Humble beginnings…

I just got word from Wim Harwig:

“That young guy you saw at the M5 recumbent-shop in Middelburg is now in a team of young students trying to break the world record. I think you took a photo of him when he was working on his wooden low-racer in the shop. Probably you inspired him as a world record holder too ;-) His name is David Wielemaker.”

Good stuff! That young guy is the guy in the photos below (taken on July 26th 2007).

M5 recumbents workshop in Middleburg, The Netherlands

M5 engineer and Wim discuss the finer points of the plywood recumbent in Middleburg, The Netherlands M5 recumbents engineer shows off his plywood recumbent at the M5 showroom in Middleburg, The Netherlands

Here is the video that Wim linked to in his message:

Day 375 – THE NETHERLANDS and ENGLAND: From Berschenhoek (NL) to Little Oakley (UK)

Today’s distance / 今日の走行距離: 38.2km
Average speed / 平均速度: 14.7km/h
Time on skateboard / 走行時間: 2h 36m
Total skateboarding distance to date / 今までスケボで走った距離: 877.47km (plus 428.5km)
Total cycling distance to date / 今まで自転車で走った距離: 11,800km

Thank you Bram and his family! It was great to meet you guys – thank you for the comfy bed and warm hospitality last night.

With Bram and his family in Bergschenhoek, The Netherlands

And what could be better than having your own personal escort for the first half of the day. Bram cycled his velomobile with me as I skated towards Hook of Holland; where the ferry to England is.

Bram in his speedy velomobile near Bergschenhoek, The Netherlands

So that was the plan. Today was the day that I would leave the Eurasian continent, and cross over to England. By ferry. Not by skateboard. Skateboards don’t float. Neither do I. Like really. You know how most people can lie on their back in the water and just float there. I don’t. I sink feet first.

But the ferry looked robust enough, and I spent most of the 7 hour journey from Hook of Holland to Harwich sleeping on the outside deck. Sleeping mat spread out, me curled up in my sleeping bag.

Aboard the StenaLine from Hook of Holland (The Netherlands) to Harwich (UK)

I arrived in Harwich about half an hour before dark. I had no idea where to go, so I asked a group of three young women on bicycles where was London. They were shocked to find that I had no map, and seemed concerned that I was going to sleep outside, giving me the impression that it was terribly dangerous to do so. I told them I would most probably be OK.

I followed my nose out of the ferry terminal, and found a National Cycle Network sign pointing in the direction of Harwich. It was better than nothing, so I followed the sign. By 9:30pm (no daylight savings in England) is was dark, so I had to stop and find a place to sleep. A convenient bridleway led me to an open paddock where I spent my night.

Sleepspot outside Harwich, England

Day 374 – THE NETHERLANDS: Rotterdam outskirts to Bergschenhoek

Today’s distance / 今日の走行距離: 17.6km
Average speed / 平均速度: 12.9km/h
Time on skateboard / 走行時間: 1h 21m
Total skateboarding distance to date / 今までスケボで走った距離: 839.23km(plus 428.5km)
Total cycling distance to date / 今まで自転車で走った距離: 11,800km

Had a shiner of a headache this morning. The moral of the story is that I need to drink more water. Obviously 4 litres during the day yesterday wasn’t enough. I slept well enough, although getting to sleep was tough. My heartbeat was well over my usual resting norm, so the long day yesterday was obviously getting to my system.

Bram, a reader of my bolg for some time now, had contacted me while I was in Vlissingen, and offered for me to stay with him and his family on my way to the ferry near Rotterdam. Bram is a human powered vehicle fan, and owns one of the finer examples of such technology.

Bram and his Velomobile in Berschenhoek, The Netherlands

Once I had eaten breakfast and taken a painkiller, I was on my way to Bram’s small town just a few kilometers north of Rotterdam.

The cycle friendliness of The Netherlands certainly does not cease in the big cities. Coming into Rotterdam is a tunnel just for cyclists and other human powered vehicles, running under the main shipping canal.

Cycle tunnel under Nieue Maas, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Cycle paths right into the city centre led me to the Rotterdam Maritime Museum, a large open air ode to past times in the industry.

Old boats in the Maritime Museum, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

The docks at the Maritime Museum, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

I wandered around there for a good hour or so, occassionally thinking how much my late granddad would have loved the place. He loved his ships!

I was amazed at the cost of food in Rotterdam. So cheap. One Euro per kilo for bananas. The cheapest I have seen so far in The Netherlands is 1.60. One euro for 500g of Cadbury’s chocolate! This was all at a huge market in the centre.

I arrived at Bram’s place at about 3pm. After a few intorductions it was down to business. It was time to experience good concentrated Dutchness. Hold onto your seats…

Old windmill near Bergschenhoek, The Netherlands

Old windmill near Bergschonhoek, The Netherlands Old windmill near Bergschonhoek, The Netherlands

Old windmill near Bergschenhoek, The Netherlands

Windmills galore at Kinderdiyke, a premium tourist attraction in the Rotterdam region. The small area is home to about 16 different windmills, all used in past ages to pump water from out of the lowlying land. Quite fascinating indeed.

Nowdays, water is transported with huge augers up and over the dykes.

Massive auger to transport water up over dykes near Bergshonhoek, The Netherlands

And of course, no visit to Bram could be complete without trying out his velomobile.

Rob trying out Bram's velomobile in Bergschenhoek, The Netherlands

These things are custom made to the rider’s dimensions. Obviously I am a little smaller than Bram…

Day 373 – THE NETHERLANDS: From Vlissingen to Rotterdam outskirts

Today’s distance / 今日の走行距離: 103km
Average speed / 平均速度: 14.4km/h
Time on skateboard / 走行時間: 7h 08m
Total skateboarding distance to date / 今までスケボで走った距離: 821.61(plus 428.5km)
Total cycling distance to date / 今まで自転車で走った距離: 11,800km

Hold me back, people. 103km on a skateboard in one day. Very happy, I am. This distance was assisted by this:

Perfect cycle path near Gervliet, The Netherlands

and this:

Strong nor'wester naer Vlissingen, The Netherlands

That is, howling tailwinds and smooth as silk cycle paths.

But what is exciting is that the roads weren’t 100% smooth, and the wind wasn’t always at my back. For a large part of the day I was fighting massive side winds or rough cycle paths. It was the 50km or so of smooth eastward cycle paths toward Rotterdam at the end of the day that really helped the distance tally along. Just give me a good solid tailwind all day, and things could get really exciting.

The day started a bit tough. After four days off, it felt like I was learning to ride the board again. The North Sea coast was unrelentingly gusty. I was happy for the kite surfers, if not a little jealous not to have my own kite.

The North Sea coast in Zeeland, The Netherlands

This part of The Netherlands, Zeeland, is just breathtaking. The civil engineering feats that have been acheived are phenominal. Massive dykes protect the low lying land behind them from the vicious North Sea.

One of the many massive dykes in Zeeland, The Netherlands

Just seach for Zeeland or Vlissingen in Google Earth and have a gander northeast along the North Sea coast. You’ll notice a number of large islands all connected by a series of what look like bridges. These are actually dykes, some of which, like the one pictured above, can open and close with the tide. On either side of these collosal man made features are wind turbines making the most of the ever present wind, blades straining to keep straight against the pressure of the gales.

Wind turbine in Zeeland, The Netherlands

Now my big day would not have been, had it not had been for Wim and his family in Vlissingen over the last few days. Thank you for just letting me rest and take it easy. My heels that got a rough time through Germany were well and truely healed from their blisters. Thank you and thank you again.

Day 372 – THE NETHERLANDS: More relaxing times at the Harwig’s

Well I contacted the maker of the skateboard I am riding today in the hope that they could give me some clues as to whether these cracks in the deck could pose problems in the future…

Cracks in the Rollsrolls skateboard deck (Vlissingen, The Netherlands)

Not too pretty, and a little disconcerting. The reply came quick from founder and engineer/craftsman Peter – a reply by email the very same day. The loads that I am putting the board under (about 90kg all up with me and my lugguage) are not overload. The cracks are in the most stressed part of the board, but if neccessary it looks as though Rolls Rolls will replace the deck.

So, I will keep my eyes on the cracks over the next few days and see what happens.

Day 371 – THE NETHERLANDS: Jousting in Vlissingen

Upon hearing that there would be people riding horses and playing with long spears in the middle of town today, I was hoping for some good old fashioned blood and guts gladiator-type entertainment. The lack of such gore was made up by the sheer skill of the local heroes ‘spearing’ their lances through impossibly small rings at full gallop.

Jousting skill on display in Vlissingen, The Netherlands

There were hundreds of horses in the open square, and as many riders. Only one person can be crowned champion, so as each group of riders completes a round, the rings get progressively smaller, with the best riders aiming their lances at rings as small as 15mm in diameter.

Jousting skill on display in Vlissingen, The Netherlands

The event seemed like an important happening on the local calendar, and attracts a big audience. The winners of each age and skill category were awarded with a trophy, and a bit of good old fashioned life threatening throwing and catching, done by highly skilled riders, their strength augemented by a good dosage of beer which was consumed in as large a quantity as their control over their lance would allow during the course of the competition.


We rode the few kilometers from the Harwig’s place to town on bicycles. Wim and I on recumbents. It was a great feeling to be on a recumbent again. Wim is on his lowrider that he uses to commute to work – a solid 20km each way commute. The bike is stainless steel with a spacious fairing at the back made from plywood. Great for the flat cycle paths of Holland.

Wim on his lowracer recumbent in Vlissingen, The Netherlands

Topping off the afternoon out was another delicious Dutch delight – Olieballs. The dictionary translation is ‘donut balls’. Donut dough cooked in a ball. No wonder the Dutch are so fond of their bicycles – you need a good dose of exercise after some of their food.

Olieballs - donut balls - a Dutch delight eaten in Vlissingen, The Netherlands

Day 356 – THE NETHERLANDS: Krabbendijke to Vlissingen

Today’s distance / 今日の走行距離: 42.9km
Average speed / 平均速度: 11.5km/h
Time on skateboard / 走行時間: 3h 43m
Total skateboarding distance to date / 今までスケボで走った距離: 718km (plus 428.5km)
Total cycling distance to date / 今まで自転車で走った距離: 11,800km

I am here.

The North Sea, Vlissingen, The Netherlands

After exactly one year and three days on the road, I am on the other side of the Eurasian continent. The significance of this sight filled me with emotion and tears came to my eyes. I hardly remember what the sea looked like in Japan. I only had eyes and a mind for what was up ahead. Now this is what filled my vision.

The North Sea, Vlissingen, The Netherlands

I never really thought or imagined that I would ever see this. For a New Zealand kid from Invercargill, Southland, places like this are so far away. And here I am, having arrived here mostly under my own steam.

18,500km in total.

12,000km by bicyle.

1,000km by skateboard.

5,500km by train.

Today was not without it’s trials however. The westerly wind was still blowing strong, and my feet were in no better shape than last night. The small and yet rather significant blisters on my heels were giving me grief.

A blister from pusing against the wind - nothing massive, but very painful with shoes on A moleskin donut to take the pressure off the blister

The moleskin repair job to take pressure off the blister didn’t last long. I was keen just to remove the skin off the top of the blister and be done with it, but the blister appears to be a rather complicated one. Numerous small blisters one on top of the other meant that there was no simple flap of skin to remove. There was no other choice…

Onwward! With only one shoe on (near Gravenpolder, The Netherlands) The blister was too painful for shoes, so skated 20km with only one shoe - from Gravenpolder to Vlissingen, The Netherlands)

20km later skating in socks, I was in Vlissingen. It was slow going, but at least I didn’t have the agony of the sore blisters rubbing against my boots.

I think the blisters were caused by a combination of factors. Dirty socks (unwashed for two weeks), extra effort pushing against the wind, and lack of proper rest for the last two weeks. Hopefully I can avoid this in the future…

I met Wim Harwig, a long time reader of my blog, and fellow recumbent rider, in Vlissingen. It was great to meet him after all this time on the road. I will be staying at his wonderful handbuilt home for a few days before moving on.

So, what now?

The plan is to head up to the Hook of Holland, near Rotterdam on Monday. I have booked a place on a ferry from the Hook of Holland to Harwich, leaving on Wednesday the 1st of August. Harwich is about 120km from London central, so I expect that I will be at Trafalgar Square in the morning of Saturday the 4th of August at 9am, arriving on my longboard.

So at 9am, Saturday the 4th of August, 2007, just over one year after I left Japan, I will have reached my goal.

If you’re in the area, feel free to drop on by.

Day 355 – BELGIUM and THE NETHERLANDS: St Leenard to near Krabbendijke

Today’s distance / 今日の走行距離: 63.6km
Average speed / 平均速度: 11.4km/h
Time on skateboard / 走行時間: 5h 35m
Total skateboarding distance to date / 今までスケボで走った距離: 675.93km (plus 428.5km)
Total cycling distance to date / 今まで自転車で走った距離: 11,800km

Today it began. Before I even got up out of the cold dark building, I could see the trees bending towards the east. Considering that I had to travel to the west meant that it was not a good sign. A strong westerly wind. A wind in the face.

My spirits were high however. The wind so strong that one could only laugh. It was here that I realised that I had broken through the four week barrier. After four weeks on the road, I feel as though I am ready to knuckle down and do this. No more inner complaining that I’m moving so much slower than when I was on the bike. No more complaining about rough roads. Just acceptance. This is how it’s going to be. Headwind included. Just do your five and a half hours, Rob.

Boat on the Dessel-Schoten Canal, Belgium

I followed the canal up until Wuustwezel, where I sheltered in the public library on the computers for an hour. The friendly library staff fed me coffee, and almost apologetically kicked me out at noon when the library closed for an hour.

I carried on into the wind to Kalmthout where I cooked up spaghetti for lunch. Today I experimented with spaghetti and mayonase. Simple, heaps of energy, and tasty. I’ll keep that on the menu, I think.

From Kalmhout it was through the beautiful Stappersven Marsh area.

Stappersven Marsh, Belgium

Against the westerly that thretened to stop cyclists and skateboarders alike in their tracks, I managed to make it to Hoogerheide in The Netherlands – back to the friendly atomosphere of the Dutch.

From Hoogerheide it was on to Zeeland. This vast, windswept flat area reminded me a lot of Canterbury in New Zealand. Getting a good view from a high bridge over a massive canal, you could see all the windbreaker tree lines along the edges of paddocks on the flat land.

The view was moving. Everything on such a massive scale. Massive man-made structures pitted themselves against the unrelenting wind.

Huge lock seen from the Zeeland Road bridge in The Netherlands

Wind turbines in Zeeland, The Netherlands

It is everything I imagined The Netherlands to be. I unreservedly rate this country as one of the most fascinating and moving countries I have travelled through thus far.

By 6:30pm I was finished. Mentally ready to continue, my body was saying no. With the wind so strong against me, I have to push so many more times to attain the same speed as if there was no wind. This takes it’s toll on my feet, and I could feel blisters forming on the back of my heels. I found an empty shed in an orchard and settled down for the night.