First decent pic of the Bakfiets

Today everything is different: the rain has been replaced by sunshine, the sky is blue, and even the yesterdays side winds are behind us, literally: we’re riding due east so they should be pushing us along today. There is one thing missing: Travis. To lose what is effectively 33% of the group by day 2 may seem careless, so let me explain…

Where we camped. The source of much hilarity for the farmer next morning.

Alex and I set off from the campsite at about 1000 for a relaxed detour around Wijk. I wanted to think deep thoughts about our journey where the Rhine-Amsterdam canal meets with the Rhine, and I’d promised Eldest Son I’d take a photograph of the ferry. Travis, on the other hand, wanted to think deep thoughts with his coffee and journal. We didn’t have mobile phone coverage in the Netherlands, but I was on the Bakfiets, and Alex was on my Xtracycle, and we were going around three sides of the village whereas he would be going directly east, so we were pretty sure Travis would get there before us.

Wijk ferry

I didn’t get any deep thoughts at the river. We loafed about at the junction taking pictures of the ships, I went down to the river for the promised ferry pictures, and, then we found ourselves on the old side of Wijk, and stopped and wandered into the town to take some photos of the streets and the windmill, and some of the house boats in the harbour, one of which I’d buy tomorrow if I had the money, and could swim.

Space saving ideas at Wijk.

If only I could swim...

Dyke road. no sign of Travis, but is that Darth Vader in the distance?

So that’s how you find us on the dyke road towards Arnhem missing one of our group. Not that we were concerned about this. I’ve long known people have different riding styles. Mine is to hit about 18km/h and keep churning out the kilometres. Travis rides in a series of sprints, stoppng every few kilometres to enjoy the view, and racing on. We  typically pass each other several times during the day, so we figure he will pass us, or we’ll find him on a bench. He knew where we were going and the route was well signposted. We keep going at a sedate 15-18km/h through pretty villages, remarkably like villages in the UK, without the traffic, and along the dyke of the Rhine towards Arnhem, stopping periodically to take pictures, get lunch, check for mobile phone coverage and on one occasion to send a postcard.

Like a British village without the shunting 4x4's.

The bridge at Arnhem. The bikes are where some of the fiercest fighting took place.

Arnhem is the destination for the morning. It’s the site of one of the hardest fought battles of the Second World War. On the 17th of September 1944, British, Polish, Canadian and American airborne troops landed around to capture of the bridges and hold them long enough for land-based troops to come and relieve them. Operation Market Garden was supposed to allow the Allies a route over the Rhine, directly into Germany and end the war within a year. Apparently some soldiers, believing they would be part of an occupation force in Germany, packed leisure things in their kitbags. The Allied troops met far stronger resistance than expected, including several divisions of German and Dutch SS troops, and German reenforcements poured into the area throughout the nine-day battle. The allies lost somewhere between 15000-17 200 troops, and the German forces 10000. There’s a memorial just below Arnhem bridge to troops from both sides, and this morning someone set up a table decked in a British flag, with photos, books and some of the things the troops were carrying, like a shaving brush. I never liked war memorials in the UK -they always seem a bit triumphalist- but this one is quite moving and personal.

Still no sign of Travis, but a few kilometres beyond Arnhem, we find a Mammoth looking as if it was waiting for us to pass before crossing the road to find a bit of tundra. Unfortunately he (or she) is only a sculpture, placed next to the bike path, and as the information is all in Dutch, we don’t know why.

Where the ferry wasn't

Suddenly we ride through some trees and over a narrow bridge, and there in front of us was the Rhine proper, much wider than the northern ‘old’ Rhine we’ve followed until now. It’s here that according to the map, we should cross to the south bank and enter Germany, but we are planning to save a few Euro by staying on the northern bank and cross using a bridge at Emmerich in Germany. Hopefully said bridge will have a bike lane.

Now the other side of the river is a different country, and we follow the dyke expecting the usual European Untion ‘Welcome to Germany’ sign when the border turns north. Unfortunately when we reach the border, there’s nothing of the sort: the only sign says „Diversion“ in German, and behind this there is a hole where the bike lane should be.

Welcome to Germany

We end up following a very unusual street: houses on the left are in the Netherlands, and those on the right are in Germany. Road markings are a mix of the two countries and Dutch and German street signs vie for attention. I wonder what it is like to live here- how do you talk with the neighbours? Do the two sides have seperate rubbish collections?

Which country am I in?

Just after a Dutch post box we turn right, into Germany. A few kilometres further we find our first major obstacle, a sort of wicket gate for bicycles which is too short for an Xtracycle or a Bakfiets. We consider the situation. To go back would mean a long detour and a busy road, but we can’t lift the bikes over the wicket. After looking around it dawns on us that the fence alongside is made of plastic and wire, designed as a portable electric fence for cattle. It isn’t electrified…

Five minutes later we are riding along the dyke.

After another quick fencing operation and a wiggle over some traffic lights, we arrive at the bridge in Emmerich, which fortunately has a bike lane. Even better, we have a signal, and can call Travis. It turns out that he’s behind us, still in the Netherlands.

Longest bridge in Germany, yes, it has bike lanes...

While Alex directs Travis to us I make a futile attempt to find a place for the night. When I return I find Travis tired and annoyed. I understand this: I’d be annoyed in his position. Unfortunately there’s nothing for it but to push on for the last few kilometres to the campsite. On the positive side the tailwind is still with us. Just as we are approaching the campsite we pass the massive bulk of the former Kalkar SNR-300 fast-breeder nuclear reactor. It was built from 1972, cost billions of Euros to build and run, and never produced a single watt of electricity. The project was cancelled in 1991 and the place was turned into a theme park called „Wunderland Kalkar“ Obvious when you think about it. I was hopeful it might have slogans like „You’ll glow after staying here!“ but unfortunately there isn’t (there was never nuclear material on site anyway) Just an open gate and a bicycle sign advertising the cafe.

What do do with a useless fast-breeder reactor? Make it a theme park, of course.

Finally we arrive in the village our campsite is in. Then we have to find the campsite. This is not helped by the owner assuming we came by car and giving directions from the Autobahn. Then the rain hits again. We find a campsite, not the one we booked, but by then we don’t care. We throw the tent up as fast as we can, tying the guy lines to the bikes because pegs won’t hold in the soggy ground, and insert our soggy selves into it.

Uses for a bike #2675: holding a tent up.

We add up the miles and I’m astounded to find we’ve managed a cool 110,99km, my first metric century. Suddenly it all feels worthwhile, to me anyway.

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