Month: June 2014

Day 9 – Bjerka Camping to Hell

It was nice waking up in a bed, OK it was the top bunk in a pretty basic and not exactly luxury bunk bed but it was still a bed. The night had been a bit chilly, so much so that I had gotten up and taken the blanket off the bottom bunk in the night to stop the shivering. We were right next to a river and it was pretty exposed so I guess there was little to keep any heat from escaping.  I looked over at the other bunk, Paul was curled up with his blanket covering his head. I climbed down from my bunk and headed to the toilet block half expecting to see Roy washing his bike still. By the time I came back there were noises from Paul’s bunk, turns out he’d been a bit chilly in the night but unlike me, he couldn’t be bothered to get out of bed to get another blanket and instead opted to freeze half to death.

I started to get my electrical gear together before going to my bike where the loading process once again started. Thankfully today there was no tent to put away.

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We got our gear on and I coaxed the guys into going over the playground near the cabins to grab a few silly shots, my tripod once again coming in very handy. We took some shots on a couple of bouncy spring toys then I got paul to run up the slide and pose. I set the camera on timer and tried the same, only for my boots to slip and my head planted nicely into the slide with a bit of a clunk! Then it was time to leave and continue our ride south.

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The main objective of the day was to reach Hell, yes I said Hell. It is a village located near Trondheim and was where we were to meet up with Arvid, a fellow IT geek and biker who was to be our guide for the last days of the trip. The main goal of reaching the Arctic Circle had been achieved and now we were going to be riding some amazing and dangerous roads, testing our skills to the limits at times.  The day was going to be pretty much riding all day with no other stops on route to Hell.

As we rode, the scenery continued to amaze and delight us. At one point we passed a crystal clear lake backed by snowy mountains and we pulled over so I could go back and take a few pictures. I turned back with Roy and we rode back maybe 1/4 mile to a small turning on the opposite side of the road from the lake. I pulled over and put my side stand down but I wasn’t happy with the lean on the bike so I rolled a little further along but now the slope was worse. I climbed off as I couldn’t push the bike back whilst sat on it, the ground was too gravely and too steep to grip, as I tried to push the bike back it tilted back and once again I couldn’t stop it going right over onto it’s side although I did “put it down” gently. Roy came over and gave me a hand and we got it back up on 2 wheels. By this time I was a bit sweaty and frustrated! But I’d come for the photo and I was going to take it! I turned the bike around and parked up on the road next to the lake then climbed down the bank leaving the bike at the mercy of passing drivers hoping they didn’t clip it or knock it over. We got a few pictures before climbing back on and heading off once again.

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We had a cycle of riding and refuelling, something that would probably feel like a pain at home, but not in Norway. The breaks gave us a chance to chat, eat and cause mischief, not only that but we stopped at the most scenic petrol stations you can imagine. During one of our stops today I looked up to see Gregg wandering around his bike looking rather puzzled, in his hand one of his wing mirrors. “Has anyone got a spanner” he called out which immediately launched Paul into action. I wandered over to take a look with the sound of Paul unlocking top boxes and panniers in the background. I took the mirror and looked at Gregg… “Why don’t you just screw it back on?” I said, so I took the mirror and screwed in back into the thread anticlockwise. “Oh.. ” said Gregg. Paul then arrived and continued to wrench the mirror so tight it was never going come off again, ever.

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We sat and chatted, had a coffee and I took a “selfie” to satisfy Gregg’s needs which he clearly thought was hilarious.

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We rode on, the roads continued to be great to ride but we were starting to hit more traffic now the further south we travelled. Paul rode off with an addition to his bike, Gregg had sneaked into the garage and purchased a “Flaming Christmas Tree” air freshner which he had tied, hidden from plain view, to the back of Paul’s bike. We stopped later in the day as the riding was hard work in the traffic at which point Gregg’s giggles raised Paul’s awareness to the item attached to his bike.

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After what felt like an eternity we arrived in Hell (maybe it’s supposed to feel like that in Hell… who knows) We found a small petrol station and stopped to work out which way the main town was. We were looking forward to sitting down in a nice restaurant or coffee shop in Hell’s high street, looking around a few souvenir shops, seeing the sights and so on. Problem is we couldn’t find a high street, or shops or anything. Pauls magic Iphone directed us towards a road the way we had come from so we headed back down that road and took the first turning off which led to the train station, Hell’s train station.

We climbed off and had a good look around, not that there was much to see. A train rolled in but no one got off, guess Hell had no new souls today. We knocked on the door of the station and a young man opened the door, he wasn’t wearing a red lycra suit, he had no horns or tail and not even a pointy beard, instead he wore a rail ticket office uniform. We enquired as to where the main town was only to be told there wasn’t one as such. We looked at each other, rather disappointed and surprised that a place called Hell hadn’t taken advantage of that very fact. Any other country would have milked that!

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We sat and waited for Arvid to arrive which very shortly after he did, a rumble across the car park from his VFR, a cloud of dust and there he was. We said our hello’s, none of us had met Arvid in person before so there was a lot to chat about over the next week. We took a few photographs at the station before leaving and heading off to a campsite that was about 10 minutes ride away.

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Ertsgaard Camping was actually on what looked to be a farm, the owner must have seen an opportunity to make a few extra Krone by setting aside an area by the river, building a few huts and a toilet/shower hut and renting out space for tents and caravans. It was dirt cheap as well, about £7 for a tent for the night! Arvid sorted out the details with the owner and we then rode into the nearby town of Stjordal to get some food. Arvid had brought a portable BBQ with him and bought some sausages (much to Gregg’s delight) and chicken wings. We bought some drinks and snacks as well then headed back to the campsite.

Roy and Gregg once again slipped into a hut for the night whilst myself, Paul and Arvid all set our tents up for the night. Arvid setup his camping BBQ and we appointed Gregg as official cook (all Americans are keen BBQ cooks are they not?) I brewed up some tea and we sat around the tents, chatting and eating. As you can see Paul’s erection skills were still lacking as his tent collapsed once again… which Gregg thought was hilarious!

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Below you can see our camp setup and Gregg lovingly tending to his sausages.

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We then called it a day and headed to our tents/hut to get some well needed sleep. I took a few moments to read my Overland magazine at which point Paul decided to jump me from his tent!

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The end of my day 9!

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Day 8 – Moskenes to Bjerka Camping

The alarm on my phone beeped loudly about 2 inches from my ear, not that it needed to as I had been awake most of the night due to a combination of being over tired, uncomfortable and deafened by Gregg’s snoring, which was loud enough to drown out the sound of a Rolls Royce jet engine on full throttle. I swiped the screen, rubbed my eyes and unzipped the bedroom door on the tent to reveal Gregg wrapped up in his sleeping bag and still out for the count. I unzipped the tent outer door and climbed out into the morning light. The morning breeze was fresh and I could smell the sea. I popped to the toilet which still had local radio blasting out of speakers in the corner of the cubicle. I had no idea what was being said but it was a Norwegian woman shouting very energetically about something or other, she was way too happy for 5am!

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The tent, with Gregg still snoring inside and my “Why am I awake at 5am after zero hours sleep” look!

I walked back to the tent and could hear Paul rummaging around in his tent, Roy was also stirring and even Gregg was awake. We spent the next half hour or so packing up the tents and loading the bikes. Something we were getting pretty used to doing now. It’s not a fun activity, partly due to the fact we were always in a rush to get moving and partly because it’s a pretty repetitive task to do every day. One thing I had done which helped speed the process was to clip in the bedroom and the flysheet into the tent and leave them in when I rolled the tent up. This made life a lot easier as unclipping them every day was not only a pain but made your finger tips very sore!

I looked at my hands, they were stained black from trying to clean the stove the night before. The fuel I was using, Rodsprit, burned hot and nicely but it had one downside, the flame produced a lot of soot! The pans were covered in the stuff and would it come off? No! Except on to my hands, which were now covered in it.

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We had to get the ferry to Bodø so that we could continue our ride. Luckily the ferry left from a port about 20 metres from the entrance to the campsite. But first we had to ride down the gravel hill from the campsite to get to the main road, not a lot of fun at silly o’clock in the morning on a fully loaded motorbike. But we all made it down without trashing our bikes although Paul mentioned he’d come down a little fast and for a moment he did think he might be in trouble. We joined the queue for the ferry which was just docking. We were all looking forward to a nice 4 hour trip, time to charge up stuff, have a coffee and grab a little sleep.

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We waited for the ferry to empty before riding on and parking up the bikes. We grabbed the gear we wanted to charge and use and headed up to the passenger deck. It wasn’t a bad ferry, there was a café area with a few tables and chairs and rows of seats very much like on a plane. We grabbed a few rows and setup for the trip, Paul immediately yanking out a 4 way extension and plugging in his electrical items. I got my laptop out and used the time to upload the day images from my cameras from the day before. We grabbed a coffee and some breakfast before I headed off to the back of the ferry with my camera to shoot some photos, leaving Paul uploading Gregg’s Go Pro movies in to his MacBook and Roy settling for a nap. Gregg came out for a short look at the view before going back in a also settling down for a snooze.

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I took a load of photographs then came back in and uploaded them to my laptop.

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Paul was still uploading Gregg’s cam videos and was muttering under his breath, something about his MacBook hard drive filling up! We’d been on the ferry about 2.5 hours when I decided to grab a coffee refill. I’d been trying to upload some photos to social networks and chat with the girl at home but the wifi was terrible! We’d been travelling with fantastic views of mountains in the distance but now the land was closing in around us. There were buildings appearing and then an airport passed by. Suddenly the boat started slowing and I looked out the window as did Paul. We looked at each other and the sudden realisation that we were almost at the destination was clearly visible on both our faces. Paul was in a mess, wires and devices scattered all around him and he was just getting ready to take a nap! I left him frantically unplugging whilst I went and woke Gregg from his beauty sleep. His reaction was priceless, “Gregg…. Gregg.. wake up Gregg!” with a jolt he sat up, opening his eyes whilst trying to remember where he was. “What? What? Why? Noooo!” I told him we were almost there, an hour earlier than we expected and left him to get his gear together. Roy was already getting packed up whilst I quickly grabbed my gear and headed down to the car deck, followed by the rest shortly after.

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We left the ferry slightly annoyed that it had arrived early! Not something we’d normally complain about but when you were hoping to use that extra hour to sleep and suddenly it was taken away it felt like Santa had nipped back and stolen the presents back. We rode on, all feeling a bit tired now but the show must go on and we had miles to cover. We stopped for fuel, once again the petrol station was a pleasure to use and the bathroom excelled as always. I even found the need to take a few pictures of it! We took some refreshments before heading south, the main goal of the day was to visit the Norwegian Arctic Circle Centre where we had numerous photographs to take. We rode through a selection of tree covered mountain ranges and valleys and steadily the roads headed south and to higher ground. It wasn’t long before once again we were riding through a snow covered rocky landscape and the temperature had once again dropped to a level where I was glad I had heated grips.

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We arrived the Arctic Circle Centre around lunchtime, parked up and wandered around the monuments scattered around the car park.

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There was a road sign that had over time been covered in stickers from top to toe, all sorts of clubs, daft jokes etc… It was actually pretty cool.

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The snow surrounding the centre was still pretty deep and well compacted. Gregg discovered this when we was coaxed into jumping onto the nearest pile of snow only to almost bounce off and injure himself when it turned out to be the consistency of concrete.

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The centre itself was a largely wooden building and was a little disappointing really. There was a shop selling clothing, cuddly toys, ornaments and other “Arctic” related memorabilia, toilets and a café. We went into the shop initially and bought a few bits and pieces for the folk back home before going into the café for a bite to eat and to plan the rest of the day. We realised that we wouldn’t make Hell before the end of the day so we aimed for a campsite Paul found on his magic Iphone called Bjerka Camping.

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We finished our food, mine being a rather large and fairly tasty burger and fries with a diet coke, then we went outside to take the photographs we had promised our sponsors and also Macmillan Cancer Support. The next half hour was spent positioning bikes and people in front of the main entrance to the Arctic Circle Centre, with a number of changes of t-shirts also involved. I was really pleased I’d brought my old camera tripod, without it I wouldn’t have been in any of the photographs taken during the trip.

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In our Macmillan Cancer Support t-shirts above and with our bikes below.

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Gregg once again lost control and the Arctic monuments and my poor bike felt his love as he abused them leaving me emotionally scared for the rest of the trip.

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We packed up and headed south and soon after we started to descend into lush green valleys surrounding crystal clear fjords, once again I was astounded by the beauty and diversity of Norway. As the day dragged on and once again I was starting to feel tired Bjerka Camping appeared to our left and it couldn’t have come at a better time. We pulled in, riding past a shop which would be our source of a much needed nutritional dinner that night. The owner wandered over to speak to us. Looking around there were lots of wooden lodges and some were being worked on with people up on the roofs hammering away. Another indication that this was still out of season for Norway. After a few minutes of discussion where the owner clearly wanted us to rent his biggest lodge for a million dollars a night we finally agreed to rent one lodge for Gregg and Roy and me and Paul would camp again. However the owner clearly felt sorry for us and let us have a second lodge (hut) for free! Not only that there was wifi, something Paul was so excited about he hugged the owner! The owner sat and chatted for a short while, telling us stories of his snowmobile trips into Sweden with his son and friends, the details I won’t cover here but it was an interesting tale.

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We selected our huts and unloaded the bikes, I was looking forward to a comfortable bed and a good sleep. By the time I had finished unloading and plugging in my electrical items to charge Roy had already found a bucket and was happily washing his bike again!

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Me, Paul and Gregg headed off to the shop to grab some food and drinks, returning a short time later with 3 boxes of pringles, some beers and diet cokes, the healthy dinner went out of the window once again. I uploaded the days photographs to the laptop and then retired to my luxury bed, otherwise known as the top bunk. Paul was already in the land of nod by this point so I spent a while chatting on social media to the girl at home before drifting off to sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 7 – Abisko to Moskenes

I woke up early, the room echoed with the sound of snoring and other noises men usually laugh at. I grabbed my phone and checked the social networks for updates, something that after today would become very difficult once we passed into Norway and we lost our inclusive data allowances.  I heard some grumbles from Pauls direction and then stirrings from Roy on the bunk above me. I saw Paul’s head appear from under the covers, looking a bit bleary eyed he aimed a comment at Gregg which resulted in a grunt and strange noise from Gregg’s direction. The distant rumble that was Gregg snoring finally quietened to a soft rhythmic breathing and our ears had a chance to stop bleeding. Roy’s legs suddenly appeared over the top bunk and dangled in front of my head, thankfully his boxer shorts stopped anything else dangling in front of my eyes as I could well have needed psychiatric care otherwise. Gregg finally rolled out of bed and we all got up and proceeded to get ready for the day. After packing up our gear and a quick wash we sat in the kitchen with a cup of tea, which once again I made. It seems tea making duties had fallen on my shoulders now for the entire trip! A quick route planning exercise was undertaken including real maps and the use of a MacBook. For a brief moment it almost looked like we knew what we were doing. I actually think Gregg was simply looking for the next Statoil garage so he could get a hotdog fix!

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By 9am we were all packed up, bikes were loaded and we rolled down to the petrol station outside the restaurant.  I can’t imagine a more scenic petrol station with the frozen lake and snow covered mountains in the distance. We fuelled up and headed north west towards the Sweden/Norway border. I felt a little sad leaving Abisko, the place was just how I imagined an Arctic village should be, wooden houses, really quite desolate and picturesque with snowy mountains and clear blue skies. I imagine the Abisko National Park would be a fantastic place to explore, just not on this trip.

We rode along the road next to the frozen Tornetrask lake, the view continued to be breath taking. Eventually we reached the top of a hill and the border, it was time to leave Sweden behind and enter Norway and the next chapter of the trip. Paul got a little excited and decided to give us a short display of his pole dancing skills, we stuffed 10 Krone in his belt in gratitude… that he had stopped.

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We stood with Sweden behind us and the memories of the last 4 days travelling from the bottom to the top of the country!

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Unfortunately before we left, Gregg’s urges once again overtook him and he suddenly jumped up on the monument that was by the side of the road and.. well. see for yourself… my eyes hurt just looking at the photograph.

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Once I had recovered from this distressing sight I took a moment to grab a bike pron picture of my BMW in no mans land with the Swedish mountains behind offering a wonderful backdrop. Roy had taken the opportunity to climb a small hill and take some pictures. Climbing up and down things seemed to become a common activity for Roy as the trip progressed.

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One thing that became immediately apparent within a few hundred meters of riding in Norway was that the roads weren’t as good, the surface itself was worse and there were a lot of bumps. The roads in Sweden had been like riding on freshly laid tarmac all the time, putting England’s roads to shame! But suddenly the roads had become bumpy and twisty!

We rode through the mountains, the land around us baron, rocky and snow covered, both beautiful and foreboding at the same time. I found myself really enjoying the solitude that riding through this amazing scenery brought with it. Alone in your helmet for hours every day, your thoughts are your only companion and there is plenty of time to ponder the world around you and actually appreciate the world we live in.

We came down out of the hills and suddenly the first of the fjords I’d heard about appeared before us, I was blown away by the beauty and the scale of what was before us. I was also really jealous of the people who own the wooden house on the hill with the view, I wanted to live there.

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We continued our journey, heading towards Narvik with our most northerly goal a town called Harstad where we would fuel up before we headed south west along the chain of islands leading to Moskenes. We reached the fuel station at Harstad, fuelled up, checked out the toilets for quality assurance purposes and I believe Gregg had a hotdog fix. We then rode south west until we reached the ferry at Refsnes which we used to cross over to Flesnes.

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By now I was starting to feel tired and a bit frustrated with the days riding. It had started out great, the scenery coming up through Sweden and the mountains was incredible and the green tree clad snow peaked mountains and crystal clear fjords in Norway were beyond my wildest imagination, the problem was we were riding non stop and at pace to reach Moskenes in time to sort out a campsite for the night. There wasn’t much time to take breaks and certainly little time to stop for photographs, which as the resident trip “picture monkey” was a very frustrating scenario to deal with. In truth, I could have stopped over and over during the last couple of days to take pictures but we were on a schedule and I knew that time just didn’t allow for too many stops.

To make things worse we lost Roy, he had shot off and the satnav otherwise known as the “power of the Garmin” took him the wrong way. We stopped and Paul managed to get hold of him and it was agreed he would make his way to Moskenes and meet us there. The next few hours riding were tough as we went from Island to Island, over bridges and under long tunnels including our first “big” tunnel at 6.2 km. We rode around one side of a fjord then back along the opposite side, we rode up and we rode down. It felt like forever and sadly although the landscape was amazing there wasn’t really time to appreciate it or stop and take it in so I ended up feeling pretty frustrated really. We had been riding hours and my mind was drifting off to far away places, my eyes were zoning out as I struggled to stop myself falling asleep. What was supposed to be a rest day had become the longest days riding so far.

We were only maybe 20 minutes from our destination when we turned a corner and saw “road works” ahead. Now the term road works usually relates to maybe a bit of resurfacing of the road or a streetlight that needs repair, not in Norway. Road works actually meant full scale annihilation of the road and surrounding area. We drove onto loose gravel full of holes and larger rocks, with diggers, trucks and other construction traffic driving care free around us. Cars, buses and lorries coming in the other direction almost took us out trying to squeeze through the limited space available. We rode for some distance, probably kilometres, up and down on what for motorcycles was pretty treacherous conditions. If it hadn’t been so unbelievably farcical I may have let off a plethora of colourful language, instead I was laughing my head off, possibly a nervous reaction to the likelihood that very soon I would be killed by a rogue dumper truck or falling boulder. A video of this will appear in time when Paul gets around to editing them.

We left the road works behind and passed through a number of small villages, all of them wouldn’t look out of place on a postcard. We arrived in Moskenes and rode up the steep gravely road to the campsite. We were shattered by now and there was no sign of Roy yet which was a concern. Paul tried to text Roy whilst Gregg stumbled to the nearest soft verge and collapsed in a heap. As always, I grabbed my camera and started taking pictures! It was actually a fantastic place to camp, the view was pretty impressive out across the sea and along the coast. We had been there about half an hour or so when we heard the BMW R1200 roaring up the road to the campsite bringing Roy with it.

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We set up the tents once again I was to suffer the fate of Gregg sleeping in my tent which clearly meant I would not sleep anyway. We cooked some food, and I use that term in the loosest way possible. Basically I made an instant pasta meal that just needed hot water pouring on it and Paul then cooked a boil in the bag rice. Sadly my attempt at making instant pasta failed as I’d boiled too little water! we had a cup of tea before retiring to bed at past 11pm, alarms set for 5am as we had to get the ferry to Bodø in the morning!

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Day 6 – Tallvik to Abisko

I woke up in a bed, not unusual on a normal day, but something of a luxury since I left home almost a week ago. I slept well and I needed to, I had been struggling to get a good nights sleep in the tent and with the fiasco at Harnosand with thunder and gales my body was letting me know it was tired. I had underestimated the impact of riding for hours on end every day, both physically and mentally it drains you, especially when riding at speed on a bike that really wasn’t designed for it. I had spent the last 3 days trying to keep up with the others on the motorways, my little BMW F650GS had almost vibrated itself to bits and me with it! (I noticed at the end of the trip that the chain was very slack and I think that will have played a big part in the vibrations)

The sun was in the sky and the birds sang their merry little tunes as they went about their business, today felt like a good day. Every electrical device had been charged and I had managed to re-arrange my panniers and top box, something that became a bit of a habit and a joke in the group. I learnt a lot about how to pack, what to bring and what not to bring over the course of the trip. I packed up my stuff ready to load back on the bike. Paul crawled out of bed, I think he’d been grateful for the chance of sleep as well. The guys next door were up and we decided to head over to get some breakfast from the café, damn I was hungry.

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One issue we had during the trip is that we weren’t eating or drinking enough really. The only times we grabbed anything was when we stopped for fuel or reached a campsite at night. Our diets consisted of coffee, hot dogs, snacks and water! Gregg was actually starting to look like a hot dog!

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We had a very nice egg and bacon on toast with coffee and juice and it tasted like the best food I’d eaten in years! Wed sat at talked for a bit, looked over some brochures produced by the owner of the café and the huts. He has a large fishing and hunting interest and seems to organise trips etc… It’s a different world to what we are used to. The mood was a little solemn as Vladimir had decided to head back that morning, a mammoth journey on his own but something he had to do to make it back to his daughters birthday. We headed back to the cabins and started to get the bikes packed up to leave. Vladimir was ready before the rest and keen to get on the road so we said our farewells, thanked him for his hospitality, his guidance and his excellent company. It was sad seeing him ride off and we all wished he could have stayed a few more days and made it to the Arctic Circle with us.

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We hit the road, heading back to the town we rode through the night before. We had agreed we would stop at the “weird tractor place” to grab a few snaps before going to fuel up and continue heading north. We pulled into the tractor graveyard, which turned out to be a museum for all things related to tractors and industrial/commercial vehicles. There were old cranes, trucks, snowmobiles and even some old motorcycles. As we got off the bikes an old guy walked out from a building and headed over towards us. This was clearly the owner who was happy to see a bunch of people arrive at his museum! I can’t imagine he gets many people passing by in this remote town. I had a sense that this museum was probably the result of one mans passion and interest in mechanical devices that grew and grew until it took over his life. When I say the place had hundreds of rusty old tractors, I am being literal and not exaggerating!

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We asked if we could take a few photos and he said no problem but before had a chance to head off he was walking beside us offering to show us that the tractors mostly still worked. He proceeded to demonstrate driving a tractor built in 1934 up and down like a proud father showing off his kids!

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We all headed off to explore leaving Paul to chat to the guy about the tractors. Roy was happy he’d found a whole line of tractors the same as he’d learnt to drive on. We all returned and ended up outside a large round building that had 2 very old motorcycles leaning against it. They were awesome looking bikes but in need of total restoration.

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The owner then asked if we wanted to go into the building, which of course we hadn’t planned to but we felt obliged and agreed to go have a look. The most surreal day became even crazier, inside this old wooden building was an Aladdin’s cave of treasures, more fully restored tractors, more motorbikes, cameras, telephones the list goes one. The floor, walls and ceiling were covered in a mish-mash of the most surreal items. The owner walked over to the table and proceeded to turn the handle on an old gramophone, placing the needle down and unleashing the crackling and haunting sounds of a record that was probably 100 years old.

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We walked around, stunned by what we were seeing, this whole situation would not have looked out of place on an episode of Top Gear or the Long Way Round. One of the items that we all loved was an old world war 2 JAWA motorcycle. It had folding skis that could be locked up or let down to provide stability in snowy riding conditions. We finally dragged ourselves away, said our thanks and rode off feeling really very pleased we’d stopped. If you ever go that way look for Holgers Tractor Museum, it’s an experience!

After a quick fuel stop at an unmanned garage we headed off towards the next highlight of the day, reaching the Arctic Circle. We weren’t exactly sure when we would make it but according to the maps and sat nav it would be about 40km away. Within 20 minutes me and Gregg saw our first Moose, a young calf stood in a ditch by the road clearly disturbed by Pauls exhaust as he’d just passed it. I then became very aware that there was open forest either side and no fencing so a constant lookout for wildlife running out was needed.

A short time later we reached the Arctic Circle and we didn’t need to worry about finding it, there was a small café/shop and a large sign!

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We stopped, all very happy and excited that we’d actually reached one of the objectives of our trip. After some hand shaking and manly hugs! We took a load of photo’s and sat and had a coffee before popping in to the shop and having a nose around. The place was dead, there had been a couple of people around when we arrived but I imagine the business is pretty quiet with the occasional coach load of tourists no doubt turning up.

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Whilst checking out the café area, which was totally empty, I saw my first bear! It was stood looking at me with it’s mouth slightly open, snarling and showing it’s sharp teeth. I called Gregg in from outside and he ran in and was taken by surprise as I wrestled with the bear and tried to use an ancient form of bear hypnotism to calm it down.

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This seemed to work and I was able to get a nice photo of me and Burt the Bear.

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Gregg decided to come over and try a few techniques he knew that bears liked…  The first was an old Apache ear rub which seemed to be working nicely.

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However, when I said to Gregg, the bear was like a big horse and I’m sure you could mount it, he took it slightly too literally…

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I think Burt was a little surprised to be honest!

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We headed off north once more, the landscape changing every minute, snow peaked mountains were now visible in the distance and the temperature was dropping as our altitude increased. We found our first frozen lake, another excuse to pull over and take some pictures. The water was crystal clear and the air was clean and actually refreshing to breathe.

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Paul got a little excited and wanted to have me shoot him stood in the middle of the road, I didn’t have a gun so I offered to take a photograph instead.

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We rode on, stopping for fuel and a break. As the afternoon passed we found we were now riding in very rocky terrain, the scale and beauty of the mountains has to be seen to be appreciated. We were riding in temperatures of 3 or 4 degrees with the wind chill making it feel much lower. We were heading to Abisko, a small village in Northern Sweden which is on the edge of the Abisko National Park. A friend of Sean Cull’s had a hostel there and we had planned to stay there for a night.

As we got near to Abisko we were riding through snowy mountains and frozen lakes constantly. We turned the corner and there was just the most fantastic view of mountains surrounding a huge frozen lake. We stopped and took the opportunity to take more photographs and take in the view. Roy decided to climb down the rather treacherous slope to the lake and sample the water temperature! We stood for a while and listened, silence… it was totally and absolutely silent! I could hear the blood in my ears pumping it was that quiet. No wind, no animal or bird song nothing.

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We headed on finally reaching Abisko and making our way up to the hostel. it was empty except for a young couple who were in one of the rooms. We had a room with 3 bunk beds in for the night which was basic but fine for our needs. There was also a shower block which was all very nicely done.

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We needed food and the owner called the local pub (there is only 1!) and arranged for us to get some food. It wasn’t actually open as such, they had a private function on but were happy for us to sit at a table and eat. Me and Paul chose to sample a Moose Steak, which turned out to be a mistake as it happens due to the Roy and Gregg getting a huge burger and fries whilst we had a steak with a few vegetables on a pretty empty looking plate! But at least we can say we tried Moose, which tasted OK but nothing special, bit soft and chewy for my liking.

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We headed back and I left the guys in the hostel so I could stretch my legs a bit after 4 days sat on a bike and very little else they were feeling it. I walked across the small village passing the newly built train station, wondering to myself who on earth would be using it! I headed out along some snowmobile routes that were now grassy due to the snow melting back. I was hoping to see some wildlife and had my camera at the ready but all I really heard was some distant howls which may have been wolves. I climbed up the side of one of the mountains a short way before realising that any attempt to go very far would end up with me getting lost. So I made a little dedication to my girl back home and headed back to the hostel.

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I also found a sign with the longest place name that I’d seen so far on the trip and  another sign to a place that wasn’t as interesting as the name suggested.

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When I got back the guys were studying maps in the kitchen area. It was a decision point for us as we needed to decide whether to head to Tromso or not. The next day was pencilled in as a rest day but in reality there wasn’t very much to do in Abisko. Me and Paul were keen to get to Tromso as it was the icing on the cake to get that far up north. Gregg was keen full stop and would follow the crowd, but we knew Roy had been getting restless with the slow riding and the stopping for pictures so we decided to forgo Tromso and head out to Moskenes a day earlier, which later became apparent was a bit of a mistake.

The guys headed off to bed and I sat talking to my girl on Skype for a short while as the clocks passed midnight. It was weird holding my laptop up to the window sat in the Arctic as my girl was sat in England seeing what I was seeing through the webcam! The sun set briefly, the sky turned orange behind the mountains but it was pretty light outside still, dusky at most. I went and took a shower at about 00:30 in the morning before creeping into the dormitory full of snoring bikers! The end of a very cool day 🙂

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Abisko at Midnight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 5 – Harnosand to Tallvik

“Are you still there Chris?” I heard at about 4am. My tent was flapping in the now blustery wind and if I’m honest I was waiting for the whole thing to take off and end up in the lake! “Yes, just about” was my reply to Paul, who was also praying that his tent remained on the ground. The rain had stopped only to be replaced by gales, so instead of drowning in our tents we were going to take off and end up in OZ! The next hour or so consisted of frequent mutterings and shouting between tents, the language was a little colourful once again! About 6am I’d had enough and I was packing up the sleeping mat and sleeping bag. I could hear Paul muttering under his breath as I headed off to the toilet block.

I had already decided to pack up the tent and get ready to hit the road even though the others were still snoozing in their nice warm hut! I was cold, damp and what little hair I have on my head was looking rather windswept. I returned to the tent and could hear Paul zipping things in his tent, another brief discussion lead to an agreement that we were packing up before the tents flew away (Pauls would take 2 bikes with it as he’d tied his tent to them!) The front of Paul’s tent had already given up and was flapping around in the wind. Amazingly, about 15 minutes later we’d managed to get the tents packed even battling the wind that was trying it’s hardest to make rolling up the tent an impossible task.

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We crept up to the hut, opened the door and made sure the rest of the guys were awake! About an hour later and everyone was packed up and ready to leave, first port of call was to find a petrol station and get a hot coffee!

Soon we were back on the now familiar Swedish motorways bound on each side by the endless sea of trees that seems to cover the entire country. The terrain had changed though, there were the first real signs of large hills and small mountains (are they the same thing?) Rocks were now becoming more common amongst the trees and the air temperature was decreasing.

After a few hours of riding we turned a corner only to be met with a parked car in the fast lane and another on it’s roof in between the east and west roads. Clearly this had just happened and we instinctively pulled over to see if there was anything we could do to help. Paul and Gregg approached a girl who looked rather dazed and had been the driver of the overturned SAAB car. She was in shock but seemed coherent and was able to talk OK. She had a few cuts and scrapes on her face but apart from that it wasn’t clear if she’d any other injuries. Paul wrapped his jacket around the girl and sat talking to her, a passer by who was Swedish called the emergency services and me and Roy tried to kick the stones and debris that the car had thrown up off the carriageway back into the verge. Maybe 5 minutes later the emergency services arrived and we left them to do their jobs. When I knew she was OK and not hurt I took a couple of snaps to record the incident.

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On our way we passed by Lulea, which I hadn’t realised the significance of at the time. Lulea is home to one of Facebooks newest data centres! Right on the edge of the Arctic Circle! So all your posts, likes and pictures of cakes may well be stored there. You can find out more here!

A few hours more and a few more fuel stops later and we reached the town where we planned to the rest for the night. The view as we approached was fantastic, a huge river that lead into a lake, in the background a massive hill covered in trees and all this viewed from the campsite! We passed a surreal looking place, hundreds of tractors were all lined up, like a huge tractor graveyard! I wanted to stop and take some photo’s but there wasn’t time. I figured I would go back once we had set up camp. The only problem was the campsite wasn’t open yet! The season hadn’t started, we were a couple of weeks too early! Frustrated and tired we looked back at a hotel directly behind the campsite and all decided that it was worth a look. Low and behold the “Grand Arctic Hotel” was also closed, this time due to it being used by the local elections, I guess for counting the votes.

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Now all feeling a bit jaded we were about to leave when a guy walked out from a restaurant next to the hotel, he knew the hotel owner and said he’d call him for us. 10 minutes later and the chance of getting a room was nil but a young lad and his girlfriend told us about a place about 15 minutes away that has huts to rent so we jumped at the chance and followed them there.

We rented a couple of huts, me and Paul in one, Vladimir, Roy and Gregg in the other. We had power, a bed and even a cooker (Yes I finally got to brew some tea!)

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Me and Gregg went for a wander and to try and get some pictures of the river and area. We ended up on a large bridge on the road leading back to the town where we saw the tractors, both of us were keen to go back and take a look.

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There was a restaurant and shop next to the huts so we grabbed some dinner before heading back to the huts for a good night sleep. I stayed awake until gone midnight chatting to my partner on my phone and it never really got dark there, even though the sun set from just after midnight until it rose again around 3am.

We were now not far from the Arctic Circle and at the edge of Lapland!!

 

Day 4 – Norrkoping to Harnosand

Peering slowly through the tent door I could see the day was going to be another hot one. The sky was blue, the air warm and the sound of birds filled the air, well they would until Paul started his bike and the roar no doubt would frighten off any wildlife within 5km! The plan for the day was to head north and try to get to Harnosand where we would look for a campsite for the night. The day would be like most of the other days for the first week, long, lots of riding, hot and refuelling on a constant basis.

We packed up our tents and gear and prepared to get on the road, first stop fuel and a coffee. This was the second night packing up the tent and I was starting to find better ways to pack it up. It was never going to all fit in the tent bag again but I had the main tent canvas, bedroom and groundsheet all in their, the poles and pegs strapped to the outside and the whole log dumped into a dry bag which held it together.

Whilst this was going on the second bike dropping incident happened when Roy’s BMW R1200 GS toppled over whilst he was getting ready to leave. Thankfully he was OK and the bike wasn’t damaged.

We headed off and found a local Statoil garage, one of the main companies we used during the trip. There were a few others, Shell and YX come to mind. Statoil stations generally had a food counter, small shopping area and toilets! In fact the thing we found was that the toilets in these petrol stations in Sweden were immaculate! Often with plants, pictures on the walls and nice decoration. Not the graffiti covered and dreary affairs you find in England that’s for sure.

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Another big difference that became apparent early on was the condition of the roads and the traffic. The tarmac and surface were fantastic, smooth, not pot holes, very few bumps at all! It the traffic levels were minimal, no jams or congestion except around the major cities. It was a pleasure to ride on.

During our breakfast planning session we set a waypoint to get some lunch. Paul had consulted “The Great and Powerful Iphone” which saved our bacon many times over the 2 weeks I must admit! We found what looked like an interesting point of interest at roughly the distance we would need to refuel again. What looked like a castle on the side of a lake called Wiks Slott. So we rode.. and melted in the heat for a couple of hours until we reached the castle.

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The castle… unfortunately not open!

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Sadly there wasn’t really anywhere to grab some lunch or coffee and as we were all suffering from the heat we decided that sadly we would find the nearest McDonalds with air conditioning and cold drinks!

After a big mac and cold coke we headed off once again, more motorways, more roads, more heat! None of us had prepared for this weather, I had thermal socks and underwear, thick bike gear, winter boots etc… It wasn’t comfortable at all. We stopped for another fuel up and I had wanted to get some meths for the cooker I had brought with me, a Trangia style burner bought from Clas Ohlson. I had read online before I left that the stuff to put was a pink/red bottle called Rodsprit (see Trangia website for suggestions for lots of countries) However I was with Vladimir who thought it was a good idea to check with the assistant in the shop. The reality was neither really knew but there was another bottle of liquid labelled “Camping Paraffin” which they both were adamant must be the right thing to buy. So I put the Rodsprit back and bought some of that instead. Due to the lack of room in my luggage Paul offered to carry it in his with jokes of watching his bike exploding as we rode off!

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We headed off once again and when we stopped for the next fuel stop some 2 hours later we noticed the sky was looking a bit dark in the distance. Almost immediately there was a rumble and it was clear that a storm had built up due to the heat although it wasn’t clear if I was coming our way or not. We packed up and decided to head off on the last part of the trip for the day with the hope we would get to a campsite ahead of any bad weather.

We reached Harnosand and found a campsite that Paul had seen online before the trip. Whilst trying to find the right road we ended up down a slightly gravelly road which is were bike no3 went over as Vladimir’s front wheel dug into a sand filled hole as he was riding slowly, causing the bike to go over on top of him. Once again we were lucky, his pannier detached on that side that hit the ground but he was OK and the pannier clipped back on.

The campsite was literally 5 mins away and when we arrived the scene across the lake was lovely, clear skies, still water and hills in the distance. The terrain had been changing from rolling hills and green fields to hills and trees (there are trees everywhere in Scandinavia) The site itself was basic, there was a shower block with toilets but that was all. Roy, Gregg and Vladimir took a shared hut and me and Paul decided to camp. We sat and ate some food we’d bought form the petrol station earlier just as the wind started picking up and sky darkened!

Before we knew it Thunder rolled in and myself and Paul were out getting soaked trying to put our tents up. The rain was pouring down and we ended up with more water in the tents than out! Paul had tied his tent to 2 of the bikes and I had tied mine to a wooden fence. We eventually went to the guys cabin to chat about the day, plan for the next and make a cup of tea with the newly bought paraffin.

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Paul, wet and fed up!

After about 15 minutes of trying to set fire to the burner it became very apparent that the paraffin wasn’t the right stuff, it simply did not burn! After failed attempts to also get a cooker and coffee machine in the cabin working we decided to call it a day and give up on the idea of tea! We worked out the next days route…

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before we headed off to our tents, left the guys snug in their dry cabin and tried to sleep.

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By 3am the wind was howling and the tents were flapping! All I could hear was the occasional mumble from Paul as the tent tried to take off (I can’t repeat what was being said, suffice to say we both used slightly colourful language) By early morning we’d had enough and were out trying to pack the tents up in the wind, which somehow we managed to do.

Day 3 – Jyderup to Norrkoping

An interesting first night camping, which included hearing blood curdling screams in the middle of the night and various wild animals rummaging around! We woke and had breakfast whilst planning the first day. The riding for the first 5 days or so would be pretty simple, motorways and fast A roads with 3 or 4 fuel stops per day. The objective being to get as far north as possible as quickly as possible as we had a busy second week planned back through Norway which is all slower roads. After breakfast we finished getting the bikes ready, geared up, said goodbye to Vladimir’s family and headed off through the Danish countryside.

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First stop was to visit the resting place of Kenneth Kjaerbye, a fellow IT guy and biker who was tragically killed in an motorcycle accident in January 2013 whist in Florida at IBM Connect. There’s no doubt he would have joined us on our journey and he was definitely in the thoughts of Paul and Gregg who had been with Kenneth the day of the accident, it was a touching moment.

We headed off to the next planned stop at Hillerød, stopping outside Frederiksborg Castle to meet up with another IT guy, Christian Denkler. Christian had wanted to come along for some of the initial trip but wasn’t able to however he still wanted to meet up and say hi before we headed north. It was here just as we were about to leave that I dropped my bike on to it’s side. The side stand needs the bike to be tilted past upright to allow it to be kicked up. Unfortunately the heat had taken it’s toll on me and the weight of all the gear on the bike was a bit too much. As the bike tilted over past the centre I couldn’t stop it’s momentum from taking it right over! I managed to hold it and put it down gently on it’s side, the pannier supporting the weight of the bike and stopping any damage to the actual bike panels. I needed a couple of the guys to help me get it back upright as there was no way I was going to get it up by myself.

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We headed off  to get a ferry across from Denmark to Sweden, the first of many ferries over the next 2 weeks!

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Paul and Vladimir showing their love hate relationship 🙂

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It was approximately a 30 minute journey across, just enough time to stretch our legs and take a toilet break. We rode off the ferry and hit the Swedish motorways for a long day of fast riding broken up by short fuel stops. The temperature was soaring up to around 28 degrees and we were all feeling the effects. We made sure we drank plenty of water at the fuel stops and grabbed shade when we could.

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We reached the area we had planned at Norrkoping and after a bit of searching found a nearby campsite after the first one we went to was closed! The one we ended up at was pretty nice but nothing was open so we decided to go fuel up and by coincidence there was a Pizza Restaurant next to the fuel station so we grabbed some dinner there before heading back for the first real nights camping.

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