Rocky Road to Mandø Island: Denmark

I don’t know if you have ever been in a place which is, shall we say, less touristy on the international scene, but I think it is safe to say that Esbjerg is such a place. It is definitely a lovely town, and gives a true reflection of Danish life, which in and of itself makes it a great place to visit. However, it has not garnered international recognition as a place that someone might make as a vacation destination like say Paris or London or Prague.We have been delighted to discover that there are many awesome things to see and do in and around Esbjerg, and on our quest to discover we find ourselves with a plan to visit Mandø Island.

Mandø Island is a small island in the Wadden Sea which is accessible by a rocky dirt road preferably at low tide, maybe 12 km away from Ribe. The road runs along a mud flat and is about 4 km long. Our plan is to ride bikes there and take the tractor bus back to the mainland.

Our little apartment in Esbjerg has begun to feel like home, but alas our final day here has arrived. Today we drive back to the historic town of Ribe, where we rent bikes again. This time unfortunately they don’t have any helmets to rent, or baskets for that matter, although the bikes are in better condition than on Fanø Island. Ashlee has her own helmet along, so we pop it on Annika’s head. You gotta protect the baby in the family.

The woman who works in the hostel from which we rent the bikes comes out and asks if she can take pictures of us for use in their advertising. Sure. Well, Ashlee tells her that we are planning to take the bikes to Mandø Island . The woman tells us that it is not possible to ride bikes to the island. Oh, ok. I guess we will prove her wrong, won’t we?

We take off on our bike ride. The countryside is gorgeous, the weather is beautiful again, and everything is perfect.

We find some strawberries for sale at the side of the road. I don’t think I need to tell you that these strawberries are red all the way through, and absolutely delicious! I hope they stay on my bike rack…..

We notice an interesting thing about the countryside homes here. The houses are attached to the barns!

How can you not just love this place?

So this is the deal. To get to Mandø Island you have to ride down this long and rocky road. The wind is strong. Apparently in high tides this road can get submerged. It is a UNESCO world heritage site, important as one of the top ten wetland preservation areas in the world. The sea is incredibly shallow here and creates a perfect breeding ground for many species of fish and birds.

I did mention that the road is long and kind of rough, didn’t I? We have been pedaling for over an hour and we still see an endless bumpy and rocky road ahead of us. The island is still way off in the distance. The wind is against us and the kids are getting tired. “When are we there?” they ask in unison.

My mind turns to the sign that I saw on the mainland. There was a huge warning sign that said “Be aware of high tide schedule”. When we were in France on our motorhome tour 16 years ago we were at a place where the tide comes in so fast it is said to be as fast as a galloping horse. I wonder if they have galloping horse tides here?

I pedal a little harder and faster. I ask Ashlee if she knows when the tide is supposed to come in. Ashlee said she has no idea about what time high tide is expected. All she knows is that the tractor bus that we are taking back to the mainland leaves at 2 pm. I look behind me and Kristoff is far in the distance. I slow down for him to catch up, and feel my impatience flare up. Instead of getting frustrated I try another tactic. “Kristoff, I am surprised you aren’t out front! You’re the strongest one here!” That puts fire under his feet and soon he is leading the pack by a healthy margin.

My feet pump furiously to keep up. My teeth clack together on the bumpy terrain, so I clench my jaw tight, and lean forward and down to battle the strong wind. Maybe the lady at the bike rental place was right that you can’t bike to the island. What if these rocks puncture our bike tires? We have no tools along to fix a flat. My mind turns frequently to my delicious strawberries. If I hadn’t covered the strawberries on my bike rack I am sure they would have all hopped out of the basket attached to the back of my bike by now.

The wind is strong in my ears, but I can hear what I presume to be hungry baby birds chirping in the grasses that line the roadway. In places the vegetation is high and thick enough that we don’t see any birds even though we can hear them. Every now and again a bird takes flight. I am tempted to stop and walk out into the marshy soil to look for the baby birds, but …..yeah, I am not that dumb…..can’t you just see a mother bird attacking me if I got too close to her babies? Or my fat feet ruining the ecosystem? Or worse yet…..sinking sand….I would sink down into the bottom of the Wadden Sea, forever a part of the UNESCO World Heritage park? Nah, I will just stick to the road.

As we approach the island we see some sheep grazing on the grass that grows between furrows where presumably the sea water rises to. Some time ago this entire island flooded during a storm surge and all its inhabitants died. There is a dike now to keep the people safe.

At great long last we are in town on Mandø Island. I do have to say that this town is not as cute as Fanø Island. To be fair though, we don’t have much time here because we have to catch the 2 pm tractor bus back to the mainland. The ride over the land bridge took far too long because of the strong wind. We eat a picnic lunch again and buy ice cream. What else is new?

We don’t have much time on the island since it took us so long to get here. We decide to take our non-mountain bikes mountain biking, if you know what I mean. Okay, I will tell you that it is not the most brilliant idea I have ever come up with. The dunes are cool here, and it is fun to ride up and down on the trails. We can’t resist the temptation. However, you might imagine that these touring bikes are not designed for mountain biking. They only have a front handbrake, and the rear brake works by stepping back on the pedals. Well, try to remember that! I remind the kids not to use the front brakes alone, and I worry that they will flip over the handlebars.

The trail kind of goes into this one person’s yard, and they have placed a concrete post to mark the corner of their property. The approach to the post is a slight downhill and a turn to the right just next to the post.  As I approach this post my rear bike tire slides out from under me with no warning, and I am down on my stomach with my hands outstretched in front of me sliding down the hill. My camera is jamming into my ribs as I slide. I realize suddenly that my helmetless head is going straight for the concrete post. I wonder why on earth I am cycling without a helmet? I close my eyes and cringe as I wait to hear that sickening thump of my head striking concrete. I brace myself for a sudden flash of severe pain to my head and neck, but somehow, miraculously, I stop sliding just in time and spare my noggin, however, my right knee seems to be significantly injured. I am limping when I stand up, and perhaps even a little disoriented. Luckily I did not hit my head on that post, that’s all I can say. My head would have split into two!

Who knows if my camera will work. It has hay jammed into the dial on top. In my dazed state I start pulling out chunks of hay from the dial. I need to test the camera to see if it’s okay. It seems to work fine. I try to get back on my bike, but every time I press the pedal I have a painful stabbing sensation in my knee. As I suspect I end up nursing my knee for a few days. Lucky I did not bust my head, although I am bummed out that I damaged my knee. I hope it is nothing serious. A couple days later I will find some bruises on my ribs, too.

We ride on a tractor bus off the island. Yes, that’s what it is. A big tractor with a double decker trailer behind it that you can ride in to get to the mainland. I guess that this rig can make it through to the mainland even when the tide comes in and the water rises. I guess sometimes when the tide comes in the water level can rise dangerously high and strand motorists. I guess that applies to bicyclists, too. I am glad that we aren’t riding bikes back.

Once we are back on the mainland we cycle along Route 1, which is a bicycle route along the sea wall. It’s a little rougher than I would have expected for a designated bike route, so I am glad we aren’t on road bikes right about now.

Once we turn inland towards Ribe we run across fields full of sheep. The baby sheep are so darling. They make the cutest baaaaaaaa sounds as we approach, and are very attentive to us and curious. We even see a black sheep mother, and her mixed black/white baby who wouldn’t cooperate for a good picture.

Now we have the wind on our backs and we literally fly back into Ribe. It is the most adorable town, but I think I already told you that last week. I can somehow see myself coming here when we retire. I would put a few cute things onto my front window sills for people to admire. I would plant some flowers in a hanging basket. I would sweep my porch each morning and evening. I would wave at children who pass by. I would yell at teenagers who didn’t respect my town – “kids nowadays!”

I promised Kristoff that once we are back in Ribe we will go for waffles and ice cream. We rode over 20 miles today. He is so happy that he holds my hand as we walk over towards the shop. He is missing his dad. David was unable to come due to work demands.

And soon we are home in Esbjerg again. Well, it won’t be home much longer as Ashlee is leaving back to Finland now that her semester is over. Ashlee has invited a friend over to pick up her all the food in the apartment that won’t get used any more. He has dinner with us, and Kristoff fills him in on the latest mom jokes, such as my mom is so fat when she sat on a iPod she made the iPad……the guest does not seem to appreciate the humor, although he did enjoy the homecooked Finnish meal of new potatoes and hamburger gravy with salad and bread on the side. Yeah, hamburger gravy is delicious, believe me.

Then another friend shows up to pick up a nice leather couch, but the couch only fits out the window, so that seems like the appropriate way to get it out of the apartment.

In the evening I finally get a chance to look at the rental contract to determine when the rental car needs to be back. From everything that I can understand it needs to be back in Copenhagen at 9 am, which means we have to leave from here at 5:30 in the morning…..craziness! Gotta clean up and pack and it takes well past midnight….I am going to need a vacation from my vacation when I get back home!