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

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