Thursday 19 August 2011
Yesterday was a windy day, so windy I’m convinced that if we had of been going in the opposite direction I could have pulled out the tarp and used it as a sail… So I start imagining that I’m flying along with a huge tarp tied to my bicycle, no pedaling needed, swerving through the traffic…
And then bang and I’m jerked back to reality, the wind almost blowing me of the path, a foot-path of course because you’re not allowed to ride on the road in the Netherlands. The Dutch love this system and wouldn’t have it any other way, but that’s probably because none of them are trying to cross the country…
This morning it poured with rain, we both got saturated. But now the rain has gone, and its been replaced by the wind. My legs are killing me, hurting more than usual. Sometimes the pain is manageable, even mildly enjoyable, and other times it feels insupportable. Of course it takes a fair bit to get me to this point, because if I go too fast Shanny can’t stay behind me and our system stops working. So because it is so windy today the system is working well. Man, I’m going to sleep well tonight...!
Sometimes riding along there is nothing to do but push the pedals around and think. And today I got to thinking about how great it has been to be able to get to this point. Sure we haven’t achieved everything we set out to do (unrealistic expectations), and I haven’t enjoyed every day of it, actually there’s probably been more days that I didn’t particularly enjoy, or that I found challenging, but I have to admit that I think its been worth it.
So although I am extremely critical on myself I am content to sit here and smile about the past seven months. This might seem strange to some who know me, particularly considering that for the past five years I’ve wanted to mostly do nothing else but gain weight (and ride up Mt Dandenong every now and again), in the gym of course, not the doughnut shop. And now, after having lost 15 kilos of muscle I’m wondering why I’m not distraught… I definitely don’t feel tough anymore, not that I probably ever did, but acting the part can be nice sometimes, and it’s a good cover or shell to hide under on occasion.
Anyway, I’ve bored you enough with this already. We got to Ijmuiden (past Amsterdam on the coast) at 8pm. We found a caravan park, and for a whopping 17 Euro payed for a tiny spot to put our tent and a hot (but not hot enough) shower. Hot showers are underrated people!!
Tomorrow we leave the Netherlands. We’re both excited and sleeping in this little tent isn’t as easy tonight as my tired body thought it might have been… mind racing, thinking of new countries and new adventures…
Another night of rain... another morning spent trying to dry out the tent and ground sheet. But as the morning rain grew heavier they just kept getting wetter. And so did we.
The rain and wind was constant. We crossed three rivers - two by ferry and the third via a huge bridge. The roads were quiet - you would have to be crazy to be out on a day like this!
We tried to stick to bike paths alongside the road. It's much easier for us to navigate when we follow a road. A few times the path stopped... unsure where to go we followed the road until a new path appeared. The drivers didn't like this...
A beautiful dog brightened our day, standing up against his fence, tail wagging feverishly. We stopped to scratch him and talk to him, but it made me a little sad as we said goodbye.
After a cold, wet day we decided to stop at a campsite listed on the GPS. As it was getting dark we arrived at the location, but it wasn't a caravan park. Just a strange village of kit homes.
We backtracked a little and decided to find somewhere to free camp. We found the perfect forest location outside Den Dolder. It was just off the road, but was so quiet and secluded I made up a story in my head about a serial killer leaving his property open for weary travellers. I could almost feel his eyes watching me through the trees. Then I realised Sam was too far ahead of me and I couldn't see him... Unsettled, I hurried to catch up.
Note to self- If the national icon of a country is a windmill, there's a good chance it's going to be windy!!
Woke to the sounds of rain pouring down... But the tent and all our gear (except for my stinky socks) had dried overnight! Guess that's the benefit of sleeping under a bridge.
I put my stinky socks back on, still wet and we start heading towards Germany... past Veghel... but we spent more time looking at GPS, maps, signs than riding... the bicycle paths stop... were not allowed on road, but have no choice... drivers lean on horns... we give up and head towards Oss.
Around lunch time the rain stops, and although it looks threatening, never starts again, woohoo!
Sometimes the bicycles paths are great, sometimes they are horrible, so far it's been a fairly even mix. But I've got to give it to the Dutch, they really do love cycling rain, hail or shine!!
We'd been told you can't free camp in the Netherlands (or is it Holland, I still have no idea), but last night went well, and when we find the perfect spot beside a beautiful lake with ducks flying everywhere (reminds me of the Mighty Ducks, 'Ducks fly together,'). There's swans gracefully gliding across the surface of the water whilst frogs jump across palm fronds and lilly pads..
This will do great. We cook some spaghetti bolognese and set up the tent amongst a grove of trees.
During the night it begins to rain... and I dream that it keeps on raining and that the tent is floating on a sea of water... Maybe I can make a sail and set off to England...
We awoke in the caravan park (near Weebosch) to the sound of horses munching on grass. It was a clear, sunny morning. Perfect for having a rest day - washing clothes and cleaning the bikes.
The weather was perfect all day, warm in the sun but not too hot, a light wind to dry the clothes... and the evening cool enough to fall asleep in our tent. We had a pleasant time with the oldies, telling the story of our trip many times to the curious locals (everyone we spoke to was from Holland).
The next morning was grey and cold. We took our time packing up and showering for the fourth time during our short stay... as if hoping we could put away the showers as storage to use over the coming showerless days...
Our first mission of the day was find a McDonalds to use the wifi... we had a few things that needed to be sorted out and we'd just made the discovery that there are no ferries from Norway to England... so our itinerary was completely changing. We rode to Eindhoven but the wifi at the McDonalds wasn't working... We decided to just ride, we didn't know what else to do...
After getting directions from three different Dutch people on how to use the cycle path network and which way we should go, we stumbled upon a retro McDonalds in Best, and the wifi was working. It was a strange shrine to dead Rock 'n Roll legends - Elvis, Marilyn Munroe and Michael Jackson (check out the massive statue). The strangest and most eclectic McDonalds we've ever seen...
For hours we waited while the rain poured down outside. We wanted to wait for it to ease before heading out, but at 7.30pm time ran out. We had to find somewhere to camp. So into the downpour we went. Luckily, Sam found the perfect spot not to far away, under a bridge.
This was going to be our blog for today;
A Car stopped twice- told us to go on the path
On path - Another car on it! Beeped at us to move
Then path blocked. Big detour. Cars Allowed, bicycles not.
...but then I got off my lazy butt and wrote something.
We got up and everything was wet, we hung it up, and waited for it to dry.
It didn’t. So we packed it anyway.
Then, we cycled into the Netherlands, mostly via the cycle paths beside the roads.
We got lost several times, being forced to ride these paths, and I admit I thought this idea, cycle paths, would be fantastic before we came here, but it has been a real challenge. Not only is the surface bad, finding which way to go is also constantly challenging.
Maybe it’s just me and I need to adjust to another country’s way of doing things…
But, the Netherlands has incredibly well manicured lawns, actually the general appearance of cleanliness and strict order is pervasive, everything exudes regulation, classification, law, civility and rule, I haven’t seen anywhere like this before ever, every line is marked, every one seems to know the rules (and be happy to tell you them, although in a friendly way) and everyone rides a bicycle. Amazingly there are even a lot of road bicycles sporting carbon wheels, they must have to true them every day, unbelievable!
We find a campsite at 7:30pm, and feeling our dream of having a shower is about to be realized begin to become excited in anticipation… but it’s crazy here, dogs are barking, kids are screaming and it sounds like there is a party with an MC!
‘Wow, this is strange,’ I say to Shanna, ‘hundreds of people making a lot of noise in the middle of the countryside, not what I expected.’
All too much for these two tired old timers we leave, and shortly get lost again (we do have a GPS and a map, but there always seems to be more roads in real life).
An hour later, hope fading, we stumble upon a caravan park in the woods that is part of a farm. It’s quiet, ‘lots of old people, that’s great,’ we both say at the same time.
Walking through the park is a fascinating experience. Everyone is arranged perfectly into a circle around the edges of a huge field. It reminds me of church youth dances where everyone sits or stands around the outside of the room, looking across at each other, wondering who’ll make a move, looking at who’s with who, ‘hey they’ve got jeans on,’ you might say to the person sitting next to you, ‘are they even, like, you know allowed,’ they reply…
An hour later and we’ve set up the tent, we turn around to admire the horses standing next to us, curious and friendly amidst a darkening sunset, pinky reds glancing across the sky, and thunder strikes from somewhere behind us.
It begins to rain.
Jackets on we stumble to the shower block. Already wet, about to get more wet, but in a good way, no pun/ double entendre intended…
Half an hour later I stand there, thinking to myself that this is the best shower of my life, the air frigid and cold, the water hot washes away what might have been six days of accumulated dirt and grime.
‘Totally, fully rad and awesome, I’ve never felt so clean in my life, what a feeling…’ I say, smiling, grinning stupidly, to nobody in particular, or maybe it was just part of the constant running monologue in my head.
Crazy? Yeah probably, but admit it, I’m not the only one that talks to myself…
We awoke to a pleasant surprise. No rain. And the sun was even shining while we packed up. With high spirits we set off through Belgium.
It didn't take long for the rain clouds to gather. And when we stopped for lunch (7 euro for two burgers, a coke and a HUGE chips that we couldn't even come close to finishing) the rain began to fall. We took shelter under the awning of a kindergarten, but the stares of the staff through the window forced us to take refuge in the supermarket around the corner. Here, Sam found an English Top Gear magazine, his first English magazine for seven months... it's the little things that really brighten your day...
We rode for half an hour while the rain took an interlude. Luckily, we stumbled upon a bus stop with a shelter just as the second act began.
All this rain was really dampening our enthusiasm for cycling in Belgium.
Our enthusiasm was suffering anyway as we cycled deeper into the Flemish section. Cars beeped at us and gestured for us to get off the road. They've built paths alongside many roads that are apparently for cyclists, but the condition is so terrible that I can't imagine anyone actually wanting to ride them (there are cyclists on them, but surely not by choice)- holes, poorly patched asphalt, drains, gravel... you name it.
Sometimes we use the paths when we get sick of the abuse from drivers but our bikes take a serious battering. Plus we're mixed with two year olds on bikes (seriously), pedestrians, road works, cars reversing from driveways... we feel safer on the road shoulder, even with the abuse!
But McDonalds, with its 1 euro burgers and free wifi, dots the country at regular intervals and the cold nights, last night definitely being one of them, mean we're sleeping well.
So that leaves us two down and two up... Smile trooper, It could be a lot worse.
And what is a Friterie anyway people, how can you just make hot chips and nothing else...?
It's been raining for three weeks.
Or close to it at least.
Actually we really are starting to feel a little water logged and if you look closely enough you might see some moss growing on us. In fact, it's now said by some that we've begun to blend into the green landscape so well that we're barely visible...
Today we got pelted with rain. Eventually we couldn't tell what was wetter, the rain or us. Sloshing (is that even a word) around on our bikes we rode some fantastic streets and alleys in the Belgian countryside.
Despite the relative obscurity of the roads on the map, traffic was heavy, so the scenic route wasn't quite as scenic as it might have been.
Another thing. The architecture here is dramatically different to that in France. We haven't been to Germany yet but it looks more like what we imagined that would be.
So as I was thinking about this blog It stops raining and we start to dry out...
Haha, I spoke too soon... rains again.
We ended up in La Hulpe, and predictably no-one noticed us in the bushes, putting up our green tent amongst the green trees and green grass we started wondering if maybe the joke was on us, maybe you can turn green after all...
Northern France is definitely not Southern France, or so we learnt today.
Our clothes were still very wet after hanging on the bridge last night, and we couldn't wait all morning for them to dry, so we reluctantly put them on and continued cycling along the canal.
But pretty soon, after a few putrid wafts we began to wonder where the stinky smell was coming from. And then we saw it, just beside the canal, a huge sewerage plant! 'Whoa that stinks' we yelled at each other.
And the smell just wouldn't go away. We're going to smell like this town Shanna yelled back at me while we were riding along. 'You already do' I yelled back, laughing. 20 kms later and we could still smell the sewerage, but maybe by that stage it was us...
Another thing we learnt today was that the canal we swam in last night has some big fish, pretty damn big for fish that swim in a river.
At a small cafe/supermarket we stopped at, the first shop we found open for 30kms we saw some photos of some of the fish that have been caught in the river, they looked almost 3 feet long, or as big as a small boy. I wonder if we'd have swam in there if we had of seen those photos first.
And then, sitting outside the cafe a thing, an event you might say happened. And I still can't work it out but we'll write about it at some point in the future, maybe when we write a book or something...
RIding towards the Belgian/France border and it begins raining, first a sprinkle and then it steadily becomes heavier. We see a camping sign, it tells us to turn right. We follow it and eventually find the campsite.
'No tents,' he says, 'only caravans and motor homes, next camp sites 30 km's away.' Wet and feeling sorry for ourselves we keep riding, and cross the border into Belgium.
Riding through the rain, desperately searching for somewhere to camp we see a forest behind some houses and make a dash for it. Is it somebody's land, maybe, but it's late and the rain won't stop. Amongst the blackberrys and the dense trees we push our bikes through the undergrowth.
'It'll do' we say to each other.
We set up the tent in the rain and eat some scraps of food inside to try and stay dry. Then we dry the tent inside where it got wet when we set up.
Laying down we can hear the rain pounding into the forest.
Exhausted and ready for sleep I struggle into my sleeping bag, but somethings not right. Somethings funny.
'Damn it, we stink like the sewer!'
We kept thinking about Paris, the comparative ease of life when you're based in one place (kind of), hot showers, easy access to food... it was a reminder of real life, and it was hard to forget.
In the afternoon we ventured away from the roads and followed a path along a canal. It was flat and protected from the wind; and mostly easier riding away from the cars and the trucks.
We rode past houses with angry dogs barking at the gates - I think they were jealous that we were out enjoying the wind on our faces and they were stuck behind a fence.
We camped next to the canal near Ribemont - and predictably bathed in the murky water... It felt good to wash away the dirt and sweat, but did we really end up much cleaner? Have a look at the photo, would you have washed in here?
Distance: 20km (on the day we left Paris)
We feel so lucky that wonderful friends - old and new - let us stay in their homes and helped make our six days in Paris memorable. To Marc, Cammi, Ali and Darren a BIG thankyou!
After three days we left Marc and Cammi's place to head to Alison and Darren's for the next three days. We spent more time exploring Paris in detail - walking down small arcades, going to the Latin quarter, tasting the world renowned ice-cream on the tiny island of Ill de Saint-Louis, visiting galleries and, of course, tasting the flan in many bakeries.
On our final day in Paris we went to Disneyland with Alison and Darren. It was a long but fantastic day on the rides. Sam even managed to survive the Indiana Jones roller coaster (only just) and the teacups! We were reminded of what it feels like to be a child - filled with the magic that comes with knowing dreams can come true, especially for disney lovers like me!!
It was hard to leave the comfort of friends and a roof over our heads, but we keep hearing strange noises in the air, and we figure it must be the road to Norway, beckoning... Either that or we are losing our minds...
Saying good bye to Paris we caught the train to Campeigne on the outskirts of the metropolitan area - a fast train that carried our bikes for free. We almost missed the station because a rude conductor told us the wrong arrival time but we managed to get our bikes and bags off the train just in time...
Sam and Shanna Evans are from Melbourne, Australia