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Kuolleiden purjehduskenkien seura

Jul 15th 2022

Overland from London to Finland: Day 4

00:25

Kalmar's old city looked quite romantic in the twilight, but I didn't have time for sightseeing. I found an open hotel, where I was able to fill my bidons and then headed off into the night.

The route started out as a ride through suburbia, which made me feel better about not doing it in daylight, as I didn't feel like I was missing out on much.

But eventually things became more rural and started to look like something out of a postcard. If postcards depicted nocturnal scenes, that is.

I've previously stated (helpfully, in posts not yet published on this blog) how much I enjoy cycling at night. It's a whole different world, with its own set of smells, sights and other sensory experiences. The fauna you meet can be especially inspiring, because it can spur a dialogue in your head about what animal it actually was that lasts for several kilometres.

Riding at night during the Scandinavian summer provides another unique attribute: the seemingly never-ending dusk. It makes the sky into a canvas of wonder, limited only by your own imagination. On this ride I was accompanied by several magical beings in the sky, particularly impressive was a huge dragon (which I highly regret not even attempting to photograph), who kept me company for more than half an hour before being broken apart by the winds. The solitude also removes the barrier of shame to have these conversations out loud, I've sometimes discovered.

Dragons aside, once I'd reached my goal of 60 kms I set out to find a camping spot. I'd done a bit of research ahead of time to find candidate locations, but eventually went off piste and picked the first waterside location I found that wasn't in someone's backyard. It was just off a well-trodden footpath, so I figured likely popular with dog walkers. Potentially risky, but no matter really, as I intended to be on my way very early.

After clearing up pinecones and other pointy things best I could, I pitched my tent. This was only the third time doing it and the first time it was neither in a park nor in my own backyard. That considered and that I was doing it by torch light, the end result was acceptable. Not perfect, but I was too tired to care by the time I noticed I'd not pegged out the inner tent properly. It matched my gold standard of "good enough", so I changed into my comfies, set the alarm for 6 a.m. (I had no provisions and the nearby Coop would only open at 7) and hit the hay at around 3 a.m.

---

The best part about sleeping in a tent is the waking up. Especially when it's to a glorious sunny day. (Providing you wake up early enough that it's not the choking heat requiring your attention, of course.) I don't mind the rain pattering against the tent either, but I was quite happy that it wasn't the next morning's soundscape.

After those measly 3-ish hours of sleep, which were preceded by a long day of travel, I definitely felt a bit sluggish, but, after spending some moments listening to the morning concert from the adjacent inlet, I forced myself out of the quite cozy sleeping bag and began packing up the camp.

As I was loading my kit on the bike, the first dogwalker of the day wandered past with a befuddled look on their face. Foiled! I cursed my tardiness in my head, but greeted them with a smile and we both went on with our chosen toil. Not two minutes later I was already gone.

The breakfast at the Coop was not exactly glamorous but it filled its purpose. Belly full and stocked up for lunch I headed off in search of second breakfast down the road, in beautiful sunny weather.

A usual pastime on the bike during long-distance cycles is to play with the numbers, when you're not paying attention to the immediate surroundings. Working out the average speed required to make the deadline (I ride audaxes, which have a time limit), while still allowing for breaks etc. It occupies the mind and keeps the headspace away from getting bogged down with mundane matters, which fill your head otherwise. When struggling, breaking up bigger numbers into smaller ones is mine and many others' goto coping trick. My chosen strategy is breaking up the remaining distance into 20 km chunks, which makes the number a lot smaller and easier to deal with, even though you're well aware of the self-deception. Strange how the brain works.

In that spirit, I was looking at a long day in the saddle. I'd projected that reaching 250 km or more would give me a leasurely next day. It sounds like a lot, and it is, but it's not an unusually long distance for me. But I'm not normally carrying quite so much luggage, which did give me concern.

But as I already said, the weather gods were favourable and spirits were high. I passed some incredible views that brought me tears of joy. I spent my childhood in the Finnish archipelago, and the sea still has a special place in my heart.

Just over an hour later I reached Oskarshamn, where I got myself a coffee and a bagel to fill the void left by the meagre first breakfast.

Little did I know, that a mere 25 km later I'd be a bag of anxiety and desperate hopes. My rear wheel had recently had the rim and spokes replaced, and on a 600 km Audax UK ride following that some spokes loosened up mid-ride. I'd since then had it reserviced and thought such woes were behind me. Also, when I had the spoke troubles I decided to add a spoke tool to my on-bike toolkit, but my good intentions had failed to conquer my disorganised head and my spoke tool was safely at home.

With all the cargo on the bike, the handling was in general wobblier than I'd prefer, but something alerted me to an unusual movement at the rear. I stopped and again found several loose spokes, with nothing at hand to address the problem. So, there I was, in the middle of nowhere, between zero to one horse villages with not even a faint dream of a grocery store, let alone a bike shop, with a malfunctioning, heavily laden rear wheel. My choices were to carry on riding or to get off and walk. I decided to ride on, very slowly, avoiding every pot hole like someone elses life depended on it.

The next settlement was some 7 km away and I doubt I've ever stopped quite so often on such a short distance. It felt like I found another loosened spoke every time I stopped. I was definitely close to crying, or maybe just screaming. Some powerful emotional outlet anyway. I was so sure this would mean the end of my journey and summer adventure. I'd half-jokingly commented on my wheels' insuitability for touring before I left, so, in some sense, this was almost some kind of perverse poetic justice, I thought.

But never discount the dogged determination and stubbornness of a cyclist. I gingerly cycled kilometre after kilometre, until I arrived in Mederhult. A small settlement of about 15 houses and a church. Thankfully, one of the houses had someone going about their business in the yard, and I threw aside my usual timidness and approached a stranger! Simon abligingly borrowed me a pair of pliers to tighten the spokes. Thanks Simon!

We chatted while I was working on the wheel and I got a lot of useful information, particularly where I could buy myself the tools I'd stupidly left at home.

Västervik was the nearest bigger town anywhere near my route, but diverting there would mean an extra hour just for the cycling, and every minute was getting more precious. The combined effect of stopping for pictures, plus the at least 45 minutes I'd lost to my wheel issue, my progress had been glacial. But OTOH, would my problem have gone unnoticed, I would've lost it all.

I had a decent chunk of road between me and decision time and when I finally reached it, I checked the state of the field-repaired rear wheel one final time, found it still holding up and headed off on my original route. For about 10 seconds.

Sweden has (along its east coast at least) several signed bike touring routes. The route I'd been (more accidentally than on purpose) following so far was at this junction heading in the opposite direction than I was intending to take. When I spotted a group of three other cyclists head in the other direction, I made a turncoat maneuver. I'd debated long and hard for literally tens of kilometres which direction to take, in the end what settled the choice was the likelihood of coming across other cyclists. That and the thought of being stranded somewhere in the middle of the night with no applicable tools.

I gave chase and soon passed the group of three cyclists, who I found out to be Germans during a brief exchange of words. My pace was slightly faster than theirs, but our destination the same. As long as they were behind me, I felt safer that in case of emergency I would eventually come across another human being.

But nothing bad happened. The fix held up fine until Västervik. Clas Ohlson provides me with a suitable tool and the town with some sustenance.

While eating, I got back to the numbers. I didn't want my next day to be a heart in mouth race against the clock to make the ferry to Finland, so I needed to cut some corners. The problem was my route wasn't very indirect in the first place. There was really no way around it, I realised, I'd simply have to ride into the night once more. The challenge now became the first ferry on the route. But it seemed easily reachable. The last crossing of the day was at 11 p.m. and at 4 p.m. it was just over 100 km away.

The trouble was that distance is not only two-dimensional. While Sweden is certainly not mountainous, it's absolutely not flat ever. At least not where they've built the roads. From Västervik to literally the (spoiler alert!) very end in Stockholm it was non-stop up and down all the time. And not the nice kind where you can build up the momentum on the way down and let it carry you back up, but the back-stabbing speed-killing mild inclines that end in a steep kicker. I wasn't planning on mentioning the headwind, as it would seem like too much moaning, so let's just leave it at saying there definitely was one.

Something Sweden also taught me, was how spoilt I am in the UK. There (almost) every village has at least one of: a shop, an off license, a pub. Even if you come across a rare village without any commercial outlet, the next village is at most 30 minutes away. So, while I've believed myself to be a decently self-reliant long-distance cyclist, I'm really just a credit card tourer with some extra stickers on my bike.

In Sweden cars have ruined the village shop culture. [Ed. conjecture, citation needed.] Only large supermarkets survive in the rural landscape. I counted 3 grocery stores on the first 250 km of my trip. I'm sure there were many that were just off the route, but still, the smallest settlements are simply entirely devoid of any such services.

This meant I had to ditch my aversion to approaching strangers several times over the course of the day, to keep myself stocked up with water. Thankfully Swedes are a friendly bunch, who will gladly fill up your water bottle and give you some cookies on top. Smaskens!

After Västervik, the next town with any kind of services (barring diversions) was Valdemarsvik, some 70 kms away. I didn't know this at the time, I only discovered it when my hunger made me angry enough to stop at the side of the road, after an ad for a pizza van down the road later turned out to involve a 4 km one-way detour off my route.

Thankfully, I managed to power through with the power of winegums. Some 10 km before Valdemarsvik I hatched a plan of buying two pizzas: one for immediate consumption and one for the night and possibly breakfast. And I did. While eating, I looked up the remaining distance to the next ferry and suddenly realised I had just over two hours two cover the remaining 40 odd km until it would call it a day.

My planned route was the scenic kind, but I had no qualms straightening out some wrinkles on this stretch. It was already quite late and I wouldn't get the enjoyment I planned it to be with the ferry-timetable whip tickling my neck.

After I'd composed my new route, I rushed to strap the 2nd pizza to my bike and carry on, and completely forgot about filling up on water. Not a good idea after eating a whole cheese-covered pizza. I'd somehow told myself that I still had nearly two full bottles. When I took my first drink after leaving, I had a bit of a rude awakening, as one was nearly empty.

Still, didn't want to turn around. I'd bought some mineral water to have with the take away pizza, and figured it could slightly bridge the dehydration gap if push came to shove and I wouldn't find a water source before morning. It was now more important to reach the ferry on time, as otherwise I'd face another day of clock-chacing.

Imagine my joy when I after about 10 km spotted a farmer just stepping out from his barn next to the road. My by now well-learned pull up and ask for water was completed in record time. Water bottles full, I was all smiles again chasing the clock with gusto.

Eventually I made the penultimate ferry of the day, half an hour earlier than expected, which gave me hope of getting to sleep before midnight. The next ferry, which was about an hour away, had already stopped for the day. I'd looked at the ferry port on Google Maps earlier during the day and it looked like I'd be able to camp there, giving me maximum sleep time and best chance of catching the first ferry the next day.

My pizza-induced thirst caused me to quickly go through a whole bottle of water and I once again became worried about not having enough for the morning. The time was so late, coming across someone in their garden was unlikely, so I instead opted for suspiciously snooping around several municipal buildings in a small town I passed through. I was particularly disappointed by lack of a water tap at the fire department. Eventually I came across a tap in a church yard. Perhaps not something I'd rely on just anywhere, but in Scandinavia I'd purport it's difficult to come across a non-potable water source. (Or maybe the worm growing inside my intestines told me to spread the message.)

My water quest foiled my hopes of a pre-midnight sleep, but it did instead provide me with another spectacular moon. Rising just above the trees on the horizon as a giant orange ball, it was a sight to behold.

In the end I reached the next ferry port just after midnight and found it to have the most perfect tent pitching spot I could hope for.

At 240 km I came just short of my minimum distance goal for the day, but only just. With some further adjustments I'd made to the route, I had about 160 km remaining for the next day, for which there should be ample time.

After setting up camp, I had a quick paddle in the sea to freshen up, set my alarm for 5 a.m. and promptly fell asleep with a pizza slice hanging out of the corner of my mouth.

Jul 11th 2022

Overland from London to Finland: Day 3

18:33

Thanks to my new and improved itinerary, I unexpectedly got the chance to spend a few hours looking around in Münster. I used my time to have lunch and generally bimble around the old town, in search of a place to have a beer. (Worry not, I found one.)

It was certainly pretty enough for a quick visit, but I didn't spot anything that would have me return. The coolest feature was a cycle path, that I only discovered on my way back to the train station, which I assume followed the route of the old city wall. Had I spotted it sooner, I would've certainly cycled round.

The travelling day ended with mixed feelings. On the one hand the train was late, on the other it was the last leg of the day, so it didn't matter. On the one hand the bike carriage had wheel-destroying bike racks, on the other it was the most spacious bike carriage I've ever seen. All in all still a net positive, I'd say.

I didn't see very much of Hamburg, but I did have a walk around Altona and ate a massive falafel platter, which had maybe the best falafels I've ever had. Definitely top 2 at the very least.

My hotel was a very spartan affair, but I chose it based on price and proximity to Hamburg-Altona station. From which I in the end didn't continue my journey.

I woke up at 6 to find a sunny morning hiding behind the curtains. I packed, lugged my luggage down, strapped it onto the bike and set off towards the train station. I went on a short detour via the Elbe's waterfront, maybe because I felt it could make up for not making time for anything touristy.

Another train station breakfast in my musette, I found myself standing next to-what I strongly suspected was-my train with a dumfounded look on my face. My source of confusion came from the discrepancy between the sign on the train and the one on the platform; one said Flensburg (platform), while the other said Kiel (train). I suspect this might be a common issue, as the train guard who spotted me immediately knew what was wrong and directed me towards the end of the train that was heading for my destination.

After an uneventful train journey I found myself in Flensburg, where I had two things to do: firstly, collect my DSB reservation tickets, and, secondly, drink a Flensburger pils in Flensburg.

I had had a suspicion that I might not be able to collect my tickets at a German station, but considering there was a DB ticket vending machine in Enschede, I thought there could be a small chance it was possible. But it wasn't. Which meant I needed to cycle to the nearest Danish train station and back, which seemed a bit ludicrous and also slightly annoying that it wasn't mentioned when I made the booking.

All in all, it wasn't a problem. I had hours to kill, the weather was glorious and the distance was under 10 km one way. It allowed me to experience an on-bike border crossing and amuse myself with Danes booze-shopping just beyond the border.

(As an aside, even though the quality of cycle infra varied wildly over the short trip, especially on the German side, drivers were invariably extremely polite and not a single close pass was experienced on the stretches where the cycle lane was on the road or there was no cycle lane.)

Tickets in hand I rolled to a halt in front of a pizzeria in the Flensburg harbour. I ordered a margerita and my coveted pilsner and plonked myself in a beach chair overlooking the basin.

Body and soul fed and watered it was time to yet again get moving. The final three trains of my outbound trip would take me to Fredericia, Copenhagen and finally Kalmar.

As I write this I'm on leg two bound for Copenhagen and I'm crossing all my crossable extremities that there's space for my bike on the train to Kalmar. Unless there is, I'm just a little bit fucked and really have no contingency plan.

I need to reach Stockholm by Wednesday evening and not being able to start cycling already tonight will make that nigh impossible. Not to mention I would run out of days on my Interrail pass on my return trip.

My plan for the evening after I reach Kalmar (crossy-crossy!) is still a bit unsettled, but I hope to get in a few hours of cycling before I set up camp. Yes, camp!

Then an early start tomorrow and ride as far as I possibly can, in order to make Wednesday less stressful.

I'm sure it'll all be all right.

(More sounds of crossing fingers.)

Jul 10th 2022

Overland from London to Finland: Day 2

14:46

Unfriendly wake up calls on ferries seem to be a universal trait, although I have to admit my experience of overnight ferry connections is limited to, I think, two (lines, not journeys). At 5:30 this morning my sleep was abruptly interrupted by a loud announcement, but it announced breakfast, so I forgave them immediately.

I got up and consumed a stale croissant, followed by a spongy pain au chocolat, paired with an unremarkable latte, but the sea view contributed what the rest couldn't.

The morning was grey and dull, but it wasn't raining. It felt good to hop on the bike and make my way towards The Hague.

I was about half an hour before my generous schedule and on the way a new plan for the day emerged. Because Dutch trains don't require place bookings, I could try and find an earlier connection to Enschede and save me the headaches trying to make all the connections.

It turned out that there was a direct connection from The Hague. I had time for a second, slightly more inspiring breakfast at the station before I hurriedly boarded the first train of the day. Travelling on an Interrail pass does have its advantages.

I felt relieved by the time savings afforded to me by my revised plan, but also slightly angry at myself from having remained so fixated by my original route, that finding a more convenient option after the near direct service from Amsterdam fell through.

Currently I am onboard a regional train to Münster, where I'm due to arrive some 3 hours before my initial plan. I'll still need to wait for the service for which I have a place-booking, but that just means I'll have plenty of time to find lunch.

From there I catch a direct train to Hamburg, which is my goal for the day.

Tomorrow brings its own headaches with my late arrival at my final destination - which also relies on there being space on the train, as I don't have a booking.

Here's to hoping it proves as painless as today has thus far been.

Jul 9th 2022

Overland from London to Finland: the Beginning

21:39

Finally on the way! This mini-adventure has been a long time coming, in more ways than one. I've been wanting to travel to Finland overland, and also suffered from a burning desire to travel by bike for some time.

The hankering was already there pre-pandemic, but it properly bloomed during that time. I would fill my evenings enjoying other peoples' adventures vicariously, by watching YouTube videos and reading both blogs and books.

I also had as my hobby to create epic routes and fantasising about riding them. Some of them were pure folly, but others I've kept and still hope to ride some day.

So, when it came to going to Finland for a short working break this July, I thought I'd kill two birds with one stone. It turned out to be a bit more of a kerfuffle than I'd hoped, but here I am.

Getting to this point has involved a lot of planning and preparation and not all of it has been done to an excellent standard.

Part of the problem is that only the travel time is my holiday, and available time isn't exactly abundant. So I'm mostly riding trains, but then I'm cycling through Sweden, partly because their main train operator SJ only accepts bikes in bags onto their trains.

But this suited me fine. It's exactly what I wanted and I haven't seen much of Sweden. Also, I will get a chance to do some camping!

So, I opened up a new spreadsheet and started to investigate the route. Initially I wanted to cross at Dover, because the ferry ride is quick and dirt cheap. France however also has bike-hostile train operators and getting going was looking difficult. But then I discovered that a short cycle from Dunkirk would find me at a Belgian train station with a connection to Antwerp, which connects with Amsterdam, which was essentially my gateway to the entire route.

But because I had tickets to see Pearl Jam at Hyde Park (since 2019) on the Friday, starting on a Saturday was off, and because the ferry had a reduced schedule on Sunday, I couldn't make the timetables fit. Which would've meant an extra night on the road.

So, in the end, it made the most sense to use the overnight ferry from Harwich on Saturday evening and get an early start directly in the Netherlands, bypassing the Franco-Belgian problem altogether.

Once this part of the plan was settled, finding the remaining connections was easy. Getting from The Hague to Hamburg via Amsterdam was a three change affair. Or might've been, if I'd not procrastinated with making bookings for my bike, which is mandatory on German IC trains. Suddenly I was faced with a 4 change connection just from Amsterdam onwards, some of them with a ridiculously short margin of error.

Then I had the same problem getting to Copenhagen. When I was told the bike places on the direct train are sold out for the entire month of July, I nearly had a cry, as everything else was already booked. Thankfully the friendly customer support at DSB found me an alternate route via Flensburg. The only remaining issue was that it was some 6 hours later than my original schedule, which meant I lose a lot of effective cycling time, meaning I'm going to have to speed-run through Sweden on the way out. If I want to make my booked ferry, and I absolutely do.

My main take-away so far has been that international train travel takes a lot of effort and involves a degree of risk, which you carry entirely on your own shoulders. When you fly, if one part of your trip falls through and causes you to miss the next, it's usually protected and you'll be given an alternative. Because a trip on multiple trains is just a pile of separate tickets, if you miss a train, that's it. Nobody cares about your salty tears. There's also very little in way of tools for finding the connection for an entire trip. A lot of research is required to find out how you need to travel. Much credit to seat61.com for filling in that gap very well.

Mind you, making the trip without a bike would've been a lot simpler, but I absolutely wanted my bike with me, as I hope to have more mini-adventures while in Finland; I am to blame for my own woes, but it still annoys me that it has to be so difficult.

Anyway, the following two days will reveal how well I've managed to prepare. I'm really hoping no big disasters or disappointments await me.

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