After an extended layover in Belgium customs, my German passport arrived and with that my plans to swap from my Australian passport to my German passport were set in motion. Two passports, two different names, money and a pistol in safety deposit boxes all over the word to collect when the situation necessitates it. You get the idea, more of that later.
All that was left for me to do was a little bike tinkering and I was on my way. A little tinkering, as usual, turned into a little more and then a tad more after that and before I knew it a few days and nights had passed. Despite how many times I have looked at my steed and thought 'now THIS is the perfect bike setup', a passing thought will plant an idea in my mind which I can't lay to rest and need to try. This time, a setup change really was required as now I'll be carrying around a mirrorless camera to assist in documenting my trip. A camera is really the short description, it's more like: camera, camera lens (and maybe one or two more), camera batteries, camera charger, camera bag, camera tripod...you can see how the list just grows and grows. Your doomed if you don't, as good as phone cameras are as a substitute they don't have nearly the capability of a DSLR, and doomed if you do. Death by a thousand...in this case quite a few thousand grams of added weight.
With the camera bag attached between my aero bars, unconventional I know, I was off riding north west from Denderhoutem, Belgium to Calais, France.
Now while I had seen the weather cool a little between the few weeks I spent at Silke's house in Denderhoutem, I hadn't quite appreciated just how wet and cold it had become from a coffee in hand sitting inside her heated house. To be quite frank, it was bloody miserable riding. If it was just the cool temperatures to deal with, I would be fine with that. Or if it was the constant stopping and starting of rain soaking my pants, I'd be fine with that too. Or even if it was riding through farmers roads caked in cow crap, I'd be (semi) OK with that too. Instead, it was mean mix of all three - wet cold riding as you feel and smell the poop enriched water on the road flick up all over the bike and clothes. God forbid bringing any of the gear that was exposed to this all into your tent, you would never be able to escape it!
I did my best to take in what sights I could when it wasn't raining but it was hard to wash away (pun intended) the sour taste in my mouth (pun x2, yes it even got in there) from the miserable riding. I was lucky enough to find a few hours of sunshine and to camp in what seemed like a makeshift farmers rubbish dump; I say lucky because it was mostly dry and there wasn't a cow paddy in sight!
The one highlight of the ride was crossing the border from Belgium to France. It was less to do with the physical border itself, it's nothing more than a stream with a small bridge over it, and more to do with the current context in which borders are in the social and political consciousness. Trumps wall with Mexico, the mass influx of migrants into Europe and even the long held war between north and south Korea; I couldn't think of a more tame and imperceptible border crossing. If it wasn't for it clearly labeled on my map I wouldn't have even know it was there. No immigration office or border control in sight - thank you Shengen Area!
It was a relief to spend some time at my Couchsurfing hosts house just outside of Calais in northern France. Time to dry the gear, time to hop over to the UK and back to swap the passport and importantly time to break down the last few days of my ride and determine what wasn't working.
The crossing over to the UK and passport swap didn't go quite as planned. Oh and I lied before, sadly I am not in possession of large swaths of cash or pistols in safety deposit boxes spread all over the world. Maybe I'll join the FBI after all this biking is all over and I can update this section. I needed to swap from my Australian passport to my German passport as I was running out of time on my 90 day visa with my Australian passport. By using my German passport, I could stay in Europe for as long as I liked.
The exit from France into the UK on the ferry went just fine, it was coming back where I had to pay closer attention. In order to make a successful swap from my Australia passport to my German one, I would have to hand the UK immigration my Australian passport so that I would exit the UK as an Australian. Then I would hand the French immigration my German passport; that way I would be entering the Schengen Area as a German. Simple right? Sadly not. As it turned out, I didn't realise in the UK one booth stamps both your passport to exit the UK AND stamps it again to enter the Schengen Area. So after all that, I was back in France with the same visa issue as when I left! Justttt great! As it turns out, it wasn't all bad after all. I checked with the immigration officer and she informed me as long as I exit the Schengen Area on my German passport I will be just fine. What that means for my Australian passport if I ever want to re-enter Europe on it...I have no idea. Let's pretend it's all fine...Voilà! See how it's all fine now?
With the passports done, it's time to rest up and get working on changes to the bike to get it ready for winter in the alps. Here's a picture as a teaser. I'll get into my thoughts and why I did it in the next post.
Till next time.
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