Writing and no cycling

The mind is a strange thing. Why did I get in my head that I wanted to ride in only four days from Groningen to Kattrup? Was it because I actually wanted to leave sooner than I did? Was it because I wanted to have as little overnight stays as possible? Was it because I wanted to prove myself? I think a bit of all of that.

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The harbor of the border city Flensburg/Flensborg.

I always think of myself as not-competitive. But every time I have to confess that there is a competitor in all of us, so in me as well. My mind just won’t seem to bend in that way to accept that I am. When I wanted to ride to the Nordkapp last year and would get some visitors either there or just where I would be at that moment, I cycled my arse off to get as far as possible. Nobody demanded that of me, it was just because I had that idea stuck in my head.

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I didn’t have the best of weather, but at least I had mostly the wind in the back.

I didn’t make it to the Nordkapp before my visitors arrived. I ‘stranded’ in Alta, 200 kilometers from the most northern point of the European mainland. Now again I realized on the very first day I wouldn’t make it in four days to cycle just under 600 kilometers. Five days is already quite an effort when you have some winter clothing, Danish dictonaries and ‘hagelslag’ in your panniers.
But thanks to the never enough praised community called Warmshowers I could leave my camping gear at home, which saved me a lot of weight and hassle. All four stays were simply terrific. In that way you meet a lot of awesome people who let a sweaty cyclist into their home, provide him with a warm shower, warm meal and warm bed. Great to have such shelters in between the rainy and windy days.

And thanks to those wonderful people I could make it in five days to Kattrup. Otherwise it probably took me a day longer. In a next blogpost I’ll give them them a voice themselves in my very first digital story, which will be online in the near future. I’ll see how things will go, but it could well be that this blog will become more visual and less written, so to speak.
But there has to be done a lot of writing now that I’m here, since that is what I’m here for. I’ll have to skip cycling for the coming months, as I need to work on my novel.

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My home for the time being with the lovely family at Kattholt.

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Danish retreat

On the 10th of October a new adventure will begin for me. Not really a new one, since I’ve been in Denmark before. And I’ve been there by bike before. And I’ve done some writing before.

Maybe not all that exciting, but also familiar roads can take you down to a new adventure, and writing a new book is always a new adventure. Alright, enough of the clichés. There ís something new. Apart from the fact that my top one priority is that I will be starting on my new novel, I would like to explore the Danish literature a bit more, since I’m quite a layman on that subject. Armed with a slightly better camera than my smartphone I would not only like to do more with photography, but with interviewing and filming as well. So I hope to be able to get into contact with preferably poets and more preferably poets of more or less my age. What drives them to write poetry, how do they do it, what are their themes. And to translate a poem of theirs.

But writing remains number one, so it won’t be that adventurous as my previous trips. I’m living comfortably in a house, at the lovely family where I did some WWOOF’ing a few years ago. They are very welcoming and joyful people and you can’t find more hygge than in their heartwarming house.

The updates that will follow after I arrive in Kattrup – a small village between Horsens and Arhus – will therefore be of a bit less cyclinglike character.

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To be touristic or not to be touristic?

A week before we took up the trip to Gdansk, we did a practice round which went pretty well. The adventure of almost three weeks and nearly 1500 kilometers turned out even better. My girlfriend loved the (stress)free way of travelling, being outdoor all the time and all the encounters that comes with such a journey. It’s no surprise that I fully agree, so we both look forward to our next mutual trip.

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With the tent on your back carrier, sleeping stuff, food, stove and what not in your panniers, you’re home everywhere. Exactly that is the beauty of travelling by bike. You’ve got all the freedom in the world. There are no detours, just different ways towards your destination. We made use of this freedom on the second day already, when we went more north in the direction of Bedekaspel (Germany) where a medieval festival was being held. The well-known band Baldrs Draumar had a (acoustic) gig and we thought a surprise visit would be nice.

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With the wind in our backs we rode eastward. The same route I did a couple of times actually. Just after a few days of riding we crossed the river Elbe. Usually I go north from there to Denmark, but this time we kept on going east in the direction of the city of Lübeck.
From there on we would follow the so-called Hanseatic route along the Baltic Sea through cities such as Wismar, Stralsund and Greifswald. For that we got a map by some acquaintances of Ydwine. Actually, it was my first time of cycling using a paper map.
We rode through very beautiful sceneries and cities. It was a nice way of travelling for a change, since you didn’t have to think about which route to take, since we were obediently following the map.
But the lovely landscapes and historical cities had a downside as well: Tourists… many of them. And most weren’t that considering of what was going on around their vision of interest. That meant that we encountered many helter-skelter situations… (literally, as many touristic places had skelters for rent). But many tourists would suddenly cross the road without looking up, or stop abruptly to take a picture or who knows what, and many  let their kids roam free (we saw three accidents with children). All in all, it was difficult to navigate through the crowds of wandering cyclists, skelters, segways, and strollers and we had to ring our bells quite often.
It was a bit ironic that we could have taken a thousand roads to Gdansk, but we chose the most crowded one. Because of this mayhem, rainy days were quite pleasant, since there were less people. Nonetheless we got less obedient by the kilometre and after a while we got so fed up with people that we looked forward to go more inland in Poland as a fish wanting to return in the water after he sprang on the shore.

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We had a bit of hope it would be better on the Polish side of the border. It was definitely not the case. We biked a bit faster to be away from coast line. No more tourists. The woods resounded our sigh of relieve.
It was time to find our own way again and we liked that very much. There weren’t that many campsites anymore, so we camped in the wild again as well. But we did find some sort of kayak campsites, which weren’t easy to locate. An advantage to this was that there weren’t many vistitors, and one time wer were actually the only ones. That was almost like camping in the wild. We were welcome to make a fire, swim in the river, charge our mobiles and what not.
We were hosted by a Kashubian family on one of the last evenings (thanks to Warm Showers). The mother fed us really well, and even commanded us to eat an entire pan of eggs the next morning. “Essen, alles!” she said firmly, but with a big smile. On the hearty breakfast we could ride for miles and miles and could already smell Gdansk.
We chose to bike to Gdansk in particular, as we would attend the Diversity Festival (a seminar organized by YEN and Klub Studencki Pomorania, which is a happening for all minorities in Europe) which would start on Sunday. As we were nicely ahead of schedule, we had some breathing room, which came in handy when it got hillier and sandier in Poland. Sometimes the roads turned from bad to worse. TWhen we had to push our bikes yet again, we would have gladly given up our tourist-free route in exchange for some tarmac. But we didn’t need to rush to be on time. You shouldn’t rush on a bicycle as well. Take your time and take it all in.

After having a bloody busy but awesomesauce week in Gdansk we were going back by train from Gdansk to Leer in Germany. We couldn’t go all the way to Groningen, the Netherlands, as a bridge is still kaputt, and the replacement busses do not take bikes. Again we realised how relaxing it is to just sit on a bike and pedal your brain free of any stress. Delay, slow elevators, high stairs, small doorways, cramped spaces and what not. So, after a day full of stress and catching connections with mere seconds left, it couldn’t have been a bigger relief to pitch our tent on a campsite in Bingum (near Leer). The relief was even bigger when we were on our bikes again next day to ride the last part to Groningen. It was a good way to end the journey this way, as we hadn’t cycled for a week. Seen the stressful day before, it was great to be able to have one last day of relaxed travelling by bike. And when you bike and know home is nearby, you are already thinking of the next trip. We do not know yet where we will go, but one thing is sure: we will take our freedom to pick and choose our way ourselves as we go and we will also take the freedom to avoid the touristic routes!

Cycling with company

I have always wondered how it would be to be cycling with someone else. With the previous trips I made, I never cycled more than a few dozen kilometers with another cyclist I coincidentally met on the road. I wouldn’t have mind if I would have company for one or two days, just to have that experience.

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But now I did have that experience. From just a couple of kilometers with a complete stranger I went cycling with my girlfriend for four days in a row. It was a kind of a training round to East-Frisia, since we’re planning to go by bike to Gdansk/Danzig, Poland in a week. First of all we wanted to test if she could keep up with me, and if we wouldn’t get so fed up with each other that we would kick each other out of the tent.
It went way above all expactations. She cycled like a beast, not once did I had the feeling I had to slow down a bit to let her catch her breath. We fell quite quick into a routine of building up the tent, after which Ydwine would unpack the matrasses, sleeping bags etcetera while I would lit the stove to make us a cup of coffee and boil the pasta afterwards. It went all smoothly as if we had done it for years and years.
Sure, after four days she did feel some muscles she didn’t know she had and after sitting awhile she got a bit stiff. But that’s no different with me. It would be weird when you wouldn’t feel anything after cycling for a midweek. You feel tired in a very satisfactory way. Danzig is just a few hundred kilometers more, so after this training round that will be a piece of cake.

When talking to someone about my cycling and having to answer the question if I don’t mind to ride alone, I sum up the benefits. You can ride on your own tempo, you can have a break whenever you want to. You can choose the route all by yourself. You just don’t have to take anyone one into account. But when you have the right cycling partner those things aren’t a issue.
Apart from the wonderful things and people you encounter, I have to confess that cycling for days in a row can be a bit lonely sometimes and you can get slightly cranky when you can’t find the way or a camping spot, or you just think why the hell you’re riding in the middle of nowhere with headwind and rain.
I actually can’t think of any disadvantages about cycling with your partner. I don’t think I’ll go cycling alone that easily again, but first of all we have to survive our adventure to Gdansk. 😉

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Small trip to Ostfriesland

Last week I went for a small trip of four days to Ostfriesland. A girl asked me if I could leave it all behind me and be really away for that time being. I answered yes I think I can, but the question still lingered on in the back of my head.

For this trip I had quite a set route and places I wanted to visit. Therefore I could easily have my mind set on the trip itself. I wanted to explore the region I wasn’t that familiar with, but not that unknown either. I have been in Aurich and Wilhelmshaven before but that’s been ages ago. I wanted to explore Ostfriesland more than that.
Furthermore, I knew when I would be back and the things I had to do the coming week. So I ‘just’ parked that in the back of my head and enjoyed the cycling through Ostfriesland with the sun on my back.
When you cycle you have all the time in the world to ponder on things. So, of course you think about things you have to do, you want to do and make new plans for different kind of things. And that isn’t bad, quite the opposite, apart from the fact that you cannot not think about anything (at least I can’t). It is very refreshing to be away on the bike and your primary concern is the route and in the afternoon a place to stay. That isn’t difficult in Germany where you have good cycle routes and plenty of fields to camp. In those four days you have all the time to philosphize about everything, since you don’t have to bother about other people or work or whatever. The same goes for a longer period of time when the one difference is is that you have more days to wander, wonder and ponder. Sure, to be away for a longer period of time is more adventurous. But if you want to clear your head or just reload yourself, a microadventure of a few days is more than enough. You don’t need to cycle to the Nordkapp just for that.

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My first campsite of the trip, between Riepe and Aurich (the photograph was taken in the early morning.

Now a few words about the trip itself. As I already mentioned, I had quite a clear goal where I wanted to go. The Upstalsboom at Aurich is where the old Frisians used to gather in a socalled ‘thing’ which we know from the Vikings. It was a kind of folk gathering from all the Frisian regions and where they kept court as well. So, an old place and it was seen as a sacred place which the oaks are proof of. The site is important for the Frisian history and it still is, since on the third day of Pentecost there is an assembly of the Frisians from the Netherlands, West-Germany (Ostfriesland) and the northern part of Germany with the border of Denmark (Nordfriesland).
The language that is spoken in that part of Germany isn’t Frisian anymore, but is Plattdüütsch (Lower German), which is still very much alive, since you hear it all around you and shops have signs in that language as well (I’m a lousy reporter since I haven’t made a picture of it). I knew Plattdüütsch is still common, but when you see and hear it anew you come to realize again how normal it is.
What I kinda have forgotten is the fact that they really see themselves as Frisians since I saw the sign of ‘Eala Frya Fresena’ (hail free Frisians) in a seamingly quiet town of Ogenbargen on a Landgasthof. Later on the same sign on a house. I should go back again and then really talk to the people to do a little survey. Would they feel more Frisian in the countryside, so in small towns as Ogenbargen or Hooksiel? More than in Wilhemshaven or Norden or Emden? And what about the islands?

After Jever (where I drank a Jever of course) and which is a nice town in itself I doubted if I would go diagonal to Hooksiel and visit more small towns on the way or go to Wilhemshaven and after that harbour city up to Hooksiel and take the western route alongside the coast. I chose to visit Wilhemshaven, but came to regret it actually. The town had a lot of tourists due to the beautiful weather and wasn’t that interesting. It was just a harbour, to be quite frank. But I stumbled upon a ‘Friesenbrunnen’. Again a sign of the strong Frisian history is still alive and kicking.

The cities of Norden and Emden I found much nicer. A friend of mine said that Emden could have been as nice as Harns if it hadn’t been bombed during WWII. But still it’s a nice little harbour city and apparently it is quite thriving since there was a fair going on in that weekend. I haven’t experienced it, since I was there in the early morning.
Landscapewise the East-Frisian region is quite the same as our Fryslân. Rural, Waddensea and islands. But there are also the characteristic socalled ‘sidewing landscapes’, relative small pieces of land with trees around them you see in a specific region of Fryslân, the region where I’m from. And you even have placenames that are the same.

In short I can highly recommend you to get on your bike on such a microadventure and visit Ostfriesland!

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The socalled dyke sheep you have in Fryslân as well with the island of Wangeroog in the background.

Three talks

The next best thing to cycling is talking about cycling. I have the honour to do that three times this month. Once even abroad.

I attend a Danish course and because of my last trip I missed out two lessons. To make up for that I had to give a little talk about my trip this evening.

On the Facebook site of Warm Showers was a call for talks for cyclists who would be crossing through Gent, Belgium, at the end of Februari. They would be offered a place to stay with people from the socalled ‘Fietskeuken‘ (Bicycle Kitchen). A place where you can fix your bike yourself, meet up with other bike enthusiasts and have a drink.
Well, why not try to go through Gent on my way up? But the event was postponed to the end of March. Since I was still welcome to give a talk (the subject is not only about my trips, but also in relation to my writing) I will be going by train, because it’s too fun not to go there and give a talk and meet the people of the Fietskeuken.

The last one is next week in the village where I was born and raised. In The Netherlands, and I think especially in Fryslân every village has a club of people who are dedicated to do work for the village. These clubs organise an annual fair and other festivities, information (signs), streetlights and everything to make the place a nicer community. In the village of Damwâld they always have somebody who gives a talk about whatever subject after the annual general meeting. This time they asked me. Well, my dad did sosince he is in the board.

Since I won’t make a bike trip the upcoming months I can talk about my previous travels. Every talk has it’s own point of focus, a different public and place, so it will be far from boring. And of course I hope to enthusiast other people to make trips like mine. Fun to mention, is that the three talks will be in three different languages. First Danish, second Dutch and the third Frisian.
Another reason I like to do it, is that I can mention Cycling out of Poverty and the great work they are doing.

So, if you think it could be interesting to ask me to give a talk, you can always contact me. The payment I ask for it, goes directly to CooP, so you’re also helping out a great charity organisation. Win-win situation!

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When you can smell the stable

Arriving in Luxembourg I could really tell it was only just March, because it was cold, wet and grey. Nevertheless I enjoyed wandering through the city. In the afternoon I got a very warm welcome by my host, Jula. Great conversation, as well with the other people living in the big white house. There was supposed to be a house ghost for which I was the sacrifice. My bike, tent and other stuff was already divided among the residents. Luckily I woke up safe and sound and could continue my journey after having breakfast and a cup of coffee.

Since Luxembourg isn’t that big compared to France, it didn’t take me so long to cross the border with Belgium, although I did make a little ‘detour’ through Müllertal. At this point I could sense I wasn’t that far away from home anymore and so a switch turned inside my head, from the position of ‘happily roaming around’ to ‘lets go home’. But it was still one switch, so I ignored it the best I could. After a difficult ride through the hilly eastern part of Belgium (St. Vith – Malmedy – Spa – Theux) I arrived in Liège. I had two hosts there in order to see the city and to experience my very first carnaval on Saturday. I spend the Friday evening with a very friendly family, where I could leave my bike in their hallway the next day to explore the city by foot. It was the only day of my whole trip that I didn’t ride a single kilometer! Since my second host never replied after he had said I could join him to the carnaval, the Claessens-family took me along with their lovely kids. Although there was a thunderstorm and quite some rain I enjoyed the parade and the burning of mister winter a lot.

The next day I another switch flicked in my head when I arrived in the city of Maastricht. This was one I couldn’t ignore. Now I was really at a point of going as fast as possible through the Netherlands up north. I could easily smell the stable as we say in Frisian, i.e. I had the feeling of being almost home and wanted to be home. I had two more hosts, since it would be too far of a stretch to cycle in one day. I didn’t sleep in the tent anymore after the northern part of Luxembourg. For several reasons. First, I never had a Warmshower-host in the Netherlands before and wanted to try that out. Second, meeting new people is always delightful. Third, I got a bit fed up with the cold mornings coming out of the tent with nightfrost. Fourth, wildcamping is not that easy in The Netherlands, etcetera etcetera.

I can’t praise the community of Warmshowers enough. It’s always a joy to meet people on the street and have a little chat, but when you have a host, you get the opportunity to have a little peek in their lives. You can have more conversation to get to know them better than the five minutes on the street. You can ask them questions about their travels, but also about the customs and culture of the country you’re in. Sometimes you meet one with a lot of experience, so you can learn quite some from the other. At other times you spend the night at a family, who only do some mountainbiking, but are really interested in your travelling and they bend your ears by asking a thousand questions. One takes you along in the city and you have a stop or two in a pub. With another host, you sit and talk with a cup of tea and you end the evening with a board game.
But in which way every host is the same, is that every single one is as friendly, kind, generous and welcoming as they can be. And with everyone you have that one thing in common, namely the pedaldriven two-wheeled machine called a bicycle.

I won’t say travelling by bike would be boring without Warmshowers, but it definitely makes a trip all the more interesting – and during winter a bit more comfortable.
In short, I had another great bike adventure and got safely back home in the city of Groningen. A nice detail is that I didn’t see the sun for days, but when I just got in the centre, she winked at me through the clouds and was gone again. I guess it was the way of the gods to welcome me home.

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