And life moves on

As summer continues here in Sweden, my Versys is stored away in Spain together with five boxes containing our possessions and I’m prepping my “new” Swedish registered bike. It is a 2002 BMW F650GS. The very same model I rode in Australia a few years back for the WIMA rally. But the history of me and BMW goes back further than that. I was actually close to getting a BMW years back when I instead got my second Ducati – I test rode a BMW Scarver and my brother was cheering me on wanting me to buy it. I wasn’t ready then, and I would even own a third Ducati before I again contemplated the purchase of a BMW.

The same year my brother died, 2005, I rode a BMW GS in New Zealand and absolutely hated it. My friend and I had both rented a GS and when hers broke down and she got a replacement Honda Transalp that she couldn’t reach the ground on I was happy to swap bikes. But life changes and so does one’s needs and likes. When I at last prepared to leave the Ducati world, the GS was back on my shortlist, along with the Suzuki V-Strom and the Kawasaki Versys. The vote fell on the Versys, as a secondhand GS was more expensive than a new Versys with cases and the V-Strom felt too bulky.

So finally, I’ve gotten myself the bike that I crossed path with so many times and I must say I love it, it is an absolute delight to ride, so light and easy to handle and the engine is so responsive. The engine runs so much smoother than the Versys and the weight distribution is so much better. I wish my brother could see me now.

My Versys was bought with panniers and top case, the only thing I had to sort out was the tank bag. My GS has a small top case and nothing else, so I’m busy getting stuff sorted. I would be happy travelling with just a pack roll if it wasn’t that I will be picking up Christopher and he’ll be pillion for part of the journey. Therefore, I needed to source out panniers for the bike, and to fit panniers I need pannier racks.

The amount of time that has gone in to searching for “the right” panniers and other equipment is ridiculous. In the end, the challenged proved to be the pannier rack, which not only is ridiculously expensive – 3795sek or roughly 400 euros for just the rack if I would order from Touratech! Besides, they have a 3-month delivery time. Instead, I sourced the pannier rack from SW Moto and ordered from Polo Motorrad – the cost was half the price. However, when, after some days, I called asking after the delivery date as they had not provided any, I was told they had a 3 weeks waiting time before they would get the rack into stock, that would be after I’d started travelling.  Following this, I found a Swedish company who would sell the rack and deliver within 10 days, so I bought it from them paying 2750sek.  The rack from the Swedish company has not arrived and no new delivery date has been given, in the meantime Polo has shipped my rack and with a little bit of luck it will arrive tomorrow so I can mount it on the bike. Fingers crossed… I was going to arrange for them to be sent along my route but they shipped much earlier than expected. The panniers themselves are yellow waterproof soft bags from Nelson Riggs and I’m really eager to put them on.

The tank bag is another story. I generally don’t want to spend money on a fantastic tank bag as it could easily get stolen, so I’d rather buy a cheap one no-one is interested in. I have purchased a large tank bag from Biltema for very low cost and I re-constructed it to fit the tank which is made of plastic. All I needed to do was to attach straps to the bag and remove the magnets.

Along with the pannier racks, I’m also awaiting the RAM mount for my phone. It seems impossible to ride while reading maps and street signs after being accustomed to following the GPS – for good and for bad, it saves so much time and effort.

Anything else, yeah, right, my tablet died – but I have ordered one to be picked up at an electronic store along the route.

Local running

I run therefore I am. This is very true and although other things has taken over my life and I have given up my ambition to run 42 when 42, I’ve still taken part in some really cool events during the last year. I have focused on the local events and enjoyed the proximity of the beach.

Lucky me, being born on the 1st of November which is a public holiday in Spain so I get the day off work. I always enjoy doing something special on my birthday and last year I ran Cursa de Tardor, the autumn race – a 10k trail race with start and finish in Altafulla old town. After the run we could enjoy the beach and some tapas before taking the costal route riding back to Calafell. I hope to comeback for this run next autumn again, since I really enjoyed the route, running mainly on forest trails.

The little village of Calafell where we live has “Tot el any” or “The whole year” as its slogan and the village is trying hard to put on different events every other weekend outside the tourist season as well. On two occasions I’ve taken part in 5k races along the beach and although the beach promenade isn’t the most exciting place to run, as I run there every week anyway, I like to support the local events and just can’t say no to a race on my doorstep.

I was super pleased finishing both these 5k races sub-30 minutes, which proves that even though I’m not as fit as I used to be, I can still match my parkrun results.

I only run 2 times a week these days, 3 in a good week and the mileage is nowhere near what I added up when living in London, but I don’t stress about it. Running is something I do for my own pleasure and I try to mix it up, once a week on the beach promenade and once along the waterfront in the sand. As often as I can, I finish my run with a splash in the sea.

But the sun isn’t shining all the time in Spain. This was especially evident when Anneli joined me for the El Corte Ingles 10k race in Barcelona. Together with about 65,000 other runners we joined the free of charge race on Barcelona’s streets and the rain was bucketing down during the most part of the race. It isn’t half as bad to run a race in pouring rain as it is to be the photographer. Christopher was not impressed with me failing to notice him where he tried to catch us with the camera. That would have been a good day for contact lenses, glasses were absolutely useless, I ended up running without glasses seeing marginally better than with steamed up glasses. Anyway, Christopher has stated that he, for one, very much prefers the 5k races on the waterfront. I do not blame him.

The final race before leaving Calafell for this term proved to be the ultimate challenge. Calafell Historic Trail was the first ever mountain race I’ve run, I’ve done the Harrow Hill 10k and the Watford Half during my time in London and, while both were acknowledged for being challenging hilly routes, they were nothing, absolutely nothing, compared to this race. I’m no where near marathon-fit these days but during the second half of the Historic trail I was contemplating if it possibly was harder than a marathon. Suffering is optional and I tried to be good spirited about it. I had a massive energy crash, nearly vomited and had to walk. Slightly embarrassing, as a teacher from my Catalan class happily ran past me with bouncy steps coming from the 16k route. The trail itself was amazing with fantastic views – you do get that after running up the mountain, and there were stations with historical roleplayers illustrating the civil war, the stone age and other significant events in the local history. During the whole race I was running more or less together with another runner, sometimes she was a little bit before me and sometimes after. The last kilometre we ran side by side and we crossed the finish line together, celebrated with watermelon and shook hands. It was an amazing feeling to not have to run any further, very much as finishing a marathon. The organisers offered sausage in a bun and beer. We even got T-shirts, you get a lot for your 10 euro fee in Spain. After the race, I went down to the sea and soaked myself in the cold water. It was absolutely amazing and horrible at the same time. I hope to do it again next year.

Shortly after arriving in Sweden, I got the possibility to run a race in my home town, Karlstad Stadslopp. It was a 10k race along the streets of Karlstad which also included running through some park areas and pretty much the whole city got involved. Those who were not running were having picnics along the route. In an interesting comparison to the previous local race where I paid 10 euros and got a T-shirt, snacks, fruit and drinks half way and at the finish line + sausage and beer, I now had to pay 35 euros and I got a banana and a bottle of water at the finish. I totally get that salaries are higher in Sweden, so it might not be that much money for local people, but I still wonder why it has to cost that much. Besides the economic drainage, I had a fantastic day and enjoyed my race immensely. I even broke my previous finished time from some 25 years ago – which was actually the first ever race I’ve run. In addition, I was only 5 minutes off my PB for this distance.

As I was running on the streets of Karlstad trying to find my supporters, I couldn’t help analysing the crowd support. In Karlstad, there were a lot of people but the audience was mainly waiting for “their runner”. Very few people cheered for everyone. In addition, there was minimal interaction between runners, beside people who very obviously knew each other or were running together, of course. The races I’ve run both in England and in Spain I have always been cheered on by total strangers, people who are there to support all runners even though they might be looking out for a friend or family member as well. The crowd support was something that I weighed when evaluating if I would run a certain race again or not.  I always let my mind wander when I’m running and I like to ponder different things.

Global Friendship

We don’t have one language in common, instead we speak three languages in between the three of us, Japanese, English and Spanish, as we take shelter in a local Spanish restaurant in Gracia. I had wanted to show my international friends the area in Barcelona where I used to live, before moving to Calafell. My plan for this evening included our normally pleasant weather – not a steady downpour. But the food is excellent and the company better still, despite some occasional confusion when we speak the wrong language to the wrong recipient. The bartender is amused by our group and absolutely thrilled when he learns that Selma is originally from Argentina and they even have a common home town. He brings us strawberry gazpacho to celebrate this. Selma orders Argentinian meat, Sono is excited by the idea of Spanish tapas and we share three little plates followed by three rather large cakes for desert. It’s been a busy week for them, when you come from Japan to spend a week in Catalunya then you must make the most of it. They have been riding in the Pyrenees together with Sue from WIMA GB and, in addition, managed to see some of what Barcelona has to offer in the culture department: Gaudi’s architecture and Picasso’s art. To complete the list, we managed some shopping for Spanish goods before dinner.

Dinner in three languages. photo Courtesy Selma Rosa Perez
Dinner in three languages. Photo Courtesy Selma Roza Peres

On my behalf, it’s been a couple of eventful weeks, moving houses, starting a new teaching position and in the midst of it all my WIMA friends from England and Japan basically arrived on my doorstep. Sue had rented a house up in the Pyrenees and I joined her for some amazing riding. We were lucky to be recommended a brilliant route by fellow bikers. It was 200 kilometres filled with twists and turns, it kept us busy until evening in fact, with various coffee and photo stops along the route. We started off in Col de Nargo and headed to Berga along route L-401, in the morning the road was quiet, but we soon met lots and lots of bikers, it was evident that the road was popular and we could see groups of bikers on different viewpoints along the route, as well as bikes passing us when we stopped for photos. Our return route took us up north approx. 20k and then back through the villages Saldes, Gosol, Tuixent and Sorribes. This road was not accepted by my GPS, possibly because some of the roads were tiny – my TomTom app does that sometimes, it overrules my choice of road. A small part of the route was on gravel, which reminded me that my bike isn’t suitable for gravel and I had better stay off it. Well, there are smooth gravel roads like the one to my parents’ house in Sweden (which is a piece of cake to ride), and this looked like that to begin with, but soon got loose and my road tyres were sliding. Arriving on tarmac made me both praise civilisation and wish I had a smaller, lighter bike with offroad tyres so I could do it all again. I can definitely see myself on a smaller bike in the future.

Sue and I in the Pyrinees. Photo Courtesy Sue Barnes
Sue and I in the Pyrinees. Photo Courtesy Sue Barnes

After the weekend, while I had to return to work, Sue was expecting our Japanese friends for a few days riding. However, our planned ride out to meet them as part of my return had to be drastically changed due to some very expected events. While lifting my very sleepy head to check the time early Monday morning (public holiday here so I wasn’t going to go to work anyway) I found out that it was 4:30am. I also found out that Sono had ended up on Mallorca instead of Barcelona and that Selma, who had arrived in Barcelona on a different flight, had been pickpocketed and lost all her money. They were on a tight schedule, since Japanese people hardly ever get more than a week off work consecutively, and their hire bikes were waiting for them. The decision was easy, I would await sunrise and head down from the mountains and try to help. I’m spoiled, being used to a completely different work culture. I would personally never even consider flying to another continent during a week’s holiday, but they must make do. I absolutely admire their ability to make the most of it and I would do whatever I could to make things easier for them.
So, I met with Selma and we tried to locate the rental place. Firstly, I feared that the place didn’t exist and that their booking offer was fraudulent. Luckily, it turned out that the company had not announced that they had moved place and changed phone number and we did track them down in the end. When we finally arrived, and explained Sono’s predicament, the owner kindly offered to keep the place open until 4pm. I had already offered Sono to take my bike up to the Pyrenees if she wouldn’t make it, but since her booking couldn’t be cancelled we were still hoping she would be able to make it – and she did – literally in the last minute her taxi arrived. I was very happy to contribute to making their arrival in Barcelona a little less stressful and be able to escort them out of Barcelona and on their way up to the Pyrenees, no doubt they were tired after their long flight to Europe and their respective mishaps, and I wanted them to have a smooth start to their riding at least.

While they enjoyed the mountains, I returned to work. We had scheduled to meet up again on Friday, Sono’s last day in Europe and in the restaurant in Gracia we closed the circle. Selma’s flight was a couple of days later so we made plans for the weekend – we learned that we both have a passion for books so we spent Saturday morning in bookshops. I was amazed to learn that she was named after a Swedish author, Selma Lagerlöf and I secretly sought out a Spanish edition of one of her books as a present. Selma, the author, is native to my region in Sweden and her house Mårbacka is now an impressive museum and celebration of the author’s life. She was also the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. Not a bad character to be named after, I must say!

Dream dinner by the sea, Barcelona harbour. Photo Courtesy Selma Rosa Perez
Dream dinner by the sea, Barcelona harbour. Photo Courtesy Selma Rosa Perez

Since Selma had dreamed about having dinner next to the sea, we had to make this happen for Saturday night, and then we did the same for Sunday lunch but here in Calafell. I was happy to welcome her as my fist visitor to my village and we were both quite surprised as we stumbled upon a local charity ride in support of children with Dravet Syndrome here in Calafell harbour, “Rolling for Kids”, it was called. We had an interesting chat with the organisers and showed our support before continuing our Sunday stroll along the beach, our feet in the water and the sun in our faces. We shared a typical Spanish three course Sunday lunch before Selma had to return to Barcelona.
Supporting local charity ride "Rodando por los niños"" in Calafell by buying their cool T-shirt. Photo Courtesy Selma Rosa
Supporting local charity ride “Rodando por los niños”” in Calafell by buying their cool T-shirt. Photo Courtesy Selma Rosa

Later the same day, while reflecting on the recent events during my evening tea on my balcony, I felt a sincere happiness to be part of WIMA. There are a lot of barriers and discord in the world, that is for sure, but I’ve had the time of my life together with people I wouldn’t have met without WIMA – considering the four of us come from four different countries and three different continents – to me this is amazing networking and great WIMA spirit.