Two years ago, my good friend Bill and I set off on our bicycles from Atlantic City, NJ, heading west. The plan was for me to ride across the country with Bill accompanying me for the first week. I got as far as Cadiz, Ohio before discontinuing the trip due to health problems.
We are ready to set out together again — this time, starting from Washington DC on April 20th — my 63rd birthday. We are heading west with the goal of reaching Anacortes, WA sometime in August. We will be self-supported, carrying all we need to camp and live outside for the most part. I will have to get a couple of infusions of Chemotherapy along the way, once in Kansas City and again in Missoula, MT. Otherwise, we have no particular schedule to keep except to return home (by plane) sometime in August.
This trip did not come easily. I developed a metastasis in my left eye in January, which after two weeks of radiation is on the mend, albeit with a detached retina and loss of vision. I fractured my big toe, bruised my ribs and injured my back in late March, which is slowly on the mend. These events significantly hampered my training for this trip. My doctor’s advice is to start nice and easy and “ride how you feel.” Bill was able to get a four-month leave of absence to make this happen. I am very grateful to my wife, Lissa, Bill, his lovely wife, Lynette and his employer for making possible a dream we have both had for years.
We are carrying a Garmin GPS device that will show our position and allow us to communicate using texts when out of Cell phone coverage. As of April 20th, you can track our progress using this link.
We’re in the final stretch of our time here in the Netherlands; we fly home on July 31st. The Netherlands is now in its busiest tourist season, where every part of the country is on holiday. The Dutch have three phases of vacation, based on region – and as of a few days ago, all three areas are on holiday. There still has been no rain and it’s HOT, unusually hot for the Netherlands, with no relief in sight. More about that later
We had a stressful period earlier in the week that forced us to give up traveling the long-distance routes. Finding accommodations was crazy making – difficult, expensive and insanely time-consuming. We ultimately decided to skip the coast entirely and spend a couple days each in Delft and Rotterdam, followed by 3 days in Leiden. While it’s not our dream itinerary, it was an enormous relief to have it finalized.
I’m writing this from Delft, where we have been for the last two days. For the first time since we arrived in the Netherlands, we are surrounded by tourists, many of whom are Americans. Since this is Delft, the Delft pottery motifs are everywhere – on napkins, toasters, you name it. It is also the hometown of Johannes Vermeer, so images of his two most famous paintings, including ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ are plastered on everything. The service people all seem tired of tourists, and too hot to pretend otherwise. It’s not for us. Today we rode to the coast and back on the unloaded tandem; a real busman’s holiday, but we loved it. We walked on the velvety soft sand and stuck our toes in the North Sea.
I have no idea what we’ll do in Rotterdam for two days. It’s forecast to be nearly 100 F. The museums will undoubtedly be overrun with tourists shuffling around with their audio tours. I’ll do some research. Movies might be fun. I did manage to reserve a one-bedroom air-conditioned apartment with access to a washing machine! We didn’t do our laundry tonight in anticipation.
We’re just not good tourists. We like to be on the road, to be flexible … the journey is what calls to us. This is the first time we have toured in high season. It will be our last. We didn’t understand how limiting it would be.
Meanwhile, we read the news … floods, heat waves, and fires in the US … headlines about a global heat wave, fires in Sweden and Greece. It’s shocking. Events that used to be unusual are commonplace. It comes at us so quickly that we become numb to it. I find myself unable to let it go. It’s always there, by my side as I ride. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the flowers and the birds … I do. But I am always conscious of the fragility of those things I most cherish.
When l last wrote, we were both feeling tired and beat up and were re-evaluating our plan to complete the Ronde van de Nederland. In the absence of a better idea, we continued on the route, with a commitment to get an earlier start and limit our days to 60 kilometers, all the while discussing our options. An interesting thing happened: we got past our hump. We woke up a couple days ago and realized that it no longer felt daunting; we were stronger, our bodies had recovered from the initial exhaustion of daily riding, and we were on track to complete the loop.
Or were we? Our problem now appears to be accommodations. Not only is it high season for tourists coming to the Netherlands, but it is also vacation time for the Dutch. This, on top of the many festivals scheduled for the end of July, make for a challenging time finding places to stay. We’re scheduling further out than we typically do. It’s taken hours – a real time suck. So, we will more or less circumnavigate the country, while making changes as needed to ensure that we don’t find ourselves sleeping on a bench. As I see it, we’re doing the Ronde in spirit! We now have five of the six photos needed for our ‘certificate’; we anticipate getting the last one in the next couple days. It’s a silly game.
This route is interesting. Parts of it are ‘better’ than others – prettier, more appealing, more cultural, but somehow, in total, it paints a picture and fills in the blanks. The Netherlands is not Amsterdam, or Delft or Gouda. It’s a country with cute towns and not so cute towns, and lots of agriculture and sheep and cows. It’s a country of dikes and canals and flowers … and bikes and bikes and bikes. We haven’t seen any of the tourist attractions this trip, but we’ve seen a lot of the country.
There were times when I wondered why I crossed an ocean to ride in the hot sun through fields of corn and potatoes. But then we find ourselves cycling through a magical forest, or through a bustling market in a little village, or being invited into someone’s garden for coffee and stroopwafels – and I remember why we crossed that ocean. Jeff never has that question. It is his dream to live in a place this cycling friendly.
The Dutch cycle everywhere. Most people ride the standard Dutch city bikes – although increasingly they are configured as e-bikes with a battery and motor. They ride in shorts, and in fancy clothes, they ride to work, to stores, to anywhere. They carry packages and people on their bikes. When an American would get in a car, the Dutch get on a bike – young, old, fat, thin, fit, out of shape, and everything in between – Bicycles are their default mode of transportation. They are so comfortable on them that at times it seems that the bike is an extension of their bodies. Only the sport riders with racing bikes wear helmets. Everyone else goes without, including children. It is not uncommon to see a parent riding with an infant in a seat right in front of the handlebars … no helmet, of course. In the U.S., someone would probably call Child Protective Services on that irresponsible parent! They even bring their dogs with them, in baskets and trailers. It’s really something.
Last night we stayed in a business hotel in Roermond, a city with an old center and a new outlet mall that attracts Asian tourists. Tonight, we’re in Ospel, a small village with not much character. The only businesses we’ve seen here are the simple, somewhat tired café/hotel we’re staying in, a small grocery and a butcher. Tomorrow is Eindhoven, the birthplace of Philips Electronics and now a design and technology hub. There are a whole lot of pedal strokes between here and there.
For some mysterious reason, we seem to have bumped up our mileage this trip. Might it be the Ronde Van De Nederland imperative? Did I not say that we were deadline driven? In eleven days, we have cycled 682 km (422 miles, for the metrically challenged). It took us seventeen days to do that during our 2015 German Tour and we’re not getting any younger. We’re both achy and tired … and trying to figure out if this is great fun or a bit of a slog. It’s not that we can’t do it, but rather that we might not want to do it. Jeff is looking at the map as I write this. For now, we’ll continue onto Arnhem as planned and re-evaluate from there.
Tonight we are in a country hotel outside of Vorden – a small village known for its castles. After hours of searching, we were stunned to find nowhere to stay in Vorden or most of the surrounding area. Really? Is this such a hot spot? It’s not even mentioned in the Lonely Planet guide. As it turns out, there’s an Arabian Horse Festival in a nearby town. Who knew? We were lucky to find the place we’re in tonight. It’s a few kilometers outside of town, in farm country and appears to cater to bike tourists. They fed us a vegetarian meal, washed our clothes and had screens on the windows. We couldn’t ask for more!
The previous day was the one that wiped us out – 95 km (nearly 60 miles), with lots of cycling on challenging narrow, sandy paths. A day later, our bodies are still grousing at us. That ride took us to Enschede, a non-touristy city that doesn’t see many Americans. In fact, we haven’t heard an American accent in over a week. Americans go to Amsterdam, Den Haag, Rotterdam … not to the east side of the country. One of the ‘Friends of Cyclists’ hosts commented that she had been hosting for 20 years, and we were the first Americans to stay in her house.
We had planned to go to Nijmegen after Arnhem, but once again are struggling with a place to stay – only four very expensive rooms available on a Monday night in a city of 175,000 people. What gives? You guessed it, a Festival! Such is life when impromptu-touring during high season.
And then there’s the challenge of navigating. The long-distance LF routes simplify navigation unless there’s a festival, or a detour, or a missing sign, or we missed a sign or … who knows why we’re somewhere other than the route we thought we were on. It’s tough not knowing the language, and we are utterly hopeless in Dutch. Most Dutch speak fluent English, which has allowed us to be lazy. The most basic words stump us.
One of our less successful tactics has been to ignore things we don’t understand – like the big yellow detour signs that we pass. We just continue on our way until we hit a barricade or a construction site. After getting burned too many times, we no longer ignore them, but still continue on – because we can’t read the signs. Our hope is that perhaps it’s a car-only detour that we can sneak by; sometimes that works.
After getting lost for the umpteenth time, it suddenly dawned on me that I could import the GPX tracking data for the LF routes into Google Maps. What a boon that has been. It doesn’t prevent us from going awry, but it does make it easy to check whether we’re off the route and if so, to find our way back onto it.
So, for now, we head on. I’ll report back once we figure out what’s next.
This post is a long time coming. We’ve been in the Netherlands for over a week, and it is only today that I’ve been able to get the first posting out. Blame it on exhaustion, technical problems and a little too much wine at night! The next one should be easier.
We had a rough start, beginning at the Charlotte airport, where we arrived with all our luggage only to be told that we were ticketed from Atlanta to Amsterdam. Our itinerary was from Charlotte, but our ticket was from Atlanta. Who knew they were different entities? Ninety nail-biting minutes later, we headed to our gate, corrected tickets in hand — ready to start our cycling adventure.
Whoa … not so fast! Our transatlantic flight out of Philadelphia was late, very late. First, the plane was somewhere other than our gate. Then they were looking for pillows. Then they were fixing a leak. We finally boarded three hours late, and taxied out, only to break a towing pin, and return to the gate. By this time, our confidence in this tired, retro-looking plane was beginning to waver. That feeling was justified. An hour into the flight, we had an engine problem necessitating an emergency landing in Bangor, Maine. It was a long eighteen hours before our rescue plane arrived from JFK and we were finally on our way – stinky, sleep deprived and a day late.
This is our second time in the Netherlands. We were last here in 2014 when we spent a month cycling through Belgium and the Netherlands. Our loose plan this time is to circumnavigate the country clockwise. The route is called Ronde Van Nederland (Tour of the Netherlands). It’s a 1300-kilometer tour that follows long distance routes along varied landscapes. Taking pictures of our bike at six prescribed locations will qualify us for a certificate and listing on the Ronde van Nederland website! Not that we care much about certificates; neither of us is much for planning or goal setting, but it seems like a reasonable structure. We’ve nabbed two of the photos and traveled 350 km so far. We aren’t convinced that we’ll make it. It was tight before we lost a day to the travel debacle, but we’ll see how the weather and our bodies hold up. Either way is fine.
We woke up to rain this morning – the first we’ve seen since our arrival. The Netherlands has been warm and dry for months. It’s great for holiday-goers, not so good for plants. We learned yesterday that there were voluntary watering restrictions in place. Our host told us about it yesterday as she pointed to a section of wilted vegetation in her yard.
In the past, we’ve stayed in hotels, but have decided to take advantage of an organization called Vrienden op de Fiets (Friends of Cyclists) as much as we can on this trip. It’s a network of nearly 6,000 hosts who provide cyclists and hikers with a bed, breakfast and bike storage – all for €19 each a night. They’re all different, but all interesting and mostly enjoyable. I’m writing this post from Groningen, where we are staying with Mariane & Willem. He’s a journalist, she works in education. It’s a gift to be welcomed into people’s homes, to see a little slice of their lives, and to sit down and speak with them. It’s interesting how similar our worldviews are.
I have yet to meet a Dutch person with anything positive to say about Trump and am relieved that people can separate us as Americans from our current administration. I had been worried about that when we embarked on this trip. Europeans are generally more informed on American politics than most Americans are.
We’ve been riding for six days now. We’re both stiff and achy but holding up well. The terrain is, of course, flat. This is the Netherlands, after all. As usual, it’s been windy – mostly ‘agin us. If we have a gale force headwind, we must be going in the right direction. Our route yesterday had us riding generally with the wind; how sweet that tailwind was. Our favorite riding so far has been through the dunes by the Noordzee (North Sea) – a hauntingly beautiful natural coastline. Our least favorite was probably the 32km Afsluitdijk dike – a long noisy slog with a mound of earth on one side, and cars whizzing by at 100+km/hr on the other. It is, however, an amazing construction feat.
We’re following the long distance (LF) routes as we cycle the perimeter of the country. It makes for easy navigation, although we suspect that the occasional missing sign might have made it home as someone’s souvenir. It’s always comforting to see that green and white sign ahead and know you’re on the route. The Netherlands has an amazing network of bike paths – mostly on dedicated paths, occasionally shared with light car traffic. Scooters share the paths in the cities, which can be disconcerting. E-bikes are ubiquitous. I want one. With an e-bike, I might even be able to cycle in Asheville. For now, I’ll settle for the Jeffrey motor – and yes, I’m pedaling!
We’re carrying a SPOT satellite tracking device. If you’d like, you can Track us Now. There is also a link on the sidebar with our progress to date. I will try to update it most days.
It’s been 10 days since the biopsy, and my leg is finally starting to improve. The biopsy was negative for both infection and cancer, which was a big relief. This has left my doctor scratching his head. Something is definitely not normal with my tibia, but there is no obvious diagnosis at this point — just vague speculation. My doctor has recommended giving it a few weeks rest to see whether it resolves itself, before doing additional, and potentially more invasive, testing. I’ve also been seeing an acupuncturist regularly, which has been helpful.
While this ordeal has been disappointing, the upside is that Lissa and I have gotten to spend some time together. Last Wednesday, the day the biopsy results came back, was her birthday. It was quite a gift for both of us. We celebrated with a bottle of wine and dinner at a local tapas restaurant.
So that’s the plan. I’ve been cleared to do some easy spinning on my indoor bike and light walking without crutches. My hope is that I will be able to resume my trip next month sometime. I’ll keep you posted!
After two days, and much soul searching from my motel room in Cadiz, OH, it became clear that my leg was not getting better. The pain was substantial enough that I could not continue cycling. A trip home for some rest and medical attention seemed a prudent approach. Lissa drove the thousand-mile round trip to retrieve me last weekend, getting me home in time to make it to the walk-in Orthopedic clinic first thing Monday morning. An MRI was ordered and I quickly got an appointment for Monday afternoon.
The MRI results came back on Tuesday. Apparently, my problem is very unusual – which is not something one wants to hear as a patient. The orthopedist thought it was most likely a chronic bone infection, but could also be a cancerous lesion. A bone biopsy was performed today. Results should be back next week — which will hopefully provide a definitive diagnosis, and determine the next steps. In the meantime, I am on crutches, and not very mobile. Finishing my bike trip is on hold for now. It is very disappointing, to say the least!
This is yet another lesson in dealing with whatever comes your way. Life has a way of doing that. I have learned that you just can’t predict what’s next. I will keep you informed when the bike adventures resume.
Thanks to all of you who have been following my journey, and encouraging me along the way. You have inspired me.