Leaving Sweden

Lake Furen, Sweden. October 1998. [click thumbnail to see full size photo in the photo gallery]

In early 1998 i decided to do something else than work in an office from nine to five. I wanted to travel overland to India, but not by buses and trains as I have done on previous trips. I chose to do it by bicycle.

I quit my job in early September and left Trollhättan, Sweden, on the 28th.

I planned to be out of Sweden within a week. It took me thirteen days. Find out why in my journal below.


September 28 1998 - The First Long Day

(Gothenburg 107 km)
I'm all prepared and all my gear is packed on my bike. I'm at the Svea Restaurant, my starting point, where I'm a regular. A reporter is taking some photos for the local paper, and my friends wish me luck. It's a bit sad to leave them all behind, but also a wonderful feeling of freedom to be on the way. I have everything I need on the bike; tent, stove, food, sleeping bag, warm clothes, spare parts, tools &c. I can go anywhere I want. I'm almost flying down the road to Gothenburg. Only a slight drizzle and the heavy panniers (30 kg) keep me down on the road surface. (Climbing the third hill I think to myself; 'what the hell am I doing?!').

It is already dark when I reach the port in Gothenburg, but I still have to wait another two hours for Geoff (my travel companion for the next three months). He is supposed to arrive on the ferry from England in the evening. I'm not sure if he will make it. He didn't seem so sure when I last heard from him two weeks ago. Since I never met him and only read e-mail from him, I give it 50/50 that he'll show up.

Geoff does show up and we cycle together to the city centre around midnight. The bike computer stops on 107 km's, but can I go on like this? I never really did any exercise before I left.

The youth hostels are closed for the night, but we find a decent pension, for a semi-decent price, right in the centre of the city. Good Night.


September 29 - Pizza and Lake Side Camp

(Lake St. Öresjö 149 km)
We sleep in and go shopping and e-mailing before we head off south around noon. We stop for a pizza on the southern outskirts of Gothenburg before heading west, away from the coast and up into the forests of the Southern Highland foothills. Setting up our first camp just off a lake (St. Öresjö) in the forest is quite exciting. Now we're really on our way. The pasta dinner tastes excellent and I sleep like a baby by 9 pm.

Click to see enlarged photo.

September 30 - Snap!

(Svennljunga 220 km)
The morning is beautiful but a bit chilly. We're speeding down the forested hills along good dirt roads toward the slightly wider highway in the valley. I feel great, and we have good weather all day and stop along the road to cook our lunch pasta with smoked mackerel that we bought in a small town (Sätila) along the way.

In the afternoon we have a few long climbs over forested hills. On the last one something snaps in my left knee. The pain is sharp and sudden. I understand that something is wrong but keep going. We do some dinner shopping in Svennljunga before setting up camp just outside of town, under a power line. The dinner pasta tastes excellent. I worry about the knee but still fall asleep early.

Store Mosse National Park. [click thumbnail to see full size photo in the photo gallery]

October 1 - Bang!

(Store Mosse National Park 295 km)
A loud bang wake me up in the wee hours. The local men are hunting in the forest behind us. I hope they don't mistake our tents for moose. The shooting seems to go on further away as we eat breakfast in the weak morning sun.

We cycle through forest all morning, mostly on dirt roads. The pain in my knees is starting to bother me. A few drops of rain hit us as we're cooking lunch by the road. It's pasta again. In the afternoon we pass the ski resort of Hestra. The hills are quite impressive, for southern Sweden, but there's no snow at this time of year.

We enter the Store Mosse National Park as the sun starts to set. It's mostly a large moor with some wildlife, especially migrating birds.

Huseby Bruk, Southern Sweden. [click thumbnail to see full size photo in the photo gallery]

October 2 - Stop!

(Värnamo 312 km)
My knee is aching worse than ever in the morning. I just manage to get up on my bike. Cycling feels almost impossible, but we slowly make it toward Värnamo, the main town in the area. There is no way I can continue further today. Geoff hasn't got any problems so far (touch wood), but agrees to stay the day in town and the night in a small family pension.

Two friendly police officers show us where to get a pint of Caffrey's Ale and a good dinner in the evening.


October 3 - Fishing & Swimming

(Lake Furen 331 km)
My knee is far from ok but we decide to go slow and stop when it's getting too painful. Geoff's knee (also the left one) is getting worse now. We travel at maybe 12 km's per hour on the flat highway. That's fast compared to yesterday.

We watch a fishing competition as we kick back under the warm autumn sun with our lunch pasta. Only five kilometres down the road, we find the perfect camping spot just on a lake shore (Lake Furen). We decide to pitch our tents for the night and enjoy the warm afternoon. Geoff is writing his journal while I go for a swim in the cold water. I'm in and out of the water in ten seconds.

Old farming tools on a barn wall in southern Sweden. [click thumbnail to see full size photo in the photo gallery]

October 4-9 - Slowly Through Apple Country

(Karlskrona 529 km)
My knee is getting better but Geoff's is getting worse as we slowly make it down to the south coast of Sweden. We pass some fine nature reserves and the apple districts of Blekinge Province. We also make a short sightseeing stop at Huseby Bruk, a 17th century steel mill, and the Rydaholm Car and Toy Museum.

On the way south we camp at the following places: Sjöatorp (4/10), Lake Salen (5/10), Sirkön on Lake Åsnen (6/10), St. Hensjön (7/10), Lake Sännen (8/10). In Karlskrona we find a private room just outside the town centre. We explore the nightlife a bit before we crash.

October 10 - Across the Baltic Sea

(Night ferry to Gdynia after 550 km in Sweden)
We do some shopping and check out the museum before lunch. The weather isn't good so we watch TV until it's time to check out and move on.

We cycle to the ferry in light drizzle. It's getting dark as we get there and we're wet, but who cares. We're warm and in the bar an hour later, and on our way to Poland! We feel even warmer after dinner, beer, and McAllen whiskey.

October 11 1998 - Lost in the Rain

(Gdansk 579 km)
We wake up just in time to get our luggage and get off the ferry. It starts to rain as we make our way out of the ugly port area. The city of Gdynia is a little less ugly and we stop to have a look at the oceanographic museum by the sea. The women in the reception are friendly and look after our bikes for us while we look around. The museum is ok.

On the way south toward Sopot and Gdansk we get lost. All we have to do is to follow the coast, but we end up in some forest. The path we're on is getting smaller and smaller and it's raining. In the end there is no path, just bushes and trees. We're ready to give up and turn back when we hear some people ahead of us. Some kids are playing near another path and we can continue there. The rest of the day is beautiful. We cycle slowly along the beach. There are paved and gravel paths all the way to Gdansk. We're both tired and feeling pain in our knees as we make it in to the city centre. My guidebook helps us to find a youth hostel. We relax and go out for dinner and polish beer in the evening. It's a great feeling too be in Poland!

Central Gdansk. [click thumbnail to see full size photo in the photo gallery]

October 12 - A Day in the Sun

We eat breakfast in the hostel in the morning. It's simple but plentiful, and cheap. It's a lovely day and we decide to stay in Gdansk until tomorrow. The old city is beautiful and we want to see more of it. All we really do is walk, talk, eat and drink. It's nice to have a day off.

October 13 - Polish Countryside

(Lake Zdunskie 623 km)
We have good weather on the way south. The road soon climbs away from the coast. We cook our lunch on the side of the road. Cycling is easy but I still worry about my knees and we stop after 44 kilometres. We find a nice place to camp just next to lake Zdunskie. At night I wake up from a noise. It sounds like large animals, maybe moose or deer. When I look out, I only see a squirrel. Was I dreaming?

October 14 - Rain and Sand

(Lake Czarne 669 km)
There are footprints around the tent in the morning. It may be deer. It's cold and foggy. Dogs are barking from every farm in the area. Does everyone have a dog?

We ride on quite a few small dirt or sand tracks in the forest today. We also get a lot of rain. We camp at Lake Czarne. It's beautiful but not so clean...and it's raining.

October 15-16 - To Torun

(Torun 775 km)
The weather is getting better as we get closer to Torun, the next city. Torun is similar to Gdansk (but smaller) a well restored and compact old city centre. The houses are colourful and there is a large square in the middle of it all. It would be nice to stay longer and get to know the place.

Ojcowski National Park. [click thumbnail to see full size photo in the photo gallery]

October 17-23 - To the Hills

(Krakow 1243 km)
Seven days of cycling to Krakow. Both my and Geoff's knees are getting better. We're getting back to stages of 60-90 kilometres per day. The terrain is getting more interesting and the weather is nice. Highlight number one on this stretch is the Ojcowski National Park - a rocky and forested area around a river gorge.

The bad parts? Well, this is where we have our first really bad experiences with dogs (Yes, it will get worse). A few were really aggressive. It's the first time I have been afraid that a dog would hurt me. What is it with dogs and bikes?

Near Szpinalow I celebrate my one thousand kilometres. Geoff is still counting in miles and is not impressed.

On the way to Krakow we camp at the following places: Jeziorno (17/10), Zurawieniec (18/10), Maksymilianow (19/10), Szpinalow (20/10), Potok Zloty (21/10), and Chelm (22/10).

October 24 - King Pie!

Krakow! I could spend a lot of time in this city. It's got the atmosphere, the sights, the architecture, the history and beer. But the best is King Pie. What more can a cycling traveller ask for? The best pies I ever had. And I have a lot of them, both for main course and desert. We also drink some good beer at the festival. The summer is late here in Krakow. It's twenty degrees (C) in the afternoon.

The High Tatras from Zakopane, Poland. [click thumbnail to see full size photo in the photo gallery]

October 25-27 - Mountains!

(Zakopane 1381 km)
We head south out of Krakow, right into the mountains. They are actually hills the first day, but as we get closer to the Slovak border, we understand why they are called The High Tatras. This part of the Carpatians is very rugged, rocky and steep. The peaks are higher than elsewhere (2000-2600 m) in the region.

On the way to Zakopane we camp at the Myslenice Camping Ground (25/10), and in the wild near Pyzowka (26/10).

Zakopane is the main centre for skiing and mountaineering on the Polish side. We enjoy it here but wished it was ski season and better weather.


October 28 - Storm and Border Problems

(Lysa Polana 1381 km)
After some shopping for food we start climbing further up into the mountains. The road has quite a few switchbacks through the steep forest. We get above 1000 m for the first time on the trip. We decide to try a small side track that, according to the map, leads right up the tree line and a mountain rest house. It's just a steep jeep track but we keep going. We have to get off the bikes and push a lot. The road is now more like a hiking trail, and it's covered with rocks that, sometimes makes it impossible to ride. I think we are both to stubborn to realize the obvious - we shouldn't be here!

It's not until we meet two trekkers that we give up. They tell us it's getting worse and that cycling here is prohibited. Their information feels like a good excuse to turn around.

Going down is not as pleasant as one might expect. I have no suspension on my bike and have to absorb the vibrations with arms and legs. At the same time I have to dodge the rocks and holes, and brake continuously. I stop to rest at least four times on the way down to the main road. Geoff arrives twenty minutes later. His front rack broke three times on the way down.

The weather is now getting worse. It's very windy and it looks like it could start to rain any minute. We ride down a long slope. The road crosses a small creek, and then it starts to climb again. When we finally get to the top of the pass the wind is getting crazy. Branches are starting to fall off the high fur trees. They swing back and forth and the storm is roaring. We start to worry about the danger as we cycle down through the thick forest. The wind is getting even harder and it starts to rain. More and more twigs and small branches are covering the road. We don't want to stop, but we can't ride too fast either.

A falling tree could be very dangerous. We are vulnerable on our bikes, but at least we can see it coming. One of these trees would easily flatten a good car.

We stop when we see it. A huge tree has fallen right across the road. It must have happened only minutes ago. Only three cars are waiting on this side of the tree - none on the other side. A few people are standing on the road. The tree can not be moved without being sawed off. There is nothing we can do to help. We get off our bikes and manage to pull them under the tree. It's only a few kilometres down to the border. There is also another side road into the mountains here that we want to try. It might be dangerous to get too high up, but also less risk for falling trees. We get stopped after only a kilometre. A guard informs us that this is a National Park, which we knew, and that bikes and camping is not allowed, which we suspected. We decide to leave the country.

In the border area it's difficult to ride because of the strong winds. The rain feels like needles on my face. The border guards must think we are crazy. We probably are. I cross first. I hand over my passport and get my stamp. No problem. When Geoff does the same thing, it takes longer. He even has to get off the bike and go inside to the immigration office. I go back to see what's going on. I hear that he can't cross. He needs a visa. The guard that stamped my passport says he has to go to Warsaw to get it. There are new rules from the government. And they apply only for British Citizens! Geoff is not happy but goes inside the office again. He looks less depressed when he comes back. The higher border official was willing to help. He promises to produce a transit visa, but not until the next morning. Geoff has to stay in Poland. I decide to join him. It's almost dark and time to camp anyway. I get another two stamps in my passport as I cross the border again on the other side of the customs building.

We manage to find a reasonably safe place to camp away from the high fur trees. It's secluded enough to stay out of sight and away from the wind. The whole area is a National Park so camping is banned, but we don't want to backtrack up the road again in the dark.

October 29 - Slovakia, Here I Come!

Travel writing at Amazon.co.uk

(Lysa Polana 1381 km)
Geoff gets his visa as promised. We cross the border in the morning. It's calm and the sun is just coming up over the mountains...


© Tallabomba 1998-2005