People perpetually philosophise that 'it's a small world', however, when there are 50,000 miles of road ahead and you haven't even reached the next village then it suddenly swells to an inestimable, unfathomable enormity. The first few miles zipped by in a frenzy of pedalling through the expected pain. However, that mental ache didn't come. I tried to feel happy but couldn't. I would have settled for nervous excitement but that failed too so I aimed for sadness. Also elusive.
I pushed on for some hilly miles hating the emptiness, the nothingness that I felt. Mid-afternoon, I stopped and sheltered from the sun's anti-social severity. Here I recounted the morning's events with a video camera and as I told them they hit me with untold force. I suddenly saw things as they were and had a good shameless sob on the roadside; the kind where you will the tears to come and glory when they gush. After this I felt better, cheerful even.
The 95 miles I covered that day were fuelled by a necessity to reach Dover in two days, and chocolate. I stayed with a friend that night and sat in a cold bath while my legs screamed silently. My stubborn lack of training was laughing at me. The next day was easier and on the third morning I boarded a ferry. P&O kindly gave me a free crossing and, wearing my sweaty cycling gear, I followed my ticket to my allocated space on the boat which happened to be the Club Lounge where I was served champagne.
The feeling of adventure swamped me in Calais and in my excitement I couldn't find the desired road north. Steaming through Dunkirk and on into Belgium, I spent my first night on the continent in the garden of a friendly farmer who spoke with touching pride about his 85,000 chickens which clucked and chooked softly all night. The next day was Saturday and it seemed all Belgium was on a bike. I plucked plump strawberries out of a punnet in my basket while chatting with cheerful, spandex-skinned groups of cyclists as the road whisked us swiftly along. A conniving coalition of dust and sweat contrived to coat me with a thin film of filth for which I was grateful as it is a most effective suncream. There truly is no SPF equal to a layer of grime and a deceased gang of gnats.
The canal system here is a godsent to cyclists. Flat, parallel, paved paths pursue the waterways and one can luxuriate in the total absence of cars and they dull hum they bring. Before I knew it I was sat in the centre of Brugges eating some sweaty salami from my bag. A child stared scornfully at me while melted ice-cream crawled slowly over each of his knuckles, one by one, and dripped onto his shoes.
I was studing my map, searching for my road north when I met Luc. He was across the cobbled street and must have waited until I saw him through the onslaught of tourists before beckoning me towards him. At first I was slightly taken aback as he stood in shadow and seemed untouched by the whir of activity all around him; something like Banquo's ghost. He asked in accented English where I would like to go. I pointed to a small town on the map in the right general direction and he told me to follow before vanishing into the melee of other cyclists rattling along on antiquated bicycles. I followed behind until the crowds thinned and I came up beside him. Luc looks not a day over 70 but is 80 and told me about his love of just cycling anywhere to keep busy and healthy. We chatted first about my trip then about his Flemmish Nationalist views and the Belgian political timebomb. After a few miles of quint paths we reached Dammé and brought a trapist beer. He insisted I try the Maatjes (Herring), a Dutch speciality at this time of year. It was delicious and he refused to let me pay. I felt guilty but I'm sure I will soon learn to accept hospitality with no quams. Luc grew up in ocupied Belgium and his stories of that time were facinating even though he insisted that for a school child in Brugges without fighting nor bombing nothing was very different during the war. Belgium was quickly taken by the Germans and life went on except of course for Jews or people involved in the resistance. It was a pleasure to meet Luc.
After eating we parted and I cruised along the canalside in the glowing evening allowing the Rolling Stones to smother me with each one of their 40 licks. I crossed into Holland and slept in a garden of a house mid-rennovation.
Monday was the perfect day: many miles, good conversation with a Czech cycle tourist, sea air and a large supper after a swim in the tepid north sea. I slept in my hammock in a wood and read. It was only now that I remembered to put my watch forward a couple of hours. Time evidnetly hadn't touched me since starting.
Yesterday I landed in Amsterdam by chance. I arrived at a river mouth north of Harlem where a boat ferries cyclists across to the other side. In my haste I hopped on the wrong boat which whizzed the fifteen or so kilometers to the capital and deposited me feeling a little peeved as I had planned to avoid this city having visited last year, also the boat took me backwards and rendered an afternoon's toil entirely pointless.
It seemed foolish to leave at once so I found a hostel and relaxed into the party atmosphere. Not of intoxicated sex tourists stumbling through the red light district oggling the working girls but of the orange riot of vuvuzela toting football fans brushing aside Uruguay and following Holland to the final.
It's been a week largely of trip affirming moments with an almost total lack of the opposite. One notable exception was a long 15KM when I accidentally joined a motorway near Calais and spent the duration holding my breath while hugging the two foot wide hard shoulder and resenting the incessantly angry horns of passing motorists. I feel that the outlook is very bright and will now push on to Scandanavia.