Anton and I recently returned from a brilliant 5 day / 4 night bike camping trip in the south of Sweden. We rode from Helsingborg to Karlskrona, which ended up being somewhere between 250-300 kilometers. Temperatures ranged from -8 to +2℃, insane headwinds up to 10m/s, and a mix of bluebird skies and sideways snow storms. Even the riding was as incredibly diverse, everything from smooth dry country roads to techy mtb trails which sometimes better resembled bumpy curling rinks.
– Day One –
We met at Thunderfist Cykler in Copenhagen on thursday afternoon and chatted with Lisa about or trip. While she stood there assembling her own new adventure bike, we got stoked on upcoming events and rides we wanted to arrange.
We took the train til Helsingør, where we realized we had 1,5 hours til the next ferry. After grabbing some snacks and groceries, we were set for that night’s dinner, next day’s breakfast and lunch. The small “Sundbusserne” ferry cost a symbolic 35 dkk with free bikes during the winter season. This is the kind of ferry where Swedes and Danes meet to drink a few too many beers, eat a few too many hotdogs, and struggle to converse.
We used the mobile app MAPS.ME for navigation as we’ve both been pretty satisfied with it’s level of detail, offline compatibility to save battery, and choice of routes. Then again, we haven’t really tried much else! We set course for the start of Söderåsen National Park where we’d spend the first night. After getting out of the city, it turned into a seriously gnarly gravel ride. The temperature was -6℃, the 10m/s wind was straight in our faces, and the road was made of sharp rocks the size of small apples. Suddenly the 42t sprocket on our cassettes didn’t seem all that light. After riding these roads through the open countryside, it was a huge relief to reach a section of road shielded by trees.
Gravel turned to asphalt as we neared the little town of Åstorp, marking the start of the national park. We climbed our way up into the hills and hooked up with Skåneleden, a well marked network of hiking trails in the the southern region of Sweden.
The forest trails got pretty technical, and it was getting dark, but we pushed on since the campsite was close by. After getting completely tumbled around in the wind, getting a little bit too sweaty, and with not nearly enough food or water in me from earlier that day, I started to get a bit dizzy and feverish. Luckily I had a rye bread and fig/chocolate sandwich that got me back on track.
The daylight was disappearing, and we were getting deeper into the dark evergreen forest. The increasingly technical trails and dim light were not a good match for our fully loaded bikes, still running on relatively low gravel tire pressure. I pinch flatted on a big rock, but luckily only about 300m away from the site.
As soon as we got to a spot, there’s a checklist of things that need to be done. Put on dry clothes, start a fire, set up sleeping situation, make food. It was a smart idea to complete these things relatively fast in order to stay comfortable, especially considering the temperature. However if the conditions were even more extreme, the true importance of completing these tasks quickly and efficiently would be even more apparent.
We pitched the tent inside the shelter, slept in a full wool base layer and down jackets. My bag is rated for -2℃ comfort, and was only a little chilly in the early morning hours.
– Day Two –
After spending the night on a punctured mattress, I got up and changed the tube in my front wheel, and got a feel for the surroundings. It’s always a treat to get a full view of the campsite in the morning when arriving after dark the night before.
After eating porridge and packing up, we continued to follow the little orange markings through the forest. The Skåneleden trail snakes up and down a long ridge extending the full length of the Söderåsen National Park, making for pretty good looking views, steep climbs, killer descents, and charming gullies.
The forest sections are strung together with the occasional gravel road, with lots of summer homes and farms in between. The trails are built with hiking in mind, so navigating around big boulders and over narrow board walks kept things very interesting.
A simply wonderful day of riding, a fair bit of hike-a-biking, and only about 40 km later, it was getting dark again! We knew there was a café at the end of the park, and began to wonder if it even was open this time of year. We arrived 5 minutes after closing time, and were lucky enough to get two cups of hot chocolate, a couple of brownies, and an ice cream each. They had to lock up, so there we were, sitting outside eating ice cream in sub zero temperatures. It hit the spot.
From there we headed to the nearest town and found a small grocery store to buy some food. We met a local guy who was pretty interested in our setups and the fact that we were camping. He looked pretty outdoorsy, so we asked him about a place to camp nearby. He recommended a shelter about 3 km away, where we spent the night. Sweden’s shelter game is pretty sick. This one even had chopped wood, an axe and a saw ready for our disposal. That night we made a big ol fire and ate meatballs, chili cheese tops, and carrots.
– Day Three –
Anton had luckily brought a patch kit for air and water tight repairs, so this time I actually had air in my mattress the whole night. The next morning was cold, with clear skies but with snow blowing in from some far away clouds. The fresh banana and pair we bought the night before were pretty frozen, which we attempted to thaw over the fire.
The day’s ride featured beautiful asphalt and gravel roads with a stiff headwind the entire way. At one point it was blazing sunshine, and snowing sideways at the same time. The combination of freezing temperatures, physical exertion, and high winds is bizarre, and extremely difficult to dress for and regulate underway. We stopped for lunch in the back yard of an empty house, trying to find shelter from the wind. It was still pretty cold, despite the sun.
80 something kilometers later, we started searching for a good spot to camp. Sweden has something called “Allemansrätt”, meaning everyone’s right. The main idea is anyone may use the land, as long as you show respect to the nature, humans and animals. This also means you may camp for maximum one night away from housing areas, unless special permission from the landowner is granted. It also states that when crossing fields, one must be considerate of possible crops or livestock. Making a campfire is allowed, as long as there is no risk of forest fires. Therefore, this spot down by a lake was perfect!
Anton has an extensive arsenal of neat tricks for making the outdoors more comfortable, one of which got me pretty stoked. Sweaty socks are inevitable after a long day on the bike, and when you only brought two pairs of wool socks, having a dry pair to put on when you get off the bike isn’t easy, especially when the weather pretty much makes air drying impossible. All you do is drape them right over your shoulders, underneath your wool base layer. They’ll be warm and provide extra insulation almost instantly, and will be dry as a bone in the morning. Then you can safely pack them away and look forward to putting them on again later!
– Day Four –
Sunday’s weather forecast was calling for sun, slightly less headwind, and higher temperatures! That’s exactly what we got, and it felt so good! The plus degrees meant lots of melting snow, suddenly justifying our mudguards for the first time on the trip.
By lunch time, we were wearing the fewest layers of clothes since we left home four days ago. We stopped at a sun filled graveyard in a quiet town and enjoyed a little taste of spring weather.
After covering a fair distance that day, we picked up some Uncle Ben’s rice, sausages and bell peppers for dinner. We strayed from the main road, and picked yet another first class camp spot in the corner of a field. The frost set in real hard that night.
– Day 5 –
Last day of the trip started beautifully with a welcoming sunrise and impressive frost formations on all our gear. With only about 25 km to go and ready to roll at 9am, we were in Karlskrona with time to spare before our train back to Copenhagen at 12.45.
Karlskrona was super charming with its multiple small islands surrounded by a frozen sea. The city’s colour pallet and tight little streets added to the feeling of being on a typical scandinavian film set.
We spent the last couple of hours in a cozy café, enjoying our rhubarb and meringue pie and coffee/chai latte while reminiscing about the past few days. Amazing riding, no mechanical failures, very cooperative weather, top notch camp sites, tons of bird watching, a slightly uncertain wolf siting. So simple. So good.
The only shitty thing was being thirsty and having a solid block of ice in your water bottle.