Sunday, June 16, 2013

Cycling Scandinavia: North Sea Cycle Route

Tonder
My one rest day turned into two - but I did not feel  guilty. This is supposed to be a leisurely trip. And I enjoyed the company tremendously. My host was a writer and I had just read two of her books. You rarely get a chance to talk to an author. On top of all that she had just gotten herself a puppy and it was fascinating to see how the little dog settled into his new environment. I used my second rest day to make a day trip into nearby Tønder, a nice little town complete with a museum, church and nearby castle. I also learned that Danish towns are absolutely dead on Sundays... But Monday it was finally time for me to leave and venture into Denmark. My first goal was to cycle up North to Skagen on the North Sea Cycle Path, also called Vestkyststien or National Cycle Route 1. I was very excited as cycling in Denmark had been one of the main reasons for this trip and I wondered whether it would be as good as I had imagined it to be. To already skip a bit ahead:  So far it has surpassed my expectations!

Hvide Sande
Route 1 starts at the German Danish border and the first highlight is the old town of Ribe. Due to budget reasons I had decided to skip the museums there and just visit the churches, especially the famous cathedral. So far all the churches are open during the day. A positive surprise after Spain last year where all the churches were locked and I could find nowhere to recharge my phone.  I spent my first night stealth camping in a forest and unfortunately had to discover that Denmark has ticks, too.

Esbjerg
Next day brought me to rather ugly and modern Esbjerg that had two surprises for me: My first Danish Aldi that I needed urgently to buy some cheap food. Unfortunately even Aldis are expensive inDenmark, especially when it comes to chocolate. I have to find an alternative diet or I'll go bankrupt in Denmark. Cycling out of Esbjerg I stumbled across some giant statues of four men staring into the sea. A long day finally brought me to Hvide Sande and a real cycling highlight. This was the first of three times where the route leads you across a very narrow spit of land that seperates the North Sea from a fjord. This alone would be spectacular enough but is even made better by the fact that the bike path is a seperate trail in the dunes way out of sight from the road. (The bad news is that it is a very sandy and hilly path that can be a but tricky on a fully loaded bike.)  It would be very difficult to find a discreet stealth campsite in this windswept landscape that on top is a National Park. I therefore opted to give one of the designated nature campsites a try.

Camp site at Hvide Sande
These nature camp sites are a great Danish invention and the idea should definitely imported to Germany.  How does it work? All over the country there are designated primitive campsites that are either free or just cost a nominal fee of max 25 DKK. For a hardcore wild camper like me these campsites are anything but primitive! I consider them luxury! Let's take this first one in Hvide Sande for example. On my GPS map the location looked anything but great. It was located right next to an industrial area in the center of town. In reality the location was fantastic. The industrial area turned out to be the tiny harbour of Hvide Sande and the camp site was located next to a little Marina. The only people there were some fishermen and a couple of people walking their dogs. Instead I had a fabulous view over the fjord. The amenities were even better: Three little cosy huts, garbage cans, picnic tables and a bathroom with a flush toilet and running water. And all this was free! No wonder I decided to stay at these campsites now whenever possible.

Next day the weather changed both to the better and the worse. To the better because the wind became a rare Southerly which almost pushed me on the long straight roads along the coast where I was maintaining a speed of 20 km/h plus without much effort. But later in the day it started to rain and unfortunately I had decided to make this my first 100 km plus day. At Thyboron you have to take a ferry to make it across the spit of land and because of the cooperating winds I made it to the last ferry at 6 pm. The ride was great on a lonely bike path across the marsh land of Thy National Park. But when I rolled off the ferry it was raining hard and I still had 15 km to cycle. Luckily the road is only accessible by ferry and as soon as the cars on the ferry had gone I had the road to myself and the rain. Due to the wind I was making 20 km/h again but felt pretty miserable nevertheless. I just hoped that my primitive campsite was worth all this effort. There is a guidebook with addresses, descriptions and GPS coordinates of all the sites. It costs about 20 EUR and I would have been too frugal to buy it. But luckily my friend Nano had already had it and had given it to me for this trip. Now I know that this book is worth its weight in gold....

My "knallert" friends
In this case the book promised a shelter and a toilet - and when I arrived drenched to the bones the shelter was a very welcome sight! I was cooking inside and was warm and dry whereas outside it was raining on and off until next morning. But this is a leisurely trip and I waited until the rain stopped and left at 10 am. Just a couple of hundred metres away was an old fire tower and whom did I meet there? 4 elderly gentlemen who are travelling through Denmark on a motor bike. Don't think Harley Davison though. I am talking about a scooter or "knallert" in Danish. The oldest one is 75 and therefore they have chosen a scooter instead of a bicycle as their means of transportation. They were following the North Sea coast as well and therefore I kept running into them wherever I went. They all honked when they passed me.

Bike trail towards Hanstholm
Today they had the same goal as I: Hanstholm where I wanted to splurge on a museum again. During Nazi times the Germans had fortified the whole coastline with bunkers to prevent an Allied invasion and one of these bunkers had been turned into a museum. Even today the Danish military uses the coastal area for maneuvers and I had already encountered some good looking Danish recruits happily playing with their tanks. No wonder some of these roads are in a very bad condition as they are used by tanks. Everywhere on the sand dunes you see  signs that the area is used  as a shooting range.

Hanstholm museum
The wind pushed me towards Hanstholm and it was so strong that going the opposite direction would have been almost impossible. This is one of the windiest places in Denmark! Just before I found the museum it started to rain but I spent some interesting hours in the museum studying every display to get my money's worth out of the high admission charge. My four knallert friends showed up soon as well. I found the museum pretty fascinating as I had not known much about Denmark during WW II. German soldiers called it the "whipped cream front" because the resupply situation was so  much better here than in other countries. Also Denmark was not regarded a "conquered" country but a "protectorate". Consequently the bunkers forming the "Atlantic Wall" were built by Danish construction companies, but paid for and supervised by the Germans. The centrepiece of the museum is a former bunker itself that was unfortunately very cold.

Old bunker - now shelter
My personal second highlight of Hanstholm was a visit at Aldi to stock up on food before embarking onto the quest of finding another primitive campsite. (There must be a huge home for asylum seekers in Hanstholm as there were a lot of apparently non-Danish people hanging out in the Aldi parking lot. Regarding Hanstholm's history this is a weird place for such a home.) Later I was very much rewarded with a camp site in the middle of nowhere that not only had tap water but also a former bunker as a shelter. I preferred sleeping in my tent as the bunker was too cold and damp.

Bike beach
Another nature highlight was waiting for me the next day. A look on the map told me that the bike path was following the coast line. How was that possible? Was I supposed to cycle in the beach? I was! Very sceptically I entered the open beach and was nearly blown over by the strong wind. Plenty of cars were driving along the beach and apparently I was supposed to do so as well. I decided to give it a try and it worked remarkably well. Occasionally I got stuck in the sand for a couple of metres but due to the strong tail wind I managed the 12 km along the beach in record time. Actually it was great fun flying over the hard sand with a nice tail wind and the sun shining.

Sliding door shelter
Home for the night was a new type of shelter at a primitive campsite. The shelter was very low and had a sliding door so that you can close the shelter completely. I guess this is a good idea since the spot was incredibly windy. From there it was only a short day to Skagen, the point furthest North on my trip in Denmark and the turning point. Here I leave the North Sea bike route and turn South again.

I have been doing pretty week so far. I am still doing less than 100 km most days but as a reward I have no aches and pains. Even my butt only hurts moderately. My only health problem its my hay fever that flares up occasionally and very unexpectedly. It is a total mystery to me what I could be allergic against. My bike is doing ok as well. Only my bike computer has an occasional hiccup and stops working completely. And the constant sand is hard on my chain that already had to be oiled because it was making weird noises. And I? I feel great and happy to be cycling again. And this first section has been fantastic and highly recommendable.

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