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- Week 22: Packing it in Before Packing it up
Copenhagen to Oslo, 510km; final total (read on to find out!) It’s nice to cruise to the finish line. We usually punctuate our annual bike-touring summers with a week lake-lounging at Joce’s family cottage in Ontario. After our Oceania Odyssey ride across New Zealand, we booked a snorkelling stopover in French Polynesia. But this time, we had even mightier motivation to ramp up our energy and ambition as our Europe Epic wound to its destination. First, we still had two completely new, humongous countries to explore. None of us had ever been to Sweden or Norway - legendary lands in our minds as individuals and as a family. Beacons of progressive politics, gender equity and ecological innovation. Utopias of vast northern wilderness and a culture of protecting and enjoying it up close. The coolest accents on the planet. Second, we had a goal. Ten thousand kilometres. From the first time we plotted the points on a GoogleMap and estimated the cycling distance from Portugal to Greece to Norway, we’ve been fascinated by this lovely round milestone. At each thousand-K mark, we stopped and celebrated with hugs and candy. As the final few weeks loomed, we re-calculated our route daily (some days hourly) to ensure we wouldn’t roll into Oslo at 9,950. “Couldn’t we just round up?” Ed ventured one day, legs weary from another headwind. You know in a horror movie when infected humans morph into feral beasts and are gorging on some poor minor character, then are disrupted from their gory meal and turn suddenly to face the camera, fangs dripping with flesh - yeah, that rabid, back-of-throat growl that requires a change of underwear? Okay, so maybe that wasn’t the exact reaction to Ed’s suggestion. But general consensus has been 10,000 or bust for this intrepid foursome - even with Joce’s still-recovering torn knee ligament, panniers held together with zip-ties and duct tape, bike clothes beyond the capacity of industrial-strength washing machines, and rapidly dwindling appetite for more chickpea salad and hummus sandwiches. Most importantly, however, we wanted to soak in every last second of our time together on an adventure we’d been anticipating and planning for years. Our tour to date had been so very rich with living fully in the moment - with the joy of parenting two fascinating boys, and discovering new places and experiences - that we yearned to pack in as many more moments as we humanly could before packing up for home. Thankfully, we found ourselves in surroundings that inspired us to dig deep and discover yet another level of on-the-spot trip planning. And we stuffed our last week full. A brief train and ferry took us from our happy place in Copenhagen to the gorgeous west coast of Sweden, where the well-signed Kattegatleden cycle route guided us on a sublime 390km tour of fertile farmland and big round bays. The unusually hot week coaxed Swedes of all ages to bathe in the sun and the Baltic all along the shore, whether the beach was sandy or rocky or just a wooden dock; shallow and seaweedy or deep and wavy. They welcomed us to share their space - our happy introduction to the uniquely Swedish ethic of Allemansrätten (“everyone’s right,” or right of public access), which dictates that we can roam wherever we want so long as we’re enjoying nature and being respectful of the land, people and signage around us. (The ethos is similar in the other Scandinavian countries, but the Swedish word is surely the coolest). This wonderfully communal concept also meant we could pitch our tent pretty much anywhere awesome. “Do not disturb and do not destroy” are the only two guidelines to finding your night’s stay, even on other people’s property. In cities and protected areas there are sometimes Camping förbjuden notices, but otherwise best judgement was our guide as we chose our sleep-spots in view of the sea: first sheltered by beaches in a conservation area in Skåne Län, then nestled in a sandy valley amongst the grassy dunes next to a bustling beach concert in Ringenäs, and at a community beach park with picnic tables and shower at Stråvalla. We cycled under purely sunny skies, stumbled upon cozy-chaired ice cream breaks, and took refreshing sea dips of various depths once or more a day (for Ed, morning, mid-ride and evening) to stave off the wild-camping stink and compete with handstand tricks. One day we detoured to a charming artsy town called Laholm, with funky sculptures everywhere and a small museum exhibiting the progression of Lasse Åberg’s witty sketches since childhood. Sitka and Heron were enraptured with how pencil drawings could be so expressive and subversive, taking on gender stereotypes, environmental issues and corporate culture with simple images brilliantly presented - resolving to boost their game for their daily travel journal sketches. Then, the morning of our ride into Göteborg, Joce’s web-scouring for unique non-bike activities came across a life-changing discovery. “Do you guys want to try an amusement park today?” Several times previous along our European road, the reply had been a timid “Not today.” Sitka gets barfy in cars, buses, trains, boats and planes if there are twists, turns or the slightest turbulence. So unless there’s a sit-still ride, he’s generally out. He gets his sensitive tummy from Mommy, so Joce is equally un-keen to risk public puking (readers of our book Oceania Odyssey will understand why). Heron tends to notice only the screeches of terror coming from fair rides whenever he sees one, so more advance warning than “Oooh, wanna try that?” is required. And Ed - a rollercoaster junkie as a kid who spent many summer mornings repeat-calling the local radio station during contests for Canada’s Wonderland tickets - has had his adrenaline bravado tempered after noticing that even playground swing sets make his old-man stomach nauseous. But something this time clicked all around: Ed got giddy at the prospect of introducing his sons to a great passion of his youth (given that 80s hair-band rock has largely struck out). Heron was open to trying a beginner coaster and going from there, and Sitka heard about bumper cars, so he was enthusiastically in. And Joce - seeing the after-6pm evening-admission discount - figured it was low-risk if she stuck to the Ferris wheel. And so it was that we cycled hard into Göteborg to check in early and leave our bikes behind for Liseberg, Scandinavia’s largest fairground. Heron bounded ecstatically toward Joce like he just won the Stanley Cup after de-boarding the classic 80s coaster Lisebergbanon, and subsequently wanted to try every spinny, flippy, “Holy shit” option available - each one “the best EVER.” Sitka got his whitewater ride, and Joce remembered her fear of heights halfway up the Ferris wheel overlooking the world’s most environmentally sustainable city (Liseberg itself is powered entirely by wind energy, and one of its rides - the tummy-churning spinning pendulum called Loke - actually generates electricity with its swing and feeds into the municipal grid). Indeed, Göteborg looks like any port city (with a sweet safe bike path and breathtaking botanical garden) as you cycle into it - but then you start noticing the electric public transit fleet, the restaurant menus with CO2 ratings for each item, and the hotels fiercely competing to promote their steps toward carbon-neutrality. Our impromptu detour to Copenhagen last week meant we needed to train-hop a bit to keep our schedule, or else we would have stayed another day (or week, say the boys) to explore the city more, including the archipelago of small islands a short ferry ride away. So onward we went - and that’s when the Norse gods decided we’d had our fun. A kaput rail line north of town forced us to change plans and cycle a couple hours to tiny Ytterby (with y’s pronounced like French u’s, naming this hamlet five times fast invokes the Muppets’ Swedish Chef), where we caught a train to Stromstad for the first hour of its route until another on-track snafu forced us to disembark 100km away from our destination. Luckily the driver of the replacement bus was a typically relaxed and flexible Scandinavian who pondered a moment before making an exception to the national “no bikes on buses” rule, and making room below the coach for our most precious two-wheeled possessions. We arrived in Strömstad much later than anticipated, so we rushed to put together a picnic lunch/supper whose ingredients were being slowly organized all over the sidewalk when - truly out of nowhere - we felt our first raindrops of the week. Then, in the split second it took for Loki the trickster to snap his fingers somewhere above, the clouds assembled right overhead and sent us panicking to collect our scattered groceries and waterproof our gear. It was like a giant bucket just tipped over and smothered us in wet. Instantly we were soaked through - in clothes and in spirit - as we sprinted back and forth to salvage what couldn’t wet into bags and under a nearby awning. One of the fresh baguettes didn’t make it, having succumbed to a fresh, giant puddle - and its limp, soggy remains reflected our mood as we continued miserably on our way, looking tentatively upward for signs of more trouble and slumping into a tiny campground cabin to begin drying out. Sweden was done with us. Next day, we were still damp but determined to enter country number 20 - Norway. The terrain evolved quickly from flat farmland, to rolling bouldery hills and thick spruce forest. Our bodies could tell we were near the end of our epic months-long marathon - so they started slowing down without notifying our brains. We blasted Norwegian hip-hop to keep us moving, and the kilometres rolled by until we reached 9,978 and stopped for our final overnight in a smartly designed octagonal loft cabin in Sarpsborg. One more day to go, and a last train to catch into Oslo, where we would cross the magic threshold of 10k km’s. We’d filled our family bucket to the brim with memories for a lifetime. We could finally cruise to the finish line. But would we? ————————— BONUS: Chapter 23 “Make sure they replace the chain,” Joce insisted every time Ed whisked off to get the bikes tuned up - every 2,000km from Portugal to Norway. “It doesn’t matter if they say it’s okay - just change it.” “Nah, this chain is like brand new, man,” the professional bike mechanic in northern Germany insisted - at Kilometre 8,865. “It’ll last you another two thousand for sure.” “Really shoulda subbed me out back in Germany,” insisted the chain - at Kilometre 9,985, our trip’s final train departing 5k away in 30 minutes. “Snap.” “It’s an easy fix, guys - don’t stress,” insisted Ed, cursing himself for listening to the mechanic instead of his wife. “I’ll just get my chain link, and it’ll be good to go.” “I can just run Mom’s bike there,” insisted Heron, whose diligent planning of our 36 hours in Oslo relied on making that train. “Ride the downhills and run up the up.” “No, I can do it - just gimme five minutes,” insisted Ed again - five minutes before cursing himself for not listening to his son when the chain link didn’t fit. A half-hour earlier, Ed had noticed that his creaky rear pannier rack was missing the bolt that was supporting half the weight. A half-hour afterward, as we all raced to catch our rail ride, Sitka’s handlebar mysteriously popped and started dangling by a long streamer of black grip tape. So much for cruising to the finish line. But as much as our bike maintenance may have failed us, our mission to foster resilience and constructive problem solving in our kids seems to have worked. While Ed grumbled around about his defective chain link (or more likely his defective ability to install it), Heron traded bikes with Joce and started run-gliding to the Sarpsborg train station with the rest of us trailing behind. Sitka took his mangled handlebars in stride, keeping pace without even mentioning the conundrum to the rest of the team until we arrived, frazzled and panting, just as the train pulled into the station. Bolstered by our sons’ inspiring example, Ed replaced his rack bolt and repaired Sitka’s handlebar en route to Oslo, where we got Joce a new chain and continued with Heron’s magnificently planned tour of the Norwegian capital. We wandered about the open-air Museum of Cultural History with its splendidly preserved 13th-century wooden church, marvelled at Gustav Vigeland’s heart-lifting, 212-sculpture masterpiece on human relationships throughout Frogner Park, and dined on more funky street food before watching the sunset on the roof of the iconic Oslo Opera House. The next day’s walking tour led us to ferry-hop to a couple blissfully quiet islands in the Oslo fjord, a sobering but inspiring trip through the Nobel Peace Museum, and the imposing Akershus Fortress. But the beaming moment came as we pedalled around the beautifully wild Bygdøy peninsula jutting out into the Baltic, where Sitka glanced down at his odometer and saw the golden number we’d been waiting for. 10,000. It came at the perfect spot to take the picture we’d planned: our four helmets forming the 1 and the comma, and our four front tires providing the zeroes. Framed by a view over the sea. Our final tally in the end was 10,010km - but the achievement was far more than the number. This was the adventure of a lifetime - hundreds of highlights wrapped up in one epic odyssey we enjoyed together. Vivid memories that will regularly come rushing back over decades to come. “The time goes by so fast,” is the refrain of virtually every parent after their kids’ childhoods pass by. Soon we would be back home in the bustling routine of a family with teenagers: school, friends, ski-team training, friends, volunteer work, friends. But Mom and Dad are undeniably part of their lives. Our long-awaited Europe Epic did indeed go by fast - we can’t do anything about that, except make every second count. No snapped chain, missing bolt or strand of handlebar tape could stand in our way. It wasn’t easy. It was often too hot, too windy, too rainy, too steep, too early, too late, too far, too hard. But more often it was amazing, spectacular, incredible, fantastic. Awesome. Our journey tested our resolve, our bodies and our patience. But those strains strengthened us. The weaknesses we took turns showing each other ended up pushing the others among us to step up. Overcoming the obstacles solidified our bond. It made the sweet parts even sweeter. We’ve lived so fully in the moment - almost 6 months on our bikes taking in the scenery, staking our temporary claim at each campsite and break spot, absorbing the awesome and experimenting with new experiences - that it hasn’t fully sunk in that it’s over. We’re headed home now, more a family than ever. More proud and more in love. More confident and independent. More sure of ourselves to face the world on our own, because now we have proof that we have each other’s backs. And more determined to always - ALWAYS - replace the chain. ——————— Above all the other emotions, right now we are all filled with immense gratitude to all of the incredible people that we met on this journey. You so generously helped us with the many bumps along the way, and meeting you made the whole experience truly wonderful for our family. And much gratitude also to all of those cheering us on from home and beyond - your messages felt like wind on our backs :) Thank you, obrigado, muchas gracias, merci beaucoup, dankeschön, gracie mille, hvala vam, faleminderit shumë, Σας ευχαριστώ!, dank je wel, mange tak, tusen tack, and tusen takk!
- Week 21: Not Ready for This to End
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.
- Week 20: Denmark’s Wonderful Cozy Feeling
Sylt (Germany) to Klitmøller (Denmark), 384km; total 9,009km It was pure misery. Or at least as close as one can get while on a six-month family bike vacation through Europe. The rain started shortly after we left the mesmerizing sand sculpture festival in Søndervig - a fairground filled with brilliantly conceived and beautifully etched impressions of European history, from the Black Death and invention of mathematics, to Joan of Arc and witch hunts. Back on our bikes, we were deeply engaged in discussion about epidemics and the malicious treatment of strong, confident women - and also our awe over the skill and patience required to create such intricate art that will only last a few months before melting away in the weather. So we didn’t pay much heed to the deceiving drizzle that was dabbing our panniers. It was mid-morning and the real rain wasn’t anticipated until late afternoon. Besides, we were breezing along on a glorious southerly tailwind that kept the sprinkling at our backs instead of in our faces. By noon it was coming down harder, so we and our panniers all donned our raingear to keep us dry and happy. In the classic fishing village of Thorsminde, we paused at the lone diner for a few plates of fries, then set off again into the countryside with a few measly metres of visibility ahead. When you’re well prepared for the weather, you feel untouchable. But then it just didn’t stop. Even if the gradually intensifying downpour hadn’t been so torrential, the persistence alone would still have soaked us through. You may recall that our clothes and gear are starting to show holes and cracks after five months of constant wear - and the teeming globs of wet found ‘em all. After a couple hours we may as well have been biking in a swimming pool - except with gale-force winds chilling us to the bone. Once our teeth started to clatter we pulled into the only building we’d seen in miles: a run-down flea market with a shut-down “cafeteria”. As we dug around in our panniers for dry socks and mitts, we found deep puddles in our apparently-no-longer waterproof covers, and a muddle of thoroughly soaked garments in the bottom of our bags. So we exchanged sopping layers for damp ones, and within a minute back on the road we wondered out loud why we even bothered. Normally we would hunker at the first motel in sight, but we’d discovered an accommodation desert in Denmark, and the nearest option was 30km and a ferry ride away. We met another family cycling the other way: they were heading to the train station because the only vacancy they could track down was several towns over. Even with the tailwind, the rain swamped us from all directions, leaving no dry refuge for any bike part or body part. Perhaps worst was from below, as our tires churned up a drenching, demoralizing spray from the muddy pooled water on the road - into chain links, up pant legs and all over the face of the rider behind. Pure misery. Yet somehow our sad-sack, soggy crew of four felt surprisingly serene. You see, bike-touring misery (almost) always ends in somewhere warm and cozy. If it didn’t, we may well have abandoned our favourite pastime after the first week of our Vancouver to Tijuana honeymoon ride, or after that cyclone we ran into in Matapuri, New Zealand, and definitely after the flood-inducing deluge in Trinidad, Cuba. But when we’re wet, we always scramble indoors if at all possible - and on this day our oasis was very far away, but it was coming. Reprieve from the rain. A warm shower and hopefully a fresh set of merino wool to wear. A hot supper, a little more lavish than the usual - like frozen pizza if there is an oven. Finally a use for that hot chocolate powder we’ve been lugging around for months. That kind of cozy is a special feeling that only comes after feeling abject misery. Your muscles and mind fully relax - and you appreciate it so much more because it was so recently elusive. It’s a feeling that’s hard to describe or put words to. Unless you’re Danish. Hygge. Pronounced not quite like “yoga,” it’s more “Hyu-guh.” You kind of need to have the rounded “u” in the French word tu, then the “eu” in deux. It takes a while to get just right. But when you do, you know what it means. Respite. Shelter. Comfort. Cozy after misery. Apparently, hygge made a brief international splash a half-decade ago when a pile of books on how to “live Danishly” took the UK and US wellness community by storm. We’d never heard of it, but we instantly recognized the feeling from our past bike tours, and also life in the Yukon - another cold and windy, marvellously northern climate where minus-40 skiing ends in a hot tub, sauna or on a couch with a warm mug by the fireplace. The Danes seem to have hygge figured out, as we found during our first week cycling up the west coast of the North Sea in this enigmatic land of Vikings, endless farmland and blustery shores. We’ve been hearing for weeks about how we could “wild camp anywhere” in Denmark, but we never imagined the smart system of tiny wooden shelters that seem to be everywhere - each built by local community groups to provide respite from the elements for bikers, hikers and wanderers of all kinds for free. Every design is a slightly different take on the general theme of low, pitched roof (often topped with soil and wild grass), oak-plank and log walls, raised plywood floors and an open front (some have even built in sliding doors). There are thousands of these little huts with space for two to six sleeping bags (or in one case this week, just enough for our rain-fly-less tent to fit inside) scattered across the wild Danish landscape, tucked into picturesque nooks in forests and fields - like snuggly little Hobbit homes, or treehouse forts on the ground, bringing out our inner kids. A phone app tells you where each mini-cabin can be found, whether it has a toilet (usually), a drinking water tap (often) or a firepit, and whether it’s reservable (usually there’s at least one shelter at each site that is first-come, and once they were all taken so we just pitched our tents nearby for free). They wouldn’t necessarily work in bear (or raccoon) country, and certainly not in mosquito season, but they’re ideally suited to Denmark’s quick-shift summer weather: cute and cozy, surprisingly warm and dark, and just the right fit for a family of four to cuddle happily together. Hygge. The Danish make the most of their water, too. This week the boys tracked down another kablepark in the vacation hub Hvide Sande, and a quintessential northern surf town in Klitmøller, known as “Cold Hawaii” where tall and tanned surfers ride frigid waves all year long. In both places Heron upped his game, testing out wakeboard ramps and rails, and front-flipping off his surfboard. Sitka kept pace with big brother, persevering to master the expert-level speed on the cable course and landing some 180 footwork while surfing. Joce is still using her knee excuse (with good reason) and Ed pretends his toe still hurts to avoid being completely shown up by his suddenly super-skilled sons who have blown into territory their dad will never reach. It’s a new parenting feeling - watching and marvelling instead of joining and teaching - but I suppose an inevitable transition and one that’s satisfying in an entirely new way as our boys carve out their own personalities and passions. They’re meeting some splendid role models in that respect, too. In Klitmøller, young surfer dudes Peter and Erik live the dream as co-owners of Viking Adventures, giving lessons in the sea all summer and renting AirBnB rooms in their houses, all in support of their off-season wave-riding pursuits. We also met descendants of Vikings at the outdoor heritage centre in Ribe that recreates that settlement from a thousand years ago - like a Scandinavian pioneer village. These hobbyists bring their families from all over Northern Europe to the open-air market, to dress and sleep and eat as their long-ago forefathers did, while selling their authentic wares - tools, shields, jewellery and art - that they’ve crafted by passed-down wisdom. In Vestervig, it was Jan who rescued us from that horrible rainstorm in the former hospital that he’s renovating into Hawkraft - a hotel, music house and cultural centre that will soon be the living hub of the Thy region. Jan quit his job last fall to dedicate himself full-time to his dream of welcoming musicians, artists and tourists from around the world to this inspiring space with floor-to-ceiling paintings, artfully conceived kitchens, and rooms filled with instruments. Meanwhile, Jan is hosting Ukrainian refugees in the rooms that are ready - offering them free Danish and music lessons, making space in the acreage for them to grow a sunflower labyrinth in solidarity with their still-suffering compatriots, and rallying support in the community to find them employment and social connection. He welcomed us personally on our arrival, to be sure we felt fully at home in his emerging masterpiece - including the washer and dryer. There’s a certain calm determination in the Danish people we’ve met. A chill but fierce work ethic - unfazed and undaunted by big challenges. Maybe it’s the Viking blood, or having learned to thrive on the wild and windy land we’ve now cycled. But we’d like to think it’s from that feeling of knowing that there’s always warmth and peace somewhere, somehow to come. That being in touch with struggle and discomfort - wallowing in it, even - that makes the satisfying ending that much sweeter. For without the toil, there could be no hygge.