Archive for the ‘biking’ Category

let's take it for a spin around the block

November 18th, 2006

The afermath

The walk to my front door never felt longer. I was walking at the slowest pace and panting simultaneously. So much so that I elicited some stares from people on the street, I guess they were wondering if I was okay. My legs were barely functional and the kind of pain I was feeling in my thighs I've never felt in my life. I opened the door, went upstairs, entered my room and basically collapsed on the bed. I wasn't moving a muscle. Eventually I got up and decided this would be a good time to take a bath. We have a tub, but I've never used it before. It's actually pretty useless, cause it's too small, and with the average Dutch person being insanely tall, it's a wonder how any native could fit in it. All the same, it was a nice half an hour to just lie there and let the skin feel the warm water. By the time I got out, my fingers were wrinkled. Struggling to put one foot in front of the other, I headed into the kitchen to remedy my state of famine.

I'd like to extend this tale of drama, but that's all that actually happened. Damn.

From the top

This afternoon I was feeling a little restless, so I thought I would take the bike for a ride to Bunnik, since I've never been there before and some people said it was nice. Yes, I'm back on the horse. The road to Bunnik is quite nice, there's a wide bikepad alongside the road and there's a long road of houses by the road. Quite a lot of people were out there cycling or jogging, so the atmosphere of that bikepad was appropriate. Bunnik itself is one of those towns that stretches the longest along the main road through it and doesn't have too many settlements deeper in. I found a little plaza with a church, but that was about it. Not really knowing what to do with myself, I noticed a sign for bicyclists that said "Zeist 3km". Well, why not. Zeist is a lot bigger than Bunnik, it's just about the biggest town of those that surround Utrecht. In Zeist, I first followed the signs to the Castle, which turned out to be a prosperous, old building surrounded by water. Then I just headed for the center, which landed me onto a very nice boulevard. I found Zeist a charming place, the boulevard stretches quite far, it was quite busy and on either side you have stores all lit up and there's also the light from street decorations. By now I noticed darkness was approaching, it would be dark in an hour tops. So what to do, should I go back? Just then I saw another sign - "Amersfort 13km". I was a little wary of going to Amersfort knowing it would be after dark and I wouldn't see that much of it anyway. But hey, here I am in Zeist and it's not that far away, why not.

The road to Amersfort led me through Soesterberg, which apparently has an airport. But the town is so small that it passes by in an instant from the main road. The road I was on is a wide, 4 lane road with bikepads on both sides. Curiously enough, rather than open fields or buildings, most of the stretch goes through a forest area. Erik said there would be hills here, but the road is as hilly as a lake. Well, not entirely, apparently there is some elevation but it's so mild you don't even notice. The road is long, though, so long I was starting to get tired. Incidentally, I wasn't in any kind of good shape today, I actually felt pretty tired after not sleeping well and the coffee was now making it's presence known by repeating on me (not the best thing to drink before you take a trip). I wanted to get to Amersfort and didn't consider turning back now, but thought that maybe I'd take a break once I got there. After much more discomfort, I finally saw the sign Amersfort and I felt like throwing my hands up in the air like they do in the Tour de France. In fact, I may have done that, I don't remember. I don't exactly remember when I left the house, but I think it was around 16:20. It was 17:35 when I got to Amersfort. I was pretty damn satisfied with the time.

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Amersfort is again charming. The structure of the center is a bunch of narrow, intertwined streets dominated by stores. There were quite a few people about, although I imagine there were many more before it got dark. If I had my wallet, I may have bought something as a souvenir. Not having been there before, I headed right on through and eventually arrived at the end of the shopping alley. I turned back and was ready to head home. By now I wasn't interested in any detours, so I just picked the shortest way and took off. The sign said 17km to Utrecht, which was going to feel veeeery far. The first few of those kilometers I covered without that much effort, but the accumulated effort was taking its toll. By half time my eyes were darting around looking for the next sign to see that the distance was decreasing. I had been sweating from trying to get to Amersfort as quick as possible and now the slight breeze was making sure I stayed nice and cool, more than I needed to be. The legs were not happy, as I stretched one leg out a little, I could feel how stiff my thigh was and knowing I wasn't far away from a cramp. Of course, bicycling keeps your legs bent at all times, so you won't get a cramp, which is good to know when you're 20km away from home with no money and no tickets for transportation. The last 6-7km to Utrecht were indeed very trying. I hadn't eaten for a few hours before embarking on this impromptu trip and I was feeling famished now. I thought "I just have to get to Utrecht, then the last stretch home will be a piece of cake". I finally saw the sign Utrecht and headed home.

After I mapped the trip on Gmaps Pedometer, I discovered I did about 52km in 2:50h. The last comparable trip of that length took 5 hours, so the difference in pace was very visible to me throughout. Here is the full route. One lesson from today is that 50km is just about the limit for how far I can go without any kind of planning. I was so tired and hungry at the end that I couldn't go much further without taking some breaks and eating underway. Today I didn't even have a bottle of water on me.

three guys and a road to Breukelen

October 15th, 2006

The other day I was talking to a friend about taking a road trip and we settled on something he had already picked out, a trip to Breukelen. Coincidentally, it is the same direction I went last week, only this time he picked out a different route. There were three of us, and we took off from the Uithof heading north to De Bilt. On the way we passed by the weather station in De Bilt - they had said it would be 15 degrees and sunny, it was neither. After De Bilt we headed westwards toward Groenekan. The road around these parts was very nice, fairly prosperous houses (by Dutch standards - the Dutch don't like to flout prosperity), nice gardens, quiet neighborhoods. Much of the road that came next was outside any town, so we got to see our share of the countryside, which on a chilly Sunday morning wasn't exceedingly interesting. Then we turned back into the city and arrived at city limits on the north side - Overvecht. Heading south we soon found the destination of the pursuit - river Vecht. The tour guide among us gave every assurance that staying with the river we would be right on track, which turned out to be right on all counts.

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Just then I realized we had entered the riverboat-red-light-district (that I mentioned last time). As it turns out, there are about 20 or so boats, then it ends abruptly. From there on, there's a little road by the river that makes for a perfect little trip. On either side there are lots of houses, boats, gardens, the architecture takes several turns in changing from one style to the next, it's a very rich area in terms of the view. Lots of houses have boats, you'll see trees leaning over the water, old wind mills, old buildings with lots of ornaments, even an old castle that now houses a university. You'll also see a bunch of people fishing by the river. On the way to Maarssen there's a village called Oud Zuilen, which has a little castle to see. Today entrance was free, but there were so many people in there that basically we couldn't take the tour. Instead, we walked around the gardens and gazed upon the ivy covered walls of the monumental building.

Maarssen is easily the nicest part of this trip, the road by the river continues up to and through the town. Unlike the landscape up to this point, once you enter the town the buildings become much more urban in style. There is nothing sensational about Maarssen, but it's an incredibly cozy place to be. There was quite a lot of traffic on the water this time of day, people just taking a cruise around the river to enjoy themselves. There is something to be said for this river landscape, it is impressive how every detail of people's properties is cultivated carefully. There is no uncut grass, no building where the paint is coming off, no fence corroding, no trash, no mess, everything is clean and organized. And especially by the river, they have taken this to another level, and it continues past Maarssen.

The trip kind of feels like orientation that we did back in junior high. The idea is that you're out in the woods, and you have a certain route to cover. But there are no signs, so you have a map and a compass and you're on your own. If you go the wrong way, by the time you realize it, you would have lost time and you have to make up this distance. On the route, there are posts. At every post there is something you have to do, like take a number from that post to show that you've been there. In school, we did this out in the streets, which is not precisely the way it's supposed to be.. This trip reminded me of orientation, how we went from village to village.

But the target was always Breukelen, and that was coming up next. Breukelen is a small town, very sleepy on a Sunday afternoon. We rode into the center, onto the square, where there's a church and a series of stores and restaurants. For some reason, there was a biker convention right there today, tons of motorbikes parked in the square, with funny people dressed in black leather loitering around the area. We grabbed some lunch in one of the cafe's, right next to the bikers in fact.

Then it was time to head out, and we decided to check out the rectangular shaped lakes that lie pretty near Breukelen eastwards. It's a strange thing, normally lakes are shaped by the landscape of hills around them, but here they are carved out by man to all kinds of shapes, usually rectangles. The lake and accompanying canals east of Breukelen have this odd property, the canals are cut inland while the lake is found beyond them. In these canals there are quite a few boats. Halfway to Tienhoven, we turned off the bikepad (which was sunken next to the road, so we couldn't see much of the lake) onto a beach. The beach was very small, literally 2-3m of sand, then water, then a fence cutting off the water at some 70cm height. I imagine the water gets quite deep after that, so probably for safety they put up the fence. Out on the lake, it wasn't too windy, but quite a lot of boats out there anyway. Also a couple of wind surfers who seemed quite apt. I imagine that in beach weather, this place is pretty packed.

As we got back on the road, we were just a couple of kilometers from Tienhoven, so we decided to check it out. This ride isn't very interesting, for the most part there is a sunken bikepad along a road that blocks the view of the lake, so all you see is huge fields with farm animals wandering around on your right. Tienhoven isn't terribly interesting either, a little satellite town of Maarssen, for those fed up with big city life, it's basically one street of houses on either side, and that's all there is to it. From the road, there are canals everywhere, but no view of the lake anymore. Following the road south, you land in Oud Maarsseveen, which a settlement that's even smaller. From here on, we took a right to head back into Maarsseen. This ride is exactly the same as the first one, except there is no lake to see. About halfway through, there is a settlement on the left (which isn't even marked down on Google Maps), which has a hill, yes, a hill, on display. Incredibly unusual in these lands, the hill seems to be somewhat of a tourist attraction, I know I saw some benches and garbage cans around it.

As we approached Maarssen, we didn't have any clear cut plans on which way to go back, so we let the signs guide us onto the same road by the Vecht that we came from. By now, the sun was just peeking through the clouds and it was getting warmer. The route by the river wasn't quite the same, we weren't seeing it for the first time anymore. But it was nicer with the houses all lit up by the sun. Finally, we got back to the red light area and from there on it was just heading into the center, where we split up to and headed home. All in all, a very scenic and nice trip. The pace was low and casual, so no rush and no sweat. I was quite pleased with the weather, a hot day would have started to bug me after the first hour, this way I was neither cold nor sweating. A little tip for a trip like this: bring gloves.

When I marked out the route on Gmaps Pedometer, it showed me 52km. That's pretty far, I can't remember the last time I spent 5 hours on a bike and traveled that far. When I go by myself, I usually get enough after an hour or two, I suppose it was the company that made it more fun to cover more ground. You can inspect every nook and cranny of our trip on the site, in full zoom in/zoom out detail.

Sunday night joyride

October 9th, 2006

I used to joyride more often, now I rarely do it. Back in Trondheim I basically stopped cause after 12 years I felt I just about knew every street in the whole of town and there was nothing new to see. And outside town there is just nothing to see, so that's pointless. Then I moved to Utrecht and I bought this crappy used bike that turned out to be a piece of junk. But now I have my trusted bike back and although it's not in tip top shape, it's a big improvement. Tonight I felt like taking a ride to explore some new parts of town up north, where I haven't been much. It ended up a pretty long trip, just over two hours. I thought I would map it out so I knew exactly what area I covered. I also marked down some highlights on the map with dots (click map for full size).

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As always with these things, when I start out I have nothing specific in mind, I don't know where I'm going or how far I'm going. I was just out there to clear my head a bit, but I thought I would head north as I've seen most of south Utrecht already. I took the familiar road heading up to my old house, which is a ride I don't really enjoy all that much normally, but tonight it was very nice out. It was 8 degrees, with a nice cool coming over me as I walked out the door. Very familiar Norwegian kind of weather, cool and quiet, I would take this weather every time over a windy day, which there are a lot of here. A light jacket and thin gloves, the perfect outfit. As I passed by my old house, I noticed there was a light on in the basement (which is a freak thing cause the basement was sealed off and looked like a bomb had gone off down there last time I looked). It's not been torn down (as it was said so many times). I wonder if there are people living there now. I headed up north, the narrow little streets where I once took a shot at jogging (I did in all about 3-4 times before I realized it really doesn't suit me).

1) I was just cycling down a narrow little street that I hadn't seen before when I see a car about to enter from the right. It is one of those streets where the lanes are separated, so I knew the car was turning right, the same direction I was going. Since I was a little ahead, I wasn't stopping and I was going to just pass the car with a little arc out to the left, to give myself some space for safety. Just as I come up to the intersection, I see it's a police car. Well, I passed it anyway, and that wasn't the smartest decision ever, but by the time I saw it was the cops it was too late to pretend I wasn't going to do that anyway, so I just kept going. So they catch up with me, roll down the window and pull me over. This is pretty much what I've been trying to avoid for the last 6 months, being pulled over by the cops on some biking infringement. So they tell me that I should have lights on and that I shouldn't be on the road in the first place, I should be on the bike pad (frankly I didn't realize this street even had one, it's dark and not all streets have them). They said they didn't see me and they were about to hit me. Well I take that with a pinch of salt honestly, I've been biking for 2 decades and I have a pretty good idea of how traffic works, I didn't feel I was in danger, they never came up that close to me. But you don't argue with the cops, so I took their comments with great humility. They were pretty nice about it, didn't say anything else and so I took off. The cops were out in force tonight, I saw a bunch more cars the next few blocks.

2) Now I'm effectively in an area I haven't explored before, and I don't really know where I am. So I'm just heading north more or less, trying to make out street signs without really knowing where those locations are relative to my position. I cross the railway line and not long after that I'm on a bridge across a canal. Funny thing, on the bank of the canal there's a little street with a lot of traffic. Cars going very slowly, looks like something's happening down there. As I get to the other side, I see there's a line of little booths along this street, booths with red lights in them. Suddenly the activity becomes clear as day. I've just found the largest red light district in this town (I know of two others that pale in comparison). I don't know why, but seeing that sort of thing always makes me laugh.

3) A few streets down I'm starting to get a little uneasy. The large, wide streets are no more and I'm entering into an area that is entirely residential. Since I don't know where I am exactly, I can't say how far I am from the edge of town, if this is the residential district that marks the north-most part of Utrecht or if there's more to come. I pass by a hospital, but otherwise there are only apartment buildings around me. Bus stops are useful to find your way, they often have maps. I ride up to the nearest bus stop and begin to orient myself. I'm in Noord Overvecht now and it's not a terribly interesting area, so I might as well head some other direction. There's really nowhere to go north or west, the map shows no urban settlements there, so I might as well head east. I find my way a bit further north, turn left, cross the Vecht river and arrive at an intersection.

4) So, where to go next. I've come pretty far already, but I decide it's so nice out tonight that I'll keep on going for a bit. On the map, there's a little town called Maarssen further north, so I turn right and hit the pedals. I've now just left Utrecht behind, so there's no more apartment buildings, just the odd house beside the road, and I'm riding just next to a canal. I see a sign "Maarssen 2km". Well that's not far. But very soon my fun comes to an abrupt end, the bike pad turns right, while the road is turning into a motorway and I can't be on there. I recall from the last map reading that there are two roads leading up to Maarssen. I was planning on taking this one and the other one on the way back, to not take the same road both ways, but now I have no choice. I take a left, by some big sports complex with lots of football pitches, and then a right again. I now come up to a map that shows all of Maarssen (and none of Utrecht), so I'm thinking I'll keep going north until the second intersection, where I'll cross the big canal. This area is pretty void of interest, there is some industry, a Blokker, a MacDonalds, but no real urban areas.

5) By now I'm thinking this is as far as I go, here I turn back and start heading for home. I was going to cross the canal and head back on the other side, but I come up to a sign by the bike pad that shows "Utrecht 2km" to the left. I'm in an area I've never been before, and I now have the railway on my left, which I think is going right into Central Station. (Looking at the map in hindsight, I was right about that.) But since I'm not sure and the sign points left, I turn left. So I cross the canal again a bit further down, right alongside the motorway. Right after the crossing, I'm looking for a right, to head back into Utrecht, but the motorway keeps going straight and the bike pad does too. Eventually I come to an intersection, and there's Utrecht on a sign again. It seems I'm stuck on this bike pad alongside the motorway, there are no other roads in this area, but at least now I'm heading into Utrecht. Once the motorway ends, I find myself right back on the same road I took north, so now I know where I am again. I have to keep checking the map at the bus stops a couple more times to figure out exactly which street to take, but eventually I end up on Amsterdamsestraatweg, which is a really long street that leads right into the center of town, and I'm pretty familiar with this one.

Two things that help me orient myself in Utrecht are a) the motorways and b) the railway. The only problem is that both those two make several turns and go in all kinds of directions, so I never really know where exactly I'm crossing it. All in all a very nice trip. I like riding at night, it's so different. In a sense more interesting, the landscape is less visible, only lit houses and buildings are visible, and it's more of a surprise of what is going to pop up next. In the light of day it's more like you can see what is ahead of you from a long distance, and it's a long ride to get there. There's also more traffic, more people, more life. Night time is very peaceful and quiet. And often less windy too.

I don't have one of those meters on my bike that shows how far I've gone, but going by the map, I'd estimate tonight was around 20km or so. One of these days I'll probably head out east to Bunnik, I've heard it's a nice town. But I'll have to go by a map, so it won't be at night. I've also thought about checking out some of the other towns nearby, and there are a few - Nieuwegein, Houten, Zeist, De Bilt... But I think my bike needs a little maintenance first.

EDIT: Thanks to arbscht's comment, I used gmaps pedometer to map out my route and it turns out the total distance I traveled was 23.8km, so my estimate was not too far off. There's also a caloriemeter on the site, and while I hardly pay attention to these things, since it's already integrated, it tells me I burnt about 2000 calories. I don't even know if that's a lot or very little. The calorie estimate is for runners, not bikers.