Map Story #4 - Trappist Beer Trail by Bike

Every single custom map we print has a story behind it. Your story. Whether you were fundraising for charity or taking some time out of a hectic life to reconnect with nature; everyone's map journey is memorable and some stories are fascinating.

So let’s start at the beginning. What’s your name and where are you from?

I'm Tom and I'm from Solihull

How did you get into cycling and how long have you been turning cranks?

2014 I decided to raise money for a charity, Papyrus by completing the London to Paris trip. I've been cycling solidly for 7 years now. During the last 7 years I've been on a ton of adventures but my best one to date is touring Belgium visiting all the Trappist Breweries.

How many bikes have you got and what's your favourite?

I currently have 4 bikes. I have my first bike (bought in 2013) a Specialized allez sport which I use for touring and winter riding. I have a Cannondale Supersix Evo (probably my favourite) which I class as my 'good bike', summer riding and sportives etc. I also have a fixed gear bike I like to take down the canal and do the odd ride on. Then I have a 1982 Peugeot Carbolite 103 I am currently restoring - I'd say this is my most valued bike.

Let’s talk about the maps. What’s the story? 

I love Belgian beer. I started to get a taste for the Trappist beer. I watched a video by Rapha where they visit 3 of the Trappist Breweries so i decided to do a self support tour but all 7 of them (1 was in The Netherlands). I used my Specialized Allez for this trip and attached bikepacking bags. Here's my journey...

Day 1. I set off from my friends in Hackney and darted my way out of London, stopping at every single traffic light however in doing so, sparked a conversation with guy commuting to work on his bike. “where you off to mate” is the usual conversation starter when having a bike loaded with bikepacking bags. Told him my planned adventure and the lights changed, quickly swapped names so he could follow me on Strava and keep up to date with my journey. I still have him on Strava. Out of London, on the busy country roads to Dover, stopped off for a cooked breakfast and set off again down a pretty busy A road. Then the rain started. I pulled over on a grass verge and equipped my rain jacket and what had to be the most difficult challenge of the journey – putting on the velo shoe covers in the wet. Nightmare. Anyway, I managed to get into Dover a couple hours later and hit a pretty steep climb then descended down to the port. Whilst waiting in line to board, another guy, on a bike pulled up beside me. “where you off to mate”. Turns out he was doing something quite similar but visiting unnamed grave sites. He used to be in the army and it was something he was passionate about. We had cake and coffee on the ferry, exchanged bike related stories and became friends for life! In Dunkirk, we cycled into the town centre and enjoyed a subway sandwich then made our way into Belgium, hitting quiet roads and small towns, the journey was becoming quite exciting. We then parted ways and by this time it was dark. My Elemnt Bolt took me down some cobbled roads and ones that were currently having the cobbles replaced. I got to the first BB quite late but the host was more than welcoming. Quick shower, stretch and my head down. 136 miles completed.

Day 2. I had a lovely breakfast at the BB and chatted to the host about my planned journey. Her daughter was also having breakfast with us who was studying in Amsterdam but was back for that week. Shortly after I made a trip to a nearby cashpoint, paid up, packed my stuff, attached it to the bike in their garage and off I went. The sun was shining. The entire route of 124 miles was the flattest I had ever experienced. It was amazing for my legs and what felt like a 20kg bike. The route took me just outside of Ghent and through the centre of Antwerp where I enjoyed some fish and chips then carried on with the journey. I eventually arrived at the first Abbey of my trip, I was so excited and pleased to be there. I took some photos and luckily bumped into some people who were happy to take a photo of me outside the Abbey with my bike. Then, the most important, the beer. Westmalle – beer had never tasted so good. Regardless of the 260 miles I had cycled, I was thirsty and every sip was magical. In fact, I had 2 beers. I relaxed and enjoyed the moment. It was great. I then set off to what was a little bit of a wobbly ride to the next BB. I quickly stopped off at a pizza place and managed to hold the pizza in one hand all the way to the BB. Impressive really, especially after a couple Westmalle’. The host, quite an eccentric chap was very friendly. He arrived at his property a little later than me. By this time I had showered and stretched. He offered me a couple beers but I was too tired to even consider staying up later. I hit the hay in his converted loft and enjoyed a good sleep for the double whammy the following day.

Day 3. I was not far from the boarder of The Netherlands and it soon occurred to me there was a Trappist Brewery and Abbey not too far across the border. So, I started my journey and then it began to rain. I experienced my first puncture down a lovely wooded cycle path but luckily I was somewhat sheltered by the rain from the trees. Quick innertube change and pursued my journey into The Netherlands. I arrived at Le Trappe midday. Luckily, again bumped into some people that were happy to take the obligatory photo of me in front of the Abbey arches with my bike. I had a couple of their very tasty trappiest beers and a spot of lunch and then set off again back towards the boarder of Belgium. I soon arrived at Achel Abbey and Brewery. Again, from reoccurring luck managed to find some people to take my photo in front of the Abbey and continued to enjoy one of the finest of Trappist beers.. and a bit of cake. I then continued my journey to the next BB. I experienced a couple more punctures and by this point had ran out of spare inner tubes. The host of the BB was kind enough to lead me (on his bike) to the closest decathlon where I bagged 4 more innertubes. I did actually take my camping stuff but it was the intermittent rain that put me off sleeping in a soggy field in a bivvy bag. Shame really. Once back at the BB I was lucky enough to find a track pump left in a cabinet in the corridor of the flats. Not quite sure why I was looking in cabinets but maybe I sensed some luck. I showered, stretched and walked to a local pizza take away. 93 miles completed.

Day 4. This day had to be the most strenuous day of the trip. Nothing but a headwind for an entire 83 miles. It was exhausting and very difficult. Not to mention the whole ride was up hill. I’ll never forget the words my mate said “that’s a lovely head wind.. said no cyclist ever” once on our annual ride from Birmingham to Weston super mere and back in 1 single day… but that’s a different story in itself. After what seemed like 1000 miles in what felt like 100mph headwind I arrived at the next Abbey – Rochefort. This place was lovely and quiet. No one to be seen, until 2 young friendly monks greeted me. The pair were friendly enough to let me into the Abbey and show me the main areas. They even offered accommodation for the night but I kindly declined as I had already arranged a BB for that night as it was due to rain… again. Outside the Abbey I also met a young lady who arrived on a bike, with pannier bags full of camping gear. She was Belgian and was taking a little solo cycling trip with a paper map. Pretty cool! Anyway, got the photo of me in front of the Abbey and made my way into the town centre where I enjoyed a couple bottles of Rochefort and a burger. I arrived at the next BB, lovely big house on an A road with a very accommodating owner. Peeled off my wet lycra, had a shower, stretched and settled for the night.

 

Day 5. The journey had become very lumpy. I was now eyeballs deep in the Ardennes and the views and climbs were spectacular. However, It was wet. Yep, more rain. From the moment I set off right through until about 10 miles from the next BB, I was sodden. The ride to Orval Abbey accommodated some lovely smooth tarmac but I soon realised the danger of rain and smooth tarmac. Luckily, I didn’t find out the hard way, for once my brain thought the better of my safety. I soon arrived at the Abbey, rushed to get the classic photo of me in front of the Abbey. I then went straight to the Orval café where I had a nice meat and cheese board and enjoyed a couple of the Trappist beers. My journey continued along the rolling hills of the Ardennes and enjoyed the views through gaps in the dark grey clouds. Amongst all of this, it quickly crept upon me that I had ran out of water. I managed to find a little chemist placed in the middle of nowhere where I managed to get some tap water which had to be the most bitter tasting tap water. I didn’t drink it. I pursued, thirsty, to my place of rest, passing through small and quiet Belgian towns, almost ghost like. The hosts of the BB didn’t speak a word of English. Not a single word. They were that nice they let me sit down and have dinner with them. It was an experience, dinner conversation with the help of google translate. I really enjoyed my stay there. They even washed my smelly wet cycling gear. I showered, stretched and settled down for the evening. 98 wet miles with an elevation of 7487ft of wet climbing.

Day 6. After a lovely continental breakfast I set off fairly early for the last but one of the Abbeys and much to my amazement the sun was shining. It was great. Headed straight onto the country roads and before I knew it, my route had directed me straight through a forest. Literally no road, just forest tracks. Interesting, I thought. It was actually quite fun to cycle through the forest on 25mm tyres and I managed to dodge punctures too! I soon ended up at the Chimay Abbey where I was greeted by a Monk named Edward. He was very welcoming and we spoke briefly of the beer they brewed. Edward was kind enough to let me take a photo of him in the doorway of the abbey and also a photo of him with me and my bike. I made my way to the local Abbey café for a couple of Chimay’s finest and some lunch. I then made my way into the north part of France to my next BB because it was due to rain, again. The host was very accommodating but I soon realised the French were very comfortable with leaving doors open.. such as the bathroom which I had to walk through the hosts bedroom to get to, which she really didn’t mind leaving doors open when she showered too. Not that I complained. That night, she was nice enough to share a bottle of wine with her friend and me. We listened to music in the back garden (before it rained) but I soon retired to the bedroom in prep for what was going to be my last day cycling abroad. 75 miles completed.

Day 7. Early start, I set out along the French town roads and within about 10 miles of cycling it started to rain. Accomplished the challenge of putting the velo shoes on my feet again and off I went. I soon started to hit the cobbled roads of the Paris Roubaix and then, one of the best parts of that day, I arrived at the Arenberg forest. Probably the most iconic sector of the race. I stopped for a bit and absorbed the excitement and then I hit it. 20kg bike, fully loaded with bags and gear, flip flops in the bag ties, 25mm tyres and very wet cobbles. It was brilliant. Made it to the end without falling off nor stopping. I loved it. I loved it that much I went back in 2019 and completed the Paris Roubaix race with the guy I met at the ferry. Anyway, I made my way to the last Abbey – Westvleteren. Sodden, I took a couple of photos of the abbey and made my way into the Abbey café for some lunch and what is classed as the best beer in the world… 2 of them. I could see my bike from inside while the rain was pouring. My bike looked so sorry for itself but I knew I had to finish off the 90 miles to Dunkirk for the ferry. Along the way I had my 7th puncture of the journey. Changing an innertube in the pouring rain whilst in a rush isn’t fun. I soon arrived at the port and had just missed a ferry. I waited inside the not so luxurious port full of vending machines, wet and freezing until the next ferry came. When sat on the ferry I noticed a few flies hovering above me. I’d became unaware of my own stench. I must have stank! Horrible. Back in dover and it was starting to get dark. Id arranged to stay at my friend’s in Ashford so I was really putting the pedal down. Then, in the dark rolling hills and squeaking chain I received my last puncture of the journey. Id ran out of innertubes. I caved and called my friend. He came to the rescue. Loaded his car with my bike and off we went. A brief car ride to his and a curry awaited. Amazing. Showered, stretched and got my head down.

Last leg. After breakfast I set off down the country roads of Kent and made my way to Marylebone. The sun was shining and it was a lovely day and ride. Boarded the train and soaked up memories of my adventure. 7 days, lots of miles, lots of rain, lots of culture and lots of beer. I was a happy and tired man. The end. 

Fin

Sounds like an adventure. I actually also watched the Rapha film and did a shorter version of this route after attending the KIKK digital/art festival in Namur. Those Ardenne forests, nice road surfaces, and hills are truly lovely. 

Punctures though... what a hassle on a loaded bike. I wonder if tubeless is the way to go now... but equally it's even harder to fix those properly whilst on the road (IMO). I've has amazing luck with tubeless so far (2 mountain bikes and 2 road bikes. No flats... My enduro bike has even done 3 Ard Rock events and with a small top up each year hasn't had to be touched. I dread the day I get a puncture that wont seal though.

Anyway. I hope you enjoyed Tom's writeup and find some inspiration to get an trip planned for yourself. If you do, come and create a map of your own here using your Strava or GPX data.