I get up at 7:30. This is nuts, I tell myself. Eight hours ago I was still riding. And here I am again, pedalling hard first thing in the morning, waiting for the first wave of prickly heat to hit my torso. When that comes, I slow down considerably and continue at a far more moderate pace.
At the current outdoor temperature I estimate that it will take about 10 minutes for that heat to spread down to my fingers, and maybe 30 minutes for my toes. My torso won’t overheat during this time because I’ve opened up the armpit zips of my jacket. Soon I’ll be nice and temperate until the first rest stop. And this is the train of thought of the winter cyclist.
But today’s first rest stop is also the last – I’d covered so many miles in the previous days that I’m almost two days earlier arriving here than planned. I cross a wind-blown bridge over to the outskirts of the city of Östersund and settle down in a coffee shop for breakfast and to catch up with last night’s blog.
Leaving, I notice the logos of two newspapers I’d seen a couple of days previously. They’re attached to a large office building and I ask a woman in the small carpark if they are the newspaper offices. Yes, she says, and yes, they’d definitely be interested to hear about your little bike ride. So I follow her up to a stylish open-plan studio with lots of big flat-screen monitors and give an interview for tomorrow’s paper. (Later I amuse myself by finding the inevitable factual errors in the article.)
For several days I’ve been fantasizing about huge pizzas, so I live out this fantasy in a small pizzeria/billiard-hall. I can tell from the language and accent that the chef and waitress are Afghans. I’ve heard many stories now about the number of refugees accepted by the small communities of Norway and Sweden, many taking service jobs like this once they have settled in.
With a couple of hours to burn before I meet my host for the evening, I decide to try cycling on the lake. I’m amazed to find that the frozen surface of the lake supports the weight of a snowplough, which is used to clear ice-skating routes between communities. Some of the routes are several kilometers in length. But it’s windy and overcast, so the lake is quiet.
It’s a bizarre feeling, to be riding across a sheet of glass ice, on this perfectly flat surface with no landmarks to refer to. It’s almost like being in an old computer game with a repetitive backdrop that scrolls slowly past the foreground action.
And surely the ultimate test of the ice tyres, which work superbly. This is superbly illustrated when I pull to a halt, forgetting that my boots don’t have spikes, and come very close to landing flat on my face!
Darkness falling and a day satisfyingly filled, I head towards the neighbourhood in which my host lives. This, I remember, is going to be the last refuge for some time. From here on, it gets tough. People will become fewer, roads quieter, temperatures lower, distances longer.
It’s still a long road to the Arctic Circle.