The Nordkapp

Day 38 – Thursday 1st of August – 6km from Bekkarfjord to Slettnes to the Nordkapp (609km)

The strong wind woke me up at 6 am, and since there was not way I was going to manage to sleep again with that noise, I got up. I crawled out of the tent to find that the bike was on its side again, and this time when I lifted it I saw that the left side front indicator had broken. The front indicators stick out a long way  on the V-Strom, they are a really poor piece of design and the first thing that breaks when you drop the bike, but I could not believe that after coming all this way and having survived falls in the Kazak desert, it had to happen here.

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The wind was so strong that I did not feel very comfortable leaving the bike there while I packed everything and got ready to go, so I folded the tent as fast as I could in the strong wind, strapped everything on and got the hell out of there without even having breakfast. Not that I could mind you, the stove did not work.

As soon as I found a more sheltered place, I stopped and taped the pieces of indicator together. The repair seemed to hold, so I thought I would leave it like that instead of trying to find a new one which would probably cost a fortune here.

I rode the 100km that I had not finished the previous day and as usually happens, saw plenty of good spots where I could have spent the night if I had gone a bit further. I was running low on petrol, so I checked on the GPS and saw that there was petrol station in Mehamn, the last town before the lighthouse. When I got there, however, the pump was not working, and the man at the petrol station told me that I could either wait until 4 or 5 in the afternoon or go to Kjøllefjord, which meant riding back 13km to the last junction and then 23km to the town. I got there with the last bar on the fuel indicator flashing, praying the petrol station there was open, as the last one was more than 100km south. It was open, and after filling up I rode up again and to Slettnes, where the lighthouse was.

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It was 10 am and I was in the middle of nowhere, so there was not a single soul in the lighthouse. This was my own private Nordkapp, away from tourists. The lighthouse itself was made of metal, the only one of its kind in Norway and the northernmost lighthouse in Europe. I took a walk around it and then went to the Nordkapp, which was just across the fjord. I could almost see it in the distance, but getting there by road meant a detour that would take all day. That was not a problem, as my plan was to get there just in time to find a campsite and then ride the last few kilometers to the Nordkapp after dinner, in time to see the midnight sun.

On the final 100km, once I was on the road that only led to the Nordkapp I started seeing what I had not seen all morning or the previous day – lots of tourist coaches and bikers. The Nordkapp is on an island, but there was no need to take a ferry, a 6km-long tunnel cut into the rock  goes under the sea to connect the island to the mainland. Riding the tunnel was quite an experience, it has a steep gradient that goes down for 3km and then starts going up again for another 3km, like a giant V. Out on the other side, I went past the main town, where the tourist cruises stop, and made my way up the mountain until I came to the Middnatsol Camping, the last one before the Nordkapp.

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I stopped, set up the tent and cooked dinner, seeing coaches and bikes go past on the road below. At half past ten, I got on the bike and rode up the last kilometers.

It felt strange, I had been on the road for more than a month and now I was finally going to reach the point where I would turn around and start heading home. I was lucky and there was no traffic on that last bit, so I rode slowly and took my time to think about all the things that I had seen and all the people I had met on the road. It had been an intense experience, lots of emotions and kilometers condensed in a few weeks. An experience I would never forget.

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Then, up ahead, I saw it. The Nordkapp. The northernmost point in Europe. I had made it here from the desert in Kazakhstan, in a bike with so many kilometers in it that most people would have sold it long ago, with a back rim that had been repaired by a mechanic in a shed in Russia, with my suit covered in dust, dirt, rain and insects from 12 different countries.

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I paid the toll (yes, you have to pay to get to the Nordkapp, and it is not cheap), parked my V-Strom in a long line of GSs, took out my helmet and gloves and walked to the point where Europe finishes.

It was still early, and the sun was hidden behind some low laying clouds floating over the sea, so I took a walk around the complex, visited the museum, the audiovisual show, the King’s View viewpoint and the gift shop, where I bough an overpriced sticker for the bike.

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At 23:30, I found a spot on the handrails that was free of tourists and waited for the sun to come out below the clouds. It was like a regular sunset, until you realized that unlike regular sunsets, the sun was not just coming down, but also moving from left to right. In fact, it was moving faster laterally than down. At midnight, it skimmed over the horizon and then it started rising again. A new day had begun and I had seen sunset and sunrise in the space of an hour.

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Tanahorn

Day 37 – Wednesday 31st  of July – 10km north of Ivalo to Berlevag to 6km from Bekkarfjord (626km)

I decided that since I still had 12 days to get to Helsinki, and I was probably only going to have the chance to explore this part of the world on a motorbike once in a lifetime, I would take the advice I had been given the day before and make a little detour to visit some places.

The first one, and the one that the man I had met the previous night had insisted the most on visiting, was the Tanahorn, a peak on the coast near Berlevag, three big fjords east of the Nordkapp, from which I was told I would have wonderful views if the weather was good. He called it ‘his Nordkapp’, and that was enough to make me want to visit it. My father loves the mountains and everything related to them, and he has a few places he likes to call his own. When he talks about one of those places, I know it is a special place, normally away from what most people visit and of outstanding beauty, so when I heard that man describe it in those words, I could not resist the visit.

It took me all morning to ride there, including crossing the border into Norway. Once in fjord land, I had to go a long way north on a road that I would have to undo later, as it did not lead anywhere else, but the views alone were worth the trip.

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The road followed the coast near the water, winding its way along the fjord, the day was beautiful and the air cool, it was another road to put down in my book of favourites. Once I got to Berlevag I had to go on for a few kilometers on an unpaved road, and then I saw a couple of parked cars and a sign indicating the path up the hill. I left everything on the bike an started walking dressed in riding gear, as it was a bit cold and since it was only about 3km I did not bother to get changed.

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Soon I was sweating despite the cold, and had to take off the jacket an carry it under my arm. The path went up over gentle slopes and soon the Tanahorn came into view. It was a sharp rocky peak that stood out in the distance, with a mound of rocks built on top of it.

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In about 20 more minutes I reached the top, and the views were more than worth the ride and the walk up there.

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The sky was clear, and I had a perfect view of the sea and the surrounding fjords, the cliffs and the rocky slopes going all the way down to the beaches, covered in pieces of wood that the sea had carried from Siberia. It was amazing.

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I took out the notebook that was there and left a quick note. Then I sat, relaxed and enjoyed the feeling of the sun on my face for a while before heading back down, as I still had a long way to the Nordkapp and I was not sure I would make it that day.

Back on the bike I studied the route on the GPS and hesitated between heading straight to the Nordkapp or going up to the other point between here and there, where there was the northernmost lighthouse in Europe. Trying to make it to the Nordkapp that day would have been too much, so I decided to take it easy and visit the lighthouse.

I had to undo a long way, and by the time I was back on the main road, it had already got late and I was quite tired. I started making my way up the road that lead to Mehamn, but I realized I would get there quite late, so I decided to look for a place to set up my tent and spend the night.

You can camp anywhere you want in Norway as long as it is more than 150 meters from a house, so it sounds quite easy, but the difficult terrain means that it takes a while to find a good spot. After a while, I found it. It was on a very gentle slope going to the end of a very small fjord, hidden away from the road, with beautiful views and easily accessible on the bike. I rode down and set camp.

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However, things started to go wrong soon. When I tried to cook dinner, my stove decided to stop working, so I had to collect wood and make a small fire to be able to have a hot supper. Then, when I went to bed, a very strong wind started. It was not constant, it was just sudden gusts of wind that blew wildly for a few minutes, from a different direction each time. It made the tent flap loudly, and to make matters worse, at about 4 am, I hear a crashing noise outside. I open the tent to discover that the wind had toppled my bike, which was lying on its side. I put it up again, saw that there was no damage done and turned it so that it offered less resistance to the wind.

I went back into the tent and tried to get some sleep.

The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind

Day 1 – Tuesday 25th of June – Tiana to Vizille (718 km)

I do not really know whether the answer is there or not, but I have had plenty of time to listen to it (the wind, not the answer). I have set off at eight o’clock this morning, thinking how a few months back I was afraid of being slowly baked on the motorbike wearing the riding gear and how different it has turned out to be. The sky was overcast and it was even a bit chilly. Not enough to justify putting on the thermal lining on the jacket or even wearing anything else than a T-shirt underneath, but cool enough to require a scarf and having the hands a bit cold (I was wearing summer gloves). I had decided that if I was going to stick to my daily budget, I could not afford to pay tolls all the way to Grenoble, so I had planned to take A-roads and B-roads to Montpellier and then, depending on how much time I had left, get on the motorway for the last 300km to get to the campsite I had found before reception closed at 20:30. The motorway from Barcelona follows the coast, but I have not got near the sea until the border with France, and there is where the wind has started.

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I know the Mediterranean coast along the north of Catalonia and the south of France is usually very windy, so I was expecting this. What I was not expecting was the wind to still be there once I turned inland, and I was definitely not expecting it to be so strong. I have been told that it gets quite bad on the open spaces of Kazakhstan and Mongolia, so I guess that today has been good training. I thought the only problem today was going to be boredom and fatigue, as it is the longest day of all (720km), but the wind has made it so much harder. It blew constantly and from all directions, creating turbulences all over the screen and the helmet that have almost driven me crazy. I am still wondering how I have not ended up with a splitting headache. Not only that, it was strong and unpredictable enough to throw me off course, and more than once today I have been close to flying off the side of the road, being blown into the path of oncoming vehicles or being blown against the cars to my left on the motorway. But the wind, despite having spent the whole day trying to kill me, has not been the worst part.

Pulling out onto the street from the car park and looking back to say goodbye one last time to Nat has been the hardest thing to do. I have taken some long(ish) trips on the bike, some of them for more than a few days, but there was always someone to go back to at the end. At that moment I have finally realized that I’m going to be riding away from home for a long time before turning back.

I teach languages, and that means that I spend most of the day talking and listening to people. Very often, just as someone who spends the whole day in front of a computer at work does not want to check his inbox to see that hilarious video you have sent them, when I get home, the last thing I want to do is talk, so I thought that spending some time on my own would be great. Well, it is, and I like it, when I know that at the end of the day I will have someone to tell how great it has been, so today, by lunchtime, I have found myself looking forward to my first couchsurf tomorrow, much more than I thought!

I do not mean this as a negative comment about travelling on my own, quite the opposite. I am glad to have realized I feel this way, as I am quite a shy person and I was a bit worried about that getting in the way of the experience, but I see now that I am going to be even more open to meeting new people and sharing the experience.

This morning, about an hour after setting off, an elderly man has approached me as I was fuelling the bike in a small town near Olot and made a comment about how much stuff was on the bike. That has quickly turned into an enjoyable conversation about the trip, and the guy working at the petrol station has also joined in. In the afternoon, already well into France, I have stopped to buy some fruit and the same kind of conversation has taken place again with the couple who were selling their stuff by the road.

This is a great way of travelling, so different from jumping on a plain and suddenly being in another place. I knew what the French villages on the Pyrenees look like, I knew how the coast of Brittany looked like, I also knew how Paris looked like, but I had no idea what the country really looked like. I had only seen a few parts of it. There is no way we can say ‘yeah, I know Germany, I’ve been in Berlin a few times’ for example. I had driven all across France six times, but even that was on the motorway, 12 hours, non-stop. Today I have seen a completely different country for the first time, and if a country I thought I knew has been such a nice experience, I wonder how the rest is going to be like.

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I am now typing this on a laptop lying in my tent, in Vizille, near Grenoble. I seem to have found a lovely campsite – in the forest, with great facilities, really cheap, quiet… that is missing the two things I needed the most today: beer and the internet. I have got here relatively early, so I have decided to set up camp, go for a shower, have dinner and then go to the reception bar for a beer and write this post while I drank it seeing the sun set behind the mountains. Wrong timing. This is not a Spanish campsite on the coast. The bar was closed. And a quick expedition into town has been equally fruitless, so I have decided to call it an early night and take the chance to write a good long post about the first day.

Good night.