Even before I left Cambridge, I was already investigating what sort of short bike tours I might be able to make out of NYC and beyond. And before I even found a bike to carry me, I’d already signed up for a ride. A few weeks ago, the New York City Homebrewers Guild made its second annual ride to Captain Lawrence Brewing in Elmsford, NY. Not only was it my first long ride since returning to the States, it was also my first group ride, which was a whole new biking experience.
I rose early Sunday morning, put on a pair of purple nitrile gloves, and flipped my bike over to adjust my rear derailleur. The previous evening, I’d struggled up the steep hill to the hostel without being able to reach my lowest gear. I knew I had a long day ahead with many steep climbs, and was eager to get going with an ample 12 hours to reach Sheffield before my train departed. I didn’t yet realize just how much of a challenge the 65 miles and around 1600 meters of ascent would present.
(Saturday evening’s route in blue. Sunday’s route in red.)
Two minutes in and my shins were nettlestung and I was watching as my tire tread clogged full with mud. This was my welcome to the South Downs Way, a trail in use for thousands of years extending 100 miles through chalk hills from Winchester to Eastbourne. I had been warned that the ride demanded the right tires and low gears, but emboldened by my bouncing through Thetford Forest, I waved aside the warnings as caution for families and older riders who couldn’t push as hard as I can. In another few minutes I’d cleared the wooded path and was onto my first climb. Huffing and puffing, chest heaving, I dismounted on a small level patch while two older riders cycled on. “You’ve done the hardest part!”
(First day’s route in blue, second day in red.)
Last weekend I finally went on a cycle trip that I’d been planning before I even arrived in England. My travels have taken me to mountain tops, rushing down white water, and left me lost in thick wood, but I’d never yet ventured into the Earth. So I set my sight on Grime’s Graves, a neolithic flint mine in the midst of Thetford Forest.
(The route of the first day is in blue, while the second day is in red.)
After a rousing breakfast surrounded by sonorous Flemish voices, I cycled my increasingly heavy bike through the Brouwershuis’ verdant gate. In one day I’d added the weight of a dozen beer bottles, and it was starting to take a toll on the handling of the bike. Fortunately I hadn’t much farther to go, and quickly I came to the city of Poperinge.
I left Johannes’ home bound for breweries and hop fields. My second day of riding (the map of my full route is in Part 1) would take me past De Dolle Brouwers and De Struise Brouwers before having a rest at In De Vrede, the café of Sint-Sixtusabdij, and finally coming to Brouwerij Sint-Bernardus where I would spend the night in the heart of the hop-growing region of Belgium called Poperinge. Unfortunately the first two breweries only open up their taprooms and tours on weekends, but as Johannes said before I pedaled away, “You never know – maybe they’ll see your cycle and the rain and feel sympathetic.” With that hope, I headed in the direction of Esen.
I took off from Brugge along a broad canal headed in the direction of the Zwin. By my guess, the channel used to bring ships in from the coast via the Zwin back when Brugge was a major inland port, but over time the Zwin silted up and Brugge lost its status as a hot spot of trade. But the Zwin still sees its fair share of comings and goings, only these days the traffic is comprised of birds rather than ships. It brought me to the northernmost corner of West Flanders, so much that I crossed into the Netherlands and back into Belgium twice in the course of cycling there.