Cycling in Amsterdam is exhilarating. I felt fully alive, perched sans helmet atop my borrowed 3 speed, rickety cruiser (the kind you backpedal to break) skirt flapping in the wind, senses open way wide while trying to keep up with a seasoned local. My years as a cyclist commuting along Vancouver streets to school, to work, doing groceries, properly attired in a mix of spandex and gortex never prepared me for the chaos that is carefully orchestrated within the boundaries of Amsterdam bike lanes.
I loved it.
At the same time I was freaked out of my mind. Fingers and toes crossed hoping that I didn’t collide with a pedestrian, misread a light signal while forgetting to pedal backwards wondering why I wasn’t stopping and gripping imaginary handle brakes. Or worse, identified myself as just another tourist by interrupting the flow followed so easily by the residents of the city.
I was astounded with how many people use bicycles as their main mode of transport. A resident, who has worked in a variety of roles within city planning departments, confirmed that there are more bikes living in Amsterdam than people. One look at morning rush hour and I believed it.
I had originally intended to see more of the Netherlands than Amsterdam, but I enjoyed wandering the city and spending hours in the museums so much I kept saying to myself, ‘I’ll go tomorrow.’ Two days before I was scheduled to be in Belgium I found myself researching bike paths outside of the city, I came across this suggested route to Marken Island. It was a beautiful ride that crossed through a quaint medieval village in North Amsterdam, over dikes and locks, into pastureland dotted with small towns each with a church tower marking its centre. The path led over a small rise, a toxic landfill, originally an illegal dumping ground for barrels of pesticide residue, now sealed, covered in green grass, the only sign a concrete block with an inscription in Dutch.
The directions were easy to follow. I pedaled over the flat landscape, papers in one hand, camera leashed around the wrist of the other.
And a permanent smile plastered across my lips.
The weather was grey and perfectly cool after several days of humid heat in the city. It started to rain half an hour from town, but my skin is waterproof and I welcomed the freshness, even if it did make me roll past an inviting cafe, in favour of getting back sooner, just as a patron stepped onto the terrace with a plate crowded with an oversized wedge of apple pie.
A 48 kilometre loop, an estimated 5 hour expedition (I did it in 6, including stops), a different experience but no less entertaining than the crowded bike paths of the city. And it certainly helps that it was flat! I started fantasizing about cycling to Bruges instead of taking the train.
Bicycling always used to be a chore, a responsible choice for transportation paired with using public buses when I was feeling lazy. It was never something I did just for the fun of it. But here, in the Netherlands, it finally became both.