Traveling by bicycle is a surefire way to create delicious highs, but also generate lows that drag along like a heavy anvil. And just as night needs the sun to tip its rays over the horizon line every morning, bliss shines brightest after hard work and challenge.
We were not blessed by fair-natured weather fairies the last few days. England almost left us with only memories of sunshine, but rallied to serve up a surprise whopper of a rainstorm minutes away from the ferry terminal, our rain gear buried in our bags. Wet as muddy dogs in a puddle (but considerably less happy), we dripped our way into a restaurant overlooking a choppy North Sea. Two full dinners later (plus lots of cups of tea), a wave of cheer washed over me as I looked east across the Channel toward Holland, our next destination.
Revived and happy, we pedaled our bikes into the hold of a gleaming ship, a 13-deck giant complete with a multiple restaurants, private lounges, a gambling hall, and enough foreign languages spoken by passengers to rival the floor of the United Nations. Our cozy cabin for the overnight trip featured bunk beds, shiny accents, and, we learned the next morning, a loudspeaker whistling a cheery rendition of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” as a wake up call. A Dutch voice then told us, in politically correct terms, that all passengers should rouse their lazy butts and “prepare to disembark.”
We emerged from the ship for European Union passport control by amiable Dutch border guards. “How many days will you be here?” 88. “Do you have enough money?” I sure hope so! Tick tick tick – our 90 day time limit in the Schengen Zone began. (U.S. citizens can only stay for 90 out of 180 days.)
And we were off…straight into the maw of a raging downpour. Not fazed at all, the unassailable Dutch were out en masse in packs of riders cranking around the best network of cycling paths I have ever seen. Cars, obviously second-class citizens next to bicycles, drove slowly and yielded to us at roundabouts, a nice change from England.
It’s not just a myth: EVERYONE in Holland rides bikes. From kiddos to people in their 80’s, people get around on bicycles. We saw everything from carbon racers to clunkers, but the majority of bikes were practical and designed for comfort. (The flat terrain makes that a bit more doable, I think.) E-bikes are common, which I think is a terrific way to stay active, and also a great way to make me and Chelsea feel weak and slow when we’re passed uphill by a zippy senior laden with groceries. Stores have two cars and 58 bikes parked out front, and train stations have literally hundreds of bikes stored outside. It was clear that cycling in Holland is the linchpin for a healthy, connected way of life.
Back on the bikes, our weather-beaten spirits rose skyward as we spun through pretty canal towns. Europe’s architecture practically emits a cozy glow to warm even the most sodden traveler, and (again) hot coffee and tea over lunch did the trick. The next 30 miles included a short ferry ride and riding past tall wind turbines that slashed the sky as headwinds insisted we were going the wrong direction. Ah, some days just aren’t the best for cycling.
One of the perks of renting out our house and working while I travel is that we have zero guilt about staying in a hotel when the weather is horrible or if we want a comfortable night’s stay. Chelsea is the resident genius at finding fantastic accommodations at bargain prices, whereas I will try to save $5 to stay in a dingy former brothel next to a freeway. (She has, shall we say, better attention to detail than I do.) For the remainder of this trip, and possibly our lives, I will handle navigation and she will handle lodging.
For our first night in Holland, she scored a gorgeous room at the Grand Hotel in Burgh-Haamstede. After being devoured by the elements all day, we relaxed tired muscles in the steam room, made fools of ourselves in the pool, and were reminded once again that the magic of bliss lies in the contrast between ups and downs.
The next day’s forecast called for downpours, but not enough to drown out hot beverages, solid exercise, and gorgeous architecture. It was certainly insufficient to snuff out the joy of taking each day as it comes, whether a sparkling moment in the sun or a rain-soaked hour in the saddle.