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snow

Of Things Frozen and Melted

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Of Things Frozen and Melted

In France, the snow fell. Frost covered the branches reaching above the canal. And I was cycling alone.

After meeting Isabelle two months ago, it has been an eventful and tumultuous time. So many things have happened it feels like a year has passed. Perhaps it’s clear that things between us have developed more and earlier than I’ve mentioned. At first I didn’t feel it was right to discuss it here, and recently was more interested in actually living life and seeing what happens, rather than write about it. Nor do I ever want to turn this into a relationship blog. But it’s time for a little recap.

I hope this road will take me somewhere warm.

The first weeks were great. Too good to be true, almost. Normally I take a long time to get to know people, but we clicked right away. It was a whole new experience of openness and honesty, as opposed to the gradual undoing of reservations and distance that I’ve previously had a tendency for.

But then, when feelings get involved, things get more complicated. Especially when we both bring our own emotional baggages. We suddenly became scared that this thing could become serious. Maybe too good to be true was right. And what about our solo trips? There was no room for a relationship in our plans. Each of us took turns running or pushing the other away. Each time it didn’t work, or brought us closer.

Nothing can survive in this barren landscape.
When I stopped the bike for a photo, I realised the road was so slippery I could barely walk on it.

Yet there I was again, alone on an icy cycling path. Few people were interested in being outdoors on such a cold day, with the exception of some hunters yelling in the forest. White cranes glided above the water towards safety.

We had separated for several days. Both hoping to travel south faster on our own, as well as a final test to see whether we could continue together. I certainly needed time to think. My habit of pushing people away was kicking in strong, but at the same time I found myself missing Isabelle already. She hitchhiked a few hundred kilometres ahead, and some days I broke previous distance records for the trip to get to her, and at other times I felt so frustrated and drained that I could barely move forward. The fear of her not waiting was surpassed by the fear of sharing my life with someone. Back and forth.

Cycling around the world is so easy compared to the task of dealing with my own emotions. A frozen heart takes a long time to thaw.

I left home hoping to never experience cold winters and snow again.

After a week of this I was in Chalon, right before the final stretch. Isabelle had eventually decided to wait. She was half a day’s ride away, and I stopped for a coffee with a Warmshowers host, who turned out to be quite an angel. We only spoke briefly, but her energy and presence gave me the last encouragement I needed to get past my fears. I finally knew what I wanted. It really wasn’t all that complicated.

I cycled to Isabelle and told her. Having found courage, but still lacking wisdom, it wasn’t easy nevertheless. We still had fights to go through and problems to sort. I had to open my heart and connect with her in a way I had never had the strength to even consider before.

There are many treasures I expected to find on this journy. Countless beautiful places and photographs, fascinating people, experiences both positive and bad to learn from. One thing I never expected to discover was love. Perhaps now, against all odds, it has found me.

Looks like this will be a two-person trip from now on.

A bridge over cold water.
 

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Winter in Belgium

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Winter in Belgium

With the arrival of November, the weather took a significant dive. Double digit daytime temperatures were a thing of the past, and at night it dipped even below zero a couple times. It was the inevitable consequence of cycling south at this pace. With Finnish genes and warm gear the cold weather still wasn’t a disaster for me, but Isabelle couldn’t really handle camping anymore. At least until she'd get to Luxembourg where a new sleeping bag was waiting for her.

This caused some friction, because I had been looking forward to sleeping outside more again. Southeast Belgium has a lot of beautiful forest areas in the Ardennes, which sounded nice for camping. In Holland we had mostly slept indoors, which usually results in very little alone time. And there is a limit to how much peopleing I can do. After a while I get exhausted and need to recharge in a quiet place somewhere out in nature.

As a solution, in the Hoge Kempen and the Hautes Fagnes National Parks in Belgium we cycled separate routes and met up in the evening. This gave me a chance to spend extra time taking photos and enjoying some important solitude.

Our first glimpse of Belgium was still colourful and pleasant.
Hoge Kempen in the morning light.

In addition to the seasons, there were also major changes to the terrain. Since Denmark there hadn’t been any uphills whatsoever, but Hautes Fagnes included a climb up to 700m. And there were many more hills ahead. This made cycling even slower, but at least the scenery was finally improving. On the other hand, autumn colours were turning brown and the landscape was often shrouded in fog.

Through the Ardennes we could travel on an old railroad that had been turned into a bicycle path. This was perfect, because Belgians don’t always seem to be the greatest of drivers. Many drive at retarded speeds, and Isabelle had a close call with a truck driver who probably thought “patience” is some kind of Calvin Klein fragrance. So the paved railway was a real luxury. Not only were there no cars, but the slight inclines meant for locomotives were very easy to handle with heavy touring loads.

Every little village has an old church in this part of the world.

When we were in a French-speaking village called Faymonville it even snowed a few centimetres one day. It didn't really affect us however, because we spent the day resting. The previous night we were looking for a place to stay when a car stopped and a woman asked if we needed help. When we explained the situation, she told us to follow her. Within a couple minutes we were taken to her hair salon where she had a studio apartment in the back.

She introduced herself as Caroline, with a heavy accent. She was like a character from a French movie, looking very chic, smoking cigarettes inside and pouring us some red wine. She wouldn't be 'ome for two days, and of course we could stay alone in her apartment and business place for the whole weekend!

So next morning I woke up and looked out the window to see snow falling. I briefly considered getting up to take photos, but just went back to sleep instead.

Merci beaucoup!

Wake up, it's time to ride!
Some of the water drops were still frozen when it was time to be back on the road.
 

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Growing Impatience

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Growing Impatience

I may have celebrated too early in the last post. The snow just won't go away this year.

The locals tell me this is one of the longest springs they can recall. Usually by this time the snow would be completely gone, soon followed by the ice on the lakes melting away. But the weather has been unusually chilly, which means that by the official measurement there's still a ridiculous 64cm of snow left. And the forecast for the next 10 days isn't helping.

So there's still at least another 2-3 weeks until proper camping season begins. That doesn't leave much time for quick one and two-night practice tours before the big one. In fact, at this point I wouldn't be surprised if we still had snow in June when I start.

Meanwhile, this same time last year...

On the bright side, the main roads are dry and fine for cycling. So at least I can go out to test the bike and get used to the saddle. But the smaller roads that lead to trekking areas and lean-tos are still mostly unaccessible. And the very best part of pushing my bike off the side road of a side road, along a tiny forest path of pine needles, to find an exquisite camping spot by a quiet lake with water perfect for swimming.. that still feels like a pipe dream.

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