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