Tuesday, 15 July 2014

My Sverigetempot 2014

After weeks and months of intense preparation of equipment, training and logistics, it was finally time! I got a greatly appreciated lift in to Centralen with my wife and a huge bikebox. I met a colleague from Karolinska Institute in the restaurant there and he thought I was joking when I said I was catching a train to Katterjåkk. He thought I was mad when I said I was intending to ride from there to Smygehuk.!That was a fun start to the trip.

The train ride, sharing a little room with two other cyclists, was fine. I managed to sleep really well and the Swedish countryside flew past alot quicker than the last time. In fact I was generally really relaxed and felt like I was well on top of this challenge.

The train had a short stop in Abisko, so we got off and bought some snacks. I was a bit jealous of the snacks the guy at the other checkout was getting.

I travelled up to Katterjåkk a day earlier than most because I like having time on my hands rather than stressing. That meant I could ride to the start with the early start group, 24 hours before ours, and wish them a safe and fun ride.

Enjoying the scenery on my rest day before the start.
Excited randonneurs in the first start group. Only about 2107 km left!
After two fantastic days of sleeping, checking the equipment and eating humungous amounts in Ebbes Kök I felt like I couldn't be more ready for this. It really felt like I was just off on a ride with some friends. Except that it was a ride with no end.
As ready as can be. My equipment couldn't have been better.
We rode up to the start on the Norwegian border after Peter got all nervous that we all seemed so cool and were waiting for the last minute. There was some last minute chatting, Peter took a few photos and off we went, exactly on time at 9 am on the 26th June!
Another photo shamelessly copied from Peter Tonér's Sverigetempot facebook page. Our start group lined up on the border. Yes, it was a bit chilly.
Without having planned it I took the first lead down the hill from Riksgränsen and then looked back and realised that we were already only five, after only about 2 km! This completely surprised us, but we decided we weren't pushing too hard and would continue at our speed and see what happened.
Passing the spectacular Lapplandsporten.
We rode well but sensibly to Kiruna. The wind was not as beneficial as last time so we were not tempted to try and keep a speed of 45 km/h the whole time. In fact the whole ride seemed far less like an adventure and more of a calculated mission this time. I was very confident of finishing in under 100 hours and had to ride sensiby to do this. We had an efficient, short stop in Kiruna and then attacked a few sections with gravel, but they were less dramatic than maybe expected.

A beautifully functioning randonneur group on the long, straight, foresty roads of northern Sweden.
We continued at speeds not up to those from the previous time, but we were also less and maybe didn't have equally strong riders this time. But this did not bother me, I felt great and took long turns at the front and then enjoyed gliding along at good speeds when others were at the front. We continued like this through Gällivare, where we had some quick food. After that the supposedly boring long roads are basically already finished and the section to Jokkmokk is actually quite fun. Lots of fast downhill, brilliant rivers and power stations and a happy group.

Finally pizza!!!! Strange feeling to recognise all the eating places in such distant, small towns like Jokkmokk.
It felt like I had used very little energy after the first 600 km. Perfect! But the group started reducing and before Arvidsjaur there was suddenly only Thomas and myself left. In previous years this would have scared me (not Thomas! - but only being two left), but I just accepted it and knew that with clever riding we could be efficient with two as well. By the time we got to Peter's little roadside support stop in Arvidsjaur just after midnight, it was about -2 degrees. These temperatures were not particularly pleasant so we stopped very shortly and then continued on towards Storuman.
It wasn't easy spontaneously removing gloves and taking photos while riding in these temperatures, but this one represents Thomas and a baby reindeer somewhere around Sorsele.
Thomas had a few problems staying awake, but we made it through the sunshiny, cold night to Storuman, where we hade decided to repeat our tactics from previously and eat a huge hotel breakfast and sleep a bit. But we were far more determined to save time and slept exactly 30 minutes instead of wasting what felt like about 3 hours last time. I felt fantastically fresh after this powernap! We continued riding with about 4 minute rotations to Vilhelmina where we stopped for lunch. But Thomas was getting tired and wanted to slow down a bit. After lunch, with a zombielike look and not completely comprehensible, he told me that he was going to quit because of a sore knee. This made me sad, but even now I quickly got my mind around it and decided to put my head down and finish off the last 1400 km solo. I even got quite excited about this challenge!

Where's my group?!
Being alone actually has alot of advantages; I only need to consult myself about stopping somewhere, what to eat etc. Can even just spontaneously stop to take a photo if I think it's worth it. I continued feeling good. Stopped where there were food opportunities (a kanelbulle in Dorothea, a huge plate of pasta in Strömsund), called my wife informing her that I was alone and rode and rode. After Strömsund I caught up with the first riders from the first start group 24 hours earlier, which was fun. After a quick chat and good luck wishes I continued on to Östersund.
Beautiful evening scenery before Östersund.

Being heavy and fat I hate hills. The ones I hate most are the endless ones before Östersund. But I got over these eventually and had ridden the first 950 km in 39 hours. Everything was well on track and I even realised I was quite rapidly catching up to the fastest rider from the early start group (Tom Theurer). I consciencously followed my plan of food followed by two hours sleep and then up and on my bike again. No problems at all - I once again felt very fresh after this sleep and I was really looking forward to a solo day's riding!

Optimistically riding out of Östersund at sunrise.

But it was cold. I was shaking on my bike and had to concentrate to keep moving in the hope that a higher sun would warm me up soon.

Desperately trying to warm up in an air/water cupboard in a petrol station in Åsarna.
This time I was prepared for the biggest climbs of the trip on Vemdalsskalet and could just take my own pace up them. They were slow and tough, but I got rid of them. And improved my max velocity from last time to 75.5 km/h :-) But instead of the sun warming me up it was now about 3-4 degrees and started to rain. Not very heavy but in a non-stop blanket cover of water sort of way. I didn't warm up again. I was quite well dressed, but should presumably have taken the full length leg warmers I had in a bag in Östersund. But it's easy to say so in hindsight...
By the time I came to the next control in Linsell, my right thigh, hip, gluteus were aching. It felt like maybe a pulled muscle and hurt with every pedal cycle. And I was still shaking and the coordintation in my whole right leg started feeling wrong. I called my wife again and said I wasn't doing too well but would continue to Sveg for a lunch and warmup. I knew that Tom was having a longer sleep in Lesjöfors and had for a while had a vague idea that I might soon catch up and we could be two again...
The lunch was great. I felt a lot better again and got out in the pouring rain and on my bike. I rode about 10 km but it was all wrong. It ached and ached and didn't help if I stood up or sat down. I could still move, but with the fact that there were still nearly 1000 km to go I started having serious doubts. I thought a bit, rode a bit, got mad, and then called my wife and said I was quitting. I will never forget that final 180 degrees turn on the road which symbolised my giving up.

 No comment.

I took my bike into a little track heading into the forest, leaned onto the handlebars and broke down and cried. It wasn't until the hypothermia really started hurting and I was completely soaked after maybe 15 minutes, that I had to take control again and begin the arduous, painful planning for somehow getting home. Of course I could have stayed a night in a hotel and warmed up and continued the next morning. But that didn't even cross my mind. I was going for 100 hours and nothing else was an option.

Back in Sveg I stopped a bus with "Mora" on it in the middle of the road and the driver kindly spontaneously stopped and let me on and didn't even want to get paid for a ticket. Thank you! From Mora there was a train to Borlänge where I stayed the night in a hotel and watched football with a beer which felt quite surrealistic considering the contrast to what I had intended to be doing right then. The next morning I caught a train to Stockholm after some arguments with the train staff convincing them that yes, I was getting on that train with that bike regardless of what they said. Come on Sweden; please sort out your train situation for cyclists! 
Of course the Pearl deserves a first class seat to itself!

I had bought a crap book to read on the train just to take my mind off everything else. Back in Stockholm my wife was there to pick me up and when we hugged she looked just as sad as me. I didn't know what to do with myself.

The "Smygehuk 2014" Duvel will have to wait. This is all I was worth this time.

The next few days, while other riders were continuing and finishing, I was unapproachable. I knew what I had had going and felt even more frustrated that this thinking was pathetic because I can't say how well it was going without completing. The weather this year was far tougher and of course everyone had to deal with it. Many had problems but many made it all the way to Smygehuk as well. Congratulations for your fantastic rides! And to Tom for coming in with the fastest time! Hopefully we can ride together another time. 

It hurt writing this blogg-post. I had big plans for this ride and there is nothing that I wish more than to have some summery, southern Sweden photos to add. But I don't. I rode about one Paris-Brest-Paris in a very good time. And I did finish in less than 100 hours. But I didn't make it.

Not this time anyway.


Thursday, 3 July 2014

Need a bit of time...

Well. Sverigetempot didn't quite go as planned. I need some time to digest all my thoughts and feelings. And I am also busy getting a conference trip to Boston under control. So, before I have time to entertain you with a full report of the ride I will keep you happy with this summary:

The start went great.

Feeling great on the Norwegian border. Photo courtesy of Peter Tonér from the Sverigetempot facebook page.
The finish didn't.

I will fill you in on the middle bit as soon as I am ready and have the time to write a sensible story without swearing too much.