Sadly WiFi was lacking after my last post, so I’ve had to wait until getting home to post. Though, I was able to update Facebook from my phone, so I am sure all of my Facebook friends are sick of hearing about it!
After finishing a massive Swedish breakfast in our lovely B and B in Hästveda, Ollie and I lazed around and got our kit in order until absolute last minute check-out time (11am), and then got back on the road to Motala.
We arrived in Motala around 1500, to a party atmosphere, and found a place to park the car at a sport centre on the outskirts. We then caught the free bus into the centre to go and register. Just as the bus was coming up to the bus stop we had to wait in a queue and two cyclists (a father and his little girl) came up the side of the bus as we were stationary. When the queue moved forward the father rode off on his bike and the little girl (who was directly under the wing mirror of the bus) tried to get her footing on the pedals – just as the bus pulled away and clipped the side of her head! Luckily, she was wearing a helmet and it seemed that she suffered only from shock. Ollie and I were right at the front so heard the clip and realised what was happening, but after that there was much shouting in Swedish and little we could do. The bus driver briefly got off, had an argument with the father and then got back on and drove us to the bus stop. A dramatic start, and a bit of a worry as our introduction to the event! Embarrassing for the driver though I suspect, since he hit a cyclist whilst carting a bus load of us around!
With the knowledge that we weren’t having any sleep, we wanted to save energy so we took a fairly direct route to the registration tent, registered and then returned to the car. We drove the car to our Saturday night accommodation and found a place to park nearby (in the outer carpark of a school, which was by then closed for the weekend). Once parked up we moved everything from the back of the car into the front and locked the bikes to the front alloy of the car and then set up camp in the boot to try and have a little afternoon nap!
It wasn’t all that successful; though I reckon I could sleep pretty well in a boot if required in future.
We gave up after an hour or so and started to get our kit on and pack our pockets and saddle bags. The locals must have wondered what was going on; us getting dressed in the school carpark!
Eventually we left the car and set off on a 6 mile ride into town to get some food before our designated start times of 2156 and 2206. We finally found some pasta in a local kebab type shop (everyone was doing pasta!) and took it away to eat on a bench in the centre. We applied our reflectors to our frames (a Swedish requirement) and our numbers to our bikes and jerseys and then headed down to the lake side to relax. We managed to bag ourselves a bench which we could have a lie down on, and we found a group of Brits who we had a chat with.
And then, all of a sudden, it was time! – They nearly went without me!
The first mistake I made was to get on the wheel of someone who pulled in less than 5 minutes into the ride to wait for his friends! So I trundled along and waited for a big group to come along; they were going too fast – so I waited for another, and finally I found a group of my speed and I followed them for a bit. Then I dropped off and had a chat with a Swedish chap who’d done Vatternrundan many times before.
After a very short period of time Ollie caught me up, we’d made a plan to meet a Ödeshög – the first stop (47km in) but, he’d been in a big fast group and had managed to make very good time.
My tactic to get through was to stop at every single organised feed station, of which there were nine. Seven of them provided the basics (cinnamon bun (we’ll come to that later), blueberry soup (and that), coffee, banana, Gherkins (?) gels, toilets etc… and two of which also provided a hot meal. This worked well, and the only other stops we took were two loo stops because we just couldn’t wait (TMI?) and two photo stops (see photo above).
The first stop we got to had an Elvis tribute band across the road from it, so I had a bit of a dance across to the loo. There was a real party atmosphere all the way around, and people were at the side of the road cheering us on all the way through the night (I think they were saying nice things?! I couldn’t understand a word they were saying sadly). Jönköping, the first of the hot meal stations, was at the 104km (65 Mile) point; Meat balls (or veggie alternative) with mashed potato.
This station was in an ice rink (which had been covered, heated etc…) and people were actually fast asleep on the floor. An odd decision we thought; they’d cool down and feel groggy once waking up. But then again, there were people at this stage and earlier that were walking up tiny bumps of hills and I wondered how they would get to the end too.
It was whilst we were at this food stop, that my Garmin decided to reset itself for the first time; an on-going problem throughout the ride which ended up with one section missing and me having to use a tool to stitch the ride together (borrowing some of Ollie’s ride to make up the missing part). And then to add insult to injury it ran out of battery just before the end and missed about 6 miles (as did Ollie’s – so we can confirm that a fully charged Garmin lasts approx. 15 hours).
It was 30 km later at Fagerhult at about 0430, that the rain which had been expected at 2200hrs arrived, and made up for lost time. It chucked it down. The ride between Fagerhult at 133km and Hjo at 171km was reminiscent of London 2014. There was so much water I couldn’t see, I’d clear one eye and then the other was full of water. I squelched in my bib shorts and I was miserable!
Hjo (106 miles into the ride), was another hot food stop – this time in a large humid tent full of warm bodies. As I walked, soaking wet, freezing cold and with my Carpal Tunnel affected fingers buzzing, out of the weather and into the tent, the warm air hit me. As I sat down with my veggie lasagne I wondered how I could possibly leave this nice warm tent and get back on my bike in my uncomfortable wet kit. Ollie said it was time to go and I burst into tears. He knew it was a possibility that I would give up here – I’d been struggling the last few miles. I didn’t want to. It was such a hard decision, but eventually I said I didn’t want to damage my body by pushing it too hard and we found the tent which dealt with quitters. They took my number and then said I had to go to the top of the road and wait there for half an hour for a bus to take me back to Motala. One of the main reasons I wanted to give up was my inability to warm up – so there was absolutely no way that I was going to stand in the cold and the wet waiting for a bus. I told Ollie that I would have to continue.
Just as we were about to set off, a Service car came around the corner; these cars have bike racks on the back and pick people up along the course and, as far as we knew, take them back to Motala. Ollie flagged it down and the lady got out – when we told her that I wanted to go back to Motala she said she could help and she almost dragged me away. I wished Ollie goodluck on the rest of the ride and we went our seperate ways.
The car woman took me back to the tent and the bus woman. The bus woman told me to wait for the bus.
So I was on my own, miserable, cold and wasn’t getting taken back.
Carrying on seemed easier than giving up at that point, at least if I was pedalling I would be warm.
I stuffed everything into my jersey pockets haphazardly, barely finished talking to the woman and got on my bike to sprint after Ollie. I used every wheel I could keep up with but then realised – he was probably doing the same, only 5-10 minutes ahead of me. So, I stopped and called him, leaving a message and hoping that he would feel his phone vibrate or stop for a break. I was convinced he would not stop at the next station as he didn’t have me holding him back and he wasn’t as in need of breaks as I was. Having left a message, I trudged on, thinking I would have to do the rest of the ride on my own.
7km outside of Karlsborg (the next stop) my phone vibrated; I pulled over and called Ol back; he had stopped at the next station. I got a bit emotional again and got a move on in order to meet up with him.
Despite writing much of this post in km rather than miles I have not been converted, I still don’t know what km are, but the maps were all in km so at each stop I started Googling the convertion of km to miles so that I would know just how many miles there were until the next stop;
Okay so this is just like from work to home, 18 miles. Easy peasy…
I only considered how many miles there were until the next stop, taking the ride in tiny chunks.
The rest of the ride went without drama; we saw people sleeping, sleeping everywhere – at the side of the road for instance – helmet off and used as a pillow, fast asleep. Then the sub-9-ers started to come through at a crazy pace and I watched in awe as I realised there were women in the groups!
We finally crossed the finish line at about 1430 on Saturday afternoon, about 16.5 hours after we had started.
We went straight back to the kebab/pizza house from the previous evening and ordered a pizza each and some fries – a massive amount of food, which it turned out we couldn’t finish. We then had a 6 mile cycle back to our accommodation, where we showered and then fell asleep until midnight. We got up for triple chocolate cookies and then fell back to sleep until 0700, which was the time we were meant to be leaving!
A 14 hour journey in the car followed, and back over the bridge, which 1. charges both ways and 2. actually costs around £48 each way rather than the £30 which we thought was extortiate before. Here’s a picture of it, please appreciate it because it cost us a fortune!
Thanks so much to Ollie for putting up with me, encouraging me, believing in me and for stopping at that food stop!