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Atlas

By 

Christopher John Eggett

Something about travelling, a map that I could draw of the smell of rubber and seaside.

The map was easy to draw because it could look like this:

LEFT   RIGHT
^^^^^^| | |#####
SEA     LAND  

Bikes go in the middle. I, and M, on panniered bikes.

As long as the sea is on my left, I am going the right way. As long as I can smell the salt and feel the air cooler to my left than the right, then I am going the right way.

This map only works if you're going north.

A slightly more specific map would be this:

^^^^^^^| | |###########
^^^^^^^| | |## Mostly ###  
^^^^^^^| | |## Holland ##
^^^^^^^| | |####  & #####
The    | | |## Belgium ###
North  | | |###########
 SEA   | | | #########
^^^^^^^| | | ########

We cycled from Ghent, which is pronounced a bit like Kent, but you have to hate your tongue and really want to bash it against your teeth to do it justice.

I've always liked going to the edges. This is where interesting things happen. At the borders where the lines are drawn clearest.

At the edge of town they're poor; they're real people making real compromises in their lives. It's not that the edges are complicated, but to be on one means learning a kind of hardness and sympathy that only comes with understanding difference.

You can make your life easier while riding a bike with a GPS unit. We didn't have one, so I wrote on the back on the glossy card of the Belgian train tickets. They're larger than a ticket needs to be, and perfect for writing down the names of Belgian and Dutch towns on.

There are some things you should know about The Netherlands - one is that the people are very friendly, well educated, and look miserable until you talk to them - and the other is that you get chips with everything.

I do mean everything (I don't). There's a mint on your pillow, there's also chips (there isn't). There's pasta for dinner, there's also chips (this is true). There's a salad, there's also chips (also, true).

The chips are always good, they're full of salt and crispness. I suppose I should update the map:

^^^^^~*^^^  | | |###########
^^^Salty*^  | | |## Mostly ###  
^*^Air*^^^  | | |## Holland ####
^^^^^^*^^   | | |####  & #######
The    ^  ^ | | |## Belgium ####
North  ^    | | |#############
SEA  ^ ^   | | | ##and there are ####
^^^^*^^^^   | | | ####also chips####

And then there are the smells. You can smell the salt in the air, which you'd expect, and you can smell the kind of stone they use in Den Haag and you know the kind of oils that come out of the ships around the Hook.

The water was very clear where we crossed at Vlissing (flushing, yes, it is a good name for a wash). The water was clear but very dark and deep, and the sand was fine and regimented, as things that are beyond a sense seem to blur.

There's a place in England called Kessingland. Here you can see the old ugly promenade which was intended to run alongside the sea - for a nice walk without getting sandy. When it was opened tourists couldn't walk along, because the sea was too rough. While not very far North, it is still the North Sea.

The solution was to plant sandgrass. This is a grass which grows in sand and spreads out quickly - although they didn't quite know this at the time. Once planted, they spread like only seagrass can, pushing back the sea, reclaiming land.

One day, maybe, Kessingland and flushing will meet - although I don't think the people who drive the ships will like it, as they will have to go the long way around.

###^^^^^^^~*^^^  | | |###########
###^^^^^Salty*^  | | |## Mostly ###  
###^*^^^^^Air*^^^| | |## Holland ####
#####^^^^^^^^*^^ | | |####  & #######
#####^^^ The   ^ | | |## Belgium ####
## k #^ North ^  | | |#############
##### # ^SEA   ^ | | | ##and there are ####
######^^^^*^^^^  | | | ####also chips####

The k stands for Kessingland, the place with the long grass which dearly wishes it could go to Holland for chips.

Later, travelling north we met many wonderful things, like the cold air again, like Alkmaar, where they make cheese and exhausted people can find Greek food.

The day after we travelled in the rain, all day. I think this was the day where M became the most defeated.

The rain was cold and endless, and we were not really all that prepared for it. It was the longest day, because it was the day in which we would travel over the IJsslemeer.

When you go over the IJsselmeer you have one long straight road which goes on forever - or it may as well have. I have never been somewhere where you can focus that hard on the horizon and see nothing. It's 26 miles, I think. You ride full-straight for the first half of the arm, then there is a break, you can see things of historical value here. From an engineering point of view anyway.

Then there is the rest of that... which continues until something else comes into focus, something else on the horizon which you had no idea of. This is not the end, as you might imagine.

I asked M while riding: is that the end, or can you remember, does it take a turn?

When you can't focus on the end, your memory also gets blurry.

Our untrained legs weren't ready. This was an 80 mile day I think, the only one in the trip.

I would like to do a map of the turn in the IJsselmeer, but it would be very boring. It is something like this:

   N
/ < Straight bit after the turn
/ < Turn!
| < Straight bit
| < Straight bit
¦ < Break
| < Straight bit
   S

There was water to the left, water to the right, giant sluices worked somewhere in it. It was wonderful.

Holland can be sliced up into 7 sections, here it is, stacked North to South:

N
Sheep Poo
Islemeer
Foresty stuff
Nice rides
Seaside
Hook & Industrial madness
Zeeland
----------
Belgian canals
S

The dashed line is the border, not a "cut here" guide - although, that is how borders used to work in Europe.

There is nothing wrong with the north. They just had a lot of sheep. It was busy with sheep.

We saw a group of roller-bladers in perfect time somewhere in the North. They were heading directly for us. It is difficult to understand why this rollerblading man had extra legs following him, but not bodies.

The North had great salt flats which makes for the best of that fatty kind of lamb you love.

In the airport we had to go to a luggage shop to tape things on to our bikes. They get shrink-wrapped, and you're not sure if they're really going to survive the trip.

When you land in London, you remember you're not allowed bikes on the underground. But that's okay, anything wrapped in shrinkwrap is luggage. If it squeaks, it's ok.

It's strange to smuggle your transport home.

Quiz question:

Which of the following things come with chips in the Netherlands?

The mint on your pillow, the pasta, and salad

The mint on your pillow, the pasta, and salad

Just the pasta and salad

Just the pasta and salad

Just the pasta

Just the pasta

On everything, literally

On everything, literally

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Issue 2

published 

February 22, 2017

Atlas was painstakingly typed out by Christopher John Eggett. He is a writer from the flatlands who likes to see his name written out in full. He only wallows in English and spends his time digging up old folk tales, collecting grief stories and concerning himself with metadata.

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Issue 2

This writing was originally published in Opium Magazine, and is not listed in the Lit.cat archives.
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