Never trust a weatherman
Day 31 – Thursday 25th of July – Moscow to St. Petersburg (708km)
I will get the best thing of the day out first, as it was practically the only good thing that happened today. This morning Ilia let me have a go on his KTM, and I loved it! I have always liked this bike, and I have been seriously considering one when the time comes to replace my V-Strom. I took it for a short spin and it felt great, responsive, powerful, comfortable and the suspension soaked up the potholes with complete ease. Ilia told me that it is so good on bad roads that he does not even bother checking the road ahead, he just goes.
He had to go into training today and the shooting range he was going to was on the road to St. Petersburg, so he told me he would ride with me for a while. I was very happy to have him in front of me to navigate the way out of Moscow and out of the heavy traffic surrounding the city. We made a short stop at his wife’s job to say goodbye and take some pictures, and then went on. The traffic was quite bad, but it was to be expected, what I did not expect was the road after I had left Ilia at the crossroads to the shooting range and promised to meet again either in Russia or Barcelona. The road coming from the south was a nice motorway that made the long ride easy, so I was confident that the one connecting the two most important cities in the country would be even better, making light work of the 700km I had ahead of me.
I really do not understand what kind of planning goes into Russian roads. Who in their right mind would think it is a good idea to have a two-lane road going through every single city, town and village between Moscow and St. Petesburg? I just could not believe that this was true. It took me forever to cover the first 200km away from the capital, it was an endless traffic jam, with cars and trucks completely stopped at some sections, drivers off chatting patiently to one another. If I had not been on a motorbike, I might still be there. Piece of advice – if you ever come to Russia, use a bike or the train. Do NOT take a car or you will spend your holidays in a traffic jam.
Fortunately, half way there the road became a dual carriageway and I was finally able to make some good progress. The problem now, however, was the rain. I had checked the weather forecast before setting off, and it said that it would be cloudy in Moscow and sunny in St. Petersburg. Well, it was not. I do not know if weather forecasting is officially considered a science, but it definitely should not be. Like faith healers, tarot card readers, fortune tellers and economists, meteorologists are a bunch of charlatans that most of the time have no idea what is going on. They might be quite good at studying past weather and drawing statistics, and from time to time they might glance at their fancy radar and tell you where there are clouds and which way the wind is blowing, but accurately predict the weather? No way. A peasant who has spent his whole life sitting outdoors and learning to read the signs might be able to tell you if there is going to be sun or a storm in his area, but someone sitting behind a computer at a desk? Nope.
It poured down all the way to St. Petersburg. All 700km. And to make things more interesting, I had completely forgotten a small but important detail – my GPS comes with very good maps for Europe, but not the rest of the world, so when planning the trip I complied and downloaded a map from Open Street Maps that covered the countries I was going to visit outside Europe. I had not included all of Russia, as it was huge and I was only going to travel through certain parts of it, so just outside St. Petersburg, I ran out of map. I had to stop, take out my mobile phone, find the hostel’s address on Google Maps and then memorise the way to get there, as I did not have anywhere to put the phone while riding. Fortunately, the traffic in the city was nowhere near as bad as in Moscow, in fact it was very quiet, and I got to the hostel without any problems.
As I have discovered is usual practice in Russia, there was no sign at all indicating where the hostel was, so I just parked the bike in the street and walked up the stairs of the building at number 9, hoping there would be a hostel somewhere. There was, and the girl at reception very kindly walked down to the street with me and showed me a gate leading to an inner court where I could park the bike for the night.
The hostel was quite nice, in a very cool old building in the center. The other floors were occupied by a Jazz bar, an independent cinema, a dance school and a roof bar. A good place to stay. It is a shame that it is somewhat spoiled by the staff, the girls were nice enough, but the two guys could not care less about the hosts – they did not show me the facilities, did not give any information about the city or the hostel’s surroundings and were completely ignorant of the hosts. One of them was more interested on playing videogames in the common room computers and playing music until well past 1am and the other in his girlfriend to the point I wondered whether they were two teenagers on holiday at the hostel rather than staff.
I went for walk around the area, which looked really nice, and then spent the rest of the evening planning the route ahead and trying to find accommodation in the following cities.
Ah! And I finally found a Russia sticker for the motorbike.
A drink on the rooftop
Day 32 – Friday 26th of July – St. Petersburg (0km)
I got up late today, I really needed a long sleep after yesterday’s ride, and then I checked my food stash and made a shopping list for the following two weeks, as I will mostly expect to camp in Finland and Norway to keep costs down. I did some shopping, sent a couple of CouchSurf requests and then went out to explore the city.
And what a city! It went straight to the the top of the list of my favourite cities. It is beautiful, absolutely nothing to do with any other city in Russia, with its canals, river, majestic buildings… It is imposing, grand and at the same time welcoming, it combines an air of classicism with an undeniable feeling of cool and trendiness, and people look very central European rather than Russian. I really wish I could spend a few weeks here, as the city is definitely worth it.
In the evening I went up to the bar on the roof, which turned out to be a time café, where you pay for the time you spend there rather than the drinks, and you can have as many tea, coffee or lemonade as you want. I sat on a hammock and read my book as the sun set over the roofs of the city, casting a red glow over my drink. You could really tell I am already further north, as the sun set well past half past ten, at there was light until eleven.
I will leave you with a few pictures, and check out the Facebook page for the whole album.
Day 33 – Saturday 27th of July – St. Petersburg (0km)
Today I spent the whole day at the Hermitage museum. There are lots of things to see and do in St. Petersburg, but I can tell you that if you are an art lover, it is worth paying for a plane ticket and Russian visa only to see this place. They have an amazing collection, and I could have spent another day there. I cannot share any pictures with you because I was not allowed to take any, I am on a tight budget and I preferred to spend my money on an audio guide to make the most of the visit rather than on a photo permit and spend the day like Asian tourists did – racing from one piece of art to another, taking one picture of the painting, another of the label next to it. I wonder if they really appreciated any of the paintings at all or they were just taking trophies to show their friends and relatives back home. Anyway, anything I could tell you about the collection or the building, which itself is more than worth the visit, would be wasted words, as words do not do justice to either, so come and see for yourself.
No more Russian roads
Day 34 – Sunday 28th of July – St. Petersburg – Joensuu (419km)
And I cannot say I will miss them… A few days ago I was riding to St. Petersburg, a long ride, and I realized that it had been a while since I had had fun on a road. Ever since I went into Ukraine, I had been on main roads, because the back roads were in appalling conditions or simply non-existent. From enjoying wonderful European country roads I had gone to just riding in pretty much a straight line all day, hot, sweaty, eating dust and smoke from trucks, watching out for ruts and potholes… the road had changed from something I had fun on to something to get out of the way before reaching the next destination. I had been doing this for so long I had forgotten that I was supposed to enjoy the ride! Today, the road away from St. Petesburg was a good dual carriageway, and then it turned into a beautiful country road that reminded me of how enjoyable these roads are. The landscape had also changed, and if it were not for the road signs, I would have sworn I was already in Finland, not in Russia. However, this was still Russia, and in Russia you cannot trust a road for long. The minute you think ‘wow, this is a nice one’ and think it is going to stay that way to your destination, it just turns to complete crap. There is no logic to it either, it does not follow province boundaries, proximity to cities or any other rational criteria, it just changes suddenly from motorway to gravel road, to broken asphalt, to no road, to new unpainted asphalt… you never know what is coming next.
In my case, a dusty gravel road for almost 100km. By the time I was near the Finnish border and it was tarmac again, I was white with dust, so I was very, very happy to cross the border. However, I will miss Russia. It has been an amazing experience and the people I have met there have been wonderful.
Back in the UE, the road was lovely, smooth, new tarmac. Then something strange happened. The speed limit was 80km/h, and people were sticking to it. No crazy overtaking. Nobody pulling out in front of me, everybody waited patiently on the side before driving onto the road. Speed cameras in every town. And I thought ‘this is boring’. I could not overtake whenever and wherever I felt like it, or go as fast as I would have liked to go on those roads… I suddenly missed Russian craziness!
The wonderful landscape, and the fact that I could actually appreciate it because there were no more potholes waiting to kill me more than made up for it, though, and I had a very enjoyable last part of the day until I got to the hostel where I was spending the night.
It was a really nice place, I parked my bike in the back yard, where there was a barbecue and a couple of picnic tables, cooked some food and then sat outside to finish The Grapes of Wrath with a cup of coffee in my hand.
And what a book it was! I had started reading shortly before I entered Russia, and it really got to me. A harrowing story, but definitely worth it. I will leave you with a fragment I read, ironically, shortly after having broken the rim:
And his thought and his worry were not any more with rainfall, with wind and dust, with the thrust of crops. Eyes watched the tires, ears listened to the clattering motors, and minds struggled with oil, with gasoline, with the thinning rubber between air and road. Then a broken gear was a tragedy. Then water in the evening was the yearning, and food over the fire. Then health to go on was the need and the strength to go on and the spirit to go on. The wills thrust westward ahead of them, and the fears that had once apprehended drought or flood now lingered with anything that might stop the westward crawling.
The Winter War
Day 35 – Monday 29th of July – Joensuu to 5km north of Ruka (539km)
For the first time since I left Barcelona, I got up this morning, fired up the engine and rode onto the road without a fixed destination nor a number of kilometers to cover for the day. I had been unable to find a cheap hostel anywere, and the couch requests I had sent to Rovaniemi had been declined or gone unanswered, so I had decided to just ride and then find a campsite or somewhere to camp in the wild then I got tired.
The previous day I had stopped at a petrol station at the corner of the street where the hostel was and bought a road map. The GPS had been of great help so far, but it had also kept me on main roads, which was fine in Russia, since anything other than main roads would be a nightmare to ride, but now I wanted to explore the back roads, I had to cover about 400km a day to get to the Nordkapp on schedule, which was not much taking into account how good the roads where in Finland, so I wanted to see the road network in detail and pick a route away from the main roads.
Shortly after leaving Joensuu I saw that the main road went to the left of a big lake, and there was a smaller road to the right that went closer to the shore, even closer if I took a smaller road branching out of the first one. I went for it, and discovered a wonderful road.
It was sunny, the temperature was perfect, the views breathtaking, I had my music on and there was nobody else around. It had been a long time since I had had such a good time on the motorbike, and then the road turned into a gravel road, but not a Russian gravel road, a Finnish one, which are very good, and it was even more fun, riding on the footpegs, kicking up dust at 100km/h.
I had started early, as I had got up at about 7 am, impossible to sleep more with the sun shinning as it does so early this far up north, and the first 200km felt more like 20. I stopped for petrol for the first time in Finland, the last fill-up had been in Russia just before the border, and was glad to discover that while it was a bit more expensive than in Spain, the price was still within budget and lower than Italy, the most expensive I had paid so far. I also checked the prices at the petrol station café and they were also very reasonable, I had a menu for 8€.
While I was outside the café putting all the gear back on a KTM parked next to me. It was an Adventure S in Dakar colours, in pristine condition. I told the rider ‘nice bike’ and ten seconds later I was back inside, having coffee with him and talking bikes. His name was Sami and he was a photographer from Helsinki. He told me that he was exploring the gravel roads along the border with Russia, and since he was also going north from Kuhmo, where we had stopped, he invited me to join him. As I had plenty of time and no schedule for the day, I was happy to have some company.
We rode on back roads for about 100km, but not gravel, since there were no gravel roads near the border in that area, and then we he waved at me to stop. We had just passed a building at a crossroads and he asked me ‘are you interested in history?’ ‘Sure’ I said. It turned out that the building behind us was a museum about the Winter War, and the road to the right, the road that used to lead to Russia where the most important battle had taken place.
There were still some pieces of artillery scattered along the road, and Sami gave me a very interesting history lesson. He was very knowledgeable, and he had even used some of the actual artillery guns the Finns had captured from the Russians in that battle during his military service. We rode the gravel road for a while, saw a memorial and then went back to the main road. A while later we came to a crossroads, and we parted out ways, as I wanted to try and go further north before sunset and he was going to get some food in the next big town and then go off road and find a place to camp. He gave me his contact and told me to get in touch when I was in Helsinki.
Before leaving, he gave me one last piece of advice: I was soon going to cross into the Lapland region, and he told me that there were a lot of reindeer walking around and it was dangerous to cars and especially motorbikes. I thanked him, and sure enough, about half an hour later I saw the first one, lazily walking down the road. I slowed down and rode past it, but it disappeared into the forest before I could stop to take a picture. After that, I saw dozens of them.
At about 7 pm I stopped to buy some food and then started looking for a place to spend the night. There were lakes everywhere, and I fancied camping near the shore and maybe have a swim, and a few miles out of town I saw the entrance to a campsite. I asked and it was only 7€, so I decided to stop there, it would be nice to be able to have a shower. The campsite was just an open grass field by the lake, and you could put your tent wherever you wanted. I camped, and since it was still early, I cleaned and greased the chain, took the panniers off the bike and rearranged my stuff, getting rid of a few things I had not used and was not going to, trying to shed some weight.
I also did some repair work on the straps that held the jerrycan in place. The vibrations had managed to cut one of the two straps and the other one was badly frayed, so I repaired one and reinforced the other with duct tape.
There had only been really bad vibrations in Kazakhstan, so I was surprised to see that the straps had failed. After discovering it when the rim broke, I had secured the jerrycan with some rok straps until I could find a better solution. I had bought the whole thing, jerryan, support and straps from Touratech, and they are supposed to be high quality products for trips just like this. I doubt the straps would have lasted more than a week in Kazakhstan, so it was a disappointment. I took some pictures and they will definitely hear from me when the trip is finished.
I cooked dinner on my stove and then sat by the lake before going into the tent to write a bit. It was a magical moment, and I felt relaxed as I had not been for weeks, in complete harmony with myself and my surroundings. This was what I was looking for. Gazing across the lake, with my bike and my tent behind me, I felt I did not need anything else.
It was almost midnight when I went into the tent, and there was still enough light to be able to sit outside and read a book without problems. I wondered whether it would get dark at all that night.
WiFi in the wild
Day 36 – Tuesday 30th of July – 5km north of Ruka to 10km north of Ivalo (429km)
I woke up shortly before 6 am, and even though I took my time to have breakfast and pack everything up, I was on the road fairly early. I had removed the thermal layers from the suit the day before as it was boiling hot, but today the day started cloudy and chilly, so at 10 am, seeing that it was not getting any warmer, I stopped, put them back on and switched to the winter gloves.
I had chosen a route close to the border to avoid main roads again, and rode all morning on my own, on narrow deserted country roads that took me through lakes, woods and swamps. The landscape was beautiful, but in the cold gray morning it was also desolate at times, and I could very easily imagine how hard it must have been in winter for the ill-equipped soldiers that had to make their way across these lands.
By midday I had covered a lot of distance, and the day had improved a bit. I stopped at a café to have some lunch and had a short chat with two Swiss bikers coming down from Norway. They told me that the weather there had been miserable for the last few weeks. That worried me a little, as I was counting on camping all the way in Finland, Norway and Sweden…
Seeing that it was early and I was making very good progress, I started considering the options I had. It was too early to call it a day and stop for the night in Finland, so I could keep going and get as close to the Nordkapp as possible to be there early the following day and camp already on my way down along the Norwegian coast or I could keep going straight north instead of taking the main route to the northeast and then ride along the northern coast of Norway to reach the Nordkapp in the evening in time to see the midnight sun. In the end though, a sharp muscular pain in my chest, possibly from a bad sleeping position the previous night, meant that I decided to get to the last big town in Finland and find a place to sleep.
I was going to go a bit further before starting to look for a place, as it was only 6 pm, but then I saw a sign indicating a campsite by a lake, and I had a feeling that it would be a good place. I have always trusted my gut when it comes to finding a good place during the trip and it has normally turned out to be right. This time was no exception. The campsite was more expensive than the previous one – 15€ a night – but the much better facilities made up for the price, especially the fact that despite basically being a forest by a lake, they had wifi, which meant that I could write this post while lying in my sleeping bag.
As it was early, I decided to take the evening to relax, and went down to the lake for a swim. The water was crystal clear and very cold, but it felt wonderful. I sat for an hour in the sun, drying off and reading my new book: Fahrenheit 451.
Just before going to bed I was heading down to the lake again to take some pictures, as the sky was a very nice shade of violet with the midnight sun, when I saw a man arrive on a bicycle and stop next to my tent. I noticed that he had something written on his back, and when I got closer to say hi I saw that it said ’10,000km’. I told him that was the distance I had covered so far on my motorbike, and he told me that he was riding around Scandinavia in 8 weeks, doing as much as 260km a day. Or rather a night, as he preferred to ride nights. Or days, as it never gets dark here. Oh well, it is a bit confusing…
I told him where I was going and he recommended a couple of places to see, one further to the east than the Nordkapp, the other, 9km on foot from the Nordkapp, which is the real northernmost point in Europe. It all sounds very tempting, tomorrow I will decide how I plan my route for the day.
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.
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.
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.
In about 20 more minutes I reached the top, and the views were more than worth the ride and the walk up there.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Rain and fog in the fjords
Day 39 – Friday 2nd of August – Nordkapp to Alteidet (343km)
A few km before the Nordkapp there is a small car park and a path leading away from it. It takes you to Knivskjelodden, which truly is the northernmost point in Europe, but you can only reach it by walking 9km. My plan for the morning was to go there and then take the rest of to ride as far south as I could, but it was not to be. I woke up at 6am to the sound of rain beating on the canvas of my tent, and two thoughts came to my mind. The first one, that I could not hike to Knivskjelodden, as I did not have footwear to walk 18km in wet ground and keep my feet dry, and the second, that I was going to have to fold my tent wet, which I do not like doing at all. I slept a bit more, waiting for the rain to stop, but at 10am it was still raining, so I decided to go.
Sometimes you pay a lot of money for something that offers nothing over the competence, such as anything with an “i” in front of its name or a Volkswagen, and sometimes a design is so clever it justifies its price. Happily for me, my tent falls into the second category, and today I discovered that you can unclip and fold the inner part without removing the outer layer or the poles, which means that both you and the part of the tent where you sleep stay dry in the process. Once I had done that and packed all my things under the protection of the outer layer, I folded the rest, put it on the bike and left.
It was foggy, rainy and cold, so before setting off I had studied a list of campsites and cabin camps along the route I was going to take to have several posibilites to stop for the night. If the weather improved, I would go further, if it did not, I would just stop and find a place to sleep.
Almost 350km later, I was freezing and my supposedly waterproof winter gloves had soaked through. Fortunately I had heated grips on the bike, so I kept my hands warm, although the same could not be said of my feet. The sky was overcast all around and it did not look as if it was going to get any better soon, so I just decided to stop. I checked the map and found a campsite which also had wooden cabins and internet connection, just what I needed to get all my stuff dry, tent included, and spend the afternoon updating the blog.
I paid and got the keys to a wooden cabin, hung up my staff all over it and turned up the heating and then went to the kitchen, where for the first time since I had entered Norway I had time to sit down and calculate costs.
I was horrified to discover that the country is very expensive, and there is not much I can do to get around that. I can free camp if the weather is good, but petrol and food are still an important expense, and the cabin today and the entrance to the Nordkapp the day before had already put an important dent on my budget. I had no plan other than be in Helsinki by the 12th, where I am meeting my girlfriend to do the last three weeks of the trip together, so I did not know how far south I wanted to go in Norway before crossing into Sweden or Finland. Seeing the prices here, I thought I would ride along the fjords one or two more days and then go back east.
A house with a view
Day 40 – Saturday 3rd of August – Alteidet to Narvik (427km)
Today I decided I had to keep costs down somehow if I wanted to have money left to enjoy the last part of the trip, so before setting off in the morning I went back into the campsite kitchen to make the best use of the wifi connection I had paid and sent some CouchSurf requests for the next three cities, hoping I would get lucky despite sending them so late.
My tent and riding gear had dried overnight, I packed them and spent some time rearranging all the bags on the bike. Ever since Volgograd I had been carrying the old front tire as it provided a useful space to keep the food bags and the bike cover, and support for the big Ortlieb bag with most of my stuff, but it also took up all the space in the rack and the passenger seat, so I got rid of it and now had to find a way to relocate the luggage so that there was space for my girlfriend, and I wanted to experiment with different weight distributions before picking her up. Today I put the bike cover under the Ortlieb bag to prevent it from tearing on the screws of the rack I had built to carry the spare tires and I strapped the food bags on top of each pannier. There was enough space in the passenger seat, plus the food bags seemed to make nice armrests. There was however a problem with that set up, which I discovered a few hours later.
The sky was clear and the sun was out, there was no sign of the rain that had made my previous day so miserable. I put some good music on and got on the road to have on of the best riding days so far in the trip.
The landscape changed from the rocky, wind swept low fjords in the Norkapp to higher ones covered in forest at the bottom and with glaciers on the top. It was an amazing sight, and I thought that it was worth riding the coast for a couple days more despite the prices. It was like being in the Alps, only that the valleys were flooded in seawater, the surface completely still, reflecting the mountains and the fishing boats like a mirror.
I stopped a couple of times, one for petrol, one for lunch, and met Italian bikers in both stops, a couple riding a Triumph who did not speak any English and then two friends who provided the perfect comparison of the two bikes I might consider as a replacement for my poor V-Strom – one of them was on a GS Adventure, the other on a KTM 990 Adventure. I chatted to the KTM rider, who spoke good English, and told me that the GS was great for long distance riding, it was very comfortable and had excellent range, but was no good on anything other than good dirt roads. The KTM on the other hand had much less range, about 250km only, but was great fun on the road and could cope with anything off it. And it was much cheaper too.
After lunch I noticed that my chain was making a strange noise when I pulled out in first gear, and it was getting slowly worse. I thought that I might have tightened it a bit too much the last time I serviced it a couple of days ago, so I decided to find a spot to check it. I stopped at nice picnic area – there are lots in Norway – and put the bike on the center stand. Or tried to. It was usually difficult with all the luggage on, but now that I had put the weight a bit further to the back to make room in the passenger it was just impossible. I had to take the food bags and the tools off before I managed to get the bike on it.
I checked the chain, and it was indeed too tight. Since I was at it and it had rained the previous day, I also cleaned it. When I got back on the road the noise had disappeared. I had checked my phone when I stopped and I had got a reply from a host in Narvik, where I was headed for that night, which was great, I did not think I was going to find a place so late and was already thinking about finding a place to set up camp.
I got to Narvik past seven in the evening and found the address, it was a beautiful small house overlooking the fjord.
Alf Tonny, my host, was waiting for me outside, I pulled up the driveway, got my things off the bike and after a quick shower I was sitting with him on the terrace having tea, chatting and enjoying the views. Shortly after, a friend of his dropped by to bring him a new table for the living room, and he joined us. He was quite interested in history too, and we talked about some of the highlights of my trip. Before he went back home I gave him the blog’s address and invited him to visit me in Barcelona. Then we went back inside and another friend of Alf came by with a bottle of wine, and I decided to call it a day on the blog and just relax for a while.