What you might just learn along the way (apart from how to build a fire with soaked wood and how to ruthlessly murder ticks) -cycling part 2

 

I must warn you on the biais in those pictures: I only dared/could be bothered to take out the camera when it was not raining, so those are the few moments of sun along the way, completely failing to capture what it was really like but making for much better views

Second larger hiatus in writing here, mostly due to living in the woods and camping wild (which sounds very exciting, is perhaps less so when said woods are small groves of about a dozen trees in the peaceful Dutch countryside), and then staying in Amsterdam for a few days trying to see friends not seen since ages, visit as many museums and exhibitions, and testing as many Belgian beer bars as possible (yes, that is a serious mission, I’m under strict orders).

We did continue to get a considerable amount of (un)wanted showers per days, cycling along the German and then Dutch  north coast. That’s a given. What increased progressively was the wind, always in our faces, to the point of reaching almost comical amplitude when it was time to cross the “Afsluidijk”, the dam created (with amazing man power) in the 1930’s to close of the Ijselmeer, enabling the Dutch to gain more Polderlands inside of the newly created sea.

 

Practically, for us, it meant a 30kilometers straight ride, with the sea on both sides, always crossing cyclists coming the other way round (with “we may be crazy, but not so much as to attempt it in that directions, you weird tourists” written on their faces) but being the only ones going West, on easily the worst day possible of all the ones we had before: rain – continuous – a wind that only lets you through if you fold yourself almost completely on your bicycle, and clouds blocking all possible view. Charming, really.

 

a frequent reminder that it’s time to put the waterproof gear back on (if you bothered to take it of in a sudden burst of optimism)

So that was fun. But then you stop at the small “information centre” built on the dam about 2/3 of the way through (by which we cried “only god damned 2/3?” and collapsed, but then ate fries in the cafe and it was suddenly much better), and you watch short films of the construction, in which workers in sandals carry huge stone blocks against the wind (which is always there, even if it was shot on possibly the only sunny day in the whole 9 year construction period, trying, and failing, to make it look like a pleasant Sunday hobby), looking strangely like comedic characters of a silent movie, tumbling under the weight of the rock, until you realize what it must have been. And you don’t really feel like complaining about how hard it was to cross it, on our modern bicycles. Think about building it and comeback to fill the complaint…

Apart from that, we camped, sometimes on peoples front lawn when we asked – faced with the difficult task of finding a forest in the Netherlands (good luck if you want to try), or were offered to, when our wood-finding activities looked too weird to the villagers to ignore any more (a nice elderly man saw us battling an army of ticks in a grove, trying to find trees that would hide us a little from the road and passers-by, and came to offer us a spot in his garden which quickly turned into coffee +cakes accompanied by story about his, his sons’ and wife’s life – in Dutch badly translated by me, so we got about 20%percent of those, I would wager, which is a shame because the ones we got were very interesting. His wife, probably reliving with us the anxieties of watching her adult children go into random adventures (one of her sons left for Curacao) fretted over our camping place, making sure we were comfortable, and wouldn’t even think about us leaving without offering a humongous breakfast (with Gouda, of course) the next day).

 

In those moments, after you’ve taken a group picture in front of the small cosy house with those one night benefactors you meet at random but with a consistency that always amazes me, starting the cycling day, with an overfilled stomach and quite an overfilled heart too, from the kindness of strangers, I think those journeys take on their full sense: getting lost on small windy roads, soaked under rain showers and admiring the eternal flatness of the landscape is accessory: what you really re-learn by going into nature is Humanity, its quiet generosity, and how to receive as gracefully as possible, knowing you might not be able to give back to those exact same people, but will continue to offer the same to the next rain-soaked traveller that comes your way.

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