Friday, August 15, 2014

The Road Less Traveled By — Part 1
“To dare is to lose one's footing momentarily. Not to dare is to lose oneself.”
—Soren Kierkegaard
International Biking Tours (IBT), the company that organized our Danish trip, has a unique system. Each day, our tour guide appoints one traveler to be the “sweep.” The sweep rides at the back of the line of bikers to make sure no one gets left behind and to let the tour guide know if any of the bikers has a problem that may require attention. The sweep is entrusted with two key tools—a cell phone programmed to make a quick call to the guide and a pump to blow up any rider’s tire that may go flat.

No special skill is required of the sweep, just patience and observation, which was evidenced by the fact that Lars appointed me to the task for our first day of biking, the trip from Menstrup to Nyborg. Luckily, that trip was uneventful and not even very hilly. I had no trouble keeping up from my farthest back position. The cell phone remained thankfully silent all day.

On Day 2, we rode from Nyborg to slightly larger Svendborg, both on the island of Fyn (the home island of Hans Christian Andersen). This time, Casey, a computer programmer from UNC who often dressed in Carolina blue, was appointed sweep. Casey is a powerful rider who told us during the previous night’s introductions that she often bikes to her job each day, and the trip includes a level 5 hill. I’m not exactly sure what that is, but I’m certain I would hate it. Her day sweeping also went smoothly.

When Doug, a retired Spanish literature professor from Colorado, was appointed sweep the next day, Casey and I kidded him that he had to maintain the trouble-free tradition we had established for the trip. He laughed and promised to follow our pattern. It must have been a hollow laugh. Trouble was ahead! No one expected the trouble. In fact, we had been told that our day of biking would actually be much shorter than the previous two days. We even started the day later and, by the time we biked to a grocery store to prepare for the day’s picnic lunch, it was nearly 11 a.m. We were on our way to tour a famous nearby castle, Egeskov, built in 1554. [Danish castles are unique in their appearance, use, and history. I will write about Egeskov and a few other castles we visited in another blog post.] We walked around Egeskov, picnicked on the grounds where we had a brief encounter with a nosey peacock, and then mounted up to continue our trip with Lars at the front and Doug at the back.

Egeskov, like many other Danish castles, is still being
used part of the time by one of Denmark's noble families.

I had checked my trusty iPad earlier in the morning and noted that the trip from Svendborg to Faaborg was only about 28 kilometers (17 miles), a piece of cake for “talented” bikers such as we. And we would break it up into segments punctuated by water and bathroom breaks. (I would say “no sweat” here, but as I noted in an earlier post, Denmark was experiencing a record heat wave, and I did some serious sweating.)
Audrey is willing to pose with me despite my sweaty appearance
But that distance was based on using the main road between the two towns, a pretty busy thoroughfare. True, it had bike lanes delineated on the side of the road, but the fast-moving passing cars were a little intimidating. Lars signaled that we were making a quick left turn onto a side road. I figured a detour would add to the distance we would travel, and I was right. (Later, Lars would confess that this alternate route was a new one mapped out by the tour company and provided for him as a way to save time and distance while avoiding the high-traffic main road; he didn't know it very well yet. Oh, ho!)

The detour turned out to be mostly gravel with some sandy patches, at least for the first part. There would be paved road ahead, we were promised. So we braved on through the gravel. Now, as I have noted, I hate hills. Audrey, on the other hand, hates gravel, especially when the gravel path heads downhill, which this one was doing. She was riding her brakes, but she wasn’t complaining aloud. Under her breath? That’s another matter.

The road narrowed out a little more, and we had to go around some fallen branches and even had to maneuver through a gated entrance. This apparently was Robert Frost’s road less traveled by. The group was starting to separate a little. Somehow Casey, Leah (a retired school teacher from New York who is petite but tough and plays tennis almost every day when she is not biking through Central Park), and Doug as sweep fell a little farther behind and lost touch with the rest of us.

Then Lars led us to a fork in the road and took us into the left branch. Someone in the group (perhaps Barb, the massage therapist from a little town in South Dakota, who had noted that she was in training for the upcoming “Tour de Corn,” a ride of scary length) hoped aloud that no one behind us would choose the right-hand branch. She turned out to be a prophet. Doug’s bad luck as sweep was just beginning.
The rest of our group. From left are Harvey in profile, Per and Lars (our guides),
Casey, Leah, Doug, Phyllis, Patti, and Barb

Lars and six of us finally completed the gravel portion of our ride (or so we thought) and took a break to begin the paved segment. We waited for our three comrades. And waited…and waited.  Lars finally decided to head back on the path to find the missing bikers. Luckily, he spotted them near that infamous fork in the road, and they quickly rejoined us.

We were all together again, and ready to continue. We were looking at paved road and figured Faaborg couldn’t be that far away. As long as we didn’t encounter any more surprises, we were home free, and Doug could retire his cell phone and air pump. Which turned out to be wishful thinking.

Stay tuned for Part 2. One warning—there will be spilled blood ahead!

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