“These things they go away, replaced by everyday” – Stipe
Just 2600 miles to get home. It’s funny how people view trips. Some go for a period of time, others just set off and just keep going, others have a target. I was in the latter camp and much like reaching Malin Head on my first tour in Ireland, Nordkapp had triggered the end of the journey feeling for me. When I first started on the trip it had felt like an ‘exciting’ holiday, then I started to relax and it became more of a ‘long’ holiday and then finally you become accustomed to life on the road and it becomes ‘what you do’. We tend to find our little comfort zone such as house/mortgage/job etc and then anything out of that world seems difficult to contemplate. You soon break those shackles though and adapt to a new life.
If you imagine a shoe box, most people live in that box. With their families, their houses and their ambitions. The shoe box is small and not much sets people apart, so they squabble, bicker and fight. Everyone wants to be the best, have the best, be recognised as the best. If you imagine the shoebox is in the middle of a huge open field, thats the world. Theres a few people out in the field and they look with sad eyes at the people squabbling in the box.
It was great to cross into Finland and hit higher speed roads. Despite the bleakness of the landscape, it was strangely relaxing – you do feel as though you are really out in the middle of absolutely nowhere. You feel like that because, of course, you are in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Very long straight sections of road with visibility for miles where you can really crack on. You do crack on, you don’t stop because if you do, there’s no way you’re taking any gear off. Before the bike has even come to a halt you are swarmed by thousands of mosquitoes who want your flesh. I learnt the hard way the first time I stopped and in the few days I passed through Finland and Northern Sweden, I was careful to time my pee stops in garages with large concrete areas to prevent me being eaten.
Shortly after entering Finland and having stopped for fuel and a bite to eat, the first set of ‘roadworks’ appeared. Roadworks means something slightly different in Finland. It seems as though they dig up the entire road down to the earth and then backfill it with hardcore prior to laying the tarmac. I think it’s the same process in the UK but the road is usually closed off because having several inches deep of gravel isn’t conducive to road safety. Unfortunately for me, there was only one road and it was deep in stones. I had thought it wouldn’t last long. 12 miles I think was the total length
With a few souls trying to negotiate this mess, speeds were low – too low for me trying to keep a heavy bike upright and so as well as maintaining balance, I also had to overtake. Made it though and learnt a lot about riding through that stuff where you lose traction continuously as well as having the tyres dig in occasionally and spin out, spitting stones behind you. I saw a guy on a Harley as one point, he was going the other way and was practically paddling it. I dread to think of the damage to his bike with such low ground clearance.
It was late when I arrived at the hotel – a cheap place due to it being out of season but passable none the less. I didn’t even remove my helmet as I walked to reception – the mosquitoes were buzzing everywhere.
The hotel had 3 guests – 2 russian lorry drivers and me. I dumped my gear in the room, showered and headed for the bar. Food was reasonably priced and a beer and a burger later I was feeling content. I had no real idea where I was in Finland – approximately half way to Sweden was my rough estimation. I’d head for Sweden in the morning and made a rough plan from now on to ride for as long as possible to cover the vast distance in good time. I had thought about heading straight back to Germany but thought that having come all this way I should take the chance to see Stockholm. A bit of ‘google mapping’ and it seemed doable in 2-3 days.
The receptionist told me about the sauna and said it was free and that after a long day on the bike it might do me good. Grabbing a towel from my room, i stayed in my boxers, wrapped it around me and pushed open the door to the sauna. Steam escaped along with a smell of menthol and eucalyptus. I don’t usually like saunas – the dry heat makes my heart pound in my chest and so I figured it would be a 5 minute job to get warm, maybe ease my aching back and neck and relax me before sleep.
The 2 russian drivers were in there, both showering after the sauna. They smiled, pointed to the sauna and continued to vigorously clean their nether regions. I made a hasty retreat to the sauna proper, closing the door, taking off my boxers and sitting down on the scalding hot wood. The door opened and in walked one of the guys. I’m no athlete but this guy was seriously overweight and hairy beyond belief. If you can imagine a guinea pig that has been inflated with helium gas to the point of exploding then you’re about half way there in your minds eye. It’s probably for the best you don’t imagine the full picture, I wish i could erase it from my memory. Let’s just say that his spuds were almost level with his knees.
3 days south compared to 3 weeks north
He clambered up on to the wood, breathing heavily and with a thud, sat down right next to me, slapping my thigh. Now, I’m not sure of etiquette here. A thousand things went through my mind and all I could summon up was ‘Alright mate’. Good god. In broken English he said he liked it hot. I half nodded, acutely aware that the slightest loss in translation could create an awkward situation. He jumped off the wood and left the sauna, I breathed a sigh of relief. The door opened again and he returned with something in his hand and passed it to me. A nappy. He pointed at the seat and I lifted up and put it under me. He sat down by me again and then reached for the ladle, poured water on the coals and the room went nuclear. ‘Good!’ he said, i nodded and relaxed a little. A few ladles later and he was the colour of a beetroot. I was just warming up. he said his goodbyes, wheezed and puffed and then staggered out. I stayed in there for a while, pouring yet more water on and savoured the warmth slowly entering my muscles. It really did the trick too, when I woke the next morning, my aches were much reduced and I slept deeply.
I spoke to the drivers the next morning at breakfast – they were a long way from home and were working between Norway, Sweden, Russia and Finland. This hotel seemed to be a central point to lay over whilst they waited for their next job and had their rest breaks. Another biker had arrived overnight – a youngish lad from Germany who was headed for Nordkapp. He’d had delays and asked me how long to get there. As we talked it became obvious that he had to get to Nordkapp and then back here in 1 day because of getting back to work. I warned him of the speed traps, wished him good luck and thanked the heavens it wasn’t me trying to do that.
It didn’t take long to get to the Swedish border and most of my riding for the next 2 days would be described as trees…lake…trees…lake….ooh trees….ooh lake. It’s beautiful but there’s only so many trees and lakes you can take. Plus, you can’t stop at any because you will get eaten alive. I ploughed on, making good time and at the end of the day, I booked a B+B just off the motorway, figuring that I could sleep and make an early start the next day. It was a lovely place, owned by an obviously very wealthy family who lived in the main house with a set of ponds filled with Koi carp.
With a sunny evening and temperatures in the upper teens, I realised it had been a long time since I had seen the sun and some weeks since I had sat outside in just a t-shirt, With a brew, a sandwich kindly made by the family and a view of their gardens, I tried to work out if I could make it to Stockholm tomorrow. Over 500 miles to get there but it was all main road and despite the lower speed limits, it looked doable although a long long day . I decided to get up early, hit the road and just see how it worked out.
Long way to go just to get stickers, iPhone
I’d just finished putting oil in the bike and checking the brake pads and tyres when another guest turned up. A huge guy, wheezing and panting, pouring with sweat and a face so contorted that he looked like he was about to collapse. He was dressed in white tennis gear which barely covered a stomach that was the size of a baby elephant. He sat on the chairs outside, his lungs fighting for air and then he coughed violently, put his hand over his mouth and then wiped his hand down his leg. I thought about shaking his hand but decided a nod and a hello was more hygienic. He introduced himself as a cardiologist from Latvia and was working on a temporary basis as a local hospital. He dug deep into his bag, pulled out a pack of cigarettes and sat there, wheezing and inhaling deeply. I asked him if he was ok as he really, really , really didn’t look well. He smiled and waved his hand in the air as though I worried about nothing. He went inside, I carried on checking the bike over and tightening the bolts on the top box frame. The smell of cooking wafted out of the open door and as I walked in, he was sat at the table tucking into his tea. A plate full of sausages, bacon and eggs. He asked if I would like some, I waved my hand in the air and smiled as though batting away imminent heart failure. Sitting on the settee and looking at routes to take, I could hear him snoring deeply in his room. The snores were broken occasionally by the sound of deep, hacking coughs and what can only be described as a grunt similar to a mating walrus.
I packed my gear before sleep, realised it had gone quiet and wondered if he was either deeply asleep or dead. The alarm went off at 5 and by 5.30 I was showered, the bike was loaded and I was on the ouch eating cornflakes and drinking coffee. I heard his door open just as I put a spoonful of cornflakes in my mouth and he wandered in completely naked, rubbing his bits, coughing and stopped over. He waved at me with his other hand, staggered into the bathroom and closed the door. The spoon was still in my mouth. I chuckled, took another spoonful of cornflakes and then there was a sound . I hard the toilet seat go down and then a grunt as he sat down. It started quietly at first but soon turned into a rolling thunder, almost seismic. A low pitched grunt, a wince and then my god, I swear the walls rattled and the clocks stopped. I put down the bowl of cornflakes. A sigh, a double flush, another hacking cough and then he wandered out, grinned and wished me a good journey before turning his huge derriere to me and waddling back into his room. I haven’t eaten cornflakes since.
I was on the road before 6 with bright sunshine and the vents already open on my gear. This was going to be a hell of a day. I’d never done this much in one day and didn’t know how it would go. I hit roadworks within 10 miles and traffic slowed to a crawl. With only 20 miles covered in almost an hour, the day wasn’t off to a good start. Throughout the day I had chunked up the mirage, setting a goal to get to 100 and then 200 and so on. By the time I got to 300 miles, I was on my third break and my backside was already feeling sore. I ate an orange I’d taken from the breakfast bowl as I stood in yet another service station, looking at yet another set of petrol pumps and another set of people drinking coffee or smoking. I’m not sure how much fuel I used on the trip – something like 450 gallons I imagine.
By the 400 mile mark, the pains in my rear and my shoulders were getting bad – stops were becoming more frequent and I seriously considered just finding a local B+B. However, that would have meant a wasted night, wasted money and then just a short ride tomorrow and a waste of time. I started stretching in the car park, trying, in vain, to get rid of cramps, pulls and soreness. At the 450 mile, I pulled into a set of services, jumped off the bike and winced with pain. My left shoulder had seized up, my right bum cheek had shooting pains and I felt like I had been hit by a truck. I took an hour out – I couldn’t even face getting back on the seat after my usual 15 minute break. Using the wifi at the services, I booked a hotel on the outskirts of Stockholm for 2 nights. 52 miles to go. It started to rain and the sky went dark. By the time I got out of the services, the rain was torrential. Just what I needed.
You beautiful, beautiful thing, iPhone
At the 480 mile mark (approximately 1900hrs by this point, or 13 hours of riding) I had to start moving about on the bike seat to relieve the pressure on my butt. One waggle was too much, the bike swerved, the front almost dipped and I shouted at myself in my helmet. I pulled off a mile later and rode on to an out of town shopping complex. I practically collapsed off the bike, stretched out and rubbed my backside, wincing with the pain in my shoulder. I needed to eat to get some energy but there was nothing left. I emptied the tank bag out, camera on the seat, lens on the ground, wallet on the seat, spare batteries into my pockets and then there it was, I could have cried, a lonely haribo, covered in muck. I stared at that haribo, burst out laughing, rubbed my backside vigorously and bent over the bike to stretch out my back. Looking up, I saw the woman staring at me as she got into her car. I nodded in her direction. She seemed eager to get away.
I made it through the rush hour traffic, found the hotel, navigated the hordes of tourists staying there and took a long shower. My backside still ached the following morning as I headed off into Stockholm. I didn’t realise it then but tomorrow I would say goodbye to an old friend.