrates it better than a single speed. At worst I probably caved on 15% of the uphill that I would have been able to ride with 65 gears! Other wise I held tough and ground out shortish climbs I never would have thought I could climb in single gear. It had a similar feeling to lifting a weight you never had before, fielding a great catch, drop kicking a goal – sort of momentary superhuman-ness, as completely delusional as that is.

OK not a photo of the bike - but don't you think they have a lot in common?? Simple/ Beautiful....

No worries about the chain jumping, the derailleur breaking on the rocks (and there were plenty), your gears gnashing themselves to oblivion. Simple just grind, and grind some more, and look a head and go to the bottom of the dip a little quicker than you would have otherwise because it will help you on the way back up.

Now onto the trails as you will see in the picture – or in fact not because they are hard to describe especially to New Zealanders – they are quite beautiful. These trials made Belgium’s look even more mediocre in fact parts of this ride were as good as anything I have ever done. Rocks, creeks, mud, boulders, fallen trees (some of which I could clear), squirrels darting off and later in the afternoon Bobtail deer running across the trail.

2 of about 12 Bobtails I saw

Generally the trials had picked a soft line, there wasn’t a lot of benching but it was a good surface to ride, some of the climbs were just plain brutal – due to the rocks unrideable even if I had a multitude of gears. The descents were nicely paced and of course heavy leaf litter is not something Kiwis get to ride very often so that was kooky fun to. If you liked to jump there were plenty of large rocks to launch yourself from, fortunately I had the excuse of being on a hardtail and having crap forks, so I bumped more than jumped, but it was great fun. Just the sound of snapping tree branches and leaves flying from under me, the other joy of the single speed – no rattling garbage!

Riding into the setting sun - well actually I was riding away from it... I bet half those cowboys were too..

Anyway the pictures give you some idea, but if you are ever in the vicinity of Baltimore or Washington DC this is not much more than 90 minutes away

Y’all come back now y’hear.

MTB Belgian Style (well Flanders at least)


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.

South

East

West

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 …)

Flanders landscape

Definitely Europe to Kiwi's

Holbeek Sky March 2012

Striking huh!

Same again - landscape view for landscape view. Classic 🙂