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Wild adventures in The Netherlands

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Thursday June 17th - Leersum


My travel experience is bigger and broader than I can believe myself. I sailed across the Atlantic, skied through the arctic cold of Canada, and set off on skates to Scandinavia with no experience. For four years now, I have been traveling the world on human power with Olivier. In 2016 we started totally inexperienced on a bike and now we have covered 40,000 kilometers on our own muscles and the power of the wind. Still, I'm not a seasoned tough girl. I am afraid to go on an adventure alone. Being alone, getting lost, and sleeping in a dark forest. Deadly scary. I know better than anyone that my fears are unnecessary. I decide to go on an adventure alone in the Netherlands.

  I pitch my tent on a campsite. Eventually, I also want to do wild camping, but I need to warm up. I know after four years how to pitch the tent and cook my meal, I don't worry about that. Tonight, I don't find sleeping alone exciting either, there are plenty of other people sleeping at the campsite. I do consider myself clumsy enough to forget to buy food, refill my water or hang the solar charger in the sun. Olivier always thinks about those routines. I picture a quiet evening, with plenty of room to plan out the next day. Just as I want to crawl into the tent, I see that the entire tent is covered in white lice. I had romantically pitched the tent under a flowering apple tree but had not learned in my travels before that this is not a convenient spot. I move the tent and end up not falling asleep until eleven. With Olivier, we are usually in the tent at eight to read a book. I knock the thought away with the reminder that I don't have to explain anything to anyone.


The next morning I am surprised all over again. My tent is covered with ants that are preoccupied with the lice. It is an ant highway three lanes wide. With a few slaps on the tent, I knock them off. I grab my bag to pack but release it with a jolt. A family of earwigs is nestled under the zipper. "Gross!" I yell in irritation. I empty my bag from bottom to top to make sure I've found every earwig. I feel awkward and rushed. It makes me restless and even a little unhappy. Why did I want to do this alone again?

  I begin my hiking day knowing what to expect. I want to hike about thirty kilometers. Just before noon, I pass a village where I can buy lunch and dinner. Tonight I want to camp wild in the meadows. Nine out of ten nights during our world trip, we had no idea where we would end up at night. We did wild camping or asked for a spot in the farmer's field or in people's yards. It brings great adventure, but now that I'm doing it alone, I suddenly find it exciting. I find a spot next to a bike path that follows a small river through the meadows. It is overgrown with tall reeds everywhere. The only people who see me are the cyclists, but I won't set up my tent until about 9:30, just before bedtime. The wind is strong and a storm is expected. Until then, I spread the picnic cloth and cook my meal. As soon as I have set out the fuel stove and all the vegetables have been cut up, my lighter gives out. No food without fire. Fortunately, I have my firesteel with me, a metal rod that sparks with friction from another metal object. The sparks are not enough to get a flame. For an hour I bent over the stove trying to turn the spark into a flame, which is then blown out again by the strong wind. When it finally succeeds, the euphoria is great. I have done this myself. The storm picks up. In the middle of the night, I jolt awake as the wind pulls my tent on all sides and thunder slams into the sky. The rain kettles so heartily on the tent that I think the drops will punch holes in it. With my legs and arms wide, I lie on the ground to hold on to every corner. When I wake up the next morning, I hear that the storm in Leersum, only twenty-five kilometers away, has made some houses uninhabitable and destroyed an entire forest.


The discomfort remains in my body. I haven't been completely relaxed for a moment, yet I have already pushed my limits. I have slept alone in the wild in the tent one night and have hiked for two whole days without feeling lost. I decide to raise the bar one more degree. I end the day in the woods. My biggest fear. As soon as the forest gets dark, my imagination comes alive. Every leaf and breath of wind startles me. I find a spot far enough from the hiking trails. I can see them, but they cannot see me. Around me, blueberries grow everywhere. I sit down and take a gulp of air to calm myself. Quietly I take in the scenery when my image lingers on something that looks like a large horn. I get up and start looking closer. Soon I see that it is a dead cow. I grab my stuff and find a new spot. With my new lighter, I want to light the burner for cooking when I see that the wind is picking up. I hesitate but could have known right away. A loud crack announces the thunderstorm. Quickly I gather all my belongings and slide them under my rain cape. I am overwhelmed by restlessness. At that moment I want nothing more than to give up. I know, that I can enjoy this. Together with Olivier, we always do, now I can't.
My eyes open when I hear the rustling and stamping of small hoofs. The approaching steps are followed by a grunt and a snort. It is pitch dark and everything is done by ear and touch. At lightning speed my hand searches for the flashlight I had already laid ready. It all happens very quickly and out of reflex, I let out a kind of sharp scream. I hear the wild boars run away. It's two o'clock in the morning. I call Olivier and tearfully tell him that I need his company now. I try to calm myself, but my whole body feels heavy with tension. At that point, I can't imagine ever camping alone in the woods again. I stay awake until dawn and at four o'clock pack my things. Daylight quickly leaves the anxiety of the night behind.


A glowing red sunrise meets me. With a big smile, I enter the Veluwe landscape. Beautiful rays of sunlight peer through the trees, a deer grazes on the heath, a winding path shows me the way. At eight o'clock I am the first one at the gate of the National Park. Soon I see a small pajama jacket emerging from the bush. Pajamas are the nickname for little wild boars because of their striped fur. For fifteen minutes I can watch the little ones and their family undisturbed. Father and mother don't see me and churn up the whole forest. I think back on the night and laugh a little to myself. I realize that being alone is actually quite fine. It's more the moments when things get exciting that make me feel uncomfortable and in great need of Olivier. I walk on and decide to sleep quietly at the campsite that night. No unexpected visits or tensions for a while.
My tent is up and together with another guest I set off in search of red deer. Just before nightfall, we have a lucky break. Twenty male red deer and boars are grazing in a field. From that moment on, the luck doesn't stop. When I return, there is a tray of strawberries by my tent. Soon I hear that the campground manager brings all the campground guests a tray of strawberries on Midsummer Night. The man pays for sixty trays of strawberries out of his own pocket to put a smile on the faces of his guests. He has done that with me, far more than the man can imagine. He has turned the tide. From now on, my day is no longer filled with misfortunes but with good fortune. Do I like my adventure alone through the Netherlands? I needed time to start up, but I believe that I manage to be wild.


  1. Mark says:

    Zoe, thanks for this. While I don’t have the history of years of wild camping you and Olivier have to assuage the anxiety of nights in the wild, it does give comfort knowing that even you, who is so strong, smart, and determined, can overcome and be rewarded by acknowledging and facing your fears of solo camping. It gives me strength to not let these fears overwhelm and discourage me from getting out there while being smart and safe. I’d imagine the tension and anxiety of long nights filled with noises and wild imagination will eventually tire one out. We all need rest, so after a few weeks of solo stealth camping one likely has to come to terms with the night and our perceived vulnerability. We have to learn to turn down the fear factor and get the rest we need. We have to accept that you know that whatever is out there isn’t trying to eat you or kill you. I’ll still keep my knife and bear spray handy just in case!

    • WeLeaf says:

      Hi Mark,
      Thanks for your comment! Indeed, Zoë has been struggling with this fear for a long time, and also tried to convince herself to overcome it. It is especially the darkness and her imagination that are scary. Finally, she gave it a try! She is happy she tried it, which gave her the confidence that she is able to it alone. But she also learned that she likes it a lot more together with Olivier :).
      During our world trip, we sometimes decided to sleep in the tent to catch up on some sleep, but then you need to feel comfortable and safe. Otherwise it tires us out 🙂

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