Road trip! (Herräng – Malmö – Esbjerg – Harwich)

Our return was a feat of many forms of transport, linked in a precise schedule.

We started on Monday morning in Herräng. As previously mentioned on the blog, Sweden’s railways don’t allow bikes on long distance trains.
The crazy amount of luggage and our bikes meant we couldn’t fly back (at least not without hiring a small shipping container or transferring our lives’ savings to Ryanair).

This meant we had hired a car for the Swedish leg of our return. We collected the car in Norrtälje, drove back to Herräng, packed all our belongings and the two bikes in the back and left at 1pm after a few emotional goodbyes and many hugs.

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The drive was pretty uneventful – we still didn’t own any maps and so took a few eccentric turns, but generally made decent progress across the countryside. Nonetheless, 830km with a single driver on roads with a strict speed limit of 90 drag on, so that we only arrived in Malmö late at night.

We stayed at a hostel in the city centre, and returned the car the next morning.
Malmö is home to another friend, and so we meet my old choir master for coffee and Swedish cake delicacies. It was a very happy and chatty reunion, and two hours passed very quickly.

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We said our goodbyes, collected our bags and bikes from the hostel and made way to the train station. The Öresundtrain seemed like an old acquaintance, and we enjoyed our ride across the bridge.

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Hej-då, Sverige!

In Copenhagen we had a spectacular 8 minutes to get our bikes and ourselves across the station to a new platform (the lift would only take one bike at a time…) and also buy tickets for the Danish part of our journey.

I’ve never been this grateful for a delayed train before…

We reached Esbjerg and the ferry easily, greatly amused by the traffic signs showing the way to England.

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The ferry back was equally luxurious to the one we travelled to Holland with. Not that we got much use out of the three restaurants and gym. We slept for 12 solid, wonderful hours.

On Wednesday, we arrived in Harwich at mid-day, in uncharacteristically hot weather. We took the train back to London, were we parted ways at Liverpool Street Station, officially ending this trip.

It’s been a crazy, wonderful journey! Thanks for sticking it through with us!

Things we learnt

This is maybe the only post you want to read if you’re after advice for budding cyclotourists. If you want more in depth accounts of our struggles and adventures I recommend other posts, but this is the one with the substance and morals.

Sarah and I started out as completely freshfaced newbies. Our joint training rides amounted to just over 150km, and our individual efforts consisted mostly of short shuttles to work or the supermarket.

On top of this, Sarah was a completely inexperienced camper, and had to buy and borrow all of her gear.

Nonetheless, we managed this trip. Here are the lessons we learnt.

1) training is indispensable.

Yes, I just told you we didn’t do any training beforehand. However, this meant the first week of our trip was our training period. We built stamina and muscle while on the road. While this is perfectly possible, I wouldn’t recommend it. We had sore butts, overtired thighs and aching backs while also sleeping on a mat less than an inch thick at night and having to pay 50 cent for every three minutes of hot shower water.

How nice would it have been to manage the bulk of training beforehand, when we still slept in real beds and had unlimited hot baths at our disposal?

2) everything takes longer than you think.

Yes, we were cycling more slowly than we envisaged. But more seriously, daily life took a lot longer to manage. Just getting up and leaving in the morning seemed like an arduous task.

Normally, this would be a matter of walking out of the bedroom into the shower (1min), washing and getting dressed (10min), preparing and eating breakfast (10min), gathering bits and bobs in a bag for the day (10min) and finally leaving, in just over half an hour.

This became peeling yourself out of the warm sleeping bag, loosening up the stiff muscles and bracing the cool morning air (10min), finding clean clothes, towels and soap among the pile of bags (5min), finding the shower building, waiting for a free cubicle, looking for change in the right currency, returning to the tent for a 5 kronor piece , finally having a shower (20min), boiling tea water and porridge on the trangia (20min) and then packing up all belongings including mats, sleeping bags and tent and stowing them on the bikes (45 min). Add into this smooth going any difficulty like a sudden rain shower, wet laundry, a particularly chatty tent neighbour or the morning rush at the washing up basins, and you understand why we never left earlier than two hours after waking.

3) buy some fucking maps.

Yes, we didn’t. We navigated with help of street signs, downloaded PDF copies of googlemap excerpts and in Sweden, my iPhone. We saved a lot of money this way, but we also had to ask for campground locations almost daily.

If you don’t want to buy maps (but you should!) consider bringing a camping guidebook for your country of choice.

4) know what to compromise on.

This might be a bit more cryptic. I think we saw on our trip that you can never have it all. You have to choose between nice food, athletic achievement, sightseeing, friendship, sleeping in, travelling cheaply, moving quickly and a few other things. It’s of utmost importance that you and your travel buddies agree which ones are important to your trip and which can fall by the wayside!

For us, the main goal was to reach Herräng as friends. We couldn’t just go less far, and we didn’t want to split up or continue as mere travel companions.

We also valued nice food and adequate amounts of sleep very highly – mostly because we probably couldn’t have remained friends when hungry as well as continually exhausted!

This meant that we sacrificed athletic spirit somewhat and took the train a few times and rested on other days. All in all, we travelled about 1500km by bike (still an impressive feat for us!). We also spent more money than initially planned and stayed in hostels or ate out regularly to give us a break from lugging all our food about.

The last thing we compromised on was sightseeing. We simply weren’t in the mood to take in museums, famous castles or ancient churches. We greatly appreciated the subtly changing landscapes of Northern Europe and we loved strolling about in the little towns when looking for supermarkets or bike shops, but we did almost no classic tourist sightseeing. We were simply too tired to seek out art, history or design.

5) enjoy yourselves.

This trip was crazy. I know that because every single person I talked to told me so.
Yes, I know we could have taken a car, train or hovercraft. We could have taken a shorter route, trained more, taken less luggage, not gone dancing at the end of it, or at least had the decency of taking a young man with us to take care of such vulnerable young girls. Well, we didn’t.

Sarah and I have talked to many people about our journey and another dancer asked us “wow, how was that? Painful, or amazing?” and we replied at the same time: “painful and amazing!”

Every day had moments of struggle and hard work, but we also had crazy giggles, hilarious encounters, glorious views and real friendship in every day, and the 4 cycling weeks both took forever and just whizzed past.

6) do it with someone you love.

Sarah was an amazing partner in crime. We had similar levels of fitness, similar budgets and more importantly: similar attitudes to travelling.

We slept no more than a foot apart for four weeks and still fought for adjoining beds in Herräng. We shared every meal, many, many icecreams and the last sips from our water bottles. We built each other up when we were tired, applied sunscreen to the other’s back and watched the bikes when the other went to pee in the woods.

We did argue a few times (hey, we’re only human), but we always made up. We grew incredibly close over the course of our travels and it feels like we’ve both discovered Northern Europe and each other.

No matter how much we swore we’d never touch a bike or tent again, in the comfort of our cabin on the ferry back we were already spinning new travel plans.

Watch this space!

We made it (extended edition) [Uppsala – HERRÄNG]

We’re here!

it was our last morning of packing up our bits and bobs, collapsing the tent, rolling up mats, stuffing sleeping bags in too-tight bags and trying to fit our new extra things in the existing panniers (which had already been full to the brim).

We set off around noon, stopping at a supermarket and a convenient textile outlet store, where we acquired bed sheets for our accommodation.

After that, the road was hilly as ever, but somehow we didn’t mind. Two rest days had made our sore legs less heavy, and the prospect of reaching our goal today fuelled our minds.

We soared over hills, were smiling, laughing and chatting a lot, and even though it was a hot day, and we were soon very sweaty, the enthusiasm kept growing.

Our lunch break was next to a church, on a beautiful picnic table in the shade, and we refilled our water bottles from a tap in the churchyard.

We kept our speed throughout the early evening, and were anxious and happy about getting closer and closer.

Every sign was greeted not with the tired relief of earlier days, but with feverish expectation.

Imagine our joy when we saw the first street sign for Herräng!

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A short while later, we arrived at the entrance of the village, which prompted high-fives, several hugs and of course: a photo.

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We cycled a short distance to the actual camp, and have been greeting friends and telling our story ever since.

Our accommodation here won’t be the tent anymore, but instead bunk beds in a dorm in the Marina. Beds! Beds for two weeks! We’re happy and proud and now also comfortable.

Thank you to everyone who’s been following our adventures. I’ll write a few more posts about our gear, our general experiences etc., but I already want to thank everyone who read our road updates.
This trip has been very challenging for us, and every comment and every view made us feel connected to family and friends and gave us extra energy.

Thank you! It was so nice to see you taking part in our journey.

Where does time go? ( rest days in Uppsala)

The last two days passed in a mist. After leaving Eva and Matt, we decided to take a rest day in Uppsala, stay pn camping and get our gear dance camp proof – I.e. buy beautiful summer dresses.

This proved more difficult than expected. Our first foray into Uppsala campgrounds turned up the municipal campground, 10km out of town and, as it turned out: abandoned and seriously dilapidated.

Thanks, Internet for holding on to the age old reviews, old booking sites, and the beautiful pictures of the past.

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We decided to move back into town and go to a slightly less scenic but still maintained campground close to the city centre.

This meant that without achieving anything, we’d already cycled 25km (on our precious rest day!).

After pitching our tent, we barely made it back to town to buy food, and decided to catch a movie, just so we could sit down in a soft chair.

Those chairs were the only reason we stayed through the whole of “the bling ring”, a movie that is so entirely without plot, character development or dialogue that it could just be a 100 minute trailer with a lot of funky montages. Unless you’re exhausted and looking for a chair you can lean back in and this is your only option: do NOT watch this movie.

The next day, we actually got our shopping done, and updated our wardrobe from black spandex shorts and a variety of shrill sport shirts to a more refined summer chic. Watch out Herräng, we now have t-shirts that don’t advertise past sporting events and their drink sponsors! We are pure class!

We also made food on the trangia ( a good sign of our energy levels returning). The camping classic is chili con carne, but without any refrigeration and not willing to resort to a can, we made vegan chili with rice.

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4/5, would eat again.

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Nyköping – Södertälje (+train to Uppsala)

Our 5th day if serious, hilly cycling in a row. If you noticed my break in posting- this is what caused it!

We woke up in our airport hotel, determined to make our money back on the breakfast buffet. By this stage in our trip, we’re continually tired and always ravenously hungry.

You wouldn’t believe the portions we’re putting away! Sarah is tiny, and yet manages a large pizza, two cans of sugary drinks and a side salad and can still go for icecream an hour later.

At this breakfast we each had 3 rolls, heavily laden with butter and cheese, ham or jam; a bowl of muesli or a bowl of yoghurt; two glasses of juice; two cups of tea and a cup of chocolate milk.

Then we left for Södertälje. I’m slightly sick of finding nice euphemisms and funny descriptions for our cycling, so I’ll just put it very plainly: it was an uphill struggle. It was neither a particularly pretty road (and we’re slightly blasé about pretty views by now anyway), nor a particularly gorgeous day, and the cycling just dragged on.

We counted down the kilometres to Södertälje and were relieved to see the town in front of us.

Travelling by busy commuter train isn’t always fun, but we almost wept with joy when we reached the station. We bought icecream (yes, this is our panacea) and enjoyed the climatised ride through Stockholm suburbs a lot.

When changing onto the train to Uppsala, we were delighted to see that it went on an elevated railway through central Stockholm, treating us to exactly the amount of sightseeing we were capable of – 15 minutes of whizzing past unnamed beautiful buildings, while seated.

We arrived in Uppsala around 9pm, and after a short ride were taken in by Eva and Mats, our friend Maria’s parents.

Their flat was beautiful and cool, we had dinner and tea in their conservatory, and everything seemed slightly less daunting and dusty for once. Blissful!

We even slept in separate rooms- the first time since Nicolette’s house!

Norrköping – Nyköping ( a study in exhaustion)

Our 4th cycling day in a row was pretty tough.
We startled from our sofas when the morning dishes were being banged against the metal kitchen counters next door.

We stole surreptitiously out of the tv room, packed up our unused tent and went off in direction of Nyköping.

We’d been warned that this was the hilliest stage of our trip, and truly, morning was a continuous climb.

However, at the end we found ourselves on a ledge overlooking a large lake (which later turned out to be an inlet of the Baltic Sea) with a multitude of islets. A breathtaking view!

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After this climb, our journey continued with the up and down that we’d grown accustomed to. Together with a slight headwind and the sun, a tiring trip. We didn’t find anywhere suitable to have our lunch break (oh, for a German café with Apfelschorle), so we ended up just sitting on the side of the road. It was just a bit of pebbly grass, but oh, it was comfortable.

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It’s fair to say that by this point, we were wiped out. And then we met a couple of other cycle tourers, who told us about how hard they had found it to get in and out of Stockholm. Disillusioning news for us!

We dragged our sore bums to Nyköping, and decided to splurge for dinner and an ultra cheap hotel (actually an airport hotel for “Stockholm” Skavsta, which is 5km from Nyköping and about 90 km from Stockholm…

There we plotted and schemed with the help of google maps and Maria.
Instead if cycling to Stockholm, we’d only go to Södertälje and then take a local commuter train (the only kind that allows bikes, remember?) to Uppsala.
There, we’d stay with Maria’s parents and when we felt sufficiently fresh again, we’d tackle our final cycling day- straight to Herräng !