---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 touring.
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.
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 countryside clean.
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 several towns.
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 as expensive.
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.
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 were right.
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
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 dictionary.
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
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.
At Stenbrohult, 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 on time.
Distance: 162 km Climb: 732 m
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 shoulder.
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
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 tomorrow.
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 home.
Distance: 40 ? km ( lots of running around town) Climb: 100 m.
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