Still dressed in a cardigan with long sleeves, but without overshoes or gloves, I enjoy the birdsong and the spring sun that welcomes this Sunday morning, April 23. A lovely peaceful morning. There is also a certain peace above the Balen parish center, today the starting and arrival place of Crossen through the woods. A handful of cyclists leave between 8.30 am and 9.30 am to participate in the second edition of Crossen through the woods, while the classic spring ends 70 kilometers south in Liège.
Watch out, flooding
The last few days and last night there was still quite a bit of rain from the sky. To be on the safe side, I opted for 40 mm tires with some profile. And that turns out to come in handy every now and then. From the center of Balen we are in full nature in no time. On the first gravel section, a nadar fence with inscription already warns of possible flooding. Hard to believe, because the strip is wonderful. But a few swings later, a large puddle appears to be waiting for us. Take it easy and move on.
The farmer plows forward
Except for some farmers – you also have to work on Sundays – it is blissfully quiet in the area. Although the next meadow path causes some unrest. Immediately I spot a number of deep furrows in the grassland. The rain of recent days has effectively left its mark. A few tens of meters in front of me, I see a brave gravel colleague fighting with the rutting. Probably too much pressure in the tires, feet on the ground.
Melancholy to lockdown
To avoid an unwanted mud bath, I take the strip slowly. On technique and feeling, certainly don’t stomp too hard to avoid cross parking. What follows is a new piece of typical Kempen silence. In the distance lies the provincial border with Limburg, with the tourist attraction ‘cycling through the trees’ just behind it. During the coronalockdown I passed here several times. The memory brings a slight smile to my face. Even then it was so great cycling here.
After a loop past the hamlet of Scheps (Scheps fair seems to be infamous!) I arrive in the village center of Olmen, known for the zoo that is now called Pakawi Park, but is otherwise just the Olmense zoo. People go to the bakery on their Sunday at ease. Spring is in the air, greetings are warm. And on the few stretches with traffic, people are courteous too. The day doesn’t get much better.
Along the Grote Nete in Meerhout, many fishermen are active in addition to walkers. I’m almost embarrassed that the crunch of gravel under my tires disturbs their tranquility. I try to make up for my mistakes with a warm greeting, which is appreciated.
Only in the Kempen
In no time I reach the Belse woods. A nature reserve with many sand dunes in addition to forests. I therefore immediately feel sorry for the non-Kempeners who have to conquer this course today. Because let’s be clear, the loose sand is a serious challenge for those who were not brought up in it. In addition, various hikers prevent you from always taking the ideal track. Fortunately, we are here to enjoy and not to perform. And that still works. Especially when I see a herd of horses with accompanying riders and sheepdogs a little further on. There appears to be a sheep herding competition going on. Only in the Kempen!
After passing through Ezaart and Millegem, two of the twelve hamlets in the municipality of Mol, supplies turn up in Achterbos. Only then do I really come to the conclusion that there are others on the road, it is so quiet on the road. Everything is provided at the supply tent, which is set up in a sunny spot in a meadow along a gravel strip. Sports drink, water, bars. Inner tubes and other tech supplies too. For now, we don’t need any of that.
And so we quickly continue our path. Langsheen Nuclea, the umbrella staff association of the various nuclear companies present in the area. The facilities are those of a well-established multi-sport club. Donk and Sluis are the next hamlets on the list. Meanwhile, the organization ‘Crossing through the woods’ lives up to its name, because some surprising single tracks await along the way. Navigating winding paths with relatively narrow tires and a crooked handlebar evokes a nostalgic feeling of the cyclocross tours of yesteryear.
Last hamlet, then burger
The last hamlet of the day is Weasel. And so Balen comes closer. After all, Wezel is a church village that Mol and Balen share. And although the finish is really in sight, the last few kilometers are still serious stomping. The wind picks up, and the beautiful spring day threatens to turn into rain and thunder. With the call of a well-earned hamburger I set course for the parish center of Balen, where the men of L’Etape.cc are waiting for myself and the other cyclists.
Traffic-calmed route near the village center
Just under a hundred cyclists showed up for the event. And that’s a pity, because everything was well arranged. But at the same time it gives the opportunity to fine-tune ‘Crossing through the woods’ for the future. In any case, it is phenomenal what a quiet and traffic-calmed route we were presented with today, especially knowing that the village center of Mol was never more than a few kilometers away from us during the entire ride.
Do you also want to cross through the woods? For more information click on this link.