Saturday, 29 June 2013

Cycling Skandinavia: Fyn and the islands

I cycled towards Odense in the usual mix of heavy short downpours and sun. I was admiring the Danish racing cyclists who just cycled throught the short deluges, but I did not want to get wet and always wussed out. I sneaked into many peoples' garages that day to seek shelter. Despite taking the fastest way to Odense I arrived too late for any museums. I could not even find free wifi - what a shame. Disappointed I cycled on a bit worried about where to camp. This was St. Hans day when Danish people celebrate midsummer. The last thing I wanted was to end up in a local drinking orgy and some of the designated campsites are used for that as I can sometimes tell from the amount of empty beer cans in the trash cans. I studied the campsite book intensely and decided to try one of the private camp sites.

Let me explain this: Half of the designated campsites are on public land, mostly in forests or maintained by the local community. But the other half are private. Basically you camp in someone's garden then. I entered the GPS coordinates into my GPS and set off to find it, which was easy because the private sites also have a street address. I ended up at a huge farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. Timidly I knocked on the door but no answer. I walked around the house and looked into every window until I eventually found someone. The farmer spoke fluent English and knew immediately what I wanted. I was shown a nice flat grassy area for camping and he did not even charge me for that! And of course: Total peace and quiet - no midsummer celebrations disturbing my sleep.

On Monday I was visiting Kerteminde and because I had missed Odense I focused on that little town that turned out to be a real gem with two very interesting sights: The Johannes Larson Museum and the Ladby Viking Centre. Johannes Larson was a Danish painter at the last turn of the century and like the artists in Skagen he founded a small artist colony here in Kerteminde. He and his wife were mainly nature painters, him specialising in birds. Endless paintings and sketches of ducks are exhibited in his former house and workshop and life ducks are still frolicking in the garden. The whole place had a very peaceful and nice atmosphere and many visitors commented in the guest book that they would like to live in that house. Although I prefer the Skagen painters I enjoyed the exhibition a lot and took several hours to enjoy it.

Larson's studio
Next stop was the Ladby Viking centre, where a viking chief had been buried in a ship together with 11 slaughtered horses. The whole thing has been excaveted and is on display now. Once as a model and also as the real thing which is actually a bit unreal. One minute you are on a field in sunny Denmark and the seconds later you enter through double climate safe doors and are in a dimly lit burial chamber that is perfectly airconditioned and light controlled. An eery scenario, especially when you see the skeletons of the horses in the hull of the ship. This night's campsite was a private one again. The description said to look for Getter ceramics. It was easy to find as several signs pointed to the workshops. Again I had to knock on several doors before I found the host. The artist looked like a mixture of Hedwig Bollhagen and the witch out of Hansel and Gretel and she let me camp in her lovely orchard where only the sneezing of her nearby horses was a bit unnerving. The charge for all that is 25 DKK, a very small fee compared to the price level in Denmark.

Valdemar's slot
The next day was island hopping. First on to Tåsinge where I paid the outrageous entrance fee of 100 DKK and visited Valdemar's slot. The castle is now privately owned and very nicely restored. It was interesting to see private baby photos on Renaissance drawers. I even saw a signed autograph card of Joan Collins exhibited. According to the dedication she had been shooting a movie in the castle. Another bridge brought me to the long island of Langeland where I wanted to visit the sculpture park at the castle of Tranekær. There were several private campsites in the area and I first wanted to scoop out the lay of the land. But when I inconspicously tried to pass the first site the owners immediately took notice of me and came running out of the house to tell me that the site is here. Well, I could hardly leave now and decided to stay. My host was a British artist living here with his Danish wife and whenever I saw him he had a glass of red wine in one hand and a cigar in the other. The glass was refilled though I guess. I set up my tent and spend the rest of the evening exploring the sculptures in the park of Tranekær castle 2 kms away.

Sculpture at Tranekaer
The park is huge and the sculptures, all out of natural materials are very well integrated, i.e. very difficult to find. Although I found the concept quite interesting some of the sculptures were already rotting away - which is meant to be that way. These are nature sculptures. Back at the artist's house I was in for a little shock. My host had meant well and had lit a camp fire for me. But firstly I don't particularly like camp fires and secondly I definitely dislike them when they are lit only two metres from my silnylon tent. I still had to be polite but I was examining my tent thoroughly for burn holes and extinguished the fire as soon as it could still be considered polite. In the morning I saw my host without a glass of wine but with strawberries for me! Nice breakfast surprise and much more welcome than the camp fire.... That morning I was island hopping to Lolland which was a 45 minute ferry ride away. I was afraid of getting sea sick, but I met an Austrian cyclist couple on the ferry and chatting the time passed quickly.

Church paintings on Mon
I just cycled through Lolland and a quick ride over the bridge at Nykoping brought me to Falster. It had threatened to rain the whole day and I was looking for a camp site with a shelter. No problem said my guide book. And really, in a state forest I found a beautiful camp site with two huge brandnew shelters, a pit toilet and no one except me. Just for the record: It never rained that night, but I enjoyed the shelter nevertheless. Now my goal was Møn, a 15 minute ferry ride from Stubbekobing. I was now on bike trail 9 which coincides with the bike route Berlin-Copenhagen. I had hardly seen any other cyclists the previous 3 weeks and now there were dozens every day. All German of course.... like the couple from Berlin Kreuzberg that I met on the ferry. They had not heard of the designated camp sites and were happily endlightened by me. And I was finally rewarded with free wifi at the ferry port on Møn. I desperately needed it as I had to arrange accommodation in Copenhagen.

Liselunde park
I loved Møn! The main highlight are the white cliffs but I only caught a glimpse of them. I was much more intrigued by the four churches and their frescos. These frescoes had survived the Reformation by being painted over and have now been beautifully restored. I loved the vivid and simple paintings and cycled to all four churches on the island. When I wanted to see the white cliffs at the East coast I was sidetracked by Liselunde, a beautiful landscape park. I have seen many landscape parks on my travels and can usually hardly be bothered, but this one was special and I spent the evening strolling through it. Of course I had chosen a designated campsite for the night and wondered how many other cyclists I would meet there. The site was just a couple of kilometers from bike route Berlin-Copenhagen and I had seen dozens of cyclists that day. But when I showed up there was no one else! Again a huge immaculate lawn space for camping, a shelter, a pit toilet and even a water tap. You could have accommodated two football teams on the huge lawn, but I had it all for me! I am now cycling to Seeland and I am already sad of leaving Denmark and these campsites soon.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Cycling Scandinavia: East Jutland

Open air art in Arhus
 I left my hosts and their two lovely Golden Retriever dogs refreshed and "refilled".  Plenty of interesting discussions, all my cooking supplies refilled and they had even given me some spare bike gloves as I had left mine a couple of days ago in a public toilet when filling up my water bottles. They had been very old and I therefore did not bother to cycle back half a day to retrieve them. And now I have been given new ones for free. But of course it was raining when I left which will be the theme for this stretch. It is raining ten minutes, stops, the sun comes out and ten minutes later it is raining again... Danish people seem to be used to that weather pattern as they are just nonchalantly cycling through the rain whereas I am usually wussing out and seek shelter under a tree or whatever is around.

Open air art in Arhus
My next stop was Arhus, Denmark's second biggest town. For me the best money-interest ratio was in two museums: the women's museum and the museum of the German occupation. Both proved to be quite interesting, but not exactly world class. At least they had English translations for the Danish explanations. And my timing was great as it was raining hard outside. Both places closed already at 4 pm leaving me with the question of what to do with the rest of the day. I had wanted to stay overnight in a nearby designated camp site but it felt like wasting time and money. I had already seen the camp site cycling into Arhus and it was not very appealing: Close to the noisy motorway and full of people. I decided to cycle on and could even save two Danish racing cyclists. After they had passed me at top speed I found them at the road side half an hour later with flat tire. I stopped and offered help - very welcome as they needed a repair patch. I could not make it to a designated camp site and stealth camped in the forest but I had bad luck. Despite the weather forecast saying otherwise it turned out to be an incredibly windy night and I lay awake most of it fearing that a tree branch would fall down and kill me in my sleep. No such a thing happened but I slept only fitfully.

The next day I discovered that I should listen better to my guidebook that had said that bike route 6 or Baltic Sea Cycle route is very hilly. I had assumed that this was an exaggeration but was proven wrong. Although following the coast line the route was a constant up and down and it did not help that a long part of it before Vejle was on dirt forest path. One short ascent was so steep that I had a big problem even pushing my bike up. After Vejle I was back on roads but had to climb up an ascent that reminded me more of an alpine pass than flat Denmark but maybe my memory is exaggerating. It did not help that it started raining heavily.

 I decided to free camp again which turned out to be a very bad idea. I quickly found a nice and sheltered camp site but too late I found out that the area was full of ticks. They seemed to be everywhere. In the morning I saw dozens of them crawling up my inner tent. I tried to clean my clothes, tent and body but I still picked them off my skin two days later. My only hope of that the infection rate of ticks with Lyme Disease is much lower in Denmark than in Germany. Ticks are another reason to use the fabulous designated camp sites: There you don't have to crawl through brush or high grass. After finding my first Lidl in Denmark and shopping there extensively I finally left Jutland by bridge at Middelfart and entered Fyn.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Cycling Scandinavia: Hjaervejen

The rain never really stopped that day. It eased off a bit and started pouring down again five minutes later. I had to seek refuge in many bus shelters and farm barns that day. What made it even more miserable was the wind that came from the wrong direction. Still I was determined to make it to the next official camp site with a shelter. And as soon as I got there the rain stopped and the sun came out. Typical!

 The Hjaervejen is also National bike route 3 and is paralleled by the pilgrimage trail Hjaervejen. This is the National bike route with the highest percentage of dirt roads and forest trails. I dislike off pavement cycling to start with and sandy dirt roads after heavy rain make my dislike even stronger. On top of all that the area around Aalborg and Silkeborg is quite hilly for Danish standards and I ended up pushing my bike uphill quite a bit. I'll never be a good mountain biker!

I had bad timing on this stretch and cycled through the cities of Aalborg and Viborg so late in the evening that all the sights were closed already. Aalborg,.Denmark's fourth biggest city was almost a bit shocking for me. After weeks on quiet country lanes all of a sudden I was in city traffic. When I cycled over the Limford Fjord bridge an electronic counter told me that I was the 5,746th cyclist that day.... I just pushed on and was happy to leave Aalborg quickly which turned out to be a very good thing two days later.

Silkeborg had much better timing. I had spent the night before in a nice shelter and when it rained in the morning I just turned around and slept another hour. Unfortunately I was then woken up by a dog owner picnic. It is still a mystery to me what they were doing but at nine am ten dogs and their masters met on the picnic area next to my shelter. I did not try to investigate the purpose of this meeting and just left discretely. I made it to Silkeborg and its museum just in time before the rain - but even after I had studied every little detail in the museum it had not stopped. Even an extended lunch break under a bus shelter did not help.

So grudgingly I set off in the rain knowing that a happy ending for the day was near: I had been invited to stay with someone from a German outdoor forum. My host lived next to Himmelsbjerget which is about the highest mountain in Denmark with an altitude of 147 metres. Once there the usual transformation from a smelly dirty cyclist to a normal human being took place. A shower and a washing machine do miracles. Next day my host worked in Aalborg - and as I had not seen much of the city when I had cycled through it I happily accepted her invitation to come along and spend my rest day sightseeing in Aalborg. This is one good thing about outdoor internet forums: you can meet some very interesting people through them. Again I enjoyed my stay tremendously and had some very good conversations.

As you might have realised I really like cycling in Denmark. I have therefore decided to do the Grand Tour through the country and go to Fynen, Seeland and some other islands. I guess I'll end up staying a whole month in Denmark... but I just like it.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Cycling Scandinavia: Skagen

On the way to Skagen
 I arrived in Skagen pretty late in the afternoon and my original plan had been to have a look around, camp at a designated camp site nearby and then return in the morning. But Skagen did not feel very welcoming. The primitive camp site was already occupied by two beer drinking guys with Enduro motorbikes. These camp sites are not to be used by people on motor vehicles and their use is forbidden on the bike trails as well. I hoped they would be gone after my afternoon visit to Skagen....

The town was full of tourists and this being a Saturday locals and tourists alike were out to get drunk. After a week in nature the whole atmosphere felt too rowdy for me. Still, there was one thing I definitely wanted to see in Skagen: the art museum. At the last turn of the century Skagen was the home of a famous artist colony and the museum hosts the world's biggest collection of their paintings. The admission fee of 90 DKK was  obscenely high. My daily food budget is less than that! On top of all that I had only one hour left before closing. Still I did not want to come back the next day and decided to bite the bullet. The museum was not too big and one hour was enough time to see everything. The paintings were indeed delightful!

Sanded church
Next stop was a Netto supermarket because I could not find Aldi. Neither could I find free wifi. I wanted to see another free sight in Skagen, the sanded church. This once active church had to be abandoned because the sand continued to bury it. Church goers had to bring a shovel to free the entrance! It was late in the day and despite this being a very touristy place I had the sight to myself.

The next events show how unpredictable Danish weather is. I had checked the forecast in the tourist information in Skagen and it said sun, sun, sun. When I returned to the designated camp site the drinking Enduro drivers were still there and I decided to cycle on and free camp instead of spending the night with two drunk guys. But after only 10 minutes it started to rain and a full blown thunderstorm developed. I hastily set up my tent and discovered one of its disadvantages: You have to set up the inner tent first and by the time you are ready to put up the rain fly everything is wet. I was cursing the drunk guys (or my reluctance to put up with them) who had prevented me from staying in a nice and cosy shelter. But during the night I heard more motor bikes and it has probably been a good idea to pass the Enduro party.

View from my rain shelter
Next morning I was greeted with sunshine but as soon as I set off the sky turned greyer and greyer. Luckily I made it to a commercial camp ground before it started pouring down. And even luckier that this camp ground has free wifi! For two hours now I have been sitting here watching the rain and updating this blog. The internet forecast predicts rain and sun for today, but I wonder if the sun will ever come out. My plan is now to cycle South again on National bike route 3, the Hjaervejen which is the continuation of the Ochsenweg I have already cycled at the start of this trip in Germany. But first the rain has to stop....

Cycling Scandinavia: North Sea Cycle Route

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.

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.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Cycling Scandinavia: Ochsenweg

My tour really started after Hamburg. My GPS was fixed and I slowly settled into a routine. I am still doing less than 100 km every day and I enjoy the leisurely pace a lot. Of course the long daylight hours help a lot, too. I have plenty of time to cook in the evening and I can sleep in in the morning.

Schleswig Cathedral
My first stop was Rendsburg where I visited an old friend. It felt heavenly to shower after almost a week on the road. The weather was great and I decided to have my first real sightseeing stop in Schleswig. Deciding what sightseeing to do will be a major challenge on this trip. I am generally interested a lot in history and art and I have an almost insatiable hunger for all sorts of museums and historical buildings. But there is so much to see on this trip that I will have to choose. There are two limiting factors: The first one is my budget. Museums generally charge entrance and Scandinavia is not cheap either. I will therefore prefer free sights and will only pay for extraordinary sights or things that interest me specifically. The other factor is my input capacity. Even I can only endure so many museums before they all start looking the same and become boring.

Schleswig was not only a nice little town but also offered some free sights like the cathedral. The Tourist Information even has free bicycle garages which solved the problem of what to do with my luggage when visiting a sight. With my bike and stuff securely locked away I enjoyed a leisurely stroll through town.

I was coming closer to the Danish border and it was time to stock up on cheap Aldi chocolate before I entered expensive Denmark. Luckily an Aldi market was right next to my route. But even on a bike my storage capacity is limited and alas I will soon run out of chocolate....

Shelter along the Ochsenweg
On this part of my trip I have been following the Ochsenweg, an old trade route that continues into Denmark as Heerweg. Back in the Middle Ages every year thousands of oxen had been driven down from Denmark on this route. Nowadays this route has been restored as a hiking, biking and even a pilgrimage trail. The positive effect of this is that the trail has a great infrastructure. There are great shelters which I did not need because of the warm weather. There are information boards and maps. And there are a lot of trail markers - and this is where things are getting confusing. Often I did not know which marker to follow and bike trail markers where the least frequent and most confusing. The bike trail was marked on the maps which I had brought as photocopies. It was also marked on the velomaps I had downloaded onto my GPS. And all this did not coincide with each other nor with the marking in the field. So in the end I just chose the best route for my purposes and eventually got to where I wanted to go.

Froeslev Concentration Camp
Things improved dramatically after crossing the Danish border where bike trails are marked more consistently and the German Ochsenweg continues as Hjaervejen or National Bike route 3. This brought me to Fröslev and a former German concentration camp that now houses a memorial and museum. For me it qualified as a must see sight in both factors: it is free and I am specifically interested in the history. I spent several hours exploring the restored camp barracks and the historical explanations. Unfortunately only the part dealing with the history during the German Nazi occupation was in Danish, German and English. After 1945 the camp was used to inter German war criminals - and this part was explained in Danish only leaving me in the dark.

I left the Hjaervejen to cycle West along the German-Danish border and visit my friend Nano's mother who lives on the German side. I am now staying in a fabulously restored huge old farm house enjoying the first full rest day of this trip. My first sunburn is healing, biker hunger has already set in and I am really looking forward to the next 3  months in my bike.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Cycling Scandinavia: Elbe bike path, hay fever and a hero at Globetrotter

The first few days in a trip are always crucial. All sorts of problems usually come up at the start and can hopefully be resolved. This being the first bike trip after 3 years I was wondering what would come up.

Let's start with the positive surprises: I had worried a lot about my left knee. Ever after the Pyrenees it had made strange noises although my orthopaedist told me not to worry about it.  Then I had banged it badly when I fell into a British canal two weeks ago. I was limping badly and really worried. But strangely enough movement seemed to help. So far no problem whatsoever. But other health problems have turned up. I had never had hay fever in my entire life but last year I had a strange attack. Back in Germany this year I discussed it with my doctor and he prophylactically prescribed  anti-Histamine. Well, I definitely need them! Sneezing and red eyes already started on my way out of Berlin. I don't know what I am allergic against but I would have a hard times without that prescription. And of course, my friends the ticks are back loving me so much that every single one of them wants to bite me....

Flooded Elbe River
Now to the gear department: No bike problems yet. My new tent, a Big Agnes Fly Creek 2 worked fine so far, although I have not had any heavy rain in it yet. Biggest gear failure so far: my Garmin GPS! I had downloaded free bike maps from velomaps for this trip. Everything worked fine when I tested the maps on my Garmin Etrex but after three days on the road my GPS stopped working. Error code "Storage full" and then the device would hang itself up. Even a hard reset would not help. This was a serious problem. Although I had maps for the whole trip a GPS is a great help and I didn't want to be without it. Luckily I still had my smartphone and I googled the problem - which turned out to be quite widespread. The problem was caused by a bug in the firmware and had already be solved in newer firmware versions. And it was usually triggered by the use of OSM and specifically velomaps. But how could I solve this problem on the road? I did not have a data cable and no computer with internet for the update - not to mention that I had no clue how to do that update.

I decided to try my luck with Globetrotter where I had bought the device not expecting much help. But on the contrary: When I called their shop in Hamburg and explained my problem they not only knew immediately what I was talking about but offered to do the update for me! This was much more than I had expected and I happily cycled towards Hamburg. The biggest problem was finding the shop as I had no map and no GPS. But luckily someone had lost an overview city map on the bike path and I finally found my way with it without using precious battery power for my smartphone. The Globetrotter guy turned out to be a real expert and after the successful firmware update my GPS works fine again. A huge thank you to Globetrotter and their customer service.

Flooded Elbe River
So what other problems am I dealing with? Not many! The weather is much better than expected and I even have my first sunburn. Only the wind is blowing the wrong direction.... And my butt is incredibly sore and I have chafed parts of my body that I thought would be unchafable. But this is normal for the beginning of a trip and I will hopefully soon get used to it. Other than that the trip has been great so far. I have cycled from Havelberg to Hamburg on the Elbe bike path which I have already cycled years ago. It is a great route. Very scenic and even stealth camping has turned out to be easy. I am just very happy to be cycling and not paddling as the Elbe is in flood stage like many other rivers in Germany right now after heavy rains in May.