“Why are Glen and Nick turning into that industrial area?” I wondered. I watched as the distant blue and red shirts I had been following turned into an area with smokestacks and factories. This would never be on our VBT Bicycling Vacations tour route I tell myself. Lazy rivers, working windmills and fields of flowers had so far marked our journey from Amsterdam as we pedaled our way to Bruges, Belgium. I straddled my bike and watched the red and blue shirted cyclists park their bikes and walk into work. I had been following the wrong shirts. Glen and Nick must have turned onto another numbered bike path that crisscrossed this route.
I now found myself on a bike path with dozens of Dutch locals, but no clue as to the location or direction of the other 20 members of my VBT cycling group. I turned around and cycled as fast as possible back the way I had come, mentally reviewing my options. In an act of colossal misjudgment, I did not bring my map or route guide. This was because the blue shirt I meant to follow was worn by my husband Glen. Why bother with pesky navigational duties when I can follow Glen with his great sense of direction and map reading skills. My plan worked initially, but an hour into our ride I started slipping further and further behind the lead group. No problem. After all, this is a cycling vacation, not a race. There was plenty to see and take in along the way. Imagine every quaint concept you have ever heard about the Netherlands compacted and delivered along the route laid out on our cycling tour. I had been busy watching the velvety cows, admiring perfect crops of strawberries in the fields, identifying the flowers, chatting with local cyclists, snacking on cheese, ringing the bell on my handlebars to effect tricky passing maneuvers….. It was all part of the enjoyment. I was content to take my time because I knew, just knew, that must be Glen’s blue shirt and friend Nick’s red shirt just in sight ahead.
I tend to be buoyantly optimistic. Even though I was lost, without ID, map, phone or money, I rationalized that somehow I would end up back on our barge tonight, preferably in time for dinner. Why I was so confident is mostly about the great Dutch people. This is a country of cyclists – each must at one time or another been lost amid the 18,000 kilometers of bike paths in the Netherlands. Since this was a barge based trip I knew that I should stick close to the water. But there is a lot of water in the Netherlands and I did not even remember the name of our destination town for the day. But what I did remember from that mornings cycling briefing, was that the group would end that day’s 60 kilometer cycle in an especially picturesque area with 19 working windmills. Although I had passed the occasional windmill every day since our bike barge departed Amsterdam, 19 Dutch windmills in one area is a heck of a landmark. Dutch cyclists were passing me at high speeds – all I needed was to find one stopped for a break and get directions to those 19 windmills.
I came to a crossroads of four bike paths with two Dutch men standing next to their bikes socializing. “Goedemiddag” I offered as I came alongside and dismounted from my bike. Since Dutch people speak English and “Good Day” exhausted my vocabulary I switched to English. “I lost my group. Can you help me? We are supposed to meet at a group of 19 windmills, and then ride together to our canal barge. Can you tell me which way to go? ”
I was worried they would laugh at my search for ‘windmills’ in a country of windmills. But they smiled back and in perfect English a Dutch man said, “Ah, an American. You all wear helmets.” I absorbed this. We are pretty easy to spot in a country where no one wears a helmet. In America children wear helmets and body armor before allowed to ride a tricycle in a carpeted living room. Now I was in a country of cyclists where no one can be bothered to don a helmet even in dense city traffic. But this was not the time to discuss this cultural tidbit. Salmon was on the menu tonight and I needed to get to the boat in time for dinner.
I mentioned the 19 windmills again. That would be a rare landmark, even for picturesque Holland. “Yes, we know those windmills. Follow us.” At once they hopped on their bikes and I pedaled furiously to catch up. I felt like a local, sounding my bell and gliding with them around and through slower cyclists. On wider paths we were able to converse and my new Dutch friends revealed their love of Arizona cowboy culture and the Grand Canyon. The conversation and kilometers roll by and I only hope we are going in the right direction. I keep expecting someone from our group to come looking for me but I don’t see familiar faces until we arrive at 19 perfectly preserved and working windmills from the 14th century. My Dutch friends laugh and wave me off as we come to my helmeted VBT cycling group.
When I tell our Dutch VBT tour guide that I was lost for the past few hours he smiles and like the cool dude that he is says, “A great way to get in extra kilometers on a beautiful day.”
And he is right. These days of long cycling, healthy meals and fresh air have given me a wonderful feeling of physical well-being. I am covering reasonably large distances, but at a human pace. I find that despite ‘extra kilometers’ I look forward to more tomorrow. Except from now on I will take my map and find my own way. In a country of cyclists it’s too easy to follow the wrong shirt.