Ben: I woke this morning wondering why the campground was now hosting a Native American music concert. I mean having live music all last night was one thing, but to have another performance at 7:00 am seemed like a little too much.
Finally emerging from my semi-lucid state, Bree quieted me so that I could listen. We craned our ears as the not-so-distant bugle of an elk sounded through the woods, in spite of the fact that we were so close to one of Sweden’s larger towns. This region has an incredibly beautiful species of white elk, and my hopes to spot one have been high. Although I didn’t expect to see one there, the fact that we we heard their calls so close to our lonely campsite was amazing.
Bree: The elk bugles weren’t our only sign that the weather is already heading toward fall here. Some of the trees are already going yellow and shedding their leaves.
Our ride began on quiet bike paths as we steered our way through sleepy Karlstad. We didn’t have to ride on a real road all the way through town and we leisurely took it all in as we went.
Then, we headed out of the city attempting to avoid the E18, heading east toward Stockholm. Our plan worked especially well at first, the bike route taking us across empty farm roads where we road side by side chatting all the way.
Ben: The quiet roads along the E18 eventually ran out, and we were forced to make a decision: either we could ride along the busy freeway for a few kilometers and then head north for 20+ km, only to drop the same distance in order to cover 13 kilometers of eastward progress, or take the freeway directly into town. Both plans sounded completely awful, but those were our options. With quite a bit of trepidation we set out onto the on-ramp and straight into hell. The road had no shoulder, powerful rumble strips, and was only 1 lane. We were completely white-knuckled as we tried to ride the narrow 6 inch gravel strip between the end of the asphalt and the deep grooves cut into the road. Traffic was flying by at what felt like break-neck speed, and without a shoulder or even an additional lane for the cars to go around us we were getting really nervous.
Every chance we got we pulled off of the road to wait for a break in traffic. It was a futile attempt, because there were no breaks – just more larger and smaller clusters of deadly projectiles.
Bree: This was easily one of the most terrifying experiences I’ve ever had on a bicycle. With my hands wrenched around my handlebars, I bit my lip and tried not to burst into tears, knowing that I needed ever bit of my sensibilities in order to keep from getting killed. Even then, I wasn’t sure how long we would last before one of us got run down. Head down, I pedaled hard and as straight as possible, hoping also to avoid the long slope off the side of the road that would land me in a ditch.
Ben: After what seemed like both the longest and possibly the fastest 8 km of our lives, we desperately pulled off on a small farm road, which according to the GPS went nowhere. We had no plan, we just needed to get off of the deadly freeway. As we rode on, however, we began seeing heaven-sent signs with pictures of bicycles on them. The road kept going, right out of the GPS map, but the signs kept pointing us onward. We were free of the curse of the E18!
As it turns out, there is a safe, normal bicycle route from Karlstad clear through Kirstenham and beyond that we simply hadn’t known about. We cursed the E18 the rest of the way while giving our thanks to whichever farmer let his old farm roads be paved and signed as a designated bike route. We made it the entire rest of the way to Kirstenham without any more incident. We didn’t even whine during the gravel stretches.
Kirstenham was cute enough, though perhaps because it was Sunday it felt like a ghost town. After a longer-than-usual lunch we rerouted to our backup campground, well away from the E18, which led us through quiet country roads scattered with falling leaves, walled by dark green forests and the red and white farmhouses that have kept us company throughout our time in Sweden.
By the time we reached Degerfors, Bree was beginning to flag as we made our way up the river to the camping. When we reached it, however, we had a serious problem. We could see the camping at the mouth of the lake on a wide river. The problem was that the camping was on the OTHER side of the river.
This was an unfortunate blow for Bree, who was more than ready to call it a day. The GPS error meant we had an extra 8 km to go in the rain. This isn’t usually a big deal, but our day had drawn out to be much longer than usual and had been utterly exhausting.
About ready to give up hope of ever getting a shower and just pitch by the river, we slowly made our way back into town. The ride back to the bridge and up the other side, however, went quickly and yielded a few snacks (namely chocolate milk, yogurt, ice cream, and pastries. Another nutritional fail – I swear we are like teenagers lately with all our junk food).
Once on the right side of the lake, the campground was easily found and is quiet, clean, and has an excellent lakefront location with a lovely dock. After hearing the screams of the teenage boys who were shivering on the dock, daring each other to jump in, we decided against a mid-afternoon swim and headed for a hot shower instead. Tomorrow we rest.