Length of Sweden

Length of Sweden is a documentary made by ERTZUI FILM. It is about three cyclists’ completion of the Sverigetempot in 2016. At 2100km, it is an astoundingly long brevet. It will be run again in 2020. Here is a link to the route.

I recently rented Length of Sweden on Vimeo. It is a very enjoyable film. The cinematography is very well done, especially when you consider how challenging it must have been to film people cycling over a such a long distance and through such remote locations. I also enjoyed the music, which suited the mood of the land and the cyclists’ struggles very well.

The three cyclists, Rita Jett, Kristian Hallberg, and Erik Nohlin, narrate the film. Their comments reveal little about how they trained for this ride, or the logistical choices they made in order to reach and complete it. For example, even arriving at the start in Riksgransen would have required a lot of planning and support. Likewise, there is no mention of the Randonneurs Sverige and their role in organizing and supporting the randonnée. If you hope to get pointers on how to complete this ride, you will be disappointed.

Day1_Rikksgraensen
Day 1 Riksgransen. Photo credit: ERTZUI FILM

But that is not the film’s purpose. Rather, it zeroes in on the psychological motivations that underlie the riders’ choice to start this brevet, and then charts the psychological strategies and revelations that arise over the course of the ride. In other words, Length of Sweden is primarily about endurance. It is about the limitations of the body, the mind’s ability to navigate through those limitations, and, ultimately, the mind’s power to overcome them. It is a powerful film. It will certainly be interesting to cyclists, but runners will find it worthwhile too. In fact, if you take these physically demanding activities to a metaphorical level, I think the film would be of interest to anyone who needs motivation to survive the Long Game (which is, of course, every one of us).

Although the film is relatively short, it contains a lot of good quotes. I will focus on two. The first one is by Erik Nohlin. I include this one for my readers who are new to randonneuring.

I love riding brevets because it’s not a race against people. It’s always you against yourself and you against the challenge you put in front of yourself. There’s no bragging in randonneuring. It’s just a very humble group of people who push themselves to the limit just to find out if they can do it and that’s the only reason. There’s no prize money and there’s no podium and you don’t get rich doing it. The only reward is getting to know yourself better and what you’re capable of as a person.

I think that speaks for itself.

The next quote comes from Kristian Hallberg:

The thing with endurance, or endurance activities, is that it messes with your mind in a way that is kind of interesting. One thing that I thought about, when I got really sleepy, was that the first thing I wanted to do was be by myself, when the real drowsiness kicks in. Because it’s really hard to cope with other paces. So I very much understand now, why a lot of the ultra races and the ultra rides or runs [require] a lot of soloism. I think that if I’m ever doing this again, I think I will go for the solo ride. Yeah, I think it’s easier to cope with the sleep demons when you are alone.

There is a lot to unpack here. I have dealt with sleep deprivation on every 600km brevet I have ever done, but never anything on the scale that Kristian experienced on the Sverigetempot. On the one hand, it is dangerous to be alone when you are out all night on the open road without any sleep. That is undeniable. On the other hand, I have found that I become very grumpy on these rides. Other people do too. I’d rather be alone to spare myself the bad tempers of others (and to spare them from mine).

Day6_Cornfield
Day 6 Cornfield. Photo credit: ERTZUI FILM

Also, I certainly can relate Kristian’s hope to ride solo. I also have found other people’s paces become a source of distraction on these longer rides. You do lose the ability to draft when you’re alone, but I think it is better to ride alone, unless you have a group of people you gel with very well. This simply is not going to happen all that often, or for the entire distance of the ride. Ultimately, you have to ride your own ride. That probably means you will need to ride alone.

I enjoyed Length of Sweden. I found it quite inspiring and it is always interesting to hear people talk frankly about their ambitions, their limitations, their pain, and all the other emotions and thoughts that come up during something as physically challenging as a long brevet. Most randonneurs, I have found, will keep discussions focused on the logistics of a ride; they tend to keep these psychological and emotional matters hidden.

Perhaps I will do the Sverigetempot when it runs again in 2020. In the mean time, I will enjoy riding in Canada (and probably watch this film again in the winter when I long to be in the saddle!)

Day7_ErikInTheBalticSea
Day 7 Erik in the Baltic Sea. Photo credit: ERTZUI FILM

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Diary of a Randonneur by Timo Grav is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.