Publish in WOW Magazine nov 2013
WOW Girls smiles in circle
The WOW cyclothon is not just meant to raise funds for a good cause but also to encourage outdoor activities and subsequently healthy living. Proving that you do not have to be an experienced cyclist or a super fit athlete, the team of 10 WOW girls went the distance smiling all the way.
Off go the training wheels
They all knew how to ride a bike, but that was pretty much it. They did however have one secret weapon in the form of one María Ögn Guðmundsdóttir, who’s won Icelandic cycling competitions and been named female cyclist of the year. “María got us interested and motivated. She even offered to take on Hvalfjörður and go all the way to Borgarnes for the team. She also offered to meet us at the Kambar on our way home as we’d heard that part of the journey can be difficult. The rest of us might as well just have gotten rid of our training wheels compared to her,” says Svanhvít Friðriksdóttir, WOW air’s director of communications and one of the WOW girls’ team members. When they got to Borgarfjörður it was time for the less experienced girls to take the handles. “By then all the other teams had sped by and we decided it was time to try the racer. Of course none of us had ever tried a racer before; we didn’t know how to change gears, the first of us to try couldn’t reach the pedals; the next one used the same gear for over half an hour. You could say that we learned how to change gears around Varmahlíð and how to use the brakes near Mývatn,” Svanhvít jokes.
The WOW girls all agreed that competing in the WOW Cyclothon really brought the group together. They say they all took María’s advice to heart and that was to not try to get to the bottom of any quarrels during the competition; there would be time for that later. “Fortunately no quarrels came up during our trial but what made this trip most difficult for us was the fact that there was always some of us who had to stay back to take care of the office so we never had a full team during the race. When María was done with Hvalfjörður there were six of us left who took turns cycling and riding in the RV all the way to Egilsstaðir, more than half of the journey. Counting the drivers, that’s just as many as they have in the professional team so it was a big strain for us and we didn’t get a lot of sleep. However, back at the office the atmosphere was charged with excitement; everyone was following our progress on the map. Their support kept us going, plus all the pledges. Our team came in second in the pledge competition,” the girls say.
Tales from the Ring Road
When exhausted and sleep deprived women come together you can expect a few funny incidents and the girls aren’t shy to share. “Near Mývatn one of us had to ask a tourist if this was the way to Egilsstaðir, who looked at her with amazed expression and asked “Where are you from?” “Eehhh Iceland” she replied, realizing that her accent had revealed her true nationality,” the girls say laughing. “When we were in Víkurskarð the girl who was cycling met a Scottish cyclist who was touring the country. He kept trying to ask her out obviously impressed with what he saw. This just goes to show that the WOW Cyclothon can definitely be recommended to single people.”
One of the most memorable experiences the girls had during the race happened near Lake Mývatn. “One of us had been cycling for about 20 minutes and was in a zone so she decided to keep going. As we drove through the town of Mývatn she put her thumb up to let us know she was going to continue on. The RV needed fuel so we pulled up at the gas station but the girl went on ahead. We girls in the RV were in a hurry to catch up with her again so we drove up to the pumps and started pumping diesel into the RV. But no matter how much fuel we put in the fuel light didn’t turn off. We tried getting one of the staff to help us and he told us the tank was full. After much ado one of us finally noticed that we had pumped diesel into the water tank. The fact that the lid on the tank had the word “water” written in several languages on it had totally escaped everybody. This resulted in some panic where we tried to get the diesel out of the water tank to no avail. In the end we just pumped the right tank full of diesel too and decided to hurry up to catch up with our lone cyclist. But sometimes haste does not make you go faster. We accidentally ran into a little half wall that dented the door on the side of the vehicle. We decided to worry about that later and kept going but as we looked in the rearview mirror we saw one of our teammates come running. Somewhere during all the commotion she had ran into the gas station to go to the bathroom and we almost left her behind. We stopped and gave her time to get in before screeching forward leaving the shocked staff at the gas station in our wake.
“Meanwhile our teammate on the bicycle had kept on going but when she didn’t see the RV for such a long time she decided to stop and chat up some tourists that were there to look at little geysers. The RV never showed so she was getting more than a little worried plus she was getting cold as she didn’t have many layers on. She was faced with a decision; cycle up the big hill to Möðrudalsöræfi or wait a little longer in the cold. Fortunately a Swedish family happened to stop for her. She asked them if she could use their phone but soon realized that she couldn’t remember a single phone number of her teammates. The Swedish family father didn’t want to risk anything so he made her get in the car with his children, gave her some refreshments and started packing up her bicycle. Just when he was about to hit the road again the busted up RV arrived with the rest of her team. It was a joyous reunion for all with a few tears to boot.
“Then came the Möðrudalsöræfi, a barren desert-like region, and somehow we hadn’t noticed that it makes up for almost a quarter of this country. At this point some of us were at their breaking point but we were not going to give up despite the lack of sleep. The Möðrudalsöræfi was dark and it was raining in this desolate wilderness but in spite of it all we were filled with a renewed power and got great speeds there.
“This part of the country is pretty gloomy, especially during a rainy night. As one of us was on the road she saw a man in dark clothes standing by the road. No cars had been seen on the road for hours so she thought this was kind of strange and there was no parked car anywhere in the vicinity. For a long while she saw the guy just standing there as she got closer and closer. When she was just a few meters away the man disappeared in the blink of an eye. She looked around, bewildered, but couldn’t see a living soul anywhere. She got the feeling she’d just seen a ghost but decided not to dwell on it but rather get out of this wilderness as fast as she could.” The next morning, as the teammates chatted in the RV almost all of them had a similar story of being watched or followed while out on the road. “It’s maybe just as well that we didn’t discuss this during the night. We might have been too frightened to go out to cycle again. We later found out that there used to be a travelers route in that same area, where many travelers died of exposure,” said the girls.
The girls all agree that this was an experience that they will never forget although their team was pretty budget. “We had one bicycle, some of us shared the padded bike pants and we only had one iPod – but we got through it. Cycling in the midnight sun in Iceland is unlike anything else. It’s amazing to experience this country on a bicycle.” When asked what was the hardest part of the journey they declined to name a location, insisting it was the lack of sleep. “We expected physical exhaustion but we didn’t even get sore muscles. Instead our whole consciousness dropped down to just the basic needs. We thought we would all get to know each other better, get to know everything about each other’s families and interests but instead our conversations revolved around food, sleep and what we did on the toilet. The sleep deprivation was absolutely the hardest; you become like “dumb and dumber” under these circumstances, like putting fuel in the water tank. We probably should have come up with better sleeping plans,” the girls say.
Would they do it again? “Yes but with a few alterations. For starters we would train more before the competition. We have gathered some experience that should make for better planning and we would also be better equipped. But the absolute requirement for this to happen is that we have a team of ten that will stay on the road the entire time. Dividing up the team is just too much of a strain for everybody.”
Despite coming in last, the WOW girls have a smile on their face. “Our goal was a simple one: to reach the finish line before the 72 hours were up. And we did it, finishing the whole circle in 59 hours. We are very proud of that. Our motto was to smile all the way round to the finish line. You could say that we defeated the Ring Road with joy. We were pleasantly surprised with how much support we got and how many pledges we raised. At the award ceremony we were voted “The Brightest Hope”, a title that really touched our hearts.”
The WOW girls say they would recommend the Cyclothon to other inexperienced groups of friends and co-workers. “You don’t have to go to win, just do it for the joy and for a good cause. This is the experience of a lifetime.”