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Skating the Dikes of Holland
By Daniel Edman of Sweden

Swedish skater Daniel Edman shares what it's like to skate on the dikes of Holland where he encountered smooth pavement, strong winds, and absolutely beautiful scenery (select any of the photos on this page to view a larger image).

Daniel Edman
Copyright © T-N-S.de

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Thanks to the almighty World Wide Web, I heard about and made contact with, the German Skating group T-N-S (Tuesday Night Skate) in Frankfurt. Having read about skating in the Netherlands for quite some years, I thought it was a great opportunity when I read about their planned Holland trip in early April. This was during February, when in-line abstinence in Sweden was at its peak, so after briefly refreshing my German language skills, I sent them some email, and asked if they could stand a foreigner on their trip. They seemed to understand what I wrote, and they were glad to see foreigners participate in the event, so I decided to join.

On the evening of Friday, April 6th, 2001 the 17:00 (5:00 p.m.) SAS flight took me to Amsterdam. Two hours later I arrived at Schiphol Airport, and found out there was a train strike in the Netherlands. The meeting point for the tour was the Hotel De Magneet in Hoorn, some 30 km (20 miles) north of Amsterdam, and somehow I managed to catch the last train for the day, both from the airport to the Central station, and further on to Hoorn. When I arrived in Hoorn, I walked the narrow streets to De Magneet and less than two Heinekens later, 49 Germans and one Dutch arrived by bus. The Dutch guy also read about the trip on the web.

Saturday morning arrived with a blue sky and dry conditions and a temperature around Photo 2 10-15 C (50-60F). We had a good breakfast and made some sandwiches for lunch. The luggage was stored on the bus, and at 10:00 a.m. sharp we took off. There were 51 skaters altogether, and we skated in a huge group, going west from Hoorn following the coast line. (Using Mapquest.com even bicycle paths and minor roads can be viewed in this area.)

During the early stages of our skate we experienced side and tail winds, which by the way were very nice, because wind in Holland is the default, and strong winds are very common. The wind was very strong this day, making the fairly long green grass lie flat along the ground and increasing our speed way beyond normal for the amount of effort put in.

The 51 people in the group quickly spread out, since this was a pleasure trip rather than a speed event, and skating ability varied. I preferred to stay just behind the front runners to observe what was going on, and try not to make a fool of myself too early in the day. Still, I was prepared to defend our Swedish "blue and yellow" if there was going to be a sudden speed increase.

Anyway, that sudden speed increase didnīt come and we kept going at Photo 3 an even pace, following the water on some kind of embankment. I guess this embankment is what has kept the Netherlands on land all these years, and not at the bottom of the sea, since most of this country is actually lower than sea level. On top of each embankment there is normally a paved road with conditions varying from good to skatable. The roads, which considering their widths should be regarded as paths, are utilized by bicyclists, skaters, pedestrians, cars and buses, and I found out that Dutch drivers donīt pay much attention to skaters, even when there is a large and disorganized group of skaters going all over the place. They just honk and pass, assuming that all the skaters are in full control and are paying full attention to what is happening around them. Iīm not saying itīs dangerous there, not at all, but I would have expected more caution from the drivers, especially in the narrow brick streets of a typical Dutch village.

Anyway, we kept skating and sometime later we reached the village of Enkhuizen. There was a pause to gather the group together, and I did some map shopping in a nearby tourist office. When the group was assembled we took off, and skated to an old wooden bridge where we stopped to take a group photo. Skating through Enkhuizen was a pain, due to the street surface. The streets seem to be several hundred years old and were constructed using millions of tiny red bricks placed side by side. These conditions called for careful skating but most of all it was a real foot killer. And especially if you are a "skeeler" with a rigid boot, metal frame, and very hard wheels. (One of the lessons I learned during this weekend was that in Dutch a "skater" is on 4 wheels, while a "skeeler" is on 5.)

Several thousand bricks later we exited Enkhuizen and found the "Embankment Photo 4 bicycle path" again. Frank, one of the tour leaders, stopped the group and informed us that there were 25 km of asphalt between us and the Village of Medemblik, and anyone who was "speed minded" should take the opportunity. I took off along with 3 Germans, and with a strong wind 45 degrees in our backs, we reached good speeds. Keeping the map fresh in my mind, I knew the path would soon make a 90 degree left turn, and one didnīt have to be directly related to Einstein to realize what type of winds we would be facing immediately after that turn… So I stayed behind and relaxed as much as possible while that particular pleasure was still possible.

We reached the turn, turned, and all of a sudden the nice tail wind proved to be a nasty head wind. Ahead of us was flat land all the way to the Dutch shore, then flat sea all the way to England so no wonder that wind had gained speed! I decided it was time to do defend the Swedish King, so I tucked down and tried to find a pace I could keep for an hour or more and overtook the lead. The Germans didnīt seem to like strong head winds at all, so after a while I was completely on my own with no possibility whatsoever of drafting or relaxing. I hoped and prayed I wasnīt going too fast so the chasing group all of a sudden would find me standing exhausted… Our King wouldnīt have liked that!

The village of Medemblik slowly but surely approached, and after going through some residential areas and a park I found myself on that red brick surface again. Compared to the pain of the head winds, the vibrations to my feet caused by those bricks was quite OK. I found my way to the bus station which was the reunion point, and not too many minutes later the group of skaters who defeated the head wind started growing. We were lying in the green grass, being warmed by the sun and listening to church bells playing "My Bonnie" at 2:30 p.m. That was a great performance. There must have been a great number of bells involved in the tune, and at least I enjoyed it. But I couldnīt help wondering what the neighbors felt about those bells and about "My Bonnie"? I just hope they didnīt have to listen to it every 30 minutes 24 hours a day, but we didnīt stay long enough to find out.

From Medemblik we took the bus, for some reason, to the Photo 5 "main attraction" of the day, the Afslutdijk. The path north from Medemblik looked very nice from the bus window so I think we could have skated another 20-25 km before using the bus to reach the Afslutdijk, but maybe the head wind was the main reason for using the bus.

I guess this "Afslutdijk" requires some explanation. Look at a map of the residential areas directly north of Amsterdam, and you will see a big bay. Between this bay and the "real sea" there is an embankment built to prevent the Dutch people from getting very wet. On this big bank there is nothing apart from a highway and a bicycle path. Then there is either strong head wind or equally strong tail wind, depending on which direction youīre going!

We reached this Afslutdijk and the bus dropped us a few miles from the south end, at a parking place with a bridge so we could cross over to the other side where 21 km of excellent bicycle path lied ahead of us. And the wind would come straight from behind throughout all these 21 kilometers! The Afslutdijk is 30-35 km overall length, but due to logistic (and safety) reasons we had to find a crossover point that would let us get all 51 skaters across the highway without any casualties. Once over the highway and on the path, I reached speed on wheels which I have never been close to before on a flat surface. I regret I didnīt clock the time to cover these 21 kilometers, it would have been very interesting to know exactly how fast I was going. 21 km passed very quickly and when reaching the bus at the other end of the dike some rain started falling, and with 65-70 kilometers covered during the day I guess most of us were satisfied and glad to get out of the skates for the day.

The group gathered and the bus driver Tomas took us safely to Makkum, a few km Photo 6 south of the north end of the Afslutdijk, where a hotel with good Dutch beer in the bar and some good hot water in the shower was welcoming us.

The day ended with a nice dinner, and finally some German "Apfelwein" in one of the hotel rooms. What "German Apfelwein" is I guess anyone can figure out on their own? The taste was good, it wasnīt too strong and with a clear taste of apple, but served from a big plastic container placed on the balcony. I slept very well that night.

The second day came with similar winds and fairly good weather. After Breakfast, at 10:00 a.m., we skated from the hotel while the bus carried all of our baggage. South from Makkum towards Hinderloopen we experienced sidewinds and tailwinds. During this stage I made the first contacts with what in the Scandinavian countries is known as "Faerist". Unfortunately neither of my two dictionaries gives me a translation for it, but Iīll try to explain it. The Faerist is also clearly visible on at least one of the photos, where a German guy is gently walking across it.

A "faerist" is the extension of an animal fence across a road, which does not Photo 7 affect normal traffic. Did that make sense? Basically it is a grate, in this case made of 1 inch steel rods separated by 3 inches and perpendicular to the road direction. Cars and bikes cross over it but cattle don't. Simple. Being a skater you've got plenty of wheels, but they are tiny, so donīt even think of crossing a Faerist at speed. The proper thing to do is to stop and gently walk across it, or simply use the gate that you will normally find on either side of the road.

Having learned to cope with the "faerist" I suddenly had to learn how to cope with those red bricks again. But this time they were wet, and I can assure you all, they did become very slippery. Facing that head wind and wet bricks, we barely made any progress toward Hinderloopen. And if the wet bricks were slippery, a wooden bridge right in the middle of the willage was even more slippery. It felt like the bridge was sprayed with soap, and maybe it was? By some kids in for a practical joke, who knows..?

In Hinderloopen the majority of the group opted to take the bus to the Photo 8 final destination - the shower, bath tub and swimming pool in \ Lemmer. The remaining group of 11 people, were either the toughest or the most stupid! At that point I wasnīt sure which, and when fighting our way out of the village I was pretty close to selling my skates in favor of a nice little stamp collection... But things do change, and all of a sudden the rain stopped and the wind turned. Or was it we, that turned? Anyway, we were on a path made of big and smooth concrete blocks, wonderful to skate on, and the speed increased again. Now I could hardly remember any thoughts about getting rid of my beloved skates, and not even a Shilling Banco with misprint would have made me think about stamps! With good speed we covered the final distance to a pancake house outside of Lemmer, where the bus picked us up and brought us to the TLC of a hot shower.

The wonderful Germans with the bus driver Tomas behind the wheel then dropped me at the Amsterdam Airport on their way back home to Frankfurt. The almost empty SAS flight at 8pm brought me back to Stockholm and at 11.30 p.m. I could dive into my own pillow and be quite satisfied with the weekend.

Noch einmal, vielen Dank T-N-S! Auch sehr schoene Bilder.

So What Did I Learn About the Netherlands?

    - First there are no Dutch words or expressions for "calm" and "no wind". The closest you can get is probably "10 knots".

    - Brick roads will kill your feet and they are very slippery when wet.

    - Holland is the number one country in Europe with respect to foreign language skills. The entire population seems to be good at both English and German.

    - The Dutch language can neither be spoken nor understood by ordinary people. Not even after several beers!

    - The beer in the Netherlands is very good.

    - Skating in Holland doesnīt have to be planned very far in advance. Tourist offices are easy to find and they provide very good and detailed maps at decent prices.

    - Donīt forget to bring wind protective clothes.

    - You can skate all around this bay north of Amsterdam (called Ijsselmeer). The distance will be close to 400 km (250 miles) and it would be a very nice 1 week tour in the Summer.

    - If you go skating in Holland, donīt miss the Afslutdijk. In the tail wind direction!
Well, that was it. Donīt be too surprised if I go back to Holland again for more skating on occasion.

~ Daniel Edman

Photo 9

This trip to the Netherlands was organized by T-N-S.de, a skate tour operator based in Frankfurt, Germany. T-N-S.de organizes fun, casual, low cost trips to destinations all over Europe. Skaters from all over the world are welcome and encouraged to join any of their tours. For more information connect to the T-N-S.de Web site at T-N-S.de The photos in this article were provided courtesy of T-N-s.de and were reprinted her with permission from them. The copyright for all of the photos on this page belongs to T-N-S.de.

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Skating in the Netherlands
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