So this was it, we were finally leaving on our bikes, next stop the far East!
We posed for some farewell pictures by the Crowfield village sign before heading on the short ride to catch our ferry at Harwich on the Suffolk coast. In the picture below I have my new favourite T-shirt from Morvelo with the caption: Ride fast and travel far! You can also see the Kinesis Tripster ATR loaded up with the Apidura bar, frame and top tube bags. I also have my old Axiom monsoon panniers and their narrow rack.
The sun had finally set as we arrived at the port for the 11pm sailing to Holland. The sea was so calm we couldn’t even tell when we set off in our windowless box cabin. But at some point past 11pm we said good bye to England!
The initial 100km off the ferry was fueled by adrenaline and excitement as we rolled off in the early hours. Holland being flat as a waffle helped us keep a steady pace. We initially headed straight east via Rotterdam.
We managed to keep on the much fabled Dutch cycle paths through much of the country, these are generally a mix of tarmac, brick, gravel or just dirt and often located on raised dykes.
The bike performed well on all the different surfaces, I really am pretty excited by the bike. It handles everything I can throw at it from the loaded extra weight to the rough off road sections of path. I think my set up is also spot on being a balance between fast but strong and comfortable.
On these Dutch paths we frequently found ourselves drafting behind OAPs on their electric bikes, I think we halved the average age in most places as the grey army ruled the big sky roads. With no route planned we quickly settled on following the River Rhine along a gravel track towards Germany, I guess following rivers is entrenched in the human sub-conscience! It was a pleasant way to go with the raised dyke offering one if the few views available in Holland.
Holland is just so very pleasant, we stopped to pick cherries, watched windmills be windmills and had two kind offers to camp in gardens, the first was a lovely strawberry seller the second a motor bike tourer, who we accepted. He had travelled the world on an old motorbike with a sidecar for the lady! Just as Holland was getting a bit like a never ending SAGA holiday or just like the world had slowed down, we stumbled upon a large castle tower on the uninterrupted horizon. We detoured to investigate. Outside was a row of mediaeval canvas tents and the drawbridge of the castle was down so we rode straight in!
Inside the gigantic stone walls we found a group of Dutch soldiers who were getting sword fighting lessons, some in suits of armour – this training was a result of budget cuts we were informed by the instructor. They were being taught by the fifth best Knight in Europe resplendent in a purple tunic and his rotund partner looking ever menacing, the aforementioned knight would’ve been number one but he got too drunk the night before the final and ruined his chances, or so he told us! It turned out the castle was gearing up for a huge medieval knights’ tournament and the army were just having a bit of fun.
We were sad to miss one of the only events in Europe where apparently people still travel from far and wide to joust and sword fight, for pride not money. Last year the list of injuries sounded like they certainly fight hard! I posed with swords, tried to lift chain mail and suits of armour and then photographed a fair maiden resplendent in traditional dress.
It was all a bit surreal to say the least. I guess that sums up Holland, a country were the altimeter is nearly always negative and the villages are like toy towns buzzing with old timers content to just relax.
However at the end of day one and 130km, the reality of our rather overly eager ambition had very much set in. Cycling to Tibet looked pretty straight forward on Google maps. The reality on the ground is a bit different! After a long day we rode across almost the entirety of Holland, but the track on our GPS is indistinguishable from the cursor, such is the insignificance of today’s effort.
Our route in Holland was: Hook of Holland-Rotterdam-Culemborg-Kesteren-Arnhem-Doornenberg