Andrew wants to sleep in a tent. I want a good excuse to eat 6 chocolate pastries for breakfast.
Yes, it’s definitely time for another bike tour and once we get the idea in our heads, it takes only moments before we both agree to dedicate a long weekend entirely to cycling. We want to ride our bikes all day, until the sun sets, and we want to see a few more scenes like this.
It’s simply been far too long since we’ve done a long trip. Eight months, to be precise. That’s when we finished our world tour and our love of bike touring hasn’t gone away since then. In fact, if anything it’s grown stronger, encouraged by the passionate cycling culture here in the Netherlands. Everyone rides a bike here and it’s just so easy!
We are gushing over the simplicity of cycling in the Netherlands, even before we set out on tour. In other countries, we might plan a trip by plotting points in a GPS or buying a map. Here, we simply use Google to find one of the many bicycle route planners (search ‘fietsrouteplanner’ to see for yourself, use Google Translate to help with the Dutch) and soon we’re watching multiple options being traced across our screen on interactive maps.
Will it be the Fietserpad, a 500km long trip from south to north across the country? Or perhaps a trip along the North Sea coastline, finishing with a beer tasting in the Belgian city of Brugges?
After a lively debate, we settle on something different: a Rondje IJsselmeer. For you English-speaking folks, that’s Dutch for a tour around the IJsselmeer Lake. This shallow body of water was created in 1932 when the Dutch built a dam across the entrance to an inland sea. Not only can we do a round trip from our front door (we want to avoid taking the train on a busy long weekend) but we’ll get to go through 5 of the 12 provinces of the Netherlands. Not bad for a 4-1/2 day trip.
We pack our bags, stuffing everything we need into 2 panniers each. In go the sleeping bags, our MSR Whisperlite stove and 2 t-shirts each, plus a roll of toilet paper (not always supplied in Dutch campgrounds). The shortwave radio (our lifeline on long expeditions) and our water filter stay at home. We’re not planning to drink out of the canals.
Then, on a Thursday night after work, we hit the road. Actually, we hit the bike paths. In the Netherlands, there’s rarely a need to tango with the cars. You can get almost anywhere without being bothered by traffic.
Normally, we prefer to start in the morning but tonight we have a special destination: a free camping site about 30km from home. Ever since we discovered paal camping – the only way to legally free camp in the Netherlands – we’ve been hooked on it.
These tranquil spots are usually set in woodland, well hidden from roads and even nearby tracks, and so far we’ve had them all to ourselves. Tonight is no exception. We roll our bikes through green fields, down a little path to a clearing and there is our spot, next to a canal. Home, sweet home.
Andrew cooks supper – a vegetarian feast of peppers, carrots, onions and fried halloumi cheese, served over a bed of quinoa. I go to take some pictures of the sheep.
On my way back to camp, I stop in front of some stinging nettles and spot this bug. While I’m taking his photo, I think about how I should have looked up how to make stinging nettle soup. We would have had a feast here in our campsite, because it’s surrounded by thousands of nettle plants!
After supper, Andrew does some dishes, scooping water out of the canal for the purpose. And as the sun sets, we take a few last shots before crawling into our tent. It’s not the world’s most spectacular sunset, but the grey skies do make for some erie shots.
Soon, we’re sleeping soundly in the woods, accompanied only by the sound of a few frogs croaking in a nearby canal. Tomorrow, we head further north, skirting just to the side of Amsterdam and into the man-made province of Flevoland. But first, we’re in for one of the best sleeps we’ve had in a very long time.