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Week 21: Not Ready for This to End

Updated: Jun 15, 2023

Klitmøller to Copenhagen, 491km; total 9,500km

Denmark just keeps getting better.

From what we see to what we eat, where we sleep to the extraordinary warmth and joviality we encounter from the Danes we meet, this underappreciated Scandinavian nation - smaller than Nova Scotia - keeps stunning us with sublime highlights and novel experiences, even after five months exploring constant newness across Europe.

We set off eastward from Klitmøller this week on an invigorating tailwind (finally!) along the North Sea coast, en route to a family-record 136km day topped by an exhilarating ride with the tide tickling our tires for five rip-roaring kilometres on the packed-rsand beach before Løkken. Boisterous waves to our immediate left, as far out as we could see, gave a wildly idyllic backdrop as we breezed effortlessly side-by-side, giggling at the coolness of it all.

Two mornings later in Skagen, we rode a Sandormen (“sand worm”) bus towed by tractor out to the northernmost point of Denmark, where the North and Baltic Seas engage in an endless clash of waves crashing against each other. At the very tip of the land, a long, shallow spit lets you walk right into the middle of the battle, waters smashing from both sides as you dodge jellyfish swishing back and forth (Heron generously piggy-backed Sitka back to dry sand after this gauntlet of slimy stingy creatures was discovered).

Another two days after that, we got our first glimpse of a big Danish city in Aarhus, whose ultra-modern art museum with the rainbow-tube circular skywalk on the roof signals the country’s creative and innovative urban side. We spent hours exploring the brilliant open-air history museum Den Gamle By with replica streets from the 1860s, 1920s and 1970s. While Ed was sadly aware that some of the “ancient artefacts” were from his childhood (box TV sets with channel buttons, telephones with cords, and cassette tapes), we soaked in the stunningly thorough, highly interactive exhibits (“You can touch everything, Dad!!”) in each beautifully recreated building until our heads were spinning with history overload.

But then Copenhagen topped it all. For a few weeks, Sitka had been lamenting that Europe’s most bikeable city wasn’t on our bike-tour itinerary, so Joce helped him figure out a spontaneous detour with some clever train-hopping that landed us 36 hours in Denmark’s marvel-filled capital - which Sitka then diligently researched at every spare moment in order to intricately plot out each move and minute. It was an epic whirlwind in itself, and our little guy was overjoyed to play tour guide.

We started with an evening climb up the intimidating spiral tower at the Church of our Saviour to get an initial bird’s-eye view of the city - then lucked into a free organ concert inside the chapel. We dined at the famous street-food market in Broens Gadekoekken - each finding a different organic, vegetarian dish from around the world - before pedaling back to our downtown hostel through the throbbing heart of the city under its bright night lights.

Indeed what’s best about Copenhagen is its unbelievably well designed bike infrastructure that makes for the smoothest, safest city cycling we could ever dream of. Lanes are separated from cars and walkers, one-way on either side of the road, and they’re raised, too - leaving no doubt about who goes where, and no opportunity for confusion or collision. Intersections are bustling but seamless with clear pathways and distinct bike light signals for traffic that’s turning and going straight.

While Amsterdam bike travel is poetically chaotic, Copenhagen’s is fastidiously organized and intuitive - letting us glide carefree across town from the absorbing Viking Raid exhibit and witty Norse god theatre at the Nationalmuseet; to a picnic lunch in the King’s Garden; to the ruins (and a fascinating monster-themed mental-health exposition) beneath and story-filled royal reception rooms inside Christiansborg Palace; to the iconic Little Mermaid statue at the harbour; to the super-funky neighbourhood park at Superkilen; and back to the street-food market for a second go-around.

That may sound exhausting, but Sitka was still wide-eyed and ready to show us more of the dozens of GoogleMap pins he’d identified. Alas, since Heron is now determined to find an eventual study-abroad program to Copenhagen U, we felt okay agreeing to return for Part Two of the tour in the future.

The city had other plans, though. On our ride home, we were blocked by a huge crowd gathered on the bike path by the entrance to a bridge. There were spotlights and rafters on the bridge itself - but no one we asked knew what was happening.

Then a loud dance beat struck up, and a lone figure strutted onto and across the bridge wearing an oddly elaborate outfit.

“It’s Copenhagen Fashion Week!” Heron shouted with startling exuberance, having remembered reading about it somewhere but never imagining the information to be useful.

For twenty minutes a cast of strikingly diverse (in gender, ethnicity and size) young models catwalked out to the assembled aficionados in the rafters and back past us, their unemotive model faces unflinching and their abrupt 90-degree pivots exquisite. Heron and Sitka were mesmerized and impressed by the street-conscious fashion: basketball jerseys under tuxedo jackets, hoodies cinched up tight around the face and what could only be described as outside pyjamas. Then they were gone, and we pedaled on - just another evening out in Copenhagen.

In between our extraordinary findings this week, Denmark captured our hearts with its extraordinary people, who continue to replenish our hope for humanity. On our second day cycling from Klitmøller, Heron’s crankshaft exploded with a worrying crack. Fortunately, we were a few hundred metres from the shelter we’d planned to camp in for the night. Unfortunately, it was Saturday afternoon, and bike mechanics by-and-large love their Sundays off.

Among Ed’s frantic calls to cycle shops within a many-mile radius, he reached Mike, who used to run a bike shop but retired long ago. “Tell me what’s wrong and I’ll try to talk you through it,” Mike offered, as though he had all the time in the world for a complete stranger cold-calling at Saturday supper time. His diagnosis was not so positive, but he suggested several shops who could help (on Monday) and insisted that we call back if the problem were to worsen before then. “We’ll figure something out,” was his generous sign-off.

We did make it to Monday, and 150km farther to Hadsund, where Heron’s cranks were at the brink of crumbling as we pulled into Fri Bike Shop.

“Sorry, we’re booked for weeks,” said the shop manager.

“We have to get to Copenhagen tomorrow. Is there a train from here? Can we get our bikes on a bus?”

No dice.

The tall, lanky mechanic peeked over with a friendly glint in his eye.

“If you come back at 5:30, and you pay me a bit extra, I will have it done,” said Jeppe - who it turns out is also the shop’s co-owner with the greasy-black hands.

Working past closing time, Jeppe saved our day (actually our next several days) with a new krankboks and a heap of kindness. He never charged us the extra.

He did, however, find a second problem: a split back wheel rim that threatened to blow up at any time, but for which he didn’t have the part. It would probably last til Oslo, but in Aarhus we found Niklas at the Fri Bike Shop there, who also didn’t have time but made it anyway.

“If you take apart the wheel, I’ll change out the disc and cassette onto a new rim,” was the best he could offer. “Then you put the wheel back together.”

As Ed ran back to the bakery where his family and bike toolkit waited, Niklas snuck out and did the whole job himself. Then he adjusted the brakes for good measure.

“Can I pay a bit more as a tip for Niklas?” Ed asked the guy at the cash when he saw the bill was just for the parts. “He was so generous with his time.”

“I don’t think you should,” was the soft-spoken reply. “Niklas would just say no. We all would. We just really like working here.”

An hour before on the train to Aarhus, after holding the departure for the scurrying last-minute Canadian cyclists, the conductor told us we couldn’t buy tickets on the train. Should we pay online for the next train? Or at the station upon arrival?

“Don’t worry about it. You’re fine,” he replied with a reassuring smile.

And the list goes on.

The generosity extends beyond time and freebies, though. The Danes we’ve met have been eagerly interested in our trip and lavishly encouraging of the boys especially. The bike shop manager in Hadsund - perhaps buoyed by his compatriot Jonas Vingevaard winning the Tour de France this summer - was not the first to effusively suggest that Heron consider competing as a cyclist after logging all these miles. “You’re obviously very strong. You will be an Olympian, I know it.”

Above all, we feel at home here in Denmark. Sure, it’s the bike culture where cycling seems the rule and not the exceptions. And it’s also the wild camping - this week’s shelters were increasingly extraordinary, with showers and fully-equipped kitchens offered at the local community hub, welcome beers by the sliding doors on one kids’-fort-like structure, and a night in an exquisitely crafted wooden teepee. Each evening is a favourite part of our day as we track down another cozy, free mini-cabin and exchange hearty Hej’s with our night’s neighbours in nearby campervans and houseboats.

But it’s mostly the warmth and calm laid-back manner of everybody that sets us at ease unlike anywhere else we’ve travelled. We’ve scoured our memory and swear we haven’t encountered one grumpy Dane. We still don’t know what “No” is in Danish (we sure do in Spanish, German and every other language we’ve heard) because no one has told us we can’t bike somewhere, or can’t park our bikes somewhere, or can’t bring our bikes on a train to somewhere. We’re truly welcome. Part of the community.

It’s all fine in Denmark.

And so we don’t want it to end.

With one week left in our Europe Epic, we’re trying to not let the nostalgia set in just yet. On a delightful countryside ride to Frederickshaven we started reviewing all the previous Sundays and marvelling at all that we’ve fit in. It’s staggering how much vivid detail we recall - lunch stops, names of towns and people, clear descriptions of campsites - after so many hundreds of them over the past five months. These are the memories that will stick, and that will glue us together as a foursome traveling through the world and through life together.

But we ain’t done yet. And we’re kind of dreading that sensation of arriving back home and feeling that the whole thing was just a long, beautiful dream.

Thankfully, Sitka’s Copenhagen tour included a stop at a souvenir shop - he and Heron have amassed an impressive collection of small sculptures with the flags of each country. They’re planning an epic display case so they can re-live every sweet moment. Sitka has oodles of dessert recipes in his head from each country to replicate back home.

This extraordinary epic trip may end soon, but the epic trip that is our family just keeps getting better.


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