This was a good tour, but one of the more demanding. Wind and rain caused some rough days. Because of that and the higher costs in Sweden, this made the trip somewhat more expensive than I’d planned.
Except for the weather I didn’t run into any major problems, and only a few minor ones. I had equipment problems here and there. It did take me a bit longer than usually to get into the swing of things, in part because timing requirements I’d placed on myself meant I was spending too much time on the destination instead of the journey.
Sweden really isn’t a castle country, so, especially in comparison with Ireland, there were only about seven castles on this trip. On the other hand, the walled city of Visby offset that nicely.
Sweden is fairly expensive, and while I was there the exchange rate continued to worsen, going from 8 crowns: $1USD to 7.5 Crowns to $1 USD.
My credit cards had fees both for simply using the card (3%) and for cash advances (4%), except for one card that was 1%/3% (USAA). For the first few days my USAA card wasn’t working (the PIN wasn’t working), which made my first cash withdrawal, and general payments, more expensive than it could have been. Note: If you’re going to use a credit card abroad, you almost have to have your PIN #, as you’ll have to enter it with every transaction. That did mean once I had the USAA card fixed, I used it for everything, because that should be cheaper.
The campgrounds averaged about 200 crowns ($27), and hostels generally about 280 crowns ($39) (tho the range was 125 to 350 crowns). That made the overall “cost of living” considerably higher than I was used to.
I was spending about 100 crowns / day on groceries, and eating out tended to be about 80-100 crowns.
It being a long time since I’d been in a country where I didn’t speak the language, I was conservative in what I ate, just because reading labels can be tricky. I stuck with my default diet most of the time. For breakfast I had fruit muesli with honey. For lunch I’d have bread with peanut butter and honey with a liter of fruit juice. For my snack for the day I’d usually eat a couple of bananas, some other fruit, a large package of cookies, and either another pack of cookies or a pack of muffins. For dinner I’d have pasta with some sort of soup mixed in with it. I ate dinner out more than usual, but only ate out at somewhere “nice” a couple of times. I ate out somewhere it was typically a hamburger joint. I ate at McDonalds probably a half-dozen times, primarily because they became my defacto wireless access point (as every McDonalds offered free wireless).
It took longer this trip for my metabolism to gear up, probably a combination of getting older, and the two-day stop at Jason’s about the time my metabolism would normally shift.
I met a number of interesting people along the way. Most interesting were the number of women cycling alone. I can’t list all the people I met, but here’s a few:
- Thomas: I met Thomas, a Swedish cyclist, my second night in Sweden, and we cycled together for a couple of days. It was his first time cycle touring, and he’d just bought a bike and gear and was on his way to Oslo. It was a good match. I had experience cycling, and he was a ready font of knowledge when I had questions about how things worked in Sweden..
- Juliane: An English teacher from Germany traveling by herself by train. She’s traveled by herself all over the place, and is an absolute wonder and (very small) bundle of energy. We spent an evening exploring Gotland.
- Alex Miller and his wife: A couple from Scotland on their way to Gotland. I met them as we were both walking on the ferry, and hung out with them on the trip over and back. They had wildly more cycle touring experience than I, and could more than match me story for story.
- Gabriella: a recently graduated German student studying abroad who was taking her summer to travel in Sweden. She was on a rental bike exploring Gotland, and then meeting up with a friend to explore the rest of Sweden by car and train.
Places To Stay
I had thought I’d spent a lot more time in hostels because of the bad weather, but an end count shows eight days in hostels, nine day in campgrounds (though one of those was in a cabin), two days at a friend’s, and one day camping in a field.
The hostels in Sweden are more like cheap hotels with dorms than youth hostels. Because of that, the default is to rent someone a single room. I didn’t realize that’s what was happening for a few days, which made the hostels initially more expensive. Since those staying aren’t generally IYH members, the hostel doesn’t ask about membership, which provides a much lower rate. The IYH hostels were, generally, nicer and cheaper than the SVIF hostels (the independent hostel org for Sweden). Almost all of the hostels required sheets, and were willing to rent them. I saved ~$40 by carrying my own sheet (silk, also sleeping bag liner).
The campgrounds were nice. They have the standard European amenities (a kitchen, common area, etc). Showers tended to cost 5 crowns (about 75 cents) for 5 minutes. They tended to be pricier than I expected, but in talking to other cyclists the smaller campgrounds were cheaper. I wasn’t finding the smaller ones because I was using the campgrounds on my country maps, which were generally larger campgrounds. Similarly, almost everywhere I stayed required a Scandinavian Camping Card, while I believe the smaller ones did not. The card is about $15.
The Allmansrätten, or “Every Man’s Right”, permits you to camp mostly wherever you want that isn’t near a house or on cultivated farm land. The Swedes are proud of this, and it’s obviously a part of the culture. Whenever I’d mention that I was looking for a campground, someone would be sure to remind me that I could camp anywhere. There was certainly plenty of lands and spaces to do so, as a lot of the countryside is quite rural. There are also Nature Parks everywhere if you were still uncertain. That I did it only once was more that I preferred hot showers, and that campgrounds and hostels were plentiful.
Unlike the weather reports before arriving in Sweden (cloudy and sunny) I started off in the rain, which never bodes well. For the first few days I dealt with scattered light showers (not enough rain to get me really wet as long as I kept moving). Because of that (and some tight scheduling issues), when I really did start to get hammered by rain, I cycled through it. That, in addition to the headwinds, was not very pleasant. Once I figured that out, and started just stopping under shelter when it rained and waiting it out each time (esp. good the one time that there was 1 cm hail), things got a lot more pleasant.
I also had fairly consistent headwinds for most of the trip, as a majority of my route (going east and then south) was into the wind — also rough.
Scheduling is really where the weather and distances caused me trouble. The overall distance I’d looked at initially was about 80 km/day, and I hadn’t calculated in that cycling back roads would add up to 30% to the overall distance. I also hadn’t really thought about the trip to Jason’s, which at the time required I get there before a specific date (when his wife was due) and required me to go far west (which thus necessitated then coming back east that much farther). I also worried about getting to Gotland in time for the medieval festival, and the need to get back into Arlanda several days in advance to confirm that I’d have a bike box.
Almost all of the castles were also right on top of each other on the western coast. That slowed me down a bit, as I had times that the castle would close by 4 pm, and thus I remained nearby to be able to visit it the next day.
By the time I’d landed in Arlanda, gotten my bike and had things assembled, Continental had closed up shop. That meant there was no one around to answer questions about the return trip (like box availability). I left Arlanda with a vague plan of either getting a box from KLM (who said they’d probably have boxes) or going back into Stockholm, both of which necessitated that I at least check in at Arlanda a day or two in advance of my flight.
When Thomas and I looked at the routes into Karlstad, the only ways into town were large highways, or a morass of backroads. Because of that we decided to take a train into Karlstad. They weren’t happy about it, but Thomas talked our way onto the train. With more experience, I can look back and see that most of the time as part of the construction for those highways, there’s usually a service road right next to it for bus traffic. I made that assumption a few times after that and it (mostly) proves true.
The second half of that plan was to then take a train (or bus) from there to Amal, which didn’t work out. I purchased a train ticket, but after a two-hour wait for the train arrived they wouldn’t let the bike on. I then asked at the bus station, and taking a bus meant a several hour wait and then arriving at 10 pm! I figured I could bike there faster, and indeed did so, although that was probably my worst rain day.
After a long day in the rain, and looking at two days to get to Jason’s when I in theory didn’t have that long, I took a combination of bus and train to get to Halden, Norway. Worth noting that the busses will generally take bikes, but only if they have room, which they only know at the time you would board the bus. The trains sometimes take bikes (and then only in summer) and sometimes they don’t. Generally there’s a small additional fee for bikes.
Marstrand is a resort-like island that’s only accessibly by ferry (about 100 meters and 20 crowns). It runs 24 hours every 15 minutes, so that was quite convenient.
To get to Gotland a ferry was a requirement. Three days before I arrived they’d managed to run the ferries into each other, which wildly screwed up the schedule. When I arrived in Gotland and tried to buy a ticket, everything was wildly booked up, so I sat in line to no avail the first time. I eventually managed to get a late night ferry, which worked out ok, but meant I arrived in Gotland around midnight, and had to find the campground and set up VERY late. There at least was bike path the whole way and it worked out ok.
In getting the timing for arriving in Stockholm, and that the ferry didn’t arrive until afternoon, I took a train from Nynashamn to Stockholm. Because of previous difficulties of getting a bike on the train, I didn’t buy a ticket in advance, instead planning to talk to the conductor and purchase the ticket on the spot. Then people boarded with bikes so I did as well, and then no conductor, so the trip to Stockholm ended up being free (though that wasn’t my intent). On the other hand I’d thrown away the ticket to Amal, so it was mostly break even.
- Tent – Having not used it for 5 years, I’d forgotten just how small that tent is. It took me a few days to remember how to get everything organized tho, and then I was used to it.
- Thermarest – I had the newest Paclite Thermarest, and it’s almost too light. If you’re not on it exactly right, on smooth ground, it’s too light. But again I adjusted to that after a couple of days and it didn’t really bother me after that.
- Solar Panel – For the first few days I didn’t need the solar panels, and then I had a long string of cloudy/rainy days. Mostly the solar was a failure. When charging the N810 leaves the screen on, which uses more power than the solar panels are putting out, so the device has to be on (with the screen blanked) to actually make any progress. However the battery status is tabulated doesn’t take into account the slow rate of the charger, so the battery status reports incorrectly for a while until it re-polls. Also, on a day where I’m cycling in and out of the woods, I spend as much time (or more) in the shade as in the sun.
- Gloves – My bike gloves were well-used before I left, and I’d thought about replacing them. I should have; the cotton in them was at end of life, and the right glove slowly disintegrated on me. I stitched it up several times (with dental floss) but it was degraded enough that slowly the back continued to come apart.
- Toe Clips – Normally when I start pedaling the left toe clip drags on the ground for a moment as I get my feet in the pedals. The top of the toe clips wore through in the last couple of days of the trip, and the strap for the toe clips would occasionally escape. Not bad enough for me to have bothered doing anything, and I could have readily fixed it with a quick zip tie.
- Bike Computer – Somewhere in transit the cable for the bike computer was clipped/nicked. It didn’t work the first few days, and then I decided to try to fix it using bandages from the First Aid kit and retwisting the wires together. That mostly worked, until it would get wet. Eventually the cable broke again and I refixed it. By the last three days or so it had failed again and I just gave up on it.
- Shoes – My bike shoes had already had a hard life. They’re still usable, but pretty beat up, and they “soured” about 10 days into the trip which made them unpleasant.
- Shirt – One of my synthetic shirts is apparently very sticky to Velcro. Over time my jacket left a large number of serious picks in that shirt, and it’s a lost cause now.
- My last day on Gotland I had my first (and only) flat, a low leak of the rear tire. I think the seam actually gave way, as I use a puncture resistant lining in back and I never found the cause of the hole, which was on a seam. Swapped it out no problem.
For the first few days I had no bike computer, but think I was going about 70 km. After that it seemed like every day the path I picked (regardless of how far it looked on the map) was about 100 km. I had two days of about 120 km; one loaded but right after a two days rest at Jason’s, and one unloaded when on Gotland.
The bike computer shows 1047 km, plus my best estimate of another 300-400 km for when the computer wasn’t working.
I might eventually take a short trip to Gotland in 2010. It’s an easy train/ferry ride from Stockholm. The island is where the Swedes go to cycle, and there’s ready rental of bikes (with only rear racks), including tandems, which seems kinda fun. The medieval festival is quite entertaining. The island is mostly flat. There’s plenty of hostels, campgrounds, and places in the wilderness to camp. Seems like the ideal place.