DENMARK 10th – 20th OF NOVEMBER 2016
We’d been invited to the wedding of two of my friends, Ditte and Søren, and wanted to celebrate with them before we left the country. To time this right and get to spend time with friends and family we would now detour north in a loop around the central part of Jutland. I had to be back on the bike on Thursday to make it to the wedding in Aarhus Saturday without taking more trains and feeling determined I jumped out of bed and left the last fever shivers behind. My enthusiasm was deflated just like my tyre as I tried my best to pump it harder before departure. For some reason the pump seemed to open the valve and was letting air out much faster than I managed to pump air into it. I can be very much like a five-year-old when it comes to fixing my bike, “I want to do it MYSELF and you don’t touch it, okay!”, but then on the other hand Chris is always somewhere in the background to help me and ease the situation.And this time too, my childlish stubbornness just didn’t make the air flow the right way so in the end I let Chris take over and do his magic. But I was determined to learn to pump my tyre myself.
The first snow had fallen and we cycled out of Haderslev viewing a magical pastel blue, pink and white landscape under blue skies and a low, sharp winter sun. It felt so good to be out of bed and on the adventure again. The cycle paths were not cleared which made the cycling a little challenging in that good way where the concentration and adrenalin rush, when almost slipping on the ice, makes you feel alive
To be appreciated mostly by the five-year old version of me, it was one of those days with punctures. First, I had my very first puncture with my touring bike, then Chris had his six-hundred-and-seventy-fourth. With his experience and my questions, fumbling fingers, disastrous attempts with the pump and tubes with the wrong valves, we made a great team dealing with it in good spirits and no time.
That night we camped at the only flat spot in the hills around Vejle. It was idyllic, next to a little stream that would lull us to sleep and our beds were a soft, colourful layer of fallen leaves. It was also cold, just below zero degrees, but sleeping in my red down jacket I was nicely warm. I still got that strange, nightly headache, but it couldn’t spoil my joy over being back on the trip.
The next day it was a long ride to get to Aarhus. We went mostly on cycle paths next to the main roads going up and down long hills of gentle gradients along the east coast of Jutland. The snow-covered landscape and sunny weather made it very pleasant and it all turned magical when the sun set and bathed everything in a deep warm orange tone that gradually turned over purple to blue. And then the moon rose and lit up the rest of the way to Aarhus for us. In Aarhus we were welcomed by my friends Andreas and Lina and their little daughter Freja.
Going to a wedding as cycle tourers was a fun experience, as we would have to transform ourselves. I have one pretty dress with me in my panniers and it would just do for a wedding. Chris has one shirt, and borrowed trousers, jacket, shoes, tie and belt from various people on our way. In the end, we looked very different and very decent but unfortunately, we forgot to have a picture taken to show you. How silly of us!
We cycled to the church in our bike uniform, changed in the bathroom, but Chris’s shoes were forgotten in Andreas’s car. Never mind, the focus was not on us anyway, but on the beautiful and very happy couple at the altar. After the ceremony, we changed back to biking uniform, and cycled 25 kilometres to the place where the party was held.
On our way to the wedding one conspicuous thing happened. On a small gravel road, a man jogging with a trailer pram thing passed us while he was singing out loud and smiling at us. He caught our attention by his singing and by the fact that he didn’t have a child in the trailer, but what looked like camping gear. A few minutes later a car came the same way, stopped us to ask if we’d seen the jogger and as we confirmed he continued following him. We asked each other what could be going on there, but we couldn’t come up with an answer. Not yet.
We finally arrived where the party was held, put up our tent, changed again and joined the party a few hours later than everybody else, just too late to taste the wedding cake. The rest of the night we were absorbed in general conversations with friends and strangers frequently interrupted by food being served, speeches and songs.
I think the wedding made two very different experiences for us. For Chris, it was both an introduction to Danish traditions (in Danish) and a lot of people. All was new. For me, it was a look back at the past and a step into the future. I found myself looking at my friends feeling calm, thinking that I could leave them all without worrying. They were happy, and would be fine until I got back. Our lives had changed since we were studying together, our shared past was over and we were each on our individual way into the future now as parents, married, teachers, therapists, settlers, musicians and me, the traveller. We would keep changing and moving in all directions following our own dreams, but I hoped that no matter how far apart we would still be able to find the way back to our friendship.
I’ve lived and studied in Aarhus for six years and therefore had a handful of friends to visit there and introduce Chris to. It took us briefly into various lives quite different from our own. Andreas and Lina had us staying two nights in their first, newly built house. Johanne and Magnus and their two young sons, Tobias and Laust, had me over for family time and dinner. It was that day when Tobias was learning to go to the loo and I found myself sitting next to him imitating how to do what you do on the loo for him to copy. Then we visited Esben living in his Mongolian yurt, which was a very inspiring moment for us where new dreams for the future began. Finally, my good friend Marie and her parents greeted us on their small farm outside Aarhus with warmth and dinner after a ridiculous ride in the dark and rain, that we only ended up in because we had been too lazy to set out earlier. It was a few hectic days of dropping in and out of many people’s lives. Lives that were all quite familiar, lives I could have lived, but so different from the lifestyle we had chosen for ourselves for now. It made me feel ready to get going and do our thing. I said many goodbyes, I was ready for the final ones that would set me free to leave Denmark behind and take on this trip for real.
So, we turned south again first heading towards my parents in my hometown Grindsted. We spent two grey, rainy days cycling through the nice scenery of Central Jutland with big (on a Danish scale) forests, hills, sand dunes and moors, following cycle routes on small, quiet roads and old railway tracks. It felt wonderful to be back in the forests, to smell it and walk in the soft, wet grass, gazing into another living world than ours, that of trees and plants. In the village Vrads in the heart of it all we were invited in for coffee in the small grocery shop that was run by the locals. There they were excited to hear about our trip, wished us well and hoped we’d come back for a cup of coffee in another three years. It was generally great cycling although the weather was not very Danish, meaning grey.
In Brande I handled my second puncture and this time Chris only assisted me with the pumping. I was proud of my progress.
On the last 20 kilometres before we reached Grindsted I surprisingly hit my inner wall. A headwind, the heavy cycling on the muddy, rough tracks, empty water bottles and the thought of being nearly there drained all energy from me. I’d cycled here many times before in summer and I had expected it to be easy. I realised that what should be easy may be hard exactly because of your inadequate expectations. And all there is to do is keep pedalling.
In Grindsted we easily fell into the rythm and ways of my parents life there, walking in the forest, sitting long over the breakfast and coffee with the newspaper and gathering for snacks and a glass of wine before dinner. It was a peaceful life there, but like me, they were keen on more action and now the kids had moved out, they were trying to sell the house to move on for new dreams. Therefore the garden needed some care, so I was helping my Dad carrying branches behind the house while Chris, who had asked for the biggest hammer my Dad owned, was fixing his bike, when suddenly a horrofying scream tore the still air of the little town and I froze in terror…
It was great to be back in Dea’s hometown and to stay with her parents again for a couple of days. The short break also gave me a chance to do some work on my bike. It really needed it, for my exceptionally worn crankset meant that it had become very close to impossible to ride. Somehow I’d made it to Grindsted, clunking along, but I knew I wasn’t going to be going any further without replacing the drivetrain, which had been skipping all the time since Canada. It wasn’t that I hadn’t wanted to replace it earlier, just that I couldn’t. I had all the right new parts, and all the right tools, but the problem was I couldn’t get the damn crankset off because the thread was all worn, and my crank-removal tool wouldn’t screw into it anymore. Since we’d left Copenhagen I’d been cycling without the crank bolt, hoping that the crank arm would come loose and just fall off, but no such luck. I remembered back to when the cranks had been last fitted, back in Quebec by Julien, my bike mechanic friend. I remembered him using his special tool to tighten them and tighten them. “They have to be very tight,” he’d said. “You don’t want them to fall off.”
Well, that’s what you get for listening to bike mechanics, I suppose. Now it was time to fall back on my own bike mechanic skills, developed by all the experience I’ve accrued over the years, and start to whack the thing as hard as I could with a hammer. It was the only way to get the stupid thing off. SMACK! SMACK! SMACK! I smacked that crankset as hard as I could. SMACK! SMACK! SMACK! It wasn’t budging. SMACK! SMACK! SMACK! Starting to get annoyed now. SMACK! SMACK! SMACK! Not even coming loose. SMACK! SMACK! SMACK! And then suddenly it came off. My old, and now very deformed crankset was finally free. “YAAAARRRGGGHHHH!!!” I let out a primeval roar of relief and manly joy that had Dea running from the end of the garden frantically crying out, “What’s happened! Are you okay!”
But a new crankset wasn’t the only thing I fitted to my bike in Grindsted. Ever since I had bumped into a guy cycling across Canada with a front basket I’d wanted one of my own. It was such a genius idea that I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it myself, what with me having had so much thinking time while sitting on a bicycle over the years. He had everything he needed to hand, right there in front of him. I wanted one of my own, and what better place to buy it than in Denmark, where so many people go about on bicycles (including old grannies with baskets). Sure enough, there was a basket for sale in the bike shop and I bought it. My, oh my, how I fell in love with this basket. There was so much space in there. I decided I’d fill it up with fruit, so that I’d remember to eat my five a day, and then on top of the fruit I’d put biscuits and chocolate and chocolate milk, because, you know, they’re more exciting. Then there’d still be room for a water bottle, and it would be ideal for keeping maps in front of me too, maybe my camera. Not to mention giving an exciting new view of the world to the cuddly crew, of course.
We had two nice evenings with my parents, talking about our lives and theirs, differences in English and Danish Christmas traditions, taking the first step into a dream about them travelling to Africa to meet us there, and last but not least playing a great game. Each person had a sticker on their forehead with a name of a famous person on it written by another player. In turns we would ask questions trying to find out who we were. The epic twist of this particular game was that my mum and I by chance both had “Elvis” stuck on our forehead written independently by my dad and Chris. Seeing this name on each other neither of us thought that the same name could be written on us. So I lost, and it wasn’t bad at all.
At my parents I also got hold of a new old red jacket. It was from the time I worked as a mailman and they had kept in the cupboard as it was too good to give up, but too red and obviously too much a mailman jacket to actually wear when not being a mailman. But with great reflective stripes and a reflective post logo on the back it was just perfect for cycling. I would be the world cycling mailman, so just let me know if you need some mail delivered in Croatia, Kazakhstan or Kenya!
Saying goodbye to my parents broke a piece of my heart as I knew it also broke a piece of theirs. They respected and supported me fully in going on the trip and I never heard any complaints or pleading for me to stay home, but we all knew the hole of absence we would bear inside from now on. They were proud of me, and I was proud of them for letting me go. Rain and tears mixed on my cheeks as Chris and I cycled out of Grindsted.
We were now on our way back to Haderslev once again. The rain kept coming and going throughout the day and we really appreciated the opportunity to sleep in a dry, wooden shelter on one of Denmark’s many free campsites in the little village Ørsted.
Haderslev was our last stop in Denmark. This time Sara and her partner, Flemming, had prepared a Christmas weekend so we wouldn’t miss completely out on the Danish Christmas traditions. Sara and I went to a Christmas market and bought a very cool black, rubber Christmas tree, we listened to Danish Christmas music and they served us a delicious, traditional Danish Christmas dinner. We also made ‘æbleskiver’ (according to my Dad this translate to ‘apple-screws’, but it´s not supposed to make any other sense than some auditive similarity). ‘Æbleskiver’ is a round waffle ball that used to have a slice of apple in it, but nowadays when bought frozen in the supermarket the only ‘apple’ you find is in their name. My sister’s had apples in them and tasted truly homemade, and Chris added to the Danish tradition insisting to eat ice cream with them.
It was a lovely weekend and I was very grateful that my sister made the effort to give us these experiences and memories before we left. We knew we had a good place to return to one day.
Haderslev – Århus – Grindsted – Haderslev
404 kilometres cycled together
Click below for more photos in the Flickr album #2: Transformations and goodbyes