2019 - Aachen-North Cape-Aachen (2nd try)
There's little motivation in me to finalise a blog about a second failed attempt to bicycle from Aachen to the North Cape and back. I need to take some advice from a bicycle touring friend of mine who wrote recently, "It's not about the destination. It's about the sights, experiences, and people you meet along the way." Undoubtably I put too much emphasis on the destination, the route, and the rough daily targets to keep my focus and determination high. Certainly, I could have avoided some of the solitude had I chosen my route in more heavily travelled areas.
In response to a question from a friend in Sweden about my choice of route, I answered that I never liked big crowds. I gave the example of the resort campground I stayed at near Lake Vänern, Sweden's largest lake. It was a small city of summer tourists, and it was not particularly enjoyable. The first day north of that campground I camped in the wild which was quite nice. The next day I rode in the rain through endless forests and sparsely populated farmland, often on unpaved roads. The next days would see much of the same (thank goodness without the rain). The solitude was quite a contrast to the crowds of the resort campground. But, it was never ending. I think my friend was right, and I needed something somewhere in the middle of the two extremes.
Though I didn't realise it at the time, the 30 km ride from Koppang to Anta with 25 km on steeply rolling dirt roads was likely the last straw. I had a rest day in Atna and plenty of time to think about the challenges to come. There was still more than 200 km to go to Trondheim, more steep climbs, and few people along the way. Solitude would definitely be the norm between Trondheim and Bodø, and north of Tromsø.
So, after leaving Atna I came to an intersection where I took a left instead of proceeding straight ahead as was planned. The left turn took me over a small mountain pass to Ringebu, a town I had ridden through three years ago on my first aborted ANCA ride. The mountain pass was long and slow going, but not especially difficult as long as I kept to the theme of, "It's not a race." I enjoyed the scenery and the challenge immensely. It was a beautiful, crisp day, and the views were spellbinding.
At Ringebu, I turned south and retraced my route from three years ago until just south of Biri, Norway. From there I crossed over to the east side of the Mjøsa where I stayed in Tangen, Norway (just south of Hamar). On the way I passed through Tretten where I had spent two days in 2016. The Caddilac Diner was still there, though this time I passed it early in the morning when it wasn't yet open.
After Tangen I had to again ride over a small pass. This one was no more difficult than the larger pass between Atna and Ringebu. But, this one was not paved, and there was one short stretch (less than 200 meters) on a path that was no more than beaten down vegetation with dense forest on either side. For added excitement, there were two places where the path was heavily eroded and collapsed into a steep ravine. I had to do some self convincing before risking going past these spots. The alternative would have been turning back and adding +50 km to my day. I managed and ended the day just south of Skarnes, only one day out from Oslo.
The ride to Oslo was, like every place else I've seen in Norway, hilly. As I got nearer to the city, however, the cycling infrastructure improved substantially. The biggest challenge was once I reached the city and was finding my way to the hotel where I had reserved a room. The traffic, pedestrians, and scores of electric scooters made me have to be extremely cautious. I made it to the hotel where everything was fine.
I suppose I'm just not meant to cycle to the North Cape. I don't know what my downfall is. I guess is could be coping with lonliness. It seems that's what affects me the most on days I'm not in the saddle. So, instead of Aachen-North Cape-Aachen (ANCA), I suppose this should be Aachen-Norway-Aachen (ANA).
Or, maybe my problem is addiction to comfort. I camp when I must. I camp in the wild when I must. But, when there's the opportunity to stay in a warm, dry little cabin, I will jump at it. Being cold and wet are not my favourite things. Still, I can cycle 100 km on a cold, rainy day.
I suppose it all boils down to, I can endure quite a bit when I have to, but nothing is making me go to the North Cape. So, despite all my build up of the great adventure, it's too easy for me to toss it all and turn home. At least this year I'll not be turning home on an airplane with my bike posted back to my house. I have abandoned the target of riding to the North Cape, but I will continue with this little adventure for a while circling my route back to Aachen on my bike.
So, what's happened since the last post?
I had quite some interesting and physically challenging days on my way north from Kungälv, Sweden. The route to Lake Värens was straight forward enough, and I ended up in a gigantic campground with a nice restaurant that had a terrace dining area directly on the lake. It was nice and very clean, but there were a zillion people there. Too busy for my liking.
On the very next night I enjoyed the 100% opposite. There was no campground around for miles, so I found a nice place in the woods off an obscure side track from the highway. It was quite a restful evening.
Getting food was proving difficult in this rural part of Sweden. In one town I stopped a guy walking on the side of the road to ask whether there was a small market nearby. He was
very friendly and jovial. He gave me directions to the small market not far down the road. As we said our goodbys and I started to ride away, he called for me to stop so he could tell me about his deep love for the United States. He even
had evidence of his admiration for my home country. To my surprise, he lifted his shirt to expose two very well done tatoos. On either side of his chest he had tatoos of Jennifer Lawrence and Sandra Bullock. Crazy!
In Gustavsfors, Sweden I was surprised to ride around a curve in the road and see a German bakery and cafe. It is owned by a man who came here from Hildesheim 15 years ago. I had a nice breakfast and ordered a brotchen with cheese and salami to take with me for later in the day.
This was to be my last day riding in Sweden for a while. It turned out that the routing was heavily built around unpaved, one-lane, farm roads. Though the road surface quality was, for the most part, o.k., the grading of the roads was as one would expect on country roads. That is, not much grading. If there was a hill, the road simply went over it and down the other side. I rode miles and miles of uphill, then downhill.
Late in the day the forecasted rain started coming down in buckets. I rode the last 30 km to my campground in Skillingsfors in the rain. I was happy that I had called ahead and reserved a cabin. As I was taking a rest day there, I was able to get all my stuff dried out. I was, however, disappointed in having arrived 15 minutes after the local Coop market had closed. It was a Saturday afternoon, and the store was closed on Sunday. So, my menu for the next couple days was noodles with pesto / gulasch soup / noodles with pesto. After that, I was out of food.
After leaving Skillingsfors I was again on the same rural dirt roads. Happily, I reached the Norwegian border in less than 15 km, and the road surfaces were immediately better. The food situation, however, was not. I got to Kongsvinger, Norway (a good sized town), and I figured there I would be able to find some things to stock me up for some days. Imagine my dissappointment when I realized it was Phingsten, and it's a big holiday in Norway. Everything was closed.
I managed to get two bacon wrapped hotdogs for breakfast / lunch. When I got to my campground in Braskereidfoss the owner was kind enough to go into her own pantry and sell me a can of beans and two sausages. That carried me over to the next day.
On the next day I had a relaxing ride to Rena, NO. I hit the jackpot there. Not only did I have another nice cabin, but there were three supermarkets within 1 km of the campground. Food supplies replenished I was now ready to hit the road with few worries.
Planning my departure from Rena, I assumed (silly me) I would continue north on the highway 215 which I had been following the past two days. So, with only a cursory glimpse at my maps confirming 215 continued north from Rena, I took off on Wednesday in, what I later learned, the wrong direction. Aaaggghhh! About 13 km down the road the 215 took a sharp turn to the east. This surprised me, so I checked my route more closely and realized I was well off course. My only options were to double back all the way to Rena and start over on the correct route; continue north (not on the 215, but a regional highway) which would likely add 30 km to my planned day; or, using logging roads and Google Maps, ride overland to rejoin the correct route. I elected for the later option. I suspect doubling back would have been better.
Once I was back on the planned route I had travelled 33 very difficult kilometers on steeply graded logging roads which were deeply rutted and recently strewn with deep gravel. This made control and traction terribly difficult. Especially on the steep ascents and descents.
I was so relieved to get back on a paved road. The going was much nicer, and just before reaching Koppgang, Norway I met two other bicycle tourists heading in the opposite direction. They were Lividinia and Alexi from Switzerland. They had flown to Tromsø, and were cycling. back to their home.
The day was getting long, and I was anxious to get to my campground and the cabin I had reserved. Koppgang was the last town before my destination, Atna. It was 33 km, 25 of which was unpaved and rolling hills. To add to the difficulty there were huge dump trucks coming from both directions every five minutes or so. Often I had to simply pull over to the side of the road and stop to let them pass.
The campground in Atna was superb. It is a very small, German-owned, campground. The owner was very gracious. I had a great little cabin with a nice view to the Glåma River. The facilities were spotless, but the shower's hot water timing was a good deal off. I'm glad I got the soap rinsed out of my hair and face before the hot water stopped. 10 kr was supposed to get me six minutes of hot water. It got me maybe 2,5 minutes. I had to finish my shower with ice water. At least it was a morning shower and I was fully awake when I got finished.
There was again a lot of rain on my day in Atna, so I took another break. That the previous day had been so long and difficult was one more reason why this was o.k. But, it was on this day I decided to turn back towards home. I knew I could go further, but my heart just isn't in it for such a long period away from Gudrun, my children, our beautiful new home, and the daily comforts I'm used to. So, I plotted a return route that would make my trip a big loop. I was not going to get to the nearest airport and fly home, but rather take a different route home by bike. It's still going to take me about three weeks to get back.
Rather than head on to Trondheim, I saw the opportunity to head directly to Ringebu, Norway from Atna. It involved crossing a mountain pass, but the distance made it seem quite doable for one day. That turned out to be the case, but it doesn't mean it was easy. It was 52 km from Atna to Ringebu. The summit of the pass is 36 km from Atna. It took me 5,5 hours to ride those 36 km. On a good day I can usually cover that distance in about two hours.
The ride from the summit to Ringebu was exhilarating. The roads had recently been resurfaced, and I flew down the backside of the pass. The wind, however, was giving me some troubles maintaining control at high speed. So, I had to start putting those Migura disc brakes to the test. They worked.
Once reaching Ringebu, I turned back southwards to a campground just north of Tretten, NO. To get there I had to ride on the shoulder of the E6 highway. This is miserable cycling. It is flat and fast, but the amount of traffic makes it totally nerve wracking. I was truly happy when I pulled off the highway and into the campground.
Here, my route truly turned south. The first thing I did on Saturday morning was ride the five kilometers on the E6 to Tretten, then cross the river to the old King's Highway. Since the E6 was built, the King's Highway has turned into a route with far less traffic. It is not graded like the more modern highways, so there are many more hills to climb, but it's much more safe.
At some point the E6 crosses over the the right side of the river, so, just before Hamar, Norway, I crossed over to the left side. I knew my route for the day was long, but I had not counted on the number of hills. At the end of the day I had covered 128 km and over 1.000m of climbing. The bonus at the end was a nice apartment (can't call it a cabin as it's built on the end of the main reception / cafe building) with a scenic view and a restaurant / bar within meters of my door.
Tomorrow I will ride roughly 80 km to Skarnes, NO. Then, on Tuesday I will ride about 75 km into Oslo where I will stay at the Thon Bristol Hotel. On Wednesday evening I will take the overnight ferry to Frederikshavn, Denmark to begin the final 1.000 km leg home. I won't be backtracking (other than the Glucksburg-Wischhafen ferry) to Aachen. I'll be following the North Sea coast in Denmark and North Germany, then west to Groningen, NL, then south.
More to come as the trip progresses.
Twelve days ago I left Kohlscheid for a second try at making it to the North Cape and back to Aachen by bicycle. Leaving Gudrun at home was just as hard as last time. In one sense it was harder and more emotional. I'm only comforted that we managed to get settled in to our new apartment with almost everything done. It will be much more pleasant for her there. No stairs to climb. Walking distance to everything. Maybe I use that to ease my conscience.
Our friends Resi and Manfred Baumgartner came to see me off and give some support to Gudrun. I was glad for them being there.
The trip started out with cool weather, but sunny skies. I met my friend Heinz-Peter (Men) Beckers at the church in Herzogenrath. He accompanied me as far as Hückelhoven before turning to head back to his home. We enjoyed a good laugh when, just after leaving Herzogenrath (about 6 km from my home), my cycle computer gave me a low-battery level warning. Ha! I got a pair of new batteries when we reached Geilenkirchen. Still, we were wondering if it was some sort of omen. I hope not.
After Men left, I had a fairly good ride to the first campground just south of Mülheim on the Rhein. I did have some problems with my Garmin Edge Explore when riding through Mönchengladbach. It started frequently hanging when going into sleep mode. I guessed this was due to the high number of points needed to load such a long route. I had one route for each segment of the trip. I made a note to split up the segments so none were longer than 350-400 km.
The next few days were cool with mostly quartering tailwinds. It was never very hilly, so the lack
of preparation over the past month didn't seem to bother me too much. I was also very fortunate that the rain never managed to catch me. The skies were almost always threatening, but the rain stayed away.
I was also fortunate that my traverse of Mülheim, Oberhausen, and Bottrup was made early on Sunday morning. Zero traffic. At first it was annoying to stop at every red light when there was no approaching traffic. In the end I must've run 100 red lights before leaving the built up areas.
On the second night of the trip I stayed in a small hotel near Steinfurt. On the third night I stayed in a nice bed and breakfast in Cloppenburg. I'm not much for wild camping (or stealth camping) where it's officially forbidden. Also, my budget doesn't preclude me from hotels occassionally. I don't expect to stay in hotels or pensions too often, but I will stay in the small cabins often available in campgrounds in the Scandinavian countries. They are heated, have electricity, and, when I stay in one, I don't have to worry about packing up a wet tent the next morning.
On the fourth day I crossed the Weser River in Bremen and ended in a campground in Gnarrenburg. Gnarrenburg is quite near to where I was stationed for three years when I first came to Germany 1983 - 1986. The last kilometers before Gnarrenburg were quite interesting. My route there took me on some tracks that were barely visible as such. The bonus was seeing a storks nest with a family of storks.
I woke up in Gnarrenburg to bright, sunny skies. By time I finished my breakfast the clouds were starting to roll in. I felt certain I would finally get caught in some rain, but I lucked out another day as far as the weather was concerned. I didn't luck out with the campground. It seems they went out of business, and there were no more within 30 km of my route. I ended up staying in a small hotel in Itzehoe. It was cheap and o.k., but my room was on the 3rd floor (4th floor for any Americans reading this), and there was no lift. Ugh!
On the ride between Gnarrenburg and Itzehoe I crossed the Elbe River between Wischaven and Glückstadt, Germany. On the ferry I met a young man riding (driving?) a Mango Sport Sinner. It's a three-wheeled recumbent bicycle with a bullet shaped fiberglass shell. What a cool ride! He rode it from Dortmund to Wischaven in 1,5 days! I covered that distance in 3,5 days. Granted, he's significantly younger, and he wasn't packing so much stuff. But, 1,5 days!?! Wow!
The rain started almost immediately as I left Itzehoe. Traffic was light as it was a German holiday, Christi Himmelfahrt. Also celebrated as Fathers' Day. In Germany many men celebrate Fathers' Day by gathering for a walk or bike tour with a number of friends. Generally they get plastered along the way. I was stopped by a couple such groups donating beers to my journey. I finished this sixth day in Busdorf, near Schleswig on the Baltic coast.
The seventh day I passed through Flensburg which was celebrating a city festival. It seemed a bit subdued due to the threatening weather and on-and-off rain showers. Around noon I crossed into Denmark. That evening I stayed in Vojens, Denmark in a city campground I had used three years before.
I've become quite adept at taking down my tent in segments. The exterior tent hangs from the tent poles with small clips. The interior tent hangs from clips on the inside of the exterior tent. Taking the tent down in one go is the quickest and easiest way. But, if the exterior tent is wet you'll be seting up a tent with a wet interior later in the afternoon. So, even in a downpour, with the shelter of the exterior tent you can take down and pack the interior tent while keeping it dry. Then you take down the exterior tent and pack it in a waterproof bag. Take down and set up take a little bit longer, but it sure is nice to have a dry interior tent to move into at the end of the day.
There are many interesting historical burial grounds and rock monuments throughout Denmark. I saw a number of these on the eighth day. One was particularly interesting as the stones were laid out in the shape of a ship.
The eighth day also started giving me some preparation for the hills to come in Sweden and Norway. I don't believe most people think of Denmark as hilly. Central Jutland certainly is. I was exhausted by time I made it to the campground in Byrup. The following morning I was rewarded with a 1,2 km climb immediately after leaving the campground and heading north. I had hilly terrain for the first 15 km. Then I connected to a repurposed rail line converted into a bike path. I would follow this flat route for most of the day.
My planned campground on the ninth day was in Hadsund, Denmark on the Baltic coast. When I got there it was a dump. So, I quickly Googled where the next campground was along my route. I found one about 24 km further up the road in the village of Als. It was beautifully situated on the coast, and had a very nice area for tents. I was the only tent camper there. Unfortunately, the common areas were as bad as the last place. Ugh!
At five o'clock in the morning on the tenth day I woke to the sound of random raindrops and distant thunder. Looking outside the tent I saw jet black clouds rapidly heading my way. As the outside of my tent was still pretty dry I started working at breakneck speed to get everything packed and safe from the rain. Yay! I just managed. I got the everything packed in my panniers, and the tent packed before the deluge started. I did, however, get soaked while packing the tent poles and pegs and mounting everything on the bike.
The rain was forecasted to last until ten a.m., but it actually stopped around seven. My route on this day ended just short of Frederikshavn about 80 km away from Als. It was entirely flat, and I had a strong tailwind. I reached the campground by noon!
Because I started this day so early, there was no place open for me to get any breakfast or coffee. When I took the ferry across the fjord at Hals-Egense, the man collecting the fees saw my thermos coffee cup hanging off my top bag by a karabiner. He went inside the cabin of the small ferry and came out with a coffee pot and filled my cup. It was sure welcome standing on the windy, cool deck of the ferry.
I was glad to reach the campground early in the day. I got a small cabin and managed to get all my electronics fully charged. Phone, Garmin, PC, and two power banks. I also got a hot shower and did laundry. So, my bags were going to be packed with clean stuff. Whew!
I also rode into the town of Sulbæk and managed to replace my rain trousers and waterproof shoe covers. The originals disappeared from the back of my bicycle at some point in the past few days. Probably when I put on the rain jacket and didn't check to ensure the trousers and shoe covers were still properly secured. That was an unexpected expense. But, rain gear will most certainly be important on this trip.
Yesterday, the eleventh of the trip, was an easy cycling day as far as distance is concerned. I had a short, nine km, ride to the ferry terminal in Frederikshavn. After the 3,5 hour ferry ride to Gothenburg, Sweden I had a 24 km ride to Kungälv, Sweden where I will take a rest day.
It's nice to be in Sweden again. I love the people here. They're friendly, open, and kind. I'm looking forward to the next days and the more rural scenery. Gothenburhg was an absolute nightmare to ride through. It seems the entire city is one gigantic public works construction site. Still, my bike route and Garmin got me through it all quite o.k.
One comment to the route. When I rode to Trondheim three years ago I built the route using Garmin tools and maps. At many points the route was awful. This time I used a tool called Bikemap. It also routed me on a few tough tracks, but each one was rideable and provided a quick connection to tracks, paths, or roads with a better surface. I am much happier with the routing Bikemap provides.
So, that's how I got from Kohlscheid, Germany to Kungälv, Sweden. Tomorrow I will press on towards Lake Vänern in Sweden. If all goes according to plan I will only have three more full days in Sweden before crossing into Norway. I'll have a longer stretch in Sweden on the segment returning to Germany from the North Cape.