Posted by: Ian | June 7, 2013

Sweden: Cycling to Nykoping

Today was a ride of two halves. The first was leaving Stockholm and its exurbs. I’m relying for navigation on my Garmin 810, to which I’ve added European maps, with occasional sanity-check reference to the maps on my iPhone. A very cool feature of the Garmin is that it’s taken me through a maze of small streets and cycle paths that I couldn’t possibly have navigated on my own, or, while cycling, with paper maps. I feel as though it brings me as close to life as it’s lived as I can expect to get while passing swiftly through. Obviously, the true extent of how much I really engage with Sweden on my little trip will be determined by how much I actually talk to people. But I’m seeing a lot from the saddle.

The flip-side of the Garmin’s interesting routing is that I’ve found myself doing many miles on gravel tracks, some of them narrow and rough and through remote woods; this despite activating the “avoid unpaved roads” setting. On the Cervelo with Zipp wheels I’d be cursing but luckily the Astraeus is very cool with the off-road and the Conti 25mm tyres I’m running are holding up so far. It enhances the sense of adventure.

The second half of my ride was much easier, cruising along smooth Tarmac roads that, although quite major in the domestic classification, carry hardly any traffic. In fact, there’s been a spooky Marie Celeste feeling to Sweden since I arrived. It began at the airport – the country’s major international port – where the Starbucks was closed on a Thursday afternoon. In Stockholm some restaurants were open but many, and most shops, were closed by early evening. The Bianchi bike cafe that I walked to to get CO2 cylinders was also closed, although the sign in the door confirmed I had come within its advertised opening hours.

I believe that yesterday was a public holiday, but in London these have much less purchase on the purchasing. Today, which is not a holiday, I was more hopeful. However, the bike shop that I passed at 9:30 was also closed, as were all the other shops near to it in Gamla Stan. This afternoon, I took a 3 mile detour to find a place that was signed as a food stop. The staff were there and behind the counter but cheerfully told me that they weren’t serving people today. The next cafe, also signed as a food stop detour from my route, was simply closed (again with a door sign indicating that it ought to be open). And the next. In 75 miles of cycling, with 10 miles still ahead of me, all I’d had to eat were two buns and a pear. Before I left England I had resentfully packed an emergency Mule bar, despite my resolution to live entirely off real food rather than energy products this week. Miserably, but thankfully, I had to break it out.

Food at the restaurant was a tonic: there was a dinner buffet that was tasty, filling and, unexpectedly, free. A friendly waitress, seeing that I’d finished my beer, brought me water flavoured with lingonberries.

It’s very pleasant here. There’s a nice vibe. Many of the people who were invisible all day were out in the evening drinking, eating and milling around by the harbour. If I was staying another day I’d set myself the goal of remembering how to pronounce Nykoping (with apologies for losing an umlaut). It’s totally implausible. I mastered it for a minute earlier but now it’s gone.

The scenery I’ve encountered so far isn’t catch-your-breath beautiful but it’s lovely and easy and flawless. I like it. The weather has been spectacular and I’ve already developed a classic cyclist comedy tan. Many of the locals – far more than I would have believed – are taking the chance to cruise around in 1950’s boat-size American convertibles – Pontiacs and the like – with the tops down.

Nykoping

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