Everyone has their simple things they “can’t” do. Not well, at least. I “can’t” dance. I “can’t” cook. I “can’t” ride a bike.
Walking Bruges wasn’t going to take me all day. It was going to take the morning, at most. And if lapping an entire town alone isn’t lonely enough, sitting in a cafe alone because you’ve hit up all the streets… lonely. Especially after a few months, the sound of one set of footsteps starts to echo.
So I rented a bike.
Which, to a normal, average person, is no big deal. Anyone can ride a bike. Bicycles are for rent all over Bruges.
Except, I don’t. I haven’t ridden since I was sixteen, one day in Rhode Island, the Saturday between my two weeks of a summer course at Brown (“Reading, Writing and Public Speaking,” hardest class of my life, made me cry, I loved it). A new friend and I rented bikes in Newport and found all the mansions.
I think the time before that I was ten. I swerved off the road to avoid an approaching car, and hit the car parked in the next driveway. Punched a hole through the taillight with my handlebar. It was our weird neighbor’s car, too.
So no, I don’t ride. That’s for normal, capable people.
The map my hostel gave me cracked me up. In the tourist tips, it suggests renting. “Haven’t ridden in awhile? That’s okay – it’s just like riding a bike.”
I got mine around eleven and paid for all day, rather than three or six hours.
Fifteen minutes in, this is hard. Maneuvering traffic, reading bike vs. car street signs in a new language, peddling… Can I even do this for three hours? In jeans? It’s forty-five degrees outside, also. I’ve checked out of my hostel, left my luggage unattended, purse with all technology hung over my shoulder.
I got off the main roads and took a bridge out of town.
Maybe one of the top three decisions of this trip.
I rode to the little town of Damme, five kilometers outside of Bruges. I figured I’d treat myself to lunch there, to celebrate my ridiculous little biking success. Everything (all three restaurants) was closed. No big deal, I have nowhere to be. Syphon was two kilometers further. It’s restaurant was vacant. But one more town (name in my journal not with me) was two kilometers further.
There I found a tiny little restaurant, fireplace roaring, one woman working – cooking, waitressing, bar tending. I sat in there and wrote (hand wrote!) for over an hour. I watched this woman bust her butt. Always smiling.
Biking nine kilometers out of a town I don’t know down roads I don’t know, eighteen there and back, plus half a dozen more around town, isn’t really something to brag about. It isn’t a big exercise triumph. It isn’t all that difficult.
It’s not something I do. It’s something other backpackers do. Something my cousins would do.
It’s there a breakthrough happened. I don’t know if it’s this trip, or something else, but a shift in mentality. I wonder if everyone has this moment – I hope they do. When you think you’re clumsy, you’ll fall off your bike. But if you let yourself think you’re capable…
That feeling has shown itself more and more recently, in multiple aspects – travel, writing, relationships, life. Everyone hears “believe in yourself” and everyone has read Little Engine That Could, but to feel it – you almost wish it happened before you stepped on your college campus, your first day of work… Everything might’ve been easier.
It’s nice to feel it today. I’m not complaining. I just swung by my first hostel, picked up my bag, and biked the 3km across town to drop it off at hostel #2. That was hard. Completely necessary – my new hostel is nowhere near anything good. Pretty sure the best part about it might be leaving it…
The pictures below are my favorites of this entire trip, if only because they’re all taken from the seat of a bicycle.
It was a perfect, no regrets kind of day.