After a great night’s sleep in a real bed, and being only 40 miles from Utrecht, we felt pretty confident that we could catch a train from there into Amsterdam for a 4:30 meeting with Ed Lancaster, the Policy Officer for the European Cyclists’ Federation. After all, we had our “ride-by-numbers” code sheet and we were getting on the road by 8:30, and it was flat. What could possibly go wrong?
A polder is a portion of land that lies below the water surrounding it, and is surrounded by dikes for obvious reasons. The Netherlands, a small country to begin with, has about 3,000 polders, more than any other country in Europe. The Dutch are so good at reclaiming land that there is a saying “God created the world but the Dutch created Netherlands.” In this country, cities have built protected fortresses using the rivers and swamps to make themselves impregnable. They were conquered by diverting the waters, placing the city inside a polder, and then pumping the water out.
We would be biking back and forth all day, through polders and over bridges.
We picked up the trail from where we left off the night before. Possibly we missed a sign, or didn’t go far enough, but we knew something was wrong. We had been inundated with route signs and now we had not seen any for about a mile. Neither Tom or I like to backtrack, and we felt we could turn west and hook up with one of the routes on our sheet. So we did.
I was leading with my Garmin in map mode which shows the roads, towns and waterways. Once in a while it would have a route number on it, but never one that we needed. I led us up a road to a dike, into a parking lot and a seeming dead-end. Two firefighters were there checking the apartment building. I told them our destination and they told us that there was “a lot of water between us and Utrecht”. But they pointed us in a direction that we thought was reasonable so we continued on, the Garmin slowly agreeing and Ginny’s 4:30 meeting looming.
Tom and I got a little confused a couple of times but with his road map and my Garmin we managed to zig north-west and then north-east into a strong north breeze. Ginny spotted a route sign for “7b” that said it would lead to Utrecht and we stayed on that crooked path for the rest of the day. Twice the road ended at ferry crossings, one so small that it was for bikes and pedestrians only. We crossed cow pastures with gates that needed to be opened, and then shut behind us. At one point Ginny said “I feel like we are going in circles.” It did, but like a sail boat tacking upwind, we slowly made our way north.
Eventually we approached the city. We were concerned with time and we still had to find our way through Utrecht to the railroad station. Big cities are always a challenge and this would be no exception. As we headed up a long ramp to access the bridge to the city proper, I heard a group of English-speaking cyclists arguing about where the bridge access was. They were on a barge/bike tour and needed to get to their boat. We set them on the right path and they reciprocated by showing us a bike trail map of Utrecht. Once Tom gets a visual of a decent map he becomes a juggernaut, unstoppable, and he took us right to the station.
Before too long we were on the train. We would end up having enough time to get to Mari’s small student apartment, splash some water in our faces, and change clothes before the meeting. Close, but we made it.
Later that night we would meet Mari and her college friend Loren for dinner. Loren plays volleyball on a scholarship at Loyola. She and Mari have become good friends while studying in Amsterdam for a semester. They both think school is harder here than back in the states. Being in the middle of exams they are a little stressed out.
Tom, Ginny, and myself would all sleep on the floor in Mari’s room. (good thing I have an air mattress). The next day I would get a hotel room near the airport and figure out a way to get my bicycle shipping box from Mari’s out to the airport.