Aachen – Leuven (110km)
21 riders. Average speed 16km/h. Time pedalling 6h41m
Today was a long ride. On Day 2 we also did over 100k so we knew what was coming our way but this ride was different in many ways. For starters there was a lot more elevation. More significantly, we´ve been on the road for two weeks now. We took into consideration that our physical and mental state is quite different than that first week so our plan was to start early from Aachen, maximise daylight and take it easy on the road. We are relieved (and proud!) to say that we did it, that we managed, that we cycled only one our in the dark, that we pulled through safely!
We are encountering new challenges at this point of the tour and many have to do with how each of us deals with desires, pride and motivation versus what our bodies are telling us that is needed. Until what point do you push yourself? Our legs ache, our backs are stiff, our knees are sore and our lips are chapped, so we are starting to find out. These are big lessons: listening to what we need to keep safe and healthy, to speak up when something is too much, to discuss priorities and decide collectively for the benefit of all riders and the benefit of the project.
With all these things in mind and with a long day ahead we packed lunch, lots of snacks and set off with light rain at dawn. We are so thankful for our smiling hosts at the Welthaus in Aachen who actually made it possible for us to get an early start since they also got up early to have breakfast ready for us at 6:30. It was delicious!
So as the rain passed, we cycled early out of Aachen and before noon we had already crossed two borders: at 6km we entered the Netherlands and just before the lunch break, at around 40k, we entered Belgium. The lack of intervention at these borders was remarked upon as a desirable situation. We felt fortunate to be able to pass freely between countries. Yet we are also conscious that this type of border is in decreasing supply around the world and climate change will do nothing but accelerate this.
Lunch was in the town of Tongeren, in a café where we ordered hot chocolate and cappuccinos that tasted like heaven. At this point three of us took the train to Leuven, our final destination. This option had been proposed the night before and some had already decided that it was the best for them today. Others decided spontaneously during lunch to join the train team. We are biking to Paris, yes, but we also want to stay safe and happy and a big part of that is being kind to ourselves. This includes listening to what our bodies are telling us.
After lunch we turned off the big straight roads that had lead us for most of the morning, these low-gradient old ´stone roads´ connected Belgium´s towns in the 19th century. Instead we opted for meandering tracks through fruit orchards, which provided beautiful scenery and mostly a path spacious enough to ride side-by side, allowing long interesting conversations (or just jokes and singing). The rolling hills and light head-wind meant we worked hard for every kilometre. We got through by pulling together as a group, no-one personified this more that Oak, who´s navigation and pace setting lead the way, doing regular temperature checks to make sure the group could keep going. He was awesome.
After taking a long break at dusk, we covered the final hour in the dark at a good speed, those with bike computers eagerly counted down the distances. Our arrival in Leuven was at 18.30, just as we had anticipated. Accommodation was an empty corridor provided by KU Leuven, which means beds and hot showers! We collaborated with a local group called Collectief Cursief to host an event at Pangaea, a union for international students. We ate a tasty dinner prepared by Leuven´s people´s kitchen and screened the Naomi Klein film, which was followed by a discussion. We were glad to meet the Collectief Cursief group and enjoy Belgian beer in the process.