Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Holland, Market Garden and Wind Mills

Saturday, August 15; Geertruidenberg to Den Bosch
Our day began with an hour ride on the Lena, to cross a main channel and move to a starting point. Then we were put ashore where we bid goodbye to Nena, the daughter of Hans the skipper. She had been our cook for the first week and was scheduled to leave for university later that day.

We traveled as one group of 18 for the first 8 miles before splitting into a long course (about 42 miles) and a short course group (about 30 miles.)

A Word About Distance:
The distances the group travels each day are estimates at best. With the twists and turns along paths of varying widths measuring distance is more an art than science. This is the first time the guides have done this particular two week trip so it is a bit of a beta test. Add to the mix road closures, ferry breakdowns and other diversions and the miles traveled each day may vary significantly. But the group peddles on, enjoying the Dutch scenery.

The short course group reported a good day of travel with beautiful scenery and comfortable breaks in small towns. Only a single “out of service” ferry impacted their course.

The long course turned north and added a loop by a castle to the trip. They too had a ferry trip; a one hundred meter ride in an open boat of about 25 feet in length. Powered by a 10 horse outboard it was a simple but effective way to travel. Later, passing an active wind mill, Geoff was invited to assist the operator in removing the sails and shutting it down for the day.

At one point we were met by a stampede of wild horses (three of them, about four feet high). They had escaped their enclosure and were wandering down the street of a small village. A wrangler on a motorbike appeared and “rounded” them up, herding them back down the driveway to their corral.

A Word About Wind Mills:
We are told that Saturday is the day many wind mills are operated by volunteers just to keep them tuned and to maintain a bit of Dutch culture. Sitting, unmoved, for long periods is not good for the wooden parts. The large wooden blades are actually covered with a sail like cloth when they are moving. When the sail is removed they can be tied down and secured.

The trails were busy with Saturday cyclists out to enjoy the sunny weather and holiday spirit.

The Lena was found late in the day moored on a canal in a small village several miles from Don Bosch. It was a most peaceful setting. Some of the group peddled into town after dinner to join in a festival. We stayed on board and took a brief walk through the quiet village. The highlight was a collection of very friendly pigmy goats that rushed to the fence to greet us and unsuccessfully try to pick our pockets.

The lowlight was the report that Jerry’s bike was stolen in town!

Sunday, August 16th; Den Bosch to Nijmegen
Today we have a long distance to travel so we have three choices.
A 45 mile ride
A train ride
Stay on the boat

Kath will stay on the boat with four others while I plan to ride. The view from the boat was ever changing. They particularly likes the local cows sitting on a sandy riverbank, enjoying their Sunday off.

The day’s routine was like the others; a mid morning coffee stop, lunch in a small town, this time near a cemetery (which contained the remains of four British flyers who died nearby) and a mid afternoon break, this time for ice cream rather than beer.

Since it was a Sunday the paths were alive with bike club peletons in bright colored jerseys trying to relive their youths. The motorbikes, which also share the path, were also out in abundance.

In mid afternoon we passed though Grave, a small town southwest of Nijmegen, which lies on the river Maas. The 82nd Airborne dropped a company nearby to take the bridge at Grave, which they did successfully. A monument marks the spot and the bridge has been renamed for the young lieutenant who led the charge.

Grave was alive with activity as a “water festival” was in progress. Lea paused to wash her feet in a washtub near a restaurant. We were not sure what it all meant but the locals seemed to enjoy the moment.

To avoid congestion west of Nijmegen our path carried us south and east of the town into the hills of Gertsmen. These low hills, which abut the German border, were also objectives of the US Army as they wanted to deny the Germans the high ground and prevent them from attacking from the east. This operation was also successful.

We climbed through thin woods to the top of a rounded ridge, entered the outer edge of the city and began our decent to the old town center on the fast moving river Waal.

We found the Lena against the quay below the town, just 100 yards downriver from the Nijmegen bridge, which was one of the main objectives of the 82nd Airborne during Market Garden. Not much of the bridge has changed in the past 60 plus years.

The Waal river is bigger than the waterways we have been sailing in for the past week and the ships have grown to match the river. The boats are wider and deeper and must struggle against the considerable current to make their way up river and under the famous span. The Lena is tucked behind a short breakwater out of the main current.

This is one of the bigger towns we have visited and the restaurants are alive with college students who have arrived for a week of “orientation.” A few of our group faded fast after dinner but a few hardy souls are still abroad in the city as the last of the light fades behind a downstream rail bridge. It is a lovely sight and excellent way to end a successful day of cruising and cycling.

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