Terii’s Cycling Babble

Off The Hamster Track
March 29, 2013, 8:22 pm
Filed under: Day Rides

Odd title isn’t it?

I realized a few days ago that the analogy of the River Loop as a hamster wheel was not quite right. After all, the wheel spins, but the small creature on it doesn’t go anywhere.

No, riding the River Loop is more like a rodent ball (the trike) on a circular track I’ve seen in pet stores from time to time. Pieces of curved plastic, about 4 inches across with a trough in the center to keep the ball on course. They fit together like the tracks of a child’s wooden train set. Round and round and round.

Of course, what’s been keeping me on the track was my lack of confidence and worry about Loke. He’s been dragging along. He frequently limps. His speed is down and being uncertain why makes me uneasy. All that together with the fact that most of my rides have been when Jens is at work have kept me close to home. I don’t dare try for the 20 mile Börje Loop if something happens to the furball when we’re too far for me to walk home. Granted, walking even just 2 miles while dragging the Sprint would be a challenge for me.

Wednesday, I went out again with Loke to give both of us some exercise. I tried to think of some route I could take which would keep us closer to home but off the ‘ball track’ at least a little bit. Loke dragging along changed my mind and it ended up being just the River Loop again.

It was a pretty day though. Blue skies and sun, nearly 40 F or perhaps even warmer. I didn’t need my foot-warmers though I had them on and batteries plugged in. Nor did I need my gloves. I was almost overdressed in my heavy wool thermals beneath my cycling tights and removed my yellow wind-breaker.

The usual tiny back residential streets were covered in slush making for a hard if short slog. Most of the cycle paths are clear now except for tiny patches of bogging ice and lots of puddles of melt water. It’s been cold enough at night that some of those puddles refreeze clear to the pavement making mornings particularly treacherous.

As we were coming along the path between the 272 and the river path, I discovered that some puddles are just too deep to refreeze during the sunless hours. Most of the ice on that strip of path are still rather hard frozen and just a little crunchy at the edges. During the days, the melt from them and the snow to either side lays on top of the hard ice in amounts of less than half an inch to a couple inches deep.

The ice slab at the bottom of the little hill where the old rail tracks used to cross had what appeared to be shallow channels cut into where the melt in the surrounding area makes it way to the little river tributary on the other side. I edged over in an attempt to avoid the largest. Just as we were in the middle of the ice slab, I heard the ice crack. My left front wheel slipped and dropped.

Showing the depth of the water below the ice. Ice & water together - 7"

Showing the depth of the water below the ice. Ice & water together – 7″

It was much deeper than it looked. I sat for about a minute caught between dismay and something akin to panic. How on earth was I supposed to free the trike? The wheel was submerged nearly to the hub and the split so deep with abrupt edges I couldn’t just roll back out of it. I had images of the remaining ice breaking and dropping me into the cold water if I stood up to drag the Sprint out. Definitely would have been not good for the foot-warmers.

I pushed back a bit until I got to a spot where I could use both feet without my left one following the wheel into the water. Close in, nearly under the cross supports of the trike, I chipped hollows for my heels to dig in, set my feet and pushed back while yanking upward. Very close to pulling myself ‘up by the boot straps’.

It worked though. The sudden up and back motion gave me enough momentum to free myself. Saved me from walking on ice and water in nothing but my socks. Brrr.

Through all this, Loke was completely no help. He stood there with a perplexed look as I did all this bouncing around.

Only when I was marginally safe back above the ice did I slump back into the seat. Then it occurred to me I should have taken a picture of my submerged tire. I settled for pulling my flag loose. Feeling my way along the edges of the ice, I discovered it was about 3″ thick with about 4 inches of water filled space beneath it. The knowledge made my skin crawl. 26 inches or not, my derailleur would have been smashed if the rear wheel had been the one to drop.

I set my feet back to the pedals and pushed far over to pass the chasm with plenty of clearance. As we reached the edge of the slab, my rear wheel dropped. My heart went up into my throat as I heard a rasp which might have been the idler. Once out of the water, I stopped to look. It was wet, but otherwise appeared intact. I rode on and all seemed fine. Of course, it’s always seemed that a derailleur misalignment isn’t glaringly obvious at first. It just gets worse over time.

Loke and I made it home with 8.7 miles under wheels and paws. Not a single episode of limping which is delightful though he had dragged most of the way. Once in the apartment he gobbled an extra portion of his food for the exercise he did, however slowly. Then curled up and slept until about the time the hubby came home. Then he was a pest! Bouncing, playing with his squeaky monkey, harassing us. Argh! Where was all that energy when out with the trike? Admittedly, the pads of his feet looked a little worn. So, I’d planned for us to rest yesterday.

During that ride, I realized I’d not heard from Nadina to pick up the glucosamine supplement I called. The precise type of supplement that Loke could take was no longer available in Sweden. The rest all had additives, wheat or rice based the furball can’t have. She had sent inquiries, but so far no luck. *sigh*

Jens worked from home for the half day yesterday. Here in Sweden and much of Europe, I think, most offices work only half of the Thursday before Good Friday. Many other shops are closed Good Friday & Easter Sunday. Groceries and the like will sometimes reduce their hours for the weekend as well.

Jens encouraged me to go for a ride. I mentioned Loke’s feet and the fact that I had no socks made up for him. Not that socks would be very effective if he had to wade through deep melt water. The extra weight of the wet would drag them off his feet. Also I needed a day’s break from the River Loop before I could face it again. My lovely hubby offered to drive somewhere within reason.

Björklinge Kyrka - 2011

Björklinge Kyrka – 2011

Earlier this year, I’d looked into a ride which would begin from Björklinge church, loop around a close-by lake and back to the church or onward to Skuttunge. Or, if stamina and time allowed, home. But I found several miles of the proposed route were gravel roads. Unpaved road surfaces are among the worst during thaws. Traffic packs the snow down without breaking it up like in busier town roads. The first thaw allows water to bond with the snow crystals and light traffic packs into ice that freezes rock hard in colder temps. Before you know it, you’re looking at a glossy, rock hard, ice rink that can stretch for miles.

I decided I really didn’t really want to go for a long slide.

Yesterday, I decided that’s the route I wanted to do even if it might be a bit slippery. It wasn’t too far from home. It combined places I’ve not seen in years (pre-blog most of it) with completely new areas. If Loke limped, Jens had promised to come get him. He only asked that we wait until noon since he’d officially be done with work for the long weekend.

So, off we went around 12:30 when a business call ran a little longer than Jens planned. During the drive, we noticed a smell and Loke started sneezing. Wiper fluid does that to him and that’s what we smelled. We waited until arriving at Björklinge and I unloaded the trike in the church’s parking lot. Once that was out of the way, I crawled in to look. I found one of the gallon jugs of the fluid on its side, nearly empty. When I picked it up, I felt the wet and discovered the lid was barely on. I looked a little more closely, but it appeared that a tarp and layer of foam had prevented any real damage. I tossed a towel over it pat everything dry as I could, telling Jens I thought everything was okay.

I’m taking time to explain this because it became critical to how the ride played out.

Putting the last items in place on the trike, I began to regret not taking the time to pack my yellow windbreaker and shoe-covers. At least I had the foot-warmers!

Loke was quite perky as Jens walked around the parking lot with him. Once I finally readied everything and he was hitched to the bar, he yodeled. It’s been a few rides since I heard that. He wanted to run! We wheeled off down a slight slope, around a curve and stopped to wait for traffic gap on the old E4. Once we crossed, I realized there were no streets connecting to the one I needed. I had no desire to ride along the shoulder-less old E4 with lots of traffic. I could have crossed back to ride past the church on up to another crossing.

I saw a group of children leaving the school heading in the direction I needed and followed. They led to me a cycle path hidden from the main road. It wasn’t exactly fun. It was wet with melt chuckling over it like a stream, patches of ice that bogged us. Patches of it where the trike slid. Steep hills with a thick layer of gravel over the paving where my drive wheel would lose inches of traction for each turn.

Loke was actually a huge help along the stretch. He wanted to move at a fairly brisk pace. He wanted to lope when I could keep the pace. It would seem that his dragging around the river loop is simply his way of expressing the profound boredom of it we both share.

In short order we turned off the cycle path on to the road I needed. It was wonderfully clear of ice or gravel with a lovely long slope at the beginning. I grinned and Loke had his ‘tongue-flapping-happy-husky’ grin as we took the slop at 12-14 mph. Fast enough for the furball to lope, but not his old flat out 18-20 mph charge.

Långsjön (Long Lake)

Långsjön (Long Lake)

We passed many people out enjoying the day, some of them with dogs. At the bottom of that first lovely descent the lake hove into view. Smoothly white beneath a blanket of white, it told me that Jens would have no fishing this holiday as he’d hoped.

The road surface varied. Parts of it were smooth as silk where the pavement had been completely redone. Other spots were patches or stretches where the bitumen had worn away from between the knobbly rocks. A bit before the turn, old trees flanked the turn and ahead I could see the bright yellow and white front of a smallish manor house.

Indifferent photo of a lovely and unusual stable

Indifferent photo of a lovely and unusual stable

Before I got a clear view of the house, I stopped to photograph the rather pretty stable before it. Painted red and black, it just looked unusual to me. Most manors have stables of stone or brick with perhaps a bit of wood on the upper portions. This one was all wood. The dormers and columns flanking the doors added character. It was hard to find a pleasing angle that didn’t include the eyesores of high piles of plowed snow or parked cars. I finally settled for one with bad lighting.

Random building that caught my attention

Random building that caught my attention

Across the road from the stable was another building I found interesting and not only because of the unexpected spire on the roof. I just found it rather curious looking with the small windows and single door with no real ornaments. Yet there was hit clearly decorative spire perched right in the center of the top.

Perhaps it’s something related to agricultural aspect of the manor’s history. I found no sign offering an explanation.

My attention turned to the manor house itself only to be frustratingly thwarted.

The driveway for the manor house went straight up the hill as the main road curved sharply right around. Two smaller buildings of grayish-white flanked the bright yellow and white manor, one extended a wing right to the main house. The problem was, I couldn’t get a good view of it all. Huge mounds of plowed snow cluttered either side of the driveway, blocking the view of the lower floors. I thought about climbing up and just taking a bunch of overlapping photos to merge, but that wouldn’t have included the side buildings. Muttering, I followed the main road.

Sätuna Manor

Sätuna Manor

I decided to take what pictures I could and resolved that I’ll be back in a month or so… once those cursed plow piles are gone. So, here’s a photo of the right hand gray building with it’s long wing and Sätuna Manor proper peeking over the top. Quite a detailed history if you click the photo.

Cute, isn't it?

Cute, isn’t it?

I’d barely had time to put away the camera and move before I stopped to pull it out again. I couldn’t resist a darling little cottage of yellow and brown with unusual windows.

Loke sighed and shifted around impatiently as I put everything back in its place to close the handlebar bag. He actually pulled when I started us rolling again for the short jaunt above the northern end of the lake.

It was impossible not to enjoy the day. Though cooler than the previous day (37 F instead of 40+ F), the temperature remained warm enough I had all 27 gears. It was mostly clear and very little wind. Loke was keeping a decent pace and plenty of energy. What was not to enjoy?

Snow, Trees & Lake Beyond

Snow, Trees & Lake Beyond

Not to mention the feeling of freedom to be someplace I’ve not seen a dozen times or more in the past 2 months and photos to take. Added to all this was the security that rescue for Loke was near at hand if anything went wrong. I didn’t even mind the idea of an unpaved road sheathed in ice more slippery than an ice rink.

Loke & The Sprint 26

Loke & The Sprint 26

The unpaved section of the ride, taking us south down the opposite lake shore began later than I thought it would and left me pleasantly surprised. As far as I could see, not a bit of ice covered it. Though incredibly wet, most of it was so hard packed that the loose gravel added to the rolling resistance rather than mud sucking at the tires.

Here, Loke limped some, expected because of the rocks. I took the roughest part of the road to ease his feet and we went almost walking pace. That way when he trod on a particularly large or pointy stone, he didn’t come down very hard on it. It made for a lazy, almost lackadaisical pace between the fields beneath blue skies as we swerved for the smoothest sections.

Trees, Snow & Mossy Rocks

Trees, Snow & Mossy Rocks

Somewhere past the fields and among some houses and trees, the road became paved again. It was chill in the shadows of the trees, but I enjoyed the more enclosed scenery. Even in those shady spots the soft air carrying above freezing warmth was doing its magic on the snows. Among the trunks mossy rocks were appearing. It amazes me how green the moss was, as if winter’s cold had never touched it.

Once the way smoothed out some, we went a little quicker and Loke was completely limp free. Even if he wasn’t as fast as he was pre-toe incident, his endurance seemed high.

Around mile 6 or 7, Jens called. The fact he was aggravated came clear through the phone. The washer fluid which I’d thought had been stopped by the tarp and foam had actually soaked through to the carpet lining of the back of the car. It was fairly ruined. He had taken it to his parents since they have a wet-dry vac to help get the mess up. Then he was going to put in their garage with a heater and fan to work on drying it out. He asked if he came with his father’s to get Loke, could I make the full distance home on my own since he didn’t think the Sprint would fit in his parent’s car. I considered the distance and admitted that I thought I could, though not the full distance in time with Loke. I didn’t want to push him or his paw-pads that far either. Getting home some time before bedtime would be nice as well.

After telling me that he wanted to finish cleaning the car out so if I could go with Loke a little farther that would be nice.

The conversation finished Loke and I continued. Just outside Björklinge, we made a right turn onto a cycle path. This one was ice free, not much gravel and dry. Much to my pleasure, Loke tugged us faster until he was going at a gentle lope.

The 'Worst' of the Roads

The ‘Worst’ of the Roads

The path didn’t go far, ending at a shady road which turned out to be the ‘worst’ of the ride. It wasn’t too bad actually. Though covered from one side to the other with mostly crunchy and melt-soaked ice for a distance of almost a mile, it was thin and not too hard to push through. There were sections of it hard frozen, but the ice there was rough enough that I had good traction so my tire barely skidded at all. There was one hill that I disliked the most. Nasty steep, but thankfully ice-free. My knees hated it.

Before I knew it, we were turning past the school to scurry back across the old E4. Loke still had plenty of go and since I guessed Jens was still busy, I pressed on toward Skuttunge.

Another smooth section of road made for quicker rolling, but Björklinge was barely out of sight when I took more serious consideration of the remaining amount of daylight. About 2 miles from Skuttunge, I called Jens to come get the fuzzy and would he please bring my yellow windbreaker and shoe-covers. Once the sun got lower, the temperature was likely to drop and I’d need that extra protection. I asked if it was okay if I kept moving since I had limited time to get home. He answered yes, that he’d aim for Skuttunge and from there go to Björklinge to find me along the way.

Smooth and steady, Loke’s paws ticked over the distance and he really seemed to be enjoying the outing. I know I was. The last time I’d covered this ground was about 2 years ago.

All told, I think I’ve only cycled between Björklinge to Bälinge 3 times. Bälinge to Ulva is more familiar to me. There’s a dirt road I used as an extension to the Börje/Gamla Uppsala loop which extends it from 18 to 21 miles. It comes out slightly above the Bälinge church on a very busy road with a small shoulder and a long hill with roughly +4% grade. Not a favorite section so it’s been some years since I’ve ridden it.

Uppland's Runestones 1118 & 1121

Uppland’s Runestones 1118 & 1121

I kept an eye out for the pair of runestones on the way. I’ve taken pictures of them twice before, but both times the sun was behind them. Never good for a photo unless you’re aiming for silhouettes. I was determined to get a decent shot of them though I felt the pinch time wise.

Finding them, I swerved to the far side of the road and offered Loke more water before hurrying across the road for my updated photos. You can tell from the orange tint of the sunlight that the sun was starting to get low.

Skuttunge Church With Snow

Skuttunge Church With Snow

Then we were off. Skuttunge church appeared briefly in the distance before vanishing behind trees and farmhouses. I almost stopped at the church, but the need to cover distance drove me. Besides, Loke still trotted along like an unstoppable if moderately slow force of nature.

Another place I almost stopped perhaps half a mile past the church was the old vicarage. Years ago, before I began my blog, I stopped there once to look around and had a lovely visit with the couple who lived there as caretakers for the site. They had a gorgeous golden retriever so pale he was almost white. The fact my face was within easy licking range was a delight to him. The couple loved visitors and enjoy sharing the history of the buildings in their care. I even got to peek in a few of them.

There was a car parked, but between the time pressure and the fact I had no clue if the same couple were still there, I pushed on. If they are and anyone reading my blog is planning a tour in the area, they also welcomed cycle tourists to camp on their plush lawn which would make a sleeping bag almost as comfy as a bed.

Snowy Landscape

Snowy Landscape

It was less than half a mile after making the turn that would lead me through Börlinge a few miles away when I stopped at an intersection and pulled into parking lot of an old abandoned shop. As I watered Loke, Jens called. He was in Björklinge, but hadn’t seen me. When I described where I was, he knew it and told me I could push on toward Bälinge, he’d catch me there.

And within 10 minutes, he did.

The sun was getting quite low though the cold wasn’t deepening yet. I still took my windbreaker and shoe-covers from Jens gladly, traded for the soggy bottomed furball. I didn’t put them on though, preferring to stuff them into the pod bags. Jens gave me a thumbs up and drove off when I returned it.

I settled into the seat with another glance to the low sun. I took a moment to check the GPS. Loke had accompanied for 12.6 miles. He also seemed to still have an abundance of stamina and decent energy when he’d jumped into the car. For the solo portion of the ride, I hit the Garmin’s lap reset, drew a deep breath and moved out.

I nearly broke myself in that first mile or so. Tried too much for speed, pushing too hard. After that, I found the perfect tempo and force which offered good speed. Without Loke I could move quicker on the descents and flats though my climbs were no faster. It was possible thanks to still having my full range of gears allowing me to keep my legs spinning at the same pace. According to my Garmin, my average speed was nearly 3 mph faster than it had been with Loke.

Somewhere between Loke’s pick up and before getting to Börlange, I had to stop.

Gysta Smithy

Gysta Smithy

Though I’d ridden that stretch 2 or 3 times at least, I can’t remember ever having seen Gysta Smithy. A beautiful little stone building, with plaster over the stone and a mossy tiled roof. No clue how I missed it the other times.

I spent about 5 minutes there, looking it over and taking several photos in search of the best angle/lighting. Then it was back to the mad dash for home.

I continued to pull out the Garmin from time to time, watching my speed and attempting to calculate if I should call Jens to get me. Cramming the Sprint into his parent’s car would have been difficult, but I didn’t relish pedaling the roads after sundown before the moon rose. My little lights might be good for cars to see me, but don’t cast enough light to make the road visible.

Thankfully, the most of the way from there to the far side of Bälinge was familiar.

Though I still had miles to go when I arrived at the long stretch with that 4% grade hill, it felt like the final stretch. I began to cast worried glances at the sun.

Since I last rode in the area there, they’ve added a cycle path. I already knew about it though it had only been partly finished. This time, it was completed and it made a good surface for a quicker pace. The road might have been a little smoother simply because it was mostly clear of gravel.

When the path petered out, I could see some of the buildings of the Ulva Mill area. That stretch goes fast, being mostly down hill. I zipped down the road, braced against the hard turn and picked up even more speed to cross the millrace of the river by the mill proper.

Except for the 10% grade climb from the river at the mill and another, milder, but longer slope on the E4 before turning toward Gamla Uppsala, I went quickly though my Sprint is slower than my Trice. Lower gear inches mean that once I hit speeds in excess of 14-15 mph there’s no resistance on the pedals and it’s all up to gravity to go faster. Still, it’s fast enough.

Gamla Uppsala Bathed In Sunset Glow

Gamla Uppsala Bathed In Sunset Glow

I was starting to feel nervous as I made a dash for the mounds and old church in the distance. Twilight was rushing upon me. Ice had begun to form thin skins on the puddles of melt water. I was wondering if I was going to lose my gears which would have made me arriving home in the dark.

A train finally brought me to a stop for a few minutes more with nothing to photograph. So, I dug furiously in my handlebar bag for my lights. Nope. Worried, I ransacked by pod-bags s the passenger train finally roared passed. Still no lights. I chewed my lip worriedly. The police in Uppsala, or maybe whole of Sweden, take a lack of lighting on bikes quite seriously after sundown. I could just see getting stopped and fined. I considered again, calling Jens.

Again, I pushed on once the train passed. Less than 3 miles to home. It felt ridiculous to stop there.

Zipping along the darkening shadows of Vattholma Street, I passed something that surprised me. On the other ride of the road, a man skated by… pulled by a pair of dogs. A sleek, slim black lab and a Swedish Elkhound. And he was actually on the road rather than the cycle/foot path, no reflective gear. I thought that rather risky, but if he was desperate to use his roller blades, it had to be on the road thanks to the sheer amount of gravel on the path.

Aside from the ‘That’s dangerous for his dogs’ thought, the other was, ‘I wonder how mess that could have turned out if Loke had been with me?’. Obviously he trusts that his dogs were well trained enough to run straight, but would another dog with a weird ‘bike’ running in the opposite direction been too much temptation? The idea of them darting across traffic could have been a disaster.

Talk about cutting it fine!

Talk about cutting it fine!

Somehow, I made it home without being spotted by any cops. 6:18 pm I rolled to a stop at the apartment door with 11.39 miles in roughly 70 minutes. The day’s total for me was a smidge under 24 miles. I hadn’t needed my windbreaker or the shoe covers though I had pulled out the gloves at some point. Having all my gears for the entire day was a huge boost for the undertaking as well.

It felt good and I was quite surprised at myself for having done so well.

As for Loke, Jens said that he walked a little tender-footed from the car to the apartment, but he still had plenty of energy to pace around, play with his squeaky toy and be a pest. I noticed that myself as I flopped down on the couch with my noodle-legs and sense of accomplishment.

Oh, and photos. Did I mention those?

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