Ride by numbers

A typical bike path scene in northern Belgium and the Netherlands.
A typical bike path scene in northern Belgium and the Netherlands.
Netherlands country line marker on a tiny back road.
Netherlands country line marker on a tiny back road.

The campground reception sent us back into the small town of Bocholt for groceries. It was where we were the evening before, but only half the distance because we went direct. We love stocking up on food for lunch and sometimes we get a little extra. The campground last night had beer (that’s a plus), a large screen with the World Cup (highly desirable) but no food and nothing within walking distance. We survived on leftovers but were all pretty hungry in the morning. While Tom and Ginny shopped I watched the bikes. A local resident came out with her groceries and struck up a conversation. She had done some bicycle touring with her husband and she asked me what route number we were following. This section of Belgium and all of Netherlands is criss-crossed with spiderwebs of numbered bike routes. She suggested that we stop at the local tourism office and pointed to the building a block away. We would never have seen it otherwise.

This was an excellent suggestion. We were able to purchase a map of the northern Belgium bike routes. A Netherlands map was not available so the two helpful and friendly young men plotted the route on their desktop computer and tried to load it into my Garmin (it may be in there, but I can’t find it).  They then printed out three and a half pages of numbers that we could follow all the way to Utrecht, our destination two night hence.

Tom studies our computer list of route numbers.
Tom studies our computer list of route numbers.

This became a game for us. Tom would shout out the next number. All three of us would scan the intersections. It was fun and halfway through the day I was certain we had to be at least halfway through the long list. We were still on the first page! The bike routes were a joy and varied between smooth, wide, paved, dedicated bike trail, to single track dirt, and everything in between. They were all flat and smooth (there are a few cobblestones) and the variety kept our attention and the multitude of numbers demanded vigilance.

A wide, dedicated bike trail.
A wide, dedicated bike trail.
A two-lane separated bike trail alongside the road.
A two-lane separated bike trail alongside the road.
Wide and smooth and no roads to be seen.
Wide and smooth and no roads to be seen.
A narrow but welcome paved path.
A narrow but welcome paved path.
The bikes get pavement and the cars get the dirt.
The bikes get pavement and the cars get the dirt.
A dirt bike path shared with a dirt road.
A dirt bike path shared with a dirt road.
A designated bike route on a lightly traveled road.
A designated bike route on a lightly traveled road.
Shared road entering a small town.
Shared road entering a small town.
This road is signed and appears to give bicycles the right of way.
This road is signed and appears to give bicycles the right of way.

Then we stumbled upon the holy grail of bicycle-friendly construction: the Hovenring. Opened to cyclists in June 2012, the Hovenring is a suspended circular bridge above the heavily traveled tic-tac-toe of roads below. Tom was in awe, his mouth open, and he fumbled for his camera. We all rode our bikes completely around the ring with a diameter of nearly a football field. It is comforting and inspiring to look below at the busy roads. It must be how a squirrel in a tree feels when a dog is barking at it.

Ginny poses at the Hovenring, near Eindhoven, Veldhoven, and Meerhoven, Netherlands.
Ginny poses at the Hovenring, near Eindhoven, Veldhoven, and Meerhoven, Netherlands.
When the Hovenring first opened, the cables vibrated harmonically in the wind. These are probably the solution.
When the Hovenring first opened, the cables vibrated harmonically in the wind. These are probably the solution.

We continued north and occasionally only one of us would see the route number, and the other two would circle back. We followed the computer list all the way into the impossible-to-pronounce ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands to complete another century of kilometers for the day.

An evening commuter returns to s'-Hirtogenboash.
An evening commuter returns to ‘s-Hertogenbosch.

The Garmin told us that there was a campground seven miles north of town. Tom asked me if I wanted to lead. I was not thrilled to be risking a wild-goose chase to a campground that had an equal chance of being wonderful or non-existent as it was now after 5:00. It is nice to have the tents as a back-up and economic way to sleep. But we were all thinking of the alluring city that we were in. It seems that at the end of the day, when we find a cafe and get that first beer, we all seem to think clearer and good things happen. Tom led us through town looking for the cafe and we came out on the other side skunked.

How can a town that size not have a cafe, we wondered. I asked the Garmin to find a cafe. It listed several and I followed the general direction arrow back into town, one block over, turned a corner , and we were in cafe heaven. The cafe owner helped us rent an apartment around the corner for the night, right in the middle of the action.

s'-Hirtogenbosch fountain adornment.
‘s-Hertogenbosch fountain adornment.
The cafe owner was a great help in s'-Hirtogenbosch.
The cafe owner was a great help in ‘s-Hertogenbosch.

 

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