Wednesday, December 5, 2001

Chicago Sun Times Road Rage Verdict

Driver guilty of mowing down
cyclist

December 5, 2001

BY CARLOS SADOVI CRIMINAL COURTS REPORTER

A jury on Tuesday found a Bellwood man guilty of using his Chevy
Tahoe SUV to intentionally run down a bicyclist in 1999 in a fit of
road rage.

As the verdict was read to a packed courtroom after two days of
deliberations, the family of Carnell Fitzpatrick wailed and cried out.
Fitzpatrick, 31, could face up to 60 years in prison after the jury
found him guilty of first-degree murder.

Tom McBride, 26, was killed on April 26, 1999, as he rode his
bicycle from his Oak Park home to his job in the Loop as a bicycle
messenger.

Prosecutors argued that Fitzpatrick intentionally mowed down
McBride, while defense lawyers argued the death was an accident.

''When you have a 3-ton vehicle and maybe a 20-pound bicycle
there is no even match, it's very skewed,'' Assistant Cook County
State's Attorney Lynda Peters said. ''The message that is sent by this
verdict is that bicycles have the right to be out there. Tom McBride
had the right to be on that road.'' She said it was the first
vehicle-bike road rage case to be tried in Cook County.

Prosecutors said Fitzpatrick ran into McBride after the cyclist
slapped his hand on the hood of the SUV and swore at Fitzpatrick
who had nearly hit him as they traveled along the 5300 block of
West Washington.

A key witness told police and a grand jury that he saw Fitzpatrick
nearly hit McBride with his truck and then drive after him. Jerry
Carter III, however, recanted his testimony during the trial when it
was revealed that he had been threatened for speaking out.

Prosecutors then presented Carter's grand jury testimony and
statements he made to police on the day McBride died.

Jurors said that during their deliberations they compared Fitzpatrick's
truck to a weapon.

''We didn't believe Carnell wanted to murder him but he made a
decision to go after him by his actions,'' said a juror, who asked that
his name not be used.

During the nearly 16 hours of deliberations, jurors grappled with
possibly convicting Fitzpatrick of reckless homicide, a lesser offense.

They also said Carter's first statements to police and the grand jury
were more believable than his recantation and that witness testimony
by two other men backed up Carter's initial claims.

''We felt something was up,'' a juror said.

Fitzpatrick's family and friends were too upset to discuss the verdict.

''This is the wrong time to ask someone when their son has been
convicted of murder,'' a family member said.

But McBride's family applauded assistant state's attorneys Patrick
Kelly and Peters, who tried the case.

''The prosecutors did a great job, we are grateful to them,''
McBride's mother Mary Ellen said.

Nearly a half dozen of McBride's fellow bike messengers and other
bicyclists rode to the courthouse every day of the weeklong trial.

The verdict should send a message that cars must be more careful of
bicyclists' rights on the road, said George Christensen, a bike
messenger. He and McBride worked for the same company for
nearly seven years.

''It's nice to have this on the record, it's assurance that the law is
on our side,'' Christensen said. ''Vehicles are murder weapons. Had he
used a gun it would have been more clear cut.''

While McBride may have exacerbated the confrontation when he
swore at Fitzpatrick and hit his truck, it's something that bicycle
messengers grapple with every day. Along with bags and helmets
many carry repellent for protection against drivers, he said.

''When you're nearly killed out there, it's hard to let that pass,'' he
said as he broke down in tears. ''The toughest day was the day after
he was killed. He really liked being a messenger, I could feel his
presence that day.''

Chicago Tribune Road Rage Verdict

Cyclist's death was murder, jury decides

December 05, 2001|By Kirsten Scharnberg, Chicago Tribune staff reporter
In an emotional end to a complicated trial, Carnell Fitzpatrick was found guilty of first-degree murder Tuesday in a case Cook County prosecutors have called the first local incident of road rage in which a bicyclist was killed by an angry driver intent on seeking revenge for a minor traffic dispute.

"When you have a three-ton vehicle and maybe a 20-pound bicycle, that is no even match," Assistant State's Atty. Lynda Peters said moments after the verdict. "It's very skewed.
The verdict came after a Cook County jury had deliberated for more than 16 hours over two days. During that time, they had sent the judge a note asking for legal clarification about the definition of reckless homicide. The jury had been given the option of convicting Fitzpatrick on the lesser charge. They also were allowed to view for a second time a videotaped statement given by an eyewitness to the April 26, 1999, accident that left bike messenger Tom McBride, 26, dead.
Fitzpatrick, 31, faces 20 to 60 years in prison. He had been out of jail on bond throughout the five-day trial but was taken into custody after the ruling. He sobbed as sheriff's deputies led him from the courtroom.

In the courtroom gallery, emotions were high on both sides of the aisle. Before the verdict was announced, a half dozen courthouse deputies came into the room, standing in the center of the room, between those who were there in support of Fitzpatrick and those who were family, friends and former colleagues of McBride.

When the verdict came, Fitzpatrick's wife screamed and ran from the room. Her sobs could still be heard inside the courtroom as Judge Kenneth J. Wadas polled the jury.

In the front row, Robert McBride, the victim's father, quietly shook and cried. His wife, Mary Ellen, leaned against a son, tears running down her cheeks.

"We're grateful for them," Mary Ellen McBride said of the state's attorney's office as she left the courtroom. "They put on an outstanding case."

One of the primary elements of the trial had been the eyewitness testimony of Jerry Carter III, a Chicago man who had been jogging near the scene of the accident in the 5300 block of West Washington Boulevard.

During pretrial motions, Carter had refused to testify about what he had told police and later a grand jury: that he had seen Fitzpatrick deliberately run down McBride after the cyclist shouted curse words during a near-collision. He had also refused to testify during the trial and had done so under orders of the judge, recanting what he had earlier told authorities.

Carter had claimed he had been threatened to not testify and had warned prosecutors that he would lie on the stand. Peters, one of the two prosecutors, said after the trial that the state's attorney's office has no plans to pursue perjury charges against Carter.

Throughout much of the trial, the courtroom was packed with Chicago-area bike messengers and sport cyclists. After the verdict, George Christensen broke down as he talked about McBride, a Chicago bike messenger for seven years with whom Christensen had worked for many years.
"My toughest day of messengering--through extreme cold, extreme heat, whatever--was the day after he was killed," Christensen said in the hallway outside Courtroom 301. "I could really feel his presence that day."

Christensen said he hoped the verdict would send a signal to drivers that "vehicles are murder weapons." He added that he thought the trial's outcome would give "bicyclists a little insurance that the law is on their side."

"It could have happened to any of us," he said. "We've all had these confrontations."

Fitzpatrick's lawyer, veteran defense attorney Sam Adam, declined to comment on the verdict.

Fitzpatrick, who was transported to the Cook County Jail, is due back in court on Jan. 15 for post-trial motions and possibly sentencing.

Saturday, July 14, 2001

Stockholm 2 (Museuming)

Friends: I've just finished off my 24-hour pass to the museums of Stockholm and I'm exhausted. I didn't get to all 70, but I saw lots, including some totally unexpected sites that were so remarkable they almost had me staggering in disbelief. One was a mammoth Viking ship three-fourths the length of a football field that sank upon its Stockholm launch in 1628. It remained buried in the cold preserving muck of the harbor for 333 years until it was hauled up in 1961 and was meticulously restored to its original state. It looked sparkling new and ready to sail. It was adorned with countless brightly varnished carvings and had several layers of cannons all round. Viewing it was like being transported back in time. I was struck numb by its magnificence and before I knew it 90 minutes had passed, much more time than I had allotted for it. It was one of those museums I only meant to just stick my head in for a quick look-see. I had no idea what awaited me. I could have spent all day there. That ship was easily one of the most boggling things I have ever seen.



I knew nothing else I might see in the slew of museums ahead could compare, but I still saw much that also came close to sweeping my feet out from under me. The Maritime Museum with its astounding array of hundreds of model ships from all eras was one of those. So too was the Armaments Museum. A panel from Hieronymus Bosch's "Garden of Earthly Delights" was in the entryway and just past were several primates reenacting the opening to Kubrick's "2001." Abba, Sweden's most famous pop group, was featured in two museums. The Music Museum has a permanent exhibit devoted to the four-some, while the sprawling Nordica Museum had a special exhibit, which included a 45-minute documentary. Abba was also mentioned on the two island cruises I took. We passed their recording studio on one and on the other we passed the mansion of one of its members.

I hiked up the 106-meter tower at City Hall, the highest point in downtown Stockholm. The Nobel banquet is held in its magnificent hall, worthy of a royal palace and large enough to seat 1,300 people. I took the free tour. It was mind-blowing to hear anecdotes of the countless luminaries who had been honored there. This year is the 100th anniversary of the prize. The banquet is held on Dec. 10 every year, the anniversary of Nobel's death. The tallest building in all of Scandinavia, a 155-meter TV Tower, lies on the outskirts of the city. My museum pass entitled me to the elevator ride to its summit. It gave an excellent perspective on the 14 islands that comprise Stockholm and all its waterways. One could gaze out towards the Baltic. All told there are 24,000 islands in the archipelago.


The city is one-third water, one-third greenery and one-third urbanity. From up high it didn't seem so dauntingly huge. There are about 1.6 million people in the surrounding area. I can still get lost a bit in my meanderings, but I can generally find a landmark and get unlost within a couple of minutes. I've still got a day-and-a half of exploring to do. My 24-hour pass didn't start until noon yesterday, as the first few museums neglected to stamp it. When they passed it through a scanner I thought that registered its initial use, but that wasn't the case. So I got a couple extra hours out of it on the front end, and a few extra on the back end, as I saved my entry into one of the vaster areas until five minutes before the card was to expire.



I'd still like to see the Strindberg Museum and the recently opened Nobel Museum, which weren't included on the card. Plus I'd like to see the Changing of the Guard again. It went on for 45-minutes and included a full-fledged marching band that put on a show as good as any half-time show at an American football game--Superbowl or otherwise. They marched around with pronounced steps and head movements and twirling of instruments and precision movements. The throngs watching gave them boisterous applause at the end of each number. Some even clapped along with the music.



When I return to the hostel at the end of each day, the first thing I do is to check that my bike box is still under my bed. It had gone missing once. One of the managers didn't realize what it was and had put it out with the garbage. Fortunately I was there in time to rescue it. I'd be sunk without it. My departure is at eight a.m. Monday. If it turns up missing Sunday, when no bike shops are open, I'll be quite perturbed. It would be quite a challenge to convince Air Poland to take my bike unboxed or to scrounge around the airport early Monday morning hoping to find an abandoned box or an airline that provides them that would let me have one of theirs. I also have the concern of sleeping through my four a.m. alarm. I have to bike a mile-and-a-half, dragging the box, to the bus terminal, where the day's first bus to the airport departs at 6 a.m. I'll pack up the bike at the bus terminal. I shouldn't be too worried, as everything has worked out just fine so far. It has been another sensational trip.

Later, George

Thursday, July 12, 2001

Stockholm, Sweden

Friends: I just walked into the public library at 10:30 this morning across the street from my hostel and there were half-a-dozen unoccupied Internet terminals and no directives prohibiting emails. There is no sign-up sheet, just signs that say 15-minute limit if anyone is waiting. Stockholm is great. I even had an escort in to town, sparing me the usual frustration of trying to find my bearings and having to pull out my map every few minutes.

A woman cyclist came up alongside me on the bicycle path on the outskirts of the city and asked, as every cyclist should seeing someone on an overloaded bike, "Where have you been?" She was an Australian who'd been living in Stockholm for two years and travels extensively. In fact, she was about to leave for a month of wind-surfing in Spain. We pedaled and chatted for 20 minutes, all the way to a hostel that she recommended. I'm not sure how close I was to apartment-sitting. That was too much to hope for. And if I had, I would have missed out on meeting some more fascinating travelers. The hostel has one large 40-bed dorm. The friendliest guy there, also an Australian, who's been living in London the past two years, said I was lucky not to have arrived Monday or Tuesday, as every bed in every hostel was filled with Swedes from all over the country, who had come to town for a couple of U2 concerts. Right now, the hostel is only half-full. Bed and breakfast is a bargain at eight dollars.



The Aussie too is an ardent traveler. He's just embarking on a four-month tour of Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. He's been here a couple of days and told me all sorts of things I ought to see. He particularly recommended the Changing of the Guard. He said it makes London's look rinky-dinky. Last summer he spent six months exploring Western Europe. He enthusiastically recounted his affection for Barcelona and Copenhagen and Seville and on and on. Meeting such people is one of the joys of travel.



I thought I'd have to wait until Sunday morning to have the streets of Stockholm to myself. But I forgot that its light until all hours, and I could go out in the evening and pretty much have the city to myself. At nine p.m. I took a slow meander around town, orienting myself and making all sorts of wonderful discoveries. I kept at it until 10.30 and look forward to more of the same tonight. Stockholm is a series of fourteen islands ranging in size from a few acres to many square miles. There aren't as many bike ways or bicyclists as in Amsterdam or Rotterdam, but more than Berlin and certainly anywhere in the US. The traffic is quite moderate, making the biking almost carefree.



I was among the first at the tourist office this morning inquiring about the museum pass. The one-day twenty dollar version it will allow me admission to some 70 museums and sites and two cruises. The time period of the pass doesn't start upon purchase, but rather when it is first used. And from that point on it is good for 24 hours. It will be quite a challenge narrowing down what I will try to see in that period. I will take a while to plot my strategy. I will definitely include the two cruises, using them as an opportunity to rest my legs. Among the curiosities are the Abba collection at the Music Museum and the horrors of smoking at the Tobacco Museum. Priorities right now are confirming my airline ticket and finding a bike box. Maybe Air Poland will give me another $200 to change my flight, as they did at my departure from O'Hare.

Later, George

Wednesday, July 11, 2001

Jacobsberg, Sweden

Friends: I'm closing in on Stockholm, taking advantage of a suburban library before I finish off the last few miles of my circuit of Scandinavia. Tonight I will sleep in doors for the first time in forty nights. My final night of camping last night may have been my best. There was such a thick layer of pine needles on the forest floor I hardly needed my sleeping pad. And the pine needles were thick enough that there was little brush to wade through as I pushed deep enough into the forest to get away from the sound of traffic on the small country lane I had been riding.

More than ever, it was hard to quit riding. It was a windless, cool evening on a quiet country road, barely one-lane wide. My heart wanted to continue all the way to Stockholm, 60 miles further, and I heard no objections from my legs, just my better sense. What would I do arriving in Stockholm at two a.m. There was light enough to do it, though someone told me the other day that it almost gets dark at two a.m. now, at least for a moment before it starts getting lighter. Among other things, this trip will be remembered as the trip I never saw a sun rise or sun set, just that dangling orange orb just above the horizon at midnight at the Nordkapp on the Solstice.

It will also be remembered for all the tunnels of Norway. I finally got my hands on the book that details them all--over 700. Bicycles are banned from about a quarter of them, mostly in the southern part of the country where there is more traffic and more options of getting around them. Of the 60 or so I went through, I only had to break the law once. I will particularly remember how cold the tunnels could be, and how I had to debate whether to stop and put on a jacket before I entered each. If it was less than quarter mile long and I only needed to spend a minute or two in their deep freeze, I didn't want to bother to stop. It wasn't just one stop, as there'd be another when I emerged from the tunnel to remove the wrap. If I was really warmed up, and knew that I had warmth awaiting me when I exited the tunnel, I might raise the distance to half a mile or more.


I never saw ice in a tunnel, but the temperature often felt very close to freezing. Two days ago when I took a tour of the copper mine in Falun there were warnings that the temperature was 43 degrees at the bottom of the mine shaft we would descend. The tour lasted an hour and the cold never penetrated like that of those tunnels. There were no miners to be seen, as the mine had closed down in 1992 after over 1,000 years of operation. It was such an important part of the Swedish economy that it was a tradition for the King of Sweden to pay it a visit. For many years an army regiment was stationed in Falun to guard it.



As I approach the greatest concentration of people I will have encountered in the past 3,000 miles, the scavenging along the road has intensified. I found six water bottles in one stretch that recently hosted a bicycle race. I have more water bottles than I need, here and at home, but I can never resist more, especially when they are of high profile European racing teams. The prize was a Farm Frites bottle, a team that competes in the Tour de France. Several of the bottles had high-tech caps new to me. I also found an allen wrench in the same stretch. Elsewhere I found a nine-dollar Swedish girly magazine. Not all were blonds.


As my tour winds down, I can begin looking forward to the next one, not only to be back on the road, but also for the opportunity to relive this one. I am eager to find out what I will remember most. Whenever I set out on a new tour, I have a rush of memories of my most recent tour, the latest and freshest batch just waiting to be perused. I spend so much time dwelling on tours past as I'm riding, I'm not always aware of the uniqueness of my present circumstances. And also as I'm living it, so fully immersed in a country and culture different from my own, some things become so commonplace I no longer take note of them. I hardly pay attention to the odd sight of cross-country skiers on wheels along the highway training, poling along, at first a most incongruous sight that had me shaking my head in wonderment. I know I'll think back with great fondness during all future tours at not having to race a setting sun to find a place to camp or to be in any particular rush to get started in the morning to maximize the daylight. Twenty-four hours of light is an unimaginable luxury. I'll fondly recall fish paste on Wasa crackers and Norway's banana-mango yogurt. When food seems expensive, I can remember the $13 hamburger in the Arctic of Norway, knowing it could be worse.

I'm still trying to negotiate my way into downtown Stockholm. I have to stop every 15 or 20 minutes to study the map. A police officer just told me about a bike path that follows the nearby train tracks that will lead me a good ways into town. And then I'll have the challenge of finding one of the six hostels Lonely Planet recommends. Hopefully I'll end up at one with Internet. If not, I can come back here if its not too complicated, as there are four computers that people can be on for 15 minutes, or longer if no one is waiting.

I'm also hoping to find a sports bar to watch the Tour de France. The last three hours of it are broadcast live every afternoon on some cable channel. And there will be plenty to see in Stockholm the next four days. There are also worthy sites I can bicycle to within 15 or 20 miles. I'm especially looking forward to Sunday morning when no one will be out and the town will be mine to explore. I ought to know it well by then.

It has been a pleasure to be able to share this experience almost on a daily basis thanks to the Internet. I look forward to finding a computer to be able to unleash all those thoughts that have been whirling through my head all day on the bike. It has been impossible to be lonely with so much to occupy my thought. This has been my first Internet tour. It has greatly enhanced the experience, concentrating my thoughts, knowing I'll have them chance to type them out rather than jot them down in a journal. In past tours of more than a month I was lucky to get any mail along the way. Those occasions were always a highlight. I can well remember receiving three letters in Kathmandu after not having had any in over a month since Calcutta. I was looking forward to that mail for weeks. Now I can hear from friends on a daily basis.

Later, George

Tuesday, July 10, 2001

Sala, Sweden

Friends: I was bound for Orebro and its spectacular castle, the most photographed in Sweden, when the road suddenly banned bicycles, and I had to take another route to Stockholm. Now that I'm within 100 miles of Stockholm, the countryside has grown more densely populated, and the motorways that were once open to all traffic are now more like Interstates with 70 mile per hour speed limits and entrance and exit ramps, even though they are only two-lanes wide. The alternate roads are sleepy, winding country lanes that were laid out centuries ago. They make for idyllic cycling, but they are anything but direct and their surfaces are very inconsistent. The 110 miles from Falun to Orebro via the direct route would have been at least 50% longer and much slower, requiring lots of map-reading to figure out which way to go. The terrain here is much hillier than Finland, so the roads are not laid out on a grid, rather following the contours of the land, other than the motorways that were carved straight through only recently.



Today's overcast sky has given me flashbacks to my days and days of rain. I'll occasionally glance at an oncoming car and catch myself checking to see if its windshield wipers are wiping, as became a habit back when the rain alternated between mist and drizzle and I wasn't sure what it was doing. One of the joys of traveling by bike is losing myself in thought, then suddenly being jarred back to reality. When I am back in the now, I can consciously reflect back on what other journey my thought has just taken me.


I've been at this over a month now but I still have an occasional panic attack that something is missing. "What could it be," I frantically ask myself, then realize that my back is bare and I'm not wearing my messenger bag. Before I'm plunged too deeply into despair over the loss of my bag, I remember that I'm not messengering, but touring, and feel greatly relieved. Other times I'm struck by the horror that I've lost the key to my Kryptonite lock. The key dangles from a cord I wear like a bracelet on my right wrist when I'm messengering so the key is right there and I don't have to dig into my pocket for it the couple of hundred times a day I have to lock and unlock my bike. It is a tremendous time-safer. That key on a cord becomes an integral appendage. Occasionally, as I'm touring, my subconscious will file a report that my bracelet and key are missing and that I am sunk. And then I remember it hasn't slipped off my wrist, as I'm in Scandinavia touring and not back in Chicago riding like a maniac making deliveries, and that it's okay to be riding bare-backed and bare-wristed.


I had a flashback to India this morning as I was bathing in the shallows of a lake. I needed a morning bath as no lake presented itself yesterday evening. One of the constants of India was coming upon Indian men in the morning hours bathing beside a pond or river or pool or from a faucet in the city, using a small bowl to pour water over themselves. They'd vigorously scrub themselves down with a wash cloth. The lake I was beside was too rocky to venture into, so I used my Tupperware bowl, that I had breakfasted out of an hour earlier, to pour water over me Indian-style. It is the same Tupperware bowl that I would frequently put a meal in while in India, if the restaurant I was eating in became too over run with gawking Indians. I'd flee to the countryside to eat in relative peace. I have almost as much fondness for my Tupperware bowl as I do for my neckerchiefs, two of my most valuable possessions when I'm off traveling by bicycle.

Later, George

Monday, July 9, 2001

Falun, Sweden

Friends: Unlike Norway and Finland, Swedish towns post signs to the "Bibliotek," making it quite easy to track down the local library. But I've had much less luck finding an open library in Sweden, as they have much more limited summer time hours than those in its sister Scandinavian countries.

Lakes with somewhat warm water are much more plentiful in Sweden than they were in Norway and Finland. A swim a day makes crawling into my tent a much happier occasion than when I haven't been able to bathe and I'm plastered with several layers of grimy sweat. It has been warm, in the 70s, a bit above normal I'm told, and almost too warm for the locals. One day it was close to 90 and people were complaining about it for days afterward, as air conditioning is unheard of in these parts. I hadn't found a lake that night and it was the day of being severely bitten by flies. I had a hard time falling asleep that night itching all over. Fortunately I knew better than to wonder, "What in the hell am I doing this for?" I well know and accept all the less than pleasant episodes. Challenges and adversity, preferably in moderation, make it all the more satisfying.

My latest challenge has been biking an agonizing 30 miles with a barely functioning freewheel, hoping all the way it would hold together until I arrived in Falun, a decent city of 50,000. Even if I weren't in need of a bike shop, I would have made Falun a destination for a tour of what was once the world's largest copper mine. I instantly knew something was awry with my bike when all of a sudden I heard a loud clanking from the rear of my bike. My heart plummeted to my knees. I had never heard such a sound and could only guess what it meant.

My thought had been preoccupied the last few days pitying the German cyclist whose bottom bracket suddenly seized up on him, totally crippling it. I had no reason to think it could happen to me, but it reminded me how mechanical malfunction is an ever present possibility. Any and all parts on the bike can break, as I well know from bike messengering. The touring isn't as stressful on the bike as the messengering is, but my touring bike has many thousands of miles on it, way more than my messengering bike, and parts do wear out.

I have replaced many parts on both bikes over the years, and know at any moment I may have to replace another. I don't dwell on such matters, but the German cyclist's misfortune had been haunting me. It didn't help that I've had two flats in two days and a broken derailleur cable. With such a rash of equipment failure, I had to wonder, "What next?" And now I knew. I feared at first that the horrid clanking sound was a broken axle. I've broken quite a few as a bicycle messenger from hitting potholes and rough pavement at high speeds. But upon examination I could tell the axle was in tact and that something inside my freewheel had broken. The sound was less pronounced if I kept the chain on the middle on my chain rings and the middle of the freewheel rings, keeping the chain in a straight line, making my bike a single speed. I've suffered broken freewheels. Usually the catching mechanism breaks and the freewheel is totally useless. I feared that could happen at any moment, turning my bike into a skateboard, rather than a pedaling machine.

I limped to within 12 miles of Falun before stopping to camp, and managed to nervously finish off the ride the next morning, counting down each tenth of a mile. I arrived in town at nine. The tourist office was open but not much else. With it light late people stay up late and don't get going so early. I had an hour to bide my time before the library or the bike shop opened. I sat outside the bike shop eating muesli and milk. I had no doubts the bike shop would have a freewheel, but I feared how much it would cost, and feared, too, I might have to replace the chain. But the news was all good. The shop had a semi-obsolete five-ring freewheel similar to mine they were happy to get rid of and at a price cheaper than what it would cost in the U.S. And when I gave the bike a test ride there were no complains from my chain.

The mechanic was a friendly gent who had raced against Greg LeMond back in the early '80s before LeMond turned professional and began his conquest of the cycling world. He eagerly filled me in on the Tour de France, which started just a couple of days ago. We spent more time chatting than it took to perform the operation. The Swedes have been the most cordial and conversational of the Scandinavians, regularly expressing interest in my travels. Now that I've biked over 2,500 miles and been to the Arctic and back, I have plenty to share. I have yet to meet a single Swede who has been to Nordkapp, though just about everyone would like to. Many comment they have been reluctant to drive up because they've heard the road is bad and the weather not so good. Many are quite impressed that it can be done by bicycle. Guys have tipped their hat or asked to shake my hand.

I spent several hours yesterday in Mora checking out its museums. Two were devoted to Anders Zorn, the preeminent Swedish artist of the early 1900s. One was his home and the other a gallery. I most enjoyed a museum devoted to the largest cross country ski race in the world that finishes up in Mora. It was first held in 1922 and is a great national event. The race is a tribute to Sweden's fight for independence from Denmark in the late 1500s. One of the highlights of the museum was a fascinating 30-minute video with footage from the very first race and many since. An archway by the museum marks the finish line for the race. Right beside it are a pair of cross-country skis and boots and a bib number for people to put on, if they care to have their picture taken as if they are crossing under the Arch. I saw quite a few people do it. The museum offered a free sample of the hot blueberry soup the skiers are fed during the race instead of Gatorade. My half hour is up on the computer. This is the first library that charged for it, just a dollar. This library and the tourist office also charged for the use of their rest rooms. Home in a week.

Later, George

Thursday, July 5, 2001

Mattmar, Sweden

Friends: I've crossed into Sweden and all of a sudden its summer. The border came after a climb over a divide. There were blue skies on both sides of the divide. I was almost wishing I had made the climb in a rain, as it might have spared me the attack of packs of pesky and, at times, ferocious flies who chased me up the mountain. All the way I had to frantically wave and whip my neckerchief trying to ward them off.

In the other world people say you can't be too thin or too rich. In the touring cyclist's world you can't have too many neckerchiefs or too detailed of a map. The neckerchief has dozens of uses-- hanky, pillowcase, wash cloth, rag, towel, sponge to mop up the tent, padding for the handlebars, wrist bands to soak up the sweat pouring off my arms on a strenuous hot climb, sun shield for the back of my wrists, wet rag for around my head or neck, bandage or tourniquet, head covering under my helmet to keep the warmth in, pulled up over my mouth to keep the dust out, a mini-scarf around my neck in the cold, pot holder, and, as I was presently using it, to ward off marauding insects.

I'm constantly finding new uses for my neckerchiefs, and always have several in reserve. I never have to worry about exhausting my supply as it is an item I frequently find along the road. I usually conclude a trip with more neckerchiefs than I started with. There are uses I've never had to put them to, though I know if the emergency should arise, they are available. Never have I been so desperate to clean my chain or derailleurs, that I couldn't wait until I've scavenged a scrap of cloth from along the road, though it's been reassuring to know I could enlist a neckerchief for that purpose if need be. Nor have I ever exhausted my supply of toilet paper and been forced to call upon a neckerchief for those duties. I'd certainly hate to subject such a fond object to that, but faithful as they have been, I know they and I could endure such a sacrifice.

As I waved at the flies with my neckerchief, it gave me time to reflect on how much I appreciate their many uses and virtues. The flies were so irritating I would have welcomed a passing vehicle to race closely past me at high speed to blow them away. I was wishing for cars to pass me simultaneously from both directions, forcing the one on my side of the road to come close to me sending these pests swirling to oblivion. After several miles I was lucky enough to come across some stinking carcass and the flies abandoned my sweating carcass for the even smellier one. Always something to battle, whether the terrain, weather, traffic, tunnels, mechanical maladies or physical aches.

And always something to be concerned about, if I so choose. Crossing from one country into another always poses the possibility of harassing border officials wanting money or forms or to look through my gear. And then there is the hassle of changing money. But the border here wasn't much different than crossing from one state to another in the U.S. There were officials, but no barriers or even instructions to stop. I rolled right on through, without even a wave or a wink.

It was forty miles before I came to a bank. I arrived at six p.m. and it was closed. But my trusty Visa card worked in the ATM machine. It was in the ski resort of Are, a town of 10,000 in the winter, but only 800 in the summer. There was a grocery store open though. I was eager to plunge in and see what different edibles Sweden might offer. I was able to get half a fried chicken for half the price of even the average priced hamburgers of Norway and also bananas at a quarter of the price of Norway. A young German cyclist who had also just crossed into Sweden was likewise thrilled by the more affordable prices of Sweden. "I knew Oslo was supposed to be the most expensive city in the world," he said, "But I didn't expect all the prices to be as bad as they were. This is more like it." The German wasn't in the best of moods as his bottom bracket had seized up as he was climbing a hill a few miles back and his crank arms would no longer move. It might have been retribution from the cycling gods for taking the train out of Trondheim to avoid the long climb to Sweden. My experience has always been it never pays to turn cowardly and give up on the bike.

Later, George

Tuesday, July 3, 2001

Steinkjer, Norway

Friends: And then the rains came, and but good. This is day five of some sort of rain or another. Mostly its just been a misty, murky, drizzly rain that I know all too well from my two summers in Alaska, but I've had some good soakers as well. I was pelted by a sudden downpour on the final mile of a five-mile climb. At least I was well heated from the exertion of the climb. But the steep descent was wasted and was a tad perilous as I had to hold back my speed and brake for five miles--almost harder on the wrists than on the legs coming up. It was steep enough climbing and descending that a truck was spraying sand on the road to give motorists better traction. I don't know if it helped me or not, other than perhaps soaking up whatever oil that sometimes seeps out of the pavement with the rain.



The worst rain came the next day Sunday as I was bicycling through a narrow valley on a one hundred mile stretch called "The Wilderness Way." A billboard pronounced it one of the least polluted areas of Europe. The same could be said for the last thousand miles I've biked. It was more glorious unspoiled scenery. If it were plopped down somewhere more easily accessible, it would be heralded as one of the premier bicycle rides anywhere. The terrain was lush and the forest thick. There was an occasional farmstead and piles of logs along the road waiting to be picked up. But since this was off the coast a bit following another river, it didn't offer the dramatic fjord-like scenery that is synonymous with Norway.



The road up to Nordkapp has a 300-mile gap between the fjord scenery. The Norwegians are so proud of their fjords the person dispensing advice at a tourist office a couple hundred miles back feared I would be so bored by gap that he suggested I head over to Sweden as I approached it. I continued on and could still find plenty to enjoy in the less striking scenery. The most illustrious of the fjords is south of Trondheim after I head over to Sweden. I don't need spectacular scenery to have a great ride.



I was having a delightful spin despite an overcast sky and a slight incline. It turned even more delightful after I crossed a divide and had a gradual 50-mile descent along another river. But again, as I neared the crest, the air grew misty and cold. After about an hour it turned to a light drizzle and out came the poncho. Then it became a significant drizzle. This was my third day of rain. No spell has lasted much more than an hour or two, but I could see down the valley it was well socked in with clouds and there wasn't much of a breeze to clear them out. It was getting late in the afternoon and there were no towns for a while. At least the slight decline didn't demand too much exertion, enabling me to ride longer without having to eat or rest. I was rationing out just enough effort to stay warm.



But after three hours I was beginning to grow tired and hungry and I could feel the bonk lurking, waiting to pounce. When I came to a campground I swung in at least for some shelter and to eat a bit. No one was at the registration cabin, so I just sat there and ate and watched the puddles hoping they'd stop being splattered. I'd glance at the occasional car hoping that the rain had let up enough for them to have their wipers on intermittent. The rain would momentarily relent but then pick up again. After 20 minutes I was starting to shiver. It was 5:30, a little too early to quit. I went back at it hoping I might be able to outrun the rain--wishful thinking I knew, but sometimes wishes are granted. Not this time.

I continued to get soaked for the next two hours. When I came to the next camp ground, I relented, but before registering I checked to make sure there was ground solid and unsoggy enough for my tent. It was a campground of some quality with unlimited hot water in the showers and also a hand drier and a warm dining area I could hang out in. There were RV'ers, but no one approached me nor intruded upon the dining room with all my gear scattered about trying to dry. It was still raining when I went to bed at ten. The rain kept me on my bike so long trying to stay warm, I had my first 100 mile day in a week.

It stopped raining some time during the night. I set out under a heavily overcast sky that threatened to burst into rain at any moment. It had turned cold. It was my first four layer day. And then when the rain resumed in mid-morning my poncho made it a five layer day. Its been two more days of intermittent rain. I try to hold off putting on my poncho as long as possible, although I've discovered I can sometimes put a halt to the rain by putting on my poncho. I am only 50 miles from the point where I turn west to Sweden and can escape the coast and hopefully its wetness. Its less than 700 miles to Stockholm, not too far after having come over 2,000 miles.

Later, George

Saturday, June 30, 2001

Mo I Rana, Norway

Friends: Out of the Arctic after two-and-a-half weeks and with all digitals in tact. I crossed The Circle last night at eight p.m. Here in Norway, in contrast to Finland, it truly looked like the Arctic up on a high desolate plateau with scattered patches of snow. I'd been on this plateau for a while. It was colder than the coast and desolate, making me more vulnerable to the wind. The camping was less than inviting. Though it was past my usual quitting time, I continued on for a half hour or so until the road began to descend into a canyon with a tree-lined river. I found a spot that caught the sun so I was able to dry the tent, still damp from the rain the night before.

I began the day with a morning rain. Once it stopped, a low lying cloud cover prevented the road from fully drying until the early in the afternoon. Turning inland took me out of tunnel country. The terrain remained relatively flat following a river. For the first time in days I could leave the bike in a higher gear and pedal merrily along. At about five while taking a break at a rest area and taking on some fuel for the day's final push a 27-year old cyclist from Connecticut rolled in, heading the opposite direction unfortunately. He'd been on the road for two weeks, starting his travels in Oslo. He had until the middle of August to explore Scandinavia. He had biked coast-to-coast across the U.S. a couple years ago with two friends. By trip's end they were no longer friends.

This was his second trip and first solo. He said its quite a bit different doing it alone. He's stayed at campgrounds every night, but hasn't had much interaction with anyone. In fact after fifteen minutes or so he said this was the longest conversation he'd had since he left the U.S. Although I only stayed in a campground while I was at the film festival, I too have rarely been approached by others on this trip, in contrast to everywhere I've been except New Zealand, where the touring cyclist is so commonplace no one pays them any attention.

He had a book provided by the tourist office that detailed the dozens and dozens of tunnels of Norway. It gave their length and whether bicycles are allowed in them and, if not, an alternate route. He has a phobia of tunnels and has so far managed to avoid them. It won't be possible the further north he gets with the scarcity of roads. He also wasn't too daring when it came to the food. He'd been subsisting on peanut butter sandwiches and candy bars for his lunches and pasta for his dinners. I offered him a sample of my fish paste. He hesitantly took a bite and wasn't sure if he liked it or not. He was afraid to experiment with the food, lest he not like it. I don't have much variety to my diet either, but I'm always looking for some moderately priced item to vary it a bit. I tried some bargain-priced sausage yesterday that I won't be buying again. I had to force it down, the first food that hasn't been totally agreeable. I was sorry I didn't have any left to try to pass off on this guy.

Earlier in the day I had my first offering of food from a fellow traveler at a rest area. A German frau gave me a cup of cold apple juice. My taste buds greatly appreciated something they hadn't been treated to in quite a while. Now I'll be looking for more the next time I'm in a grocery store. Its not unusual to receive such offerings, even in third world countries. In fact it occurs more frequently in poorer countries as the locals take pity on the touring cyclist, figuring he is so poor that he can't afford a bus ticket. I'm approaching a month on the road and 2,000 miles. Scandinavia is well below the average in food-giving.

The friendliest, most generous people I've encountered by far in all my travels around the world have been the Colombians. Nearly every day, and not simply once, but often twice or more, someone gave me food as I biked through Colombia at the start of my ride down the length of South America twelve years ago. Sometimes it was restaurant owners giving me an extra dish or refusing payment for a meal. Sometimes someone else in the restaurant paid my bill. People in the market would give me food and people along the road would share something they had. Colombians love the bicycle. Bicycle racing ranks with soccer as their favorite sport. I was celebrated the whole time I was there. I was invited on radio and television shows. Good thing I didn't pay any attention to The Lonely Planet guide book's warning not to accept food or drink from anyone because it could be drugged.

I began my first full day out of the Arctic with a delightful 45-mile gradual descent following a river down to the sizable city of Mo I Rana. It required my poncho for the last ten miles, as the misty rain that had been wetting my wool sweater got to be a bit much. I didn't mind at all being out in the elements rolling along, giving all the RVs a smile, letting them know there was no reason to feel sorry for me. And once again it looks like its going to be a clear afternoon and I can romp for another 50 miles or so. I am within 300 miles of Trondheim, where I will head east to northern Sweden, passing through its prime skiing country. I'm all stocked up on food for the next two days, knowing it's not likely to find any groceries tomorrow on Sunday. Less than two weeks to Stockholm and back to Chicago. It'll be an adjustment returning to an urban area. Even these towns of a few thousand make me eager to get back out in to the pristine wilderness.

Later, George

Friday, June 29, 2001

Fauske, Norway

iFriends: At last, after 630 miles in seven days down from the North Cape I have some rain to contend with. I'm still in the Arctic but its not too cold and its just drizzly so it shouldn't be too bad of a day. The drizzle started last night as I slept. It kept me in my tent until 8:30. When it slightly relented, I quickly broke camp and hit the road. It felt good to get the legs moving and the blood flowing. I was twelve miles from this town of a couple of thousand, my first opportunity for a library or visitor center in a couple of days. So here I am at ten a.m. at the visitor center's free computer until they kick me off.

I thought I would have been able to file a report two days ago in Navrik, a city with multi-story buildings and a population of 20,000, the most of any I've passed through since I crossed in to the Arctic. The library had two computers, but they were all booked up. I had my first ferry ride later that day, 25 minutes, to a fairly unsettled inland stretch of Norway. I spent a lot of time on my small chain ring yesterday with many steep climbs. There were 14 tunnels in one 30-mile stretch, ranging in length from two-and-a-half miles to a couple hundred meters. The first one was the longest and had a sign barring bicycles. I didn't even stop to take a picture of what I was about to defy. It was a mystery why bikes were banned. It had the widest shoulder, at least 18 inches, of any tunnel I had been in. It was all uphill and fairly steep, so that might have been the reason, though it wasn't as steep at the one under the ocean to Nordkapp. Then I began to think perhaps there were gases in this tunnel that made it perilous for cyclists and pedestrians. And then I started feeling faint-headed. But then a motorcycle came along. He had to be breathing the same fumes I was, though not for as long. I survived and then had a nice descent.

I had been warned that there was a series of tunnels ahead, so I had to dread a "No bicycles" sign as I approached each one, but thankfully that was the only one. Tunnels offer a different world and sensory experience. Time passes very slow in tunnels. I in a heightened sense of alert and concentration. My thought does not go astray. The light is dim and occasionally there is a darker stretch where a light bulb has burned out, making it hard to survey the road for debris or potholes. A flat tire in a tunnel wouldn't be a happy occasion. It was a bright, sunny day, so I almost welcomed the occasional respite from its intense rays. I didn't so much enjoy the drastic change in temperature. The tunnels are markedly colder than outside. When I'd exit the longer tunnels, I was almost afraid to touch the naked metal of my brake levers. They can grow so cold that I fear my hands might stick to them and rip off the bare flesh.



In all my tunnel miles I've only had one bozo trucker blast his horn at me as he came alongside. It was extra deafening in the tunnel's echo chamber. It took me back to India where motorists are actually encouraged to honk their at every moving object along the road--pedestrians, bicyclists and animals. That was a true nightmare that I've barely recovered from. Hardly a minute passed in 2,000 miles from Bombay to Calcutta without a lorry truck driver blasting his horn at me, and not a friendly toot, but of rock concert decibels. It was as if they were trying to knock me off my bike. It was the only time in all my travels that as I took down my tent in the morning I discovered I wasn't eager to be back on the road, but was only looking forward to that moment at the end of the day when I could crawl back into the sanctuary of my tent.



It's been two days since I've seen any bicyclists. The worker supervising the loading of the ferry said he'd seen only one all that day and going my direction. I've seen loads of motorcyclists, and a surprising number with sidecars, mostly Germans. The thousand miles up the spine of Norway is a popular route for European motorcyclists who want a long ride without much traffic through spectacular scenery. It is the European version of California's Route One. I will be able to enjoy another 400 miles of this route before I turn off to Sweden. I could turn inland at any time if I wanted milder temperatures and perhaps less rain. If the coastline remains socked in I could well be tempted to do it sooner rather than later. I'm presently at the half way point between Nordkapp and Oslo. There continue to be many turnoffs along the road--rest areas with picnic tables and scenic views for those inclined to picture-taking. When its overcast or too windy, its usually too cold to linger. I have to stuff my face with grub quick and get back to the pedaling before I cool down too much.

But there are times when I actually overheat sitting in the bright sun. The temperature in the shade might not be even 50 degrees, but in the sun it can feel like 80. Sometimes there are mosquitoes. Occasionally someone in an RV will come over for a bit of a chat. I carry a spare tire stuffed between the spokes of my front wheel. It's an odd-shaped loop that often prompts a, "What is that?" It's odd enough that if someone had seen this trick before they would acknowledge it, as I would. But that has never happened. Nor have I ever seen another cyclist using this method other than in the book I first saw it. An older Dutch guy, who goes off on his bike for one-week rides here and there, was particularly fascinated by it. He gave me a good interrogation wondering what else he might learn from me. After several minutes he asked, "What is your work?"

"I'm a bicycle messenger."

"A bicycle messenger!" he exclaimed.

"You must really like to ride your bike."

"I do. I do, I do, I do."

Later, George

Tuesday, June 26, 2001

Heia, Norway

Friends: A friendly tourist office is momentarily letting me use their computer in case the library twenty miles away isn't open. Just a partly cloudy day today with no threat of rain and none in the forecast tomorrow. I hope the week of sultry weather I endured in Finland is my reward for this and I'm not incurring some debt to be repaid down the road. And the winds remain favorable too. I earned tail winds for the rest of my life back in 1989 while biking the length of South America, as I had to battle unrelenting headwinds for 3,000 miles along the Pan American Highway from the Ecuador-Peru border to just before Santiago in Chile.

The towns are a little more frequent now and there are significant towns off in the fjords, so prices have been relenting. I actually saw my first jar of peanut butter in a super market today, and for just two dollars. So Norway may not bankrupt me after all.

I saw a few pages of porn along the road today. Truck drivers and traveling salesman all over the world are notorious for jettisoning the incriminating evidence before they return home. The roads of Finland offered up a couple of postcards with semi-naked women. The best I ever found was a Spanish version of Penthouse in Spain. I warily smuggled it into Islamic Morocco. It got me out o a jam when some tout, who had led me out of a Kasbah that I was lost in, demanded a gift from me for his efforts. He didn't want money. When I pulled out the Penthouse, he went running in horror.

I've been enjoying fish paste out of a tube on traditional Scandinavian crackers. I grimaced the first time I gave it a try, fearful it might take an acquired taste to enjoy it, like Vegemite, but the version I've been indulging in is sweet and tasty. It has become one of the staples of my diet. I go through a tube a night in my tent.

Not only is the cloud cover saving my sun block, but also my film. In Finland I had to force myself to take a picture every now and then. Here I have to force myself not to take a picture at every turn in the town. With clouds often trapped in the tops of the mountains, they aren't quite so photogenic. Waterfalls abound. There are times when I can see six or more cascading down hundreds of feet.

Headlights at all times is the law in Norway, as in Finland, may be so motorists can keep in practice for the winter months when it is dark all the time. It makes it easy to spot distant traffic approaching from behind in my mirror. Its not all that necessary, as rarely do two vehicles pass me simultaneously from both directions, but when the road is a bit rough its nice to be able to look back and swing out. Only one car in 1500 miles so far has zipped by me close and at high speed. It had a RUS national emblem, the only one I have seen.

My subconscious thought often surprises me with memories and associations. The mirror occasionally transports me to Australia when I was bicycling the Nullarbor Plain on the world's longest, straightest, flattest road. There were no towns for 750 miles, just sporadic road houses and water tanks. When I was bicycling at night I could see tiny headlights in my mirror miles away that took five minutes or more to catch up to me. The mirror also reminds me of Route Two in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the road that prompted me to acquire a mirror. I was continually blown off the road by 18-wheelers on the two-lane highway with a gravel shoulder. They would be upon me before I could take precautions. These memories can go on and on, but I'm being asked to give up the computer.

Later, George

Monday, June 25, 2001

Skibotn, Norway

Friends: Another Monday and the first time I've had to wear gloves and socks since last Monday. It is also the first day in a week that I haven't seen the sun. A wind from the north is contributing to the chill, but at least its a tail wind. Yesterday, it didn't much matter which way the wind was from, as the coastal route wound every which way, as much north as south and east and a little bit west.

Yesterday being Sunday, I was very fortunate to find any provisions. In 90 miles there was only one place open. I came upon the gas station/diner/mini-market in the early afternoon, shortly after it had opened for the day. I was so happy to find some food I almost didn't mind spending $13 on a hamburger and fries. It was a big one, 250-grams worth (a half-pounder). Half-way through I didn't think I would finish it, but bite after bite went down without forcing. And it was immediately digested, as I could pedal off with vigor. It was high octane fuel, keeping me going for three hours without a pause, including a five-and-a-half mile, one-hour, climb. Unfortunately, the mini-mart was out of yogurt, so I mixed a tin of crushed pineapple with muesli for breakfast. Muesli is one of the few bargains here, two pounds for two dollars.

This is day six in Norway and I haven't stopped going "wow." There are continual rugged summits to ponder, picturesque fishing villages to capture the imagination, the endless sea to lose myself in and islands to let my eyes play upon. Not once in Finland did the scenery stir such a reaction. The forests were nice and the occasional ride along a lake a diversion, but it was all the same. Norway is quite expensive though. Oslo is said to be the most expensive city in the world. One bargain is showers at the campgrounds. Most are quipped with a slot machine that gives five minutes of hot water for a dollar. Alta, where I wrote from last, had a fascinating museum at the site of 10,000 year old rock carvings. It had a two-mile path past etchings of reindeer and elk and human figures and various boats on giant slabs of rock. Alta is also the premier research spot for the Northern Lights. The first photograph of them was taken there in the late 1800s.


I spoke with a Dutch cyclist a couple mornings ago heading north. He said he wasn't enjoying Norway very much, but we hopped to another subject before he could complain about the winds or the rain or the high expense. For me it has been spectacular, though I keep dreading a nasty turn in the weather. I'm still north of the Arctic Circle. It is cold when there is no sun. If there were wetness to contend with along with that, the days would be very very long. I am overdue for a rest day. I have ridden hard for eight days straight, capitalizing on the pleasant weather. I could spend a day in my tent if the weather demanded it, though I hope it doesn't come to that.

Later, George

Thursday, June 21, 2001

Honningsvag, Norway

Friends: And again I'm lucky to find a small town library with a free Internet station for a few minutes. I'm twenty miles from road's end. I have come 58 miles so far today. At least ten of those miles have been through tunnels, one of four-and-a-half miles and two of two-and-a-half miles. The longest was under the ocean, and the only one with a toll--$15 for cars, but free for bicyclists. It plunged down a nine per cent grade for a mile-and-a-half, leveled off for the same distance, and then climbed out at the same steep grade. It was a bit of a strain, especially contending with the lingering fumes. My head felt as oxygen-deprived as I have at 15,000 feet in the Andes.

The air was frigid. My breath was gushing out in billowing clouds. I feared hitting a patch of ice. My concerns were relieved, however, when I met a French cyclist coming from the opposite direction. He assured me the road was ice free. The first long tunnel I encountered I wasn't prepared for how cold it would be.  I declined to stop and put on my jacket, plunging straight in with bare arms. When I emerged from the tunnel, my arms were numb. After that experience I stop and put on a jacket.  The sun is still shining bright for the third straight day.  The air is cold, but when in the direct sun it doesn't seem so cold. I am riding in shorts as well as a short-sleeved shirt, but also with a vest. There are patches of snow along the road. If the breeze blows off the cold water of the ocean, there is a distinct strong chill from the polar air.

I am not sorry in the least that I must double back eighty miles on this road, as it has been spectacularly beautiful. The road climbs and winds in and out and up and over one inlet after another, some as long as a mile. There is so little traffic, the road at times narrows to one lane. The road is in great shape except for one five-mile stretch of construction.

Despite the trek of tourists up this route, there were no cafes or tourist amenities for sixty miles. Since I camped a few miles beyond the last town last night, I was running low on water. I was drinking out of my reserve third water bottle for the first time. It had been five days since I'd replaced the water in it, so it wasn't the most pleasant tasting. But miraculously, after the long tunnel under the ocean, for the first time since I started bicycling in Helsinki over 1,000 miles ago, I came upon a rest area with running water. It was cold and clear and fresh, the best tasting water I've ever drunk.

No word on if there will be any festivities at Nordkapp tonight commemorating the Solstice. It is the biggest holiday of the year in Scandinavia with bonfires and dancing and drinking and much hoopla. If there is noise and commotion, I may be able to stay awake until midnight and see the sun out over the ocean.

Looking closer at the map plotting my return to Stockholm for my flight home, I noticed one upcoming stretch of 292 kilometers that takes up the same amount of space on the map as another stretch of 74 kilometers thanks to the severe twists and climbs in the road along the coast. I am much further from Stockholm than I realized. I will be spending a little more time on my bike than I anticipated. That's almost something to be excited about.

Later, George

Wednesday, June 20, 2001

Laksely, Norway

Friends: Greetings from Lekesly, Norway on a bay off the Arctic Sea some sixty miles beyond the Finnish border. I've been flying. Yesterday around noon the Arctic turned balmy. There was nothing but blue sky and I could shed two layers. There was still a hint of a cold wind from the north, but today the wind is blowing from the south. With the sun shining bright it feels close to seventy degrees, though it's probably twenty degrees colder in the shade. Yesterday was easily the nicest day of the trip and today even better. It was such a rare nice day I was tempted to keep riding late into the night to take advantage of the rain free cycling. But I decided to take my chances and quit at 8:30, hoping there had been a break in the weather pattern that would keep the skies clear.


So far that theory is holding. I should rack up 120 miles or more today. I have 75 at 2:30 right now. I am about 125 miles from Nordkapp. If tomorrow turns ugly I'll be close enough to my destination that I should be able to persevere to the end. If the rain resumes I'll at least have five miles of dry cycling through a five-mile tunnel. My timing has been great today. I reached the border with Norway at 8:30 this morning. Rather than immediately crossing I waited for the local grocery store to open at nine, so I could spend the last of my Finnish coins, something banks don't always wish to change. While I was waiting, I replaced a broken spoke on my rear wheel that I discovered as I was wiping the debris from my tires this morning after pushing my bike through the brush from my campsite. Fortunately it was on the side opposite the freewheel. It would have been wise and responsible to replace it on the spot, but I was eager to start biking. With 48 spokes back there, instead of the usual 36, the stress on the remaining spokes was considerably lessened. It'd be nice to bike an hour, rest my legs and eat a bit while I performed the operation in a little more hospitable of a location than along the side of the road. Twelve miles with a broken spoke to the border wasn't too much of a risk.

The first town in Norway was twelve miles further. I went straight to the bank for the dirty business of changing money. I had gained an hour so I had three minutes to wait before the bank opened at nine. I still had fifty of the two hundred dollars of Finnish money I changed sixteen days ago. There was a long climb out of the town, but after less than ten miles, as I was cresting one final climb, I could see snow-streaked mountains inching their way up into my field of vision. And now forty miles later, I am amongst them. It makes the wheels spin even easier with such sites to gaze upon.

I rode for ten miles yesterday with a German cyclist. We met at a road-side cafe that served reindeer stew. It may have been my best meal of the trip. The German had bicycled up from Helsinki as I had. Unfortunately, he was turning back after ten miles. He was a seasoned touring cyclist who had much to share and rode at a pace similar to mine. He hadn't toured outside of Europe though and was most interested in all the places I had biked. It's always interesting to see the reaction I receive when I meet other touring cyclists and start dropping mentions of my tours in Patagonia and the Himalayas and the Outback and Morocco and up the Alaskan Highway and down Baja and so forth.

I'm always careful to wait awhile and ease them in after respectfully and genuinely expressing interest in their travels. Most often they respond with respect and are excited to meet someone who has biked many places they would like to. But sometimes they are visibly deflated, upset at being upstaged. Alfred had done enough touring that he had enough self-respect and confidence, not to feel any the lesser for not having biked as much as I have. I expressed as much interest in his travels as he did in mine. We were both sorry that we hadn't met earlier so we could have enjoyed a couple days of each other's company. Alfred found Finland most enjoyable. He said Finland was the only country in Europe that Germany hadn't invaded in WWII. He felt less antagonism here than elsewhere. He said Denmark is the worst. It is illegal for Germans to even display their flag on their backpacks or their car windows.

I'm on a stretch now with lots of tour buses, all bound for Nordkapp. Arts and crafts shops have begun to appear along the road. They all had carved bears out front. The bears had me a little concerned about camping, especially since I had stocked up on a lot of extra food. I was prepared to pull into a campground, but I came upon a long stretch of road with high fences on either side to keep the reindeer in. I doubted if bears would be meandering around such a corridor, so I pulled off the road at a point where there was a crest and a gully to shield me from what little traffic there was. One more day north and then I can start heading south and hope the wind doesn't always blow from the south.

Later, George

Tuesday, June 19, 2001

Ivalo, Finland

Friends: Back on the road 100 miles further north at Ivalo on the great lake of Inarijarvi, the largest of Finland's 88,000 lakes. I have 280 miles to Nordkapp, Europe's northernmost point in Norway. The forests have not given way yet, though there have been a few bald patches in the now rolling terrain. I needed gloves and toe clip covers all day yesterday to keep my fingers and toes warm. When there's no sun, it is cold. The low cloud cover added a cold dampness to the conditions, though it never actually rained. I could see my breath early in the day. A long-sleeve t-shirt, sweater and vest is just enough to keep me warm along with tights on my legs. I have several layers in reserve if need be.

As long as I don't endure a soaking rain or the temperatures turn the rain to snow, I should be able to make it all the way to Nordkapp. The last eighty miles are out a peninsula that I will have to double back on. Maybe I'll go for it and maybe I won't. I could reach Land's End on the longest of these long days, June 21, the solstice, a most appropriate time to be there.

Despite the gloomy day, including a slight head wind, I was able to bask in the glorious memories of the festival. Robert Service, the poet laureate of the Yukon and the Far North, pronounced in his most famous poem, "The Cremation of Sam McGee," that, "There are strange things done in the midnight sun." This festival certainly testified to that. On numerous occasions I caught myself shaking my head at the incongruity of my circumstances. One of the most extreme occurred at two a.m. as I sat under the old circus tent on a bench at two in the morning with a couple of hundred Finns wearing 3D glasses going gaga over bats flying out of the screen and the innards of corpses bursting out of their bodies at us in "Flesh for Frankenstein."

And then an hour later I was even more boggled as I sat in the high school gymnasium staring at a screen flanked by the baskets from the basketball court watching a brilliant Norwegian documentary, "Cool and Crazy," about a thirty-man glee club from a small Arctic fishing village in Norway. The film alternated between getting to know the men in their homes and seeing them in performance. They were shown belting out their songs in small town churches and large concert halls, but most of their songs were staged in some dramatic outdoor setting by the director--besides a sledding hill at night, in front of a barrier with crashing waves, in a fish processing plant, and, most dramatic of all, in a blizzard as icicles formed on the men's beards and tears dripped off their faces. Their songs celebrated the harshness and glory of their land. The movie was voted audience favorite for the festival. If everyone had seen it, the vote would have been unanimous.

But my strongest memories of the festival were those involving the ring master Peter Van Bagh and his impish, glowing personality and his interaction with his tributees. Even though the majority of the audience at his conversations with the tributees spoke English, he would translate their answers into Finnish. He would have preferred not to have to translate so he could have more time asking questions, but when he asked one audience if everyone spoke English, three or four in the audience protested they did not. Von Bagh didn't mind altogether, as it allowed him to put his own spin on their responses. He had Jerry Schatzberg totally befuddled when his translations would get laughs even though his initial responses did not. Then when his translations wouldn't get a laugh, Jerry would complain that he wasn't making him sound funny.

As much as Van Bagh reveled in his ringmaster role, he was willing to defer to one of his colleagues to handle the interview with Agnes Jauri, the French actress/director whose film was up for best foreign Oscar this year, so it could be conducted in French and Finnish. I grimaced at this bad news, but still didn't mind being in her presence. After two or three questions, she protested to Van Bagh, sitting in the first row, that she didn't feel as if she was connecting to the audience and preferred to conduct the interview in English rather than French, though she would have to grope for a word or two. That was startlingly good news. But imagine if reports of this got back to France, it could ruin her career. Headlines would scream, "French Actress Chooses English Over French at Midnight Sun Film Festival." She was pleasantly unpretentious saying she didn't consider herself an intellectual and after talking with some of the attendees at the festival, not much of a cinephile either. She concluded her interview thanking the"simple and kind people of Finland. I liked it very much."

Schatzberg was a genuine revelation. Not only did he present a couple of masterpieces ("Scarecrow" and "Reunion"), he was refreshingly frank. Maybe he thought he could say whatever he wanted up here in Lappland and the word wouldn't get out. He mentioned that De Niro hasn't spoken two words to him since he chose Pacino over him for "Panic in Needle Park" back in 1971 when they were both unknown struggling actors. He told of firing a French actor two days before shooting was to begin, even though he was to be the star of the movie, as he was being totally uncooperative, refusing to cut his hair or do this or that. He told of not wanting his his film "Reunion" be in Competition at Cannes in 1989 because France Ford Coppola was the president of the jury and he knew Coppola wouldn't let his picture win. Schatzberg had won the Palm d'Or once before with "Scarecrow" in 1973. Coppola had won it twice and wanted to remain the only American to have done so.

Later, George

Sunday, June 17, 2001

Day Four

Friends: For the first time since the festival started there was a late night/early morning screening of a film that I really wanted to see--"Cool and Crazy," a documentary about a men's glee club in a remote Norwegian fishing village. It won an award at the recent Rothenberg Film Festival. It would be playing at 3:15 a.m. in the high school gymnasium. It would be my only chance to see it unless it won the audience favorite, a strong possibility, but nothing to count on. An earlier screening had been canceled, so I was delighted to see, when I picked up the day's revised schedule, that it was being given a second chance.

So far I had successfully resisted staying up past one a.m., not a particularly easy thing to do when the sun is still shining brightly and I only feel a slight numbness of fatigue from already having seen five or six movies. I wanted to experience at least one of these super-matinee screenings, but I didn't want to jeopardize missing Peter Van Bagh's sensational ten a.m. discussion with a tributee. They are unfailingly a delight and a rare opportunity to get to know someone who has made a significant contribution to the world of cinema. I already had my day plotted out when I learned that "Cool and Crazy" had been added to the day's schedule. There wasn't a film I was willing to sacrifice for a nap. I'd just have to persevere and hope I still had some energy for "Cool and Crazy" at 3:15 am.

The day began with a most lively and invigorating discussion with Van Bagh and Jerry Schatzberg. As always, Van Bagh began at the beginning, asking, "What is the first movie you can remember seeing," and going on from there, trying to get as much of Schatzberg's life story as he could. At one point Schatzberg said, "I can't believe I'm remembering all this." It was at least half an hour into the conversation before he had made the transition from fashion and rock and roll photographer to film-maker. He spoke fondly of giving Al Pacino his first film role in "Panic at Needle Park"and the couple of months they spent researching New York's drug culture along with co-star Karen Witt, also in her first film. Such research rarely happens anymore he said. Witt went on to win the best actress award at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival for her performance. Two years later Schatzberg won the Palm d'Or with "Scarecrow" starring Pacino and Gene Hackman. But Pacino wasn't happy with some of his scenes that were cut out and didn't speak to Schatzberg for two years.

The two-hour discussion was over almost before it had begun. The first movie of the day was Schatzberg's "Reunion" from 1989, a deeply moving story about the friendship between a couple of 17-year old boys in 1932 Stuttgart, one Jewish, the other gentile. It played in Competition at Cannes, though Schatzberg initially declined the honor. Coppola was to be the president of the jury and Schatzberg feared it would have no chance of winning because Coppola was the only American to have won two Palm d'Ors and he would want to keep it that way. But when Coppola bowed out and Billy Wilder replaced him, Schatzberg relented. But then Wilder bowed out too. Wim Wenders took over the role. Schatzberg said that was bad news, as the film wasn't exactly pro-German.

The next movie of the day was "The Pornographer," fresh from Cannes in May where it won the Fribsci award. Its a French Canadian production about a 50-year old director of pornography played by a paunchy Jean-Pierre Leaud. He is retired from the business, but needs money and goes back to make one more film. His younger assistants don't have much respect for him. It is a film to look forward to. Then someone from the Munich film archives gave a 90-minute presentation of fragments of films left by Orson Welles including "The Merchant of Venice." It was a rare treat to see such footage, even though much of it wasn't in the best of shape.

Another rare treat was the 1925 Russian silent film "Jewish Happiness" under the Big Top with a piano accompaniment and introduced by J. Hoberman of the Village Voice. At 10:30 I followed it with the Iranian film "The Circle," winner of the best film at Venice. It too was exceptional. At one a.m. it was time for the 3D glasses under the circus tent for "Flesh for Frankenstein." That was out at 2:45 a.m. and I wasn't even yawning. There were eighteen stalwarts for "Cool and Crazy" at 3:15. We were rewarded by a very rousing film. It would have been impossible to nod off in it.

Later, George

Saturday, June 16, 2001

Day Three

Friends: The first program each day of the Midnight Sun Film Festival is a discussion between Peter Van Bagh and one of the tributees. Yesterday it was with Freddie Francis, a little known titan of the industry, an 84-year old English director/cinematographer who has worked with many true titans including Michael Powell, Joseph Cotton, Joseph Losey and David Lynch. He had a lively, self-deprecating sense of humor, perfectly matching that of Van Bagh, one of the founders of the festival and the only director the festival has had in its sixteen years. Frances has won two Oscars, one for "Sons and Lovers" and the other for "Glory," both for his cinematography. When Van Bagh introduced him, he apologized that the festival program said he had won only one Oscar and not two. "We would have had twice as many people here," he said, "if I had gotten it right."


The two-hour conversation was interspersed with clips from "Time Without Pity," "Moby Dick," "The Evil of Frankenstein," "The Elephant Man" and "The Straight Story." He was accompanied by his daughter. She too worked in the industry, including a ten-year stint with David Lean. Van Bagh, the obsessed film scholar, was thrilled to meet her and brought her up on stage so he could pick her brain along with her father's. He commented that he will most remember this festival for meeting her.

I am filing this report from the festival press room at its sole computer at 9:45 a.m. Next up is Van Bagh's interrogation of Jerry Schatzberg in fifteen minutes. That ought to be sensational too. Schatzberg has minced no words when he has introduced his films, talking about the people he has worked with and the difficulty of making movies. Tomorrow's tributee will be Agnes Jaouri, the 37-year old French actress/director whose latest film, "It Takes All Kinds," was nominated for a best foreign picture Oscar this year and already played at the Landmark Theater in Chicago.

Last night the circus tent was filled to capacity with 500 people for the presentation of D. W. Griffith's "Broken Blossoms" from 1919 starring Lillian Gish. It was accompanied by a twelve-piece orchestra. It earned a sustained standing ovation, the first of the festival, though the Finnish audiences have applauded every movie so far, sometimes immediately afterward, and sometimes a little later at the end of the credits.

Tonight's featured event under the Big Top will be "Jewish Happiness," a Russian movie from 1925. It will be introduced by Village Voice critic J. Hoberman. It will also have music accompaniment. The movie was directed by Aleksander Granowski. His cinematographer followed it up with the masterpiece "Battleship Potemkin," a film many critics consider one of the top ten movies of all time. Along with this rare event, my day will include four or five other movies and the Schatzberg interview. One more day of movies, and then I'm back on the bike, either to the far north, or west to the fjords of Norway, depending on the weather. There is a misty cold rain this morning here in the Arctic, a perfect day for movie-watching.

Later, George

Friday, June 15, 2001

Cyclomania

Friends: My 700 bicycle ride to The Midnight Sun Film Festival was rewarded by a bicycle messenger/bicycle racing movie. It was a Finnish feature called "Cyclomania." It is the story of two young messengers who are nearly national caliber racers and their messenger girl friend. They spend at least a third of the movie on their bikes messengering, training and racing. It has already opened in Finland and has yet to hit the film festival circuit. It is easily the best of the six Finnish features I've seen so far, but probably not good enough to find interest beyond those of us devoted to the subject.

I had my own private Q&A with the young director after the screening, as the public Q&A was conducted entirely in Finnish. I was hoping he could tell me about a whole set of European cycling movies I was unaware of. He knew of none. His two favorite bicycling movies were the same as mine--the classic "Breaking Away" and the recent French Canadian messenger movie "Two Seconds." He thought he had exceeded "Two Seconds." In some ways yes, in others no. That movie was strictly about messengering. Cyclomania is only marginally about the messengering and doesn't offer any insights or insults into the profession as "Two Seconds" does.

I had more bicycling movies to offer him than he had for me, including a recent Italian movie on Coppi and the French movie, "The Training of a Champion" from about ten years ago about a racer nearing the end of his career. He said there was no famous Finnish bicycle racer though there have been a few who have ridden as domestiques in the Tour de France. I hope to talk to him again, as with all the Finns I've met, he was most affable and unpretentious and kindly and easy-going.

Yesterday morning's ten a.m. tribute to Sergio Sollima, an 80-year old Italian director who specialized in spaghetti westerns, was conducted only in Italian and Finnish. There was nowhere else to go, so I sat in the theater with about 150 Finns reading and with my ears perking at the occasional mention of John Wayne and Sergio Leone. This morning's tributee in half an hour will be Freddie Francis, an 84-year old English director-cinematographer who has worked on movies ranging from the "French Lieutenant's Wife" to John Houston's "Moulin Rouge" and "The Straight Story," all scheduled to be screened here.

Last night I saw an old horror movie he directed called "Torture Garden." When he introduced it he said it had been so long since he'd seen it he'd have to wait until afterward to talk about it. Tonight D. W. Griffith's "Broken Blossoms" from 1919 with live accompaniment will be playing under the Big Top. It is predicted to be the first sell-out in the tent. Of the four or five screenings I've attended in the tent it has yet to be even half-filled. There are less than fifty seats with backs, the rest are just narrow, not even a foot-wide, benches, yet the crowds don't gather early to get the seats. The Finns are proud of their ability to suffer. If they weren't tough, they wouldn't live in this land, they say.

Only once have I been I relegated to the benches. That was only because because I talked to the bicycling director so long. My hundreds of games in the bleachers of Wrigley Field must have conditioned me to such hard sitting, as the bench wasn't as uncomfortable as I feared, even past the midnight hour. But then I've been sitting on nothing more than a bicycle seat for the past week. The ticket prices are little more than four dollars, or a little less, if one buys a twelve pack. I'm still happy to have a press pass letting me in gratis.

The campground I'm at is exactly a kilometer away on the other side of a river that bisects the town. There are only three showers, but never has more than one been in use when I've needed one. With it light 24 hours people tend to stay up late and not rise so early. The town is quite deserted even at 9:30 am. It was quite a novelty to walk out of the tent past midnight last night and see pink clouds illuminated by the sun. One doesn't get tired when it is always light. I could have seen Hitchcock's "Dial M for Murder" starting at 12.30 a.m. in 3D under the big top, and put my fatigue theory to a more extreme test, but there were too many programs I didn't wish to doze off in the next day, so I passed on it. I'm sorry to report there are no Kaurismaki films on the schedule from either Aki or Maki. Nor have I detected their influence in any of the Finnish films I've seen so far.

Later, George

Thursday, June 14, 2001

Films

Friends: And the movies have begun. It would have been nice if I had made my first film of the festival the first film to screen in the old circus tent. I was most eager for that unique experience, but I couldn't resist seeing the first screening of the festival taking place in the town's actual movie theater at 4 p.m. Wednesday, even though I had already seen it. It was the American film "Fast Food, Fast Women" by Israeli director Amos Kollek starring Anna Thompson, who has starred in a couple of his earlier films, "Sue" and "Fiona." There were no Finnish subtitles and the sound system wasn't the best, but the Finns still got plenty of chuckles from this uncharacteristic feel-good movie from Kollek.

The first movie under the Big Top was a Finnish film "Bad Luck Love" at six p.m. I'd seen that one too, at Berlin, and didn't care for it as much as "Fast Food,"so I stayed at the town theater for the Chinese film "17 Years" by Zhang Yuan. He won the best director award for the film at Venice two years ago. It is among 23 films in the Pearls of New Cinema program, many of which I've seen--Yi Yi, Werckmeister Harmonies, Kippur, Smell of Camphor, Drunken Horses, The Gleaners and I, Rosetta, Clouds of May, and Fast Food. But this one was new to me and it was a gem. It is about a 16-year old girl who inadvertently murders her step sister and is sentenced to prison for 18 years. She is given a special New Year's furlough to visit her family for good behavior after 17 years. She is accompanied by a prison guard. It is unclear whether her parents know she is coming. Their meeting was great drama.

The official opening film of the festival was Jerry Schatzberg's 1973 Cannes Palm d'Or winner, "Scarecrow," at 7:45 in the main theater, not under the Big Top as I would have hoped. Schatzberg is one of four honorees. He talked briefly before the film. I didn't stay for the film, just the opening remarks and then zipped over to the Big Top for "Space Pigs" and another from Kurdistan with Finnish subtitles. My press pass lets me see whatever I want so I can go in and out of the three different venues at will. So far the only sell out was "Scarecrow."

It is now Thursday afternoon and I have fifteen minutes at the library before rushing to see Schatzberg's "Panic in Needle Park" from 1971 starring Al Pacino. There are 79 films and shorts, including five of those now legendary preludes commemorating last year's 25th Toronto film festival. Each is being shown once, except for Guy Maddin's, which will get one screening a day. There are 19 Finnish features. It is a fairly bare bones festival with not many directors accompanying their films. There is minimal sponsorship and no introductory short before each film acknowledging them. There are still some out of the ordinary programs to look forward to--a couple of 3D films, and two silent films under the tent with live accompaniment, one by D.W. Griffith and another from Russia.

Today the sun is out and its shirt sleeve weather. There are piles of blankets in the tent though if it gets cold. Its crusty old burlap ceiling is as beguiling to gaze upon as the winking stars of Chicago's Music Box Theater.

Later, George

Tuesday, June 12, 2001

Arctic Circle

Friends: The sun shines in The Arctic. For two hours this morning after crossing the Arctic Circle I got to ride with a shadow for the first time in four days, but then the clouds rolled in. At least these were high and light-colored, not the thick, billowing, ever-threatening, low-lying clusters that could turn dark and nasty. These did start spewing a mist, though not serious enough to force me to dig out my poncho. If I'd had intermittent wipers I would have set them on their least frequent use. I couldn't stop for more than fifteen or twenty minutes on my two breaks during the seventy miles I biked today, as I'd start cooling off too much. But I could demand a little extra from my legs, as they will have six days of rest. They did fine, 700 miles in eight days.

My final eighty miles were the first time I had ridden a main artery since leaving Helsinki. But this far north that didn't mean much. I still had the road pretty much to myself. I am now in an area that attracts travelers and tourists, so I can start paying attention to whether cars have an emblem other than FIN on them. So far I've also seen cars with a D, NL and DK. I had to remind myself to glance at the oncoming traffic to see if they were giving me a wave or a thumbs up or, as happened frequently in Guatemala, clapping hands. It was startling to see drivers take their hands off their steering wheel, as my girl friend Crissy and I struggled up the steep roads of Guatemala. But it was more welcome than a friendly blast of their horn.

No such reaction from these reserved Finns, however. Not a one has asked me where I'm coming from or where I'm going. Partial explanation could be that they don't know what language I speak, but it's mostly their notorious, natural reserve, as the Kaurismaki's often portray in their films. I'm 75 miles into the Arctic and the trees are as thick as ever. I had two reindeer spottings today. One a lone reindeer ambling down the bicycle path in one small town and then two groups of three in a field. Even this main highway was unmarked by kilometer posts. I welcome them at times to let me know my progress, but it is also nice not to be jarred back to the temporal world every two or three minutes with an alert of my progress while my thought is wandering. Every ten kilometers though is a sign counting down the distance to the next big town, a perfectly suitable distance.

Sodankyla has a surrounding population of about 10,000, large enough to have a couple of stop lights, the first I have encountered since leaving Helsinki. Before I saw anything else, I was most eager to check out the circus tent where some of the movies will be shown. In the middle of the dark and dank tent is a 30-foot high screen. Five rows of ten molded plastic seats are up front. Behind them are narrow wooden benches that look like they could date from medieval times, enough to seat another 450 people. They look less comfortable than the bleachers of Wrigley. The other two venues are the town's movie theater and the high school gymnasium,both seating about 250. I tried to get my credentials but was told the woman I've been in contact with won't arrive from Helsinki until tomorrow.

Later, George

Monday, June 11, 2001

Ranua, Finland

Friends: I'm closing in on the Arctic Circle. It is just 75 miles away. I have reached the northern extremity of the Baltic Sea, just below the 66th parallel. I have bicycled over 500 miles since I left Helsinki six days ago. It is just 150 miles to Sodankyla and the Midnight Sun Film Festival.

The skies were bright and sunny my first three days out of Helsinki. The past three have been heavily overcast, and it has been raining off and on. I've avoided a drenching from the few hard downpours, as I've always had the good fortune of being near some shelter when they have hit. The drizzle has often been just a bare mist, not even requiring my poncho. I'm almost getting used to it. If it doesn't get any worse than this, I ought to be able to push on to the northern most point in Europe, about 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

Last night I had my first challenge finding a place to camp, as the terrain has turned boggy, like the tundra of Alaska. Up until then, it was a snap to find a place anytime I wanted in these unfenced forests that predominate along the roads. Few people live outside the occasional small towns I pass through. And by virtue of "the right of common access," anyone can camp anywhere he pleases as long as he's 150 meters from anyone's domicile. The non-stop daylight takes away the pressure of finding a place to camp before it gets dark, as it doesn't get dark.

Even when I discovered the ground was squishy, making the camping a challenge for the first time, I was still able to find a suitable spot just minutes after I decided to curtail my cycling at 8:30. I saw a radio tower on a side road that I figured had to have solid ground around it. But just barely. I pitched my tent right up against its adjoining shed, right on the fringe of mushy ground. I entered the tent with one foot soggy from having sunk into the muck as I was setting up. Fortunately there was no hum from this tower. It was also the first night it was too cold for mosquitoes.

I saw my first reindeer yesterday morning, a cluster of three not far off the road. They showed no concern of me whatsoever. I feared the first reindeer I might spot would be roadkill, as so happens with deer in the US, but there has been no road kill at all along the road, partially because there is so little traffic and also thanks to the 24 hours of daylight. With no night time, animals aren't blinded by and frozen in their tracks by headlights. I've been able to stick to secondary roads with minimal traffic--no more than five or six cars per hour. This is logging country. I see stacks of fifteen-foot lengths of logs piled up along the road every few miles, but I encounter no more than two or three logging trucks a day. Pick-up trucks are also rare. This is terrain similar to the north woods of Minnesota or Alaska. But unlike the United States, none of the signs warning of moose and reindeer are riddled with bullet holes.

I had my first shower two days ago. Until then I had been bathing in the plentiful lakes. But with the thick cloud cover the past few days there has been no sun to warm myself or the surface waters, making the coldness of the water beyond my tolerance. It was also my first night at a campground, though I didn't camp. The owner offered me a cabin for the same price as setting up my tent, as he had many empties and he was concerned that my tent might not be adequate to withstand an impending storm. Shortly after I was showered and had hung my clothes to dry, we were pelted by a hard downpour for about half an hour. It was six dollars to camp, pushing my daily expenses over ten dollars for the first time.

The occasional cafe I find in the small towns I've been passing through offer various varieties of hamburgers for a little more than two dollars. Most of my eating has been from the supermarket--sandwiches and such. Just as in the US, my most frequent meal has been a pound of potato salad mixed with a can of baked beans. I've barely made a dent in my peanut butter, as most of my sandwiches have consisted of cheese and some sort of sausage or sliced meat. One of my sandwich options is onions and eggs squeezed out of a tube. As I head north and the temperatures become colder, I won't be inclined to be eating outdoors so much. I'll need the warmth of whatever cafes come along.

For the first time I had to zip up my sleeping bag last night. If it gets much colder, I can always resort to my wool hat and extra clothes for added warmth. I am hoping to camp during the film festival. There is a 150-site campground less than a mile from the festival. It could well be the place to be.

I met a guy yesterday while I sat under an overhang at a gas station waiting out the rain who proudly mentioned that he attended high school with Peter Van Bagh, the director of the film festival, and a much-respected cinephile. Van Bagh was a film fanatic even then. I asked if the tourist literature was correct that the average Finn only sees 1.5 movies a year. He thought that figure low, but as an indicator of the popularity of movies in Finland, we couldn't find any advertisements for movies playing in the nearby city and university town of Oulu in the Sunday paper or Saturday's or Friday's either. The TV listings, though,  showed plenty of movies, new and old, even some Chaplin.

I saw no theaters in my wanderings around Helsinki nor any in the small towns I've passed through. I was surprised that the tourist literature did not include the film director Kaurismaki brothers in its list of 25 famous Finns. These are all questions to be pursued at the film festival. Two more days and I will have five days of nothing to do but watch movies. Since it never gets dark, movies are scheduled around the clock in three different venues. I can see as many as a dozen movies in any 24-hour period. The opening film is "Fast Food, Fast Woman," which played at Cannes and Toronto a year ago. No word if its star Anna Thompson or its director Amos Kolleck will be in attendance.

The cycling has been superb, but I have yet to encounter another touring cyclist since the gnome on my second day. There is a special film festival train from Helsinki. Maybe there will be a cluster of cyclists bringing their bicycles aboard it.

Later, George