Words and photography by Ambassador Erkki Punttila
I saw an advert for a crew member position for the legendary Gotland Runt offshore sailing race. Being a fairly avid seafarer I thought it would be a good idea to do the course singlehanded – on a bike. Luckily someone had already thought about this and it turned out that there is a bike route called Nynäsleden which takes you from Stockholm to Nynäshamn. From there you can hop on a ferry that takes you to the island of Gotland. Gotlandsleden is another bike route that goes for about 450 km around the island. Easy riding on flat roads and chilling by the sea in perfect summer weather was the plan. Reality was something different… But as a warm-up, before we get to Sweden I decided to host a bike packing overnighter for my colleagues at Reaktor.
DAY 1: HELSINKI – PORKKALA
Ten of my friends showed up at the office before noon on Saturday ready for the ride to Porkkala. About 80.000 people took part in the awesome Pride march at the same time in the city center so we walked our bikes for a few blocks before we got going toward our campsite some 60 km away.
I took the sweeper spot at the end of our convoy and Ville led the way through the suburbs towards Porkkala nature reserve east of Helsinki. We stopped for lunch at Kirkkonummi and bought things for the bbq. After enjoying a rather stiff headwind we arrived at our destination and set up camp. Some of us tried out borrowed hammocks for the night while others had their own refined bike packing setup.
DAY 2: PORKKALA – HELSINKI
After breakfast, the first train took off back to Helsinki with a sportive pace and the rest of us enjoyed the scenery and got going after 11 with an enjoyable stop at Cafe Porkkala for some crepes. From there it was a nice tailwind ride back to Helsinki. People went home and I had a couple of hours to kill before hopping aboard the ferry to Stockholm. Shower, food, a beer, sleep.
DAY 3: STOCKHOLM – NYNÄSHAMN – VISBY
Made it to breakfast as soon as it opened and got a premium seaside table with views of the Stockholm archipelago. Once off the ship, I started to crack the puzzle of navigating through the city and suburbs towards Nynäshamn. A fellow cyclist from Germany was going to the same destination. I passed him four times before really getting out of the city. He might have been going a little slower but was much better navigating. On our fifth encounter, we approached each other from totally opposite directions. After a brief discussion in German, we decided to ride together. Once we were out of the city the route was pretty simple. At about the 25 km marker my companion took the direct route to Nynäshamn and I turned to the scenic country roads of the Nynäsleden bike route. It was a nice ride with some unexpected rain showers. Didn’t notice any cafés along the way so I just hammered into the headwind all the way to Nynäshamn without stopping except for some photos. After 83 km it was time for a lunch kebab and almost a four-hour wait for the ferry to Visby in Gotland. Luckily it didn’t rain anymore and I got aboard in dry clothing.
The ferry arrived on time at midnight. Since I was headed north from Visby, the south-west breeze had magically turned into a tailwind. I had anticipated that it would be rather light in the middle of the night in the beginning of July, but with full cloud coverage and zero moon it was really dark. It got a bit risky going fast on the narrow paths that the Gotlandsleden follows but once the route takes to the main road it was a joy. There was virtually no traffic at all so it was pretty safe to ride. On the open areas, the wind was giving a nice push. You can’t really see any surroundings when you focus on your front light that is a small spot on the pavement. At some point, I realised I had run out of gears and felt going pretty fast. Checked my GPS and realised I was going 40,6 km/h on the flat with knobby tires on a fully loaded Kona Sutra LTD! It started to rain again so after 40 km in the dark I set up camp in a random bush 50 m from the road. 20 hours from waking up, riding 125 km, waiting for the ferry and crossing a sea was a good recipe for some sleep.
DAY 4: IN THE RAIN TO FÅRÖ
Woke up in the middle of the night to a strong gust of wind and a loud bang. My bike had been leaning against a tree, but it was now hugging the ground. Got going without breakfast since there was a café few km down the road. Enjoyed two wonderful home baked sandwiches and a cinnamon bun. While admiring a quarry with the road running straight through it started to rain. And it came down really hard. When I reached the town of Fårösund the streets were absolutely flooded. Hanging out in the pizzeria looking at weather reports my dreams of riding in sunny Gotland were shattered. The torrential rain would continue until next morning. With the kit already wet I took the ferry over to Fårö island and checked in at the first campsite. They offerred a small cabin for about 40 €. With the temperature down to +12° I cranked the cabin heater up and started the drying operation. Even the stuff in my frame bag and a small dry bag on the fork were wet. The rain continued until the next morning.
DAY 5: FÅRÖ – SLITE
Spirits were high as the sun was shining and the roads dry. Progressed towards the northern tip of the island which is best known for the ”Rauk” stone formations. Definitely worthwhile seeing. I spotted a sailing boat from Finland at the small harbour and had a chat with the crew. They had just arrived after a rough night at sea with a 15 m/s headwind for most of the way. After a little loop around the island, I took the ferry back to Fårösund and headed towards the town of Slite enjoying the wind my face. Slite has a huge quarry and the entrance to the town has a strong industrial vibe. Had coffee and cake and met a cat that demanded attention. Continued for a bit until a nice looking campsite by the sea came up.
Fårö island is one of the most scenic places in Gotland and a must-see.
DAY 6: INTO THE WIND DOWN THE EAST COAST
Made pasta for breakfast to get some extra energy to battle the wind again. Luckily after about 12 km, the route turned to the forest and finally the gravel roads started. The trees gave good protection from the wind and it was really nice to ride along the forest roads. This area is known for its iron and bronze age graves. There are over 350 of these rock formations in the forest. A few of them have been restored to give you a better understanding of how they once looked.
Had a nice fish soup at the Katthammarsvik fish smokery and continued to the eastern tip of the island. Found a great fire pit with great views by the sea. Would have been an awesome spot to set camp, but I had to continue at least another 30 km to keep on track with the plan. In the early evening the wind started to be pretty violent with gusts up to 18 m/s. I had to find some shelter to set up my tent, since the ultralight MSR Carbon Reflex 1 can’t stand such high winds. Came up to Herta camping with quite many trailers but rarely anybody there. The reception was closed too. Eventually found a helpful lady who told me that all the trailers have seasonal spots, but most of the people were home because of the weather. Set up my tent behind a vacant trailer and enjoyed the shelter from the wind.
DAY 7: HÖRTE – BURGSVIK
The wind was so hard that cruise ships were unable to make it port in Visby. So I lounged in the tent until it felt reasonable and safe to hit the road. Got going at two in the afternoon. Headed southwest towards Burgsvik. After a mediocre pizza at the local pub I set camp and did a little evening ride on the gravel paths along the shore. Spotted 23 rabbits and zero humans. After a refreshing shower at the camp site I planned to go the café for some supper, but they had closed already at eight, even though they said they would be open until ten. Oh well, some crackers and a protein bar before dozing off.
DAY 8: BURGSVIK – VISBY
Got going at 8:30 and rode directly to the supermarket for some breakfast, which I enjoyed behind the store accompanied by the best dog ever. Now the sun was shining and the wind had died down to a gentle breeze that was actually coming from behind. Happy days! Took a wrong turn at some point and had to backtrack 5 km. No biggie. I was now on the west coast of Gotland and the views were terrific. A lot of sheep roaming around in some places.
BACK IN VISBY
With the wind helping from behind the 103 km back to Visby felt like the easiest leg of the trip. It felt like the whole town had gathered on the market place where the screened the women’s soccer world cup. I set my alarm for 05:30 in order to make it to the ferry in time.
DAY 9-10: VISBY – STOCKHOLM – HELSINKI
Woke up at 05:30, gathered my stuff, packed the wet tent after a night of rain and got going in under 30 minutes. It was only a 10-minute ride to the ferry terminal. The ferry takes about .,5 hours, so there is plenty of time to enjoy breakfast and a couple of coffees. From Nynäshamn I took the train to the outskirts of Stockholm for a 15 km ride to the center to kill some time (the train goes all the way to the city of Stockholm and you are allowed to take your bike on it, except for one or two stations in the very center). Did some sightseeing and had a couple of beers before the next ferry to Helsinki departed. Next morning I was back in Helsinki and rode home.
You can view the routes and download .gpx files from RideWithGPS links:
Helsinki – Porkkala: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/36585027
Stockholm – Nynäshamn: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/36669065
Around Gotland: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/30643021