n 1991 I met Ronald de Kaper in Pamplona, and I’ve been blessed with his friendship ever since.
Ronald invited me to go back to Holland with him to do this thing he called the “beach walk.” I went, and, sure
enough, it was indeed a beach walk. Six days of walking on the sand and through the seaside towns of the Netherlands from Hoek van Holland to Den Helder, camping along the way. Ronald walked with a group of friends, all Dutch – everyone on the walk was Dutch as far as I knew, except me – and over the course of the six days Ronald’s friends became my friends, too: Stefan, Rico, Egon, Janneke, Joris, Johan…
A couple of years later I walked again. We had better weather – it had rained cats and dogs in 1991 – and I made more friends: Cato and Tom.
I walked a third time, then a fourth, all within six years of that first walk. My Dutch friends became family. We walked together and ate and drank together. At Den Helder, we celebrated together the end of the 100 mile-ish walk by marching around the old church seven times and singing Heb je wel gehoord van de zevensprong, and then drinking meters (and meters, and meters) of beer.
All that happened 20 – 25 years ago. The great thing: we’ve all stayed in touch. We’ve remained close. We’re all still family.
Tomorrow I’m flying to the Netherlands to walk the beach. It’s the 25th anniversary of my first walk with my Dutch familtje, now grown larger with spouses and partners and kids. On Monday I’ll be back on the beach in Hoek van Holland with the North Sea on my left and the dunes on my right, looking north across miles and miles of beach and shoreline. I’ve been remembering the songs, getting the words straight. I bought a big floppy hat to keep the sun off my face, because that’s what you do when you’re not in your 20s anymore. I’ve got a good pair of boots. It might rain. It might be sunny. Hopefully it’s cool and cloudy. Whatever. I’m ready to roll. I’m going to be home again. I can’t wait.
P.S. Might as well get this out there now: I’m going to hear from Stefan for writing a blog post about the Dutch beach and using a photo of a Dutch canal and windmill. I use what I got, man. I use what I got.