Sunday, July 24, 2011

Rondje Veluwe - Day 2

Into the badlands. 

The fietsrondje-map correspondence continues to be sketchy but that adds an element of challenge. I could see on the guide map a trail within the forest  that parallels the N310. This shows up on my atlas map as a thin orange line but there are no knooppunten associated with it. I headed back east toward point 81, past the N310, and there it was; the fietspad to Harskamp (between the Loobosch and the Harskampscherzand). This path parallels the N310 for about 9 km.

So here I am, a kilometer into the Veluwe. This is the real badlands, wide open tracts of heath, random gnarly trees sprouting out of it, bunnies scurrying across the path and darting into the heath, a row of pines on the horizon. It's like a desert. The sense that I'm just beginning to penetrate it fills me with contentment. I've got the whole day and I just reserved a vriend in the center of Arnhem. This is working out well.

It is deserted and desolate. It almost seems haunted. The sandy path enters the pine woods, gently rolling; birds twitter and cheep at each other from the trees. Seeing a damp child's hoodie draped over a bench back, I'm momentarily startled. Reaching this point I spotted a brown deer. Spotting me, it bolted. This is just what I should be doing on a Monday morning in June.

Rondje Veluwe - Day 2 (ANWB map)

Harskamp was a bit of a mess and it started raining. Typically I left town via the highway and missed the fietspad turnoff so had to go back. I found a little greengrocer/deli and got a portion of mayonnaise-laden cucumber salad and a package of dried dates. Now I'm enjoying that almost healthy repast at a pokey RV park outside Otterlo. RVs in Holland: what's the point? Your home is at most an hour and a half away. I guess it's "wine country." The little store alongside is offering wine tastings and the toilets and showers at the RV park are cleverly shaped like wine casks. There's a pond in the middle with radish-colored flowers on lily pads. Suddenly an air raid siren has gone off. Is this the standard first Monday of the month test, or has the apocalypse finally arrived? 

False alarm, get back in the RV.

Scene from an RV park

Then it's back into the forest (toward pt 63) and out to the heath, in this case a vast open field of it. Apparently it was all like this--a wasteland--till they started planting trees in the 1930s, and now it's heath/forest. It's hard to tell if the region consists of towns amidst the heath or patches of heath between the towns. I suspect it's the latter. The way these badlands have been reforested, returned to wilderness as it were, reminds me of David Byrne's "peaceful oasis," though the towns seem just as somnolent. 

The wasteland: Veluwe

Found a delightful cafe south of Otterlo. Tables stand on pebbles on either side of the trail, a friendly woman runs the place, and they've got very good cappuccino and apple pie. I realized that I was near the Kröller-Müller Museum (how often do you see two umlauts in one name?), with a boatload of Van Goghs. Then I realized it was Monday and the museum was shut.

These horns are made for gorin'. 
I guess I haven't actually entered the Hoge Veluwe National Park but am sort of skirting it. Earlier I passed an odd group of polished boulders in the middle of the forest. Unsure if it was some kind of art installation, I thought about stopping to investigate, then noticed a bison-like creature with handlebar horns standing beside the boulders and decided to keep moving. A surreal scene. 

Connect the dots.
The knooppunten network brings out the cycling geek in me. At the Fiets Museum in Nijmegen, I picked up a bunch of paper bracelets with a series of connected blank circles, in which you can jot down the numbered points along your route. This way you don't have to continually consult the guidebook en route, just glance at your wrist. Or you could tape it to the handlebars. Well, I wouldn't go so far as to post a map on the handlebars as some riders do. That's just too geeky.
I just rode through a rainstorm, and it was good. Below the heath toward 85, the path crosses the highway, then the railroad tracks, and it seems the sun may triumph. I stop at the railroad crossing to make some notes about knooppunten bracelets. The occasional train zooms past. A car pulls up and a 60ish man gets out, holding a nice camera. He goes into the strip of woods by the railroad track and lines up his camera to shoot the base of a tree. Never found out what. Mushrooms? But I haven't seen any. 

Cryptic graffiti.
The route then follows the tracks about 1 km west, then goes down an old road lined with tall trees. Renkum looked dull. I was lucky to spot the marker for point 37 out of the corner of my eye, or I would've gone down a busy road toward Arnhem (10 km from here). Instead I turned and climbed a gravelly new road, and it started pouring. I donned my rain pants and kept going. It rained harder. I ducked into an underpass tunnel strewn with graffiti and hung out for a while. A couple of boys also took shelter in the tunnel and performed gravel-scraping bike tricks to pass the time. 

Natural sculpture.

The rain let up and I headed down a quiet road toward point 37. Then there's an abrupt left turn toward 38 and I'm climbing like hell into old forest. The rain comes down harder. Climbing the steep slope is agony so I stop and continue uphill on foot. At the crest I encounter a dead tree trunk whose shape uncannily resembles a human torso. At first glance I thought it was going to pounce upon me--that animal recognition of forms. I had a snack of dates and nuts. The rain kept falling but I didn't mind, I was protected in my rain suit. I felt no discomfort. Ahead was the loveliest stretch of the trip, down a cobblestone road through old woods, rolling up and down hills. 

The entire stretch from 37 to 38 is magnificent, certainly the highlight of the trip so far. It crosses a road, then continues through dense, hilly forest. (Wish I could've photographed the little bespectacled woman in a soggy coat descending toward me.) Then, voilá, I'm at Oosterbeek. Once again, I might seem like a vagrant, a vagabond, taking shelter under the roof of a bandstand, the focal point of a deserted park. Those little black birds with yellow-orange beaks are hopping around under the trees.

As I approached Arnhem there was another downpour but I remained dry. The ride from Oosterbeek takes in the broad Rhine valley below to the right until "a bridge too far" (the John Frostbrug) comes into view. There's a lot of war lore associated with the region. A reckless (or "bold") operation by Montgomery, which Eisenhower opposed, left thousands of British troops dead.

Coming into Arnhem

Fortunately the rain let up as I arrived in Arnhem. It seemed a likable place despite reckless drivers and motorcyclists. I felt the presence of packs of Moroccan young men, the ones that so upset the conservative Dutch of Gelderland. I can see why they might be upset. These lads are rough and crazy. They almost worried me. I managed to find a good Thai restaurant for dinner. I was too hungry to look for my vriend op de fiets and get changed. So I arrived at this slightly tony restaurant looking like a hobo. Still, the lovely Thai waitresses treated me cordially and I had an excellent Tom Yam Kai and tofu in red curry (with beer and water = €21). I was alone amidst a crowded restaurant but I had my novela

Emma Oost, at home in Arnhem
It was around 9:30 when I left the restaurant. I had phoned my friend, Emma Oost, to say I would arrive late. Emma patiently explained to me that I needed to find Apeldoornsweg, to get to her street, J Cremerstraat. But the layout of Arnhem eluded me and I missed Apeldoornsweg entirely. I found an internet cafe along a ripped up street, the typical bastion of Moroccans and Africans in Europe. It is a plus of their presence--you can always find a cyber in Dutch towns of any industrial clout. There I located Emma's home on google maps. Cost for surfing the net: €0.30.

This time I found Apeldoornsweg. About three blocks uphill was J Cremerstraat (the next day I viewed a landscape painting by Jacob Cremer at the Arnhem Historical Museum), a row of handsome brownstone houses not unlike those of Park Slope, Brooklyn.

It was close to 10 when I arrived. Emma Oost came to the door. An attractive woman in her late 40s or early 50s, she wore a stylish purple suit and a necklace of metal rings. She had a short mannish hairstyle. Her English wasn't so great--she seemed more inclined to converse in Dutch. She showed me my room, in the front of the house with two big windows facing the street, which was fairly busy with traffic. Emma made me a cup of tea and we chatted a bit. I took a shower and went to bed. 

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