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.
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!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
This seemed to work and I was able to get a nice photo of me and Burt the Bear.
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.
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…
I think Burt was a little surprised to be honest!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 🙂
Abisko at Midnight.