The Swedish cycle ride that turned into a Norwegian adventure
How it all started
I had been sitting at work with two of my colleagues joking about places we could go on holiday. I knew I wanted to progress to something a little more challenging than Lands end to John O’groats. It was great for a first trip but I wanted more adventure and more importantly less traffic. I like the idea of northern Europe and in particular the arctic circle. Not only did I want more remoteness but also I wanted to go further than before.
The training for Scandinavia didn’t vary too much from the training for Lands End to John O’Groats. I felt ready to take on the wilderness I already had one 1000 mile bike ride under my belt. How hard could Scandinavia be?
This trip was going to force me to take more kit. This time I would camp not use hostels. I also planned to be self-sufficient as much as possible for the 3 weeks of cycling. I would carry most of my own food. Which equated to a lot of dried stuff like soup, noodles, pasta and plenty of energy bars. The extra food and equipment meant that this time I would be using two front panniers rather than the two I had used in the UK. This set up is fine in theory and the classic approach you see most tourers sporting. It can take a lot of getting used to though. Having heavily weighted front folks makes the handlebars feel less responsive handlebars. I had tried this set up once before my actual trip. It was an overnight camping outing to Devils Dyke. It went ok, and it also gave me an opportunity to try my new camping stove. I was taking a multi-fuel stove with me for the first time. It would comfortably burn a variety of fuels, it was a stove that required me to pressurise the fuel myself. It means, in essence, you can carry it onto a plane and just pick up something fuel on the other side and you’re away.
It was 2010 and I was about to start my longest solo cycle to date. The rough plan I had was to land in Stockholm and cycle north to the Arctic circle and around the Gulf of Bothnia until I reach Helsinki. I’m not the best person to sit down and plan a route down to the last detail. Instead, I prefer to find some inspiration and a general idea and decide the rest as I go.
Landing on the tarmac I was toying with the idea of cycling into Stockholm and spending a night in the city. Having flown over the city I could see the sprawl and instead I decided against it, instead opting to head north following a few printouts I had from google maps. Before I could do anything I had to collect my bike and assemble it and repack all the food and kit I had brought with me. Assembling a bike at an airport isn’t fun at the best of times but it does give you time to think through your next steps. it also makes you reflect on any lack of planning that might have happened.
Day 1 – 53.1 miles
I wanted to keep a log of my trip, previously I hadn’t got round to it. This time, for the most part, I would only have myself for company so I thought it would be a great opportunity. With those very first pedal turns on the very first day I was asked myself why I was doing this. The feeling of apprehension even fears of the unknown was racing through my mind. It’s a developed European country, however, there are some isolated places. I think there is a part of me that wants to be alone to see how I will handle it. The only goal I had each and every day for the next 23 days was to cycle.
The first day was fairly gently, the bike felt heavy and not that stable. It’s the first time I have cycled with both front and rear panniers. The roads were good and very quiet. On the first day, I cycled 58.1 miles with an average 11.62mph. I wasn’t sure where I would spend my first night camping. I pulled up and off the road and push my bike into some deep grass. The road was quiet and it seemed as good as spot as any. It wasn’t the Ritz but after flattening some long grass and organising my stuff the following nights’ sleep was reasonable. As with most trips, it can take some time to get your packing situation on point, night one I couldn’t find anything. I had to be careful not to lose any vital items in the long grass. I knew that once I had packed and repacked a few more times it should become a lot easier. As I laid down in my sleeping bag I wondered how I would manage the next few weeks of cycling, I closed my eyes and the next thing I know it was the morning.
Day 2 – 94.5 miles
I can see keeping a diary is going to be a pain. This evening is going to be less Isolated I spent 120 Krona on a campsite for the night. The real luxury is the shower. The mileage on the second day way higher around 94.5 miles with an average speed of 10 mph. Yesterday and today I was concerned, my knee is hurting, I hope it’s just a niggle and clears up as I get into my riding rhythm. Sweden is a lovely country the roads are long and straight it was picturesque. My mind was drifting to the dramatic pictures I had seen of Norway. The fjords in Norway looked amazing, dramatic, not straight and pleasant.
The dramatic coastline of Norway would make for some epic cycling and possible a few good pictures. Initially, it’s where I wanted to go but the network of tunnels and the fact that some you couldn’t cycle through put me off. The idea of dipping into Norway for a few days and spending some time in the fjords was still inspiring me. The Fford wasn’t the only reason for the trip, I also dreamed of cycling up to the arctic circle it was going to be one of my side project for the trip. Why isolate yourself on an epic trip if you are not going to get some unique experiences from it. That night I camped just north of Gävle I don’t feel as though I’m making much progress. Thee bike is so heavy, much heavier than anything I had trained with. In my diary, I noted how hot it was drinking 6-7 litres to keep my self hydrated.
Day 3 – 89.2 miles
What a day and really it doesn’t feel as though it’s over I started cycling at 10.30 am and only just finished at 9.15 pm. Wild camping in the middle of nowhere I’ve nearly run out of water. I’m really feeling the pace and it’s not as enjoyable as I hoped. I wished I’d stayed in the campsite 20 miles back even though there was no receptionist. Conversation with home make me feel lonely, I start to question why I would want to isolate myself. Then I thought back to those reasons.
- To cycle 2000 miles over 3 week
- See some amazing place like fjords
- Make it to the arctic circle
The reality of things is starting to sink in. I’m questioning if I want 3 weeks of battling which is how I feel at this moment. Part of me feels scared, it’s my first night camping on a dirt track and it’s not fun. it’s 10 pm now and I’m eating. It had been some time since I had seen another human. I was alone just me in my little green tent.
Day 4 – 88.24 miles
Today I start my day with 200ml of water in my bottle. I had woken up early and set off by 8.30 am. it was a tough night I found it hard to relax and fall asleep. it would be 30 miles before I could replenish my water. today was is more mountainous, my bum is sore from my previous long day in the saddle. I had to keep standing up as sitting too long was painful. I thought I was going to cycle 120 miles today but as I look up I saw a sign for a campsite just as I arrived in Sveg. It felt great to clean up looking in the mirror I thought I would look worse than I did, just a few bite marks on my face, I was hot and sweaty after the last few days in the saddle. I took the opportunity to wash my clothes and warm up some beans & sausages for dinner. I was camped up next to a man in his Winnebago he pointed me to some beautiful fjords he had visited, Tomorrow I would be heading over the border into Norway so it was good to get a heads up about places that are worth visiting. We sat up chatting, I enjoyed it as I’m more of a night person, it was 11 pm and still light. I had a facemask from the plan that I planned to wear.