MEMORIES OF NORDEN, PART 1 : THE ROAD TO MOTALA
---A 25 day bicycle tour of Sweden and Norway near midsummer 1994--
So why am I on a bike tour of Scandinavia? ( Norden) A long time
ago, I was on a trip there with my parents. If I ever went on a bike
tour of some foreign land I thought it should be to Norway and Sweden.
Some features of the Nordic lifestyle appeal to me- the love of outdoor
sports for example. After bicycle touring my big passion is nordic ski
I was curious to see that if those old Participaction Canada ads about
the 60 year old Swedes were true . THEY ARE TRUE!
( Historical note: Participaction was an organization in the 1970's
that tried to get Canadians involved in fitness activities. One of its
main themes was that the average 60 year old Swede was fitter than the
average 30 year old Canadian )
Also the climate, vegetation etc of Sweden and Norway are similar to
that of parts of Canada ( Sweden like Nova Scotia, Norway like British
Columbia). It would be interesting to see a how another society has
developed in the same environmental conditions as Canada. It would be
both exotic and familiar.
ROAD CONDITIONS etc.
The road conditions, even for unpaved roads, was excellent. Probably
due to the expertise of the Swedish and Norwegian road engineers and the
high taxes people pay. They get their money's worth. Broken glass etc
on the road is very rare. Litter of any kind along the roads and in the
woods is also very rare. I think this is because of the old tradition
called Allemansrätt which implies that while everyone has a right to
enjoy the countryside, everyone also has the responsibility to keep the
Drivers are very considerate to cyclists. Of course lots of people
commute by bike, do their shopping by bike etc.
I was back in Norway the following March (for some great ski
adventures) and I noticed quite a few people cycling. The mail was
being delivered by bicycle on the steep, icy and snow-covered streets of
It is rather expensive but not as bad as some people think. I bought
most of my food in grocery stores. I have found parts of Canada almost
I stayed at the very nice Vandrarhem or Youth Hostels which are very
reasonably priced. The VH are also good sources of touring information.
Some nights I camped freely in the woods , being careful to follow the
principles of Allemansrätt.
Most places I bought standard road maps in the 150000 to 300000 scale
range. Sweden does have excellent topographic maps, the RED series
(250000 scale) is probably the most practical for cyclists. Some
tourist bureaus and VH also provide free tourist maps which were
adequate, some even had the bike routes on them.
In Sweden there is a national cycle route called Sverige Leden -
about 4000 km of signed roads in 32 sections. There is a guide book to
it but I didn't have it. The sections of the SL that I followed were
very nice, there were a few gravel sections but the were very scenic.
There are also many marked provincial and county cycle routes.
Also , just about every town has cycle paths or lanes leading in and
out of town.
So I managed to get a flight from Halifax to Copenhagen via
Amsterdam, landing at Kastrup airport around 1200 on Jun 13. Although I
hadn't originally planned this date, the timing meant that I might get a
chance to join in Vättern Rundan at Motala on June 18.
My steed: Old 531DB touring frame ( Raleigh Grand Sport); Randonneur
handle bars with Suntour Bar-cons; Avocet Cross tires 700x32
on home built wheels, Weinman 917 rims; front gears 52-40-30, rear
13-34(7 sp); Blackburn rear rack and low riders; Esge fenders; Brooks B17
saddle. Carrying large rear panniers, small front panniers,
handlebar bag, tent , sleeping bag and thermarest. Weight TOO HEAVY.
Day 1 Monday 13-June Copenhagen DK to Helsingborg S
It took about 2 hours to unpack and get my bike together. I still
hadn't decided which way I was going to Sweden! South to Dragör and the
ferry to Malmo or north through the city to Helsingor ( Hamlet's
hometown). I later learned there was a 3 rd choice , there is a fast
hovercraft leaving the main harbour for Landskrona- pedestrians and
I knew there was a bike lane all the way to Helsingor so I took that
way, starting out on the quiet Strand bike path towards the city.
Copenhagen ( Köbenhavn in Dan., Köpenhamn in Sw.) is a big city but
it is unlike any North American city for cycling in - there are probably
more bikes than cars and bike lanes everywhere. Every type of bicycle
that you could imagine and some that you couldn't imagine! All moving in
some orderly chaos. A bell is a necessity and one must be alert . If
you stop to sight see, get off the bike lane FAST or a hundred bells
will ring behind you!
I got through the city and on the the shore drive which has some sort
of bike lane for the 50 km to Helsingor. This was the first sunny, warm
day the area has had for a while and there are many people along the
beaches. The area is mostly suburbs but there are some parks along the
shore. I stop at one for a late lunch. I'm experiencing a moderate
head wind, something I will be get used to for the next 2 weeks.
The bike path leads right to the ferry ramp but there is some
confusion here. I have to go back to get a ticket. Maybe most cyclists
have monthly tickets. Anyway at about 1900 I was on a ferry to Sweden,
it was a very short crossing - maybe 20 minutes. As I was getting off,
a Swedish couple remarked that I was bringing good weather to Sweden,
until today they had been having horrible weather. I hoped that they
I found a tourist info map pointing me to the Villa Thalassa
Vandrarhem ( Youth Hostel) about 4 km from town. The ride in to it is
magnificent, winding through a lovely woods of giant beech trees. The
VH has very nice gardens and cabins surrounding the main villa. A
great introduction to Sweden.
It's also my first experience with the nordic midsummer evenings.
Even here at only latitude 56 the sun sets around 2200 and twilight
just lingers on and on.
Distance 67 km Climb 100m
Tuesday 14-June Helsingborg to Hästveda
It took me quite a while to get things organized this morning. After
getting up at 0600 it was 1000 before I left and went back to town. I
found a Bokhandel ( book store) and bought maps and a Swedish-English
Finally at 1130 my real tour began. I was heading north-east and just
by luck I saw a green Sverige Leden bicycle route sign and it was going
in my direction! At first it was on a paved bike path, then it went on
some quiet rural roads.
This is the grain growing area of Sweden, rolling hills of various
shades of green, occasionally the yellow of rapeseed( Brassica rapa). I
stopped at a grocery store in the village of Morarp, then had lunch in
the shade of some oak trees in the park while studying my map and
Swedish dictionary. Children were cycling through the park, enjoying
their first week of Summer Vacation. Older people were cycling to the
store to get groceries. A very bicycle friendly place.
Outside the village the Sverige Leden went off to the south east, and
I went north east to N. Vram where a range of wooded hills ,
Söderåsen, loomed ahead. I decided to take a short cut on a woods
road over the hills. My compass (Silva of course) came in handy since
there were many side roads in the woods. I saw a few small deer before
getting back to pavement.
Now I followed some nice quiet paved roads through a mixture of woods
and fields. It was very similar to parts of Nova Scotia but I was
impressed by the excellent road condition and the clean appearance of
everything. Through Röke and Bjärnum and then to Hästveda where I
decided to stay at the Vandrarhem.
This VH was in what they call a Hembygds Gård - an old farm stead
museum. Most of the buildings are made of squared off timbers. One of
the most interesting artifacts was what looked like one of the original
velocipedes, ca. 1870.
Here , as in most VH , the travelers were almost all Swedish. Most
people between ages 20 and 50 speak excellent English.
This , the first full day of my tour, had been extremely pleasant. Any
doubts about this trip had vanished.
Distance 110 km climb 600m
Wed 15-June Hästveda - Sävsjö
If I wanted to get to Motala by Friday morning I was going to have to
put in some big distances so I decided to aim for Savsjö today. The
nice weather of the last 2 days was gone, it was now cool, cloudy with a
north-west wind, which meant a head wind. At Osby I bought another map.
Then I was on a moderately busy highway. There was a good paved
shoulder but the road was very exposed to the wind. A map check
revealed that I should be on the other side of the rail-road tracks. I
was on a very new highway, not shown on my map. I got back on the old
highway, narrower, with light traffic and more sheltered from the wind,
and passing through quaint villages.
After Älmhult I stopped for a quick look at an old church building
and monument marking the home of Carl Von Linne, the famous botanist.
Then I took a shortcut to Vislanda. The map did not indicate if
roads were paved. This was a one lane, unpaved road but it was in
excellent condition and very scenic. At one point I saw a bike parked
along it and then saw the owner, out picking a bunch of wildflowers. It
was not an uncommon sight to see ladies carrying a bouquet of
wildflowers in their bike baskets.
Then I'm on Rt 126 past Moheda. There is a main highway Rt 30 going
towards Sävsjö but I decided to take a shortcut on back roads.
"Shortcuts make for long delays" but this was a pleasant route. Again
it was a one lane gravel road, rough in only a few places. It was quite
hilly and mostly in the woods and thus sheltered from the wind. The
land looked very rocky and when I came to clearings I was expecting to
see the run-down farms we often see in backwoods Nova Scotia. Instead
there were big sturdy barns, nice looking houses with beautiful gardens.
I also didn't expect so see many bicycles here. Then I saw a cyclist
racing toward me. I was expecting a teenager but it was a man in his
60's ( or older) out for a afternoon workout. That stereotypical 60
year old Swede !
I saw several small roe deer today but the famed elk eluded me ( Alces
alces- called moose in Canada).
I reached pavement again and a downhill run towards Sävsjö which I
reached around 1930. The VH was just out of town beside a scenic lake
with castle ruins.
It was a long day, with headwinds, cool weather and hills but just
incredible scenery. It looked like it might be possible to reach Motala
Distance: 162 km Climb: 732 m
Thursday 16-June .. Sävsjö to Mjölby
I left around 0800, forgetting my second waterbottle. I took a quick
look at the castle ruins. It was cool and cloudy with NW winds again.
At home a NW wind usually brings sunny, dry and fairly warm weather but
not here. It looked and felt like it might even snow! I decided to
stick to main roads 128 and 32 today, there weren't too many other
obvious choices. It meant that I was on fairly busy , wind exposed
road. Traffic was always very friendly and there was usually a paved
The sun came out briefly as I was having lunch by a small lake north
of Eksjö . I stripped off some clothes but it got cool and cloudy
again. Then a dark cloud started dumping precipitation and it was in a
frozen state. Fortunately it didn't last too long.
The area is quite hilly, mostly woods and not as scenic as the
previous days. I see 3 Volvos pass, their Thule roofracks loaded with at
least 4 bikes each. Must be part of the 15000 converging on Motala.
Around Boxholm I'm getting back into flatter farmland but there are
some very dark clouds approaching. I sprint towards Mjölby, the wind
is getting fierce and a few drops falling as I enter the town. I duck
under a bus stop shelter just as the clouds drop some very heavy hail.
When It abates I find my way to the VH which is in a farmstead museum.
Today I had bought some packets of "Vasalopp" Blueberry Soup mix and
gave it a try at supper. This is the most popular drink on both
Vasaloppet and Vättern Rundan.
There was a American-born Swede staying here with his wife and
children. With a little help from them translating I got the weather
forecast from TV. It called for better weather for the next 2 days.
Vättern Rundan now seemed possible.
Distance: 126 km Climb: 720 m
Friday 17-June Mjölby to Motala
It rained most of the night but was clearing this morning . I had a
quick breakfast and left at 0640 , hoping to get a bigger meal later.
This morning I forgot my lock.
Winds were light and the terrain is fairly flat so I made good time on
the 25 km ride to Motala. From far away I could see the big towers of
old Radio Sweden. I'm back into rolling grain fields. I stop for a few
pictures at a very old standing stone site.
I reached Motala around 0800, found a bike/camping store (new lock,
water bottle and butane gas for stove) and the VR registration area. I
spent as much of the day as possible carbo-loading for the big ride
Well I made it to Motala on time. If I survive the VR , I can take it
easy since I don't have any deadlines to meet until my 8-July flight
Distance: 40 ? km ( lots of running around town) Climb: 100 m.
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