We wake up to a merciful bout of cloud cover and hit the road. Right out of the gate, the rollers hit us hard, up and down, up and down. Ever unphased, Ben is plowing right over them while I make a meager attempt to grind over every one only to coast down the other side in 30 seconds and start all over.
I’m agitated at how slow I’m going, but before I can sink too deep into a mental rut, Ben announces that we’re turning off the main highway. We do so, and hit a gravel road which goes on he estimates, for about seven kilometers.
I had been a little perplexed why we’ve seen so many bike tourists and even locals on full mountain bikes lately, but Sweden seems to be the answer. Main highways are always paved, but pretty much nothing else is. In three days we’ve already ridden more dirt track than we tackled in all of Eastern Europe combined.
Despite the slow going of the poor road surface, the scenery is excellent. Since our border crossing out of Norway, the houses have subtly changed. The siding on the houses frequently runs vertically instead of horizontal, the paint almost universally a deep, velvety red. Other homes are made of brick (some of the first that we have seen in Europe). Light blue doors are hung on nearly every house. It is all almost too adorable to be real. I feel almost like I’m riding through an old fashioned movie: the cute houses, their stretches of blue green fields, and the endless forests and lakes that link it all together.
Up and down, up and down, the whole day goes. Red houses, lakes, trees, up and down, up and down, red houses, lakes, trees, up, down, up, down. We don’t pass a single town, only clumps of houses and farms and we never see a single grocery store. Scandiavian bike touring is impossibly remote and though Sweden lacks the intensity of Norway without so many high mountains and cold temperatures, we’re largely on our own, stopping for any opportunity to shop, knowing it might not come again for a long while.
Fatigue really sets in toward the end of our ride. I am glad when signs for Karlstad finally start showing up. Suddenly, our first stores of the day appear, and they do not disappoint. The shopping center has not one but two Costco sized grocery stores (and another ten or so giant boxes selling a variety of other things.) We purchase another embarrassing round of junk food and then head toward camp.
Then, the trouble begins. The guy at reception at the campsite asks us if we have a camping card, which we don’t. Usually, we just show a passport or driver’s license instead, but he shakes his head. To stay at this campground, he informs us, you must have a Swedish camping card.
We weigh our options on buying the card which is good for a year, but we’ll only be in Sweden for four or five more days and the math just doesn’t make any sense. Unsure of what we should do, Ben finally asks if we can just pay to use the wifi for the afternoon. For the fee, equivalent of a couple of dollars, he hands us a wifi password and a key card to the common room and kitchen where we can sit and plug in our devices.
We work away the afternoon on the impossibly slow wifi while we think about our options. If we weren’t going to buy the card, we could either ride a while more to the other nearby campground or we could avoid anymore riding and find a quiet spot in the nearby woods. (Sweden has the same cool camping rules as Norway).
I am feeling particularly under the weather, and absolutely none of the options sound good to me. I am exhausted and just want to get out my sleeping bag and lie down as soon as possible. Ben offers to go on a quick exploratory ride to see if there is a quiet place in the woods to spend the night nearby. He returns fifteen minutes later, convinced that we have plenty of wild camping options within a couple of minutes.
We refill our water supply in the kitchen and with full batteries, we are ready to spend another night wild camping. Five minutes later, we roll down an overgrown dirt track deep in the forest and toss down our tent, trees sprawling in every direction.
This forest floor isn’t exactly as tame as the campground grass. Ants roaming from a giant anthill nearby make every twig and leaf appear to dance, and we scramble around as we set up, swatting the bugs off our legs. (Ben’s note: If you stand still and listen, you can actually hear the ants marching in line to and from their hill – hundreds of thousands of tiny footsteps all compounding into a faint rumble.)
After camp is set up we immediately dive into the tent in order dodge the mosquitoes who have come out in full force only to fall asleep just as the campground restaurant got going with its live music. We hadn’t even gone far enough away to afford ourselves a quiet night.