by Larry Midura

At 4am on Thursday, August 8, 2002, eleven randonneurs from Denmark, Sweden, Belgium and USA gathered under clear skies and temperatures of 55 degrees F at Helingborg, Sweden. This is the very south of Sweden, county of Skane: the countryside between ridge and sea where modern wind­ mills cover the landscape.

Helsingborg, Sweden, has a population of 118,000, and is Sweden's ninth largest community. It is situated at the narrowest part of Oresound, and the distance across the water to Helsingor, Denmark, is not more than 4 km/2.5 mi. It is a trading and manufacturing center, with its harbor the second largest in Sweden. Helsingborg's vision is to become the most attractive town in Sweden while offering its inhabitants a quality of life in harmony with nature.

The exact ride start was the Olympic Center, just behind the Helsingborg Square where the medieval defense tower known as "Karnan" stands. The Karnan tower is all that remains of the late 14th century castle that looked­out over the Oresound to the Danish heartland. An interlaced web of over 800 km/496 mi of marked cycle paths begins in Helsingborg, and covers the entire Skane region. Skane is primarily at sea level and famous for its leafy beechwood forests, golf courses, castles, manor houses, and small idyllic villages.

The ride began at a quick pace on the cycle path until we exited the Helsingborg community into the Skane farmlands. Day 1 was a 434 km/269 mi sprint at an average cycling speed of 30 km/18.6 mi per hour while riding in a pace­line formation to the quaint Regna Hostel in central Sweden. "Regna" is the Swedish word for rain, but no rain fell from the sky on day 1. Daytime temperatures were about 73 degrees F each day, with sunrise at 5 am, sunset at 9 pm, with twilight until 11 pm at this northern latitude. Fantastic summer cycling weather was in the form of sunny skies and comfortable temperatures.

As we entered the central region of Sweden on day 1 at approximately 250 km/155 mi outbound, the terrain changed to rolling hills, forests and lakes. We were entering the dream region for those interested in Swedish culture. As we ap­ proached Vastergotland, home of the famous Gota Canal which crosses Sweden from coast to coast, we entered the vast lake region by which the name of this ride originates: Lakes Vanern, Vattern, and Hjalmaren. Lakes Vanern and Vattern are some of the largest fresh water lakes in Europe comparable to the USA's Great Lakes region. In fact, Lake Vanern is the largest lake in Western Europe at 5585 square km/3461 square mi.

On day 1, from the town of Savsjo (222 km/138 mi outbound) until Skanninge (351 km/218 mi outbound), this 129 km/80 mi segment of the route was a deja vu as travelling north from Anchorage, Alaska, to Fairbanks, Alaska, on the Parks Highway in the USA ­ characterized by tall evergreen forests amidst rolling hills with tops no higher than 331 meters/1085 feet above sea level. Lake Vattern, the first major lake of our loop, was due west by about 40 km/25 mi, but not visible at any point during the ride. Only smaller lakes and ponds to the east of Lake Vattern were seen by the riders.

As we approached Borensberg, we crossed the Gota Canal as darkness set in. Between Borensberg and Regna Hostel which was our first day sleep stop, the idyllic towns reminded this rider of southern New Hampshire landscape in the USA. We observed wildlife in the form of black deer and badgers at dusk crossing the roadways. Arrival at the first night sleep stop was at about 10:30 pm at Regna Hostel in an area full of quiet, relaxing holiday destinations. The elevation at Regna was about 50 meters/164 feet above sea level.

At 7 am on day 2, just ten riders departed for the second segment of 346 km/215 mi. During the first 100 km/62 mi to Fellingsbro (99 meters/324 feet above sea level), we encountered gentle rollers en route to the bridge around the eastern shore of the second major lake of our randonneur, Lake Hjalmaren. Then another series of rollers brought us into Orebro, part of Narke county, and perhaps the most attractive city we cycled through during the entire ride.

Orebro is a university community, also with a textile industrial base. The most picturesque castle of Sweden is located at the city center, and our rider group of four ­ Bob Burns of USA, Adrian Top of Belgium, Johannes Kristiansen of Danmark, and myself, stopped for the opportunity to take photographs in front of the medieval Orebro Slott and the Svartan River. Currently, the castle is the headquarters for the county governor.

Day 2 concluded with a more hilly route of rollers within the Dalsland county region for 150 km/93 mi through the cities of Degerfors (195 meters/639 feet above sea level), Karlstad (84 meters/275 feet above sea level), and Saffle (126 meters/413 feet above sea level). Arrival at the second day sleep stop was shortly after midnight at the Amal Hostel (50 meters/164 feet above sea level). However, about 25 km/16 mi from Amal, we encountered a brief rain shower which cooled us off. Amal is located on the shore of the third major lake of our loop, Lake Vanern. Amal is a small, but bustling town of 13,000, which according to Lonely Planet Publications of Australia, became "infamous after the 1999 release of the Swedish language film with a vulgar title. This motion picture trivia about Amal's past was also mentioned to us at breakfast the next morning by the Swedish riders.

Day 3 began at 7 am with a 250 km/155 mi route to Holsljunga Hostel, which upon arrival, offered a beautiful view over Lake Holsjon. Particularly enjoyable at the beginning of day 3 was the 45 km/28 mi segment from Gestad to Vanersborg which was a series of country roads almost like English country lanes ­ gentle rollers (81 meters/265 feet above sea level). The real excitement of day 3, however, was the 40 km/25 mi segment of continuous climbing from Allingsas to Boras. Rolling hilltops were about 151­223­263­306 meters/495­731­862­1003 feet above sea level. This was the roller­coaster of the ride, with a great drop into Boras ­ the fastest downhill descent of the ride at 65 km/40.3 mi per hour.

Day 4 departure from Holsljunga was a 197 km/122 mi route that began at 7 am with travel southbound through the counties of Vastergotland, Smaland, and Halland on gentle country roads with rolling terrain (147­207 meters/482­678 feet above sea level). Re­entry into the county of Skane was just north of the city of Angelholm, and we rejoined our outbound loop at the village of Fleninge, and then back onto Helsingborg's cycle paths. A brief thunderstorm showered us between Angelholm and Fleninge on our final sprint towards the Helsingborg finish. Arrival at Helsingborg was at 4:50 pm.

In summary, the Around Three Swedish Lakes 1227 Km/760 Mi Randonnée took us through forty­eight cities/towns/ villages of southern and central Sweden with an average cycling speed of 27 km/16.7 mi per hour thanks to the Danish and Swedish cyclists pace­line riding style. The course entailed approximately 6707 meters/22,000 feet of vertical climbing on the rolling hills north of Skane.

What deserves special mention is the extremely clean environment of Sweden. The road surface quality was very good. No riders experienced tube punctures while cycling. Surely this is the result of Sweden's household and industrial recycling policies which prevent the accumulation of roadside debris.

The Danish ride organizers, Stig Lundgaard and Johannes Kristiansen should be commended for providing first class food at the hostels during the ride. Breakfasts were smorgasbord style, and dinners consisted of: (a) bolonaise pasta; (b) curry chicken; and, (c) spaghetti and meatballs served with red Australian wine. And the choice of Helsingborg as the start venue was great: a lovely, vibrant city with a pleasant atmosphere of sidewalk cafes and friendly people.

What made this ride unique was the: (1) Quick pace­line riding style of the Danish an Swedish cyclists; (2) the more social nature of the ride due to the small group of cyclists participating, coupled with the need to ride the quick pace or get left behind; and, (3) the reward for the quick pace was the ability to sleep comfortably each night at a clean, well organized Swedish hostel with five to six hours of sleep each night. These aspects all contributed to a safe cycling experience with minimal night­time riding, plus a bonus in the form of a great Swedish suntan!

        HANS JORGEN BINDER         84h58m         Denmark
        ROBERT G. BURNS            84h53m         USA
        JORGEN GREEN               84h53m         Denmark
        JOHANNES KRISITIANSEN      85h30m         Denmark
        STIG LUNDGAARD             84h55m         Denmark
        LAWRENCE A. MIDURA         84h50m         USA
        SOREN PERMATS              84h53m         Sweden
        JAN QUORP                  84h53m         Denmark
        ADRIAN TOP                 85h30m         Belgium