Not all adventures have to involve bringing along a ton of gear and staying out for multiple days. In fact, you don’t even have to stay out the night to have a fantastic outdoor experience on two wheels. Revelate ambassador, Michael O’Dwyer of @bikepackingsweden is the king of finding great routes that aren’t too far from his own front door. And his article today is no different. Join in as Michael traverses ice, snowy trails, and some semi-frozen marshes!
By Michael O’Dwyer
The ice had melted and refrozen so many times during this unusual winter it had become bullet hard. A mottled texture of layers and fragmented plates lay under the smooth glassy surface so that it resembled a magic potion. From standing height it was barely noticeable, but from a drones viewpoint the intricacies were mesmerizing. I hadn’t planned on the adventure, but when my fat bike wheels touched the ice for the first time I knew I had to do it.
Stockholm doesn’t get as much snow as you would think. The Swedish capital is cold during the winter but with little precipitation, ice is more prominent than snow. This fact, coupled with its seemingly infinite number of lakes and brackish water inlets, makes the city an excellent place for nordic ice skating. Many of the suburban waterways, with picturesque villas along their shorelines, are groomed by the local councils to make for perfect and safe ice skating during the cold winter months. Those who want more head to remote lakes deep in the forests of Stockholm’s green belt, where tens of kilometers can be covered in a day using nordic ice skates resembling an ice skating version of inline rollerblades. Traversing the ungroomed wild lakes on skates and linking them together via walking paths or roads is a national obsession. Today I had a better idea. Why not link one of Stockholm’s rarely formed tours on my fatbike and its 4.5 inch studded tyres?
What began as a short ride from my house to check out the local ice for a skating tour quickly turned into a “let’s go for it” moment. I never go out on the ice without the appropriate safety equipment, so when I started out on the smooth surface it was an easy decision to keep going and complete the epic circuit. Trehörningen, where I started, would lead over to Mörtsjön via a hiking trail. From there, a frozen marsh would take me to the edge of the large lake of Orlången. Presuming I can find the hidden path in the long reeds, I’ll be able to access this vast waterway and cross to the boulder field on its north shore. If the ice is well formed, I’ll meet a flooded field where I’ll be able to cycle over the submerged horse jumps and connect to Ågestasjön. Presuming these temperamental waters are properly frozen I’ll make it to the northern end where a tricky exit awaits. Here, I’ll have to solve the reed and thicket maze to free myself from the ice. Following this, I’ll cross a road for the first time on the tour and head to Magelungen lake and ride westwards to complete the loop. Easy, right?
The tour began like a dream. Trehörningen was sheer bliss. The ice was smooth and near featureless. It was one of those occasions when it was safer to cycle the ice than attempt to walk. Whilst gliding across its slippery surface my studded tyres dug in and made me feel like I was flying. Perfect ice and idyllic scenery had me excited at the prospect of completing this tour for only my second time. The first was on skates and in the opposite direction. With no guidebook or signposts I was going by memory in the wrong direction, winging it.
Exiting Trehörningen was easy and the ride past the stables of Balingsnäs went without a hitch. Next was the old hiking track which unfortunately is heavily used by the local horse making a mess of the trail. I struggled uphill over the broken and frozen ground, testing myself to stay on my bike and resist the temptation to walk. I distracted myself by focusing on fixed points to keep my balance. During my staring contest with nature, the surroundings revealed themselves. Miniature waterfalls, frozen like the world around me, came tumbling down the track and gave me the feeling that time was also frozen. Only my own heavy breathing and the scratching of my studs on the ice broke the silence of the forest.
As I began on Mörtsjön the smooth ice continued. This is one of the more unusual lakes of Stockholm as there is no road access to its shore. The narrow valley is surrounded by forest on all sides. A bit of wilderness in the suburbs of Scandinavia’s largest city. Closer to my exit point, care needed to be taken. Open water blocked part of the southern shore so I needed to go slowly and test the ice in order to make it to land dry.
Next was a part of the trail I had never been to before. I was surprised to find a network of wooden walkways leading through what would be a flooded forest at any other time of the year. With so many branches and tree trunks protruding from the ice there was a risk of hitting an air pocket and crashing through the surface. Luckily, with such wide tyres on my fatbike the gaps in the wooden planks weren’t an issue.
Before long I reached the most difficult section of the day, the Sjödalen marshes. Although good at first, the marshes quickly became a problem as the hidden pathway through the wall of reeds blocking my access to Orlången was nowhere to be found. Going back and forth along the impenetrable growth finally got me in trouble as I ended up riding through the least solid part of the wetlands ice. My tyres collapsed through the surface and I ended up knee deep in freezing water. Nothing gets you moving as quickly as a sudden dip in an ice bath. I sprang to action and made a dash to more solid ground, dragging my bike as the ice continuously broke around me. Thankfully the terrain through which I was floundering was effectively just a wet field, or my situation could have been a lot more serious.
In the end bushwacking was required, which actually went easier than expected. Suddenly I was out on the vastness of Orlången. I rounded islands and photographed ice formations as I made my way across the openness to the far shore.
Remembering the next part of the trail from the ice skating tour I had made all those years ago, I was hoping to get to ride on ice through flooded fields and gaze at the submerged horse riding jumps under clear ice. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be. The field was dry and I had to make do with riding single track through the frozen landscape. A champagne problem.
When the trail ended I encountered another set of marshes, but this time they were frozen solid. Unlike the glassy frozen lakes, the ice here was punctuated with grass tufts making the crossing more like riding down an old country lane avoiding knee deep potholes. Successfully across, I arrived at the penultimate lake of Ågestasjön. This shallow lake with its active intake and outlet of water had caused me problems the first time I did this tour. Flowing water is always slower to freeze and with this flow cutting through the centre of the body of water, extreme care would be needed not to break through, as I didn’t relish finishing the rest of the tour in soggy underwear.
The open water was quickly spotted and avoided as I rode on to the maze of reeds and bushes, which were the final puzzle before I could reach terra firma and the last part of the tour. By following deer tracks sunken into the once mushy ice, I managed to solve the maze in record time. The most difficult stages of the tour were behind me and I was on the home stretch.
For the first time of the trip I had to ride on an asphalt road to access the last lake of the day. That said, the expensive mansions I cycled past kept me entertained as I daydreamed about which of the villas would suit my needs best. A hidden lane along the back of some of their gardens led me down to the entry point onto Magelungen.
This long lake divides the urban block of Stockholm city from the more forested south side of Huddinge, where I live. Unfortunately for me, on this day the lake acted like a wind tunnel blasting snow and ice particles into my face as I fought the freezing winds. This normally safe skating lake consists of shallow and very static water, making it a popular winter venue for the residents of Farsta. The ice is groomed every year and on a good day hundreds of skaters and ice fishermen can be seen enjoying the winter sun. Today, the lake was deserted. Not because the ice wasn’t good enough, but the exposure to the strong westerly would make sure that skaters would only want to skate in one direction, with the wind. It was only an idiot like me who would be fighting against the prevailing winds. Fortunately, the type two fun was short lived and I soon made my way back onto land and the shelter of the forest. My time on the ice had come to an end.
As I rode home I thought to myself how lucky I was to be able to access such a great trail from my very doorstep. What was meant to be a quick scouting trip became a moment seized, and an opportunity taken. My two hour local adventure had given me memories of a lifetime.