We woke up early and broke camp. We had taken showers the night before, so after packing the bags we were rearing and ready to go. But first, we really wanted freshly baked, French pastries for breakfast—because when on bicycle on holiday, we definitely do not count calories…
Luckily for us there was a bakery as part of the massive campsite. Again, this was no ordinary campsite, and was more like an outside hotel; but, overall wasn’t too expensive and was something like 17 euros for the lot of us. The onsite bakery was so popular that we had to order our pastries the night before. Danny ordered two baguettes, 4 croissants, and 4 pain au chocolat (essentially a chocolate croissant). We also bought locally made butter to go along with our bread. It was seriously the best butter we’ve ever had. Even though it was unsalted, it still tasted divine (unsalted butter is disgusting). We ate the pain au chocolat and saved the rest of the croissants and butter for the road. We took some more pictures around the campground and were on our way.
We rode through a series of small quiet villages. The things about bike touring is it is hard to relay the repetitive beauty of ambling through the countryside. On the one hand, there isn’t much to report… But on the other hand, it was stunningly beautiful. After clearing the urban-ish areas around Calais we pushed toward the Belgian border, entering the beautiful Hauts-de-France farm country. Some ways outside of civilization the EuroVelo Route 5 signage tapered off and we were left to forge our own path towards Lille.
After about an hour and a half of cycling, Danny’s drivetrain started clicking. He thought his bottom bracket was giving out. The clicking turned into grinding and we had to stop. Danny was worried because we not only didn’t have that sophisticated of tools with us, we also didn’t have save a spare bottom bracket (I mean, who seriously carries such a thing touring Europe?). The problem was, without looking at map, it seriously looked like we were in the middle of nowhere. Just fields and fields as far as the eye could see.
Consulting Google Maps, however, revealed that there was a bike shop less than a mile off the course we’d plotted for ourselves towards Lille (Danny guesstimated the route on Google Maps by imputing the GPX data for EV Route 5… whatever that means). We quickly rode over to the bike shop, called Cycles Fab, to get his bike sorted. Danny was not expecting much, and when we stopped at the shop, I started looking for places to stay in the small community, thinking we may have reached our destination for the day… before lunch time.
Danny went inside the shop and luckily one of the mechanics there spoke some English. He explained that there was something wrong with the bottom bracket and the mechanic came out to have a look at the bike. He looked it over and quickly gave a, very French, “Ah, ha!” With that, he disappeared back in the shop and reappeared with a tool. He gave a few quick turns to the bottom bracket and, “Voila!” Turns out that it wasn’t broken at all, simply loose—Danny had recently installed a 22-tooth granny ring on his front crankset for climbing hills with the girls on the back and he must have not gotten it cinched all the way down (despite his protests that he used the torque wrench). Danny followed the mechanic back in the shop and reappeared with the tool the mechanic had used to fix the bottom bracket, just in case. The mechanic wouldn’t let us pay him, neither for his services, nor for the tool. French mechanic man, we’re in your debt!
Luckily, Cycles Fab was right next to one of our favorite Euro grocery stores, Aldi. We popped in and grabbed lunch for later and some snacks to celebrate our close call and the heroism of the mechanic and we got back on the road. Rather than backtracking to our route, we cut through the city and shaved off a little bit of time. Danny wanted to blaze through some of this easy terrain and put on as many miles as we could before the end of the day.
Near the village called Watten we started riding along the L’Aa Canalisée. In Watten we stopped on a promenade next to the canal to have lunch. We had yogurt, bread, cheese, olives, nuts, and some strawberries we purchased along the way. Danny watched the kids, who were running around getting some of their energy out, while I went and explored the village a little. There was a small cathedral at the top of the hill in the center of the village, so I wandered in that direction. Wandering around the cobblestone streets, French flag waving atop old buildings, suddenly it hit me: We’re in France! Somehow this simple revelation escaped me until then.
Route five follows the canal all the way to Saint-Omer. Or, at least, it will someday. Some sections of the canal have beautiful packed pea gravel, making smooth, luxurious riding. But then… The trail ran out, and quite unexpectedly so. Soon, we were literally riding along what might have been a footpath, but obviously hadn’t been much used yet this summer, as it was completely overgrown. The pictures are better than any description I could give it. Several times we stopped and thought about turning around, because we kept pushing on. Eventually we made it out, or at least to a section in which we could get off the canal and on to some normal roads. We scaled a small hill to a church and stopped to check for punctures and pull bits of grass and stinging nettle out of our panniers. What an adventure! We were only bushwhacking (literally) for something like 2 miles (just south of Watten to Saint-Momelin), but we were crawling. Getting back on road, suddenly we felt like we could go warp speed.
Outside Saint-Momelin we stopped again along the canal, so the kids could watch the boats on the canal, so we could change Luna’s diaper, let the kids run around after their nap, and eat some snacks. After Saint-Omer the route linked back up to the canal and we stopped to take a gander at a cool old French state building of some kind. Leave comments below if you know what the heck it is.
Continuing along the canal about a mile outside of Saint-Omer we met unpassable construction along the side of the canal. We had to backtrack along the canal to find our way around. While exploring/forging a path, we stopped at a playground behind a school in the village so the kids could play and we could figure out where we were going. The route seemed to follow the canal all the way to Lille. After our day’s adventures with the canal, we decided that we could save tons of miles if we just beelined it straight for Lille. After the kids played for a bit, we decided we’d ride until we couldn’t ride anymore in the direction of Lille.