Riding in Sweden

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By David Ward — I told my daughter I could live in Sweden. Stockholm, at least, where we have spent most of our time during our two visits to Sweden. It is a beautiful, green, forested region with scenic blue lakes, rivers, bays, and inlets. Everyone speaks English and speaks it well. And you don’t need any cash, just a credit card.

My daughter, Jessica, who works for the State Department (Foreign Service), obtained a position as the administrative aide to Ambassador Erik D. Ramanathan and moved to Stockholm in January. Being the owner of two dogs, and only being able to take one with her during her flight over, my wife, Karma, and I decided to take her other dog, Bijou, over for her and make a vacation of it. So, about a month after Jessica departed, we hopped our flight, Bijou in hand, for Stockholm.

That was the start of my love affair with Stockholm and Sweden. It was February, so it was mostly dark and cold. But being a lover of snow and cold, that suited me just fine. Karma talks of being cold the whole time we were there, but I loved it. During our stay, we mostly engaged in indoor activities, of course, but spent a lot of time walking to metro and bus stops and trundling between museums and various tourist sites. During our time outside, I noticed a lot of Swedes out commuting on bikes despite the wet, freezing conditions. But Stockholm is great at melting and sanding their streets and bike paths, bicycling is a ubiquitous mode of transportation, and the Swedes are hardy.

We loved Sweden so much, we decided to head back in June to experience a Swedish summer. This time, it was warm, generally in the 80s, and mostly light. A very late dusk would simply slip into dawn. These conditions are an invitation to cycling, so naturally, the day after I arrived, I sought out and rented a bike, an aqua blue Merida road bike equipped with a Shimano Ultegra component set. And I was so glad I did.

The outskirts of Stockholm. Photo by David Ward

Sweden is very bicycle friendly. All major and busy streets had designated and often separated bike paths. One of the items for this visit was to visit Gotland Island, home to Karma’s great grandmother. So, I rode from Stockholm to Nynashamn, about 40 miles south of Stockholm, and met up with Karma and Jessica to take the ferry to Gotland. I was amazed to find a designated and often separated bike path till I was well out of Stockholm and nearly half way to Nynashamn. Everywhere I rode in the urban Stockholm area there were excellent bike paths anywhere the streets were at least somewhat busy.

A bike path in Stockholm, Sweden. Photo by David Ward

I was also amazed at the riding skills of the average bike commuter. I consider myself a good bike handler, but I found I was slowing before and being more cautious than most others. The Swedes are clearly comfortable on bikes, whether passing someone coming in the opposite direction on a narrow pathway or navigating the trickier intersections. And most cyclists I saw were commuters, using their bicycles as an inexpensive (and Sweden is expensive), convenient and efficient mode of transportation. I was a rarity, at least in urban Stockholm, in my Lycra and on my sleek road bike. Most bikes I saw were journeyman bikes, designed for just getting around.

We were in Sweden for 17 days and while there I managed to put in 226 miles. That may not seem like a lot in two weeks, but it was interspersed with museums, tourist sites, and other vacation activities. I was, after all, there with Karma and visiting Jessica, so this was no cycling trip. And one thing we quickly learned about Sweden: It is expensive. My rental fee was 3200 kronor ($330) for two weeks, so my riding cost about $1.50 per mile. And it was worth every krona.

As mentioned, my first ride was from Stockholm to Nynashamn. It was a nice ride all the way, but especially lush and scenic once I cleared the metropolitan area. This part of Sweden is mostly flat and rolling, and I really enjoyed the rolling, winding road. I just always love anticipating what waits over the next hill or around the next bend.

In Gotland, after spending a day of sightseeing, eating, and relaxing in Visby, the port city, we jumped in our rental car and headed south to Silte, where Karma’s great grandmother, Annie Rasmussen, was christened in the village’s small Lutheran church. Through a serendipitous string of connections, we also located Annie’s natal farm, Stenbro, and Karma even met a very distant cousin who told her they knew they had cousins in America, but nothing beyond that. It was a satisfying and meaningful pilgrimage for Karma.

The southern tip of Gotland Island, Sweden. Photo by David Ward

At Stenbro, I unloaded my bike and headed about 35 miles to the southernmost tip of Gotland. The road wound and rolled through several small, traditional communities, each with its anchoring Lutheran chapel. Such a universal scene, small towns and villages anchored down physically, culturally, and spiritually by the chapels of the area’s predominant religion. Personally, that is something I find comforting and both endearing and enduring.

I love having access to a bike when traveling because of the exploring I can do. Back in Stockholm, I began to explore with a late afternoon ride from Vasastan, the area of Stockholm where Jessica lives, across the bay and out to the eastern most end of the island of Lidingö. I had scenic views riding along the shore, ending with a beautiful view of a pasture with grazing sheep sloping in the dusk down to the bay.

A bike path in Hagaparken, adjacent to an inlet from the Baltic Sea. Photo by David Ward

In my remaining time, I managed several more rides. One took me south and east. This started with me riding to where we had rented kayaks that morning to see if they had found, or someone had turned in, my lost wallet. The answer is no, and I suspect it is sitting at the bottom of the bay we had kayaked in. That’s another story. But I extended that ride to head a little south and then east on another island, then looping back around along the southern shore. I found where all the Swedes hang out after work, sunbathing, dipping, and swimming in the cold Baltic waters.

On another ride, I discovered the beauty of 28″ tires when riding on the gravel paths along the verdant west shoreline of a long inlet reaching to the north. There were trails winding all the way to the end, and I really found how lovely it was to bike these trails that ran right along the water’s edge. This stretch also featured several parks and historic sites which made the ride more interesting. My bike presented me with such a comfortable ride that I am converted to going to larger tire widths as my current tires wear out.

On one ride, intending to navigate the circumference of this north reaching inlet, Google maps led me astray, taking me on a few kilometers of trails more suited to a mountain bike than my fatter tired road bike. I was actually headed to church, intending to complete the circumference of this inlet after our meetings, and thought I was going to be late, thanks to the rugged trails I was navigating, but managed to arrive just in time to change. I did complete the loop after church, including enduring some afternoon rain.

It rains a lot here, and on another ride I really got dumped on. Shortly after starting out, it really poured for about 15 minutes then settled into a steady rain. I had forgotten my rain jacket so sheltered under a tree during the downpour. I wasn’t far from my daughter’s home, so I went back and grabbed my rain jacket which was especially useful the rest of that ride. But I have to say, it was especially refreshing to ride in the rain which enhanced all the colors and scents.

David Ward in Stockholm. Photo by David Ward

I loved riding next to this inlet, so on my last trek, I rode along the west side with its parks and historic sites, then through some interesting residential area all the way to the north end. I retraced my route and then pedaled on to the shop where I had rented my bike.

It’s hard to explain how much I love riding, and especially riding and exploring. And Stockholm and Sweden especially exhilarating, scenic and exciting. I have fallen in love and hope to be back several more times while Jessica is there.

 

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