Swallowed into inland Sweden - The Middle of Sweden - CycleBlaze

July 21, 2017

Swallowed into inland Sweden

Jönköping to Gota canal

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I awoke rather stiff and dopey, and not particularly early. The weather was considerably cooler than the previous day, with only some hazy sun and still little wind from the South.

Despite the rigours of the previous days, I was keen to make a good start and to get clear of Jönköping. The plan over the next two days was to traverse the land between the two great lakes of Vättern and Vänern, working my way North. I had a choice: I could either short circuit the route and head West from there towards Norway, or if I had the energy, continue North into central Sweden and head for lake Siljan.

But either way I had to get around the top of Vänern. In planning the route, this part of the ride had not stood out as a highlight: rather, it seemed like a necessary slog through comparatively densely populated land requiring at least two days and likely wild camping.  I wanted to be clear of the city as soon as I could. The motorway hugs the East side of Vättern on its way to Stockholm; on the West side, the secondary road 195 looked cyclable, and was the fastest way North.

Going to the camp cafe, I ate an odd breakfast. They had an enormous buffet at great expense which I couldn't really face, but couldn't sell me an individual croissant. Instead it seemed to be the drill that I had to buy the individual items in the attached shop, and then pick up some coffee. Since the shop was manned by the same people as the cafe this caused quite a lot of friendly confusion. I was happy not to have to cook though. In the night there had been some evidence of my food stores being ransacked by local critters - it was odd this first happened to me in the largest city around after being in the woods for several days - I had to throw away some bread, and in addition finally got rid of the whole head of garlic which had been neatly tenderised by the action of being shook about in the pannier, and now smelt very strong indeed.

Now I had to get out of Jönköping. I couldn't really get lost - I just needed to follow the lake shore West and North to come to the suburb of Bankaryd - but my new enemy was the traffic. The main road was not prepossessing, being full of rush-hour traffic coming to the city. I followed the path past the beach, and was pleased to see that it continued on as a cycle route around the lake. I followed it for some kilometers, often some distance from the lake. I was generally very thankful it was there, except it did do the thing that it seems all cycle paths are doomed to do: suddenly disappear, leaving you in the middle of nowhere, or in my case a primary school.

The lake shore was hilly on the Western side, and I started to get a bit sick of taking wrong turnings and having to slog up and down hills. It didn't take long for me to cut my losses, and I found the Bankeryd road also had a good path beside it.

Road to Bankeryd - it's simpler than a banner
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I genuinely don't know if this is a mickey-take or not. I sort of don't want to know.
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I reached Bankeryd without incident, and with great thanks that I didn't try to put my original plan: to find some open ground on which to wild camp between Jönköping and Bankeryd. This was open suburbia country, and I would have been exhausted and frustrated. 

I now planned to work my way North. If I could continue on easily cyclable routes along the lake shore, so much the better: I would continue up to Hjo, and then head west. Otherwise, I could either try my luck on the 195, or come off at the town of Habo and work my way West ("inland") from there. Leaving Bankeryd, I thought my luck was continuing, as a quiet road continued to the North. However, it almost immediately curled around, and I found myself on a slip road to the 195.

On the map this looks approachable and quite cyclable. It's a secondary ("orange") route, and major routes 26 leads traffic away from it. But as I found, at this point it was a dual carriageway, with no shoulder and wires strung up to clobber you if you drift out the road. Even worse, it periodically narrowed to a single lane each way, forcing two lanes of traffic into a bottleneck behind you. I lasted about 10 minutes - all churlishness over the courtesy of Swedish drivers evaporated, and I was very thankful when they patiently followed me through the narrow sections.

As soon as I saw a way off, I lifted the bike over. I had to push over some shoulder, and then found part of a slip, which led to the Habo junction. It was quite hard to negotiate from this unconventional starting location, but I eventually found the part of the junction I needed, crossed over the 195 and with great relief headed into Habo.

The decision had been made for me - I was to going to cut "inland" from Habo, and find my way from there. I had no regrets on this, but things weren't helped by getting immediately quite lost. I actually ended up on a kind of bridleway behind the town of Habo - I'm not entirely sure how this happened. Anyway, I headed away from the lake at the first opportunity, and soon found I was crossing the rail line. This looked right - now I needed to turn North again to avoid going to Mullsjö. I found a turn with a completely incomprehensible place name signed (this was a disturbingly common experience in my navigation): it neither appeared on the map, or even in its index. But it lead North, so with a shrug I took it.

My decision was soon validated: I saw a sign indicating a scenic drive to Gustav Adolf church (a local viewpoint), and knew I was headed in the right direction. I had some climbing as I pulled away from the shore, but after the dual carriageway this quite, wooded and rolling road was a pleasure. After passing Gustav Adolf, soon I was amongst lakes again and let out a cheer as I entered Västra Götalandslän.

Pretty lake, near Asebygd I think
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Entering Västra Götalandslän - a huge expanse
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I'd made good progress, but starting late it was coming up to lunch time. As I skirted the Hökensås nature reserve on the West shore of the lake, imagine my delight therefore as I passed an operating campsite. My hope was they would have an attached restaurant where I could get a meal. I was a bit forlorn therefore as I wheeled in, to find it pretty barren and full of RVs. For some reason it felt a bit furtive to just turn around though, so I continued towards reception, only to be hailed by a guy cutting the grass. Feeling even more furtive, I explained I didn't want to camp, but only wondered if they had a restaurant. To my surprise, his face lit up and he explained that not here, but the next campsite a kilometre down the road did! Recommending the competition in such a hearty way seemed very Swedish, somehow.

Anyway, I found the next site without trouble, and they did indeed have a very jolly restaurant and shop. The menu was a bit confusing, and I was reduced to explaining  I didn't eat meat and did they have anything vegetarian - they didn't, but the chef made me up a meal especially. The sun came out and I sat and ate it with some fanta. I paid the shop a visit too, stocking up on dime bars, cheese, and replacing the bread I'd lost in Jönköping. I continued on my way very content and feeling surprisingly strong.

An excellent lunch stop
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I continued my merry way northbound, the way pleasant and easily navigable. The route was marked every 5-10km by distinctive churches: I made my passed Daretrop, Mobacken, and Fröjered, each indicated by white Lutheran landmarks, now with characteristic separate wooden bell towers.

In this way I bypassed the small town of Tildaholm, which I had originally been targeting for lunch. My new plan was aim for Tibro about 30km to the North, stock up on supplies there, and then strike out to wild camp some 20km north of there. To this end I took a dirt road between Mobacken and Fröjered. On this road was an abandoned house, still full of period furniture and newpapers: an eerie sight. The land was far from the densely populated dull swathe between the lakes I had imagined - even this close to Jönköping and Tröllhatten most of the land was wild.

One of a string of churches by which I navigated, this one at Daretorp. Many churches in this area have distinctive, free standing wooden bell towers.
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Abandoned house in the hinterland behind Tidaholm
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Period furniture and newpapers remained in the house...
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Waymark church at Fröjered
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I continued northbound through good-natured country roads, sometimes metalled and sometimes dirt, not meeting any traffic. I felt strong and was making good time: nevertheless I was pleased to get further North than Hjo, my original aim - I still had a good way to go.

I passed into Tibro, and crossed more tracks. The outskirts of many provincial Swedish towns have the look of frontier towns in North America - overgrown tracks looking forgotten. The centre of the town was typically Swedish in another way though - an orderly pedestrianised courtyard, with an old folks home down one side, and the SystemBolaget and ICA down the other. I picked up more food and visited the SystemB to get more booze. As I was leaving, I attracted the attention of an old Swedish guy sitting outside: he seemed most enthusiastic about the bike, and determined to have a conversation with me despite him having no English, and me no Swedish. I did some gesticulating at the map and bike computer to try to show where I was going, then waved off and went on my way.

Tibro, on the wrong side of the tracks
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Continuing the American theme, outskirts of Tibro
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It was now around 4pm. From Tibro, I didn't have any fixed idea of where I wanted to go - but I knew to the North and East there was wilder land where I would have no trouble camping. The sun had now came out, and with the mild tailwind I had plenty of energy and was pleased to pick up the back way out of town. ready for this, and check

I continued North, following the shallow valley of the river Tidan in a somewhat aimless fashion. I crossed the empty main road, and continued North on an unsigned road. The surface quickly turned to dirt - but this didn't perturb me, and checking my compass to check I was still going North, I pressed on.

It was an idyllic evening, warm and still. The path narrowed and became grassy; I was lead to an enormous enclosure filled with deer. I let myself through an elaborate gate, and continued to the North. I was now cycling essentially through open pine forest - when the tree cover opened up, the track stretched far into the distance, and I was struck by the unbroken silence: when I stopped, all I could hear was my own pulse in my ears. I passed numerous good camping sites: flat, secluded, and with a good view - but I was feeling strong still, and decided to push on - I could always return.

I continued in this way for about an hour and a half, and it was one of the most carefree and pleasurable rides I have ever done. I didn't really know where I was; but I didn't care. I was heading North, I could camp anywhere I liked, I had a full complement of food and water and it was a beautiful evening.

Deer enclosure somewhere in the Tidan valley
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Endless forest track heading north from Tibro
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Soon the track narrowed to this...
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Eventually the woods closed in again: the track became little more than a narrow path. I continued happily long, actually disappointed when I eventually popped out onto a road. But I decided it was time get my bearings and so went for a reconnoitre. My plan was to see if there was any possibility of camping in this area: otherwise I would head back into the woods, where there were plenty of great sites.

A little exploration, and I found, of all things, a cyclists hostel! I'm not really sure why I didn't just stop here - I'd already gone around 80 miles, but the evening was still mild and I was set on camping. Anyhow, it looks nice.

This should have tipped me off that I was now on establishing cycling territory
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Old wheels on the Gota canal
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Tåtorp cycle hostel - I have no good excuse why I didn't just stop here
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I cycled back along the road, and found another forest track heading North, which I duly took. I plunged back into the woods and after several miles emerged into the broad wheat field, the first cropland I'd seen all day. I passed a huge characteristic red barn - even the biggest are made of wood in these parts - and skirted the field's perimeter.

After I'd been so churlish turning down both the idyllic camping location and the bike specific hostel, fate still seemed determined to help me out. As I slowly spun across the field, I began to hear the fain sound of ... classic rock. Craning around, I still appeared to be in the middle of nowhere: I couldn't even see any roads.

I continued towards the sound, and all of a sudden I was in the middle of a pretty big campsite, next to what was now clearly the Gota Canal. I found the reception, and in rather wobbly fashion - the number of miles was starting to hit me now - found my way inside. It was quite chaotic - there was nobody there, just one woman working nineteen-to-the-dozen serving food over a cafe counter: of course, it was dinner time. In my befuddled state it took me a while to realise that I really would need to get her attention, so I dutifully queued up in the dinner queue, and then (somehow) managed to make myself understood that I wanted to camp.

I had spotted a few tents, right out in front as I came in - so I was pretty pleased to be pointed back towards the canal, and told I could camp behind the RVs. I circled back a couple of times until I realised that the bowling-green smooth surface right by the water's edge was indeed my pitch. I put the tent up, hurrying while the cafe was still open. 

Even enormous industrial barns were made all of wood
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My bowling-green smooth pitch
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The sun was just going down over the Gota canal
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I  staggered back to the cafe, but couldn't really make head or tail of whether they were still serving food. Instead I got myself a big bottle of Mariestads beer for surprisingly cheap (it was less than 500 Kr, I think) and sat and watched the karaoke and increasingly uninhibited dancing. I studied the map in the fading sun to try to figure out where the hell I was. I couldn't believe my luck: I didn't really know where I was, had only a vague idea where I was going and it was getting late in the evening, and entirely unplanned I had found a camp site.

The drink hit my exhausted body like a tonne of bricks, and I started to find the Swedish renditions of classic rock increasingly hilarious. I must have looked a bit of a strange sight, getting increasingly plastered on a single bottle of Mariestad while grinning for ear to ear. Any chance of getting food had long passed, so I contented myself with another bottle and felt fairly happy with the world. I still felt good, if exhausted, even after my longest day: 132km covered in 8 hrs.

I finally figured I had to have something to eat before completely passing out, so had a comical drunken cook-up of some Halloumi and took some very wobbly photos of the fading light.

Dusk falling on the Gota canal
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Today's ride: 83 miles (134 km)
Total: 370 miles (595 km)

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