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

 

 

Advertisements

Happy to be back in nature. My last two weeks on the farm. September 2015

City vs. farm lifestyle

I was glad to be back in nature. My weekend trip made me realize that I don’t miss city life at all. The street noise and lights, polluted air, crowds of people always rushing somewhere, car traffic packed buses, long lines in supermarkets, advertising wherever you look, long hours and busy schedules, the society of spending-buying-consuming and good appearance. Of course it’s not only that. The city can be wonderful, enjoyable and fun! There is always something to do, events worth attending, movies that you should see, parties you can’t miss, bars and restaurants you have to visit and people you ought to meet. There are so many cool things going on in the city that you are never able to do all you want and plan. And if you do, afterwards you end up being more tired than happy. That’s at least my personal experience. So I ask myself – do I need all of that to be happy? Do I know how to relax and enjoy the moment? Well, I’m not sure, but I definitely know that all this rush and excitement of constant plans makes me tired, nervous and anxious. I don’t sleep well because of street noise and lights and I certainly go to bed too late and sleep too short. For now farm lifestyle wins 1:0 with the city.

DSCF6219
Photo by Taro 

I love to fall asleep in the peaceful quiet and wake up to the misty mornings and sounds of nature. I have never before experienced such silence as in Krogstorps Gård. At night when I was already lying down in my bed there were no sounds at all. At first it felt creepy, but soon I started to cherish it as the most beautiful music. Since the farm was located 2 km from the main road and it was hidden behind forests, lake and fields, there was no car noise at all. The only machines you could here were planes flying from time to time to the airport located about 40 km away. But besides that it was only nature’s symphony – crickets in the grass, birds singing, insects buzzing in the bushes, leaves moving on trees, sometimes cows mooing and goats bleating, deer howling in the woods… once you realized their existence, you heard everything that was moving over there. Incredible pleasure for all your senses.

The art of nature

What I liked the most about the surroundings of the farm was of course the lake and the forest. I took long walks and sat on the little boat piers looking into the water’s surface and at sunsets. It was a breathtaking view when the sky was turning all shades of red, orange, pink, and violet. Birds seemed to be little black squawking dots and the fish were stirring the water. Reeds slowly moving on the wind made relaxing sounds and my mind shifted away peacefully. On the other hand the woods were mysterious and dark. There is nothing else that smells as good as moist temperate mixed forest of the north. Tall pine trees and spruces, soil covered with soggy moss, and of course mushrooms in fall. The vastness of these forests made me feel little and vulnerable and my imagination was going wild. Often in the evenings when the air was cooling down and the sun was setting the mist would drift like ghosts through the ups and downs of the fields. If you were lucky you could also see a pair of deer coming out of the woods into pastures. As September is the beginning of the mating season, deer were howling loudly sometimes both day and night. It’s a terrifying sound when you hear it for the first time, especially without knowing from where and whom it comes from. Deer doesn’t sound like any animal known to me. Actually I don’t know if I could compare it to anything. But thanks to the mating season they were coming closer to the farm and I could often observe them from not too far. Absolutely beautiful creatures.

Before Isabelle left Krogstorps Gård we went on a small boat excursion. We borrowed the boat from the Peterslunds and rowed to one of the islands on the lake. We found evidence of beavers’ existence and hugged many trees (well, mostly I did the hugging.) On the way back… it was a bit tough, as we didn’t think before of rowing against the wind that was blowing pretty hard on that day. There were moments of consternation, but we made it to the shore. A few days later I made an extreme effort to wake up at 4.30 am and cycle in the total darkness winning over my fear of it (with all these scary sounds coming out of hollow blackness of the forest) to the Peterslunds’ farm where I met with Jerzy, a Polish volunteer, with whom I went fishing. We took the boat and rowed into the darkness of the lake observing how everything wakes up slowly. Man, the sunrise on the lake was a precious experience that I would repeat as many times as possible if I ever have the chance again.

New WWOOFer, horses and trip to Mariefred

A few days after Isabelle left, another WWOOFer arrived on our farm, Taro, a German-Japanese recent university graduate. We didn’t have many days to get to know each other very well as soon I left. However, the work together was peaceful and pleasant. We cleared the cucumber field and added animal compost to the soil, fought another war with caterpillars and prepared the stables for the arrival of the horses. Right! I didn’t mention yet that we were about to have two horses on our farm. A week earlier went with Hans to the horse farm from which we were taking the young one. I had an amazing experience as one of the horses fell asleep with its head on my chest when I was petting it. Wow, the connection with these animals is incredible and so calming. I hope that one day I will have a chance to do WWOOFing on a farm with horses. Ours arrived just a few days before I left. They were beautiful and a bit afraid at the beginning. They came from two different owners, but happily they got along without any problems or fights.

One day on the weekend we went with other volunteers on a trip to Mariefred. It’s a pretty town located about 35 km from our farms. It has the Royal Gripsholm Castle located by the lake (of course) and a railway museum that seems to be a big attraction there. During our walk around the town I found a cemetery where there stands a monument slab in memory of Polish soldiers fighting in the Second World War. History seems to be following us wherever we go.

DSCF6304
Photo by Taro

Last days on the farm and new WWOOF perspective

My last days on the farm were peaceful and quiet. I was thinking a lot about the cycling journey I was about to start soon. I didn’t feel like leaving the farm already, I wasn’t ready yet to go back to the city. Then, a brilliant though came to me. I will find another WWOOFing place in Sweden! The idea was great, but the weather was the problem. I badly wanted to cycle all the way to Copenhagen and that was around 700-800 km depending on the route and the weather was getting colder day by day. Riding in the rain and cold is not very pleasurable, I can tell that from my own experience in the Netherlands this May. I decided to search for a farm located close to the Danish boarder. Luckily there were three of them urgently looking for volunteers. Only one of them seemed to meet my expectations and besides it sounded very interesting. It was run by a couple of retired professors, one of which is a specialist in sustainable living, grey water purification and permaculture. It sounded like a great place for me, so I wrote to them. After few days of waiting they replied that I was welcome to come and stay with them for a week. Yes, so that was my new destination! Afer about 600 km of cycling ahead of me there was Prästabonnens Gård, my second WWOOFing experience.

carrots