Saturday, August 17, 2013

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.

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