Xtracycle approaching Amsterdam

We join the sleeper train in Plochingen at a cold 1 am. I’ve never been on a sleeper train before, and it’s a lot more comfortable than I expected. I wake occasionally at stops, and signs in the gloom show names from our maps like Koblenz or Bonn. At Amsterdam we detrain and squeeze the bikes in the lift. Unfortunately when we arrive on the bottom floor, we can’t get the bikes out again, and we have no alternative but to let the lift go up again and restart the entire process, to the bemusement of a lot of commuters.

We wander out of the station past the famously huge multi-storey bike park. The sun is shining and the skies are clear- until we get about 100 metres into the city and the rain pours down. We eat bread huddled under the awning of a bakery, hoping it will lay off a bit, but eventually we settle for a gentle drizzle and walk to the Workcycles shop which is full of bikes of all shapes and sizes.

Coveting bikes in the Workbikes shop

The Bakfiets looks pretty mundane surrounded by the various creations around it. I take a test ride which is a bit unnerving at first, mostly because of a close shave with a street cleaning truck. It appears Amsterdam drivers are the same around cyclists as others elsewhere in the world, judging by the amount of near-misses I have. I manage to find time for some pictures though, including the mandatory boat-and-canal shot:

The mandatory 'canal and boat' picture

We’re just about to set off to see Amsterdam when the rain starts again. It’s even harder than last time and after about twenty seconds we’re as wet as if we ‘d gone for a swim in the Canal. There’s no way we’re going to get to all he tourist spots in this weather, but I make a quick personal pilgrimage to ‘De Waage’, for reasons I’ll explain another time.

De Waage, the place that shouldn't be.

After an interesting if unintentional detour around the suburbs of Amsterdam we reach the Rhine-Amsterdam canal by accident. We’ve dried off nicely by now, and as we begin to follow it south, we immediately run into more foul weather including what feel like hailstones. We ordered the Bakfiets with a raincover, the better for keeping the boys dry on the way to Kindergarten, etc, so everything in the bike is kept dry, but the cover itself seems to think it’s a sail. The bike keeps drifting towards the left, and Every now and again a bigger gust of wind comes along in a spirited attempt to blow me into the canal. Several times it’s so extreme I lose control and have to jump off the bike and the bike and put the stand down. I’m so slow, I’m getting overtaken by canal boats, which is embarrassing.

Getting overtaken by a ship

This is prbably the worst day to try and ride a Bakfiets across country, and by lunchtime we’ve barely made 30 km and I’m full of doubts: Can we make it home? If so, what then? Can my wife handle this heavy bike? What about the traffic and hills which are in abundance in Stuttgart?

The city of Utrecht offers relief from the wind, and lots of people are remarkably willing to stop and help three soggy english speakers out. One friendly commuter tells us he’s headed the same way and with a brisk “Follow Me” he shoots off into the swarms of cyclists with us following as best we can, over level crossings, through intersections, and down cycle lanes we probably wouldn’t have found ourselves, and wouldn’t have had the courage to trust if we had. On the other side of the city he points at a road with absolute authority, tells us “That’s the quickest way to Wijk bij Durstede…” then vanishes home before we can ask who he was. I wish we had found his name, if only to say thank you: I think we’d still be going around the city now if it wasn’t for him.

We take a short break to eat sandwiches in a doorway while another storm rolls past. We reckon we are about 20 km from Wijk, where there is a campsite for the night, if we can find it. The screaming rain eventually abates to a grumpy drizzle, and we follow bike lanes all the way to Wijk, which we chose because it is built on the junction between the Rhine-Amsterdam canal and the northern Rhine river itself, the route which we’ll follow most of the way into Germany.

Having found Wijk, we have to find the campsite. Fortunately the pedestrians of Wijk are as kind as those of Utrecht, and we have no shortage of help. Eventually we find a narrow lane running through the fields which we are assured is the way to our campsite, and sure enough after some nervous riding in the gathering darkness we find a sign, and then a friendly farmer who not only shows us a place to pitch the tent but also a ranschackle but waterproof shed to store the bikes in. We’ve had three soakings already today, and the wind is trying to carry the tent into the next field, we squeeze ourselves, the bikes and the tent into the shed for the night.

Campsite at last...

It’s about 10:00 by the time we are ready to crawl inside the tent. We’ve covered 77,74km in five and a half frustrating hours. Go to sleep wondering if this was such a good idea.

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