Friday, August 30, 2013

I heart CPH

The second airplane did the trick... Deleted that SMS to Danny with instructions to pet Bella all her life on my behalf, and let her sleep under the covers sometimes. Instead I got to see him in person!

It was around 7pm, 4 hours late. We trundled the bike case into the parking garage at SFO, dodging incoming cars, trying not to get hit.

Driving home on 280 the sun was on its way down behind the golden hills. Here in California we have at least one hour less daylight compared to Copenhagen. The process of adjusting begins, of missing Denmark and new friends and great experiences. Cultural jet-lag.

It felt funny to be in a car. In two-and-a-half weeks in Scandinavia, there were only two short car trips in Stavanger, Norway. It's been a sort of vacation from cars.

Today the fixie carried me to the Milk Pail for groceries. Then the car navigated us to Hacker Dojo. A little taste of both perspectives, first bike then car.

I can tell you, it's a rude awakening.

In Silicon Valley behind the wheel you'll find strivers and alphas. Strivers drive with desperation, either to achieve their destiny of world domination or just to get back to work to serve the astronomical rent or mortgage. Alphas, they drive power cars. Often large SUVs with loads of power but little design shortcomings like no visibility for bicycles and difficulty going around corners. When you're the center of the universe, who needs visibility?

Both strivers and alphas have a fundamentally competitive approach. Dog eat dog. What they long for is for others to get out of the way. They'll wait for a second, maybe two. Giving you a little push would not be totally out of character.

Either way, it felt stressful. This is my normal cycling environment and normally I have a set of tried-and-true behaviors that make it safe for me. Where did those behaviors go?

Sure, there are (a couple of) rude, hurried drivers in Denmark. Yet even in urban Copenhagen the norm is far, far more humane. The word tolerant comes to mind. Bikes are the way people get around. Everyone, young and old and in-between, white and blue collar, everyone uses bikes.

There are so many bike shops I lost count and they're all surviving despite the fact that it's not totally clear how they're different from each other. There are so many bikes on the road at all hours, it becomes normal and the rest of the world adjusts. As far as I could tell no one bothers to make a distinction between bike commuters and recreational cyclists or randonneurs or racers or whatever. There does not seem to be anything like bike advocacy; it has been transcended.

Copenhagen is Bike Town.

Saturday, August 24, 2013


I have become one of those people. The ones who take pictures of their food...

Friday, August 23, 2013

Small world

Mostly recovered from the ride...chilling out in Bergen with family. Danny sent me a link to another rider's video of Day 1. Herman, one of the Dutch riders, turns out to be a good friend of Donn King (one of my riding buddies). Small world!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Still on the bridge

At this point in the ride there's not much left to say. A few intersections where we need to compare notes on turns, which way to go. That's about it.

It's Monday evening. Daylight fading around us, soft and beautiful. It's 85 hours into this project, the big circle around the waters of the Kattegat and Skagerrak. Since the Friday morning drizzle in Saeby we've put 1,194 kilometers on our legs. Climbed 34,000 feet in the process. (Never underestimate the hot dog as a riding food.)

All this and more can be read in our faces right now. With the adventure coming to a close, a deep satisfaction. We know we'll make it. We have 8 kilometers left in us.

Yes we're sleep-deprived, saddle sore, weary. Also fed and watered, in good spirits. At various times each has waited when they wanted to go. Pulled into the wind. Helped with equipment and finding the way. Pushed the pace, lagged behind. It has been more than a linguistic adventure, these 4 days. Feels like a lifetime.

Maybe all of us would have made it to this intersection anyway, riding solo. It would have been hard. It would have been a lot different.

The ride is not over yet; we were warned about the potential for moose or elk on the road in Norway. Unlike the frontage road from Arendal, road 401 is a small, twisty, lovely bike road. An adult moose could easily block these lanes and stop traffic. Keep us here until winter...

As it turns out, the only stray mammals are cyclists. That would be us. And after a couple of kilometers the road and gravity suddenly lead downward, dumping us without warning at the E18.

Under normal circumstances no cyclist would choose a major road like the E18. But at this point the E18 is the only way, a huge suspension bridge across the fjord separating us from Kristiansand. We'll take the bridge. There will be no scrambling down the rocks or swimming.

The Old Varodd bridge is a functional structure, abrupt in its lack of pretension. Chunky, all angles and bolts, industrial-looking. Wide enough for a separate cycle track. The entrance to the ramp is a bit of a puzzle, but we figure it out. We make a little swarm that commuters heading the other way have to weave through.

Nothing has felt better than the cool air as it fills my lungs. Fresh and rich with oxygen. Life-giving. I could stay here and breathe a long time. Even so, twilight is painting its pinks and smoky blues over the water. The pale moon is up, framed by a concrete tower, almost full.
Kristiansand Bridge To The City
Varoddbrua, Kristiansand, Norway. Photo by Dre Williams
The concrete feels strong and solid, well-engineered. No matter how tired, we will be delivered. For a moment everything that hurts, doesn't fit or make sense, it can just rest.

As the bridge lifts us over the water, the view stretches out to the horizon. Vast and good. It must be blustery – we're floating high above the open water–but the air feels quiet, sheltered. It must be noisy–this is the main road into Kristiansand. We're riding together, in silence. The only sound I hear is the Waterford's crank, humming smoothly.

Somehow the crank has become weightless, disembodied, as if pushing is optional and forward progress happens magically, no matter what. The cadence is fast, but time does not seem to be moving. In my head there are no thoughts or words.

In their place a sense of peace, of ease in my own skin anywhere in the world. The absence of wanting or wishing for anything, for a life other than this one. The absence of fear. It is a relief.

In a few minutes, it's done. We're in the parking lot of Budget Hotel Kristiansand, merging into the chaos of riders and crew. At last! The final routine of drop bags, shower, dinner, sleep. Tomorrow morning most of us will catch a ferry back to the start.

I'm one of the lucky ones. Not only will I be sleeping in, but tonight my sister came to help celebrate. Her first encounter with people who have just finished a 1200k. Part of me is still out there on the bridge, in a state of bliss, in another world.

It will take a while to start processing things normally. Until then she gets a gift of two bananas, imported from Arendal in a back pocket.

To Martin and Niels-Kristian, I appreciated and drew strength from your presence. May you be in good company, always.

And then god created the deli...

Feed zone: a giant ICA supermarket in Arendal.
Miraculously, we land in the right place, a huge gas station and supermarket complex at the far end of town. Through a maze of pedestrian streets, a dirt construction zone, an anonymous neighborhood. Pretty sure that was not the official way. It's still a bit of a mystery how we ended up here. More sniffing than route sheet.

While signing in, Martin's got a helpful hint for me. "Now, remember to eat here because there's nothing else along the way." It sounds authoritative, like a textbook or manual or something. Well after riding hungry for 30k, there's really no danger of me forgetting to eat. I'm lightheaded with hunger. As a witness to this conversation, the control worker just starts cracking up.

No hot dogs here – it's a modern, fully stocked market! On the menu is roast chicken, warm scalloped potatoes, a mineral water, apple, and two bananas for the back pocket. A religious experience. In lieu of saying grace let's just rip open a foil bag from the deli.

The point that needs to be made is this one: it's possible to ORDER half a roast chicken and my stomach may FEEL that empty but my stomach is not, in fact, physically big enough. And it never will be.

I spend too long trying and have to abandon the rest. My fellow cyclists, long finished, are impatient to put this ride to bed.

Going through the car wash

At home in Linköping Martin's a bike commuter. He trains for long events by commuting 40km (25 miles) each way. When the weather's really bad – and I believe the weather does get bad in Sweden – he takes the train in one direction.

Yeah, we don't really have his kind in California...

Bike commuters develop special instincts. For when someone, a driver, is about to do something stupid. For trouble spots on their route. For behavior that might be less than innocent, might be intentional.

So Martin doesn't judge me for chasing the Audi. The one that sprays windshield fluid at the precise moment it passes on the road into Arendal. We both know this is no random act.

The driver is enraged that we're not on the cycle track. The one that recently appeared on the other side of the road. Who knows where it ends up and we missed the entrance anyway and our group is traveling about twice the speed of other cyclists there (commuters).

Furthermore after a thousand kilometers in the last 72 hours, fuck the cycle track and anything that doesn't lead directly to Kristiansand.

A mist of cleaning fluid hits the left side of my face and upper body. Technically there's a slight delay as adrenaline dumps into the bloodstream and reaches my brain. But I don't feel any delay. It's a sudden chemical high.

I stand up on the pedals and sprint, taking the lane. Moving the same speed as traffic. No need to pass me now. Four metal circles on the rear hatch, just like the one we used to have. Same color too.

Feels so easy and natural, going full bore. There's no pain at all. I observe muscles shaking with anger but all the shaking is recycled back into effort. The bike is solid and freaking fast, on target like a drone. Wasted effort on this lowlife? Hey the adrenaline has to go somewhere...

Right at this point there's a little roller and I think oh please lemme catch him, just this once, I've been good. 

In full tuck now, moving faster than traffic, gaining ground. Downhill physics favors the cyclist. No coward face in the mirror but he'd have to be asleep not to see me coming. what are you gonna do? Beat him up, get arrested for assault? Go to jail in Arendal instead of finishing the ride? A dialog starts with the policeman assigned to the case. He is threatening, patronizing, trying to corner me with questions. I'm unrepentant.

Still in chase mode, coming up with a plan... confront him, scare him. Next time he sees a cyclist he won't think victim. He'll think twice. If the window stays up grab the windshield wiper, snap it right in front of him. Yeah. Those little bits cost a fortune to replace.

Another bump in the road. I stand up and it's just gone.

For a moment on the next downhill it looks like I might have a shot. Then a traffic light goes green and he's got space in front. The Audi moves into it smoothly, pulling away.

It's the weirdest thing. Three days' worth of lactic acid, completely gone from my legs. All of it! Brand new quad muscles. No soreness, no residual anger either. The legs and emotions have gone through the car wash. By the time Martin and Niels-Kristian arrive it's all good.

Another beautiful day on the bike in a big, confusing Norwegian town. And a new technique for renewing the legs on a brevet.

Don't hold back.

Norwegian Wood

Niels-Kristian is humming. "Do you remember the words to Norwegian Wood?" he asks.

Apparently it's a Beatles song. Can't help there. A half hour later Soren comes up with a few lyrics. When they talk about it their faces have a far-off, meditative look. It's a project.

First thing, directly out of the roundabout at Skien Sportell we were greeted by a 4km steep-ass climb. Welcome to Telemark. Put it in the little ring and push. The air was clear and almost hot, the sun blazing.

Packing up after breakfast, I admit to dreading the prospect of another 300k. The fourth in four days. Maybe it was the bonus clicks, the lack of sleep in Uddevalla, the nightmare ride from Hvittingfoss last night. Or hey, just inertia. A body at rest tends to stay at rest.

Then I realize today is not 300k, it's less! 230k, to be exact. The first three days were longer so the last day could be a short day. What an excellent design! With renewed spirits and determination, we roll out for our victory lap. Lace through the roundabouts and head right into the base of this monster hill.

The day gets progressively easier, that's the good news. The bad news is the starting point. The first leg to Sannidal (which is 75k) has 1170 meters of climbing. That must be why we're going steeply up and down! At this point it's a plus to be impaired. The conversion to miles and feet occupies my thoughts for many pedal strokes.

50 miles with 3840 feet of climbing. That's Montebello plus the dirt over the top, cresting Page Mill and heading south to Saratoga Gap before looping back down into the valley. All the high points and steep bits on the ridge at home. On this last day of a 1200k.
Roadside yoga, a new trend...
In Sannidal (at the top of a hill) whilst eating a hot dog Andrew shows me the stats for the next leg. He's showing me how it will be so much easier. To Arendal 50 miles, 3340 feet of climbing. Right. I manage not to weep openly.

OK, so it's not raining. The scenery is drop-dead gorgeous, with forests and farms and that dark rock along the road that definitely means you're in Norway. With a brown colt frolicking in a green field, tossing her black broomstick tail. The field takes up the whole floor of the little valley that we descend into and climb right back out of again for the nth time this morning. She floats when she runs. I wish this felt more like floating.

Yeah, it's good for those who know the melody of Norwegian Wood to work on finding the words to go with it. Today it's helpful to have a project, a different project, something to lean on.

A deeper well

The moon is up, stars coming out. Ahead are 30 kilometers and in my mind, we just need to climb a ridge and get over to the next valley. Then we'll be done. Skien is along a river so we'll just shoot down the river valley into town.

We climb steeply for 3 or 4 km. After getting my climbing legs back this morning, I'm fading behind again. No idea why. Here comes a beefy Norwegian, whose name I don't even know, circling behind me and pushing with his hand on my back. I could do a lot with an engine like that!

There's a lovely, exhilarating descent, then more climbing. Descent. The lights of a town in a small valley. Could it be Skien? I'm so ready for it to be Skien. No, it is a sweet little place called Siljan with everything is buttoned up tight. We've come only 10km. Oh god, twenty more to go!

Another steep long climb. The Edelux has to go off so I don't lag too much. The Norwegian guy (Reidar, as it turns out) tries to give me another push and I just bark at him and say I'm too miserable. Leave me alone...

Another major downhill, steep, fast, long, twisty. Unbelievable. I'm aggressive on the descents, out in front, getting revenge. The Edelux is bright, the road smooth. I'm thinking how good this is for the brain, for attention, because a moment's lapse could be fatal. Really, it's just like a video game except with great bodily risk.

Another climb. It is endless. It is hopeless. I have nothing left.

At the top of this bump Reidar says "Elaine you are a machine!" It gives me something. Love him for that, whoever he may be. Almost to myself I say "Yes I am a machine." This is a nightmare, the toughest night ride of all time. Either it's a deep hole of torture we'll never work out of or a deep well of strength that will carry us through.

In Skien the streets are all lit up, the storefronts dark. It is a major town and majorly confusing. Martin is so tired he's slurring his words. "Is it straightforward? Is it close?" he asks. No.

Reidar leads us by instinct through town, with grace. He doesn't know the way but he's been through a lot of Norwegian towns. There's some pattern they have in common.

At the far edge we try following a sign toward the "Sportell". It leads to the parking lot of some huge, ghostly mall. No go. Out comes the iPhone and the blue dot. We backtrack, heading into a neighborhood. This sets off alarm bells for everyone.

Reidar stops a group of teenagers to ask directions in Norwegian. I'm thinking, teenagers have never been known for their directional sense. But they do love to talk.

Before the ride I went through the final turns of each day on Google Maps. Mentally rehearsed the last couple of kilometers. In the dark, without sleep, hungry, exhausted, navigation is what will defeat you. You'll ride in circles, trying to be done.

The map showed the route taking an unorthodox way, a shortcut on a minor road. I ride to a street sign, see that it is the right name and just hope the others will give up on the teenagers and follow me.

Eventually they do, and it's very close, and we get there at 12:45am.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Saving Norway

In the parking lot of the snack bar, we do the ritual prep for night riding. Reflective leg bands. Headlamp in place. Rear blinkie flashing. On dozens of brevets and long rides now, the same set of tasks. I find it calming.

Riding at night is the best. There are so many advantages.
  • It's guaranteed to be cooler than the day
  • You can't see the hills
  • The roads are much quieter
Some of my most magical experiences on a bicycle have been at night. So the push west toward the main road in the Numedal Valley is full of anticipation for me. Danny and I were on this very road in 2007 and while my recollection is fuzzy it has to feel familiar. Something familiar would be good.

I don't recognize a thing. In fact the road is very busy for a sleepy rural county on a Sunday evening. Fast, impatient drivers. It's noisy and there are trucks. Lots of them! The road goes up and down, not as steeply as the roads around Oslofjord but plenty long. Descents are great fun but then it's always a long climb out.

Everyone has something to say about the traffic, the drivers going so fast and passing so close. I mean, it's Norway. What could be urgent in Norway? Maybe all the stunning scenery burns the retina if you look too long. Or the country is under some military threat and its citizens are rushing to save it.

Maybe the reason is economic... Oil is the mainstay of the economy and it has surely financed all the new Audis, BMWs, Mercedes gunning past. Powerful cars for an economic powerhouse. More reckless driving, more fuel burned, higher oil prices. A stronger Norwegian economy!

Ahead looms a macro tunnel, no way around it. Thankfully the road slopes downhill so we tuck in for maximum speed. A long 30 seconds. Toward the end I realize I'm holding my breath. A truck pulls out to pass as I break through the other side.

Turning west toward Skien, immediately the traffic drops off. They were all headed to Larvik, the reckless devils!

What normal people do

Quitting the ferry at Horten.
Andrew, a Brit, leads us out of town. Somehow he knows the way!

Either we improvised getting off the boat or the route sheet is off again. Norwegian towns are proving right tricky to get through. It's good to have help. Sometimes you hold a conference about the next turn. Sometimes you just follow the guy with the GPS unit.

At the far edge of town we tack north and promptly commence a screaming long downhill. Tuck in and hope this is the right way! Immediately, a steep climb of about the same length, toward the fishing town of Holmestrand. On our right unfolds the most amazing view of Oslofjord. It does not seem real, the epic blue of the water, the craggy shoreline with little villages. I've never seen anything so beautiful - can't stop looking back.

Until a fast downhill and left turn toward Hvittingfoss. We're climbing away from the populated shores of Oslofjord, heading into broad farmland in the hills above. There's no winding around; the roads seem to just go steeply up and abruptly down. The feeling is true exhilaration followed by a medieval flogging, over and over. This pattern also seems unreal, just not in a good way.

For the first time on the ride my little chainring is helpful. No one complains; we all just do it.

On the ferry I was too happy (or cheap) to fill water bottles. Almost out. Good thing Niels-Kristian needs water too. We stop in the tiny burg of Gulhaug. The plan is to find a gas station with a mini-mart. These will be the last services for the next 70km.

A local is conscripted and a long discussion in Norwegian-Danish-whatever ensues.

To the untrained ear it sounds a lot like the Swedish chef on the Muppets. I stand there looking decorative.

The message is not hopeful. No gas station in Gulhaug but if we want to go a couple of kilometers off-route there is one...somewhere.

As we get ready to go a car turns into the driveway - this is a liquor store. The car gets a little too close to the group, perhaps to push us out of the way. It does happen in Norway. Or perhaps because the inhabitants have been drinking. A belligerent, unkempt fellow staggers out and for a moment it looks like Niels-Kristian might take him down.

Across the street there is a video store. Hey it's open... Next door a generic building that looks like...nothing. It turns out to be a bar with a parimutuel betting room. With a snack bar attached! A massive display of bulk candy, many colors, shapes, sizes. Soda, of course. And hot dogs for everyone. We fill water bottles at the sink in back, where guys are staring at horse races playing out on the screen. They barely notice us.

Well I guess this is what normal people do on Sundays!

The last ferry

Now we are three: myself, Niels-Kristian, Martin. Slowly drying out. Under light overcast and filtered sun we spend the rest of the afternoon approaching Oslofjord.

Navigation is no problem when the route goes 33.8 kilometers on road 111, then right in a roundabout and 21.7 kilometers on road 118 to Sarpsborg. In the town of Sarpsborg it's another story. I'm staring at 4 lines in the route sheet with the same mileage cue, with no right, left, or straight directions:

847,50 Venstresvingsbane - ellers ingen skilte, Tunevien.
847,50 Over motorvejen.
847,50 Left lane, no signs. Tunevien.
847,50 Go over motorway.

The third line is the kicker. In the confusing, rapid sequence and lack of street signs that say "Tuneveien", at this point there's actually a Y. We have to choose left on Tuneveien or right on Bjornstadveien, which is not on the route sheet.

Along comes a large pack, led by a rider who knows the way. We keep them in sight through this section and back onto road 118 but then let them go.

The terrain rolls gently, even slightly downhill along the E6 toward Moss. As long as we can see the motorway we're not lost. As riders have warned since Day 1 at this point we are pushing directly into the prevailing wind. A heroic feeling it is not. But with several riders, quite manageable by taking turns at the front. And, it's no longer raining.

Somehow we find ourselves at the ferry terminal at 6:20, perfect timing for the 6:30 crossing. Yay!
Niels-Kristian making sure the proper items are in his pocketses before heading upstairs.
A booth in the lounge is the epicenter for 8 or so randonneurs. The trip is only 20 minutes; unclear whether there's really time to eat. Maybe we should wait and seek food on the other side in Horten. That is a risky proposition; it's Sunday in Norway and nothing's open.

Still full from lunch, I settle for a Larabar and waffle washed down with a $5 cup of coffee. The mood is celebratory; we've made decent time. Between us and Skien, less than 100k. The sky is clear and the rest seems well, almost textbook.

On this brevet the ferries have been our rest stops and refueling stations. Our refuge from navigation. The biggest wildcards, in terms of making progress. Most of all, with less than 90 riders now scattered over many kilometers, they've served an important social function.

At the booth there is joking and laughing. There is cautious optimism without bragging or ego. In these faces that were unknown a few days ago, the best of human nature. Quiet courage. Effort, fatigue, humor, realism. Camaraderie.

Too soon we feel the engines slow. It's time to head back downstairs and gather our things and set out for Skien.

Crossing over

This morning's route is pretty simple. Which is lucky because with rain coming down it's risky looking at the route sheet. The iPhone stays in the handlebar bag. Every neuron is dedicated to keeping the bike on the road.

It's the right road anyway because of the signs for Graensen, the border. Hard to miss. Unlike the nebulous, watery transition between Denmark and Sweden, this does actually resemble a border! It helps to feel like progress is being made. A sweet little bridge, quite narrow, crossing over a string of lakes called Nordre Kornsjo. Definitely a place to celebrate and take photos.

Can't imagine stopping, though. It's not like the rain is letting up. It's not like the day is getting any younger. It's only been 100km or so since Uddevalla. So instead I'll do my best to not collide with riders who have stopped. My contribution to storytelling for the day.

On the Norway side there's a little town, Kornsjo. Someone is asking to stop.

The majority of what I'm thinking can't be said. "I'm not stopping" are the words that come out. "You guys feel free to stop, do what you need to do. I can ride by myself no problem. But I'm not stopping."

Either it's my imagination or there's a stunned silence. So much for all for one, one for all.

Of course the thing about riding by myself is a total lie. I have no clue where I am, no desire to eat alone, no appetite for a day of monastic silence. But there are other riders around, ones who might be more compatible. Two bars and two gels are burning a hole in my back pocket. Too early to stop.

Faced with disapproval, I conjure what experienced randonneurs at home would do, people like Kim Freitas, Rob Hawks, the SFR crowd. At home we keep stops to a minimum and don't burn daylight. It's completely acceptable and expected for riders to do that. It's the way I can ride this ride.

Martin and I press on while others peel off and do their thing. We head down a long, twisty descent that requires all my focus and bike-handling skills. Then we climb again, finally emerging hungry outside a town that might be Rakkestad, Norway. We've come about 100 miles, 100 miles to go. It's the middle of the afternoon. Definitely time for lunch.

View Larger Map
Every town seems to have a little snack bar on the outskirts. We screech to a halt at the sight of bikes stacked outside, next to the picnic table. Inside it's lovely and warm but Martin is right, this needs to be a quick stop. He orders a hamburger, I order a hot dog with fries and a Coke. While they work on it I walk around coveting the food of other customers.
The guy with the burger is offering it to me as a joke. Little does he know....
When the hot dog arrives there's no bun because I didn't pronounce something correctly when ordering.  Well I don't speak Norwegian, or Danish. You have to say you want bread, apparently. Hot dog with bread. Not only that but my American VISA card doesn't work because there's no chip. To make me go away they hand over a bun, no charge.

It's all quite delicious.

At this point, a nap would hit the spot. Really hard to think about anything else. Still totally soaked, I start to shiver uncontrollably. Which is a helpful reminder to get back on the bike.

About 10 minutes down the road the rain lets up and there's sun! And here comes Niels-Christian! A pack of riders catches us and we hang on. There's a blistering headwind. We persevere.

It's starting to feel like a brevet.

The disease and the cure

Always be yourself... unless you suck.
-Joss Whedon 
A group of about 10 riders heads out of Uddevalla. There's a nice little climb out of town. Here at the latitude of Juneau, Alaska it has no right being hot and humid. Sweating going up the hill. Too many clothes on.

No one seems to know if this is the way! Maybe we're climbing a hill for no reason and y'know, repeating the errors of yesterday. Forty bonus kilometers after breakfast. Except today is much harder. If we get lost out here we could spend the rest of our lives wandering rural, unmarked Sweden. Not hard to imagine.

I put my head down and play a mental game to see how much it is possible to bear. How messy, imperfect, uncomfortable things can be and still not fall apart.

Then Martin says "No matter what happens we are more than halfway through the ride." Intellectually I accept this as true. With today and yesterday running together it's not obvious, but objectively it's true. On the route sheet Uddevalla sits at 631km.

In about an hour the funk wears off. It actually wears off! A large component being physical, helped by turning the pedals. One of the mysteries of randonneuring: the disease and the cure are the same thing.

The air has cooled off quite a bit. We're climbing and the sky feels low, full of grey clouds. Someone finds a sign pointing toward Färgelanda, where the green group spent the night. On the right track. This group is bigger than yesterday and in theory, less vulnerable to getting lost.

At the hotel this morning there was a floor pump next to the drop bags. My tires were down 20 pounds. With new life in them maybe I'll be able to keep up! Tonight both red and green groups end in Skien, Norway. So far we've been riding in small groups and it will be good to see some of the other riders.

By the time we reach the control at Ed, the gas station and mini-mart, happiness reigns. Volunteers and riders gather in the parking lot. It's a festive atmosphere. Brigitte is handing out little candy/energy bars because today the towns are few and far between. Cold and blowing so on goes the jacket.

One of our group from yesterday proposes stopping here for coffee and cake. "An overwhelming majority of those surveyed are in favor." Maybe so... I say nothing and gravitate toward the edge of the group, for a quick getaway. Martin emerges and with Niels-Kristian we head back down the hill.

It starts to rain. At first just heavy drops and mist, no big deal. Then more and more water molecules get the idea and the road is wet. Five minutes and it's truly pouring. The kind of rain that obstructs forward motion because it hurts your face. And the pounding water has mass and momentum of its own. There's resistance when you push through it.

Somehow, maybe because everything is grey so all that visual circuitry in the brain is freed up, the morning's happiness has taken root. A good time to inventory the equipment decisions that are going well... new tires with lots of tread, front and rear. Waterproof sleeve for the iPhone. Tyvek rain jacket, lightweight, yellow for safety. Minimal shower cap (a great conversation piece). Wool, head to toe.

Similarly, things left behind that are not missed. No Camelbak, waterlogged in the rain. No fenders in a deluge. No conversation or navigation debates; our words would be drowned out.

My thoughts turn to yesterday. Why did I, the one with a route sheet and smartphone, feel like a non-voting member of Parliament? Reading out information, voicing concerns yet ignored? Partly the language barrier. Everyone in Scandinavia speaks English, yes. However when lost, tired, stressed, afraid they stand at intersections gesturing and discussing loudly in their native tongues. At such moments it's easy to feel excluded, invisible.

Discussion is the first impulse of a consensus culture. In a heroic culture, it is action. Of course the roadside conferences seem anathema.

Also the role of navigator in a car has traditionally fallen to the female passenger. Unpaid work, unrecognized, disposable. Ah.

Shouts are coming from the side of the road. Secret control in a bus shelter! OK the trick is getting cards out, signed, and back into plastic bags intact. Not so easy - rewards are definitely in order. From the hatch of Brigitte's car comes a cardboard tray of mini-pastries. The ones with cream in the middle and a drizzle of white frosting. They get passed around. Totally scrumptious. There is munching and huddling; the shelter's full.

The same rider who proposed a cake and coffee break 30 minutes ago, he rolls in. Despite best efforts. I say happily "you get your cake after all!" His look is glum. "Yeah, day-old but..."

Something in me breaks. Not gradually but all at once, with violent force. There's no accompanying sound, that's the only surprise. My facial muscles go slack and I turn away to hide the reaction. This pattern is all too familiar, entitlement. My involuntary reaction to it.

Some people ride for ego, some for self-discovery. Today I'm out here practicing what's important, a set of values that work for me. Finding the one perspective in the universe that is mine. Reinforcing it so there's something to take home. It's culturally specific; can't help that. Maybe there's room for everyone, no objective reason to react. Can't help reacting. This is who I am.

I lift the sodden Waterford from where it's resting under a tree. Set my soaked carcass upright on the seat. Head down the road before hypothermia sets in.

Zombie breakfast in Uddevalla

The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places...
 -Haldir, in The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien
We land in the lobby of the Hotel Gyldenlöwe in Uddevalla around 12:45am. Finally here. And now I can even pronounce "Uddevalla". It's sung more than spoken, with long vowel sounds. Not too many big towns in this part of Sweden. Whatever its name when you're in one, you know it.

No room at the inn for the Waterford. It goes to spend the night around the corner somewhere. Lasse takes it away while Lene, also supporting the red group, assigns me to a single room. The two of them must be exhausted yet they are endlessly patient and kind. I head upstairs to the lap of luxury.

After showering, where is the iPhone with the dead battery? Still in the handlebar bag on the bike! Exhaustion is setting in. Unfortunately the phone is my ticket to waking up at 5:15. A dead phone is inconvenient, a dead-to-the-world randonneur is a doorstop. After 357 kilometers we don't wake up on our own.

The lobby is now empty. Unlikely in the morning chaos someone will notice a missing rider and pound on the right door.

Back in the room I fumble with the Swedish interface on the TV, hoping for the best. Next to the phone, instructions (English) on how to configure a wakeup call; I follow the steps. Who knows how reliable these methods will be...

I lie in bed, too warm, waiting for sleep to come. Waiting. Four hours of tossing and turning, heart thumping, thoughts racing. Nothing seems solid or reliable. Our little group got quite lost. No one took responsibility. Might happen again. They're fixing to ride the next leg together. I can't just drop out... The cue sheet is sometimes off. Tomorrow (today) is hillier, harder. My legs feel heavy, not strong or fast. What they need, what would make everything better, is a nice long sleep. DON'T fall too far into that hole...

So far in life, I've managed to avoid ingesting cocaine. Not in a car on the edge of town, not anywhere in fact. So it's hard to say with any authority what the experience feels like. This brush with adrenaline must be pretty close, as close as I ever want to come. Finally I wear myself down and doze off for 20 minutes. The TV says 5:10am.

Downstairs the breakfast room is a small room, designed for a handful of guests. The air is warm and stuffy, like a sauna from all the heat radiating off bodies. Thirty exhausted riders are working the buffet at the same time, a traffic jam. Even if I could move fast it would be impossible. My head feels fuzzy and huge. My stomach feels sick; it does not want muesli and yogurt. It does not want coffee.

If riding without sleep seems inhumane, try riding without sleep AND coffee.

Oh, it's all coming back to me now, the ugly memories from PBP! The obstacle course at controls. On the way back to Paris many riders are so impaired they can't walk a straight line. Bumped into, stepped on, cut in front of, elbowed, all by guys with a goodly size advantage. No one apologizes but you can't really hold it against them, either. They're zombies.

On SBS we seem to be approaching that point.

Darkness on the edge of town

"Do Swedish teenagers make out in their cars?"

It's Saturday night on a wide street in an industrial suburb of Uddevalla. As you get close to large towns the name of your destination stops appearing on signs. Instead they point to surrounding communities like Kuröd, the suburb. Almost in Uddevalla, every local knows that, no need to put it on signs.

For out-of-towners like ourselves it can feel a bit disorienting. Like trying for a whole day to get to a certain place only to have it disappear at the 11th hour.

Or the 17th hour.

A car, one single car is parked at the curb on our right. Coming up fast. Martin's going over there to knock on the window and ask directions to Uddevalla. He's fearless and a native Swedish speaker. I'm just wondering if we might be interrupting something. After all, people do not camp out in their cars just so randonneurs can get some help with the final clicks of the day.

While Martin chats with the couple, others address the cultural question. According to Niels-Kristian, "No. It's very rare."

This is confirmed by Soren who has one daughter in college and another in the last year of high school. He should know.

"OK, so where do they make out?"

"In their rooms, at home."

"With their parents there?"


Martin's job is teaching math, social studies, and history to teenagers. Returning with directions, he offers a theory. Swedish cars are smaller than American cars, so it would be too uncomfortable. Very logical. But the Saab 99 is big enough.

There might be a few laughs at this. Polite, understated, quickly snuffed out.

As Martin left the car he saw the woman in the passenger seat raising her hand to her nose. The guy had been quite startled and fearful. Consensus is, they might be doing cocaine. We leave them to it, whatever "it" is.

Something different is making me laugh. Not one of these guys asked about the verb "to make out". It's totally in their vocabulary! Important bit of slang, that.

Considering the trials of the day, something, anything to laugh about is sorely needed and this carries me all the way into town.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Two kinds of fika

On a postcard, (now) sunny afternoon we approach Svenljunga. A small town that sits at the center of a gorgeous farming area. Normally photos would definitely be called for, but today other priorities are in play. We are not tourists on vacation but randonneurs with a goal.

The control is at a restaurant, Dallas Pizzaria. One of the riders says the name in a joking way. I have to point out that Dallas (Texas) is in no way famous for pizza. Or food of any kind, for that matter. Nor is Dallas (the TV show) an accurate portrayal of life for most Americans. It can be hilarious to travel thousands of miles only to find strange tropes from your own culture that have escaped their contextual cages. Taken flight and landed in... Västra Götaland, southwestern Sweden. 

Across Scandinavia you'll find American-themed steakhouses (pizza restaurants, classic cars, Harley Davidsons, you name it). People still wonder if we live the lifestyle made famous by Sue Ellen and JR. Maybe they even hope that we do....

It's just a minor sideshow. The smell of pizza with savory toppings, now THAT's intoxicating.

The five of us have now spent the entire day together. Since Laholm we have not seen a single rider. It's nearly 4pm, technically 2 hours past the control closing time. At the pre-ride meeting we got instructions on what to do in this case. If we missed a control window, just keep riding and try to make up the time. None of us thought we would need to actually do that. 

Cards get stamped but apparently we are not stopping for pizza. "Time for coffee and cake", says Soren. "Local recommendation."

Choking back protests I roll with the group to a lovely little establishment with a friendly proprietor. We sit at a table in front, in the sun. Coffee and cake and conversation. A completely natural and established pattern for the other 4 riders. There is even a name for it, fika

I'm way in the minority, out of my element and it's a strange feeling, like a dream. My North American instincts are absolutely screaming for the others to wake up. The clock is ticking, the sun is moving across the sky, we're way behind the curve. Patience and teamwork and communication, it's all giving way to panic. This is not the time to enjoy life and build relationships. It's time to crack the whip, people.

To be fair soon the coffee break is over, cake demolished, dishes on their way back inside. We survive a few wrong cues near Boras to land finally at the Vårgårda McDonald's. There against the bright plastic play structures, a most welcome sight: other cyclists. There is happy chatter. It's 8:15pm, dusk. 

Cake long gone! Time for a BigMac and fries and Coke, followed by a sundae. Long silences are punctuated by munching and slurping sounds. The hot food and warm room lift everyone's spirits. We linger under the Golden Arches for 45 minutes before setting out for Trollhättan in the dark.

Listen up fellow Americans, if there is one valid use case for the Big Mac Value Meal it is the 1200K brevet. Tastes heavenly, takes hours to burn off. Protein, carbs, fat, sugar, salt. Mmmm. Food to ride on.

If you're not on a 1200K brevet just leave that Big Mac right where it is, on the warming tray.

No man's land

Simlångsdalen is a valley; Martin's never been there but word is it's beautiful. In fact none of us has been here before.

Simlångsdalen is also a town, where the grey sky opens up and becomes a waterfall. We duck into a snack bar, laughing. Time for late morning coffee and pastries. With the downpour still going, everyone follows that with a hot dog. It tastes heavenly. We're catching up on food and fluids.

The Danes joke about how you can tell you're in Sweden because it's raining. In this case the joke is kind of on them. After all this part of Sweden once belonged to Denmark. Everyone is surprised that I know this.

Even for the tourist who can visit a country, oblivious to signs and evidence that it was once the regional powerhouse, this topic was covered up front in A History of Denmark. True, I gave up on page 54 and went in search of pastries. Even so, the book honed in on how Denmark lost this territory in the 17th century. How the new Swedish Vasa state got tired of being picked on by its older sibling. How Karl Gustav crossed the ice between the two countries during the winter of 1658. And how this struggle basically enabled the political balance that exists between Denmark and Sweden today.

Why the heck does it matter what happened over 350 years ago, in the middle of a brevet, when we are at least two hours behind...?

Yes I'm riding with 3 Danes and a Swede for company, and that part is working well. I'm also riding with them to stay on track, in territory that (from an outsider's perspective) should be familiar. Yet none of them has any idea where we are.

We are in no man's land. The Danes don't know about it because they don't come here because it's not Denmark any more. Kind of a sore spot. After they lost these provinces the Swedes started a campaign to make the inhabitants more Swedish. Such campaigns don't usually end well. Now the Swedes don't come here because it's not really Sweden!

The confused American with the flawed route sheet starts to put the pieces together.

There are other reasons, of course. Management training has kicked in and I can't stop analyzing the group dynamics and various personal styles of the riders. The obvious differences in cultural styles. In Scandinavia, avoid conflict and go with the flow. In North America, take control and shake things up.

Also, it has gradually emerged that the GPS unit is a recent purchase. This morning it was hooked up to a hub generator, charging. During which process it is my understanding that the GPS unit goes to sleep.

As the rain lets up and morning turns to afternoon, intellectually I will remember scenic, rural beauty on the ride from Simlångsdalen through Femsjö, Hyltebruk, Kinnared, Fegen, Ätran, and Mårdaklev, all on our way to the control in Svenljunga. Sweden or Denmark, who cares? Forests, lakes, fields. Excellent company. Free lessons in pronouncing Swedish place names.

On a visceral level I'm trying to figure out how to make this work, how to trust the people I'm with. There will be many more opportunities to lose our way. Today, tomorrow, the day after. Are we up to the task?

Somewhere in Sweden

Good morning!
The alarm on the iPhone is set for 5:15. It doesn't get to do its thing because I wake up early. Four hours after hitting the pillow, refreshed and ready to go. Breakfast at 5:30.

It is raining.

Chain lube is handed around. Martin and I hit the road around 6:30 since it looks like the rest of the red group has already left. It's about 9km to Laholm, where the green group spent the night. Starting at 6:30 from Melbystrand means they have a healthy jump on us. We probably won't see them on the road today.

The waterproof paper for the route sheet is the bomb. No Ziploc bag, not even a smudge. Excellent. The PACTour clip from Route 66 is solid, keeping the route sheet in plain view. But the information itself, already I'm noticing anomalies in the turns and notations. Some missing, misplaced, wrong. Luckily Martin is able to sniff us to Laholm. Then a little town called Veinge.

At which point a group of 3 riders from breakfast joins us. We thought they'd ditched us; in reality we ditched them. Ah, the sweet chaos of randonneuring.

On Google Maps it all looked so simple! As it turns out Laholm and its surroundings and roads are anything but straightforward. Probably only the locals know where they are going. We do our best to roughly match kilometer cues with the names of towns on signs along with basic directions. Very squishy. Good thing we are now 3 Danes, a Swede, and one confused American with a route sheet.

As morning coffee kicks in, conversation becomes lively. Soren, one of the Danes, is talking about Saabs. Toward the end of the day we'll ride through Trollhattan, original home of Saab cars. Danny's family had Saabs for years.

We discuss models, years, quirks, airplane origins, mileage, early incarnations like the Sonnet. Performance in European rallies. Eager to impress, I rattle off Saabs We Have Known. A 1975 99, a 1985 5-door 900 that would not shift from 5th gear to 4th on the highway, a 1986 SPG, a 1992 9000 Aero. All have stopped traffic at one point or another, and not in a good way.

Martin says darkly that he likes reliable cars.

The long downward slide is mentioned, along with the question of whether GM was actually good for Saab. Sure they brought mass production techniques to a niche car maker. But they also ruined the design of the flagship 900 model, giving it torque-steer and a weird egg shape. Even in the US people don't have much respect for GM.

Now in Scandinavia people have Audis and Volvos (drive like a truck!) Mitsubishi for those who can't afford the other two. If Saab starts making a good electric car, like a Tesla but with personality, we'd go for that.

Traffic has dwindled. We are deep in a rural forested area on a four-lane highway. For some time the names of places on signs have not matched names of places on the route sheet. The route sheet is suspect, true. But odds are slim that it would be this wrong.

Soren has a GPS unit. Some minutes ago he announced on its behalf that we were headed in the right general direction. It normally makes a warning sound when you're on the wrong track. It also makes a sound when you need to turn. It has been silent.

For about twenty minutes my mantra has been we're off-route. Every turn, we're off-route. The guys are tired of hearing it. The group forges on, fueled by coffee and optimism and disrespect for the route sheet and confidence in the GPS unit.

Finally I put my foot down. A minute later the guys stop, too. There is a roadside conference. One of the Danes reaches into his seat bag and produces a large-scale map in a plastic folio. He stares at it for a minute or two. We are trying to figure out where we are.

"Are we trying to figure out where we are?" asks the confused American. There is silence. Out pops the iPhone in its waterproof case. The Google Maps app. The little blue dot. "We are here." Everyone stands in a cluster, gazing at the device.

Way off course. No roads over that ridge to our north. To get back on-route we have to backtrack.

An hour later we are back in Veinge. By holding the iPhone on my stem I can determine if we're making progress or just more mistakes. We fumble around some more, then finally get on the main road to Halmstad. The signs along the road identified it as 15. The route sheet and Google Maps and the GPS unit said 117. In reality it is both.

We don't want to head into Halmstad and get lost again. So, take the first road east. Farms and rural nothingness. Another 15 minutes, an intersection. The iPhone's battery is dying, worn out from gasping for 3G signal. Luckily the route sheet is starting to make sense again. It says there's a turn toward Simlångsdalen and Tönnesjö. Then a turn toward Simlångsdalen. That's what the sign at this intersection says. It fits the pattern. Then we'll go through the actual town of Simlångsdalen.

Never mind that I can't pronounce any of these place names. Martin, a teacher in real life, is my tutor. Right now I hate him. And we are finally back on route.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The real ride begins...

Looking for the full set of Super Brevet Scandinavia posts? Click here...

According to the forecast, our greatest chance of rain is Day 1 in the afternoon. Since this is Day 1 in the early evening and a few hours ago it poured with some intensity as we crossed the Kattegat in a boat, the whole weather thing is looking good.

All day my attention has been on that other wildcard, the ferries. Timing. The lane to be in, since it's possible to hop on the wrong boat! Availability of food on board (and of course, time for eating). Remaining daylight on the other side. No credit for either distance or time spent on ferries, but no worries about time yet. It still feels elastic, infinite.

Turning east after the long ride from Aarhus, there was the wind partially at our backs. A boost! Even more after turning north at Helsingborg, the endpoint of the fourth and final ferry of the day.

Somewhere in the water of the Oresund we cross into Sweden, a transition that goes unannounced. There's no sign saying Welcome to Sweden, no guy checking passports.

You begin to understand that in Scandinavia the countries are not cousins, they're siblings. Just listening to the jokes between the riders, which seem like old friends, learned and rehearsed and repeated for generations. Everyone knows when they're in freaking Sweden. For one thing, everything's cheaper.

(Right, one of the jokes.)

Another clue: we've left the Land of Pricey Vacation Cottages and entered the Land of Gorgeous Farms. Most of the fields are decorated with a border of tall, pinky-lavender wildflowers next to the road. I swear they've been planted for aesthetic purposes. Where in North America we might have something like a barbed-wire fence. But they look so natural and wild, too. I debate this silently for many minutes. Whether the world is a beautiful place by design, or just by chance. 25K to go...

Now it's dusk and the fading light only exaggerates their color. I want to take a photo but it's more important to stay with the pack. The road follows the E6; the traffic is loud even through the trees. Our road is tilting upward. There is clicking as everyone gears down. One rider asks another about 'the hill'. The response is, it's never steep but it is long. Ah. Not done yet.

For some reason this feels hard. I'm slow, slower than the group. It is a long climb. It gets dark. Then it starts to rain. A group of guys pulls over for a brief comfort stop. Martin, a Swedish rider, puts his foot down for a moment. I do the same to put on reflective leg bands; it's darker than a pirate's beard out here. Unlike the brevets back home, no one else wears reflective bands.

We both push off and he takes off up the final stretch of hill. The only other red rider in this group. There he goes...

The descent is steep, probably close to 10%. It's completely wet and glassy and black. We are all soaked from the rain falling and a generous layer of water now on the road. Water in shoes, socks, bike chains, seat bags, water everywhere.

Luckily Martin is waiting at the bottom. He doesn't have a route sheet. I'm glued to my computer, looking for the red turn. At that point we have to let the group go.

It's a good thing, the red route sheet. My computer is close, within a kilometer or two of the cues. We're slightly over and I bark that if we can't turn soon it will be time to stop and figure out what's going on. A small, ordinary sign appears, pointing left to Skummelövsstrand. That's what it says on the route sheet.

"Here?" "Here", I say. "Are you sure?" "HERE!"

The shower has passed and we snake around the dark streets of a mysterious beach community. Martin says this is where all the people from Stockholm with a whole lot of money have vacation homes. Seems like a long way to go. On Google Maps at the kitchen table last week, this all seemed so straightforward! In reality it would be easy to get lost. Good to have company.

Somehow we make it safely to the hostel at Mellbystrand, 10:15pm. Shower, dinner, bed.

Sailing lessons

On the first morning of Super Brevet Scandinavia the mood should be overflowing with optimism, energy, even bravado. We do have those things. Hey, ordinarily I would not think of hanging onto a small pack at 34 kph. No idea how fast that is but it's hard to focus on anything but the wheel of the next rider.

The sky is full of low grey clouds, probably the same clouds that left rain all over the road during the night. The air is not neutral; it's blustering in our faces and from the right, probably 12-15 mph. There will be plenty of time to convert to kilometers. For a hundred miles to Aarhus we are going to fight it.

When you drop off the back, weary from ducking the tire spray and staggering against the crosswind, its force is unmistakeable. Strong, almost laughable.

What do you see all over Denmark? Well, sailboats in the harbor, like at Saeby. Windmills on a hill way over there, the hill between us and the ferry at Aarhus. The massive blades are spinning. They do not stop spinning.

Riding a bicycle along the east coast of Jutland is not cycling at all, it's sailing. Working the whole system. Gauging the angle of bodies and bicycles and wind. Constantly making small adjustments. Pushing and hoping for progress. This morning there will be no leveraging the wind but with luck we'll survive. Word is that after the ferry the wind will be more at our backs.

We're working together, first the fast pack, then just me and a rider from Japan, then the huge green group from Edense to Mariager. Finally, me and two Danes to the second control at Aarhus. In rolling farmland, taking the full brunt.
Imagine this rider trying to draft off me...

Not possible to talk much. Instead there is mental math; distance to Aarhus versus time remaining to the first ferry. By definition this makes us wild optimists. At one point I ask "is the ferry ever late"? Neither Dane says a thing. A half hour later one of them says "back off, we've missed the ferry" and so we do, gladly. My jersey is soaked with sweat.

At 12:45 the huge cranes of the port come into view. We'll take in calories and cool down for an hour, waiting for the second ferry. You can't even feel the big diesel engines start up.

This may not be the most efficient way to ride a brevet but I refuse to feel guilty. It's good to sit down and eat meatballs and rest.
Leaving the big ferry at Sjaellands-Odde

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Greetings from Jylland

The 973X bus takes the E45 from Aalborg to just outside Saeby. The E45 is a highway. From the window the rolling fields with grain and patches of forest spread out all around us. Huge windmills, probably made in Denmark, wave us on. The Waterford lies safely on its side below deck, in an otherwise empty luggage compartment.

The bus is new and luxurious. Where it drops off and takes on passengers in Saeby looks suspiciously like a former train station. A humble brick building with parking lot. I'm the only one getting off here. The hostel is about a mile away, which is a long way to ride with a 20-pound duffle on your back. The scenery along the way is unremarkable, in that plain utilitarian style that comes from towns yielding their surrounding land to car culture. Newer brick cottages, all right angles, chain markets like Aldi and Lidl, and finally a huge complex with signs pointing to Danhostel Saeby.

I might have made a disparaging remark or two about Saeby. Over the phone tonight with Danny I was not impressed. (Not phone at all but fiber plus phone software in Gmail Chat. One cent per minute; sell all your large telecom stock.) Anyway I might have called it something like 'a nothing town'.

Well, as I discovered on a little after-dinner ride I had not really seen the town. The old part of town looks like this:

The kind of place you'd be totally happy to spend one (or more) of the summer months. Reading, walking, eating fiskesuppe and not much else. The way to this picturesque street takes you through the town center or "Centrum". There was a nice bar, dark inside with the door open. I could hear enough voices to know this is where everyone gathers at the end of the day.

With some sniffing I found the harbor. Full of sailboats, not fishing boats. Ideal for an evening stroll along the water.

Moored safely facing this traditional scene was a yacht worthy of Tiger Woods. Well not really, but it was big and slick. Someone's making money in Denmark and apparently this is the place to be. Right next to Jensen's Fiskerestaurant at the edge of the pier. Which I understand is the place to get a nice seafood meal.

Maybe for lunch tomorrow?

The clock on the church says 9:30, as in PM, light fading fast. It's the end of August after all. There's a brisk cool wind and no time to stop for long. Just an outing to see what there is to see. Be outside after the long trek from Copenhagen.

Almost didn't make it to Saeby today. The bus from Copenhagen to Aalborg was a little further than it seemed, a little harder to find lodged between two sets of railroad tracks. In a suburb of Copenhagen.

Instructions were to arrive at the bus stop 20 minutes early. Instead I screeched into Valby Busterminal, hair wild, heart pounding at 12:09. Exactly the time the bus was supposed to pull away from the curb. By some miracle it was still there and I wasn't even the only laggart. Which is something you worry about in a culture that values things fitting together nicely and everything going smoothly. The driver gave me a patient smile.

So far things have gone better than they deserved to, way better. At the hostel the entire 4-bunk room is mine to spread out in and make a mess. My biking clothes for Day 1 of SBS are set out on the floor. They're ready for Friday morning. Now it's time for mental prep.

And the Waterford? It has its own shed with a combination lock and other bikes for company. Yes, I heart Denmark.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Meeting the road

New tires on the Waterford. My go-to tire for randonneuring, the Continental Grand Prix 4-Season 25mm. Comfy, flat-resistant, long-wearing. Should the pavement be wet or rough, these are steady friends to rely on.

The days before a 1200K are filled with thoughts of what can go wrong. Cycling is an equipment-intensive sport and no equipment is immortal. Everything fails at some point under some set of conditions.

But most of us can't spend too much time in this mental terrain; it's grey and grim and infinite. Instead we do stuff to increase the chances of survival.

Like clean the bike, especially after Sunday's Montebello run, looking for little things that are amiss. This perspective is foreign, standing and facing the Waterford from a foot away. On the road I see only the top tube and handlebars and front wheel. From this angle, it's a stranger.

For the first time I notice the scars of all those kilometers in May, June, and July. Scratches in the orange paint. Scoring on the brakes. A fracture in a water bottle cage. Scuffs on the seatpost and saddle.  It's OK. We're all a little worn and still functional.

After going blank on Sunday the computer gets a new battery. The backlight works again! For checking mileage in the dark on the last few turns. For finding the way home. The seatpost gets marked with orange nail polish. It will come in handy, seat height being one of those critical things. The chain needs lube but not today, when it will rub all over the inside of the bike bag. Later, in Copenhagen. When things go back together.

Now for demolition. Take off wheels, pedals, seatpost, bars. The bike is just parts. No longer mobile they seem heavy, unwieldy. The pieces get stored systematically in the bag; remember where they are. Pad the most vulnerable bits with bubble wrap and foam. Think about the airline people who will be handling the bag.

Treat it carefully, just like a living thing...

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The taper

On the steep part of Tunitas Creek Road looking at Jim M's rear wheel I say "Jim, make it stop". He's one of those damn riders who makes it all look so easy. He can ride fast, he can ride slow. For example he doesn't even know why I'm saying that. Oh well it's a hill. Does he sweat? Lemme get back to you.

I drop back a little. So far the ride has gone well but that was then, this is now. There's no pop in my legs. My lungs feel like bricks. I'm not wearing a straightjacket. No one is covering my airways with a pillow but this is suffocation anyway, pure and simple. As for deciding what to do in this situation, my brain is waiting for the oxygen to be turned back on. It's in an altered state, which is actually helpful. I'm floating.

Mary Lu keeps me company, chatting. Sensing the suffering, she clicks down a gear. At some point she says "'re TAPERING now?"

Well, yeah. Starting right now in fact.

Over two weeks ago the Double Brevet Weekend with SF Randonneurs was my last long ride. A 300K Saturday, a 200K Sunday. A slow twitch saga.

Then it was time to work on hills and speed. Back-to-back days, hard 70-mile routes, always with a race to the finish on Foothill Expressway. Pescadero, the Old Familiar. Big Basin with China Grade. Half Moon Bay. Pescadero, with a Page Mill Lasso. Today is San Gregorio with Lobitos.

There's always some competitive idiot, I mean fellow cyclist, on Foothill who wants to race home. Stoplight to stoplight, intervals. Chasing the bunny. Fast twitch festival.

Somewhere, along one of those roads (and I really do not remember which one) stood a painted wooden goose outside some farm next to a sign Beware of Dog. Either someone has geese and a dog, or just a very effective guard goose.

An image came to mind, from the process of making foie gras. The French farmer, who acts fond of his geese, force feeds them corn from a funnel. Over a period of weeks. The end result is an enlarged, enriched liver. Yum! It's supposed to be cruel for the goose but who really knows? Maybe it just feels like too much of a good thing.

In my case the legs have become pate´. It has to be enough. There's no more left.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Pieces of red

The red group shook up plans for SBS in a big way. Logistics, not my strong suit.
  • Accommodation before the ride. The red group starts in Saeby, 12km south of Frederikshavn. The Frederikshavn hostel refunded my money. The Saeby hostel had a place. Incredibly good news. ($110/night for bunk and breakfast in a shared room with 3-4 other people...I heart Denmark!)
  • Route sheet. All the mileage cues were for the green group mileage, not the red group. We could have renamed this blog Elaine Gets Lost All Over Scandinavia (still could do that). After a couple of frantic days we have a working red route sheet. Need to double-check then print.
  • Transport from Copenhagen to Saeby. Just discovered a bus (takes bikes) from Copenhagen to Aalborg. Another bus from Aalborg to the tiny seaside town of Saeby. Bikes allowed on that bus if there is room and it's not an accordion bus.
Seems like red pieces might finally be falling into place. Start breathing normally. Soon.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Race to the ferries

In Scandinavia, people seem so laid back. Civilized. Everyone will get food and a bed at the end of the day. Why hurry?

There is a lot of water around Scandinavia. Day 1 of SBS involves four ferry rides. Boats that leave on a schedule. What I understand is this turns into a flat-out criterium slugfest to reach the harbor. Then stand around waiting for the next boat. Rest and eat on the ferry. Leave ferry and repeat.

The first ferry is no problem. Danny demonstrates the proper form off to the right there. That was the Hals-Egense ferry six years ago. Although the route sheet says it leaves every 5 minutes, if memory serves the trip across the water is what takes 5 minutes. Another 5 minutes to unload, 5 minutes to load, 5 minutes for the return trip. Still, every 20 minutes, not a huge deal. Time to take photos and have a smoke (I hear people actually do this.)

The second ferry, Aarhus-Odde, that's a problem. Aarhus is at around the 100-mile mark on Day 1. It's a large, busy town so a big part of getting to the harbor in a timely fashion is making all the right turns on your approach. Don't get sucked into Aarhus.

Also the crossing is a long one, one hour twenty minutes. Boats leave 12:30, 2:00, 4:00, 5:30. Imagine arriving at could have a full sit-down lunch waiting for the next ferry. Contemplating the sleep you won't be getting at the end of the day.

Then you land on Sjaelland (Zealand) and ride the next ferry at Rorvig. It leaves every 30 minutes.

The way this all goes down will have a big effect on arrival time in Melbystrand (red) or Laholm (green). A boomerang effect.

Leaving at 6:30am it will be pretty freaking hard to make the 12:30 ferry in Aarhus. That's 100 self-supported miles with another small ferry ride in the mix. It may be almost impossible but you know there will be riders who try to make it by 12:30. In case it's a real possibility, there should be some food (like a sandwich) in my bike bag. Zero time for food stops in the morning. Zero time for getting lost.

More likely I'll make the 2:00 one. On the other side at 3:30. On the Rorvig-Hundested ferry at 4:55. After that, 120 kilometers (80 miles) and one more ferry to finish Day 1. Wow. It's going to feel so good to pull into that cute hostel at the beach! Both hostel and beach will be tough to see because it will be dark, at least 11pm.

OK, so. Day 1 is NOT about hitting every bakery for pastries, it's about flawless execution and fast riding. Carry a sandwich and pocket food, get in and out of the first control at Mariager, don't get lost, under no circumstances miss the 2pm ferry from Aarhus.

Got it.

(And in case of a really really good day in a fast pack of Danes, hammer away for the 12:30 ferry from Aarhus. It will be worthwhile on the other side.)

Red alert!

My biggest fear with SBS is not the distance. I can ride 1200K. Especially I can ride 300K, four days in a row. Just keep pedaling.

My biggest fear is navigation. Specifically, getting lost. Disoriented in a foreign country. Under time pressure. With consequences. Since the accident navigation has been a problem and I'm working on it but sometimes, even in familiar surroundings, I get turned around. Good, precise directions are appreciated.

The final route sheet for Super Brevet Scandinavia 2013. May the course be with us!
Getting lost used to be a huge problem on Paris-Brest-Paris. Then they got the local folks to mark the course with reflective arrows at eye height. Thousands of arrows saying 'go this way'. And with more than 5000 cyclists on the road, now getting lost on PBP is rare.  (The biggest problem is when kids steal the arrows. Late in the ride randonneurs steal them too.)

Even more rare than getting lost is looking at the route sheet. Most people don't even carry it. Extra weight!

SBS is a different story. Plenty of turns, no arrows. Mark Thomas had quite a bit to say in 2009 about navigational challenges. His Garmin saved him.

After reading Mark's blog I thought, who needs a Garmin? A whole nest of problems in their own right. I'll have the route sheet printed out, saying at kilometer such-and-such, turn right. Those cool GPS files load into Google Maps! An iPhone is way more useful than a Garmin. I'll just whip out the phone and look for the pulsing blue dot. Compare it to the route. No problem!

SBS wants you to study the route beforehand. Good idea. This will help.

On closer inspection it quickly becomes clear that all the mileage numbers are for the green group. The red group gets special additions for the start and end of the first 3 days. But from the start of Day 1, if you're in the red group the mileage points are all off. Therefore it is almost guaranteed that this spatially-impaired blogger will get lost.

Maybe I can just Tweet from the course and the twitterverse can get me back on track!

I panicked a little. OK, a lot. It was last night and there might have been some screaming (at Danny) at (approximately) 11:46pm. At least one window was open too. Oh, the shame.

An email went off to the Danes, asking for the original spreadsheet used to make the route sheet. They very nicely and quickly sent it.

So now, it's time to take a stab at a route sheet for the red group. It will take deciphering various sheets and formulas. There will be mad splicing of rows.

If this works it's time to buy a lottery ticket.

P.S. Fabulous spreadsheet hackers out there, feel free to get in touch!
P.P.S. Any screaming deals on Garmins with next-day shipping, feel free to let me know!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Sunday Montebello

Plans to ride with a friend fell through. So I went up Montebello.... not big miles but high quality. Thirty miles, 3000 feet of climbing.

The legs are coming along. Maybe they'd be stronger if there had been a loaded tour these past few weeks. Not bad though. Need to keep working on speed.

So quiet and peaceful at the top. Not a soul around.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Happy happy hungry happy

Meet Bubba. Happiest canine in San Mateo County...

Bubba gets a whole lot of attention from passers-by. In his world the only thing that could use a little improvement is the availability of food. Hungry all the time. Got anything to eat?

Constant hunger is something randonneurs deal with, especially at this point in the season and right before the last climb of the day. I can smell a hamburger on the grill at a hundred yards. Riding home through the streets of suburbia in the early evening, well all I can say is your dinner is not as safe as you think.

Bubba gets pets on that huge Lab head. He's appreciative. And the Cashew Cookie Larabar in my back pocket stays right where it is.