Euro City Cycle Challenge (Day 2)
Hook of Holland to Amsterdam
Day 2 started for me at around 4am as I awoke from my slumber. I needed to take a wee but as I lay in the bunk (quite large as I was first in the cabin and had grabbed the double) I was aware of a heavy rocking motion. The ferry was massive and I had assured people that due its size the sea conditions would not be noticed on board. The Force 8 gale proved me wrong and I was quite alarmed as to the extent of the rolling. I listened out and could not hear people running down the corridor screaming so I took it that this was the norm and stepped out of my bunk to go the bathroom. As I stood up I put my face straight into Steve’s foot which was hanging out of the top bunk – he grunted and carried on sleeping and I proceeded to the bathroom to try and master the art of weeing in time to the boot rocking so as not to wet the floor too much (if Mrs Brogden is reading this you can hear the HMMPH).
At 6.30 the dulcet tones of Bobby Mcfarrin singing ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy’ pierced the silence. I assumed this to be somebody’s phone ringtone and began to wonder which of my three cabin mates was so sad.
“Fecking half five – turn that off” cried Steve. Clearly it was not his phone and clearly he had not put his watch forward. After the tune a voice proceeded to tell everybody in three lanaguages that breakfast would be served in half an hour. It was not a phone but part of the ships ‘hi-de-hi’ impression to get everybody up. All it needed was Ted Bovis to crack a few bad jokes.
The ship’s breakfast was excellent – loads of different pastries, fruit, yoghurts and a cooked selection as well, but most importantly excellent coffee – and as much as you wanted. For those of us with a breakfast pass it was enjoyable – Sarah looked on in envy from the cheap seats.
We assembled by our bikes but had to wait for all the cars and freight to offload before we could disembark. The amount of lorries coming off was staggering and just as I thought the last was not far off a huge floor panel lifted to reveal another level of hold and it too shed its load of juggernauts.
Operation ‘people smuggling’ would be fine getting into Holland as we had been assured that normally cyclists are just waved through Passport control. It seemed to be going well as Frank was at the front and shouting at us to go straight through. However, the border official with the gun had different ideas and demanded that we stop and present all our passports. Somehow we managed to get Sarah through and made it to our rendezvous point. It was here that Dave explained that we would today be following the cycle path numbers to get to Amsterdam.
The cycle path network is all numbered and we were looking for node points which told you which way it was to a particular route and what path you were on. He warned us that not all of them were easy to spot and could be at different heights. I appreciate that a picture of one would have been nice here but I never took a photo of one. Having told us exactly what to look for he then told us to ignore that and follow the van for the first two miles so we could be on the right route. When left alone all we had to do was keep the North Sea on out left for the next 15 miles. I mean come on how easy can it be to lose the North Sea? Simples!
We had a group discussion about where we could have gone wrong and during that the support van came up alongside and put us back on the right road. The right road was a coastal path about 50 metres in from the edge of the North Sea. Needless to say there was a coastal breeze and unfortunately it was not in our favour. A Dutch cyclist tried his best to go on the new cycle path which was even nearer the sea but we were wary of going off course again.
In the next town of Sheveningen there was another huddle as it was realised that Jane (the faller from yesterday) was no longer in the group. Frank had cycled back to try and find her whilst somebody else phoned the support team to report about her. As early pace setters again Richard and Carolyn had already left. Deciding that all bases were covered I cycled off with Kevin to negotiate our way through the town. The highlight of our mishaps that ensued was discovering a team of female beach volleyball players taking an outdoor shower in their bikinis (again I regret not having a photo). A close second was Kevin falling off as we made our way through a street market (I did take a picture but I was laughing so much it came out blurred).
Once out of the town it was through a nature reserve which consisted of low lying bushes and small trees. The last two miles of the nature reserve was under repair work and to enable diggers to move along the path was covered in sheets of iron. There was a small gap of six inches in the middle of the path where the sheets didn’t meet and it was tricky to stay on the line without straying onto the quite slippy metal.
Through the trees we could see and grand looking Hotel and our route books told us we had done the required 19 miles to reach our waterstop. As I was imagining morning coffee being served in a luxurious lounge we caught sight of the support van pulled into a small clearing just before the hotel car park.
I asked how long ago Carolyn and Richard had left but was told that we were the first to arrive. Twenty minutes later they arrived and Richard was disappointed to have got lost and not to see the showering girls in bikinis. The rest of the group began to arrive and word reached us that Jane had been located. Kevin and I set off as we had been stopped for well over half an hour and Amsterdam was calling!
The town of Wassenaar was our next navigational challenge. On the open road the node points are pretty easy to spot but they tend to be absent on suburban streets; well they certainly were on the many streets we traipsed up and down. We even managed to ride into the municipal tip. So popular is cycling on the Continent that we were not challenged as to why we were cycling through it.
Already I was impressed with how many cycle paths there were but when cycling down the side of the A43 motorway on a wide cycle way I realised it would never be like this in the UK. According to my Garmin we were only three or four miles away from our lunch stop when we came to a junction that had none of the numbers we needed to get to lunch. We spent 20 minutes in and around this junction trying to decide how to progress. I made several suggestions.
1. Follow the way the planes are going as Schipol is near Amsterdam.
2. Follow the pretty female cyclist who passed us.
3. Follow the group of cyclists who passed us as they were bound to be going to Amsterdam.
Thankfully these were all ignored and before long Kevin had got us onto the correct path by the side of the canal which would lead us to Leimuiderbrug for lunch. Yesterday I had decided that this was not the trip to be first everywhere but yet again we were first to lunch.
Lunch was also a celebration as it was Carolyn’s birthday. The restaurant owner brought out a cake which had candles that were more like flares and gave off more sparkles than a £10 box of Standard fireworks. We all managed to squeeze in a piece of cake despite it following an enormous portion of meat and macaroni. As well as a chance to eat, lunch stops were a necessity for riders who were running Strava or Map My Ride to charge their phones. Julian also used this stop to appoint somebody to a job in Delhi. He did offer it to any of us but we felt Delhi was a bit too much of a commute.
With only 15 miles to Amsterdam there was no scheduled afternoon water stop. So it was time to put the hammer down and get into the party city. To kick off the last leg I had spied a speed camera that flashed your speed one hundred metres away. I was quite happy with getting to 38kph so quickly – nobody else took up the challenge.
We passed the aforementioned Schipol airport just before the road ended – literally! There was supposed to a bridge but the old one had been demolished and the new one was under construction. So we had to cross the canal on a tiny ferry. Carolyn and Richard were waving from the other side and the driver (or is it pilot?) shouted across that they had given him 20 euros to wait twenty minutes before coming for us. We promised him 30 if he got a wiggle on and he came for us sharpishly. Not knowing what a wiggle on was he came anyway.
As mentioned before, my map reading skills are non-existent (members of CTC please take note and unless the ride is to my back garden – never ask me to lead a ride) and I had assumed that the ride into the hotel at Amsterdam would be through the suburbs and streets fighting with traffic (I had yet to realise that even the cities had cycle paths through them). The large areas of green on the map had not registered with me so it was a complete shock and pleasant surprise that the last five miles to the hotel were through parkland.
It would have been an even more enjoyable end to the day’s ride if my back tyre was not flat. It wasn’t completely down but it certainly wasn’t okay to continue. With only three miles to go I didn’t want to wait and change the tube; so I blasted it with air from Colin’s pump, crossed my fingers and carried on. A mile later US Ann decided she was being too anonymous (I had thought she joined the group in Harwich, where in actual fact she had cycled with the rest of us from Brentwood). To draw attention to herself she threw herself off her bike outside a school. As well as bending her brake hood she also hurt herself. She asked if that was the best crash of the day but I had to tell her that Kevin’s was technically better and that her execution was slightly off.
I made it back to the hotel just before I was running off the wheel rims so I set to and changed the inner tube. As I was changing it, Sam was watching me and announced that he had decided my bike was his favourite and was dying to have a go. I said that as long as he was back for breakfast he could take it wherever he wanted to. He settled for a spin round the car park – and the tyre stayed up!
Day 2 cycling over 60 miles at 13 mph average (I took off Sam’s car park jaunt). I had every intention of going for a quick shower and then a walk around but I seemed to get sidetracked after the shower and ended up in the bar. Frank and Steve were about to depart into Amsterdam with the barman kindly marking the local Catholic Church and the Anne (another bloody) Frank museum. I’m no expert but both of these seemed suspiciously close to the red light area. I declined the offer to join them and had a couple of beers with Uncle Mark.
Mark carried the tag of Uncle as he was with his nephew Nic. Nic was young, athletic had a decent road bike, Mark…..wasn’t and didn’t. Mark is an absolute legend. His bike was worth £50 tops, made from Reynolds 501 tubing it weighed a ton. Marks cycling attire was some plimsols, Bermuda shorts and a T shirt. Now I like the odd little puff (of a Marlboro Light) but Mark smoked proper red Marlboro and he knew how to empty a beer glass. But he just rode, and rode, and rode. Everybody that tried his bike, even after 200 metres, was gasping for breath. In the bar he told me that his mates back home had held a sweepstake as to how long he would last. I hope one of them had chosen ‘all the way’ as he had no intention of giving up.
After a decent buffet dinner, a few of us headed into the bright lights of Amsterdam. There was obviously nothing much on Dutch television that night as a lot of women just stood in the windows of their houses. Sarah and Christine (mum and daughter) were with us, and as young family walked past us on the street this conversation took place.
“I’d never bring my child into the red light district” said Christine.
“No. Me neither” replied Sarah.
I had to explain that she WAS with her daughter! After a bit more sightseeing which included spotting Frank and Steve looking for a cash point as they had spent up, we had a beer in a safe ‘ish’ looking bar. However I’m told the toilets were not somewhere you’d want to spend any more time than you had to in them. It was a relatively early night to bed and would have been even earlier had the taxi driver who spoke no English or Dutch had been able to find one of Amsterdam’s biggest hotels a tad quicker than the time it did take him (sightseeing buses could have got round quicker).
Read about Day 3
Guest post by Francis Brogden