This was my very first motorcycle trip.
I went on my own, on my (brand new) Suzuki VX800.
Sweden is a wonderfull country: it was a very good choice.
After having owned my very first motorcycle, a Suzuki VX800, for less than two months, I decided that the best way to get used to it would be to go on a camping trip, alone. I decided to head for Sweden because of some unexplainable attraction for that country (which turned out to be right as you will see).
In the first week of june 1994 I took off, with three Givi cases loaded with my camping gear, walking boots and binoculars. The places I would visit were chosen because of birds: I wanted to see Ospreys , Cranes and Black-throated Divers , and hoped to see them at lake Åsnen , Store Mosse (which means Big Moor) and Tiveden .
I reached lake Åsnen in two stretches: my first stop was near Copenhagen. I did the way back, from Tiveden to Holland, in one day (and a night).
I learned a lot (remember that my motorcycle experience was only two months).
I took a boat four times, twice at Puttgarden-Rødbyhavn , and twice at Helsingør-Helsinborg. Of course, I worried about these boats.
Getting on it was easier than I had imagined. What I did when riding behind a car, was to pause until I was certain that I could ride up the steel boards until I got onto a flat space again. Stopping on a steep steel board would not scare me off now, but it certainly did at that time.
Another problem was that I was not able to get this bike on its centerstand without help. Of course, there were fellow-motorcyclists on every boat, and getting help turned out to be very easy. Later, I learned that a bike is more stable on its sidestand, but this time I parked it on the centerstand. It never fell over (I worried about that too, of course).
A non-motorcycle-related tip concerning these boats: they did not accept credit-cards when I was there.
Even in the south of Sweden, many smaller roads are of the gravel-kind: gravel, sand, mud, deep tracks and holes. Some of the bird-watching hide-outs were to be reached by such roads, so I had no choice.
The trick to ride gravel roads is, I think, to have confidence in your motorcycle (in fact, this trick helps in a lot of situations) (in fact, there is no situation imaginable where this trick would not help).
Just imagine that your motorcycle knows what it does and will stay on the road, and it will behave that way. The moment that you think "How am I going to prevent my motorcycle from riding into that ditch over there", you are lying in the ditch. The only thing you have to do yourself is to look far forward, and loosen your grip on the handle bars.
Standing on the pegs (or at least carry your weight with your feet and especially *not* with your hands) helps too: bumps will cause less steering input that way, and it lowers the centre of gravity, which makes you more stable.
You will not go in a perfect straight line; on the contrary, you will be wobbling about. Just think of this wobbling as the perfect path through the gravel, that your motorcycle itself is finding out, and you will be fine.
I must admit that I had to talk to myself constantly to keep having this confidence ("Look ahead, you're doing fine, the Suzuki does fine, relax, yes, that's right, ..."). One of the advantages of riding a motorcycle is that nobody hears you :-). Talking really helps!
Camping grounds tend to be muddy, especially in Sweden, in june. So a firm place to put your sidestand on is hard to find. I worried about this
phenomenon before I took off, so I had this piece of wooden board with me.
And I needed it! Flat soda cans (beer cans might be alright also, but you will have to pay a lot for those in Sweden :-), can be used for the same purpose I have been told, but I never tried them.
Another tip is to put your motorcycle in such a place that, if it *would* fall over, it would not do so on your tent, or on somebody else's (in Sweden in june, this is never a problem: your tent will be the only one around).
I did not use any hearing protection on this trip. After having done the trip back home (plm 1500 km) in one stretch, I kept hearing the sound of the German Autobahn for at least two days. This means that I suffered some permanent damage.
So, I now use hearing protection all the time. I started with the cheap yellow flexible ones (they hurt), and use custom-made hard ones at this moment (they don't).
Living in Holland, I am used to find a gas station every 20 kilometers or something, even at night. This is not the case in Sweden, and neither on the German Autobahn. When you see a sign for a gas station, with the distance to the next one mentioned, remember that you will not reach this next one if you are planning to get onto another Autobahn at some AutobahnKreuz!
I ran out of gas three times. The first time, it took me some time to find out what had happened. After having turned the switch to reserve, I had to move the Suzuki a bit to be able to start it again (of course, it took some time before I found out this fact too).
As you will understand, I spent a lot of time worrying about a lot of things :-). One thing I learned about worrying about motorcycle-related events, is to take the worrying seriously, instead of trying to wave it away.
When you think "Will I be able to park on that muddy gravely parking place?", do not react with "Don't be so weak, just go ahead and dot it.". Instead, observe the parking place carefully and think about it. When really in doubt, go find yourself another parking place. Otherwise, plan a path, and go for it.
Riding a motorcycle does not go along very well with worrying. So, the trick is to change worries into planning ahead. When you do that, you will ride with confidence instead of with worries.
You will not meet many people in Sweden in june, at least I did not. When you travel around MidSummer's day it is different, but when you travel before that, camping grounds are empty. And because the birds I wanted to see tend to live in places with few people, I ended up in camping-grounds in the middle of nowhere. But the people I *did* meet compensated for this sparseness.
In Urshult , near lake Åsnen, I ate my first Swedish pizza with my first low-alcohol Swedish beer (the link of Urshult shows a map, and number 6 on that map is the Pizzeria).
The pizzeria-owner was delighted to hear that I came from Holland, and fumbled a while with his TV receiver until it showed some very bad Dutch soap series on RTL 4 (for the Dutch: it was Vrouwenvleugel or something). So I spent my first meal in Sweden with a Dutch TV program.
I was lucky that I was the only customer, and that the Pizzeria owner was Italian, so had to talk to me constantly. He was preparing his restaurant
for a football match that would be on television (he was very sorry to say that he would have to turn off RTL4 by then), and he was very proud that
his pizzeria was chosen above his competitor in the next village.
He blamed his pizza's, his cozy interior with red and white checked paper tablecloths, and his own easygoing character for that fact, and of course I agreed completely.
Two real Swedes were mr and mrs Nilsson of camping Ågård, near Store Mosse.
I was one of three visitors here (yes, it was a crowded camping site): a Danish family renting a caravan, a Norwegian man trying to find a job and camping in the smallest tent I have ever seen, and myself.
Conversation was difficult: mr Nilsson did not speak English at all, and mrs Nilsson knew some words, but had to look up most of what she wanted to say in a tiny dictionary (which most of the times did not mention the word she was looking for). So our contact consisted of a lot of smiles, mr Nilsson talking louder and louder in Swedish, gestures, and an odd English word.
One evening I was invited to drink whiskey (bought on a tax-free boat trip of course) with them and a few friends from the village, so, after a while, nobody realized the language problem anymore. Mr Nilsson kept on saying something, and after many checks in the dictionary, it turned out that he told me that the Norwegian and the Danish were not allowed to drink from his whiskey because they spoke so incomprehensible :-).
I very often meet very pleasant Germans. Being Dutch, this fact keeps surprizing me :-). During this holiday, I was invited for a beer by two Germans on BMW's, at the Tiveden camping ground.
They offered to speak English, so we all shared the same language handicap instead of me stuttering in German.
They had real beer, and I don't remember much of the conversation. Most of it was motorcycle related of course. They had this plan of going to fish somewhere in Lappland I think (a strange holiday compared to looking for birds I think). If you know who they are, send them my greetings.
Lake Åsnen is supposed to have the most dense population of Ospreys in Europe, and a very big population of Black-throated Divers as well. I was certain to see both species there.
The lake turned out to be very big, and the birds were very sparse (compared to Dutch lakes). I did see a very beautiful Osprey though, diving and catching a big fish.
I kept searching the waves in the hope of seeing a Black-throated Diver until I felt seasick, but no such bird was so friendly to show itself.
Black-throated divers were supposed to be in Store Mosse too, at lake Kävsjön. Alas, my binoculars were not strong enough to see anything on the lake (when you want to see Black-throated divers at Store Mosse, bring a telescope) except for the (very big) cranes. Yes, I did see cranes! During the day they were sometimes very close by (one time I saw a pair with a young), and at dusk they went to the lake, to sleep standing in the water.
My only hope for Black-throated divers now was Tiveden. I hiked part of the Bergslagsleden and came along a couple of lakes, and checked these lakes for divers until I got dizzy. Then I did a long walk alongside lake Unden, again getting seasick from staring in the waves.
At last, I decided to give up and go to see the famous pink waterlilies at Fagertärn .
The flowering time of these waterlilies turned out to be some months earlier according to the sign that was put up at the lake, but the
first bird I noticed, very close by, very big, was a Black-throated diver!
There were even three: a male, a female and a downy young. I saw one of the adults catching fish and feeding the young (it catched fish with other fish already in its bill). Of course I thanked the divers very friendly for showing themselves so well to me, and explained them how much I appreciated their existance.
Sweden is close to paradise. It is vast (the route I took covered just a very little part), and as a result, even in the south most villages or towns are of my favourite in the middle of nowhere kind. Urshult for instance ("Urshult? You come all the way from Holland to visit Urshult?" asked a Swede at the boat) had one shop, selling bread, canned and frozen food, garden utensils, kitchen appliences and some books. For me, such a shop, or a village with such a shop, has something heavenly.
Than the roads: endless roads with very few cars. Very friendly drivers, never driving above the speed limit but immediatley going to the side to let you pass (on such roads I am not able to keep to these limits; I never got a ticket though).
You are allowed to put up your tent anywhere (except close to peoples houses), which adds a sense of freedom to this country.
And at last, when you hear people talk, you hear one of the most beautiful languages that I know (just avoid the pizzeria in Urshult when you are Dutch though).