There's goodwill, there surely is. It's just that the answer seems to linger somewhere in the back of his brain, but isn't able to find its way out. "Tell me again?" he yells, which I actually only understand from his gestures. The music is pumping on club level. I bend over and ask him a second time, this time cupping his ear with my hand. Pour me a Jupiler anytime after riding, but when smelling it this close up coming from someone's pores it's not that time. "The boss?" I ask, making my question as simple as possible. He fires up and points to the woman in a dark corner of the Bar Dancing.
Bar Dancing. A concept that I thought had vanished together with teased hair and shirts tucked into jeans. But here we are.
The frantic waving of mr. Drunk seems to have its effect. A woman in her mid-fifties hurries over and gives me a quick smile. She's busy serving her customers and I get why. We hadn't seen any sign of light or life outside in the last half hour. If you are in need of a drink and some Wednesday night company in this bit of Flanders countryside, this is obviously the place to go.
I point at my dead phone that is now lying in a puddle of beer - but hey, I read somewhere that Apple underplays the waterproofness of their phones just to avoid lawsuits. "Could I maybe charge this for a second?" She smiles again and points at a socket behind the bar, right next to mr. Drunk. Who is by now patting me on the shoulder and asking me if I want a drink - "On me!". Like I said, the goodwill is there.
-- We tried to leave on time. But sometimes. Well, you know. You just don't. They say prep is half the success of any expedition. We failed miserably on that point, except of course for the flask of whisky, but let's not skip ahead.
On paper we did. Leave reasonably on time. Ten hours for a 200 km ride should be ample. But a strong headwind over that distance messes up your pace. OK, it turned out to be 220. And let's be honest, that headwind didn't come out of nowhere. For once the forecast was spot on. And we also really didn't have ten hours, did we. More like nine, but I figured the landlady wouldn't be too bothered with a half hour delay. One hour tops.
Mr. Drunk lavishes himself on another gulp of Belgian draft to accompany his story. I have no clue what he is talking about. But the good thing is that he doesn't care.
I think of my friend B. who's still outside in the decreasing downpour. Where I stood a few minutes ago, pondering to take out my camera as nothing ever looked both as inviting and desolate as that lit entrance with its plastic colored strip curtain, luring us in from the distance as a sacred Shangri-La. A picture, without a doubt. But looking at my wet hands and even wetter pack, I decided against it. The choices we make out of practicality.
The light on my phone switches on. Mr. Drunk stopped patting me on the back, but is now jabbing me in the ribs. Goodwill can be painful too. "Him!" he shouts, pointing at another man that is right behind him and looks - if only slightly - less drunk. Mr. Tipsy. "He knows!". I wonder what he knows, maybe he has the answers to life. Which would make this a moment of revelation that would change the rest of my days. "The name?" Mr. Tipsy is standing next to me now. Two others join. I repeat it, and try to open Maps to show him the address. Which might ring more of a bell. But no. Maps decided to call it a night. The name will have to do.
Mr. Tipsy and his crew are now involved in a lively discussion about the existence - or not - of the place I pointed out. One could seek deep metaphorical layers in their existentialist debate. But at this point I rather get to a dry and warm place. They usher me to follow them outside. Mr. Drunk continues with his story.
-- The first seven hours actually went pretty smoothly, not counting that headwind. The pace was slow, but we were making progress and the stops were few and short. Coke Is It, and gas stations are a cyclist's best friend. The last few hours; not so much. We laughed through the cloudburst that hit us around T minus 2h. But navigating on Flemish B-routes when the sun is down gets a tiny bit trickier with only one set of lights left. Let's say that a sleeping policeman on a steep descent almost ended the trip with not one, but all lights out. At which point our phones died. Like I said, prep was not our forte that day.
Mr. Tipsy turns out to be the owner of the SUV nearly blocking the entrance. Parked to perfection if you consider he probably had some beers before he ended up here. B. is standing next to it with our bikes and a smirk on his face. Not one to be discouraged by a bit of being lost in the middle of nowhere. To settle the dispute within his crew, Mr. Tipsy decided to ask Lucie. He opens his front door, turns her on and continues the discussion.
B. and I watch from a distance and wonder how this act will unfold, while going over our options. Plan B: find a hotel. Not likely within a 20 kilometer range, and maybe not even with a midnight check-in. Plan C: camp in the wild. But wet, without sleeping bag and not enough clothes to keep you warm. Pass. Plan D: see if our newfound friends could offer us a couch, or a floor. Oh dear.
Mr. Drunk and a few of his mates come out to offer their assistance and probably spice up their regular Wednesday night out. Goodwill can take up a lot of your time. Right at the point where B. and I decide to have another go at finding our own route with the 10 percent battery charge, Drunk and Tipsy seem to have reached common ground.
-- She wasn't pleased. Dressed in a white nightgown and a stern frown she showed us our cabin where we finally got to change our wet clothes. While warming on some home-brought whisky. Like I said. Good prep is everything.
Making it here had seemed impossible up till five minutes ago though. Some rudimentary directions from Tipsy did bring us to the destined road. But it took knocking on the one lit door in the neighborhood for ten minutes, while being watched through the curtain drapes by a scared-to-death couple, to reach our destination. Sometimes goodwill has to be helped a little.