August 6, 2013
Distance: 58.2 miles Climbing: 1151.6 ft
It was drizzling when we woke, but the excitement of a new country did not deter us from getting up. We were headed back to Holland for another free campsite, but we had to cross the greater Antwerp area first. Leaving the campground, we pedaled along a canal, similar to what we had seen in Holland and enjoyed a lovely bike path.
Our route quickly took us to the bustling port area near Antwerp. At first, everything was great. There was lots to look at and we met some fellows biking on their way to work. We had a great bike path, which was nice because there were a lot of giant trucks on the road.
We rode along side the guys for a few miles before they turned off for work and the bike path merged with the road. This wasn’t a problem because there were bike route signs leading the way. Eventually, the bike route signs led us to a dead end. A friendly cyclist waved at us from another nearby road that we should go his way. We quickly realized we were in a complicated maze of drawbridges and locks. The traffic pattern was constantly in flux as ships moved through the locks and the bridges went up and down to accommodate them. We made it across the first bridge and were approaching the second, when the gates closed and the bridge went up in the air to let a barge pass, so we had to follow the canal until we found another one that was down.
We made it a little further before being dead ended again. We scoured the GPS map for a while and saw that all the traffic crossed the huge waterway through a tunnel. We looked for a bike lane, pedestrian path, anything, but it quickly became clear this was a motor-only tunnel. The bike lane on the map showed that we should go over a railroad bridge, which didn’t seem like a good idea, but we didn’t have much of an option. So, we found ourselves waiting for at a closed set of gates in front of a raised railroad bridge. The road didn’t look very used, and there wasn’t any signage to indicate when or if the bridge ever went down.
There was a little box with a button on it next to the gate, and we kept daring each other to push it. After about 20 minutes waiting for something to happen, Chan went over and pushed it, and we heard ringing over a speaker. A man answered and luckily spoke a little English. We asked when the bridge went down and he said “I don’t know. When there are no ships, maybe 10 minutes, one hour, many hours. Maybe 20 minutes.”
Well that wasn’t encouraging.
If the bridge didn’t go down we’d have to backtrack miles upon miles upon miles. Chandler and I HATE backtracking. We would rather go a hundred miles out of the way than retrace a few miles. We decided to give it 30 minutes before we gave up. Thankfully, the bridge lowered right as the time was running out and disaster was averted.
The railroad bridge turned out to be fine, we just had to be careful to avoid the tracks set into the pavement. We followed the bike route signs and ended up in a quaint little village. We looked at the bike route map and saw there was a bike ferry that would bring us to the other side to continue the route we were one. So we brought our bikes down to the dock and waited. And waited. And waited. We could see the dock on the other side and there was no one over there, and worse there was no ferry over there either. Chan walked back to land and spotted a tiny printout listing what he interpreted to be ferry landing times, on Saturday and Sunday.
It was Tuesday. So we backtracked.
It wasn’t all bad, we got to see a nuclear power plant and ride through a bunch of industrial development, and half the bike paths were torn up since they were burying some sort of pipeline. Oh wait, that part was not fun.
When we caught a glimpse of Antwerp we were both happy that we weren’t skipping it after all. The skyline was nothing short of stunning. After all the frustration, we were going to treat ourselves to pizza!
Antwerp was loaded with really cool architecture and seemed like a great place to lose a day wandering around. However, night time was creeping up and a hotel splurge not in the budget so we ate up and carried on.
We had the interesting experience of taking our bikes down a very old escalator to access a tunnel. It was a little frightening as the bike is really heavy and I had to balance it while holding the brakes with a death grip. We were able to ride through the pedestrian tunnel leading from the city north under the waterway that had thwarted us earlier. We noticed a giant elevator on the other end and opted to take that than relive the experience in reverse.
Once out of Antwerp, we headed just across the border back into Holland. There was another free campsite near an old fort. We arrived just as the sun was setting. It had been a frustrating ride, but we had kept our cool and saw some interesting stuff. We were glad to have another mellow (and free!) place to unwind and relax. A Belgian couple, who had spent the day geo-caching, showed up, so we were able to socialize a little.