Pre-blog kudos for my wonderful charity donors – Murph and I have miraculously encouraged around £900 into the Oldies Club coffers – eternal gratitude to these new supporters – Marie Carlson, Sue Beland, Anne Belle, and 3 x Anonymous!! Let’s keep it going!!
Goodness gracious! Has it really been 16 days since I left Trondheim full of pilgrim spirit? Murph and I had been a bit lost in a fuzzy purgatory after the mad Arctic buzz, so we became secular pilgrims and received our pilgrim’s passport which launched us onto St Olav’s Way. I was in search of some cultural heritage and was grateful to have a distracting theme as it felt that, perhaps, the most exhilarating travel may be behind us.
I followed the Way fairly meticulously but ended up a bit underwhelmed by the spartan Lutheran churches on the route, especially since most were closed! I often made long detours to visit them, and make sure we got a stamp in our passport, but I gave up in the end. I’m sure if I had the time and inclination to dig deeper, it would have been much a more satisfying and interesting experience. The highlights for me were most definitely the beautiful occasional stave churches, and meeting the very few other pilgrims along the way. I decided to deviate.
After mentally packing the pilgrimage away, I felt the urge to get us off all official routes and follow my nose. It was still pretty cold, averaging about 12c, but that made for comfortable climbing. I felt strong enough to take us off-piste in search of another kind of Norway, so I opted to climb up towards the the rounded mountains of the Dovrefjell National Park where we would see muskox in a surreal, moor-like wilderness. That put me back into the adventure/challenge zone quite nicely. We were back to beautiful, quiet roads, expansive nature, and alas, a bit more challenging weather. At one point, I had to dive into a sheep poo-infested grazing area and hastily set up the tent as a frightening storm bore down upon us. As the wind and rain thrashed the tent that night, I dreamed I was Peter Pan flying my tent up to the stars. The tedious weather damaged yet another potentially remarkable discovery, and I grudgingly put my head down and got us off the mountain.
Once down from the Dovrefjell plateau, we were forced to rejoin the terrifying E6 motorway for several miles. That reality-check convinced me to route us through some more elevation and onto back roads, but the heat had also arrived. It got so hot so quickly there was no time to adapt, so I started looking at ways to get to Sweden and the shady retreat of forests, lakes and rivers as fast as possible. Oslo be damned.
After Lillehammer, I started us on hard-packed clay roads towards a very remote Swedish border crossing. More wilderness adventure please!!
It was a bit of a slog to get us into Sweden, but well worth it. We found ourselves in Swedish cottage-country where we were spoilt for choice of bathing spots and cool shade. There were more beautiful, low-traffic roads, but the Swedish driving style was a bit jarring after the near-perfect Norwegians. Speed demons! This provoked a bit of latent road rage in me as cars flew by us on gravel roads spitting rocks and sending up clouds of choking dust. How rude!! I did hope I would find a surfaced road sharp-ish.
Sweden felt very different from Norway in all kinds of ways – more relaxed, but also a bit scarier. Suddenly, for the first time on the entire trip, I had an instinct to lock my bike when nipping into shops for food. There was more rubbish strewn about, and bad graffiti was everywhere. The first person to talk to (at) me was a bit of a perv (turned out he was a Danish perv). It took me a good couple of days to groove into the Swedish vibe, but when I finally got there, I felt a renewed enthusiasm. Sweden was more dog-friendly, the food choice in shops was better and quite a bit cheaper, and people smiled and waved as I passed – at least until I got further south, then it seemed most people would rather dive into a shrub than make eye-contact. I understand this is an almost-universal cultural trait of southern Swedes – a bit like London tube-goers. I understand this, and not only respect it, but was guilty of the same most of my years in London. I was utterly mortified when I moved back to Canada a few years ago and random strangers in supermarkets felt compelled to share their life stories while you were shopping for personal hygiene product. Blurgh.
Ultimately Norway was so exceptional for a feeling of safety and trust, but consequently, perhaps a bit stiff. Sweden feels somewhat more dynamic, but I don’t let my guard down as much.
The heat was a big factor on the rest of the way to Gothenburg and my strategy had to be adjusted. I got us packed up by 6am, we rode until the sun was at its apex, stopped by a lake or a river until late afternoon, then carried on until late in the evening until I found a good spot to hoist up the tent. This was a blessing in disguise as I was forced to do more quality relaxing – and the sultry evening rides that took us through vast stretches of beautiful farmland and empty, well-surfaced roads were splendid.
So we find ourselves in the interesting Swedish city of Gothenburg at a dog-friendly hostel in a groovy hipster neighbourhood. I am in culture shock after having been completely feral for so long. This is a proper rest day and I only go out to get food, walk the dog and stretch my own legs.
From here, we will either take the ferry to North Denmark, or carry on down the Swedish west coast to Copenhagen. More big decisions. I have an almost undeniable hankering to take us through eastern Germany and then down through Czechia and Austria – a complete departure from the original plan which had us going through Hamburg, Bremen, Cologne, Belgium and Northern France. This will add hundreds of kilometers and an awful lot of time, but at present, it’s what’s firing me up. Murph is totally into the lifestyle now, especially since the weather warmed up. She is a real beach-hound – no worries to stretch it out for her.
Will we end up behind the former Iron Curtain, or will we take the easy way to the Med??? Stay tuned!!