I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. It's a phrase that can be used to describe much of my life, but only recently discovered that in a foreign place, it makes for entertaining story fodder.
I tend to underestimate how much time or effort certain things will take, as well as overestimate my abilities to complete them. It happens a lot. Travel, food, entertaining and bike rides are among the many activities where I’m routinely swallowed up by my oversized intentions.
I think I was 7 or 8 the first time I remember this happening. A trip to Dairy Queen was an exciting event in those days (ok, it’s still an exciting event, have you seen that Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Smash Blizzard???) and I enjoyed mentally listing my options in the car. Butterscotch Dilly Bar? Chocolate Dipped Vanilla Cone? Strawberry Sundae? Hot Fudge Sundae? SO MANY CHOICES!!
We were in line when I was inspired by an image at my eye level. Thanks, DQ Marketing.
- Paula: ‘Mom, I want a Banana Split.’
- Mom: ‘What? Do you even know what that is?'
- Paula: (pointing at poster) 'Yes, that.'
- Mom: 'No, that's way too much.’
- Paula: ‘But I’m really hungry.’
- Mom: ‘Have you had one before?’
- Paula: ‘No, but I know I will eat it.’
- Mom: Closes eyes and lets out exasperated sigh.
We all know how this story ends. I ate and ate, but could not finish it. I ate until I felt sick, staring at the mountain of ice cream and wondering why I didn’t order a Strawberry Sundae. I certainly deserved an ‘I told you so’, but seeing my green face, Mom knew I learned my lesson. I haven’t had a Banana Split since, but this incident apparently did nothing to temper those ‘big intentions’.
For example, I’m infamous for selecting complicated dinner party menus that I've never made before. Homemade Lobster Rolls and Clam Chowder. Sure! Individual Beef Wellingtons and Chocolate Soufflé? Why not!
Then, there are my overly ambitious travel schedules, which only Kira really appreciates. Morning, afternoon AND evening activities? Perfect!
But the biggest overreaches have to be exercise related. Aggressive bike rides are my specialty (see story ‘It’s All Uphill From Here'), but the most memorable of those ‘what in the HELL was I thinking’ moments occurred during my first visit to The Netherlands.
I was there for work, but a religious holiday fell in the middle of the week- a bonus day off to explore. After a little online searching, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. A cycling day trip to Heusden.
Heusden is 34 kilometers (21 miles) from Made, where I was staying. It’s a historic town with remnants of an ancient castle, well-preserved homes and an old-fashioned windmill, among other attractions.
I looked up from my internet research and paused briefly to calculate the distance in miles. It would be forty two miles round trip. In 2011, I was in pretty good shape from regular cycling and triathlon training. Thirty miles was a typical weekend outing on my bike, so twelve more miles over the course of a day did not seem particularly daunting.
On my bike that is. A road bike. I did not ride to Heusden on a road bike, however.
The hotel in Made agreed to secure a bicycle and lunch for me. I bounded downstairs full of energy and ready for adventure. I followed the front desk clerk to the back of the hotel where she pointed proudly and smiled.
The bike was definitely cute, with a vintage-y look. It had a bell and a basket. Throw a baguette in that sucker and you’re halfway to starring in your own foreign film.
Cute, but heavy.
This bike was clearly made for a jaunt about town. Up to the market or maybe a picnic near the river, but not 42 miles. The tires were also not fully inflated.
The front desk attendant cleared her throat, interrupting my thoughts. She waved a bagged lunch in front of me.
I grabbed the bag and stood before the bike pondering my options. I started thinking I could just meander around town or perhaps go as far as I could towards Heusden and turn around if the going got tough. Looking at my watch, it was nine a.m. The sun was shining and it was a heavenly 72 degrees F. I rationalized that I had all day to complete the journey, so hopped on the bike and began to pedal out of town.
The first fifteen miles were exhilarating. Not from speed or dramatic landscape, mind you. It was mainly the sensation of biking alone in a strange land. One where I could not read the road signs or understand what the people were saying as I passed them. Don’t get me wrong, the scenery was pretty and idyllic with fields of sheep flanking the rural canals filled with colorful boats. However, it was also fairly flat with fields that looked a bit like northwestern Minnesota where I grew up.
I stopped for an early lunch near a spot on the canal where several boats were gathered. The sounds of happy Dutch boaters serenaded me as I unpacked the bag. There was bread, ham, cheese, an apple, a brown spread called Speculoos and a tiny packet of chocolate sprinkles. Yes, sprinkles!
Earlier in the week, I had lunch with the team in the break room and noticed boxes of sprinkles on the table. I asked about it and one of the guys demonstrated the technique. First, butter or speculoos is spread on a slice of bread. Speculoos is a traditional spice cookie. Have you ever had the Biscoff cookie on a Delta flight? That is Speculoos. On a Dutch reality TV show a few years ago, a clever mother had an idea to grind up Speculoos into a peanut butter like consistency since it was common practice for mothers to crumble speculoos cookies onto a buttered slice of bread to serve their children as a treat.
As if Speculoos isn't indulgent enough, they also sprinkle chocolate jimmies on top to make a sandwich. A sprinkle sandwich.
After lunch, I carried on and was feeling quite smug about my perfect day out.
As the hours passed, it was a different story. I had stopped noticing the scenery to focus on pedaling. The former serenade of Dutch voices and bleating sheep now sounded harsh and irritating. The wind had picked up and the muscles in my legs were starting to fatigue. By the time I reached the landmark bridge near town, I was exhausted and faced an anxiety-inducing reality; I would have to repeat the journey back to Made.
Despite the burning sensation in my legs, I pressed myself to enjoy Heusden. It didn’t disappoint. A festival was in full swing, which made the streets active and buzzy. I sought out the vintage windmill on a hill near the town center. From there, I walked my bike up and down streets, listening to bands play while patrons basked in the rare warm sun drinking beer at outdoor cafes. My legs throbbed and the pain seemed to worsen.
I found a cafe at the end of the street where I could park my bike within sight. Gingerly, I maneuvered my sore legs under the counter at a bar, ordered a coffee and assessed my situation. I had a huge, heavy bike and 20 euros on me- all the cash I had. I suspected this would not be enough to pay for a taxi. Then, there was the matter of finding a taxi that could transport both myself and the bike.
When I left the cafe, I found myself behind a British couple. I savored their mundane but English conversation, and worked up the courage to ask them for help. I chickened out as I didn't want them to think I was an idiot. Too late. Aware they were being followed, they stopped and turned around. I scurried away in the opposite direction.
It was now one p.m. It had taken me three hours to get to Heusden. I reasoned that I had eight hours of daylight to get back. I promised myself that I would stop and rest as often as I needed to. I psyched myself up and told my legs they could do it.
Apparently, my mind and legs are on different wavelengths.
It would be six p.m. before I saw the signs for Made. Turns out, I needed to rest every ten minutes for the entire 21 mile return journey. The pedals turned like cement bricks and my legs screamed with every rotation.
After several hours and seemingly no end in sight, I let the bike fall, satisfied to hear the loud crash. I let out an unintelligible scream, and then burst into tears, wondering how I was going to make it. Luckily, the crowds of cyclists I had seen earlier in the day thinned out so I was alone in my show of emotion. I felt like I was being watched however, and looked up. A large sheep was staring at me, chewing a mouthful of grass, perplexed by my outburst.
My sobs turned into a crazy laugh-cry combo. It felt good to laugh. I picked up the bike and walked along side it the rest of the way.
When I arrived at my hotel, the clerk saw a different woman than the one who bounced out the door at nine that morning. Her eyebrows raised as she watched me limp past the front desk with dirty, tear-stained cheeks and wild, wind-whipped hair. She started to speak, but I merely pointed to the bike parked in front of the hotel and kept limping towards my room.
I took four Advil and laid on the bed. Then, I picked up my phone and noticed a text from Perry.
Hope you had a fun bike ride today!