Crossing three countries by bike for Belgian fries.

by Alina

On the menu: The Vennbahn cycling path extended to a 215 km route from Aachen to Wasserbillig with 1700 meters of elevation in total. This fantastic cycling route runs from Aachen to Troisvierges along an old railroad line. On 125 km you cross 3 countries without traffic.  The view from the saddle: In the north forests and meadows are waiting as far as the eye can see. Remarkable water landscapes, rarities of flora and fauna and on top of it a picturesque nature reserve in the high moor of the High Fens. In between, and especially in the southern part, the low mountain ranges of the Eifel and Ardennes form an impressive backdrop.

It all started because train tickets are so expensive – so I thought I’d ride my bike to Bitburg. Why to Bitburg? Mikula’s family lives there and since his mum is such a great cook, we regularly visit the Eifel. Of course you don’t visit your family just because of that, but you know what I mean. I have a couple of really bike-crazy friends who are basically on fire for every bike tour. Martin and Sebastian (aka Doc). I started riding road bikes with these two, back in the days. Back then 4 years ago.

Here’s a little side story: after 2 months in the saddle, I started my first 150 km tour. At first it sounds feasible. Maybe not. But what made my legs feel so heavy were the nearly 3,000 meters of altitude I had to climb to reach the finish. Doc loves to tell the story of our legendary SebaMed RTF (RadTouristikFahrt). From kilometer 70 I was utterly exhausted. At every turnoff where you could choose to ride 80, 120 or 150 km, I kept dragging myself towards 150. I just wanted to do it. No matter how. In the end, Martin and Doc had to push me up some waves because my derailleur hanger had broken on the tour. In addition to the already far too few gears, I had two less. I enjoy recalling it because it always proves to me that you can do anything, even if you can’t actually do it. Sounds paradoxical, but it’s true. Even now, when my fitness level has improved a lot since then, this tour would still be a bit of a challenge. Well maybe.

Anyway, as always, these two were absolutely thrilled by the idea of tackling the nearly 150 km to Bitburg on two wheels. Every road bike adventure seems to start with the alarm clock ringing way too early. So did this one. Shame that we were heading west and had to reckon with a merciless wind slap. Spoiler Alert: It was also permanently present like a loyal sports injury. Mikula’s mum had (even if she declared us crazy to go so far by bike) prepared cake for everyone in Bitburg. After 145 km of headwind well deserved. We were hungry for an even more challenging trip.

Now Sebastian had a vacation. For cyclists that means: cycling all day. For the self-employed friends of cyclists it means: Cool, I’m coming along. 

Hence, I called Mikula’s mum to tell her that we are coming over on Easter. She was happy and asks as a joke if I’m going on another bike ride. I had to explain her that this time I’ll take the train to Aachen, and then ride the Vennbahnradweg from there to Wasserbillig which is close to Bitburg. 

In the meantime, I meet Aline, she rides super strong, is sympathetic, easy going and vibes on cycling. We spontaneously do a 110 km tour on the Mosel together and get to know each other better. Our conversation then went something like this:

“Do you want to ride 215 km with me on Friday?”
“Sure, where are you going?”
“Vennbahnradweg from Aachen to Wasserbillig. Supposed to be super gorgeous!”
“I’m in!”
“Yeah great, then on Friday at 7.00 am at the central station in Koblenz!“

I have rarely been able to convince someone so quickly to get up early to torture themselves on the bike. That’s probably what you call genuine passion! 

My preparations for the tour were more or less limited to cleaning my chain and checking my tire pressure. Five bar is quite enough for me. Firstly, I’m not so heavy and secondly, the comfort of it is great. Comfort doesn’t necessarily mean slower in this case, quite the opposite. But I don’t want to get lost too much in technical details. I quickly massage the 110 km out of my legs with my foam roll and call Aline to ask what she’s going to wear. Sounds much more girly than it actually is. We discuss the weather forecast and which kit combination is the most suitable. This can often be a tough decision. The wrong clothing on a fairly long tour is not particularly good for motivation. And that’s what you’re going to need on 8 hours on the bike.

In the morning at 10 past 7, Aline, Doc and I are meet at the track waiting for our train towards Cologne to switch to the train to Aachen. Read how to travel with your bike and Deutsche Bahn. Unfortunately, our train is late and we miss the connection in Cologne. As for planning, this is not ideal, since we have a quite strict time frame of riding to arrive in Wasserbillig in daylight. Thus, this is at the expense of our break time. Anyway, I’m always amazed how quickly the time just passes on such tours. You stop here and there very briefly to refill water and BANG two hours have passed, that you were not on the bike. And that’s even though you’re rushing. Enjoyment is very important to keep your spirits up. Cycling is so mental!

We start our tour an hour later. It’s super cold, cloudy and a bit misty. A wind vest would have been great, I misjudged a bit. Instead of 12 degrees, it was only 4-8 degrees and the sun takes a long time to appear. The 80s music from my speaker motivates and we start extra leisurely. On average, I require 30 – 40 minutes to warm up. Well aware that staying warm enough is going to be a little challenge. Doc feels sorry for me and offers his gloves, which I’m really grateful for. After 1.5 hours of riding I am, despite the extensive porridge breakfast, hungry again. The other two had their first snack even before that. Every hour a bar must be plastered or you stop for a more substantial snack. The good thing is, food can be bought literally everywhere and we save a bit on luggage. Nevertheless, I carry plenty in my handlebar bag. You never know. By the way, I am working on a blog post where you can see what I carry in my bag on a long day in the saddle.

The bike path is definitely a dream. A little bumpy on the German side at the beginning, but as soon as you head towards Belgium and Luxemburg, the tarmac is super smooth. The tires feel great on the road, you know what I mean.

We enjoy the fantastic nature and are happy about the little blue spot in the sky, which is getting bigger and bigger. We have a constant gradient between about 2% . In fact, this really suits Aline and me, as we are a little cold.

There are not many people on the bike path, even if there were a few who took a leisurely stroll here. However, I could imagine that the bike path is really crowded in the summer and you would have to ride slalom. At 40 km/h, we take advantage of the tailwind and enjoy our lives. There is barely 30 cm between the rear and front wheels. Out of nowhere, a dog jumps in front of us on the bike path and all three of us have to hit the brakes. In my mind’s eye I see myself and the other two crashing into each other and I let out an anguished scream. In the last goddamn second we come to a stop without going over the handlebars. That was a damn close call and it takes me 5k to recover from that shock and swallow my anger. I love dogs, so I don’t want to accidentally hurt one with my spokes and end up in hospital. Not to mention my beloved bike…! Nothing that can’t be forgotten over fries.

Only a few more kilometers until fries. Namely, they are legendary in Belgium! In general, I’m someone who really has to watch what I eat on the bike to avoid stomach aches. If your body has to perform, it needs good nutrition. In that case, something that’s not too hard to digest.
 French fries are anything but healthy, of course, but they provide us with plenty of motivation and calories for the rest of the tour. The only store that’s still open is invaded by 3 hungry cyclists. 10 minutes later and Aline and I would have sulked because we wouldn’t have gotten any fries. Well that would have been a real disappointment. After all, Belgian fries were today’s mission. That made this little break all the more delicious. Thick thies and extra fries. They are probably even tastier if you can look forward to them for 90 km and then arrive hungry.  Onward we headed towards Luxembourg, the third country we would be crossing by bike today.

The joy of our current micro-adventure made Aline and me plan a bike packing trip together. Terms like Freiburg, Munich, Lake Constance and Italy provided a few hours of conversation. After 125 km we arrived in Troisvierges, a small town in the Luxembourg Ardennes. The Vennbahn cycling path ended here. Nevertheless, that didn’t matter, as we simply continued along a different cycling path. I noticed the fries in my stomach until 160 km. As a matter of fact, I didn’t need a bar and still had quite a bit of energy. In contrast to my water bottle, which was nearing the end of its life. We stopped at a gas station at 168 km.

Since we already had 5 p.m. (yes, that came unexpectedly), we now had to speed up. With 170 km in the legs that is twice as hard. We rode in the slipstream over the waves like maniacs and I also picked up a few ranks on STRAVA. I was motivated by the next coffee stop, Sebastian mentioned a beautiful, idyllic town in Luxembourg. I kept thinking of the pound of banana bread that had been chilling in my bag since Aachen.

In the beautiful town of Vianden, we got soy cappuccino (I wouldn’t have guessed they had soy milk here) and sat on a warm wall in the sun overlooking the water. At this point, for the first time, with the exception of the climb, I felt genuinely warm. This made me feel a little pathetic, as it would only get colder and darker from now on. The hour that train delay had cost us seemed most present now. However, I would not say that I had a little low, as usual. On long journeys, the mental low point normally always comes at some point, often at km 140. Many thanks for the great company and the stars from the 80s. Whenever I looked at my gamin I was overwhelmed, we had already crushed so many kilometers! Even though this is something I do occasionally, a far bike distance impresses me all over again every time. The truth is that we all felt very euphoric. The three taillights were blinking and shining happily, much like Sebastian’s red hands, since I was still wearing his gloves. What also pleased me was that my butt was doing splendidly.  Beforehand, I changed a few adjustments on the saddle, which were already paying off.

200 km in the legs! My knee was making itself known, which I skillfully ignored so that we arrived on time at the station in Wasserbilig. Since Doc is a beast, we reached the station before nightfall and 20 minutes before the train departed. 19:45, 215 km, 1700 meters of altitude in the legs and a huge smile on our faces.

Mikula’s mum had prepared homemade pizza. I had lost so much liquid that it tasted even more exquisite with a lot of salt than it already did. Less exhausted than I thought, I lay on the couch and reviewed the trip. By constantly making sure that I stayed in Zone 2 and 3 with my pulse, I wasn’t completely drained. At least for the moment.

UPDATE the day after: Legs are very tired.

Download the GPX file of our trip to try Belgium fries!

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