It is the beginning of another year (more or less) and thus time for another installment of the Ohmygod saga (to catch up on the previous installments click on the Ohmygod menu up top). As you will recall, I used to be a cycling tour guide in Europe for several years. Through that job (yes, it is a bit difficult to call it a “job”) I met countless interesting people and have a few compelling stories to tell, but most of them pale to the story of Ohmygod, one of the clients that I had for three weeks. Some may wonder about the moniker, but the name chose itself really; it is what I uttered repeatedly during just about every interaction with him.
In the previous installment (Part Fifty-Eight), I left Gent in a hurry after finding Brad (and I presume Angelina) practically naked in his room when he should have been racing for the last viable train to make it to our next destination: Poix Saint-Hubert. The train would first go to Brussels, the Belgian capital where we would need to take a second train to tiny Rochefort-Jemelle station (which serves the slightly less tiny town of Rochefort, home of what many call one of the best beers in the world, Rochefort 10).
I have been to Brussels at least a dozen times, I guess, but the extent of each of those visits has been confined to the train stations of Belgium’s capital city. On a lucky occasion, it would involve riding (usually with haste) from one station (Centraal) to another (Midi), but the dash through the city left little time to take any of it in, which is too bad since Brusells (Bruxelles in French) is both an International City and a French city. The two languages spoken (French and English), are two with which I have an above-average familiarity.
Today, however, was not a day to ponder whether I had time to take a brief detour into the city (I had no time), nor to contemplate the role that language played in perhaps the most international city in Europe (it is the de facto European capital–although my adoptive home of Strasbourg, France might have an argument to the contrary).
No, I had to get my kiester to the next town, Rochefort, home to what many consider one of the best beers in the world (Rochefort 10). Being a wine snob, I say this with the utmost respect: beer aficionados are idiots. They are fairly easy to identify. They either have a t-shirt with some obscure beer logo, an untucked flannel or plaid shirt, or a Canadian flag somewhere on their person.
[OK, calling all beer aficionados idiots might be a bit harsh, but I made a simple correlation: since Ohmygod loved beer and he was also an idiot, all those who love beer must also be idiots. Pretty sound reasoning?]
There are many, though, that would claim that Westvleteren 12 is the best beer in the world, but based on a blind taste-test I did a few years prior, I am not so sure. Let’s just agree that Belgium produces many great beers and that the fine monks at Rochefort are among the best.
[And truth be told, I love many a Belgian beer and I do not consider myself an idiot, but I am not Canadian either, so I might be exempt from the above assertion.]
Anyway, that was a goal: get to Rochefort early enough to grab a beer in the shadow of the abbey and still make it to Poix Saint Hubert in time for a pre-dinner beer (dinner was at the hotel, which shut down the kitchen at 9:00 on-the-dot, no exceptions).
[Wait, I am sounding a lot like a beer aficionado. But I am still not Canadian, so…]
The ride from the Rochefort-Jemelle station to the tiny town of Poix was only 25 kilometers (an hour on a bad day), but stopping for a Rochefort 10 always takes more time than budgeted. (Why settle for one beer when there is no fear of running out?)
After grabbing all of Ohmygod’s crap that just narrowly escaped being blown to smithereens, I boarded the train. Normally, for the two-hour-plus train ride, I would catch a quick snooze, do a bit of bookkeeping, or settle in for some serious people-watching and eavesdropping.
Instead, I was tense with my head on a swivel, scanning my immediate surroundings for any sign (or smell) of Ohmygod, for I knew he was waiting, ready to pounce and destroy my relative serenity.
He never apparated. Which meant I was almost able to relax. It also meant that I was going to need to carry his panniers, somehow affixing them on top of mine, hoping that the pervasive stench would not transfer to my own gear, and riding the last 25-30 kilometers with his gear in tow.
Arriving in Rochefort, I leaped out of my seat with an energy that I did not anticipate. As I offloaded my bike and Ohmygod’s particularly pungent panniers, I wondered why I was almost giddy as I stretched my bungee cords to the limit to accommodate the additional cargo.
I figured I would be totally within my rights to leave his not-so-little bag of toxicity on the train and cycle off in relative innocence. Clearly, he had abandoned his own gear and did not give a rats-behind about its whereabouts/demise. So why was I determined to bring it with me?
I thought about doing the world a favor and just chucking his foul smalling bag (ignoring the environmental impact it would have on Belgium as a country) into the fist ditch I encountered, but I realized we would not be anywhere where he could buy clothes for at least another three days, meaning he would have to wear his current gear 24 hours a day (I shuddered the possibility that he would sleep in the nude). Since he only showered when he was told (by me) the level of stench that would likely accrue in his current (and would be only) attire was unfathomable.
So I decided to keep it with me all the way to Poix, but the thought of all that foulness resting within a few centimeters of my person could not dampen my curious mood. As soon as I hopped on my bike and took a few pedal strokes, though, it hit me: it had been the better part of a week since I had been alone on my bike without the need to find a lost soul, race to the next segment, or worried that I would come across an individual whom I would smell long before I saw him.
Glancing at my watch, I realized I had at least three hours before I needed to be at the hotel and only about 25k to ride. Normally, I would have descended the platform and started off straight away to the hotel, trying to finish those last 15 miles (± 25k) in well under 45 minutes (even with a couple of wrong turns thrown in).
Yes, I have a problem but my therapist is very thankful.
This time, though, I was in no hurry at all and I was going to get a beer (calling a Rochefort 10 a “beer” is a bit like calling a Bentley a “car”). And maybe another. While I would have preferred to get at least halfway before stopping for “sustenance” it really was not an option since between Rochefort and Poix-St.-Hubert there is nothing except forest.
Normally, I would just plop down at the station for my beer (or two), but given that I had what seemed like an abundance of time, I decided to ride into town and find a pub/café/bar for the consumption of my beer of the day. This also severely decreased the odds of running into anyone from the trip since it was a good 4-5k in the wrong direction.
Was I trying to avoid people? Well yes, yes I was. As a tour guide, there are precious few solitary moments and when one miraculously presents itself (or in this case, manufactures itself), you grab it and embrace it, no matter how fleeting. Is that irresponsible?
Or, well, yes.
But I didn’t care, for I had no idea when the next such moment of solitary bliss would present itself.
So off I went.
Near the center of town (don’t blink) I found a cute little spot called “The Vintage Pub.” While it did not sound particularly authentic, I was not particularly picky and they had a beer list as long as my arm, including the Rochefort 10.
There were a few tables outside and it was early enough that I had a few from which to choose. I felt a bit out of place in my cycling “kit” (basically a sh$t-ton of lycra), so I selected a table that was as secluded as possible, but nonetheless still pretty much in plain view).
No sooner had I ordered my (first?) beer, an uneasy feeling came over me. More precisely, an uneasy odor came over me. It was distinct and irrefutable: Ohmygod was near. There was no doubt. I sat there, scanning the bar, trying to fight off a wretch that was developing deep within my soul. While it might have been the culmination of two and a half weeks with the Anti-Christ, it was no less real.
I grabbed my helmet and placed it over my face as if it were a hockey mask, trying to block the far more offensive odor. Harbor no illusions, the helmet was was nasty: weeks of wearing said protectant had rendered it pretty darned funky. But we are talking degrees here. I immediately questioned my resolve: would I rub fresh dog excrement on my face to numb the stench of a nearby decomposing skunk?
Knowing that I would never enjoy a beer with the threat of Ohmygod “raining” on my “parade” I rose, deciding to investigate.
At the risk of sounding boastful, I like to think that I have a rather powerful nose (after having typed that, I realize that it could be misconstrued in countless ways). Or rather, I have a powerful sense of smell (again…), so I allowed my nose to lead me (insert Cyrano joke here).
Within a minute or three, I found him. Or more precisely: “it.”
My nose led me right over to…my bike, which was festooned with Ohmygod’s discarded pannier. I was both relieved and flabbergasted. Relieved since Ohmygod was actually nowhere to be smelled and distressed since an odor that could launch a thousand (evacuation) ships was affixed atop of my own possessions.
Having Sherlocked the bejesus out of the situation, I returned to my somewhat secluded table with all the confidence in the world that I would be able to drink my beer in peace.
And I was right. Nary a mosquito disturbed my brewed-Belgian-bliss and while I seriously contemplated a second bottle, I decided that there was no need to push my luck. And additional bottles of Rochefort 10 could be easily procured at the night’s hotel bar.
Well, the ride to Poix-St-Hubert was essentially direct, with a scant three turns (only one of those being a misstep) and I covered the distance fairly quickly but well-outside the desired 3/4 of an hour.
I arrived in town to an unbelievably large crowd, probably 3-4 times the entire population of the hamlet. With a bit of maneuvering, I slithered through the throngs, around the corner, and to the entrance to the hotel. There, in the middle of a pedestrian bridge that spanned the lively brook, was Ohmygod’s bike. It would have appeared that one had left it there to jump off the bridge in a spontaneous suicide attempt, but the bridge might have been eight feet above the brook, which was maybe three feet wide and not even close to that deep. Still, knowing he was not the brightest bulb on the tree, I stopped and looked over the edge, half-expecting to see him there writhing in pain from a twisted ankle or a broken leg.
Seeing no signs of my personal Beelzebub, I headed to the reception, leaving my bike (still festooned with Ohmygod’s pannier) hopefully out of nose-shot. The receptionist informed me that all but three of the group had arrived: Brad, Angelina (which made me cringe a little thinking why they were not yet there), and Ohmygod, whose bike at least came within about ten meters of completing the 200 kilometers of the day’s total journey.
She also alerted me to the reason for the crowd in town: the famed Czech (or was it Slovak?) film director was in town filming his latest movie. She was pretty over-the-moon excited about the situation, but since I had never heard of the guy and certainly did not speak his language, I was only mildly enthused. Sure, it was good for the tiny town, but it could only end up making my life more difficult in some way.
Nonetheless, after a quick shower, I decided to meander back around the corner and check out the set. I figured I should at least make an effort to locate Ohmygod–there was one other bar in town–and maybe the most famous actor in Slovakia (or was it the Czech Republic) would take a fancy to me and insist that I replace her romantic lead immediately.
No, I didn’t really think that I promise. Mostly.
As I turned the corner, it appeared as though the actors were in mid-shot, lights high, and an eerie silence among the crowd of clearly enthralled onlookers. I first scanned the scene, to make sure that the most famous Czech (or was it Slovak?) noticed me.
No, I really did not do that I promise. Mostly.
Then I turned to the crowd, scanning it for the distinct gray matted hair and bright yellow, but unbelievably stained, cycling jersey.
So I turned back to the scene and tried to make out which language was being employed by the actor that was about to notice me among the throngs of bystanders.
I had no idea what language it was, but I was certain we could overcome a silly language barrier.
Yes, I really thought that.
Then, something caught my eye, well off on the other side of the set, in the twilight of the evening, I saw a flash of yellow. There was Ohmygod, just a meter or two from the edge of the set.
With headphones on and holding a boom microphone.
Oh my god.