The day we killed the Bear bones stove
I slipped on freshly washed woollen knickers (not quite dry and actually rinsed in the shower), the gym bunny shorts and a clean lavender t-shirt. It smelt like lavender too, which was lovely, so long as you like lavender.
There was a small café onsite although it didn’t open until 8.30am and we were packed up and ready to leave long before then. Although I’d packed about a hundred tea bags, we’d forgotten to buy methylated spirits for the stove so breakfast was a banana and water.
We rode off in search of coffee and more breakfast through the impressive Zuid Kennemerland sand dune national park. A herringbone patterned paved path cut through pine forests, sand and grass. The sun shone through a clear blue sky.
A small herd of highland cattle rested on the path beneath the shade of some trees. Another cooled off in a pond. We slipped past unscathed. A couple of fallow deer grazed beneath an old pine. Unfamiliar birdsong, chirping crickets and the whirr of tyres became the music of the dunes. 6.5km later a signpost showed us we were 6.5km away from the town.
‘It’s only a couple of miles to the town,’ Dan had said as we left the campsite.
‘Have we made an error?’
I looked at the map and saw we were on the right route. I thought that all roads would be straight, another misconception. Paths turned at sharp 90° angles creating a route that looked like a game of Pacman. There were hills too, of the gentle undulating type to help increase the heart rate, though not by a lot.
Stopping at knooppunten 92 on the outskirts of Ijmuiden to check the map, a local man on his morning run stopped to ask if we needed help. Dan told him we were fine, I told him we were looking for breakfast and he gave us directions to a bakery. We sat on a street bench eating cheese croissants and I gobbled a sticky currant bun as well. We found a café up a side street, ordered coffee and reviewed the route.
Following LF1 north, we pedalled east, west and north over and over again as we crossed the North Sea Canal via numerous lock gates. Ships loaded and unloaded their cargo, pleasure craft and yachts waited for locks to fill and we waited for bridges to drop to gain access to the islands. Familiar wetland birds such as herons, cormorants, ducks and geese lurked at the waters edge. For a few minutes, I was freewheeling, though mostly I was pedalling, just sitting in the saddle pedalling. I asked Dan to check our altitude, I wanted to know what it would read if we were below sea level. We never were when I asked.
When we reached Wijk aan Zee we stopped for a drink. We took the only seat with a breeze and a brolly, at a hairdresser’s that sold coffee and smoothies. Sixty Four black and white squares were marked on the pavement, a hint of this town’s tradition of holding world class chess tournaments. Garry Kasparov, one of the world’s greatest chess Grand Masters played and won here.
A horse drawn carriage went by. It loooked as gloomy as a funeral coach but the occupant was dressed for a wedding.
Inside the hairdressers, cold air spewed from a portable air con unit. ‘Close the door quickly,’ said the owner, in English. ‘This is my paradise.’
There were no other customers. The owner asked where we were going and shook his head in disappointment at the mention of Den Helder. ‘I spent five years working in that place, don’t bother to go. It’s 70km and today is the hottest day of the year. It’s 38C,’ he said, turning towards Dan. ‘You only have one heart. Cycle slowly and drink plenty.’ He suggested we go through the dunes to Egmond aan Zee and to buy a dune pass at the Spar shop we’d passed earlier. It was the first we’d heard about passes. ‘It’s a 50 euro fine if you don’t,’ he warned.
‘My water’s roasting Dan.’
‘I’ve hardly any left,’ was his reply.
‘These dunes are fab, but it would be nice if we could see the sea.’
‘And it would be great if we could ride on the dunes. It’s boring on the path.’
After an extended lunch in the seaside town of Egmond aan Zee of bread, goats cheese, walnuts and grilled vegetables we decided to follow the advice of the hairdresser/barista and forget about Den Helder.
We rode out to De Polle Campsite stopping for an ice cream along the way.
A man who’d seen many years, snoozed on the lawn in front of his farmhouse. A pair of painted wooden clogs lay next to him. He woke up when we asked for a space for the night. He stood up, slipped on his clogs and bid us to follow. He clip clopped towards the barn, took €18 from us and showed us the facilities and a space in a field.
We put the tent up. Dan went to the supermarket and left me to do the blow up job.
He arrived back with Spinach Pasta with ricotta, a jar of pesto, alfalfa sprouts and grape juice for dinner. Coconut macaroons, apple cake (which read like apple cock and which I renamed), yogurts, fresh milk, bananas, cheese and a loaf of bread for the next day’s meals. I was delighted.
‘You found meths?’
‘Not exactly, but I got this,’ He said, holding a bottle of lamp oil triumphantly.
I love watching Dan following his cave man instincts, engrossed in fire starting and cooking off grid, but it can get a bit boring so I went for a shower leaving him to it. Two tin cups sat on the grass, a PG Tip in each and still the water hadn’t boiled.
‘It’s taking a bit longer to bloom,’ he said, smiling as he switched hands to hold the pot in a hover. ‘It keeps going out.’ When your stove is the size of an egg cup and surrounded by a shield of thin metal to protect it from wind, you’ve got to get pretty darn close to the ground to check the flame. A few clouds rolled in, released a couple of raindrops then stopped. This sent our fellow campers into a frenzy of taking down parasols, folding up chairs and racing for the shelter of house sized tents or caravans. We sat outside on the sleeping mats drinking tea and eating apple cock.
I made a new wick from a bit of toilet paper. ‘I learned how to do this from a facebook post – 5 Survival Hacks that could Save your Life!’ Dan rolled his eyes. All that was needed was a pot of boiling water and my survival trick was the answer. I got a crick in my neck from checking the flame, but soon announced, ‘It’s blooming.’ Dan rested the pot on the stove, which was now sitting in an aluminium cake case. He squeezed a bit more oil into the reservoir and flames ensued. They licked the outside of the pan and steam formed above the water. ‘It’s gone out,’ I said. Dan removed the pan from and we saw that the fuel line was a sticky mess. He cut the tube, removed the melted mess and reattached it to the stove. We started the process again. Flames wrapped around the pot and I stuffed every piece of pasta into the pot. ‘Please stay alight,’ I implored. Four minutes later, Dan snuffed the flames and we ate.
There is a warning on the bottom of the stove which states: “DON’T BURN ANYTHING OTHER THAN METHS” A puddle of lamp oil had formed in the cake tray. That was the source of the flames. The fuel pipe was wasted and our cooking was over. Rain fell properly and we adjourned to the tent. Squalls blew in with strong gusts and heavy showers. The tent held fast. I remembered my knickers and towel were hanging outside and hinted at Dan to retrieve them. He declined. My last words that night were, ‘I suppose I’ll have to search the field in the morning for a clean pair of undies.’