This my first post in a series chronicling the extent of my experiences in the PedalED Transcontinental Race No.5. You might think that each post concerns a day of riding and to a certain extent each does but what actually constitutes a ‘day’ is fairly loose. In each post I will cover a period between two sleep stops that were either substantial or significant to me on the ground and delineated a new day in my mind.
I’m going to cheat a little bit and craft this post around Day -1, which was in fact Day -2/3 but was my last day of riding before the start at Geraardsbergen and forms the first leg of the GPS trace I left across Europe this summer. This was my ride from Dunquerque ferry terminal in France to Geaardsbergen, or more specifically the top the the Muur.
It wasn’t the greatest start to be fair, I got sent out of the ferry terminal south but had plotted my route on a baseless assumption that I would be coming out east. I was confronted in real life and on my Wahoo Elemnt with a series of roundabouts with all exits signed to motorways or various parts of the port itself. I didn’t have maps for France downloaded in OSMand on my phone so that was not a huge amount of use and though I could have fired up Google maps I didn’t really want to. I like a bit of adventure, I like figuring things out and I generally don’t like doing things the easy way because I believe that makes me lazy and let’s skill sets atrophy. My Wahoo was little help because even zooming out I could only just see my route poking onto the screen because it was basically behind me, you can’t scroll maps on the Wahoo and your position is fixed to the bottom of the screen instead of being centered so anything behind you is pretty much invisible unless you turn around and move in that direction.
I took an educated guess at a series of roundabout exits to head north/northeast towards my route but very soon ended up on what turned out to be not quite a motorway but banned to cyclists. Like I said, a good start. I scrambled over the barrier and down the grassy slope next to the road to a residential area I spied with a road heading under the motorway in vaguely the direction I wanted to go. This course of action worked out pretty well and I found my route not long afterwards.
It was about 2230 by this point and I was all set to spin my way towards Belgian border and Geraardsbergen. The first 60 miles of the ride was pretty uneventful with an early water stop at a shop as I passed through Dunquerque, otherwise being guided by the blinking lights of the Wahoo. I was mostly riding on what would have been relatively busy single carriageways in the day but all but deserted overnight. One stretch by the D916 was an unlit, fairly well paved local road on the opposite side of the canal to the main road which allowed me to flick my headlight up and truly ride in my own bubble of existence for a time, which is what I really love about night riding.
I began to run low on water just before Ypres and spent an unexpected 45 minutes or so to find a water source. During that time I located two taps that were not playing nice before finding a third I could refill from. The first, at a petrol station required the use of a removable handle which, whilst irritating, I could appreciate. The second was outside of a museum and was labelled for use to fill the dog bowl sitting nearby for canine visitors. I was getting pretty relieved when I found this and was gutted when it turned out not to work, I had to assume it was turned off inside for some reason because the bowl was clean and had recently held water. Fortunately, I spotted a third in the town of Beselare and resolved my water woes.
The terrain got a little more hilly after the 65km mark though that’s only relative, in the first 65km of riding I had climbed a staggering 41 meters. A few ups and downs later and I was in Geraardsbergen and immediately greeted with signage to the Muur. The Muur was not something I knew much about, though it had been spoken about somewhat fearfully by riders in the build up to the race. It was the climb that would signal the start of the race proper and a seeming source of anxiety for some, some of which had successfully found itself projected onto me. I was curious and had little better to do so followed the signage, I figured if I could crack the Muur ~100 miles in I was good to go. The Muur turned out to be quite a small hill with a very short section of 20% odd gradient, I struggled to see what the fuss was about but would gain a bit more insight on race day.
I watched the sunrise from the top of the Muur and then bivvied on a bench for half an hour so until the bells of the chapel woke me. At this point I descended to the marketplace where I was discovered by Paul Tiogi (a strong TCR veteran who would ride to a scratch agonisingly close to Meteora). We had a small breakfast together on the marketplace before going our separate ways.
My great start to the TCR adventure continued when I messaged my AirBnB host to ask if I could arrive early as I was expected around 1600. I was informed their place had burned down and was unavailable, I was bit nonplussed by this but clearly I had to find somewhere else to stay. The amazingly supportive TCR Facebook group found me a last minute room cancellation at the Casa Dodo just round the corner from the marketplace. This was a particularly impressive feat as the whole town was completely booked out with many racers having to stay well outside of Geraardsbergen. It had worked itself out, I had prime accommodation location and I had clearly had some race in me after a pretty enjoyable and uneventful ride over from Dunquerque.
Carry on the adventure with me on Day 1.