Tot ziens, Duitse grens

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written Sunday 13 June 2004

Tot ziens, Duitse grens

More and more, every day now, it occurs to me that I'm saying good-bye here to...everything. I don't like it, but so far I can still treat it as a challenge to see as much as I can. So long as I must say good-bye, to know what I'm saying good-bye to. Today I was my last ride along the Netherlands' German border. Dus--tot ziens, Duitse grens.

Today's bike maps: small one HERE to fit on your screen, large one HERE (700KB) for detail. (As usual, red highlight on today's ride, green highlight on previous rides.

Off the train at Zevenaar, just where a few weeks ago I started by long ride through the Achterhoek, the Netherlands' "back corner". In a few minutes, at the voet/fiets veerboot (foot/bicycle ferry boat). We wait for its unloading on the other, south bank of the...the...the, uh...

Look, this isn't my fault. The Dutch cannot quite decide what to call the river right here. In the interests of water control, they have split, diverted, and recombined the Rijn, and merged it with other rivers so many times that even they have lost track of the naming. One of my maps calls it the Rijn, another calls it the Waal. The latter possibility of which interestingly puts the town on the other bank--Millingen aan den Rijn--on the Waal, not the Rijn. Which is like a lot of other towns named "X a/d Rijn", stranded from the river that gave them their name. "Oh, that name means the Old Rijn," they tell me. Not that I blame them one bit for preferring weirdly anachonistic names to the massive, regular flooding of old.

Uniform River Naming--sounds like a deadly-important job for the Glorious European Commissions (zijn zij GEC?). Right up there with their life-saving renumbering of all European motorways.

Uh, back to our ferry. The ferry was waiting for this barge. I would have included the entire barge, but it would have stretched back off your screen about to your kitchen. And notice the motorvan riding atop. Almost all these barges have a similar remora-like vehicle. I understand that between living quarters on board and a vehicle to buy groceries, etc, you really wouldn't need the expense of a land-based home. Actually doesn't seem like a bad life, but then I am an ex-pat nomad myself, saying that. What I don't understand is how they get the vehicle on and off the barge--I've never seen a ramp for it. I have seen a crane, as in this picture. You don't suppose...

The barge churns by and here comes the ferry.

And there's always one who can't wait to launch. Obviously with lots of practice. The really fanatical cyclists seem to have absorbed each ferry's habits and speeds of loading and unloading. That would take a lot of cycling and riding of ferries. That would be a nice life.

Then we get our own turn to cross. It's not more than 600 meters. At the moment of this picture, we are crossing the wake of a petroleum barge.

And for the next hour or two, I find myself forming a braid, back and forth, with the previous ride of only six weeks ago (described HERE). It is incredibly fine to recognize so many landmarks: the park bench at the Kerkdijk's end where my the wind knocked over the bike, the bike-path T where I turned left and got homesick just across the canal from Dutch territory (but where today I turned right, Nijmegen's skyline, the confusing intersection on Wyler's south (Dutch) edge. There was one moment I could have lived my whole without: Berg en Dal (Mountain and Valley), with its incredibly long and steep rise--and no bike path. So we have outside mirrors of all the teenage hell-drivers whizzing just 10 centimeters from my elbow, as I push my bike uphill. Finally I find a foot path and accept its risks of thorns and moss-slippery steps instead.

There's this problem with reading maps while riding. Two roads might look like they intersect but don't quite. And between the two roads is invariably an unmapped canal (with no locks to balance across) or else a farmhouse with big dogs. So Ketelstraat and Hogewaldseweg approach to 80 meters, but...farmhouse, dogs, you know. I have to ride to the town of Bredeweg and look for the street named, uh, Bredeweg, which is weird. But not as weird as what greeted me at the local atelier.

Hello? No indication of what's going on, whether for sale or just display. They were just there, stacked around the street corner. OK, then. I rode away a little faster.

I continued south for just a few minutes and turned left onto the bike trail named Grensweg (border way). It does in fact follow the border: the trees at left are in Germany, but path is in the Netherlands. But the paved path turned into this kind of road, which turned into a slow gravel nightmare.


Finally, a sharp right turn in the border and a paved road rescue me. I check my tires--no softness, no puncture. I admit I looked forward to paved paths for the rest of the day.

For a day that had begun so dark and so little promising, it was ending by requiring sunscreen. This is from over the Niers and looking east toward Ven-Zelderheide, the town I had just ridden through.

I thought I had a little time, so to follow the border as closely as possble I detour to the community of Vrij by taking a road named...Vrij. This should have been a warning. The few farmhouses clumped together are full of pickup trucks, guns over the mantle, and the truly angriest, meanest dogs I've ever seen. Only one was loose, but he was old enough to outrun. These dogs looked practically rabid, lungeing at the fences toward me, slobbering on each other as the did. It was all to easy to imagine the owners doing the same. I would expect this in West Virginia or Oklahoma, but not here. I make great time out of there.

Which it turns out I needed. I follow yet another hard right turn in the border, and now it's a straight line to Bergen and the ferry and Vierlingsbeek and the train station. Trains stop in remote Vierlingsbeek only once per hour, unlike the usual 30-minute cycle elsewhere in the Netherlands. Distance by GPS and train schedule mean that this is going to be tight, and I really don't want to miss the train and sit on the platform, in the sun, for 59 minutes.

Of course, everything is wrong. Traffic in Nieuwe Bergen is terrible. The traffic light is stuck at the N271 highway crossing and I simply run the light. Next I get a headwind. And of course, of course, the ferry is on the other side when I get there with 9 minutes to train time.

Over there, the ferry loads, the ramp's up, they cross, and the cars roar off even before the ramp hits pavement. I remember this. Our side's cars squeeze past, fast, and they brake hard at the front. I follow just behind the last bumper, and the ferry roars and blows exhaust before I'm fully on, but I keep going. I pay the 60 eurocents, and the cars and I start off before the ramp hits pavement. I'm off and hit the train station with 3 minutes to go. I stop at the ticket automat.

The crossing bells sound--the train is 2 minutes early! The ticket automat takes my precious bank "PIN card" and won't give it back. I hit the red button, pocket my card, haul my bike on the train with no ticket. Control comes, I'll deal with it.

Control does come. "Goeie middag", good afternoon, is all they say, and you're expected to have your ticket out. OK, I explain the situation in Dutch and hand her the Fiets Dagkaart (bicycle day card). She nods and asks my destination and writes out a ticket for me, no surcharge. She is taking my word for it. Which is logical, actually--if I were a deadbeat, I would hardly have bought a ticket for the bicycle and not for myself. Plus, there may have been other passengers on this train that had the same story about Vierlingsbeek's automat. On this train, or even on earlier ones. I remind her that she forgets to give me change for my 20-euro bill, and she apologizes, "Sorry, hoor" and we chat a moment. The whole transaction in Dutch. I'm sure she knew I wasn't Dutch--but it didn't matter. Wow, it can be done.

I change trains in Nijmegen. In the Intercity train I slump forward on the bike seat to steady both of us. Forests flash by the windows as we race westward. The things I saw today, I don't know if I will ever see again. Farewell, German border.

posted by eric at 21.05 CET


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Readers' Comments

The cars on the barge thing.
In Belgium during the summer of 2004 I saw one of those cranes used to lift a nifty BMW on board. They threaded some nylon straps through the slots in the aluminum mag wheels and just hoisted it up and swung it around and set it back down.

I don't know if the spokes in those wheels are rated for such usage. Would you risk your beamer to find out?

Posted by: Bob Thomas on June 2, 2005 04:21 AM
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