Well I didn’t sleep that well, but not because we’re going to visa Santa, but because a group of people decided to have a huge argument in the middle of the night that involved (hopefully) throwing large objects about or worse.. throwing each other about. It sounded like someone was trying to break into the building with loud thumps and bumps and bangs. It reminds me of a night at a similar latitude in Anchorage where we camped near some Inuit’s that were smashed out their skulls and were having a full on family riot all night long..
The light up here is just beautiful.. how can a simple frequency of light give me so much pleasure. I just stand and stare at the slowly moving shadows while the beast warms her lungs and looks like she’s inhaled from a huge vaping machine. I remember when Brian and I were sitting eating breakfast thinking about this trip and saying that we’d probably have to keep it local this year. This doesn’t feel very local to me..
The practicalities of living at these latitudes means the balconies are totally enclosed against the cold.
A a few cold clicks north and we’re in.
As we’re taking some pictures of the bike a French couple come up to us. He wants a picture with the bikes. They only speak English through a little hand held translation device but it seems their daughter lives and works up here and they are visiting. Perhaps she’s helping Santa with his French letters .. He’s a biker and seems to have a large collection of old bikes back home as he scrolls through his pictures. A couple of time as he scrolls he points at people and says ‘morte.. COVID’ which needs no translation.. and brings things into perspective as to why its all so quiet.
Santa isn’t an early riser apparently and he’s not available to take an audience until 10.. or until you can produce receipts that prove you’ve spent at least a weeks wages in his gift store .. so I buy a fridge magnet .. so that’s 2 weeks wages ..
Off we go.. is there a queue .. screaming kids .. people feinting .. autograph hunters .. nope.. nobody at all. We walk round the corner and there he is .. actual Santa .. sitting in his chair.. reading his phone .. he’s probably on the Santa app.
Santa wont have his picture taken unless you pay .. he’s quite insistent.. and reminds me of a Kirby hoover salesman that we once had in the house.. ‘Have your picture taken with me’ .. no thanks mate.. ‘Come on .. have a picture.. it will be great .. you can look at it and if you don’t like it then don’t buy it’.. no thanks mate .. I’m fine .. ‘Come on.. have a picture .. you can pay in 300 easy instalments or I can put it on your mortgage’..
‘Just Fuck Off will you Santa’..
So I have to ask an elf instead ..
And… true story .. Santa isn’t a fat bastard because he eats lots of mince pies over Christmas .. Santa is a fat bastard because he lives directly opposite a 24/7 service station serving cheap all you can eat gut buster buffets .. but don’t tell the kids ..
We’re headed for Kiruna today, in Sweden. and another unknown border crossing. Judging on progress so far and that we’re going from one EU country to another we’re hoping it will be pain and hassle free. We’ve just got time for a few more lovely lakes though..
Get to the border and there is a Finish guard checking entry from Sweden but nobody cares if you’re leaving
Its odd how much a country can immediately feel so different even though its only a matter of a few meters away.. and Sweden does immediately feel different. As though the seeds from the trees couldn’t make it across the river. The landscape is different too, a bit more rolling. Lots of roadworks too but luckily its dry so the rough road sections are just loose rather than ooooo’se. So we decide to test what really matters to us both .. cake. Drop into a small town and a tiny warm cafe for coffee cake and calories.
I really do like the Scandi style and the Swedes seem to do it best. I could happily dismantle this place and live it in back home.. as long as it came with the barista and the calorie cabinet .. They warn us there are lots of reindeer on the roads round here so to be careful on the bikes, and so it proves
Reindeer really are beautiful creatures with velvet covered antlers and huge feet that make a noise like banging 2 bits of wood together when they run. Bloody solid though I’m sure.
Tonight’s destination is some huts in the woods about 11km out from Kiruna and there is nothing else there so we head into town for supplies. Kiruna is the northernmost town in Sweden and it’s there for one reason only, iron ore. You can see the mountains of waste from miles and miles away. Kiruna also has a problem. Quite a big problem in fact. Its sinking due to under mining. Large areas of the place are being condemned and the government is paying to build replacement buildings and move people from the affected areas.
We spot a supermarket and go to park up when a woman comes up asking about the antenna on my helmet. Err.. that’s not an antenna .. that’s a big cable tie keeping the broken visor up Comes in useful for carrying it though, and I might even get a tiny flag to fly from it ..
She’s a right hippy chick, and she tells us she is quite famous in Sweden as a singer of Sami music. Not something on my spotify play list .. but she’s a nice lady, very friendly and chatty and wiling to handle my helmet in public.
Sweden is as equally expensive as Finland but, like there, the contrast between the prices in the supermarket and the cafes is massive. Coffee and a mouthgasm for a couple of quid .. oh yea ..
We’re both just sitting there in a post cake-coital state when a woman comes rushing over to us.. ‘are you the bikers?’ My first thought is bollocks, someone has run over the bikes .. but no .. she’s seen theem outside and has come in to search for us. She just wants to chat and find out what we’re doing. She is a biker and has a couple of Harleys .. yes I know .. but she’s test ridden the Pan American and is trying to buy one to ride the world on. Her English is just amazing .. shes talking fast and keeping up with all the jokes better than a lot of natives would .. smiling and laughing, flirting and giggling .. she’d be a lot of fun to ride with for sure. Turns out she spends all her life underground driving a concrete truck in the mines. Her shift pattern lets her accumulate lots of holiday and she’s already been about a fair bit but she wants to go further.. much much further. Always a good thing to hear from a woman ..
Go and raid the salad counter for dinner.. this isn’t like your Pizza Hut salad bar full of manky lettuce with brown edges and sweetcorn full of bogies from snotty nosed kids.. this is proper nice and fresh. Loads of meat, tuna, whatever. I like going out to eat but sometimes I just like a mass of healthy food, and this is the way to do it here.
and a Ploppy for afters .. obviously
Ride back out of town and into the forest to find the huts. We can hear dogs.. lots and lots and lots of dogs. Turns out the huts are at a dog-sled centre and they’re absolutely everywhere. 300 of them! They work constantly from September to May then rest up over the summer in their pens. Its quite a sight. Loads of sleighs and harnesses sitting ready for snow to fall ..
The hut is basic and there is a ‘kitchen hut’ at the end full of everything you need to prepare and eat your meals.. I like it .. I really like it. Its the different things that stick in your memory the most, and this is definitely different.
See… I really can really almost claim it as camping
I’m out for the count and hit the hay early.. but as usual I need to wee in the middle of the night .. standing on the viranda in the cold.. a star filled sky.. the smell of animals mixed with the trees .. the sound of the dogs shuffling about.. and wee pouring onto the grass .. just perfect ..
There are wolves about up here.. we heard them last night and this morning they’re chatting to the dogs .. at 6 am.. which is nice ..
The wolves howl.. the dogs all howl back.. and then suddenly it all stops dead. Its very odd.. they all just stop simultaneously. Fuck knows how that works.. anyway.. back to the hut for brekkie.
then drop off my Ploppy at the long drop.. a loo with a view..
Today we’re going to try and get into Norway. Brian’s Swedish mate says he doesn’t know if we’ll get in but we’ll ride up and check. I think we should be OK but things are changing all the time so we don’t book any accommodation just in case. First stop will be Riksgränsen up on the border.
Its a beautiful cold bright morning as we follow the giant iron ore trains through the wilderness towards Norway.
Its proper desolate up here, and all the better for it. Fuck how much of my life do i spend crawling along staring at the rear bumper of a car in front, or filtering through a mass of metal, just trying to get 5 miles down the road in less than an hour .. surrounded by concrete .. road signs .. noise.. people.. pressure .. but up here I just don’t care.. there is room to share.. room to spare .. there are a lot of hikers about but for the most part its just two blokes, two bikes, and the whole world to ourselves.
Get to Riksgränsen and I’m expecting a town but its just some houses, a closed hotel, a closed YMCA hostel and a supermarket. There is a lovely ‘supermarket at the end of the universe’ vibe about this place. Hikers getting provisions before disappearing into the wilderness.. bikers having a last cake before disappearing into police custody ..
At least the Swedes have a sense of humour though
And you’re going to need that if you go LARGE on the Plopps
OK, time to go. Scoot up to the customs building on the top of the hill.. and ride straight through. That was too easy. Like a lot of these borders though, customs and immigration are often a good way apart with some nomansland in between .. if this is no mans land .. can I claim it for my own?
Beautiful eh. I think the tarmac is made from ground down currency.. they’ve got more money than they know what to do with..
Immigration is just a bloke standing in the road in the sunshine. Flash the NHS COVID QR code and we’re in no questions asked. The integration of these systems that has gone on behind the scenes really is very very impressive. These Scandinavians really are a smart bunch though too.
We were thinking about staying in Narvik but by the time we get there its only early afternoon so we decide to just have a look about and some lunch then wing it later. The first thing that strikes me is all the mobility scooters .. everyone seems to have one. They are screaming about everywhere. I soon figured out why everyone drives them though, its because they can drive them faster than they can drive their bloody cars!!
Go for lunch .. Now .. even the Swedes think that Norway is expensive! Dinner will definitely cost you an arm and a leg.. plus a lung and a kidney if you want starter and desert .. £2.50 for a Marathon bar? Really? Behave yourself please So I buy a bread roll and fill it with dirt .. nom nom nom
My bike hates being driven at 80kph.. it shunts and hunts and complains and it drives me mental but that is what everyone is doing here. There are a lot of overhead cameras for all the tunnels and as its often a single road I’m not sure if they can work out average speeds and stuff too – getting stopped for speeding can involve a fist in a studded gauntlet being roughly shoved up your Gary and vast sums money being extracted so we just go with the flow… go with the slow .. still, at least there is a bit of a view every now and then ..
but I bet it looks shit in the other direction .. or not
So… not then .. this place is beauuuuuutiful. Its not really like anywhere I’ve ever been before and I’m just in awe of it. Everything.. just everything is perfect. Its just ridiculous how perfect it is. The road winds and twists and dips and follows the water’s edge and leads us straight into the belly of our first ferry.
All the locals are charge via ANPR cameras but ours aren’t recognised so the crew take pictures of them on their phones and tell us we’ll be billed later.. that’s something to look forward to ..
We’ve still not organised anywhere to stay this evening so Brian brings up the C word .. yes that C word.. the one I hate hearing and I hate even more hearing .. Camping .. I’m wincing even as I type it .. OK.. lets see what we can do. All the sites we have seen so far have been closed .. hallelujia .. but we come to one on a beautiful lake side and go in to ask, but they just don’t want to know. They will barely speak to us for some reason and in the end they just say its closed. Using the miracle of technology I have a quick look about and find a hotel in Fauske a couple of hours south. Just one click and there is a bed with my name on it.. they do camping too but what Brian doesn’t know wont hurt him .. and I’m really only thinking about his welfare .. and ..well .. I fucking hate camping ..
Luckily its stays light a lot longer up here and we chase the slowly setting sun along golden stretches of tarmac towards sleep.
We come across a small hotel in a town and there are bikes everywhere, mostly designed for the transportation of human bodies considerably bigger than ours.
We go in to find some dinner, and maybe some company but nobody seems to want to talk to us. Perhaps our bikes just aren’t man enough .. or perhaps we’ve just bumped into the local chapter of the other C word.. It doesn’t cost anything to just have a chat does it. If only everyone was as nice as us
We get to Fauske quite late and a receptionist you can smell from a fjord away.. Christ .. I think she’s removed the atomiser from her perfume bottle and attached a hose pipe instead. Doesn’t put Brian off though Check in .. climb the steps.. open the door .. ahhhhh.. that’ll do
Its a place with a shared kitchen and bathroom and we can hear another couple arrive with a young baby. I recognise them from earlier in the day when I saw them flying a drone. She is German and he is Austrian and they are on parental leave. They’ve just decided to bugger off for 2 months around Europe with a newborn in a pandemic .. they are our kind of people. They’ve been away for over a month now and they’re just taking it easy. She’s cooking dinner and telling us they actually bought a burger and fries today and shared it because its so expensive. They’re a lovely couple and the baby is a little angel. We just spend ages chatting away, learning and listening and looking into other lives. Good on em, I’m not sure I’d have just picked up the baby and gone like that..
We take an evening stroll looking to get down to the water but all the roads are private. Fauske.. who’s ever heard of Fauske.. another random point on the planet forever planted into my memory.Next: Heaven on Earth