Denmark was almost the flat, well-signed, well-placed country of our dreams. Mountainous fijords gave way to Saskatchewan-esque farmland and despite the ever-present headwinds, we were making 70km days with our eyes closed (not advised). The only real draw-back was the rain (every god-damned day of our god-damned lives), and the occasional Google detour onto unpaved country roads.
Fresh off the world’s shittiest ferry (we’re looking at you Fijord Line), we cycled a very flat and only mildly rainy 70km to a warmshowers host just outside Aalborg. Our fantastic hosts let us stay an extra night so we could clean our disgusting clothing, use a kitchen and binge watch Netflix (Glow, why you gotta be so good). Once back on the road it was a mostly straightforward ride through Hadsund and Randers to Aarhus, where we planned to catch the ferry across to Sjaellands Odde and bike the last stretch to Copenhagen. In total, this stretch of our trip was less than 500km (Denmark is TINY).
Denmark is built for cycle-touring. Not only were the people friendly (and the beer more affordable) but the country is covered in free shelters which appear to be designed specifically for travellers. Not only were these shelters free and frequently accompanied by a fire pit, running water and outhouses, they are all listed with GPS coordinates on a free app (“Shelter”).
For some reason, maybe because the shelters are so plentiful, we continued to have difficulty finding hosts to take us in (save our awesome warmshowers in Aalborg and the anarchists that adopted us in Aarhus). So by the time that we arrived in Copenhagen, we were weary and wet and totally sprung for a hotel. Guys. Copenhagen was expensive as shit but with it’s shiny cycle highways definitely wins out for most bike-able city thus far. Also we accidentally bought 20$ beers, so beware because that’s definitely a thing.
Before leaving Oslo, we spent way too much time scanning the internet for proof that this route was in fact possible. The few people we consulted tended to shrug and ominously reference the many mountain tunnels through which a cyclist may not live to tell the tale. But a route exists! And is even marked as a bike route in many areas (albeit a rainy and sometimes treacherous one).
We finally departed Oslo after a day of derping around in the city, trying unsuccessfully to unlock our phone plan and buying some much needed camping essentials. While Oslo was charming in a lot of ways, it has that expensive tourist quality that starts to grate on weary cyclist nerves. A euro to use a public washroom? Please don’t mind me while I squat behind your dumpster.
We had made the decision to ditch Google and to relinquish all navigation to our new Kamoot overlords, which aside from one exhilarating “shortcut” straight through a farmer’s field, proved to be pretty effective. From Oslo we basically took bike lanes all the way to Drammen, and then secondary roads (paved!) northish to Rodberg.
It was all lakes and hills and sunshine, up until this point. Then it just became hills. And motor homes. And eventually rain. The tourists swarmed most towns and villages and we would go days without talking to actual Norwegians. And competition was apparently steep. One campsite operator chased us off his property when we stopped for a picnic at an isolated picnic table. Another hotel charged us $5 each for a shower that I will generously compare to being sprayed down with a cold hose. But in Rodberg a couple of local women read our sign and surprised us with coffee. And then, obviously, there were the views.
Alright, so after a grumpy day of waiting out the rain in Rodberg (thank you again mysterious ladies for your smiles and warm coffeeeeee), we set off to do the 60-something km ride to Geilo (the G is pronounced a little like a Y). We knew that today we would have to climb not one, but three mountains, the highest topping out at 1110m. It was several Km of steep climbing. But we did it in a day and nobody lost a spoke or cried.
Shortly out of Geilo we stumbled upon the much anticipated rallarvagen, a stretch of unpaved path that runs for over 80km through mountains, fijords and glaciers. I want to post a million pictures but even natural beauty can get redundant through a shitty cellphone camera lense.
The first 30km of the path to Finse were amazing in every way. Quiet, sunny, hard-packed dirt roads which slowed down our pace but we’re otherwise manageable and who wants to rush those peaks anyway? The next 30 or so km were a different story. Not only did we find ourselves dragging our bikes and worldly belonging through lengthy patches of ice and snow, but our dirt path became rocky, and sometimes just rocks. Even our mountain biking counterparts were occasionally observed walking their steeds. Cycle-tourists, this route is an emotional roller coaster and will leave you both awed and feeling like every bone in your body is ready to break.
When we eventually descended deep into the valley and back down to sea level (via some wild dirt road switchbacks that make my breaking fingers ache just thinking about it), the road miraculously re-paved itself and we free-fell all the way to Flam.
After toasting our victory in the local Viking bar (obvs), we camped behindl a kayak rental but. The next morning, we got up early to take a boat through the fijords to Gudvangen in order to pick up a secondary highway that would hopefully not shoot us through pitch black car-only mountain tunnels. Rocky roads and touristy bullshit aside, THOSE FIJORDS.
We opted to skip the cheesy Viking village in Gudvangen and headed Southwest towards Voss. It wasn’t too long until we ran into our first set of nasty switchbacks on a narrow one-way road for traffic coming straight towards us. It was us vs the cars and terrifying tour buses that would hurtle down and around corners, barely giving us enough space to stand. And then it started to rain. Guys, we made it all the way to Voss but spirits were low and we we had been about 10 days without a warmshower or couchsurf. We were wet, dirty, and scared that we might not survive the next 100km of switchbacks. So we took the train to Bergen (where it was also raining).
From here we took what can only be described as the world’s shittiest ferry down to Denmark. It was a grueling 18 hour ride that involved charges for WiFi, hot water and presumably oxygen. We “slept” on the floor and voilà awoke to Denmark with the sun shining (it later rained) and bike lanes for days. Currently we are staying at a magical farm not far from Aalborg and will head south this morning (it looks like rain).
This is coming to you directly from the Oslo burbs. Which, unsurprisingly(?) are at the top of what Norwegians probably call hills, but we cursed as mountains as climbed them yesterday afternoon.
(As a side note, I feel as though Scandinavia will singlehandedly bring back the scooter. They somehow seem to be the two wheeled vehicle of choice for all ages. Napoleon Dynamite ftw).
Going back about 10 days, we arrived in Stockholm all dazed and blurry-eyed from our 12 hours on the love boat. The sun was shining and it may have been the city in all of it’s shiny glory, or it may have just been the fact that we were stoked to be anywhere but on that boat, but Stockholm was all kinds of beautiful.
On bike tours, cities are these funny things that seem far too big and complicated in comparison to the rest of your bicycle world (what do you mean I can’t put my tent up on this lawn?). So, two nights and two fabulous hosts later we were back on the road.
We had marked, with the help of Google maps, a pretty straightforward route all the way to Oslo. We soon ran into the challenge of being inadvertently shot onto major highways (with their small roads and zero shoulder, they had me thinking almost wistfully about the TransCan, RIGHT?). Reroute please google. The other option often involved loosely packed gravel roads and sometimes grass trails through forests and farm fields. These Swedish bike paths were likely meant for mountain bikes because packed with all our gear, it was a miracle we even stayed upright.
Sweden has a lot of lakes, as any proud Swede will tell you. And a lot of farms. And a lot of little blonde children who think it’s hilarious that you only speak English. And most importantly, we were introduced to fika, a word Swedes have for drinking coffee while eating something sweet. IT HAS IT’S OWN WORD TABERNAC. Also, their affinity for self-serve buffets and pizza/kebab combos rivals Ottawa’s for midnight bagels and shwarma.
When we eventually crossed the highly secured Sweden/Norway boarder, Jon swore that the smell of the forests changed. As did the language. And the rules for purchasing alcohol (we could buy cold beer again!!!). And for all of you debbie-downers who were all “Scandinavia is really expensive you know,” -you were right (ugh!). From here on in we shall subsist off of handouts and dirt. I hope you’re happy. Also, please send poutine.
Today we leave for the hills. We are that excited kind of terrified that keeps you imobilized on the couch drinking one pot of coffee after the next. Wish us luck.
I am writing this from a boat, somewhere in the Baltic sea on route from Finland to Sweden. It’s going on hour 11 of our accidental cruise, packed full of the standard VLT machines and terrible music. Like, knockoff songs that you totally recognise, or, WOULD recognise if it weren’t for the auto-tune and backround chorus of “Sex! Shots! Sex!”.
Our little tour started in Helsinki. Well, actually, it started in the airport shit show where I assume every international bike trip starts (“Bikes…? You had best talk to…anyone but me…” *closes gate*). Once we made it to Helsinki, we did the standard airport bike shop thing and then cycled the 18km to our couchsurf. It was 11pm when we arrived, but still light because the sun never sets here tabernac. Which, while great for cycling late, means we fall asleep to birdsong and I can read without a flashlight in the midnight glow.
We made it into Helsinki for Pride and Metal Fest weekend, so we were inundated with beautiful freaks everywhere we went. In my mind, Helsinki is always this way.
We ate, drank and sauna-ed with friendly Fins. I did my very best to avert my eyes (in the most non-awkward way possible) in the saunas and swear that the skin nearly peeled off my face as the temperature rose over 80 degrees celcius.
And then we cycled west. We stuck to a minor highway and were stoked to find bike paths a good part of the way. Also, we swore that we had just somehow travelled through time and space right back to Ontario. Until people started speaking Finnish, obvs.
Apparently Finland has this rule that allows all people to camp publicly as long as you aren’t being a total asshole. Something like that; you can look it up! So we camped in a half plowed farmer’s field. And by a bunch of stacked trees on a logging road. It’s real hard to sneaky-camp when the sun never sets, but no one seemed to mind.
Helsinki to Turku was just under 200km, but the uppy-downy was enough to make our legs swol and instill fear in our hearts for the mountains to come. Please send us your thoughts of tailwinds and mechanical quads.
We are officially less than 48 hours away from boarding our plane to Helsinki. Our house is in shambles and my uterus is doing that foreboding pre-bleed flexing. (At least i’ll be traveling with a non-menstruater so there is no chance of second period on this trip). My romantic affiliate was up til all hours of the night doing last minute packing, so I was up obscenely early to write this blog post do other important things.
BUT. I need to finish my first story before I go on to the next one.
Okay. Up until this point the ground was pretty flat and we made good time. In my memory, the moment we passed Rimouski, the ground shot up into the heavens and I spent the next several days cycling in a gravity defying vertical line. Without the adequate gearing, I was forced to stand up on my bike and push down with my legs for a solid 30 second stretch at a time while Jon shot up into the sky. (He would inevitably always reach the top before me, and then send me encouraging texts while I stared dismayed at the next bend wondering if it was finally over).
Aside from the hills, our route was easy -we just followed the 132-Ouest and kept the water on our left side. We stayed with some friends in Matane and actually took a motel in St.Anne-des-Monts (because we do not bike in the rain if we can help it), but aside from that we slept on beaches (and once drunkenly in a pit) all the way to Gaspe.
We eventually made it to Gaspé and stayed two nights with a lovely host from Warm Showers who lived at the top of a steep hill (obviously). While this was originally our final destination, I was admittedly underwhelmed and we still had a week before we needed to be home. So, we made the executive decision to keep on biking all the way to Percé.
You may recognize its big rock:
To get there, we took this hilarious shortcut and walked/cycled over an abandoned(?) railway track. That night we slept on our own private beach and were visited by a curious seal. Itwassomagical.
Once in Percé we did the classy thing of pitching our tent in a closed-for-the-season campground behind a micro-brewery and definitely overstaying our welcome. It’s a cute tourist town, definitely worth the off-season stay.
Upon learning we could not catch a bus from this clearly on-the-map tourist town (camon Quebec), we biked another 45km to a small town, bought bus tickets and camped behind a gas station dumpster in order to be sure we would catch the 7:00am bus. (We did, barely). And then we sat, grumpy as fuck, watching our 3 week bike tour go by in the span of 8 hours.
I had no idea until this last trip, but if you tour in the fall everything belongs to you.
I shit you not. We had our own private beaches. Our own private no-charge camp site behind a microbrewery (on multiple occasions). Our own private parks. Sometimes even our own private roads.
So yes. We very stylishly left Quebec City in a boat which delivered us back to the south shore of the St. Laurent. Here we jumped on and off the TransCanada until about Rimouski, about another 300km.
It was not uneventful. For instance, we met this man, who is old enough to be my grandfather, yet disappeared over the horizon while we very much did not disappear over the horizon.
We also found this thing. Omen or artwork, we weren’t sure. But it spun okay.
And we took shelter from the rain in this barn.
We were assholes in Trois-Pistoles.
And we watched seals in Le Bic
Oh, also I walked my bike up this mean hill.
And then, 300ishkm later, ta-da RIMOUSKI.
If memory serves me correctly, Rimouski was the last place I remember before the hills really started. It’s a cute enough town by the water. We visited a local microbrewery, stayed in the ‘burbs with our lovely warmshowers host and terrorized the local Walmart (because by this point we were feral cycletourists and you couldn’t take us anywhere).
We will return to the past in my next post, BUT GUESS WHAT. We are presently gearing up for a three month tour through Scandinavia and northern Europe. Quit our jobs? Check. Buy new rain gear? Check. Dehydrate EVERYTHING? Check.
For the first time EVER I am going to attempt to keep this blog updated in real-time. So you (is anyone out there?) can bare witness to our flats and sunburns and stroopwafles. Fingers and toes crossed.
Following last year’s sweaty winter under the Indian sun, this winter felt like an eternity (seriously, these are the scenes of our city from just last month). So in a world where shoulder season (apparently defined as travel period between peek and off-peek seasons; by this logic, I would consider the entire span of November-April as one long shoulder season) still means parkas and boots and sticky metro rides and all of that snow that you apparently just can’t ignore out of existence, I’ve had my fingers crossed that come April 1st I would not feel seasonally pressured to throw more money into our once novel transit system (ie BIKING WEATHER).
Now we’ve swapped snow clouds for rain clouds. BUT.Once upon a time it was warm and sunny and I was biking, biking, biking. Once upon a September 1st 2015, my now-partner (then almost-partner) set off with our bikes all packed, in the direction of the now near-mystical Gaspe. I had recently sold or packed away all of my worldly belongings, quit my job, and had a flight booked to Mumbai for October 1st, so I was feeling especially light and liberated.
Our route basically took us along the south shore of the fleuve St Laurent.
(Bonus knowledge! A fleuve is not a rivière. A rivière flows into another river, while a fleuve flows right into the ocean or the sea.)
After leaving the island several hours post-sunrise, we crossed the same highway multiple times on these very safe and convenient ramp and stair combos. Once we made our way inland, the 300km ride to Quebec City was exactly the melange of farmland and poutine that you might expect.
The roads were pretty quiet, it was sunshiney and we had all of the choice campsites. Being that both my cycling partner and I prefer late mornings and lots of food stops, doing the 100km a day we needed to have us in Quebec City for the weekend was a bit of stretch. BUT WE DID IT. JUST IN TIME FOR PRIDE.
A note about cycling touring in Quebec: Like much of Canada, this province is huge and sparsely populated between cities (even the in-between towns are super sleepy). That said, as long as you’re not a complete asshole, the don’t ask, don’t tell mentality will ensure that you always have a decent campsite with a privacy and sometimes a view.
We arrived in Quebec just as the sun was setting on day three. After a little bit of navigation we found our wonderful Warm Shower hosts (as well as their adorable cats with leashes). If I remember correctly, they greeted us with the standard WS hospitality (beers and showers first, food and conversation later), and so kindly hosted us for the weekend, helped us with minor bike repairs and toured us around their beautiful city.
GUYS. Even if a tour along the Gaspé Peninsula seems like a stretch, definitely consider the Montreal-Quebec City mini-trip. It was flat, pretty quiet and scattered with bike lanes or wide shoulders along the way.