Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Geraardesbergen and The Muur. (The Wall.)

The journey through Holland was uneventful, though I was delighted to make the acquaintance of Milens (sp) an Albanian living and working on Holland. Apart from anything else, meeting so many other European nationals speaking English has inspired me to continue with some form of language learning. I'm never going to learn them all, but making the effort to communicate in someone else's tongue only adds to the experience of travelling.

Milens and I chatted for about an hour about life in Albania and his family. I remember visiting Albania during the Balkan war in the early 90s. At the invitation of the Albanian government and with one of their officials on board, we flew over the oil fields in the north of the country before landing our helicopter on a school playing field. Instantly mobbed by a small flock of children, we were forced to take off again, for their and our safety, but I shall never forget their wide-eyed excited smiles. I was looking forward to going back.

The most useful piece of advice that Milens offered me though, was to avoid riding my bike on Albania at night. He said the drivers there were completely unused to cyclists at night and would have no regard for your safety. What with the risk of feral dogs and crazy drivers, I was beginning to wonder how I would get through.

I arrived in Geraardesbergen at about 11 having made contact with the owners of  Molen ter Walle, http://www.molenterwalle.be/Nederlands/fotos.html the B&B that I was booked to stay at. Everyone was going to be asleep, so they gave me directions to my room and left me to it. (Check out the weblink. It is a wonderful place to stay and the owners could not have been more accommodating.)

Despite my best intentions, I did not lie in until 10 as I had said, but was up by 07:30 and joining the other guests for breakfast. Realising that finding somewhere to rest during the day was going to be a challenge, I booked a smaller room at the mill for the remainder of the afternoon, giving me a bolt hole to return to after registration and then got on my bike and cycled into town.

I bumped into another competitor on the way in. A Welshman living in Hong Kong. We discussed the forecast and the perceived risks of cycling the Muur en masse in the rain and he then headed off the recce the hill and I to find the registration hall. Half an hour later he arrived, having already become the races first casualty, falling on his decent from the chapel on the dry uneven cobbles. Please, don't let it rain!

At 10, the hall was already seeing an early trickle of cyclists. For some reason I was picked out by a photographer doing a piece for SAGA. Well I suppose at 50, I was some kind of good advert for exercise in middle age. He confessed to being interested in the 'degradation' that he expected to witness through his lens over the next 2 weeks and I knew that he would not be disappointed.

Before I returned to my room, I climbed the Muur for the first of  3 times that day. It is steep and bumpy, but not long and I looked forward to the start and climb to come in the dark. For now a few photos of the chapel and a look at my decent from the summit, so that the start of the race, at least, would hold no surprises.

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