There I went. Carrying a tremendously heavy backpack, I closed the door behind me and faced the freezing cold on my way to Santiago. On the 1st of March it was already one year ago that I commenced my journey! The past months I’ve been looking back through a series of stories.

In the fourth part of this series, I’ve talked about the Via Monastica – the Camino de Santiago route through Belgium that I’ve taken, as well as my decision to attempt to continue my pilgrimage by bike for a bit. My extremely strenuous bike ride to Reims will be the topic of this week.

up and down

found my way to the “official” Camino de Santiago route, which happened to be on a highway

I kept thinking that my trip with Barry would be easy as, but I never could’ve been more wrong. I don’t recommend anyone to travel through Southern Belgium and the North of France on a city bike – it happens to be a little different than pedalling through the Netherlands. Why? It’s not flat! Days filled with endless repetitions of getting off my bike, pushing Barry, my bag and me up the hill, jump on the bike and swoosh down… the only fun part of it.

perpetually lost

I didn’t really think about the whole bike-pilgrimage thing. Secretly, I’d hope my navigation app would know send me in the right direction. Unfortunately, the app was just as lost as I was. Disoriented was a daily state-of-being, when biking to Reims. “…I’d never expected to arrive.” was a sentence I’ve written down in my notebook more than once.

a little bit scary, passing this rock with a bike and pack

On my way to Givet, I mysteriously ended up on the wrong side of the river. Barry and I bounced further on what I thought was a mountain-bike track, but ended up being a hiking trail. At a certain moment, I pushed myself, Barry and my pack past a rock on a very tiny path next to the water just to discover the path ended there. Bad luck. Between Givet and Rocroi, I got lost in a monstrously big and dark forest where the muddy truck tracks were so frozen, I couldn’t bike. I walked for hours without a phone signal, thinking I’d never make it out of the forest. On day four Barry got stuck in a muddy creek, on day five I was stuck… and not just in the mud.

warming up in a nursery home

Arriving in Rocroi, I locked Barry somewhere. I had to wait an hour before my accommodation opened. It was freezing cold and it was Sunday, so everything was closed. I was sliding through the frozen streets of Rocroi, just to keep moving. It was so cold, I couldn’t feel my toes anymore. Afraid they’d fall off if I would remain outside for another hour, I was looking for a place that was open. I saw a building where the lights were on, and went inside.

while I was defrosting, they tried to escape the building

I explained in broken French that I was on my way to Santiago and had to wait for my sleeping spot… can I wait inside? I could. I even got a cup of coffee. I ended up sitting in the hallway of a home for elderly people with dementia whom – while I was sitting there with my cup of coffee defrosting – tried to escape, hit each other and played with the elevator.

a new plan

With an immense feeling of relief, I’ve arrived in Reims. After 21 days of pilgrimage I concluded that cycling through the cold wasn’t for me. I longed to walk again! It was sunny in Southern France, and there too happened to be a beautiful route to Santiago: the Via Tolosana. In Reims I thus decided to catch a train to Arles. This became a new beginning – the next stage of my Camino de Santiago.

See you next time!