The only time my name and the word ‘athlete’ could ever appear in a true statement would be the following: George Awad is not an athlete. The goal of disproving that statement in mind, I and my three very athletic travel mates rented bicycles and attempted to ride from Ghent to Brugges in a single day.
The idea of biking to get from city to city was months in the making. RoomNate, JosWay and Wilse have ridden many a bike, many a mile and had the quadriceps to prove it. For myself, I have taken cabs equally long distances and have the credit card statements to prove it. However, biking through Belgium was to have been a challenge for me. It was personally billed as the debut of George Awad: Outdoor Travel Adventurer.
We started out not exactly bright nor early. After a night of marathon drinking and carousing with the locals, we were pretty beat up. It was three in the afternoon the following day before we got to the bike shop. The only bikes available for renting were heavy day cruisers built for tourists wanting a leisurely ride around the city after their waffles. JosWay and RoomNate, the most seasoned bikers among us, were expecting bikes more along the lines of the Tour de France. I was just hoping we’d avoid a Tour de Farce.
We left the bike shop all fired up. Bicycles are a great way to thoroughly explore a city, but they are especially great for atmospheric, ancient cities with winding alleyways, imposing architecture and cobblestone paving. The latter not being so good on the crotch. After getting turned around and a bit lost we finally made it out of city limits on a bicycle-only path following alongside the Oost-Vlaanderen Canal.
The ride couldn’t be more gorgeous. The path cut through farmers’ fields and endless rows of corn stalks. We passed weathered farmhouses generously and preciously topped with terra-cotta. Tree-filled meadows were abundant. The pastoral scenery was an amalgam of every expressionist painting I had ever seen. All the while, small container ships slowly plied the canal to our right.
Besides the occasional cyclists, we weren’t isolated out there. Every quarter kilometer or so, we came across our bovine distant cousins happily munching away on the plentiful grass beneath their hooves. Dozens of them at a time. Barely anything resembling a fence caging them in. It was enough to give Michael Pollan an oaky hard-on.
As we rode, we saw them clustered on hillsides and dotting pastures. These cows were beastly. I later learned that a phenomenon called “double muscling” seems to exist only with Belgian Blue cattle, the predominant breed in Belgium. It makes for much leaner, meatier cows, some the size of BMWs.
I don’t know a bigger advocate for more cow than myself but it was nice to later learn that it was genetics (and cross-breeding) that produced these walking burger factories and not hormones. I could easily be wrong. I also cannot say for sure if the Belgians pasture all their cows. Still, it was more than a pleasant surprise to see so many of them without a smoke-belching feedlot anywhere in sight. The cows were living as cows should; left alone to feed on limitless grass.
About fifty kilometers later, we dismounted at our hotel in Brugges. I was experiencing pain in new and interesting areas. The bike seat and my crotch had not gotten along at all. Midway through the ride, my right knee began to ache and by the time we had stopped for the day, I had really sprained it. Between the crotch and the knee, I had developed a sort of hip hobble that progressively got less hip and more hobbled.
While munching on whatever came out of the hotel vending machine, I couldn’t help but think. That night, and presumably for many nights in Belgium, the cows had it better.
WHAT: cows, grass, trees
WHEN: September 20, 2010
WHERE: Somewhere in Flanders, Belgium