Sweden: Biking the Gôta Kanal
Biking Östergötland’s Gôta Kanal
By Marcie J. Bushnell
Summer cycling in Sweden is akin to savoring a smorgasbord of Swedish seafood.
There’s a tremendous variety of both fresh and salt water entrees and everything begs to be tasted.
The Cycling Sweden brochures, scattered randomly across our living room table, present an idyllic eight-day menu featuring the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of Östergötland’s Göta Kanal.
This region, renown for picturesque pastoral and forested lake trails that gracefully dip and glide through the Swedish countryside, is an hour’s train ride west of Stockholm’s T-Centralen.
Pack light. Bring a helmet. Refresh map-reading skills. Although the tour allows a day before “saddling up” for the week-long ride, arriving a few days early is a good way to adapt your biorhythms to the change in time, water and food.
On the Road
A quick conference over the first map (each day’s maps are consequently numbered), a last moment adjustment to the straps on our bike helmets and we are ready to roll.
Luggage precedes us to the next hotel in Stavsjô, our box lunch is double-wrapped and the incentive of another fine meal and a soft bed are all I need to get me on the bicycle.
In minutes, we are rolling along well-marked secondary roads tagged by highly visible yellow-and-black Nackrösleden bike signs. Sven’s handwritten supplementary “cultural” notes encourage us to stop in Ericsberg where a regal Dutch Baroque manor, attached to a public park, assaults our senses with its brilliant yellow and gold trim.
An Unforeseen Detour
By afternoon, after an unforeseen detour pushing our bikes over two kilometers of freshly boulder-packed roadbed that eventually segues into a forested trail of pine needles, we coast into Stavsjô.
The breathtaking multistory Stavsjô Hotel, featuring lakeside views,terraced dining and a friendly, yet evasive, Tintomara spirit presence, marks the perfect ending to our first day of biking. Tomorrow we will reach our ultimate goal... the Gôta Kanal.
Summer in Sweden signifies road crews patching, paving and making inordinate amounts of dust. In spite of the flurry of human activity ahead, we sense a pair of eyes watching us from the mixed pine and birch forest.
Sure enough, our ardent gazer turns out to be a juvenile moose at his leisure on this fine sunny morning. I grab my digital camera and zoom in to capture the moment. Another perk of casual bike tours... time to meet the local fauna.
A Historic Canal
Around noon I begin to wonder when and if we will arrive at the Göta Kanal. At Kvarsebô, there’s a free ferry crossing (cars, bikes, pedestrians) and one of the drivers tells us we’re about halfway to Mem, the last lock of the Göta Kanal (if your trip began at the western terminus of Göteborg) before it spills into the Baltic sea.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines the Gôta Kanal as “a system of rivers, lakes and canals of southern Sweden extending from the Kattegat at the mouth of the Göta River, about 98 km (58 miles) long, to the Baltic Sea.”
The Göta Kanal’s history encompasses one of the largest Swedish civil engineering projects ever initiated. The project was fancied by sixteenth century Bishop Brask of Linkôping, but the birth of the canal project did not take place until May of 1810.
For 22 years it required the toil and sweat of 60,000 Swedish soldiers, Russian war prisoners and a sprinkling of civilian workers, using ironshod wooden spades to carve out 87 km of canal outfitted with 58 locks. Additional labor perks included modest weekly rations of 14 measures of schnapps to keep workers warm during cold weather spells.
The western section was formally opened in 1822, but the final eastern section’s inauguration took place at Mem on September 26, 1832 and was attended by H.M. King Karl XIV Johan and his family..
Like ravenous seagulls with a tuna sandwich, we devour the whole loaf of tasty images before us.
Goldenrod-yellow lock keeper’s homes with immaculate gardens, vacationing multi-generational families on board sleek cabin cruisers, a motley crew of weed patrol personnel (sheep and goats) and the lazy summer sounds of buzzing bumblebees and giggling children with ice cream running down their chins stun our senses. We dismount to watch a motorboat lazily putt into the shimmering Baltic Sea.
The next section of the Gôta Kanal connects Boren and Roxen lakes, and in my opinion, is the prettiest stretch of the trip.
Photo ops galore as we encounter other bikers, weed patrol goats and elegant pastoral estates cozied up to the banks of the canal. The house colors of brick red with crisp white trim, goldenrod yellow with red tile roofs and yards featuring a blue and yellow Swedish flag pennant provide the perfect background for pictures.
Next stop is Motala, population 30,000, and the site of the original Gôta Kanal 1810 excavation. The canal project relied on the expertise of engineers based at the Motala Verkstad, also known for its top notch cast-iron technology.
A bustling marina scene calls for double kulas (scoops) of Aftereight and Pecannott Glass (gelatos) to celebrate a successful arrival. The Radisson Hotel “M” features marine-inspired decor right down to the maritime knotted frames and sail cloth curtains.
A 43-Mile Push
Day six is a 43-mile push to Askersund and the breakfast buffet in Motala includes bowls of individually wrapped vitamins and herbal supplements
(Ginseng, Vitamins C and E) as well as a nectar simply labeled “Vitaminkick.” Our Cycling Sweden German participants (Ilse and Jurgen and Lutz-Steffen and Christina) toast us with glasses of Vitaminkick and off we go.
Along Country Roads
A Best Western affiliate, the Hotel N Vättern, features another variation on a maritime theme and all rooms either face the Sundet waterway or Lake Alsen. Askersund boasts a tiny harbor and a paved market square within easy walking distance from the hotel.
Headwinds have surfaced since our eastward turn to Regna, the last stop along the 240-mile circuit of southwestern Sweden’s Östergoôtland region. Previously, Sven had advised all of us that the Regnagarden Inn would encompass shared bath facilities and a home-cooked meal.
The latter was all the carrot-on-a-stick I needed to give me a boost into the saddle. With a microburst of energy, we set out along rolling country roads past vast farms and neat homes with red picket fences topped by white triangular points, friendly farm dogs and waving fields of golden grains.
We pack rain ponchos and overpants, aqua socks and shower caps as a precaution. Hailing from the Pacific Northwest, where a long rainy winter often segues into a lengthy wet spring, we are hoping the webs between our fingers and toes can be held at bay awhile longer.
As James Cloutier, a local Eugene, Oregon writer/illustrator wrote in his Orygone books, “Folks in Oregon don’t tan, they rust.” And so it goes.
Crunching along a sparsely traveled gravel track, we happen upon a tranquil rest area at Havla Bruk. Here a weathered water wheel stands idle at the site of a former lumber mill. Accented by a red-tile roof and lush water plants, the building quietly occupies an idyllic site. A nearby picnic table beckons us to enjoy our lunch with a background of droning dragonflies and chirping birds.
We’ve been lucky with the weather thus far, but a few drops plop onto our helmets as we near the city limits of Katrineholm. A pair of long-necked, stiltlegged birds glides into a marshy area just to our right.
Black tipped white wings and long pointy beaks identify them as storks. Seen as a sign of luck in several Scandinavian countries, we welcome their arrival and feel fortunate to have completed this tour without too many detours, unforeseen technical problems or health issues.
The Final Bend
The cut-off path for the Dufveholms Herrgârd winks at us as we approach the final bend. Clicking across a wooden bridge, we park our bikes, remove the panniers and mark the end of our cycle tour with high fives and laughter ~ just as the rain revs up and pours buckets in the courtyard.
We take cover in the Dufveholms reception hall where a string bass-playing bear, complete with music stand and travel trunk, greets us with a toothy grin and extended paw.
In the evening we join Ilse, Jurgen, Lute-Steffen and Christina for our final candlelit dinner under a sparkling glass chandelier in the Herrgârd dining room. A lovely poached halibut and salmon entree with peppers, potatoes and a light lemony sauce delights our taste buds.
However, the piece de resistance is reserved for a white chocolate mousse drizzled with wild berries. Lute-Steffen orders a round of Swedish “punch” as we exchange toasts of “Cheers,” “Skoll” and wish one another “Gute Reise” to our respective countries. Our smorgasbord tour of fresh and salt water entrees has come to an end, but the impressions will last forever.
Nuts & Bolts: Sweden
1638 Berkley Circle
Chattanooga, TN 37405
Toll Free: 1-877-462-2423, ext. 1 (Jim Johnson)
from the USA 46 (0) 150 550 91
Contact persons: Marie or Sven Björving
Weather: Self-guided tours begin on Sundays mid-June thru mid-August. The Gota Canal bike tour skirts numerous lakes, follows undulating forest roads and designated rural and urban bike trails as it traces a circular itinerary beginning and ending near Katrineholm (one hour west of Stockholm via train). Sunscreen and bug repellent are a must. Dairy and livestock farms insure a plentiful supply of insects and my bottle of Repel (plant based lemon eucalyptus) worked like a charm. Such biking accouterments as sunglasses, raingear, swimming suits, microfiber towels and packaged moist towelettes are recommended. We had twenty minutes of rain during our week of biking.
Money matters: Getting to Katrineholm from Stockholm. T-Centralen Station in Stockholm is the terminus for both the Arlanda Express train and the
Flygbussarna from Arlanda International airport. We had no luck using our credit cards to purchase tickets from the automatic machines as a pin # was required. Note: Even our Visa debit card (with pin) did not work. However, ATM machines worked well with our debit card. Ticket vending machines will take Swedish kronur without blinking a light!
Marcie J. Bushnell lives, writes, recreates and explores from her home in Eugene, Oregon. As a retired high school French instructor, Marcie has savored many a month-long homestay in various regions of France as a chaperone for ANDEO, a Portland, Oregon-based summer exchange organization (www.andeo.org)