The Way Back after traumatic times is assisted by family support
The way back to Sophie’s aunt’s place was more directly achieved by continuing forward, rather than turning around and retracing her route. She closed her phone photo of the computer screen showing the area she’d selected for the trip while on WIFI at Bea’s place the previous evening. With everything packed in the bike panniers, she zoomed off, silently assisted by the electric battery attached to the bike. As the forest opened where clear felling had left a grassed area, she saw the DNA lookout which her aunt’s friend had taken them to during the previous year’s visit. It towered beside the next section of forest.
Sophie checked her photo of the map again for short cut tracks or cycle paths asthe previous year’s drive flashed through her mind. There was no sign of a shortcut. It made her realise how far she’d already cycled, which is easy to do with electrical assistance. She remembered how beautiful the car journey was. Unlike their previous visit, when she was inspired by her then ninety-six-year-old aunt and nearly eighty-year-old friend who had climbed to the top, there was nobody in the tower. It was already late in the afternoon, so she continued on briskly.
Within minutes she was at the café, which looked like a converted farmhouse. She initially resisted the urge to take a number of photographs, but the light at that time caught her attention in so many places that eventually Sophie stopped where she could see how popular the café was by all the cars surrounding it. The picture also showed how thick the crop was and the general lushness of the farming countryside generously protected by trees. The front of the photo showed how comfortable the bicycle seat made touring long distances, even over cobbled roads which still dominate village and town centres in Holland. The car tyre noise and bikes rattling alert the preponderance of pedestrians where cars are dissuaded but not forbidden from entering.
Sophie turned to look twice. Despite her resolution not to stop, she felt compelled to make a U-turn for a photo. The farmhouse and barn were normal enough for the region, but a foal’s mother had the most eye-catching coat. She had a zebra-printed horse rug which covered her neck. Sophie took the opportunity to have a long drink from her water bottle and resolved not to stop again. In order not to be short of time, further along the route she turned the video camera on, so while cycling at 25/kmh she could flick it open to video carefully shaped fruit trees interspersed with conifers prepared with topiary ready to be sold to people for their gardens. Most fields had multiple varieties of plants in long, neat rows. (The speed of her movement across the rows highlighted the effect, but you’ll need to look at Alida’s Facebook page to see videos.)
The next compulsory photo stop and drink was just before a turn off where she’d approached from the opposite end the previous year and made a mistake. She vividly remembered the classic white historic farm building and hydrangea garden opposite it, but couldn’t recall the outcome of cycling the wrong way, which in this case was the way she’d come. As she strained her brain, she felt sure that she’d come from where the black car was heading straight ahead, which left a right turn just after a speed bump as the only choice. The direction felt wrong because the tree shadows indicated that it was a south-easterly direction when she needed to go north or north-easterly. Nevertheless she felt that this was the way back which she knew wasn’t far away, so against her intuition she continued.
The open fields stretched on, not providing many clues for the next intersection. Sophie was reluctant to turn north on roads which also angled westward. Each assessment of direction required her to remind herself that the sun was in the south rather than in the north at midday. The bike battery level was suddenly falling quickly. She felt the best thing to do was to remain cycling in an easterly direction, where at least she’d intersect with the road along which she’d travelled south before lunch.
She let the bike drift with battery turned off to conserve battery power as she approached the main road, slowing without using the brakes. The signpost indicated nine kilometres back to Bea’s village. The road turned out to be her morning southward cycle route. The time was after six o’clock and Sophie thought about Bea worrying and deliberating about whether or not to prepare some dinner. She liked to eat by seven. Sophie turned on the battery to assist a quicker take off with the heavy bike to cross both busy lanes to reach the cycle way on the other side of the main road between villages, but there was no power.
Sophie’s heart sank and her knees groaned as the bike was still in high gear on both cogs. There was a headwind: the sun at an almost horizontal angle across the open fields on the west burned every exposed skin surface. Sophie was already hot and tired having cycled over thirty kilometres. She pushed herself hard, varying the gears so that sometimes her legs went quickly and moved more easily, but then lost a lot of speed. It seemed like the hottest part of the day and she had to stop a couple of times to have sips of the depleted water supply on the way back. When she finally reached the cobbled streets of her aunt’s village where trees shaded the road again, her back twinged on the bumps and the seat didn’t seem to cushion her bones any more. She focused on spotting as many statues in the front yards as she could to distract herself from aches and pains.
On arriving at her aunt’s place, her spirit lifted as Bea leaned over her balcony railing to wave to her. This propelled Sophie to gather everything out of the panniers before heading up in the lift rather than the stairs. By the time she emerged, a smile had spread over her face that mirrored Bea’s.
‘Well you must’ve had quite a tour today.’
‘It was lovely. There was so much to see, but I did sit writing for a couple of hours by one of the big lakes.’
‘You look really exhausted.’
‘Well, yes. The battery ran out nine kilometres south of here, and there was a headwind, and I was already late. I didn’t take the diagonal road as I’d intended because there aren’t signs on most intersections out in the farmland.’
‘Oh poor you! Still it was a productive day.’
‘I was worried you’d cook something other than what I’d basically prepared yesterday for dinner.’
‘I remembered, so I’ve been good and lazed in the sunshine watching out for your return. I saw you on the other side of the carpark, pushing on the pedals. Such a pity. It might be the last year you’ll get any life from that battery.’
‘Yes, the man at the bike shop warned us that without being charged fully every three months the battery would die if not being used. It’s better you pass it on while there’s some charge, rather than keep it for me to use on my holidays. It’s really so kind of you, and I so appreciate your generosity.’
Bea read the chapter Sophie had typed on her computer while Sophie finalised dinner, set the table and refreshed herself with a wet flannel. As she returned to join Bea with a cold beer she’d put in the fridge that morning, Bea looked at her sharply,
‘What an impossible situation you went through. I’m amazed that you ever found the way back to living normally after all that trauma. You are the strongest woman I know. You are like my friend, but stronger. Your Oma Alida would be very proud of you.’
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