Saturday, July 07, 2007

Belgian beercycling 2000: A pause for perspective before the tour concludes.

Belgian beercycling 2000: On beer and bicycles.

Before moving to Brugge and the final stop, we pause for perspective. Here are the previous installments in the series:

Belgian beercycling 2000: Poperinge and Cassel.

Belgian beercycling 2000: An evening at Cave a Biere, Danes included.

Belgian beercycling 2000: Brewing day with Jean-Louis at Brasserie A Vapeur.

Belgian beercycling 2000: Tournai warm-up, Cave a Bieres and Pays du Collines.

Belgian beercycling 2000: From Brussels to the Tournai base camp in less than 15 drinks.

Belgian beercycling 2000: A prologue.


Readers will have noticed by now that the serialized account of Belgian beercycling in the year 2000, which has been running here lately, is rather longer on beer than it is on bicycling. Admittedly, the hop vs. derailleur balance sheet is skewed in favor of the liquid, but because it remains a valid reflection of our priorities at the time, I’m letting it go and recording events as they occurred.

Or, as I recall them occurring.

With time has come the realization that the 2000 beercycling jaunt truly was a significant turning point. I had commenced traveling in Europe back in 1985 at the age of 24, often alone, always by train or bus, and even on foot at times, with the bare minimum of luggage – first a gym bag, and then a convertible interior frame backpack.

In 1998 and 1999 came the first quantum leaps, as dabbling in group beer tourism by motorcoach started up in earnest. Groups held the prospect of continued personal growth by combining a steadily increasing level of expertise on European beer and travel affairs with a concurrent opportunity to use economies of scale to my benefit, i.e., by having the group’s fees help subsidize the organizer for his labors. After all, you’re not off the clock when watching over a group of thirty people drinking beer, even if the work time is occurring in Europe and not New Albany.

Obviously these were more complicated adventures; nonetheless, they could be organized even by the likes of someone like me who really hadn’t been paying all that close attention to the logistics of groups. It portended well, but having succeeded at more lush travel orchestration, my attention was immediately diverted toward the basics. That’s because I had resumed bicycling stateside in 1999 after a two-decade hiatus.

On the 1999 group trip, it was the first time that I’d bothered to notice what so many Europeans had been trying to tell me all those years as they flew past on two wheels: A bicycle provides an unparalleled way to get around, especially in places like the Netherlands and Germany that are custom designed to facilitate non-motorized transport.

Not only that, but it is plain fun.

Accordingly, this notion rapidly grew into an obsession, and under the theory that a trial run would be a good thing, Kevin Richards and I plotted the inaugural 2000 foray around the notion of using towns as bases and renting bicycles for countryside excursions.

There would be no packing and unpacking of bikes from the hard-shell travel cases, no navigating treacherous airline policy inconsistencies, no major mechanical difficulties necessitating spur-of-the-moment repairs without a hub to return to easily, no panniers (i.e., saddlebags) to be loaded and unloaded, and almost none of the hundreds of other aspects of bicycle touring that have been experienced during subsequent rips, when we have moved from place to place entirely on our own bicycles brought from home, and self-sufficient in many ways.

The trial run was another great success, and so if logically follows that the excerpted story that you’ve been reading, originally written for the FOSSILS homebrewing club newsletter in 2001 and heavily revised for republication here, was intended as encouragement for our fledgling beercycling cadre to persevere and further broaden the scope of its recreational beer hunting so as to work toward real touring.

In the years that followed the 2000 ceremonial dipping of toes into the water, there was a second rental beercycling excursion in 2001 to Belgium and Germany (with a long train ride in between), followed by the first touring beercycling event with our own bicycles in 2003, when I biked from Frankfurt to Vienna, and was joined by some of the lads at pre-arranged meeting points along the way. We immediately regrouped for a summertime “Tour de Trappist” cross-country jaunt in 2004, which took the beercyclists to all of Belgium’s brewing monasteries. After an off year in 2005, the gang we came together again in 2006 and rode much of the Prague to Vienna Greenway folliwing a brief introductory respite spent beercycling around Bamberg.

Meanwhile, group trips were not abandoned. Two took place in 2002, and the most recent, the now legendary 2004 German-Czech beer blast, was so incredibly perfect that I’ve taken a few years off from organizing for fear that it might never be matched.

Speaking honestly, the bicycling component has come to exert a stronger gravitational pull on me than the more conventional motorcoach extravaganzas, but my commitment to the latter remains. In 2008, it is my aim to organize one of each, the first in May for the purpose of hunting beer and breweries by motorcoach in the Pacific Northwest, and the second in September by bicycle, using as pretext the triennial hop fest in Poperinge, but with the possibility of synchronized motorized transport if sufficient interest is there.

You’ll read more about these at another time. Until then, thanks to all of those who have accompanied me on these marvelous times. I can only wish that they’ve been as good for you as they have for me.

Next: Beercycling 2000 comes to a "delirious" close in Brugge

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