to Racour by bike

Alarm is at six thirty, but I wake up a bit earlier, courtesy of the cat. I’ve prepared my bags yesterday evening, so I can take it easy this morning. I have some water, take my meds, put in my lenses and generally hang around. I’m doing 16:8 intermittent fasting to help my IBS and I want to try if I can do that even when doing long bicycle trips, so I skip breakfast as usual. My mom texts me at a quarter to seven and says she is ready to leave. I’m kind of ready too, plus I have the extra half hour it takes for her to drive to the meeting point, so I give her permission to leave early. It’s about 3° C with little wind, with only a few contrails marring the blue sky.

It’s about a quarter to eight when we meet up by the bike highway near Hove, there’s a few commuters out but not too many: due to corona restrictions, home work is mandatory if at all possible. We set of to the south, following the F1 route by the rail road. It feels pretty chilly, but we have lots of layers to keep us warm. In Mechelen they’re still working on the rail road infrastructure, so it’s a bit of a hassle to find the right deviation, but we finally get to the right canal. We stop for a small snack, mom bought a wide selection to try them out and decide which ones to take on her long trip to Copenhagen this summer. We’ll take a picture of each one and grade it by flavor and texture.

We’ll follow this canal all the way to Leuven, this is the F8 route and we have wide asphalt roads all the way. We pass by the back entrance of the Planckendael zoo and we spy the storks sitting on top of their custom built poles. They’re not zoo animals in any sense, since they come and go as they please and simply seem to prefer this spot for breeding. The baby storks are tagged and they use the data to help preserve the species. We plod on. Or rather, my mom seems to sweep forward without effort and I plod on, my legs weak and shaky. I borrow mom’s heart rate monitor and find out that mine is quite often above the fat burn limit, so it’s no wonder I’m shaky: I’m trying to burn sugars but I don’t have any, due to the 16:8 fasting. We immediately stop for another snack

The canal here is wide and the water today looks very calm. We see only one boat, but water birds aplenty: a big blue heron, lots of common coots and great crested grebes. One of them has a tiny chick and we stop for some pictures. I attach the 200 mm lens to photograph them twice: one when the parent (you can’t tell if it’s a male or female) and chick are close by and once again when the chick climbs onto the hen’s back for safe transportation. I’ve switched back the lens to 24 mm for the second time when the its mate arrives with fish dangling from his beak. It has to work to keep a hold of it but finally manages to pass it on to his/her friend, who promptly swallows it whole. (N.B. I only notice in the evening, when I’m sorting the pictures on my laptop, that the babysitter had a second chick on their back the whole time).

We stop for lunch around eleven, just before Leuven. Cafe’s and restaurants are still closed due to corona, so mom prepared a pasta salad with salmon and broccoli, bringing it along (together with the chocolate) in a small freezer bag. Excellent service! In Leuven we try out a new route: instead of going through the center we stick to the outskirts, following bicycle friendly roads all the way to the south. There’s a few road works that require deviations, I think we did some extra kilometers and hills here, but finally we arrive at the rail road we want to follow. From here on we’re in hilly country. I’ve traced this route myself in RideWithGPS, made an effort to stay away from roads and succeeded a bit too well: we take old cobbled roads, dirt tracks and foot paths through the grass, going up and down the hills. We surprise a few families out walking, nobody expects to see a fully packed trekker on a narrow foot path by the rail road. Never mind, it’s a great landscape, it’s quiet – except for the birds, they’re loud – and green. An occasional train toots at the railway workers and adds noise and colour to it all.

My legs seem to have lost the jelly feeling, which seems to confirm the suspicion that it was due to lack of sugar in my blood, and though still slow, I’m not having to push so hard. We pass by the beautiful town hall of Boutersem, housed in the castle of Kwabeek. While mom is in a call, I chat with a volunteer of the heemkundige kring (every village has such a society, they work to preserve the local history) working on the botanical garden. I ask about the impressive tree and he explains it’s about 150 years old, grown from five seedlings planted close together and now forming one huge tree with a circumference of 10 meters. We continue along small roads to Hoegaarden, where we find that the grocery store we had in mind for shopping is actually closed today. No others close by, but there’s one further along the route.

We continue the climbs and descents over the small hills. Never very long and usually not too steep, but the dirt or cobbled roads require some extra energy and I’m getting pretty tired. Fortunately, moms are excellent at handling their nagging kids, so we make it to Hélécine without too much suffering. Mom shops (only one person per bubble allowed inside, plus somebody should stay with the bikes), I enjoy the ten minutes of rest before we set off again for the final leg to Racour. Another dirt road, but the end is in sight – literally, we can see the church of Racour sticking out behind the next hill. Our final destination is a bit further still: we’re sleeping in the former train station. The railway was converted to bicycle way and the station to lodging: we have the tiny worker’s shed of 9 m², seems small but it has everything we need: a cooking plate, running water (cold and hot!) and a loft with two mattresses. Even towels, blankets and pillows available, though we haven taken all of that in our bike bags as well. Not necessary, it turns out, but it was good training to drag them along.

Shower, then steak, mushrooms and bread for dinner, m&m’s for dessert. Van Morrison to accompany the blog writing. Today’s statistics:

  • 83 km
  • 633 elevation gain, 548 elevation loss
  • 13,4 average speed
  • riding time: 6h10 min
  • 131 bpm average heart rate

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