“Sweden will have to do its best to beat Norway,” we say when we leave Lillehammer on Sunday morning. We can hardly imagine that Sweden will attract us even more. It would even suit us if Sweden is slightly disappointing because that makes our choice much easier. In the meantime, Norway is throwing a few extra trumps on the table. We skate on a bad dirt road when a tractor carefully overtakes us. The tractor turns a few hundred meters further into a field while to our right is a beautiful farm. “That's a nice place to have lunch,” thinks Olivier. His stomach rattles and a break from all the bumping on the gravel road is welcome. Zoë skates a hundred meters ahead of Olivier and already passed the farm. "She's not hungry yet, and she's not going to wait," thinks Olivier, who becomes slightly irritated because his stomach knocks on the door of his brain. From the field where the tractor disappeared, a motorbike comes across the dry field. It is farmer Jan Tore, who has quickly parked his tractor and wants to have a chat.
When Olivier caught up with the two, Jan Tore says immediately. “We have a private beach at the lake. Do you want to come for a swim? ”. The beautiful farm is his and Olivier's intended lunch break has just been upgraded to an even better place. While Zoë still says we have to move on to get to Hamar tomorrow, Olivier has already accepted the offer and has almost turned around. "Never refuse an invitation, remember," he says to Zoë. She knows he is right and thinks fiercely about the many kilometers that await us tomorrow to be on time for the appointment, but she agrees wholeheartedly. The smile on Jan Tore's face indicates that he is delighted with our visit. “Two days ago, Martin Sundby was here on the farm, a former cross-country skiing world champion. Too bad you just missed him. He would be impressed, ”says Jan Tore with an English accent that sounds a bit Russian. He drives ahead of us with the motorcycle and we turn into the driveway of the farm. In contrast to the bad road, it is asphalted. At the very bottom, down at the water, is a large party tent and a wooden house. There is also a springboard, two kayaks and a jetty with a motor boat. “The water is wonderfully warm” Jan Tore assures us, but our experience of the past few days tells us something else. It is a beautiful summer day, no wind and almost 25 degrees. The water is indeed pleasantly warm by Norwegian standards. “You can pitch the tent here” he suggests when we get a piece of apple pie and a glass of soda. “A long time ago we traveled in New Zealand and Australia for six months, when we were just married. There was a woman in New Zealand who helped us a lot, without any reward in return. We are happy when we can help other travelers, even thirty years later”. In the evening Jan Tore tells that he sells building lots in Sjosjoen, one of the best cross-country skiing area in the world. “I'm going to help you find a house” he says convinced. Another round won by Norway.
One day later we arrive in Hamar, where we are invited by the producer of our trailers. Erik and Negar treat us like kings and literally stuff us full of food. We gain at least two kilos and enjoy a few days of rest. We covered 2,200 kilometers in two months and our body feels super fit, but also tired on the other hand. Erik, the owner of Nordic Cab, even offers Zoë a job for one month, after our trip. That could be a perfect start in Norway and it is Norway's penultimate trump card. The last trump card comes a few days later when we skate through the Femunden National Park. We have changed our route to see reindeer, but have only a glimmer of hope. The last time we chose a specific route to spot wildlife was through the Chaco in Paraguay. A hellish journey that we will redo anytime soon. The steep climbs make it a hellish journey, but the rewards are just as great. We see up to fifty reindeer in a beautiful, rough nature. Norway's last trump card was a direct hit. Now it is Sweden's turn.
The first meters we skate on a quiet asphalt road with a long descent. Not a bad start, but soon the first raindrops fall from the sky. It is not easy to find a place to sleep and we end up in the middle of an old, deserted forest road. We have the tarp ready just in time to shelter from a heavy rain shower. Norway also started with rain and wet feet, so this round remains undecided. The next day we skate to the first real village in Sweden. Olivier is already looking forward to his favorite activity in a new country, exploring the supermarket. We are very curious about the prices because Norway was very expensive. Zoë especially hopes that the bread is like in Norway and not the sourdough from Denmark. As usual, the supermarket visit takes far too long, according to Zoë's feeling who is waiting outside in the cold. Olivier returns with good and bad news. The good news is that the food is a bit cheaper than in Norway. The bad news is that the bread is sourdough and very expensive. A minus for Sweden on the second day, but the battle is far from over.
The following days, Sweden is working on its backlog. Sweden is much less steep than Norway. That makes skating a lot more pleasant, and it also means that there are many more roads. More roads means more options to choose and quieter roads. There were always cars in Norway, even on the most remote dirt roads. In Sweden we skate on small asphalt roads for half a day and hardly any cars pass. The small roads wind through dense forests and along numerous lakes. Every now and then the road winds through a small village where the road only just fits between the houses. We could skate right in the front door, they are often that close to the road. The houses all have the typical red color. The red color is a form of iron oxide. The red comes from the first roasted and finely ground waste ore from the copper mines near the Swedish city of Falun. Everywhere we see cute houses where we would like to live, something we have hardly seen in Norway. There are cycle paths everywhere in the villages and we see many more people on their bikes. In Norway we occasionally saw a cyclist, all electric, but here people still pedal themselves. The bicycle route network in Sweden is also a lot more extensive than in Norway. We largely follow the Sverigeleden, the national cycling network with routes all over the country. Sweden throws a lot of trumps on the table and wins one round after another. The draw is approaching fast.
"Don't you find it difficult that we also like it here?" Zoë asks, slightly concerned. We feel that Sweden also pleases us and that the choice will be very difficult. There are many factors that play a role in our decision and both countries are beautiful. We like the houses and the cycling culture more in Sweden. The combination of work, snow and the proximity of an airport are in favor of Norway. Norwegian and Swedish are very similar, but not enough that we can make a choice now to learn one. Since Denmark we have been learning Norwegian, but now that Sweden is knocking on the door so emphatically, our motivation has dropped somewhat. For an objective opinion, we should not turn to the Norwegians or Swedes themselves. There is a slight rivalry between the Norwegians and their "big brother". They promote their own country, although they don't really know their little brother. “I hope you choose for Dalarna” a Swedish woman says to us, while we get a response on Instagram “Sweden is nice, but you should come back to Norway”. We will give Sweden some time to play trumps, even though one trump comes from an unexpected move.