From his hometown of Delft, pedaling aimlessly into the country, to towns and villages where he had never been, Frank van Moorsel (55) took great pleasure in that. He also had a thing for maps. And with inventing systems, building websites (he works in IT). How those things came together one day: ‘While cycling I thought: could I come up with something that would allow me to see at a glance which Dutch municipalities I have already been to, and especially which ones I haven’t visited yet?’
He developed a tool that enabled him to do this: a matter of loading cycling tours registered with the sports app Strava, after which a map with all the municipalities showed where he had and had not been. As an informal carer for his Limburg father, he had a lot less time to make long journeys during that period. ‘After I had done the housework, the laundry was in the washing machine and my father fell asleep, I would sit and tinker on my laptop. Without cycling I still had the feeling that I was cycling.’
In October 2018 he decided to share his ‘mess work’ under the name Long Term NL Challenge on his Strava profile. ‘Then I thought: there are probably not many people as crazy as me. That turned out to be a small mistake.’ His hobby turned out to provide other people with a welcome new challenge. In no time there were a thousand curious cyclists in the queue. ‘The site was not designed for that at all. I was rushed to bring in extra servers to keep up with the demand.”
Someone would probably report who had already had all the municipalities, Frank van Moorsel was pretty sure of that. Indeed: Yorit Kluitman (42), whose book BicycleLandscape popped up. Kluitman, who runs a design studio in Eindhoven, took five years to cross all municipalities on his racing bike (then still 388 pieces, now there are still 344 due to municipal reorganizations) and to photograph the landscape between the cities and villages.
He traced a map with the municipal division and colored the places he had visited orange after each trip when he returned home. He still likes to talk about the fulfilling feeling of an ever-expanding orange area, although his challenge mainly involved finding beautiful images.
Kluitman: ‘I looked for straight lines in the landscape, which I framed in a dogmatic way. A road from straight ahead or from the side, a turning away bend, rows of trees and other repetitive elements. The photos had to be straight, like a postcard, preferably without people, road signs and commercial expressions. In my photos the landscape was often quieter than in reality; just out of the picture could be a McDonalds branch.’
‘The Veluwe was certainly the most beautiful?’, people often asked him. ‘I actually thought Drenthe was much nicer, while that always seemed to me to be the most boring province. In my head, Drenthe was one big meadow, but it is much less landlocked than other provinces. West Brabant, the area around Moerdijk, was a low point for me, with its polluting industry and De Biesbosch in the background.’ After more than 83 thousand kilometers, he was also sure that he no longer needed to cycle in North Holland.
When Van Moorsel made his work available to other enthusiasts, Kluitman only had to load his Strava data. ‘I thought it was exciting for a while, because now the system would assess whether I had actually been everywhere.’ That turned out to be the case. ‘In no time I had a nice email from Frank, who immediately ordered my book.’
The creator himself completed his own challenge as the thirtieth, in which Van Moorsel applied the rule to visit every municipality in principle, with Delft as the starting point. ‘I’m a bit older, so I’ve had to lose speed. Looking around has replaced that.’
His eye is particularly drawn to everything that has to do with industrial heritage. ‘Old office buildings, old post offices, I always stop for that. In Oudenbosch, for example, I cycled against a very characteristic old post office, opposite the famous basilica. Post NL’s head office in the Stationspostgebouw near The Hague Hollandspoor is also very beautiful.’
It’s funny, he thinks, that his aimless cycling eventually led to a site that gave other people a goal to go far-further-furthest from home. ‘Although I have to admit that otherwise I wouldn’t have ended up in the municipality of Delfzijl myself, because why would you travel that distance if you have nothing else to do there? Many people often already have the will, such a challenge provides the motivation to actually do it. And I think the great thing is that you can decide for yourself how to give substance to it.’
To supplement his site, Van Moorsel developed the ‘retro challenge’, based on the municipal division of 1950. ‘When I superimposed the old map on the new one, I only got to 70 percent of all municipalities.’ At the request of envious southern neighbors, he also made a map for Belgium and Luxembourg. ‘Unlike in the Netherlands, hardly any reorganization takes place in Belgium, which means that the country has no less than 581 municipalities.’
Open door: having tapped all municipalities once is obviously not the same as having seen everything. Van Moorsel: ‘I had only been to Hilversum by accident, after I had taken a wrong turn once. In retrospect, that street turned out to belong to the municipality of Hilversum. Last weekend I made up for it. I was on my way to the Veluwe, but made a detour via Hilversum to have a good look around.’
Rik van Nimwegen (39) from Leiden was the second cyclist to complete the challenge in 2019.
‘In 2018 I came across Frank’s site by chance and I became curious about my score. A lot of open spaces appeared on the map, scattered all over the country. If you’ve been driving a lot of kilometers for years, you sometimes get a bit of a bored feeling with the environment you’ve driven through so often. I thought it would be a fun puzzle to ‘color’ those open spaces with long trips and see a lot of the Netherlands that way. Eventually it became something of an obsession.
‘Southwest wind was a reason to cycle to Groningen and catch some municipalities there. I had already been to Texel and Schiermonnikoog, but I made a weekend trip to Vlieland, Terschelling and Ameland. I often asked friends: who would like to cycle in Brabant or North Limburg? Many cyclists are inclined to go to South Limburg and do the mountains there, but this challenge made me discover that the area around Venlo is also very beautiful.
‘The last puzzle piece was Losser, in beautiful Overijssel. In that province we go cycling with a group of friends every year in September, always the same round, but because I still had to go to Losser, we had adjusted the route for once.
‘Nowadays you can load a route in advance, so that you can already see which new municipalities you will be taking with you that day. That was not the case in the early days of the challenge. I mapped out my routes with the Municipal Atlas next to it: if I drive through that or that street, will I have it or not? Two or three times it turned out that I just missed a congregation and had to go back. I boarded the train especially for Uden.’
Henri de Jong (38) and Janneke Tax (37) from Nieuwegein planned a three-week holiday in the summer of 2020 to complete the challenge on their tandem.
Henri de Jong: ‘For me, the fun of such a challenge is partly the game, and that you have to make an effort to get to places that are unknown to you, far away.
‘It starts with mapping out the most efficient route possible. Janneke and I still had about 200 congregations to go when we decided to cram the remainder into a three-week vacation. We had already cycled a route along the North Sea coast, but still had to go along just about all the outer edges of the country. Three weeks sounds like a long time, but it was still quite exhausting.
‘When we arrived at our bed & breakfast in Holwerd, we had to go straight to the boat to quickly cycle around Ameland. The owner thought it was strange that we immediately left with our tandem, so when we returned we explained what we were doing.
‘In the end, we didn’t get much from the islands. And there are a number of municipalities that we only cycled in and out of; nowhere does it say that you must have seen the town hall, so to speak. To be honest, the municipality of Hoeksche Waard was a matter of entering the Kiltunnel near Dordrecht and turning around again in ‘s-Gravendeel.’
Gemma Adelaar (41) from Utrecht still has six municipalities to go.
‘I’m still missing one municipality near Eindhoven, which I’m sure I’ll have to visit again. The biggest ‘problem’ are the Wadden Islands.
‘I’m coming to Texel next year. Then I participate in The Race Around The Netherlands, a bike packing race which runs 2000 kilometers along the national borders of the Netherlands. My friend suggested going to Into the Great Wide Open, on Vlieland. I’m not really into music festivals, but when we’re there anyway, I can hop on the ferry to Vlieland and Terschelling right away.
‘On the way to Schoorl, for example, I got out of the car three villages earlier, so that I could take three more municipalities with me. I think I had been cycling for about fifteen minutes when I discovered that I hadn’t turned on my Wahoo, the device that records and records my rides. It was December, very cold, but I turned around anyway to cycle in and out of that one municipality again just to be sure.
‘It turns out to be very satisfying to see new municipalities turn blue on the site when you get home. But what I like most is that the challenge forced me in recent years in the direction of places where I would not have ‘just’ come, and to be creative in combining activities.
‘During a family weekend in Limburg, my friend and I went to gather some municipalities there. Zeeland did not attract him at all as a cycling destination, and I myself was inclined to think: it is not for nothing that you have never been there. I booked a cottage for us anyway, which turned out to be on the grounds of an alpaca shelter on arrival. And because I still had to go all over Zeeuws-Vlaanderen, I signed up for the Grenspalen Classic, a tour of 450 kilometers from Cadzand to Vaals.
‘It’s nice to see the landscape change during such a long journey, and things like the usual brand of beer on the facades of pubs. As far as buildings are concerned, I was struck by how much uniformity there is; in every village there are the same silly 1970s houses.
‘I experience crossing the Netherlands as a deepening experience, but I do need the game element of such a challenge as a stick behind the door. There are places where I have said: I never have to go there again. As a forest lover, the barren area around Winschoten and Appingedam and Eemshaven does not attract me at all. Brabant was a positive surprise. I had no idea it was so wooded there.’
In October 2021, Frank van Moorsel announced that he would take his site off the air on October 1, 2022. “After that date it will no longer be possible to check via the site in which municipalities you cycled or crossed with other sports,” he wrote on his blog, where he explained his decision to quit, to the shock of cyclists who were still busy with the challenge. When Van Moorsel stopped using it this fall, there were over 26,000 users. Since then, they can go towielervrienden.nl, which has started an alternative.