Day 15: Nyköping to Stockholm

The last day started badly but ended with a lovely surprise.  Since this is the last blog for the trip, it’ll be the usual random stuff interspersed with incredibly boring pictures of Swedish roads but…followed by some overall thoughts about the trip.

  • Distance: 121km 😐 — Felt longer
  • Climbing: 1141m ☹️ — I was never over 50m above sea level which indicates how rolling these last 120km were.
  • Route: 😕 — Outside the city, the route was the usual boring roads but the route into Stockholm was good..
  • Body: 😔 — Who cares?  Last day..  
  • Bike: 🙂 — More thoughts below but I am still slightly astonished that something that I built out of bits and pieces can travel the best part of 2000km powered solely by my legs.  And not a single mechanical on the way.
Last night the weather forecast started to converge on rain in the morning and when I woke up it was pretty accurate.

More rain.  Summer in Sweden.

I couldn’t really face one more Swedish breakfast so I overdosed on coffee while waiting for the rain to turn to drizzle.  Drizzle was the best I was going to get and there was nothing for it but to get on the bike and get wet.

Nyköping’s quite quaint central section turned into the, now familiar, hinterlands of identikit apartment blocks and power tool stores.

Like the other towns.  Wet and boring.

After Nyköping petered out, it was back to the usual endless and mind-numbing Swedish scenery.  It was wet but at least the wind was a little bit behind me.  Here’s some examples of the scenery.  I had to suffer it so you’ll have to suffer too.

Road, trees, puddles, cycle path

More road, more trees, more puddles, no cycle path.

“I think you’ll find it’s a fjard Brian”

There were no bus shelters but bike under tree provided some respite.

Road, trees, and a new appearance for rocks.  No cycle path.

The road was really rolling.  In total I did 1,140m of climbing today but I was never over 50m above sea level.  It was much much harder than I had expected.

Of course there were no towns or villages which had an open cafe.  In fact, there were no towns or villages.  The massive caffeine overdose I’d taken before leaving was starting to wear off 60km into the ride and, against all expectations, there was a garage and it had coffee.

No plopp today.

It’s a sad thing when you start actively looking forward to
garage forecourts.

Despite not being fuelled by plopp, the coffee did the trick and the rain started to peter out but, apart from being drier, there wasn’t much change.  I saw my first sign to Stockholm which felt like a big moment.

Stockholm within striking distance..

I also saw my first sign to Nibble.  The first in my life.

Yes yes yes, it’s childish but you take your
fun where you get it on long distance cycle trips.

However, apart from the riotous amusement afforded by a town called Nibble, there wasn’t much excitement.

The wondrous scenery of Sweden

20km from the end, it all got a lot more urban.  There were motorways and roadworks and, luckily, cycle paths snaking through, around and by the side of them.

All a bit cyclocrossy during this section.

I’d managed to avoid seeing any burger joints on the road but as I came into Stockholm, there was a McDonalds. Once again in the most unprepossessing place.

“Where’s a good place for a McDonalds?”
“In a building site Bjorn, right there”.

The cycle paths were pretty good although wet and slippy in places,  As the faceless suburbs started to blend into the centre of the city, it all got really exciting.  A lot of cars, a lot of pedestrians, a lot of bikes.  

I got the fright of my life crossing a junction.  Just as the light turned green and I started moving, I heard a loud internal combustion engine on my left.  I thought I’d done something wrong with the lights and I was about to be mown down by a car.  I pulled the brakes, screeched to a halt, caused all sorts of havoc in the saddle region only to be passed on the left by a Deliveroo scooter.  Turns out they’re allowed on cycle paths too.

The route led along the south bank and there, on the north bank was the Royal Palace. It’s where they hand out the Nobel prizes.

Bike, water, Stockholm.

I crossed the river, found the hotel and there was Trish to film me arriving.  I was so happy to have completed the trip.

Surprise!

For the past 7 months, my family has been keeping a big secret perfectly.  Not only was Trish there but Izzy and Hannah had secretly come to Stockholm too.  Izzy had even gone so far as to send me the weather in Farringdon to keep me thinking she was there.

All together once again

Easily the high point of the entire trip and one of the high points of my entire life. 

We have a fun family weekend in Stockholm to look forward to but the trip is over.  1,824km averaging 165km a day.  I would have been over the 2,000km mark had I not had the to enforced non-cycling day in Lidköping.  Feeling pretty good about that.

The last act is to pack up the bike and get it sent back to the UK.

Good job bike.  See you in the UK.

And…that’s it. Time to stop writing and go out and enjoy Stockholm with my family.

Thoughts about the trip.

Countries

Obviously the UK doesn’t count but the one day I did cycle there was superb entirely due to JJ’s excellent route.

Cycling in the Netherlands is fantastic.  I know one shouldn’t judge a country by its cycling infrastructure but when you’re cycling through it, it does make an impression.  The towns that I cycled through and stopped in were vibrant and interesting. As always, the Dutch were straight talking and direct.  Some people find this rude but I absolutely love it.  Dutch people tell you exactly what they’re thinking and that’s very refreshing.  Obviously cycling through the Netherlands is made better by its extreme flatness.

In The Netherlands, the cycling infrastructure is clearly the first thing that goes in. When the Dutch are planning a town or a road or a junction, you get the impression that they think “Ok, what’s going to make this easy for cyclists. Let’s do that.  Now…how do we fit the cars around this”.  In Germany, there’s still good cycling infrastructure but it’s more of an afterthought.  “Ok, we’ve sorted out the roads, now how do we safely add cyclists to this?”.  It still works but not quite as fluently.  

The density of Germany is enough that there are towns every 10 or 20km and most of them have a bakery or a cafe that you can stop at.  Judging a country by the density of coffee shops is nearly as stupid as judging it by its cycling infrastructure but it really matters on a cycling trip.  I really enjoyed the section of this trip which went through Germany.  Everybody was friendly, put up with my lack of German with good spirits and it felt like I was seeing a lot of the country that I might not normally have seen.

The Danes won’t like this but Denmark really felt like Germany but with more complex orthography in the language.  Same general feel to the country, same type of “safe but slightly inconvenient” cycling infrastructure.  Routing your trip through Denmark is more difficult because there are so many  bodies of water to cross but it was fun and interesting to see. I liked it.

It was sunny when I got on the ferry at Helsingør and it started raining 10 minutes after I reached Sweden.  Over the next few days, Sweden suffered the worst weather and floods it has seen for years.  It’s hard not to have one’s view of a country coloured by just how atrocious the weather was and just how hard it was to make my way across the country.

The cycling infrastructure in Sweden is good in the cities but rapidly peters out in the countryside.  More than that, the way that people live outside the cities is…odd.  The density of housing throughout the countryside is, on average, relatively high I suppose but that doesn’t translate into very many real towns.  Villages are just loose little clumps of housing centred round a church which may or may not have a pizza joint or a garage.  This makes cycling through Sweden much tougher than the other countries I cycled through.  I regularly cycled for 80km+ without any cafes or shops.  In an unsupported ride, this isn’t good.

Much to my surprise, Sweden felt very…”down at heel”.  Slightly shabby and a bit ugly.  The Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and the UK, feel like rich countries.  Sweden is rich on a GDP per capital basis but doesn’t feel like it either in the towns or in the countryside.  The train system is…a bit crap even without the weather emergency. The outskirts of towns are unnecessarily ugly. The towns themselves are quiet to the point of near desolation.

I much preferred Poland as the last country on the previous trip but my view might be coloured by the terrible weather and the trials and tribulations of trying to get across Sweden in a weather emergency. 

Routes

Route purists would say that you should plan each and every day with care.  There’s no doubt that the routes would definitely be better (thanks JJ…) but just asking Garmin to make me a route between point A and point B worked pretty well.  There weren’t many places I wanted to second guess the popularity routing algorithm.

One note for anybody who is thinking of doing the same thing:  the autorouting function makes a lot of use of cycle paths and cycleways.  These often involve difficult junctions and bumping up and down kerbs.  It feels like it would be faster to just stick on the roads.  However, in Holland and (I think) Denmark, it is illegal to ride on the road if there’s available cycling infrastructure.  

Hotels

Booking everything 24 hours in advance on booking.com worked astonishingly well.  Highly recommended.

Choosing the hotels on booking.com is a bit of an art.  It’s tempting to choose the funky interesting boutiquey hotels and those are fun — and make for good stories for your blog.  Nevertheless, there are risks associated with this and as the trip progresses, you want somewhere that’s just going to be “ok”.  Chain hotels are fine and always choose one close to the centre of town so you’re not stuck on some faceless ring road hiking up the hard shoulder to the nearest garage like Alan Partridge. 

In Sweden there really is a stack-a-Scandi style to hotels.  Irrespective of the chain, they’re the same.  Rooms are the same, the bathrooms are the same, the breakfasts are the same.  Mostly that’s fine but it does get monotonous.

On average, I probably always chose hotels in the £100-a-night sort of range.  Most towns I stayed in apart from Hamburg and Gothenburg, there wasn’t anything much more expensive than this.

Things To Take

Since I’d done one of these trips before, I could optimise what I took pretty well.  Weight is everything so you need to plan carefully and everything has to fit in your bean.  Having stuff hanging off your bike looks dorky and unprofessional.
  • Bike kit.  Like last year, I wore Rapha bib shorts and a Rapha top.  In fact, I wore the same Rapha top that I’d worn last year.  Hard wear and washing means it is actually fading particularly on the back where the sun gets it.  At the last minute, I threw in a casquette (one of those silly bike caps that make you look like a schoolboy).  I wore it every day under my helmet.
  • A bike computer.  Mine is a Garmin 840 and the most important thing about your bike computer is to learn how to use it.  You’re going to be using it a lot so make sure you understand the functions and, especially, the navigation and routing functions.
  • Non bike clothes.  Lightweight clothing is horrible but the difference between a pair of polyester Angela Merkel trousers and a pair of jeans is probably 700g.  So you just have to suck it up and wear horrible clothes and look like a dork.  The Jack Reacher approach of buying a new t-shirt, underpants and socks every three or four days works well.
  • A warm jacket.  I nearly didn’t take my Rapha Explore jacket because I’d only used it once on the trip to Warsaw.  Boy I was glad I took it.  
  • A waterproof jacket.  See the days before and after Hamburg as to how important this is.
  • Charger and cables.  Practice before you leave to make sure you can charge everything with one charger and a bunch of cables.
  • Toiletries.  The minimum you can get away with to avoid being actively offensive.  Also some of this to wash your kit in the evening.  Soak Wash is fantastic and is a critical component of not being actively offensive.
  • SudoCrem or equivalent.  I took two of these with me to deal with issues…down there.  After the first day, it’s pretty obvious what you need to do with it and if you don’t, you’re going to suffer from saddle sores and your trip will be over.
  • Apple Pay.  Apart from one occasion, I paid for absolutely everything on this trip from a plopp chocolate bar to two nights in a hotel using my phone.  The European banking and payment networks are the best in the world.  Don’t try to do this if you’re cycling across the USA.
  • One inner tube, one multi tool, chain lube.  If you’re doing 150km+ a day, you need to oil your chain every day. More in the wet.  The inner tube is in case of a massive puncture in the tubeless tyres.
  • IPad.  This is a controversial one.  With the keyboard, this added over 1kg to the weight and made packing the bean really hard.  However, I like writing these posts.  It gives you something to do while eating on your own and you can use the Kindle App to read books in the evening.  
And that’s it.  

Bike

This section might be interesting only to the hard-core bike folks.

Once again, the Bat Bike™ did fantastically well.  The 1x group set worked brilliantly and faultlessly.  Apart from the one day where I had to buy some chain lube and one day where there was a bit of a creak from the bottom bracket, it was just perfect.   It felt smooth, fast and solid even with the bean on the back. 

One really big thing was that over 1,800km and 15 days, I didn’t have any punctures and didn’t even have to blow up the tyres once.  The new knobbly (33mm) tubeless tyres were fantastic.  I could run them around 45psi which smooths out a lot of the road vibration.  When you’re cycling on cycle paths there’s a lot of bumping up and down small — and not so small — kerbs at junctions.  Tubeless tyres don’t get pinch flats and so you feel really confident on the bike.  The knobbly tread pattern helped with confidence in the rain.

I had to re-wrap the bar tape once.  It wasn’t a big problem but you spend 8 hours a day interacting with the tape on your handlebars and if it’s not quite right, it turns into one of those irritating things.  So the people in Hallsberg station waiting room got a master class in how to correctly wrap handlebars.  Lucky them.

As I mentioned earlier, the Restrap Bean of Joy was…a joy.

Of course I took tools but the only time I used my beautifully designed lightweight multi tool was to take the front wheel off the bike when I was putting it in the taxi in Lidköping.  Click on the link and buy this tool.  It’s really nice.



Comments

  1. Hurrahhhhh! Well done !!! Mission accomplished 👏 Have s fabulous time with all your girls 😍

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  2. Congratulations on making it to Stockholm!

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  3. Well done, Ewan!!

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  4. Hooray!!! Huge congratulations on your achievement, Ewan! And thank you again for keeping us cheerfully entertained during your ordeals while valiantly soldiering on. You’re an inspiration! (P.S. Next time, do give Southern Germany a go :) Easy to cover a number of countries as well - France, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, even Italy,… - and with mostly beautiful countryside (including trees!), and plenty of pitstops in open cafes :) All the best, Rosa

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  5. Really enjoyed the blog, motivating me to plan something similar! Cheers.

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