The journey is a learning curve
There are many people riding velomobiles during the winter, some of them are my commuting heroes. They use the velomobile in stead of the car as much as they possibly can, some of them every day. To ride in freezing temperatures with velomobile and hardly any warm clothes is possible for a couple of hours. But after several hours of riding, the upper body becomes soaked wet from perspiration while the feets get freezing cold even when having many, many layers of woolen socks. My challenge is to find a solution to this problem in order to get as far as possible on my own created challenge to the north.
This is the first time I make a blog entry with my smartphone, so please have some consideration if the result isn’t perfect. 😉
After three nights with my friends Anita and Reinhold Skoglund, the journey continues very early in the morning when it is still dark. But after only about 16 kilometers, I stop at Hotell Östersund to eat a delicious breakfast buffet. Reinhold and his friends in the cycling group Happy Ride are there after a cold training round with their bicycles.
Back on the road everything is very humid and a thick mist makes it sometime difficult to see more than a few meters in front of the velomobile. Since I don’t have a motor making noise, I can hear cars coming long time before they reach me. In the mirror I can see how my strong red blinking light illuminates the thick mist. Undoubtedly the cars can see me from far behind.
The whole day is dark and grey. I drive between tall fir trees that prevent the dim light from reaching the road. Now and then there are openings in the forest allowing me to see both smaller and larger lakes. It is very far between villages and houses.
After two days of rest I feel strong and push on for 221 km until I find a rest area with toilets by the side of a large river, Ångermanälven. I put up my tent in the dark using my head torch.
I did see lights from a house a few hundreds meters from the resting area and went there to see if I could charge my battery. I knocked and someone shouted come in. I carefully opened the door and a man in oversized long johns said, don’t stand there, come in! I replied, your keys are on the outside of the door. He answered, yes, that’s so that I can remember where they are. After I had heard some stories from his life and drunk his home made lingonberry cordial, he disconnected the cable from his car motor heater and offered me to use the plug over night.
Total distance made this day is 228 km and total climbed altitude is 1435 meter.
I slept with my warm sleeping bag as a blanket but it was still too warm. When I stack out my feets or hands to cool them down, they became too cold. The air was so humid that everything got wet, except for my gore windstoper sleeping bag.
After an hours drive I arrived to the small village Vilhelmina just in time for when the petrol station opened and I could have a large tea and a sandwiche. The guy in the station was impressed by the velomobile, let me have tea for free and gave me two neck warmers.
The weather wasn’t very pleasant. It was a mixture of snow and rain. The wet slush froze on the outside of the visor creating a 5 mm thick layer of ice. A mixture of snow and water covered the road and I had to lower the visor each time I was overtaken or met a car or truck so that my face wouldn’t be completely soaked.
I pushed on over large uphills and climbed a total of 972 meters during the day before arriving to a hostel with warm showers in Sorsele.
Distance made 165 km.
The temperature at start is -11°C and it doesn’t get warmer during the day.
There is a lot of snow in the surroundings but the roads are mainly dry. On the coarse pavement there are often strings of hardened snow building longitudinal ice barriers. The steering is sometimes difficult but not too bad. I have to keep braking carefully when going downhill and my maximum speed this day is only 72 kph. I still have the summer tires on.
I did reach the very small village Moskosel after 127 km and decided to make it a day.
My plan was to sleep in my tent or under a shelters roof. But when I stopped to ask for a plug to charge my battery, I was offered to stay in a house that normally is rented out to tourists.
I had forgotten the yoghurt in the velomobile during the night and had to defrost it in the microwave several minuter before having yoghurt ice cream for breakfast.
I started to get a feeling for how the cold penetrates through the clothes and remembered the times when I was in the north with -40°C. In those temperatures the air is normally quite dry, but as it was now at about -15, the steam from my breathing kept freezing on the inside of my visor. I had to keep scratching the visor now and then with my nails to be able to see through it.
When standing up and when walking I have no problem with cold feets, but after some time sitting and pedalling, my toes start to get cold even though I have five pair of woolen socks, a 10 mm extra insulating sole and Goretex overboots. It is as if the blood doesn’t reach the feets. Could it be because of the horizontal body position? Or could it be that most of the blood is used for the muscles in the legs and isn’t warm when reaching the toes?
In the afternoon I passed The Arctic Circle, the southern most latitude where the midnight sun can be seen at the summer solstice. At that moment I realized that I was in the far north.
I arrived at the hostel in Jokkmokk just before sunset after making 112 km.
I decided to rest this day. Visited the Ájtte museum where the history of the Nordic Same people are very well illustrated and did some shopping. When I went into a sports shop and asked for electric heated insoles, the shopkeeper said: we only have them in stock during the winter. For the local people we are still in the autumn even though the temperature is -15°C.
I started at 7,30. Luckily the temperature was below 0°C. Otherwise the roads would have been slushy and difficult to ride.
Pedalling a velomobile makes anyone breath quite heavily. It is like running for several continuous hours. This can be a problem when the air is cold. Freezing air is constantly filling the lungs and it hurts quite a lot. The technique is to slow down the speed and try to find an adequate pace. But this can be difficult when trying to keep a relatively high average speed at the same time. Today I had to put a folded woolen sweater over my chest to heat me up.
I was surprised when I suddenly met a local cyclist on his training lap. He was very well equipped with good lighting and it seemed that he was used to cycling in these areas. He turned around and cycled by my side while he asked if it was okay to follow me for a couple of kilometers because there was a bear by the side of the road ahead of us. He wanted to have the velomobile between himself and the bear. No problems I answered without stopping. We cycled together for a few kilometers but unfortunately the bear had decided to go back into the forest.
I arrived at Gällivare hostel after making only 93 km this day.
Snowed in in Gällivare
The weather got worse. There was a mixture between rain and snow. Heavy wet snow covered the velomobile during the night and the following day. Worst scenario for riding velomobiles. Too deep snow and too soft. I decided to take it easy. No point in pushing onto the road if it is impossible to ride.
In Gällivare I have completed my shopping list. Bought rechargeable electric heated insoles and very large overboots. It might be difficult to pedal with these overboots, but I need to have more socks and thicker soles. Will it be enough for completing my challenge? The future will tell.
All images are photographed with a mobile phone that has a scratched lens. To keep the weight down, I had to leave my big camera at home.