Changing or shaping – it depends on how old you are.

Changing or shaping – it depends on how old you are

When we set of for Belgium in Nov 2010, we were full of optimism – why would you go otherwise?

Friends and colleagues knew more than we did – Wow you’re brave – was a regular expression. Others lived the dream with us ‘Wonderful, what an adventure, you lucky things’ And indeed we were and are and have been – brave, be-wondered (new word), adventurous and adventured, lucky – well no, fortunate yes.

Hold on – not lucky!?

Exactly, I firmly believe you make your own luck. There are exceptions like winning the lottery (though again you had to buy a ticket to be in), but invariably where we end up is where we take ourselves.

Happy us (Ok it's NYC but hey...)

Join the front of the queue or stand back until the course is a safe one – well trodden, predictable and, well, if we are honest boring. Most of life’s joys lie in the hidden corners of our lives.

Like having children – there is nothing predictable about that adventure and anyone who thinks otherwise better look at just how quickly the world is changing around us; and then of course throw in the infinite possibilities of the children you will have and then raise with the habits you will draw them to and those you will repulse them from.

Many of my joys, if not all, have been from stepping out from the usual path including my marriage with Chrissy and having our own amazing children.

My sporting and outdoor adventures have followed a similar pattern – my most memorable being largely spontaneous and largely uncharted (running the Heaphy track with 2 others – at a weeks notice, and an impromptu 28 km circuit around Lake Rotoiti –South island – prior to a friends wedding).

And then there was Belgium. Easy, right?

Life isn't always a box of chocolates

Well, as readers of this full blog would know, not exactly. None of it was Belgium’s fault. Entirely the blame lies with me.

Somewhere in in the aging process there is a change that takes place. Until a certain age an adventure to a new land and way of life – well it ‘shapes’ your life, enriches it, opens you to possibilities, blah, blah, blah… Then there is a stage at which such an endeavor no longer shapes your life – it changes it – BAM, BAM, BAM!!!! Clearly if you’re not ready this hurts.

And there I was, and here we are.

For the girls this has very much created a time that will shape their lives in ways we can’t imagine from here – and increasingly the third culture kid phenomena is being observed and understood globally.

For me, everything has changed. New Zealand is still home, but I am no longer fixed there like before. I won’t comment for Chrissy – if she chooses to comment in her blog, I’ll let you know. I’ll get back to New Zealand, but I’m not really in a hurry.

Home

Looking back much of the tension after our arrival I think was driven by the unrealized, deep down, recognition (I know that sounds oxymoronic but hear me out) that there was no going back. To return was futile; we came to create something new and exciting. Our company Chairman often says “It is what It is”. “It” took us quite some time to adapt to that fact as far as Belgium was concerned.

So 24 hours after completing my first mountain bike in Belgium since we came here – I now realize it was a bit more symbolic than just a ride. I had finally said to that deep down part of me “It is what It is”, and that deep down part of me accepted it (again without me realizing). A week earlier I had declared that I would only listen to the French speaking Brussels radio station (Pure FM), whilst commuting so I could improve my French (sacre bleu) – this was more than wanting to be able to understand the commentary on the six nations, I’d finally shifted to an attitude of ‘well you’re here, make the most of it’.

So the two events are connected and represent a sea change in my stay here in Belgium.

Seeing the light?

On the drive to the airport I was thinking about our plans to go to Croatia for a summer break – and how the fact that I already live somewhere that I can’t understand the language means I no longer have language as a reason not to go somewhere; liberating.

For our girls this will and has already shaped their lives. They are well down the track in accepting that they can travel and communicate wherever they wish – as I left this morning they were conversing in basic Dutch inspired by having been to see K3 – the enormously popular Belgian trio of women who appeal to all the sub-teens. They go to school with Dutch, Spanish, Americans, Germans, Czechoslovakians, French, Indian, Austrian, Chinese, and talk of places we didn’t even know existed until our high school years. What that leads to I have no idea, but I know they won’t live in one place forever.

Edie and Olive - going crazy in NYC (one of my favourite all-time pics)

However, to view this as the dream start for their lives is as fraught as our optimism in coming here. Everything is just a beginning and it very much has to do with what paths are chosen. And more important than bringing them on this journey is that they understand where the reward in life is; somewhere off the beaten track and before the precipice.

And then, as I understood and then forgot whilst standing in “Belgium’s headlights’, sometimes you still need to jump – your life can’t simply become a predictable series of ‘adventures’, because that is oxymoronic and pointless.

I marvel sometimes (as I am sure my parents did) that I have been able to survive some of these jumps, but daily I need to remind myself that is no reason not to ‘jump’ anymore. Everyday is discovery.

I re-tweeted a quote from Deepak Chopra last week rephrased it’s like this

– If you treat every moment of your existence as a miracle then happiness will follow –

It found me at a good time.

Thank you Belgium. Thank you Chrissy. Thank you my amazing daughters.

Our happy little Belgians - and friend Milla

Thank you ‘change’, without you I’d have none of this. Nothing.

So what do you plan to change today?

Go make yourself lucky.

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 🙂