The square is crowded by people wearing bicycle wear. There are bicycles, gear, pumps and plastic boxes all over the place. Bicycle shoes click when they hit the paving stones. Questions are crisscrossing in the air. Yet there is silence: the buzzing of expectation. We are about to start.
It is 4:45 am by the watch. And the date is 30 June 2013. We are in Elsinore at the north of Zealand – some 60 minutes by car from Copenhagen. The ferry to Sweden is waiting around the corner.
Then they vault into the saddle. 120 surprisingly matutinal and adventurous racers. 120 Canyon bicycles and their owners – all with ‘HJÆLPERYTTERNE’ [Danish word for SUPPORT RIDERS] printed on their back. The course is shaped. Behind them friends and family are waving goodbye. Ahead of them are six days and six laps. More than one thousand kilometres through Sweden and Norway before they get in – Oslo and party and the ferry back to Denmark. And hopefully they will gain their other point too: get a lot of financial support and claim much-needed attention to the Danish Rheumatism Association. And there is no doubt – each and every rider has his or her own personal purpose in the pannier: lots of good reasons to spend a week’s holidays doing something unknown, but definitely breakthrough fatiguing ….
What will happen to their body and soul is still all in the air. The horizon is lowering and dark. The breeze is more than moderate. The first lap is around 200 kilometres. Only few of the riders have ever cycled that far before. Actually, a great many of them had never cycled at all when the project started back in March with bicycle training two times a week. Some drag along maladies, injuries, far too many years or far too much weight. But the group also counts a lot of tough and well-trimmed riders. There are captains and experienced riders. There are accompanying cars, service cars, motor cycle Marshalls and lots of food and beverages. So if everything goes as has – perhaps naively – been expected, then everything will fuse into one, blessed whole. Then the riders will help each other through. And then they will all get in – in Oslo in six days.
‘Hjælperytterne’ is an association founded on the initiative by people who had previously joined similar races with another fund raising team to Paris. But the idea behind this project was different. No commercial undertaking was to back it. It should be a charitable association, and funds were to be raised for a course. Rheumatism is one of the largest and most widespread diseases in our part of the world. Up to 700,000 Danes are handicapped by musculoskeletal pain. But it is a ‘forgotten’ disease that neither causes much comment nor receives much attention compared with more life-threatening diseases. Using your own musculoskeletal and creating a movement to do something for a good cause. That made sense. Indeed, it sounded like a good idea, and the route up north could offer a very special and different adventure.
Those who took the initiative for the association had gathered 20-30 riders in the autumn of 2012, and doubts were rummaging. Would the project succeed? Would there be backing?
When March came, the team was full up. It made sense. It sounded good. Three teams were formed to train together and everybody promised to prepare and do their best so that all would make it all the way and get to Oslo. Perhaps with a sore arse and musculoskeletal wear. But only as a result of having cycled for a good cause. Having done something. There was full commitment.
The field was full of young and old people, round and straight, strong and enquiring. A lot of them with both personal and professional resources. A lot that would like to help – also backstage. The network was the first to be at top gear. Sponsors were tracked down and so was support for food, beverages, cars, gear and – not least – bicycles.
Carsten Steenfeldt, the Danish Canyon Representative made a terrific job, helping the project to get up and running. So – there was really no excuse. The riders cycled 260,000 kilometres as part of their training. There was not much else to do now. Other than get going.
And here they are wheeling. The 120 happy bicycles with their somewhat tense owners clicked on to them.
It is 6:55 am by the watch. Sweden and the 200 kilometres are waiting out there in the chilly morning air. The clouds decide to send a message: it’s raining. The three teams each with the motor cycle in front and the service car behind are wheeling out from the ferry berth at some minutes’ interval. The rain turns into cascades of water. It’s raining cats and dogs. On with the rain coats. The riders now begin having punctures. The cold is piercing the indefatigably pedalling limbs. All of a sudden the distance to Oslo is much, much longer, and the first pit keeps coming up as a mirage in the puddles. Finally, they arrive at the pavilion with cheerful helpers, chocolate, bananas and fruit bars.
The riders eat and drink. ‘Never has a cup of HOT cocoa tasted that well’, says an elderly man with chattering teeth, blue lips and soaking wet clothes. ‘I’ve never frozen this much since I was a little boy’, says another brave rider, before he – contrary to common sense – swings back on to his bicycle, heading for Värnamo.
This project is against all odds. Some of us in the cars are thinking – naively – that the support riders may never go beyond this, first lap. But we are to become wiser. They are not to be beaten. They go on. It is clearing up now. More food is eaten, and clothes are wrought out. Then the clouds get tough once more. The sky turns black. All that fine, sponsored bicycle clothes which the riders had just taken so much pain to dry now get wet, wet, wet in a matter of a few seconds. But it takes more to stop the three brave teams that are struggling up through Sweden as stubborn worms. And they are rewarded. Before the long, long day is over, the sun breaks through and big smiles lit up the tired faces.
In Värnamo, a big van is parked behind the biggest hotel in the town. The sides of the van carry the word HJÆLPERYTTERNE. Now, one of the teams arrives. Cool. The riders can even stand and walk. They can smile and talk. Life-giving elixirs are being served from the tailboard of the van. What could be better than a cold beer and a bag of chips after a ‘day at the office’ like this one?!
In comes the next team. They greet and smile and stories are exchanged. More beer and water is knocked back. The third team comes wheeling in. They even made a detour. More stories are told and more food and beverages are consumed. Legs are becoming increasingly rigid as the early night is falling. But nobody seems to bother.
Because the support riders are on their way. Well underway. They know it, smiling proudly. Still, there is a certain sense of insidious nervousness in the air. The riders have now realised that they can in fact ride 200 kilometres. But can they also do so tomorrow? Not to mention four more days after that…
Yes, they can!
The next day, certain routines are already getting in place: early breakfast, back on to the faithful iron horses and then heading for the first pit. The rain has gone home, there is a little sunshine from time to time, and best of all: the wind is still in the riders’ backs!
200 kilometres after, the loaded van is standing next to a big lawn in Linköping. And the whole scenery repeats itself. In come the proud and happy riders. There’s a lot of talking going on, and the riders are in a sweat. It may be that the muscles are a bit tenser, but the riders feel a lot less nervous now. Everything is going to be fine.
The third day is called ‘the day of rest’ – just to show that the support riders have a sense of humour. But the 120 kilometres are done as a piece of cake, and the pits and the supporters are now in position. The support riders are gradually and almost unobserved becoming fused into a beautiful symbiosis. People are talking as they do kilometre after kilometre along quite and beautiful Swedish roads. Stories are told and philosophies of life are exchanged. Uphill, everybody lends each other a helping hand. There is always room behind a broad back when some rider begins to lack vigour. They help each other. They are scorching along. Because it is all about just two things: together in pairs – and pedal!
All of a sudden the sun is shining, and the teams approach the beautiful town Ørebro with a castle, paving stones, cafes and an almost exotic holiday mood.
The fourth lap has something magic about it. Nature keeps smiling wonderfully back at the riders when they cycle along the winding roads. And the light is bright and the sun is warm. It may very well be that more and more knees, necks and behinds are getting increasingly sore, but there is room for it all. Reserves of energy on the life account and too little food on the hotel’s buffet. Once again, the kitchen has not managed to cook enough food. But then the unconquerable riders take comfort on the supplies offered at the tailboard, indulging in a well-deserved nightcap while listening to the plans for the next day and the invariably fine weather forecast. And to make everything look a little like a scout camp, they adopt as a new routine community singing, which is about the support riders’ excellence.
The fifth lap is the tough one: uphill and nearly 200 kilometres to do once more. But what the heck – the rain stays away and the direction of the wind keeps changing to the benefit of the riders all along the route! Norway – here we come, and after a very, very long day next to the team mate, the riders are allowed to ‘dismount’.
Very quietly, it’s creeping in. With no respect for nemesis. It’s bubbling underneath what is unspoken. In the new perspective, there is but one, insignificant, short lap of 120 kilometres before they reach Oslo. Exultation is bubbling underneath the sore surface. We did it. Yes, we can. The bicycles held, the psyche exploded and the good fellowship lasted in the most beautiful way. The strong ones carried the weak ones. The merry ones infected the crestfallen ones.
Several riders tried to formulate how they felt. A little philosophy of life would not be amiss here. Because this is a big thing, which feels cool and vehement and so, so different from the small victories of everyday life. What a personal victory. Transgressing one’s limits, feeling that you can in fact do it if you want to. When you make an effort. And dedicate your energy. And not least: being a flock of individuals helping one another. When people are best. When we are there for one another. That’s what happened back there up north.
Some felt it like a beautiful beating of the heart or a soft boosting of the soul. Others just smiled and said they had enjoyed the tour and met a lot of wonderful people.
But when almost all of they got to the Oslo ferry, greeting one another, exulting and clapping their hands – and the grandeur of the personal victory was revealed in some intense hugs – nobody else was in doubt: my, this is something big! Seen from the outside perhaps just a bunch of foolish grown-ups for want of better things to do than embarking of a very, very long tour. But seen from the inside: a revolution!
It was 1:30 pm by the watch. Friday 5 July 2013. The Oslo ferry was about to bring the triumphal progress back home. Suddenly, the sun began to shine – boiling hot.
Bicycles were lifted high up as a last, common homage to something magic and successful: the day the support riders had finally made it all the way from Copenhagen to Oslo.
And plans are to conjure up that magic again and again. Now is the time to sign up for the 2014 tour at www.hjaelperytterne.dk. Meanwhile, keep up the spirits and follow the support riders’ side on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Hjaelperytterne.
Wonderful to know. More potentially potent adventures are waiting ahead of you. See you there ….
By: Lise Kissmeyer / www.lisekissmeyer.dk
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