August 2, 2013
Distance: 45.3 miles Climbing: 1082.7 ft
The morning started with a trip to the beach. The beach was super crowded and we had to walk a while before we reached a stretch with fewer people. Chandler opted to go for a swim, while I was a chicken and took pictures instead. I grew up swimming in the safety of clear, chlorinated water and have a healthy fear of the ocean, so the water was a little too cloudy for my taste.
Lucky for Chan, there were showers to rinse off the salt water after his little dip. Then if was off to the Delta Works. In 1953, a storm surge breached the levee system protecting low-lying land in Zeeland (this is the “old” Zealand, with a more recent namesake in the southern hemisphere). The breach resulted in massive flooding which destroyed lots of property and killed almost 2,000 people. This disaster spurred research and funding to build a defensive system to prevent future catastrophe- which is now known as the Delta Works. The idea behind the system is to block the mouths of estuaries to reduce the effective length of the shoreline. Since regular dams would impede shipping traffic and cause massive ecological damage, the primary means of protection are storm barriers which are usually left open to allow ships and water to flow freely, but can be closed when a storm is expected. These barriers eliminate the need to build massive levees along the waterways inland, as the surge will be blocked as close to the ocean as possible.
We pedaled along the water with plenty of interesting things to watch. There were many boats, of all sizes, in the water. We were passing through a bit of an industrial area, so we got to watch a number of cranes loading up cargo ships.
We reached the Maeslant Barrier in the early afternoon and were happy for the break, it was getting hot. The barrier is unique in that it is usually sitting idle on dry land. The barrier sits at the mouth of the River Scheur which is extremely busy with shipping traffic heading to Rotterdam, so a barrier that impedes the waterway was undesirable. The gate has two symmetrical arms on either shore which can be floated out into the channel until they meet, then their buoyant compartments are flooded and the whole thing is sunk so that it rests on a special concrete platform on the river bottom, with a portion remaining above the water level to block the surge. It is basically a massive semi-portable dam! The system is designed to operate in order to block the one in ten year storm surge: 3 meters above normal sea level. Our pictures didn’t really do it justice- it may be better to look at it in the satellite image version of our route map above.
We had another fun discovery of Holland today. There are huge tunnels under the canals for traffic, some specifically for motorbikes and bicyclists. The tunnels went far underground and were surprisingly long and chilly.
We made it to another free campsite. We had to go through a few gates and pastures, dodge a couple sheep, but eventually found the right place. We thought the last place was nice, but this place was better. We had a water pump, fire pit, picnic table and a beautiful view. It was so nice to sit down at a proper table to make dinner, instead of chopping veggies on the ground or my lap. We finished the meal with our favorite Dutch treat, stroopwafel. These delicious snacks are two tiny wafers or waffles stuck together with a tiny layer of caramel. I think we have each eaten our body weight in them and are happy to be cycling.