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Wild frontier

Wed 14th Sep 2011
Day 4
Start: Tournai, Belgium
End: Maubeuge, France
Distance today: 60k
Distance so far: 360k

I planned a very easy day, deciding to use some of the slack in the ride to Munich up front so as not to overdo things early on. This gave me a simple ride to Hergies on the French side of the border south of Mons, and time in the morning to use an internet cafe to sort out an admin issue.

On leaving the cafe I walked my bike to the other side of the road to make a phone call, and heard a funny sound. A bungee rope I'd carelessly let dangle from the pannier rack had caught on the rear wheel and wrapped round the hub. It had wedged in quite tight but I was eventually able to extract it and it doesn't appear to have damaged the bike, though the bungee was destroyed. That was only the first bit of potentially disastrous absent mindedness of the day. Later I'd cycle a distance with a pannier open, I'm still surprised my trainers that were lightly resting in the top didn't fall out.

On leaving Tournai at the start of the day my phone gps was playing up for a short while. It meant I had to check where I was with a local busy trimming his fence. He gave me some tips on the best route to take for the next few miles, which makes me think I should spend more time chatting to locals and less checking the gps.

Cobbles. Not a fan.

I crossed the border three times during the day, and at the unlovely town of Quievrain it was announced that you were entering Belgium. Oddly the Belgium side of the frontier was packed with mini-casinos and sleezy video shops. A common sight maybe where a country with strict vice controls runs up against a more permissive one, but France/Belgium?

The pleasant houses and nice roads continued for a while, but towards Hergies the villages appeared deserted and the roads were unappealing concrete. Closing in on my destination I felt in the middle of nowhere and didn't have high hopes for the site. A sign lifted my spirits, three stars and bar, apparently. On arriving I found that the bar, and reception, were only open at weekends. The site was a ghost town of static mobile homes. It was the size of a small village but no-one was there. Showers required a key from reception, which would require a four day wait. I found another site on my map ten kilometres away in Maubeuge so decided to head there. As I was leaving someone did appear in the reception building but I'd already decided to go, it was fortunate he wasn't there earlier, staying would have been pretty dull.

Maubeuge and the surroundings aren't particularly attractive, a long, light urban sprawl. The site is basic but fine though. This stop was only ever to break the trip from Tournai to the Ardennes and not expected to be a highlight. Tomorrow should me quit France for good and bring more notable gradients.

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