We'd been backpacking, and found ourselves in a town called Arnhem, not far from the German border. We caught a bus from the train station to the local youth hostel and after dumping our bags, immediately rented a bike each.
They had no helmets for hire, so I should have realised right then that our mission was somewhat doomed. Having grown up with strict laws regarding helmets and bicycles, I was more than nervous. Courtesy of childhood 1980s campaigns, images of smashed eggs - representing the human skull - flashed before my eyes.
Trying to shake off my paranoia, we set off. The hostel was at the top of a large hill, and we had to ride down a long, steep road to reach the town. Until then, my experience of cars driving on the right hand side was limited to the perspective of a pedestrian. Riding a bike on the 'wrong' side of the road, no helmet, down a very steep hill... let's just say I rode very slowly.
Did I mention I was 23, and hadn't ridden since my mid-teens? I felt deeply embarrassed when an elderly man whizzed past and overtook me down that hill.
We survived our ride, and rewarded ourselves with tasty Dutch treats in the town. After checking out the local shops, and stocking up on food at a small supermarket, we thought we should head back to the hostel, so hopped on our bikes.
Somehow... we got lost. Despite having excellent map skills, we couldn't find our way (from memory, I think the hostel was far enough away from town that it was just off the map). We'd retraced our steps, but taken a wrong turn somewhere.
Followed by another wrong turn.
We found ourselves cycling on beautiful country roads, but very much lost. Oh, and we'd somehow chosen the one Dutch region that isn't flat, but filled with hills and forest. Clever, right?
Eventually, we saw another elderly man, so we stopped to ask directions. Of course, we'd picked the one Dutch person who didn't speak fluent English. He didn't speak any English, and had a slightly crazy glint in his eyes. We hurried on.
A bit further along, we saw a younger person, and stopped again to ask. It turned out we were only five minutes away from the hostel, and I cannot describe our relief.
The return journey on our bikes - from the town to the hostel - had taken three hours. Three hours of being lost and riding up and down hills, in what felt like the middle of nowhere.
Being so out of practice with cycling, I was in a world of pain for the next few days.
|1999 - Somewhere outside Arnhem, and trying not to panic.|
I recently saw a car knock a young man off his bike, throwing him onto the road. It happened right in front of us one day when I walking the Faery home from school. It was awful to witness, but he was lucky to pick himself up with barely a scratch. Of course, he'd been riding with earphones in, and straight in front of a car that was turning right from a side street. It could have been so easily avoided.
I'm guessing that Australia is one of the few countries to have such strict laws regarding helmets, but it's something I agree with and think people are better off erring on the side of caution - especially where children are concerned. Brain damage is tragic.
It's one thing for adults to decide what risks they take, but I can't help feeling angry when I see children riding around the streets without helmets. How can parents be okay with that?
This, in a state which makes it illegal to smoke anywhere in public: "Your children are safe from passive smoking in public places, but their skulls? Meh, not so important...."