WanderingDan’s Weblog

Wind, wind, wind and more wind
June 25, 2013, 7:58 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Before today I have never been on a bicycle trip longer than an afternoon…maybe ten miles, twenty at best, and without thirty plus pounds of gear. I haven’t trained for this. I don’t know how my legs will hold out. Here is a sampling of subjective opinions about my venture: ‘you are crazy’, ‘awesome!’, ‘you’re an idiot’, ‘hardcore!’. I don’t know how this will go, if I’ll make it to Ireland before my bike (hereafter known as ‘Daisy’) or myself will fall apart. If all goes well, my victory jig in Dublin will taste something sweet…if not, I guarantee it will be one hell of an adventure trying. 

My alarm is set for 7:30, but excitement has me up and moving at 7. The last three days in Amsterdam were amazing. I could totally live here, the cool factor is off the charts. You know how at almost every university in a medium or big city there is a four or five block radius that emits a certain vibe: energetic, progressive, hip, fun…the entire city of Amsterdam is like this. In fact, when I walked from the airport to the bike shop, I passed through the university and had a hard time telling it apart from the rest of town. Amazing. The architecture, history, canals, ‘coffee shops’ (ie: weed stores, the only place where it can be legally sold here), and bicycles…everywhere! A city of 600,000 people, with an estimated 600,000 bicycles at any given time. I could totally live here…but alas, the adventure must start. I have been humbled by the hospitality shown my by Khadija and her friends; they have gone out of their way to see that my stay here is comfortable and enjoyable…and since noone here responded to any of the dozen couchsurfing requests I sent out, my appreciation is doubled.

I’m happy to see blue skies outside, given yesterday’s drenching. Robbert gets up early as well and puts breakfast out for me while I’m packing up my paniers, then he looks up what the best route for me will be to the Zeeland province. The website he uses also tells us it will be a 4,000 calorie ride, upon which he tells me to eat more. We say goodbye and I promise to text when I pull into Terneuzen. With bike loaded, and after a couple minutes of half-ass stretching, I set off with a few butterflies in my stomach.

Within the first two hours riding I regret not having bought a bike route map of Holland. Between the map app on my iPhone and the signage I get by, but still have to reroute, as I frequently get turned around. The sun is now hidden behind a thick blanket of clouds so I can’t use its position to guide me. Making my way, town by town towards the Hague, my first landmark, I am content…and at peace. The landscape of rural Holland offers amazing scenery of farmland, not huge corporate farms, but old-school family farms, with brick homes and tile or thatched roofs. Then the rain starts to fall. Slowly at first, then picks up momentum. Pulling over to check my location, another heavy laden bike approaches…turns out to be a postman named Jaan (or Yajn, or Yojn…but for phonetic purposes, I’ll call him ‘Yon’). We start riding together, and he offers to show me the little island which is his route. The little detour sounds fun, and Yon takes a break from his route to show me around, from one ferry to where the other is. Narrow cobblestone lanes, quintessential dutch houses…this little island is pretty cool. I want to stop and take pictures, but since Yon is already delaying his route to show me around, I decide against the idea, keep riding and follow his little tour. Besides, the rain is still picking up momentum.

Later in the afternoon the rain lets up and my quick-dry travel clothes work their magic. Realizing now there is no way in hell I’m going to make it to Zeeland by tonight, the meandering detour through the huge park in the Hague is justifiable. Holland has a lot of stinging nettles…everywhere, which is a good motivator to keep me on path, and forces caution when going off path to pee. I feel a sense of freedom at not having to push myself to close the gap to Terneuzen by tonight…and reset my sights on Rotterdam. It’s still a long way to go, especially with the rain and now the wind. The wind becomes relentless. Ofcourse, given the iconic symbol of Holland are its ubiquitous windmills, this should not surprise me in the least! Surprise or not, this headwind is cutting my speed in half. It’s like the dreams I used to have as a kid…I was fighting, and everything I did was in slow-motion no matter how hard or fast I tried to punch or kick. This feels similar. I pedal and pedal and pedal, but seem to be making no ground at all. The wind is worse when the path is parallel to a canal or through an open field. Oddly enough I feel a measure of assurance in the fact there are no options here…I can’t stop, I can’t go back…the only directive is to push on, come what may: wind, rain, fatigue, cold. When the big gusts hit me I curse aloud “fahk you wind!”, and then gritting my teeth I laugh hysterically and scream “is that all you got bitch!?, bring that shit on!”….and it does…all day long. Eventually the rain stops, and I start to dry out, excepting the drenched shoes. About 7:30 I roll into Rotterdam, and must look like one hell of a mess with my wind-chapped face, but am not there long, because as soon as I find there is a campground at the northern border of the city, I am off to find it. All I can think about is a hot shower and food…I am ready to devour the vittles I picked up at the grocer earlier today. Putting up my new tent in the rain, which started up again, I very quickly regret buying the tiny one-man shelter; maneuvering in this little contraption requires a fair amount of agility for someone of my height and length of limbs. But I am happy to have an escape from the elements. Putting in a good ten hour ride today, the effects of exhaustion are amplified by the loooooong hot shower followed by the veritable feast of strawberries, bread, avocado, cheese, peanut butter, cookies, cherries, carrots and apples. It feels like I’m eating for a half-hour straight when I decide to stop. I could eat more, but I’m too tired. Hell of a first day’s ride…

Rain is pattering on the tent, wind is howling through the trees. It is about 6 in the morning. Rolling over, I go back to sleep hoping it will stop in an hour. It doesn’t. This pattern of denial continues until 8, when I force myself to accept the fact I am just going to be wet today. Dressing in my warm clothes, I pack everything up, and breakdown my tent in the rain. It’s not so bad once I get going, especially with all my gear on. Most everyone else in the campground is still asleep, or doing like I was and hiding from the weather. One other couple, also traveling by bike it seems, was up and moving too.

I lose the bike trail at the south of town, not sure how that happens, but now I have to get through a freeway intersection and set of train tracks…the freeway of which is under construction. Fortunately its Sunday and noone is working. Words cannot describe the shenanigans I go through in the pouring rain to traverse these obstacles. I wish there was video footage. Come to think of it, maybe the construction site has some…they will laugh their asses off on Monday if they do. Tromping through waist high grasses, heaving Daisy (because she easily weighs 60 pounds fully loaded) over freeway guardrails, up and down construction stairs, across and along railroad tracks…seriously, words cannot describe the hour of legally questionable maneuvering it took…but alas, I trevail, with minimal damage: just broke a couple plastic holds on the paniers and bent the chain protector. Frustrated and relieved, I press on…and on…and on…fighting wind the whole way, all the while doing my best to enjoy the beautiful scenic countryside. Other highlights of the day, aside from torrential downpours: the isthmus from hell, an endless strip of wind laden suffering, and the bridge of death, a 5km long wind tunnel connecting two of the islands. I cross the bridge around 9:30…again, I won’t be making it to Terneuzen tonight. And now my left knee is starting to hurt. Not good. Twelve hours of riding today has seriously beaten the shit out of me. Thank god the rain has mostly gone away. I sure hope the weather starts getting better, because I won’t be able to handle 7 weeks of this, no matter how gorgeous the scenery is…


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