Currently in Chiang Mai, Thailand (06/12/2013) - 31200km cycled

15 Apr 2012

Cycling Sweden 2 – Freezing over

Posted by Will

After 10 days of battling the weather, hills, traffic and frequent punctures I’m now safely in Umea, northern Sweden. Right now, I’m further north than Anchorage, Alaska and only a few degrees south of the Arctic Circle. It’s been the toughest stretch so far but the ride was spectacular through sleepy rural villages, in the middle of untouched forest and along Sweden’s dramatic High Coast. Here’s an overview of the last 10 days.

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The first thing to mention is the weather which has pretty much completely determined my morale over the last week. When the sun is shining, the cyclist is smiling. In the sun, the world looks bright, breaks are enjoyable and most importantly, things dry. In the snow, everything still looks great and the novelty of fluffy snowflakes floating through the sky keeps the day interesting. But in the rain, the scenery looks grey if it can be seen at all, things get wet, things get muddy, and the cyclist gets (quite literally) bogged down. Several days ago, as I was cycling through a shelterless stretch of agricultural land, torrential rain came out of nowhere accompanied by wind which almost blew me off the road. Less than 5 minutes later, gear and moi were soaked through, despite all the ‘waterproof’ labels I’d paid through the nose for. Twenty minutes later, I found a totally inadequate camping spot under a few spindly trees, dragged my grit-jammed bike over to it, set-up the tent in the driving rain and then dived inside with my panniers. Not a great idea as this only succeeded in making the floor of the tent wet. After an hour of sorting myself out, I selected the least damp clothes I could find and snuggled up in my soggy sleeping bag for a horrible night’s sleep. However, the pain had only just begun.

The next morning I had the pleasure of changing back into my drenched cycle gear, packing-up in a puddle of water, and best of all, finding that my front-tyre was completely flat. So, I patched my tyre sitting in aforementioned puddle of water, and feeling pretty exhausted already, started pedalling, only for the rain to start again an hour later. As I write, my shoes are still not dry and will probably never (sniff) be the same again. Enough moaning though because with the lows come the highs.

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A few days later the sun came back out in all it’s glory and I had a full view of Sweden’s incredible High Coast. This is a 150km stretch around Ornskolsvik where the cliffs do extraordinary things, the snow-capped hills seem to point in every direction and fjords snake their way inland for the reinvigorated cyclist to enjoy. The term ‘winter-wonderland’ was surely invented for what you see here at this time of year. The side of the road is covered in 6 feet of snow and every tree is coated in the stuff. The friendly Swedish drivers toot their encouragement (I think it’s friendly?) and the locals are becoming more and more impressed at the distance I’ve covered. My favourite locals at the moment are Linda and Martin, the lovely couple who are having me to stay in their apartment right now. The feeling of a warm shower, a home-cooked meal, a beer in front of the TV and nice people to talk to has put that foul weather firmly in the past and made it all worth going through.

My tent has continued to provide accommodation and over this stretch I’ve become the world-expert in cooking cous-cous to perfection over a painfully slow camp-stove. I got so confident one night that warm chopped tomatoes were added to the meal. A hot meal every night with a thermos full of English Breakfast Tea certainly perks me up in the evening but the washing-up pain dampens this. In a particularly depressing episode of Mission Washing-Up I dropped one of my bowls in the nearby creek whereby it slowly started to float away. I scrabbled along the bank following it but it was too quick. I managed to follow it for a good 300m but the damn thing wouldn’t come near the bank and eventually it reached some rapids where it was whisked away into the gloom. My bowl supply halved, I trudged back through the snow to drink the rest of my English tea in the tent thoroughly pissed off.

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I’m leaving Sweden tomorrow and taking the boat to Finland. Too many people have told me there isn’t much to see up north on the Swedish coast and I don’t think it’s clever to go inland to the high mountains without seriously good equipment (ie. waterproof stuff). Over 3 weeks in Sweden have shown me it’s an outdoor-enthusiast’s place to be. Hiking can be enjoyed almost anywhere, skiing and other snowsports are ideal in the northern regions, climbing, fishing, hunting, sailing – it’s all here. The right of public access in the countryside is the icing on a spacious cake without too many candles to clutter it. But the candles that are here are a friendly bunch. Even a wet, moody cyclist can recognise that.

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6 Comments already on “Cycling Sweden 2 – Freezing over”
  1. 8:42 pmpermalink
    15 Apr 2012

    Charles

    Much missed in Cornwall, Will, but much discussed as well, with all the shaking of the heads and rueful smiles you’d expect from a bunch who while wondering what you’re all about are seriously proud of you and your efforts to prove that the Johnstons do have some get up and go, and are not really a lard arsed bunch of Minesweeper playing losers. Do it for the Tribe!
    And I’ll have none of that ‘it’s the Hodgkinson genes’ nonsense.

  2. 11:27 ampermalink
    16 Apr 2012

    Sarah, Guy, Toby and Edward

    Well done William. Love reading all that’s going on with you especially the “bowl” incident! The statistics page is great – definitely a Hodgkinson gene to log all that – Grandpa would be proud. Maybe you should write a book about it when you finish!

  3. 11:07 pmpermalink
    16 Apr 2012

    Birgit

    Hey Will!
    I definitly had to think of you when we had snow in Stockholm the other day… “how will it be for poor Will cycling up north?”… it was great to read your post and knowing that you carried on cycling ;)
    The weather is supposed to get nicer now – I keep my fingers crossed for you!
    Keep it up!
    Best wishes from Stockholm!
    Birgit

    …and I am seriously planning to cycle through France now! :-)

  4. 5:34 ampermalink
    17 Apr 2012

    Mumsy

    Too much snow for camping I think! xx

  5. 9:17 ampermalink
    18 Apr 2012

    Emma&Mike

    What We would give for some snow ! Have got a pukey bug in 40c….not fun and have generally had no roads for the last 300 km !! Hope the leg has healed xxx

  6. 2:16 pmpermalink
    19 Apr 2012

    James

    Great stuff Will, just reading it all for the first time since I got out here and youre doing pretty well! We’re in Udaipur at the moment (southern rajasthan) and flying to mumbai tomorrow morning. Ditto on emma and michaels wish for cold, its averaging high 30s here. My turban is being used to great effect. Going to watch an IPL match on tuesday mmmm x