I found the 46km into Bruges a lot tougher that it ought to have been – the last couple of days had caught up with me and my legs were aching with every turn of the pedals.
I struggle with directions at the best of times, but even more so when tired.
Which one of these wasn’t I?
I wearily made it to Bruges and even a long lunch at the city brewery couldn’t restore my enthusiasm for the final km to my B&B – and the cobbles just made it more painful.
A few beers later it was time for a relatively early night, and I wasn’t especially looking forward to upping the distance to 70km the next day.
I woke to realise something I hadn’t spotted the day before.
I hadn’t seen any of the other guests at this point, but when I made it to the breakfast room it was like walking into an episode of the Golden Girls.
I decided not the mention the sheets.
The other thing I realised was that my legs were no longer aching, and with the wind behind me it was a fast and unexpectedly enjoyable ride to Watou, where I was staying at the Brouwershuis B&B – part of the St Bernadus brewery.
I thought the puncture fairy was going to spare me on this trip, but getting one 200m from the brewery was the next best thing.
The advantage of staying in a brewery is a ‘loyalty fridge’ packed full of beer you can help yourself to, but the disadvantage is that it’s 2 miles from the town where I needed to go in order to get something to eat that evening.
Back on the bike then.
Despite having at least 6 restaurants in the main square, only two were open. I browsed the menu in the first before deciding check out what next door had to offer and discovering it was fully booked.
3 minutes was as long as it took for the first [empty] restaurant to close for the evening, leaving the chip shop as my only option.
Belgian frites are no great hardship, and I was also able to order a Duvel served in – correctly branded glass to go with them.
Not once have I seen beer served in the wrong glassware here. It’s practically the law.
The next morning I set out early at 7am.
It is 70km to Calais and with a lunchtime ferry, I’d decided not to take any chances.
It was cold, but the riding was good to the halfway point at Loobherge where I stopped at the local Tabac to get warm and have coffee.
Whenever anyone new arrived they did a circuit of the bar shaking everyone’s hand – including mine.
I felt like a gatecrasher at a party.
It was only 9am, so I was feeling confident and relaxed about making the ferry by 1pm with only 35km to go.
It had been main roads to this point, but the next hour was spent following minor roads and tracks in the French countryside.
It was in the middle of open fields miles from anywhere when I realised I had another puncture.
I hadn’t bothered mending the tube the previous day due to a bent valve, so I was left needing to use the last patch in my puncture repair kit – which wouldn’t stay stuck on no matter how hard I tried.
It was now 10.30 and I decided to start walking.
Half an hour later I reached the next town along my route, and knew exactly where to go for help – the Tabac.
I made lots of new friends, but none of them were able to persuade a taxi company to take me to Calais ‘avec velo’, so the only option was to take the wheels of the bike and shove it in the back of a SEAT Ibiza for a lift to the nearest bike shop.
Several kms in the wrong direction.
The mechanic at the bike shop was really got a new tube fitted far quicker than I could have done it, but it had left me with 24km against a fierce headwind and just 75 mins before last check-in for the ferry.
I could feel it slipping away from me from the outset, and after 45 minutes and a couple of wrong turns I knew the game was up with 12km still to go.
My legs felt like they were on fire, but if I kept going there would be a chance of them letting me on so long as the boat hadn’t left.
10 mins after last check-in, I made it to the port and was hugely relieved to be told I’d be able to board if I made it onboard in the next 5 mins.
10 minutes later I collapsed on a sofa just before the ferry set off for Dover.