BRUSSELS TO DORDRECHT
Tijil from Skydive Flanders posted a message on their Facebook group, asking if anyone could pick me up from my hostel in Brussels to take me skydiving. Jelle replied and said he could take me. It was an incredible sunrise on Sunday morning and sure enough he arrived to pick me up around 10am, in his little red Fiat Punto, otherwise known as ‘Punto Beast’, and we drove to Schaffen.
The thing I find really interesting about skydivers in particular, is there’s no such thing as small talk. We’re not shy of getting straight into the nitty gritty. I’m aware that I’m completely generalising by saying that, but overall, the conversations I have with skydivers aren’t just the usual “how was your weekend?” Or “isn’t the weather lovely today?!” We seem to get under the skin and ask why, what’s our motivation and what do we want to learn about ourselves and all the things that really matter?! So we got to know each other pretty quickly.
We got to the drop zone and I met the crew.
It’s a military airbase and is still used by Belgian ParaCommandos. At the weekend it’s run by volunteers and everyone there has a huge passion for the sport, which I could see from the moment I got there. I met Jelle’s friend Janica and we made a plan to do a 3-way. We practiced the exit, what we would do in freefall and everything was good to go. I have to admit, I was pretty nervous… it was my first jump at a new drop zone, with kit I hadn’t used before, with people I hadn’t jumped with before. But I knew it was something I was going to have to get used to over the next 6 months!
As soon as we launched out the plane, everything went a bit squiffy!
With two people dragging me out, I needed to present my body to the wind a bit more during the exit. Instead, I almost flew right over the top of both of them, while Jelle scooped onto his back and was facing up towards me! We went into a spin and all had to let go of each other so we could fly by ourselves. No-one panicked and we dealt with the situation perfectly! We all landed safely, had a de-brief and a good laugh watching the footage a couple of times, to learn where things went wrong. Big thanks to Paul for filming!
Not long after our jump, a huge hail storm consumed the drop zone and brought everyones day to a halt. I feel pretty gutted that I only did one jump in Brussels, considering that Skydive Flanders had sponsored me with three free jumps, but I had all the elements against me… and when the conditions are uncontrollable, it’s best to just go with the flow.
That night I met Jelle’s family. We had dinner together and I stayed the night in their spare room. I’m really grateful for their hospitality and it was my first dose of what the skydive community is really like. I’d do exactly the same for another skydiver looking for a place to stay.
Time to go go hospital.
In the morning on Monday 20th, I felt absolutely exhausted. I knew that the amount of the cycling I’m taking on during this trip, as well as skydiving in-between, was going to affect me, so I aim to arrange an appointment in almost every city that I visit. Alport UK have been amazing in helping me out with this. They put me in contact with Nathalie Demoulin at the Cliniques Universitaires Saint-Luc, in Brussels. Nathalie has studied Alport Syndrome for many years and has a vast amount of knowledge about the disease, so it was reassuring to be in such a safe pair of hands! She helped me to organise a blood test and urine sample. She arranged for the communications team to come and film their own interview with me. She also let me film everything when we sat down together and looked at the results…
My kidney function hasn’t changed!
The only major difference was my blood protein levels were way below average, which explains the amount of retained fluid I had around my ankles. We spoke about various options and after a quick email back and forth with my consultant, Emma Vaux, at the Royal Berkshire Hospital, I was prescribed to use diuretics to help get rid of the fluid. My next appointment will hopefully be when I get to Berlin.
For some reason, I left Brussels feeling like I hadn’t really achieved very much… but in hindsight, I was just being too hard on myself. I think I was still in a bit of a daydream about the whole adventure. I’ve met some awesome people and when I looked through the video footage, I was reassured that the visit to Brussels had been justified!
Once I’d warmed up on the bike, escaped the noisy city and found myself in the countryside again… I felt an injection of freedom I hadn’t experienced while on the bike up to that point! My legs felt strong and I finally felt like I was finding my flow!
PLUS… I was cycling along, it was about 1pm and I began to wonder what I would eat for lunch. All of a sudden, as I swooped round a right hand corner towards a bridge… I found… a CHICKEN VAN!
As you can see, I was in heaven.
I arrived in Antwerp, with no clue where I was going to sleep. I actually enjoy doing that now. I’ll pre-book somewhere if I know I’m going to end up in a small village in the middle of nowhere, but I’ve learnt that it will always work out ok in the cities. I found Antwerp Backpackers Hostel. The building used to be a chocolate factory and has industrial remains mixed with a cosy lounge kind of vibe. I really liked it there and met some very interesting people. A huge thank you to Greg and Bridget for being so awesome!
I highly recommend anyone travelling through Antwerp to visit this place. Such a great atmosphere, facilities and run by lovely people.
The next day, I met up and stayed overnight with my friend Arne. We met each other while travelling in Colombia in March 2015. Just before I made my way over to his place, I saw that he’d posted a message on Facebook… saying that his bike had been stolen! I was absolutely gutted to find that out and the timing of it really got me thinking about what I’d do if Creaky Dawes went missing during this trip! I mean, I guess I’d have to find another bike… but that would really suck… so let’s just hope that never happens!
I left Antwerp in the wet, cold and miserable rain… without a clue where I was actually going. I just started going North! So lots of pedalling and a winding 114km to the north, I arrived in Dordrecht. Again, It was later than I’d expected and I hadn’t arranged a place to stay… but this turned out to be my favourite spontaneous-overnight so far…
To be continued…