Against the grain.

Today I woke up to a leaden grey sky, the rain wasn’t really bad but there was really no incentive to ride. So another day off, because essentially I’m feeling lazy. It’s a hard life.

However today the library is open so here is some expansion on yesterday’s brevity. Although only 9 days ago it seems an age since I set off from Trondheim. My first day set the tone for the 5 days I spend cycling. I covered a good distance on tarmac and gravel roads with a short detour along a route that had been ‘designed’ for mountain bikes. There was climbing and descents, forests and lakes. Then I decided to venture into the mountains more fully and follow a hiking trail on my map. Around 5 hours later having pushed my bike for most of that time up steep inclines, across marshes and snow patches and finding little trail I was able to ride I arrived at Kvikfjellhytta.

I was expecting the mountain huts to be like bothies in the UK. I was wrong, the hut was locked. Fairly exhausted I just pitched the tent and got on with the task of eating and sleeping. The next day I had a choice. Continue on into the mountains with a potentially three days of pushing ahead or give up on this trail and push out to the nearest road. I chose the latter option and after a couple of hours of mostly pushing with the odd rideable section I reached a gravel road and descended back to tarmac.

I was fairly deflated but this was just the beginning of the journey and if I followed the road eastwards there were other opportunities to enter the mountains and test other trails. So this is what I did, a couple of days ride and then I headed up the gravel road to Nedalshytta which lies fairly close to the Swedish border. Again the hut which is a ‘serviced’ hut was locked with no signs of life. No one to ask about the trail and the stupidity of taking a bike along it or not. So I set off up the hiking trail. More pushing, some riding, more solid under foot/wheel and less steep than before. However more snow, much more snow. The patches that I was having to cross were getting bigger, more tiring and were importantly worrying me more and more.

I crossed the border into Sweden which involved getting bike and person over a high stile which crossed what looked essentially like a deer fence tracing where the countries meet. After eating my lunch I again pressed on and around 1km further on reached the largest snow patch I had encountered so far. The trail is marked by rocks/posts marked with red paint. At this point I couldn’t see the next marker at the end of the snow the distance to be crossed was too far. I also could hear multiple streams underneath the snow. My feet were already wet from plunging into deep snow and also going through into streams beneath. I had seen a number of large collapsed areas of snow where it had melted sufficiently to create a sort of ‘sinkhole’.

My nerve gave. Looking beyond the snow patch to the mountains ahead I could see that my route which climbed further still to cross the shoulder of  a peak was going to get worse. More snow at a higher altitude. Even if I had been just hiking I would have been having second thoughts here. The fact I was alone on the mountain hung heavy on my shoulders eclipsing the weight of the bike I was dragging across this landscape. As I said my nerve gave. I decided that ‘sense’ won out and turned back. Back over the stile/fence, back along my own tracks losing altitude. Annoyingly now I could ride more sections travelling downhill with momentum. I savoured those moments.

So after successfully reaching the mountain hut it was back along the gravel road to the town of Stugudal and square one. 27 miles covered to the same place. Talking to the bar man in the local hotel restaurant it transpired I was early. In my planning I hadn’t appreciated that although temperatures wouldn’t be low in this region at this time there would be significant snow on the ground at the beginning of June. Essentially I am between seasons with the summer tourist season not quite yet here which is why the mountain huts are closed. Two weeks later and the path would possibly have been a different proposition.

Failure? I’m not so sure. The landscape I witnessed even in my short foray into the mountains was incredible. So my planning was lacking but that didn’t mean I didn’t achieve something in getting so far up the trail to experience that landscape.  I would like to come back without the bike I think and hike through those mountains.

So my route from Stugudal on in to Sweden and to Östersund was almost exclusively tarmac and gravel roads bar some short cycle/mtb tracks in Funasdalen. However some of those gravel roads were equally spectacular. The road from Funasdalen to Ljungdalen climbs up to over 950m above sea level and you traverse a large plateau/fell chasing herds of reindeer down the road. Where are the photos? I hear you ask. Sadly I can’t seem to upload them on this PC so you’ll have to use your imagination. In addition I didn’t manage to photograph any wildlife including the moose I saw.

So tomorrow I am more mentally prepared to break my current lethargy and truly will ride onwards…

Fast one.

So I’ve been in Östersund for a few days and had planned to sit down with a PC today and write about what has occurred in the last week. However the library is shut so I am using  a PC in the council offices and don’t have as much time.

Expect a potentially huge update when I reach Umeå but the short version is:

– Possibly unrideable trails were unrideable.
– However gravel roads are awesome.
– The landscape is stunning.

East is still the favoured direction, so onwards tomorrow.

Everything sux.

Well it doesn’t but  I’ve definitely had better starts to trips. The last week feels like it has been really long. Maybe the fact I have been to seven different countries in that time is the reason. Here’s a brief run down.

The good:
I have had enjoyable times.

The second cycle touring festival two weekends ago was great and a really good start to this trip. Thanks to everyone who came to the talks I gave and thanks to those who organised, attended and spoke.

It was also really good to see friends in Hamburg and Copenhagen. Copenhagen has definitely redeemed itself and it was nice to explore the city more fully. A brief stop in Göteborg on my way to Norway was also really good. Thanks to the two cyclists I got chatting to who also bought me beer.

The bad:
Poor weather in the UK on my way to London meant I started this trip wet. Even with a night in the YHA opposite St Pancras station my feet were pretty much still wet when I was halfway across Germany. As a side note, if you plan to take a fully assembled bike on the Eurostar remember they ask you to remove all of your bags so you’ll need a way to carry them on to the train. A few bin bags doubled up does serve this purpose but lacks handles and aren’t easy to carry.

A rail strike in the french speaking part of Belgium meant a bit of a hiccup in my initial travel plans to Hamburg. The silver lining of that cloud was a brief stop in Amsterdam as my route went via the Netherlands instead of eastern Belgium. However the strike also meant I spent last Tuesday night traveling/sleeping on trains rather than being in Hamburg.

The ugly:
It seems an eon ago now but two Fridays ago Judith and I were cycling to the station to go to the second cycle touring when I hit and bump and there was a loud crack from my front wheel. Over the course of that day the hub continued to make loud cracking sounds. The noise grew steadily worse on the ride back from the festival the Monday after. It was clear that there was a problem with the hub and it has slowly become stiffer to spin over the past week. For something like this to break right at the start of the trip is really annoying.

However solutions are always there they usually just cost you money. So I bought a new dynamo hub in Hamburg and have had my front wheel rebuilt in Trondheim. This has meant an impromptu couple of nights in Trondheim which I hadn’t planned. I can think of worse places to be though and it seems a nice city to hemorrhage money in.

Tomorrow morning it should be full steam ahead, the wilderness awaits.

Fuck you this place is dead anyway.

The bikes packed, the last minute changes and panics have occurred. In a hour or so it will be time to leave.

I’m not taking a smartphone on this trip and the only internet connected device in my possession will be an ebook reader which is clunky at best. So adios, feel free to dot watch on the “Where is Ben” page. You can either expect something in a few weeks time if I find a computer I can use or a void of silence here until the end of August. You really don’t need to read my words, get out there and enjoy life…

To be honest I just wanted to post this Tiltwheel song (again).

Summerholidays vs punk routine

In six days time I’m off again.

Here is the plan:
The cycle touring festival in Clitheroe
A long train journey from London to Trondheim with a few days in Hamburg and Copenhagen.
Riding from Trondheim to Östersund with most of it off road.
Then most likely continuing across Sweden to Umeå, hopefully off road or on the smaller gravel roads.
Ferry to Vaasa, then work my way down to Helsinki, again hopefully not on tarmac.

If time allows then I’ll get the ferry to Tallinn and try join the long distance off road route that runs diagonally across Estonia. I should be able to pick it up somewhere near Aegviidu  before following it to the Latvian border. From there I’ll have to get across Latvia to Ventspils because at some point I need to get a ferry back to Germany. I have to be in France by the beginning of August because I’m doing this ‘other thing’.

I have maps and a GPS track for the first bit in Scandinavia, so I’m feeling much more organised than is normal.

Wanting to ride off road though has meant a re-think with regards to the bike. This is what I rode last year.
This is what I am riding this year.
BikeYou will note the great logic of riding suspension forks around Europe on mostly paved roads and this time riding rigid forks. I don’t have a good reason, I pretty much set off in 2014 with whatever forks I had. This time I had more time to think and plan so I changed the forks but added a 29×3.0 tyre for some cushioning up front.

The big change is going from a rack and panniers to soft/bikepacking luggage. This has reduced my carrying capacity from approx. 100 litres to approx. 60 litres. This mainly means taking less clothes. However I’ve also reduced the pack size of other items and generally got better at packing them.

I have invested in some new kit including a new sleeping bag (from PHD in their sale) which has the equivalent comfort rating to my old one but with a smaller pack size/weight. My old one did also leak down at an alarming rate so I was going to have to do this at some point. Perhaps the biggest size difference is between the Klymit X-lite camping mat I’ve started using and the old Thermarest 3/4 mat that I got for free.

After burning a hole in the Vango Banshee 200 I used for the first part of my touring in 2015. I bought a Laser Competition 2 from the classifieds forum on the Bearbonesbikepacking website. It was really cheap and naturally well used. However it was a good investment and made it round Europe last summer almost in one piece. However when I started using it again this year the floor of the inner had suddenly become porous allowing damp from the ground to seep through. After an email exchange with Terra Nova I decided to make use of their ‘tent trade in’ offer and so splashed out on a new Solar Photon 2 tent. It’s lighter than the Laser 2 and I like the design better as it gives me more headroom. I’m a bit unsure how durable the floor of the inner on this one is going to be though as it seems even thinner than the Laser 2!
Tent Over the past two days I loaded the bike up and took it out for a ‘shakedown’ ride. I rode most of the Dorset Gravel Dash route although today I decided that it wasn’t really necessary to haul myself over Hambledon and Hod hill. Everything pretty much worked, which was nice and I didn’t feel like I was weighed down by luggage. After a wrong turn I even lifted my bike over a gate at one point without too much trouble. I like the gravel dash route it’s very ‘Dorset’ encompassing all the terrain and surfaces that this county has to offer. Which I have to add is a mixed blessing as sometimes it feels like you’re being tarred and feather with mud, sand and grass!
SwanageCorfeSo the excitement and fear is building and before I know it I’ll be lost somewhere in the middle of Sweden wondering what the hell I’m doing.  Well at least I don’t have to ride anywhere quickly…