2007-09-16

New bike!

I finally did it. I'm now officially a bike addict, owning both road and mountain bikes. For quite some time, ever since my accident in may, the thought of getting a new bike has been maturing in the back of my mind. A few days ago, while out riding my roadie in Helsinki, I stopped by Best Brakes to check out their end-of-summer sale. The guy behind the counter gave me an offer that was hard to refuse, but luckily also 24 hours to think it over.

While in Stockholm the next day I finally gave in to the urge, picked up the phone and called. With the word "sold" ("myyty", in Finnish) I bought a new bike, picking it up yesterday when I was in Helsinki again. It's a 2006 Author Vision a hardtail XC vehicle, specced with mostly Shimano Deore XT and LX components, Ritchey finishing kit and a Manitou R7 suspension fork.

Today I of course had to try it out, and what better place to do it than on the small cliff right next to the Viking Line terminal here in Stockholm. With my girlfriend in tow, carrying my work camera, I made my way up the hill with my feet touching the ground far fewer times than I had expected. Having reached the top it was time for a small photo session, the result of which can be seen here.

It will probably take a while before I'm confident enough off road to join any of the club rides on offer in the Turku area. But once I get to know this bike a bit better that's what I'm going to do.

2007-08-14

Nykarlebyloppet 2007

Last saturday was race day, and I was on the starting line of the 6th ever, my second, edition of Nykarlebyloppet. It's a local race through the southwestern part of the municipality of my old home town. When I still lived there, cycling hadn't really managed to get a visible foothold yet. But since then it has grown steadily, enough for me to find myself in the middle of over 150 other cyclists patiently waiting for the start. This year I was also joined by my brother, what a treat!

Just like last year, the pack was lead by a pace car on a short prologue through town. The start and finish had been moved, though, to the fairly recently refurbished sports center Stjärnhallen. The move was motivated by the facilities available, but also made the run up to the finish line more complicated and dangerous. Hopefully next year the race will end on the main street again, with a safer and more crowd friendly sprint to the line being in everyone's interest.

...

My official, though not quite accurate time: 2h 17m 50s.
Timed distance: 73,6 km
Average speed: 32.0 km/h
Top speed: 51.8 km/h.

2007-07-22

Day 12 - Rostock revisited

This morning I woke up just in time to realise that my alarm was about to go off. It was 5.55 and time to get up. I woke up Sergej and found out that he had had second thoughts about Rostock and Denmark. France seemed more like the way he wanted to go. He dozed off again and I went about packing up my damp tent and sleeping bag.

Having shook hands with S a final time I headed off alone towards Trier and the train to Rostock. On the way I was treated to a splendid morning view of the southwestern end of the German Mosel valley.

In Trier the DB ticket office was still closed, but a helpful older gentleman at the infodesk printed out a schedule of my journey. He also made sure I got a "starter ticket", which I would show in Koblenz when I changed trains and bought a full ticket for the entire trip. The lady who sold me my final ticket made a small mistake, though. Without asking, she for some reason assumed I had a BahnCard and gave me a 25% discount. This was spotted by the staff on the train and I was promptly informed I had to either pay the missing amount or get off in Köln. Turned out I wasn't carrying quite enough cash and it took some haggling before I was sold a cheap enough ticket to make it all the way to Rostock.

My experience of travelling by train through Germany luckily wasn't only a negative one. Next to me on the IC was Felix, a graphic designer from Aachen. F and I had a nice conversation which made at least half of my 9h+ on the trains seem a lot shorter.

Once I'd made it to Rostock I called Paloma, my host for my first night in Germany. She had been out surfing and wouldn't be back in town until late in the evening. I then cruised around in central Rostock, explored some of the parts I missed last time around. I also got some cash and a bite to eat. Remembering the prices of food on the ferry, I found a Lidl and stocked up on bread, bananas and granola bars. While rolling through the streets of R-town I heard live music coming from Neuer Markt. Turning the corner I found myself in the middle of a pride festival, complete with drag queens and guys in denim micro-shorts. Why does this always happen when I'm wearing my lycras?! Last summer I stumbled upon Stockholm pride while out on a training ride..

I wasted my last hour before I had to wheel myself to the harbour in the park in front of the main building of the university. A cone of ice cream made for a perfect treat before saying goodbye to this town and this country.

That's it, my adventure on the roads of central Europe is over. I have now boarded Superfast IX, and should be back in Finland around 5.30 on monday morning. It's been absolutely amazing and as long as I have any say in the matter my touring days are far from over. The experiences I've had on this trip have made such an impression on me, and left me yearning for more.

...

Today: 40,87 km, 2h11m04s, 18,71 kmh avg, 42,3 kmh max.
Tour total: 1047,11 km.

2007-07-21

Day 11 - Grevenmacher

Don't let the headline fool you into thinking we didn't go anywhere on this day. We did, we went to France for lunch!

Having settled in on our first night in Grevenmacher, we took a look at the map. I still had one more day left, and the French border seemed so incredibly close. We decided that, if the weather in the morning would appear to be at least somewhat decent, to leave our tents, trailers and packs behind to go for a legstretcher into yet another country.

Setting out around 10, with all our valuables stuffed into jersey pockets and Sergejs small yet spacious backpack, we soon realised we were in for some rain after all. After 16 km it started and quickly turned into a downpour, complete with lightning so close you barely saw the flash before a deafening boom crackled through the sky. Having first sought shelter at a bus stop, we got cold since we were already soaking wet. Instead we continued for a kilometer or so until we found a cafe where we could get something warm to drink. Having each had a cup of both coffee and tea, we waited until the rain stopped, squeezed the water out of our gloves and hit the road again as the clouds scattered to give us sunshine once again. Above Schengen, where Luxenbourg, Germany and France meet, the sky was as blue as could be. In the roundabout, which is actually in Germany, we said "We're hungry, let's go to France!"

The first town, barely 3 km south of the border, is Sierck. We immediately started to look for a restaurant, only to find that the first one we saw had already stopped serving lunch. Still very hungry, and wet from the rain earlier, we followed the main road to the next place where we could sample the local cuisine. What looked quite simple from the outside turned out to be a luxurious restaurant, with a waiter wearing a suit and tie opening the door when we climbed the steps. Bonjours were exchanged and we were led to a table set for four. Two sets of plates and cutlery silently disappeared and we were handed menus in heavy binders, followed by a polite inquiry if we cared for an aperitive. The prices in the menu were somewhat out of our league, so when the Perrier was served S asked if we could have only salad and bread. We then got the most carefully presented salad any of us had seen before, and a basket of bread that was quicky exchanged for a new one as soon as it emptied. I also chose to sample a glass of a local wine, which I found to be so good that when we rolled out of town again, I bought a whole bottle at a wine store halfway to the border.

Being computer geeks, at the roundabout we didn't immediately cross the bridge back into Luxembourg, choosing instead to make a very short stop at the city limits of a town called Perl. In Schengen (Lux) we stopped to fix a puncture I most likely had while still in Germany. With a new tube and a patch to cover a cut in my rear tyre, we raced down the Mosel with the wind helping us stay well above 30 kmh most of the way.

On reaching Grevenmacher we sought out a supermarket and bought some food. Our friendly neighbours in a camping trailer let us charge S's camera and my phone while we had dinner. As I had to get up early in the morning to reach Trier in time to catch a train to Rostock, we quieted down a bit sooner than the night before.

I'm now already on the train, the end of my adventure drawing near. I will, however, always remember this chilly morning, with the misty Mosel valley slowly waking up to a new day as I rode into the rising sun.

...

Today: 80,38 km, 3h4m59s, 26,07 kmh avg, 58,1 kmh max.
Tour total: 1006,25 km.

2007-07-20

Day 10 - Grevenmacher

"He's going the distance! He's going for speed!" (CAKE - The Distance). Today has been an amazing day. We did, however, get some rain as soon as we started riding. After about 7 km it got so bad that we stopped at a bus shelter for almost two hours. Our judgement that it was only a quick summer rain turned out to be correct, though, and soon we had sunshine through scattering clouds.

We had to climb some hills today as well, but they were only a few and far from anywhere near as steep as the ones in Belgium. And after that it was easy sailing along the Our and the Sauer. We spent most of today's saddle time cruising at or above 30 kmh, following the rivers downstream.

Someone in Luxembourg has at some point in history been very clever. At least from what I have seen yesterday and today, they seem to have captured some of the most beautiful and arable land in the region and managed to keep it for themselves.

Having had lunch in a stonewalled bus shelter in Bittel, just south of Vianden, we climbed the second hill of the day on the road up to Fouhren. From there it was more downhill cruising to the next major town on our border hugging route, Echternach, which was really nice. I withdrew some cash since I was almost out and then we took the time to have cappuchino at a café on the market square. A few postcards also found their way to a mailbox. The buildings around the square were mostly old and very beautiful. Tourist pics snapped with a compact can not even begin to convey the atmosphere of this place.

Upon reaching Wasserbillig where the Sauer flows into the Mosel, we bought some food and started looking at the map to figure out where we needed to go to find a place to spend the night. The only markings for campsites were on the German side, so we searched for a bridge nearby but couldn't find one. Luckily there was a ferry (if you've been in Turku, think Föri with a capacity for 4-6 cars) and then we were in Germany again. Unfortunately we took a wrong turn and headed away from the campsites we were trying to reach. Instead we found a bridge across the Mosel, back into Luxembourg, about 6 km south of were we crossed with the ferry. So yes, we hopped over the border, again, and are now spending a night within Luxembourg, yet only across a river from Germany. We even took photos of a German vineyard, while standing in another country, waiting for our dinner too cook.

We have a few options to choose from tomorrow, but either way it will be my last day of riding on this tour. On saturday morning I have to be in Trier if I'm to make it to Rostock in time fore the ferry back to Finland and the end of this adventure.

...

Today: 91,67 km, 3h46m22s, 24,30 kmh avg, 59,9 kmh max.
Tour total: 925,64 km.

2007-07-19

Day 9 - Vallée de l'Our

We're not in.. No, I used that one in my last post. Yesterday we crossed yet another border, this time into Luxembourg. Last night we staid at a campsite on Luxenbourg's eastern border, right on the river Our.

Yesterday morning was really chilly, and we hadn't really paid any attention to where we put our tents. This meant that even when the sky cleared and the sun came out, the tents were still wet from the mist. We were also late getting up, and with breakfast and packing taking their fair amount of time we got on the road at about 10.40.

Our first stop was the Spa/Francorchamps circuit, which meant we had to mostly climb for almost 6 km, some parts of which were rated at 8%. Before reaching the track we also got to fly down almost 3 km of a similarly rated descent, with me breaking my all time speed record on a bike (66,6 kmh). All this of course with the loaded BOB trailers in tow. The manufacturer has put a warning sticker on the trailer saying not to exceed 40 kmh. Oh well..

Going back towards Malmédy had us climbing the same hill from the other direction and then cruising into town at speeds around 50 kmh. Once there our first task was to find a bike shop and after asking around some we did. The mech was on lunch break and since it was already well after 12, we chose to also have lunch in a small park across the street while my bike was in the shop. With food in our stomachs and a shiny new spoke in my rear wheel, we went south, direction Luxembourg.

A final note on Belgium: Sergej told me even before we left Bonn that the Belgian roads would be bad. And believe me, a lot of them were. If the Belgians bother to put up a sign saying "route dégradée", boy do they mean it. And the distance mentioned on the sign often only tells you how far away the next one is.

After we had shook hands at the border the hills got less steep and the landscape offered a wider view of our surroundings. We stopped near Marnach to buy some food and then rolled down into the Our valley. Following the river, with Germany on the other side, we didn't have to go far to find this campsite. Now that we've enjoyed a nice breakfast with tea, bread, eggs and apricots, we're just about ready to hit the road again. Do we have time to pop into France? There's only one way to find out.

...

Today: 83,12 km, 4h17m30s, 19,37 kmh avg, 66,6 kmh max.
Tour total: 833,95 km.

2007-07-18

Day 8 - Spa/Francorchamps

This entry should have been posted last night, but I managed to fall asleep before I had the chance to finish it. Yesterday I woke up a bit before 6.30 to a cool but dry and sunny morning. It did rain a little during the night, but not too heavily. Sleeping in the tent was nice, perhaps not as nice as a comfy couch or bed even, but still nice. The place we stayed at was actually a private, members only, caravan parking ground for the local tennis, rowing and sailing club. But they allowed us to put up our tents for one night and also let us use the toilets and showers. And it didn't even cost one cent!

Setting out a little after 9, we headed southwest in the direction of the Belgian border and the road to Malmédy. Going into the Eifel national park meant, what at least for me was, a lot of climbing. Thankfully it was a lot cooler than the previous days, with the temperature staying below 30 degrees. The steepest hill we encountered had an incline of 15% over almost 2 km. We ended up walking up most of that one, as it was way too much for me. The other ones, 7-9% over similar distances were hard but I managed to ride up them, taking brakes when I felt too exhausted to continue. The stunning scenery we've enjoyed throughout the day, together with the euphoria of flying down serpentine roads at speeds up to 60 kmh, made up for climbing all those hills.

Stopping in Monschau was a great idea. The old town has been beautifully restored to lure any and all tourists passing through this picturesque valley.

I don't think we're in Kansas.. erm, I mean Germany, anymore. Actually I know we're not, cause we're in Belgium! Somewhere between Francorchamps and Stavelot, 10 or so kilometers from the Spa/Francorchamps Formula 1 circuit. We didn't go to the track last night, but chose instead to look for, and find, a nice campsite. 8€ each bought us the right to pitch our tents right next to a stream and also to have a shower.

Soon after crossing the border, I noticed my rear wheel was untrue again. We stopped to have a look only to realise I had snapped yet another spoke. I adjusted the tension in the nearest ones so that I could continue, but we will have to get to a bike shop soon to get it fixed. Perhaps picking up a few extra spokes wouldn't be such a bad idea..

...

Today: 101,79 km, 5h42m57s, 17,81 kmh avg, 60,6 kmh max.
Tour total: 750,82 km.

2007-07-17

Day 7 - Zülpich

Got up this morning, packed, had a nice breakfast with E and got on my bike a few minutes before 10. I then rode into central Köln along the Rhine and after a few wrong turns found Sergej waiting in front of the Dom. We said our hellos and I told S that I was having some problems with a creaky bottom bracket and/or cranks. We then set out to find a bike shop to have it looked at. Two hours and four bike shops later I was told that the BB probably is fine, but the right crank is a bit loose and since it's only pressed on it will eventually have to be replaced. Before we even got out of Köln, S had a rear puncture and my front inner tube ruptured.

Plans change, some more often than others. In Bonn, after yet another visit to a bike shop, this time to replace S's rear tyre that had become uneven, we took another look at the maps. After some deliberation, heavily influenced by S's tales of the scenery we could enjoy if we got off the Rhine, I exclaimed: "Let's go to Belgium!"

So now we're camping in Zülpich, which is, going like we did via Bonn, about halfway between Köln and Malmédy. From there we'll head south along the border between Luxembourg and Germany, with me probably catching a train from Trier to Rostock on friday or saturday.

I knew in advance that I would learn a lot from touring together with S. But already this, the freedom of making up the route as you go along, is amazing. I'm starting to actually wish I wouldn't have to go back to work next monday.

The weather today was hot, with temperatures between 33 and 37 degrees C. I went through a lot of water, but managed surprisingly well considering the heat. We might get some rain tonight though, as there's now a heavy cloud cover and the wind is picking up, rattling our tents. I just hope it won't be too wet tomorrow.

...

Today: 83,29 km, 4h24m50s, 18,87 kmh avg, 50,3 kmh max.
Tour total: 649,03 km.

2007-07-16

Day 6 - Köln

Another hot day, but I did follow through and rode my bike to Hamm. Only from there, after 80 km in the sweltering heat with a couple of steep hills, did I give in and caught a train the rest of the way. Traveling with regional trains inside the German Bundesländer is, to me, surprisingly cheap. I paid 17,50€ to get myself, my bike and the trailer to Köln. The bike compartment was, however, an experience it its own right. Apparantly, for the obvious reason being the low cost involved, taking the train to start your bike tour in a nice location is quite popular. There were 9 bikes on the train before I got in, and more came on on the way. It was an open compartment, with most of the bikes piled up along one side, some people standing up in the middle and some sitting on fold-up chairs on the other side. But luckily it was smiles all round and everyone helped each other with getting the bikes out of the train at the right station.

Leaving Bielefeld I rode through the center of town and had a look around, and then tried to get to the shorter route west towards Gütersloh. I failed miserably, though, instead getting lost in suburbia and then in the immediate countryside. In the end I didn't gain anything, but rather lost some time before finding the B61 west again. Before Gütersloh it was pretty nice, with a bunch of roadies out on sunday rides. West of G-town the road turned into a straight line, except near Beckum where there were as many hills as there were bends.

Getting off the train here in Köln and seeing the Dom with my own eyes was great. Riding north to find my CS host for the night was easy, with a couple of friendly locals pointing me to the right street as I got closer. Eva lives in a house owned by a college fraternity, so it's a big place shared by a bunch of students. After I had showered and washed most of my cycling clothes, we got in the car together with one of the guys who live here and went to a lake just north of town. Eva and G went swimming as I tried to get some sun on the whiter parts of my torso. On the way back we picked up a beer each, and at the house E and G whipped together a delicious dinner. A couple of other friends stopped by while we were eating, so the conversation around the table was lively.

Tomorrow I'm meeting Sergej in front of the Dom at around 10 in the morning. From there we'll head up the Rhein to Koblenz, and then on Tuesday to Bad Kreuznach.

...

Today: 85,13 km, 4h22m18s, 19,47 kmh avg, 38,3 kmh max.
Tour total: 565,73 km.

2007-07-14

Day 5 - Bielefeld

Today was hot, very hot. I'm glad I got up fairly early and made at least some headway before the heat really set in and slowed things down. HC was generous enough not only to give me breakfast and a few pointers as to the route, but also followed me for about a kilometer or so and made sure I got off in the right direction. After that, navigating through Hannover was a breeze, and with the sun out I took the time to do the tourist thing and snapped a few shots of the sights. Without the risk of rain hanging over me, my camera remained in my jersey pocket for the rest of the day.

Out of Hannover, I took the B65 via Bad Nenndorf, Stadthagen and Bückeburg. There I noticed that even though my average speed was lower than yesterday, I was making good time having set off a bit earlier in the morning. Then I saw a sign that showed the way to a helicopter museum. Still feeling like I had the time to look around, I went. I took a bunch of photos, but I'm not sure if any of them are any good. The lighting in the exhibition rooms wasn't anything near optimal for my little compact.

Riding in the southern outskirts of Minden, I found a bike path leading in the direction of Porta Westfalica. While following it, I stopped underneath a bridge to get in the shade for a while. Already there was an old couple also on bikes, with panniers. We said our hellos and had a nice little chat for about 10 minutes. These short moments, when lives connect in ways like this are really what makes travelling worth while. Best wishes all 'round, I continued my journey towards the pass ahead. With hills on both sides, the river Weser in the middle and a huge monument to Kaiser Wilhelm I high above, the northern gate of Westfahlen made an impressive sight. It'll probably take a while for me to digest. As will a lot of other things I've seen today. I would love to do another tour through these parts again some time, but at an even slower pace, to allow for more of the tourist bit. In Herford, for instance, with about 20 km to go today, I stopped in the middle of town and ate some of my remaining food. The center of town is made up of a network of pedestrian streets, with shops, cafés, biergartens and beautiful little (and not so little) churches making up the scenery.

East of Bielefeld I stopped at a bus stop to get my bearings. I knew the name of the part of town where my host lives, and found a road that took me around the center. Stopping at a gas station to get help with finding the right street, I made it all the way to B's front door. B is the host I phoned last night from Hannover, after browsing through the ADFC Dachgeber list. It's officially for members only, but there's a statement in their charter that says the same hospitality should also be shown to foreign bike tourers. Having been welcomed here with the use of a much needed shower, food and a wonderful conversation about cycling and other things that makes life interesting, I'm just about to hit the sack.

Tomorrow, depending a little bit on how I feel in the morning, I will most likely ride to Hamm and from there then take the train into Köln. Doing so lets me take a direct train connection and also, in my view, earns me the right to say I rode as far as I could without getting into the mountains of the Sauerland or the big cities of the Ruhr.

...

Today: 120,15 km, 6h40m10s, 18,01 kmh avg, 50,5 kmh max.
Tour total: 480,53 km.

2007-07-13

Day 4 - Hannover

Frank, my host in Uelzen, proved to be more welcoming than I could ever had hoped for. After I had had a shower, pizza was soon ready. Later, after I had finished posting my blog and writing a few e-mails, we went for a walk and he showed me the famous train station, with its magnificent Hundertwasser decorations. This morning Frank served up a wonderful breakfast. He also offered me valuable tips and information about the road that laid ahead.

Today I had only a little bit of rain as I left Uelzen. I also managed to take another detour, blindly following signs that promised a bike route to the B4. Not being the shortest option by a long shot, it did get me there, but I lost a little time in the process. Luckily the sky got brighter fast and after an hour I had to shed my windstopper jacket as I got too hot. There was still a fairly compact cloud cover, but the temperature was rising steadily. The sun also eventually came out and put a smile on my face.

In Celle I stopped to get something to eat. I figured I could afford myself a treat, and with a couple of Polish buskers in medieval kit watching over my bike, I found a wienerschnitzel with my name on it. Well fed I navigated out of town and headed for Hannover.

There was a bike path along the B3, which continued even as the road became an autobahn. Before entering Hannover, I was led onto a quiet country lane, which offered a scenic route into the city. Navigating through the suburbs, I suffered another flat but got going in a matter of minutes. Bewildered by the many roads leading towards the center of the city, I was aided by an older gentleman on a beautiful 30 year old Peugeot bike. He led me all the way to Kleefeld where I was pointed to the right street by a group of girls.

I found my host here in Hannover, Hans-Christian, through the Warm Showers list. It's an excellent service touring cyclists can offer to others while at home, and use to find a place to stay when on the road. HC has provided me with a couch, and given me something perhaps even more valuable. In Germany there's a printed list of cyclists willing to host tourers. With all the changes to my schedule, CouchSurfing might not be up to the task. Now, after making a quick phone call, I have a host in Bielefeld for tomorrow.

I have chosen to rest on Sunday, taking the train to Köln to make up for lost time. One of the lessons I've taken to heart from the Adventure Cycle-Touring Handbook is that touring is about traveling, not necessarily riding every single kilometer of the way.

...

Today: 109,30 km, 5h44m54s, 19,01 kmh avg, 47,3 kmh max.
Tour total: 360,36 km.

2007-07-12

Day 3 - Uelzen

This will be a short(ish) one, but today's ride most certainly wasn't.

Leaving Schwerin just as the first drops of rain started to fall (I hope this pattern doesn't keep repeating itself..), I was met by a detour. And this time it wasn't even my doing. The B106 south of Schwerin was closed due to construction and I had to go around to the B321, in all 7 kms of rain I could have done without. Not the one to give up, I pushed forward, my legs slowly warming up after yesterdays climbing in the cold.

Just outside of Ludwigslust, my rear tyre went pfff. Rolling slowly, looking for some shelter from the rain, I didn't do what I should have which was stop immediately. This resulted in another snapped spoke, but at least I found some cover under which I proceeded to change the inner tube. Having originally decided to go around Ludwigslust, in hope of a somewhat shorter route towards Dömitz, Dannenberg and Uelzen, I chose to keep going and try to find a bike shop. Just as I entered Ludwigslust, I encountered an older gentleman who seemed friendly, and more than a little curious about my kit. He directed me to the nearest (one of two) bike shop, and wished me good luck. The repair was fast and cheap, and in less than half an hour I was back on the road again with a new spoke, a re-trued rear wheel and a couple of extra inner tubes.

The rest of my ride was mostly uneventful, and the sceneries I've seen would have to be experienced in person. Crossing the Elbe was a big moment, made more so by the heavy shower of rain that lasted for only 20 minutes. But it was more than enough for me to refrain from stopping and digging out my camera.

I've had another rainy day, but warmer and not quite as wet as yesterday. But it wasn't until I reached the outskirts of Uelzen until I saw the sun for more than a fleeting moment. I'm now staying with another couchsurfing host, and have just finished devouring my meal for the evening.

Tomorrow I'm heading to Hannover, originally my destination for today. It should only be about 100 km or so, and the weather should also improve further. And believe me, it's about time!

...

Today: 139,31 km, 6h53m8s, 20,23 kmh avg, 38,6 kmh max.
Tour total: 251,05 km.

2007-07-11

Day 2 - Schwerin

Sleeping in a proper bed is almost too comfortable. I didn't get up until almost 9. Having shopped for groceries and said my thanks to Paloma, who had to run off to university, and Hans, I started off just as the first drops of rain began to fall. Oh well, I thought to myself, this doesn't seem so bad. But the rain kept on falling, and the headwinds didn't make my advance through Mecklenburg any easier. I reached Neukloster after roughly two hours, averaging only 20 kmh. Soking wet and shaking from the cold, I sought refuge in a small shop complex which had a nice-looking Asian restaurant. After recouperating over a steaming plate of food, a cup of tea and a glass of coke I returned to my bike and changed into a dry jersey and felt my body getting warmer again. My windstopper jacket had by then also dried a bit, so I put it on and headed out into the rain. Even though the jacket was wet again in only a few minutes, it still kept me warm enough to cope.

I know very well that these are conditions any serious bike tourer should be ready to face. I had, however, hoped that I'd get away without having to do so on my first day on the road. At the least it would have been great if I'd had the time to learn how to navigate efficiently in the German countryside. I've taken a couple of detours, stopped at a couple of gas stations to ask for the best route. My Michelin road map is really not up to the task after all. And the rain and wind didn't exactly make it easier to concentrate on reading road signs. Luckily the absolute majority of the cars that passed me made an effort to make my life as easy as possible.

Leaving Neukloster, armed with the advice I got from a HEM station on the outskirts of town, I pushed on towards Bad Kleinen and Schwerin. As the rain showed no sign of letting up, and the winds steadily drained my newfound strength, I made the final decision to make Schwerin my destination of the day. No sense in expending myself completely, I would only waste energy I need to keep going the days ahead, whatever the weather. I also realised I would have to sleep indoors to preserve my health as well as make sure my equipment is sufficiently dry tomorrow. Riding for four and a half hours in the rain and then sleeping in a tent could end my tour prematurely, and I fully intend to finish what I've started. My decision was further cemented when I took a light fall after loosing grip when I crossed some railroad tracks made incredibly slippery by the rain. I'm fine (really, mom) and the only damage to the bike was a couple of new scratches on the left pedal and the front light bracket that came off. Adapting the Plan to the conditions and knowing my limitations are lessons I've learned before.

Which is why I'm writing this from another comfortable bed, watching Baywatch dubbed into German (Knight Rider was on earlier :). I've spent 25€ on a cosy double room the size of the main room in my apartment. The bathroom is just across the hallway and I have access to a kitchen. Should I feel the urge to spend just a little more, the pub downstairs is said to serve a mean breakfast. The gasthaus is owned by an old couple, and I've felt more than welcome since I first rang the doorbell. They were anxious to hear about my tour, but more importantly for me, I was allowed to bring my bike into the room, never mind the carpet.

I won't make it to Hannover tomorrow, Uelzen seems more realistic. I'll just go along with how I feel in the morning, and what the weather has in store for me.

...

The day in numbers: 89,88 km, 4h36m29s, 19,50 kmh avg, 39,5 kmh max.
Tour total: 111,74 km

Day 1 - Rostock

I woke up at 5.40 this morning and felt pretty good. Spreading out my sleeping bag on the floor of the air seat lounge turned out to be a decent idea after all. A couple of chairs over, JB - a French drummer, moving home after living in Finland for two years - looked up in a daze and went back to sleep as I exited the lounge. JB and I got to talking last night when he asked if he could borrow my phone for a short call to a friend in Finland. Later we had a beer in the bar and went through the bare minimum intros needed to keep the conversation going before going down stairs and turning in for the night.

Returning after a quick e-mail check and a short stroll to stretch my legs I found JB had borrowed my sleeping bag, wrapping it over his shoulders to get warm again in the unnecessarily efficently air-conditioned sleeping lounge.

I dozed off for a couple of hours, alternating between an air seat and the comparatively comfy floor. Then I started giving some more thought to where I was going to spend the following night. I'd been hoping to find either a couchsurfing host in or near Rostock, or a campsite in the range of 20-40 km south/southwest of the city. Turns out most, if not all, of the campsites in the area are situated immediately on the coast, leaving the south of the city void of, safe and legal, places to pitch a tent. I also made the mistake of sending the CS requests for Rostock a bit too late, so it took until early in the evening until I heard from Paloma. I'm now in her and her boyfriend's apartment, sipping on a cup of peppermint tea, after riding for 22,86 km through the by then already dark suburbs and downtown Rostock.

This is then my first, official couchsurf. Tomorrow my touring starts in earnest. I should be able to reach the Elbe as planned, if nothing too drastic happens along the way. I've got a few solid suggestions of campsites in the Dannenberg area, so finding a place to stay is mostly up to me making it all the way.

2007-07-09

Day 0 - Departure

And so my tour has officially begun. Superfast VIII has sailed and as Helsinki and Finland grows smaller on the horizon, I look ahead to foreign shores, and the adventure that awaits.

I want to thank the friendly mechs at Velotema for making this a good day to start this journey. Not only did they change the broken spoke in a ridiculously short time. They also realigned my gears and adjusted the brakes for nearly no added cost at all. I truly feel like a valued customer every time I walk into that shop.

Superfast then, well it still takes 24.5 hours to get to Rostock. The public passenger areas look nice enough, but they're only a fraction of the size compared to the ones on Mariella. This is a ferry, not a cruise ship. The sleeping lounge is ok, but the seats aren't numbered even though the tickets are. But everyone in there seemed openminded enough, so it shouldn't pose any problem. Now all I have to do is kill off 23 hours or so. At least I brought some topical reading with me; Stephen Lord - Adventure Cycle-Touring Handbook :)

Day 0 - preliminary schedule

day 0 (09.7.):
Train to Helsinki, Superfast departs from Helsinki at 22.00 EEST

day 1 (10.7.):
Superfast arrives in Rostock at 21.30 CEST, ride out of Rostock

day 2 (11.7.):
Ride to Dannenberg (Elbe) / Dömitz / Vietze

day 3 (12.7.):
Ride to Hannover

day 4 (13.7.):
Ride to Lippstadt / Soest

day 5 (14.7.):
Ride to Köln

day 6 (15.7.):
Köln

day 7 (16.7.):
meet Sergej, ride via Aachen into the Netherlands

day 8 (17.7.):
Belgium (Malmedy/Spa/Francorchamps), Luxembourg

day 9 (18.7.):
Luxembourg, France

day 10 (19.7.):
Metz/Saarbrücken

day 11 (20.7.):
Train to Bad Kreuznach, meet Steffi(?)

day 12 (21.7.):
Train to Rostock

day 13 (22.7.):
Superfast departs from Rostock 04.30 CEST

day 14 (23.7.):
Superfast arrives in Helsinki 05.30 EEST

2007-07-07

Saltsjöbaden

Yesterday was my last day in Stockholm before going home today and then heading to Germany on Monday. So I decided to make my destination of the day Saltsjöbaden, as there's a map of the route there hanging on the wall outside the crew cafeteria on the ship. That map had taunted me for a couple of weeks and it was about time I got some vindication.

The road out to Saltsjöbaden is great for cycling. There isn't much of a shoulder to ride on but traffic's light and most drivers gave way more than enough for me to feel perfectly safe. As soon as you start heading out of Stockholm towards Nacka the landscape becomes a lot more hilly and the twisting roads out to Fisksätra and Saltsjöbaden offer plenty of inclines that can even be challenging if climbed at speed. I chose to conserve my strength on my way out, though, as I wasn't sure of the exact length of the route I'd chosen. Once I got all the way out to where the road ended, I snapped some shots of my bike in front of Grand Hotel Saltsjöbaden, a quite impressive building considering the location. I then continued along the Ring road via Neglinge and Tattby then back into Stockholm through Nacka.

A while before I got back into the city, I passed a guy keeping a decent pace on an old touring bike. He upped his speed a bit but remained 50-100 meters behind me. This went on past the Viking Line terminal, across the bridge at Slussen and until I stopped at a red light at city hall. When he finally caught up with me he asked me if I'd ever considered disc brakes. On my negative response he wished me a pleasent weekend and kept going in his own direction while I went up to Kungsgatan. Short interactions like these can really be uplifting, and on yesterday's ride I was fortunate enough to have another one. Coming back from downtown, at Slussen I caught up with a guy on a brand new Kona phd. About half way to the ship I pulled up beside him and there was mutual admiration of the bikes, at 30..33 km/h.

Now I'm on the train home to Turku. This will also be my mode of travel on monday, going to Helsinki to catch the ferry to Germany. Turns out I've managed to snap a spoke in my rear wheel, so I'll need to get a new one and get the wheel realigned. I could do it myself in an emergency, but the day I head on my first major tour I'm more than happy to pay a professional. I've already called ahead to Velotema, my fave bike shop in Turku, to make sure they could squeeze me into their already full service schedule. As long as I get the bike there first thing monday morning, they'll have it done by end of business. It will take more than a broken spoke to keep me from going on this tour.

...

6.7.2007: 50,24 km, 1h58m55s, 25,35 kmh avg, 55,8 kmh max.

2007-07-04

Community

I would have to say that I enjoy my job. Not only does working on the ship give me the opportunity to go on regular rides in the middle of the day. From time to time I also get to meet fascinating people.

Just this Friday a German fellow named Timo boarded the ship in Helsinki. Timo was riding a 105 equipped Cannondale roadie, which caught my attention, as there was a sleepingbag attached to the handlebars and a tent fixed to the saddle. When I later saw him sitting in the stairs outside the compartment where my cabin is, I promptly introduced myself as a fellow cyclist. It turned out he had done 6000 km in six weeks! Starting out in the Stuttgart area, he had gone through Germany, Denmark and Norway, made his way to the North Cape and then down to Helsinki, the last stint taking a stunning mere 8 days.

Awestruck I quickly realised I had a lot to learn from my newfound friend. So when he asked me where people without a cabin were supposed to sleep, my couchsurfing instincts kicked in and I offered Timo the spare bunk I usually use to store my clothes. He gladly accepted, and also bought me a beer in the pub after I got off work. To top up the sync we already had going, we also figured out that we both study process control at university.

Community, a sense of beloning and sharing what you have to spare, is a wonderful thing. And I've found that solo (bike) travellers expect the least help, but then also truly appreciate it when they get it. A week from now I will wake up in or near Rostock, about to start first full day of my tour in Germany. Whether I'll be camping alone somewhere or on a friendly couch remains to be seen. I can handle either one without losing faith in my current idea of community.

...

25.6.2007: Two laps around my standard route in Helsinki (Seurasaarenselkä), a quick stop at the SuperFast terminal and a slow roll along the shoreline at Kaivopuisto, finishing off with a stop at an icecream stand.
46,48 km, 1h54m32s, 24,35 kmh avg, n/a kmh max.

26.6.2007: Two laps around Södermalm, a hilly expedition Nacka Strand, another lap around Södermalm and finally a run down Kungsgatan.
60,01 km, 2h28m39s, 24,22 kmh avg, 59,7 kmh max.

28.6.2007: Started off with my usual warmup lap around Södermalm, then headed towards Älta. Just as I got there I suffered a flat. Walking back into town, I called my friend the mountainbiker who, in intermittent showers of rain, came out to meet me with a spare inner tube. When we finally met the rain had already stopped. But it sure is great to have friends!
25,00 km, 1h2m59s, 23,82 kmh avg, 59,7 kmh max.

2.7.2007: First stopped at my favorite bike shop in Stockholm, Gamla Stans Cykel, to top off the pressure in my tyres. Then cruised along Hornsgatan, explored Långholmen and another island nearby, and rode via Hammarbyslussen to Danviksbro. Headed in the general direction of Saltsjöbaden, but turned around in Östervik as time was running out. Getting back into town I did, however, have time for a lap around Södermalm. Finally I popped in to Vagabond, a travel bookshop, to buy a traveller's wallet for my trip to Germany.
53,00 km, 2h17m34s, 23,12 kmh avg, 47,6 kmh max.

3.7.2007: A Sunday ride on a Tuesday! Simmo the magician joined me for a leisurely ride around Helsinki. We didn't go far, nor fast. But chatting away and actually observing our surroundings and enjoying the atmosphere still made it a great ride. Also shopped around a bit for some more kit for my tour.
15,59 km, 1h21m42s, 11,45 kmh avg, 28,6 kmh max.

2007-06-24

Just cruising

I've been on the cruise ship for nearly four days now, 12 to go.. Luckily my, and the ship's, schedule allows for me to go out riding for up to about three hours or so every day. That is, if I'm up to it on top of my 10-11 hours of work every day in combimation with lack of sleep from staying up way too late after finishing work at around 11.30 pm.

So far I've managed to go on a couple of rides, both in Stockholm. I've always enjoyed cycling in Stockholm more than in Helsinki. I guess it's partly because even the center of the Swedish capital is more bike friendly than its Finnish counterpart. But I also feel there's a difference in the attitude towards cyclists among motorists of the neighbouring countries. Sadly Finnish drivers, especially in downtown Helsinki (and my home Turku for that matter) are more likely to cut you off even though you have the right of way. In Stockholm, staying in the bike lane and signaling in time when negotiating a turn will almost always result in a safer ride.

Of course, I haven't got any hard evidence to support these claims. It's just my reaction to riding quite a lot in both cities. Tomorrow I'm planning on giving Helsinki another try, as there are enjoyable stretches of bike paths there as well.

...

22.6.2007: Four laps around Södermalm and a sweep through downtown along Kungsgatan. On my way back to the terminal I ended up being a tourist guide for a young Spanish couple looking to buy tickets to go to Finland.
51,13 km, 2h5m1s, 24,54 kmh avg, 57,3 kmh max.

24.6.2007: A lap and a half lap around Södermalm, then met up with a friend (mountainbiker) who showed me a new bike friendly route out of town. Broke my personal speed record on a bike.
26,50 km, 1h 8m 19s, 23,27 kmh avg, 61,5 kmh max.

2007-06-20

Back in the saddle

Finally! Last night I, finally, got back on my bike again and went on my first club ride in over a month. Actually, I was so anxious that just after midnight the night before I went out on a short ride just by my self. The Finnish summer is great, even here in the south we only get twilight for the few hours the sun dips below the horizon. The fresh, cool air made the cycling even more enjoyable, and made me push a bit too hard during the first 10 km. After a while I came to my senses, slowed down a bit and just thoroughly enjoyed myself. After turning back home again I noticed I was picking up speed again, easily pulling 30 kmh on the flats. In town, as I was spinning down with just under 3 km to go, I bumped into a friend who was walking home in the same general direction. This gave me the opportunity to warm down, chatting away til our paths parted.

The club ride proved more of a challenge than I had expected. As is customary the speed of the chain gang increases as the season progresses, and having been away for over a full month obviously has made more of a dent in my fitness than I'd like to admit. I was also stupid enough to go out in front immediately as we pulled away from the rendezvous. After only about 5 km of headwinds did I fall back having already tired myself too much. After this the pace picked up even more and just before the only real hill, at the end of the first lap of our circuit I lost contact with the gang. Too much, too soon. I slowed down even more and decided I'll just pedal along til the gang catches up with me again. I ended up doing about 2/3 of a lap at my own pace, turning around and meeting up with the gang as they were already halfway through their third lap. Another rush at 35 kmh, tight cornering at times only centimeters away from the guy next to me and even a couple of appreciative smiles for not giving up just yet. It only lasted for about 3 km, though, as I was still unable to keep up. As the chain gang pulled away yet again, I headed home together with another guy who had also had enough for one night.

And now, for what any reader of this blog will have to eventually get used to, here a the stats.

night ride: 32,99 km, 1h22m6s, 24,11 kmh avg, 46,8 kmh max

club ride: 57,44 km, 2h15m30s, 25,43 kmh avg, 48,8 kmh max

It's going to take some hard work to get back in shape for my tour. But I'm more than eager to do what I can. Tomorrow I'm headed back to work on Viking Line m/s Mariella, and for the next couple of weeks I'll be riding almost every day in Helsinki and Stockholm. Hopefully this will give me the boost I need to pull my touring gear through half of Germany.

2007-06-17

A month

It's been nearly a month since I last rode a bike. Getting hit by a car and spending my convalescence trying to keep up with an overly optimistic schedule has made a significant dent in my cycling routine. Luckily I wasn't too badly injured, and I wasn't out on my roadie when it happened. Still, up until this weekend my shoulder has told me that I should at least stay away from SPD pedals.

And now, as I figure I'm well enough to head out on a light training ride, I look out the window at low, grey clouds and the first heavy drops of a rain that looks like it will hang around for a while. Damn.

Oh well, guess I'll survive having to wait another couple of days. Germany's going to be a bitch, though, without enough kilometers in my legs in advance..

2007-05-24

A blog then

Yes, having met travelers from around the world and reading their stories online I've decided to start up a blog of my own. As of yet I'm only a prospective traveler myself. I do however have a yearning to see the world, preferably from the saddle of my bike.

Most likely, this will start off as a diary / log of my training and other related and unrelated matters. Then in July I'm off to Germany on my first real, albeit shortish, bike tour. I'm hoping to be able to post regularly from the road as well. Exactly how that will work out has yet to be seen.

As for the heart portion of this blog, I have a congenital heart defect, the basics of which can be found through the links below. I am however one of the lucky ones, having survived in the first place and growing up to be strong enough to enjoy riding my bike, faster and longer than a lot of so called "healthy" people choose to do.

Interrupted Aortic Arch
Ventricular Septal Defect