Friday, August 16, 2013

The real ride begins...

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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 Skummel√∂vsstrand. 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.

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