an unusual and exciting or daring experience
engage in daring or risky activity
What is adventure exactly? I think to most people an adventure requires a certain amount of remoteness. Mountain biking is more adventurous than road biking because on a road bike you can always call your grandmother to come and pick you up if it goes wrong. Living in the most densely populated country in Europe (with the exception of the Islands and small states like Monaco). This sense of remoteness can be hard to find. Any sense of adventure is further reduced because the landscape of Holland (and most of the rest of the Netherlands) is famously flat – the clue is literally in the name. Any elevation is either man made (dykes, landfill sites – I do not make that up) or sand dunes on the coast. A friend who lives in Ghent put it very well when he said “you can see for miles, but there is nothing to see.
However, for 2 weeks of the year Holland (and Flevoland) is transformed into one of the most amazing landscapes in the world, in my humble opinion, when the Bulb Fields are in bloom. What is a wide expanse of green or brown nothing with the odd warehouse is transformed into a sea of different coloured stripes. Photos from the ground – photos in general – really do not do justice to the experience of riding for 50 km through a tunnel of colour and smells on a sunny day.
With that idyll in mind I set off northward on Saturday afternoon with the bike and rode up toward Alkmaar which is to be found about 30km north west of Amsterdam. Through the sky was blue it was still a cold day and the whether forecast predicted that it would mostly stay that way until about midday the next day. It’s fair to say that I ride these roads a lot so it was easy to meander my way through the bulb fields up to Haarlem. A short sprint to get in front of what looked like a horrific squall coming in off the sea was perhaps a warning that the forecast was not entirely accurate.
Once inland the tulips took my mind of that though and it was here that I discovered one the benefits of exploring your own area by bike. I have been through Haarlem train station countless times but the view from the impressive victorian (I don’t suppose the Dutch use the term Victorian but whevs) train station is of the back of an uninspiring office block and as such I have never felt the need to get off the train. However the town centre itself is beautiful.
Narrow, overhanging streets radiate out from the central square which into which a large cathedral appears to have been squeezed. With 3 days to go before kings Day, there was a market and a fairground in full swing. After pottering around for a while I continued north to the River (estuary? canal?) Ij and crossed over the sluice gates that keeps the North Sea out of Holland and past the currently rather unpopular (in the UK) TATA Steel Works. I can’t say that this part of the ride was pretty, but these huge industrial plants can have a certain amount of imposing grandeur and the gates themselves – which still have to allow large ships to pass through are an impressive thing to see up close.
Continuing north I happened upon the bucolic, though unexpected sight of a local baseball game and stopped to watch an innings or two. I was lucky enough to catch a few “bases loaded” plays and one of those moments when the runner is trapped between two open bases and has to keep doubling back and forth, eventually either tricking the fielders and making it home or being tagged out. Not something you see every day in Europe though the similarities between it and a local village cricket match were obvious, right down the picnics and ready availability of beer for the spectators.
As evening drew in I stopped for a beer on the beach at Castricum-en-Zee and began looking for a place to sleep. Meandering through the dunes on the Nordzeepad revealed a few likely spots and a short detour away from the path found a small dip over hung by a dry tree into which I made my home. I unpacked the bike and set up camp and started to make something for supper (a gourmet pasta and tomato sauce Jamie Oliver would have been proud of). Looking one way into blue sky however could not hide the fact that behind me the sky had roughly tuned the colour of a bruise and as I started to eat the rain began. There is really no way to be comfortable in a bivvy bag in the rain and I covered up as much of my stuff with waterproofs and tried my best to keep myself in the bag and the food outside – which is pretty much impossible. As the sun went down I snuggled into my sleeping bag and struggled to get warm. Without going into too much nerdery I don’t think I had the right sleeping set up that night and as the temperature dropped to zero and the rain became hail my sleeping bag began to struggle. By doing up every zip and pulling every drawstring tight I managed to generate enough heat to get warm enough to sleep.
Waking up with the sun, I discovered that a herd of horses had shared my bedroom and were no regarding me curiously. For a brief period the sun had come out so I dragged myself out of bed and packed my kit up with frozen fingers. I’d managed to forget my long finger gloves and leg warmers and will admit that I had a bit of a flounce as I tried to move my loaded bike back to the path. I will admit to leaving it at the side of the path in a hail of abuse whilst I set on a bench about 200 metres away and tried to warm up again.
I only had a short ride into Amsterdam to meet some friends for breakfast and so, for once, time and distance were not a concern. I rode through deserted streets and roads meeting only animals and the odd dog walker, eventually stumbling across a Golden Arches on the edge of Alkmaar. I had heard that MacDonalds coffee is in fact reasonably good and given that nothing else was available and that they had a clean toilet and the heating on full I decided to test it out (it’s true if you were wondering, the cappuccino was more than acceptable). I waited for an unpleasant rain band to pass and set off toward Amsterdam. The tulip fields here hadn’t come out yet but the wind was behind me and the views were pretty enough. I was very conscious about the evil looking rain storm behind me and so didn’t hang around much.
I managed to stay ahead of it until the last 500m up to the ferry, back across the Ij,to the centre of Amsterdam whereupon I was hit by a deluge of wind and hail which along with a puncture by the bulb market put paid to any plans of riding back the The Hague from Amsterdam.
So, Adventure. Had I really had something that could have been termed an adventure? I was never more than a 15 minute ride from a train station that would have had me back at home within an hour and I would be surprised if I had dropped a bar of phone signal. I could see the sickly yellow glow of a town from where I had slept. Ok, so I was a bit chilly but any fool can be cold in a field.
However, I had discovered things that I would never have seen otherwise like the centre of Haarlem and the baseball game and had had another day and night away from the stresses of daily rat race existence. For this, I could not say that the trip had not been worth it even if it lacked the exciting or daring qualities that define “Adventure”.
Had I had an Adventure? It had certainly been unusual…