Tot Ziens

It always seems to happen this way at the end of a chapter, things feel really rushed.  Even though I didn’t get to do much this week with my bike in the shop.  After I don’t know how many miles it was finally time to get things looked at, it turns out that almost everything that has to do with pushing the bike forward needed to be replaced.  I hope this is the only time in the next 4 months that this has to happen.

I guess it has to be said that watching Holland lose the world cup was pretty sobering.  After a very tense game losing in the last minute was pretty devastating, plans to go out and celebrate were quickly scrapped and the promise of seeing grown men cry was fulfilled.  I have to admit it was fun being in a country whose competing for the world cup,  I don’t think it can compare to any sporting event in America, and then on top of that spending it with friends in old and new dutch pubs made it way better.

How do I thank everyone that helped me out in Europe, the list is long and I’m very grateful to each one of them.  Europe turned out a lot better than I anticipated though probably not as long as I thought it would have been.  I’m quite excited to start the ride across America.  I have to confess that my trip through Europe was technically done the easy way with all the river runs I did so America will prove to be a lot more challenging.

I also have to admit there is a certain nervousness about going back to the states, I get it every time I’m headed to a new continent though I didn’t really expect it this time around since I’m sorta headed back home.  I’m sure the feeling will wear off once I get back on the cycle.  For a guy who tries to avoid big cities heading to The Big City is a little out of character but it’s for a good reason.

Hup! Holland Hup!

Current Location: Amsterdam, Holland

It seems I’ve chosen the epicenter of sporting at the moment.  With Holland going to the championships of the world cup and the Tour de France starting in Rotterdam this year.  I managed to get down to the southern part of Holland to catch the peloton fly by.  It was 3 hours of waiting for 10 seconds of sheer madness, totally worth it.  There was a massive amount of people along the whole 200+ km course, and the little town I was in was no exception, I guess any excuse to get out and drink is taken when available.  I must admit that my respect for the tour has grown immensely since I’ve done some of the distances these guys do, just not at the speed they do it at.  I’m not sure how it is possible for them to keep up the cadence they do day after day, to me it seems super-human.  It’s easy to wax poetic on how difficult the race can be as many authors already have and in my mind there is no competition in the world that comes close to the difficulty of the tour, how these guys push themselves to the razors edge of perfection day after day baffles me.

And then along comes the world cup, something I also have to admit not paying much attention to.  Comes with being American I guess.  It’s hard to not get caught up in it over here, wildly evident after crossing the border from Germany into Holland whole towns are festooned in orange banners, almost like Queens day all over again.  I’ve been able to catch the last 2 games, I usually don’t even know what day it is but it’s easy to figure out when the games are.  Just go through a town completely empty and you wonder where everyone is until you get to the pub, park the bike and enter the fray.  Watching the game last night in Amsterdam was pretty crazy and I can imagine things will only get better on Sunday.

I must admit being without a definite direction makes for a little more difficult cycling.  But I’ve managed to keep on the bike every day since leaving Copenhagen.  Choosing to fly out of Holland means my training for going across America I probably could have chosen a more appropriate country like Germany or anywhere else really.  Not many hills here so I’ll have to see how I do with hills in a few weeks.

Can’t Complain

Current Location:Winschoten, Holland

I’ll never complain about the wind again.  If I should I ask that you put five across the face, I’ll probably stare off into the distance and remember what cycling Denmark was like.  Let me do my best to explain why.

Up until this point I’ve winged about a little wind pushing me backwards.  I realize now that this was just a cooling breeze and nothing more.  I’ve now felt wind that would  make your hair curl, laddie.  In one particular section that day I could almost make out Loki rubbing his hands together and grinning maniacally as I turned a corner and a blast of wind almost took me to the ground. The wind started in the night when I heard it trying to take the tent off of the ground, I put in my earplugs and figured it would be over by morning.  It wasn’t.  The wind was blowing NE and I was heading SW, straight into the maw of the beast it seemed.  I really have never felt anything like this, it tore at every fiber of my being relentlessly.  It might let up for a second only to redouble its efforts to stop me, and accomplishing just that several times.  Up until now I’ve never had to walk the bike on flat ground, that too has changed.

I’ve now learned like surfers must respect the water, above all else I think cyclists must respect the wind.  I endured that day for the greater part of 10 hours against the wind clocking in only 90-100km for the day.  Not an inch was given that I didn’t have to fight for.  And that is why I’ll never complain about the wind again.

I did find Denmark to be shockingly expensive, a fact I bemoaned to mom and dad when they were here.  It was one of my main reasons to get out of the country quickly.   Also the fact that they haven’t switched over to the Euro is fairly irritating.   Other than that the coastal route was really interesting.  I think it was a rough existence for those that choose to live on that side of the country.

Riding back through Germany was nice again, after the headwinds in Denmark I managed to snag a few days of tailwinds which propelled me through Germany quite briskly, a nice change.  I followed the North Sea Cycle Route for a great portion of the ride, it’s nice to not have to look at the map and just focus on the cycling.

Back in Holland again means easy cycling, I have pretty much settled on heading back to the US by mid July and start the ride across.  I think I’ve accomplished most everything I wanted to here and the US will be challenge enough.  I think the only thing now is to stay focused on riding, it’s just a problem figuring out where I want to go, maybe I go back to Belgium for a wee while.

Where to Go

Current Location:Skagen, Denmark

The only word I have yet had to have translated in all the travels has been beer.  I guess we have the Germans to thank for that one.   Through all of Germany the siren call of the biergarten was strong, especially along the river sides.  Talking to other Germans cycling along they say they feel the same way.  Usually I can ride off one beer, but if I decide to stay for a second one then I had better be close to a campsite because I am not making it much further than that.

Meeting mom and dad in Copenhagen was really good, we did some touristy things like museuming.  And we ate, or at least I sure did.  The steak I had on the ship sure beats pasta any time.  It sure made it worth the 10 days ride up from Austria to meet them.  I also got to run into Ray and Sonya who pulled into the harbor the day after mom and dad.

Meeting people while travelling has really been the highlight to what I have been doing for the last couple years.  So meeting people in one country often means I get invitations to visit them if I make it to where they are.  This happened in Copenhagen where I met two girls travelling in Vietnam.  We all got rained in while in Mui Ne and got along quite well so they said when I got here I should stop by.  We had a great Danish dinner with some of their friends and laughed a lot.  Thanks to Hanne and Katrine for hosting.

One of the suggestions from Hanne and Katrine for what I should do in Denmark was to ride to the northern tip of Denmark and put my feet in both seas.  While in Copenhagen I was doubting this idea, mostly because all I ever saw in Denmark was cold grey days, fighting a headwind.  But on arriving here it turns out to be a brilliant day and a tailwind.  Unfortunately now I turn into the wind and finish out the day once again fighting a headwind.

I have started to think its time to start the ride across America.  I will head south for a while and make it back to Holland to see how I feel by then.  If I still feel the same way I should be back in America to start while the summer is strong.

Tilting Against Wind

Current Location:Gluckstadt, Germany

First and foremost I have to thank Elizabeth and her family for hosting me in Austria.  For those that don’t remember ElizabethI met her wwoofing on a farm in the Bay of Islands.  It just so happens that when I turned up she was about to drive around the country doing a series of tests to try and get into university.  This meant I got to tag along and travelled through 6 of the 9 provinces of Austria and did some sight-seeing along the way.  It was really a treat to get to drive through the Alps and not have to cycle them, they are mighty and fierce sometimes.  The BBQ the day I arrived was especially nice, I have started to really miss them as I’m cycling around I smell them more and more.  I wish I could just sit down and enjoy some braats!

I left St. Valentin with some extra time to spare (I thought) in which to make it to Copenhagen in time to meet mom and dad but  it looks now like I’ll make it just in time.  I’ve finished the Elbe river today and am still 2 days ride from the border to Denmark and then from there 2 more days to ride to Copenhagen.  The wind has been against me the whole 5 days spent on the river, it’s something that doesn’t really bother me but it does end up wearing me down by the end of the day.

The Elbe river was nice, but not nearly as spectacular as the Donau though I hear I missed the best part which is the section from Prague into Dresden.  I did end up catching a train from Passau to Dresden last Sunday, 7 hours on the train for 40 euro I thought was a deal which I couldn’t pass up for the chance to meet up with mom and dad.  I wonder if I can answer yes when people ask me if I cycled the whole way now. 

I’m guessing at this point I’m starting to look a bit feral as I think it’s been 7 days since I’ve shaved, I’m gonna try and see how long it goes before people start running away from me.  The camping along the way has only gotten easier, in fact one night I stopped for water and a beer at a bar and the bar owner offered out of the blue to let me camp along side the Elbe river.  With an invitation like that I figured it was alright to have another beer and call it a day.

I know I haven’t posted pictures in a while, i’ll get to those in Copenhagen when I should have some free time.

Allez, Allez, Allez!

Current Location: St. Valentin, Austria

I am not sure what makes a cycling tourer what they are but we are a different breed than your average wanderer, and not in a bad way.  I don’t think of us as the crazy wanderer type, instead every tourer I have met has been particularly well balanced and gregarious.  We have all fought the same hills and raced down the hills which I think gives us all similar outlooks towards cycling, we will fight the hills when necessary but will avoid them when we can, we don’t go backwards on ourselves, we will ride in the rain because we dry out.  Though I must say that the sun does have the nice affect of changing the way I feel about a country, it is always infinitely better when the sun is shining.  Our most precious possession is our bike and you will rarely find a tourer far from it.

I am sure some people look at us as if we were crazy but well grounded is the only way I have found other tourers, maybe because it is not the easy way.

“The only bad thing I have to say about Germany is that I have nothing bad to say about Germany.”  This was a quote given to me by a touring couple I met in Luxembourg and I have found this to be right on the money.  They gave me their thoughts on cycling here as they had done it the previous year.  I have found the people to be extremely helpful and nice, more than a few times I have found myself puzzling over a map or a sign trying to figure out which way to turn when another cyclist will pull up and ask if I need help.  If they cannot speak English they will often sign for me to follow along and I will eventually be led to where I need to go (This has happened more than once.)  The cycle routes are second only to Holland and well signed, for the most part.  And to compare the size of Germanyto Holland the cycle routes become all the more amazing.

The route I took through Germany to get to Austria has basically been to follow as many rivers I can mostly for two reasons.  One is that it makes navigating relatively easy as I just have to know on which side of the river I am on to know which direction to go.  The other is simply that it makes for easier cycling.  By far the nicest cycling to date in Europe has been along the Donau (Danube) river.  I rode along its banks for 3 days solid and the last day cycling from Passau into Austria was really spectacular, I can now see why river cruises along there are so popular.  Also getting popular in that area is the weekend warrior cycling, I passed many families and groups of people doing the route to Wien (Vienna.)

I think the plan at the moment is to cycle to Copenhagen to try and meet mom and dad on the 10th.  I am not sure how that will work and may involve a train somewhere, we will see how long it takes me to get out of here first.

Old Stompin Grounds

Current Location:Mechelen, Belgium

Ask any travelling western European what they miss most about home and I’m willing to put money that the answer would be bread* (this goes especially for Germans. (Family and friends are understood to be a given.)) I now understand why they say this, until now most breads I’ve had have been fairly tame and since being in Dutch homes and eating different breads in Belgium I’ve learned what bread can be, and American bread is lacking.  I only found muslibrood a week before leaving Holland and am puzzled being back in Belgium that they don’t have it here, it’s subtle things like this that change when going across borders.  Something that was available 5 kilometers in one direction isn’t available here.  Suffice to say that in the 3 weeks in Holland I got quite used to a variety of Dutch eats and am a little disappointed I can’t get them in Belgium. 

A big thanks goes to Miranda and her brother Sean for putting me up during Queens birthday in Amsterdam.  It’s really quite amazing to see an entire country shut down for a day and party so hard.  Amsterdam canals were packed with revelers all donning orange.  The streets are no exception to the crowding and drinking which we participated in whole-heartedly.  Also going on is people setting up shop outside their doorsteps, so the country basically turns into the worlds largest flea market.  I commented during the festivities how nice it is to see everyone in it to have a good time, not one time did we see any fighting or unruliness going on.  I was quite impressed with the whole thing and had a great time with everyone we hung out with that day. 

Miranda and I then carried on to Longadijke for her going away BBQ party, I was quite excited to get to have a bbq as it had been since New Zealand since I had been to one, and it sure beats cheese and bread. 

From there I meant to carry on north to the islands that string along north of Holland but found out that my next appointment later that week was further south than I had planned so re-arranged my itinerary to head in that direction.  I did manage to skirt through Flevoland which is where I was in Holland 15 years ago for the World Boyscout Jamboree.  Not much of the event remains today except for a statue that I vaguely remember and the roads that went between camp sites (we were phoenix camp, I think.)  I approached a lot of people trying to figure out where the place was, most were really helpful once I managed to explain what I was looking for while others probably weren’t born when the thing happened.  The roads still being there gives the place somewhat of an eerie feel but I found Flevoland very apt for the camp as it has the most wide open spaces I found in all of Holland. 

Another thanks goes to my moms friends Linda and Ad who live in Breda for putting me up for the weekend and showing me around.  They took me to Kinderdijke which is known for it’s many windmills.  In my limited knowledge of what windmills were used for I’ve usually associated them with grinding flour while the Dutch use them for controlling water levels (which is why they have so many of them.)  The Dutch being masters of controlling water (all of Flevoland is reclaimed land from the sea.) Riding over some bridges in Zeeland there looked to be gates that could close and keep out the ocean, I thought that quite silly because who do they think they are trying to control the ocean.  Only to find out, to my astonishment, that is exactly what they do.

I was sorta sad to leave Holland cycle paths, everything is so easy there that it is something of a shock to go back to navigating by symbols on poles.  I’m not exactly sure what Germany has in terms of cycle paths but I’ll soon find out.

*except for Alastair who would probably complain about the failing state of mustard or cheese in that particular country.