I usually took the bus and the train from my home in Eemnes to my high school in Bilthoven. But in early summer of my senior year, if the weather was nice, I would cycle to school. It was a 45-minute bike ride.
On the way back from school I often battled a head wind so then it could take almost twice as long.
I had an old, no-speed bike, but it handled really well with no hands. In the mornings, with the wind in my back, I often rode for miles without touching the handlebars.
At one point I decided to see if I could make it all the way from home to school without using my hands except to get on my bike at home and to get off at school. It required a lot of luck with traffic lights and there was one particularly sharp little bend in the bike path about halfway, just past the palace at Soestdijk, that I hardly ever managed completely, so I never quite got it.
Then one day I had good luck at the traffic lights in the first half—either because they were all green when I approached or because no cars were coming and I could run them—and I got the sharp bend right.
This was it! This was going to be the day; it was now or never.
It was still going to be tricky, because the closer I got, the heavier the traffic would be. Students came from far and wide, on bikes and mopeds and on foot. Some teachers came by car, and some parents drove their younger children if the distance to school was too big and public transportation connections didn’t work too well in their neck of the woods. In addition to all this there were two or three huge school buses.
The last kilometer was a straight stretch of road. It began at the train station, where hundreds of students poured out of trains. Friends on bikes would speed up to ride two abreast. Train students would see friends cycling by and cross the road to beg for a ride. Cars and mopeds and buses would be overtaking the slower cyclists.
All this was going on on that last stretch toward our schools.
Yes, schools. Plural.
I hadn’t mentioned that yet, had I? Our enormous school–ranging in age from five to eighteen–was situated catty-corner from another good-sized high school.
Oh, and did I mention that this last, crazy part was also the only stretch of road on my route that didn’t have a separate bike path? And that it only had two lanes?
Still, I had a good feeling about it.
There I went, along with the throng, sitting up straight on my bike, with my thumbs hooked nonchalantly in my jeans pockets, headed confidently for the last and hardest hurdle of all: the crossing right in between the two schools.
It was super-busy of course, with cyclists and mopeds and cars and buses driving every which way and pedestrians all over the place. And jeez, the things I keep forgetting to mention: there were no traffic lights at this crossing between two schools where thousands of people passed in all directions within the span of about an hour.
But my accomplishment of having cycled all this way with no hands would mean nothing, nothing, if I didn’t make it across and all the way to the bike shed.
I was looking ahead as I approached the crossing, slowing down, speeding up, getting the timing as good as it was going to get to slip across unscathed, when damn if a car wasn’t driving at a speed that would put me and it on exactly the same little piece of tarmac in the next few seconds if one of us didn’t budge.
Well, fuck it, I thought. It sure isn’t going to be me. I’m never going to get this close again. So I kept going, gambling that the car would slam on its breaks rather than have a mess on the front bumper.
It did. So no mess.
Yes, ladies and gents, in the summer of 1978 I made it from Eemnes to Bilthoven with no hands.
A few weeks later I had to take the national exams, and for Dutch that included an essay. The topic was “Challenge”. I wrote about my no-hands feat. I got a good grade, which at the time was unusual for me. I still grin inwardly when I think about it, thirty-five years later.