On our last tour, we whimsically tackled a good old fashioned century in Hungary one day when the roads were flat. We hadn’t yet gone for a hundred mile ride on this trip, and with our riding days coming to a close, we decided we’d give it a try today.
Unfortunately, Sweden is neither as flat nor as paved as Hungary, so we were in for a much bigger endeavor. It was with this in mind that we rolled out of camp this morning, ready to try our legs for a hundred plus mile adventure into Stockholm.
Mile 1: The day is brilliant and blue, a persistent wind blowing a collection of clouds across the way. We’re cycling through forests past a giant lake. My legs don’t feel that fresh and we’ve only just begun.
Mile 10: We’re making kind of slow time because the day is so beautiful and we keep stopping for pictures. With weather this perfect, I’m feeling cheerful. The blue sky filled up with billowy clouds as we make our way past golden fields and red farmhouses. Fields are full of purple wildflowers. Sweden is so gorgeous.
Mile 30: The wind has kicked up hard, but for the most part it is at our backs, or at least blowing from the side. I hate riding in any kind of wind, but Ben keeps reminding me that at least we aren’t heading straight into it. He is right..a tailwind may be just what we need to get a hundred miles done today.
Mile 36: We stop for our first round of lunch, feeling particularly good about our progress and about how good we are feeling. Stomachs full, we hit the road again. One third of the way done!
Mile 42: The stately pine forests have given way to gentler deciduous trees, some of which are shedding pretty fall leaves already. Ben spots some ferns that are also changing colors, and the next few kilometers are full of stops so he can enthusiastically photograph the lovely rainbow colors of ferns and wildflowers.
Mile 44: As is the norm in Sweden, our route is so twisty that since Ben is navigating and I don’t have a map, I’m completely disoriented. I note that thought we’ve supposedly been riding toward it for three hours, I can’t point the general direction of Stockholm.
Mile 48: The paved road we’ve been following turns to gravel. We’d been hopeful after seeing a string of really nice cars coming down the way that the road would stay paved, but no such luck. Dirt roads are just a way of life here. We get back to speeding across the washboard roads. At first, cruising the rough track was really fun until my arms started itching and I got to feeling rattled and miserable. We make good time, but not without a huge amount of effort. This goes on for another seven miles before we finally hit the highway again.
Mile 52: Along the dirt track, we pass a cute house with a miniature village and faces painted on rocks in the yard. We stop for a picture and celebrate. We are more than half way!
Mile 63: We stop again to eat, this time outside a local grocery store. Ben runs inside for some more pastries and treats, and we eat fast because the wind is freezing. By the time we get going again, I’m really cold and once we notice that it is nearly 3:00 in the afternoon, start wondering if we’re really going to make it.
Mile 66: More dirt tracks. The going is impossibly slow.
Mile 68: We finally hit the road that will carry us to Stockholm, following the main freeway. I’d hoped that this road would be flat and quick, but it is nothing of the sort. The usual rolling hills get steeper and longer and our progress gets even slower. At this pace, we’ll never make it. We are both feeling antsy to get off the bikes for the day but we have hours still to go.
Mile 70: It starts to rain. Not very hard, but the road is wet and I’m getting wetter and wetter with every minute. We’re both doubting the sanity of this terrible plan. We keep asking each other if we should find a place in the woods to camp.
Mile 72: We’re grinding up another long, slow slog, when I notice a fair bit of blood on my leg. I slow, attempting to check out my wound when I realize the blood is coming from my face. I have no idea what caused a nosebleed, but I don’t have a tissue handy. I clean up the mess as best I can with a yucky sponge we use to clean our tent and we’re off. How did my life get so dang gross?
Mile 79: We’ve reached a busy town about twenty miles outside Stockholm. As we cross through it, we pass through a series of round-abouts. As I’m coming out of the last one, the street I’m turning onto immediately narrows, and I hear Ben yell, “Bus!” With a tall curb on my right and a bus coming up way too close to me on my left, I’m not sure what the appropriate reaction is.
I freeze as the bus flies by, leaving roughly three inches between it and my left shoulder. On the other side, I have even less space between my front tire and the curb. The longest ten seconds of my life ensues in which I try to hold my bike dead steady with absolutely no room for error as the bus draws ever closer. If I hit the curb, I’ll go down with my head toward the bus. If the bus nudges me, my bottom half goes under the bus. I waver in my tiny space, barely missing the back end of the huge vehicle.
The bus blows by, and I slam on my breaks, skidding to a stop. Ben is irate, yelling “THREE INCHES!” as he comes up behind me, traffic still speeding around us.
I’m quivering hard, the paralyzing fear from the incident soaking all the way through me. I pull my bike up onto the sidewalk and try to gather my wits. I’ve just survived the closest call we’ve ever had on the road, and of course, it had to be with a giant bus.
It only takes a couple of minutes before I’ve completely fallen apart. I burst into wrenching tears, my whole body still shaking. It is still raining, we’ve got twenty five miles to go, and I’m paralyzed both with terror and with anger that I nearly just got killed by a bus driver who didn’t even notice the disaster he nearly just caused.
Ben offers to reroute us, to try to find a closer place to camp, to get us off the road, but we’re in the middle of an unknown town. We can’t very well sleep in the park. There is no sag wagon to climb into. I’m wet and freezing, so we do the only thing that sounds rational to me. We get back on and keep riding.
Mile 82: I’m still sobbing as I pedal up a huge hill out of town. With tears on my cheeks and a stuffed up nose, I can barely breathe. We pedal and pedal and I try to get a grip but I can’t stop crying. We’ve safely ridden thousands and thousands of miles together over the last five years all through our hometown and through nearly twenty countries. All it took was one extremely close call and my confidence is completely gone. I recoil at every car that passes me, scared for my life.
Mile 85: Despite the fact that I’m mentally a wreck, I start to notice that my legs don’t feel that bad. Slowly my breathing evens and my tears dry up. We’re cruising now, up and down through more quiet forests, traffic passing us with plenty of space. The rain finally lets up and the scenery is particularly lovely. I’m finally getting a grip, but Ben is still seething. We review drivers by country: Romania and Bulgaria the worst (Ben’s note: Sweden gets an honorable mention for that bus driver’s stunt). Norway and France the best by a landslide, Greece surprisingly not far behind given its reputation. Sweden has been a mixed bag, an awful lot like home; some drivers are exceptionally careful, others, not at all.
Mile 99: The miles are going fast now. Cheered that we actually might get to Stockholm tonight, we stop at a 12th century stone church for a snack. Ben is starving. I can’t eat. My stomach feels like a giant knot and I’m running on straight adrenaline. The church is cool and though I’m still shaken, we are making it!
Mile 100: We hit the outskirts of Stockholm, which is a bit like a maze. It takes us some back and forth to get our bearings toward the campground. Ben merges on to a highway and a driver on a cell phone turns right into the same lane. If Ben hadn’t been paying attention, he’d have been flattened too. Though he wasn’t overly close to actually getting hit, we’re both ultra agitated at the treachery of the day. Stockholm has a great reputation for being bike friendly, but so far, this is the sketchiest ride we’ve ever been on.
Mile 101: A nice guy towing a camper stops traffic so we can make an easy left hand turn. A single nice gesture about puts me back in tears.
Mile 102 and 105: Two more giant hills. We are still riding bikes. Though we’ve been pedaling for more than eight hours, my legs actually feel pretty good, but I’m ready to call it a day.
Mile 107: Eight hours and eleven minutes of ride time complete, we roll into a wildly busy campsite. The ride was supposed to be 101 miles, but navigating in Sweden is rough and a six mile margin of error was to be expected.
We have to look unusually hard for a reasonable place to put our tent: almost all the flat spaces are taken. We set up and head down the road to the kebab stand for a quick dinner, just as the rain kicks up again.
It was easily the toughest hundred miles I have ever completed. Hills, wind, gravel, and some scary moments about did me in, but once again we made it. These days reaffirm that we can accomplish anything if we set our minds to it and just keep moving even when the going gets particularly tough.
We crawl into our tent and curl up together. We listen to the thunder roar and the rain crash on the fly, thankful for our health, our safety, and glad to be together.