Yorick Dix's tiler interviews: Willem Oving 100x100 and not done yet

This article first published on September 6th 2021 in the RideEveryTile Strava club. Reproduced with permission.

Recently Willem Oving reached a 100x100 square, only the 4th person to reach that milestone so far.

Q. Could you please introduce yourself?

Willem Oving, age 51. I started cycling on a race bike in my early twenties. I also did other sports like speedskating, ice-skating and soccer. I was a derny rider for an elite cyclist, getting him sharp for the finals in competition. In my thirties I played soccer and rode about 2,500 km every year on both race and MTB bikes. In 2014 I started to ride all year long, before that it was always a difficult startup in April and my season ended in September. From that year onwards I rode about 10k every year. In time this resulted in being in a better condition and even ride new PR’s from time to time. There is still progression it seems, even with an older age. I joined a winter ride group called the Lightbrigade and a cycling club (TWC Grave). All the variation keeps me liking cycling.

Q. When and why did you start tiling?

In October 2018 I started using VeloViewer for tiling. I was informed about it by Joris Keizers. Before that I was doing all kind of Strava Challenges, especially climbing challenges. In the region of Nijmegen you can achieve such challenges even when the Netherlands are merely flat. By doing lots of hill repeats that was possible. While I was interested in data, professionally and private, Joris thought this VeloViewer ‘thing’ was something interesting for me, and I have to thank him for that, it was. The funny thing is that I was already connected with Nils Oudejans on Strava, later on I discovered that he was a long time Top Square Tiler. It is an understatement that I got hooked up, fairly said addicted…

Q. You haven't opened your VeloViewer map for others, can you explain why?

A couple of years back I was doing lots of KOM hunting. Somehow I began losing KOMs to the same guy over and over again. I studied his rides and there was something curious about them. Despite being more than sixty years old he was able to beat even World Pro Tour riders, such as Mike Teunissen, on some segments. At first he rode 30kph on a segment but two weeks later 45 kph+ on the same segment in an updated activity. I flagged some rides because it looked like cheating to me, use of an e-bike or something like that. He made a dispute at the Strava helpdesk. It all got out of control. He harassed me, he came to my house (luckily I was not there), he started commenting on several rides I made in the past, claiming he would come for me and get all KOMs I had. I discussed with Strava how to set security settings better to prevent non-followers stalk you like that on Strava. So I closed and blocked as much for him and his friends to see anything or to post anything. I had less or no trouble after that, that gave relief. Later on I started using VeloViewer and I discovered there are no options to open things for followers only. Activities were available for anyone to see or not at all. In Strava there is a third option: followers. So I tried and checked with followers if it worked to see my activities, but it did not work. Disadvantage in the Activities pages is that you can click through to one’s Strava activity and give kudos (positive) or post negative comments (the opposite). So till now I decided to leave it this way. My stalker is still on his way and visiting my living place from time to time and could use VeloViewer to reach all my activities and start over and over again. I lost my appetite in KOM hunting. So I jumped to other challenges, with more adventure.

Q. You do a lot of relatively shorter rides during the week, how do you combine that with your work?

I work morning shifts and mostly four days a week. I start early in the morning. About 3pm I can go home, change clothes, drive to a car park at the edge of my Tile Square, eat and drink a while on the way and starting a loop I already prepared on Strava Routes. During the week I plan for a ride for about 2 hours. As my square has grown the time to drive to the outskirts now varies between 1 and 2 hours. It depends on the infrastructure. I can reach lots of car parks in Germany next to highways. My weekly goal, in summer and winter, is making 3 rides for more than 125 km distances. Mostly it is 2 shorter rides on Monday and Wednesday and a longer one on Friday or Saturday.

Q. Recently you reached a 100x100 square, now the 4th to reach that milestone, and the biggest Dutch square by far. How did this evolve? Where you a fanatic from the start?

Having no idea at first, I regretted not having a GPS device earlier. On the first updates I had a very shattered landscape of tiles everywhere. A 11x11 square was my starting point… I had ridden far deeper in Germany, but if it is not on Strava it did not happen, you know. So at first I tried to connect several dots and made several fill up rides. Then I heard from a colleague about some hard tiles in the provinces of Utrecht and Zuid-Holland. I like such challenges, to solve the puzzle of a single tile. In the dark I rode in swamp land, lights off so the farmer could not spot me. When your square grows in a steady pace, you can keep the energy to hold on, even when tiles are difficult. I think I became fanatic from the start or at least I was after a month or two. Enjoying getting in contact with other tilers we began sharing information how to reach a certain tile. It was not always the easiest solution, sometimes there was more than 1 to solve a puzzle. In the Corona era I became isolated from club and group rides and because of that I invested more time in Tiling. Last month I tried to reach 100x100 square in Belgium. On paper it sounded easy, just a Saturday morning 44 km ride. But I got hit by a car after 29 km just before I would have reached to most important tiles. But I was thankful only having material damage. After my bike was fixed I made another try and it worked out well, joining the 100 square club.

What are your tiling goals? Do you want to go beyond 100x100?

After a year of tiling I made some goals. Top 10 cluster, Top 5 Square, No. 1 Square of the Netherlands and a high bar 110x110 square total.

This month I reached to 10th place in the cluster, so one goal to go. In 2019 I started planning routes ahead for 110x110. Then I discovered some difficulties around army bases in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. Ongoing I saw some large holes in the ground in Germany, the brown coal pits. I studied the articles in the newspapers, lots of presentations about the change of the landscape, the direction of the digging and plans of recultivations. Then I saw I had to act quick in some places, which could become inaccessible, and for a long time too (up to 2035). Maybe the Climate Accord will make Germany decide to stop earlier with coal digging and to use it firing up in their energy plants. I hope so. But the good news is that they are moving the mines South, very slowly though.

I’m limited in the West by big waters like the Oosterschelde which is also a nature reserve, people are not allowed in on a recreational vessel like a kayak. In the South there are the brown coal mines, so I must look North and East. And in the North it would require some serious kayaking on the Ijmeer and Markermeer near Amsterdam. It’s possible, but we’ll see how far I’ll get. To achieve 110x110 will take much longer than expected and will be probably the maximum I can achieve reasonably with this square.

Q. You focus mainly on your square? Do you think you might switch clustering in the future when your square can't be any bigger?

I try to combine cluster and square. If there is a gap somewhere I try to close it. So my cluster is quite ‘square’ as you will see in the picture. I want however to expand my cluster by connecting three areas: the route of Paris - Roubaix (which is a tour I like very much and rode it for three times), Bastogne (because that is the place of the final battle of WWII, the battle of the Bulge) and my birthplace Harlingen in the North of the Netherlands. Also I would like to connect the tiles I rode during the 11 Cities ride in the province of Friesland. If my square can’t get any bigger I am thinking about starting a new one, using parts of my lower left part of the square in Belgium or the upper right in Germany.

Q. Do you have a special tile of which you have special memories? Any tile which took extraordinary efforts to reach?

There were two special tiles where a fence was involved. The first one was a tile on private territory on the Veluwe, in the so called Deelerwoud. I managed to go to the end of the road. There was a forest and a large fence. I checked my Android App, Explorer Helper for Veloviewer. It has a GPS pointer like in Google Maps, but now you can see the raster too. It seemed I had to stick my nose against the fence to just go into the tile. One landowner looked strange at me standing there at a dead end of the road. That was fun.

The other was the so called BASF Tile, a large company owned terrain and harbour in the harbours of Antwerp. I studied and combined the Strava Route raster with satellite background on with the Google maps satellite image. After long time and looking again and again it looked like there was a very small place where you could reach the fence around the terrain and be able to check the tiles. It was perhaps a square of 5 meters total. I went there on a quiet morning and walked to the fence. I watched the GPS pointer and walked 10 meters forward and back along the fence. Just a tiny bit of entering the tile was enough. It worked out very well. I explained how I did it on Strava. A week later someone repeated the same and checked that difficult tile too. That was fun too 😊.

Q. You have done some tiles which one might consider as dangerous (the Harskamp, Hollands Diep), how did you experience those?

The Harskamp is a Dutch army shooting range and should be considered as dangerous. There is all kind of debris everywhere. But some parts are open in the weekend. I looked for a MTB tour and there was one crossing part of the terrain. Then I googled further and found something about a yearly event with army trucks and a hiking tour on the terrain. At first I tiled the outskirts on a quiet early Saturday morning. Then I registered myself in a local store so the army could check which visitors arrived on the yearly event. I hiked the longest tour of 15 km through the middle of the area. I had good conversations about Operation Market Garden with a fellow hiker. Along the way I checked the Explorer Helper for Veloviewer App and saw that I had to walk a few 100 meters from the path to tick the tile. I was warned to get back on track by an army officer right away just after I made it. It was quite exciting under pressure.

During the outskirts ride I spotted a mother boar on 300 meters. She had 6 youngster with her. I waited for a long time to let them pass the path. Never make a mother boar angry. That I found the most dangerous part in the woods, bumping on groups of boars or wild cows with juniors.

At the Hollands Diep there is the so called Shell Tile, a refinery which is not accessible over land. So I had to use a canoe to reach it over water. The Hollands Diep is a large, wide, open river with many large vessels crossing it. I lived for a long time in Harlingen and have experience with sailing and navigating on sea and rivers. I bought a sit-on-top canoe, shorter and wider. That gives more stability, disadvantage is a lower speed average. Also I bought a wetsuit, comfortable at lower water and air temperature. A strong wind was blowing causing larger waves on the open water. I started in Willemstad in the West and had backwind. I arrived at the tile very fast, surfing on the waves at the buoys line across the sail lane, on the right side of the water. That was the fun part. To get back I had to keep shelter at the side of the river, to avoid the higher waves. It was a hard and long way back. Not as long and as dangerous however as the Biesbosch trip (45 km) where the river Amer is much busier with fast vessels around you.

Q. Are you ever fed up with tiling? Have you ever cancelled rides when already started?

Sometimes I am wondering what I am doing in some places. When you have never been there before it can look different and special, sometimes you think you arrived in some dead end ally where no one has gone before. Either way it never gets boring. I like the adventurous part of tiling. So I think I can do this for a while longer. I combine the tiling with some other challenges: LongtermNLchallenge and LongtermBEchallenge. To complete these challenges one needs to collect all municipalities in the Netherlands and Belgium. There is also one for Luxembourg.

Q. What extraordinary feats of other tilers did you notice?

I admire tilers for going on long trips with packing equipment on a gravel bike. In such circumstances with a packed bike, it must be hard going, but they have the gear and ability to make it happen. For the different terrains we encounter we almost need three bikes: mountain bike, gravel bike and road bike. But some paths you enter also require certain skills to ride that terrain.

Q. In your surroundings, has anyone started tiling because of you?

Not that I know of. I explain sometimes what I do with these tile ticking everywhere. It can be abstract in some way for people. Others experience it as some kind of geo-caching.

Q. Any ideas on the whole concept of tiling? Any possible improvements you are thinking of?

I think tiling is the best structured way to have your ride as unstructured as it could be. There are always surprises during a tile ride. I think it addicts and attracts so many people. I saw a nice mix of Strava Art and Tile ticking done by Elmar Hogenboom, writing his name with tiles. If you see every tile as a pixel you could perform wonderful art with a good route. Fill up a Square Tetris Style.

Q. In whose story would you be interested?

Sem Elders. I would like to know what makes him this cluster-mad after already completing the three NL, BE and Luxembourg municipality challenges. Does he want to cluster Belgium also after finishing the Netherlands?

Willem's tiling statistics, as of September 6th 2021

  • Square: 100x100 (joint 3rd globally)
  • Cluster: 12,808 (10th)
  • All tiles: 15,264 (226th)
Cyclist Willem Oving riding along a muddy path

Willem Oving - tiler at work
Willem's Oving 100x100 square covering part of the Netherlands and Belgium

Oving's max square
A German coal mine - a difficult tile to visit

The open-cast ("brown") coal mines in Germany make for some very difficult tiles.