At five I knocked off work, ate some leftovers, and packed my bike on the car. I dressed up in the closest approximation of “serious cyclist” I could come up with – running tights, rain shirt, and hiking shoes – and secretly prayed that I would be late, no one else would show up, and I’d be spared the social pressure of introducing myself to a bunch of new Vikings. I came to Denmark one month ago and know hardly anyone yet. I’ve got to make some friends, but it’s still scary.
I was ten minutes early and the Vikings were very nice. The meetup spot is called Kirketorvet, and it’s a church on the east side of Kong Christian bridge in Sønderborg, Denmark. If you’re from Victoria, picture yourself standing at the lights on Pandora St facing the Johnson St bridge. To the right of the bridge there’s a building called the Janion – it occupies the same spot, both geographically (in the middle of town) and spiritually (overlooking the water), as Kirketorvet in Sønderborg.
I introduced myself to a couple of people, and failed like I always do to understand their names. There was a good mix of ages and at least a few women, and everyone was riding the same kind of bike as mine – hardtail mountain bikes with fat knobby tires. They all had more spandex, more plastic in their shoes, and more carbon on their bikes than I did, but I felt like I was close enough to pass. One lady let me know that though she was the slowest rider here, she was in charge of this horse race.
“Perfect,” I said. “I’ll be right behind you.”
First we did laps around a block adjacent to the church. We sprinted up a narrow lane, down a steep descent to the water, hooked hard left at the bottom, and scrambled up a stretch of twisty cobbles, then the same again three more times.
After that we rode along the water to the castle (Sønderborg Slot, complete with cannonball holes in it’s rocky flanks), which, if we’re still superimposing this town on Victoria, is more or less where Bastion Square is.
There’s a little woods near the castle. The others did four laps through the woods, dodging around some joggers, down a flight of stairs, and back along the paved path. I did three, with the self-proclaimed slowest of the pack trailing me encouragingly.
We continued along the water to the back lawn of Business College Syd, where they’ve got disc golf, a high ropes course, and a little piece of single track that we lapped four times. “I don’t like it,” said the leader, as we paused at 3.5. “The track is okay but the sprint across the lawn is annoying.”
“Ah,” I said. “Could I borrow some water?” I got to keep the water bottle.
We turned into the wind and continued up the coast. Sønder Skovy (Southern Forest) is criss-crossed with single and double track with hardly any underbrush. The ground is hard clay with not much roots or gravel. Except for the total lack of hills, I’d say it’s the perfect cross-country forest. Actually, if there were any hills it probably would have killed me, so no worries.
“I’ll stay with you for the first lap,” said my new friend, whose name I still haven’t learned. “So you can see the way. But take your own pace. We do two or three laps then stop for a break.” I nodded. “You’re okay?”
“I’m okay,” I said, “I just can’t go any faster! I’ll do two laps if the others do three, no problem.”
We ripped up a short distance of double track, a flat single track through the woods, then turned left along a cliff facing the ocean. We scooted up a ladder of roots in hard white clay, down the other side, and another single track through the woods to the starting point. The woods were crowded and we dodged around some more joggers – luckily they all wear highlighter jackets so you can see them coming. The wind was fierce and stirred up the ocean so it looked like there were almost enough waves to surf on, but it didn’t get through the trees.
After those laps we bumped through the woods on another little singletrack that was unmarked and invisible until we were on it, to another flat loop closer to the road. This one had a shallow but sharp ditch across the path, and a plank bridge. The others flew across them without pausing, but they still scared me a little. There was definitely a time when I was not as scared of tiny obstacles like this. I’m not sure what happened. Maybe some practice will get me past it.
As we turned back to town, I noticed that our group was smaller. I guess some people ride home and that’s where they split off, but I drove to the meeting spot so I had to go back. On the way back, though, the wind was with us and the return trip took half as long as the ride out. I talked to the other lady in the group. I don’t know her name either, but she’s a children’s nurse and said that I ought to come to beginners technical practice on Saturday morning. Since she’s the third person so far who has said I ought to do that, I guess I will.
I’ve been riding my bike nearly every day since I was a teenager, but I never pushed myself like that. But it’s awesome. I think I had better keep doing it.