This morning, I got up, got dressed, and got on my bike. I cycled south from my village into Amsterdam: right turn, left turn, right turn, cross the river, get to work. It took me about half an hour.
Tomorrow morning, I’m going to get up at about the same time, get dressed, and get on my bike (albeit with the saddlebags bulging a little more). And I’ll cycle south from my village into Amsterdam: right turn, left turn…but then I’ll go straight instead of turning right, pass under a viaduct, jog left, and follow the road as it unspools in front of me in a new direction. I’ll cross highways, canals, rivers, provinces. I’ll cycle over bridges, through cities, into villages, among sheep, past birds, under windmills, along dikes. And through it all I’ll keep the IJsselmeer to my left until I get home again. It’ll take me four days.
The desire to cycle really far has been growing in me since I started biking around the Noord-Hollands polder. When I’m out in the open land, there’s a part of me that wants to just keep going, to do something monumental and vast to match the space around me. Over time, that’s coalesced into the wish that I could circumnavigate the IJsselmeer, the great body of fresh water that makes the shape of the Netherlands so distinctive.
The story of the IJsselmeer is the story of the country itself. It grew from small lake surrounded by over-drained, sunken land (medieval water engineering was still in beta). It became the salty Zuiderzee after a series of floods in the late Middle Ages broke the dikes, filled the sunken fields, and scoured the ground away. Through it sailed the ships of the Golden Age on their way to Amsterdam, and from Amsterdam to the world. Even the process of taming it into the IJsselmeer was characteristically Dutch, undertaken with stolid practicality in difficult times: turning a vast salt body fresh and filling a large part of it in during years of economic hardship, war, famine, and natural disaster. Now it’s tranquil water surrounded by peaceful, prosperous land, and both land and water are mindful of their history but not haunted by it—much like the Dutch themselves.
I figured the trip would take about four days; I reckoned the best time to do it would be late summer. I idly elaborated on the idea as I cycled to work or wandered the countryside. It was a dream project, something to do “one of these days”.
But it’s such an achievable dream, whispered the wind out in the deep polder. Over four days, it’s maybe 90 a day. You ride 30, 40, 50 kilometers already, and don’t even notice it the next morning. Only a little extra conditioning, a little planning, the kindness of Martin and the kids, and you can do this. Come. Come.
So “one of these days” is tomorrow, and I’m coming…but in my own way. Not in garish Lycra, not bent over on a racing cycle, not whirring through the air like a bright arrow in flight the way the denizens of Clan Spandex do. It seems right to me to do this in my ordinary clothes and on my ordinary bike, just as when I go to work, run errands, or wander the Noord-Hollands countryside on a Sunday afternoon. It’s a mix of the ordinary and the extraordinary, like water in wine, like the IJsselmeer itself.