Archive for the ‘Touring’ Category

Stockholm or bust

June 22, 2010

It’s not very often I get to say that I’ve ridden 510 Km in the last three days. But today, I can say it. Phew.

One day after Vätternrundan (yesterday) Annika and I set the luggage back on the back of our bikes and rolled out of Katrineholm at 8:15 am. All we had to guide us was about 15 taped-together 8.5 x 11 sheets of photocopied maps from the Katrineholm public library and our intstinct. We ended up doing quite well actually. About 30 min into the day we passed a green sign with a picture of a bicycle and the words ‘Sverigeleden – Stockholm’ printed on it. We decided to trust in the swedish signage system and followed it, even though it lead us off of our map.

What resulted was about 100 Km of beautiful country side, way too many gravel roads, four viking grave fields, two viking rune stones (can you imagine my excitement?), lunch in an oak tree, and the fine discovery of a patch of yellow mushrooms (apparently surprisingly early this year) that can be plucked and cooked.

By the time we hit Södertälje, we had already ridden 130 km … but Stockholm was so near … and it seemed like more trouble to find a place to camp than to just keep going. So the decision was made, and we bought a jar of peanut butter and two energy drinks (not a reccomended combination, for future reference) accordingly. We were going to make it to Stockholm in one day.

As we sat in the graveyard of Södertälje’s church eating peanut butter sandwhiches and energy drinks, the bell tower began to play. It was 8 o’clock and still bright as day. As I listened to the bells, I realized that I recognized the melody: it was playing ‘Gabriellas sång’, from the movie ‘Så Som i Himmelen’ (Google that one, the song is amazing). At the same time as it was hilarious to hear a clock tower in Södertälje randomly start playing it, it was sort of dorkily inspiring, and blessed by the intoxicating power of peanut butter and energy drinks we began to sing along. At that point, we knew we had the strength to carry on.

And so we did. We reached the outer limits of Stockholm, and were greeted by the world’s first and largest IKEA (it looked like a gleaming beacon of hope at that point). Almost immediately after that, we realized that our city map was not very good. What ensued was four hours of riding around Stockholm in the wierd, not-quite-twilight-but-not-quite-darkness of the summer solstice. This also included consulting buss station maps, midnight dogwalkers, riding up and down lots of small hills (such a disaster wouldäve NEVER happend in Skåne!) and even a bit of mountain-bike action through the city park (on a road bike with packing).

At 1:30 Am we made it to Annika’s dad’s house. By then it was almost time for sunrise- the sky to the east had begun already to turn that early morning shade of clear blue.

The final distance count for the day was: 210. Again, phew.

And so I awake to find myself in Sweden’s capital city, the self-proclaimed ‘Venice of the North’, a collection of islands spread out on Östersjön, and what seems like a million miles away from Skåne.

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More stories from the road

June 17, 2010

I still find myself at homebase (Johanna’s grandma’s wonderful home) in Katrineholm, Sweden, anxiously awaiting my 3 AM start time for the longest bike race of my life and eating way too much to make up for the last five days. In the meantime, I give you more impressions of my bike trip up the bottom third of this wonderful, beautiful, and weird country.

From day 3

I sat outside of the ICA supermarket in Västervik and tried not to freeze. It wasn’t really that cold, but when you’re sitting in a parking lot in your bike shorts guarding three heavily-loading bicycles for a half an hour, things can get kind of chilly. Good thing I had every possible iteration of the term ‘swedish redneck’ walking by me to warm my heart. There were whole families of people wearing crocs as shoes and buying hotdogs, teenage boys in Volvos with greasy hair buying cigarettes, and girls with died hair and too much makeup buying candy. I felt like I was amongst friends. the best moment came when an old man came up to me and asked ‘Ursakta mig, jag skulle vilja fråga’ (excuse me, I would like to ask) I thought he was going to ask for directions, but then he continued: ‘Har du ckylat den långa vägen?’ (Have you ridden a long way today?) I smiled and told him that we cam origianly from Kalmar, but just today had ridden from Bankaholm. ‘Ni är duktiga!’ (you guys are good!) he said enthusiatically and clapped me on the shoulder. And suddenly, the whole day was worthwhile.

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From day 4

He had just finished giving us directions when he started talking about how he had ridden Vätternrundan fifteen times (we were amazed) and warned us to watch out for the Danes, because they are damn good at cycling. Becuase the topic of Denmark automatically leads to the topic of Skåne, the next question was, naturally in a thick Småland accent: ‘Ni har kommit från Skåne, eller?’ (you guys are from Skåne, right?) Johanna and I nodded. Annika said JA very strongly and proudly. Yup, said the old smålanning. I can hear it in your accents.

All of a sudden I remembered sitting on the Northern coast of Denmark five years ago with Anagrete’s kids, and how the pointed across the water at Skåne and told me ‘They talk funny over there’.  Never in a million years did I think that I would talk that funny talk myself.

But according to an old dude in the middle of Småland, I do. Funny how these things are.

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From day Four

Even funnier yet was how many new friends I made in the Kolmården (sweden’s largest zoo!) camping area communal kitchen when I changed the channel to the World Cup. It was as if I was all alone, and then with the touch of a button I had my own flock of German tourists to keep me company while my comrades were in the showers.  God bless fotboll. It really does bring the world together.

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FOr those of you who want to know, here was our trip itinerary:

Lund – Kalmar (train)

Kalmar – mönsterås (day 1)

Mönsterås – Bankaholm (day 2)

Bankaholm – Västervik (day 3)

Västervik – Kolmården (dat 4)

Kolmården – Katrineholm (day 5)

Goolge map that one, my friends!

Katrineholm, in one piece

June 15, 2010

The last five days, I have been on my bike riding from Kalmar to Katrineholm, Sweden. I going to be giving the story to you in brief impressions, as I can only use my friend’s grandma’s computer for so long! Here comes the first one,  from day 3 – also known as the worst day.

Det blåste bort. It blew away.

That was theme of the morning three days ago when we though we had lost our tent to a monsterous windstrom on the shores of the lake in Bankaholm.

But even before I went down to the campsite and noticed the missing tent, my day had nät been going so well- I had ridden 50 km on dirt roads on a road bike with 50 pounds of very jimmy-rigged packing on the back of it– held together mostly by plastic zip-ties and bungee cords the day before, and it had been raining for the last 48 hours. I hit the breaking point when I thought I saw rust on my chain and then slipped in goose poop and fell in the water. But I guess I didn’t know what the real breaking point was until I saw that the tent was gone.

What ensued was two hours of frustrated searching, a feeling akin to utter despair, and then giving up and deciding to ride on.

Two and a half hours and 23 km down a hilly dirt road later, we got a call from the woman at the campning place. They found our tent. Thank God for small favors. The only catch was, we had to come and fetch it.

No way would we all make it back to Bankaholm and to Västervik in the same day. The only solution seemed to be a 46-km cyclocross induvidual time trial on my part. So it was off with the packing, on with the cal jersey (yea!) and on to the dirt road back to the camp. I fetched the tent, chatted with the garderner (who had a hilarious småland accent) and roadback to where Annika and Johanna stood on the side fo the road. Dang, was I tired when we got to Västervik. 

We got to the camping place so late that there was no one there to check us in. So instead of getting a real camping place, we set up the tent on a lawn outside of some little cottages. Then a dog came and did his business right next to us, then an entire family came out of there house to take a family photo as we were eating dinner. It was sort of awkward, but we were just happy to have a place to sleep.

And it only got better from there. (to be continued)

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Up next is Vätternrundan, the 300 km race. I’ll try to put up more stories from the way up here, but we’ll see what I can manage before Vättern. Wish me luck!

ps. It is 11 Pm and it looks like 4 pm outside. This is insane-

On hiatus: Vår underbara resa igenom Sverige

June 9, 2010

We’ve got a plan. Lund to Kalmar on a train. Then bike to Katrineholm, then to Motala, then race Vätternrundan (Sweden’s longest and most famous road race), then ride to Stockholm, then drive to Hartzö (an island in Stockholm’s archipelago) for midsommar. And then… who knows?

This is shaping up to be a pretty intense and amazing month I have ahead of me. Sweden is so unfathomably vast—although it is only as big as California, the sparseness of the population and the abundance of nature makes it so. The greeness just seems to spill out of the earth, at times the air is so fragrant with the smell of blossoms that it is almost too much.

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The bike bags are back on the bike. My room is a disaster and I have a matter of hours before I move out. If I had a nickel for each time that’s happened to me…

I just got vaccinated against Lyme Disease because apparently Småland is chock-full of one of the few living things on this Earth that I can say I truly hate: ticks. On the plus side, I survived getting a shot in Swedish, which is something that is formidable to me even in English. Yes, I am that much of a wuss.

I finally bought my own camping pad. Believe it. I used to be a hard believer in sleeping on the ground (pun totally intended). Now I am even more of a wuss. But the dollar is up, so, it was time! And after all, I have a sneaking suspicion that we are going to be sleeping the the forest. A lot.

That all being said, the daily saga will henceforth be on hiatus from regular posting. I’ll try to update and post if I find computers to use along the way (just so that you can rest assured that I am alive).

Hej då Skåne! Vi ses i augusti! Här kommer vi, Småland, Vättern, Stockholm och Hartzö ; )

Lund – Mölle, tur och retur

May 12, 2010

The Bikes where packed. Annika and Johanna’s bikes looked like seasoned touring bikes, what with all the bells and whistles including bike computers, super-low gearing, map holders, and sleek saddle bags. My bike looked comically out of place—the poor specialized allez road bike looked like it had an enormous highlighter-colored tumor growing off the back of it instead of packing. Lena’s bike was just proud of the gears it actually had. All five of them.

And so began our journey up the west coast of Skåne early Sunday morning. The plan was 100 km to Mölle the first day, sleep at Annika’s family’s house, and then 100 km the second day. For the sake of brevity and laziness, I’m gonna spare you the play-by-play on this one and just go for the highlights – is that ok? Good.

1.100 km may sound like a lot, but really it’s not when your averaging 20 km/hr and stopping (what felt like to me) every 30 min to either pee or eat. I have to admit it took me a while to get over my silent frustration at the whole ‘bike tour mentality’, which I didn’t really understand at first. No, I’m not the fastest rider in the world, nor am I the most intense, but when I ride it is often for the purpose of exercise and fun and pain and painful fun. Anyone who has raced a bike or studied a hard science knows exactly what I mean. And sometimes this inexplicable and often unreasonable love of pain makes it inexplicably and unreasonably difficult to enjoy things that are purely pleasurable.  It’s weird, but it’s true. But I think after we passed Helsingborg on the first day, I finally began to accept the pace and enjoy the ride. It only took me 70 km.

2.The picture of the swan above is possibly my favorite picture taken yet in Sweden. So odd to see swans in the ocean. I held my own private memorial for Rupert, the Australian Black swan who used to live in the Bay near my house in SoCal and is possibly the mascot of my childhood. Love ya, Rupert.

3. Can I mention again how strange it is to ride through a place that is so, so old? On the same day I rode from the prehistoric cliffs of Kullaberg, through the modern city of Helsingborg, past around 7 castles, and by a viking grave site (which made me very, very happy).

4. We heard several good Cukoos from cukoo birds, or “görk” as the bird is called in Swedish.

5. Landskrona isn’t as boring as I judged from the first two times I rode (and almost got dropped by Lunedi) through there. Yes, it is still boring, but just not as much as I thought. They have a cool water tower at least. Sorry Landskrona, I didn’t mean to hate on you like that last time.

6. Annikas grandparents and Uncle Pele where really sweet people. They fed us cake, suggested walking routes, and let us sleep in their beautiful house full of wonderful and interesting curious from all around the world. Grandma even let me feel the screw in her arm from her operation! Joy!

7. Lena and I hiked out to Kullaberg while the other two slept. We climbed some cliffs and looked for the Kullaman, but only found some German toursits. Lame! Also, I discovered that Lena likes rocks (almost) as much as I do.

8. We walked home and had a delicious carbo-hydratic dinner, followed by more cake. And ice cream. Also, I discovered that I like cake (almost) as much as Lena does.

9. The next day was one of those days that makes me ask God: how could you have made the world so beautiful?

10. Lots of pretty, pretty cows and Raps fields.

11. Coming through Helsingborg again on the second day, Hamlet’s castle, Kronborg, appeared on the horizon. Suddenly I was drawn back to a memory of sitting on the train in Denmark five years ago, when I was fifteen years old and my obsession with Hamlet was still fresh (Although, if you ask my mom, she’ll tell you a story of how I quoted the play at a much younger age).  I remember hearing the words “Helsingør” announced on the loudspeaker. I pulled out my copy of the play which I had brought for the purpose of reading in Denmark (for atmosphere rather than authenticity, of course). Then, those five years ago, reading the Bard’s words even in the dimly lit train car seemed so utterly fantastic, simply because I was so near to where the action supposedly takes place. And now it feels like I’m due for another Hamlet reading. Maybe this is why only ever finish my real homework barely on time. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. Methinks.

12. Sadly, we didn’t make it to the island of Ven to see Tycho Brahe’s observatory (where Kepler was a student). For someone who likes orbital motion as much as I do, it was kind of a letdown, to be sure. I’ll just have to ride there myself one day. Methinks.

13. Victory: I didn’t speak English for two days! Jeg talade aeven lide dansk…taka Annika (men det blev skånska egentligen)

14. Verdict: No, Skåne is not completely flat. But almost.

15. Can’t wait for Lund-Motala-Vättern-Stockholm, Summer 2010 (yes, that’s happening!).

For more photos, click on “The Sweden Files” on the side of this blog.