In the summer of 2008, Carl Cartlidge decided to ride from Europe to Istanbul… the long way.
His route took him from Oslo to the North Cape – Europe’s most northerly point, inside the Arctic Circle – before he turned around and started heading south to Istanbul.
Carl found Scandinavia one of the most rewarding parts of his journey and, in this week’s 10 questions, he tells us about the terrain, highlights and challenges he faced while riding through Norway, Sweden and Finland.
In addition to the 10 Questions answered here, you can read about Carl’s adventure in his journal: Oslo to Istanbul via the Arctic.
1. What attracted you to this route? There are quicker ways to get from northern Europe to Istanbul!
Yeah, I suppose it wasn’t the most direct route. The original plan was to go as the crow flies, so to speak. But I had always wanted to visit Scandinavia and I’d been thinking of doing a tour there sometime after returning from Istanbul. As the departure date loomed ever closer, the logical part of me eventually thought well why not combine both. And so I did.
2. What were the highlights?
Scandinavia is very easy on the eye. But none more so than when I reached the coastal roads of Norway, cycling alongside the picture perfect fjords and snow covered mountains…well, I couldn’t help but smile. Another personal highlight was crossing into the Arctic Circle, even if the weather was miserable.
3. What was the hardest part of touring in Scandinavia?
For me personally, the first couple of weeks were the hardest. This was due to my lack of fitness at the time. Pedalling a fully loaded bike in one of Europe’s most mountainous countries was quiet hard work. Aside from that, planning how much food/water to carry with me at anyone time was often quite challenging, there are some long stretches between towns with very little offered in between. It was always best to carry too much than too little.
3. Scandinavia has a reputation for being expensive. How much ‘sticker shock’ did you experience and what do bike tourists need to budget?
Yes it’s true. Scandinavia was the most expensive part of my trip. But that’s not to say it can’t be done relatively cheaply. You just have to be frugal in your indulgences. Alcohol was very expensive and so I rarely bought any. Restaurants were also expensive, again I never used any. If you’re on a limited budget, then camping and cooking your own food is the only way to do it. To bring costs down even further you can take advantage of Scandinavia’s Allemansrätten (Every Mans Right) law. This guarantees everyone the right to stay or camp on any uncultivated land for one or two nights. Using this, you can then tour just as cheaply as anywhere else in Europe.
4. How did you cope with the lonely stretches between towns?
Aside from planning properly with regards to provisions, I’m fortunate enough to enjoy my own company. And I loved the feeling of remoteness; I loved getting away from all of the hustle and bustle of city life. Swedish Lapland was particularly remote; I passed 4 towns of note in 300 miles.
5. What was the terrain like?
At times it felt like I was on a rollercoaster, what with constantly climbing and descending. There were often tunnels that would pass through a mountain, but they were sometimes unsuitable for cyclists, forcing me to instead, take the high road up and over the mountain. Finland was nice and flat though.
6. Were you able to get any sleep, given the long summer days?
Not as much as I would have liked. My body clock was all over the place and separating night from day wasn’t easy from the confines of a tent. I craved darkness at times. The long days had its advantages too, it meant I was never in a rush; I could have cycled all ‘night’ if I had wanted to.
7. How was the weather? From your journal, it seems you ran into a fair bit of rain and cold weather.
The weather was very changeable. One minute I was basking under a blue sky and the next I would be putting my waterproofs and winter gear on. Riding in cold rain can be quite depressing over time. I guess touring can’t always be about blue skies and tailwinds.
8. Did you do much wild camping and were wild camping places easy to find?
I would love to say yes, but throughout my time in Scandinavia I think I wild camped 3 times. Campsites seemed to miraculously appear just as I’d start to tire for the day and the temptation of a hot shower was hard to resist. Scandinavia does have a fantastic attitude to wild camping though with the Every Man’s Right law. So I would definitely take advantage of that next time. Finding open spaces was not a hard thing to do, so with a bit of imagination wild camping would be quite easy to achieve.
9. Could you get supplies every day or should cyclists come prepared to carry 2-3 days of supplies in some areas?
The further north I went the more sparse things became and therefore I would definitely advise people to carry at least two days worth of supplies minimum, just in case.
10. What should everyone take with them on a bike trip to Scandinavia?
I’d advise two things. A good set of lights are essential for some of the tunnels encountered and some even better mosquito repellent. They were a nightmare.
Thanks to Carl Cartlidge for answering 10 Questions and providing the photos.
Need more information? Check out these helpful resources for cycling in Scandinavia:
- Cycle Tourer – Good information for Sweden and a helpful list of Norwegian road tunnels and their status for cyclists.
- Brian & Karen – Australian cyclists with two journals about bike touring in Norway
- Janet & Jerry – Cycling journals for Norway and Sweden