By now I’ve settled into certain ways of doing things when I’m out on the road in this climate. These are things I’ve learnt through trial and cold, miserable error. Just little things, but it’s interesting to look at them a little more closely.
Taking a quick break, for example. I usually stop for 10 minutes every couple of hours. I don’t need any more than this, especially as standing around is a great way to lose all your body heat.
So when I pull over in a snowploughed layby or turning, I zip up any open vents and cuffs and tighten up any elasticated bits. I take off my mitts in order to use my fingers for getting into bags, and put the mitts inside my jacket to keep them from freezing solid.
Then I quickly down a cup of tea or two from the thermos, walk up and down the road with a handful of biscuits or dried banana chips to get the blood flowing into my toes – there never seems to be quite enough heat down there.
Once finished I’ll get on my way, pedalling hard to get warm again (and this is why I never stop for a break just before a descent).
Apart from a more substantial lunch break, this is pretty much all the time I take off riding during a typical day. Because progress is slow – painfully so. And that means that distance covered is a product of the number of hours spent in the saddle, since speed is so restricted by the circumstances.
Today I am on the road for 12 hours, with a few tea-and-biscuit stops, and a 30-minute stop for a lunch of frozen cheese sandwiches. My newspaper interview has a noticeable effect, and I spend the day being enthusiastically waved at by scores of passing motorists. Conversely, I spend the evening being blinded by what seems to be a national fascination with ridiculously overpowered floodlights on the front of every vehicle.
The ride takes me through low, rolling hills, always flanked by the interminable evergreen forests that have characterised the landscape ever since I began this trip. Despite being classified as a long-distance European route (number 45), the road is quiet and narrow now I’m past Ostersund, and I expect it to become quieter and narrower still as I leave populated lands yet further behind.
I approach a place called Stromsund, and from my map I expect it to be a medium-sized city. I am slightly disappointed to discover that it’s little more than 3 pizzerias, 2 hotels and a nightclub, surrounded by lots of little wooden houses. I am still not used to the relatively tiny populations of these countries compared to that of my overcrowded home island.
But one pizzeria is enough, and I treat myself, having made 110km today. Swedish pizzas, I’ve discovered, are enormous, tasty and very very affordable.
Then, with an inaudible sigh, I get back on my bike at 10pm and ride off into the woods to find yet another patch of snow upon which to camp for the night, as I press ever more northwards.