The first segment of our biking trip was along the route from Copenhagen to Berlin, populated mostly by German cyclists and largely travelled in the northerly direction – the opposite of our route. We enjoyed the opportunity to see quite a lot of the Danish and German countryside, including unexpected encounters with wildlife, wind, and tragedies of recent history.

Day 1, Aug 20: Copenhagen to Ishoj, 28.4 km.

We meant to have everything ready to roll out of Copenhagen bright and early. Well intentioned is not necessarily well accomplished. Instead, we were up until 2 am packing and only left the back garden with our impossibly heavy bikes and packed-to-the-brim panniers in the early afternoon.

  

As it turns out, when you are following a map that is in German, without street names, and written for biking the opposite direction on the cycle route, it means that you will have some trouble finding your way. We got off track at nearly the first turn, although we were on a street that was comfortable for biking – Copenhagen has truly amazing infrastructure for bicycles. We found our way eventually to the correct path along a stream wending behind apartment buildings of sparse Nordic design. We ended up on a cycle-only path for most of the day, crossing through a small nature reserve with an amazing playground inside what looked to be a beached ship filled with boulders. We biked past an energy plant, with massive wind turbines and unidentifiable towers. The later part of the path skirted the sea, mostly inland along small canals shielded by a series of small embankments that we discovered were popular beaches on this, the hottest day in Europe since 2003.

After a slight detour back along part of the trail due to confusing signage and our confusing German/backwards/no road names guidebook, we found our way to an organized camp area. Ultimately, we finished 28.4 km, including a few detours, in 4 hours – including stops. Not what we’d expected, but, as bike touring newbies, I think we are going to take it as it comes.

Day 2, Aug 21: Ishoj to Sigerslev/Stevns Klint, 49 km.

We biked along the beach for the first section of today’s route, soon entering a small town and stopping at the delicious smells from a bakery with a window of fresh bread. After an espresso and bread we headed back on the road, biking on a cycle/walking path set aside from the road by a curb. Here we realized that we could trim 20 km from our day’s path by sticking with this main road and not following the cycle path inland. The main road kept the set-aside cycle lane for the entire time, and we were pleased to shorten our ride, although I’m sure that the other path is through lovely countryside.

We stopped in Køge for the grocery store and post office, a cute town with busy street shopping and a nice central square. We had done 27 or so kilometers in the morning, and felt pretty good. After lunch we continued south, following residential streets right at the sea before turning inland and tracking through farmlands past wonderful old Danish homes with thatch roof construction and timber beam framing visible on the exterior. We stopped for a break near to the end of the day at Schloss Gjorsley, a medieval castle with lovely lawns. Today we realized that the Copenhagen-Berlin route is the same as the Danish National Route 9, which is well signed, and we began relying more on our Danish cycle map.

At 49 km for the day, we rolled into a park area at the limestone cliffs of Stevns Klimt, with an old limestone quarry nearby, a bird observation tower, a radar stand filled with nesting swallows, a family of biking campers, and a small museum dedicated to the mass extinction at 65 million year ago, the evidence of which is found in one of the clay layers exposed on the cliffs below our campsite. We explored the area a little, set up camp, made dinner, and decided to call it an early evening. Both of us are quite tired but we don’t feel as terrible as I expected.

           

Day 3, Aug. 22: Stevns Klint to Præsto, 55.5 km

The day began with rain and followed it up with crazy head winds and a few smatterings of showers. The sun came out as we were packing up camp, at least, which allowed us to dry out the tent, airing out our things under the bird observation tower which looked to be part of the old military or quarry installation at the site. Although windy, the morning was largely sunny, and we stopped after a few kilometers to see a church in Højerup, built originally in the 1500s and with gorgeous faded paintings on the walls inside. Swallows nested throughout the church and perched atop the intricate elevated lectern, fully painted and carved with biblical scenes. The church is most notable, however, for the fact that half of it fell into the sea in the 1920s in a landslide, which also took most of the churchyard and left coffins and skeletons sticking out of the cliff for a while afterwards. In the three days following the slide, 40,000 people came to see the half-destroyed church, gaping at the pieces crashed to the beach below. Today, the cliff is supported with bracing and the place that had been another room is now a small porch at the cliff’s edge.

After the church, we continued south through country lanes hedged in by wild roses filled with the largest rose hips I’ve ever seen. We stopped for lunch outside of Rødvig, a town whose center was so small we biked right past it. Lunch was followed with brief rain and then a lot of wind. We battled through gusty head- and side-winds through the afternoon, stopping for sodas in the afternoon in the town of Faxe Ladeplads. I lost my love of biking in the afternoon for a while as the headwinds became almost unbearable, and we decided to find a closer campsite. The biking world had other plans for us, however, as the campsite we’d hoped to stay was announced as “private” by an unwelcoming manager. Fortunately much of the next 6 km included down hills, and the wind let up for the last part of the ride. We rode into Præsto in the early evening and treated ourselves to pizza for dinner.

             

Day 4, Aug. 23: Præsto to Stubbenkøbin, 50 km.

We woke again to rain and dark skies. Packed up and headed into town for a few errands. Some sudden and heavy rain caught us just as we headed into Præsto’s central square, so we ducked into a covered pass-through area to wait out the downpour. The rain continued for quite a while, and we chatted with an older Dane who had lived in the US in his 20s and recalled with pleasure his trips back and forth across the country, including camping at the Grand Canyon. During a small break in the rain we dashed across to the grocery store for overpriced espresso and to dry out. The sun emerged before too long, the storm seemingly blown out to the Baltic Sea. What had started out as an earlier day had turned into a late start, but with significantly improved weather.

The expensive double-double espresso fueled us halfway through the day, through the farms and tiny villages southeast of Præsto and again towards the coast. Mid-afternoon, following some rain bouts and a few stops under sheltering trees, we stopped at a church built in the 1600s for a bathroom break and to evaluate the first bridge crossing of the day at Kalvehave. The bridge seemed to rise impossibly above us, a steep uphill for the first half and then the downhill. An American family we spoke with last night briefly at the restaurant had said their bridge crossing was frightening with the wild wind and construction having closed down one lane. Their description fortunately turned out to be much worse than our experience, as the bridge did have an open bike lane despite the construction, the wind wasn’t entirely terrible, and the uphill not as bad as it seemed from afar.

After the first bridge, we decided to take a side route marked as Danish Regional bike path 58. This led us around the west side of the island of Møn, through more of the lovely countryside, past massive windmills, and to the site of excavated Neolithic burial mounds. The site of Kong Asgers Høj (King Asger’s mound) sat right beside our route, and the T-shaped barrow was open for us to crawl into. The stone chambers were about 3-feet tall, and extended maybe 10 feet back from the entrance and then reached a cross bar of the same distance. The mound was 15/20-feet tall and rose sharply from the surrounding area, sitting on the highest rise of this part of the island.

Further down the island, we reached another long bridge, this one a little frightening as it was without a bike lane but with a high speed limit. After the bridge we quickly reached the ferry to Stubbenkøbing. It was a sweet little wooden ferry with space for only a few cars. We walked on and enjoyed the view during the 12-minute crossing. In town we found the campground and then walked along the beach into town. Empty roads and squares with the church tolling for a full 5 minutes at 8:00 produced a slightly eerie walk, but at least the grocery store was open for re-filling our kitchen pannier.

                  

Day 5, Aug. 24: Stubbekøbing to Marielyst South, 40 km

We dawdled a little in the morning so that we could get to the Info Café in town to check email and buy postcards. A few patches of sun in the morning gave way to persistent clouds throughout the afternoon. Just south of town the path turned to the coast, becoming a thin, compacted dirt walking path between grass and hedges. The view was lovely, although the going a little slower due to the path surface. Throughout the day we skirted the sea, mostly on gravel or dirt paths and sometimes on paved road. The way was very quiet, with only a little wind and rain. We met a group of five older bikers from Switzerland taking the route the same direction as us, although they are staying in hostels and were planning to take a later ferry to Germany tomorrow so we did not see them again.

We arrived to the coastal area around Marielyst in the early evening, biking through neighborhoods of holiday homes near sandy beaches. We purchased a few groceries in town and then headed to the camp ground for hot showers, dinner, and talks with two pairs of cyclists on their way towards Copenhagen. In the evening we walked the 100 feet from our campsite to the beach over small grassy dunes. The water was perfectly calm with fog laying low at a distance, making the sea and sky merge into a gray-blue at the edges of our sight.

        

Continued in part II