Tag Archives: theNetherlands

So I biked some miles in Europe

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Two months ago I left San Francisco with a bike and a trailer. I landed in Amsterdam with a trailer and no bike. While I waited for the airline to find my wheels I spent my time warding off my family’s ridiculous worries and took long walks to alleviate the annoyance with said worries. Being without a ride on a bikepacking trip sucked big time. Sure I didn’t have the most auspicious start. But this is life, it throws you curve balls. You have to be ready to catch.

I wheelbarrowed my luggage in my trailer through the Dutch countryside. I opened myself to being ridiculous, unlucky, afraid. I was a bag lady in Germany fighting rain with plastic. I was an American in The Netherlands wearing a helmet on the bike. I made myself comfortable in solitude in Denmark. I dared to bike in Romania, and lived.

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My odometer 2 months ago showed 278 miles. Today it shows 1644 miles. In nearly 1400 miles of sunny, muddy, rainy togetherness my blue Motobecane’s become my best friend. This bike’s wheels have combed through forest paths, muddy and gnarly roads, bridges, tunnels, beaches. Together we’ve met friendly Dutch farmers who are in tune with nature and groom it, make it hospitable. We conversed – albeit one-sided – with cows, sheep, goats, ducks, deer, foxes, even a few llamas and a notorious kangaroo.

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What I’ve wanted out of this trip was to be amazed. In all honesty, I was. My last campsite was the most magical yet, a green corner by the water, where I shared some snacks and evening thoughts with a fleet of ducks. I was alone again, as I was when I got here.

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As I biked towards the airport this morning, with the 5am sun rising slowly behind me, I thought it best to not say goodbye to The Netherlands, for fear of being corny or trite. Instead, to dispel the building sadness, I started planning my next biking trip, and resolved to fly out of Schipol on a cheerful note, returning the positivity that this country’s gifted me with.

Netherlands, it’s been great to know ya.

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When I grow up I want to be a Dutch tree hugger

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“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness,” said John Muir. I don’t know if I’ve tapped into any secrets of the Universe cycling through the forests of The Netherlands, but I can definitely say it’s one of the most enjoyable things I’ve done here.

Our Southern cycling route is now looping towards its terminus point, and after covering another 100 miles or so North we’re again going straight West, towards Amsterdam – the city where things start and end this summer for me. We’ve had a few days of nagging rain and forests, the latter making the former more bearable.

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If you like trees, the national park De Hoge Veluwe is a beautiful place to visit. It’s very large, spanning over 50 square km, and it features a mixture of lush forests sand dunes in alternating fashion, a landscape formed during the Ice Age. Oddities keep things interesting right? In this park you can cycle or hike for miles and miles and not meet a single road or house.

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This time we didn’t actually go through the park but covered quite a bit of distance cycling around it, alongside forests which are just as beautiful as those in the park. We camped for the night at a lovely nature campground in Otterlo, where I promptly setup a clothesline and hung my various belongings to dry, plastic bags and all. That gypsy lifestyle!

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We’re now in Utrecht, where we took a day off to give our asses a chance to recover from the saddle brutalities. And now that I’m finally standing still I can think about how incredible it is that we actually made it here. Yesterday was without a doubt the windiest day I’ve lived in this country. A short 40 miles from the Veluwe park to Utrecht should have been a breeze, but instead it was as if we’d raised the wrath of the grumpiest wind gods. Cold air hit from all directions, and even in our lowest gears we were barely crawling at 9mph. Occasional maverick rain would remind us from time to time that it could, in fact, be worse.

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The wind was something extra. When we finally got to our campground, located on a charming farm outside of Utrecht, we setup the tent with zombie motions and considered calling it a day. But the city was so close! I managed to pull Jim out of his defeated state and we bravely biked into Utrecht for some beers.

Well, one beer turned into 3, and then some bitterballen were consumed, and then some ice cream. Finally, close to midnight we got back on the bikes and rolled into the night, through the partying city of Utrecht, over tall bridges and dark, silent cornfields, back to our farm campground. We agreed it was a good decision to go out after all. To beer or not to beer? The answer is obvious.

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Once you go Dutch you can’t go back

Memories of cycling in The Netherlands stayed with me in a really pressing, come-back kind of way, so I decided to come back here and explore the Southern part of the country in another week long tour. This time though I am not solo.

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My friend Jim and I have been on the road for about 170 miles. We started in Eindhoven and biked 50 miles into Belgium almost entirely along a canal that was so symmetrically framed by trees that it could very well have been in a painting.

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Our camping accommodations were nothing to write home about, but we did get a spot near a pond, which we thought was a great thing, but realized that it wasn’t when we were prematurely awoken by the yells of a very outspoken duck.

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On the second day we turned North again and rolled back into The Netherlands along a beautiful path near the Maas river. Small cafes with patios dotted the path, where older couples propped up their upright bikes and sat down for koffie verkeerd (Dutch latte, literally “wrong coffee”). I don’t know if I mentioned this but Dutch old people are very cute.

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My favorite part of cycling in The Netherlands are the paved cycling paths through forests. Cycling here is like hiking on a bicycle, the smell of pines and wet earth fills your nostrils and your hair blows in the wind (if you’re wearing a helmet take it off, this is The Netherlands!) and you find yourself wishing the path will never end.

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We found a place to spend the night at a terrific campground in Roermond which is part of the Natuurkampeerterreinen national camping network. I can’t say enough good things about these campgrounds: they have everything you need as a tent camper, including hot showers, toilet paper and electricity close to your site. The campgrounds are often located within an actual farm, so you get to camp on lands with 100-year old trees and hang out with all kinds of animals while you’re there. This time it was horses!

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The third day we covered about 65 miles heading North towards Nijmegen. The route I mapped out online using the LF router took us on a hopscotch trajectory between the two shores of the Maas river, and we found ourselves on 4 different ferries going back and forth. These mini ferries are adorable, and most passengers are talkative old people on bikes, so adorable x2. The price for every ferry is only about 1 euro apiece.

No proper day in The Netherlands is complete without a bit of rain. On the last 10 miles, before we stopped to camp just South of Nijmegen, we got properly soaked and muddy. Now this is the Netherlands I remember!

The campground, another “nature” campground this time with self-service check-in, offered hot showers and a pine-smelling meadow to park your tent in the middle of a forest. Every day of camping in this country is like opening a little surprise nugget out of a box of Dutch chocolates.

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A day of wind and forests

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80 miles of relentless pedaling through forests and cobblestone streets yesterday, the former much more enjoyable than the latter. In the morning, my plan was to take a train from Hardenberg to Steenwijk, then cycle from there to Groningen, another 60 miles North. To take the train I had to take apart my trailer so it would fit, the train was severely overcrowded. My lugging of the now-3 large pieces of luggage (bike, trailer, and my huge yellow bag) through the station can only be described as a funny and ungraceful scramble which made me wish I’d done more deadlifts at the gym. This stuff is heavy!

After missing my train connection in Zwolle – because Dutch trains depart maddeningly on time! – I decided that instead of waiting for the next train, I should just get on the road. The weight of all my luggage was becoming unbearable. The train would have saved me 20 miles, so this now became another 80 mile day.

It was the day of wind and forests. The Dutch have an incredible system of well paved biking paths through large expanses of forest with tall trees, the smell of pines intoxicating. Whenever I segued from forest to small towns, the pavement turned to cobblestone which made me very grumpy and made my wrists hurt.

When I finally rolled into Groningen I was on the verge of tears. I just wanted to stand still. 80 mile days at this stage, I decided, are not a good idea. I found a campground in the Central Park of Groningen, which I found charming – yes it’s for regular people, not for hobos! I enjoy the diversity and cleanliness of campgrounds in the Netherlands, and the fact that I’m paying about 10 euros per night for each, since I am cycling in (it’s a little more if you come by car).

So far I’ve passed through no less than 8 Dutch provinces: Noord-Holland, Zuid-Holland, Utrecht, Gelderland, Overijssel, Drenthe, Friesland and Groningen. Today will be my last day in the Netherlands, and after being spoiled with the luxurious cycling paths here, I’m apprehensive about what cycling will be like in Germany.