UPDATED AND EDITED FOR TYPOS AND INCLUSION OF EMBARRASSING ANECDOTE: STAGE 1/3: COPENHAGEN TO HALMSTAD…OR SO I THOUGHT

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On my second day in Copenhagen I ventured to the airport, hoping to retrieve my bike. Prior, Jesper and I retrieved the package containing my Apidura touring bags from the downstairs neighbor who’d signed and taken my package without bothering to knock on Jesper’s door. Hmm. All’s well that ends well, I suppose.

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At the luggage claim I spied my bike box!

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Look! There it is!

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I was giddy with excitement; I really feared the worst and that my bicycle would never make it back to me. I hauled the box outside and tore into it, ready to assemble and ride away from the airport. (Which, yes, is actually possible in Copenhagen. I wish the same was the case at JFK.)

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Shawn Wolf at King Kog did a great job packing it. I saved all the padding in my bag for my return flight, which still seemed a long way off. UPDATE: How the hell did I forget this anecdote? I had packed my shorts in my bike box, which means I had to wear my nice, creme-colored and of course easily-stained travel slacks to the airport. As I was snapping zip-ties and wrenching away at my bike, I began sweating, naturally, but so much so weird places on my legs were soaking through, like my thighs of all places. People scattered about the sidewalk were puffing away on cigarettes and watching me, I assumed, because they’d never seen a tourist arrive with such a classy bike, which is to say nothing of his ability to put it together in lightning speed. So I strained and tightened away. Squatting down to twist on a pedal I heard a magnificent riiiiip! somewhere along my ass seam. Two women walking by immediately began laughing. I shoved my saddle into the seat tube, flung my bag onto my back, and pedaled off. It wasn’t until I arrived at the beach where Jesper and Johanna were hanging out that, in changing into swim trucks, I realized the extent of the tear: I’d completely split the seat of my pants from the waistline to where the inseams meet the crotch! It was a ten-inch slit! Only adding comedic value were the starkly contrasting black underwear I was wearing.

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But I was set! I had everything I needed for my tour, which was really happening after all. Those are my ripped-ass pants. I wonder how many additional people noticed what an aloof idiot I am.

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Jesper and Johanna were happy I was happy.

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I was happy, too, because I wouldn’t, after all, have to ride Jesper’s city bike, which he’d kindly offered to lend me for my trek in the event my bike never arrived. It was really heavy and its grips were sticky. Thanks for the offer, though, cuz!

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I took my bike–and facial hair–for a trial run. Bike needed to have its derailleurs realligned, as did my notion that at age 31, I can finally grow the semblance of a passable beard. I still can’t. But check out that sexy, hand-painted top tube! Va-va-voom!

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Post-workout carbo replenishment.

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“I have seven interests: sex (meaning in Danish both fornication and “six”) and beer.”

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The next day I set off along the beautiful eastern coast of Zealand. Sweden is barely visible on the horizon.

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Yeah, I won’t get to wear a beard, I don’t think, ever.

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Fellow cyclists. Ahem.

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I was had my ear buds in yet over the din of Low’s “The Great Destroyer” I heard some wild shouting. I slowed and saw this mad man chasing after me from across the street.

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It was my cousin Pallav Pranav! Yes, mad man indeed! He and his girlfriend Sofia were staying at our Uncle Kaj’s home in Snekkersten, just a few minutes south of Helsingor, where I would take the ferry across the water to Helsingborg, Sweden. We ate Dumle (a chocolate-dipped caramel on a stick) and marveled at the odds of running into each other. They asked where I was staying that night and I said I figured I would find a hostel in Halmstad, which would be at my 100 mile mark. Sofia, sweet as she is, told me I could definitely stay with her sister and children just 20 miles south of Halmstad in the beachy Mellsbystrand. Excellent! I was completely winging my nightly accommodations and the universe was seeing to it that for my boldness I would be rewarded! Again we wondered aloud at the slim odds of our paths crossing.  What we didn’t talk about is what a jerk Pallav Pranav is for not hanging with Jesper and me in Copenhagen. He must think that with his charming laugh no one can stay mad at him for long. That’s true…

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…Yet for the transgression I decidedly did not share my Haribo Roulettes: vital calories I would need for the rest of my journey.

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I hopped on this ferry, which is free. I even had time to down a Tuborg as I traded Denmark for Sweden.

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After a couple hours I stopped off at a sandy harbor and went for a dip. There a pot-bellied grandfather bounced his infant floaties-wearing grand daughter in the water. Why didn’t I take a photo of them instead of my stupid bike?

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Paths like this one are commonly encountered next to highways. I was charmed, blissfully charmed.

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After a while my route took me away from the coast; I knew I was heading north as long as the sun was on my left. And then the sun left altogether and I was left with only my paper map, as my iPhone was nearly dead. No worries! Mellbystrand is only 2o miles off.

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I arrived in town and washed down pizza slices with beer, waiting for Sofia’s sister to get in touch with me while the bartender reluctantly charged my phone behind the bar. Neither she nor Pallav  Pranav would respond to my calls and texts. Uh-oh. It was now 11 pm and I contemplated my options: Sleep on the beach and ride 120 miles tomorrow to Gothenburg, or carry on through the night to Halmstad and crash at the first hostel I find. I opted for the latter. (It turns out that one of Sofia’s sister’s children smashed her phone that afternoon, rendering her incommunicado.)

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I rode for an additional three hours. When there were road lamps I was fine, but soon I was in the middle of the grassy countryside with lousy bike lights only suitable for already semi-lit city streets and I had to follow the dim white median lest I tumble off the shoulder into the ditch. I was relieved every time a vehicle came up behind me because not only would I briefly benefit from their headlamps, but as they passed and wound through the darkness ahead, the red beam of their taillights would give me a feel for the otherwise invisible contours ahead. During these long hours I was rather lonesome, and I was upset with myself for not leaving Copenhagen sooner (I left at the lackadaisical hour of noon. Noon!). In Halmstad I stopped for a gyro and called every listed hostel, and they all, bored, told me the same thing: We’re completely full–it’s summer time–try the hotel. Stupid me. I was already mystified by how expensive Copenhagen was, stripping me of nearly $100 a day for basic meals and a few round of beers at night. I wanted stop up this financial gush, so I decided to continue riding through the night. After a few hours more, at 3 a.m., I was zonked. I passed hamlet after hamlet, each annoucing themselves from a far by a slender church steeple. Churches, hmm…churches have yards… Atheist that I am I didn’t expect a church yard to have any protective ju-ju, but I figured any yard-keeper who stumbled upon a weary, resting travel probably wouldn’t be a dick about it.

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So I crashed below this one. I slept for five hours, draped in my rain shell, and slept deeply with my saddle bag as a pillow.

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That’s the bench I curled up on. I woke up at 8 a.m. when a guy walking his dog ambled through the yard. I pulled on a new jersey, slapped myself across the face a few times, and hit the road after refueling with bread and cheese at a grocery store.

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No longer than ten minutes after settling into a nice pace, this guy on a bike pulls even with me. Whoa! I look behind him and there four other dudes right behind him! Two of these guys are even riding LOOKs, the same make as my own. We chat a bit and I learn these guys–All French and living in Paris–have ridden 100 miles for the past 11 days to attend a friend’s wedding in Gothenburg, 100 miles north, my second stopping point. “Can I ride with you guys?” Sure, they said. Then we put our heads down and cranked for a couple hours. Where did these guys have such energy reserved, having already ridden 1100 miles in 11 consecutive days. I knew I had over-packed my bicycle, but fucking hell–there were a few times when I was in some real pain. I hoped, though, that if I stuck with them I might be able to crash with them at their friend’s place. (Nope, I didn’t have any accommodations lined up in Gothenburg, as I was still hoping another cousin’s friend would come through; I intended to sleep, once again, in a hamlet’s church yard–punishment for my piss-poor planning.) After a few hours we stopped for lunch at a grocery store. I packed away salami and cheese and bread while these guys–I was slowly learning their names: Foucauld, Gérald, Leo, Antonin and Jules made a strange olive-oil-based banana puree with lots of nuts and berries mixed. It was delicious and no doubt great fuel. Check out their awesome blog documenting their Paris–Gothenburg trip.

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For their grueling pace I didn’t have much time to document hardly anything of our day together. Above, my hands began peeling.

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The roads are in impossibly great shape throughout Sweden.

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The French squad all rode road bicycles except for Gérald, author of the above photo, who rode a fixed-gear track bike (!). Riding 1200 miles fixed seems like a fool’s errand but Gérald was often at the front of the train, pushing the pace! And when he tired he’d buzz to the back and take photos of us all! Downhill, he’d prop his feet up on his downtube and spin out; when we stopped to fill our water bottles and grab a breather, he’d roll a cigarette! Gérald speaks modest English so I tried to even the field by speaking in nearly non-existent French: How is is possible you’re so fast when you smoke? He only flashed a wide grin and lit his cigarette! Amazing!

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We got to their host’s place in Gothenburg. Those are the guys! Their host Erika was so sweet she immediately offered me a place to stay. Because I was so bushed by the time we helped her make dinner I crashed at 6 p.m.! She let me stay in her bed so I wouldn’t be disturbed by the others–she slept in a cot in the kitchen. Incredibly generous, both l’equipe francaise and Erika. Thanks so much, guys!

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I was a little concerned about leaving our bikes out over night so I was relieved to find them unmolested come morning. I woke early–6 a.m.–and headed off on my last 100-mile leg on the way to the summerhouse. I’ll post about that beautiful and much hillier route soon!

Peter Madsen

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