Up at six, my Mom is the most polite wake-up alarm ever. We check the weather radar during the eggs and left-over sausage for breakfast and decide to put on Gore-Tex from neck to toes. All the luggage back down (over the narrow stairs, the lift is broken) and we load up in the entry way while it’s raining. It’s about seven when we set off towards the waterbus. Tonight we’re camping near Ghent and it’s just a bit too far, so we take the Scheldt waterbus from Antwerp center to Hemiksem in the south, cutting about 20 km off the route. At this hour everybody is on the way into town so our boat is almost empty but when we arrive half an hour later at Hemiksem there’s a long line of school kids and commuters waiting to get on. It’s still raining..
The plan today is to follow the Scheldt river all the way to Ghent: there’s faster and shorter ways, but none as pretty, plus I want to get a look at how the Sigma Plan is going. The bike path is here is near the river, but not always on the tow path, as parts of the bank are set aside for industry or nature reserves. We pass Hemiksem Abbey, riding through one of the old gates – when I want to take a picture I notice that I brought my 50 mm lens instead of the 24 mm, so you’ll notice the pictures are a bit artsy – and soon arrive at the ferry in Niel to cross the Rupel. These are tiny boats with often just the captain on board and take you across for free, swinging in circles to counter the strong current. They serve commuters and tourists – though not many people use them at this hour in this weather – on a fixed schedule and we hang around in the back for a short half hour before it leaves, enjoying a bit of tea from our thermoses.
The day proceeds in much the same rhythm: tow paths, a few ferry boats, rain and wind. The ferry boat at Mariekerke is particularly challenging: it follows a complicated triangle route and we can see it waiting around just across the river. We can also see ominous signs of road works, so it’s unsure whether we’ll be able to continue on that bank. We wait on a bench by church and enjoy the dry spot afforded by the tree while an intense rain shower passes overhead. When the boat finally comes to our side, the lady informs us that indeed the road works block access to the path we need, so we continue to Baasrode. This means I miss the most impressive part of the Sigma Plan.. At least it stopped raining so hard by the time we take off again.
More tow paths, another wait at the Baasrode ferry and we use the break to call ahead to one of the restaurants I had noted during the preparation of this trip. They are indeed open, don’t have a dress code and will be happy to receive us. More rain, more wind, though it looks promising right before lunch, so I optimistically take of my rain jacket and pants. Lunch is excellent: a pulled pork burger for me and steak for Mom, with excellent fries. We have view of the Scheldt river and see the reeds waving wildly in the wind, the rain picking up again.
More rain and wind, I must admit my legs are not feeling very energetic today and it feels like progress is slow, but this slowness is mainly due to all the waiting times at all these ferries. The Scheldt river is wide here and used by both pleasure and cargo ships, but it is not a straight line, it cuts through the flat landscape in tight curves, so we have the wind in our backs one moment and full in face the next. Only when we get to Wetteren after 62 km do we get short bouts of sun: three times I take off my rain gear only to put it on again after ten minutes. Nevertheless I remain optimistic! We do a short detour in Wetteren to electronics store, as Mom forgot to bring the specific cable to charge her cell phone from her portable battery on the way. We use it for navigation and that really drains it quickly.
By the time we’re in Ghent it’s officially dry. We stop at an organic food store for dinner/breakfast supplies and I take of my rain gear for the last time, I don’t care if it starts again. Once at the camping we look at the empty and lonely area set aside for tents and decide to rent a tiny trekking hut instead. Lettuce, tomato and feta cheese, with a side of baked chicken filet and a cup of mint tea is our dinner, it tastes delicious. There’s even some chocolate and dates for dessert. The hut is filled with items requiring drying, bicycle bags and even the bikes, so I sit on Mom’s bunk to sort the pictures write. It’s fun to see the results of the 50 mm lens, I don’t usually take it on holidays but there’s some nice pictures here, I think.
Statistics of today:
- km today : 81,8
- average speed: 14,7 kmph
- moving time: 5h30