All about cycling in the Netherlands
This is a personal post in honour of my dear father, who passed away in the evening of Friday the 21st of October 2016.
Walter Wagenbuur was born in 1935 in Zuilen (now a suburb of Utrecht). Cycling was very much part of his everyday life. I cannot remember anything else than that my father cycled to work, every day, whatever the weather conditions.
I don’t know at what age my dad started cycling. As a very young child he had a pedal scooter (with which he got lost one day; he was found at the other end of Utrecht) and I know he mostly walked to school. But at the age of 17, my dad already cycled to camping sites in his holidays. There are pictures from 1952, when he cycled with his brother and some friends to Otterlo, about 55 kilometres from Utrecht. The trips would be much bigger later. He boasted about a cycle trip to Liège and further around Belgium. From Utrecht that is over 200 kilometres one way, so that is something to be proud of indeed.
We didn’t own a car until I was about 8 years-old. And so we cycled everywhere. I have fond memories of sitting on my dad’s bike, as well as on my mother’s. My father was the one who taught me how to ride a bike myself. I remember that very vividly! I had got the old bike of my uncle, my mother’s youngest brother, who was only 3 years older than I was. In a park right next to our home my dad ran after me to hold the bicycle, while I tried to master how to ride it. I clearly remember how at one point I shouted “Stop! We’re going too fast!” But he had already let go of me. I had no idea that I was already riding on my own.
When I went to secondary school, from 1977 on, my ride to school and his to his work overlapped for the most part. We did, however, almost never cycle together. I made sure that I “needed” to go on a different time. Cycling to school with your dad, that wasn’t cool of course!
My father has cycled to work his entire working life, which was from the age of 17 to 58, and all that time he worked with the same employer! He went into early retirement in 1994 and did a lot of voluntary work in the Utrecht cathedral. Both in the office and in the cathedral itself, as host for tourists who came to visit. Of course he cycled there as well!
In 2001, during a holiday in Berlin, my dad had his first intracerebral haemorrhage. Over the next 15 years many – smaller and bigger – would follow. Slowly damaging his body and his abilities. For someone who never smoked, used little alcohol and cycled all his life, that seemed very unfair. The brain damage made it increasingly difficult to cycle. From a bike with an ultra-low step through frame he later had to change to a mobility scooter, until advancing vascular dementia made it impossible for him to travel by himself. The last one and a half years my father had to live in a care home and he was slowly fading away. Last August we celebrated his 81st birthday there. A small party that he really enjoyed.
Two weeks ago my father’s body suddenly seemed to have stopped working. We sat by his bed as much as possible and he seemed to relax every time he saw us. He even recognised us on the very last day. The struggle was very hard to witness, especially the last week when we sat there all day. Even then, the end came at an unexpected time.
It is comforting to know that my father had a rich life. He would say: “Look at us, we did so much!” when we watched our old super-8 movies. At the age of 81, with his strength completely faded, Walter Wagenbuur had now simply reached the end of his life. We had to let him go. He is survived by my mother, my sister, her two children, my partner and myself. I am grateful for all that he was and I will dearly miss my father.