I left afternoonish and took the train to the city. Met up with my brother and a friend to have a final smoke and I felt good, the weather was nice as well. Met up with another friend who also brought her daughter. We walked towards Martini Church and I got a beautiful stamp there. The guy who gave it to me was very interested. I felt like kind of a loser for having such a difficult start and for having to drag my ass there a 2ndday but he lifted my spirit by showing interest and I could see the longing in his eyes too. This put me back on the ground instead of under it. There is no time constraint, there is no expectation, there is only the path and the adventure. The test.
I got a stamp at the church and went on my way. Called a friend but sadly he wasnt home. Walking out of Groningen was nice but it felt really weird. In cities youre either being judged in 2 ways, either youre a bum or people are interested in you. Already talked to 3 random strangers just because of the backpack and/or Lucy and this normally didnt really happen (in this quantity). After following the Pieterpad for a kilometer of 5 I could already notice that they were leading me along needless detours here and there just to show the scenery. I really dont mind that much but it does add up in the end. At the end of the day I found a nice place to camp on the outskirts about couple of kilometers after Haren. Wildcamped in a field where I hoped nobody would see me and just as I got off the phone telling my mother how lucky I was with the weather, it started raining. Had a very good night sleep either way with the fog obscuring my presence.
The next day it was raining like crazy and I decided to get going anyway. Early Friday morning, I left before there was any real traffic and I headed to Zuidlaren, be it a little bit off the course that the path that the map showed me. In Zuidlaren all the churches were closed and I couldnt get a stamp, I ate and brewed a coffee while I warmed and it was so cold and wet that I had to put my sleeping bag over my head and Lucy on my lap, just to feel my hands again. I walked through Zuidlaren and every now and again I would ask people if they knew this was the right direction, turns out that Zuidlaren is one big circle-jerk of paths crossing and it became apparent to me that I wasnt in France. The signs here were littered everywhere on either sides and there was no clear method to the madness. So normally theres a red line and a white line and thats means straight on. Then theres a little leg on the left if you need to turn right and a little leg on the left if you needed to take the first one right (sort of like a flag). Now some creative sons o’ bitches actually made arrows out of the red and the white line and all kinds of other shenanigans.
I ended up almost walking back to Groningen, this woman saved me and sent me the right way. Eventually I walked back to where I took my first break and I literally took the path in the wrong direction about an hour or 2, just fucking grand! But its whatever. Once I got back on the path it was kind of easy to follow, even with the creative clusterfuck signs and at the end of this big open field I found a house that was under construction. I snooped around and there was nobody there (Thank God for VrijMiBo’s). A staircase led me upstairs where there was more cobwebs and nails sticking out of the floorboards, not the best place to sleep. I found a little broom closet that had a ladder going up to a 2ndfloor and decided this was where I set up my bed for the night. The room was reasonably finished and at least wind/rainproof. I took up some chairs and a table and hung my stuff to dry from the previous night and I felt pretty ninja to be honest. The house even had one of these porta-potties and this came in exactly the right time winkwink. The town didnt have anything in it except for a pancake house and it was still open for an hour so I decided to run over there and refill my water bottles. Made myself a nice coffee and wrote a little in my diary until it got dark. I wasnt risking turning on my light because I didnt want to attract any attention.
The next day I woke up, took my time to tidy the whole place up, even took a broom up to the room that I slept in and just as I was about to leave, I couldnt find Lucy her leash.. I searched everywhere but weirdly enough, it was just gone. Spent an hour trying to look for it, it had sentimental value to me besides the fact that I NEEDED A FUCKING DOGLEASH. Eventually opened up my bag and went through all the stuff but alas, nothing. Then I heard a car and the owner of the house showed up. Landrover, purplepants, posh glasses and all walked up to house and it didnt take long for Lucy to start barking and run up to him and his golden retriever. The jig was up and I should have left earlier. Do a morally, arguable thing and get punished for it right away. I walked up to him and greeted him and he was friendly although slightly suspicious. I told him about the leash and that I lost it and I even left my phone number in case he would find it. I didnt tell him I slept in his house obviously and I really pray that he doesnt read this lol. Then again I left the place cleaner than I found it, didnt break anything and gave him a new leash for his dog, so Im driving karma neutral here.
Continued over the world famous(?) Baloërveld. A sand/meadow area that made it pretty hard to walk and the sun was shining pretty heavily. Sand is better than mud, so Im not complaining but it felt like walking over a beach.
I could already see a church from far out and I was going to walk to Rolde. Turns out this is a church dedicated to St. Jacob or Santiago, the patron saint of the path Im walking. Pretty funny and they had a telephone number up if you wanted to get a stamp. A nice lady showed up soon enough after I called and I got a beautiful one, she even showed me around the church. Had a little food and continued on. At some point it got dark but I felt pretty good and decided to just keep on going, crossed a reasonable big forest in the dark and saw a couple of owls hunting that scared the shit out of me. At the end there was a part where the animals are just roaming free and it had several warning signs, kind of took the gamble and just decided to go. Kept Lucy on a short leash or rope rather (since purplepants Landrover has my leash now) and it worked out fine. Found a campsite and the reception was already closed. Decided to take a good shower anyway and slept in a room where there were washing machines. The campsite was about 25 € and Im not going to pay that for half a night.
Since I switched clothes I had to find somewhere to do my laundry the next day. The night was cold but good enough and it felt really good to have a good shower. The next day during a hike through the forest I ran into 2 people that I started talking to, they hosted Vrienden op de Fiets, an organisation that offers people a place to stay sort of bed and breakfast thing. They offered me to stay the night. They gave me dinner, breakfast the next day and a nice discount on the whole thing. I bought them a little plant thingy to show my gratitude.
I got to sleep in a caravan and they even did my laundry, I paid a little bit above my planned budget but it was worth it and I got a lot in return for it. We had some nice conversations and I realized at some point that one of the things that kept me going the last time around is the little encouragements by complete strangers that you get along the way. How can you even ponder quitting if people gave you something out of the kindness of their heart. I slept like a baby and so did Lucy, the next day my laundry was ready and she gave me a breakfast basket while they went off to work. Sweetest people ever and I got really lucky with a bed, laundry and some well needed social contact.