Early in the morning we sit in a warm morning sun next to our tent. Although we crawled exhausted into the tent, we slept badly on our sleeping mats. At four o'clock in the morning, the outside cover of the tent turned ocher yellow and our autopilot started. Maybe our mouth mask will come in handy to cover the eyes the next night. Olivier makes milk with the last bit of milk powder we still have from Canada. His standard breakfast consists of muesli with a sliced banana. Zoë is happy with her peanut butter sandwich, spread thick on the bread, because as long as we are in the Netherlands we can find a new jar everywhere. In the distance a man walks on the dike. He waves at the gate and likes to chat. Not much later we hear that we are in the middle of the Dutch Bible belt. "Yes, people from the village still dress completely in black here. The women are nicknamed black socks" Zoë always said that almost no one believes in the Netherlands anymore, but according to this man it is buzzing here.
We start the second day with stiff muscles and tired legs. It is humid and soon we are dripping with sweat again. In our thoughts we already dream of the river we can splash in tonight. We skate through and area called "river country" so finding water can not be a problem. 45 kilometers later we plop down next to the Waal. The water flows strongly and it is busy with large barges. Upstream they barely move forward with the engine roaring. Downstream they glide almost silently. At half past eight we are exhausted in the tent. There are a few evening walkers walking past the tent. They may not seem surprised, or they may do their best not to peek inside. A couple walks past, the man dressed in a black suit with a bowler hat, the woman completely in black. "There you have the black socks, they really exist" says Zoë surprised. What else are we going to discover in our own country?
We skated via Noord-Brabant to Gelderland, a small corner of Utrecht and through Overrijsel. We hardly know this side of the Netherlands. Although it is so recognizable, it feels like an exploration. We see thatched roofs everywhere, people on clogs, hear different accents and come through place names that sound more German than Dutch. On the third evening we skated through the Veluwe. We have two flat tires again and the counter is already at 4 after only three days. That's not how we get to Sweden, we doubt out loud. We take a narrow forest path to set up the tent. Just as we maneuver the trailer between the bushes, a man walks by. “Did you loose anything?" he asks. Fair as we are, we say we want to pitch our tent. "There are better places than this," he says. "Maybe you have a yard?" Olivier asks boldly. His eyes blink a few times faster, a cheerful glow appears. "We certainly have. And we are fantastic cyclists ourselves and have been helped so often. Shall we do it?" he asks rhetorically, yet thinking about corona. Not much later the tent is in the yard, accompanied by a table, two chairs, a glass of soda and some cookies. We can even take a shower and use the kitchen. "If we knew you were coming, you could have dinner with us" Aagje apologizes. After three days we are already in the yard with people. Corona fear? We don't notice much of that so far
The next nights we sleep every time in the yard or even in a bed. We stay overnight with Zoë's niece, we are invited twice via Instagram and are allowed to pitch the tent in between the sheeps in Eefs’ field. Whether we travel in Argentina, Colombia, the US or the Netherlands. People are hospitable and curious, everywhere. During every break, someone stops to ask a question. Often they stand still for a while and inspect our setup until one dares to ask the first question. Then the rest will quickly join in to listen. The most frequently asked question in the Netherlands? "Did you win the lottery?". Most people get tired when they look at us. "It must be so hard," they say. Panting with a sweaty forehead and big sweaty rings on our shirts, can we only smile. It is very tough, especially the first three days, but we feel that our body is getting stronger. On the fourth and fifth day we can look around for the first time and enjoy without having a heart rate of 150 in our chest.
We still have that fast heartbeat often enough. When we were in other countries, we always said that the Netherlands is as flat as a pancake. "Our highest mountain is a bridge over the water." When we leave Holten, we go north. "That will be a nice test for you," says Celien while scooping up Olivier with an extra spoonful of pasta. "You should eat better Olivier, you are already so skinny". "Tomorrow the Deep Hell awaits you, a climb of 10%". Robin and Celien are very curious how we will get to the top of that mountain and cycle with us the next morning. Ten kilometers we have a personal camera crew that takes photos and videos while we suffer up the hills. And we aren't alone today. It is Sunday morning, bright weather and half of the cycling enthusiasts in the Netherlands seems to have come to the Holterberg. The many cyclists also suffer on the hills, but still look at us with admiration. Many thumbs up and big eyes stare at us. Then, finally, the real test comes, the short, but very steep Deep Hell. There our heartbeat goes, this time way above 150, while the personal camera crew completes the event. At the top we say goodbye when we roll into Drenthe and further discover the Netherlands. With all the flat tires, we changed our route and we now skate to Groningen. There we get a package with new inner tubes and hopefully some good advice how to fix the problem. We still have three spare tires, but also three days to Groningen. "And otherwise we walk" says Olivier with a smile. It's going to be a bit of a hiccup, but "every meter we roll, we don’t have to walk" says Zoë.
From Diever we have 53 kilometers left to Groningen. We have one spare tire left and the statistics say we might be able to make it. We have six flat tires in seven days. When it is 7 out of 8, we will arrive in Groningen. At 8 out of 8 we will have to walk a part of it. We skate four kilometers on unpaved roads through a beautiful nature reserve and the tires do not budge. Our hopes are rising, this will work. After sixteen kilometers, Olivier feels that the skating is getting harder and harder. "Is my tire flat?" does he shout out to Zoë ?. She should take a good look and the left wheel looks floppy. The last spare tire goes on the skates, after this we are screwed. One of Zoë's rear tires is the special wheel of which the other three have already exploded. We don't know how close the ticking time bomb that Zoë has under her feet is to 0. The first few kilometers we are terrified to hear the “Pppssssssjjjjjj” sound of the beer can opens. The further we get, the less we think about it and just as we have completely forgotten about it, there is the “Pppssssssjjjjjj”, in the middle of Norg, a small village in the north of Drenthe. "Ooh no, we sigh immediately" and we know what it means. There is 33 kilometers on the GPS, 20 kilometers from Groningen. We try to repair the inner tube, but the hole is way too big. We change to our hiking shoes, put the skates on the back of the trailer, buy an ice cream across the street and walk the rest to Groningen. People still encourage us, now they think we travel on foot. At seven in the evening we knock on the door of our hosts. The package of tires is not there yet, but that is an excellent excuse for a rest day tomorrow. A visit to Groningen is the perfect ending to the discovery tour through the Netherlands. Isn't it nice to travel in your own country?