We caught up with our friend Ben, the French guy we met in southern Sweden, in the town of Bodo where we took the ferry over to the Lofoten Islands. We were excited to ride with him again, especially on the islands and up to Nordkapp, since he was the one who initially gave us the idea to visit those places.
Ben and Mike at camp on the Lofoten Islands.

We have spent the last week cycling the Lofoten and Vesteralen Islands, a chain of tiny islands located off of the northwest coast of Norway. They have turned out to be very popular vacation spots for folks in motor homes as well as bike tourists with the number of fully loaded cyclists rivaling the numbers we saw in Austria. But it's easy to understand why; the scenery here is absolutely stunning. From the sea that sometimes looks a deep, pure black yet in some places shines vibrant turquoise against the white sand beaches that makes us believe we're in a very cold tropical paradise, comes jagged mountains covered in hearty emerald green shrubs and towering sheer granite cliffs. There are places near the centers of the islands where the mountains are only silhouettes on the horizon against the flat, brown, desolate terrain. The many different landscapes remind us of some of the most impressive places we've seen around the globe. It's as if the Andes near Machu Picchu, the fjords of New Zealand, the granite cliffs of the Sierra Nevadas, the African Savannah and the Carretera Austral in Patagonia have all been combined to form one single, spectacular place.
 It's hard to beat this camp site!

White sand beaches.

The islands are dotted with little villages, most of them offering nothing in terms of services, and consist of only a few small houses and sheds with faded and peeling paint, exposing the gray, weathered wood beneath. The harbors are filled with colorful fishing boats that create beautifully dramatic reflections on calm evenings and along the shores are racks and racks of drying fish, whose stench I don't think I need to describe, combined with the pungent smell of salt water and washed up, decaying sea life. It's not the most pleasant of scents, but it's what one should expect from fishing villages.
Reine, Norway 

Reflections on the harbor.

Drying fish.

We have not been granted the greatest weather, though it hasn't been all that horrible either. We had one day of sun where, judging by the locals who were on the beaches in shorts and tank tops and sunbathing on their decks, you'd think it was 80-degrees outside. Though it was warm enough to cycle in shorts and a t-shirt, it was cold enough that we were all had rosy cheeks and runny noses and had to put on pants and a jacket every time we stopped riding. I have a feeling that a 60-degree day would be considered hot to the people who live here year-round. The rest of our days have been cold with low clouds that dull the colors of the islands and gives them a mystical feel and a damp fog that chills you to the bone like you find in San Francisco. We're all hoping for a blue bird day but I think they're few and far between up here.
Even the cloudy days are beautiful.

It might seem strange to go bike touring on islands, but long bridges, tunnels and ferries makes it quite easy to do so. The ferries typically run a few times a day so either Ben texts his girlfriend back at home to find out the schedule or we simply show up at the dock and wait for the next one. We have learned that Norwegians absolutely love tunnels, or at least they love to build them. We pass through several every day and though we originally thought it silly that we bought a package of batteries for our headlamps just before we arrived to Scandinavia where it's always daylight, they have proven to be necessary as some of the tunnels are 1-2 miles long. They are dark and cold, the air is dusty and it sounds like a freight train coming at us every time a vehicle approaches. Needless to say, they can be a little creepy, especially on a bike, but we just put on our fluorescent, reflective vests and blinking lights and go for it. There have been many times we've been thankful for the tunnels; they sure make cycling a lot easier when, rather than going up and over a mountain, instead we get to right right through.
Ben and Mike ready for one of many tunnels, this one being our first under-ocean tunnel.



We arrived to Norway a few days ago and were welcomed into the country with freezing cold wind and rain, but at least there were no gnats. Thankfully the bad weather only lasted for a day and we've been fortunate to enjoy several days of clear blue, though chilly, skies.

As expected, there are many similarities between Norway and Sweden. Once again, everyone we've met speaks perfect English, which makes communication pleasantly easy. We've discovered that “Every Man's Right” is a law found throughout Scandinavia, so just as in Sweden, we will enjoy our freedom to camp anywhere without being hassled. Much to Mike's delight, Norway has just as an extensive gummy selection at every supermarket as we found in Sweden. However, our decision to purchase them came to an abrupt end after our first grocery shopping experience. When we were in Portugal and Spain, everyone we met warned us that France was going to break our bank. When we arrived in France we were pleased at our ability to stay within our budget quite easily but were then warned that the prices in Switzerland were outrageous. Once again, we cruised through Switzerland and though we noticed a difference, were satisfied when we were again able to keep our daily costs down. When we were in Germany and told people we were heading up to Sweden, their eyes got big and they replied, “Oh, it's REALLY expensive there.” Thinking it couldn't be much worse than Switzerland we were surprised that it actually could be worse, yet somehow managed to stay right at the upper end of our budget.

Well, we've finally found the country that will, just as we were told, send us into bankruptcy. Our desire to spend the next month cycling the length of Norway might be wishful thinking now that we've learned that 2 gummy worms cost about $1, a can of beans runs about $5, and a dozen eggs, a loaf of bread or a pack of the cheapest “meat” (a.k.a. 6 hotdogs) will set you back $10. Everything, not only food, is ridiculously expensive and we're finding it nearly impossible to live within the budget we've maintained for over a year of travel, wondering if we'll have to resort to eating solely plain white rice and muesli.

I'm not sure how people can afford to travel here but Norway is swarming with tourists in camper vans, cruising around at over $10 per gallon! Prior to arriving in Scandinavia we always believed RV'ing was an American passtime but we've concluded that Norway takes the gold medal by a long shot. We see more RVs in a single day in Norway than we saw on our entire ride across the U.S. I'm not sure if it's because there really are that many more campers here or if it only seems that way as there are so few road options, forcing everyone onto the same route.

Aside from the busy roads and the fact that we go through buyer's remorse for splurging on a can of beer, Norway has been amazing. This is a crazy section of the world, a long and narrow country of rivers, lakes, jagged mountainous coastlines, fjords and islands. The rivers are no longer the dark brown color of root beer that they were in Sweden, but rather a clear, icy blue through which we can see perfectly the multicolored rocks on the bottom of the river some 15 feet below. There are waterfalls everywhere, shimmering in the endless sunlight like enormous ribbons of tinsel hanging from the mountain sides, as the last remaining evidence of the harsh winters of the North melt away. In a few short weeks all of the snow patches will be gone, the waterfalls will cease and the bright magenta fireweed that grows along the roadways will indicate that Summer's end is near and the cold is about to return.

We have just passed the Arctic Circle, a place where neither of us ever imagined we'd be cycling. Located above treeline along Highway E6, the landscape was very moon-like; rocky and barren. There was a small gift shop, a cafe, several small monuments and hundreds of cairns erected all along the infamous latitudinal line. We enjoyed a brisk, but blue-skied lunch, pulled out our maps to figure out where we'd be able to find supermarkets between there and Bodo, where we'd be catching a ferry to the Lofoten Islands and then continued to ride North.

At the Arctic Circle.

Our second day in Norway was a sad day for me. My trusty water bottle with the “King of the Mountain” jersey design from the Tour de France (red polka-dots) that has been traveling with me from the start, saw its last ride. It had been sick for a long time with cracks all along its side, leaking water and forcing me to squeeze gingerly so as not to completely split it open every time I took a drink. There are very few (as in no) bike shops up here so we couldn't just go and buy a new one, but as luck would have it, suddenly a bright pink water bottle appeared on the side of the road. I know, you all think it's disgusting to pick something up off the side of the road and use it but we do it all the time and it hasn't killed us yet. A little scrub followed by a boiling water rinse and I was good to go. So meet my new piece of gear, Emily, as the faded blue marker on her side indicates. Long may she ride.
Good-bye old bottle. 

 Hello new bottle.



Our 3 weeks of cycling the length of Sweden has been, aside from the gnats, superb. The camping has been some of the best we've had on this trip, partly because we're allowed to camp anywhere and partly because there are endless established sites with fire pits, picnic tables and beautiful views of the rivers and lakes. It is not necessarily a country with breathtaking vistas but instead is a place of serenity, a calming natural landscape whose deafening stillness makes you feel relaxed and at peace. The riding has not been difficult, only pleasantly challenging but we've begun to see some snow speckled mountains on the horizon and I think Norway is going to be a different story.

There are several things that we've found to be prevalent throughout Sweden and someday when we think back to our time here, in addition to the gnats, mosquitoes and abundant forests, these are the things we'll remember. The Swedes love red, or else it's just the cheapest color of house and vehicle paint available. Nearly every house is dark red and the majority of the cars that pass us on the roads are red as well. Sweden is the land of Volvo's. They are by far the most common make of vehicle throughout this country and a huge percentage of them are, of course, red. We've also seen an abundance of classic American cars, far more than we've seen in any country we've cycled through thus far, quite possibly even more than in the U.S. Me, I don't know a thing about cars and when I'm on my bike view them as nothing more than a speedy distraction to my slow-moving and peaceful world. Mike, on the other hand, enjoys old cars and has one back home, so it's kind of a treat for him to be in a place with so many muscle cars to tell me about and admire. And last but not least, Sweden appears to have an unbelievable love for gummy candies. There is an extensive display and vibrant selection of nearly every gummy candy you can imagine in every single supermarket. It's Mike's dream come true as he loves to snack on them throughout the day and a resupply location is never more than a day away.

Today was our final day in Sweden and one of my favorite things about riding here has been the endless daylight. Even though the summer solstice has come and gone and therefore the hours of daylight in the northern hemisphere are decreasing daily, our days have continued to lengthen as we're moving north faster than the point on the globe that receives 24 hours of sunlight. Though we'll be riding north for a while longer in Norway, I don't think we'll ever actually reach the point where the sun never drops below the horizon, which would be a pretty cool thing to see.

Many people have asked us if the endless light has messed up our schedule or made it difficult to sleep and the answer is no, not really. It's a little more difficult to get to bed early since the sun is still high in the sky at 9PM and we usually find ourselves putting off dinner until close to 10, but once we get to bed, falling asleep is not an issue at all. It's like taking a nap in the middle of the afternoon. If you're tired, you can sleep. The strangest part, however, is when you wake up in the middle of the night, look at the watch and find that it's as bright outside as an overcast afternoon but it's only 1AM or that the sun is rising giving you the sense that it's time to wake up yet it's only 3AM. It can be a bit confusing during those groggy hours when you're half asleep and half awake but all in all I'm a huge fan of these long, long days.

Yesterday was another big milestone for us. We hit the 12,450.8 mile mark. That number probably doesn't have any significance to most people, but it turns out to be half the circumference of our planet. Suddenly Earth doesn't seem so big...



Waiting a few extra days for our water filter has turned out to be a wise choice. Once we got a couple of days north of Gisela's house, the population drastically decreased. No longer are we passing through several towns a day nor are there frequent houses for us to get water as the land has transitioned from agriculture and livestock to largely uninhabited forests in varying stages of growth and destruction for the logging industry, rivers and lakes. Though we've been told on several occasions that all of the lake and river water is safe to drink, we remain a bit skeptical as it's the color of root beer, a light brown where it cascades over the rocks and a deep black anywhere it is more than a couple of feet deep. It's likely just a harmless algae but we feel much better drinking it after it's gone through our filter and we've learned to plan our water stops more than we used to if we want clear water. Though there's rarely restaurants to stop at, our map shows every town with a church and in Sweden, if there's a church there's always a cemetery surrounding it. I've never seen such well manicured cemeteries with fresh flowers on every site, but the good thing for us is that it means there are water spigots as well. They're easy to spot as there are racks of water cans and gardening tools alongside the water, so as of late the majority of our drinking water has come from cemeteries. We figure we'll get to drink enough river water in the weeks to come.
Root Beer River

With the decrease in number of people came an insane increase in the number of gnats. We expected the mosquitoes to be horrible but the gnats have far outdone them and proven to be pure torture, far worse than even the worst tabano incidents in South America, which we thought could never be topped. Our first night in no-man's land taught us just how bad it can be out here. We got to camp, set up our tent and by the time we were ready to make dinner it was virtually impossible to remain outside. We were fully covered in shoes, jeans, rain jackets and hats yet were were being eaten alive. I would have killed to have a bee keeper's suit and a pair of chemistry goggles. We decided to cook dinner inside the tent but with us entered several hundred gnats. It wasn't a very relaxing meal as we had to deal with the biting gnats while trying to cook and eat. By the end of dinner we each had dozens of bites but at least the tent was void of them. We let our food settle for a minute and then realized we had a bit of a problem. The sky outside was gray and swarming with millions of insects but we still had stuff to do out of the tent, like washing the dishes, brushing our teeth, going to the bathroom and putting the rain fly on the tent. It was like we were prisoners in our little mesh bubble, stuck inside a snow globe, only we had flesh biting gnats rather than beautiful white snowflakes swirling around us.
A tiny corner of our tent.

We didn't have much of a choice, we had to get out. It was a 2-man project to exit the tent as fast as possible. One of us had to unzip the door as the other literally dove through the opening and rolled on the ground outside while the first person proceeded to zip the door shut as the second person's feet were leaving the tent. Try doing chores, or better yet going to the bathroom, when you can't stop moving in the spastic movements of a child throwing a tantrum, legs running in place, arms flailing and head shaking side to side, for even an instant without feeling the prick of a bite somewhere on your body. It's impossible. They were so thick that when we slapped at one that had landed on our faces, our hand ended up covered in dozens of tiny black corpses.

As soon as our chores were completed we dove back into the tent only to find that it, too, was swarming with the ruthless devils. Several hours later we had a clean tent and were able to go to sleep, but shortly thereafter I awoke with a dilemma, either lay awake all night having to pee or go out into the torture chamber. In the dusk of midnight it appeared as though they had calmed down a bit so I chose the latter but it turned out to be a big mistake. In the 20 seconds I was outside I got at least a hundred bites and let another 100 gnats into the tent with me. I spent the next hour scratching at my skin uncontrollably like a drug addict coming down from a high while Mike played gnat killer in hopes we might get a few more hours of sleep that night.

It was an unbelievably miserable night and now I understand how Sweden can have the “Every Man's Right” and not worry too much about their land getting trashed. What's the fun of camping when you're confined to a tent? I now look like I have Chicken Pox and we've found ourselves wishing for two things cyclists never want, wind and rain, but we learned a very valuable lesson. The next day we bought a little orange bucket with cute fish on it and made a rule: You get one entrance into the tent every night so once you're in, you're in for good. You can either severely dehydrate yourself every night, lay awake and uncomfortable having to go to the bathroom until morning or swallow your pride and use the bucket.
Mike with our bucket (before it was used).

Close up views of our nicely decorated bucket.



Our past week has been quite lazy. Upon our arrival in Sweden we had only one planned stop in a tiny town near Rejmyre to meet up with Gisela, a woman we met more than 3 months ago in southern Portugal at the very beginning of our European bike tour. For anyone who's been following the blog since then, she was the woman who was living in her camper van and was so kind to us when we set up our tent amongst the camper community she was a part of. We had remained in contact since we left Portugal and thought it would be fun to meet up again while she was parked at her friend Matts' house for several weeks in southern Sweden this summer.

The night before we arrived to Gisela's we met Ben, a French guy on a solo 2 ½ month bike tour who was camping at the same roadside rest stop as we were. Ecstatic to meet some other cyclists and more-or-less heading in the same direction as we were, we invited him to join us the next day for the ride into Rejmyre knowing Gisela wouldn't mind if one more traveler showed up needing a place to sleep for a night.

It was great having Ben along with us, much better than our ride with the last French guy we met in Austria who didn't speak any English, wasn't much of a cyclist and nearly wanted to kill me by the end of the day because I apparently made him ride to fast and too far. Ben on the other hand, spoke perfect English, was a strong rider and provided an additional element to our conversations which was nice. When pretty much the only people Mike and I have spoken to over the past year are each other, conversations can get a little dull at times.
Mike, Ben & Cari

Ben & Mike

Getting to Gisela's friend's house was a little tricky as there are no names for the country roads in Sweden. The only way you know whether or not you're on the correct road is by the signs directing you to the next tiny village up the road. If you don't have an extremely detailed map you'll never find your way through Sweden on anything other than main highways. The pace we were searching for was called Kallstugan, a one-house town out in the forest and our directions were as such, “There is no sign for your turn off the main road but if you get to an old factory you've gone 100 meters too far. Once you get onto the gravel road keep taking all of the left hand turn options and then look for the black garbage can at the end of the driveway and listen for the 4 dogs who never stop barking.” Well, we never found the old factory and didn't want to get ourselves too lost wandering the logging roads of Sweden so we asked people to point us in the right direction once we got to Rejmyre. Once on the correct gravel road, the garbage can was a good indicator of which little side road to take and we were greeted at the gate by 4 barking German Shepherds, a dead giveaway that we had arrived at the right house.

It was a bit crazy to see Gisela again; typically when we meet someone on the road we never expect to see them again. You spend an hour or two, maybe a day or two together and then paths diverge and the chances of them crossing again is fairly minimal. Once again, just as in Portugal, we were treated with Gisela's kindness and generosity. Not only did we get to take hot showers, do our laundry and sleep in a bed, which are such rare luxuries to us, we also had an open invitation to relax and hang out for as long as we needed.
Our cozy little bungalow.

Ben ended up staying 2 nights before he had to take off to make it to Stockholm where he was meeting his girlfriend for a few days. There's a good chance we'll run into Ben again as we're all heading north towards the same destination, the Lofoten Islands. It will be great to have another person with us for a while. We stayed 5 nights at Gisela's which was considerably longer than we'd originally planned to stay but we had had Mike's mom mail our water filter to this house since we'll soon be in no-man's land, drinking from the lakes and rivers and of course it was late in arriving. It wasn't such a horrible thing to have to wait for a package as this was our first long break from cycling since Spain and it felt nice to relax and sleep as much as we pleased knowing that we had absolutely nothing that had to be done each day. We lazed around all day, read a little, played with the dogs, made phone calls and took advantage of having a kitchen for a few days. Not only was it nice to cook for ourselves but we had an appreciative crowd which always makes it that much more fun.
Pila, one of the 4 German Shepherds.

 Gisela, Matts, Ben & Mike

Homemade Strawberry Shortcake

Thanks again, Gisela, for your welcoming arms and caring heart and who knows, maybe our paths will one day cross again.