Without-a-map day 3 &4: Coo and back!

This is the story of a guy who finds out what it is to get lost. Just for the sake of experiment, and for the love of cycling! If you would like to know why this guy is doing this, you can click –> HERE. Or you can start at part 1 or part 2 of this epos…

This would be the third day of my trip. I was almost in Coo, Belgium, all the way from Maastricht, NL. Around 80 kilometers from the beginning point. When I woke up in the early morning I felt good. The night was fresh and dark, and gave me enough energy to bike to Coo and maybe even back in 1 day. The weather was good, and it seemed to become a warm day. After a refreshing wash in a small stream I got on my bike and cycled the remaining 10 kilometers to Coo.

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The roads went up and down, up and down and even more up and down. But before I knew it I was in Coo! I’ve made it! Now, Coo is not like a paradise… I mean, it’s nice but far away from the place I’ve camped my first time. It was a touristic spot; lots of cafe’s, restaurants and a beer for 4 or 5 euros. No thanks, I’ll rather have a swim in the river and be on my way back to Maastricht again!

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Washing all the salt from my body felt good! Thats the thing with cycling and camping out in the forrest for some days; when the opportunity of  washing comes by, don’t let it go! The next time you have this change might be in a couple of days! The layer of salt on your body might keep you a little warm in the winter, but I rather be fresh and without a layer of salt…

For sure I wasn’t planning to take the same way back, and after some kilometers I found a bus shelter with a map in it. So once again a own map was made, and I followed my way trough the beautiful Belgium landscape. My wheels rolled trough tiny villages, rocky trails and big roads. It was great, the sun was constantly shining and I enjoyed the fresh indian-summer-air. Sadly enough my bike didn’t have anything that shows how fast it went, because at some point I was on a big road, only going downhill for at least 15 kilometers. My ears plopped because of the descent, and this is rare for me as a dutch guy! I’ve must have been going at least 50 kmh… I celebrated this with a cola at a hotel, and when I cycled away, my eye fell on a map. Yes! I checked out the map, and saw a place with trees. By now the Ardennes were behind me, so you could imagine I was happy to see a green spot on the map!

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When the forrest was approached I found myself in the middle of beautiful farmlands. It was a little before 19:00 so there was enough time to find a spot, set up camp and cook. At the entrance of the forest was a big sign with the rules; No dogs, No walking outside of the paths, No open fire, No camping, No taking pictures when your camera is too loud… Damn, it was clear the Ardennes were behind me. Next to all these rules there was a sign with a guy and a gun. Did it mean people were shooting or hunting here?! On the sign were also times: 6-9 & 19-22. I quickly figured out the guys with guns must be foresters and they will shoot on sight between 6 & 9 and 19 & 22 o’clock. I just had little time left. Quickly I jumped into the forest and found a place for me and my bike. I marked the road and went up to a bench I saw earlier, to cook while I witnessed how the night would fall over the Belgium countryside. Time to make some pictures!

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Sitting there watching the sun go down I felt like a homeless person. I was stinky, cooking on a bench and drinking wine straight from the bottle. And I loved it. These are the moments where tranquility is boss. Sitting, waiting till it gets dark, watching the sky change from blue, to pink to purple and eventually to pitch black. These are the moments where life doesn’t fly by, but slowly goes by, minute by minute and second by second. A moment to reflect on your actions and where you stand in life. And to realize that wine tastes best straight out of the bottle.

A little after 22:00 I walked towards my place into the bush. Quickly I jumped in, and dragged my bike in there. Once cam was set up I crawled in my sleeping bag and heard the forest. This was by far the most loudest forest I’ve ever came across! Everything was squeaking, breaking or falling… Good backgrounds for a wel deserved rest!

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An early alarm clock woke me up before the foresters could, and after a breakfast with the strongest coffee ever (I ran out of water…) I continued my way to Maastricht. There were a couple of hills to conquer, but all in all it went quick. Mostly the road went downhill, and soon I found myself in Holland again. Cycling the last kilometers I noticed the same mountains as I started this trip, but now on the other side.

The feeling of getting lost was certainly there the last days, especially in the beginning. After some time I found a way to navigate by making my own maps. If I wouldn’t have set the rule of allowing myself to make maps, I think it wouldn’t be possible to do it in 3 to 4 days. There are people who did a continent without a map. Or cycled across India only to navigate with the sun and asking people for directions. Adventure can be found everywhere, and when you take away the certainty of a map, adventure crosses your path. In this time of GPS, smartphones, ipads and all the navigation devices it’s great to go out without a map. You take the roads you WANT to take, not the roads you HAVE to take or the devices tell you to take. In the end you’ll get to your end goal, don’t worry… It might just take a bit longer.

I reached my end goal in time for a good “patatje met”!

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I can see myself going on more “Without-a-map” trips. Getting lost, finding hidden paths and exploring unknown territories that might just be around the corner. But for now Ill keep my maps in my cupboard and don’t burn them yet!

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