Monday, October 09, 2006
No Sleep till Dalby (pt 7)
My wardrobe’s lycra-quotient is zero. I’ve never scoured the classifieds for a position labelled "freak willing to cycle the length of Denmark pursued by inner demons." Did it, but. If you’re not the sort predisposed to find value in cycling tour diaries, perhaps the presence of ass-paddlings and/or tight jeans will change that. Perhaps not.
Did I really feel it appropriate to cycle the length of a country in rolled-up stovepipes, $2 sunglasses that folded up to pocket size and a tee screaming "Who loves Burritos!"? I’ll never tell.
If I ever run into God in a pet store or Ticketmaster7 outlet or motocross rally or wherever, I think the first thing I’d say is "Hey! You probably hear this all the time, but I’m a real fan of your early work."
But I’m pretty sure in God’s workshop there’s a corkboard with a note on it saying something like "DON’T FORGET – FINISH DENMARK (it looks rubbish!)" And over the millennia, the memo has been covered with all sorts of other post-its and party invites ("ladies, please bring a plateaux!") and God never did get around to touching up Denmark. A few structural refinements would have been nice.
Like mountains. Mountains are smooth (if obvious) manoeuvres. They’re like God’s jazz-hands. Cheap and gimmicky, the ole razzle-dazzle, but hey: mountains, man.
There are no mountains in Denmark, not a one. I saw a few hills with delusions of grandeur, but they’re dreaming. The highest point is 173m above sea level. The annual death toll for persons falling off cliffs is only 0.2, compared to the whopping 18 Australians who die every year from the mountainous fatalities which I just made up. Needless to say, riding a bike across Denmark isn’t like climbing Everest.
But rural Denmark wasted no time at all in letting me know that it was a boring place. I guess I have to respect that, since it didn’t offer the pretence of something interesting around the next corner. No, it took about 20 minutes to realise that it wasn’t getting better. Don’t get me wrong: I’m deeply in love with Denmark and want to live in your wonderfully friendly country for many decades. But do some terraforming, please. I totally know a canyon going for a sweet deal. That said, if empty wheat fields are your ‘thing’, you’ll probably get your dollar’s worth from a trip like this. I guess I saw a few trees too.
After enjoying the pleasures of a day riding across Denmark I feel qualified, nay compelled, to state that said day would have been infinitely improved if it hadn’t required a bicycle to be involved in any important aspect of the trip. The journey from Copenhagen to Dalby was like an eight hour behind-paddling from an over-enthusiastic prefect at an English boarding school in the 1930s. I think I violated a number of United Nations treaties on myself during the trip. That wasn’t the worst part of the ride, but it was the part that would probably most easily bring that bitter-beer wince to your face, so I thought I’d start with that.
I begin the ride aiming for Koge, a little seaside town around 20kms out of Copenhagen. It looks doable, and I decide to try and make it by nightfall. I make it by 2pm, which sort of throws my plans out. What now? Might just keep on riding. See how far I do get by nightfall.
And so I do. Just keep on riding. Occasional stops for a cigarette, or to pop into a petrol station for something to eat. It’s worth noting that petrol stations in Denmark don’t have anything for a vegetarian to eat, not even a plastic salad sandwich. I don’t eat for the entire ride (I down a lot of unpronounceable fizzy drinks, though).
This lack of food, combined with endless hours of pushing on down deserted country highways, past quaint farmhouses and lowing cows, up rickety hills and down ancient, winding lanes, knocked my brain about a bit. An hour after Koge, I was deep in the country. The ‘towns’ I passed through consisted of a petrol station and maybe four-five houses. That was usually it. There’d be a car every ten or twenty minutes, but I otherwise rarely saw a human being. I just kept on, burning up in the hazy sun, drenched in perspiration and aching all over.
About six hours in, I wasn’t thinking much. I had the funny idea that if I maintained the rate I was going at, I would probably hit the south coast of Zealand by about 10 or 11pm. In fact, I’d complete my entire ride by lunch the next day, rather than the three or four days I’d given myself.
A little after this, I was passing a cobbled side road and noticed a figure not far down it. It was bent double, as if tying its shoes. From the waist down, entirely white. Waist up, entirely black, including its head, and kind of fuzzy-looking. I stared, and couldn’t make out how it could be human, though it had a human-kind of shape. But it looked more like some kind of Danish rural creature from a fairy tale, some mythical thing that you’d never see when you were in a normal state of mind.
And I thought: Oh boy! I’ve just lost my mind.
I should have seen that one signposted by the looks every petrol station attendant gave me when they saw me pull up on my squeaky velocipede. They gave me the glazed stare I’d expect if I’d been wearing a tee-shirt with "I’m biking my way through personal crises!" iron-printed across the front. In short, they were short.
I knew during this period that the real reward I was gaining was the pleasant memories I’d be fondly recollecting for about eight minutes after the trip was over, and this was enough to keep me soldiering on, though I was more like the soldier who runs crying and blabbering incoherently through the undergrowth in any direction but the one the colonel has ordered. I’ll admit it: I was a pitiful skid-mark on the toilet bowl of humanity, a dangling booger bringing an embarrassed rictus to the face of every Danish commuter zooming past towards the north. I’m amazed some Dogme-appreciating father of four didn’t ‘accidentally’ hiccup and cause his 7-seater to swerve across a few lanes to put his fender through my grill ("A hit, a palpable hit!" cries a child! "A mercy killing" he tells his traumatised daughters, "the thing was already halfway to Copenheaven, really.")
Such terrible thoughts. To be or not to be.
For years I’ve had the whole Haunted Man shtick going on, thinking I’d earned a Nam-style thousand-yard stare caused by the recollections of the things I’ve seen ("We were just babies, dammit, and they sent us into a warzone!") But really, I was just a dumb schlubb (or is it schmuck?) who thought that people gave a crap what crappin’ crap makes up your crappin’ history, when people usually have their own crap to deal with. That was the real lesson Denmark taught me, when Haunted Man had his ass kicked by Broken Man. Had his ass kicked so bad I’m surprised I didn’t have to sleep standing up.
Getting Broken can be the best thing you ever do, if you’re a self-pitying fool like me. Reduced to nothing, just a husk running on autopilot, almost at the animal stage, so tired that actual thought is barely even possible, well, it can open up new perspectives, put things in order. It’s not that you make better sense of things; the opposite, really. You stop trying to make sense of anything, and just accept all the stuff you’ve got no control over. It’s the same sort of state people aim for with extreme sports, or getting completely wasted, or marathon meditation sessions, or starving themselves. You empty out the human and hand the reins over to the reptilian part of your brain leftover from the old days. You wouldn’t really want to stay like this forever, but the occasional visit can be an eye-opener.
I was so Broken that all I could do, eventually, was ride. So Broken that after an hour of wondering about that funny bump the back wheel of my bike was giving me, I finally summoned the mental energy to turn around and have a look. I’d been riding on a completely flat tyre for an hour. It was time to stop. The next town was about five kilometres away, so I coasted down hills and walked the bike up them until I got there. The town, as usual, was just a petrol station. The attendant politely informed me that yes, there was somewhere to stay nearby, about five kilometres back the way I’d come. So I walked the hour back along the route I’d just taken, and as darkness fell found myself at the Dalby Hotel.
Thinking back, I wonder if the Dalby Hotel even existed. Perhaps I just slept in a field and imagined the place. Certainly, it was the weirdest place I’ve ever been. It was as if Stanley Kubrick had designed it for The Shining 2: Death Comes to Denmark. Long, empty corridors, wood panelling everywhere, a low and omnipresent hum, and not a soul to be found. If a wall of blood suddenly erupted from behind one of the closed doors, I wouldn’t have blinked.
I wandered for a long time before I found the concierge, who stared at me blankly as I asked if there was a room available. He spun the check-in register around and I filled out my details. I’m so happy I found this place, I tell him. I’ve just ridden a bike from Copenhagen. His face is still devoid of all expression. Seconds pass.
"That’s a long way," he says.
Yes, yes it is. Good night Dalby.