I left my cell and locked the door behind me. Out of the basement exit, then around the harbour and onto dark coastal roads.
A blinking red light on a distant dyke turned out to be Richard #77 from the Isle of Man who I hadn't seen since Day 2 somewhere back near the German border. I paused for a quick chat but was conscious that every passing minute meant a harder ride north - the wind was due to get stronger every hour through the morning, gusting at 35mph, a direct headwind up to the turning point at Den Helder.
Finally, after nearly four hours hiding from the wind on the aerobars, I reached Den Helder. Time to refuel at the Albert Hijn.
"Maneer," barked the lady behind the cigarette. "Fietsen buiten."
(No bikes inside.)
"I'm sorry." I replied. "But it's really important that I bring it in. I'm doing a 2,000km bike race around the Netherlands. My bike is very important. If it gets stolen I'll be in trouble. I just need to grab some food..."
Wide-eyed and nodding she let me in, almost apologetically.
"Please," she said earnestly, gesturing into the store behind her. "I'll watch it for you while you shop."
Food log, 09:27
2 x Weetabix protein drink
2 x Bananas
2 x Ham and cheese rolls (and 4 more for the pockets)
1 x bag of Haribo Starmix
Several big handfuls of mixed nuts
Mid-morning I crossed the 1000km point for the race. Click to listen in browser.
A series of motivational boosts: headwind becoming tailwind; reaching the 1,000km mark for the race; a glorious, rolling path down through the dunes.
Heading south down the dunes from Den Helder
In Zandfort, I met with a group friends having drinks in a beach-front bar. Strange to suddenly be social, to sit around a table and laugh and tell stories.
Burger number 12 of the race so far....
Bolstered by hugs (and an enormous burger), I returned to that pristine path down the coast.
I reached Hook of Holland in need of a coffee. I was flagging. I leaned Miles against a tree outside an old-man bar and ordered a coffee, which I took back outside the street-side seating. Calculating distances, I figured I could get through Rotterdam and out the other side this evening, maybe as far as Rockanje at 1,235km. That meant I still had more than 100km to go on the day, at least 4 more hours, and that I'd be riding later into the night than I had done so far. It would also be my second distance PB in as many days. I was feeling good and felt up to it, so went ahead and booked the hotel.
The coffee barely had any effect so I went back inside and ordered a second. While I was standing at the bar I glanced back outside to check on Miles to see a man standing there next to him. He held up a hand in a tentative greeting. Once I had my coffee I went back outside.
“Twenty two?” asked the man. “Tom?”
“I’ve come to replace your tracker. The battery is running low.”
Without another word he set to work on my bike like an F1 mechanic, replacing the whole tracker unit and then coming to show my dot on the tracker map showing battery at 100%.
Two sides of the same story
Outside Rotterdam the path was suddenly closed, a fence across the path and a big building site behind. Looking down in the dirt, I could see a number of tire tracks taking the rough, muddy ground around the edge of the fencing, so I dismounted and followed the same route. It was unrideable for several hundred meters, pushing through sand before the surface became tarmac again, then another couple of kms before the path rejoined the route on the far side of the building works. My GPS gave a positive chirp as I got back on track.
It was Armistace day, and in a neighbourhood in the west of Rotterdam I paused in a crowd of people to acknowledge the two minutes of silence in remembrance, and to listen to a mournful cornet playing the Last Post.
Around the Rotterdam docks and then west again towards the sea. Angry, hissing ducks at dusk. Another sheep track covered in shit. A parked car with steamed-up windows rocking gently.
At 22:55, I reached my hotel, and took my bike straight up to the room. I drank a beer in the bar beside an open fireplace, and decided I would set my alarm an hour later. I wanted a decent night's sleep. And even though there was still nearly 700km to go, it was half on my mind that this might be the last sleep I got before the finish.