Why I shout “Wooohooo!” to cyclists

“Shall I take the pass or not? It’s nearly seven ‘o clock and soon it will get dark. Hmm, maybe I can do a part of the pass, and camp somewhere in the middle.” So there I went,  cycling up the Furkapass, during my without-a-map project. What meant I had no idea how long the pass would be, how long it would take me to get over it and if there would be places to camp. It looked like a tough ride at the end of the day.

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Obviously I wasn’t going to make the passover. But still I wanted to make at least a couple of kilometers. The kilometers came slowly and I was exhausted. With my last energy I cycled uphill in my first gear. And then it happened. From the opposite direction came a girl, speeding down the pass. It was just a small gesture she made towards me; her hand in a fist, a smile on her face and a “Wooohooo, come on!” shouting towards me. Just a split second (as you can imagine from somebody speeding by with 50 km/h) but I still have the image clear in my had as of today.

She made me laugh, and that laugh gave me energy to continue uphill. Just a stranger, showing me some positive energy. I mean, she just went down and only had to steer and brake once in a while. And shout “woohoo’s” to struggling cyclists, but it reminded me of what I was doing. Reminded me that I was cycling in Switzerland, would camp somewhere at a beautiful spot, and actually had the time of my life. Sure it was hard, but beautiful to cycle in the mountains, taking passes and overcome challenges.

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Earlier in the trip I saw cyclists greeting me. Just a sign of respect for what we are doing, a sign of recognition: “Yeah, I know where you’re coming from”. But a shout of encouragement is something else. Making a strong, but small, gesture like raising your fist, with a smile on your face can make a difference to any struggling cyclist. By making a gesture like that, you show your respect towards the other. You tell them in just one gesture: “Yeah, you can do it! Come on, take that extra kilometer!”.  It might leave the struggling cyclist with a smile. A smile that can give just that little bit of energy that they need. Especially when you’re alone and have to deal with all the challenges, that come with long distance cycling. A positive reminder of what we are doing and the challenges we take on. A reminder that the challenges we create ourselves, like cycling a pass, will be conquered.

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Next time I see a cyclist slowly pedalling uphill; a red head, pannier bags filled up, struggling to get to the top, I will scream: “Woooohooo, come on!” and raise my fist. I might even throw an extra “Yeah!!” at them. I know they will appreciate it, and every positive gesture makes it a bit easier for them to get to the top. As we know for ourselves, the joy of downhill is only accomplished by the struggle of getting to the top. When we struggle we can use all the help we can, and when the struggle is over, lets give the help back.

Wooohoooo!!

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Quitting a journey

The wind was blowing in my face and Trudy was walking in front of me to keep us both in pace. “Just a little more, just a little more” I kept telling myself. We were now walking on the other side of the dike, so I couldn’t see how far the bar was where we would rest. Finally at the bar, I sat down and knew for sure. I have to quit this journey.

10 days ago I started a journey with a good friend of mine. Walking 300 kilometers around the border of our province to gather stories from our backyard. Since this little journey was squeezed into our working lives we had to finish in 12 days. That meant 30 km per day, for 10 days.

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The route we wanted to take

I’ve been training a little, walking an hour with 12 kilo’s in my backpack, nearly every evening for a week. It’s been a while I’ve been jogging, but since I bike every day nearly 40 minutes, I think I’m pretty fit. Last November I went on a little journey in the Ardennes, walking 90 kilometers in four days. No pain, hardly any blisters but also no strong headwinds.

My bag was a bit heavier this time and on the second day of the trip I felt a  my knees hurting a little. But it was evening, and after a night of sleep, my body must have been revived and my knees rested for another day. They were, until after 10 kilometers of walking the pain started slowly sliding in again. Because the weather was bad, and there was nothing else then meadows, we kept on walking. At some point we stopped at a bird watching house; the place thing were we could sit down and not be in the wind that was picking up again.

I stood up and directly my knees felt worse then before. But we had to keep walking, because we were now in the middle of nowhere. Our objective was a sailor bar in the middle of the meadows, five kilometers further. We kept on going and 45 minutes later my knuckles where white of pain in my knees that was now radiating through my achilles tendons. By now we were close to the bar, and I was thinking what to do there. Should we maybe pitch the tent there, and chill for the rest of the day? Or go back and find another way of finishing this journey?

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Finally at the bar I knew if I would’ve go on, I would’ve walked until I really couldn’t go anymore. Until my knees would be damaged. And I like my knees. I enjoy walking. And I would like to walk more in the future. While walking the beach two years ago, I injured my knees. I was not planning to hit the same stone again,

Planning a trip like this takes some time. Planning the route, getting some media to publish the stories on, making promopictures. Getting the gear, talking with sponsors. It all takes time. And not to forget why I make these journeys. To get better in writing, making pictures and filming. To get out there and enjoy the nature. To get away from regular life and live in a tent for 12 days. To breath fresh air and feel the cold on my face. To feel alive again.

It’s hard to cancel a trip like this. But it’s not a trip like Leon McCarron and Dave Cornthwaite are doing and the injury is not too bad. It’s not a journey of a lifetime, and I know I can finish this project another time. The stories will stay, the area will stay and I will stay. Quitting a journey like this a learning point for me and next time I will just be better prepared, so I can walk 300 kilometers in my backyard without the thought of exploding knees.

In the end we did 75 kilometers and collected two stories in three days. Thats not too shabby.

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Walking 300 km’s trough my backyard; the beginning of the end.

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February 3rd was the day of our departure. A 12 day hike, following the border of the province we live in. Walking, to gather stories of the area we both been living in since we’ve been born. February the 6th I couldn’t go any further. This is my story. 

~ Day 1: Bad Nieuweschans – Restaurant Westerhuis @ Termunterzijl (27km)

Exactly one year ago i stood on the same place as i find myself now, then with skates and backpack to make a 450 cross country journey. One year later adventure called again. Without skates this time but with a walking partner. Trudy, my upper floor neighbour. It’s 10 o clock and were ready for adventure. Ready for a 300 kilometer journey around the border of groningen.

To walk the exact border Trudy has made some good maps, and armed with a compas and walking sticks we make our first kilometers on paved roads. Eventually we see water on our right. The sea. Now it gets easy! Just 80 kilometers in a straight line from the east to the west with the sea on our right hands. Thats what we thought. Sadly for us it’s storming today. Strong headwinds make sure we dont walk too fast like the countless hares that speed in front of us. But the weather is good for now. Blue skies and sunshine. Trough the wind we hear nothing else; no cars, busses, people or anything. This is true silence with a landscape that only whispers when we look at it.

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The landscape; meadows and dike as far as the eye can see.

The road is long and monotone. The only thing we notice are the running hares and the clicking of our sticks. And clouds blocking the sun now and then. But the clouds become more and darker, and soon we find ourselves walking trough the tail of a rainstorm. The sound of the rain on our poncho’s, while the wind is playing with them, breaks the motonomy of the landscape. We decide to walk on the other side of the dyke, away from the hard winds. When we get there we are in for a little surprize.

The landsape has changed! It’s just a little, but it makes us see it with renewed joy. Where the sea was very far away before, now it’s close by and does beautiful things with the shore. The waves break down the sand and this leaves a very specific shoreline, known for this region.

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By now the weight of our backpacks played parts on our feet. Just 5 more kilometers to go to the small village of Termunterzijl. Puffing and moaning, but satisfied we enter a well known fish restaurant. Some people drive 27 kilometers to this area to enjoy the nature and eat a fish at this restaurant. We walked it.

After a well deserved fish we discussed our sleeping options. It was dark now and the state of our feet left us with little options. We decided to walk back a little and camp out on the edge of the village when trudy started talking with the owner of a fish selling car from the restaurant. “Can we sleep in your fish vending car?” she joked. “Hahaha, nooo, sorry but i have an extra room on the attic if you like!”

Of course this was an offer we could’t refuse! The hospitallity warmed our bodies, as well as the heater in the attic did. A night in a tent during a storm is great, but meeting the local people is as nice. Even if you’re just 45 kilometers away from your birthplace.

Now it’s time for our feet to heal, to make 27 kilometers next to the windy shore again. Just 273 kilometers to go in 11 days.

~ Day 2: Termunterzijl – Oudeschip (30km)

The radioman woke us up this morning. We had an appointment for a live interview quite early in the morning. After the interview we started walking to our next destination about 10 kilometer further. It was poring with rain and by the time we got to the next town we felt like wet dogs. Walking 2 hours with nothing more then rain, wind, grass and dikes, made our moods heavy. It made us more so relieved when we finished the 10 kilometers and directly jumped into a cafe with the promise of fresh coffee. But we still had 20 kilometers to go, and this would be an interesting walk.

Before there was a dike on one side and meadows with some houses on the other. Now there was nothing. No houses, no benches, no trees or even hares that jumped before us the previous days. Just rain and wind. When we saw a house halfway we were excited to be out of the weather so we approached it. We askes for a place to sit and got a hot drink to warm our bodies. Soon we got on our feet again to do the last strech of this days trip.

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But blisters were now evident and walking became harder and harder. Looking at the deep an tough clay in the meadows next to us it dawned to us what we were really doing. There is no way we can walk the exact border of the province in this strech of time. It takes biggest part of the day to walk 30 kilometers on the road, so we changed our plan a little. We will take roads when possible, but 30 kilometers trough meadows is impossible in 12 days. We feel we have to make this consession to finish the trip in time.

While the sun was going down we approached the village of oudeschip. A village founded by sailors. In the old time they called this place “the godless village”. Prostitution and divebars where the main sorce of pleasure here for the villagers. This changed of course, but still the village is known as the godless one.

We were looking for a garden to put our tent in, and when we rang the bell at Lucinda and Rene their house. She was surpised to see 2 travellers that might come from an exotic place. No, we where groningers, on an adventure in our own backyard.

Bags were put down, hands were shaked and fresh coffee was poured. We were invited for a great dutch dinner and we had great coversations along with a beer.

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Adventure is found in many ways. This a whole new level of adventure to me. Staying with local people from my own province. Exchanging stories, talking about our lives and the area. Collecting stories from the people we meet.

My feet have 3 huge blisters now and i hope i can continue without too much pain. If we want to make it we have to keep the 30 kilometer target in our heads, but blisters and painfull legs make this journey tough. But the hospitallity of the people we meet make it beareable. Soon other people will join us in our walk, then the tent will be popped up, but for now we sleep cosy and warm in a bed with new made friends

~ Day 3: Oudeschip – Noordpolderzijl (17km)

We woke up in a nice and warm bed, our hosts pointed out to us the night before. Now Lucinda is a pedicure and before we left, she offered us a foot massage. This is the best offer a wanderer can get, when walking 27 kilometers a day. After a breakfast with coffee we waved goodbye and started our day. Walking trough the small village we saw beautiful tiny houses, in all shapes and sizes.

We heard about a tiny bar, in the middle of nowhere; Noordpolderzijl. This bar is the sanctuary of sailers and skippers in the area. For kilometers around there is nothing, except this bar. This is prone to have some good stories!

The bar was 20 kilometers from the place we started, so we started walking trough the empty landscape. The last 2 days we’ve been going to places where we thought there was nothing. Just a road, a dike and different type of meadows. Take away the different type of meadows, add a bunch of windmills (the new type, not the old dutch ones) and fog and you got yourself an alien planet. It felt like being in war of the worlds. Green grass fields as far as the eye can see, together with this huge structures makes everything feel like on a different planet, made by robot like creatures.

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While we were walking I felt a little pain in my right knee. I encountered this pain before, but nothing to worry about. The rhythm of our sticks led us towards the lonely bar, and half way the bar we decided to have a little rest. The moment I got up I realized the pain in my knee was more evident, and slowly started going down towards my achilles tendon. I started to worry a little. I remember these pains from 2 years ago, when I walked the entire west coast of the Netherlands.

But for now we had to go on, because we were in the middle of nowhere. Sea and dike on our right side, on our left meadows as far as the eye could see. We continued and my knee and achilles tendon kept getting worse and worse. The sound of my sticks kept me going, but the experience from two years ago hunted my head. That time I pushed myself, and I pushed myself too far. I know the journeys I make are not easy, but in comparisment with, for example walking 1000 miles trough the desert, this is peanuts.

Peanuts or not, my knee hurt badly and by now I was pretty much limping. The last one and a half kilometers to the bar I was dragging myself towards the chairs that were waiting for us inside. Once we were inside I knew for sure. This is not responsible to keep on going. Last time I felt these pains I kept on going and that drove me straight into the arms of the doctor and physiotherapist.

It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but I feel my knees are worth more then a good story, and this journey. Walking the border was a method to gather the stories, there are more methods then walking. The journey for now has ended, but the project is still alive. Now lets have a look how this can be continued.

I’ve never ended a journey in this way before, this is the first time I had to call quits. I feel quite disappointed towards myself, but also towards Trudy and all the other people who helped us with this journey. But in the end a journey should be fun, otherwise I’m not able to inspire, inform or just amuse people with the stories I write.

Sadly this journey has ended for now, but this is not the end of the journeys! Like my Facebook page for updates on other journeys and cool adventure stuff.

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Our route for three days

The Janapar Grant; becoming an adult the best way possible!

It became late, and soon the sun would set. I needed a place to make camp for the night, but I still found myself in the border of Stockholm. Cycling on my (way too small) bike, just outside of town I saw a neighborhood where houses were being built. I decided to jump the fence and set my tent up behind the fence. That must be safe!

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On this bike €30 I cycled 900 km’s. I think yours will be better

While traveling I grew up into an adult. Meeting people, overcoming problems I came across and being by myself for a long time. I was walking, hitchhiking and yes, eventually cycling. I bought a €30 bicycle and went about in Sweden. But things are made easier now, by adventure cyclist Tom Allen.

Tom Allen gives away a grant; The Janapar Grant. This grant takes care of the practical stuff. A bike, camping gear, clothing and tools. And you get support from the best adventurers the UK has to offer; Alastair Humphreys, Emily Chappell, Tim & Laura Moss, Leon McCarron and Tom Allen. They will guide you when necessary and you will learn how to write about your experiences. This lets you learn how to structure your thoughts, and write them down eventually.

Sadly I can’t apply to the grant, only UK based youngsters (damn I feel old when I write that!) from 18 till 25  can do. So If you fall into that category, go to the site, and apply! You will not regret it, how can you regret making a trip of a lifetime?

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