MARY CONFRONTS YET ANOTHER BELGIAN HILL

We have left Holland and are now in western Belgium near the German border.  Our progress is modest, about 30 – 40 miles per day, because of our heavy load of baggage and now the hilly terrain.   Holland was flat as a pancake but all that changed once we entered Belgium.  The hills are modest in height but they are numerous and steep.

I find the route endlessly fascinating: stone houses, winding streets, manicured fields, carefully stacked firewood, everything in its place, strange farm machinery, different construction techniques, etc., etc.  Mary is inclined to focus on the difficult exertion that comes with the territory.  She is, how should I say, discouraged. That should lessen considerably once we reach Freiburg – at least a week away at our present rate.  She will be in better shape, we will jettison the trailers, and the terrain will flatten out.  I am hoping we get that far.  Her latest scheme is to rent a car as soon as possible, drive to Freiburg and stay put.  “Forget about Rome” she says.

Leaving Wageningen several days ago we crossed the Rhine and several other rivers whose names I have forgotten.  Volunteers run special ferries for pedestrians and bicyclists to cross these bodies of water.  In Holland bicycles rule.  Cycle paths go everywhere and cycle paths always parallel highways.  If a path crosses a street, the cars stop for the bicycles.  If a car and bicycle are in a collision, the car’s driver is always at fault by law, no matter what.


BICYCLE FERRY ACROSS THE RHINE

Thatch roofs are still quite common in Holland although they are being replaced by shiney blue, red, and black tile.  I think the thatch looks like a luxurious coat of fur:


We have camped for the last three nights but tonight we are luxuriating in a little hotel in Raeren.  I can’t begin to roll my r’s the way the locals do.  When we asked for directions to “Raren” it took people a while to figure out what we were asking.  And choosing a language here is complicated by the proximity to France, Holland, and Germany.  My crude German has sufficed on several occasions to get us out of a pinch.

Michiel set us up with cell service and a cycling app that was a great help in Holland but we are on our own in Belgium.  Our maps are helpful but far from foolproof and we logged more than a few wasted kilometers today.

The campgrounds in Holland were very nice – clean, grassy sites and spotless bathrooms.  The heavy dew is just as we remembered it from Germany and we often pack a wet tent.  We greatly regret not bringing our camp chairs.  These Europeans don’t seem to know what a picnic table is – standard fare in American campgrounds.   You don’t appreciate tables and chairs until you don’t have them.

The weather has been great.  No rain, partial sun, not too hot.  Today was actually cool.


BELGIAN STONE HOUSE

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MARY WITH THE MAILWALDS

When last we left you, we were lost in Amsterdam.  We decided to chuck the whole knooppunt thing and just head south to the city of Utrecht, about 20 miles.  This actually worked quite well, thanks to the Dutch’s wonderful network of bicycle paths.  Just about every road in Holland has bicycle paths along it so we never had to ride on the highway.

The ride to Utrecht was quite pleasant, especially after we figured out that Mary was riding with her brake applied.  I was coasting along while Mary was pumping furiously ahead and we were only going about 8 mph.  I know I’m a stronger rider than she is but even so, her struggle seemed a bit odd.  I held my tongue for a mile or two (Mary doesn’t take kindly to me urging her to speed up) but I finally asked her to stop and sure enough, the little spring had popped off and one brake pad was rubbing against her wheel rim.  I fixed that and away we zoomed.


ALONG THE PATH TO UTRECHT

All went well until Utrecht but we managed to get lost on the city streets (sound familiar?).  After pestering several Dutchmen for help we were able to get through the city.  We soon found ourselves scratching our heads, however, at a collection of road signs, looking for one that said “Wageningen” or “LF4″ (the bike route to Wageningen) and feeling the same sinking sensation of the day before.  

Babes in the wood once again, like Hansel and Gretel looking for the bread crumbs that the birds had eaten, we had no idea if we were on the correct road or not.  The locals were of no help.  They didn’t seem to know what LF4 meant nor the way to Wageningen even though it is only 40 miles away.  
But then, a most peculiar but welcome thing happened: a familiar voice was shouting my name!  I turned to see Michiel Maiwald trotting down the road toward us!!  Talk about a coincidence.  Turns out,  the Maiwalds had come to Utrecht for a funeral and just happened to see us standing by the roadside.  Whew!   We all took a minute to get over this extraordinary coincidence and then Michiel wrote down a list of the towns we needed to pass through to get to Wageningen.  Now at least, we had some waypoints to refer. To should we again become lost.The Mailwalds promised to hurry home in their BMW, get their bicycles, and ride back to meet us and personally guide us through the last twenty miles to their house.

But in one last stroke of (bad?) luck we had another near miss.  A harvest festival (oogfeest) was being held along the way and all traffic (including us) was diverted around the town.  It just so happened that this was the point were the Maiwalds” return path and ours crossed but they didn’t know whether or not we had traversed the festival or taken the detour.  They started through the festival but Michiel looked back one last time and saw us pedaling merrily down the road toward Wageningen.  They turned around and caught up to us and practically held our hands all the way to their front door – so extraordinary a talent for getting lost had we demonstrated by that point.

Over supper at a local pub we had a jolly good time reminiscing over the summer we had shared two years earlier riding the Great Divide Mountain Bike Ride.  

The next day we all jumped into the BMW and went to a rather unique museum that houses the art collection of a wealthy 19th-century Dutch art patron.  The museum lies within a nature preserve and visitors ride museum-owned bicycles several miles to the actual facility.   The collector had been one of the earliest to recognize Van Gogh’s talent and he had a lot of Vincent’s paintings.   Mary was even able to see some of the paintings she recognized from her long-ago art history class at Wenatchee Valley College.


Tomorrow we are off to points south with the support of a Michiel-supplied SIM card for our phone which should enable us to find our way to Maastricht a few days from now.


THE MUSEUM BICYCLES AND MAKE-OUT MARY WITH HER LOVER BOY


My photo doesn’t exactly illustrate the theme of today’s post but it’s the only one I took so it will have to do.  We saw this setup which looks like a carnival ride early this morning before we got lost.  I didn’t take any more photos because we spent the rest of the day trying to find our way.  More about that later.

It was explained to us that this company makes rescue boats for oil platforms in the North Sea.  These boats are hanging from the sides of the platforms like this.  When the oil workers, due to a catastrophe, have to make a quick getaway and abandon the oil rig, they get in this boat, strap themselves in, and launch themselves into the sea like a torpedo.  Cool, eh?

Well, back to our main story.  When we visited Mr Benjaminse, our mapmaker, yesterday, he explained to us that Holland is replete with bicycle paths and there is a system where one can plans one’s route by simply looking at a map and writing down in order the “knooppunten” (waypoints) of the route one wishes to follow.  He kindly gave us a list of the knooppunten from our hotel to Wageningen, the town where our friends, the Maiwalds, live.  

List of knooppunten in hand, we blissfully set off this morning.  All went well for the first ten miles as we checked off knooppunten one after the other.  But when we got to knooppunt 60 and started looking for knooppunt 50, knooppunt 50 was nowhere to be found.  We rode down one bike path after another – no knooppunt 50.  We asked several passersby for help.  They didn’t didn’t know what we were talking about.  We even asked two friendly police on horseback.  They couldn’t help us.  

It was now 2:30 and we realized there was no way we were going to make it to Wageningen by nightfall.  We had 75 kilometers to go.  We had covered 30 kilometers since morning and some of those were circular so we were barely any closer to our destination than when we started.

We’re still in the city and pitching a tent isn’t an option so we’re “camping” at the Holiday Inn Express where we have WiFi so we can get our bearings and make another stab at it tomorrow.


MARY’S NEW SHOES

Chelan Traveler is in Holland as of yesterday.  Although the humidity is high (rain, actually), the temperature is a pleasant 75 degrees which is a nice change from the high 90s and smoke we were experiencing for the last few weeks in Chelan.  We’re staying a couple of days in a nice hotel room in the Amsterdam suburb of Hoofdorp which is near the airport.  We booked an extra night because we neeed to visit the mapmaker whose route we are following to Rome.  We mistakenly got the Dutch text to our maps and we exchanged it for the English version.

The first thing I had to do when we got to the hotel yesterday was check the altimeter on my wristwatch.  Sure enough, Hoofdorp is twenty feet below sea level.  My altimeter read “-20”!  – a real nerdthrill.  Of course, our room is on the third floor and twenty feet above sea level so even if the dike breaks in the night, we won’t drown.

We took the commuter train into downtown Amsterdam today to get the map updates.  Rather pricey, these Dutch trains: approximately $30 for the two of us for a twenty minute ride.  I remember the subway in Munich which was on the honor system – no turnstiles, no gatekeepers.  Not so, the Dutch.  In fact, we had a lot of trouble even paying.  The ticket machine wouldn’t take our credit card and their is no human manning the ticket station.  We had to go to a convenience store and buy a chocolate bar to get the change in coins to make the ticket machine work.

Even though it was raining, downtown Amsterdam always makes for a fascinating stroll.  Canals and quaint buildings everywhere as well as tons of tourists.  No traffic jams on the streets but the sidewalks were a different story.  You had better be ready to gawk when walking in Amsterdam.  Because the sidewalks are jam-packed, all it takes is a few gawking tourists ahead to slow the entire procession to a crawl.  Lord help the person who is in a hurry.  And of course, the air is redolent of marijuana smoke.  This is Amsterdam, after all.

Our bikes have been reassembled and our panniers packed.  We are ready to start riding in the morning.  We hope to make it to the home of our Dutch friends, the Maiwalds, in Wageningen which is about fifty miles from Amsterdam.  Thank God Holland is flat because we each have about 100 lbs of gear.  We plan to leave our trailers in Freiburg before we start climbing into the Alps.  That should lighten our loads considerably.

A NARROW STREET IN AMSTERDAM


The Summit Trail runs along the Sawtooth Ridge on the north shore of Lake Chelan for thirty miles at an average elevation of 6000 ft.  I hiked it over the weekend for at least the fifth time.  I first hiked it in 1974 when I was newly arrived in Chelan and fell in love with it.  July is the peak season for wildflowers up there.  Strangely, I met only a Forest Service trail crew along its entire length.  It was snow-free so snow wasn’t the problem.  I guess fewer people are backpacking these days.

Access has always been a problem for the Summit Trail – especially this year when the best access, the Black Canyon Road, was badly damaged in a flash flood.  Even when that road is in service, getting to the trail is a logistical headache.  I chose to ride the passenger boat Lady of the Lake II to the mouth of Prince Creek and hike up that trail to the Summit Trail.  The Prince Creek Trail is poorly maintained and the day was hot.  If the prize awaiting me had not been so alluring I think the heat and the bugs would have outweighed my enthusiasm and I would have turned around and gone home.  I was dead tired when I finished the 6000-ft climb at 8 PM.  It was all I could do to set up my tent, un-roll my sleeping bag and conk out.  I was even too tired to eat!

A long romp through meadow after meadow of wildflowers the next day made it all worthwhile.  Check out these photos:


The weather cooled considerably the second night and a howling wind at tiny Juanita Lake nearly toppled my tent.  My hands went numb from the cold when I packed my gear in the morning.  The National Park Service, which is responsible for the trail from Juanita Lake to Stehekin, is also woefully remiss.  That trail was overgrown in many places.

Even so, it will take more than overgrown trails and washed out roads to keep me from The Summit Trail.


A funny thing happened in America during my lifetime – Americans have come to abhor physical labor. I first became aware of this twenty year years ago during the years I built stone walls. Lifting stones all day and fitting them into walls definitely qualified as physical labor. To be completely honest, I wasn’t crazy about the dirty, sweaty part of the job but the freedom to be my own boss and the more-than-adequate remuneration the work brought me made it something of a dream job for me. One thing I learned during those years was that a lot of people can’t imagine doing hard physical labor. Many was the time when a client would say something like “How can you do this work!” You would think I was laying my life on the line from the tone of their voices.
Driving home after a day’s work I would make a mental note of who was doing what and sure enough, very few Americans today do anything to raise a sweat on their brow. Who’s doing the hard work around Wenatchee, WA? – Mexicans.
I’m retired now from the rock business – living off the fat I stored up during my Rockman years. But I was kinda bored a few weeks ago and after reading that one of my neighbors was looking for someone to do some brush cleraring on his land I offered my services. He accepted my bid. It was a good day’s work and my back ached at day’s end but I made more money in a day than I could make working all week at Walmart (about the only option open to a 67-year-old dude without career credentials.) I put out the word through our community email chain that I was “a gun for hire” and I got five takers. Every job I bid, I got. Hard work, good money.
Frankly, I don’t get it. I would much rather be outside pulling brush and mowing weeds than stuck in an office. Am I some kind of oddity? Why do most people find physical labor so repugnant?
The fact is, they do. Good for Mexicans. Good for guys like me


READY TO ROLL

In about two months we should be on our way to Amsterdam to begin our ride to Rome.  That being the case, it’s about time we start getting in shape.  We have already taken two training rides on our Bike Fridays and hope to do another tomorrow.  Rudy will not be accompanying us to Europe but he insists on being part of the training rides.  If nothing else, he (plus his trailer) provides useful ballast that approximates the weight of the panniers I will be carrying on the actual ride.  I towed him in his plastic bin yesterday but he was mad with thirst when we returned home and lapped his water dish dry in no time so I rigged up a Connestoga cover to shelter him from the sun (see photo).  I also greatly shortened his tether.  That’s because he saw a doe and her fawns yesterday and leapt from his bin as we were riding along.  Luckily we were not traveling but about ten mph so he only skinned his shin.  Had we been moving at high speed he probably would have been dragged by the neck along the pavement for some distance before I realized what had happened and was able to stop.

Our Dutch friends, the Maiwalds (whom we met on our Great Divide ride), procured us some nifty maps of the Amsterdam-Rome route which they mailed to us.  The maps are very detailed and follow bicycle paths and rural roads so they will be essential.  I’m going to have to brush up on my Dutch, however, because the narrative is written in that language.  In any case, the maps, being maps, should be mostly self-explanatory:


Perusing the map, I see “halfopen tunnel” which sounds suspiciously English if a bit treacherous – does that mean one lane is open or does the tunnel go half way through the mountain and then stop?  “Hoofdweg op” on the other hand, is a genuine head scratcher.  Oh well, there is always Google translator.

In addition to whipping our bodies into shape, we need to take a shakedown ride with all our gear and see how that works out.  I’m thinking the Cascade Loop, which crosses the mountain range twice, would be an appropriate venue.  That should be good preparation for the Swiss Alps.  

Next to the actual ride, I would have to say the challenge of training and sense of anticipation leading up to the ride are favorite activities.  Images of the bucolic Dutch countryside, French vinyards, German castles, Swiss Alps, and Italian lakes entice me as I pedal merrily along through North Central Washington.  


You can still buy a magazine called Mother Earth News but it’s not the Mother Earth News I remember from the 1970s.  Back then it was full of do-it-yourself, back-to-the-land articles like how to convert an old truck into a water pump or how to tan hides using goat urine.  Schematics of neatly sectioned homesteads like the one above were a regular feature.  Those drawings really struck a chord with me.  Something about those neat rows of corn, compost bins, and tidy greehouses attracted me like heaven on earth. Now that I think about it, they probably were a major contributing factor to the particular path I followed through life.

Not that I followed the path singlemindedly.  There were numerous distractions along the way.  But the idea of developing a piece of land and harvesting the fruits of that labor have always  powerfully attracted me.

And so it was that Mary and I started talking about a garden last winter.  I’ve had a lot of gardens over the years but not recently.  The problem in Union Valley is critters.  This place is crawling with rabbits, moles, voles, turkeys, squirrels, bears, and deer.  Especially deer.  Deer have nibbled our roses and fruit trees into oblivion year after year.  The last garden at our house, my son’s, was denuded in a single night by deer just as he was about to harvest.

Mary and I schemed on how to outsmart the critters with chain-link fences, raised beds and electrified deterrents.  It all started to sound like something we might need to mortgage the house for so I went back to square one.  What I came up with  is the modest layout in the following photo:


By using scrap lumber, cinder blocks, and home-made hinges we’ve kept the cost at $100.  The frames are covered with plastic deer netting.  The bed is protected from moles with a steel mesh bottom.  The frames are hinged so that the garden can be tended from either side.  Last summer we installed gutters on all the roofs that feed barrels from which the rain water is pumped to larger storage tanks.  We hope to water the garden exclusively with rain water.


Home-made hinge.  The pins (bolts) can be easily removed from all the hinges on one side of the bed so that the garden can be accessed from either side.

Home-made hinges, scrap lumber – the old Mother Earth News would be proud of me.


AT THE SUMMIT OF UNION VALLEY ROAD

Lord knows I don’t mind exercise but riding a bicycle up the Union Valley Road falls under masochism, not exercise.  Our house is a mere 6 miles from town but distance is not the problem – it’s the elevation change.  The road climbs 2,300 feet in that distance.  Back in 1980 when I was building my cabin in Union Valley and a mere thirty years old I rode my Schwin 10 speed to town – once.  It was such an ordeal to pedal back up the hill that I did not attempt it again for another thirty years.  

Bikes have improved since 1980 and I’ve made the ride several times in each of the last five years but I don’t do much else on those days – I’m tapped out.  So why do I do it?  Part of the answer is that sometimes I feel rambunctious and nothing quells my “rambunctuosity” like that tortuous (and torturous) ride.  But the other part of the answer is that it bothers me to use a 2,500-lb vehicle to transport my 170-lb body up that hill.  If I just need to pick up the mail or buy a couple of bolts at the hardware store it seems like such a waste to use a gargantuan machine to do it.  I’ve always thought there has to be a better way.

Well now there is.  It’s called the e-bike.  Thanks to the lithium battery revolution it is now possible to get way more bang for your buck (actually amp-hours per pound) than was heretofore possible.  Throw a small electric motor into the mix and strap them to a bicycle and call it an “e-bike.” They’ve been around for a few years but they started at around $3000 and for that price you can get a conventional motorcycle that has a lot more range and power.  They didn’t seem like a good deal. But an Internet pop-up ad appeared on my computer recently offering me an e-bike for $545.  On a whim, I ordered it.

The burning question was: “Would it power me up the Union Valley Road?”  My bike, the Cyclamatic Power Plus from Walmart.com has a 250-watt motor and an 8 amp-hour battery which is on the low end for e-bikes.  I had my doubts.  Unlike some e-bikes, mine expects the rider to contribute to propulsion.  If I stop pedaling, the motor stops running.  But that’s fine with me.  I enjoy the exercise.  It’s just that there is a limit to how much exercise I want and Union Valley Road crosses that line.

Well, the good news is: the Cyclamatic Power Plus gets me to the top of the hill with power to spare!  (There is no bad news)  When that motor kicks in it feels like Lance Armstrong is pedaling behind me.  Equally important is the fact that it gets me up that hill for 1.62 cents of electricity (I calculated it).   I figure I’m saving about $5 per trip to town over using my car.  Since I’ve already made five trips to town, that means that I only need to make 104 more trips to recover my $545 investment!


Got home at ten o’clock this morning.  Lake Mead, NV to Chelan, WA in two days.  We came through Ely, NV rather than Salt Lake City.  I think we shaved a few hundred miles off the old route.  We also threaded the needle again since it started snowing in Ely the day after we passed through.  We left Lake Mead a day earlier than planned because Mary noticed that we would have 40 MPH tailwinds.  That was too good to pass up.  I barely had to touch the gas pedal to keep our rig at 70 MPH!

A few relatable incidents:

When we got to Jerome, Idaho, (famous far and wide for the ubiquitous smell of cow manure that fills the air, known locally as “Jeroma”) Mary noticed that our trailer had lost its licence plate.  What can you do in such a situation? We just kept driving.  Or should I say slinking?  Every time we saw a policeman on the way home, we tensed up.  We had the rest of Idaho, Oregon and Washington to pass through.  Three potential tickets.  We made it though.  No one noticed.

I got an email saying that a bicycle I had ordered while we were at Lake Mead would be arriving at our Chelan house two days after we did.  The interesting thing is that the package had originated in Henderson, NV – about ten miles from our camp at Lake Mead.  I wouldn’t be surprised if one of those Fed Ex trucks we passed on the way home had my package in it!

When we got home, our house was as clean as we left it.  In past years we have had everything from a broken pipe to dead mice to tons of dead bugs.  This was the payoff for all the sealing we have done over the years.  The only intruder we detected was one mouse nest in the back of a kitchin cupboard.  He had managed to find one bag of icing that was not in a Tupperware container and he had lived through the winter on a diet of pure sugar.

Everything inside the refrigerator looked good except for the quart container of yogurt that had somehow been overlooked.  After three months in the refrigerator it was hard to imagine that it was anything other than spoiled so Mary gingerly removed it and was on her way to the garbage with it when she stopped and said “What could have happened to yogurt to make it so heavy?”  I hefted it and it was unusually heavy for a quart of yogurt.  It’s weight only made us imagine that the yogurt had undergone some disgusting transformation over the intervening three months and that inside that container lurked something akin to a rotting corpse.  I suggested that I carefully set it in the bottom of the garbage can outside our back door, as if it were an unexploded bomb that could go off if jarred enroute.

But curiosity got the better of me.  What could make yogurt get heavier?  I slowly pried the lid off.  Inside, we saw, not yogurt, but some white cylinders  ??????  What???  And then I remembered!  We had placed $1000 of silver coins in the container before we left.  The plan was that even if a thief broke into our house he would never guess that a yogurt container in the refrigerator had silver in it.  How clever, we are!   (We had thought.). Almost too clever by half.