Sometimes giving up is the hardest, but best, thing to do. At the beginning of May, an attempt at riding back from Amsterdam to London over two and a half days started badly and got progressively worse. Here's what happened.
The signs were there if I was willing to look for them.
Arriving into Amsterdam having had my bike loaded onto the train, but being unable to locate it before the train started wheeling its way back towards Rotterdam.
Stomping cleat first into a freshly deposited parcel from a passing pooch (have you ever tried cleaning dog shit off a nook-and-cranny-covered cleat?).
In hindsight, this was never going to be a regular ride.
Although, a little bit of foresight might’ve presented that rather obvious fact too. I’d rolled into the city for a four-day Stag Do – the sort you imagine would take place in Amsterdam and doesn’t include a visit to the Van Gogh Museum. It was only after a long-weekend of drinking that I’d be beginning my return leg, propelling my heavy head (and even heavier saddle, frame and handlebar bags) back through Holland, Belgium, France and, eventually, England as I made the 500km journey back along the coast from Amsterdam to London.
I’ll spare you the details of the events that fell between my arrival and departure, and instead cut straight to the first 30km of the ride. They should’ve taken me out of Amsterdam and onto the famous segregated cyclepaths of The Netherlands.
Should have, but didnt.
On loading up any given route on a Garmin cycle computer, you’re offered the option to ‘route to the beginning’ – an opportunity for you to accept or decline a quick calculation that’ll guide you seemlessly to the exact point you chose to begin from. As I sipped the last of the cappuccino at the delightful cafe I’d sought out (Scandinavian Embassy, if you’re asking), I idoly passed my finger over the tick icon and pressed it.
In a city you’ve not had a chance to familiarise yourself with, it’s only when you wheel up the road you’ve spent the last four days on that you recognise where you are and it was then that I realised I’d spent the last hour taking myself back to the accommodation I’d checked out from that morning.
Right on cue, it started to rain and, thoroughly warmed up, I started the ride proper.
But this post isn’t really about the ride. As solitary as the cycle paths were and as breathtaking as it was to round a bend to be met with fields of bright, uniformed rows of tulips, it’s not the scenery, or even the weather (although I’ll touch on this), that made the ride memorable.
It was having to make peace with the decision to abort it.
I pulled into my accommodation for the night having ridden into increasingly heavy wind and rain for the final 50km. Allegedly the rooms were located on a beach mere metres from my front door, but I couldn’t see it – the mist and thickening wall of precipitation obscured any views I might’ve otherwise been able to enjoy. Listening to the raindrops fall like pebbles against the roof as I ate my dinner, I checked the weather for the 240km ride that would take me back to Dover the following day.
It didn’t look good.
Back in my room, I considered my options – ride, don’t ride, ride a bit; give it a go, make a decision, was it worth it? I consulted friends at home* that were more familiar with the roads I’d be navigating. Together we hatched various plans and constructed backup (and backup-backup) routes, whilst sizing up the forecast.
To the sound the wind beating against the side of my bedroom, roaring at the windows and whistling its way through their cracks, I eventually drifted off to sleep at around 3 a.m.
Three hours later and things had somehow managed to get worse. The moment I stepped out of the door and began riding in the direction I needed to go, I’d be negotiating 40mph crosswinds that wouldn’t stop until I did 240km later.
Riding alone and with the prospect of having to share unknown French and Belgian roads with cars and lorries whilst the weather did its best to blow me into them, I decided it simply wasn’t worth it.
All things considered, it sounds like an easy decision, but it wasn’t. I had a plan, a goal and a deadline that I’d been aiming towards for weeks and I had to throw it all to the wind (I know). There were intangible and very, very tangible sunk costs associated with the trip: the time spent pouring over routes; the people I’d told of my plans; the use of a finite number of holiday days; the pre-booked accommodation. And that’s not to mention the additional costs giving up would bring with it (I totted them all up when I arrived home and it didn’t make for particularly pleasant reading).
But what would’ve been the point?
I don’t ride to suffer, I ride for the love of being outside on my bike.
I get little joy from burying myself – from taking on the elements and coming out the other side; I want the end of my ride to be a byproduct of the journey enjoyed rather than the end in and of itself.
So I gave up. I got myself back to Rotterdam, caught a train to Brussels, bought a Eurostar ticket for a train back to London, missed said train as I allowed myself a terrible coffee and consolatory croissant, caught the next train and was reunited with my bike in Kings Cross St. Pancras Station.
Nothing went to plan, but the routes and the roads remain there to be ridden.
And I'm still ready and willing to ride them.
*A huge thanks to Howard for his help and guidance. From app recommendations to routes, his experience as the have-bike-will-travel-and-ride-ridiculous-distances kind of rider, he was an enormous help in helping me make the right decision and get myself home safely.
See the part of the ride that did go somewhat to plan here.