Into another land - A country hidden by a large dog - CycleBlaze

August 23, 2019

Into another land

Koetschette to Wyompoint (Belgium)

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THERE'S not enough in Bastogne to justify the fame that cycling has brought  it. But there are two railway stations connected by a bike trail.

Outside the North station is what describes itself as a motorbikers' bar, with an American flag behind the counter. The barmaid has the air of a bikers' moll, "a certain age" as French puts it , peroxide hair and a tight blue and white outfit more like a flag than a dress.

Beyond the bar is a roundabout with five exits and, around it, the silhouettes of racing cyclists. Large capitals spell out "Liège-Bastogne-Liège". The other side spells "La Doyenne", the race being the oldest of cycling's classics. If you want to know more, displays beyond the junction explain the history and the route and list the winners.

One day, you too will ride this race. You just have to learn to pedal faster
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We started on that unsurfaced trail to Bastogne soon after entering Belgium at Martelange. Again, there was just a sign to mark the frontier, the borders between Belgium and Luxembourg having been open even longer than others.

The crossing from Luxembourg to Belgium has been open for decades
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In a bar on the Luxembourg side, we read that accidents involving electric bikes had risen by 90 per cent in two years. The headline portrayed the drama of the statement. But that drama dies when you realise, without help from the paper, that there were hardly any electric bikes two years ago and that now they're everywhere. If there'd been one accident two years ago and now there were 90 per cent more, that still wouldn't come to two. Perspective is everything.

The path is a glorious if occasionally bumpy ride through woods, fields and beside villages. Signs remind us frequently that this used to be a tram line.

Cyclists now ride where trams once passed
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Restoring the path and building a bridge for cyclists cut off a route for the fish. So an enthusiast built a fish ladder. Sadly, he died just before it was finished
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Things changed after Bastogne, immediately afterwards, with a reminder of why Liège-Bastogne-Liège is known for repeated, thigh-breaking hills. Steep injustices arrived one after another to the point where we just wanted to be left alone.

We passed a museum of war vehicles and a cemetery of three graves, one Belgian, one German and one American. The Battle of the Bulge was fought here and Belgium seems commendably keener to sympathise than profit.

Tonight we are camping in open grassland beside a bubbling stream. It has been a hard day with 22km of steady uphill through gravel in the heat and then the rollercoaster hills to this acre of paradise.

We will turn in early, I think.

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