July 4, 2009

bicycling the afsluitdijk

afsluiten , v.: close off.
afsluitdijk: dike that closes off (the sea).

the netherland adventurers meetup group was supposed to do this trip on july 4, but venkat, the organizer, had a sudden bout of flu and it got postponed to the 25th. eugen and i decided to go anyhow - so at 0900 on this saturday, we put our bikes on eugen's bike-rack and drove off following his gps...

on the bike at "het monument" - the ijsselmeer behind me

the 32 km long causeway of afsluitdijk was built from 1927-1933 by getting ships to dredge clay from the bottom of the zuiderzee and dump it along a straight line from den oever, north holland to zurich, friesland, thus connecting these two culturally different provinces of the netherlands.

to the north-west of the dike is the north sea (the part near holland is called the waddenzee), and the huge inland part of the zuiderzee became ijsselmeer (after gelderse ijssel, the major river feeding into it). a few years after the closure, the freshwater coming in turned the ijsselmeer into a freshwater lake; this inland freshwater lake now supplies one-sixth of dutch drinking water.

cross-section of the dike (from the original plans). on the left, the north sea. the seabed is 13m below the sea level, and the dike rises 7m above the waters. at 90m wide, for 32 km, this was a huge engineering venture in the 1920s. the sea-facing side of the dike has mostly boulder clay (till) at the bottom; the quieter ijsselmeer side is mostly filled out with sand.

though the image above shows ijsselmeer as being lower, both sides are actually about level; indeed, the freshwater flowing into the ijsselmeer is let out into the waddensee - at the rate upto two olympic size swimming pools every second.

het monument

driving down A7, the 95 km to afslujidijk was covered sooner than we thought and suddenly we realized we were already on dike itself! the bike paths were on the other side of the highway, and there were no U-turns. fortunately, there was a pedestrian walkway at "het monument", some six km into the dike, so our cycling was cut short by that much (we were grateful for this while heading back later, against the wind...). future perpetrators of this ride should remember to take the den oever exit, and start off on the dike from the bike path!

"the monument" commemorates this huge enterprise; it has a tower with excellent views of the ijsselmer, as well as the waddenzee and the A7 (european E-22).

eugen, preparing to photograph the afsluitdijk from the top of the tower at "het monument"... at top right is the statue of Cornelis Lely, who planned the afsluitdijk but died three years before its completion. the bike path is to the extreme right.

just before starting off, we posed with some of the statues at the monument, including this one of a worker - perhaps he is laying down the basalt that covers the till layer.

map of the inland sea, ijsselmeer, created by the afsluidijk. much land could now be reclaimed (grey areas), creating the province of flevoland. its capital lelystad was named after cornelis lely.

bicycling the afsluitdijk

it was almost quarter to twelve by the time we started off. we met several groups of serious bicyclists grunting their way at high speeds; the long straight, flat bike path makes the afsluidijk an excellent time trial venue. the wind was slightly behind us and we were fresh, so it was pleasant going. about ten km along, a sign told us that we'd entered friesland.

about an hour later, we reached the ruins of an old gun bunker, the "xvi"th in the line of defences called Fort Kornwaterzand, created in 1933 to protect the dike.

eugen the intrepid photographer.
beyond the bunker you see the channel for the water coming out of the lorentzsluis.

soon, we were crossing the lorentzsluis, where millions of liters of water was entering the waddenzee at lowtide. hundreds of fish come to these waters, attracting a flotilla of seagulls, and even a few intrepid fishermen.

these gates are named after the physist hendrik lorentz, whose transformations predict time compression near the speed of light, a crucial notion behind the theory of relativity (some people consider him, and not einstein, as the discoverer of relativity). at the time, lorentz had computed the undersea flow near the dike.

near the end of the dike, the grassy slopes facing the north sea had been given over to raising sheep (also saves effort on mowing the grass!)

at peace with the world

the beach at makkum

so now we had reached the mainland of the province of friesland, and we had two choices. we could go to the town of haarlingen on the north sea, or to the small town of makkum. some passersby recommended the beach at makkum, so that's where we headed.

Eugen crossing the sluis bridge at makkum


we had lunch by the water in the harbour at makkum (sandwiches and wine), where a lovely wooden boat, built 1952, returned from a sail and docked next to us. after lunch we went into the town center and got some beer (hoegaarden grand cru) and headed down to the beach, where we found lots of wind-surfers and para-sailers, many from germany.

at the harbour after we had our sandwiches, washed down with a nice chianti

after an hour or so in the sun, we stepped into the water, which wasn't too cold, but it was amazingly flat - eugen went out a km or two and could swim, but i got tired walking upto my knees and came back.

eugen : triumphant smile!

the journey back was harder, mostly because of the opposing winds as we were going from makkum to kornwaterzand. but once on the dike, things improved; though there was still a good bit of wind, it was mostly from the side. at one point near the war museum at kornwaterzand we got lost and had to cross a highway - it wasn't clear where we'd gone wrong.

on the way back we saw this beautiful old sailing boat sailing in, so we stopped for a bit at the harbour of breezanddijk - this was an artificial island created in the middle of sea while constructing the afsluitdijk (now it has a texaco petrol station where you can U-turn).

this old style sailing boat was going to spend the night in this harbour; it was manned by a group of schoolkids

other images

at one point some sheep bounded down to check us out. yes, these sheep are big and fat and woolly!

windmills on land and swans on water

this flotilla of birds were moving slowly down ijsselmeer.

a village near makkum, with some sheep in the fields below

eugen and i on the bridge over the highway, with ijsselmeer behind us.

waddenzee is an unesco world heritage site because of wildlife like. this waterbird however, must be quite common - can someone please help id it? the two parents and eight chicks scampered out of the grass and into the water at the breezanddijk harbour.

bicycles loaded and ready to head back...

sailing into the twilight

More pictures from eugen: on picassa.