Friday, July 1, 2011

The Swedish Bike

There are so many bike trails in Sweden I can hardly believe it. As we drive from town to town you can see the paths follow the highway. I think the only place a biker really has to get on a street with a car is when they get to the centers of towns or the little residential street. And even there, if you know where to look, you can find bike paths The little town that Leif grew up in is crisscrossed with walking/biking paths that often don’t even follow the road but slip behind or between houses to connect one part of town with another.

On Thursday we were supposed to do another excursion with the car (still sounds way more sophisticated than road trip, which sounds like we are looking for cheap liquor and the possibility of jail time) but his brother got sick and had to cancel. His father didn’t want us to miss anything, so around 8am he suggested a ride on the bikes. He had been missing his rides while we were there and this seemed a good time to go. After all, the sun had been shining since about 4am. It was a beautiful day.

So Tord on his bike, Leif on his road bike, and me on his mom’s bike headed out. This was not an even playing field. Leif’s road bike was the obvious king here, but Tord had the advantage of riding this course every other day all summer AND he had three gears. I had a one speed bike with a foot brake and a certain amount of rust. I was twelve the last time I rode my purple and silver Schwinn. This was gonna be hard. Just remembering where my feet needed to be when I put on the brakes was tough, because if they weren’t in the right place I couldn’t get my foot down fast enough to stop myself from falling over. I wasn’t going to succumb to gravity again.

We headed out on the bike paths through town. I was pretty impressed with myself as I got used to riding sitting up (feels strange) with my hands holding a curved set of handlebars (way more comfortable on my wrists right now, but sure to become annoying later) and learning to pedal only so fast and no faster, or I just spin my feet uselessly. The sun went behind some clouds the instant we wheeled the bikes outside, but the rain waited till we were far enough away that returning home made no sense at all. It just kept raining, sometimes hard, sometimes just a sprinkle. Leif was the only one who brought a rain jacket. It is my opinion it would have been too hot to wear a jacket anyway. We rode to Linkoping (I think) where they suddenly left my comfortable bike trail and headed down a dangerously narrow road that I was pretty sure contained hills.

It was beautiful country, really. As I said before…so much like Minnesota. Pine trees and poplars and birches. Farms and animals. Made me sorry I hadn’t brought my camera. Then I remembered the rain (which was still falling, how could I forget?) and decided this was much better. It isn’t as flat as Minnesota though, and I approached the first hill with a little bit of fear in my heart. Why? Because I really wanted to impress my cycling boyfriend with my ability to ride and I know myself well enough to know that hills are not where I shine. At least I assume so, I have spent the last three years planning routes based on their lack of hills. So, yeah, my fear of hills is mostly in my own head.

We hit the first hill and…wow…I didn’t fall over or roll backwards. I didn’t have to walk the bike up. Of course, it wasn’t a big hill, but bigger than I usually want to tackle, even with all 21 gears. After that first hill the ride became fun again. OK, I won’t lie, I still approached each hill with just a little bit of uncertainty. It’s hard to drop a lifetime fear of hills in one short bike trip. But I do feel a whole lot better about riding my bike outside of Florence now when we go home.

We rode up and down the hills, through farms and forests and finally got back to the village as the rain stopped. Naturally. We all got out of our wet clothes and had our elevenses coffee and cookies. As we ate Leif and his dad talked. I could only listen, of course, because they were speaking Swedish. As we finished our coffee Leif said that his dad was impressed with me. He said that they had never seen their mother’s bike ridden that far or that fast before (she was a smoker before she passed away). Leif said that this ride was my official welcome into the family and the bike would be waiting for me the next time we visited.

If we weren’t all stoic Northern Europeans we might have had ourselves a little cry at that point.

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