Morning ride: https://www.strava.com/activities/736180070
The RLT and I hit the ground fairly hard today, near the municipality of Uplengen, Germany, after I dug the front tire into loose sand on a hard right turn on tractor track. No major damage to the bike or the body, but my right knee will be sore for a few days. Little wrecks along the way aside, I still managed to ride about 120 miles (192 km), ten miles more than yesterday. I've set a goal to ride 100 miles or more per day across northern Germany and the Netherlands in anticipation of a much slower pace when I enter the hills of the Ardennes sometime tomorrow. Of course, weather could significantly hamper my 100+ mile ambition even on flat ground, but so far no rain, and the wind has been favorable other than some cross-winds over my right shoulder from the direction of the North Sea.
About three hours from Varel, Germany, I rolled into Bad Nieuweschans, Netherlands, a fortified village on the German border, a few minutes before 12-o'clock, just ahead of my first goal of the day, to reach the Netherlands before noon. We all know that short-term goals are an effective method of overcoming long-term challenges. For my mental state and the long journey ahead, reaching this initial border-crossing was very significant for my prospects of completing the full circuit back to Hamburg. As I crossed into the Netherlands, I felt my mind and body make a transformation from a man on a bike ride to a man on a long, exciting, journey through the unknown. It was a moment of reallocation. moving forward a new set of neural connections would be accessed by my subconscious, a neural network refined over many years and many journeys for the purpose of living in the here and now. And the moment was made even more memorable, even better, by the narrow wooden bridge that carried me the last few meters out of Germany into a new country for my life list. Not what you'd expect perhaps, a wooden bridge with hedges on either side of a modest canal, but that's the EU and it's a wonderful thing.
Unaware of what my options would be later in the day, as I often was on this trip, I took advantage of the modern services available in Bad Nieuweschans, a town of only 1510 residents. First, by stopping at Edeka, my preferred supermarket on this trip, to purchase what I needed to prepare an open-air lunch in the parking lot and breakfast the next morning: brötchen (rolls), sliced cheese, and a hardy meat, prosciutto, an option that does not require refrigeration; also, local apples, organic cherry tomatoes, and nuts (or a nut / fruit mix), among other easily carried and eaten food options. These items, among others such as a hardy salami in place of prosciutto, became my staples. Some nights I added a local beer, or two, to my Blackburn Design Barrier Universal Panniers, but generally only when the grocery stop was much closer to my end-destination for the evening.
In addition to a once-daily grocery stop, some afternoon's I stopped for a quick cappuccino paired with something sweet and occasionally a second sweet for one of my kit pockets. In fact, sweet became a theme, very unusual for me otherwise, as I delved deeper and deeper into my body's reserves. My body eventually craved chocolate covered bananas, chocolate-filled croissants, and apfelstrudel, among other desirables served-up fresh each day by the village bakeries. After my open-air lunch, I visited a sleepy, off-season, pub close-by where I enjoyed two cappuccinos before returning to the bike and the journey.
Long, often straight, and always well maintained, bike paths along equally well cared-for canals are half of the cycling experience you'll encounter in the Netherlands. Most of the other half of my Dutch experience today was represented by bike ways, mostly paved, and sometimes shared with cars, through a picturesque landscape dominated by agriculture with patchwork forests and villages between. If the wind is favorable, as it was for me on this second day of my trip, with a bike and gear intended for light cycle touring a cyclist trained for long-distance bike racing can comfortably travel across Holland's patchwork landscape an average speed of 15-16 mph (24-26 kph). My bike and gear weighed-in at just under 48 pounds (21.6 kg) including two full (24 ounce) water bottles but no food just before I departed Hamburg on 5 October. Subsequent grocery stops easily increased that weight by another 2-4 pounds (1-2 kg). Weight aside, my average speed would have been closer to 17-18 mph (27-29 kph) if not for frequent deceleration to confirm my route and negotiate turns, especially whilst coming and going from human population centers, villages, towns, and cities. But those averages aside, it was not unusual today to check my speed and find that I was spinning comfortably, heart rate within my (zone 2) base-level intensity, at 20-22 mph (32-35). And when the wind was at my back, 24-25 mph (38-40 kph). Beyond Holland, over the next few days, I would eventually settle-into and accept 15 mph as a reasonable goal for any day, any terrain.
The infrastructure of cycle ways connecting people and places in the Netherlands is an inspiration, motivation to smile, to sing a short tune with revised lyrics, even dance. It's hard to imagine, perhaps, how fabulous a trail system must be to inspire a cyclist to dance on their moving bike but that's exactly what you'll find, captivated by the experience and uplifted to what many would describe as a "religious experience". Nothing I experienced in North America, and elsewhere, prepared me for the Dutch cycling infrastructure and as a result I never imagined how good it might be. Most of today, I no doubt appeared as if I was pedaling towards something wonderful on the horizon. But instead, my motivation was here and now, an unexceptional component of a minuscule nodule of space-time, inside which I was savoring a moment with no concern about anything. I was riding-on as unattached to past and future as the Voyager Spacecrafts in their lonely explorations beyond our solar system.
By about 6 pm, a late conclusion to an inspired day of bicycle touring, I arrived to the village of Hardenberg, my resting place for the evening, a few kilometers west of the German border just inside of the Netherlands. Since arriving, my AirBnB hosts have taken exceptional care of their one night tenant, including a locked and covered area to store his bike, followed by dinner, desert, tea, and plenty of stimulating conversation, just what a guy needs after riding solo for nine hours through a foreign land. Cost for this fantastic evening, just 28$ including breakfast in the morning. I'll be paying in US dollars using the AirBnB iPhone app whenever possible to avoid paying fees for replenishing my Euro stash.
In Holland, the suggestion that "all of the people speak [implied here, 'fairly good'] English" is mostly true, and my evening hosts were certainly not an exception. Whereas elsewhere, in Germany for example, that's not been my experience. Nonetheless, if you're considering your own cycling tour through Europe, don't let the variation in English-speaking abilities influence your itinerary. People always find a way to communicate and as a rule, the same people are friendly and helpful. And the few that are not can easily be forgotten.
I'm settled-in now, it's time to rest-up for day three of my cycling tour. I anticipate that I'll ride most of the way through the Netherlands tomorrow. The next day, assuming no unexpected delays or route changes, I'll visit Belgium and Luxembourg, both will be new countries for my life list. Already, the cycling infrastructure in the Netherlands has been a treat to experience. I'm looking forward to what will unfold on tomorrows ride.
Guten Nacht from Hardenberg, in the province of Overijssel, a town with a population of "about 19,000" which received "city rights in 1362 from Jan van Arkel, Bishop of Utrecht" (more details at Wikipedia).