Tour de Climate

Oslo to Stockholm

It was quite an adventure we were about to embark when we set off from Oslo on a regular Thursday in the beginning of December. We were heading towards Stockholm through the Scandinavian winter landscape on our bikes – all equipped with studded tires, fenders and generous frame clearance – ready to withstand the rough weather and road conditions.

We were five cyclists from four different nationalities: Jonas and Kjetil from Norway, Erno from Finland, Aaron from England and me from Denmark.

Jonas, a winning pro-rider from Norway, had been challenged by the Nordic Council of Ministers to gather a team of riders to do the trip to inspire others to think in more environmental friendly means of transport. Our finish line would be the Nordic Climate Action Week conference at Norrsken House in Stockholm just 54 hours later.

So off we went into the Norwegian dusk towards the Swedish capital.

Stage 1: Oslo to Arvika (147 km)

Coming out of Oslo was a mix of rather winding cycle paths, trafficked and – coming from flatland Denmark – rather hilly roads. It was cold but above freezing. The Oslo region had just come out of a number of days with snow and seriously cold days, so the roads were slippery and icy.

I was very happy about my new studded tires. It was my first time with these kind of tires, which feels like riding with your brakes on. It means lower speed and more power needed on the pedals. The other guys on the team were used to this kind of bicycle winter equipment, all coming from countries where real winter cycling is just something you do. Very inspiring.

After some 65 kilometers it went pitch black and we turned off onto gravel roads… or rather… beneath the thick layer of ice there would be gravel! You could easily see who on the team were the most daring. On top of that it was a pretty long and hilly stretch of icy road we had to overcome.

It’s those kind of rides which makes you a better cyclist, gives you courage and turns epic.

Halfway through this badass piece of cycling challenge, we crossed the border into Sweden. Time for a group photo to certify the achievement.

After what seemed like an eternity, we came back onto tarmac roads – and even though still roaring dark – it was a mental relief after the strenuos ice-cycling.

We were in high spirit as we entered the small town of Arvika: The destination of our first day on the bikes.

Stage 2: Arvika to Örebro (227 km)

Me and my new Finnish friend Erno Kainulainen had to get up earlier on day two, as we had to be interviewed before breakfast and takeoff for the documentary being made about the trip. The theme was differences in cycling culture. It was fun to discuss and reflect on how Danish cycling culture differs from Finnish, and put it into context of what we were experiencing, while on the road in Norway and Sweden.

This was the longest stage of the trip, so we started off with good speed to get some kilometers covered before it would turn dark and the forecasted rain and sleet would catch up on us.

We did many kilometers of main road tarmac and it is easy to see that cycling isn’t a focus point when designing roads: The shoulder was extremely narrow (if it even existed) at places. It’s not very comforting to ride with cars that close. So when we turned off to b-roads we had more time to talk and ride side-by-side while pushing the pedals.

Today’s challenge came at the end of the stage: A long, very hilly gravel section with loose sand. In the dark. With studded tires and perhaps too high tire pressure I think I had the highest pulse on the entire trip. The speed uphill was at some points just above walking speed.

This section drained all of us, so the dinner buffet at the hotel in Örebro was a welcoming sight. Everyone needed to re-fill their energy stores, so most of us were seen at the buffet more than twice that evening.

Stage 3: Örebro to Stockholm (218 km)

Final stage was a great ride through lovely, smaller roads and rain which were so light that it almost only felt as moist in the air. The temperatures were dropping to freezing though, so hands and feet were getting increasingly cold.

After 155 km we made a stop for lunch at a very cosy barn-like café where we – as a courtesy of the owner – were served the local x-mas special pepparkakkor with camembert and cloudberry jam.

Now the weather was getting real winter-like: Cold sleet, freezing and darkness. Your senses are on alert when riding close together in pitch black darkness and the sleet hammering onto your face feels like needles.

Jonas, our road captain, had arranged with Stockholm based Ryskaposten Racing Team to meet us 37 km from our destination in the city of Södertalje to guide us towards – and through – Stockholm. It was cold, really cold, and some of the guys on the Swedish lead team were shivering from cold.

Entering a capital in darkness and sleet on a Saturday night in December can be challenging – no driver expect you to be there, so again we had to manoeuvre our ways around cars, busses and trams. It was a real treat to have locals to guide us through the mayhem.

We arrived at Norrsken House as a finale to the Saturday programme of Nordic Climate Action Week. We were filmed, cheered and applauded entering the stage with our dirty bikes and clothes as a very visual proof that it can be done. Cycling in winter.

And we were smiling and happy.

So even though it’s cold and dark, our feet and hands are almost numb and snow, sleet and rain are hammering our faces, we feel alive and free. It’s difficult to explain unless you’ve tried it, but there’s just nothing like getting out there and feel, smell and breathe the landscape and weather while you transcend it by the power of your own body. On your bike.

From sunrise to sunset, we got out of our comfort zones. We tackled the elements and every time got to know ourselves a little better. It builds confidence and stamina. And great experiences. And to do it as a team builds great friendships and epic stories.

Photos by: Me, Ketil Wendelbo Aanensen and Joakim Birkeland

The final video

UPDATE: After I wrote the story about this adventure the “Tour de Climate” film premiered in January 2020. Enjoy it here.

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A fall odyssey to
Southern Sweden
Where the bedrock starts

Copenhagen to Jönköping

Riding in Denmark is nice. We’ve got plenty of country roads and nice farmland landscapes. The geographical location tucked in between seas and sounds makes it always windy and I honestly believe we have more than our fair share of rainy days. But that just adds to the positive feeling of being outdoors riding. On top of that Denmark is probably one of the countries in the world where most people commute to work or school on a bike. Sounds like a bike heaven? It is. But there’s someting the country lacks: Real climbs (highest point in Denmark is 170 meters above sea level) and more desolate, vast landscapes, where you get the adventurous feeling of exploring on your own. You always meet someone walking their dog or stumble upon a little village every 5-10 km.

So I planned a little adventure to cross the Sound to Sweden, where the landscapes are more vast and the climbs steeper. Even in the more densely populated southern part of the country. The plan was 300+ km in two days, riding with a light backpack and spending the night at a traditional falun red wooden house.

Being October it is fall in Scandinavia. Daylight hours are getting smaller, the wind is usually on the fresh to rough side and leaves turn red, yellow and brown making for some scenic riding in the endless forests of Southern Sweden.

First leg of the adventure was some 230 kilometers. So if I shouldn’t be looking for first night’s stay in the dark I left home a bit before sunrise.

The wind was rather fierce this morning. This time I was lucky though. It was coming from the side and not as pure headwind. I normally don’t mind riding in the wind – it’s just an extra aspect of riding. It makes you stronger when you have to push those pedals harder to move forward. Good for training and when you beat that invisible opponent of Mother Nature you feel strong. But when you’re feeling tired though, you need to dig deep. The discrepancy between the power you put on the pedals and the distance you travel can be a mental challenge. When riding long this is usually the hardest part. I just adapt to it and find some zen in battling the elements.

The first 60 kilometers to the ferry to cross the Sound was known training territory. It was a beautiful fall morning with the sun coming up between the trees and casting shadows and flickering light on wet tarmac roads.

The last couple of kilometers to the ferry I could enjoy the salty air of riding next to the sea and feel the occasional splashes of water coming from waves hitting the shore.

Arriving in Sweden is an adventure in itself. Even though Scandinavian cultures in many regards are similar, there’s always that little thing where you feel the difference. Another language, another currency, another architecture, another flag fluttering in the wind. I love that feeling of embarking a new country, even though I have been there many times before.

Getting out of Helsingborg and into the country side was easy and I could now enjoy 30 kilometers of pure tailwind before heading straight north. It was a pure rollercoaster ride and I was forgetting everything about being aero. I was sitting (almost) upright on my road bike to act as a human sail flying through farmlands.

You don’t have to ride very far north in Sweden until you hit bedrock territory. Something we have very little of in Denmark and therefore very exotic. It usually also means climbing starts. Not mountains, but longer hills.

At the same time you see the difference between Denmark and Sweden when it comes to country side: Denmark is mostly farmland, Sweden is forests and logging.

I was riding on rather remote roads with a colorful palette of falling leaves when on stretches with deciduous forest. When riding in coniferous forest I had the wonderful scent of fresh spruce and newly cut trees. Sometimes I could hear a distant sound of logging. For 2 hours straight I didn’t see a living soul, or any other visible signs of civilisation, other than the tarmac I was riding. Left to the repetitive rhythm of the bike, sounds of the forest and my own breathing, you become very aware of the landscape in which you’re riding.

It’s meditative and adventurous

I had packed light, but when hitting 200 kilometers I could start to feel the backpack on my back – an extra pair of size 47 shoes – was adding to the weight. I soon forgot about that though as I entered the shores of lake Bolmen. A large lake in Halland county known for an abundance of fresh water fish and therefore popular destination for anglers in the summertime. At this time of year some of the small villages I passed seeemed as ghost towns. Or perhaps the few residents had just settled for fall and winter tempo. The whole area still felt rather remote, and as I turned off onto a gravel road to find my lodging for the night the sun was beginning to come down. I was the only person staying at the small hotel in the forest next to the lake. The very friendly owner left the hotel at night, so being completely alone in the hotel during the night made me briefly think of the movie “The Shining”.

The next morning I made for an early start. After a nice fresh water fish breakfast at the hotel (I think that’s the first time I’ve tried that) I was again heading straight north into even more remote territory. Some 50 kilometers of day two ended up being on gravel and dirt roads. I didn’t exactly plan for it, since I was on my road bike with 25 mm tires and high tire pressure. But planning the trip and looking at maps you can’t always guess what kind of road surface those roads have. In Sweden people on the countryside sometimes lives many kilometers off main roads in forests. There’s a whole network of very tiny roads connecting those small hamlets or single cottages. Most of them is gravel and dirt. And I had planned to stay away from main roads… so, well… that just added to the adventure. Would I have constant punctures? Would I get all my bones shaken like a rider in Paris-Roubaix? The result was – surprisingly – “no” the the first and “yes” to the latter.

It was breathtakenly beautiful and I really enjoyed the many kilometers off the beaten “road bike”-track. Next time I will explore these areas on my gravel bike and go bike packing.

I hit Jönköping late in the afternoon – just in time to change clothes and hop on a bus back to Copenhagen.

See you next time Sweden.

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