Tag Archives: Cycling in the Netherlands

ECC Day 3: Why are we here?

Why are we here?  This isn’t intended to be a grand philosophical question, but some days you have to ask yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing.  Some days everything seems to be against you.  Today was one of those days.

The Day 3 route promised to be long; the longest of the Euro City Cycle.  It was further than many of the participants (including myself) had done before.  As well as being long, the route was complicated, circuitous and fiddly.  It required navigation through the backstreets of towns and travel across several bodies of water by various means.

As it happened, the weather also conspired to make the day even more challenging.  It had been suggested that it would be wet throughout; wet and windy… joy!  So it was with some trepidation that we set out to make our way from Hoofddorp to Breda.


Time to cover up… here comes the rain (again)!

Each participant has their own unique reasons for participating in the challenge.  As we battled against the elements, driving rain and near gale force winds, it would not have been unreasonable for some of us to question why we’re here.  It wouldn’t have been a surprise is some of the group decided that catching a lift in the support van was a sensible move.

Every time we crossed open ground the elements seemed to re-double their efforts to make the day difficult, to make us miserable.  We slowly made our way along the route, back-tracking on many occasions as our guide grappled with the finer points of navigation.  Ferry crossings required patience, breaking any rhythm we may have built.  Even the railway crossings seemed to conspire against us, waiting for us to approach before flashing warning signs and bringing us to a halt.

In particular, the Moerdijk Bridge tested our resolve:  The bridge spanned about 700m of open water.  It was positioned perfectly to expose us to the worst the day could muster including gusts of wind of over 55 km/hr.  The wind carried rain that was being propelled with almost enough force to draw blood.  Each crossing was long and dangerous as we leant into the wind at a precarious angle, trying to adjust for every gust and lull.  It was really windy, painful and more than a little bit scary!


Relief at reaching the other side!

Despite the challenges, everybody made it.  Everyone made it across the bridge, and everyone made it safely to Breda.  I didn’t hear anyone suggesting that they had had enough, they couldn’t do it or that they were going to pack it in.

There was relief at reaching Breda.  There was a real sense of accomplishment (despite the route being slightly shorter than advertised).  Individually and collectively we overcame the challenges the day could throw at us.  Together we had made it!

Rainbow 1

Somewhere, over the rainbow… almost there!

It turned out that everyone’s answer to the question “Why are we here?” was enough to get them through.  For me it is because I can be, because of all the hours I’ve spent on the Turbo Trainer over the winter to get myself in shape, because there is life after a Heart Attack, because I’m lucky, I’m alive.  Not doing it isn’t an option.

Tomorrow promises to be another challenging day.  I am confident that it will be another successful and rewarding one.  Bring it on!

ECC Day 2: The 7 Ps

Today saw the short hop from the Hook of Holland to Hoofddorp, just outside Amsterdam.

After a relatively hard day in the saddle yesterday and a night on the ferry in a four-berth cabin, the day offered a gentle, largely wind assisted roll through the Netherlands followed by an afternoon of R&R.

Today was the first day of “many” (as in one is one, more than one is many) days in the saddle, and as such posed a bigger challenge than it’s distance would suggest to some of the less experienced and more physically “damaged” cyclists in the group.

We were fortunate to have the wind at our backs for much of the day as we took our detour towards Amsterdam on our way to Brussels.  We made the most of this as we recognised the same helpful wind is likely to become our worst enemy tomorrow as we take on the 85 mile leg south to Breda.

Oh, I do love to be beside the seaside…

The greatest challenge today’s cycling posed was navigation.  The Netherlands has a fantastic cycle network including both commuter and longer distance signage place at regular intervals along the route.  Unfortunately, these rely on (1)  doing the preparation required to plan the route in advance (2) spotting the route markers and (3) a little bit of luck in ambiguous or poorly sign-posted sections.

It’s easy to become reliant on something and abdicating responsibility for understanding how it works, or being willing / able to do it ourselves.  Having done no preparation for our journey (as far as navigation is concerned at least) It would have been easy for us to have complacently followed the basic guide that had been prepared for us and got completely lost fairly quickly.  I could easily have foreseen a situation in which splinters of the group ended up strewn across a vast area of Northern Europe, tired, frustrated and in need of rescue.

Instead, we all stayed together in close groups and followed our Human Guides as they followed complex sections of the route using the guide, the route markers, a map, gps systems and a little guile.  Fortunately this was enough to bring us all in safely.

Cycling in the Netherlands is a very different experience

Cycling in the Netherlands is a very different experience

There are several points that I learned about navigation from today’s experience:

  1. Know specifically where you are heading to; general destinations such as “the bar by the canal” are not sufficient.  If you know exactly where you’re heading to, at least you can re-plan your route if necessary.
  2. Know where you’re starting from;  it sounds obvious, but getting lost is often compounded by multiple failed attempts to get un-lost
  3. Review your route in advance so you have a general idea of which direction to head in
  4. Pay extra attention to critical junctions / turns that could really make the difference between success and complete disaster
  5. Don’t blindly rely on someone else for directions, take some personal responsibility for navigation
  6. If you are unsure, go slow until you can validate your route.

This afternoon we (three of us) proved these points by setting out on an abortive attempt to cycle into Amsterdam itself.  Keen to make the most of a free afternoon in the Netherlands (with bikes) and a relatively easy morning’s ride, we decided to head into the city to experience more of the real Netherlands…

With little preparation we headed out into a grey afternoon (which quickly became a very wet, very windy, grey afternoon) for a spin.  Just over an hour later we returned; wet tired and slightly embarrassed (but far from disheartened).  We had proved the importance of most of the points above by heading out into the teeth of the wind, in the completely wrong direction.  We can point at a number of coincidences and elements of misfortune that resulted in our mistake, but fundamentally we screwed up.

Having warmed up and dried off, I’m going to get my head down and study the course for tomorrow… as well as being the longest, it’s apparently the most difficult to navigate too.  With more ropey weather forecast we could be in for a long day!


The 7 Ps:  Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance