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Wednesday cycling extravaganza: Groningen-Schiermonnikoog

Today was dedicated to an extra day of cycling, from Groningen to the island of Schiermonnikoog. Originally, this day was penciled into the schedule as an attempt to compensate for me being away for the next three Saturdays, but it only became a certainty after my sailing trip was canceled. Another reason why I was personally keen to add a day to the schedule was that I'm also doing this to get fit, and once a week didn't seem to be enough anymore. We'll most likely be off again on Saturday.

Today's trip took Sidsel and me to the familiar destination of Lauwersoog, where we'd been before back in May, and from there on the ferry to Schiermonnikoog, where we rode to the beach and went for a swim. "Oog", by the way, is a Germanic suffix meaning Island. You see it in islands' names all the way up to Scandinavia.

The morning fog

We both got up at the ungodly hour of 6 AM. Sidsel arrived at my place a little after 7. I still needed to make some adjustments to my saddle. I wanted to replace my saddle with that of a spare bike, but I managed to lose parts of that saddle the moment I"d got it off the spare. So not only was I forced to continue with the saddle I already had, but I've lost the use of the spare until I find the missing parts. Bicycle maintenance is only easy if someone else than me is doing them.
We started on our trajectory north at 7.30-ish, when the area around town was still shrouded in mist. This morning fog would become a serious problem in the next hour or so, but initially it looked rather pretty, and didn't stop us from spotting some semi-wild deer and hare just outside town. A few miles out, though, the fog got so thick and damp that my glasses completely misted over. I could see better without them, which if it was caused by anything other than the fog would have been a medical miracle. As a result, for the first time in more than twenty years I rode a significant distance without my glasses on. This is something that I'd sometimes try to do as a kid, to test myself or to rebel against having to wear those things, but it's never actually been necessary. I made it through the fog intact, and even spotted another hare, so I didn't do that badly.
It helped that we'd rode this part of the route before. We had been to Lauwersoog in May, on the first of our series of cycling trips. We knew that the first half of our journey would take us through pasture lands, over narrow, winding concrete cycling lanes interrupted by cattle grids and the occasional dirt road. As readers of these reports know, that's how we like it. I have to say that there wasn't as much cow dung on the road back in May though. The fog was a hindrance, but it didn't stop us from finding our way through the terrain, or spotting some more interesting things - another hare going about its business, a sheep that had got separated from its flock and was in a bit of a panic. *) The mist was getting us more than usually sweaty and hot at this point though.

Me and my sunglasses, we're thick as thieves

It's difficult to reconstruct exactly how we went, but for the fans of funny Dutch place names, we'll say that we went through Wierum, Oostum, Hekkum, Sauwerd, Klein Wetsinge and Groot Wetsinge (wondering out loud if we'd see a Middel Wetsinge) before joining the main road at Winsum. Then we were off the manure-strewn agricultural paths (as well as out of the fog) and onto more up-scale touristy cycling lanes taking us through Mensingeweer, Wehe-den-Hoorn, Leens and taking a slight southerly detour through Niekerk (one of two Niekerks on my map) and Zoutkamp and north again through the nature preserve surrounding the Lauwersmeer. By then the sun had been switched on fully and I did the rest of the journey with sunglasses. My sunglasses and me have been inseparable these past few days. Everybody else looks cooler when I wear them.

Back in May, we noticed a few things traveling through that part of the province: the fields got larger and wider; the farmhouses got fewer, farther between and larger (leading to our regular exclamation "nice shack" whenever we rode past a castle-sized farmhouse today); the views got more breathtaking (although Sidsel had some unkind words to say about people leaving litter all along the road, or driving like maniacs on them). This time around, we didn't find that as noticeable, for the simple reason that we were going a lot faster. Back then, we found the 50-ish kilometer trip exhausting; this time, it was a doddle. We have become fitter! We were in Lauwersoog unexpectedly early as well: 10:30, without any breaks longer than the occasional pause to look at the map. Unfortunately, the next ferry wouldn't leave until 11.30! That was a bit of a bummer although it's amazing how a good lunch helps you pass the time. 10:30 may seem early for lunch, but as Jeroen always says, you need to use that proteine window. It's all the excuse we'll ever need to stuff our faces. One other problem was that there were only two return ferries scheduled: one at 14:30 (far too early) and one at 18:30 (a bit on the late side for our purposes). It wasn't until we were almost at the end of our ride that the ferry people announced extra departures at 16:30 and 18:00. We'd have time to enjoy ourselves without being back uncomfortably late.
What did we do on Schiermonnikoog? Why, some more bicycling of course! Schiermonnikoog is a cyclist's paradise. Car use is - even by Dutch standards - heavily regulated on the island, and if you want a set of wheels, a bike's the best you can get. The rental places have regular bikes, mountain bikes, tandems, rear-wheel control tandems that allow you to put your child in front so it can enjoy the view, and I'm pretty sure they rent out unicycles if you ask them nicely. Also the terrain is very nice. Part of it is very flat and infested with cows just like much of the rest of the country, but there are also some hilly paths through the dunes. The dunes are lovely. However, I became a bit wary of taking those paths because I found out while disembarking that my tires were in terrible condition. We're still riding those clapped-out rustbuckets trusty old workhorses and they're suffering the strain. The paths through the dunes are unpaved and covered in seashells, so they're not good for tires that are about to break.

This is the sea. And it rocks

We made it to the sea intact though, and spent about an hour in the North Sea at nearly high tide. The hour just before high tide is just about the right time to swim in the sea: it's deep and as safe as it will ever get because the waves will just push you back to the beach. At least, that's how it was there today. I didn't know just how much of a sea fanatic Sidsel was, but now I do. She can't get enough of the big ol' cold soup - good. That's one thing we have in common. The only disappointment was that there weren't any good waves to jump into, so when we finally got enough of harrassing sea gulls, we decided to move a bit further down the beach and wait for that to improve. While doing that, we sunk into a well-deserved lethargy for another hour or so. Instead of going back into the sea, we then decided to head back to the village bearing the island's name for ice cream.

Having made that decision, we went back on it almost at once, opting to check out the WWII bunker in the dunes for a bit instead. I remember having seen the bunker as a child, so predictably it was a lot smaller than I thought it was. It offered a great view of the landscape though.

A note on lapwings

Our way back was uneventful. We went east over the Lauwersoog Sea Dike for some 6 kilometers, with the sea on our left. Then we crossed over to the other side of the dike, with the dunes on our right. There's a military shooting range there, but like in May, it wasn't in use and we didn't get shot at at all. We'd decided to take the easterly route through Hornhuizen, Kloosterburen (where we ate a surprisingly good pizza) and Nijenklooster before going south through Wehe-Den-Hoorn (you can't get away from Wehe-Den-Hoorn), Warfhuizen, and then drifting along the Reitdiep on poorly-charted roads that led us to Garnwerd and past Sauwerd and Adorp surprisingly quickly. Most of our route was past the same sort of fields we'd seen all along so it became a bit of a blur, apart from Sidsel's comment that the sight of the Reitdiep made her feel like going canoeing.

I have one note to add about the bird life in northern Groningen: I grew up believing that lapwings were a rare bird species. The Frysians have a custom of tracking down the first lapwing egg of the season and presenting it to the Queen; this is a custom I, like many others, would instinctively mildly disapprove of, but environmentalists in this country have spun it as a serious threat (one of many) to the existence of lapwings in the Netherlands. Judging from my own observations today of fields crowded with the things, they can't possibly be right. Wen saw more of them than we saw sparrows (sadly, sparrows have been doing very very badly in the Netherlands in the past years). It looks to me like lapwings are thriving; indeed I hereby proclaim them common as muck. Let the Frysians hunt for the first ostrich egg instead so they don't give the Queen something beneath her attention, and let the environmentalists place their priorities elsewhere. Common as muck, I tell you!

*) All that it needed to do was walk a few dozen meters back to where it had crossed a ditch in the first place. I considered getting off and chasing it in that direction, but I don't think I'd have done a good job.

Comments (4)

cmkaapjes:

Actually it's the Black-tailed Godwit that's doing alarmingly poorly at the moment...

sidsel:

About the fog in the morning; it's funny how the fog hangs on the hair on your arms in tiny little drops. We became all white, as if it were freezing. However i really enjoyed the view - as far as i could see.

Not as common as dirt?

Nope. Muck it is. 'Round these parts we have a lot of muck though.

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