A few years ago our friend Caz had moved to The Hague in the Netherlands and had been on at us to come over all summer. Unfortunately, dish washing and waiting jobs don't pay enough for last minute summer holiday period flights, because there's no such thing as a budget airline in August. But one evening over a few beers with my mates Ben and Liam we solved the problem.
We figured it was only about 350km each way so we could be there and back in 9 days if we cycled, meaning we would only have to take 5 days off work (not that any of us worked 5 days a week) and with a coupon from the paper we could get return ferry tickets to France for £10. We set a date for a couple of weeks away to allow us to time to get some equipment together, ie bikes, but set a few rules; there could be no fancy gear, only thrift store gold and there were to be no tents either, they were too big and heavy and besides, ''it's summer, it won't rain''. Oh and moustaches were a must.
When I showed up with my 20 year old mountain bike, wearing flip flops Ben and Liam mocked my equipment selection. Like true hipsters, they had opted for 20 year old Raleigh road bikes and Adidas trainers but I knew who would be doing the mocking at the end of the trip. Sleeping accommodation wise, Liam and I had opted for an emergency shelter from Poundland which was basically a giant bin bag with no base whereas Ben had managed to get his hands on an ex military waterproof sleeping bag with a matching waterproof jacket that zipped to the sleeping bag.
From the left: Liam, Me, Ben
Ben in his sleeping bag/jacket combo
Now the down side to £10 ferries, or any other to-good-to-be-true travel offer is that they usually depart after midnight or get in at 3am, or in our case both of the above. When the ferry docked in Dunkirk we literally rolled off the ferry, cycled about 10mins till we found a field by some disgusting power station, pushed in away from the road and bedded down.
To navigate our way through France, Belgium and the Netherlands, Ben had brought a sat nav from a car. Genius idea, until we realised that sat navs in cars have a constant source of power and therefore only have the smallest batteries, we pretty much made it to the main road by the time it died. Fortunately it was easy enough at this point to work out which way north was, was just had to keep the sea on the left.
The weather for the first 3 nights was amazing, sleeping on beaches under clear skies, indulging in copious amounts of brie and the cheapest port we could find for pretty much every meal.
2 euro port and a seat with a view
Our last clear(ish) night, it would be a different story tomorrow
Rocking the finest, thrift store gold wet weather gear available
On the plus side, the rain kept the people away
It's summer so it won't rain eh?
Liam sporting his fancy bin bag and duct tape bag cover. Always a winner
Yeah, time for some port I think
Top Tip: Hold onto your handlebars, don't lean on them
By the time we crossed over into the Netherlands that afternoon it had stopped raining and the sun had come out. We decided to mix it
up a bit and get a ferry to an island called Middleburg, namely because it was the shortest route and the ferry would cover some ground for us.
That night the campground we had selected was was in essence a giant round about, on a highway exit. Instead of port though, that night we indulged in a certain other dutch delight. We lay there laughing and joking around in super high spirits after a gruelling days cycling in torrential rain, stoked to see a red sky that evening because we all know what that means...
Red sky at night, shepherds delight!
Well I can tell you now, that saying is absolute bullshit! Sometime in the early hours the heavens opened and it lashed it down. After a
couple of hours, my bin liner shelter literally had a stream flowing through it and no amount of sweeping would get rid of it, the end of my sleeping bag was saturated, as were patches all the
way up. I listened intently hoping to hear that the other two were in the same situation but there was nothing, just the sound of the rain on my shitty 'shelter'.
I shivered my way through the night, getting wetter and wetter as each hour passed. It finally started to get light around 5am when Ben called out 'Guys, I'm really sorry but I cant do it anymore, Im soaked through, frozen and haven't slept all night'.
'You what? You've been awake all night?!' I responded
Then Liam pipes up 'You're joking, have you both been awake all night too??!'
It turned out that none of us had slept but we were just too British and polite to complain and disturb the others. As we all got up we realised our well selected camp spot was now a giant puddle which is why we were so wet.
Ah, so that's why we're so wet
Why didn't we say anything??
Turns out Ben's waterproof sleeping bag wasn't so waterproof after all
We were exhausted, cold, everything was soaked and it was still raining. We packed up, threw our plastic bags in the bin and mosied on to the next town. We took shelter in a train station and wrung out our clothes. Whilst sheltering we found out that there was a train from there to The Hague for a few euros. We were over it, so we cheated and took the train the final 50km.
So pissed off we couldn't even be bothered to cycle
Drying our gear before Caz finished work
We arranged to meet Caz at the beach in Den Haag, called Scheveningen. We were a couple of hours ahead of schedule now because we had taken the train, so we had time to hang our clothes in the sun and drink some port. Once we had started to dry and warm up, the night's events started to become funny.
After a few hours of drunken shenanigans on the amazing, unpronounceable beach, Caz had to head home because she had work at 6am. There wasn't any space for us to sleep at her place that night, but there was a garage that we could leave our bikes and bags in for the night, so we could hit the town and said we would meet back there at stupid o'clock in the morning before she left for work.
Scheveningen beach all to ourselves
Pre 'jump shot'
Trying to back flip off Ben's shoulders, what could possibly go wrong
We wondered around for a bit and eventually stumbled upon a secretive looking bar. We stumbled in and it was one of those moments where everyone looked at us and stopped talking, we were the only white people in there. Liam, being ginger, was definitely the whitest. It was pretty awkward for a few seconds till the chatter started up again. Not wanting to look racist or anything we figured we had to stay and have a beer.
A bald, tough looking guy next to us at the bar was drinking from a big bottle whiskey. Ben announced to us he wanted some and proceeded to ask the guy what it was. Buddy reached over the bar, grabbed a glass, poured some in and gave it to Ben. Ben passed it to us to try and we all did that head nod that lets someone know you're impressed by what you just tried. He grabbed two more glasses and filled us up and we proceed to help our new friend in drinking his whiskey. When asked what he did, he quite proudly announced that he was the biggest cocaine dealer in Den Haag. He was a nice guy, but not nice enough to share his stash. His whiskey would have to suffice.
Probably shouldn't show his face after announcing he's the biggest dealer in Den Hague
We were exhausted after a sleepless night the night before, and when we finally tagged out from the bar and said goodbye to our new mate in the early hours, we were knackered. We tried to sleep on some benches for a few hours but it didn't go to well. Eventually it was time to go and meet our friend and grab our gear. We had a coffee with her and when she headed to work and we headed home, mission complete. Well, what we actually did was make our way to the Palace gardens, got our sleeping bags out and passed out.
I was woken up a few hours later by a cop, kicking my feet 'Dare eees no schmoking een ze gardensh'
'Uuuum, I'm not smoking, I'm sleeping?'
And that was that, he just walked off, didn't give a shit that three homeless-looking guys were sleeping in the royal palace's front garden. Gotta love the Netherlands!
After watching the cops then try and wrestle some drunk screaming woman to the ground we decided then that it was time to actually start the long ride home.
The Palace gardens, a great place for 40 winks
The sun was back and our gear was dry. Today was a good day!
"Is the weed really strong or are there elephants up ahead on the side of the road?"
Now, at the beginning of the trip, the other two were laughing at my choice in footwear and bike. By the end of the first day heading south, they were both complaining about their feet rotting because their shoes hadn't dried since the rain a few days ago. My flip flops and feet had dried off nicely, about 5 minutes after the rain stopped.
*licks finger tips and wipes eyebrows*
They also mocked my choice of bike. Well over the whole trip our biggest problems were punctures. Punctures on Ben and Liams road bikes, 23 of them to be precise. I do confess I did put a bit of air into my tires one day, but that was because I was bored waiting for them to fix their bikes. At one point I think Ben made it about 50m from one flat to another.
What's that? You've got a puncture?
Looking for a secluded spot to camp in the dunes
After our night in the puddle we had ditched our oversized bin bags and were in need of something to replace it. I figured normal bin bags and duct tape would do the trick, so we went and bought a roll of bags and made what was basically a bivvy bag. Over the next couple of nights we tweaked the design and ended up with the state of the art Dew Bag (it protected us for the morning dew), a 50p shelter that rocked.
Dew Bag MK1
Snug as a bug in a bin bag
Dew Bag MK2, and Ben fixing another puncture
Our final day was going to be an easy one, we only had about 80km to go to get to Dunkirk in France for our return ferry which was at 6am the next day. However we had only made it to a town in Belgium called Nieuwpoort by late afternoon when Ben's bike shit it's guts out. His rear axle had snapped and the bearings were everywhere. No amount of duct tape would fix that.
Das ist kaputt
Fortunately we had just seen a sign saying 26km to Dunkirk and we figured we could walk that in about 8hrs, easy. So we set off, rotating bikes so we all walked and cycled. Well, that was until Liam got a puncture and we were out of patches for the inner tube, then we all just walked through the night.
For some reason the road we were following was covered in slugs and dog shit, both of which were very hard to see in the darkness and they both felt the same when you stood on them. So the game of Slug Or Shit was born. There was no real winner, or winning situation for that matter, but you had to guess what you'd just stood on. Shit was definitely better for the others amusement though.
Starting to see the funny side as we take a break in a bus shelter
Somewhere around 11pm we came across a 'Welcome To Dunkirk' sign and had a little celebration, it was raining by this point and we were nearly there. Only we weren't, what we didn't realise was that the ferry port was on the other side of the city limits, some 20kms away. It took us another 7 hours of walking to get to the port. Well, it took Ben and Liam another 7hrs, I lost my shit at some point and threw my teddies out of the pram and cycled the last few kilometers to the port. We finally reached the port at 6.15am, 15 minutes after our ferry left forcing us to buy a new, full price ticket...
All in all, it was an awesome adventure that sounds like hard work and a lot of effort but it really wasn't that bad at all. The entire route was as flat as a pancake and as long as the winds where behind you (which you can guarantee they won't be) the cycling really isn't that hard. Also because the route follows the coast there are endless beaches and sand dunes for you to camp out on for free, we never had a problem with finding somewhere to sleep, except for in the city.
By providing our own transport and accommodation (maybe bring tents if you want to repeat this trip) our only costs were for food and the ferry which averaged out at less than £5 (probably closer to £3) each a day and can be done by only taking 5 days off work. You don't even need fancy bikes, even your childhood bike will do. Cycling to the Netherlands is a bargain adventure guaranteed to give you and some mates some incredible memories for life!
"You don't need to be rich to travel well"