Another advantage of the terrain turning more forested is that it is a lot easier to find an inconspicuous spot in which to wild-camp – so that’s one less thing to think too hard about. I got a much earlier start than my late Antwerp start – but this just meant I was riding when the first heavy shower hit – which is better than packing up a wet tent. I hid in a bandstand in a village square and cooked my breakfast – ingredients left over from having to buy multiples more of things than I really wanted. With the rain gone again, the rest of the morning was very pleasant as I skirted around the town of Diest – the riding a good mixture of trail types and mostly dry by now.
Crossing the huge Albert Canal seems to have been a regular occurrence since leaving Antwerp. One sees all sorts of things floating up or down it and the locks are, of course, correspondingly large. It’s odd seeing barges that have enough space on the aft deck for the captain’s personal car to go along for the ride. This barge today caught my eye – mostly because I don’t often see large process equipment floating down canals.
My GR5 navigation was going pretty well, but it does have a sometimes infuriating tendency to try and take the seemingly longest possible route between two points. When I checked a website, it was raving about what a great long-distance walk it was – in the same way the Appalachian Trail is considered. But for all that, in two days and about two hundred kilometres I haven’t seen a single through hiker – or any walker out for more than a stroll. Perhaps they know better than I do about the weather or perhaps this is just a boring stretch and it gets much better further south. The road sections that provide pleasant respite on a bike must really drag by when walking. Still, I could keep going all the way to Nice, theoretically:
Water was proving difficult to find for most of the morning – when I finally found a tap on the side of a building, it was turned off. Eventually I found someone that looked helpful – after I’d interrupted the lawnmowing, biking chat ensued and water bottles filled. Just as I reached the centre of Hasselt around two o’clock, the heavens opened again in an almighty downpour that had all the streets emptied for quarter of an hour – the manager of the Indian restaurant kindly extended the restaurant’s awning that I and some others were hiding under. While it didn’t really rain much after that, it did rather put a damper on the rest of the day as everything was soaked and all the fun off-road trails became an exercise in avoiding large puddles and trying not to get me and my things covered in mud. About this time, the trail markings began hard to follow (this tends to occur in large towns/cities as there are so many more places that a blaze could be – so they are easier to miss). I started to take more direct, sealed routes in the hope that I’d stay a bit drier.
Feeding myself is not proving too expensive – I’m manage to fuel all the cycling for between fifteen and twenty euros per day. My calorie intake may need to increase when the hills finally arrive. But for now, I’ve decided cooking for just me is a big waste of time and effort for little saving. Cooking for oneself at home is OK at home, but can get a bit tedious; for me, cooking for myself around a little pot with no-one to talk to just intensifies the solo nature of this trip a little too much. Buying food and sitting eating it at least gives the illusion of some form of social contact!
Tonight’s wild-camping entertainment, while I stretched away the day’s mild efforts, was watching two squirrels chase each other back and forth through the tree-tops. I’d have finished my first set of GR5 waypoints, but the GPS was showing the forest running out – so it was best to set-up camp a bit earlier. I should be past Liege tomorrow – where I’m told the hills start. Looking forward to it, hopefully the last forecast I saw yesterday morning was wrong.