2,000km is very far


Hi All, and greetings from Sundsvall, the city that officially Never Comes Any Closer. Let me explain…
We left Umeå on Saturday, thinking we might make it to Sundsvall in three days. It was a cold day of bright sunshine mixed with heavy showers. We ambled along the coast road, as usual seeing only glimpses of the Baltic as the trees stood between us and it. Midmorning we spotted a sign pointing us up a track of bedrock to "Gravrösen". We decided to leave the bike and take a little walk (it would have made a smashing little mountain bike ride). The forest was beautiful and full of the fattest, sweetest bilberries and cowberries. The Gravrösen turned out to be neolithic graves – great piles of stones on rock covered in a thick carpet of lichen. Back on the bike, we got a thorough soaking followed by a drying sunny spell until, about 50km out of Umeå, the back tyre (you remember, the one we fitted in Kalix after the blow out), blew out. Nul points for Schwalbe. Once again the old toothpaste tube came to the rescue and we managed another 25km to a tiny town called Nordmaling where we learned there was a campsite. We got within 200 metres before the back tyre finally exploded with a mighty bang. So there we were on a Saturday evening with everything shut until Monday. There was nothing for it but for Neil to go back to Umeå on the bus on Sunday and find a shop which would both sell tyres and be open. In this he was helped by Erik, son of Berit who we told you about in our last adventure, who pointed us to "Clas Ohlson" – an extraordinary Swedish chain store selling almost anything even vaguely hardware-related, from kitchen utensils to circular saws…and bicycle tyres. A low-rent Nokian tyre from Finland saved the day and has actually been going well ever since.
After our enforced rest day Monday was fine and bright and we rapped out 106m to a hostel in a tiny bay at Köpmanholmen, all surrounded by lovely rocky little hills. It was a pity only to stay one night but we felt we needed to make a bit of progress after our setback. No such luck as our bike pump packed up – another brand-name item (thank you Blackburn) that let us down. But the hostel owner was wonderful, going home to get his own pump, and when we found it wouldn’t fit our valves, ringing up a bike shop in the nearest town and driving us there to get a new pump. The shop owner also opened an hour early just for us. Thank you, thank you, you wonderful people.
The scenery was becoming grander and we looked forward to some drama and beauty as we entered the "High Coast" area. This remarkable landscape has been formed by the rising of the land after the retreat of the ice cap over the last 10,000 years. What was once underwater is now up to 800 metres above sea level – and it is still rising. Some of the lakes in the area were still sea inlets as recently as the early 19th century. It’s a World Heritage Site but unfortunately the weather was dire with drenching drizzle and temperatures barely in double figures and we rather rushed through it all. We contemplated staying in the area an extra day but there was no sign of any improvement.
That night we were rescued from the wet by a lady who saw us gazing at a roadsign on a tiny junction. She called to us from a balcony and we told her we were looking for somewhere to stay. "We have a little cottage down by the harbour and we let beds in it for fifty Kronor a night", she said, "It has a shower, kitchen and television. Are you interested?" Were we ever! 50Kr is about four pounds fifty so for under ten pounds we were warm, dry, fed and very happy. The little cottage was on a tiny quay under the shadow of an enormous suspension bridge. The next day we rode across this – three times. The first time we got 5km down the road when we realised one of the panniers was missing a strap. It must have been still at the cottage. We turned round and rode all the way back but it wasn’t there. We found it in the pannier.
The weather was even worse than the previous day and we were thoroughly soaked in no time. We were also tired from two days’ hard riding and the road was relentlessly hilly – short, sharp climbs followed by swift descents that took us straight back down to sea level again. By lunchtime we were only 35km into our day. We diverted into a town called Härnosand and stopped at the first restaurant we spotted for a "Dagens Lunch". This very Swedish institution consists of a main course and a huge salad buffet plus bread, drink of mineral water or "Lät Öl" (a weak beer which is most refreshing at this time of day) plus coffee to finish – all for around 75Kr. This is excellent for cyclists as you are free to pile as much onto your plate as you like. Highly commendable. By the time we had finished the rain had stopped and an hour later we were out of our waterproofs and toiling up the hills in warm sunshine. There was some ravishing lake and forest scenery to be had but oh boy, it was a long afternoon as we still had a long way to go to our hostel in Sundsvall. Afternoon turned to evening and we were still grinding our way through the industrial approaches to the town, our backsides crying for mercy. We eventually arrived at about 8.30pm, after 105km, in failing light and too tired to do anything but go to bed.
But hurrah hurrah! Sundsvall is a beautiful city which we like very much. We strolled around it today in lovely sunshine, enjoying its fine late 19th century brick and stone city centre, built after a disastrous fire in 1888 in a style the tourist brochure described as "Neo-Rennaissance". Anyone who has seen Manchester will know the kind of thing. We’re resting here again tomorrow, though the weather seems to be turning again.
Sundsvall is important to us because it marks the halfway point through Sweden and is also where we leave the coast and start to head west as well as south, between the great central lakes towards Gothenburg. We expect to mark up our 2,000km on our first day back on the road – another key landmark.
Toodle pip!
PS no photos today because we can’t seem to get this Apple Mac to see our card.
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