Tag Archives: Sweden

20 May 2015 – Sundsvall…finally

The title of this post refers to the fact I’ve been seeing Sundsvall on signposts for at least the last 400km, and now I’ve finally made it! It appears it’ll be replaced by Stockholm now; looking forward to being a tourist when I get there. Any recommendations on a cheap place to stay? I think I’ll look up a hostel or backpackers.

Today started off cold, misty and drizzling. I was loathed to emerge from my tent, and still tired from yesterday’s efforts, however I wasn’t going to get very far by just thinking about it, and besides, I needed the loo, so I crawled out of my pit to a new day.

Misty and damp morning at Snibbens campsite

Misty and damp morning at Snibbens campsite

As always it was alright once I was up, however I quickly packed up my sleeping bag to avoid the temptation to get back in it. Taking a quick walk around the campsite, saying good morning to those who were up, I noticed lots of different nationalities represented by the camper vans. There were Swiss, Belgium, German, Dutch, Swedish, Austrian, and Finnish, and no doubt others that I missed; everyone likes a touring holiday it seems. I had a chat with a German couple on their way up to Nordkapp; they were hoping to see some reindeer, I confirmed this wouldn’t be a problem, just try not to run them over.

I packed up my wet tent, which would still be wet tonight unfortunately but needs must, and pedalled off, bidding goodbye to the owner who gave me a few route tips; can’t beat local knowledge.

Seen a lot of churches like this

Seen a lot of churches like this

The first part of the ride was all off the E04, taking the older side roads, some unpaved, down to Harnosand. At one point I passed a convoy going in the other direction transporting a wind turbine blade. It was huge!

Wind turbine blade being transported, it was huge close up

Wind turbine blade being transported, it was huge close up

It was lovely riding through the forest, without any traffic, although I did have to keep an eye out for pot hole ambushes.

Taking the back roads to Harnosand

Taking the back roads to Harnosand

The forest was so quiet, apart from the birdsong, and I stopped for a few minutes just to listen. Any concerns I had about the next few days just drifted away as I listened to the birds singing, and to top it off the sun emerged from behind the clouds.

The quiet road was replaced by slightly busier roads as I approached and then pedalled into Harnosand, passing a few cows on the way in, the first I’ve seen in Scandinavia; Lobster moo’d at them, the rascal.

Harnosand Centre; biscuit break

Harnosand Centre; biscuit break

I didn’t stop for long, just to grab some cash from an ATM, and munch a few biscuits to keep up my energy levels; Oreos are superb touring sustenance.

Guardian of the biscuits, demanded a password

Guardian of the biscuits, demanded a password

To continue my journey to Sundsvall I had to rejoin the E04 down to near Timra, which was mostly alright as there was a wide hard shoulder, and only a bit of buffeting from passing artics. The worst bits were crossing the bridges over the estuaries near the airport, where the hard shoulder runs out, plus it started raining.

Taking a break from the rain, in a lay-by close to Timra

Taking a break from the rain, in a lay-by close to Timra

Then it all got a bit confusing. I wasn’t sure where the E04 turned into motorway, which I’m not allowed to cycle on, and had no desire to anyway. I turned off, crossing the River Indalsalven (again), and heading slightly North, but couldn’t find the right road or cycle path to take me on a direct route to Sundsvall. It got a bit frustrating as I pedalled through suburbia, twisting and turning along various small roads marked as cycle paths, which gradually took me in the wrong direction, and then onto the 331 which goes in completely the wrong direction. Approaching meltdown I stopped and re-evaluated, then backtracked slightly and cut across to the 330.

The 330 headed roughly North West up the valley through which the Indalsalven flows. I really needed to get across it, but had no choice but to continue up towards Karsta and Indal, where there’s a bridge. Despite the rain, and the detour which added at least 25 kilometres on to my ride, it was nice pedalling up the valley, with little or no traffic to speak of, just mountains, pine forest, and bird song.

Pedalling up the 330 in the rain

Pedalling up the 330 in the rain

The smell of pine sap was really strong as I cycled along, probably enhanced by the damp. It was refreshing and invigorating, and I began to enjoy myself again after the earlier frustrations. I did have one strange thought; I hope the pine sap isn’t like the blood of Dryads and Ents slain by the loggers cutting down trees – you do think some weird things when pedalling for hours, or at least I do.

After reaching Karsta I turned left on to the 86 heading South again, crossing the river and immediately having to pedal up a large hill. My Garmin got confused at this point and decided I was going downhill, and I was suddenly below sea level; perhaps the pine sap had gone to its head.

I was rewarded at the top of the climb by the sun coming out, and the rain stopping, revealing a patchwork landscape of fields, forest and small dwellings nestled here and there; I like the word dwelling…dwelling…go on, say it…dwelling…it sounds nice.

Sun comes out on the 86, pedalling to Sundsvall

Sun comes out on the 86, pedalling to Sundsvall

As I pedalled along, passing various farms, I noticed more people out mowing their lawns. This has been a frequently observed activity over the last few days, and is probably the first mow of the season. People seem to mostly have ride on lawnmowers over here; I approve. There’s all sorts of spring cleaning going on, not just mowing; strimming, pressure washing, pruning, digging, it’s all happening now spring has sprung.

Riding through sun, then rain, then sun, and repeat, I eventually reached Sundsvall, and cycled through the town. It’s another big University town, built in the early 17th century. It’s burned down 4 times, which sounds a bit unlucky. The Russians did for it the first time in 1721, in the Great Northern War, and the last time was in 1888, after which they decided stone might be a more durable building material.

Sundsvall, a big town and port on the Gulf of Bothnia

Sundsvall, a big town and port on the Gulf of Bothnia

I noticed far more shops, bars and restaurants here, compared with anywhere else in Sweden I’ve visited so far, and lots more people out and and about, including many of the youth of today lounging about in the central square, complete with various forms of fashion and hairstyle; pretty much like Norwich city centre really.

Made it to Sundsvall, bit damp

Made it to Sundsvall, bit damp

As it was getting late I didn’t dally, especially as it was raining again, and pedalled on to find the campsite near Stockvik. I spotted a Max burger joint on the way out, just off one of the ‘Cycleparets’, and couldn’t pass up the opportunity for some hot and calorie rich food.

Another stop and Max; working my way through the menu

Another stop and Max; working my way through the menu

Their burgers are much nicer than Mcdonalds; they actually taste of beef!

Continuing on through the rain, and passing a pretty impressive bridge complete with rainbow, I reached the Flasians Campsite, whereupon then sun came about again, hurrah. Oh, and I passed a tandem tourer going the other way, giving them a wave; first tandem tourer I’ve seen this tour.

Sundsvall Bridge and rainbow

Sundsvall Bridge and rainbow

Flasians occupies a lovely spot right on the coast, with a small beach and a lovely view. I unpacked and put up my tent, then went for a walk on the beach whilst it dried out in the sunshine.

Arrived in Flasians, tent drying out

Arrived in Flasians, tent drying out

Flasians Beach 3

Flasians Beach 3

As usual there weren’t many other people about, just a few camper vans, and one young Norwegian couple touring by car for a month whilst they rock climb in various places. I chatted with the latter for while, and it got me thinking about doing some climbing when I get down to the Callanques in the South of France (near Marseille), if I can meet up with a few of my old friends from round there.

For the first time I felt slightly nervous about leaving Smaug unattended, having seen a note pinned to one of the campsite doors asking that whomever ‘borrowed’ a tablet return it to reception, so I locked him up before going for a shower and food.

I’ve noticed my right hand is going a bit numb when I’m cycling, and I now have a slight case of Ulnar nerve compression/inflamation. It’s not particularly painful, and is a common cycling complaint if you’re riding for hours, day after day; just means I have a slightly weak grip for some hand motions. I’ll have to adjust my riding and hand position a bit and it should fix itself. A day off in Stockholm will help.

Before bed I went of another walk along the beach, gazing out across the sea to a lighthouse with its slowly spinning light. Again it was very peaceful, serene and beautiful. Even the three factory chimney’s off to one side looked pretty; they’ve put different colours lights around each of the chimneys, giving them a nice glow.

Here’s a link to today’s ride, route and stats:

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/780619434

75 miles (121km) covered in about 7.5 hours, so getting the average up, however thinking about a shorter ride tomorrow.

P.S. Blog posts are a day behind, and I’m now in Hudiksvall. Will catch up tomorrow, depending on how the ride goes! Probably going to be a long one to Gavle.

 

19 May 2015 – riding the High Coast of Sweden

I think I’m now roughly on the same line of latitude as the bottom of Iceland, having pedalled nearly 1000 miles from the Northernmost point of Europe in 2 weeks; no wonder my legs are aching tonight. Nordkapp seems like quite a long time ago, and the scenery has certainly changed. The frozen lakes and snow have given way to pine forest, and clear blue water glittering in the sunshine.

Sunshine on the lake at Mosjon Camping

Sunshine on the lake at Mosjon Camping

I was chatting to the campsite owner this evening and he reminded me that I’m still in northern Sweden really, having pedalled to the Snibbens Campsite near Ramvik; Harnosand is the nearest big town. This country really is very long! I think I’m only about 300 miles from Stockholm, depending on to what degree I avoid the E04, so definitely getting there.

Leaving Mosjon, clouds about making it chilly

Leaving Mosjon, clouds about making it chilly

Here’s a link to today’s ride; 120km down the High Coast, which lived up to its name as far as hills go:

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/779203970

It took me 7.5hrs of pedalling, with climbs totalling 1,355 metres; this could again be why my legs, and especially my knees for some reason, are aching. And my hands, did I mention my hands? And my arms. In fact most things.

It rained overnight, quite hard. You hear these things in a tent, in fact you can hear anything and everything in the immediate vicinity pretty well. There was one particular bird that didn’t shut up all night, flying around the lake tweeting constantly; not tweeting as in Twitter, but twittering as in squawking, if you see what I mean, or hear what I’m saying, or something. It didn’t keep me awake long but it was definitely a flying varmint! I was consequently a bit slow setting off this morning, not leaving until getting on for 10.00.

I initially joined the E04, having little choice in the matter, and rode to Ornskaldsvic, a medium sized pleasant town.

Ornskaldvic, looking at it from the South

Ornskaldvic, looking at it from the South

On the way in I almost literally bumped into another cycle tourer, Tomak (sp?) from Germany, who has cycled up from near Hamburg, and intends to travel around the whole Baltic coastline before returning home. He mentioned Estonia, somewhere quite a few cycle tourers have spoken about lately; sounds like a place to add to the list to visit. We both took a break to exchange tips on the routes ahead. Tomak told me he’s been following the black cycle route signs, which I’ve only seen a few of so far, but apparently get more frequent. These take you on routes that avoid the busy main roads, like the E04, but add on a lot of kilometres as a consequence; so more pleasant riding but will add on a lot of time. It was good to meet another tourer; we’re a scarce breed up here at this time of year. We wished each other luck before pedalling off in opposite directions.

Blossom out in Orsnkaldsvik

Blossom out in Orsnkaldsvik

Leaving Ornskaldsvik I passed a rather incongruous sight; the Bishops Arms, down by the docks, maybe pubs will be increasing in frequency now. If so beer could be back on the menu; abstinence is over-rated.

The Bishop's Arms, Ornskaldvic

The Bishop’s Arms, Ornskaldvic

Ornskaldsvic docks

Ornskaldsvic docks

I left the E04 after Ornskaldsvik, taking quieter roads for a bit. In fact I reckon I spent at least 50% of today’s ride off E04, which although introduced more hills and distance, was a welcome relief. I saw this sign riding up out of the town; not sure what it was about.

Cycling sign out of Ornskaldsvik

Cycling sign out of Ornskaldsvik

The side roads are so much quieter, and the scenery was lovely to cycle through, if a little taxing on the legs.

Pausing to admire the view near Ornskaldsvik

Pausing to admire the view near Ornskaldsvik

I compensated for tired legs by eating lots of Haribos. These were a staple on my Bike around Britain tour, and I’m pleased to report they sell them in even more varieties in Europe; great for topping up your energy levels.

Ski slope without the snow

Ski slope without the snow

As I cycled along winding roads, up and down hills, passing lakes and glimpses of the Baltic, I saw much wildlife. A fox regarded me suspiciously as I rode past, before dashing into the undergrowth. I can also report Sweden has hedgehogs and badgers, although I only know this because I’ve seen them squashed on the road, sadly.

Some dramatic rock faces - there's a via ferrata at this one

Some dramatic rock faces – there’s a via ferrata at this one

The Hoga Kusten (High Coast) has lots of interesting places that would be good to come back and  visit over a few days. There’s a centre in the park in the above picture, where you can climb a Via Ferrata; I haven’t done one of those in years, and would love to again. I might see if I can do a bit of climbing when I get down to southern France, where I hope to visit a few old friends from when I lived in Marseille.

Blue waters of the Hoga Kusten

Blue waters of the Hoga Kusten

Back on the nature front; I saw some of those Emus again, although I’m not pretty sure they’re not Emus but White Storks. They’re really big, and a couple flew off as I rode by – enormous wingspan. I spotted a Swallow too, or it might have been a House Martin. Now I’m cycling a long way, however these birds can give me a run for my money, migrating over 10,000km from Africa.

Break by a lake, more Haribo power required for hills

Break by a lake, more Haribo power required for hills

Here are a few more photos from my ride along the back roads away from the E04.

Sadly no beavers to report; I kept an eye out for them as they’re supposed to live in these parts, but they must of all been hiding from Lobster.

The alternative route meant I covered more kilometres than I expected to. One advantage of the E04 is it does get you down the coast quickly, relatively speaking, but you can miss a lot if you stay on it all the time. Saying that several of the sections I rode on today were quite nice, with a wide hard shoulder; it’s just the constant lorries which get annoying, and their buffeting.

I passed under the E04 and pedalled up to a town called Klockestrand, then crossed the high bridge over the River Angerman; think that’s what it’s called. It’s a really wide river, and it was a long way down from the bridge.

Crossing the river Angerman

Crossing the river Angerman

There were actually two bridges to get over this river, the second being a bit further on over another section of it, and even higher. The campsite owner later told me this is the old bridge, and there’s a newer one on the E04 you can cycle over, but there’s no cycle path so you take your life into your own hands; glad I went the way I did.

Made it over both bridges, phew, and first day I haven't had to wear a coat!

Made it over both bridges, phew, and first day I haven’t had to wear a coat!

Feeling tired I stopped at a service station for a hot dog, and bought some Pringles for extra calories, before completing the final stretch down to a campsite near Ramvik – Snibbens campsite. The owner was out walking his dog as I pedalled down to reception; the 2 year old labrador greeted me enthusiastically, finally a dog that doesn’t bark at cyclists.

Snibbens campsite - lakeside view

Snibbens campsite – lakeside view

I can recommend Snibbens campsite. It’s a lovely peaceful spot, next to a lake, with friendly owners who live on site. I had a great chat with the owner about my ride, and about northern Sweden. One of the things he mentioned shows how people have the same concerns all across northern Europe; immigration. On my cycle down I’ve been noticing a lot of people begging outside shops, on the street and probably living rough. He said that this is a relatively new thing, only having started in the last few years as more people move to Sweden from eastern Europe and beyond. We both agreed it’s a sad thing to see so many people living rough, probably having come here seeking a better life, or escaping something worse at home. It would be good to do more to help them, but it would be better perhaps if the problem could be fixed at source, so people don’t feel they have no alternative but to move to wealthier countries, and then find themselves homeless and penniless. It will be interesting to see how this varies as I progress through Europe; I know it’s the same in France.

Snibbens panorama

Snibbens panorama

Being the only camper on site I had use of the communal room to myself for the evening – a chance to chill out after a hard day’s ride, and look at my maps. I need to work out where I’m going after Stockholm, and how to get over into Denmark.

Double thumbs up to a hard won day

Double thumbs up to a hard won day

Off to just South of Sundsvall tomorrow, if all goes according to plan. Hopefully I’ll be in Stockholm Sunday or Monday.

17 and 18 May – the Gulf of Bothnia

The last couple of days have got me quite a way down the coast of Sweden, alongside the Gulf of Bothnia. I made the mistake of looking at an overall view of my planned tour, and realised how far I have to go, so figured I’d put a few big mile days in now to speed things along, and to allow me a few recreation days when I get down to France and Spain. I’m still planning on visiting Stockholm so I’ll probably have a day off then anyway.

The 17 May turned out to be be my longest leg of the tour so far, covering 165 kilometres, which is about 102 miles, in 8 hours and 20 minutes of actual riding. Here’s a link to my route and ride stats:

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/777328369

I wasn’t sure where I was going to stop for the night when I set off from Byske. There are allegedly two campsites around a place called Bygdea, according to my map, but I didn’t know if they’d be open or not, which left wild camping or cycling all the way to Umea. Quite a few of the campsites round here don’t open properly until June; not much call for it until it gets a bit warmer.

Preparing to leave Byske; Lobster on laptop route planning

Preparing to leave Byske; Lobster on laptop route planning

Pedalling off from the campsite I stopped in by the beach, looking out over the waters of the Baltic/Gulf of Bothnia.

Looking out over the Gulf of Bothnia, very peaceful

Looking out over the Gulf of Bothnia, very peaceful

Gulf of Bothnia 2 - ready to ride

Gulf of Bothnia 2 – ready to ride

It was all very peaceful, but I felt like I was being watched, and not by a Russian submarine; sure enough the stalkers from home were at it and had spotted me on the webcam. I gave them a wave then set off; it’s fun seeing where they might spot me next!

Byske - under surveillance

Byske – under surveillance

I couldn’t find the back road the girl at reception had mentioned, or at least couldn’t be sure I wasn’t about to embark on a massive diversion, so I rejoined the E04 after a brief tour of Byske town.

River crossing out of Byske

River crossing out of Byske

I stayed on it for most of the day, therefore not a lot of interest to report unless you like big lorries with two trailers, dust, and slightly hair-raising narrow sections with crash barriers closing you in.

Brief pause on E04, very picturesque lay-by

Brief pause on E04, very picturesque lay-by

I had a bit of a break from the E04 around Skelleftea, for about 20km, taking quieter roads that run alongside it, and didn’t take me too far off course. Unfortunately there don’t seem to be many roads that run parallel to the main route, they all branch off North or South.

Break from the E04 near Skelleftea

Break from the E04 near Skelleftea

Someone at the Byske campsite, I think one of the rather inebriated dog show attendees, told me you pronounce Skelleftea like ‘She left you’; they found this hilarious. I took a couple of cut throughs, hoping for the best, to join up the small roads.

One of my adventurous cut throughs

One of my adventurous cut throughs

The E04 wasn’t in fact too bad compared with previous days. A lot of it turned out to be single carriageway, with a good hard shoulder at least 1m wide, and with a slight tailwind and not very many hills the kilometres flew by.

E04 redeeming itself slightly - fields appearing

E04 redeeming itself slightly – fields appearing

I set a new record for the fastest 40km on Smaug; 1hr 48 mins, not bad for a fully loaded touring bike.

Swedish speed camera - bit different looking to the ones in the UK

Swedish speed camera – bit different looking to the ones in the UK

The scenery did start to change, with the appearance of meadows, and even a few fields being ploughed by tractors. There was still many a pine tree in evidence, and at times it felt like pedalling through Thetford Forest at home, albeit on the wrong side of the road, and with more hills.

Snack break - many bananas being consumed today

Snack break – many bananas being consumed today

I also saw a lot more birdlife again, including a few really big birds; do they have Emu’s in Sweden? I really think they don’t, unless they’ve escaped from somewhere. I could have sworn I saw an Emu, but maybe it was a big stalk, or a pigeon in disguise. There were the usual geese, migrating somewhere, as well as swans, and quite a few what I can only assume were Curlews from the look of it. All good stuff for twitchers, however my bird identification skills have somewhat lapsed since being a member of the Young Ornithologists Club as a kid; did see a few cool hawks I’ll have to look up.

Daily double thumbs up - one for the Emus

Daily double thumbs up – one for the Emus

Another different thing about Sweden; the cars. For one thing some of the tyres sound odd. Some cars still have their snow tyres on, which make a very distinctive noise compared with normal tyres, the small studs rattling down the road. And then there’s all the classic cars around. It must be a popular hobby in Sweden, restoring old American classics; I’ve seen several old Chevrolets and a wonderful Pontiac. Moving into the modern era I’ve also been passed by a few muscle cars; Corvettes, a Farrari, and lots of cars making satisfying growling noises, if you’re into that sort of thing.

After discovering there really aren’t any campsites around Bygdea, I put my head down and pedalled for Umea. It was getting late but my legs felt fresh, and I was in the zone, so I decided to head for the First Camp campsite. The E04 stayed relatively kind and the kilometres continued to fly by.

Final 40km on E04 to Umea

Final 40km on E04 to Umea

I pedalled to the outskirts of the city, Sweden’s 12th largest and a big University centre, and found the campsite just off the ring-road, very convenient.

Tired but I'd made it!

Tired but I’d made it!

Reception was closed, it being Sunday and gone 18.00, but I pitched up anyway and would sort it in the morning. The one drawback of this is you can’t get into the toilet blocks for a shower, or the kitchen, as you need a key card. With a all the dust and grime from the road a shower would have been welcome, however I settled for a wash from an outside tap instead; needs must.

It wasn’t long before I decided to get some kip, after demolishing bread, cheese, salami, a ready to eat expedition pack of curry, and of course chocolate; it’s quite hard to keep eating enough calories to replace what you burn off, but also quite enjoyable. I fell asleep pretty swiftly, after a very satisfying day’s riding.

—>18 May 2015

I wasn’t aching in the morning, which I was somewhat surprised yet pleased about. I say wasn’t aching however my posterior was, and still is a bit; lots of hours in the saddle tends to have that effect – padded shorts help, as does chamois cream to prevent chafing. I think I’ll need to change my saddle at some point as this one isn’t quite right. The bike in general is performing very well to date, with nothing needing fixing. It’s just a matter of keeping the tyres pumped up, and things lubed.

Like yesterday I wasn’t quite sure where I’d be stopping today, however there were allegedly several campsites en-route, and if all failed I’d find a quiet spot amongst the pines, away from any ants nests; some of them are huge, must get a pic.

It was raining when I packed up; not a good start, having to pack away a wet tent, however with many kilometres yet to pedal I thought I’d better get underway. There was a big hare hopping around as I stuffed things into panniers; nice to see, and not the first I’ve seen in Scandinavia. It reminded me of the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland, but I decided not to follow it, not today anyway. I haven’t seen any rabbits at all so maybe they haven’t gotten this far North.

At least I was dry, but I needed to get pedalling to stave off the cold. The expedition beard is coming along but doesn’t provide much insulation as yet, must concentrate harder on growing it.

Another day on the road, expedition beard progressing

Another day on the road, expedition beard progressing

I’m not sure I’ll keep the beard very long. It’s nice not having to shave when it’s cold, but I’m not a massive fan. I’ll keep it going until I leave Sweden, then have a beard review session and see what the consensus is between Lobster and I on keeping it, or going with a more streamlined affair as I pedal through Denmark.

On the way out I stopped at reception to pay, and had to buy a Swedish Camping Key (SCR) card too. This meant a night of camping with no facilities cost me 310SEK altogether. I should have just wild camped, although the card will hopefully be useful elsewhere in Sweden, as you need to have them for a lot of campsites; not sure why.

Pedalling out I passed a backpacker who’d been staying at the campsite too, marching resolutely into the city in the drizzle; we exchanged glances indicating mutual dislike of the rain and chill. I rode through the University area, which was awash with people on bicycles, attracting curious looks from pedestrians and cyclists alike, no doubt due to all my luggage and hopefully not my pirate look.

Umea, the biggest city in Norrland, has roots going back many centuries. It was probably first a Sami settlement, but they didn’t tend to have permanent bases, being nomadic. In the 14th century it was settled by Germanic people, but the Vikings were there before then. For a while it was just a place to trade with the Sami, and the last inhabitance before the wilds lot the North, but was made into a city in 1622. You can look up the rest on Wikipedia; it has an interesting history.

IMG_1815

There’s all that history, and then there’s the fact it has a Mcdonalds, the first I’ve seen in Sweden. Whilst this is in some ways, slightly disappointing, in other ways, such as on a damp and chilly morning, it’s an important feature. I opted for a second breakfast to wait for the rain to ease off; it was meant to according to the forecast. The sausage and egg muffin and hot chocolate was a welcome calorie boost, and the free wifi a bonus.

The rain eventually started to ease up, so I bid Umea goodbye and rode out of the city over the river, getting slightly turned about by the numerous and maze like cycle paths; they loop around  under the roads and it’s easy to lose your sense of direction. Cycling must be a  very popular method of transportation in Swedish cities, as there were again bikes everywhere. I eventually found the E04, joy, and passed the same backpacker trying to hitch a lift. He would’t fit on my bike, with all my panniers, but I wished him good luck anyway.

I probably pedalled 15 to 20km more than I needed to today, due to taking roads running parallel to the E04, rather than staying on it for ages. I say 15 to 20km more, it doesn’t really matter, and the smaller roads are far more pleasant and interesting to ride on, however I don’t want to extend my route too much as I do have a bit of a schedule I need to maintain. After a couple of hours I took a break in the woods.

Break time in the woods

Break time in the woods

Wood pic 2

Wood pic 2

And of course, there’s always time for a thumbs up moment.

Double thumbs up with Lobster headware

Double thumbs up with Lobster head-ware

I crossed several bridges over fast flowing and turbulent looking rivers, which would no doubt be fun to raft or kayak down; I think I’d just capsize.

River crossing near Haknas

River crossing near Haknas

River crossing - turbulent waters

River crossing – turbulent waters

At one point I decided to risk it and took a cycle track down a clay path through the forest, hoping it linked up with a road on the other side; this is after all supposed to be adventure. I’ve got a video of this I’ll try and upload, however here’s a picture in the meantime.

Clay road through woods, post Haknas

Clay road through woods, post Haknas

The road surface was pretty claggy and slow, but traffic free and made for pleasant riding, aside from the odd sneaky pothole. After a while I began to think I’d taken a wrong turning, but thankfully was able to join a fully functioning road near Nordmaling. I continued to loop around the E04 on smaller roads, but eventually had to rejoin it after Logdea, as I ran out of options.

Back on the E04, again

Back on the E04, again

It was okay riding, but again the narrow single lane bits where you’re enclosed by crash barriers can be unpleasant when you’re passed by the really big lorries, especially wide loads transporting houses! Some of these lorries come very close and there’s nowhere to go, so you just have to hold on and hope for the best; there’s probably more room than I think but it’s still not very nice cycling. As mentioned before the lorries also kick up a load of dust, so I was regularly having to wash my mouth out, and felt rather grimy by the end of the ride.

I stopped prior to Ornskaldsvik, after covering 110km in 6hrs and 4 mins, at a slightly slower pace than yesterday. Here’s a link to my route and stats:

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/778246976

The Mosjon campsite sits on the edge of Mosjon lake, and looks to be a big fishing venue; lots of places in Sweden are big fishing venues. It’s a lovely spot, if a little close to the main road so you can hear the traffic.

End of today's ride at Mosjon campsite

End of today’s ride at Mosjon campsite

I was fortunate that the campsite owner turned up shortly after I arrived, as reception was closed. She needed to give a cabin key to the only other person here; I’m the only camper, which isn’t an unusual occurrence so far. Lots of campsites aren’t fully open yet, and won’t be until June.

Mosjon campsite 2

Mosjon campsite 2

A hot shower to wash away the day’s grime and dust was most welcome, as is the warm kitchen for typing this up in, and to cook up a noodle feast. I’m trying to dry a few clothes I’ve washed through, but it’s not working too well; can I microwave them?!

Mosjon Lake

Mosjon Lake

I’m in the High Coast area of Sweden now, a World Heritage Site, so I’m hoping for lots more beautiful scenery, coupled unfortunately with a few more hills to contend with.

Mosjon lake - pontoon looking back at campsite

Mosjon lake – pontoon looking back at campsite

I did my best not to fall in the lake.

Pontoon a little rickety

Pontoon a little rickety

The High Coast is so named because it’s slowly rising at about 8mm a year, after being massively compressed by the last Ice Age. Lots of cool wildlife to look out for tomorrow, including Beavers.

Campsite has pedalos, that would be a cool self propelled mode of transportation for an adventure

Campsite has pedalos, that would be a cool self propelled mode of transportation for an adventure

That’s all for today, tomorrow I head towards Sundsvall, probably stopping in Harnosand.

One thing, on cycle tours you have a lot of time to think, and sometimes sad thoughts can return. Yesterday I spent quite a lot of time thinking about Lu, my ex-wife and best friend, who passed away from cancer in 2012. Sometimes you just want to meet them for a coffee and tell them what you’ve been up to, and even though that’s not possible physically, I rode along telling Lu about my latest adventure anyway. I started off sad, then got inspired and motivated and pedalled on, one of the reasons I hit 100 miles yesterday.

The Big C were a great help to Lu whilst she was getting treatment. They provide support to patients, equipment to hospitals, and fund research. If you’re enjoying my blog please consider making a donation via the link below:

http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/james

Thanks to those who’ve already been able to make a donation.

15 & 16 May 2015 – leaving the Arctic Circle and down to the Baltic

I’m typing this up in a communal campsite kitchen/lounge type area surrounded by Swedes who are in the process of getting gradually merrier as the evening progresses. They’re attending  the dog show that’s going on at the campsite where I’m staying tonight, down on the Baltic coast in Byske; a lovely spot. The beer and wine are definitely flowing, who knows where this evening will end!

Anyway, back to yesterday and the Grand Arctic Hotel, where upon waking in my rather comfy bed, I dashed downstairs to partake of a particularly large breakfast; I love breakfast buffets when cycle touring, sadly they’re a rarity as I’m usually camping. Eggs, bacon, sausages, ham, cheese, bit of salad, bread and jam duly consumed, I felt ready to tackle another day’s riding, this time down to the Baltic coast, and out of the Arctic Circle.

Grand Arctic Hotel

Grand Arctic Hotel

Speaking to Jon over breakfast, one of the cycle tourers I met the evening before, I learnt he has a house near Orleans, or it might have been Biarritz, I’d better check that; sure I wrote it down somewhere. He invited me to drop in if I pass that way on my tour, which could be a very handy stopover…pretty sure it was Biarritz.

As I packed up I noticed with some envy that Jon and Tim were travelling light, not needing all the gear I have as they’re staying in hotels or hostels along the way. Tim has also sent a couple of his panniers on ahead, which isn’t a bad plan if there’s kit you’re not going to need until later. They were heading East into Finland, then up not Norway, so a slightly different route to me. I guess I can be more flexible as I have my tent, so don’t need to rely on finding accommodation; both methods have their merits and flaws.

Good luck to both Jon and Tim on their ride up to Nordkapp; hope the headwind eases up.

I pedalled out of Overkalix taking the road down to Svartbyn, passing a field full of old tractors, a bit of a strange sight. Feeling energetic after my Famous Five level of breakfast, I determined to try to stay above 20km/h, hoping that the wind continued to favour me.

Tractor Graveyard

Tractor Graveyard

Svartbyn, but no Svarts in sight, so thankfully no massacres; only people who have played Baldur’s Gate will get that reference.

Svartbyn - but no Svarts to be seen, unless they were hiding, or already massacred

Svartbyn – but no Svarts to be seen, unless they were hiding, or already massacred

Cloudy day but sun attempting to make an appearance

Cloudy day but sun attempting to make an appearance

I crossed the wide and fast flowing River Kalixalven, before rejoining the E10. The river is pretty much at its highest at the moment, with all the melting snow and ice; not one to try to swim across – took the bridge option.

The River Kalixalven - fast flowing and looking very chilly

The River Kalixalven – fast flowing and looking very chilly

The E10 slowly took me down towards the coast, a gently undulating route through pine forests, alongside the river.

Views of the River from the E10

Views of the River from the E10

All the logging activity could lead to only one conclusion; I started singing ‘I’m a lumberjack…etc’. Thus ensued a whole repertoire of Monty Python songs, not a bad way to make the kilometres fly by.

Lots of logging going on; I wonder if they use the river to transport the logs at all

Lots of logging going on; I wonder if they use the river to transport the logs at all

It was lovely cycling through the pine scented valley, with the sun coming out and no rain; wonderful to have a dry day after yesterday’s damp and chilly ride.

Lobster providing Dime bar  energy top up

Lobster providing Dime bar energy top up

I was however rapidly running out of E10, and was slightly nervous about the E04 after what Jon and Tim had told me; not really any options to avoid it though.

Final pitt stop on E10

Final pitt stop on E10

At Tore I joined the E04, a much busier road. There’s a crash barrier in the centre meaning vehicles aren’t able to give you so much room, coupled with barriers often on your right hand side, which means you don’t have an escape route. They’re those nasty cable barriers too, which would slice you up if you hit them at speed, say from a motorbike.

I caught my first glimpses of the Baltic as I pedalled along, but couldn’t see any sign of the Russian submarines I’d been reading about in the news; apparently there have been suspected sonar contacts in Swedish waters. Swedish peace activists have responded by lowering a ‘Gay Sailor’ into the Baltic, a neon sign which transmits an anti homophobic morse code; pretty novel approach to defence, and might just work versus the notoriously homophobic Russians. You can read the article from the Guardian on it here:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/13/swedish-peace-group-trolls-russian-submarines-with-gay-defence-system

To be honest I wouldn’t have spotted a submarine if there’d been one with its periscope up and firing flares, because I was concentrating on the road and on not getting buffeted into the crash barriers.

After a while I got bored with the E04, and decided to try an alternative route, one that would add-on a few kilometres but would hopefully be more interesting, and lead to slightly less frayed nerves. I turned off at Ranea, following instead back roads to Lulea, a far more pleasant option.

Taking the back roads to Lulea

Taking the back roads to Lulea

I passed through several small villages as the road wound through the Swedish countryside, up and down small hills and through more pine forest, passing more logging activity.

Swedish village - route more interesting than E04!

Swedish village – route more interesting than E04!

This far South there’s hardly any snow left, something I suddenly realised as I pedalled onwards; no more frozen lakes either. The lack of snow didn’t stop one person from practicing his cross-country skiing; he was out on his road skis (like roller blades), speeding the other way as I rode along one of the cycle paths that run through most towns.

The convoluted route probably added on at least 10km, taking me into Lulea. Feeling pretty tired I was keen to get to the campsite, so didn’t stop to look around.

A small bit of Lulea

A small bit of Lulea

I did pause to take in my first proper view of the Baltic, or at least an inlet thereof.

Pausing in Lulea to take in the Baltic

Pausing in Lulea to take in the Baltic

Waving to a few other cyclists; MAMILS had made an appearance now I was in a city, I rode across several bridges and out of Lulea, to the First Camp campsite, my stop for the night.

Camping at First Camp in Lulea

Camping at First Camp in Lulea

I camped down near the kids play area, as suggested by the lady on reception as it was close to the kitchen. This initially turned to be a slightly flawed plan, with gangs of children roaming the area, but they soon quietened down; Lobster scared them off apparently. Bit annoying that I had to pay for Wifi access, unusual these days, and might as well just use my phone and roaming, which costs me £3 a day on the Vodafone Eurotraveller deal, when I use it.

Today’s distance covered was 126km; 6hrs and 40 mins of riding time. Here’s a link to my route:

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/775296622

Before a fast becoming traditional dinner of noodles, I mended the holes in the bottom of my tent, made by the ‘Vitangi Varmint’.

Holes pre-mending, Lobster for scale

Holes pre-mending, Lobster for scale

Holes post mending; bits of CTC plastic bike carrier bag and gaffer tap

Holes post mending; bits of CTC plastic bike carrier bag and gaffer tap

And had a quick look around.

Beach scene at First Camp

Beach scene at First Camp

One of the bridges I pedalled over earlier

One of the bridges I pedalled over earlier

Safe in the knowledge I was once again sleeping in a varmint free zone, aside from a Lobster, I got an early ish night. Must remember to adjust my brakes soon; cables have probably stretched slightly, coupled with blocks wearing down.

I did have a midnight snack; found a leftover from the Cycle Tour Fest in my panniers; yum.

Cycle Tour Fest snack

Cycle Tour Fest snack

—> 16 May 2015

Today was a mixed day, but on balance mostly a good one. It’s getting even rowdier in the lounge area where I’m typing this up, so might have to retreat to my tent soon. Scandinavians can be quite reserved, and always polite, but they get pretty loud after a few beers; similar to us Brits I guess! There’s some definite swaying going on, and there’s been at least one drinking song – think they’ll be a few sore heads at the dog show tomorrow morning. All good fun.

i was glad to pack up and leave First Camp in Lulea, after not a a very comfy night due to pine cones under my tent; must remember to ensure they’re all moved before setting the tent up in future! At least pine cones don’t gnaw through bits of your tent.

Grumpy after broken night's sleep

Grumpy after broken night’s sleep

Lulea - packed and ready to pedal

Lulea – packed and ready to pedal

I adjusted my brakes slightly, but will need to do it again soon, then got on my bike and pedalled off. I was back on the E04 unfortunately, but not a lot of choice, or so I thought. After I’d been riding for a bit I noticed a small track running parallel to the main road. It was tarmac’d, and had no traffic on it; looked ideal, and got to be better than being buffeted by lorries and worrying about crash barriers and vicious rumble strips. I turned onto it at the next available opportunity, taking a bit of a risk on it not being a dead-end as it wasn’t marked in my map, and my Garmin just helpfully said ‘Riding on unpaved road’.

Off the beaten track - leaving the E04 behind for a bit

Off the beaten track – leaving the E04 behind for a bit

Thankfully the track continued, up and through a village, and was even signposted as a cycle path at one point, with lamposts!

Cycle track, with lamposts

Cycle track, with lamposts

Unfortunately the surface deteriorated a bit after this, suggesting it’s not really finished yet. Fine for a mountain bike, but not so much a fully laden tourer where every jolt goes up through you wrists, not to mention your posterior.

Bike track surface deteriorates

Bike track surface deteriorates

I stopped for a break on a bridge, pausing for thought for a few minutes, and enjoying the quiet. Sometimes you can travel along without a pause, forgetting what you’re here for; sometimes it good to stop and stare…

Bridge break 1

Bridge break 1

What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare.

What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare.

I love that poem by William Henry Davis:

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this is if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

I had to get back onto the E04 for a bit, then joined a well-marked cycle path that avoided the motorway, and took me into Pitea.

Back on the E04

Back on the E04

The road into Pitea took me past a Max burger joint, must have been fate; I stopped to refuel on one of their Chilli burger meals. Very nice eating that sitting out in the sunshine.

Max meal in Pitea

Max meal in Pitea

These fast food restaurants often have wi-fi too, which is handy to keep in contact with people. Took a photo to keep folks updated with how my pirate look is progressing, although I’m pretty sure it’s meant to be a parrot on the shoulder, and not a Lobster.

Pirate look in Pitea

Pirate look in Pitea

I pedalled through town, stopping to buy few bits of food at the Co-op (not sure if it’s the same one as in the UK). I needed more noodles and cheese mainly, but also found some doughnuts.

Pitea pedestrian precinct

Pitea pedestrian precinct

The town also had free public wi-fi, wish more places did.

It was a nice ride down from Pitea to Munksund. I was pointed in the right direction by a helpful older cyclist; didn’t speak a word of English, and me very little Swedish, but we got there in the end.

Riding down from Munksund

Riding down from Munksund

I was once again avoiding the E04. The small road took me along the coast in the sunshine, next to the water, through pines, past wooden cabins and houses, all very picturesque and peaceful; apart from the big chemical smelling factory I didn’t stop to take a photo of.

Then the road ran out next to a big river.

Out of road, need to get across river

Out of road, need to get across river

And I needed to get up on this bridge.

Bridge; not immediately obvious how to get up onto it

Bridge; not immediately obvious how to get up onto it

I had to back-track a bit, then cycle through a campsite to find the road up on to the bridge. I successfully made it over the river then had to rejoin the E04, trying to keep to the narrow strip of hard shoulder between the deadly crash barriers and vicious rumble strip. It wasn’t actually too bad, as there seemed to be less traffic now, however the big lorries that did pass me kicked up a lot of dust that was pretty unpleasant, covering me and Smaug in a layer of grime.

Back on the E04, again

Back on the E04, again

My stretch destination for the day was Skelleftea, however I decided to stop at the campsite in Byske; ‘Byske Havsbad’. This is probably one of the nicest campsites I’ve stayed at so far, and cheap at 120 SEK, as it’s still low season. The girl at reception gave me a few pointers on a route for tomorrow, which will avoid the E04 for at least the first 10km, after that we’ll see. I could try to push for Umea, but that would be just over 100 miles which is doable but not really necessary or that enjoyable; not much time to stand and stare. There are other campsites marked on the map on the way, so I’ll stop at one of them, or wild camp.

Thumbs up from Byske

Thumbs up from Byske

Lobster is slightly worried about the connotations that come with the word ‘Byske’, however I’ve assured him it’s spelt different, probably, he’s looking nervous. It was bad enough with the sauna the other night, which is far too close to being cooked for his liking.

A gorgeous sunny afternoon with clear skies means it’s going to be cold tonight, so it’s thermals again for me. I’ve escaped the now raucous Swedes after chatting to them for a bit as they brought out bottles of dubious looking spirits.

Here are links to my rides today; two links as Garmin turned itself off in Pitea.

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/775937942

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/776331230

Total distance= 105.5km in about 6 hours pedalling time, so another 65 miles nailed!

Thanks for following my blog, and for any comments, messages, tweets, charity donations etc. I had a moment today when thinking about all the kilometres that lie ahead of me, even to get to Stockholm, and it felt a bit daunting; only briefly but all the support is appreciated. I’ve found the best way is to chunk it up, and not think of the whole tour and getting to Istanbul, but of the chunks along the way, with small targets.

That’s all for a couple of days, fingers crossed the weather stays good.

13 & 14 May 2015 – Varmints…and the weather takes a turn for the worse

Something wasn’t quite right, my ‘spider sense’ was twitching. I’d woken up a couple of times during the night, I thought because it had got colder, and a bit windier, but no, that wasn’t it. I felt something move under my foot beneath the sleeping bag, a lump slowly making its way from left to right. Then came the sound of rustling from the direction of my panniers; I was pretty sure this wasn’t the wind, and it couldn’t be a ghost; you’re safe if you’re under a duvet/sleeping bag aren’t you? Unless it’s one of those really scary Japanese horrors that don’t play by the rules.

I unzipped my inner tent door to the porch and peered out cautiously, moving my panniers to one side. Two beady eyes peered back at me angrily from a small furry face, a varmint! This particular varmint was a vole, and he wasn’t too pleased at being disturbed. Thankfully I’d closed up my panniers overnight so he/she couldn’t get in to feast on my salami or cheese supplies, however the miscreant had succeeded in gnawing through the tensioning cord under my tent, in two places, and had put two small vole shaped holes in the groundsheet as well. I’ve no idea if the beasty roamed around inside my tent whilst I was asleep; I don’t think so as didn’t find any droppings, but who knows what kind of party occurred. I asked Lobster why he hadn’t been on guard? He just shrugged muttering something about needing his beauty sleep with all this cycling, like he actually does any of the pedalling!

I chased the vole away, although it kept trying t get back under my tent; must be cosy under there.

Varmint! A visit from a vole

Varmint! A visit from a vole

Then I fixed the tensioning cord with a few reef knots and half hitches, which should suffice. I’ll patch the floor when I next use my tent, using some gaffa tape and a bit of the CTC bike bag I still have; knew it would come in handy. Having another look around there was plenty of evidence of vole activity. They make runs under the snow in winter, but are emerging now spring has sprung. The campsite really needs a cat, or an eagle owl, or a few wolves, that’d sort them out.

Vole holes, hadn't paid much attention to them yesterday, lesson learned

Vole holes, hadn’t paid much attention to them yesterday, lesson learned

The run this varmint made under my tent

The run this varmint made under my tent

With the tent packed up and vole scared off, I looked around, no wonder it had been colder overnight; mist had descended and blanketed the lake.

Packing up time in Vitangi, post varmint incursion

Packing up time in Vitangi, post varmint incursion

Maybe ‘The Fog’ had brought out the voles, although it didn’t look like a zombie vole, thankfully.

Misty morning in Vitangi

Misty morning in Vitangi

The voles did explain why Dimitri had been so interested in the area where I’d camped yesterday, it wasn’t just my salami he was sniffing (that doesn’t sound at all dodgy does it?!).

Mist in the trees

Mist in the trees

After warming up with some peppermint tea, I hit the road, bidding goodbye to Fredy, Astrid and Dimitri, who were continuing their way up to Nordkapp by camper van before Fredy and Dimitri start their tour; good luck to them!

I pedalled over the bridge and back through Vitangi, before joining the E45/E10. The road started off flat but got more hilly latterly, climbing up to over 1700 foot at one point, according to my Garmin anyway.

Few hills to contend with, none serious

Few hills to contend with, none serious

Thankfully the ascents were for the most part fairly gentle, with only a few more serious assaults required. The roads were getting busier as I headed further South, with more cars and lorries today.

Pedalling South - the sun comes out

Pedalling South – the sun comes out

Today turned out to be a singing day, the power of music being employed to banish memories of the varmint attack, and speed me on my way. Singing a few songs as you pedal along really does make the journey go quicker, and helps get you up hills, especially if you’re trying to remember the words, or make them up as I’m want to do.

Singing selfie in the sunshine

Singing selfie in the sunshine

I started off with a bit of American Pie, which has a lot of verses so was quite a challenge, then moved on to Queen, working through their greatest hits, and finishing with some Lobster rock just to keep my travelling crustacean companion entertained.

Double thumbs up pirate pose of the day

Double thumbs up pirate pose of the day

It really raises morale, belting along belting out a few tunes for all to hear. When I say ‘all’ I mostly mean reindeer, and birds, as there weren’t many humans around.

Frozen lake number ?!?$!

Frozen lake number ?!?$!

The scenery was fairly standard, more pines and frozen lakes, and I was enjoying the ride, and singing, so I didn’t take many pictures. I arrived in Gallivare about 15.00 I think, after passing signs advertising a burger joint for the last 15km.  The sign post introducing Gallivare proudly announces that this is Europe’s mining capital; lots of iron ore apparently.

I found Gallivare campsite and checked in, opting for a cheap room rather than my tent, as the price was fairly similar, then pedalled back into town to pick up some supplies and find the burger joint.

Burger acquired at Frasses

Burger acquired at Frasses

The burger did not disappoint, and the fries were pretty good too, all good fuel for the next day’s cycling. They have some good alternative seasoning for fries in Europe; some kind of chilli mix.

Gallivare itself is a bit of a depressing place, with quite a bit of poverty in evidence; people begging outside all the shops – looked like ethnic minorities, sad really. It’s very much an industrial looking town, with a few ski runs thrown in for good measure.

I spent the evening closeted in my room as there was no-one else around, drinking chocolate milk and planning the next few days; I’m not sure why I bother as I always seem to end up tweaking my plans, but at least it gives me a starting point.

Planning aided by chocolate milk

Planning aided by chocolate milk

One strange thing; the whole room shook at about 11.30. I checked and don’t think it was an earthquake, so maybe it was something to do with the mining in the area.

I covered 102 km on 13 May, here’s the Garmin record of my ride: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/773176073  (let me know if the link doesn’t work)

———-> 14 May

I’d gone to bed slightly nervous about the weather, the forecast not being particularly encouraging, and when I looked out of the window my fears were realised. Despite the sleet and strong Northerly wind I packed up and got on the road about 09.15, with around 140km to do to get to Overkalix.

14 May - weather not the best

14 May – weather not the best

The thing about photos is they don’t show up the rain or sleet very well; I’ll take video next time. Before I left I noticed the painting in the lodge where I was staying, a bit of a strange image to adorn the wall with.

Strange fresco in lodge in Gallivare

Strange fresco in lodge in Gallivare

Mountains in the background have ski runs

Mountains in the background have ski runs

After dropping off my key I rode back through Gallivare, thankful that I only had a short stretch riding into the wind, then turned on to the E10 which would take me South, with a fine tailwind, hopefully all the way to the Baltic coast, or in the short-term to Overkalix anyway.

Wet day riding

Wet day riding

Maybe it was the weather, or perhaps I’d drunk too much water/chocolate milk the night before, however I had to stop for a frustrating number of loo breaks; tricky when it’s cold and raining and you just want to get on with the ride.

Another pit stop

Another pit stop

The sleet/rain turned into snow at one point, which was ‘nice’, so I was very glad of my ski gloves, even if they got a bit damp, as well as my polartec buff which kept my head very toasty under my helmet.

The tailwind sped me South at an average of 20km an hour, which is pretty good for me with a fully loaded touring bike; I’d stocked up on food yesterday. I reckon my bike + kit must weigh about 45kg, maybe a bit more when loaded up with max food and water. I’ll try to check the exact weight when I can find some scales.

I didn’t stop very much, aside from to answer calls of nature, as the snow turned back to rain and with spray from the traffic it was really quite unpleasant. A shame really as in better weather this would be lovely countryside to pedal through; pine forests crisscrossed by rivers, with the road winding through mountains. It was fairly flat for most of the ride, with the overall gradient tending to be downhill, so easy riding, especially with the tailwind.

Wet thumbs up

Wet thumbs up

I could smell pine sap all day from the piles of logs along the roadside. I also saw 3 Capercaillie, which I was pleased about having not seen one before, as far as I’m aware. On each occasion they startled and flew off as I rode by; the same could not be said for the 4 or 5 reindeer corpses I passed, which must have been hit by lorries or cars.

Break time next to a river

Break time next to a river

Speaking to the landlady of the hotel I’m staying in tonight, the Reindeer are apparently pretty stupid, much like the sheep in Scotland I encountered. Moose are far more intelligent and shy, and don’t tend to wander into he road. If you do hit a Moose it’s far more dangerous, as you take out its legs and then the body falls through the windscreen; not a good result for either party.

Nice spot by the river, aside from the weather

Nice spot by the river, aside from the weather

Lobster not happy with the inclement weather

Lobster not happy with the inclement weather

Again there were a lot more cars and lorries today, which still gave me lots of room, but tended to spray me somewhat. The worst were the trucks with two trailers, or even more so the double oil tankers which kicked up enormous amounts of water; very wet socks and gloves!

I rode through the last few villages accompanied by the sound of barking dogs, who always seem to react badly to passing cycle tourers. I had to pedal over the river a couple of times to reach Overkalix, discovering that the campsite was indeed closed, as suspected, but the Grand Arctic Hotel was open, and right next door. I opted for the hotel rather than to wild camp, figuring I’d saved some money over the last few days, and needed to dry out anyway. The weather was getting worse, but will hopefully improve tomorrow, according to the forecast.

Bit damp, opted for the hotel

Bit damp, opted for the hotel

The hotel is owned by a Russian family, who are in the process of renovating it. I’m happy to report the sauna works just fine, and did a great job of returning warmth and sensation to my hands and feet, a definite bonus. I also enjoyed my first beer of the tour, alongside a fine chicken and rice, plus salad, plus bread dinner.

First beer of the tour - a fine local brew

First beer of the tour – a fine local brew (IPA)

I now have various items of clothing draped around my room drying, hopefully by tomorrow morning, in time for the ride to Lulea. Here is a link to today’s 142km ride: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/774264134

One final thing; I met two more cycle tourers who arrived at the hotel shortly after me, with the same idea of retreating from the weather. Jon has cycled here from Gilbraltar, on his way to Nordkapp, and passed on a few tips on the route. He’s recently been joined by Tim, from Hong Kong, who has been pedalling since Umea. It appears the frequency of cycle tourers is going up, excellent stuff; saying that I’ll not meet another one until Denmark now!

10 to 12 May 2015 – leaving Norway, glimpse of Finland, hello Sweden

That was a good night’s sleep, lovely and warm in my cabin. I think the campsite lady believes I’m a bit mad for coming here now rather than in summer, however despite the cold and rain I was smiling when I arrived yesterday, and was still smiling in the morning, which she seemed impressed by. At least I don’t get plagued by mosquitos and midges at this time of year.

My cosy cabin for the night

My cosy cabin for the night

I was up in good time to tackle the 130km to Kautokeino, my longest ride of the tour yet. I was slightly nervous due to the hills, continuing headwind, and chilly weather. This part of Scandinavia can be pretty unforgiving if you’re not prepared for it. Only one thing for it really, thumbs up and off we go; I’ve worked out how to use the timer on my camera, but still need to work on the angles!

Thumbs up and off I pedal

Thumbs up and off I pedal

Anyway, off I pedalled in the drizzle, keen to be on my way to the Artic Mobil campsite at the other end of the ride, as well as the Remo supermarket in the town, or village, or whatever it turned out to be. The road wound through pine forested hills next to a big river; the Karasjokka followed by the Jiesjokka I think.

Following the river through pine forested valley

Following the river through pine forested valley

I started passing quite a few piles of logs by the roadside, awaiting pick up to one sawmill or another. Logging must be a key industry here, especially with all the log built houses, however none of the hills look too denuded of trees so seems to be well managed.

Log piles by the roadside

Log piles by the roadside

The rain stopped after a couple of hours, bonus, and fueled by bread, salami and banana from breakfast I made good time over the hills, crossing a fast flowing and very cold looking river as the sun came out.

Very cold looking river - fancy a dip anyone?

Very cold looking river – fancy a dip anyone?

Bridge crossing - more Arctic Tundra on the menu

Bridge crossing – more Arctic Tundra on the menu

I soon climbed out of the pine forests and back into Arctic tundra, passing the now familiar scenes of frozen lakes and scrubby silver birch. I was pretty happy to see a sign saying only another 70km to Kautokeino.

70km to Kautokeino

70km to Kautokeino

Taking that photo did earn me a honk from a passing car, one of the few I’d seen in the last hour that snuck up on me. Undeterred I cycled on, stopping to top up energy levels next to…another frozen lake.

Lobster rationing sweets; 1 for me, 2 for him

Lobster rationing sweets; 1 for me, 2 for him

Frozen lake panorama - lot of them about

Frozen lake panorama – lot of them about

It was another double thumbs up moment, still haven’t got the angle right.

Double thumbs up under blue skies

Double thumbs up under blue skies

The E92 eventually turned into the E93, amongst a sudden convergence of speeding lorries which was slightly alarming. The E92 had been pretty quiet, however E93 definitely saw an increase in traffic levels with HGVs going from North to South and vice-versa. I didn’t see any moose, despite there being warming signs about them, but I did spot some more reindeer, which I duly herded off the road.

Doing a bit of reindeer herding - so like the sheep in Scotland

Doing a bit of reindeer herding – so like the sheep in Scotland

The whole landscape is criss-crossed with snow mobile tracks, which are especially visible on the frozen lakes. I saw one snow mobile speeding across a lake which looked to be thawing rather rapidly; rather them than me.

Other than the reindeer there was plenty of bird life to listen to, as well as catch glimpses of as I pedalled along. At one point I think I saw an owl, it was definitely owl shaped; I guess they have the hunt when it’s light here. I also saw an eagle, not sure what sort, as well as more geese and numerous smaller birds, some quite colourful but all to quick to catch on film.

The road continued on like this.

The road is long, with quite a few winding turns

The road is long, with quite a few winding turns

And in a similar fashion like this.

Okay, so less of the winding turns at this point

Okay, so less of the winding turns at this point

I may have been getting a bit blaze about the stunning landscape at this stage, however I’d seen a lot of the same for a while now and was quite looking forward to a town. I’d passed a few small villages nestled on hillsides, but nothing of any significant size. It makes me wonder what people do to survive/earn a living up here; there must be forestry, maybe mining, and tourism.

After a lot of ups and downs I eventually made Kautokeino after 9 hours and 15 minutes in the saddle, covering 129km. I was tired by the time I reached the Arctic Mobil campsite due to all the hills, as well as the headwind, however the campsite owner, a jovial Norwegian lady with only limited English, gave me the use of the Sami tipi for the night which buoyed my spirits, and cheap at 100 NOK. One downside; the shower, which cost 10 NOK, was cold, not what you want after a hard day’s riding.

Arctic Mobil campsite in Kautokeino - Sami tipi for the night

Arctic Mobil campsite in Kautokeino – Sami tipi for the night

Inside the tipi - pretty snug, and room for Smaug too

Inside the tipi – pretty snug, and room for Smaug too

Feeling rather tired I decamped to the campsite kitchen to cook up some noodles and drink peppermint tea whilst I planned the next few days. Sometimes I really miss coffee but don’t drink it anymore due to migraines, somehow peppermint tea just doesn’t quite do it. I should have brought some whisky, that would help, haven’t had a drink since arriving in Scandinavia; a bit odd but not missing it at the moment. After a few hours I retired for the night, but not before putting on my thermals and a few layers as the temperature was dropping to freezing, as evidenced by the snow getting more crunchy. The tipi, whilst comfy, was a little drafty, it having a hole for the smoke to go out of; as recompense it did have a divan type thing to sleep on.

I slept extremely well that night, waking up a bit late (08:15) but refreshed, and to sunshine, ready for the day ahead. In the back of my mind I was considering whether I could pedal out of Norway, all the way through Finland, and into Sweden in 1 day. I didn’t think I could make it, and there looked to be campsite and wild camping options along the way, but I decided to keep an open mind; 3 countries in 1 day would be an achievement, and I like setting myself challenges to liven things up.

A new day awaits, the sun shines

A new day awaits, the sun shines

After breakfast and more peppermint tea I pedalled to the supermarket for supplies, bidding the jolly landlady goodbye with a wave. I splurged out in chocolate and expensive salami, needing to use up some NOK.

Remo supermarket seem to be the staple in Norway

Remo supermarket seem to be the staple in Norway

I found a pastry, it was pretty nice, and gave me a good boost for the ride ahead.

Second breakfast in Kautokeino

Second breakfast in Kautokeino

I rode down the E93 to the border with Finland, keeping an eye out for moose again.

Beware the moose

Beware the moose

I didn’t see any, but passed lots more tundra and frozen lakes.

I pedalled through the border via the ‘Nothing to declare’ channel, passing some lorries stopped at customs that must have been transporting fish; very smelly. Goodbye Norway, hello Finland.

So, on into Finland, my 3rd country of the tour, and my first impressions were that it wasn’t a lot different to Norway; more reindeer for example.

Finnish reindeer

Finnish reindeer

The road through Lapland took me down to Enontekio where I thought I might find a campsite, even if it was a bit soon to stop; I didn’t, so I carried on toward Palojoensuu. Some of the place names are quite convoluted so apologies for any typos.

Pedalling through Finland

Pedalling through Finland

I rode through part of a national park, a sign telling me to watch out for all sorts of wildlife including Brown Bears, Pine Martens, Otters and Lynx; I didn’t see any of these but again birds were in abundance; Snow Buntings, Ptarmigan (heard not seen), Grouse, Capercaillie and birds of prey.

I passed through fells, forest and mires, keeping to the road of course. I thought this might be a good place to camp, until a lorry turned up and looked intent on staying for a while, with the engine running.

Nice lakeside stop, could've worked for wild camp aside from lorry

Nice lakeside stop, could’ve worked for wild camp aside from lorry

There were lots of frozen lakes again, but there seemed to be more thawing going on in Finland.

More thawing going on in Finland

More thawing going on in Finland

Pedalling through pines and Silver Birch the road was a lot flatter and made for easier riding than the last few days. I could hear the sounds of running water everywhere, mixed with birdsong, with the occasional reindeer or group thereof startling as I rode by. It was as if the land was waking up from being asleep all winter.

Island in the river, Finland

Island in the river, Finland

There was so much running water from all the snow melt, and all of it very brown, leaving everywhere very damp and not very suitable for stopping to camp. I made it to Palojoensuu and guess what, couldn’t find a campsite despite there being one marked on the map; maybe it just hadn’t opened for the season yet. I cycled on keeping my eyes peeled for a suitable spot out of sight of the road, but everywhere was either snowbound, or in one instance had a large ant’s nest inconveniently positioned; there are quite a lot of large ant’s nests in Scandinavia, all waking up, reckon it’s one mega colony.

Possible wild camp option ruled out due to snow and ants

Possible wild camp option ruled out due to snow and ants

After a bit of a climb I finally made Kaaresuvanto about 21:30, then crossed over the bridge and into Sweden and Karesuando. I’d done it, 3 countries in 1 day!

There was no activity on the border, and I pedalled straight through following the signs to a campsite, which turned out to be closed, or completely absent of anybody anyway. Without realising it I’d gained an hour somewhere along the line, but after 146 km I was too tired to pedal any further, so opted to pitch my tent anyway and pay if anyone turned up, which they didn’t, so a free night’s stealth camping for me, wahey!

Tent pitched, Hilleberg Akto doing well

Tent pitched, Hilleberg Akto doing well

Deserted campsite in Karaesuando

Deserted campsite in Karesuando

After several rounds of cheese and salami sandwiches I turned in for the night, listening to the sounds of birds singing, or in some cases just squawking. Pretty awesome day I thought, as I drifted off to sleep.

Wake up call in Karesuando

Wake up call in Karesuando

No sooner had I fallen asleep than I heard my alarm go off, at 06.00; I’d slept pretty well again. To be honest I think it was more the bird song that woke me up; so many birds singing, and new calls I haven’t heard before. Over breakfast I watched a hawk getting mobbed by two very persistent Magpies, who eventually forced it to land in a tree.

My phone said it was 06.00, however I think it might have actually been 05.00, as the time kept changing as I crossed the border and further into Sweden, it was a bit confusing but didn’t really matter.

No-one had turned up overnight, and there was no number to phone, so I packed and pedalled off from my stealth camp at about 07.00, or could have been 06.00. Unfortunately there was nowhere to refill my water bottles but I still had one and half left.

Good morning - still a bit early really

Good morning – still a bit early really

I rode through the village of Karesuando, which still looked mostly asleep aside from one other cyclist pedalling the other way, who glanced at me rather confusedly; I gave them a wave anyway.

Leaving Karesuando Camping

Leaving Karesuando Camping

The road took me through pine forested countryside, with little in the way of hills or any kind of wind, however it was quite cold and overcast, despite the sunshine earlier; at least the rain held off.

I pedalled past the village of Narva, out on an island.

Narva

Narva

The scenery didn’t really vary very much, and there wasn’t much in the way of traffic. A few cars gave me a wave, as did a few lorries (mostly Post Nord Logistics), and the one police car I’ve seen all tour flashed their lights at me and gave me a thumbs up, all nice and encouraging; although I hoped they weren’t just trying to warn me of an impending hurricane or snow storm.

Road like this for quite a long time

Road like this for quite a long time

I could go 30 minutes to an hour without seeing another vehicle, certainly no other cyclists, lots of thinking time. Lobster had to give me a motivational talk at one point.

Motivational talk from Lobster

Motivational talk from Lobster

You can start wondering what on earth you think you’re doing, riding all the way out here, on your own, in these conditions? Why not do what ‘normal’ people do and take a trip to New York, or the Maldives? Why set yourself challenges like this?

I’m not sure I completely know the answer to these questions, however I know it’s to do at least partly with continuing to try to discover myself, and to give myself time to mull things over and perhaps decide on a future direction. I know I enjoy setting myself a challenge and seeing just what my limits are. I’m also a strong believer that it’s important to get out of your comfort zone from time to time, in order to grow as a person and experience the joy of new things, and grow in confidence. Then there’s just the joy of travelling, seeing new places and meeting new people. I could prattle on for ages about this, however in summary I’d recommend everyone, should the opportunity arise, take some time out and challenge yourself once in a while; see what happens.

I arrived in Vitangi, my destination for the day, at about 12.30, a bit earlier than expected due to the time zone change thing. I had a quick look around, and was hailed by a lady who’d seen me cycle out of Karesuando earlier; she congratulated me on a quick ride – 110km all in about 6 hours.

Vitangi Church

Vitangi Church

The town hosts a population of about 800 people, according to a sign, and lies to the South of the lake, the campsite being on the North side. You have to cross a bridge to reach it. The ice on the lake has nearly all melted, in contrast to most of the lakes I’ve passed to date.

Ice on lake nearly all melted - you might be able to see some swans standing on it

Ice on lake nearly all melted – you might be able to see some swans standing on it

Lakeside 1

Lakeside 1

The grassy nodules look like they might be troll heads, think they're formed by old tree stumps

The grassy nodules look like they might be troll heads, think they’re formed by old tree stumps

After pedalling about a bit I cycled back over the bridge to the campsite, which was as deserted as the one from last night. It did however have open toilets, shower, and a kitchen room, with power and running water. I tried calling the number at reception but there was no answer, so I pitched up anyway, and sat out enjoying the sun which had come out in force, warming things up nicely, and drying a few clothes I washed through.

Campsite with lakeside view

Campsite with lakeside view

Noodles were on the menu again, with cheese and Tabasco, hasn’t got boring yet.

Noodles, cheese, Tabasco and peppermint tea

Noodles, cheese, Tabasco and peppermint tea

I thought I saw a furry rodent face scuttle pass at one point, through the grass, but might have imagined it. There was certainly a lot of bird life about again, and I nodded off for a while listening to them all.

Lobster ensuring I record the day's events accurately

Lobster ensuring I record the day’s events accurately

Despite enjoying the solitude I was quite looking forward to getting to more populated areas again, where I might meet a few more people. It’s great being out in the ‘wilderness’ and I love the challenges it brings, however it can get a bit samey.

VItangi campsite double thumbs up

VItangi campsite double thumbs up

As if on cue a camper van turned up with a couple from Switzerland, and one of them was a cycle tourer being driven up to Nordkapp by his wife, Astrid, to start his own tour! Fredy, 65 and just retired, intends to cycle back down to Switzerland and then, if all goes according to plan, on to South Africa. He’s taking a slightly different route to me, via Russia and Estonia, and said it was a bit of nightmare securing the Russian visa.

Freddy, off to start his own tour

Freddy, off to start his own tour

What’s more, he’s doing it with his dog Dimitri, in a trailer! And Dimitri isn’t exactly small.

Dimitri snuffling about

Dimitri snuffling about

This is the second person I’ve met this year cycle touring with their dog. The first was Maggie Scorer, who is currently cycling around the coast of Britain, a tour that I completed in 2013, with her Dog Oscar – http://dogontour.co.uk . Oscar isn’t very small either, but looks like he’s loving it from the pictures.

It was great chatting with Fredy for the evening, hearing about his plans and comparing notes. He felt like he had to do something now he’s retired, and would regret it if he didn’t, and now he’s doing it, brilliant. His website is here: http://www.sasbybike.ch (there might be an English version coming soon). He’s a rotary club member, which I assume is the same organisation as in the UK, and is raising money for charity – school in Africa. Fredy also has a passion for birds and brought me up-to-speed on the various species I was likely to see, or that I’d already seen.

VItangi, sun through the trees

VItangi, sun through the trees

I wish I could speak more foreign languages. Everyone I’ve met so far has at least adequate English, whereas I only have adequate French as well as English, and a smattering of words in other languages. Hopefully I’ll pick up some more on this tour.

Needless to say it was great to meet a fellow tourer, my first since reaching mainland Europe, and I hope to bump into Fredy and Dimitri on the road somewhere in the future; he has some great plans, and Astrid is very supportive in driving him all the way up here. The chance meeting gave me the boost I needed, and I retired to my tent after a lovely evening, falling asleep quickly after a last cup of peppermint tea.

Tune in next time to hear about my encounter with a varmint – remember that furry rodent face I thought I saw…

Does anyone want to see my ride statistics/map? I can post links to them on the Garmin website if so, I just keep forgetting.

Also, I’m in Gallivare now, and still 100km in the Arctic Circle, should make it out tomorrow. Need to tot up my total km too.