Thursday, 30 June 2011

The Hill

Mariestad  -  Falkoping     84.5 kms     1045’ ascent
I am writing this blog is a minor stupor. This has been another day when distance increased.  So it was a very tired pair of cyclist who arrived in the middle of Falkoping with not the least notion of the location of the campsite. (Falkoping is quite big by Swedish standards) In a desperate attempt to glean some relevant information, I ran into what turned out to be a kebab place, peopled by four Turkish gentlemen. In my haste, I had neglected to securely fasten my shirt and was acutely aware of surreptitious glances at my chest. (It was only glances, as there is no longer anything worth a stare). Anyway, they could not have been more helpful. After a mixture of arm waving, English and a language I could not identify, the youngest of the quartet rushed out to his car a presented me with a map to keep. Having received very precise instructions which, worryingly, contained the word ‘berg’, we set off.  We had not the slightest difficulty following the route! The ‘berg’ was just that. So after nearly 85 kms, we watched in disbelief as this 12% hill reared up to give the day a final kick. This was the second push of the journey so far!
You may get the impression from all this agony, that the day was not enjoyed. In fact, although the morning had started very badly on the 26 and required a route rethink, it was another of those situations where the outcome is very positive.  And what a gem  of a route we (hmm.. Alan and the GPS) found. Beautiful country roads and warm sunshine. Coffee stop was taken on the churchyard wall and we were very content. It all just went a bit wobbly when we reached Skovde around lunch time and the cycle tracks assumed that no signs were necessary and so we weaved around trying to find the way out. Then it got very HOT. Otherwise, the day was a breeze and erecting the tent at the end of it was just another joy! Seldom has a sleeping bag been so much appreciated. But we live to fight another day.   

Gota Lot

Kritinehamn -  Mariestad     89.3 kms       418’ ascent
This was not a short day! As ever, the kilometres increased as the day went on and 70ish became nearer 90ish. It’s a gift we have. However, we did enjoy some of the finest scenery of the trip so far and that takes some doing. Our magic GPS indicated that we could run a parallel route with the main road. (The detailed viewing of this instrument was initiated by the fact that, for the first time, a crabby motorist had sounded an irate horn at Alan. This went down badly with my husband who raised a finger at said driver and hoped for his early demise. Fortunately he wasn’t six feet tall and didn’t take up the challenge.) But as a result we found this rather bumpy and wavy track which ran alongside the lake (the HUGE one) and at one point it did resemble the ocean (the lake, not the road) as nothing was visible on the horizon. Having late re-joined the main road, we crossed the Gota canal, which is apparently one of Sweden’s main tourist attractions! (Not very well publicised I think.) It joins Lake  Vanern with the west coast and has 58 locks one of which I rushed to photograph. Something else which requires further investigation.
We spent a second night on the lakeside. I guess it must be our natural charisma, but we have been allocated some stunning situations on our campsites. This one was no exception. We also witnessed as we had last night, a sunset to rival any we have ever seen and so we took some pictures!
Saw those big birds again and a red squirrel which seemed reluctant to run off until I arrived and unclipped my pedals. At which point, it suddenly shot up the nearest tree – a wise move I thought. As we left the campsite this morning, we watched a deer with her fawn. It was obviously our day for wildlife.

Magnificent Midnight

Filipstad – Kristinehamn   55.4 kms        172’ ascent.
Today was to be a short day in terms of actual riding. The aim was to arrive at our next site early so that we could complete all the domestic and internet tasks that we had been unable to do at Mr. Happy’s site. Just for once all went to plan and we even found time to partake of a coffee in the campsite café! Our cabin is looking out over Lake Vanern which is HUGE. We enjoyed a superb sunset while supping sadly, not a glass of wine, but a cup of coffee! It may have been this latter which contributed to my difficulty in sleeping. But , as with most things, there was a positive outcome. At midnight I strolled onto the verandah and witnessed the sun just below the horizon; a new experience for me. I trust Alan will post one of the photos on the blog so that you can share in the magnificence of it.  
In addition to sunsets, I have to say that Sweden has delivered the most magnificent display of roadside flora. I would challenge any of the famous gardeners to produce such an array of colour, shape and texture. Mind you, they would know all the names of the plants, and I can name but a few.  They have provided a great deal of pleasure and a distraction from sore bits and bobs. A further distraction (not a falling off one) has been the sight of some very large birds. From a distance they looked like Rheas but much smaller. I know they are not. But we don’t know what they are. No doubt, a very famous tourist attraction about which we are totally ignorant. They are very fine, whatever they are.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

2000 kms

Vansbro  -  Filipstad    99.5kms      816’ ascent
We knew that today was going to be a long haul so it was heads down and GO. It seemed likely, in view of the fact that today was Midsummer and therefore, a national holiday, that the road was likely to bear less traffic. So, although we continued to climb (I am beginning to think that I don’t notice the downs) at least there were fewer vehicles rushing by.  We are, I know, slow learners, but today we succeeded in clothing ourselves in waterproof gear BEFORE it rained. Unlike yesterday, it did stop after a few hours and then the wind (yes, you have guessed correctly) up our nostrils, successfully dried us off.  After six quite long days and now past the 2000km mark, we were looking forward to our rest day in a comfortable cabin beside a lake. We are beside a lake! It is quite charming but that charm does not extend to our accommodation which is uncharacteristically very basic – two bunk beds, a table, a ‘fridge and an electric kettle.  Camping gear to the rescue.
On this site, any concessions to the modern age are yet to be implemented. Thus, no internet or a very dubious connection using the local ‘phone network. This missive, therefore, will not reach your computers for at least another twenty four hours. I hope you find it worth the wait. Tomorrow we head off for a short ride to a site which hopefully will provide all the things we required of this one. Just another small blip.

Wet -Very Wet

Mora – Vansbro   78.3 kms    ascent unknown but quite a lot – again!
It was tempting to stay longer in our chalet, but Vansbro beckoned and it promised to be a shorter and less arduous day than the preceding one. Or maybe not! We footled along happily until coffee time. Alan stopped (cos he is always in front) at very strange looking building, beside which was a museum and a café. We decided to give the museum a miss but not the café.  Later, we discovered that the building had been a huge kiln for smelting iron. This had been an important part of the Swedish economy until the greater efficiency of coal (not available in Sweden) had displaced the less effective heating with charcoal. No doubt the museum would have been a mine of information but today time was not on our side and the clouds were looking ever more menacing. They did not disappoint and in a short time the predicted downpour commenced with no sign of a let up. As usual, we were a little tardy in donning waterproofs. By lunch time we were absolutely soaked and managed to find a layby with a shelter of sorts. We shared this facility with a number of cars and caravans in which everyone was dry. These fortunate folk looked askance at two wet cyclist and Alan was moved to comment that we also had a caravan and a car which rather begged the question – ‘why are we soaking wet on bikes?’ We know the answer to that – ‘We just love a challenge!’  Soggy sandwiches are not unfamiliar to us so we munched on in defiance of the wet. A visit to the loo was required before we leapt on to our bikes, and what a treat that turned out to be. The cubicle was heated and the blower made short work of drying a very wet anorak. By the time I emerged, Alan was instigating a search. However, he did not hesitate to indulge in the same experience. Livened by this temporary bout of warmth we continued our sodden journey.
Maybe in common with other main roads, the nearside of this road was indented, presumably due to the weight of passing juggernauts. This gulley instantly filled with standing water and was the only safe place for a cyclist to ride without fear of imminent death.  So now we had to endure the resistance of treacle (well that’s what it felt like).
Our little cabin this night, was indeed little but we did reach it about 10 minutes before an almighty storm turned everything into Noah’s flood. Lucky or what. Mind you, our little shed was reminiscent of a Chinese laundry once we had divested ourselves of all our soggy,no soaking, gear. We thanked our lucky star for ensuring that we did not have to spend this night in a small tent.

Grumpy But Getting Better

Hamra – Mora   95.6 kms       1463’ ascent
Having re read yesterday’s blog I see that I felt a little disquiet yesterday at the prospect of a further 11kms of climbing. However, it would be at the start of the day on fresh legs. It just goes to show that no matter how positive you are, there are times when nature decides differently. As predicted the first 11 kms climbed high twice before we reached the main road which also continued to climb although slightly (not that you would notice) less steeply. After less than 20 kms, and more than 500’ of climbing, but after two hours of pedalling, a coffee haven appeared and we took a break to scoff coffee and muffins. I have to admit to being less than my usual even tempered self. In fact I was exceedingly bad tempered. It may have had something to do with fatigue but more likely just a case of the grumps (who was,I have to say, very patient with my morose mumblings).  
We did eventually reach Mora and, after much meandering, found a gem of a reward for a hard day in and out of the saddle. Our host was a jovial and charismatic fellow. Our accommodation was new, clean and well equipped AND we had a broad band connection but by then, although slightly less grumpy, I was just too knackered to write a blog. Sorry guys.
Things improved again when our host explained that, although the chef wasn’t starting until tomorrow!, he could rustle us up a meal and a glass of wine. Mood definitely perked up at this point and as we ate, there ensued a long conversation during which we learned a great deal about each other. If you should find yourself in Mora, this is the site to be on. Alan will include the website in one on Alan’s boring bits. So, refreshed, and believing tomorrow could only get better, we bade goodnight to our chef cum receptionist, cum campsite owner, and got our heads down. (Sheets not sleeping bags – more luxury). 
 web address -

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

We Needed the Exercise!

Ytterhogdal – Hamra      83.8 kms                         1836’ ascent

It may have come to your notice, dear follower, that we are less than enamoured by the volume of traffic we encounter on parts of the main roads. Yesterday, after studying the map, it was decided that we would leave the E45 and take a cross country route which promised to be more tranquil and actually a little shorter.  We had agreed on this deviation accepting that there was an element of climbing involved. The first 20 kilometres were the fastest we had so far ridden and with the whizzy wind still in our favour , we were feeling very optimistic about our choice of route.  Hmm, if the first 20 were the fastest, the next 60 were the slowest! We should have realised something might be amiss when we passed four walkers at the start of an uphill section. We waved complacently while they exchanged incredulous looks. The map had promised viewpoints which were looking forward to as a reward for pedalling up the hill. At this point, there were a number of things which we had misunderstood. Firstly, that the first view point was at over 1500’, the second was that, although viewpoints by definition mean that one can see for miles, at 1500’ all that was visible was more trees! No sign of the promised wildlife e.g. bears, wolves, lynx or moose, although we did spot a fast moving  red squirrel. Nor did the situation much improve. We had, however, achieved our major aim. The road was almost totally devoid of passing traffic! Any that did pass did so cautiously, having very sensibly noted that the unusually uneven road surface was likely to cause a major trauma to exhaust pipes or suspension. (For some time now, we had puzzled over the cause of raised circular humps in the road surface. Today provided the answer. It is the revenge of the trees! In order to construct the road it would have been necessary to cut down trees and then cover the proposed roadway with asphalt or similar. The latter has sunk allowing the tree trunk to re-emerge and cause havoc for the unsuspecting car, van or lorry. Bikes, of course are immune to damage as they have plenty of time to take avoiding action!
Anyway, back to the action. Having climbed until our legs were threatening to function no longer and having passed some wonderful wild camping sites, we finally arrived in Hamra, our chosen overnight stop. Hamra was shut! In a desperate search for some overnight shelter, we found our expected campsite, now abandoned with an equally abandoned bandstand. It was, at least, shelter from the increasingly whizzy wind (now in completely the wrong direction) and   the rain. Almost resigned to a fairly uncomfortable night and with a problem of no decent water, we made one final foray into the village where Alan had previously spotted a sign which might be significant. Hoorah, it was. A quick peek up a short track, revealed a little hamlet of huts. Having rung an advertised ‘phone number, a nice lady appeared and produced a key to a splendid apartment. So we are recuperating slowly and have vowed not to deviate from our chosen path again. We are not quite finished with this one yet as we still have 11 kms to ride before we join the busy,but less demanding, main road.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Interesting Encounters

Asarna – Ytterhogdal    (Mid Point Sweden) 70.4 kms   296’ ascent.
What a fine start to the day. Sun shining, birds tweeting happily and a wind blowing up our backsides. With the whizzy wind and the fine weather, this fairly short ride promised to be a reward for all the headwinds and hills. And so it was. We were, however, definitely back into trees and then quite suddenly, trees on mountains. Mmm, maybe just hills. Very pretty either way.
For the second day in succession we came upon a café at a time when our bellies were protesting their emptiness. Now, my Swedish is non-existent and the proprietor of the café spoke no English and his answer to my request for food was ‘No’. Quite a bit was lost in translation, for having decided to partake of a coffee anyway, we both re-entered said establishment and Alan spotted what looked like a menu hanging on the wall. A second customer explained, in perfect English, that it was indeed a menu advertising home cooked food. His recommendation was to order the first item on the list which I did. This dish was duly delivered by the male equivalent of Julie Walter’s waitress and was quite delicious. (Rosti type potato with cream and anchovies, served with fresh rolls and salad.)
 Our new acquaintance, the other customer, seemed quite keen to converse and so we spent a pleasant and informative hour or so learning more about Sweden, its weather, its trees, its history and its customs. One of the latter is to take place this Friday, namely Midsummer (isummer only started the day before yesterday and already it is half over!) which means the whole of Sweden will celebrate in style which, in turn, means we may have a problem finding mossie free accommodation. Curious to know how the indigenous population cope with these little beasties, Alan posed the question. Rumour has it that the Sami lie outside for the whole night of the first mossie day, quite naked and presumably get munched but the problem is solved for the remainder of the two days of summer. My suggestion that Alan try this cure was, unsurprisingly, declined
 It transpired that our companion worked in forestry, or more accurately, owned large tracts of forest in Sweden and in Latvia. Keen to show us part of his empire, he copied that tactics of the TV reporters and stopped us in a layby in order to present his forest to us. It was a great way to learn more about the countryside through which we are travelling. So our thanks to a very interesting Anders Nilsson.
Not content with one encounter with the populace, Alan struck up a conversation with a fellow cyclist (wearing willies) while I was once again surveying the shelves of the supermarket. Having asked the expected questions of where did you start and where will you finish, his answers were somewhat surprising. He was a Finn who had inherited a 200 year old watch made in Mora and he was on a quest to establish its origins and then he would cycle home again. We wished him well and the last we saw of him was on a campsite which we had abandoned in favour of a hotel room minus mossies.  It has to be said that the system of huts is a great idea but just occasionally it falls flat on its face as it did this evening. The huts, despite their two star rating, were in a state of dereliction with ill-fitting windows and doors. AND after only a few minutes,( no seconds), Alan had provided a blood donation to the local population. So cheap hotel room it is.
PS from Alan.  I,ve just worked out why he was wearing willies. My ankles are covered in bites. The little bastards have no regard for lycra or socks!

A really wide load just made it through the bridge

The Scenic Route

Ostersund – Asarna    74.6kms   846’ ascent.
We have agreed that days when we don’t ride are a necessity for the purpose of personal and equipment maintenance. Their disadvantage is that the urgency associated with our daily routine is carelessly cast aside. So, this morning at 6.45, my body required a stiff talking to in order to leap enthusiastically from my really quite comfortable bunk. The little lecture worked well and by 7 the kettle was boiling, and the morning rush was in full swing.
We had some reservations about our route out of Ostersund as we knew that, as cyclists, we were unable to use the nearby section of the E14. We should have had more faith in the clever designers of the city’s road system who had provided a cycle way which took us for over 12 kms and thence onto the part of the E14 that we could ride along. According to our trusty map, our chosen route was classified as’ scenic.’ The definition of this term in Sweden would seem to be much the same as it is in France e.g. there are a lot of trees with brief glimpses of water and/or mountains but the essential ingredient is that the road must undulate quite significantly in order that these marvels of nature can be viewed from a variety of angles. This is not quite so effective from a cyclist’s point of view, as many glimpses are missed while concentration is centred on obtaining sufficient oxygen. Nonetheless, we did notice a significant change to the countryside in general. Trees are definitely fewer and fields with cows grazing, are emerging. The lakes (well more like inland seas) are around almost every corner and, except for their propensity for attracting Alan’s greatest fans, are quite beautiful. We even came across a café at lunch time, which served lunch! And on a Sunday! And very good it was too. So, sandwiches for supper.
We are accustomed to expect our daily travel distance to increase as we ride, so it was with no surprise that an extra 12 kms was required before we reached our campsite for this night. Tonight’s cabin is perfectly situated on the high bank of a rushing, rocky river and the sun has just come out. It’s hard to imagine a better experience and we count ourselves very fortunate. 

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Alan's Boring Bits

Little Things That Fly and Bite

In Sweden, they come in three sizes - small, medium and large.
The small ones are social creatures playfully flying round in groups the size of the average thunder cloud. They make no noise on approach, land lightly, strike and delicately dine on the merest drop of your precious blood. There are those amongst us who will not react. A slight red mark is the only tell-tale sign of attack. There are others who will look down at the exposed flesh to see a thousand pulsating spots each demanding to be scratched and infected with the detritus lingering in readiness under the finger nails.

Medium sized flying bitey things are highly skilled and intelligent assassins. Having observed their targets behaviour, they will hide in readiness. Favourite spots include picnic tables, park benches, all designated swimming areas, at the head of the bed, on top of the shower, under the rim of the toilet……They are noisy blighters, buzzing and farting with excitement at the prospect of a good meal. At the point of strike, You have 0.76 of a second to retaliate. You can increase the retaliation time by using “anti things that fly and bite” spray. I can highly recommend the stuff I’m using – “Murder Mossies”. It comes in a metal container as it dissolves most plastics. When left to dribble down the side of the bottle, it dissolves the paint along with all the dire warnings about where not to put it. It is the equivalent of agent orange and will defoliate your aspidistra as well as removing all facial hair. You know you have used it on your face because your skin contracts to an Anne Robinson look alike. Although this stuff will cause RAF tornadoes to deviate from their flight path, medium sized flying bitey things love it. It is the aperitif before the main course and hence the marginal increase in swotting (retaliation) time. End result is a pulsating lump demanding to be scratched and infected with the detritus lingering in readiness under the finger nails.
Unlike the medium and small varieties, the large versions do not have hypodermic proboscis, rather they have north sea oil drilling rigs as appendages. You will not know that they are around until you see the blood streaming down your leg and a lump of what was your epidermis hanging from a well sized hole.  End result is a pulsating bloody great mound demanding to be scratched and infected with the detritus lingering in readiness under your finger nails.
Sweden is a lovely place famous for Abba and Little Things that Fly and Bite.

Dining Out

Hammerdal – Ostersund       69.8kms   947’ ascent
Morning arrived, calm and warm and, as we planned to have a rest day the following day, we set off with enthusiasm, having managed to load the trailers inside the cabin, thus avoiding any contact with the early morning insect population.
We are now seeing fewer (not that much fewer) trees and more human habitation. There exists a general air of dereliction in the area with some properties in such a state of disrepair that they are falling down. After the harsh winters some maintenance must be a necessity, but many have been neglected for much longer but are obviously inhabited. In a few cases, complete restoration is taking place and, where this is occurring, the properties are looking magnificent. (Still mostly red though!)
It is another mystery to me as to why the volume of traffic suddenly increases massively when one approaches a biggish town. Where on earth are they all going? Ostersund is the only city in this area of Sweden and the approach was almost, but not quite, as bad as the E4. Passing juggernauts were competing for space and it was a relief when we came upon a sign forbidding us, tractors and pedestrians to continue along our present route. The alternative took us into the heart of the town/city. As usual, the signs ran out and while stationary at a junction, mulling over the various alternative routes,(and not even arguing), we were accosted by a very smart, well -spoken lady who proffered assistance. Gratefully, we accepted her offer. Her helpful directions were spot on and in less than half an hour we arrived at the site. We thank her profusely.
Finally, our treat, which preceded our rest day, was a meal in the restaurant of a local hotel! Magic! Tomorrow is general maintenance and washing day. It is also an opportunity to peruse maps as the route is now becoming more complicated to follow. No more meandering observing the colourful verges with little else to consider. Or maybe that is a rather pessimistic view. Watch this space.

"The Welsh Have Arrived"

Hoting – Hammerdal   83.2kms   732’ ascent.
Well, our TV appearance has caused some merriment, thanks largely to Kate, who not only managed to locate the site on the internet but also facilitated a link on the blog. Many thanks for that, Kate. Anxious to view our appearance, Alan attempted to access the internet . Our campsite hosts were in the half open, half shut mode and with not the least clue as to modern technology. Al made a sporting attempt at teaching the basics but in the end the midgies, mossies and the frustration of intermittent connection defeated even his resolution. We have, eventually, viewed our ten seconds of glory. Since which time we have found ourselves inundated with requests for interviews but have had to politely decline! Such a fickle thing is fame. Not even so much as a wave of recognition from passing drivers.  
Today’s ride has passed without incident. We had calculated the distance to be some 71 kms and according to the signposts, this was an accurate estimate. However, somewhere along the way, these kms thought to toy with us, and added a further 12kms. Doesn’t sound much, I know, but the drag of those Sherman tanks increases exponentially after about 60!
Our arrival at the site in Hammerdal was heralded with a, “Ah, the Welsh have arrived.” Overwhelmed by such a positive welcome, we smiled broadly at our new best friend. His name, we never knew, but he had lived and worked in Pembrokeshire for some time. His employment had involved work with sheep (needless to say), cattle and horses. This latter interest had resulted in his meeting unofficially with Princess Ann, who he rated very positively.
Our hut for the night had been sited over a full nest of mossies which resolutely barged through the door the minute it was open even just a crack. We spent the first half hour chasing and squashing these ariel bu****s until we had used up the last of our physical energy. And still one escaped and lurked in the bathroom until Alan’s naked bum was too tempting a target. It died shortly after its meal of fresh blood! Let us hope that tomorrow is mossie free.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

We're on theTelly

Vilhelmina to Hoting    81kms  393’ ascent
What an exciting start to the day we have had. We had ridden barely 5kms when we were overtaken by a car with unintelligible writing on the doors. Nothing unusual about cars overtaking bikes on busy roads. This one though, pulled into the next parking slot and the occupants jumped out. My thought, if I thought at all, was that the boot housed a dog bursting for a pee. However, no canine emerged, just a fairly substantial tripod. This was hastily erected and, as we drew level, the driver halted us with a pretty determined hand in the stop position. Somewhat intrigued, we complied with this peremptory request. Hastily, the driver and his passenger introduced themselves as reporters from the local TV station. In order to make the local weather forecast more palatable, apparently, there exists a 20 second slot in which some obscure incident is televised. We were to be that 20 second obscure incident. In order to facilitate the filming we had to return 50 metres (going back is NOT something we would do for just anybody), ride towards the camera, stop in the layby and pretend no camera or reporter was there. So, dear reader, we might be on Swedish television. Be sure not to miss this appearance!
After this encouraging start, we received many a cheery wave from oncoming campervans which were legion. (I think Holland must be devoid of citizens! ) We found our first open café or maybe the second, where we indulged our craving for food, and scoffed a huge waffle with cream and jam. It is a bonus of all this exercise that we can eat without worrying about surplus fat. Well, I think we can. Time will tell.

Off the Wagon

Storuman  - Vilhelmina    71.4kms  837’ ascent.
Our ride today was without incident although the amount of ascent was quite a challenge. After about 60kms and 500’ of ascent, the trailer takes on the characteristics of a juggernaut! 
Tonight’s hut lacked the luxury of a bathroom and loo but this, at least, ensured that we were free of the odours of the septic tank! It was, as ever, clean, tidy and with a great view of the lake and more trees!
 Food is a major consideration and usually entails a ride into town to the local supermarket. Today was no exception, but this time I found the booze shop! Food slipped down the priority list as I parked my bike, and went in with some temerity as I had no ID and no brown paper bag! Don’t know what all the fuss is about – didn’t need ID or a brown paper bag. It was an alcohol supermarket ( acontrolled monopoly in Sweden). So, tonight we drank wine with our meal (which I did remember to buy ). We have also replaced the bottle of Jamesons. Hoorah! After half a bottle of wine we were quite pissed. Probably be the last for a while. Good things come in small doses I believe.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Slicker Departures

Sorsele – Storuman    73.86 kms      510’ ascent.
Thermometer said 10deg so out came the buffalo and the winter woollies. Alan has stubbornly decided that summer is here and donned his shorts (great news for the midgies).  Our departures are getting slicker, and so we were off before nine. Sadly, there was no whizzy wind this morning but nor was it up my nostrils. Somewhere off the port side. Much of our journey today followed the railway line and I remain mystified as to why man constructs a rail track along the flat but the road alongside must meander like a drunken caterpillar and undulate like a roller coaster.
I omitted to mention yesterday, that along the stretch of road that we risked without our snow chains, the countryside was stunning. Still thousands of trees but interspersed with huge rocky outcrops and tumbling streams. Snail pace travel does have its benefits. We have also observed large areas of verdant pasture which one feels should be accommodating cows, or some grass munching livestock. But no beasts are visible and nor are there any fences. Silage maybe? More answers on postcards please.
Alan had an encounter with a Norwegian cyclists who he met in a layby while he waited for me to puff my way up another incline. He was (the Norwegian), apparently extolling the virtues of his trailer (much more efficient than ours!) and his daily feat of covering 150kms each day. At my arrival, he nodded, and hastily left not wanting to associate, I assume, with grandmothers. Obviously losing my sex appeal!
Tonight’s stopover is a new cabin set in the wood s on the lakeside – very desirable except for a thoroughly unpleasant odour in the bathroom. It really is not Alan’s underpants or mine for that matter.  

Sunday, 12 June 2011


Arvidsjaur – Sorcele    87.38kms  774’ ascent
I know that weather men get a bad press and today they thoroughly deserved it. When did warm and sunny manifest itself as overcast, and cold? We should have ignored the met men and clad ourselves in winter woollies. We still felt sure that temperatures would rise from this lowly 11 degress. So, we kept to shorts but added an extra body layer. As we prepared to quit the campsite, we were hailed with a cheery, “Hey, is that a Welsh flag?” We were so surprised we almost forget to unclip SPDs. No one, since leaving Nordkapp, had even heard of Wales, much less recognised the flag. Our new friend was an exuberant and enthusiastic Dutch cyclist who, with her father was riding from Bodo to Nordkapp with mother in tow. After an exchange of stories we wished each other well and we pedalled on. Within 20 minutes of our leaving, an ominous rumble could be heard in the nearby (very nearby) hills. By the time we registered thunderstorm alert and rummaged for our waterproofs, nature had done her bit and we were just a tad wet. And then it got even colder! We were now carrying enough liquid to rehydrate an army in the prevailing conditions, as we had ensured that we would not experience a repetition of yesterday’s begging exercise. Still, good for the muscles, pulling all that extra weight and we had finished and dispensed with the empty Scotch bottle! Did I mention that it was cold?! Now, as I have pointed out before, some apparently not good things do have an upside. Today’s upside was a wind (cold) that was blowing up our backsides and fair whizzed me along – (Alan needed a  stronger wind in order to whizz). Actually whizzing stopped for 20 kms of 6% and puffing ensued.
 If we were undaunted by the weather, so too were the mossies and midgies who, finding no bare flesh available, resorted to attacking Alan through his hair. He now has bumps on bumps the size of small muscles. It has been, nonetheless, an enjoyable and encouraging day. Having chosen to ignore the weather forecasts, we have no idea what tomorrow will bring, but bring it on.
I knew we forgot to pack something! 

Saturday, 11 June 2011


Alvsbyn – Arvidsjaur    96kms  554’ ascent.
Early up and early off.  The trouble with the sun never setting is that there is not time to cool off. Wet tee shirt time for me, even at 8 in the morning. After a very short ride Alan announced that we had completed our first 1000kms (only 6.5 thousand more to go, assuming Al counted them right in the first place). Still a bit of a milestone nonetheless.  Coffee breaks in this part of Sweden on a hot day comprises hopping around in the shade of the undergrowth, spilling coffee while trying to dodge the airborne attack of the midgies. The latter having got the better of us, we continued our ride through this rolling boggy land and tried to come up with a more successful strategy for our lunch break. However, the road through the rolling bog land, had a surprise in store – it stopped. Well, not exactly, but some numbskull had decided on road works only there was no road surface (they had finished the surface removal very successfully ) and no works of any sort that we could see.  Despite the rocks, grit and odd bits of tarmac, white vanman still drove at lunatic speed creating a dust storm. So now, we were choking as well as bouncing around like Tigger. Rumble strips eat your heart out! Still it did take our mind off the little aerial bug*****s.
After 60kms, we realised that we had, once again underestimated our liquid requirement and we were now hallucinating about there being maybe a drop of liquid in one of the cans carelessly tossed in the ditch. More realistically, the situation demanded a cold calling on some unsuspecting householder and requesting a refill for our water bottle. First, find a house! We did, after umpteen kms.  A very old lady answered the door to this alien holding an empty bottle. She may have been old, but she had lost none of her wits and quickly grasped my dilemma and, bottle in hand, went , presumably, into the kitchen from whence came the sound of running water. In the meantime the other elderly occupants of the house had come to inspect the oddity at their door. I smiled; they smiled. Then my benefactor reappeared with filled bottle and ice cubes which I shoved into my pocket and returned with my precious goodies to Alan still patiently holding the bikes. Our thanks to those guys. Will do better tomorrow. 

A Quiet Day

Boden – Alvsbyn   48.3kms      384’ ascent
Today was to be a short day and so our start was somewhat more casual than usual. It was another scorching debut and we were pouring with sweat after loading and attaching the trailers to the bikes. Our departure was further delayed, but pleasantly so by a conversation with the guys in reception who seemed genuinely interested in our madcap scheme. It left us feeling quite upbeat.
In the past our short days, and even our days of, have ended up being something of an epic, so today was disappointingly normal. We reached Alvsbyn without mishap. We had, however, miscalculated on the effects of the dehydration during the morning and gratefully downed a couple of cans of those very bad for you fizzy drinks. Having regained our wits somewhat, it was clear that we had failed to locate the campsite. Wits at the ready, we studied the town map and turned round (just hate retracing pedalling) and within ten minutes we were ensconced in our room for the night. Not the Ritz but adequate. Mr. Gloomy – although I’m sure his intentions were genuinely friendly – asked us where we were going and how many punctures we had had. “Malta and none so far,” we replied. He looked a little bemused and disappointed and asked us if we would like to use the sauna! We declined. Tomorrow was set to be another scorcher and we had over 90kms to ride!

Suicide Run

Kalix – Boden   89.8 kms   947’ ascent.
Well, it has to be said, summer is here. Not just a whimper but a full grown shout. The entire population has donned shorts and tee shirts (or, in some cases even less clothing) presumably in an endeavour to transform the pasty white of winter into a glowing tan for summer. We, ourselves, are somewhat bemused. We had not expected to search the bottom of our bags for summer gear quite so soon, in fact, not really until we had left Sweden.  Anyway, clothed in shorts and shirts we left our very posh apartment and set off for Ranea. We knew this would involve some 15 or so kms along the E4 and that this would be a challenge. It was a terrifying ordeal! Imagine, if you will, a single lane motorway with a wire crash barrier on the offside and about enough room on the nearside for a thin sheet of paper. Well, we were that paper! It was even impossible to ride along the white line as it was a rumble strip(not the UK ribbed white paint but 2cm deep runnels cut out of thesurface)  which loosened fillings and rattled what little sense we had left. Lorries thundered past at 110kms (70mph) filling the carriageway and unable to give us any clearance. An extra wide load approached from behind, horns blaring. Desperate to change underwear as Ranea hove into view, well the exit anyway, and with a sense of profound relief we rode into town. You might think this heralded the end of the problems – wrong again. Having failed to locate anything remotely resembling accommodation of any sort, and after a particularly vicious mosquito attack on Alan’s legs, we had little choice but to move on – again!
At this point the terrors struck. The only way on was another 8 kms along the road of death, followed by another 35kms to reach the next campsite. Somehow we survived our duel with the lorries who vied with each other to see who could get the closest to these insane cyclists. Fortunately, despite their best efforts, we eventually reached our exit. Trembling  with relief and, armed with the knowledge that we should never have to undergo that experience again, we finally stopped for a very late lunch and about half a gallon of liquid.
The next 35 kms were a very pleasant anti-climax, but, by now, VERY HOT. “It should be cooling off with the evening,” quoth  Alan,  forgetting that there is no evening!
Boden finally materialised and, having followed campsite signs which circumnavigated the entire town, by supper time we were in our shed (a very nice shed with sauna again) eating an instant fish pie and making plans to take the morrow off from riding, do the washing (in a machine!) and service the trailers, (Alan’ is squeaking a bit) replenish stores and find a bank. Maybe, even sunbathe. Mmm, maybe not.
Alan’s Boring Bits – EV7 Route Notes
We have not stuck assiduously to the Eurovelo 7 route. Initially there is no choice (one road in and one road out) but when given the option to follow the old postal road out of Alta, we opted for the tarmac. Some of the trail was still being used by snow mobiles! We also chose to spend a couple of extra days on the Finnish side of the border s as we had seen the other side of the river on the way up.
Those planning to travel light and not carry camping gear, should be aware that are long stretches (80+kms) of sometimes very exposed countryside without advertised accommodation. The cycle route signs in the north are very faded, I guess because they have spent several winters under snow. Most of the campsites (and some of the hotels) have cabins of various grades and prices but not all were open this early in  the season.
On reaching the sea, the EV7follows the east coast. Some previous riders have loved this part of the route but some have been frustrated by the meandering and some positively frightened by the E4 motorway sections. (One guy even took a sea crossing to Finland to avoid having to use the motorway.) Many of the minor roads are compacted dirt tracks showing the ravages of winter. Having checked out some of the route on the way up by car, we have decided to leave this coastal part of the EV7 and head inland for a while. It may be a mistake but today we bought some t-shirts that say “Just Do It”, so no more procrastination.
Recommended reading :  “Kök & Tvätt - Through Scandinavia on a Tandem” by Neil Gander. Brilliantly funny little book on his journey with Kathryn on the EV7 in Scandavia.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Free Cakes

Hedenasea – Kalix (by mistake) 66.5kms  480’ ascent.
At 1.05 a.m. when I absolutely had to get out of my sleepingbag for a wee, the wind had died and the river was flat, oily calm. (Ideal for cycling!) However, by 7a.m. the wind had returned with a vengeance but was no match for our splendid tent which hardly flapped. The flat river was now a mass of white horses and we looked forward to another day of the wind up our f**** nostrils. So smelly, but well rested, we set off again. Our plan, having fought with our headwind, was to take a turning right after a railway line. It was something of a surprise that the turning existed but it was an unmetalled track which, for our bikes heralded punctures and pain. But for every mishap there is a positive outcome. In this instance, in the shape of a café. In my search for cold, soft drinks, I was met by a smiling lady who spoke no English (and why should she) but who ushered me into the café, where a gentleman who spoke excellent English translated my request. Not only had said man heard of Wales, he had been there, and not just anywhere, but to Merthyr Tydfil! At this point, free cake ended up with the drinks and I wondered whether these folk realised what a positive effect they had on our morale.
So here we are in Kalix, in a delightful riverside apartment which we can enjoy without the requirement of black head nets! (See photo)
Another small question for our followers- Why, when there are tens of thousands of cubic metres of space, does the fly accurately pinpoint ones slightly open mouth? 

Illusions and Mossies

Pello – Hedenasea    87.8 kms  3000’ ascent? (probably a big pressure change – more likely around 500’)
Part 1:  Blue skies, wonderful scenery and a force 5 right up our f**** nostrils! 
Part 2:  Reaching the Arctic Circle and finding a café, not only open, but with a French speaking owner and internet access. Thus we were able to post the blogs of the last few days minus photos. They are still to come, you lucky people.
Part 3: After 80 kms with the f**** wind in our face the longed for sign appeared. Camping and huts just another 2kms. After a thorough search of the next four kilometres no campsite of even the most meagre size had appeared. “It’s near the church.” Alan said knowingly. By the church, a truly magnificent building, was nothing remotely like a campsite. After conferring with a local, the mystery remained but he did point out that there was a shelter some 1kms along a track. There are times when even a shelter has great appeal and this was one of them. So it was to be a wild camp in an idyllic setting. Our skills had lost only a little of their honing and that mostly due to the fact that we no longer bend and stretch with the same level of ease as formerly.  Decent meal having been consumed at Arctic circle, a quick snack and tea plus a small Scotch (only about 1” left)  was all we required before falling asleep to the cries of the corn crakes.  (May well be the wrong spelling).

Monday, 6 June 2011

Hot and Sweaty

Tormasniska – Pello     61.6kms  304’ ascent
This morning dawned, although, I suppose technically it did no such thing having never dusked!  Technicality aside, the storms of yesterday had gone to somewhere else and the skies were clear blue. Scatterings of twigs and a short power cut were the only remnants of the violence. Singing along with the birds we set off for Pello and a fairly short ride. Our unplanned route continued to follow a river glistening in the sun and, with virtually no traffic, was a joy to ride. Summer had returned in no small measure - not exactly shorts and T shirt hot – but lolling on the banks of the river while eating lunch sort of hot.
The scenery underwent a moderate change from all trees , to trees and some pasture; the latter acquired at some considerable effort on the part of the farmers ably assisted by some of the most enormous plant imaginable. We could also detect odour of cow but no beasts were visible. Then it dawned on us that the buildings we thought might be hostels were, in fact, very large cowsheds! This fact was verified when we spotted cows lurching up to the windows awaiting their opportunity to munch the green, green grass which presumably had been very white for a long time.
We think we may have approached Pello from the posh end as, with increasing frequency, we passed some very affluent looking housing hugging the banks of the Tornio, all with their access to the river. Stunning locations on this fine sunny day but might all look different in the winter or not be visible at all!
No hassle finding accommodation in Pello. A perusal of the information board indicated that we had just passed the huts in the woods so we returned the 2 kms to the junction, rode into the woods and located a cabin, complete with its own private sauna! Thankfully, it did also have beds and a kitchen so that we could eat and sleep as well as sweat! I have never quite got the sauna thing but Alan enjoyed perspiring in private.
Tomorrow, I am told, is likely to be a cultural day as we make our way into Sweden. Here’s hoping for more of this summer stuff.

Following Rivers Again

                                                                Just before Midnight

Muonio – Tormasniska (about 15 miles from Kolari along the river) 
97.6kms   530’ascent
Summer made a brief appearance.
Woke to glorious sunshine at about five a.m. which was actually six a.m. Finnish time. Either way it did seem unnecessarily early but, in my confused early morning state, it seemed a good time to greet the new day. By 8.15, or 7.15, depending on time zone, I had even done the shopping!
We bowled along the E8 enjoying this unexpected gift of summer or possibly spring. Either way, the grass was greening and dandelions were unfolding in the warmth. What marvellous plants dandelions are! They really do get everywhere including the ditches alongside the road in Finland. These ditches are designed to prevent surface water collecting on the roads but they seem to attract an eclectic mix of detritus. We both wondered, in passing, why someone had abandoned their pants (as in underwear). Our speculations are probably unprintable.
The Finns had excelled again with the road and we made good time admiring the scenery as we went. You can never have enough of trees! Kolari was to have been our destination and, indeed, we expected to locate a campsite or huts with ease. However, in 24 hours, Finland had gone from half open or half shut, to ful! Undaunted, we spotted a sign sporting a picture of a hut and a fish and a distance of along the Salmon Road. Taking this at its face value(always a mistake) we set off along the road indicated and at 4.5 kms sure enough there was an information board with nothing resembling a campsite. There was a second blue sign though, which informed us of another campsite 27kms hence. Deep breaths, long conversations with various protesting body parts and we pressed onwards. Now sometimes things are just meant to be! At 15kms, Alan spied what had to be a mirage – huts! We located the owner and after some considerable confusion with two different languages, a son appeared and said there was a ‘room’ available and his mother would show us. The room was more like a small apartment on the banks of the river and was stunning. Soon, all was bustle, as this good lady made sure we had all we required which, in her opinion, included a sauna, verandah furniture, a barbeque area complete with wood and the option of a television which we politely declined. And all this for 30 Euros! We paid 60 and, as planned, took the next day as a rest day –sort of. Winds of 25knots had been forecast and they came to pass just as we prepared to cycle 14 km back into Kolari . An hour or so later and with only 20knots we managed to restock our dwindling food supplies.
Hoping for calmer weather tomorrow as we continue our journey along this wonderful detour along the river.

1 Country Down

Enontakio – Muonio    82kms  380’ ascent
Welcome to Finland where, for some reason the clocks are an hour in advance of the adjoining Scandinavian countries. Not only had we to get up an hour early but discovered that this Thursday was like a Sunday in that everything was SHUT again. 
Those of our discerning readers will have noted the lack of ascent achieved today. The Finns, it seems do do flat (well almost) so we have forgiven them the change of time and the day off.
Needless to say the day began with head winds (nothing if not consistent) but with sunshine and few hills we were happy bunnies. By midday the temperature had taken a tumble but the wind also backed down and then inevitably, it rained. However, the combination of recent warmth and rain has transformed the trees and the verges into a Granny Smith apple green.  Flowers, it seems, have yet to proliferate, if indeed they do at all in this challenging climate.
For the first time since leaving Alta, we discovered a café almost half way along our route, which was not only open but provided coffee and a doughnut  for just 50 cents (yes, we are back to Euros)! Mind you, I came out about 14 Euros down having bought postcards and stickers for the bikes. No room for anything else. Clever formula we thought. The rest of the route, as usual, was devoid of anything except trees, lakes, rivers and, of course, the ever present reindeer. And dogs! Why does a dog ignore all road traffic except a bike which it can hear from a distance of some quarter of a mile? More answers on a postcard please. One more comment to all you drivers of fast cars, camper vans and lorries, remember the sixty four year old biddy on the bike might be your grandmother – so give her a bit of dodder room!
Sticking with Finland for tomorrow, hoping the flat road policy continues.

Essential Northern Finland
Santa lives here
Northern Finland is a beautiful  area
A big blue sign with symbols for accommodation and food means that the souvenir shop is open.
Wifi is coming next Wednesday
Thursday can occasionally be a Sunday.
Everything shuts on a Sunday and occasionally a Thursday
Reindeer are less stupid than they are further north but they are still stupid
Locals don’t smile much. When you spend half the year in darkness and the other half covered in mosquitoes, there isn’t much to smile about.
There’s no shortage of trees

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Stocking Up

Kautokeino – Enontakio   83.9 km   860’ ascent
Interesting conversation last night with a local Sami lad who spent his early days herding reindeer. The battles they had to maintain their culture, language and way of life are not unfamiliar to so many indigenous peoples   of the world but here the pace of change is very fast. Not so fast is our bike riding.After battling with 30 kilometre winds yesterday we were keen to see what the forecast had in store for today. First impressions were encouraging, for as we opened the curtains, the wind was coming from the north west and it was much less strong. It was forecast to come round to the west which meant it would either be vaguely behind us and then on our right shoulder. We can cope with that! So after a hearty breakfast, we set off, in optimistic mood, for Enontakio. Never quite sure how far it is to the next supermarket, (80kms the longest so far) we stocked up with plenty of goodies at the earliest opportunity.
It has to be said that the Scandinavians don’t do flat as in no ups and no downs so we resumed our roller coaster ride but without the wind. In the sunshine, it was delightful. Spring was in full flourish with buds, birds and butterflies and the inevitable reindeer. In fact Alan had such a close encounter with the latter that he managed a full frontal close-up photo of some very fine specimens. The scenery of the last few days continued to follow us around and can best be described as resembling Llangynidr moor with birch trees(very small ones!) and lots of lakes. The major difference being one of scale. Forget Llangynidr moor and imagine the whole of Wales and more!  I had thought there might be a major change on crossing the border into Finland but it remained defiantly the same until we dropped (yes, we actually went downhill) into areas of coniferous woodland.  Enontakio suddenly appeared with none of the usual plethora of signs on the roadside to warn us of its arrival and so we made the final pull up to our hotel.  After a decent interval (I have discovered that I need a little time to relocate my legs and more importantly, my tongue before I can present myself to receptionists) we booked a room, luxuriated in a shower and went for a meal. Such luxury! Pasta and soup does pall after a while.
On leaving the restaurant , we found ourselves in conversation with an English guy who sells  saw mills to the Finns. He was very grateful for the opportunity to speak  his mother tongue! He explained his situation and we told him of ours. Our social obligation fulfilled, and this blog written means that I can now, with clear conscience, collapse onto my bunk!
Until tomorrow.