Riding singletrack, foraging for mushrooms and bathing in peat bogs – all in a day’s work on Sweden’s Bohusleden long-distance trail.
This article first appeared in issue 97 of Singletrack Magazine. Subscribers have full access to all Singletrack articles past and present. Learn more from about our subscriptions offers:
Words and pictures by Dominika and Daniel Klawczyński.
I was dreaming about a long-distance enduro trip. Somewhere it would not be straightforward; a place without easily rideable roads, shops or hotels. Getting lost in the wilderness of the far north, somewhere like Lapland, would be ideal. There are no living souls there at all, so you can taste the real off-road adventure, and the challenge of survival too. Looking for the appropriate direction for my peregrination, suddenly I found an enticing route description: a 370km-long, out-of-the-ordinary challenge…
‘Bohusleden’ – this mysterious-sounding term is the name of a long trail through the forests in Sweden (it’s part of the North Sea Trail – a coastal tourist route around the North Sea). I took a closer look, because the name was cropping up frequently in the Swedish riders’ stories I was browsing while searching for my trip. The authors gave a great impression of the access to landscape and nature that this route offers. They were delighted that Bohusleden is mostly singletrack, with several degrees of difficulty. Although these are not mountains, this is not flat terrain and it’s not easy, they warned. I also liked that there are about 112 lakes on the track which you can swim in – just perfect for an extremely hot summer. But these are not the only reasons I chose the Bohusleden for my vacation.
Instead of sun… mushrooms?
We started out near Göteborg in western Sweden, instead of Lapland, where the Bohusleden begins. Göteborg was 1,500km closer to home and I was able to convince the two friends who would be coming on the adventure with me that we’d save time and money starting there. There was just one hindrance: due to matters beyond our control, we had to postpone the start day till the second half of August. We comforted ourselves with the knowledge that although it might not be quite as warm, we would be able to gather mushrooms – although personally I had previous bad experience of late summer Scandinavian weather, so the delay made me worry.
Unfortunately, I was right. From the very beginning of our trip the weather was awful. The Swedish summer had just ended as we arrived. It got rainy and cold, and our ambitious plan of riding from Lindome (in the southern outskirts of Göteborg) to Strömstad (near the Norwegian border) would become harder. The rain was particularly bad news, bearing in mind that the route goes through marshy terrain – peat bogs, swamps and countless streams. But we hoped that the wooden huts, built specially for tourists along the whole Bohusleden, would be our lifeline. They are not very sophisticated; just rather simple constructions with no facilities, but the ordeal of a previous experience in the Polar Ural mountains where all our kit, including our tents, was totally soaked because of constant rain, had taught me that even the most primitive shelter can save your life in such circumstances – or save the team’s morale at least.
How to bite it?
A storm in the Baltic Sea during our ferry trip to the start and then a squall as we mounted up seemed to confirm my worst fears, but despite the downpour we set off. There were no signs of the weather improving and after getting to the first shelter, we stayed there for a night. The rain was coming from a slanting angle, and it seemed like it was falling up as well as down. Riding in weather like that would have been senseless. We even gave up trying to set a fire, which would have been the first one of the trip and, therefore, such an important event for us. Instead we concentrated on preparing our equipment well – checking rack mountings, improving the luggage placement and polishing up the details.
We’d opted to avoid civilisation as much as possible and aimed to ride the whole route at one go, so we had to plan our whole set-up very precisely. Although we gave up on the idea of taking a light tent (packing a light tarp instead, just in case we couldn’t find other shelter), and we thought through carefully everything we took, we still couldn’t fit everything into our backpacks. Instead, we’d have to carry some of our luggage on our bikes. On such an epic trip in the mountains carrying kit on racks would normally be the very last resort, but here the terrain would be varied and with no big height differences. Nonetheless, our decision to spread the load with rack and panniers was rather trailblazing, as most of the the stories we had read about Bohusleden explorations were only weekend-long. That means ‘light’, with a minimum of equipment and food supplies. The fact is though, the southern part of the trail is more civilised and easier to ride – the wilder northern part, where we were heading, could be more problematic. But the easy way was not what we were looking for.
Altogether there are 27 stages to the Bohusleden route; we found the first ones to be relatively easy, traversing the peripheries of the urbanised land. Soon though the route changed into a tough trail, full of surprises like slimy rocks, rocky outcrops, rapids, treacherous roots and wet footbridges. The trip’s first inconvenience, which stayed with us ’til the end, was water in shoes – and there was nothing to be done about it. When you are balancing on a slimy footbridge over a peat bog and you lose your balance, even wellies can’t help you – trust me, I know. A few kilometres from Angered, where the forest path seemed to be part of the rocky landscape, beating us black and blue, I fell off the footbridge and sank deep in the mud. My friends did the same, many times. It was funny at the beginning but as time went on, curses flew through the air.
We wrestled with the terrain, struggling with the problems that multiplied. Before the trip we were not aware that we would find such hard and super-technical sections on the trail. In good weather, without the humidity we were experiencing, with less luggage and on full suspension bikes, the tough sections would be rideable. Unfortunately, I was the only one on a full-sus. It really helped, but sometimes we had no other option than to push our loaded bikes.
There were some alternative options, but the map we had printed off showed too narrow a piece of land for our needs. Instead, we tweaked our shocks, decreased the air pressure in our tyres and slackened off the release tension of our SPDs to try to make our passage a little easier. Magically though, in the moments when we were all maximally pissed and our emotions reached their zenith, the path suddenly assumed a smoother face and the divine ride started, with ideal singletrack in front of us. Then we forgot about the hard moments very quickly.
Beautiful spots compensated us for the difficulties of the journey, too. The Bohusleden travels through fairy-tale spruce forests, where the ground is fully covered with a green carpet of moss, and past charming nooks at the lakesides. The outgoing Scandinavian ice-sheet did incredible things here. A sign of this ‘recent’ activity is the bare rock that passed under the bike wheels, and elsewhere too – huge blocks lingering in many places, and big precipices. It was amazing to see rocky cliffs in this low-lying region. Although the highest point of our ride was only a little over 200m above sea level, the route undulated constantly. It was more tiring than we had expected it to be, but also more interesting. Only one question arose – would the 370km be possible in our planned ten days of riding? The distance was banal, but the terrain was hardcore…
The summer of our trip had been hot, even in Sweden. Our anticipated vision of hundreds of crystal-clear lakes, where we would be able to cool our warm bodies or even fish a little, was very appetising throughout those sunny days. Now, in fact, our enthusiasm for bathing was a bit smaller… None of us were too hot. Nonetheless, the charming small lakes hidden in the forest’s back of beyond, and the bigger ones with plenty of rocky peninsulas to explore, made a really big impression on us. Very often we found huts to spend the night in in these most beautiful of places, and staying in locations reminiscent of the Canadian north gave the situation an uncanny atmosphere.
We could admire all the beauty through the wide doors of the huts while lying comfortably in our sleeping bags, just like watching a panoramic plasma TV. There was always a fireplace nearby, or even a grill, so we prepared good meals in the evenings; lovely, because we didn’t have the time or conditions to do that during the days of riding. Strangely there were none of the mosquitoes or other insects that are normally to be found in northern parts of Scandinavia. So we spent our time collecting mushrooms and fishing, and when the fire was ready, we even risked a small bath to wash ourselves. As the days went by though we became hardened enough to take a proper dip in the peat water.
Natural life was really close, too; we were prepared to meet moose, wild boar or deer every time we ventured into the woods, and kept an eye out for otters hunting in the water. We didn’t have to get the tarp out once: almost all our overnight stops looked like this, with a hut, water nearby, the magical forest all around, and interesting rock formations to explore. In Scandinavia, living life close to the nature is very popular and has its own name – friluftsliv – and on Bohusleden we lived it to the full. You can reset here, charge the batteries – even with no sun.
Despite the constant distractions of landscape and nature, we pressed on – riding hard, although our wheels got stuck in slippery mud or peat. Water was everywhere, filling every route fragment, flowing down the paths as a stream bed. The sun shone briefly, but by the time we reached the seventh day of the trip, atmospheric conditions returned to ‘normal’, with a new band of rain flowing in from the North Sea. The plan cracked again; soaked through, we stayed the day in a hut. We lit a fire to dry some equipment and hoped for better weather the following day.
Feeling our body’s material fatigue, bigger and bigger doubts arose – did riding like this make any sense? We had all had enough of water in every form and, because of it, we were no longer having much fun. To raise our morale we organised an expedition party, with the aim of finding civilisation and bringing beer and delicacies back to our woodland camp. After their 24km ride, while I waited with the wood supply and frying saffron milk caps, my friends returned with their loot. Unsurprisingly, that evening was really cheerful…
Unfortunately, the next day was a survival struggle. There were storms and it rained even more heavily than before. We fought to reach Munkedal village, but the forces of nature were stronger than our will. Cold and wet, we looked for another shelter, which we probably missed in our desperation. In fact we did not know where we exactly were, but a hunter offered us rescue, inviting us to spend the night in his caravan.
Drying out, I discovered that my supposedly water-resistant camera was failing thanks to the moisture. Over supper we decided that the remaining 11 stages of Bohusleden, which would have taken us to Strömstad, we’d try to ride another time. The next day we caught the train back to Göteborg, and then on to Malmö, for two days. Ironically, then the summer returned to Sweden – while we were in the urban jungle.