Monday, December 9, 2013

Return to the Veluwe

Apeldoorn is just an hour east of Amsterdam but the nearby Hoge Veluwe national park feels quite remote. It is the same swath of forest and heath that I described in Rondje Veluwe a couple of years ago. This time my girlfriend Alice and I took a two-day journey from Apeldoorn through the forest.

(original date of this entry: August 16, 2013)
The first day we made it to Hoenderloo, a village within the park some 20km southwest of Apeldoorn. Modern but homey accommodation at the home of Mevrouw Westerlik, our "cycling friend" for the evening.

In the morning we shared our vrienden op de fiets breakfast (cheese, ham, boiled egg, bread, margarine, honey, tiny boxes of chocolate sprinkles) with a middle-aged Dutch woman, hair dyed auburn, who'd been there four days, a friend of Mevrouw Westerlik. She was staying in the downstairs room. She seemed friendly enough but Alice later told me she didn't like her. She said the woman, who had survived her diplomat husband, made a show of her worldliness. I had understood little of their Dutch dialogue. Alice was telling me this as we rode beneath an overpass that allows wild creatures to cross the A50 highway safely, among them deer, wild boar, foxes, badgers and rabbits.

The evidence
At the Spar supermarket, Alice went in to get supplies for today's ride. She had left her bike on the little strip of concrete out front. I decided to move mine over to an official parking spot by the brick wall of the building, one of those clamp-like fixtures that you squeeze the front tire into. I took out my backpack and fished out my iPod to see if I could get a signal. Then I heard a crash and turned around to see that my bike had toppled over onto another one. I went back to put it upright but was having trouble untangling it from the Koga bike it had fallen upon. Almost immediately the bike's owner appeared, dismayed to see her possession pinned to the ground by a rental Sparta. I tried to pull the two bikes apart but seemed to be making things worse. The small middle-aged woman insisted I stop making the attempt while she pecked on her cell phone, trying to reach the owner of the shop where she'd purchased the bike not a week before for like €3000. Soon the shop owner appeared and proceeded to inspect the bike for damage. The woman asked me for my name and email address and I wrote them down for her. Then Alice came out of the supermarket, saw what was happening and jumped into the fray. The bike shop owner managed to pull the bikes apart. Alice got my camera and took photos of the supposed damage and made the man show her where the frame of this fabulous machine was scratched. (This move must have had its intended effect because I have not heard from either one since.)

Apeldoorn/Hoge Veluwe National Park

We rode out of town to the east (toward point 12), then crossed the road to a section of the fietspad that was separated from the road. We came across an elderly couple and they started shouting at us! This was a walkers path, they insisted, and bikes didn't belong there! It was beginning to seem like every Dutch elder was a cranky whiner. Alice cheerfully pointed out to them as she slowed to a halt that the knooppunten had directed us to this trail, but the geezer accused the ANWB (the recreational authority) of getting it wrong. My oh my. We kept going, as if to escape the clutches of Dutch whininess.

We went past point 28 to ... a waterfall!  Manmade, of course, this feature is a result of excavations during the construction of the Apeldoorn Canal in the 19th century. Though it's supposed to be the highest waterfall in the Netherlands (15m!), it appears as dramatic as a lawn decoration, with little cascades rolling down a stepped ditch.  

We sat there for quite a while noshing blueberries and raspberries we'd picked the previous afternoon. Though it seemed like a remote spot, plenty of cyclists passed at regular intervals, in groups or couples. One middle-aged couple stopped and went over their maps. The guy, with a head of brillo, and the woman, a blonde with a distracted expression, stood a few feet away from us. Alice offered them seats at our picnic table but they declined. Alice chatted with them. The guy was saying something about how long it took banana peels to decompose. Then we split. 

Our plan was to head south, down into the Loenense Bos (the woods near the village of Loenen) and emerge at Eerbeek, then take the Apeldoorn Canal all the way back to Apeldoorn. Alice liked the plan. She says she isn't really a long-distance cyclist, more of a walker. But she was holding up pretty well on this jaunt and when I told her it was a 16km run to Apeldoorn she did not blink. Alice is a city biker and cycling to her is just like walking. But cycling 50km is not what she'd normally choose to do. Still she was certainly enjoying herself on this passage through the Veluwe.

The ride back to point 28 was an effortless descent down a dirt road through old forest of pine and oak. It was warming up but not too much. We went past a woman picking berries and then we started picking blueberries, which were small and abundant amidst the twisted bushes.

From point 87 we bounded over a slender trail through the woods, going down, then up, then down again, then climbing through the sand hills now erupting in purple heather. We came to a big sheep's pen with a hay loft, the little sheep out to pasture. We were well inside the Veluwe and Alice was surprised by the setting. This is Holland? It might have been Germany or Romania with the smooth purple-flecked sand dunes backed by a line of tall pine trees.

Refreshments in Eerbeek
From there we breezed down to point 96, the start of a long broad path, old oaks forming a restful canopy. At the end of this 5 km stretch, a sunny rotunda was the entry to the town of Eerbeek. We rode into town and found ourselves on a central median of grass flanked by rows of shops. Right in the median was a fish snacks vendor and on the corner a VVV (tourist office) where I looked at some maps. We found a busy cafe on the main street, sat at the terrace for a while. We had strawberry cream pie. It was fun to relax and watch the local characters. I had my eye on a quartet by the left front corner: a pair of rough looking guys, one with a tattooed torso, the other with his head shaved, a smoother, rather theatrical fellow and a beefy blonde woman with glasses. They were chatting animatedly on the warm Saturday afternoon.

Apeldoorn canal
It didn't take us long to get out of Eerbeek and over to the Apeldoorn canal. We rode northwest all the way to Apeldoorn along this broad waterway, which separated the bicycle path from the road. The entire journey was a delight, beneath the shade of an endless row of oak trees. We stopped at a boat landing and dangled our feet over the cool water.

Then we were back in Apeldoorn, which despite its heartland location seemed to have a dark side: junkies and edgy characters strolling past our terrace behind the Cafe Het Molentje, a bar pumping oom-pah soul, the "alcoholics bar" according to the couple that staffs the bike rental place in the train station. We just returned the bikes and are hanging out on a Saturday evening. We're the only ones on the terrace. All the alkies are inside despite the warm weather. Across the way is a soulless white apartment block. Said Alice, "I could live there (an apartment with balcony over Piramide showarma), work there (Video Station), and spend my money there (Het Molentje)." Not likely, but Alice is always looking for an escape route.

Hoenderloo school

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