Our young Spanish camping neighbours had kept us from slumber by chatting late into the night. When this sort of thing has happened in the past we take a little pleasure in the fact that we will be up and moving about early the next morning, so there is a little payback. Puerile I know. The Spaniards however are clearly adept at burning the candle both ends as they rose before us.
Those of you who have followed last year’s journey, may recall Mr V’s patented camp laundry system of treading clothes underfoot in the shower. He has though gleaned some top tips from You Tube long distance cyclists that he follows, and this year we have a ‘washing machine’. When I say washing machine, I am using the term lightly. We have a waterproof compression sack in which we put clothes, detergent and water in. Seal, and then slosh it about a bit, let it soak, slosh a bit more, rinse and wring. Et voila! This worked a treat and we had envisaged things drying quickly in the hot afternoon sun. Alas however as much you hand wring, it’s never quite the same as a good machine spin and with the sun setting, despite their quick drying assertions, the clothes remained somewhat damp to say the least. The next morning I was regretting my overly optimistic laundering of both long sleeved tops, as it was going to be another scorching day with much exposure and the sleeves afford a level of sun protection that lotion alone cannot. Having suffered a malignant melanoma, I am rather a worrywart about such things. However, having found that one of my tops was less damp than the other, I donned it despite the warning issued by mine and all British mothers; ‘don’t wear damp clothes, you’ll get a chill’. I appear to have survived.
Last year we travelled across what Mr V referred to as a sea bridge, but Houtribdijk is actually a man made causeway and he informed me that this was actually the shorter of two such feats of hydraulic engineering. When we decided to come back to Holland this year, we wanted to tackle the longer more northerly one, and today was the day. Afsluitdijk is about 32 km in length and the first to be built. It is mind boggling in scale, and was constructed using basalt pillars akin to an actual Giant’s Causway. Having now travelled both, i would say that the more southerly Houtribdijk is more cycling friendly. Today, we had a dedicated cycle path separate from the traffic, but it abuts the carriageway, making it a noisy journey. We had read that there was a stopping point midway, this was no Checkpoint Charlie where we had so enjoyed a cool drink and apple pie last year, but a few picnic tables and a service station that charged €0.50 to spend a penny.
Stop we did though as we needed the respite, firstly for a brief time at a Monument, which is just that in honour of those who designed and built the dam. Then again at the midway point where it was surprisingly peaceful on the little island. There was a warm breeze and as we had coffee and treats, we took the opportunity to let our damp clothes have a little flap about on a makeshift bungee washing line whilst we had an extended break and I trekked round to the service station.
Onward and upward though, we again saddled up to complete the second half. There is always a bit of creaking of limbs and tenderness of derrières when recommencing after a break, but after a few minutes, it’s back in the stride. The rest of the journey was unremarkable, but we were glad to make it to the other side as the constant traffic and headwind was tiresome. Our arrival on the far side though coincided with what we assume from the number of waiting boats, was a scheduled opening of the sea lock.
We then carried on north hugging the westerly coast, still cycling into the wind which works the legs as if there is a constant incline. After the two previous long hard days, and having made the decision that we were going to be realistic in our expectations, we thought we deserved an early finish, having had a late lunch on the coast as we came into Harlingen, we decided to look for somewhere to camp. Google found us somewhere a mere 3 minutes cycle away, the pictures and reviews looked good so we set off and in literally 3 minutes we were there. We were directed to a quiet spot where we pitched the tent, unloaded our bags and set forth to investigate what delights there were within Harlingen. What we found is a charming small city around a port, it’s wealth had been built on herring fishing and all the associated trades that supported this, though nowadays it seems to be a stop off for small cruise ships, whose passengers enjoy the typical Dutch architecture and ambience. We ourselves found a shady spot in a popular (but not too popular, Mr V has his limits) bar where we relaxed with a couple of cold drinks and enjoyed the gentleman crooner, strumming his guitar and singing all the old favourite tunes.
We headed back after stopping off for supper and lunch provisions, and found that there was another tent pitched in our small fieldlet, as the evening wore on, more tents took up residence. They are exclusively inhabited by touring cyclists though so no late night larking about.
As we were a stones throw from the sea, we thought that we would take a late evening meander and watch the sun setting, we ended up on the deck of a seaside bar, sitting sipping ginger and mint tea. Not very rock and roll, but a lovely evening where we enjoyed a spectacular sunset.
We have two options tomorrow, carry on northward or head inland. Much depends on whether we feel up to heading into the wind for yet another day.
The hour is now late, and all is quiet on the western front.