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

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