Going North 2018 – days 21 to 25. The „European Tour 2018“ rally.

The logo of the European Tour 2018

In the rider meeting, it turned out that this rally had a certain twist. In addition to the usual bonus points and some extra points for combos, there were also extra points for time spent on ferries and there were additional points for so-called „flexi-combos“. There were thematic categories, just like combos, but the more locations were visited, the more extra points could be achieved.This seemed familiar from the latest Brit Butt rallies. The thing was that these extra points were very high in relation to combos or normal location points. This meant that the flexi-combos had to be the backbone of any successful route. There were massive points for 4, 6, 8, 14 or 20 locations of one category. It was clear that 20 locations were not doable or requiring too much time. So doing one or more 14 points in a category would get 20.000 extra points each, that’s quite a lot when normal locations were in the range of 200 – 400 points. I was well prepared to take ferries across the Baltic sea, but it was obvious that despite the ferry bonus, there were not enough locations for flexi-combos over there. The tedious thing was that the locations of each of the flexi-combos were given in a gpx file and had to be imported individually into Basecamp. All 23 of them. I changed the symbols so I could better distinguish them in the bigger picture. And then I became aware of the key element of any good route here: some flexi-combos shared the same points! This meant that the challenge was to visit these points and build a route around them, ramping up the numbers in as much categories as possible. There was another important twist: apart from three documented rest break of four hours each, the participants had to return with three souvenirs purchased in three different countries in order to be a finisher. Tricky, because my first plan envisaged riding in Sweden only. The only options were Denmark and Norway, Finland seemed too far away. So I planned a stop in Copenhagen and just across the border on the Göteborg – Oslo highway where I went on that morning. I selected the two categories with the highest number of locations and added other categories to it. In the end, I had a route of planned 54 hours of riding time in the 60 hours window (72 hours minus 3 x 4 hours rest time). That seemed doable. I had included an option for a 3 hour extra loop to Luleå, but this was a decision for the afternoon of the second day. The plan was to do a loop in Southern Sweden, visit Copenhagen (buy souvenir), go up to the Norwegian border (buy souvenir) and go up North in central Sweden. Then turn to the coast and return to Jönköping. A solid, rather low-risk plan. I prepared my luggage and found some good night rest, as the start was only planned for 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. However, as I wanted to stay in Karlstad the next night, my plan suggested to leave early.

The bonus point locations of the ET 2018 and my planned route.

The next morning I left at 7:41 a.m. on a sunny morning. Weather forecast was nice for the first day, wet for the second day and sunny for the third day again. My first stop was not far away, but it gave me a glimpse what was ahead of me in this rally: I had to do a little walk to find the right plaque at the entrance of a national park. But my schedule was still ok, this was also promising.

The plan for the first day.

In the course of the morning, I went south and picked the first locations. For a Saturday morning, this went quite smooth and I was ahead of my plan, providing a buffer for the rest of the day. I saw many golf courses, I even had to cross one to visit the Falsterbo lighthouse. The next stop was a bit uncertain: I needed to buy one souvenir in Copenhagen and I had no idea where. I hoped I would find something in a petrol station near the airport. But first I had to cross the Öresund bridge. This cost some precious minutes, the queue at the toll booth was very slow. For a ridiculously small amount of 30 € I could cross the sea towards Denmark…one way. On the other side, to my delight, I found a small corner in the petrol station with Danish souvenirs….no, the Italian olive oil did not fall under the requirements…finally I spotted a plate with „handmade Danish chocolate“, wrapped in lots of plastic. It was enormous and expensive. But the best suited item. I purchased also some lunch that I munched on the way back to Sweden (another 30 € toll).

Tycho Brahe fountain in Helsingborg.

The next location was on the coastline again, a steel drum or something like that. Great weather, great view. The next stop was in Helsingborg, one of the few locations in a town. I stopped at a fountain and realised that it was in memory of Tycho Brahe, the great astronomer. I concluded that Helsingborg was a beautiful town and made a mental note about it. My trip along the coast was not finished yet, along some small roads I headed for a tip of land called Kullen. It was announced that there was a 400 m walk. A lot of traffic indicated that the place was very popular. As indicated by a GPS points, a road sign at a large parking suggested to leave the bike and to walk to the place of the „Fyr“, the fire place that served as a beacon in the old days. I left my helmet there, took off the jacket and strolled to the GPS location. After 300 m I noticed that some motorbikes did park near the beach. Hm, lucky ones. As the temperature was close to 30 degrees, my sweat started to flow in streams. Finally I reached the spot and tried to take the required selfie. Maybe I should buy me a selfie stick for these occasions. I had to be in the picture and this required several attempts.

Kullen lighthouse. Not cold.

After a sweaty return to the bike I continued my ride, hoping that the indicated petrol station would indeed exist. It did. However, I had a fight with the card terminal and needed to change pump twice to get some petrol.

Meet Erich, the Elk.

I was happy when I joined the E20 again, going up north on the motorway now. In a certain attack of brilliance, I exited and hoped to find a Swedish souvenir at a petrol station. My good nose was right: I found a Swedish Elk that I baptised „Erich“. Second souvenir bagged. East of Göteborg, I had to do a little detour to take a picture of another natural park information panel. I was getting cooler know and the ride was more enjoyable. North of Göteborg, I visited the Bohus Castle. Like everywhere else, I had to be very careful. The high points for the flex-combos allowed no mistakes as I was aiming for two big 14-locations-extra-points. I also have my instructions in my tank bag, but in this rally, like in the Ironbutt Rally, I looked up the instructions at every location. This helped me to prevent errors. So here in Bohus, I had to walk up to a panel and I had to be in the picture as well. Luckily, there was a girl I could ask for this favour. That’s why this is one of the „decent“ pictures. I was well in time and decided to book a hotel as planned in the town of Karlstad for the night.

For the next hour, I was going up North on the E20. Time to switch on the radio to have some entertainment. Swedish radio can be quite ok at times, though it is often interrupted by lots of conversation that I could only follow in a very rudimentary way. In the westernmost Swedish town of Strömstad I took a picture of the hotel Skagerrak in the centre. From here it was only 15 minutes to the Norwegian border that I had crossed already one day earlier. I exited at the first exit and hoped to find an appropriate souvenir there. I walked into the shop and discovered immediately a furry little bear with a Norwegian flag on its chest. Perfect. I filled up petrol and as I was 50 minutes ahead of my schedule, I decided to have a little break with „dinner“. I ordered a pølse, i.e. a hot dog that I was munching while I put on warm clothes. The day had been hot, but the sun was going down and I expected a cool evening. After a generous 20 minute stop, I hit the road again, but I misinterpreted my GPS and went back south on the motorway. I had to turn around at the next exit for my sat nav had tried to tell me to turn right at the petrol station. Grmpf. Another 10 minutes lost. The evening ride through the Norwegian hilly landscape was a nice change and I enjoyed it very much. But before that, I discovered a Scandinavian phenomenon that was explained to me by a Swedish colleague after the trip. In the town of Halden, there lots and lots of US classic cars from the fifties and sixties with people often dressed in Rockabilly style. This slowed me down a lot as hundreds of cars were promenading through the city. It seems this was an organised meeting, the Grense Treff. Apparently, this is based on the subculture of Raggare. Interesting.

It was slowly getting dark, but I still had to take two pictures. The first one had still enough daylight to make a meaningful picture and the second was already in the dark. I was riding on backroads now but thanks to my illumination (Xenon low beam plus 2 x H7 high beam plus 2 x LED fog lights plus 2 x Clearwater Sevinas with 7500 lumen LED each), I turned night into day. This could be fun, but I have quite some respect for any kind of wildlife at night, and in Scandinavia it can get quite big! (hello Erich). So I was happy to get back on a main road and I arrived in Karlstad at a quarter past 11 p.m., perfectly in the time window to start the night rest. I got my first petrol receipt of the station close to the hotel and checked in. 1300 km on the first day, not bad. Unfortunately, the hotel reception had no proper food to sell, so my second dinner consisted of some crisps, a filled knäckebröd and a chocolate wafer which I had purchased with some discount as the receptionist felt sorry for not being able to provide me some proper food. At midnight, I had prepared everything for the next day and was in bed.

The two planned options for day two.

The alarm rang at 3:20 a.m. and after a very quick breakfast with coffee and a candy bar, I left the hotel 15 minutes later and got my second receipt documenting the 4.5 hour rest break. What a luxury! Half an hour more than required, but I thought that I had arrived 20 minutes before schedule the night before so I deserved some indulgence, LOL. But the true reason was that the next location in the morning required daylight so it made no sense to be there too early.

The hotel had been a very strategic location outside town and from here I had to turn north towards Filipstad. The daylight bonus location was an airfield that required riding on gravel roads. Usually, I trust my older Garmin Zumo 660 over the Zumo 590 when the routes diverge, but now it wanted to send me over barred gravel roads. Finally I arrived at the propeller that had to be in the picture. More gravel road and after a combination and applying some common sense in interpreting the GPS data I was back on the main road.

The modest memorial for the founder of Ericsson, John Ericsson, in the middle of a cemetery in Filipstad.

When I review my whereabouts during the next hours, I find some disturbing issues. I thought I had passed the town of Filipstad twice, but indeed I passed it three times. After the first passing-by, I visited a silver mine before I returned to Filipstad where I had to take a picture of a memorial that was located on a hill. When I went uphill, I realised that in was in the centre of a cemetery! But as it was only 5 a.m., there was nobody around to complain. It started to rain heavily in that moment, so I tried to take my picture quickly and leave the cemetery. When I went downhill, I noticed something strange. The bike would not respond properly and when I was back on the road, it had no power and some warning symbols in the dashboard were lit. Confused, I switch the bike off and on and it seemed to work again. On the way to the next location, it happened again. And again. Worried, I stopped at a parking next to a lake. There was little shelter from the rain, so I decided not to take out my bike manual, but to consult the internet about this problem. However, there was no phone coverage! OK, this was serious. I decided to try to get back to Filipstad, there would be a petrol station and better coverage. On the way there, the bike would stop once more, but after 10 km, I reached Filipstad again and parked under the roof of a petrol station. It was almost 6 a.m. now and the station was about to open; I explained the problem to the attendant and he invited me to the warmer inside of the station. I checked the manual and learned that the symbol meant that  there was something wrong with the emission control and that it was not a very serious problem, this would have been indicated by other yellow or red symbols. There was no proper internet coverage, so I used the wifi of the station. However, I didn’t get any more useful information so I decided to continue. If it would get too bad, I could still try to limp back to the HQ, it was „only“ some 300 km away…I switched on the BMW…..no warning message! OK, I had lost 55 min now, but let’s give this a try. I sensed that my „extra loop“ to Luleå was under pressure. Some 15 minutes later, I realised how close I had been there before when I arrived at the next location. It took me some minutes to find the right spot as my Garmins insisted to send me by a „shortcut“ where there was no road. Finally, I found the memorial for John Ericsson’s birthplace and left happily. In retrospect, I almost committed a terrible mistake there: nasty rally masters, me included, have the tendency to choose two locations that are very close together so that one can be overlooked during planning if the route is not checked in high resolution. It was a location just some meters away and of the some category! What a mistake!

Everybody makes mistakes: I planned to visit JEB, but not LBA….

For the next 90 minutes, I only had to ride through sylvan Swedish countryside until I reached Mora. The last 50 m to the Langlauf statue I had to walk, obviously preparations for a sport competition were on the way. The statue remembered the famous Vasa Run that ends in Mora. The rain continued and the fine drizzle got stronger and stronger. It was only 13 degrees warm, but the temperature would not rise….I rode another hour through the forest until I reached the old cobalt mine of Loos. It reminded me of the long history of metallurgy in Sweden. Suddenly the forest changed and looked….burnt! I realised that I was passing an area where some days ago the large forest fires raged. All the under-brush was burnt, only some of the high pipe tops were still green. A bizarre sight.

In Ytterhogdal, I took a picture of an iron statue of a blacksmith. Did I already mention that it was raining? The temperature did not want to rise. 40 minutes later at 11 a.m., I had enough of the cold and the rain. I had to stop for petrol and I decided to change the fleece jacket for the heated Gerbing jacket. I noticed that water had already entered the gear, probably by the collar. I permitted myself the luxury of a quick second breakfast, still shivering. But then I enjoyed the warmth of the jacket. What a delight! I still felt very damp, be at least my body temperature and mood started to rise again. I felt content about the fact that I had tested the K1600GT in this kind of weather and bought it also for this feeling of safety under slippery conditions. I made good progress and at 1 p.m. I took a turn from the E45. After 20 km of bumpy road I took another turn. I ignored the Garmin’s advice to use a steep gravel „shortcut“ and followed 4 km of even more bumpy road. Then I did have to turn on a gravel mountain road. Did I mention it was raining? Gravel was ok, but partly the track was also slippery. The sat navs told me to stay on this road for 4 km. Fantastic. On the top of the mountain, I knew I had to park the bike somewhere and walk 400 m to the very top. Luckily the GPS locations were very exact in this rally. Very much appreciated in these remote places… I finally reached the clearing where the GPS point was. From the rally book, I only knew that I had to take a picture of a kind of balcony….but then, I spotted this between the clouds and mist…

Tåsjöberget Torn. The mountain top is not the end…(obviously taken from the www).

What??? I had to take a picture on the top??? Bast…..!!!!! The stairs were steep and wet. Did I already mention it was raining? And on a mountain top, you get also the wind. I grabbed the rally flag and rally book in one hand, stored the camera and GPS in my jackets and started the ascent with one free arm. Holy crap, this stuff was slippery! This was impressive. When I finally reached the platform, I was afraid that the wind would blow away my book or flag. I managed to take a decent picture after several attempts. There was no time for enjoying the non-existent beautiful panoramic view….just get down from this bloody tower! But as it is with climbing, it might be easy to get up, but it can be more tricky to get down…

Tåsjöberget. The very top. Note the tight grip on the flag. The bottom of the flag is not in focus because it was shaking vigorously.

I went down in the same way I went up, facing the stairs. One step at a time. Did I already mention that the stairs were fecking slippery?

Yes, a very nice construction. On a sunny day!

Phew! This was done. I strolled back to the bike and went down the gravel road. Veeeery carefully. It would be stupid dropping the bike here. When I rode back on the bumpy road I concluded that under these conditions, this was one of the most tricky locations I ever visited in a rally. I mean, riding up a mountain on a gravel road. And walk to the top. And climb on a tower. But a great memory.

Really?? Am I already in Lappland?

Soon after I was back on the E45, I passed some drenched Italian bikers and then I saw this sign. Lappland? Was I already up that north? The sign said yes. I had the feeling that the rain got stronger and stronger. For the next hour and half: forest, forest, forest. Then finally I reached the next bonus point location near Storuman. It had to be a kind of log hut on a pole. It took a while to find it but then I had found it. It was still raining continuously and although I felt warm, I could feel that I water had entered my gear from the top. My feet also felt a bit wet as I had stopped in places where I had to put down my feet in large puddles. My gloves were totally damp, despite the hot heated grips. I was 70 minutes behind my plan. I had planned to take a decision in Storuman whether I could do the extra loop via Luleå. I decided to look for a petrol station and to assess the possibilities. But first I visited a small location in Storuman. I stopped at the only petrol station and filled up as I didn’t want to stop for petrol anymore on that day. I entered the station and met two other German riders that were also trying to find out what do to. They came from the North and were soaked as well. I sat down, had a sandwich and used my laptop to check the options. After the break, I would be almost two hours behind my plan. The extra loop was based on three buffer hours, I had already spent two of them. This didn’t look very good. But the main concern was that with this weather, I did not want to ride on back roads to Luleå. I preferred to ride on the main road towards Umeå and hoped that the rain would stop at the coast and that temperatures would go up. I just wanted to find accommodation for the night. This turned out to be difficult because all available hotels in the vicinity of Kramfors required arrival before 9 p.m. Impossible. So there was no other possibility than to make a detour and stay in a hotel in Härnösand. Right. Booked. However, as I had to visit one location just around sunset, there was no time to lose. I had decided to play it safe and continued on the E12 towards the coast. Indeed the rain slowly vanished and the temperature went up degree by degree. The fun came back.

The Norrfors Rock Carvings. 4000 to 5000 years old.

After more than two hours, I reached the next location, a place where I had to take a picture of prehistoric stone carvings. However, I was confused. The GPS point was 100 m from the parking and it took a while until I realised that I had to walk down the hill and a wooden runway along a river. The carvings were of course at the end of the long runway. I had lost some time here and needed to speed up now, the location at sunset hung like a sword of Damocles over my head. I needed to bag this point today, otherwise I would lose a lot of time the next day. I needed to go a bit north for the next point (a yellow cabin) and back to Umeå. I was on the E4, the long North-South motorway through Sweden. In this part, however, there were mostly only three lanes so trucks were slowing everybody down. Nevertheless I could gain some time and it seemed more and more realistic that I could reach the next point just around sunset. My sat nav told me that there was a parking position and the GPS coordinates were somewhat away from that point so I deduced that I had to walk a bit. The location was closely to the E4 and I reached the place right after official sunset time. But no problem, there would still plenty of time to take an official ‚daylight‘ picture, wouldn’t it?

At the parking position, I looked around….so this was a chair lift….hmmm….the point seemed to be on the top of this „hill“….hmmm….but the rally book said nothing of a walk. Then it must be nearby. I followed the signs „Toppen“ (the top), carrying my camera, flag and GPS. It was a steep path through the forest, as it was already late, I was more running than walking. I started to swear…this was clearly not close to the parking position….there could have been a clear message in the rally book! Luckily the blue marks were very clear, otherwise you could get easily lost. At a certain point I was about to hyperventilate. I forced myself to slow down a bit, I needed to get some air in my lungs…after 15 minutes, I stood there panting….this was not possible….instead getting closer to the target, I was moving away from it!

Skuleberget. NOT a walk in the park.This was leading nowhere!

There was something wrong. I was on the wrong track. But there was something going on here. There were no instructions in the rally book. This was no hill, this was a mountain! It started to get dark! I needed to turn around before it was too late to see the track!

Skuleberget. On the way back down. Retreat.

I decided to take a selfie with the flag and to return. I had done some 150 height metres in just 15 minutes. This was the double speed of a good hiking pace. In motorbike gear! I was exhausted. I realised I had left my mobile phone in the tank bag. Great. No phone, no light. So, better get down quickly! But better be careful, if you would slip and hurt yourself, nobody would find you until the next morning….if at all! But finally I was back at the bike. I took some additional pictures from the signs and the area. When I could breath normal again, I called the rally master. This was a disaster, but I wanted to have the points! When I explained the situation, Benny explained that there had been an error in the rally book. It should have been mentioned that one had to go with the chair lift inside restricted hours. However this information was missing. …..[…]…..OK, but do I get the points??? The answer was yes, so all of this was not in vain. I noticed that I had lost the electric cable for the heated jacket at the carvings point….superb. I hoped I wouldn’t need the Gerbing jacket any more on this trip.

Skuleberget. There was another track to the top. The red one was my walk. Best option: the chair lift.

I was dark now and I was happy that I had a booked hotel room and only needed to ride 50 minutes on the E4. Petrol station ticket and ready for check-in. It was about 11 p.m., just the right time. Another 1500 km ridden. When I entered the lobby of the hotel, I took off my helmet and opened my jacket. There was a stinging smell….where did this come from…slowly it sunk in that the source for this smell pollution was nobody else than me….this was no surprise….I was soaked for half the day and even after drying, I maintained the notorious „wet dog“ smell. And then I had run up a mountain and was drenched in my own sweat. An explosive combination. The two ladies at the reception professionally kept their countenance. As the day before, no proper food, my dinner would consist of wafers, apples and candy bars. When I entered my room, I ripped off my clothes and put everything on hangers to dry a bit during the next three hours. I decided to take a full shower, I couldn’t stand the smell of me. ’nuff said. After that, I had „dinner“ and checked my route for the next day. The weather forecast looked good. The alarm was set on 3 a.m.

The plan for day three.

I was on the road by 3:30 a.m. Another petrol ticket and I was going back north to the first bonus point location. Half an hour later I was there. The next location was called Häxberget where I had to take a picture of two memorial rocks. It was the place where in 1675, 71 persons were accused of witchcraft and burnt on this site. Unbelievable.

Nämforsen rock carvings.

I needed to go westwards into central Sweden, forest, forest forest. After one hour, I reached another river where I had to take a picture of another rock carvings. When I walked across the site, I realised that I had to find a very specific carving. Tricky! But in the end I found the right place. Up, up and away! I was ahead of my plan, this looked good! The next location was another hour away….more forest! I was a nice morning ride, I made good progress and the landscape was nice. My excursion to central Sweden was not so bad. When I rolled on the parking of the Döda Fallet, an official exited his car to see what bike entered the place so early in the morning. I realised this would be another walk again and grabbed my stuff. I passed the guy with a friendly „God Morgon“ and I could see how his brain was trying to process all the information. I had to walk down a hill and take a picture of a platform with a beautiful view.

Döda waterfall. Where is the waterfall?

Back to the bike, pffffff….good morning work-out. From then on the clouds disappeared and now I was riding under a beautiful blue morning sky. Great views! This was compensating for the wet day before! The euphoria lasted for half an hour, until I had to turn from the main road 86 in Liden. Hey, this was a gravel road! It will stop soon….1 km….2 km…5 km…hmmmm…the GPS indicated the next stop in 76 km….I hope this won’t all be gravel???…..10 km….come on!….15 km….bloody gravel!…..tarmac! there’s tarmac! In the end, I didn’t drop the bike, my autosuggestion worked well, it is mumbling „arrive! arrive! arrive!“ which means I am virtually kicking myself in the ass reminding me not to do anything stupid.

In the end I followed a narrow road uphill. I parked the bike and walked to the wooden construction on the hill…ah, so this was the centre of Sweden. Sometimes it ’s a pity not to have time to read the rally book in advance.

Sweden’s geographical centre.

Right, now it was time to get back to the coast. I was well on schedule and soon I could join the E4 again. I thought that I had time to fill up and a quick breakfast around 9 a.m., after all, I had been riding for more than five hours already. The traffic was flowing well on the way south. There were bonus point locations to the left and right, but they didn’t fit into my plan. Good rally planning asks for sacrificing time-costly, low-points locations.  It was a nice sunny and warm day again. Close to Gävle, I had to exit the E4 and head for the Fjärnebofjärd. I visited a nice, quiet place next to the river and took my picture of the wooden pier. The rally master was very strict and insisted that, should the rally book not ask for the rider to be in the picture, nobody else should be in the picture. So I had to ask two tourists to leave the platform. Sorry.

The next location was in Uppsala, the famous university town. It was a bit tricky to get close to the picture point as most roads in the university district were for pedestrians only. But finally I found the right spot and took a picture of the university church tower. The temperatures were high now and I was happy that I could take off some of the warm clothes now.

The next target was Stockholm. By that time, I was something like three hours behind my initial plan, but I still had three hours of buffer. However, I knew that some rain would come in the evening, so I wanted to save time. I decided to leave out Ytterby, east of Stockholm. I knew it was part of a smaller combo flex worth merely 1500 points, but I preferred to gain some extra time. I wanted to visit three additional places in Stockholm instead that were next to my planned route. The first stop was an installation in the atrium of the university, the second was a clock in a pedestrian zone in the centre (very tricky to get to), the third a big „ball“ building with elevators on the outside. Here I lost some until I realised I had to walk to take the picture. The last stop was a park that is also a UNESCO heritage. Good, this was the maximum „traffic“ I would get on this rally. Piece of cake. I went to the south of Stockholm where I took a picture of a place that once had been the first Swedish nuclear reactor. Next was a rune stone. Suddenly I realised that of lot of motorbikers were on this nice road east of Södertälje. And they were not going like typical Swedish bikers…no, they were going at full throttle! Bizarre. Suddenly my journey came to a halt. „Take the ferry“, my GPS told me. I realised that both GPS thought it’s not a good idea to take the easy road around the Himmerfjärden, but a ferry that runs every 30 minutes. Great. A break of 20 min plus the 5 min ferry trip. I felt somehow weak and a bit sluggish. Then I realised that I had no food since my „breakfast“ more than six hours ago. I just needed some food, that was all. But first, I had to do another walkie down at the sea: At the Stendörren nature reserve, I had to walk to a bridge take a picture of it. From the correct side. Good, this was achieved, but I needed food. But first a trip to the Uppsa Kulle, a 55 m wide, round ancient grave that I simply took for a hill. But finally I found food in a petrol station. That was better. For a quick moment, I joined the E4 again and went south on the E22 towards Västervik. The weather forecast had been very accurate and just before the Town, the thunderstorm started. When I rolled through Västervik, I remembered that I forgot about the two text-in bonus that were scheduled for that day. When I stopped at the bonus point location and consulted the rally book, I found out that I had missed both time slots for the day. A stupid mistake! Usually I add this in my to-do-list, but forgot to add it last night. Maybe I had been stunned by the smell.

OK, so I took my picture of the beacon’s door and started the my approach to the last important location of today. I „only“ had to head west towards Jönköpping with some detour to the north. It was raining, but I knew that my plan had worked, I just needed to get to the rally hotel, spend my rest break there, and visit two more places in the morning before the finish line. Easy peasy, but I had learned that the rally ain’t over before it ain’t over. Hold your horses. I rode through a wet forest when my GPS had me turn on the road to the last BP. I passed a sign that said something of a ferry… looked at the GPS and saw at the top of the screen: „take ferry“, next to the distance of 9 km. WHAT? I stopped and zoomed in and out. Yes, Just before the location, I had to take a ferry! Bloody hell! Had I known this, I had taken a different route (I should have selected „avoid ferries“ in the GPS). I turned around and studied the sign….ferry operating until 10 p.m. Hmmm, it was 8 p.m. now…that could work. And it made no sense to go around the large Sommen lake. OK, let’s do it! I arrived at 8:10 at the lake….the ferry was not far away, but on the other side.

A short distance for mankind, but a long distance if your bike can’t swim. The Sommen ferry.

Hmmmm, how did this work. „Push this button to call the ferry“. No reaction. Then I studied all the papers on a board. Ferry operates every 30 minutes. Hm, 20 minutes to go. This gave me the opportunity to make a phone call, put on warm clothes and empty my bladder. At 8:30, the boat would start the engine and slowly move to this side of the shore. Finally I got to the other side and visited the bonus point location that was right there, a cow sculpture. The tricky thing was that I needed several attempts, maybe I should buy a selfie stick for this.

Sommen Lake. It’s getting dark. And fresh.

Ok, so I „only“ had to get to the hotel, maybe pick some two smaller bonuses close to the hotel. This would take me some estimated one hour and a half. It was getting dark, the road was wet and winding.Take it easy, there’s no need to rush. Suddenly, the „emission control“ warning lamp came on again and the power was gone. WHAT? I stopped, switched the bike off and on and continued. But only for one mile. The bike stopped again. You feel that Mr Panic has awoken in the cellar and is about to come upstairs. What is the matter??? I repeated this game two more times. It wasn’t raining now….what was in common with the incident the day before?…..Wait, in both cases I was going downhill when it first appeared….and then I also remembered that two times the bike sputtered a bit when I had just filled up and had not closed the shut-off valve of the auxiliary tank. Could this be related? I looked at the fuel gauge…the main tank was completely full. Could it be that it was overflowing? Would it stop again when I closed the open valve? Let’s try…..In the meantime, Mr Panic was already at the first floor….I closed the valve and at the same time, the bike stopped again. Well, this could be coincidence….try again. And from this point on, Mr Panic disappeared and was not seen any more on this rally. This was it! I don’t know how to explain it, but the overflowing main tank must trigger an electronic warning that sets off the emergency programme. What a relief! The root cause was that I had opened the auxiliary tank too early in both cases. Problem solved.

Another car meeting in Tranås!

But in rallies, you solve one problem and you encounter another. In Tranås, I ran into another „bilträff“, i.e. car meeting. The same story. But this time, the main road was closed so the old rust buckets could go in circles. I had some trouble to find my way around the city. Finally I arrived at the Vättern Lake and went on the E4 towards Jönköping. Close to the hotel, there were two small locations that I wanted to visit. The first one was an illuminated wooden giant and the second one a sea monster. Unfortunately, I was supposed to take a selfie there, but I didn’t manage in the dark. I decided to come back the next morning. I got my rest break fuel stop receipt and at 10:30 p.m., I rode on the rally HQ hotel parking. To my surprise, many other riders were already parking there. Had they already finished their ride? I still had work to do, for I had to visit two locations that would give me two 14th locations that were worth 20.000 extra points each. I checked in and bought a salad and a sandwich, said hello to other riders and entered my room. What a great idea to stay here! I could just return in the morning, have a shower and have a little nap before leaving for the ferry. I checked again my plan for the morning and prepared my claiming sheet. It made no sense to leave too early, the two locations were daylight bonuses. I decided to go first to the one farthest away.

The plan for the morning of the fourth day.

I left around 3:30 a.m., got my last rest break ticket and went westwards. It was still pitch dark, there was some drizzle and I was happy to have my Sevina lights that turn night into day. I permanently told myself to keep the speed down, there was no point in risking anything such as overtaking trucks. I had enough time and I just needed to stay patient. One and a half hours later, I arrived at this Hornborgasjön visitor centre, however, here in the south, sunrise was later than in the north, so it was still a tad too dark to take a „daylight“ picture. I parked the bike and made use of the public toilet.

Hornborgasjön Visitor Centre. A make or break point in the plan. According to the rules, a perfect ‚daylight‘ picture.

When I stepped out again, I was surprised to see that it was so much brighter now and I could go and visit the picture point. I found the pier and took my picture. Yes! Now for the last big location. After 30 minutes, I arrived at some stone ring and took my second 20.000 points picture of the morning. My big plan had worked! I just had to ride back to Jönköping. No hurry! Enjoy the last kilometres. I still had time to visit the happy sea monster in Huskvarna and took my final picture. I was one hour early and would even have enough time to push back the bike in the worst case. I arrived at the HQ, checked in and the rally was over for me. I  had breakfast and left my stuff in the room and went with my documentation to the scoring room where I had to present my claiming sheet and pictures to my two scorers Hampe and Jens-Olof. Two strict scorers, gulp! I had forgotten to introduce one mileage for one location and lost 80 points, no problem. The clock in Stockholm was supposed to be a selfie, ok, no points for that. Then there was a discussion about the Hornborgasjön picture. It turned out that the picture in the rally book was taken from a different angle; as the house was symmetrical, it looked almost identical, only the pier in the foreground was somewhat different. I protested, this picture was worth 10.000 points! The rally master took a wise decision: the picture was basically the same as in the rally book and proof that I had visited the place as it was the intention. Phew! Then there was another issue that I had claimed more points for a 8 locations combo flex, however, I had only visited 7; that makes 3000 instead 10000 extra points. I could not visit the 8th one as it was a daylight bonus during the night. Maybe I had also counted with the extra loop on day three. Well, more than 74000 points sounded a lot and I had only lost about 200 points. I had forgotten the text-in bonuses and left out the Ytterby BP, which means I would have had 3000 points more. And then I did not do the extra loop to Luleå. Without the problem in Filipstad and the rain, I would have done it, securing me the 10.000 instead the 3.000 extra points. But again, 74.000 points was something to be happy with.

I went back to my room, had a shower and a nap. Then I packed my luggage, put it on the bike and checked out the room. Then it was a long wait in front of the scoring room. A lot of time to chat with other riders and to exchange anecdotes. Finally we were called in and waited with anticipation. Some riders had crossed the Baltic Sea, some ran into troubles while photographing nuclear installations…

Well the ceremony went quick and in the end, only three riders were left…

Place three: Scott Miller’s route.

Scott on third position, what a surprise! Then there were only two…

Place two: Daniel Duvskog’s route.

What a route! Up to Norway and back! More than 72000 thousand points! Wow!

But then there was only one rider left…

The nice trophy.

Oops, I did it again….What a nice rally! Thanks to all the organisers, the helpers, the scouts. Well prepared and executed! It was a pleasure.

Epilogue

Right after the ceremony, I had to leave to get to the ferry in Trelleborg. I had more than one hour of buffer, but I preferred not to be in a hurry for a change. I said goodbye and went down the E4 again. More or less half way, I stopped for a fuel stop. Shortly after, the bike lost power and a warning message came on! WHAT!!?? AGAIN??

Not what you want to see on your dashboard.

But this time it was different, the symbol was not the ‚emission system‘, but the motor symbol itself, plus the yellow warning sign. I switched off and on…and it worked! I accelerated….and stopped. I accelerated more carefully and by using the cruise control, I increased the speed incrementally. It would stop at 105 km/h again. OK, I still had 150 km to go and three hours to the ferry left. I decided to roll at some 93 km/h. A totally different experience. This worked. With some 50 kilometres to go, it stopped again and I lowered the speed to 85 km/h. I was slow, but I was rolling. Please, please, please get me to the ferry and on the boat! Tomorrow is another day, I could visit garages around Hamburg…

I crossed all my imaginary fingers and got closer and closer to Trelleborg. The motorway ended and just before a roundabout, the bike stopped again. It still rolled through the roundabout, but then I tried to do the same thing again, switching it off and on. But this time the error wouldn’t go away and the motor was only turning in idle speed. Aaaaargh! It was only 7 km to the ferry! Well, I had no choice: I started to roll in first gear and switched bit by bit to sixth gear. The bike rolled with some 30 km/h. Like a moped. But I got closer and closer to the harbour. 6, 5, 4, 3 kilometres….this could work!…2, 1….there it is! I checked in and rode through the harbour. This was a challenge, as I had no accelerating power, it had to be done by the idle revs that slowly pushed the bike forward. But the biggest problem was still ahead: the ramp up on the boat deck! However, the bike’s motor has so much torque that it chugged up that ramp without missing a beat. I was on the boat! I parked the bike and carried my stuff to my cabin. There, I immediately called the number of the BMW mobility card. As it was a Belgian number, I could chose between Dutch, French and German. Let’s try German. I had an operator whose first language was obviously not German, but we managed to address the issue. He promised me that the next morning, the ADAC would be waiting for me at the harbour. If they could not help, further steps would be taken from there. Good. That was all I could do for now.

I had my buffet dinner when I remembered that I hadn’t switched off the alarm on the bike. I rushed down to (still open) car deck and brought this in order. Back to dinner. That was it. The next morning, I had an early breakfast and when we were about to reach the harbour, I was called by the ADAC guy and we arranged a meeting point. This time, I was ready when the boat opened its bow. I rolled down the ramp and I saw the yellow car waiting for me at the harbour exit.

He immediately started the diagnosis and connected his computer to the OBD connector. „Faulty throttle sensor signal“….oh dear…..this didn’t sound very good. I saw myself riding back home in a train. He muttered something to himself and checked the throttle. „Is it working now?“ yes, YES! But what…?

It was the cable connector between the throttle and the harness, it had some play and did not deliver the ride-by-wire signal of the throttle position to the system. A zip tie solved the issue. Incredible. What a guy. Thanks a lot!

I filled up the bike again and started my trip back home. I arrived well in the afternoon. No problems.

A great rally and some fantastic vacations! We had a great time.

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Going North 2018 – days 18-20

At night, I played around with my camera until I had an acceptable night picture of the Geiranger Fjord. Could be improved still, but the necessary lens would cost more than the whole trip.

Geiranger by night.

The view in the morning was breathtaking again. What a view. We started late and followed the Geiranger road south. After a while, there was the turn to the Dalsnibba road. 25 years ago, I had marked in my travel diary that the road toll was legal robbery and did not ride up. Well, I was a poor student then. Now, the indicated 14 Euros make you blink for a second (In fact it was 10 Euro for motorbikes), but after two weeks in Norway, there is a certain fatalism when it comes to Norwegian prices.

View from the Dalsnibbba.

The ride was nice and in the end you are on the top of a 1500 m high mountain. With a fantastic 360 degree view. The blue glaciers. The deep valley. The Geiranger Fjord. The Eagle Road. Top! Luckily it was dry, but I had to note the temperature:

Put the heating on!

From there on, it was a long ride down. I got warmer and warmer. I had thought of an alternative route for today, instead going down the road down to Oslo via Lillehammer, I thought of a nicer route, more to the west and in the mountains. There should be less traffic and a nicer scenery. So I went up the Lemonsjøen Fjell where we stopped at the Fjellstua house for some lunch. Nice views over a lake. The road south led through a very forested area, with mountains and occasional lakes. Very like. And at times, the sun made its way through the clouds. We went uphill and suddenly we were on a mountain pass  called Valdresflye (1389 m), a part of the mountain plateau of the Jotunheimen. Nice views. From here on, it was all downhill to the sea in Oslo. In Fagernes, the bike needed some fuel and MJ a break. After some rest and two coffees, the battery was charged again and we rode on beautiful roads towards Oslo. Lots of forets first, lots of slow riding cars close to Oslo. Finally we arrived at our hotel where we stay two nights. It is a plush Golf Resort Hotel but the irony is that due to some large discount the place is the cheapest on our whole trip. After dinner we did a little walk and watched all these funnily dressed people practicing their driving, putting etc…interesting.

Our temporary residence near Oslo.

The next morning we had a late breakfast on the sunny (yes!) terrace. Weather looked good today. We rode casually dressed to the museum island to visit some museums. The first was the viking ship museum, a building that hosts the best preserved viking ships in the word. The ships were buried as a burial object of local chiefs, that’s why they are so well preserved. Very impressive, also the artistic objects that were added to make the chief’s travel to Walhalla more pleasant. Vikings were often depicted as rude barbarians, but this artistic craftsmanship tells a different story. In front of the entrance, we met the Bavarian couple we talked in front of our hotel in Kirkenes. What a coincidence. One kilometre down the road was the Fram museum. It was even better tan 25 years ago.

The Fram Museum  honours Norwegian polar exploration in general and three great Norwegian polar explorers in particular—Fridtjof Nansen, Otto Sverdrup and Roald Amundsen. The museum also exhibits images of the fauna of the polar regions, such as polar bears and penguins. The Fram Museum is centered principally on the original exploration vessel Fram. The original interior of Fram is intact and visitors can go inside the ship to view it.

On board of the Fram.

The exposition makes you aware of the achievement at the turn of the 19th century – Nansen, Amundsen, Scott, Shackleton… A large part was dedicated to Fridtjof Nansen – the Norwegian explorer, scientist, diplomat, humanitarian, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate. What a life.

Would you jump? On the Holmenkollen ski jump tower.

The last touristic stop was a visit to the Holmenkollen – the famous ski jump tower and a temple of Norwegian skiing. It hosts also the ski museum. You can get to the panorama platform on the top. It takes somewhat longer when a busload of Koreans has just arrived before you. On the top, there’s a 360 degree view. If you’re in a hurry, you can zooming down on a rope, but we weren’t.

We made a stop at a nice Sushi restaurant and had some very nice plates, a nice farewell to really fresh fish. And to Norwegian cuisine.

In the hotel, it was time to pack the luggage. MJ will take a plane back home today and I will be heading for Jönköping in Sweden.

Today, the ride to Jönköping was not very spectacular. I left Oslo after MJ left with the taxi for the airport. Rolling down the E6, take a shortcut via Trollhättan, and after four hours, I arrived at the rally headquarter of the European Tour rally. It was a 34 degrees hot now, in the middle of Sweden. Luckily my bag with the fuel cell was still in the luggage room where I deposited it two weeks ago. I mounted the tank in the shadow of a tree and went for petrol. I checked in, both in the hotel and the rally, and here I am sweating in my hotel room on the south side with no airco. At 5 p.m., we will have dinner (!) and at 6 p.m., the rider meeting starts. After that, it’s planning time and tomorrow morning we set off for a 72 hour ride. In theory, any of the countries around the Baltic Sea could be visited. I should know more by midnight.

 

Going North 2018 – days 16-17

Thanks to the drying room and the Austrian drying/ozonator device, our gear AND helmets were perfectly dry in the morning. Very well, because it started to drizzle again. After our breakfast we said good-bye to this time capsule of the fifties. We headed north and as predicted, the drizzle stopped. It was a nice winding road between steep mountains. We reached the Sunnylvsfjorden and the fjord lived up to its name – a ray of light burst through the clouds. What a view!

Sunnylvsfjorden

We continued our ride through the mountainous landscape and stopped in Stranda and took the rapid ferry over the Storfjord. When we arrived, it started to rain, as predicted. The landscape was still beautiful, although it was raining quite thoroughly. And there was already the next ferry in Vestnes. And an enormous queue. After waiting for ten minutes, the thing moved and we embarked the large ferry. We had come right on time, because we were one of the last to enter the boat, the rest had to wait for the next in 45 min. On the trip we had THE Norwegian snack: pølser aka hot dogs. After 35 min, disembarking also went very quick. I followed the signs for Atlanterhavsveien, the big highlight of today and the reason to go so north now. It is also known under the English name „Atlantic Road„. The signs guided us through farmland and along the coast.

Didn’t know that there are also Troll sailors…

It was less rainy here on the coast, but with some stiff breeze. A very relaxing ride. We finally approached the section of the 8 km that leads over bridges and small islands….and there we go! The Norwegians are very proud of this construction work, it was elected „construction of the century“ and is advertised in almost all tourist publications. And I have to say it is…….very disappointing. I’m sorry to say that, but given all the attention, it is disappointing. The first bridge, the Storseisundet bridge, is quite impressive in its shape and twisted angle, but that is about it. the rest are small, short and low bridges. I have seen much more impressive ones, even in Norway.

The Atlantic Road. Yes. That’s about it.

OK, this is the view from the other side that is always displayed in the brochures….

But ok, been there, done that. Soon after, we reached our destination for that day, Kristiansund. The city is nicely situated on several islands with typical Nordic style houses in bright colours. We stayed at the Thon Hotel, a modern, but functional building, we even had a view on the harbour.

Sushi with mango sauce. Why not.

After some personal hygiene, we decided to try a sushi bar in the centre, after all the fish should be fresh here, shouldn’t it? Although the employees didn’t appear Japanese, actually more Phillippinian, the sushi was quite all right, the fish was really fresh. The combination with mango sauce was interestingly savoury.

On the next day, the harbour was filled with sunshine, in the background big black clouds. We had breakfast with a great view on the harbour, again with a very generous breakfast buffet.

Breakfast in Kristiansund.

The start was very late today, only at 11 a.m., but the weather was rather mixed and it was only a 260 km ride to Geiranger. The ride was very beautiful, although we had a very „Irish“ weather first. Riding along fjord shores with great view on the surrounding mountains, there was even a little pass (500 m)! I did not take a lot of pictures, the weather was unfortunately not the best for great photos. There were occasional showers, but we were dry and warm in our fantastic Stadler gear.

Lunch in Åndalsnes.

We stopped for a late lunch in Åndalsnes (home of „the Andals and the first men“?) in a funny place. Very familiar, very easy-going, very casual and organic food. The food was good though. Interesting place. From then on, the highlights of the day were lined up. However, the weather got worse and it rained continuously. This might not be unusual for Norway, but I didn’t have bad weather for four consecutive days for I don’t know how long.

More rain to come!

The Stadler suit hardly had seen any rain, even at the Iron Butt Rally. But I was glad to have it. The heated grips and seats also improved the wellbeing. Posh riders, LOL! The Trollstigen was next. Not gigantic compared to some roads in the Alps, but quite impressive for Norway. A number of hairpins and the mighty Stigfossen waterfall, quite a sight. I had done it in sunshine, so now it was time for heavy rain. Normally, you would stop to take pictures with a view, but in the driving rain, there’s no point. It was chilly up there, only 7 degrees.

Trollstigen with Stigfossen.

One the way down, we passed the waterfall at the Gudbrandsjuvet, but were too lazy to leave our cozy place on the bike. Down in the valley, we rode on the ferry to Eidsdal. Only a few minutes later, we continued on the last ascent for today. Still in nasty rain. The landscape was nevertheless beautiful, without the abundant clouds it would have been magnificent. Finally we got to the Ørnesvingen viewpoint with a panoramic view on the Geirangerfjord, another UNESCO heritage. The eagle road down to the fjord is one of the most spectacular roads in Norway. Some minute later, we arrived soaked on the outside, but dry on the inside at our hotel for today, the traditional „Utsikten Hotel“, or View Hotel, in other words. I had reserved something special: a rook with a panoramic view on the Geirangerfjord. The hotel might be in need of a refurbishment, the rooms are small, but the view on the fjord is fabulous. If you don’t have a room with a mountain view.

Room with a view. And what a view it is. Hotel Utsikten, Geiranger.

Tomorrow, it will be a „long“ ride to the capital Oslo. Very likely in nice weather.

The Trollstigen on a „perfect“ day (according to the Norwegian Tourist Board.

Going North 2018 – days 13 to 15. Bergen to Sognefjord, Nigardsbreen and….rain???

We arrived in Bergen at lunchtime, but had to wait until 2:30 p.m. until we could finally leave the ship. As everything else, this very well organised. We rode the 2 km to the Hotel right next to the main highlight in old Bergen: the Bryggen quarter. It was partly sunny and 23 C warm – but in our motorbike gear, this was definitively too hot. We changed clothes and left for a walk through the harbour and Bryggen. The fish market is still there where I last found it in 1993 – not very big, not impressive – but a nice motive for tourists. It seemed that many of the vendors were Spanish (?). There was even „home-made“ paella. Kind of. We entered then the of quarter of Bryggen. I want to quote my old friend Wik I. Pedia:

Bryggen (the dock), also known as Tyskebryggen (Norwegian: [ˈtyskəˌbryɡːn̩], the German dock), is a series of Hanseatic commercial buildings lining the eastern side of the Vågen harbour in Bergen, Norway. Bryggen has since 1979 been on the UNESCO list for World Cultural Heritage sites.

The city of Bergen was founded around 1070 within the original boundaries of Tyskebryggen. Around 1350 a Kontor of the Hanseatic League was established there, and Tyskebryggen became the centre of the Hanseatic commercial activities in Norway. Today, Bryggen houses museums, shops, restaurants and pubs.“

The area is not very big anymore, but it is quite charming to stroll through the narrow passages between the old wooden buildings. Lots of them have been taken over by other merchants now – dealing with jewellery, stones, hand crafted items…you could even buy seal furs there!

We had a break with a small beer and enjoyed the sunny weather, knowing it would not last. After a return to the hotel, we were prepared for the complimentary dinner at the hotel restaurant. We had some expectations as the hotel was not cheap, but had announced this free dinner. Well, our deception was remarkable. Not only ours. Everybody who entered the room had the same look on the face. „This is it?“ A little bit of salad, potatoes, a kind of IKEA-kötbullar-hamburgers with gravy and crumble pie for dessert. The biggest disappointment was written in the faces of the Japanese guests. Well, at least it tasted ok.

Do you surrender now??

You can imagine our surprise when we entered the breakfast room the next morning. What a change! Any kind of warm and cold dishes, fruit, juices etc etc. Very, very good and tasty. After that, we set off for the fjord land. Soon it started to drizzle and MJ’s new Stadler gear could prove it water tightness for the first time. Riding in Norway is deceleration…the normal speed limit is 80 km/h, but there are many zones of only 70 km/h or even 60 km/h…..OOOOMMMmmmmm….on the positive side, the fuel consumption dropped to 4.5 L/100 km (63 mpg )!!! I haven’t seen this consumption since I went with my XBR500…..to Norway? LOL. After two hours, we arrived in Gudvangen. We didn’t follow the E16 where the next 51 km would be riding 43 km in tunnels (!). No, I had (luckily) pre-bøøked the ferry through the scenic Nærøyfjord. It took us for 2.5 hours through a fantastic scenery, starting first with the Nærøyfjord and then crossing the largest fjord of all, the Sognefjord.

This was a pleasant boat trip, even in the rainy weather. Some villages are only accessible by boat. Huge waterfalls were falling down the fjells. It seems obvious where Alan Lee got his inspiration from when he sketched his paintings of Rivendell…

Nærøyfjord.

Look! Only one leg!

From the ferry port in Kaupanger, we only had half an hour to get to our hotel in Solvorn at the Sognefjord. The Walaker Hotell is the oldest hotel in Norway for nine generations now. It keeps a an atmosphere of the 1900s. The interior and the furniture, decoration and even the bed made you feel like your grand- or grand-grandparents. And the situation and view on the fjord is also very special. MJ stayed in the hotel and I made a trip to one of the side tongues of the largest glacier in Northern Europe, the Nigardsbreen. I first had to ride up the valley to the parking at the lake, then I took a little boat towards the glacier. However, in contrast to 25 years ago, I had to walk much more up. It was more than half an hour of climbing and walking over polished rocks before I reached the mouth of the glacier. I couldn’t get to the very last rock for my boots were no climbing shoes and the rock was very slippery. So I used my zoom to get closer to this deafening thunder of the glacier river that came spurting from underneath the ice cap. An impressive sight. At the same time, it is depressing to see how the length and thickness of the glacier has decreased over the last years. Despite the cool temperatures, I was soaked in my own sweat. Three quarters later, I was back at the parking and I rode back to the hotel.

We had booked the hotel together with the dinner so a delicious four course menu was waiting for us. In good old Belgian tradition, we opted also for the wine package that was accompanying the food very well. We were asked if we wanted to meet the hotel owner at 10 p.m. in the hotel’s gallery and curiously we said yes. It turned out to be a very good decision. The owner presented himself as Ole Hendrik, asked for our and the other guests‘ whereabouts and started a conversation that was equally entertaining and funny, explaining the history of the family and the buildings, why he doesn’t fancy rich Russian tourists etc. It cumulated in the hilarious story of a prank robbery of raspberries at night together with some rich CEOs from Oslo. The guys from the capital didn’t know the raspberry farmer was informed so the noise of the shotgun was part of the comical plan to fake a kind of adventure. The way it was told was truly hilarious and we all snorting with laughter. Later Ole showed us around in the gallery and, as nobody else was able to play the piano, played some piano music in the background for us. A memorable finish of a great day.

In the morning, we had another great breakfast buffet before we packed our stuff and took the first ferry right in front of the hotel. It lead us to the other side of the fjord where the oldest wooden church in the world is located, the Urmes stave church. We were happy to escape the rain and listened to the guide in the inside explaining the interesting history of the building. Dating back to 1130, the church is entirely made of local pine wood and has some exterior carvings from the 11th century in a Celtic style that survived the weather for almost 900 years. An impressive building.

We followed the single track road along the fjord until we were on the main road to the highest pass in Northern Europe, the Sognefjellet (1440 m). It was raining more and more and the temperature dropped from 19 to 11 degrees. The weather was too bad to stop and take pictures, only on the top the views of the blue glaciers made me stop twice.

Sognefjellet. Shitty weather.

We descended eastwards and metre for metre, the weather improved and the temperature went up. We almost saw some sunshine in Lom where we stopped for a long lunch break. We went north-west and in Grotli, I turned left on the old Strynfjellet Road, the alternative to the modern road. However, after riding 4 km on gravel and dirt, I decided to turn around. I expected the rain to come back and going 23 km downhill on mud with a 600 kg flying fortress did not seem the most clever thing to do.

The modern road was mostly in tunnels and it turned out that I had made a very wise decision, this could have been quite nasty and potentially dangerous. The rain was back so we made no stop until we reached the Visnes hotel in Stryn. Normally, the landscape is one of the best in Norway, but rain and clouds covered our view. At the hotel, we put our gear in the drying room (skiing area!), what a good idea. The hotel is again very rustic, but this time it has a 1950s feeling. Our room looks like from the fifties. Funny.

Veranda at Visnes hotel.

We had an aperitif on the veranda before we had our dinner in the nostalgic dining hall, very much in a traditional Scandinavian style. This is a bit like time travelling.

Going North 2018 – Days 10-12

Going with a Hurtigruten boat is very relaxing. It is basically constant eating, interrupted by sightseeing, taking pictures, cultural and other lectures and excursions.

On the third day on the boat, we entered the Vesterålen, a large group of islands north of the Lofoten. The boat is going always very close to the coast, passing many small and islands to the left and right. The views can often only be called spectacular – pictures often don’t catch the atmosphere.

In the late morning, we passed the first of the Vesterålen bridges that connect the islands with the main land:

The bridge over the Risøysund canal.

The mountain get quite steep with tops over 1000 m, sometimes there’s snow left or a glacier on the top. 

You can spend the whole day on deck or behind the big windows and watch this great landscape. Slartibartfast did really a good job! We were stopping in many little places where the Hurtigruten ship is the most important connection with other ports. In the afternoon, we stopped at the historic centre of the Hurtigruten lines in Stokmarknes. There is also the Hurtigruten museum including the old Finnmarken ship that gives an impression how the journey was in former times.

In the afternoon, we „set sails“ for the highlight of the whole cruise: the passage through the Lofoten. We went through the majestic Raftsund, together with many little local boats. Everybody was on deck and people tried to get the best locations to make their shots.

Raftsund.

The Midnatsol made a sharp right and a sharp left turn and we entered a very short and narrow side arm: the Trollfjord. Breathtakingly beautiful, but as you go against the sun, it is very difficult to catch this on a picture. Very steep rocks to the left and right and at the end of the short fjord, the small boats are chased away so the big Midnatsol can make one of its impressive 180 degree turns in no time. Truly masterly.

The Trollfjord. One of the highlights of the whole trip.

I have taken hundreds of pictures of which almost all are doomed to sink into digital oblivion. But the best scenery will be recorded in our minds anyway. That day we seemed to have many day tourists that just joined for the day and wanted to enjoy this part as well. In the evening we arrived at the capital of the Lofoten, Svolvær. We have booked (or as the tour guide on board would put it: „we have bøked“) only one guided expedition, and this is a special one: a trip with a speedboat! We received some waterproof gear and got on board of the RIB, equipped with two motors and 600 hp in total (!):

Ready for action!

The fun boat – first row for me, please!

Well, this WAS FUN! We zoomed out to visit some iconic places and harbours and even watched sea eagles.

Sea eagles

Not easy to take pictures at 90 km/h.

The boat made up to 48 knots (90 km/h) and jumped over the waves. It was cloudy now, but the scenery was nevertheless very spectacular.

After 1.5 hours, this was over and we returned to our ship with a grin on our face. We concluded the day with a local beer on the panorama deck. The Lofoten are really a special place and worth returning. The problem is, it’s quite a long way up here… 

The next day was very relaxing and there’s little to report apart from some great views of the shores of middle Norway. At lunch, we passed an iconic part of its coastline: the Seven Sisters (NOT the ones in Sussex).

In the legend, Botnkrona (3,517 feet), Grytfoten (3,497 feet), Skjæringen (4,202 feet), Tvillingene (the Twins) (3,215 feet), Kvasstinden (3,314), and Stortinden (2,986) were all troll daughters of the Suliskongen, who kept them under strict control far up north. One night he fell into such a deep sleep that all seven maidens were able to sneak out.

The Seven Sisters – picture stolen shamelessly from the internet. It was lunch time and was I too lazy to storm to the cabin to get the camera. It’s much more impressive in reality. And there’s no snow in July.

But Hestmannen, the son of another troll king on the islands who had been eager for a wife, was lying in wait.  He chased them. The sisters fled south down the coast, with several trolls chasing them, some of whom were trying to save them and some who were trying to capture them. But none of them thought of the sun, which turns all trolls to stone. When night eventually turned to morning, the troll sisters and their pursuers were petrified and became the mountain range that comprises the Helgeland coastline.

Somewhat later we stopped in Brønnøysund which is the middle of Norway; the southernmost and northernmost points are equidistantly apart. I was quite hot, close to 30 degrees and locals seemed to enjoy the good weather. I walked around a bit before I entered the ship again.Soon after we took off the next iconic view was on the list: Torghattan. Rising 258 metres vertically from the sea at Brønnøysundet betweed Brønnøysund and Rørvik. The mountain, with a distinctive hole right through it, is said to be the Brønnøy King’s hat. Remember the story of the seven troll sisters? The sisters were fleeing from Hestmannen, who was desperate to capture a wife. The King heard them and came to the rescue of the young maidens. However Hestmannen, who was infuriated that he could not catch up, shot an arrow towards the last fleeing girl. The King threw his hat towards the maidens to protect them. Just as the arrow pierced the hat, the sun appeared and its rays turned the trolls, hat and all into stone.

Troghattan with the hole in the hat.

There is another, more scientific explanation for the 30 metre high, 25 metre wide and 160 metre deep hole in Torghatten. The mountain may have been pushed upwards after a period sitting at a lower level, during which the sea had gradually worn a hole through its layers of rock. It’s up to you to believe this version. But it seems much more rational to accept the version of an enormous troll knight that bangs an arrow through a hat mountain.

Later we watched the sunset on deck and went to bed early, this cruising is really exhausting!

Bakklandet, Trondheim

The next morning we got up early. The boat was already in the harbour of Trondheim. At 7 a.m. we started our walking tour through the city. It was a Tuesday, but Trondheim’s rush-hour felt like a village on Sundays. People commuting on bicycles, few cars and few people in the streets. We walked through the picturesque Bakklandet quarter and crossed the old bridge with the portals of the 17th century.

The old town bridge

We walked around the Nidaros cathedral and as it was not open yet, studied its western front. Although the foundations are from the 11th century, it burnt down several times and was totally reconstructed in a neo-gothic style over a hundred years ago. We strolled back to the ship and concluded that Trondheim must be a nice city to live in.

Nidaros cathedral. 11th to 20th century.

The rest of the day was a quiet cruise with stops in Kristiansund (we’ll come back here in a few days) Molde, Ålesund and Florø. There also time to wash our dirty laundry on board.

We had fantastic weather the last days, but now our luck seems to change. First clouds are coming in and tonight we will have rainy weather. Tomorrow at our arrival in Bergen the weather with be ok, but the following days on the motorbike will be more mixed. But maybe the end of the heat is very welcome!

Going North 2018 day 9 – Midnight sun and Hammerfest

I had hoped to see the midnight sun and was already disappointed that despite the good weather, there were a lot of clouds on the horizon. When I arrived 25 years ago at the Nordkapp with my little Honda XBR500 after a long trip, some clouds impaired the unobstructed view of the midnight sun. Nevertheless, I went on deck at a quarter to midnight.

Shortly before midnight: yes there are some clouds, but they actually enhance the colours.

Well, this was not so bad after all. It was a matter of playing around with the camera.

Focal length 250 mm, bring out the colours.

Some people preferred to watch it from the inside on the panoramic deck:

After midnight, the sun started to rise again:

At last, a „I’m the king of the world!“ moment before hitting the sack:

This morning, we made a short excursion in Hammerfest. Instead of joining other boat people, we went on our own and walked up to a viewing point, overlooking the bay.

Our little boat.

Hammerfest

Hammerfest still uses the term „most northern town of the world“, although Honningsvåg has been elevated to a town some years ago.

On its way to the largest liquified gas factory in the world in Hammerfest.

It also used to be the starting point of many famous polar expeditions. We also did a visit to the Ice Bear Club, but did not become a member.

Ladies and gentlemen, please meet Bjørn. Isbjørn.

Back on the boat we had lunch and a relaxing afternoon watching the mountains and glaciers rolling by. Fantastic.

Gladly accepted this free drink with the compliments of Hurtigruten.

Going North 2018 – day 7 and 8. Luleå to Kirkenes, cruising and midnight sun?

I kind of overslept this morning, but this was not a problem. I had found out that a rain front would pass by so the later I would leave, the less rain I would see. This guess turned out to be correct. I had a spectacular breakfast (no picture) and left only at 9:15. I was prepared and had put on the inner liners. Temperature was 20 degrees as I continued my ride on the E4. One hour later I crossed the border to Finland and got aware that the sat nav switched one hour forward. I though that the people along the border must have a ball on new year’s eve: they welcome the new year in Finland, walk over to Sweden and repeat this one hour later. I took the E75 to the north and rolled through Finnish landscape.

Cute, isn’t it?

Soon I had to fill up and continued. I reached the city of Rovaniemi that appeared much bigger since the last time I passed by (25 years ago). Then I found the place where Santa resides (at least as claimed by the locals):

I have discovered Santa’s stash! It’s well hidden in a mountain.

HO-HO-HO!

Soon after I reached the Arctic Circle. I remembered a memorial there, together with some houses. I think it was also one of the few places on that seven week trip where I afforded a hot meal. I had my first reindeer goulash, how can I forget that. Well, I was a poor student then. You can imagine my surprise when I found no polar circle memorial, but an enormous complex with dozens of shops, restaurants, entertainment, etc…

Horrified, I fled from this place. I continued my ride through rural Finland. Soon after, I had to stop as a big reindeer was quietly walking in the middle of the road. Big antlers! In Sodankylä I wanted to stop for lunch, but the restaurants did not look very appealing and due to the Eastern time it was already quite late. In the end I had a shabby kebab in a shabby restaurant in a shabby petrol station. You could also buy repair sets for car exhausts there. Or fish hooks. Authentic.

I went on and after two hours, I decided to stop for a last petrol fill in Ivalo at the south shore of the Lake Inari. I decided to put on some extra T-shirts for the temperature had dropped to some 14 degrees. Soon after, the best part of the ride began on that day began: the road had bends and suddenly the sun appeared! Instead a dull ride under cloudy skies, this was really impressive now.

Inari Lake. I was immediately surrounded by blood-thirsty mosquitos.

The large Inari Lake to the right, the sun to the left and thousands of little lakes or ponds everywhere. This was spectacular.

I still had 200 km to go and when I turned from the E75 to the direction of Kirkenes. I hadn’t seen a policeman the whole trip, so why would there be any on this last stretch to the Norwegian border? I switch the suspension to „Dynamic“ and let the horses free. This was fun! Of course, you had to scan the horizon for reindeers.

This guy just walked over the road as if he would own the place!….well, I guess he does…

I arrived at the border and from now on, I slowed down considerably. Norwegian speed controls are notorious. I was riding down to the coast and when I hit the E6, I passed the Neiden waterfalls.

Neiden waterfalls. 12.5 degrees Celsius air temperature. Water temperature unknown.

The last 44 km to Kirkenes where bathed in sunlight again and quite beautiful. After a certain point, many boards announced that taking pictures was forbidden for military reasons. Actually, this region used to be the only place apart from Turkey where NATO and the Soviet Union shared a common border.

At 18:30, I met MJ in the hotel in Kirkenes. The 770 km went faster than expected. I looked for an ATM to get some Norwegian money and gave the BMW a good wash. After a quick shower we went to the hotel restaurant and were whacked in the face by reality. You know that Norway is expensive, but when you’re sitting in an ordinary hotel restaurant and looking at the menu, staring, sweating and hyperventilating, you know you have finally arrived there. However we decided that we live only once and that the numbers on the menu are not real. We chatted with the Spanish waiter and enjoyed our dinner, grilled salmon. We had not chosen for the local speciality: king crab. The next time after I have successfully robbed a bank, I will order one.

Fresh king crabs. 200 a piece. A true bargain.

We chatted with a Bavarian couple at the bike outside for a while and did a little walk through the town. This was very quick as the town is….not so big.

Sun set in Kirkenes.

Time for a night rest!

The next morning we left the hotel and rode 1 km to the pier where the MS Midnatsol was already waiting for us. We checked in immediately and after one hour of waiting time, I could finally ride the BMW on board. We investigated the ship for a while. It is the usual postal ship that runs the same route for decades, every day.

It’s also a cruise ship, albeit not a luxury one. Easy going. We soon enjoyed the buffet lunch and had a relaxed afternoon. Soon we visited the first stopover on the boat trip, Vardø, the most Eastern town of Norway. We only had 30 minutes on land which meant we could not visit the witch hunt memorial. It is an impressive memorial for all the women that were burnt as „witches“ in the 16th and 17th century. Compared to other places in Norway, the death toll was highest here: Out of 3000 inhabitants by that time, 91 were burnt at the stake. We visited the old fortress instead where two guys dressed as soldiers ripped off tourists by selling them entrance tickets. Funny.

The fortress on Vardø island.

Vardø, sea gull paradise.

What? Tourists again?

The moment the ship horn sounded…panic!!!

When we returned on the ship, we noticed a sign „upgrade your cabin to a suite“ with a big number (representing Norwegian crowns) next to it. They haven’t filled them, so they offered the upgrade for a fraction of the normal price. Naaah, too much money. But MJ had asked already if we could look at them. Yeah, what can I say. When we stood in the room, I knew that the decision was taken. What did we say? You only live once? Absolutely.

Our new „cabin“. Holy moly.

So know I’m sitting next to our enormous window in our enormous room watching the coastline drifting by. This is gorgeous.

The oncoming sister ship

I had planned to take pictures of the midnight sun, but just like 25 years ago, some clouds on the horizon seem to foil this plan.

No more words needed.