Saying 'Yes' – Embracing Unexpected Opportunities to Ride

October 12, 2018

I’d always dreamed of going on an extended bike trip, and I thought biking down the California coast would be a great way to start. Just as I convinced myself to wait to ride the left coast for another year, I received an unexpected invitation. Annalisa – a fellow PEARL iZUMi Ambador who I’d never met – sent a message to our Ambador group asking if anyone would be interested in biking through parts of Holland together. I decided to jump on the invitation. With Annalisa based in New York and me living in Florida, we texted each other for the next two months to coordinate the logistics of our trip – the sites, routes, and lodging.

Annalisa made a series of contacts through the Warm Showers network and arranged lodging for pretty much all nights of our trip. I arrived in Amsterdam ahead of my future riding partner and stayed with Cyril, a fellow cyclist living in the Netherlands. He gave me tips on how to navigate Amsterdam and showed me pictures of various bike trips he has taken around the world. I also stayed at Marteen’s flat, another friend living in the small European country. He had tons of books and maps suggesting bike tours in Holland. They were both great hosts, and staying with them and touring beautiful Amsterdam was excellent preparation for the days ahead. All in all, I stayed in Amsterdam a total of five days and used Marteen’s real Gazelle Dutch bike to get around. I also took a three-hour guided bike tour to see the city’s most famous sites.

When Annalisa arrived, we met for the first time at ‘De Specialist’ Bike Store where we would be getting the bikes for our trip. The owner, Theo, is considered a bike whisperer in Amsterdam. When I finally saw Annalisa, I felt an instant familiarity and said, “I feel like I’ve known you forever.” It was a very special moment because I felt completely comfortable and sure that we’d have a great time biking together. And while I’m 53 and Annalisa is 26–the same age as my youngest son–I never felt a generation gap or age difference. We had to be open and honest about our individual medical conditions just in case anything ever happened to us on the trip. I feel the need to tell my cycling buddies about my (very) low blood pressure that is conducive to fainting in extreme heat, and that I am sensitive to some medications. Plus, with my age and family history, there are precautions for my heart that I have to take that still allow me to be quite active. Annalisa is a diabetic and with my health concerns that brought us closer before we even hit the road on our bikes.

Once we started our journey, we rode down beautiful bike paths surrounded by canals, windmills, blue sky and flowers. We spent the first night of our joint tour at the home of Annalisa’s generous and charming uncle and aunt in the town of Breukelen. Throughout the entire trip, we stayed in the homes of wonderful, warm, and inviting people. I really can’t say enough how friendly the Dutch were to both of us on our adventure.

During the trip, Annalisa and I continued to get to know each other better by sharing stories, experiences, and moments that were both wonderful and challenging. I was so happy to ride with someone who, like me, was more focused on what surprises each day held than on riding a particular distance or a specific time. We both went with the flow and enjoyed chatting with other cyclists and locals.

Biking throughout the country was a breeze thanks to well-signed and well-established bike paths and the Dutch’s incredibly strong bike culture. The majority of the hosts we stayed with were themselves touring cyclists, and all of them inspired us to continue pedaling the world with their stories and tales of cycling adventures. I loved the Netherlands so much that I am returning later this year for another bike tour, this time with my husband, even though we had originally planned only to see Switzerland.

I’ve adopted the mindset to say “yes” and not over think it when these unexpected opportunities to go on unique rides fall in my lap. Life is short, and that is what I was thinking when I jumped on Annalisa’s invitation to ride with her. Needless to say, I am glad I did it. I saw a beautiful country, met amazing people, and made a new friend–all thanks to the power of the bicycle. I am so grateful to the cycling community, especially my fellow PEARL iZUMi Ambadors, for the positive energy, encouragement, and support. And I am more than ready to go bike touring again!

Read Annalisa van den Bergh’s reflection on the trip to the Netherlands here.

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