#14 Resuming my walk, a brush with danger on the Pieterpad

Pieterpad,  Nijverdaal to Vorden

For the introduction to this (hopefully)490 km journey, please click on the heading,’Walking the Pieterpad’ in the black bar above.

(Well, it is now June 2017. First in June 2015 I broke a bone in my foot, that put an end to long distance walking for awhile. Then at the end of 2015 I went through  major abdominal surgery. Healing from that and the complications (which I’m still dealing with) have stopped me from resuming my walk. But with 290 km to go, I love having that as a goal now, I can walk for an hour and will be building that up until I can manage a whole day. Thanks for reading my Pieterpad posts so far.Wish me luck.)

Ah, it is spring, time to get out on my long distance walks again. And after perusing the long-term weather forecasts, I grabbed a 3 day window of fairly clear weather and set out.
For accommodation and distance reasons, I skipped the 5 km between Hellendoorn (see post #13) and set out from Nijverdaal.

The weather was cloudy but reasonable. But, this time, from the beginning, things were going wrong.I got lost several times, and finding  accommodation for the night was more challenging than usual. It was late in the day when I approached one of Holland’s rare high elevations (Holterberg, ‘berg’ is the word for mountain- well I guess everything is relative 🙂 ) -60m. Below is what you don’t want to see coming toward you when you are alone, without shelter and on an elevation. I took the picture, knowing I was in for something memorable, then I put my poncho on and tried to think of what to do.

approaching storm

approaching storm

One of my women friends is walking the Camino right now,and we’d spoken of my comparatively easy jaunts on the Pieterpad- no climbing, short distances, and of course 3-4 days at a time instead of a month or more of steady walking!

Still, this trip wasn’t without risk. The storm did hit in full fury. I found a grove of young saplings where I hunkered down while the thunder and lightning raged almost directly above me. My position didn’t offer much protection, but it did make me feel less exposed. I think those were the scariest 15minutes I’ve spent in along time. I emerged soaked from the waist down while the thunder was still grumbling in the distance and continued walking.

The sun eventually dried out my trousers, I felt great at having survived it all, and then managed to get turned around, and 2 hours later found myself at the same spot as the photo above!!! It was at this moment I realised that I can’t rely on my lousy sense of direction anymore. I have to learn how to orient. I do have a detailed description of the Pieterpad with me, and the paths are marked, but this section was very badly indicated, and combined with my own lack of navigating skills… well, it was a bad moment.

later, I was in the woods,finally going in the right direction and the rest of the storm front hit but this was milder, and getting soaked no longer bothered me quite as much. Next time bring the rain trousers!

This section of path took me 6 hours instead of the  2-3 it should have taken. I haven’t built up good condition yet, so I was well beyond my physical limits by the time I got into Holten. The only B&B  I had been able to book was 5km further. No way. I took a taxi, luckily there was a company operating from here.

Later I heard that tragically, two twenty year old girls had sheltered from the hail under a tree in a park not far from where I had been, in the same storm, and they were killed instantly by lightning.

This overshadowed the rest of my walk. The next two days were dryer, though with aching muscles, not what I would call easy. I finally hit my stride in the afternoon of the 3rd day, but by then it was time to take the train back to Groningen.

Here is a visual impression. Vorden is the midpoint of the Pieterpad, I am now in Gelderland, having left the province of Overijssel. And ready to start the second half (about 290km to go).

 

 

 

 

 

The Pieterpad and its varied paths

Below:  path surfaces from Gramsbergen to Hardenberg

These collages are from my most recent 4 day 50km walk between Gramsbergen and Hellendoorn via Hardenberg, Ommen and Lemele. Travel logs for those days are blog posts 10,11, 12, and 13. But while I was walking, I kept seeing how interesting all the different surfaces were that my feet (said feet make a few cameos in the photos) were continually making contact with. So they are just as important as other visual records of the trip.

Above, you can see that it was rainy, and that the walk was more on roads than through nature reserves and woods.

Below, Hardenberg to Ommen, Ommen to Lemele

And finally, the last leg, from Lemele to Hellendoorn.

#13 Hospitable Holland

Pieterpad,  Lemele to Hellendoorn

305 km to Sint Pietersberg

305 km to Sint Pietersberg

For the introduction to this (hopefully)480 km journey, please click on the heading,’Walking the Pieterpad’ in the black bar above.

I’ve walked about 175km by now. Just 305 to go. But this has never been about competing or achieving anything other than completing the trip at my own tempo whenever that may be.

This was a Monday, the 4th and last day of this leg. I started to have trouble with pain on the top of my foot. I can’t seem to warm up to my new Lowa hiking boots. Walking was doable, but not relaxed.

autumn path by small manmade stream

autumn path by small man made stream

The road was varied and pleasant on a perfect autumn day. I was thankful for the occasional spots to sit and rest. There are sometimes long stretches without them, when not even the side of the road is available to sit safely. Here is one welcoming bench I made use of to have lunch and take off my boots.

welcoming chunky bench

welcoming chunky bench

It is sometimes thought that the Pieterpad is an old pilgrim’s route, but it was conceived and mapped out by two elderly Dutch women between 1975 and 1981. In the 35 years of its existence, about 1,000,000 people have walked it.

So it isn’t surprising that people along the path sometimes offer refreshments or rest stops. So far these have all been charming. In one place, there was a picnic table with a cooler beside it and a long typewrittten message. This family has a dairy farm with happy cows whose milk is used for Beemster cheese as well as Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. They started a ‘dessert table’ on the path, offering fresh dairy products for hikers. You just take what you want out of the cooler and pay in the little box provided. They obviously care about their cows and products and have a ‘Caring Dairy trademark for sustainable dairy farming. You can get yoghurt, cheese or fruit juices from the cooler.

I encountered yet another sign of Dutch hospitality further on. A bicycle parked on the side of the path (in this case a road) was an invitation to pause at this welcoming little rest stop.They didn’t have a toilet (some do) and had a vehement sign asking people not to pee or anything else at the side of the little hut!!!

(I got quite expert at ducking into dense, highly growing corn when I needed to pee urgently and there was nothing else in sight. I always took a plastic bag for my used TP-  it is so disgusting to come across other hiker’s used TP in various out of the way spots. )

This is likely the last Pieterpad post for this year. I’m far enough down into the middle of the country that getting to my next starting point takes me 3 1/2 hours on public transport, (same for getting back after a full day of walking!) . And with the evenings growing dark so early, it is less relaxed for me generally. All being well, I’ll start out again next spring.

I’ve gained so much from this experience so far. Much more self confidence in finding my way, and in solving normal travel dilemmas involving transport and accommodation. I’ve learned that I have to have these kinds of challenges and movement in my life to be happy. And that my world is so much bigger than I’d thought during the years when I felt trapped close to home because I don’t drive here. I’ve also learned a lot about certain parts of the country and the people living there, and how much I need both nature and social contact to feel whole. So I’m really looking forward to the next 305 km.

#12 Counting blessings

Pieterpad, Ommen to Lemele

public flowerbed in Ommen

public flowerbed in Ommen

For the introduction to this (hopefully)480 km journey, please click on the heading,’Walking the Pieterpad’ in the black bar above.

The third day of this walk was a Sunday, the weather was perfect and everyone was out in nature. The Dutch are fanatic cyclists and there were myriads of brightly coloured bike club members racing by. There were families and couples and groups out walking on the paths and by the river. Normally, walking the Pieterpad can be quite solitary, so I loved all the activity.

Sunday in the Vechtsdal

Sunday in the Vechtsdal

The woman who’d put me up in Hardenberg the day before was sweet. After I returned from dinner in the town we sat talking together well into the evening. She confided to me that she had lost a child of 5 to illness when she and her husband were working in Indonesia, and that 2 of her remaining children were gravely ill, one possibly with the same rare illness that the daughter had had. Her husband had died long ago, there were a few photos of them together when they were young. Despite all this sadness, she was very open and not at all self pitying. She said she had a good life there in the neighbourhood, and she had friends.  I left there grateful to have met her.

When I arrived at my accommodations in Ommen the following evening, and got to talking with my hostess there, in a strange and sad synchronicity, she, too had lost a daughter. Her daughter was an artist who became ill in her late 30s and died soon after. Her artwork was all around the house and it was good. This woman’s husband was there as well, but was dealing with cancer. She told me of the things they used to do together and what they have had to release as far as travel etc. This woman too was grateful for what she still had and not embittered by what she’d experienced.

Needless to say, I left there thoughtful, and counting my blessings that at this stage of my life, my husband and I are both healthy and can do so much together.

This part of the walk was varied and social, as I met a lot of people along the paths. While I was taking a tea break at a roadside café, one of the bike clubs whooshed in, and all these vital 20-30 year old men in their coloured nylon outfits poured in joking with each other and the waitresses. It was a pleasure to be around all that vital energy, you could see these guys were loving their Sunday and the fleeting freedom from family obligations and being in suits at work the next day.

 Below are photos from that day. There weren’t any of the usual accommodations available, but I was lucky to get a whole caravan to myself for a bargain price.

Next post will be the last about the Pieterpad for awhile, winter is closing in and the days are getting shorter. Not a problem until the evening, now dark, when I usually have to go out either walking or a loaned bike to get some dinner in an unknown environment.

 

 

 

 

#11 The land and the people

Pieterpad, Hardenberg to Ommen

approaching Ommen

approaching Ommen

For the introduction to this (hopefully)480 km journey, please click on the heading,’Walking the Pieterpad’ in the black bar above.

The first part of this walk- Friday, Gramsbergen to Hardenberg, was all done in a constant drizzle. Everything was damp and uncomfortable, but that is part of long distance walking.Saturday, after taking leave of my sweet hostess, I started out in mist, but around 2 hours later, the sun broke through. For the next 3 days the weather was beautiful.

Misty beginning

Misty beginning

Sun breaking through

Sunny path

Each province has its own feel. In my walk I’ve reached Overijssel. There, like in the other parts of the country, is a local pride in the area. The Vecht, more a river than the usual canals, runs through here, and there are several small towns on its banks- Hardenberg and Ommen being the main ones. The river valley is an important wildlife reserve and the Dutch government is active in preserving habitats and managing the river so that flora and fauna can flourish. It is a large recreational area with campgrounds, walking and cycling routes. I like the feel of it,it is relaxed and welcoming and the paths are really well marked here.

on the Ommen bridge

on the Ommen bridge

Ommen street

Ommen street

Where I live, in the north, the people have a reputation for being rather gruff and closed. They are salt of the earth and when you get to know them they are loyal and honest. (Of course these kinds of generalisations are dangerous, and there are exceptions). But I must admit, that the further south I walk, the warmer and more open the people.

One of the main reasons to walk this path was to form my own physical and emotional bond with the country where I’ve lived, but not truly rooted in,  for the past 30 years. And it is true that taking every step of this walk forms a new relationship with the land I pass through. But what I didn’t expect is the new relationships with the people. Because I sleep for the most part in private homes, I get a chance to know the residents in a way that wouldn’t have been open to me previously. More about that in the next post.

Here are a few shots from this part of the walk:

 

 

 

 

 

#10 In the Dutch mountains

Pieterpad- Gramsbergen to Hardenberg

On the way up

On the way up

For the introduction to this (hopefully)480 km journey, please click on the heading,’Walking the Pieterpad’ in the black bar above.

This stretch of path took me into hilly (comparatively!)country. The ‘mountain’ I climbed was, get ready for it- 75 meters high. But here in the flat lowlands, it is as much of a mountain as you’re going to find. I called Rende from the summit to tell him I’d reached it and was feeling altitude sickness coming on 🙂 – he enquired how the sherpas were doing and if I’d used all my ropes and caribiners.

View from the top

View from the top

I walked 50km over 4 days. Ample time to think, the space outside creating space for new thoughts.

I kept to my resolution not to book any accommodations in advance of the day of travel. Rende asked me why I didn’t just call and ensure that I had a place to stay, especially since it was the weekend. And I thought about that on my walk. Yes, for someone like me- used to organising everything in advance so as to prevent inconvenience or discomfort- it cost me some sleep to leave it open. But I realised it also gave me a chance to solve things as they came up. I’d first decided to not book in advance on this 480km walk so I could gain a little of the feeling of wayfaring, where you’re thrown back on yourself and  have to let go more to trust the universe to provide what you need.

So far, I’ve not once been stuck for a place to sleep, though sometimes it was a close thing. In the case of not being able to find budget accommodation I still have the option of an expensive hotel- or finding transport to another town. On this last walk, my host and hostess were helping me decide where to stay the next night because there were only 1 or 2 options and no hotels in the next stopping place. While I was trying to find possible public transport in case they were booked, the woman of the house offered to drive down and and pick me up after the walk, and bring me back to stay with them, then drive me back down there the next day.

When you solve everything in advance yourself (an illusion anyway), you don’t give other people the chance to help you. I didn’t need to make use of the woman’s kind offer, but I was really touched and it made me trust more and let go to how things were unfolding.

Here are a few shots from this trip.

#9The path is always changing

path through dunes

path through dunes

We had a window of good weather, so I cancelled or changed several appointments and went walking.

I have to admit this leg was more difficult than previous ones for various reasons- I was carrying  heavier pack and was breaking in new walking shoes. Then the bus broke down- it was only 12 minutes from the stop where I’d left off last time, so I decided to walk it. I even found a place to rejoin a part of the Pieterpad I’d done last time. Bad move. It took me a whole day to get back to the place I needed to be, the weather was overcast, plus all the other factors just mentioned made it less fun. It was hard finding a place to stay, it got late, I was exhausted, etc etc. All part of long distance walking, I guess. In the end I did find a place with wonderful people hosting, and was able to rest, eat and have a good night’s sleep- all of of which take on heightened importance when on the road.

A nice feature I’ve run into a few times now are the ‘rest points’- unmanned little havens especially for hikers or cyclists, where you can at least make a cup of coffee or tea, and where there is often a toilet too. You just leave the money in a little dish.  This one was especially welcoming and had a guest book  full of appreciation from people who
had used it.

rest point outside

rest point outside

rest point interior

rest point interior

The next 2 days were great, but I will go back to my smaller, lighter pack. Walking with that weight on my back ruins the whole feeling of lightness and freedom these walks usually mean for me.

Leaving beautiful Drenthe, I crossed over into a new province- Overijssel (over EYE’ sill). The landscape became flatter again, less trees, the path was varied. It ran along canals and roads, through industrial parks, next to a windmill park, and down along the sides of highways.

The season is clearly changing, there were nuts, buckeyes (Pittsburghese for horse- chestnuts), and yellowing leaves on the paths. Farmers were bringing in the hay and grain. The midsummer fresh green was turning to a duller olive, the sun was lower. Usually I’m sad to see the summer leave, but it was such a rarely beautiful one that I can move, with acceptance and with nature, into autumn.

Commitments are starting up again, so it will be harder to get away for a few days in a row, but I’m determined to at least do some fall walking. And I’m curious about what the next section of path holds.