SOME RIDES ARE NOT ALL FUN!

(Note from Dan: Ken sent me this trip report. I enjoyed it enormously and asked if he would like to share with others.)

I wanted to cycle Belgium but living in Wales meant getting across the Channel was in itself a challenge, especially when Dan informed me the ferry to Ostende no longer operates.

The nearest Channel ferry for me would be Harwich, 250 miles from my home, so without a lot of planning, just keeping an eye on the weather, one day in mid June I took off.

Maybe I should say that having nearly 67 years under your ‘tyres’ has some disadvantages, like the kneecaps ache and you have to ensure you have packed the pills and potions, thankfully not too many in my case but transporting insulin can be a problem, thankfully there are small cooler bags. But the one big advantage of that age is being able to go at a whim.

So I left my home with bike and panniers safely stowed in the back of my estate car and after an uneventful journey arrived at Harwich in the early evening, hoping to catch the night ferry. First disappointment, no berths were available and a berth is compulsory on night sailings. So a local bed and breakfast and pub meal was an essential, both easily found.

Early the next morning I found a parking space for my car and rode to the ferry terminal. There I chatted to 27-year-old Andy who is hoping to ride all the way to Australia. I think he could do it, if the world allows him too, but as one with forty more years of ‘life experience’ sadly I am sceptical if it will. Andy and I got on well and having got off the ferry at around 4pm we decided to ride together for the rest of that day. Andy encouraged me to go north and away from Belgium so my plans were modified, I would cycle up the west coast of Holland, and then turn east towards Germany. By early evening we were already in Katwijk where we found a room, got cleaned up and went out to eat. The next day as we got level with Amsterdam, sadly our paths parted, Andy rode east towards that city and I continued northwards. Andy … you’re a great lad, you can read a map and your eyesight is much sharper than mine in spotting the cycle route signs. It truly was a pleasure riding with you and I believe you enjoyed the sense of humour of ‘the old fella’ as we did laugh a lot. I ‘Wish You Well’ and will silently pray you safely ‘Make It All The Way To Aussie’. Andy has since made contact via email but no further information at this stage.

I continued cycling up the west coast of Holland, I use to stop for lunch but would then pound away at the pedals, getting more miles under the tyres. My next stop was Bergen where I found a small hotel and went into the village to eat. Two young girls (21 and 22) invited me to join them at their table. One was celebrating the results of her final exams and the other was celebrating how much she was struggling with her medical degree. Two great girls who also had one of the waitresses as their friends and I think we all got well looked after. Since I’ve returned home the younger girl, Elske, has also made contact via email, seems my Christmas card list is rapidly growing.

The next morning I knew there was a 25 mile ride ahead of me and I had to decide whether to add the 20 mile wide dyke which I believe is called the Afsluitdijk and forms the northern part of the Ijssedmeer, knowing that once I started there would be no turning back, and nowhere to stay overnight. As I cycled along a huge breasted woman of about my own age rode alongside me. I stopped and she was insistent I took the details of the B & B she ran. She skipped across to a garage to get a pen so she could write down her address and I would have considered investigating it until she said, “With a smile like yours you can have anything you want” … I wasn’t sure why emphasis was placed on the “anything” and with that I was GONEeeeee. Sorry … I destroyed the address of the B & B as soon as possible as I didn’t wish to be found sleepwalking with it in my hand.

So I started the crossing with a stiff breeze in my face and with the weather, until now reasonably cool, starting to get warmer by the minute. I punched away and once when I got off the bike to ease the pain on the kneecaps and cheeks of my bum only to find that the front of my bike suddenly reared up like a horse, I then confirmed what I had suspected, I was carrying too much in my rear panniers … info I will remember for my next trip.

Having crossed the dyke it was getting late and I was concerned if I’d find accommodation for the night … another learning curve as next time I will carry a lightweight one man tent with me. But I did find a ‘Pension’ in a village called Zurich, a converted farm building which was very nice especially as I had it all to myself. Having got cleaned up I went into the village to eat.

The next day I cycled to Holwerd where a ferry operates to the offshore islands. Again a good meal there, good bed and clean room.

The following day I intended to get as close as possible to the German border, was going to find accommodation, rest up a bit and spend a day or two sightseeing that part of Germany.

But it was so hot. It might be relatively easy cycling terrain (a head wind is probably the worse that can be expected) but when the sun is blasting down you are continuously exposed to it, as there is little (if any) shade. So I cycled in this relentless sun, I would have refilled the water bottle at least 7 times that day, had two beers and two Iced Tea drinks so I’d probably drunk over 3 litres of fluids. I wore a hat the whole time and only took my shirt off for a short period, but come the evening I was feeling 100% drained and exhausted. I rode into a farmyard to ask the farmer if he knew of accommodation only to collapse into his arms … Heat Exhaustion I believe. Both he and his wife were very kind and made phone calls to other farming friends who done accommodation. Eventually they found a bed for me, thankfully only 3 or 4 kms away, so I rode there. Having got showered and changed I felt fine and rode into the town to get some food. I had a great meal and all was well until I started cycling home when I knew my stomach was doing things it shouldn’t do.

So for that night and virtually the whole of the next day I either sat on the loo or crashed out on my bed. I’m convinced the meal wasn’t the cause as I began to feel poorly so soon after I’d eaten. No I’m sure it was still the affects of the heat or could have been what the chemist suggested which was failing to replace the salts I’d used up.

But the next morning I was still having problems and was feeling well ‘bashed about’ … better to get home I thought and resolve the problem there.

So having got within a few miles of Germany but not putting a foot onto their soil, I put myself onto the train at Uithuizermeeden, changed at Groningen and went all the way to Den Haag, back on the west coast, a rail journey that took four hours and cost 33 Euros (£20) plus 6 Euros for the bike, cheap travel I would suggest.

Having found accommodation in Den Haag the next morning at 3.30am I signed out and rode like crazy to catch the early ferry from Hoek van Holland. It was quite funny really as in the early hours there was this old fella sitting astride a heavily laden bike and going like a rocket. As you might know most of Holland has it own cycle tracks, some with their own set of traffic lights. But whose going to bother about a few red lights at 3.30am … well not me when I have a ferry to catch. But I’m convinced the local law spotted me as I was soon pulled over by a police car. But we got on fine (thankfully NOT that kind of ‘fine’.) and we laughed and giggled and they told me to carry on. But within a short time another police car was being driven alongside me and they drove off with a friendly, “Keep going old man”. But a little further on another suddenly appeared, and then another, in all there were four marked police cars that appeared to be following me, all watching me jump red lights (well I presume they must have seen me doing that) and each time before they left there were a few friendly words of banter. But whilst riding through a particularly dark area an unmarked car pull alongside and I could see there were two people inside it. Hell I thought, I didn’t think my bowels could take much of a scarring, and I was convinced I was in trouble. But soon the windows were down and there were two grinning uniform policemen inside, the one in the passenger seat spoke especially good English and he joked and said I was going in the right direction. But how did he know where I wanted to go unless he had been in radio contact with his colleagues. To me I think they were slightly bored at that hour and found it amusing that this old fella was cycling though the night like a man possessed in order to escape some horrible accommodation, yes I didn’t mention that, and catch a ferry.

I arrived at Hoek van Holland in plenty of time to catch the 7.20am ferry, a very smooth 3-hour crossing and I was back in Harwich.

Over four full cycling days, plus the few hours after getting off the ferry cycling with Andy, I rode nearly 300 miles. Yes the bum was sore but the knees easily coped and as already stated the relentless sun caused the most problems. If I return I will consider changing my tyres to those more suitable for road use, as those currently fitted to my bike are heavy knobbly ones suitable for Welsh tracks. I must also take less clothing than I did as lots came back unused. I didn’t find it a cheap holiday but then are any good holidays cheap? Accommodation soon added up and eating out twice a day mounted up too. But would I do the same again? YOU BET as later this year I hope to cycle to Belgium, or maybe closer to me would be to cycle Ireland catching the ferry from Holyhead to Dun Laoghaire, cycling across to Shannon on the west coast and again using the train to get me back to the ferry port.

No doubt I am preaching to the converted but if you haven’t tried cycle touring you simply must. Before leaving home I was asked how long I would be away and I simply didn’t know as it (1) depended on the weather (as it turned out it was too hot rather than too wet) (2) how much I was enjoying myself (I had a fantastic time and would still be cycling the Low Countries if I hadn’t suffered the heat problems) and (3) how quickly the money ran out (well it did so maybe that’s what really brought me home … but after a couple of pension weeks I will be BACK).

So if you see an old fella riding a hybrid bike with a Welsh flag fixed to the rear, give him a wave and in return the ‘Big Breasted Woman’ suggested your get an ‘ear to ear’ grin.

Happy cycling.

Ken Hoare

Ken can be contacted at ken1938 at hotmail.co.uk

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Ken and his steed

last update 29 June 2005

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