Once through Sweden - towards the Arctic Circle, by bike!
This sentence occupied me since my early youth, more precisely since the beginning of the nineties. A lot of time has passed since then, several tours in southern Sweden have taken place, but the dream of really getting "all the way up" was still in the air.
As chance would have it, I met Jonas Deichmann about a year ago here in Berlin at one of his lectures. He knew about my photographic work and that as an athlete I had also done quite a bit in the ultra-endurance sector. So he approached me quite directly and it didn't take long until he said: "Bengt, let's go on an expedition together. Phew, what an announcement! To be honest I just thought: Boy, oh boy, can I keep up with that guy...
Nearly one year passed by and a few rejected ideas later it was finally time to go to Sweden! Bikepacking as far as our feet will carry us, that was our plan. Then this journey took its course...
Jonas and I had the following plan: He had gone to Gothenburg the weekend before the start to visit friends. Since I would be arriving by ship in Trelleborg on Tuesday morning, we wanted to meet in the forest south of Jönköping. So to roll a good 250 kilometers in each case. That seemed doable.Said and done! It started at 7:30 a.m. after the ferry spat me out on time in Trelleborg. The night in the lounger on the ferry wasn't the most relaxing, but I'd definitely seen worse. So, check whether everything on the bike is seated so far again, the electronics are supplied with energy, the route from Komoot loaded onto the navigation system and off we went to Malmö. Breakfast in Malmö always sounded good.The route from Trelleborg to Malmö runs along good cycle paths, often beautifully set off from the road. Best curling up, so to speak. The main roads, which I partly rolled, were relatively lightly traveled, and the car traffic was also rather considerate.In Malmö, the targeted breakfast then followed in a small luxury coffee breakfast shop. There they were again: Bullar! Man, how long had I not eaten any of these IN Sweden? My mother - baking is one of her great strengths - has regularly baked Bullar at home, but the original is known to be tasty in the country itself. At that time I heard from Jonas that he had left a little late, but was full of confidence that he would arrive at his destination this evening. Top!So it went on, and the more town it seemed to lie behind me, the greater the proportion of the finest Swedish gravel roads. I have to say that from the years in Sweden - my parents had a house in southern Sweden for a long time - I can assess the types of trails on a map relatively well. At least in the south. Two or three adjustments were enough and Komoot had the route and I fully under control of the gravel. That's what I came for! Pure joy!As you can easily see, the first stage doesn't have 250 kilometers and there was a reason. Late at noon I got the call from Jonas saying that he had fallen with a group of racing cyclists east of Gothenburg and that he had to go back for the time being. He would lose two to three hours in this respect. Unfortunately, reality then showed a different picture: parts of the bike that were difficult to replace had been damaged, it had also gotten some bruises and would probably not get away today after all. Well, staying flexible is one of the key words in bikepacking!Towards the afternoon, I cycled further and further into the forests of southern Sweden. Agriculture every now and then opens up the otherwise dense forest structure and the picture of finely mowed lawn and red-white-red Swedish houses slowly resulted in the picture I remembered of southern Sweden.
So we started the next morning in Jönköping. With Jonas it became clear that a meeting point in Jönköping would be possible in one or two days. Dismantle the tent, put on coffee, a small breakfast - the normal morning of a bikepack.Svartasjö also showed its best side in the morning. Only that there weren't quite as many mosquitos at the start as the night before. Great joy!Mosquitoes, always an issue in Scandinavia, anyway. To be honest, the evening before I had the feeling that I had the little animals under control - anti-hum seemed to work. Except for an armada of tiny animals that I saw on my free arms. In the morning they didn't appear to be quite so peace-loving: I had a bunch of stitches along my arms from top to bottom. Hello! “You have to pay special attention to the little monsters on this trip,” was my thought.My next destination was Ljungby, to get breakfast and food for the day. However, after a good hour on the finest gravel roads in the forest, I stopped by Frank and his wonderfully located electrical company. There were chairs in front of his company, his house on one side of the road, his warehouse and office on the other. Good chance of fresh water!Frank was more than courteous, actually only wanting water, he invited me for a coffee, let me use his toilet facilities extensively and then sat at the table with him for a good hour. He himself had run several marathons and rode the Vätternrundan at least twice. So an endurance athlete! So in Sweden, too, you will find no equal in the forest.I used Ljungby as mentioned to “refill” for the day, asked Jonas how he was and knew that I could lay the day as I liked. A meeting with him was scheduled for the following day.My highlight of the day was definitely the section between the Flaren and Furen lakes, a dream of a gravel road - quiet, completely away from any civilization. The moment wanted it that a large family of wild boars suddenly appeared as a "road block" a little in front of me on the slopes. Photo time it what! I tried to mount my telephoto lens on my camera at full speed and then approached the family - just like on the prowl. Lovely! Click - click - click! Got them!I had no choice but to make myself noticeable if I wanted to continue on the way. So it happened: hush, hush, the family disappeared into the forest and the way was free again. Shortly afterwards I met a badger on the road and darted into the thicket as fast as it could. I really enjoyed the beginning of this trip!I pitched the tent in the evening shortly after Vaggeryd on Hjortsjön - the evening sun, you can actually speak of it in Sweden shortly before Midsommar - made its way through the dense trees, some joggers passed my camp and then it was again: Hurry up flee the mosquitoes into the tent and enjoy the night's sleep in warm and dry southern Sweden.
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I'll keep this day short: Meeting point Jönköping, city center, close to the university was agreed with Jonas. There we finally got together and I was able to form my own picture of Jonas Rad. It can be clearly seen that no tour would be possible. Therefore, rest days were still the order of the day until the parts shipped would arrive.
The university in Jönköping, Jonas studied there and was still well connected, we used it as a "drop-off" station and went to the nearby lake in the afternoon. Jonas was able to continue his swimming training and together we could wait for the bad weather to come. The joint start was still to come.
Now the time had finally come: we could start, together! With two functional wheels. :)The spare parts for Jonas Rad had arrived and we were able to find a wonderful mechanic who helped Jonas get the bike back into shape. And so finally nothing stood in the way of our trip.The “compulsory break” meant that we were able to spend mid-summer in Jönköping am See. The lake was pleasantly warm, the weather lasted well except for a small shower and the best was probably the many families, mostly refugees from Syria, who packed kilos of grilled meat on the barbecue areas all over the lake. We must have looked so hungry that for hours we were served plate after plate of the finest food and, to our great amazement, also Vodka RedBull. Just crazy.Doing the route was announced. Jonas and I were as happy as the snow kings about the first kilometers together and the good gravel route. It should go on like this! The kilometers went well, the bikes stopped. We stopped for lunch after almost 90 kilometers in Skövde, a beautiful small town.Another highlight of the day were the kilometers along the Göta Canal. A dreamlike gravel road for pedestrians and cyclists. Sweden's smallest passenger ferry with a regular timetable is located along the canal in Töreboda - you just have to take it!We set up the rest area for the evening at a wonderfully beautiful spot on Lake Vänern. Jonas took the opportunity to swim a few more laps while I protected myself against the mosquitoes. The evening was bathed in a warm summer light. The crescent moon appeared early in the sky and ushered in the night. Time for us to go to the tent.
It would be a bit monotonous to describe the days through the forests of Sweden anew. But the hut, which suddenly appeared in the forest along the way after a good 25 kilometers, was something that at the end of the day would have been described as a direct hit: a table, two benches, even a mini oven. We would have been delighted to stop off at this little “home” in the evening. But one shouldn't praise the day before evening ...Instead, there was again a lot of forest, great stretches, sometimes a bit rougher gravel, here and there a trail section studded with roots and great "double tracks" on the program. It ran!
Until we somehow lost our way at daily kilometer 55, or was it a dead end after all? At least we shouldn't have made up our minds no matter what the route says we'd get through. Definitely tough kilometers followed through very dense, hardly passable coniferous forest, but somehow we wanted to get back to the track. Turning around wasn't really on the agenda. When we finally encountered two people who were doing tree-felling work during the forced march, choking our bikes across trees, our arms from the branches sore and suffering from an oppressive heat, we finally got back on our longed-for track. Done! What did they think of us? It will be her secret.As a destination for the evening we had the Flaxen lake in mind. The bridge that connects the two sides of the lake looked so seductive, the light was fantastic. However, we didn't really have much drinking water anymore, the section that was behind us hadn't spit out many supply points and flowing, clear streams weren't really in sight either. Jonas was so brave and had diligently enjoyed lake water with my water filter at the camp in the evening. Water temperature was min. 25 degrees. :) Completely sweaty in the evening it was definitely no refreshment. The camp spot offered everything you could wish for.
What I actually didn't really get used to during the whole trip was the abundance of light. As is well known, we were out and about on the longest day of the year in Sweden, where with the right weather - and we had - the day doesn't want to end, or the night doesn't actually start at all. I like to think back to the days when I usually woke up at three o'clock in the morning and thought: "Darn, you slept, Jonas must have swum twelve laps through some lake". But puff cake: It was only 3 a.m. However, the sun already had a level in the sky, which led me to assume it was around 8 o'clock. Unless I had pitched my fly to darken it, the light played the same trick on me every night ...So we started the day “normally” - Jonas went a few laps in the water, I was happy about a little time with my coffee and the chance to pack my things in peace. Since we were well taken care of from the camp, and water was really coming to an end, it was time to make the route to get water.Shortly after the start, a small river crossing was waiting for us. Easy to master. So on through Sweden's endless forests. To be more precise, we were in the Swedish part of "Dalarna". After a while, the “Bikingdalarna” cycle path, a gravel road that is wonderful to drive, led us past a house in front of which a man, upper body free, was talking on the phone, comfortably sitting in his chair in the shade. There it was, the chance for fresh water! I'll call him Björn - Björn told us that he would always bring the water from Stockholm in cans. So it was his holiday home that he was working on over the summer to accommodate more guests. We also learned from Björn - we had actually already suspected this ourselves - that the wells usually no longer have clear water due to the persistent warmth. We were all the more grateful for his donation. So I forgive Björn his comment to Jonas that his little partner could still use something on the ribs ... :)From this day of the trip at the latest, it was noticeable that small towns with supermarkets were getting further apart. Sweden is relatively "heavily" populated in the southern part - and we were still there at the moment - but the density of places that also had local supply was really manageable.50 to 60 kilometers actually always had to be planned. What sounds super easy on asphalt can quickly take a while on gravel in the forest, peppered with sliding passages. By early evening at the latest, something should usually appear. But that didn't really work that day ...So leftovers. We always got pesto with pasta from our frame bags together. And an evening without "light beer", which is sold in Swedish supermarkets or petrol stations, was also manageable.Speaking of power: after almost 180 kilometers we actually didn't feel like looking for the next lake. Actually it is behind every third tree in Sweden, but today there was probably nothing to be done. The gravel road - it went slowly but surely towards the Norwegian border - only led uphill. At that point, everything suddenly becomes the best place to sleep in the world. A small hill along the slope seemed to be quite conclusive to us.Without further ado, we heaved the bikes up, were as happy as the sun children about the place, until it became clear: This is Mosquito Armageddon! Oh my goodness, we worked it off until we had finished our food, set up the camp, washed the cats and off to the protection zone of the tent.Goodnight!
I just say: Fjäll! So there we were. Right in the middle there instead of just. What it means in Swedish by “Fjäll”, translated “mountain”. For us this meant a solid forced march in the constant fight to keep feet dry, repelling mosquitoes and looking for a few kilometers to drive.When we had worked our way through the "Fjäll" after a good 25 kilometers, Jonas could hardly believe how few kilometers we had covered so far. It was well after noon!In the preliminary planning for our tour, a route along the Norwegian border was originally planned - it was not possible to cross the border when coming out of Sweden due to the existing Corona rules. Technically it was certainly one of the most exciting sections. Even if the fun falls by the wayside when pushing the bike, the section of mobile single trails, wooden planks that keep you from sinking into the high moor and short, crisp climbs have been a great experience.Fortunately, the branch that Jonas caught in the rear derailleur didn't cause anything bad. We spent the well-deserved lunch break in the shade of a large supermarket, which brought us back on track with laundry facilities, cold drinks and electricity. However, one thing was also clear: if we continued to follow cross-country or snowmobile tracks, we could put our targeted daily kilometers aside.One of the reasons why we set up camp for the evening after only 110 kilometers on this day. By the way, the evening was almost mosquito-free, even though our camp was right on the river. Jonas was still happy about a few laps in the water, I about a thorough cleaning in the river and dinner together. I think it was tortellini with pesto ... :)
The big day was ahead! Maybe I should say a few words about what the plan of the trip was for both of us.Jonas plan was to use Scandinavia as a training camp over the summer, if you will. His next big adventure was imminent and he wanted to be prepared for it. To circumnavigate Germany in 16-fold triathlon mode, nobody had done it like this before and that was his plan. Since this challenge was to follow soon after our trip to Sweden, in addition to bikepacking with me, he also had to go into the water and swim regularly. Sometimes Jonas even went running a few kilometers.Accompanying him photographically during this preparation was the basis of our endeavor. So that it wouldn't get too boring, Jonas came up with the idea and said: “Bengt, I can do a wild Ironman in one day.” - “Feel free!” I just thought.That day was now approaching. Logically we didn't want to break ourselves completely today, Jonas would still be able to use the grains enough the following day.
We adapted our route to the main roads for the day, letting it go was more the motto.That worked very well too. We were able to roll well on almost empty main roads - you could see for a long time that we had left the heavily populated part of Sweden behind us. Like sparrows on the roofs we drove side by side and talked about equipment highlights, travel destinations and the sport that people had done in their youth. A really nice day.We had chosen Sveg as our destination with the lake Svegsjön not far away. Jonas had judged the water to be suitable for his special project. The usual evening ritual followed: off to the town, be careful not to buy half the supermarket empty, eat the first batch of goodies right in front of the supermarket and take everything we needed for the evening to the lake in the sun .And how we have been rewarded! The lake was almost perfect. We could hardly make up our minds about camp options. One spot better than the other. Fixed tent set up, splash around in the water and then relax and cook. For Jonas it was now also called “carb loading”, otherwise the batteries would not really be full tomorrow. Guess what there was in abundance? Right: Tortellini with pesto! :)
Ritsche, ratchet, rustle, rustle. "Jonas, are you awake?" - "Yup, let's go," came the message from the neighboring tent.
“I'll see you in about two hours,” Jonas called to me and slowly disappeared into the water.So much swimming time we had to reckon with, an exact measurement of the targeted swimming kilometers was unfortunately not possible, it should be at least 3.8 kilometers. So that had to be appreciated. And it wasn't supposed to be an official Ironman, but a wild one!From the mainland I was able to photograph Jonas quite well for a while. At some point, however, a telephoto lens reaches its limits in terms of distance. So “free time” was the order of the day. Pack up the tent, have breakfast and wait for Jonas to return from the water.When the time came, Jonas first had to whip up his body, which was rather hypothermic during the swimming time, although the water seemed to be pleasantly warm. Put on warm clothes, drink and eat soon. He had put in a strong performance with almost two hours of swimming time and the whole thing without a wetsuit.We covered most of the distance on the bike on asphalt roads, the performance didn't have to be made unnecessarily more difficult than it already was. The joy after almost 180 kilometers was entirely on our side. We only had a few kilometers left to our target camp spot, from where Jonas wanted to start the marathon. And then came the big end. In other words: we suddenly found ourselves in a dead end. The destination was on a small peninsula near Östersund, the last few kilometers should be over the river over a bridge. But where was the bridge? Unfortunately, it didn't even exist, it was a route that is used as a temporary connection on ice in winter, when the rivers and lakes in Sweden all freeze over. So there was no other chance but to turn around ...The plan - also due to the fact that it was after 9 p.m. and there was no supermarket in sight where we could buy food - was over. We had to improvise. The wild Ironman shouldn't fail because of such a problem?The ten kilometers back along the cul-de-sac to the next intersection were not the best, understandably. New goals were needed! At the intersection, the supposed food supply in the form of a gas station was already closed. Without further ado, I decided to speak to two gentlemen on the terrace in front of the pizzeria at the pizzeria opposite, which had also been closed for almost two hours. We really need three to four pizzas, Jonas is a world record holder, we have this special project, and, and, and ... I must have probably seemed like the last freak who tried somewhere in the country in Sweden to tease two older men a bear . :)30 minutes later we were sitting in the restaurant with four pizzas and drinks - luck was on our side again. 180 kilometers on the bike were behind us and to top it all off, the gentlemen also ran a “Vandrarhem” - a kind of youth hostel - right behind the pizzeria. We couldn't believe our luck!So we were equipped with a small room, a kitchen, a bathroom, electricity and everything else. Jonas started the night after a not too long break - I had decided against spontaneously running a marathon and was waiting for his arrival.Jonas used our accommodation twice during his long run through the night. Fresh coffee was waiting for him in the kitchen and I was able to give him a few words of encouragement for the night in between.Then in the early hours of the morning he had made it. Still completely inspired by the impressions from the night, he made his last few meters towards our accommodation through a light drizzle. “Weird, I've never done an Ironman. But it works! ”Those were roughly his words.Now recovery was announced! What a day.
Between the wild Ironman and the onward journey there was a day that we used separately to regenerate and to fix our respective further travel plans. Jonas had more plans in Scandinavia and I had to return to Germany the following weekend at the latest.After we had fixed that we would drive together for two more days, we rolled north together from Östersund in the afternoon. Unfortunately, it was also clear at the time that we would not be able to reach the Arctic Circle in the planned time. What a shame, I would have loved to have reached that point. So there was still one unfinished business with Sweden and the Arctic Circle ...
It was a great day! We landed really solidly in the “Fjäll” again, pushed our bikes a few kilometers through the thicket, but in the evening we were grateful for every kilometer we had made. Jonas legs were back to full capacity, I had to admit quite impressive.We especially remember the meeting during our lunch break with a German dropout who saw us at the checkout in the supermarket and then spoke to us. She and her partner run a small agency for guided wilderness trips through the area with the largest brown bear population in the world - they say.
She assured us that we didn't have to worry about the thought of driving through this area for the next few hours, but let us stay quite attentive.In the evening we made our camp at a small hut that was still under construction. It was situated on one of those many beautiful lakes. Jonas decided on "indoors", I slept "outdoors".Good night, fellas!
Farewells are never nice, I think. Jonas and I had to say goodbye today, there was no other way. I wanted to get to the train to Älvsbyn on time and Jonas wanted to continue to Norway to film - we just had to turn differently.We didn't quite get to the Arctic Circle, but we had so many sun-filled days together on Sweden's fine gravel roads. An unforgettable experience!We divided our route until noon so that we could still eat together in Asele. It was getting fresh outside, however, and weather seemed to be coming. So we soon packed up again and drove our way.For me it was now time to advance to Lapland. That was also a lot of fun on the main road to Lyksele. The weather did surprise us with one or two solid showers, but we were so spared the whole trip that it was almost fun to drive through the rain.In Lyksele I rolled up in the early evening, got the famous tortellini with pesto and found a nice, soft place to sleep just outside of town. The first somewhat fresher evening had dawned.
To be honest, I set out very late in the day to tackle the final kilometers ahead. Just under 230 were left. The weather had been modest in the morning, which is why I only packed up my things and started rolling when the onset of drought.So off we went north. On the previous day I honestly had a lot of fun letting it roll on beautiful asphalt roads for a long time. Therefore, the last part hardly provided any more gravel. I absolutely had to avoid not arriving at the train in Älvsbyn on time.So put music on your ear and let it run. The kilometers rolled through really well, the landscape got wider overall, forests sometimes opened up, huge lakes stretched over long stretches along the route, towns were spread out further and further apart.As I rolled into the evening, I had the stupid idea to post a picture every hour on Instagram from that moment on and take the audience with me through the “Northern Night”. So the decision was made and I rolled relaxed through the Swedish night until 7 a.m.In fact, I didn't come across a single car on a 120-kilometer route. Suddenly there seemed to be nothing so far north. The widely spaced train stations look more like abandoned gold rush towns. Got a train there? Better be on time!But there was another reason why I rushed through the night with such vigor: The evening before, the weather radar clearly showed that from 8 a.m. the day would actually disappear completely in the water. I couldn't really imagine arriving at the train station completely soaked and still getting the bike transportable. In this respect, it was such a wonderful experience to cycle through the never really dark night in northern Sweden, to arrive in Älvsbyn and one hour after arrival, punctually at 8 o'clock, to be able to watch the steady rain that began to dry from a wonderful gas station.It actually rained completely until I left in the early evening. How grateful we can be to have been so lucky!Hopefully Sweden will see me again. If you are looking for beautiful, wide and long rolling gravel roads, you can definitely find happiness in Sweden! Up, up! And you can camp here in the most beautiful dream places ...