Our Development genius Bert Müller is walking the 100th edition of the Nijmeegse Vierdaagse. Not only will Bert walk a staggering 55km a day, he will also write a small blog about his adventures. From today till 22 juli you can read all about Bert’s Vierdaagse.
Calm before the storm – 18 July 2016
As I already picked-up my starting number yesterday, I had been able to deploy my tent, which by now turned into an outdoor sauna by the time I reached it today. This will be my home for the upcoming four days. An Airbed, portable toilet and showers, no shade and enough sun to call it a proper summer. The campsite still looks the same as last year, so at least I don’t have to search for the facilities in this heat. The only difference with last year was finding a parking spot.. it took a bit longer, but eventually I found one.
This is a special year for the Nijmeegse Vierdaagse. It’s celebrating its 100th edition, which means that they allowed 50,000 participants instead of 45,000, as well as adding an alternative, special route of 55km. The 55km used to be the standard, but had been amended to 50km. And since it’s a special year, and I’m a bit of a tool.. I accepted this challenge and the upcoming 4 days I will walk a total of 222km.
And as Murphy had probably intended things to happen, this week it’s not only the start of the Vierdaagse, but also the start of the summer of 2016. With temperatures soaring above 30 degrees on Wednesday.. It’s going to be an interesting edition.
I finished my day with a short walk around the campsite and checked if the bus stop at the train station Lent was still at the same spot (nothing changes as much as the Dutch public transport sector). Across the canal next to the campsite they are celebrating the start of the Vierdaagse. Even though tempting, I decided to stay at the campsite as my alarm will sound at around 03.00. So it’s time to go to sleep in my outdoor sauna. Tomorrow at 04.00 the first leg of the four-day hike will start; 55km to Elst. Let the Nijmeegse Vierdaagse begin!
See you tomorrow – Bert.
Day 1 – 19 July 2016
A bit scared of oversleeping, I set two alarms. After a rather long night with not much sleep (sleeping from 7 PM to 3 AM is not in my system yet) I managed to get up at 2.50 AM. I wash my face, get dressed, and hurry to the shuttle bus which takes me to the Wedren (coffee bar and in this case; starting point). Traditionally, it was already very crowded so I decided to pick up some breakfast. Armed with coffee and a sandwich, I went into the crowd which meekly dragged me along to the starting point. My wrist band got scanned and the also traditional drunk students of Nijmegen welcomed me. After a dozen sincere “Good luck! You can do this!” shout outs, I believe I can actually do this.
The first checkpoint is the town of Elst. But we aren’t even close to done. First cross the bridge over the river Waal to my stay-over town Lent. The students made way to honking truck drivers and villagers who got up early for this very occasion. Through the towns of Bemmel, Huissen, right by Arnhem to Elden and finally the town that names the Four-day-walk its name; Nijmegen. This is where the 30K walkers and military walkers join in, which really slows down the pace. But that’s fine; the Four-day-walk is about ‘having fun’ and not about speed. Besides, there are free bananas, thee, coffee and cookies.
After the town of Elst, the 55K walkers have an extra loop, which gives us some extra space. Then off to the town of Valburg. Arriving there, we have had 35K by now. In Valburg, the heat suddenly overwhelms me, but my cap, sun glasses and a lot of sun screen and even more water will drag me through.
… and moving on to the towns of Ewijk and Oosterhout. After Oosterhout, the last (infamous) part of today is over a very narrow dike to the bridge over the river Waal which you can see in distance. But it’s still 7K ahead of you. After that 7K which took an hour and a half (by now, all speed had vanished) I finally set foot on Nijmegen soil again. Cheered on by hundreds of enthusiastic people I walked the last few meters, back to the Wedren. It was already after 4 PM, so it took me 12 hours. Just in time, even though later I heard the finish time was stretched to 5.30 PM. I handled today’s trip well, but unfortunately not everyone was as lucky. Ever since I started the Four-day-walk, I have never seen and heard so many ambulances.
That’s promising for tomorrow, the day of the town of Wijche, when it gets even hotter! Advantage: the 55K route is very different from the 50K walk, which means after 5 years I finally get to see some other scenery. I am excited and I will do my very best. And take good care of myself. Speaking of which: about time to go to sleep!
See you tomorrow – Bert.
Day 2 – 20 July 2016
The Day of the town of Wijchen was a day of heat. By now, the wind picked up a bit in comparison to the last day and that was good, although some parts where there was no wind it was plain sweating and panting. I think I’ve never had as much water as today. Today’s walk is over 57K and went from Nijmegen through Wijchen to the town of Druten, back through Beuningen and Weurt to Nijmegen.
I had a date with my aunt in Wijchen, so at 7.30 AM in the morning we were having coffee together. Pretty much after that I went into the 55K loop, but it was already 8.30 AM so most walkers had already passed. I still had 42K to go. I picked up my pace and caught up with some people, that went fine until I passed Druten. Usually the town of Druten is not part of the Four-day-walk, but the town is very pleased with this one-time role as Four-day-walk passage-town, which was apparent by the red carpet they put down through the entire town for the walkers. Moreover, they made me go through Customs, gave me a Druten passport with stamp and hung a Druten medal around my neck. In short: they put some effort into this! Also the town was in a party mood with a brass band, high fiving, candy and water giving children and the Mayor waiving at all the walkers. A lot of fun and it made me feel really welcome, but of course that goes for all the towns which I pass in the Four-day-walk.
After Druten, I passed a few more towns and then went into the fields. Long walks with no music or cheering folks, but a burning hot sun in the sky. This was hard! I wanted to keep my pace to make it back in time, but at one point my body told me it needed rest and food and I decided to listen. I then realized I forced myself to walk faster than I actually could which made the last 13K the hardest of my entire life. Most of all, I only had three hours to finish those 13K. For a while, I feared I wasn’t going to make it, but eventually at 3.30 PM I passed the sign ‘Nijmegen’. From there it is still 5K to the finish line, but I knew that from previous years. I just didn’t feel like it anymore. Because giving up just wasn’t an option I decided to get myself together and and at 4:45 PM I finished looking like a zombie. They scanned my wristband, I laid down in the shadow in the grass to catch my breath, until a Red Cross employee asked me if I was OK. The glass of Beer of Victory I got at the camping, after the exhausting walk back to the camping. Including thundershower.
Despite all the troubles, tomorrow I will be at the start on the Day of the town of Groesbeek! We will see how my feet will be behaving then… I still don’t have any (bad) blisters, but they are starting to hurt. We will see.
See you tomorrow – Bert.
Day 3 – 21 July 2016
On the 3rd day we set off from Gennep, to Groesbeek, and over the “Zevenheuvelweg” (seven hills road) back to Nijmegen. My feet noticed the 110 + km I walked the previous 2 days, by now they got rather sore. Because of that I wasn’t looking forward for the 3rd day. Many veteran Vierdaagse participants say that the 3rd day is the toughest. Personally I feel that the 2nd day is the hardest on my feet. That gave me a little more hope for the upcoming challenge, if I managed day 2 I can manage day 3! The weather forecast was a bit better than the previous days. It should have been a bit cooler but sadly that wasn’t the case. Around noon it was around 30 degrees Celsius, not ideal to walk 55km.
The previous mentioned Zevenheuvelweg, which translates to “Seven hills road” doesn’t make this day any easier. I personally didn’t count if it where exactly seven hills. But with temperatures around 30 degrees I will reach my tax at the 3rd hill. I started decent, when I reached Nijmegen I met a friend who walked the 50km route. I walked with him till Genep, where I increased my pace. I was worried that I wouldn’t finish on time. I had no problems with a faster pace until I stopt to rest and had lunch. The moment I stood up my muscles where so stiff, that I had a hard time to get back in a decent walking pace. At this point the temperature has reached max. And it was still 20km to the finish. When we reached Groesbeek we got a warm welcome. Hundreds of spectators gave us the much needed motivation towards the finish line. They offered us food and drinks and we got companied by all sorts of music. After Groesbeek the climb started. We got reached the “Zevenheuvelweg”. After the climb it was 7km till the finish line. But at this point it felt like much more.
But I managed. And with me many, many more. Around 16:30 I reached the finish line where my sister and niece where waiting. I walked 12 hours, but finished on time… I already managed 165km… those last 55 should be doable by now. I’l let you know once im finished tomorrow!
See you tomorrow – Bert.
Day 4 – 22 July 2016
The day of the town of Cuijk started painfully. On Thursday night, when I took off my socks, my feet were pretty much covered in blisters. I did not feel like walking another 55K on those. In the morning at 2.30 AM (I couldn’t sleep. Again.) I decided to get out of my tent and get dressed. This gave me some time to time to charge my phone at the hospitality tent. When I put on my walking shoes, it seemed walking was rather painless, but just not as fast. Started anyway, maybe just needed to swing by the medical post on my way and just see how far I could make it. Arriving at the Wedren, I noticed I wasn’t the only one where the hardships left their marks. Many walkers didn’t walk as smooth anymore. Sore muscles, blisters, pain, fatigue, but still they are here at the Start. This game me courage. Only one more day to go and then it’s done. We have already had three days, we should be able to do the fourth!
Until the town of Nederasselt it went reasonably. There, it started to rain, which was rather pleasant after three scorching days before. But at some point, it got pretty bad and when I crossed the bridge over the river Maas, I took shelter under the bridge for some while. A few years ago I also experienced a pretty bad shower where my waterproof shoes decided they were not waterproof anymore. All the way I was creating new blisters because of the grating. I did not feel like that again of course, but because the clock’s ticking and there was still a chance I could make it, I started walking again. The rain lessened, so this was manageable. Passing the town of Grave and, only this year, going further south on muddy trails to the town of Mill. In Mill they were very happy to see us and were welcomed with open arms. This is one of the towns where the Four-day-walk usually doesn’t go through and for this occasion they celebrate extra. And that always brightens the mood. So great to see that you are so welcome and to feel the hospitality, and people help you through this when they can tell that you’re suffering. I think this is one of the things that makes the Four-day-walk special. It is so much more than just a few hikes.
After the town of Mill there is a boring straight piece of road. The rain had stopped and it started heating up again. I was already longing for another shower. Eventually I arrived in the town of Vianen and there I brightened up again. The 50K walkers joined in here, so the crowd picked up. After Vianen we walked into the town of Cuijk and that is just one huge party. This year was no different. Amazing to see all the enthousiasm.
I was able to get some energy for the last bit. From Cuijk is is still about 14K until the Wedren. It was 2:30 PM, so I still had about three and a half hours before the deadline. Should be doable, but I needed to pick up some speed! I noticed I was slowing down again, my legs just wouldn’t go as fast anymore. But at 5K an hour, it should be manageable. Right after Cuijk you cross a specially for the Four-day-walk designed pontoon bridge over the river Maas, pass the towns of Mook, Molenhoek and Malden and then back to Nijmegen. After Cuijk, I was cheerful and tried to speed up, and that worked pretty well. Rather quick I arrived in Mook where I shook the Mayor’s hand. After Molenhoek and Malden, one road straight ahead and party all around. The St. Anna Street, during the Four-day-walk known as the Via Gladiola (Road of Flowers) now slowly but surely got in sight! In Malden I forced myself to pick up my pace, because I was really running out of time. I also agreed to meet with friends who would be on the lookout for me. Needed to speed up to get to the Via Gladiola! Other years the pace was really relaxed here, because I would walk 50K and would arrive an hour earlier. But now I really had to hurry. 5K before the finish a blister popped. Ouch! Where is that sign with ‘Via Gladiola’ Oh, this is still Malden. Out of Malden, a bit straight on. This is so long! Ah, there it is. Via Gladiola. Now pay attention. Don’t pass my friends without noticing.
Ah, there they are! Gezellig. Sit down, talk a little but get back on my feet quickly for the last part! This is still about 2K, but with only 45 minutes until deadline. Should be doable. This is long! Aren’t we there yet? “You’re almost there”, I hear people shout. But 1K is very long if your body refuses to go any further. One more street, one more roundabout, one more street, one more roundabout, one more street and then yes: finish! It is already past 5:30 PM, but I’m on time. Now get in line for my medal, and finally I receive a tiny cute box with my medal inside. A medal with a crown this year, because this is now my sixth time walking.
And that’s it! I managed to walk 55K for four days straight. I have been hiking for six years, but these long hikes I have never experienced. The 5K extra doesn’t seem much, but it adds another hour of walking. Next year I’m walking 50K again, but I wouldn’t want to have missed it for the world. Even if it’s just for the atmosphere I can definitely recommend everyone to come to Nijmegen or one of the neighboring towns where the Four-day-walk passes by, or even more so, participate in the Four-day-walk. Despite the intensity, it’s a wonderful or in my case an even addictive experience.