The glory of gravel

Gravel wasn’t something that I went out of my way looking for in the past. The perfect road used to be smooth and winding tarmac but while living in England I gravitated more and more towards the adventure segment of motorcycling. When Christopher started riding, his interest was geared towards the smaller roads and exploring, rather than following the asphalt ribbon.

For Christopher, a motorbike trip is another possability to catpture great photos, this was Scotland 2016

We did some light trail riding (typically called greenlaning in local lingo) while in the British Isles and this lead onto getting equipped with a lighter bike, trading the Versys for the GS and then onto better tyres, putting on the Heidenau Scout. Lastly, better boots were purchased, and I now walk around like a squeaky robot in my Sidi Adventure 2 (but they are amazingly comfortable while riding, and have protected our ankles really well so far).

This summer Cool Cat, my blue GS, got a pair of Heidenau tyres as well, and crash bars too. Then I went out looking for gravel. In Sweden, unlike some other countries such as England or Spain, gravel roads are quite frequent in the countryside so enjoying riding them is a huge benefit. My native region, Värmland, has especially many gravel roads (and a strong tradition of rally driving too). As I mentioned in my previous post, the gravel road no. 673 in Värmskog (up to the bakery and beyond) is even a kulturminne, cultural landmark.

I ventured out on some stretches of the Swedish TET and, unlike the Prades mountains in Spain, where Christopher and I were riding TET earlier this summer, it was largely gravel roads, and some forest roads (we also call these tractor roads as they are made by and for forest machinery). In the Prades mountains we encountered mainly gravel or dirt trails, sometimes very gnarly due to rain earlier in the year and these trails require higher skills and greater precautions for us novices.

In Sweden, I both went out exploring for fun but also implemented gravel roads in my routes to go places.

This is just off the TET not far from Karlstad, a total surprise to find “the red gold” (lingonberries) when I stopped for a break.
On the TET a bit after the town of Kil going north
On the TET a bit after the town of Kil going north.
This forest road is also on the TET, in the vicinity of Hjo.
This forest road is also on the TET, in the vicinity of Hjo.

Lastly, I’d like to mention the gravel course I took with SMC (the Swedish Motorcyclists Central organisation) where I improved my braking and cornering a bit. But there is only so much I can learn in a day and, unfortunately, I couldn’t join more courses during my stay in Sweden. It is so worth the money and time spent, I hope I can join them again next year.

Hitting the trails

We’ve found a little paradise around the corner from where we live. A paradise full of trails and twisty mountains roads and where we can sample different local wines every night.

As camping was out of the question because of the heat wave, I was looking for a cheap place to stay central in the Prades mountains and I found this albergue, Lo Refugi. Normally they host hikers so they didn’t provide parking, but I was intrigued by their gastro-restaurant with vegetarian food and local wine so we decided to book anyway. It worked out splendidly, we rode our bikes all day and sampled different types of wine and ate great food at night.

The location was not far off section 10 of the TET, the Trans European Trail, and on our second (!) visit we decided to try it out. As we’re newbies on mountain trails, this involved a lot of walking to scout if we reckoned we could manage the ascents and decents, always bearing in mind that we could have to turn back if something proved too difficult for our limited skills. And, as it was during a heat wave, it was incredibly hot so we needed to bring lots of water – both for drinking and to cool ourselves down – soaking the Urbane Pro made the most out of the full ventilation and saved my sanity.

This video is a compilation of videos of us riding over two days and I like to think that, apart from some lovely scenery, it also shows that our skills slightly improved over time.

In September, when the risk of wildfire is over, we’ll return for more riding and wine sampling.

Girls just wanna have fun, or newbies on TET Sweden

“No way I’m going to sleep in a tent in the middle of the forest in pouring rain!” was my friend’s firm statement when we laid out the plans for our mini holiday in Sweden. Admittedly, the forecast was for rain and a lot of it at times, so I could agree that accommodation indoors could be a better option.

We had booked our first night at a sheep farm in Floby, and the rain came just after we had taken our luggage in so we were lucky! We were both pretty tired, my friend Ela had worked all week and I’d ridden down to Gothenburg to meet up with her after work to do a joint ride to the cabin. We had agreed that, as we were not actually going anywhere this holiday, we were going to focus on quality rather than quantity. We had chosen some lovely, tiny, twisty roads to get to our destination, where we curled up with a glass of wine and caught up on what had happened in our lives since we last met two years ago. Indoor accommodation proved to be an excellent idea, I have to give Ela that. What is better than a glass of crisp wine and a blanket being warm and cosy indoors, while listening to the rain?

Starting of in sunshine
Starting off in sunshine

The cabin was a refurbished henhouse complete with all facilities and we slept like logs. Some fresh eggs for breakfast made a great start to the day and the sun was out. Hmmm, so much for that weather forecast. Despite what had been predicted for the weekend, the weather would be in our favour almost throughout our trip – with emphasis on almost. One goal for these days was to try out the TET, Trans European Trail, which we would be able to access only 30 km away. I had tried a bit of it near Karlstad but that stretch was actually mainly tarmac with some gravel in between. Now we were hoping for a bit more trail-like roads – but not too much, of course, since I was on road tyres and my experience is limited to greenlaning in the UK and Ireland.

Time for a coffee stop
Time for a coffee stop

We had an amazing start to the day. I was wearing my rain trousers but that was mainly not to get all messy from the spray from the gravel road, it didn’t actually rain more than a couple of short sprinkles. We found some amazing places to stop and have coffee and the riding was under control more or less the whole time. Apart from when there was a scary downhill with rocks and sand and I freaked out and went too slow which made Ela fall over behind me as she didn’t get enough momentum to keep her balance. How dreadfully embarrassing for me, luckily there was no harm caused to neither woman nor bike and this taught us to keep a greater distance between us on the trails. Rocky and stony passages were very challenging with my tyres, as well as anything muddy or even wet grass. But, over all, I was super pleased with the riding and felt that I had improved a bit and that changing to dual purpose tyres for next season will be worth it because for sure I want to do more of this.

Having fun on the TET
Having fun on the TET

Fika was a priority for our mini holiday, or svemester, as we say in Sweden when we stay in the country for holiday (a clipping and merging of the words sverige and semester, the latter meaning holiday). Fika is the Swedish coffee break concept when we spend time chatting and enjoying a drink and something yummy to eat. We did plenty of this, we found some lovely spots by the various lakes we passed where we could have not only fika but also lunch and even pick some blueberries. The picking and eating of blueberries is an integral part of Swedish summer and few things are as tasty as fresh blueberries and yoghurt.

This spot will do for lunch
This spot will do for lunch

... and a nap too
… and a nap too

The last day, by fluke, we came upon a rockabilly restaurant in the countryside. Worth mentioning is that this culture has a strong following in Sweden, where there are lots of classic car and bike meets during summer and a lot of people go all out with 1950’s hairstyles and clothes, as well as the music. These features of the Swedish culture always come across as exotic to me after so many years abroad and I fully enjoyed the experience and the pulled Oumph! veggie burger was scrumptious. This was the last day, and after the meal I called Christopher to tell him how fantastically lucky we were with the weather, “it is like the clouds are parting for us” – yeah, right, after this it was more like we were rain goddesses and the rain clouds flocked around us, pretty much like for the lorry driver in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I learned that my rain trousers, which I had bragged about for their persistence in a forum thread just a week earlier, leaked after less than 5 minutes heavy rain. Now I need to start a thread asking for others advice for rain gear because that is simply unacceptable. And so annoying as I’ve only had them since February 2018. We had our last coffee break inside a petrol station before pushing on home to Ela’s flat outside Gothenburg.

Mandy's Diner
Mandy’s Diner

decoration in the loo
decoration in the loo

The rain continued overnight and became so heavy that I got stuck the following day. Dad sent one of his rare and always very brief messages, it read: “Don’t ride today”, and as he seldom asks for anything, when he does, I tend to oblige. Indeed, large parts of Sweden got hit with enormous amounts of rain that day, more than what is normal for a whole month. Some areas are still under water now, several days after. For me it was a minor inconvenience, I just waited one day and spent one more evening with Ela and the following day I could ride up in good weather and take some nice roads that I hadn’t ridden in a while too. I’m really pleased I could ride the famous twists in Tisselskogen between Håverud and Tösse – there is a section where you cross the same train track three times and you nearly meet yourself in the corners and as it is undulating too you get the same feeling as when you are in a rollercoaster.

Perfect timing for my lunch stop at the aqueduct in Håverud
Perfect timing for my lunch stop at the aqueduct in Håverud

Photo courtesy for photos 1,2,3 and 6, Ela Johansson