Gunnbjorn Fjeld – 12,139ft (highpoint of Greenland, owned by Denmark),
Mollehoj* – 561ft (highpoint on mainland Denmark),
Eric and Matthew Gilbertson
Date: August 4, 2010
220 biking miles + 200 ferry miles + 450 train miles
We decided it was time to cheat a little. So far we had pedaled more than 2000 continuous miles since Rovaniemi, Finland and had relied on our own power for every inch. But it’s a little difficult to get from Oslo to northern Denmark without taking a boat. We needed to get to Denmark so we could finish the last of the Scandinavian high points, so we decided it was worth a little dishonor to take a ferry from Oslo to Frederikshavn, Denmark.
We had just said goodbye to our relatives, Maria and Ragnhild, in Roa and needed to get to Oslo by 7:30pm to buy a ferry ticket. The farther south we went the denser the population became. In Iceland, Finland, Sweden, and Norway we had enjoyed sparsely populated country and could stealth camp in any grove of trees we pleased. As we drew closer to Oslo I said to Eric, “it’s a good thing we don’t have to look for a stealth campsite around here.”
We made it to the ferry terminal in time and purchased a ticket to Frederikshavn. The clerk said that the ferry would arrive at 7am. I tried to swallow my initial shock because I thought that it would only take three hours. But spending the night on the boat simplified matters a little because that meant we wouldn’t have to be scouting out a stealth campsite in the dark that night in Denmark. We had heard that good campsites were extremely scarce on the Jutland Peninsula.
The ferry was gigantic. It was like going on a cruise ship. Our two-person cabin was as nice as a hotel room. Eric said “it’s too bad that we’ve got this nice room and shower. We’re not even dirty yet.” Indeed, we had spent the last to nights at Maria and Ragnhild’s so we hadn’t had enough time to accumulate much filth. It was a shame we couldn’t save a night like this for a smellier time down the road.
But we made the most of it. We watched the sun set from the upper deck as we passed through the Oslofjorden. It was exciting to think that the farther south we got the more actual darkness we would have. By the time we made it to Denmark we wouldn’t have to cover our eyes with t-shirts to get sleep anymore. In our room we marveled at the revolutionary technology whereby you could simply flip a switch and make the lights go out.
RING RING. Ugh, the alarm went off. That meant we were coming into port. We rounded up our gear and ran downstairs to the bikes. We hopped on and cruised out from ship’s gigantic steel belly. “Velkommen til Dansk” a sign declared.
The next order of business was getting to the highest point in Denmark. Now, there’s a little debate raging about what actually is the highest point in the country. But we did our homework on Wikipedia a few weeks before so we knew where to go. There are two hills, very close to each other, called Møllehøj and Ejer Bavnehøj (the ‘ø’ is pronounced like the ‘u’ in ‘mull’). A few years ago a big observation tower and visitor’s center were built on top of Ejer Bavnehøj because people thought it was the tallest. But recently a survey was completed that showed Møllehøj is actually 6cm taller, at 591ft above sea level. We weren’t going to take any chances so we planned to visit both.
For now, that just meant we needed to head south. Northern Denmark looks a lot like Iowa. It’s as flat as lefse and wheat and potato fields stretch to the horizon. It would have been easy riding except we were headed south, and the prevailing winds blasted into us on their way north. To anyone reading this who is considering a Scandinavian bike tour: you will enjoy your ride much more if you head north, not south like us.
But at least it wasn’t raining. Yet. We were starting to think that maybe it was becoming drier the farther south we pedaled. We had a good day of riding and we were planning to look for a stealth campsite at a green area on our map. We figured that must indicate some kind of nature preserve that would have trees. So far in Denmark about the only vegetation we had seen was wheat and potatoes. The skies grew ominously dark and we knew we had to pedal faster. We wanted to set up the tarp before the skies let loose.
But then we heard that all-too agonizing whoosh of air from Eric’s back tire that indicated he had a flat. Dang it! I yelled. Of course there was nothing Eric could have done about it but I yelled anyhow because it was frustrating to have our momentum broken so abruptly. But as he patched his tube I noticed that mine had gone flat too. Wow, what a coincidence, I thought, that both our tires would go flat at the same time. We’ve never seen that happen before. Another cyclist rode by and said it was probably the flint that’s all over the roads. He said that it becomes more vicious when it rains. I picked up some gravel from the side of the road and sure enough it was all just a bunch of tiny little sharp arrowheads. We hoped that our tubes would hold out.
We made it to the woods just in time. It must have been a forestry preserve for logging because there aren’t too many other trees in Denmark. We quickly strung up the stealthy green tarp between two trees and it started raining, along with some thunder and lightning. We felt pretty concealed from anyone because the dark green color of the tarp acted like camouflage. And plus it was actually getting dark for once so we knew nobody would find us.
When we awoke the next morning there were gigantic bright orange slugs everywhere. I had never seen slugs that big before. Their slime was all over our bikes and our food bowls. But we figured our immune systems had been exposed to so much filth over the past couple thousand miles that a little slug slime wouldn’t really hurt.
We pedaled farther south and came closer to the high point. We could feel it. The hills were getting a little taller. Maybe. It was nice that we had the European road maps loaded on our GPS so we could calculate the shortest route on the fly. Good old Garmin took us on some pretty rinky-dink roads in the countryside and suddenly we found ourselves near the “summit.” A sign indicated that Møllehøj was off in the farmer’s field. We walked the bikes and dodged cow pies until we were at the top. A big old millstone marked the highest point in Denmark. The cows stared at us and with their eyes I think they were saying to us “what’s the big deal, it’s just a little hill?” But the view was exceptional. We could see wheatfields and cow pastures stretching to the horizon. We collected some rocks and the requisite jumping and juggling pictures on the summit, so we could call it official.
A few hundred feet away we could also see the *second* highest point in Denmark, Ejer Bavnehøj, crowned with a huge tower. We went up in the tower but I can’t say the view was much better, it was just fifteen feet taller. It was nice that they had left the real high point unspoiled, without all the tourist fluff. I think most people opt to forego the cowpie-avoidance hike and decide that the second-highest-point in Denmark is good enough for them. We couldn’t live with ourselves if we hadn’t made it to the actual high point.
Since the summer was running short we decided to change our strategy a little bit. We had to be in Switzerland on August 15 to meet Amanda and her mom. That meant we had twelve more days to get there. We could decide to bike twelve days in Denmark + Germany and then we’d have to take a train. Or we could go for the gold and see how many more high points we could tackle in twelve days, taking trains whenever we needed to. We had done some figuring on the map and it looked just marginally feasible to tackle the high points in Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, and Liechtenstein in the days remaining. So once we were finished basking in the glory of having climbed the highest point in Denmark we booked it down to the nearest train station in Horsens to see if we could get a ticket to Aachen, Germany—near the Dutch high point.
After about two hours of figuring and negotiating we finally had a train ticket. It wasn’t ideal, but we got the only train tickets that were available. Whereas the bikes had been an enabling factor in all our adventures so far this summer, trying to travel with them on trains became a liability. It meant that we couldn’t take the fast trains that left frequently. It meant that we would have to wait until the next morning.
So we made the most of it. Hey, how often do you find yourself in Horsens, Denmark? We caught up on email in the library and stocked up on food. I looked at some aerial photos on Google Maps and identified a good stealth camping area northwest of town near a reservoir. Close to sunset we headed off into the woods and sure enough it was campable. It’s always kind of a thrill when you’re camping somewhere that you maybe shouldn’t be. You have to keep quiet and not break any branches. You feel like a secret agent. We try to be as Leave-No-Trace as possible so that if anyone ever does discover us they won’t get too mad.
We biked back into town in the morning and spruced up in the bathroom. It’s tough to shave in the woods without a mirror. We hopped on the train and sped off like a bullet. The GPS indicated we were going 98mph. It was thrilling and unnatural to see the scenery go by so fast; so far our maximum speed had been about half that.
So long, Denmark, we said. Hello Netherlands.
*Mollehoj is only the highpoint of mainland Denmark. The highest point on any territory owned by Denmark is Gunnbjorn Fjeld, 12,139ft, in Greenland, which we have not climbed yet.