Friday, June 13, 2008

Finding the Way

If I had a GPS locator on my body that allowed you to follow my progress on a map, the result would look like the work of a demented etch-a-sketch artist. So far, I have zigged and zagged from Amsterdam southeast to Utrecht, southwest to Gouda, southeast of Rotterdam to the Unesco World Heritage Kinderdijk windmills, northwest to Delft and Den Haag, and now south on the Nordzee (North Sea) cycle route. In a cafe in Middelburg, when I told the cafe owner where I had been, he assumed I was doing it without a map (but . . . I'm constantly consulting my maps, and note the plural!). All the major highways between the cities I have been to have fietspads beside them, so I could have travelled fast and direct if I wanted, but I have a strong preference for the scenic route, which is less obvious.

To add to the challenge that exists for anyone trying to find the scenic way, I have a poor sense of direction, I daydream, I'm chronically unobservant, and I just want to ride without the hassle of route finding. These factors all work against me making significant forward progress, especially when you add in the enticements of a new town's cobbled streets leading to koffie and apple pie, or a paved path leading through a leafy wood along a lagoon. No matter how much I kid myself, I will never quickly find my way out of a leafy wood--I haven't yet. And the same goes for a town. I'll just check it out, I tell myself, and then get back on the route. Ha! Deluded again. And as I start to sweat because I'm passing the same landmarks for the third time, I remember my new toy: GPS to the rescue.

What a gift to daydreaming, direction-challenged, just-wanna-ride cyclists everywhere. I've got mine mounted on my handlebars and I've used it every day. On my ride during the day, it lets me know, any time I want, "u staat hier." The marker shows me which direction I am travelling in. If I know the address I'm travelling to, I can mark it and tell the GPS, "go to". It calculates the way from wherever I am, and recalculates if I don't follow its instructions exactly (if, for example, I take the bike path instead of the road). At the end of the day when I'm tired, I'm even more prone to miss directional signs. On my way to the Utrecht hostel, the GPS made its discreet attention-requesting sound, which it makes when a turn is coming up: "be deep be deep!" I looked down at the screen and I had a message in big black letters: "make a U-turn". I had missed the sign for the turn-off. Not "make a U-turn, you dope, you idiot, you are going in exactly the wrong direction again," which would sound a lot like my inner voice, but simply "make a U-turn [and U will be fine]." It's as reassuring as the Garmin phone tech support people, who always listened to my map software problems, then said in their soothing midwest American accent, "Sure, I can help you with that."

Of course it's also possible to ask other cyclists or passersby for directional help. I never know, however, if the person I asked is going to want to take a look at my map, necessitating possibly the extrication of reading glasses from a pocket, and then I'm fumbling in my handlebar bag for mine too. So asking for directions can also be time-consuming. Before I know it, it’s time to find a place to camp and I've only gone about 50 kilometres.

On the North Sea Route I've had a reprieve from route finding. I've been following those blessed signs--LF1a Nordzeeroute--ever since I found the coast near The Hague. Dutch taxes have been well spent on those industrious sign workers. The signs have been reliably posted at just about every possible juncture, and the route has been mostly on dedicated cycle paths on dikes and polders (reclaimed land), and through forests and dune areas beside the North Sea--places where I can in fact, just ride. I had another gift, sun and strong tail winds for three days. I could just pump along with music in my ears, taking in the scenery with a grin splitting my face. Even though the weather turned to heavy rain for my ride into Brugge/Bruges, I still had tailwinds most of the day and riding canal-side was pleasant.

So I have several times ended up where I didn't expect, but now I've arrived in Brugge. I will take some time out for a rest, see the city, and regroup for the next part of the tour. I'll probably stay on the North Sea Route until Boulogne-sur-Mer in France, but experience is telling me I can't predict exactly which way I'll go or where I'll end up.

We've all made mistakes that seem to lead us astray
But every time they help to get us where we are today
and it's as good a place as any
and it's probably where we're best off anyway

Wailin Jennys, "Heaven When We're Home"

Brugge/Bruges, Belgium, 719 km

1 comment:

Martha said...

Great to hear news from the road.
Happy pedaling,

Love Martha