Saturday, March 28, 2015

Returning Antwerp-Amsterdam

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It feels good to sit here on this foggy morning and see the blurred outlines of the river and opposite bank. From over on the left, the riverside park where I stopped on my way into town, I hear congas, the distant drone of traffic and little else. This looks like a good well-maintained trail with a freshly painted white line down the middle.

(original date of this post: Sept 20, 2014)

Today it's overcast and cool and I've chosen an interesting route to Bergen op Zoom, thanks to my new Belgian fiets atlas, where I'll catch a train back to Amsterdam. I'll follow the Schelde's right bank west, bending north and winding through the dockyards. Although I had difficulty with signage on the way down, it seems to be working ok today.

Antwerp - Bergen-op-Zoom, the long way


Stopped at a "panorama" point for the Schelde, brownish green and heaving in the cool mist. Across the river power towers and industry (of Zwijndrecht). Behind me the great cylindrical tanks of Esso, as I wade through the bowels of Moloch. The river is not visible since the fietspad is at the base of a dike so the only panorama is the Giger-ish machinery of the refineries. What are they cooking up there?

Why oh why
Wind is an issue today, supposedly blowing toward the SE. I've chosen an alternative to the Kapellen-Putte route. The trail fringes the river almost to the latitude of Bergen-op-Zoom, crossing a major sluice gate. Then some jogging around till I cut east to the city and my ride home.

Waiting at the giant sluice gate, Zandvliet-sluis. It has been raised for quite a while now as big ships continuously pass through, and just this moment as I pick up the pencil it begins the long, slow, virtually silent process of descending and releveling the "road." Very few cyclists or drivers use this route. A couple of racing fietsers were behind me but they gave up and turned around, and just one truck. I don't mind. In the cool haze it's nice to just hang here and watch the humongous toy-like ships maneuvering the lanes.

Well, this certainly is not an LF route--no canals or farmsteads. The territory I've been traveling through is utterly inhospitable to humans, which makes it all the more amazing that someone has bothered to meticulously construct a bicyle path through it all, with plenty of signs and even bike stoplights at certain intersections of track and road, though I saw no traffic of any kind. It's interesting in a bleak, city-of-the-dead way, a panoply of humongous machines all laid out like some sinister erector set. I saw airport-size facilities of Bayer and BASF and I think the evil Monsanto (I'm in enemy territory). 

It took forever to reach kp 92--farther, it seemed, than the map indicated though I have no odometer. Also, unlike on the LF routes, there's no place to stop. No one's placed a bench or a picnic table under the odd tree. So I just kept going, seeing how much the body could endure. A complex network of drawbridges links the zone, ships being routed around. I kept seeing signs offering alternative routes, i.e., indicating that if a drawbridge is up, go the other way. It worked. All the while overcast and windy. Then finally a left turn to kp 78 (slightly west) and suddenly the sun breaks through, it's warm and I'm amidst sheep pastures, a golf course. A pull-off and I'm at a body of water--map calls it "Nauw van Bath"--a flock of gulls sitting on the boggy banks. The horizon ahead looks stormy. Can I reach Bergen-op-Zoom before the weather breaks and summer has irrevocably ended? (Fall begins tomorrow.)

The sun has won out and it's turned out to be a warm breezy afternoon. I'm at kp 39, just south of Bergen-op-Zoom. The landscape is agricultural: fields of corn, broken-up dirt. Huge farm vehicles plying the roads but nothing else. Just crossed the A4. I'll turn north at Hoogerheide and skirt the Markiezaat nature reserve. A picnic table appears by a disked-up field, courtesy of Rabobank and some porcine consortium who's posted a board: Van zaadje tot karbonade (Piglet to porkchop?).

So it's been a rather arduous trek and not recommended for lightweight fietsers. The trek through the "Chem Fabriks" was long and bleak but showed a different face of Holland: industrial powerhouse. It's the flip side of the woodsy route down.

The other day an oncoming fietser on a racing bike, girl in lycra, took a fearsome spill just as I crossed her path. And last night in Antwerp, passing a pair of seedy bars, I saw a hulking bald dude, staggering with drink, collapse on the ground, bald head slamming into the pavement. That fall may have killed him. I did not linger to find out. Omens perhaps.

Schelde Rijnverbinding--the canal that links the Schelde to the Rhine

I was there.
Omens indeed. When I got to Bergen-op-Zoom I had the bright idea of following the railroad track, thinking it would lead me to the station. I was wrong. I climbed a hill to a bridge--exhausting in the afternoon heat--only to find I'd reached a canal that connects the Schelde to the Rhine. A glance at the map showed I had somehow ridden west of the center. After a while I found a board about the nature reserve I had stumbled into. I realized I had reached the Kreekraksluizen, another major sluice gate, and I was at the bottom of the Maarkiezaatsmeer, a great lake. It was an impressive vista: giant barges tooling down the canal and colossal eolic windmills. But I was tired and wanted to get home. Now I would have to skirt the lake all the way along the west side of B-o-Z, against the wind. Or at least that's where I guessed I was, I wasn't really sure. I was starting to see local directional signs saying I was headed toward B-o-Z. Fine, I thought, just pedal. I pedaled and pedaled but saw no sign of a town or bridge or anything. Just this body of water on my left. I continued to ride against the wind, getting more exhausted. But there were no longer signs of any kind. When I saw a point to the left, I figured it would be clear where I was once I'd rounded it. But rounding it I saw nothing but distant trees beyond water. Somewhere way off to the left across the lake cars were moving.

I panicked--where the hell was I? I thought, well, I have a phone, I'll call my friend Judith in Amsterdam. I did, explained what had happened, did she know of a fiets emergency number? She said she'd google it and call me back. I stood there wondering what to do. The day was ending, it would soon be dark. I decided I'd turn around. That was easy, the wind was at my back. Judith called me back telling me to contact the local police via a number she gave me. She said they'd be able to locate my coordinates from my cell phone. I called the number--no answer. Then ... I saw a pair of dark figures in the distance coming toward me. As they came closer, I could see they were carting fishing poles. I inquired in Dutch. They told me to go back the way I'd been going, that is, north. So I'd been going the right way after all. When they turned ahead to climb up on the dike, I rang my bell. Yes, just keep going down that road--you can't miss it! So I kept going, blindly. Eventually I saw some lights off in the distance and my hope was renewed. It was not yet 8:30. It was going to be ok.

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