Note: be sure to check out the video at the end of this post!
I suppose the past week could be summed up as “a wonderful debacle”. Nothing went as planned, everything was more difficult than expected, and yet I had an amazing time.
The plan had been to cycle from Amsterdam, the Netherlands, to Cologne, Germany over the course of five days with my friend Chris. Well, Chris had to finish this little thing called a Master’s Thesis and arrived a day late, leaving us only four days to cycle the same distance. We didn’t think much of it–that was only fifty miles a day and we were both cyclists in the Rockies back home. No sweat.
Shows you what we knew.
Problem #1: The Bikes
We rented “trekking” bikes from the Radstation in Cologne, then took them by train to Amsterdam. The bikes themselves were fine–they were well-maintained and worked perfectly. The problem was Otto II and Ophelia II were very heavy bikes with high-resistance tires and seats not built for distance riding.
Still, if Richard Halliburton and his friend Mike could do it on 20th century bikes, surely we could make do with ours.
Not so. Our pace was roughly half what we would have done on road bikes, making 50-mile days a lot more time-intensive (and painful) than we could have imagined.
Problem #2: Directions and Route-Finding
The network of trails in the Netherlands is prolific and well-signed, so we weren’t worried about route-finding. But it’s almost too prolific and too well-signed. For example, we knew a bike trail called the LF2 would take us all the way to Rotterdam on the first day. What we didn’t know was that the LF2 consisted of hundreds of linked bike trails that you could continuously follow if you never missed a single LF2 sign amidst all the other dozens of cycling signs.
Well, we missed a sign about 10 km into Day 1, and didn’t reconnect with it until roughly five hours later.
During the five hours we spent zig-zagging all over the countryside we saw amazing landscapes filled with more canals and flowers than I could have imagined, so at least being lost was a visually pleasing experience, but it didn’t do much for our efficiency. We called it quits in the town of Gouda (yes, where the cheese comes from) and took a train the last 20 km into Rotterdam, arriving at 11:00 pm.
Exhausted and short-tempered, we made our best decision yet: to stay two nights in Rotterdam and spend the next day resting and planning a better route. The decision meant we wouldn’t make it all the way to Cologne, but what’s the point of achieving a goal if you’re miserable the entire time?
Finishing with a smile
Rotterdam was a great city, and I’m so glad we spent more than one night there. The architecture is amazing and the people are so friendly–definitely check it out if you’re in Holland. After Rotterdam we spent a day riding 80 km to a town with the baffling name of ‘s-Hertogenbosch. We were better prepared and enjoyed the whole thing, only getting mildly lost a couple of times. Lunch breaks, berry-picking breaks, and photo-ops broke up the day nicely.
From ‘s-Hertogenbosch we rode the “final” 50 km to the town of Nijmegen. Along the way we found the perfect tree to recreate one of Richard’s photos from his bike ride through Holland in 1921. Note Richard’s bowtie and collared shirt–so glad bike shorts and t-shirts are acceptable cycling attire in 2014!
Nijmegen is near the border with Germany, so I can say with pride that I have ridden a bicycle across and entire country! Granted it’s a small country, and there was that bit on the train, but whatever–my butt certainly supports my claim.
From Nijmegen we took the train to Cologne, celebrated our success with a tiny bottle of bubbly, and collapsed gratefully in our hotel room that night.
My advice for others cyclists:
- Bring a hat–that sun can be vicious
- Bring a GPS and download the bike routes from here–it’ll save you so much time
- If you don’t do the GPS thing, write down every single number and every single town you’re supposed to pass through. The numbers form a sort of connect-the-dots way to get from point A to point B, but sometimes the numbers are missing and the city signs are your best bet to stay on track.
- On a real roadbike you can probably do 100 km days comfortably (including time for lunch breaks and getting lost), but if you have any other kind of bike you’d better reduce your daily goals by half.
- Have fun!
Check out my video of cycling across the Netherlands set to Bebe’s awesome song “Siete Horas”: