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Some Impressions from the ‘Raw-Food-Cycle Tour’ through Sweden
by Sigrid De Leo

Deutsch - from EVU News, Issue 3 /1997

‘Edible fruits and plants constitute the most appropriate food for man.’ - ‘According to his anatomy, man has not been physiologically prepared to eat meat.’ - Carl von Linné (1707-1778) prof. of Botany at the University of Upsala

  • More than 15 months the 78 (!) year old Arne Wingquist had been preparing for the ‘raw-food’ bicycle tour through Sweden.
  • More than once it had been published in the EVU News’ agenda, on Internet, in different vegetarian / vegan newsletters.
  • More than 100 people from all over the world had written asking for information..
  • More than one participant from a foreign country (me from Switzerland) had not come.
  • More than 100 steep hills I seemed to have climbed during the first two weeks.
  • More than 30°C we often had during the first 10 days.
  • More than 7 hours we bicycled the longest day.
  • More than 1400km or 850 miles we bicycled in 19 days eating only raw, fresh plant-food.
  • More than once Arne was interviewed for newspapers, radio-stations and news-agencies.

arctic circle
The participants are crossing the Arctic Circle

Are you mad?’

‘Are you mad’, a teacher colleague of mine had said, when I talked about my plan to cycle 1400 km from the north of Sweden to Stockholm in the South. ’For bicycling you have to go to a warm country, not to a cold one like Sweden’. Well, I doubt whether it was hotter in Italy than up in the north of Sweden when I arrived in Kiruna (north of the Arctic circle) in the evening of the 14th July.

Besides countless mosquitoes (‘50 Million Mosquitoes can’t be wrong. Kiruna is best¨’ was written on caps that were sold in Kiruna) there were Karin and Arne Wingquist waiting for me in the little airport. I was glad that my bicycle which had been transported on the plane too, was in perfect state.

Katarina Lindberg (1976, a student from Umea) J, (1978, a student from Stockholm) and Ronald Persson, (1944, a radio engineer from Stockholm) had already arrived at the Youth Hostel.

Although I had ordered vegetarian meals on the plane, I did not get them. It was the first time that I did not get the meals I ordered and it seems that Lufthansa, being a state company, does not bother very much about vegetarians, which I was told by the flight-attendants on the flight back, when the same thing happened. Therefore I was really glad when Karin and Arne invited me to have some salad. and vegetables with them.

After dinner all participants were weighed, their blood pressure measured and other personal data were written down for Prof. Hebbelinck from Brussels university who would evaluate them afterwards.

When Kurt, a representative from Kiruna town administration, spoke to me in perfect Swiss-German dialect I sure was very surprised. How come? He had studied for a couple of years at Zurich’s famous university.

Of course we did not want to miss seeing the midnight sun of which we had a splendid view from a hill near Kiruna, where Arne took us! Up there I realised what the world would be like, if the singing birds on their migration were killed for food like in several southern countries (especially Italy) as at present. Did you know that one swallow eats 1 kg of insects in 4-5 weeks? That corresponds to 150’000 flies, mosquitoes and other insects! A titmouse catches about 50’000-100’000 insects during a feeding period, i.e. 4-5 weeks according to a study of the Vogelwarte Sempach, a Swiss research station for birds.

Probably the short summer period (it is winter and dark from October till the end of April) is the reason why in the whole area not a single bird could be seen, which would have diminished the swarms of mosquitoes and flies of all sizes that where all around. I thought I would have to drive with a cloth over my mouth but then my sunglasses were enough protection for my eyes when we were on the road the next day.

The Start

cartoon bike After a breakfast consisting of only fruit, the group started together but when the first hills were to be climbed we realised pretty soon that everybody had their own speed, own tactic for climbing the hills, individual necessity to have brakes so that we drove in small groups. As 3 mobile phones were with us the danger of remaining somewhere on the road alone with a physical or technical problem was eliminated. It was a great comfort to see Ulla Troeng (president of the Swedish Vegan Society) who together with her family accompanied the group during the first week and Karin in their cars. How often, however, did I think of the strong engine under the bonnet when I was sweating on my bicycle up one of the numerous steep hills.

Arne who is an early bird, went off early in the morning (between 4 and 6 o’clock) while the rest of us took it more easy. We had to pay for it when we cycled under a burning sun later in the day while Arne sometimes had arrived already at the destination. We, on the other hand, took the chance to stop at one of the 70’000 beautiful lakes, at the Baltic Sea or on the shores of the immense rivers to take a refreshing swim or to relax for a couple of hours.

Through Endless Forests

The first week we drove most of the time on well paved roads through endless pine forests where we met a vehicle about every 10 minutes. Many of them were huge white frigo trucks which left a strong smell of dead fish behind them.

photo: Sigrid
Sigrid De Leo at one of the 70’000 lakes of Sweden.

I slowly began to understand why in the brochures of the travel agencies only the south of Sweden was recommended for bicycle tours: I estimate that 80% of the time we were climbing up-hill! On our mounted computer distances between 73 and 129 km were registered and a daily cycling time ranging from 3.75 to 7.5 hours. Of the 1410 km I did about 600 km standing because my bottom could not get used to the saddle. The luggage on the bike was something like 15-25 kg.

Living Food – Food of the Future

Cycling for a couple of thousand km in some weeks is of course not a rare thing to do, at least not in Germany or Switzerland. What made the tour rather special was the fact that only raw food was to be eaten and only water was to be drunk. If you consider that a woman from the USA had given up the plan to join Arnes tour because her doctor had told her that it was impossible to do such a long and rather strenuous physical activity eating only vegan raw food there is still a lot of enlightening work to be done.

On the contrary, I doubt whether I could have reached Stockholm eating less raw but more cooked food, and maybe dairy products. During all the time I felt well, light and full of energy. Nobody in the group ever complained of stiff mussels or other physical problems. Digestion was excellent. The astonishing thing was that we had to drink rather little, considering the fact that we sweat a lot.

I must confess though that I was dreaming of some boiled potatoes and a cup of brown rice for three weeks. Those were the things that I was going to eat when we arrived in Stockholm where there was going to be a kind of banquet,organised by the Swedish Vegan and the Vegatarian Societies, in a vegetarian restaurant for all the participants, their families and friends.

A sample of Arnes diet for one day:2 bananas, 2 oranges, 1/4 of a watermelon, 1 apple, 2 plates of mixed salad, 1 l of water.

My diet for one day: 1 apple, 3 figs, 2 dried bananas, 3 spoonful of fresh squeezed wheat-flakes, 3 plums, 5 almonds, 2 plates of mixed salad (lettuce, tomatoes, zucchini, fennel, cauliflower, broccoli, white-,red cabbage, cucumber, avocado, radishes, celery, carrots) 1 litre of fresh water.

While in the first days everybody prepared their meals themselves, we gradually took over buying and preparing the evening meal together sharing the costs and the work. What a wonderful sensation to eat a lot of fresh fruit, salads or vegetables on a warm sunny summer evening in a garden and than to get up and to feel light and not a bit heavy like after a cooked meal even vegetarian or vegan one.

A Short Crisis

After a first week of long and not too steep gradients (Steigungen) the second week was quite a challenge because there was one climb after the other. Katarina and J had not resisted the temptation to stop when we were invited to stay a night in Katarinas home after 680 km. They drove by car to Stockholm to take part in a family party. Both girls had lost 3kg and had got very nice clear skin now.

My crisis came on the 12th day after nearly 1000 km of the tour. On our arrival at Sundvall after a hot day of mostly climbing I told Arne that I was going to take the bus to Stockholm the next day. I had enough of climbing! I still had to ‘digest’ the fact that the impression which I had got looking at the map at home was wrong: instead of a flat landscape, a road which first followed a river and then the flat coastline, there was an endless number of hills to climb. Arne and Karin tried to convince me that from now on there would be a nice mostly flat landscape. Well, after a wonderful buffet of raw salads and vegetables (the more we got south the greater the choice was) my nerves were restored and I forgot about the bus ride. Of course I would finish the tour!

The one who never complained was 78 year old Arne! He got up early in the morning, left, sometimes without even having some fruit, and had arrived often when we got to our destination. One day we were just in time to hear him giving an interview about the tour on the radio.

Pippi Longstocking’s Country

After Ylva had joined the group in Hörnösand I had another excellent guide who told me everything about the history, nature, culture, economy, educational system and all the things I wanted to know about Sweden. Arne’s prediction was right: the landscape was rather flat, with open fields, gentle birch forests, picturesque red houses with a lot of flowers in the gardens. I could not help thinking of ‘Pippi Longstocking’ and other books by the famous Swedish vegetarian writer Astrid Lindgren. How often, seeing a child sitting or playing on a fence I remembered A. Lindgren’s wonderful tales which I had read as a child. photo: water
Enjoying: sun, nature and water!

I was surprised to see so few animals. The first cat I saw after about a week. Horses in huge meadows (for riding as Ylva told me) seemed to be even more numerous than cows, a couple of sheep were the domestic animals I saw. A herd of reindeer crossing the road near Kiruna, one elk, a lot of brown-black crows and a hare, were the wild animals I saw during the whole time. The number of birds increased slowly the more we went south.

Lodging and Hospitality

The Youth Hostels and camp sites which Arne and Karin had chosen to stay at were in nice places, often on a lake, a river or on the Baltic Sea, and of a good standard. Our problem was that it would not get dark at night. We invented a lot of tricks to darken the room, like hanging blankets and towels in front of the windows. I often wondered on the other hand how people could stand the long winter when it was dark from October to the end of April without daylight, without sun!

Only once did we have to sleep in a school which was rather primitive, but as the weather was nice and warm we sat outside in the evening sun to have our sumptuous meal.

Can you imagine that a family of five moved out of their house for one night and left their home at our complete disposal? Arne had met Marianne last year when he was up north for training. When she had heard about the tour she had offered her home to us. In return we invited them to try our ‘raw-food buffet’. They liked it, but obviously it did not satisfy them completely, because afterwards they went to the mother-in-law for ‘something to eat’. Another night we spent with Katarina’s parents near Umea in a little village which consisted of only a couple of houses. We prepared a wonderful buffet of a variety of fresh salads and vegetables, which we had all together in the garden. The great amount of waste resulting from preparation, was ‘for the pig’, which was raised in a sty. The fact made me aware of the difficulties many young vegetarians/vegans encounter when their loved ones keep on eating dead animals. Fortunately the future belongs to young people!

Arne’s son Bertil and his daughter Gunnil also offered their homes as well as Arne himself in Valentuna not far away from Stockholm

Meeting Vegetarians

In the Youth Hostel of Ornskoldsvik we got to know with a Danish theatre group while we were preparing our meals. I suspected that they were vegetarians as there was no meat to be seen. When I asked, I was told that out of eight members three were vegetarians. After dinner we sat together for a long time and talked about vegetarianism. It seemed that the vegetarians were rather uncertain about their choice, because many friends and relatives warned them of the ‘health risks’ that this nutrition carried. They were really glad to meet us and had a lot of questions. When they heard that Arne had been a vegetarian for 66 years and I all my life they were relieved and reassured In Umea a young student talked to me in Swedish after she had read about the vegan cycle tour on my sweatshirt. She told me (in English of course as I did not understand Swedish. The Swedish people speak either English or German fluently by the way) that there are a lot of vegans among the students. Her brother was also a vegetarian and her parents gradually took to it, too.

It was of course very interesting to visit the university of Upsala and its library filled with the spirit of the famous vegetarians Carl von Linné and Leo Tolstoi.

Arrival in Stockholm

Monika Engström, president of the Swedish Vegetarian Society, and Ulla Troeng, president of the Swedish Vegan Society, had organised a splendid lunch at well known vegetarian restaurant ‘Oetagaarden’ in the centre of the town. Before we could enjoy the (for once) prepared meal the participants of the tour had to answer questions and described their impressions to a journalist of one of the biggest press-agencies of the country.

All 6 participants of the tour, families and friends (among them was hale and hearty Theresia Ek, at the age of 95 the oldest Swedish vegetarian) were present, when certificates and presents were distributed and all joined in thanking Arne for his excellent prepations and organisation of the tour.

After a big plate of fresh salads I tried some boiled potatoes and vegetables which I had been dreaming of the whole time. The result was that I felt very heavy and my fingers were slightly swollen. What a difference when I walked through the wonderful centre of Stockholm in the afternoon: never in the 19 days before had I felt that sluggish and tired. Only raw is best!

As I was the only participant from a foreign country, I would like to thank J, Katarina, Ronald (who was my guide the first two weeks), Ylva who was an inexhaustible source of information about her country and, of course, Karin and Arne, Ulla and Monika! ‘Taks ö mücke’, thank you very much for nearly 4 wonderful weeks and for the way you took me into your team, your life and heart!

Sigrid De Leo

photo: Ylva
Ylva Öhrn
photo: Ronald
Ronald Persson
photo: Katarina
Katarina Lindberg
For a big picture of Arne Wingquist
see the front page of this issue of EVU News