Monday, July 28, 2003

Borgarnes (continued)

Friends: As I was on my way to the Internet for Lance's time trial, I suffered my first mechanical of this trip, a snapped rear derailleur cable. All the rain and salty mist blown in off the ocean had stiffened my handlebar end-shifter. The stress finally broke the cable. If I'd been Lance, I would have had a new bike in an instant, either from a teammate or the team car. Replacing the cable was a minor operation, not much more complicated or time-consuming than a flat tire. Fortunately, I had cable cutters with me this time, unlike in Scandinavia when I had to go in search of someone with a cutter after failing to cut it with my knife.

The cable broke just as I was starting a lengthy climb. I didn't know how long, as I was swallowed up by clouds reducing visibility to less than two of the yellow snow stakes that line both sides of the highway about every fifty feet on just about all the roads here. In most places they are about three feet high, though they can extend to as high as six feet. Just as my altimeter recorded an elevation 1,500 feet, I came upon a cyclist stopped alongside the road at a slight clearing--the summit I hoped. The cyclist couldn't tell me as he was headed the same direction I was.

He was a smiley 25-year old Japanese, the youngest cyclist I had encountered and the first from Japan. He had a half-empty, two-liter bottle of Coke strapped to the back of his bike and a pint-sized bottle of Coke in the lone water bottle cage on his bike. "You must really like Coke," I said.

"Yes, it gives me lots of energy."

"Do you drink coffee too?"

"No, just tea."

"And what do you eat?"

"I'm Japanese, I eat rice every day and sometimes soup, but I'm always hungry."

"Are you eating any hamburgers?"

"No, too expensive."

"How about Icelandic sushi, rotten shark?"

He'd never heard of it, and wished he hadn't.  I asked what other touring he had done.

"New Zealand and Canada. I like very much."

"What do you think of Iceland?"

"It's a very beautiful country, but next time I'd like to do it by car."

"Have you used the buses?"

"No, too expensive."

Not that he was complaining, just stating the way it was. He was clearly quite pleased and content to be doing something he truly wanted to do, something that was in his bones to do, that he was meant to do and needed to do and brought him great satisfaction. It was harder than he anticipated and not all that much fun, but he didn't mind. He radiated an aura of quiet self-contentment. He was the first cyclist I had met here with such an elevated disposition. He is a master in the making. He wasn't doing this because he thought it would be a cool thing to do, or to distinguish himself from the masses, or because he wished to emulate a friend. He knew himself and was being true to himself. He so much wanted to bike Iceland that he had quit his factory job to do it. Such were his priorities. If Lance somehow faltered in today's time trial, it still would have been a good day having met this genuine touring enthusiast.

He complimented me on my Ortlieb panniers and handlebar bag, just about standard gear among the touring cyclists here, as they are the ultimate in keeping the rain out. But this young man was one of the few without such quality gear. "Too expensive." They'd always been too expensive for me too, but thanks to wonderful Debbie, who grows more wonderful with every rain shower, which means here in rainy Iceland she has surpassed sainthood, I am fully Ortliebed. If I'd known what a monumental difference they make, I would have made the splurge for them long ago.

I told my new friend that I couldn't dally, as I had a date with a computer down the road. He wasn't following Lance and The Tour, but hoped to catch up to me. We took some photos including one of us together. It was easy to set up as he had brought a tripod. I quickly descended into a valley.   Out of the clouds I could see actual patches of blue sky, the first I had seen in days. I at last had a chance to dry the clothes I had washed three days ago.

While I was eating on the porch of the Blonduos Tourist Office waiting for three o'clock to come around when I could have a glimpse at the Internet, the woman in charge came out for a smoke. When she saw I was eating a half-liter container of skyr, that unique Icelandic yogurt-type concoction of pasteurized skim milk and a bacteria culture similar to that used to make sourdough, she said, "Ah, I see you like our skyr."

That gave me the opportunity to ask her about that other unique Icelandic food, which I have learned to call "aged," rather than "putrefied," shark. She brightened even more, but acknowledged that, unlike skyr, not everyone likes the aged shark. I asked, "Is it true it has a distinct odor?," again putting it politely.

"Yes, it smells so bad, it isn't put out at parties, as it would stink up the whole house." She had no idea how the tradition started, but said there is a holiday in February to mark the end of winter when Icelanders go on a putrifed shark binge. She said she didn't particularly care for the holiday as "It can be disgusting with everyone going crazy."

Then she said, "Since we're not so busy, if you'd like to use the computer now, you may. You'll just have to pay 100 kroners for the connection." I would have gladly paid a lot more than that. When I connected to the "VeloNews" web site, Lance was ten minutes into his run and was neck-and-neck with Ullrich, who had started three minutes ahead of him. For the next forty minutes I was receiving minute-by-minute updates of their efforts. After half an hour, when up came the report, "Ullrich crashes," I could hear expletives all over the world. I could rest easy with Lance holding his own. It was an exciting forty minutes at the computer. David Millar won the time trial, but Lance retained the yellow jersey and was assured of winning The Race for a fifth time.

When I resumed my riding a bit after three, I set my self the goal of a century for the day to honor Lance's imminent victory in this 100th Anniversary Tour. I had 57 miles to go. There was little wind and it was not adverse, so unless the pavement turned to dirt or subjected me to much climbing, it was very doable. The next town of significance was over 100 miles away. I was told there were at least a couple of Esso stations, generally accompanied by a cafeteria of some sort, along the way. I passed up the first one after 80 miles but at 96 miles at eight p.m., I was hungry for something more than what I had in my panniers. The one bargain at these places is a $2.25 hot dog, less than a third the cost of a hamburger. They are extra-long and are doused with onions and various sauces, adding plenty of supplementary calories. One dog and I was refueled for those final four miles.

When I hit the century mark, I was in the middle of another long climb and was in the clouds once again. I was feeling good and didn't want to stop, but when I shortly came upon a rare clearing just off the road, I reluctantly stopped. My happy totals for the day were 100 miles at an average speed of 12.7 miles per hour, maximum speed of 37.5 and total climbing feet 3,770. Each were my second best efforts for the trip. I could dedicate them each to Ullrich, Mr. Second Place, who for the fifth time in his career was second best at The Tour.

I am now fifty miles from Reykjavik. I will go inland to another national park for a couple of days and put off my arrival at the big city until Wednesday. Its been a good trip and greatly brightened by the exploits of Sir Lance.

Later, George

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