By David Ward — A few years ago, we returned from a trip to the Netherlands and France. Toward the end of this sojourn, we were staying with some friends, Dominique and Annie. I had met Dominique, his mother and his sister, when I represented them in a wrongful death lawsuit involving Dominique’s father who was killed in a cycling accident while on a bike tour which was passing through Utah.
Dominique, knowing of my passion for riding, offered me the use of a bike, either his old road bike or his father’s old mountain bike. While I preferred the road bike, it was old enough that the threads on my pedals (which I had brought in hopes of being able to ride a few times) would not screw into the cranks on his road bike. But they would go on the mountain bike. So, that became, fortuitously for me, my chosen ride.
The evening before my first ride, Dominique pulled out a map showing some designated and separated bike paths and set about explaining how to get to them. This gesture was appreciated, but actually missed the point of why I like to ride when I travel. Well, actually, I simply love to ride. But beyond that, I have found that I love to get on a bike and go exploring. I don’t like having a goal or a specified route or destination, but prefer rather to meander and see what I come across.
Take this ride for example. When I left the next morning, I headed down the road through this picturesque French village of Hirtzbach where Dominique and Annie live, located in the Alsace region of eastern France. After about a kilometer, I came to a junction where I had a choice of turning either right or left. So, for no particular reason, I chose right. I can’t even say it was the road less traveled.
The road then took me to Hirsingue where a road turned off to the right from the main road. It appeared to be heading up a hill a little further ahead. That attracted me, so off I went. After a short distance, I had reached the edge of this small town, and the pastures and fields of local farmers that abutted it. Since the road continued on, so did I, meandering along fields of grain and pastures with grazing cattle.
After awhile, the pavement ended, and I was confronted with the decision whether to turn back or continue on. Fate had me on a mountain bike, so I figured I was fated to continue on, which I did. I climbed on up a grassy, rutted dirt road till I crested the hill. Not knowing the area, I decided I needed to consult my maps app, just to make certain I was not headed to a dead end in descending the other side. The app confirmed that roadways of some sort continued on till there was a junction with a major road, the D17.
From there, I descended through fields till I entered a forested area. The roadway rolled on through this small forest till it emerged into a hay field where some farmers were bailing and loading hay. We exchanged waves, and I moved on. Shortly thereafter, I found paved road which led to the town of Largitzen and the D17, which took me back to Dominique’s home.
The night before, it had been raining, and it drizzled off and on during my ride. But that only made it more refreshing, and enhanced the colors along my route. In each town I stopped to gaze upon and photograph the church which has served as the town’s religious center and anchor, and to ever so briefly bask in the sights, sounds and people that originally kindled my love of France so many years ago.
I had one more opportunity to ride while staying with Dominique. This time, I turned left at the first junction, and soon found myself riding again on unpaved forest roadways through a regional nature park. I eventually emerged onto another major road, this time the D16. I could see from my app that I could make this ride into a loop by taking the D16 to the D78, then turning left onto the D17 which, like my previous ride, would take me back to “chez Dominique”.
So, off I rode, pushing my pedals to propel this mountain back along smooth paved roadways through several small towns, Fulleren, Mertzen, Strueth, Hindlingen, Friesen and, once again, Largitzen. How I love riding the winding roadways of France through small, picturesque French towns. Frankly, these rides were two of the highlights of my time in France.
I only had a couple of other opportunities to ride during this trip. We had flown into Amsterdam where we stayed with my niece, Shawn, for a couple of days. One of those days, we rented a couple of those distinctly Dutch upright urban bikes, and my wife, Karma, Shawn and I took a ride out to the town of Ouderkerk aan de Amstel where we enjoyed lunch on a deck adjacent to the river before pedaling our way back into the heart of Amsterdam.
Our next opportunity to ride came at Mont St. Michel, that iconic abbey on an island. Our bed and breakfast had a couple of bikes we could rent, so we used those to ride on a greenway path along the river to where we had to park the bikes before crossing the causeway to Mont St. Michel. This is that same causeway where our own David Zabriskie edged out Lance Armstrong to take the first yellow jersey of the 2005 Tour de France. Armstrong was piqued, to say the least.
Anyway, after visiting the island and abbey, Karma and I rode back to our B&B, and then at dusk we pedaled our way back to Mont St. Michel to see it bathed in lights at night. It was beautiful, and made more so by our refreshing ride there. The ride back, however, was a bit challenging as our bikes had no lights, and the greenway path is not lighted. So, we used our cell phone flashlights, holding them with one hand as we tentatively peddled the nearly four dark miles back to our B&B.
The next morning, I went out for one last ride in Mont St. Michel, this time meandering through the adjacent area. I soon found myself on a short climb up to the small town of Beauvoir, coming to the beautiful small church whose spire I had been able to see from some distance away. The road then took me through some fields, past a picturesque windmill, then down through another small town, Saint Laurent, where I turned to head back to our B&B.
Well, this article just sort of meandered. It reflects the nature of my opportunities to ride during my time in France and the Netherlands, describing nothing major (except perhaps Mont St. Michel), but illustrating the many small and lovely things to be seen when on a bike. That is the beauty and excitement of meandering on a bike.