Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Rondje Betuwe - Day 1

Up early fortunately. I am excited about this cycling journey. The weather forecast is unrelentingly good. Nothing's going to stop me now...

Getting out of Tiel
But as sometimes happens, the reality of the ride doesn't live up to expectations. So far it's been a rather frustrating journey, due to two factors: poor signage and strong headwind. Getting out of Tiel was problematic, mainly because the signs pointing to knoppunt 83 were absent at key points. (It occurred to me that I should always print a Google map of whatever town I need to start from. It would've helped enormously.) As sailors know, the wind is a potential friend or enemy. Now riding east on the Waalbandijk (so named because it skirts the Waal to the north), I am constantly battling the headwind, which makes an otherwise pretty ride above the broad river through polder land a pain.

It's very hot as I sit in front of a section of the river called the Waalproject, just east of IJzendoorn. It's an "overnight port."

"The Waal is the busiest river in Western Europe, the main artery to the port of Rotterdam. Each year 150 million tons of goods are transported across the Waal. Two-thirds of the imports coming from Germany into the country arrive via the Waal. Here at IJzendoorn, 175,000 ships pass per year. That's 20 to 30 ships per hour."

Sitting at the rear of this ice cream stand, looking south across the river, those figures ring true. The Waal is a veritable highway of barges and tankers, which roll swiftly down the muddy river, today catching a glint from the powerful sun rays beaming down. A strong breeze rustles the trees. It's a pretty nice spot to hang out, as a bunch of slackers occupying a nearby multi-level trailer dwelling seem to know. Perhaps they are crew of the little circus that stands just below this observation deck, with five white "little tops," colored flags flapping on their tippy tops.

I am progressing slowly due to the wind. The route has me continuing east (into the wind), then heading north and west to Rhenen, my destination for the night.

North bank of the River Waal

Continuing east above the river, it is still tough going but the landscape is pretty, overlooking the broad north bank of the river, where cattle and horses graze in the background and ducks forage in the foreground. Just like on the south side of the river, which i covered last year during my Gelderland tour. Back then I passed Druten, where a ferry crosses over to Dodewaard, which I'm west of now. The south side is more rural though. The dike I've been riding along is a busy road with trucks and mega-tractors pushing past me periodically. Swamplands to the north.

Rondje Betuwe - Day 1
There's a split-level observation point at Dodewaard from which you can see the spire of Druten. Here too is a sandy beach which looks quite inviting at the moment, though it is probably not wise to swim in the Waal. It's still quite hot, with a hot wind, so I change into shorts and sandals. To think, just weeks ago I was shivering in the cold.

After a rough start this is turning out to be nice. Just like last year I traversed the land between the Maas and Waal rivers, I'm now between the Waal and the Neder-Rijn, a branch of the main Rhine river (which is called the Waal in the Netherlands). Hanging at a lagoon flanked by weeping willows that might be Georgia. There is a beautiful large duck pecking at the bank, now coming toward me perhaps hoping for a bite of my salami sandwich. I've been going through a tree-lined corridor toward Hemmen, where the "landscaped gardens of Hemmen castle (destroyed in WWII) are an oasis between meadows." The trees are a blessed barrier against the winds and blaring sun.

Earlier I had been concerned about covering the distance to Rhenen by nightfall. Now I think it'll be alright. I have only to reach the Neder-Rijn ("northern boundary of the Betuwe region"), follow it west a bit, then cross over to Rhenen where I'll spend the night. I had reserved a vriend op de fiets on the south bank of the river (the actual destination for Day 1 is Ingen, a bit further west), then contacted Jan van den Brandhof, who I knew from volunteering at Veko kitchen in Amsterdam. He told me I could stay at this place, which means I might get a decent veggie meal for a change.

At Opheusden, I stop at stone tables overlooking some kind of recreation area at an estuary of the Neder-Rijn. Very nice, except the road is behind me and the traffic here is constant. In fact, almost the entire way I've had to share the road with motor vehicles.

Ferry cross the Neder-Rijn

On a whim, I decided to leave the route along the south bank of the Neder-Rijn and cross to a zone called De Blauwe Kamer (blue room) on the north side. This turned out to be a good move. Descending to the river i found a "fiets info point," an attractive cafe overlooking the river and a little car and bike ferry (€0.75 per fiets). The north side was far more rural, with a delightful stretch of old road flanked by tall trees. This exits on a road, then a short distance west is the entrance to De Grebbeberg, a protected area with a wonderful sandy path that skirts the reserve's southern edge. Woods on the right, creek on the left with the Neder-Rijn behind it. Definitely the highlight of today's highly varied journey.

Jan van den Brandhof in Rhen
At the far end of the reserve is Rhenen. I realized I've been here before: I recognize the bridge over the river. It was the end point of one of last year's trips, the Grebbelinieroute Zuid. Then I arrived at dusk and went through the town to the train station where I caught a train home. Now I'm at a little recreation area just east of the bridge. Some kids are swimming off the embankment. A big barge, the Betuwe, is going under the bridge which is traversed by a steady stream of auto and bicycle traffic.

Spent a pleasant evening at Jan's place. He lives in a little suburban apartment complex near Rhenen's train station. A true "stereo-type," Jan has a great audio system and a wall of CDs of all types of music. Jan is a vegan and works part-time at a local natural foods shop. We had a couple of witte Grolsch beers at a café by a busy intersection above the train station and had a long conversation touching on many subjects, including the issue of transport: cars vs bicycles. Jan does not have a car but he has three bikes, including a folding bike which he takes along on his frequent trips to Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Nijmegen and elsewhere. He's lived in Rhenen for over a decade (though he hails originally from Venendaal, north of Rhenen), migrated here a while back to live with a girlfriend and then decided to stick around. We listened to a great LP of African and American music of the 1930s culled from the 78s collection of a DJ that Jan knows. Continued ...

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