I recently moved to Umeå Sweden to study forestry and moving into a new city in a new country has reminded me how great of a tool, bikes are for exploration. It’s like when you were a young kid and could ride your bike all over the neighborhood. This trip was an homage to simply exploring and discovering new places by bike.
Recently, a friend told me about a couple cabins that exist on the island of Holmön out in the Baltic Sea between Sweden and Finland. The ferry to Holmön is only about 20 miles or so from Umeå and so one weekend we decided to go and check it out. Early on a chilly Saturday morning we woke up, made a quick breakfast of oatmeal and coffee, and rolled our bikes down the spiral staircase in the apartment building and out the door. From there we biked the roughly 20 miles through the morning fog to Norrfjärden where we could catch the ferry over to the island. On the way, we biked through the town of Sävar which was the site of the last and bloodiest battle of the Finnish War in the early 1800s. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to stop and read the signs along the way as we had to hurry on to catch the boat in time. Because there are roughly 100 people that live on the island, the ferry is considered part of the road network and so runs twice a day and is free. We were able to just pedal right on and pick a spot along the side of the boat to watch the scenery slide by.
When we arrived to Holmön after about 45 minutes on the ferry, we rolled our bikes off and looked around for the country general store. It was here, we had heard that we were able to pick up the keys to the cabin. The man at the store was very friendly and told us where we could find the different cabins and told us a little bit about the history. The fiskebasturna or fishing huts were left over from the time when Holmön was largely a commercial fishing town. Located in a protected natural bay, they offered fishermen a sheltered spot to get out of the weather and spend the night on the far side of the island if needed. In the years since they fell into a state of disarray until the municipality acquired them and fixed them up for anybody to stay in free of charge.
After getting the keys and necessary information, we began biking south down the island. The northern half of the island is mostly quaint little cottages and historical churches and a ship museum. The southern half of the island consists of a large nature reserve with old spruce forests and blueberries and mushrooms abound. We biked through town with the classic red and white houses. From there we continued over a bridge into the southern half of the island and the nature reserve. The cabin was situated at the very southern tip of the island about a half mile hike off the road.
When we arrived, we unloaded our bikes and brought everything inside. It was a simple cabin with a couple beds, a wood stove, and a small table by a window overlooking the sea. We set our stuff down and then went back out to continue exploring. We walked along the shore for a while, passing several small fishing boats before looping back through the woods. On the way back we meandered slowly following spots of orange in the forest collecting chanterelle mushrooms to have to dinner.
After hiking, we got a hot fire going in the stove and then headed out in the evening rain for a quick dip in the freezing water before coming back inside to eat dinner and sit and play cards watching the sea birds chase each other through the air. As we fell asleep that night with the fire crackling in the corner of the cabin, I reflected on how this morning we had been in the center of Umeå, Sweden’s fastest-growing city. Just a bike ride away we had escaped the city and now lay in the middle of the Baltic Sea falling asleep to waves.
The following morning, we slept late, fried up pancakes with fresh blueberries and packed up our sleeping bags. We loaded our bags on the bikes and made our way back to the road. We biked slowly back towards the north end of the island stopping frequently to look for mushrooms and berries. Along the way, we passed by a lighthouse and detoured to explore around the old site before hurrying back to catch the ferry home. Before leaving we stopped back by the country store and picked up some smoked herring from a local fisherman. As we took the ferry back, I thought again about what an amazing tool bikes are for exploration, and how simple, cheap, and easy it can be to get out and explore new places. For the price of some smoked fish, and a little chain lube we had found this little paradise outside of our new home in Umeå.