West Coast - A gravel cycling adventure (2020)
A ride along the west coast of Jutland is a 650 km long and mythical ride. It's a rough and beautiful story about life with nature. It's a ride through the stunning Wadden Sea to the south and the mighty Thy National Park to the north.
Getting impressed by the trees shaped by the wind. Enjoying the fjords, feeling alone on the sandy heath and feeling tiny in front of the majestic dunes. Feeling the scent of heather and sound of the roaring sea. The wind and the great outdoors are your travel companion on the entire journey. I am adventurous and seek challenges in epic, and sometimes long journeys and this landscape in particular invites for adventure. I have decided to do the journey in three days on a gravel bike It's a mix of the speed optimized road racing bike and the off-road mountainbike.
I will join local cyclists who know the areas People who have a story to tell and with whom I experience the rough and special landscape. A true adventure awaits me! Good morning Per. Good morning.
Well, you are one of the locals? Sort of... not because I come from here, but in connection with the bike race I organize I have spent quite some time down here during fall and winter doing route recon. Tønder Marsh. An isolated and flat land part of Denmark, which lies there in all its wet and hazy mystery and hides in a corner of Denmark. It's swampy and the wind is strong.
Countless sheep and horses roam around enjoying the good of the grass and the many, many birds mingle in the worms, fish, and shellfish exposed by the Wadden Sea tides. It is my idea of a rugged and beautiful area with large plains and the sun flickering on the horizon. I have been cycling since I was 15 years old... or at least as a sport since I was 15. And it has been both on a competitive level as well as pure recreational level. What I think is great today, it's just getting out for oneself there is of course the physical part of it, but really just riding out into Mother Nature drive out on the roads, out into nature and meet people on a simple vehicle consisting of two wheels and be able to get far away.
All places has interesting things to offer. All places has a story to tell. and it's great to experience new places and start discovering. Is it a live cable - you know? No, but you can hold the rubber handle. The landscape is just as I had imagined and the weather is good. The sun is shining and the wind is not all too strong.
And though it's quite cold even for a Danish spring we keep warm on the bikes while moving north along the huge dike towards the Wadden Sea. Here is calm, larks singing and a faint sound of sea. I can feel that I am missing some suspension.
It's flat - very flat. The gravel roads are long and straight. It must be tough riding a bike on a day with strong winds from the west. However, we ride sheltered from the wind inside the dike. The calm weather makes it easy to talk, while the kilometers keep accumulating. It's as idyllic as a postcard. Yes, it's damn beautiful.
It is very fun to cycle here, because you feel that you are out in nowhere. You are far from – of course there is an inn there – but you are far from everything. My first travel companion turns around at Mandø Island and I travel a little farther north to "Kammerslusen" lock near Ribe to meet new gravel people. With Lasse and Tom we speed up a bit which is good for the techincal bike skills. Stones as large as fists and loose gravel requires concentration.
But it's awesome to ride a gravel bike in this terrain. It's built for it. A road bike had fallen short. The conversation is pleasant and we talk about speed, race and intensity, mixed with anecdotes about rides and races. I love both the friendly rivalry and competition when racing but also to enjoy nature and freedom, when the pace is low, and it doesn't matter who wins.
Then we meet another rider: Henrik. and when Tom and Lasse leave us at Varde River Henrik guides me into the military training ground at Oksbøl and out into wild and rather isolated heathland. We can ride for hours without riding the same terrain and the nature changes – as you can see we have been inside the plantation and enters one type of heath at "Kallesmærsk" and then there is this type of heath with dunes meandering. It's simply incredible! A bit farther north you've got the Filsø area which is 2500 acres of nature reserve with sea eagles and all sorts of things.
There's gravel roads everywhere. On a winter day with the hoarfrost sticking to all nooks of branches... it is pure medicine for the soul. In the cycling calendar May is practically one of the best months I know. Yes I agree. The nature, what you perceive through your eyes Something is about to bloom, there's buds everywhere, something is green, there's a bit of flowers.
It's perfect. It's good times, it's nature, it's relaxation. Yes I completely agree. I also believe that is why gravel cycling has gained ground.
Yes. And it's for everyone. We are yet to see regular gravel races so it is on a completely different level. It doesn't matter if it is summer or winter It's always something new. When you got snow
and slush you can still ride on the gravel roads. It's simply another experience. You get wet, but who cares.
Yes. It's actually one of the things I love about these bikes. Most people are quite protective about their road bike. Perhaps a bit too much actually. You've probably taken muddy selfies and a big white smile on your face. And when you take off your glasses it begins to crust. It has been a good day right? Yes. While you out there it might feel a bit cold and tough
but after a shower and the bike is clean again you're ready for another ride. Has someone been really freezing then you can mock them, that they have been wearing the wrong clothes. I sincerely believe it's here to stay. Yes me too. Also for someone... how shall I put it... elderly 40 plus! Those with experience in life.
Those with experience in life yes! Those who have got time for a slow pace. Yes. I have covered quite some kilometers but I still have some way to go for today's overnight stay at Stadil Fjord. I'll meet my friend, Anders, who has come from Aarhus to stay overnight so we are ready for an early start tomorrow. Hey. Hi Anders.
Good to see you. Likewise. I've got some snacks ready for you. YEAH! Snacks man! It's been some amazing terrain. First of all The Tønder Marsh this morning It was really nice.
I really think so. Really cool. It was not so varied. It was just flat like Lolland.
In the beginning? Yes yes... this morning. But the nice thing is that you can see really far and there's plenty of wildlife. Have you ever tried to ride near the military shooting ranges at Oksbøl No. No me neither. GIGANTIC area. Yes. I know it's huge.
And you meet no one. And all those gravel roads are maintained by the military... ...because it's their transport routes. So it's perfect boulevard gravel. Newly raked gravel roads. I think you will experience the same in Tranum dune plantation.
It's where I served in the military. It's you who've raked it? Yeah yeah. Is it homemade? Yes my mum has baked some cookies.
So just dig in! Lovely! Mmmm. Nice with some bonfire food. Mmm... a bag of jelly beans! The butcher from Valby. 12 meters per second of headwind... coming from the West Coast directly in our face.
It's gonna get rough tomorrow! Check. Now we are leaving this nice shelter. Mmm. Then we are riding towards the coastline again. And then we are heading up.... ...here... and then going towards Thyborøn.
It's nice to ride on that isthmus from Harboøre to Thyborøn. Instead of riding on the main road we can ride along the dike... ...on the inside. It's pretty cool. Then we have to take the ferry to Agger.
Thy National Park. Awesome... we are gonna meet John there. He is one of the locals. Then we're heading towards Klitmøller. So let's hope for dry weather... ...most of the day. Yes.
We leave the shelter early to fill our bidons, at the nearby cemetery, heading north up the coast. So you had 40 kilos of packing? Yes. Plus that guy on a stretcher? And then...
A man weighing 70-80 kilos. And his clothes and packing? Yes. Then you'll learn it the hard way. Then you learn how to work together. Yes. You can also get on each other's nerves.
Of course. You're under pressure, right? You definitely learn you are only as strong as the weakest part. There is no individualism at all. No.
And besides that you need to help each other, you've also got what they call a "buddy mate". Yes. The first night we got woken up by Rammstein at peak volume at 5 o'clock in the morning. Then they loosen up. Okay.
And get more... Friendly? A bit friendlier. Break it or pull it? Both! All right. It's a life hack. True.
We go on recreational trips in this one. Are you the mechanic yourself? Are you the mechanic? I don't know.... if you got power, and petrol... then I believe it's sufficient.
Yes true. Where are you going? We are going for an ice cream on the other side. Aha. All right. Let's hope they're open. That all of Agger is closed. It's our pastime.
Yeah yeah. Have a nice trip. You are born here, right? Yes I have never lived anywhere else. No? I started with a road bike. It was when mountainbikes were about to break through. It didn't take long before I got a... well you can call it a gravel bike. It was actually a city bike.
It had 700 cc wheels 32 mm and knobbly tires Ok. What we were riding at that time was actually like gravel today. I mean gravel roads. Holy mighty! I'm not a big fan of sand. It's the same with a motorbike. It's awfull to ride in it. I think the secret to it is... full throttle. It's high speed. You won't get through it if you go too slow.
No. If in doubt: Full throttle. It must be amazing to have this in your backyard. Yes. I've never tried anything else. Ok.
But we're pretty OK up here. Nice terrain. And it's not overcrowded. Right. The landscape changes. More trees and magnificent in a rough way shaped by sand and wind.
One of the cool things about riding here is... ...is the sandy surface. It's not something I'm used to. Yes. It also has that advantage that even though the winter was quite wet and this was flooded the sandy soil prevents it from getting as muddy as it does other places.
We're going straight here. If you're lucky you can both hear and see cranes in this area. It's the second time I'm riding in Thy National Park. I have been here during winter when it was all flooded.
Now it's all dry. Still challenging though. Even though the obstacles are quite small. My technique is being tested. We're not quite Mathieu van der Poel! The few people we meet and the magnificent weather gives us time to discuss a better and more elegant bike rider. I think it's cool with the extended cyclocross coverage on TV.
Yes. Definitely! It could have been more exciting though. Yes with Mathieu van der Poel....
Yes. He's having too few punctures! He's a real super human. Nice light between the trees.
Yes. It's an easy day on the bike. We take our time to enjoy nature. And rolls slowly through the National Park. Is that one of the large coastal rescue service stations? Actually.... this winter, when....
a tourist got lost out there during a storm. He was out there with a child. They got washed out into the sea.
Luckily a bunch of rescuers were in there. They jumped straight into the sea. Ok.
Out there in a storm.... ....it requires some courage. You can easily get hit to hurdy-gurdy land. Yes. True. How far are you away from home? Well... around 40 kilometers or so. So you'll be home in 90 minutes or so? Yes. I'll aim for that.
See you. Bye John. Well... thanks for the ride. Safe journey. You too.
Bye. The temperature has risen. Not too hot, but I have been wearing too much clothes. I've been too focused on nature, the terrain and the company. I need a dip! Do you have room for these two in your pockets? It's snacks! We look like someone going out in a blizzard It's also freezingly cold! I show a piece of skin here! This is like a roller coaster! The cycle path from Klitmøller towards Hanstholm is a pulsating roller coaster ride. We are like a rumbling train.
I'll try to switch on the mobile and see if I can see anything No treasure here. Egon has seized it. Let's try the other way out. When I rode with those guys from the former Veloropa...
...and it was mud and rain on a 50 kilometer ride in the forest with brand new disc brakes. The brake pads were worn out after just one ride. All sorts of dirt was dragged up. Sounded like this the entire ride.
Let's go. When are you getting picked up Anders? And where? I'm texting right now. Ehm... because I've obviously agreed to meet them at Svinkløv which is here. It can't be 31 if it's only those 5.
That's what it says. Here. There is drizzle in the air and it is foggy. The wind has picked up.
It's cool to experience the coast this way. The rough way. I like to ride in foul weather. Cycling is not only sunshine and dry roads.
It's also wind, sleet and cold. It is feeling it on your skin. The scents that change. Other senses open up. Hi! You are always welcome to bring your bike inside. Thank you. It's ok. It can stand here, but it was very kind of you.
Very nice service. I'm alone now. I clear my head when I'm cycling alone.
I'm present while enjoying the speed and fresh air. I hear my own breathing... and experience the landscape differently...
when I have no one to talk to. I read the turn and look forward to the hill out in the distance. I'm in another mental state when alone. The rustling of the wind, the birds singing and the crackling gravel is experienced more intensely It's a nice mental state to be in. A state I can be in for a long time.
It's beautiful. And sometimes I even get a little touched. The longer the journey becomes, the more philosophical the thoughts tend to become.
The thoughts are floating far and wide on long journeys. I ride the last stretch towards Skagen alone. New perspectives open up after many hours of companionship. Also a sort of calmness just to be me and my bike... transcending the nature of the West Coast...
and industrial towns as Thyborøn, Hanstholm and Hirtshals. It has gotten dark before I arrive in Skagen. I now only have a short ride to my destination. Denmark's northernmost point. Grenen.
Where the Kattegat and Skagerrak intersect. I meet that melancholy that always pops up when you know, you're reaching the end of something good. But it's OK.
It's the right feeling to have!