On the route – cycling through my mind. October 2015

Farewell Krogstorps Gård!

Saying goodbye to Krogstorps Gård was tough. Hans and Peter were very good hosts and their farm an idyllic place. My days were full of new experiences and evenings reserved for wonderful walks and good readings by the chimney. I had plenty of time just for myself and spent many cheerful moments in good company. I tried a couple of very tasty traditional Swedish meals cooked by my hosts and ate definitely too much chocolate. And last but not least, Krogstorps was a great beginning of a transition I felt I was about to make soon. When I decided to go WWOOFing I knew that I was not ready yet to go to one of these as-much-as-possible self-sufficient and sustainable farms. Instead I need a smooth conversion from my city life to countryside one. I felt I should take one step at a time, because the change seemed too big to jump head-first right away. Here I had my first contact with farm life and work, but still had all the comforts of the typical household – slept in a warm house with a fresh bed linen and cozy bed, hot shower and a toilet. We were recycling and composting, but used electricity for most things. My hosts were still keeping their regular jobs in order to meet ends and to slowly become more self-sufficient and I’m sure they are on the right path to it. I felt like Krogstorps Gård was somewhere in the middle between city and countryside life, just what I needed at that time. Now it was time to pack again the panniers and jump on my bicycle. The road was waiting for me!

leaving the farm

On the road – my bike and me

Right, I was about to cycle a few hundred kilometers through unknown country on my own for the first time. It might sound like not a big deal for many of you, but for me it was a personal challenge. I always thought I’m not a bad cyclist; I bike everywhere in the city, once a week or two used to do up to 100 km distances on my race bike and I also play my beloved bike polo (lately unfortunately less than I wish to). Bicycling means freedom to me, and it feels like an extension of my body. I love cycling and everything related to it. But until that day I only once went on a longer bike trip with one of my beloved friends from home. It was in May and in 6 days we made it across 400 km from Amsterdam to Brussels. We didn’t rush but slowly cycled through cities, enjoying the moment and sightseeing on the way. It taught me a couple of useful things such as that you have to be prepared for all possible weather… including rain. Yes I know, I was super dumb to think that maybe luckily it wouldn’t rain in the Netherlands in May. I was very wrong; it already began to rain when we were leaving Amsterdam and continued for the next 5 hours of cycling. You can imagine how we looked and felt after this ride. This time I got prepared for the rain but not for the cool October weather. Well, actually everything was fine except my feet, which were freezing a bit. But it’s also because I have a very bad blood circulation in my feet and my cycling shoes were more for spring/summer season than for Nordic autumn.

off I go

Nevertheless here I was and ready to go beyond all my comfort zones and cycle from the east to the southwest of Sweden on my vintage Panasonic race bike. Many friends advised me to get a more comfortable bicycle for such a long trip. Like a hybrid/trekking bike where you wouldn’t have to ride all the time in a hunched position and attaching panniers would be easier. But no, I wanted to do it on my good old buddy Panasonic. This bike went through a lot with me and travelled to many places. It was a present from my Mum for my BA graduation, bought with the help of my friends. It was bought used but in a very good condition. Strong steel frame survived even my accident with a car I crashed into one summer. And now it was supposed to support me and another 18-20 kg of baggage.

Back in Warsaw my friend had to invent a way to assemble a front bike rack since the fork was missing necessary holes and hooks and the rear rack was attached only to the saddle tube. Because of it I decided to take 4 panniers – two fronts and two rear ones, each pair not exceeding 10 kg for the balance and safety. At first it felt a bit shaky, but with each kilometer I was getting more used to driving this camel-like bike.

Route plan

When it came to the route plan I decided not to go too hard on myself since I didn’t know what the weather would be like nor the condition of roads and remembering that it will be my first time cycling consecutively for about 9-10 days. I simply couldn’t predict how I would handle it and also I wanted to enjoy this ride, having time to stop and relax whenever I felt like it. My daily distance averaged between 50 and 75 km, but there were places where I couldn’t find a couch and instead of cycling 100 km I was breaking it into two days having 70 + 30 km distances to cover. After all, these short days were good for resting and regaining energy. There were a few days that I cycled against strong wind. It felt like I wasn’t moving at all and making distance of 50 km felt like 100. However, I was super lucky that it did not rain even once during my journey. I used an offline GPS map (OsmAnd), which turned out to be a fair choice. In settings I specifically selected paved cycling routes and it happened only 3 times that it guided me through gravel or forest paths. Fortunately Sweden has good quality roads and many cycling paths going along the way. In other cases they weren’t busy routes, but small ones leading through gorgeous endless forests and patches of fields. Sometimes I could cycle for almost an hour without seeing a car.

woods

These days when I passed through vast forests shimmering with autumn colors and smelling of fallen leaves and pine trees were unquestionably the best but also often the most difficult. Many times these beautiful narrow string-like roads ran through constant ups and downs, having no mercy to my tired legs and back. How I praised these views and at the same time cursed these hills! I passed many lakes; enormous and small ones, all of them filled me with longing for a little wooden house with a window looking out at one of them. I took my breaks camping either besides them or in the woods. I had a snack, scribbled in my journal and stared for a long time into the sky above me thinking of life.

Reflections from the road

roadA few days into my cycling journey I understood why people so often say that solo trips are mind clearing and heart opening. At first I was more concerned about my gear, distance, condition or my day target, but with time I started to sink into my deep thoughts and reminiscences. I reflected on my past, considered the present and wondered about the future. I went over and over again situations that happened, questioning if they could go other way around and what that would mean for me. But deep inside of me I began to fully understand that there are no rights or wrongs, all of it that happens we should see as a new experience and a lesson. After all I wouldn’t be here if I took a different turn in the past, right? Who knows if I would know my best friends? Or seen places I travelled to? Everything would be different so, – no regrets! – I decided. From now on I will try my best to enjoy whatever world brings on my path and try to learn from my achievements, failures, good and bad choices. And importantly, live this life like I please not like someone tells me I should. Don’t look back at others, because it is me living in my skin and no one can feel or understand what is going on inside me better than I could. It was time to put and end to commonly acclaimed stereotypes and live the way I felt was right for me. And I felt that I don’t want to come back to my regular life. At least not yet and not any time soon. I wanted to reconnect with nature, find fulfillment in my daily work and purpose of it. I decided I would continue WWOOFing after coming back to Spain and slowly discover where it would take me.

Couchsurfing

 Now I was on the route continuing southwest of Sweden. I never slept alone in a tent and thought it might be too cold anyways so I arranged sleepovers through Couchsurfing. I had been using this website for traveling already a couple of times and I always had a positive experience. However, I haven’t thought of the fact that eventually it would be 9 couches in 9 days, each of it after a couple of hours of cycling. Each time approaching my new host I felt exhausted, but once I reached the place I was so excited about meeting new people that my strength and energy came back in no time.

road thru fields

I stayed with all sort of people; families, single mothers and single fathers, students, couples and singles, foreigners like me and local people, on farms and in the woods, in small towns and in the cities. It was a totally amazing experience that nothing can be compared to. I believe that staying in hotels, hostels or even camping wouldn’t be able to give me the same experience. I met lots of interesting and truly inspiring people who gave me the possibility to look into their daily lives and reflect about mine. This way I learned things about Sweden and its people that I wouldn’t be able to read about in any guidebook. Some of my hosts cooked for me traditional or regional Swedish dishes while the others invited me to try their homemade bread, preserves and eggs from their hens. I was even invited to eat at my host’s Grandmother’s home! A few of them took me sightseeing; others showed around their animal farms or were they worked. Many times I talked with my hosts late into the night and with others I watched movies. Usually we ate breakfast together, but on some occasions they went to work early and let me sleep longer and left the keys so that I could let myself out. They were friendly, open-minded and trusting to let me in. But it also took balls to go to all these strangers’ homes without knowing what to expect behind the closed door. Especially the ones in remote places or when my hosts were men. At some point, already on the road for a week I thought that actually no one on earth knows where am I since I didn’t report to anyone. Being a girl travelling alone and sleeping at strangers’ homes can be more risky than for a guy I think. So before arriving at my next destination I texted my best friend giving her a password to my CS account and instructing how to check where and when I should be staying on what day. In case of no contact for 5 days I told her to check the profile and start to look for me. Uff, that already felt better; just knowing that there is one person in the world aware of my whereabouts was strangely comforting. Of course nothing bad or strange happened during my trip and every experience was totally distinct from each other. Some of my hosts actually felt familiar to me even though I had known them for only few hours. It seemed like we’d been friends for months, but really I knew only a small bunch of facts about their lives. Who knows, maybe we’ll meet again one day; I would surely like that!

sosdala

To wrap it up

After 9 days and about 570 km down southwest of Sweden I arrived on my second WWOOFing farm. From Björnlunda through Nyköping – Norrköping – Linköping – Tranås – Nässjö –Ramkvilla – Växjö – Älmhult and Hässleholm all the way to Södra Rörum in Skåne County. On one hand 570 km seems not much, I thought. I know a few guys who cycled for 1500 or even 2500 km and that’s already something. But on the other hand, I’ve never gone so far by myself on a bike or walking. Actually, I have never cycled for more than 110 km all by myself. And after all, I’m a small girl not a strong big guy, right? I reconsidered my achievement feeling that I was actually very proud of myself. It’s a piece of land that I went through on my loaded shaky vintage bike; with its ups and downs, lots of wind, unknown roads through forests and at times along speeding cars, I made it without any problem or doubt. And there was more to come at the end of this month – I had to get to Copenhagen. However, now I was curious to meet my new hosts and was eager to work again!

sweden trip map

 

 

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