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From Sweden, with love: How a bicycle trip led to marriage for Niskayuna High grad

From Sweden, with love: How a bicycle trip led to marriage for Niskayuna High grad

From Sweden, with love: How a bicycle trip led to marriage for Niskayuna High grad
Diane Collins and Anders Bengtsson stand in back of their tandem bicycle outside the Lois Lane home of Collins' parents
Photographer: Jeff Wilkin/Gazette Reporter

NISKAYUNA — Diane Collins needed her coffee. So did Anders Bengtsson.

Both were in Syracuse during the summer of 2017, preparing for another section of the Buffalo-to-Albany bicycle tour along the Erie Canal.

“Anders, as far as I can remember, he cut me off in the coffee line,” said Collins, 31, who grew up in Niskayuna, during an interview last weekend at her parents’ Lois Lane home. “I said something snarky like, ‘Oh, are you in line, too?’ or something like that. He responded, and I asked ‘Where are you from?’ Because clearly, he has a bit of an accent. He said he was from Sweden, and I said, ‘OK.’ ”

That was the start of an internationally spiced love story. Collins, who graduated from Niskayuna High School in 2006, and Bengtsson (pronounced “Bank-son), 44, began spending time together along the 400-mile trail.

The night they met, cyclists gathered for a halfway-point party. Bengtsson decided he wanted to see a local landmark and visit a pub. Collins joined him for the exploration.

“We didn’t bike together the rest of the way,” Collins said, “but every evening we would hang out.”

The wheels kept rolling. So did the romance.

When the Erie Canal tour reached Albany, Bengtsson had plans to cycle south, from Albany and New York City. He ended up staying with Collins for the week in the Capital Region.

When Bengtsson returned to Sweden — he lived in Gothenburg, a major city located on the country’s west coast — Collins packed a few bags, bought an airline ticket and joined her new friend for his trip home.

“I was going to stay longer in the U.S.,” Bengtsson said, “but I had this bike race I had planned in Germany. I said, ‘Sorry, I have to go because I’m taking part in this and it’s a team event, I can’t leave them hanging.’ ”

Another trip came soon after. One of Collins’ friends had planned a bachelorette party in Iceland, and she traveled to the party from Sweden. Bengtsson decided to visit during the party weekend.

Collins flew back to her home in Schenectady. Bengtsson was back on a plane a few weeks later, and the new couple spent a week in the Catskills.

Collins had more travel ahead. She decided to quit her local sales job and moved to Sweden for two months, to see how the relationship would work during an extended time period.

Everything worked just fine. “We really hit it off,” Collins said.

The couple became engaged in November 2017. By March 2018, Bengtsson — a chemical engineer — had landed a job in West Virginia. The couple moved to Charleston and were married in the city’s Coonskin Park on April 29, 2018.

Collins returned to her earlier vocation as a teacher, and now teaches forensic science and environmental science in a West Virginia high school.

Diane and Anders returned to Erie Canal bike trail in July, spending their honeymoon with the 600-plus people who also pedaled the 2019 tour. This time, they rode together — on a tandem bicycle.

The couple will throw a second wedding reception in Scotia this weekend, with friends and family from both the Capital Region and Sweden in attendance.

While whirlwind romances happen on television and in the movies, Collins said she never thought she’d be part of such an exciting, globetrotting story.

Bengtsson was more philosophical about the romantic adventure.

“If you’re looking for love, it’s hard to find it,” he said, preferring the more informal and casual circumstances that led him to hearts and flowers. “I’m so happy with this woman.”

Bengtsson also believes he and Collins clicked because they appreciate the same things.

“It’s nice to meet someone doing something you like,” he said. “We both like biking, we both like the outdoors. It makes it a lot easier to get along.”

“We’re both laid back and easy-going,” Collins added. “And interested to learn about new cultures.”

Collins enjoyed her time in Sweden, although she said her autumn visit took place during one of the country’s coldest times of the year. “Everyone was very welcoming and friendly,” she said. “They like to gather indoors and be cozy, drink a lot of coffee.”

Bengtsson has acclimated well to the United States. “Americans are very open and friendly,” he said. “They make you feel welcome very fast. Europeans can be a bit more standoff-ish.”

More traveling and bicycle riding are in the couple’s future. The coffee line story from the Erie Canal trail will be told and retold during the coming years.

“I do not remember that,” Bengtsson said, of his move to move up the line. “I do not remember much before my first cup of coffee.”

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