Island-Hopping in Zeeland

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written Sunday 6 June 2004

Island-Hopping in Zeeland

This is the one ride that has frightened me for a year, ever since I discovered that NS has no train stations anywhere along the 140 kilometers of North Sea coast between Vlissingen (near the Belgian border) and Maassluis (in South Holland, just downstream from Rotterdam). The coast would have to be taken in one jump, and long train rides at each end, and no room for flat tires, or injury, or weak legs, or headwinds, or missed train connections, or even a bad night's sleep before. An unforgiving ride, but lots of beach and who-knows-what-else to see.

I'll spare you the suspense--I make it. Bike maps for today have today's ride in red, previous rides in green. There is a bite-size map (17 KB) that will fit on your browser screen, and the high-definition map (600 KB) that won't.

In fact, this ride turns out not the most demanding of the NL-circumnavigation. There are also no train stations along the Flemish (Belgian) border from the ferry across from Vlissingen all the way east to Bergen Op Zoom--over 150 kilometers. Worse, this ride has a second ferry crossing near the end of the ride, this ferry available only on weekends and only until 19:00 (7 pm). Terrible--not only the demands of the above ride, but I only have 6 weekend days left in NL (one of which must have good weather and westerly winds), and a race against the ferry, too. Egad.

But today I launch from home, and make my first train connection in...Schiphol station. This was an experiment: it seemed conceivable to take the bike up one lift and down another to make the connection...but very weird...

Yet here it is, captured by the camera flash in the world's 7th-busiest airport. We got a lot of interesting looks. Simply surreal.

Otherwise the train trip was eventless. A connection in Bergen Op Zoom for Vlissingen, and off and running, northwestward along the Westerschelde beaches...



The next picture will not show up here--it is my sop to those who have asked for/demanded/extorted full-resolution images. There is a lot going on in this beach picture (1.2 MB).

The Netherlands may be a small nation (though it seems huge from the saddle of bicycle), but their dunes dwarf anything I've seen in Texas, and are as large as any I've seen anywhere. This picture gives an idea of their size--this dune (near Westduin) was chosen pretty much at random.

Meandering through the woods and among dunes, the bike started making that squeaking noise again. This is not good--I'm a long way from home and over 100 km from the day's end. I cannot determine what's causing it, but it feels like it will not fall apart. I feel strong enough to pass most of the Sunday day-cyclists, so I continue north.

Near Westkapelle, at the western (North Sea) tip of the big island, I came across this...what? Monument, inland lighthouse(?)...I found no marking on around it or on the maps.

Around the west tip, and now heading northeast, the wind turns out of the north, strong and against me. Dutch weather forecasting does me dirty again. By the time I churn the squeaking bike 17 km upwind, I think seriously about turning south (downwind) to Middelburg, the nearest train station. But all such thoughts evaporate when I come to the island's north end, and the bridge to Schouwen (the next island north), and the Oosterschelde Stormvloedkering (east-Schelde storm flood control), one of the most remarkable human creations I know.

(Forgive the overexposure--my finger slipped and I didn't check. I can recommend better pictures on the Web -->HERE<--). Across the 4-kilometer width (3 sections) of this river mouth, the Dutch have anchored dozens of enormous pillars. Between each pair of pillars, they have installed enormous steel blades, and when a storm surge is predicted, the largest hydraulic rams I have ever seen simply jam the steel blades down into the sand. This system simply blocks the worst storm surges that the North Sea can throw at this area of Holland, and the engineers had to design it to work while essentially floating on sand, the only surface available. The scale of this thing is hard to believe. It is the perfect manifestation of Dutch engineering prowess...and of Dutch stubbornness.

And even when the Oosterschelde Stormvloedkering (I love writing that) is open, it creates enough flow resistance that boats have to use locks to cross in and out. This set (Roompotsluis, the Cream Pot Locks) is ingenious: the highway that runs along the O.S. splits so that one part goes over the top of one lock, and the other over the other. Think about it--for locks to work, one or the other always has to be closed, so the highway is always connected, just not always the same way. Cars get what they need, boats get what they need. In the picture above, the lock has just opened, and several boats will make their way inland--highway traffic is flowing nicely over the other lock (behind the camera).

It's getting hot. I find a beachside pavilion and buy a large iced tea, use the temporary toilet to change into shorts.

Beachside pavilions line the entire Dutch North Sea. This one is on the large side but otherwise typical.

Much of Schouwen and Goeree looks like this. What the picture doesn't convey is the intensity of the bird calls from every direction. The cuckoos were obvious, and nearer the water I picked out gulls and insanely noisy scholeksters, but none of the rest I could identify. That is, when I could hear them over my increasingly cacophanous bicycle. It was getting bad: when I approached retirees to pass them, I didn't have to ring my bell. They looked long before that, sometimes in fear. I would have been embarrassed, but I was too tired.

And pleasant rides along the north shore of western Goeree. One of the day's nicest moments was the enormous industrial complexes of Maasvlakte and Europoort appearing across the water, out of the sea mist. I had ridden there just a few weeks ago (previous post -->here<--). Before long I crossed the Haringvlietdam onto Voorne, the last island, and following its long, curving western bank. The sun was getting low, and it was time to head for Maassluis. The bike was louder than ever. I followed the forested, very long, thread-narrow island; this would have been a very nice ride but for the clouds of bugs that eventually covered my shirt, my arms, my legs, and that once in a while got in my eyes, ears, nostrils, mouth. Across more high bridges, across Rozenburg...

...and on the ferry gently rocking across the Maas. The day safely coming to a close, the ride that I had so feared completed. With plenty of time in Maassluis station before the next train, I think about getting under my bike and searching for the noise source.

What was I thinking?

I finish my candy bar (Yaaaaaaay, blood sugar!) and ice tea just as the train pulls up.

posted by eric at 23.02 CET


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