‘It’s a mystery to me, we have a greed to which we have agreed.When you think you have to want more than you need, until you have it all you won’t be free’ – Vedder
Still raining. Torrential when I fell asleep, torrential when I woke. Flooded roads and skies that looked like Ragnarok. Even running from the hotel doorway to the garage area meant I was soaked with cold rain – the kind that finds its way on to your skin and slowly runs down your spine like a chill finger from beyond the grave. Bike checks done, panniers fixed and bike off the centre stand and all I had to do was roll her out of the garage backwards. A simple task but there was the small matter of the concrete hump in the doorway which, I now realised, was to stop the ingress of water. I pulled backwards, she made it half way up the lip before gravity took effect and she rolled forward. Deep breath and I pulled again and over she went with a muted thud as the suspension took the weight as she dropped to the other side. I should have stopped but I didn’t – I thought I was on a roll and tried to keep the momentum going and get the front tyre over as well. The momentum took the wheel over, the handlebars twisted in protest, I lost my grip and then time slowed to a standstill as the bike slowly toppled towards me. My back was against the garage door lintel. In slow motion I let go of the bars as 350Kg of metal slowly, inexorably, fell onto my legs.
Somehow my legs weren’t broken but I’d hit the deck, my bum was soaking wet and I was laying half in and half out of the doorway. The rain landing on my head added insult to injury. My leg was sore, very sore and warm. It’s no mean feat to lift a fully laden GS but I did it in one fell swoop, pulling her up, pushing the side stand down and cursing the rain, the concrete lip and anything else I could think of. I stepped back and felt pain in ym leg again. As I peeled off my trousers in that dusty garage, amidst the hat stands and watching the rain fall I noticed the right mirror was no longer on the bike and then I saw the blood on my leg. I was walking wounded to be fair but some piece of the bike had managed to gouge out a 4 inch long chunk of flesh just to the right of my shin bone and it was a bloody mess. I pulled out my first aid kit for the first time that day, stuck on a compress and used electrical tape to hold it in place. That stuff hurts when you’re taking it off hairy legs by the way. As a man, I immediately considered that an open wound would more than likely lead to gangrene, the plague or even ebola. With a lot of miles to cover, I put those thoughts aside, got on the saddle, winced for effect and headed off into the rain.
Waiting for a ferry is pleasurable in Norway, canon 5d2, 16-35L
My first target for the day was to be the Atlantic Road – a 5 mile long stretch of road which is built over the water between several islands. It’s one of those must see places. With a stop to check that tsetse flies hadn’t invaded my leg wound, the weather cleared and I trundled along the coast making solid progress despite the low speed limits. I don’t recall the exact flow of the day but it involved trips under the sea in tunnels that are several miles long – it’s bizarre to see your sat-nav showing that you are in the sea. The rain ended, the wind picked up and whilst not at the ferocity of Belchite, they were enough to keep me on my toes. My leg ached and my bum had shrivelled with the wet. I was feeling a bit sorry for myself if I’m honest and found it strange to ride without a mirror. The mirror had sheared off on impact, leaving just the stump exposed and despite my best gaffer tape and cable tie efforts, it was never going to fix back on.
I reached the Atlantic road late in the morning with the sun directly overhead. There is a visitor centre at the halfway point on one of the islands (which is where the shots of the road were taken from). I rode the first half and then pulled in there, took a few shots and admired the views. It is quite a feat of engineering and architectural design. As I was leaving the visitors centre, a middle aged lady appeared at my left hand side as though she was walking with me. We took 2 steps in synchronisation. I saw the kerb, she didn’t. For the second time of the day, time slowed to a standstill and I watched her fall face forward off the kerb. She didn’t put her hands out and her fall was broken by her face. The crunch as she hit the tarmac was sickening. Everyone looked around, I helped her to her feet. She was crying, blood was all over her face and chest and her eyes were closed. She let out a muffled yelp and was struggling for breath. her husband ran to her aid and I ran to the bike to get my first aid kit for the second time of the day. I’m no medic, hell I haven’t even been on a first aid course but I sat with her and her husband for 20 minutes, cleaning her wound and checking her vision and breathing. I had the cleaning swabs, scissors, cold compress and bandages out. I was pretty sure her nose was broken and since her eyes were already going black, I figured she was going to have a nasty pair of shiners in a few hours. Her husband asked me what he should do – they hadn’t got much farther to go and should they just go to the hotel? I told him to either call an ambulance or go straight to hospital – I’m no medic but head injuries always mean hospital. I hope they made it with nothing but bruises. Interestingly, no one else came over, offered help or even asked how she was. Too busy taking selfies and drinking their latte’s.
Launch me to the heavens, Canon 5d2, 16-35L
Back on the road and slowed by a horde of Chinese tourists who had decided that standing in the middle of the road to take a group shot was a good idea. They soon got the picture literally as I came thundering through them. I never fail to be disappointed by people.
Big green dot (Molde) to Mo I Rana, the big green square, 2 days
I was aiming for Trondheim that evening and I took the coastal roads. I knew I had to make some serious progress over the next few days and so I’d decided on 2 bigger days. If I reached Trondheim I would head for near Mo I rana the next night which would leave me within striking distance of the Arctic Circle. Every day of riding North meant a 1-2 degree drop in temperature. I’d started in Norway at about 19 degrees. it was now 10 degrees. Along the coast, under the sea, a coupe of ferries and I hit the mainland again and a fast road into Trondheim. having booked the cheapest accomodation i could find, I arrived on an industrial estate several miles South of the centre, weaved the bike through parked lorries and freight containers and pulled up outside my home for the night. A portacabin.
I checked in, collapsed on the small bed and turned the heater on. It started to rain again. There were 6 of us in the portacabins that night and with approximately zero soundproofing, I swear I could hear people breathing right next to my head. Maybe it was delirium from infection of the wound, I’ll never know. I ate at the trucker’s cafe which was surprisingly cheap. Lettuce and chips and some kind of pie. Didn’t want to ask what it was, it was hot and food and that did for me. All you can drink coffee as well which I made full use of. I stayed in there quite some time – it was warm, the radio was on and I could relax.
Changing Scenery, Northern Norway, Canon 5d2, 16-35L
I left the bandage on my leg overnight allowing the electrical tape to surgically implant itself into the roots of my hairs. I slept well, waking early and as I headed for the pay as you go shower, I saw another bike had pulled in overnight. I washed and lets just say that it wouldn’t exactly win hygienic bathroom of the year award. It wasn’t so much as to where to gingerly put your feet as more of a choice as to which part of your foot you wanted to contract leprosy. Removing the tape was less than pleasurable. My leg started bleeding again.
I got chatting to the other biker at breakfast, he was heading South but told me of a local bike dealer just a few miles up the road. A BMW dealer too. I headed there and sat outside the entrance waiting for them to open. Took a while as they had to machine out the stub but they got the mirror re-attached and I was on my way again. Unlike the german guy on an F800 who arrived on a wrecked bike having slid it down the road that morning. It was in a real mess and so was he – most of his armour was ripped off, blood on his head and a cracked helmet. Yet here he was, trying to get his bike back on the road. I like biking but hey, there’s a limit and I think I would have done the hospital first!
The road goes ever on and on, Canon 5d2, 16-35L
I had a big day ahead and with precisely zero accomodation for any reasonable price near Mo I rana, I found a country farm which had a really cheap deal and booked it. Sat nav programmed and off I went, sticking to major roads for much of the day. ‘Much of the day ‘actually means slogging through cold, driving rain. A pleasant view in the main but it needed a fair bit of perseverance to keep slogging on. There was hardly anywhere to shelter so stops became a ritual of find a lay-by, jump off, pee, swig water, eat some haribo, look at the heavens, repeat. The miles fell away.
About 50 miles South of Mo I rana, I turned off the main road and headed East out towards the Swedish border. The road became rough – broken tarmac, the surface smashed by snow chains and covered in grit and gravel. With a vague feeling on the front and constant slides from the rear tyre, I kept the speed up thinking to myself just how far I had come in terms of confidence on the bike. I remember thinking back to that very first day of the trip some months previously in the Picos de Europa and wondering if I could even do this trip on such a big bike.
Perfect tarmac, iPhone
I knew I was getting remote, Very remote. In an hour of riding I saw no one, Forest to the left and right with this single road running through it. No houses, no cars, nothing, I stopped a few times to take shots and on one occasion found myself having to do some impromptu off-roading over muddy trails. Despite trepidation, it wasn’t too bad. With the sat nav showing just 5 miles to go, I breathed a sigh of relief. The sun was low, it was after 8 and I was very tired. Petrol was low too- just 50 miles of gas left. Petrol stations had been sparse all day and in the last 60 miles there had been nothing, never mind petrol. The 5 miles passed and there I was, in the middle of a forest. I checked the co-ordinates, yup…correct. I checked again, restarted the sat nav, still showing I was at the location. Unless I had booked into the latest instalment of Friday the 13th, I clearly wasn’t in the right place.
I knew I couldn’t go back, there was nothing for 50 miles that way. I coughed on, eventually coming after 20 minutes to a small village with a few houses and a very large logging compound. With a mix of sign language, sat-nav and my map I managed to get some vague directions. The only problem was I didn’t know how many miles. Petrol was now under 40 miles. I ploughed on, keeping a steady speed to conserve fuel round gloriously deserted roads through constant forest. Lovely long sweeping bends with an Arctic sun set low in the sky, even at 9pm. Then the road ended abruptly and ahead of me was gravel the size of rocks. I could see a house in the distance and so I got up on the pegs, kept it slow and ploughed through the gravel. The back end was struggling for grip, constantly kicking out as I made my way forwards. The tyres dug in occasionally before spitting the gravel out of the back and causing me to wobble. It’s amazing how quickly you get used to it though. I guess I had no choice though…
I arrived at the farmhouse with 12 miles of petrol remaining.
I found out the following day that I was about as close to the Swedish border as you can get. It had taken several hours to get there and all in the name of cheaper accomodation – it’s a pity I didn’t properly look at just how far I had to travel though, basically to another country 🙂 I collapsed on the couch (I had the whole farmhouse to myself!) and ate my tuna and some bread I had snaffled from the hotel in Molde.
The farm was set at the edge of an inland fjord, with stunning views over one of the inlets. It was a truly amazing place – mountains, fjord and sheer remoteness with air so clean it hurt to breathe. They were natural farmers – everything was organic, nothing was thrown away and they had a real passion for the environment without being overbearing. rather than talking about it, they just did it. They told me how they had built everything by hand using old techniques and then came the bombshell. Across from ‘my’ farmhouse was another house which was stunning and looked old in comparison. The lady explained about her parents and the house she had grown up in far to the North as a child but something didn’t make sense and as I sat there struggling with tiredness I had to stop her. I told her I was confused and that I couldn’t understand how her married home was the same as her childhood home and yet they lived here.
She smiled and then told me that the farmhouse opposite, the stunning one, was her childhood home which over 5 years they had moved piece by piece to this farm and lovingly rebuilt. I stared at that house a long long time.
On my way to Sweden, unplanned, Canon 5d2, 16-35L