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Kuolleiden purjehduskenkien seura

Jul 15th 2022

Overland from London to Finland: Day 4

00:25

Kalmar's old city looked quite romantic in the twilight, but I didn't have time for sightseeing. I found an open hotel, where I was able to fill my bidons and then headed off into the night.

The route started out as a ride through suburbia, which made me feel better about not doing it in daylight, as I didn't feel like I was missing out on much.

But eventually things became more rural and started to look like something out of a postcard. If postcards depicted nocturnal scenes, that is.

I've previously stated (helpfully, in posts not yet published on this blog) how much I enjoy cycling at night. It's a whole different world, with its own set of smells, sights and other sensory experiences. The fauna you meet can be especially inspiring, because it can spur a dialogue in your head about what animal it actually was that lasts for several kilometres.

Riding at night during the Scandinavian summer provides another unique attribute: the seemingly never-ending dusk. It makes the sky into a canvas of wonder, limited only by your own imagination. On this ride I was accompanied by several magical beings in the sky, particularly impressive was a huge dragon (which I highly regret not even attempting to photograph), who kept me company for more than half an hour before being broken apart by the winds. The solitude also removes the barrier of shame to have these conversations out loud, I've sometimes discovered.

Dragons aside, once I'd reached my goal of 60 kms I set out to find a camping spot. I'd done a bit of research ahead of time to find candidate locations, but eventually went off piste and picked the first waterside location I found that wasn't in someone's backyard. It was just off a well-trodden footpath, so I figured likely popular with dog walkers. Potentially risky, but no matter really, as I intended to be on my way very early.

After clearing up pinecones and other pointy things best I could, I pitched my tent. This was only the third time doing it and the first time it was neither in a park nor in my own backyard. That considered and that I was doing it by torch light, the end result was acceptable. Not perfect, but I was too tired to care by the time I noticed I'd not pegged out the inner tent properly. It matched my gold standard of "good enough", so I changed into my comfies, set the alarm for 6 a.m. (I had no provisions and the nearby Coop would only open at 7) and hit the hay at around 3 a.m.

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The best part about sleeping in a tent is the waking up. Especially when it's to a glorious sunny day. (Providing you wake up early enough that it's not the choking heat requiring your attention, of course.) I don't mind the rain pattering against the tent either, but I was quite happy that it wasn't the next morning's soundscape.

After those measly 3-ish hours of sleep, which were preceded by a long day of travel, I definitely felt a bit sluggish, but, after spending some moments listening to the morning concert from the adjacent inlet, I forced myself out of the quite cozy sleeping bag and began packing up the camp.

As I was loading my kit on the bike, the first dogwalker of the day wandered past with a befuddled look on their face. Foiled! I cursed my tardiness in my head, but greeted them with a smile and we both went on with our chosen toil. Not two minutes later I was already gone.

The breakfast at the Coop was not exactly glamorous but it filled its purpose. Belly full and stocked up for lunch I headed off in search of second breakfast down the road, in beautiful sunny weather.

A usual pastime on the bike during long-distance cycles is to play with the numbers, when you're not paying attention to the immediate surroundings. Working out the average speed required to make the deadline (I ride audaxes, which have a time limit), while still allowing for breaks etc. It occupies the mind and keeps the headspace away from getting bogged down with mundane matters, which fill your head otherwise. When struggling, breaking up bigger numbers into smaller ones is mine and many others' goto coping trick. My chosen strategy is breaking up the remaining distance into 20 km chunks, which makes the number a lot smaller and easier to deal with, even though you're well aware of the self-deception. Strange how the brain works.

In that spirit, I was looking at a long day in the saddle. I'd projected that reaching 250 km or more would give me a leasurely next day. It sounds like a lot, and it is, but it's not an unusually long distance for me. But I'm not normally carrying quite so much luggage, which did give me concern.

But as I already said, the weather gods were favourable and spirits were high. I passed some incredible views that brought me tears of joy. I spent my childhood in the Finnish archipelago, and the sea still has a special place in my heart.

Just over an hour later I reached Oskarshamn, where I got myself a coffee and a bagel to fill the void left by the meagre first breakfast.

Little did I know, that a mere 25 km later I'd be a bag of anxiety and desperate hopes. My rear wheel had recently had the rim and spokes replaced, and on a 600 km Audax UK ride following that some spokes loosened up mid-ride. I'd since then had it reserviced and thought such woes were behind me. Also, when I had the spoke troubles I decided to add a spoke tool to my on-bike toolkit, but my good intentions had failed to conquer my disorganised head and my spoke tool was safely at home.

With all the cargo on the bike, the handling was in general wobblier than I'd prefer, but something alerted me to an unusual movement at the rear. I stopped and again found several loose spokes, with nothing at hand to address the problem. So, there I was, in the middle of nowhere, between zero to one horse villages with not even a faint dream of a grocery store, let alone a bike shop, with a malfunctioning, heavily laden rear wheel. My choices were to carry on riding or to get off and walk. I decided to ride on, very slowly, avoiding every pot hole like someone elses life depended on it.

The next settlement was some 7 km away and I doubt I've ever stopped quite so often on such a short distance. It felt like I found another loosened spoke every time I stopped. I was definitely close to crying, or maybe just screaming. Some powerful emotional outlet anyway. I was so sure this would mean the end of my journey and summer adventure. I'd half-jokingly commented on my wheels' insuitability for touring before I left, so, in some sense, this was almost some kind of perverse poetic justice, I thought.

But never discount the dogged determination and stubbornness of a cyclist. I gingerly cycled kilometre after kilometre, until I arrived in Mederhult. A small settlement of about 15 houses and a church. Thankfully, one of the houses had someone going about their business in the yard, and I threw aside my usual timidness and approached a stranger! Simon abligingly borrowed me a pair of pliers to tighten the spokes. Thanks Simon!

We chatted while I was working on the wheel and I got a lot of useful information, particularly where I could buy myself the tools I'd stupidly left at home.

Västervik was the nearest bigger town anywhere near my route, but diverting there would mean an extra hour just for the cycling, and every minute was getting more precious. The combined effect of stopping for pictures, plus the at least 45 minutes I'd lost to my wheel issue, my progress had been glacial. But OTOH, would my problem have gone unnoticed, I would've lost it all.

I had a decent chunk of road between me and decision time and when I finally reached it, I checked the state of the field-repaired rear wheel one final time, found it still holding up and headed off on my original route. For about 10 seconds.

Sweden has (along its east coast at least) several signed bike touring routes. The route I'd been (more accidentally than on purpose) following so far was at this junction heading in the opposite direction than I was intending to take. When I spotted a group of three other cyclists head in the other direction, I made a turncoat maneuver. I'd debated long and hard for literally tens of kilometres which direction to take, in the end what settled the choice was the likelihood of coming across other cyclists. That and the thought of being stranded somewhere in the middle of the night with no applicable tools.

I gave chase and soon passed the group of three cyclists, who I found out to be Germans during a brief exchange of words. My pace was slightly faster than theirs, but our destination the same. As long as they were behind me, I felt safer that in case of emergency I would eventually come across another human being.

But nothing bad happened. The fix held up fine until Västervik. Clas Ohlson provides me with a suitable tool and the town with some sustenance.

While eating, I got back to the numbers. I didn't want my next day to be a heart in mouth race against the clock to make the ferry to Finland, so I needed to cut some corners. The problem was my route wasn't very indirect in the first place. There was really no way around it, I realised, I'd simply have to ride into the night once more. The challenge now became the first ferry on the route. But it seemed easily reachable. The last crossing of the day was at 11 p.m. and at 4 p.m. it was just over 100 km away.

The trouble was that distance is not only two-dimensional. While Sweden is certainly not mountainous, it's absolutely not flat ever. At least not where they've built the roads. From Västervik to literally the (spoiler alert!) very end in Stockholm it was non-stop up and down all the time. And not the nice kind where you can build up the momentum on the way down and let it carry you back up, but the back-stabbing speed-killing mild inclines that end in a steep kicker. I wasn't planning on mentioning the headwind, as it would seem like too much moaning, so let's just leave it at saying there definitely was one.

Something Sweden also taught me, was how spoilt I am in the UK. There (almost) every village has at least one of: a shop, an off license, a pub. Even if you come across a rare village without any commercial outlet, the next village is at most 30 minutes away. So, while I've believed myself to be a decently self-reliant long-distance cyclist, I'm really just a credit card tourer with some extra stickers on my bike.

In Sweden cars have ruined the village shop culture. [Ed. conjecture, citation needed.] Only large supermarkets survive in the rural landscape. I counted 3 grocery stores on the first 250 km of my trip. I'm sure there were many that were just off the route, but still, the smallest settlements are simply entirely devoid of any such services.

This meant I had to ditch my aversion to approaching strangers several times over the course of the day, to keep myself stocked up with water. Thankfully Swedes are a friendly bunch, who will gladly fill up your water bottle and give you some cookies on top. Smaskens!

After Västervik, the next town with any kind of services (barring diversions) was Valdemarsvik, some 70 kms away. I didn't know this at the time, I only discovered it when my hunger made me angry enough to stop at the side of the road, after an ad for a pizza van down the road later turned out to involve a 4 km one-way detour off my route.

Thankfully, I managed to power through with the power of winegums. Some 10 km before Valdemarsvik I hatched a plan of buying two pizzas: one for immediate consumption and one for the night and possibly breakfast. And I did. While eating, I looked up the remaining distance to the next ferry and suddenly realised I had just over two hours two cover the remaining 40 odd km until it would call it a day.

My planned route was the scenic kind, but I had no qualms straightening out some wrinkles on this stretch. It was already quite late and I wouldn't get the enjoyment I planned it to be with the ferry-timetable whip tickling my neck.

After I'd composed my new route, I rushed to strap the 2nd pizza to my bike and carry on, and completely forgot about filling up on water. Not a good idea after eating a whole cheese-covered pizza. I'd somehow told myself that I still had nearly two full bottles. When I took my first drink after leaving, I had a bit of a rude awakening, as one was nearly empty.

Still, didn't want to turn around. I'd bought some mineral water to have with the take away pizza, and figured it could slightly bridge the dehydration gap if push came to shove and I wouldn't find a water source before morning. It was now more important to reach the ferry on time, as otherwise I'd face another day of clock-chacing.

Imagine my joy when I after about 10 km spotted a farmer just stepping out from his barn next to the road. My by now well-learned pull up and ask for water was completed in record time. Water bottles full, I was all smiles again chasing the clock with gusto.

Eventually I made the penultimate ferry of the day, half an hour earlier than expected, which gave me hope of getting to sleep before midnight. The next ferry, which was about an hour away, had already stopped for the day. I'd looked at the ferry port on Google Maps earlier during the day and it looked like I'd be able to camp there, giving me maximum sleep time and best chance of catching the first ferry the next day.

My pizza-induced thirst caused me to quickly go through a whole bottle of water and I once again became worried about not having enough for the morning. The time was so late, coming across someone in their garden was unlikely, so I instead opted for suspiciously snooping around several municipal buildings in a small town I passed through. I was particularly disappointed by lack of a water tap at the fire department. Eventually I came across a tap in a church yard. Perhaps not something I'd rely on just anywhere, but in Scandinavia I'd purport it's difficult to come across a non-potable water source. (Or maybe the worm growing inside my intestines told me to spread the message.)

My water quest foiled my hopes of a pre-midnight sleep, but it did instead provide me with another spectacular moon. Rising just above the trees on the horizon as a giant orange ball, it was a sight to behold.

In the end I reached the next ferry port just after midnight and found it to have the most perfect tent pitching spot I could hope for.

At 240 km I came just short of my minimum distance goal for the day, but only just. With some further adjustments I'd made to the route, I had about 160 km remaining for the next day, for which there should be ample time.

After setting up camp, I had a quick paddle in the sea to freshen up, set my alarm for 5 a.m. and promptly fell asleep with a pizza slice hanging out of the corner of my mouth.

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