Waking in yet another strange bedroom, it took a moment to realise where I was, Belgium, on what was my 33rd birthday. The two girls were sleeping in the double bed on the other side of the ridiculously large room as I saw it was just after dawn outside.
A quick breakfast and just after eight I set off down the avenue from the hotel back to the road. The view of the hotel was even more impressive than I had expected it to be when I arrived in the dark the previous night.
The next hour or so was particularly frustrating. I followed the path set for me by my new Garmin GPS and ended up in some exceptionally strange places including a farm yard and at the end of a dirt track. I eventually had to admit defeat and retrace my steps a number of times before I finally found a person to give me directions.
Having wasted so much time just getting out of the small village in the valley below the Chateau and having climbed up so many wrong paths already this morning I was completely knackered by the time I got to the first town with an open bakery. I picked up some pasteries and sat on a wall across the road trying to work out where I’d made the mistake. I’d already given up on the GPS directions and figured I’d need to spend a little time planning better this evening before I went to bed.
The very pretty town of Spontin was a great place to gather my thoughts but after twenty minutes or so I felt the need to move on. I was still very aware that there were other competitors in the race. Lee had already left all of us in his dust as we made his way directly south through Paris and headed for the Mediterranean Sea, Franzi was already dealing with mechanical issues and small injury niggles and was already a considerable distance behind me while details remained sketchy on where exactly Prasad was. His tracker was barely working as he made his way west across India.
I was currently sitting in second place in the race, although myself and Prasad appeared to be doing a similar pace, I knew from talking to him ahead of the race that he would struggle with finance and visa’s in certain parts of the world and I certainly didn’t fancy his chances of actually making the full circuit of the planet. I just needed to stay ahead of Franzi and I’d be taking home second place. I knew, even at this early stage that I couldn’t compete with Lee for pace.
I had planned to meet the girls in Rochefort, but the town was a lot bigger than I had expected it to be. We eventually met each other close to the centre of town and found a place to eat lunch. I was frantically trying to recharge my phone, GPS and lights as I already knew the hold up in the morning was going to result in an extra long day to get the Luxembourg tonight.
After lunch the hills got even bigger, rising to over 500m above sea level. Something I’d never had accused Belgium of doing. I eventually found my way into the town of Arlon where the girls had found a nice place to refuel. The climb up into the town was absolute torture after the day. Turns out it wasn’t serving food anymore, the kitchen had closed half an hour earlier. I ended up having a ham and cheese toastie or a ‘Croque Monsieur’ with a candle in it for my birthday cake.
I realised I had dropped one of my gloves somewhere between the bike and the restaurant and with the temperatures dropping into the single figures and another few kilometres to the border of Luxembourg I wanted to get myself into another country today.
The only option for accommodation was a small motel on the south side of Luxembourg, the girls set off to get there and I followed on the bike. The long hours in the dark were not becoming almost normal, although the colder temperatures at night were proving tough to deal with.
My removable arm and leg warmers from my technical clothing sponsors, Spin 11, were invaluable and the added layers allowed me to stay in the saddle for hours longer than I would have managed otherwise.
I skirted around the country of Luxembourg avoiding the main city area as I knew in the dark I would be slowed even more than I wanted to be. There was an eerie silence for most of the evening, I met almost no one or even cars on the road.
The final stretch of the journey was possibly the creepiest experience so far, it was completely out of a horror movie, cycling through an empty park on a cycle path, where the only thing I could see was whatever my bike light caught in it’s range and the light blue and yellow glow emanating from Luxembourg City to my right hand side.
I pedalled franticly in order to get out of the situation as soon as possible, endless gruesome headlines flashed through my head as I imagined how I might meet an attacker in the dark and no one would ever hear from me again. I whispered thanks to the fact that I had a tracking unit working on the bike and that people would know where to find the body.
Eventually I found myself back on the main road and spotted a cluster of motels together just ahead on the road. I had to cross four lanes of traffic which resulted in a little bit of zig zagging back and forth at pedestrian crossings before I managed to reach the hotel.
I had a quick shower and once again the late night was proving to be problematic in terms of finding places to eat, I raided the vending machine in the lobby before hitting the hay.