"You're the first Scottish people we've had in 22 years! I love Scotland. You must stay for dinner"
These are the words that greeted us when we sat down at the campsite at Linneryd to have our dinner. Andy and his wife are a couple from Germany who have operated campsites in Sweden for the past two decades. He has toured Scotland on his motorbike with his friends twice and absolutely loved it there. He said that the Scottish people were so friendly and helpful and that since we were from Scotland he must repay the kindness. So after our spaghetti bolognese, Andy cooked us cordon bleu. A two dinner night, win! He gave us as much red wine as we could drink (which wasn't that much - see previous post) as we were so tired and let us camp right on the beautiful lake shore of the campsite.
The weather was set to change with snow lying next morning so we decided to take the next day off and spend it relaxing in the campsite. When we woke, we were greeted with beautiful sunshine, a mirror lake and no hint of bad weather to come but we had slept so well that it was too late to pack up. And so we stayed an extra night. I spent a few hours catching up on my journal while Helen wrote the last blog post. Andy, meanwhile, while complaining of the bad weather that hadn't yet arrived insisted he had nothing to do and so he would instead teach us the tradition Viking game of Kubb.
We weren't very good at it! Andy won the first game easily, went so easy on the second that his confidence eventually made him lose and I played him for the title. Scotland vs Germany in round three. This necessitated me putting on my glasses and Andy providing beers and Scotland was victorious!
As soon as it was over, the weather arrived late and it was shortly bouncing hailstones and we were glad to have stayed. We spent the following night in one of the small lakeside cabins with heating and a proper bed and were ready to go again the next morning.
The delayed weather continued into the next day and became substantially worse.
From the campground we rode north 75 miles, 3000 feet of climbing, in icy rain and snow, into a headwind. The thought that kept us going was that we were headed to another warm showers host, Janne and his girlfriend Xian. By the time we arrived my feet were cadaverous, Helen's too, and tremendously painful. We were cold, tired and soaked. The day was saved by the sight of a wild moose crossing in front of us (a few miles before the Elk Park where we stopped for coffee). We decided that the only verb that could describe a moose's walk was "to gangle" and Helen does a marvellous impression.
Janne is tremendously well travelled in Asia and gave us a lot of advice on what to see and how to travel while in the 'Stans and in China. He insisted that we ought not miss the beautiful green hills of Kyrgyzstan or the Tian Shan mountains in western China (which were currently not on our route). He also insisted that a ride from Urumqi to Xi'an would hold little more than 2000km of desert, motorways, trucks and gravel and would be better served with a train so we could later ride through the Tibetan foothills. We may well be taking this advice and it is very much appreciated so thank you Janne.
With sore legs we pressed further on northwards following Iain's route but didn't make our target of Bjorkfors. Instead, we stopped a few miles south in the town of Horn where we tried our luck in a hostel. When we arrived it was entirely vacant, only the keys were left in the office door and no knocks on any doors were answered. Having ridden again that day in the snow we did the only thing that we could; let ourselves into the office and waited for two startled owners to reappear to the sight of two bedraggled cyclists making themselves at home in their place of business.
The distance to Bjorkfors wasn't the problem. It was the resurfacing of roads which otherwise should've been tarmaced. We rode on difficult gravel for about 10km which slowed us down, as well as hitting some very steep hills which we hadn't expected. On top of all that, again there was a headwind and again we were soaked through with snow which melted through our clothes. Helen struggled, particularly given that this was a day where she was scheduled not to take her Citalopram and on a particularly difficult uphill, after a heavy hailstorm, we took some time out at the side of the road to take a moment to rationalise where we were and what we were doing. All of that said, the hostel owners were great, gave us a lovely room and we had free run of a beautiful former hotel for the night with only one other guest.
Northwards again and we rode to a warm showers host - Ben and Rebecca Hell. Again, two Germans who had made new lives in Sweden where Rebecca makes and sells the most stunning children's woollen clothes and adorable shoes. The weather had improved, although snow and a headwind were still present. This time the big delay was in the roads, again. The Swedish gravel roads are usually hard packed, smooth and very easy to ride on but our route took us down a track which had recently been resurfaced and left to be compressed by traffic. It was as if we were riding along a beach. After a kilometre and waving a passing car down for advice on the route, we had to turn back. This meant a detour and another recently resurfaced track but this time slightly more worn, so passable. Although Ben and Rebecca suggested we really should stay for two nights, we decided to press on in the morning after I had made friends with a large black llama who enjoyed sniffing my face. His white companion remained unconvinced.
Our intention was to ride beyond Nykoping which meant getting a ferry and would've put us in easy reach of Stockholm by Friday night. Unfortunately, when we arrived at the ferry crossing, the ferry was cancelled for maintenance and not scheduled to start again til the next day. Instead of making a long detour we instead chose to camp by the nearby beach, have an early finish, a bonfire and two hot meals. The ferry resumed much later that evening, but by that time we had settled and decided to stay put.
Waking in the morning, we quickly packed in our fastest time yet and set off for an early sailing. As we had done with some other large cities, we decided to ride to a suburb of Stockholm and take the train the rest of the way. We have found big cities to be hard to navigate, and liable to take many hours. So until we get used to all other aspects of the trip and don't have this option, we may well still take the train into the city centre where we can. Having made our target of arriving in Stockholm, we decided to have an extra day off. Helen's knees were becoming increasingly sore as were my wrists, elbows and thighs. With this in mind, we booked ourselves in for a sports massage on Saturday morning with an enormous yet softly spoken man called Jimmy. The pain, and results, were tremendous. We spent our two nights in Stockholm with Helen's old flatmate, Jess, her boyfriend Liam and their two very vocal and inquisitive bengal mix cats. Helen tells me that every time I meet a cat I preface that liking of that particular cat with, "I don't usually like cats, but…" and this applies to all cats. Maybe I do like cats, at least a bit.
We are now, somewhat inadvertently, on a party boat. Some may call it a booze cruise. We are in a not so sumptuous cabin beneath the car deck. Our fellow passengers sound like they're enjoying themselves immensely but we're ready for bed and looking forward to what Finland brings us in the next few days at the end of leg one, northern Europe.