This morning as I dashed through yet another Norwegian tunnel I hit 4000km on the odometer. With two thousand kilometres and multiple border crossing since my last blog, I thought it was about time I got myself typing! The past month has been characterised by challenging rides through varied terrain, as well as some fabulous city breaks in Hamburg, Aalborg, Gothenborg and Oslo. I’m now in Scandinavia making my way north to the Arctic Circle, and eagerly anticipating the mountains, fjords and glaciers of Norway in the coming weeks!
The riding through Germany was fairly monotonous as I used the main artery roads linking the villages to Hamburg. The cycle paths continued to be excellent throughout the country; but it proved to be quite a wet and windy ride. As Europe’s second largest port, the industry in Hamburg was immense (after an hour of riding into the city centre I hadn’t passed a single house, just signs of heavy industry and the transportation of international cargo). I arrived as the city was celebrating the birthday of its harbour, so watching the procession of ships on the water was a nice way to enjoy the moment. As I sat on the waterside I met Irja, who kindly took me to an Indian restaurant to enjoy a meal with her daughter Saija. The next four days were spent with Johannes, who took me on numerous rides around the city and showed me the notorious nightlife of Hamburg (during which I lost my phone).
The North Sea Cycle Route (NSCR) stretches for over 6000km along the coastal cycle paths of seven countries. It was this EuroVelo route that I joined from Hamburg, following the River Elbe westwards to the coast. During the next week the wind and rain did all it could to take the energy out of me; luckily I had ample supply of the wholesome German bread. On one evening I crumbled a loaf into a can of tomato soup, and it magically became a poor man’s beef stew- yum! However, with the headwind reducing me to 7-9 km/h, I had to abandon the path and follow the faster inland roads where the wind wasn’t as intense. Not even ample amounts of coffee and trance music could make me go more than a snail’s pace!
I’m not much of a ‘bird-man’, but one of the joys of the NSCR was coming in close contact with an incredible amount of unique birdlife. The birds kept me company and put a smile on my face on many occasions as they darted in and around Wilson. When I did have a humungous eagle glide over me in the woods I instinctively ground to a halt and yelled ‘S*** Yeah!’ The bird wasn’t impressed and quickly moved away, and I was left disappointedly reflecting on my lack of bird watching skills!
When I did reach Denmark I stopped in the small village of Skaerbaek for lunch, and was lucky enough to meet Wilhelm. I was soon asked to his nearby organic farm to stay the evening, and as well as enjoying terrific company overnight we checked out the bizarre American Line Dancing Festival in town! On the following evening another chance meeting with a lovely Danish family in Hjerting resulted in a delicious sunset ice cream, after which they paid for my accommodation at a campsite! With the wind easing and the sun shining, Denmark was quickly becoming my favourite destination. The temperature continued to increase to up to 30 degrees, and it was only unfortunate that I had to keep my cycling jacket on to avoid my pasty skin becoming overly lobster-like!
As I pedalled along my first Danish fjord I noticed fishermen hauling in fish on each cast. Trying my luck I went down for a chat and Nicolas quickly caught me my lunch. A madras fish curry with instant mash potato was soon cooked up and eaten by the waterside. I needed such hearty meals as most of my riding in Denmark was along dirt tracks amongst the North Sea sand dunes. It brought some gorgeous seaside sunsets, and on one evening I found a ‘primitiv overnatningsplads’ so I slept with the bugs inside a wooden hut in the forest.
As a traveller every now and then I come across a concept or way of doing things that alters my perspective on life. I met Matt and Marie-Louise along the NSCR in southern Denmark, and during the course of our conversation Matt made a curious comment that “we mainly eat out of bins”. At the time I didn’t think much of it, and we continued our jovial conversation while I munched on one of their muesli bars. Later in the evening I met Adi, who had also camped with the same pair a couple nights earlier. We sat up most of the night by our tents discussing the practice of ‘dumpster diving’, which basically involves taking food from the bins of supermarkets. As you know supermarkets wastefully throw away perfectly good food that has passed its so-called ‘used by date’, or that has been packaged in a way that makes huge amounts of food unsellable once one item happens to look suspect. As we chatted I realised I still had the wrapper of the muesli bar earlier in the day. I quickly ran over to my handlebar bag, and fair enough it was way out of its selling date (and yet was absolutely delicious when I had eaten it earlier in the day). Similarly, the following week when I met four French cyclist’s on the ferry we sat and ate for hours the contents from their morning bin haul. These items included such diverse items as salad, meats and chips. They had also met Matt and Marie-Louise, and it seems that the couple are single handily changing the very meaning of budget travel! Those who do it insist it is an appropriate way of protesting against the system of food outlets, and perfectly safe as you only take packaged items. So would you ‘dustbin dive?’ It’s certainly given me plenty to ponder about on the saddle…
When I left Hamburg I had set Aalborg as my goal and I soon fell in love with the city. The youthful city had a certain vibrancy as soon as I arrived, and as the last weekend of May it was full of park BBQs, a visit to the beach, and revelling at the annual Aalborg Carnival. I was hosted by Kristoffer, who I had met when he couchsurfed on my sofa five years ago in Sydney. As well as satisfying my craving for pizza, Kris showed me a festive side of Aalborg which I’ll remember for the rest of my life. I also needed to organise the logistics of my trip, and when I couldn’t decide whether to get a ferry to Norway or Sweden we decided by flipping a Krona coin. With the coin falling on tails (Stig and Kris kindly interpreted the heads/tails side of the coin for me) it was determined that I cross the water to Gothenborg from Frederikshavn. With such fond experiences in both Aalborg and coastal Denmark, it was with great reluctance that I cycled northwards on Monday morning to catch the ferry to Sweden.
In Gothenborg I was hosted by Janka, whose hospitality knew no end (how she managed to sneak one kilogram of cheese into my pannier bag is beyond me!) My time in the city was spent exploring the harbour and parks on my bike, and a visit to the candy store provided enough sugar to reach Oslo in just three days! Janka had also spent a month cycling in Norway, so I ‘picked her brain’ for the best cycling routes to the Arctic.
Sweden was full of colourful farmlands and lush valleys, and I was pleasantly surprised to find every road sign painted in the national colours of yellow and blue. On my second day of riding in Sweden I discovered a broken spoke on the back wheel of Wilson. I couldn’t believe I had got more broken spokes than punctures (touch-wood), and was really concerned at both finding a bike shop and the cost of such a repair. I needn’t have worried. The following day I detoured through the town of Munkedal and the bike shop mechanic quickly worked his magic to replace the spoke and true the wheel. When I tried to pay he flatly refused, and his kindness kept a smile on my face for the rest of the day.
I rode over 120km/day to reach Oslo on Friday evening. With my knee’s feeling the pain, it was with great relief that I finally descended into the city to Anne’s home where I spent two nights. Anne had planned to meet me eleven months ago in Spain on my last tour, so it was great to finally meet and spend a few days together. On Saturday we went on a walking tour of the city and took in the gorgeous harbour from the ferry, and yesterday Anne joined me to cycle out of the city to Sundvollen. I was petrified as we dashed illegally through a 460km tunnel, and it was with great relief when we exited the other side alive. Our sunset dinner overlooking the calm water of Tyri-fjorden gave me a taste of the scenery to come.
In a couple weeks Jon Maiden will be racing me to The Arctic Circle by hitchhiking from Yorkshire. His Hitching4Cancer trip will also be done to raise money for AICR. With countless tunnels to avoid, ferries to catch, and mountains to climb it will no doubt be a close race (especially as he will no doubt stay on the direct motorways with his feet up sleeping or eating donuts while the driver does all the work, haha). Good luck mate!