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Muscles in Brussels

Places we’ve to or through in the last twenty days: Leiden, Den Haag, Delft, Rotterdam, Breda, Roosendaal, Bergen op Zoom, ‘s-Heer Arendskerke, Middelburg, Vlissingen, Cadzand, Sluis, Damme, Brugge, Moerbrugge, Beernam, Gent, Asse (where you can bet your arse we rested ours), Brussels.

Yes, our massive thigh muscles have propelled us to Brussels, the fourth major city along our bike route. We wrapped our time in the Netherlands with two impromptu visits to Fab Labs in Breda and Middelburg. “Fab Daddy” Bart Bakker of the Mini Fab Lab in Utrecht had connected us to Charlotte Jansen of Fab Lab Breda, and she kindly offered to host us. Bad-ass bitch alert! Mad and I arrived in Breda in the evening and parked our tired bums on the curb to wait until she got home. Five minutes later, Charlotte cruised in on her motorcycle dressed in full leather like a character straight out of Tron. I thought Mad and I knew how to make an entrance. Perhaps we need an upgrade.

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Charlotte Jansen at Fab Lab Breda.

We joined Charlotte the next day at Fab Lab Breda, which was bustling with kids attending a trial course for a program to teach them about digital fabrication. Speaking no Dutch, we couldn’t communicate with the kids, but we still goofed around and observed their excitement as they 3D printed mustaches to hold under their noses. Charlotte facilitated the program, which introduced laser and vinyl cutting too, but the real madults in charge were three university students. Joey had developed the course as a sort of internship and Sigrid and Jan were helping. Learning is a two-way street; not only did the kids absorb new information, but the madults involved learned too.

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Joey, the man in charge.

The next day we finally got around to lightening our loads. Mad and I packed a box to send to my friend’s place in Berlin. We shed our winter gear, some books, and other miscellaneous weight that we never used (such as Mad’s snowboarding helmet.) Charlotte accompanied us to the outskirts of the city and then we were off, heading west straight into the wind.

It would be a very long day. We made lousy time because of the wind and stopped in Bergen op Zoom, not even halfway, to drink a few beers as storm clouds rolled in. We sent some panicked emails to our friends in the Fab Lab network, desperately pawing for a place to sleep. Camping would be impossible. The day wore on and we stayed parked in the Jumbo supermarket.

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This is how we spent our time in Bergen op Zoom.

Eventually we couldn’t put off the rest of the ride. Middelburg still lay 70km to the west. Somehow Madison and I got separated minutes after getting back in the saddle (blame beer) and I ended up pedaling the whole way across Zeeland by myself. It rained almost the entire time. Night fell. At some point I ended up in someone’s field and had to push my bike through the mud and hop a ditch. I earned myself a few new gleaming cuts and bruises. Around midnight I was so thoroughly lost (my tablet, i.e. the map, was dead) and I had to flag down a stranger in a car to beg directions.

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Ready to bike through the rain? (Nope.)

I made it to Middelburg around 2am, where Alinda Mastenbroek of Fab Lab Zeeland had agreed at the last minute to host us. I found Madison stretched out warm and comfortable on the couch and learned that she had done the smart thing and caught a train. I had biked close to 120km in the rain and mud and dark. I slept that night like a corpse.

The next day was a big one: Filming at Fab Lab Zeeland with Alinda, followed by a jaunt across the Belgian border to Brugge, where we would meet back up with Jon Talbot, who had accompanied me for six weeks on Research Road from Sardinia to Berlin.

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At the brand new Fab Lab in Middelburg.

Fab Lab Zeeland is new but already fully operational. It popped up in the Zeeland public library as part of Jeroen de Boer’s agenda to incorporate more Fab Labs and makerspaces into public libraries. Alinda does her best to ensure the two spaces for learning work together seamlessly. Fab Lab Zeeland is exposed by window on one side to passersby walking along the canal and completely open to the rest of the library on the other. By not having a door, the Fab Lab invites everyone and anyone to explore the machines and tools. Alinda even established a mini library with books about DIY projects and digital fabrication within the Fab Lab, so if a person searches on the card catalog for such a book, they will be directed to the Lab. She says that once a person discovers the Fab Lab, they almost always return.

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Lawrence the Llama rides the ferry in Zeeland.

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On the Dutch/Belgian border.

After lunch we took a ferry from the northern part of Zeeland to the southern and biked along the coast until we hit the Belgian border. Then we followed a beautiful canal the whole way to Brugge. A few days later we bid adieu to the western coast and cut inland toward Gent, where we checked out Timelab and spoke to Italian designer Eugenia Morpurgo who is part of an international team designing open source leather shoes that anyone can make or fix themselves using a laser cutter. With Eugenia we discussed how to turn a prototype into a business. Local manufacturing is important for sustainability reasons, but at the current time, Fab Labs don’t make production on a grander scale possible.

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Check out Eugenia’s open source business project, Another Shoe.

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Ben of Timelab in Belgium adopted our Danish/Dutch speaker project.

Our arrival in Belgium marks a shift in our approach and questioning. We’ve learned what is possible, and now we want to learn what could (or should) be possible. What’s the future of this movement? It’s not just a collection of tinkerers and hobbyists messing around on machines. It’s a population of deep thinkers and doers crafting a new way to relate to our objects. Two days ago we said goodbye to Jon, and yesterday Mad and I embarked a one-night excursion to Fab Lab Leuven to discuss the broader themes with two Lab managers and a professor. We’re back in Brussels now and will pursue this line of questioning at Fab Lab iMAL, and then further into France. We’re past the halfway mark, our bikes recently received a tuneup, and we’re traveling lighter. Something big is about to happen and that’s the story we’ll carry with us all the way to Barcelona.

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Basking in the eye of a storm in Brussels.

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