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  • Jamie Shannon

Sweden: Volvos and forests

It’s always strange when arriving in a foreign country even if arriving by conventional methods. The changes in customs, money, language and attitudes all take some getting used to but when arriving on a bicycle, these things are somewhat multiplied I feel. There is no comfort of a warm, comfy and air conditioned car, no bus or train waiting to whisk you off to your desired destination. You are left stranded, in a strange port with a populace you don’t yet know and a country you are yet to fully understand. It puts you on edge, raises your heartbeat and makes those butterflies rise up. Its exhilarating in a way.

Cycle touring through Sweden - part 1

This is how I felt as I left the ferry and headed out of the port. It was getting on for six, and with darkness looming, just wanted to get into the countryside to find a safe place to camp.

I first however had to be searched at the customs area. No one else got searched, just me which I felt was a little strange. The guy immediately asked if I had been to the Christiana district of Copenhagen. I replied that I had no idea what the Christiana district was but of course I knew just from the way he was talking that it was a kind of seedy, drug infested red light area. Actually I knew what it was anyway because my friend in Amsterdam had phoned and told me to go there but I just didn’t have the time.

Anyway, the guy was searching everything and dipping his hands around my handlebar bag looking for incriminating products. I could see when he saw my rolling tobacco and then some papers stuffed into one of the pockets of the bag, his eyes light up. He thought he had caught a fish but I insisted I had nothing on me. I told him I was only in Copenhagen for one night and just wanted to relax but he retorted that I had said I was there for three nights. He thought he had caught me out until I reminded him that I said I had been in Denmark, not Copenhagen for three days. Sucker.

Well of course he finally did let me go. I left him with a little soot and gasoline on his hands after he had searched inside the bag where my stove was and I was happy with that at least.

And so I set off to somewhere other than the city centre. After a bit of a climb away from the coast and with my compass pointing me in a north easterly direction, I was sure I would come to a road marked on my map in the direction I wanted to go and for once at least, it proved to be so. I was very grateful.

I stopped at a cash machine and decided that 500 Kroner which is about 55 euros would do me for the next seven days or at least I would try to make it do me.

When I came to the road that was marked on my map and even though I found the speed limit to be 90 km per hour, I was overjoyed that I had an entire lane for myself. I couldn’t quite believe it. Even so, and with it approaching evening, I thought it prudent to stick on my helmet and hi vis vest for the first time.

I just wanted to make it to a small town called Eket today, 30 km’s or so east from the coast and if I could do that, I’d be a happy boy. I did get a little lost in a small town however and had to ask a few people which road I needed to take as I could only see signs for the motorway and none for the next town on my map. I was continuing my practice of asking anyone and everyone for directions; something which I had been doing since I entered Denmark. It seems a shame not to when most people speak perfectly good English. I don’t waste opportunities like this!

No one knew the way though and so I ended up taking a route through the small lanes that criss crossed the farms around the area. I could see the motorway in the distance and I knew my road ran directly alongside it but to get there I had to now cycle in the opposite direction and thus head first into some ferocious wind. I was turning the pedals with all the force I could muster but I could only cycle 4km per hour, it was that hard. It took me about 40 minutes in the end to cycle about two kilometre’s. Jesus wept.

When I reached the road, I turned east once again and I was flying thanks to the wind now pushing me from behind. What a difference 90 degrees makes.

I did make it to Eket and found a nice forest on the edge of town to camp.

I’m writing this several days later. Actually its 9am and I’m sat aboard a ship about to arrive in Estonia and it’s for this reason that I don’t recall too much from the following day. If I really think about it, I don’t recall too much happening at all which to be fair is good for my frozen fingers.

It was a fairly warm day by Swedish standards and I simply passed the day riding through lovely forested roads, lakes and small villages. This was the image of Sweden I had in mind before I came; a land of tall, sprightly and robust pine trees stretching forever into the distance interspersed with countless lakes. This was the image I had and once in the interior, this was the scene that took hold.

The next thing I do remember is my quest to find some filter tips. It seems they don’t use them in Denmark or Sweden thus I could not find them anywhere. At Markaryd, I went into a small shop to ask about them but the guy in there, upon hearing that I was from England, could not stop talking. He explained how he had tried to get into England from Calais numerous times but the border was just too difficult to cross. Peace of mind I’m sure for the many skeptics. And so it was that eight months ago he had settled in a small town in Sweden. Fifteen minutes later, I was finally on my way but not before he had given me a mars bar for free. He wouldn’t let me leave without me taking something! Nice man. Incidentally I never found any filters.

I pulled off the road at about six where I saw a lake on my map. I was determined not to sleep in another forest tonight. I wanted open air and soft flat ground to sleep on. I couldn’t quite make it to the lakes edge but instead found a large clearing just by it which was just perfect. This would turn out to be my last day of crisp but warm-ish weather too.

When I woke up in the morning, my tent was covered in ice, the ground was frozen and it was below zero. Welcome to Sweden. As soon as I unzipped the tent, the cold air immediately made an impact on my body, particularly my hands. It was bloody freezing and I didn’t want to leave my bag but of course I needed the toilet.

I had left my boots in the porch area overnight and they too were quite frozen and so with some hesitation I slipped them on and went to do my thing.

By half seven, after two cups of quite disgusting instant coffee bought from Lidl some days before, I was packing up and on my way.

I have a little system whereby it doesn’t really matter what gets cold or damp so long as my sleeping bag, pillow and thick woollen socks stay dry. I thus take great care in wrapping these three items up well before I leave. I keep the thick woollen ones stuffed inside my sleeping bag ready to be used in the evening and the sleeping bag and pillow wrapped up in my waterproof top rack bag. It’s a good system and it works rather well.

I’m happy too I have hiking boots as these help when I’m walking through the wet grass in the morning and help guard against the cold wind that whips past during the day too. Perhaps that’s a bit too much information but it’s either talk about these small daily rituals or talk about endless amounts of tarmac. I think the former is slightly more interesting.

Today was quite uneventful in the sense that, well, nothing much happened and was incident free. Now this is very good news for me but doesn’t really make for a very stimulating read here but I do need days like this in order to help me stay sane.

I passed the day cycling north in cloudy and cold but thankfully rain free weather. Cemeteries were always plentiful and thus water was never an issue. The only issue was that I simply had to change my socks every hour or so as the sweat would just begin to freeze making my poor feet quite numb and painful. I’d strap the other socks to the back of the bike to dry them out and repeat the system later on. It works quite well.

I had been trying to find some place to use the internet for a while now but no such place was forthcoming. I was cycling on a strict budget and this really only allowed for food as well as a few other small things. If only I could find a McDonald's!

At Vaggeryd, I left the road I had been travelling on all day and began to head north east again as I was beginning to close in on the city of Jönköping and certainly didn’t want to get stuck going around in circles there the following day.

I was passing these beautiful and quite isolated lakes throughout the day and when I got past a place called Hok, decided to try my water filter out again. I did actually need some water and so this wasn’t just an experiment. After pumping the water through the filter and then tasting it, I was quite surprised by how well it did taste. I’d always prefer to get my water from somewhere a little higher and thus ensuring, at least to a degree, that it had not passed through any farmland on it’s way to this spot but, after trying it here, was beginning to be reasonably confident that I could continue to use the lakes If I needed to.

Stealth camping in Sweden is super easy and super comfortable!

I decided to again call it a day a little later however when I spotted a forest and a lake that would make an ideal campsite. It was only six pm and I had some really tasty food to eat for dinner which is always a plus after a long day on the bike, and I even had fourteen hours to rest my weary legs and this was well needed.

I awoke the following morning to a tent covered once again in ice, my water partly frozen and just freezing temperatures in general . All this made my attempt at packing up and getting going very slow and a little stressful too. You don’t even want to take your hands out of your sleeping bag really but I had to make my coffee and something to eat too.

I had decided to get rid of that disgusting coffee I had been drinking for the past few days and reluctantly bought some decent, albeit, still instant coffee the previous day. This I just have to say was delicious and almost worth freezing my fingers for in order to make it. I had set up my tent the previous evening so it was exposed to the east a little and fortunately by half seven the sun had somewhat warmed me up sufficiently enough for me to be able to begin to move on.

I began riding north again towards the town of Huskvarna and the huge lake beyond and by 10:00 I had reached it. This was a real milestone for me as it marked the sort of halfway point for my journey across Sweden and I was thankful for that. It wasn’t that I was not enjoying it. Far from it; the scenery was, if not spectacular then at the very least, pleasant and a great way to pass the hours on the bike. The wind wasn’t so bad either and the gentle up’s and down’s of the road were making the riding very enjoyable. It was simply that the constant cold temperature were making the cycling and camping quite difficult. This sort of weather creates new and additional problems and these were certainly having an effect on my morale at times. It wasn’t easy.

It was all downhill coming into Huskvarna which was really nice but equally dreadful as I knew full well that it would be up hill coming back out. I stocked up on water but, this being a Sunday, everything was closed. After a little wondering around the small centre, I cycled back out and stopped for a half hour at a gas station in order to charge my MP3 and kindle up.

The wind was battering me from my left as I was cycling along the lakes edge and so I took the decision to cycle back inland. It was a choice between the hills to my right and cycling against the wind on my left and the former of the two held my sway. It wasn’t easy though, in fact it was positively exhausting work. It was made somewhat easier though by the fact that the bus shelters along the road made for great little shelters to cook my food. Some even had bloody doors which I thought was rather cute.

My route took me through densely wooded roads that wound their way around small lakes and past pleasant little villages. It was a lovely day to be on the bike, particularly after the sun had decided to show its face. As the day progressed though, the weather became increasingly erratic where one moment I would be riding through glorious sunshine and yet ten minutes later, dark clouds would gather overhead dropping their contents of sharp hail onto me.I just wanted to make it to the other side of the smaller roads I was travelling on and onto the larger road that ran directly north towards the town of Mjolby.

By five pm, and having come to the main road, I was feeling lethargic and extremely tired. I had now been cycling for eleven straight days and my body was finally beginning to feel it. I just had to keep going now until I found a suitable place to pitch the tent. The problem was that, as I was now travelling along the main road, there weren’t really many areas in which to camp which was certainly a first in Sweden. There was a nature reserve located along both sides of the road and yet it was completely fenced off. A little further on however and I realised that all the gates that I had thought previously locked were in fact open. God I just love it here. I wheeled my bike off the road and up into the surrounding forest where I camped for the evening.

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