Chimay and nineties pop hits reward the days journey
Total distance 69km
See below for maps, elevation profile and GPX files
When we woke up in the morning we decided that this campground was by far the worst we had stayed in yet. We were woken up around midnight to the sounds of poorly-played guitar and drunken German revelers singing Radiohead’s “Creep” and Oasis’ “Wonderwall” over and over. They didn’t even know most of the lyrics to the two songs, but would burst out in full volume whenever the choruses came up. That went on until around 4am when they finally passed out and let us pass out as well. As a result we stayed in the tent about an hour longer than we had hoped and before we got out of the tent it began to rain. This was rather unwelcomed and after a full night’s rain and moisture the tent started to leak. We thought it was pretty waterproof but I suppose the heavy mist that settles on Belgium at night, coupled with the condensation from our body heat had completely saturated our rainfly rendering it useless. With the rain now inside our tent we quickly packed our bed and sat in the tent, hoping for the rain to stop.
When the rain finally let up we packed up everything as quickly as we could and took refuge under an overhang at the campground to cook breakfast and organize. By the time we finished it was around 10:45 with clouds overhead but dry for the moment.
We got on the road out of town and started our ascent for the next 7 km. The bike path we had taken into Houyet continues on towards Chimay and is probably the preferable route, but today we had another destination in mind. We wanted to see a French nuclear plant across the border in Chooz. As we climbed we hoped to see the ridge top around every turn but when we reached the next bend we were met with more and more hills. It was an exhausting way to start the day but we didn’t have much of a choice. When the road finally leveled off we made our way down to Givet and met up with a bike path along the river towards Chooz.
I know the nuclear plant must seem like an odd destination but Briana was dead set on seeing it. France gets over 75% of their power from nuclear generation and the culture surrounding this energy option is vastly different from that in California (the closest building to the perimeter fence at Chooz—a high school). The plant’s website said it gave tours but we were never able to get a hold of anyone when we called. The closest we got was along the perimeter fence. There was a little dirt road surrounding the plant that said it was closed to unauthorized vehicles. Hardly a vehicle ourselves we figured it was fair game on the tandem.
We took a few pictures and marveled at the size of the cooling towers. When we finished gawking we started down the road as a car came driving towards us. Being a little dirt road that goes to nowhere we joked that it must be the authorities coming to ask why we were taking so many pictures of their plant. I think it’s safe to assume there were cameras everywhere along the perimeter of the plant. Sure enough the driver of the unmarked car was dressed in camo our hearts skipped a beat for a second, but when he saw us he just smiled and we went on our way.
After our little detour we headed back to the bike path and commented on how nice the bike infrastructure is in France. Everything is well marked easy to follow and frequently on dedicated cycling paths. Unfortunately, this Voie Verte only went in our direction for another 10 km.
On our way out of France the rain picked up and we would soon find out how waterproof our setup was. We trusted the Orliebs, but we weren’t sure about the Samsonites. We made a turn in Molhain toward the bike route in Belgium and were met with more hills. We passed by a house with a bunch of people hanging out drinking wine. August 15th is a national holiday in Belgium. The people saw us passing by and started yelling at us seemingly to give us some advice. We didn’t really hear or understand what they said but about one kilometer up the road when it turned from gentle hill to steep hill we figured they were warning us that it wasn’t so bike friendly. We eventually hopped off the bike and started walking since we didn’t really have the power to pedal the bike up that steep a grade this late in the day.
As we made our way back down to where the map marked the bike path we didn’t see any promising roads (read all dirt and gravel) to meet up with it so we continued on the main road to the next town. Our GPS marked a road that looked like what we wanted so we headed that direction and found what we were looking for. It was a beautiful slightly downhill path with awesome pavement and gorgeous trees. It was another converted railroad line but this one apparently hadn’t had all of the tracks taken out. After taking the path for about 20 km but it ended at a tourist train depot.
Seeing as how the rain hadn’t stopped for 2 hours and our allegedly waterproof Gore Tex was soaked through we decided to duck into the depot for a warm beverage. The train yard was pretty busy with steam engine enthusiasts of all ages. The yard had a lot of old locomotives and Pullman cars that they pull down a section of old railway tracks then return you to the depot. We didn’t enquire how much tickets were but it might have been worth asking if we could have tossed our bike on the next train and been dropped off at the end of the tracks. Instead we put on our jackets and pushed on. As we went to mount the bike our GPS wouldn’t turn on. We had just been using it to see where the hotels were along our route, but it refused to turn back on. We figured the batteries were dead but trying our other two fresh pairs of batteries led us to believe it might have gotten a little wet and stopped working. It was pretty poor timing and resulted from our poor decision to leave it mounted in the rain instead of packing it away. We easily could have put it in our panniers and kept it out of the rain but it is supposed to be waterproof even when submerged in water so we figured it would be fine. I suppose there is a limit to everything and hopefully it turns on tomorrow.
Without our GPS to route us to Chimay we had to use our trusty map and follow the signs. Luckily Chimay was only 20k away and it was only 3:30pm. We started on our way only to be met with more hills. It was hilly the rest of the way to Lompret and we decided that 70k was enough for one day and found a hotel with one room left. It was centrally located right next to the nights festivities which even the rain couldn’t stop. As we passed by the partiers under the tents we got yelled at and cheered on.
It’s amazing how our willingness to pay for accommodations increases the wetter we are. We got to our hotel room and realized that our suitcases are definitely not water proof. Luckily we put some clothes in the Ortliebs to make sure we would have something dry. So we warmed up, dried off and celebrated with the trio of Chimay beers, conveniently located in our mini-bar. We joined the party a bit, marveling at the drunk locals slow dancing under a leaky tent to the tune of a cover band singing 4 Non Blondes “What’s up” (which has an amazingly nostalgic video by the way). After another Chimay we really wanted to be warm so we headed back to the hotel. We drifted off to sleep listening to the storm rage on outside and hoping that the weather would clear up as we continue west toward the crown jewel of Trappist beers in Westvletern.
View Houyet to Lompret in a larger map