"We had done it. Athens to Amsterdam in 21 days, and we beat the rain!"
by Donald Hess
Before going to bed last night, rain was on our minds. For the last few days, rain was predicted in Amsterdam and the forecast hadn't changed. We knew that it was unlikely that we could avoid it, but we were going to do our best to minimize it. Although we had planned to leave at 6:30, when we woke at 5:45, it was raining outside. We checked NOAA radar and it appeared the current storm cell would be gone by 7. Amsterdam also looked rainy but there might be a window before noon. Like S2B, we planned the last day to be light on mileage both to be used as a cushion in case of unforeseen problems and, if none, for the last day to end a little early, which means we might be able to get to Amsterdam before the next rain cell. On this map, Amsterdam is to the right, and we are in Arnhem, which is where the 63-degree temperature pin is.
Rainy and in the 50's can be very cold for cycling but in the 60's it is much better. We have been very, very lucky with the weather so far on this trip and event today's weather, despite the forecast of rain, but with the slightly higher morning temps than we've seen the past few days, seems lucky. Although Justin and Dave were sleeping one floor away, we coordinated by text and were out promptly at 7.
Despite the recent rain, we experienced wet roads for just a few miles and teh riding was excellent.
As Patrick mentioned in yesterday's post, the bike paths in the Netherlands are outstanding. Except for a few hundred yards when we crossed through small towns, we would not be on roads at all for the 59-mile trip between Arnhem and the capital.
The bike paths are for both motorbikes and bicycles. These paths should not be thought of as the bike paths that we see in the US, such as the Minuteman Trail or the Cape Cod Rail Trail. On those, speeds over 12 mph would be frowned upon as they are used for recreation and not just by cyclists. For these bike paths, there are frequent maps and position numbers so one can easily plan a trip and mark distance.
Although we didn't see many people out in the early morning, we saw lots of parked bikes everywhere, especially at train stations.
Here's Justin demonstrating how easy it is to use a top-row bike rack. The mechanism is hydraulic and comes down and goes back up very easily.
After we decided the two cities for our cross-continent ride, we debated which way our trip should go, Athens to Amsterdam or the reverse. It seemed clear today that finishing a 3-week cycling trip in a country so friendly to bikers was the correct culmination.
As planned, we stopped halfway at a bakery/food store. We had our typical food, coffee, pastries, bread, and cheese, but today also chocolate soy milk.
Here we are leaving, please notice all of the bicycles. While we were eating the majority of customers arrived on bike despite the cool gray weather.
With only 29 miles to go and no rain yet, we pushed for the finish. Again, we traveled on beautifully paved bike paths, which were frequently a thick layer of soft red asphalt and made us feel like royalty.
There were also red herringbone patterns and when they were the more typical black asphalt, they were often dressed up with nice white trim.
Our first sign for Amsterdam was one of the red bike path signs which showed the distance at 42 km, the same distance as a marathon. This seemed fitting as all of us have run marathons. In fact, Patrick and Dave just did an ultra (50 miles) the month before the trip. If anything happened now, we could hide the bikes in the brush, switch to our sneakers, and run the rest of the way in.
As we were getting closer and closer we couldn't believe our luck, still no rain. Justin was pulling the group fast, and when we made a turn onto a new bike path 2 miles out, I got a flat, rear wheel of course.
At this point on the bike path, so close to Amsterdam, there were a number of small houses lining the route. An old woman in the house across the way offered her help, and we took her up on the use of her standing bike pump. We carry a small one for emergencies like this, but it takes 300 pumps by hand alone to get the pressure up to 90 psi, which takes forever. Her standing pump saved us a good deal of time, and we were off quickly to finish the last 2 miles.
We had chosen to finish at De Gooyer, a large windmill in the city that was also on a canal so we could dip our wheels. As we pulled in, I could hear Peter ringing a cow bell that I have heard him ring at many marathons and triathlons! We had done it. Athens to Amsterdam in 21 days, and we beat the rain!
After finishing the ride today, my Garmin sent me a message.
As usual, we were starving, so we grabbed lunch in the cafe under the windmill. We ordered a few celebratory beers to start and were surprised at the similarity between the Amsterdam Brewing Company's log and ours.
The afternoon was taken up with some sightseeing, shopping, and preparations for getting our bikes home. Peter brought me a bike box from Schiphol. I first assembled the box, then disassembled and packed the bike, which is now ready for the flight home tomorrow.
We had a celebratory dinner at Canvas with a deck overlooking the city. Justin still wanted to wear a blue T-shirt!
Throughout dinner, we could not stop talking about events from the last three weeks: the climbs in Albania, the sickness everyone but Patrick had, the surprising beauty of places like Ljubljana, and all the varied places we saw. We agreed it was quite a trip, but were not yet ready to commit to another one five years from now.
For those interested, here are some stats:
Day 1 Diakooptou
Day 2 Menidi
Day 3 Corfu
Day 4 Vlorë
Day 5 Rinas
Day 6 Kotor
Day 7 Kotor
Day 8 Neum
Day 9 Split
Day 10 Zadar
Day 11 Novi Vinodolski
Day 12 Ljubljana
Day 13 Villach (Alps)
Day 14 Mauterndorf (Alps)
Day 15 Salzburg (Alps)
Day 16 Mainburg
Day 17 Bad Mergentheim
Day 18 Mainz
Day 19 Bonn
Day 20 Arnhem
Day 21 Amsterdam
4 flat tires - Don on the first and last day, Justin overnight after the second day of cycling, and Patrick on the second day in Albania when the roads were so poor.
2 bike shop stops for minor repairs
0 accidents but a few falls
2 tubes of chamois butter
8 red butt cheeks
4 riders still great friends
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ABOUT DONALD HESS