To Hell and beyond
MAG members: a species found worldwide from the Sahara to the Arctic circle
Last summer my wife Nadia and I completed the most remarkable motorcycle journey we've yet made; just over 4,000 miles in 2 weeks on my 15 year old Harley Davidson FXRS to the most northerly point in Europe and back.
I'd always had a yearning to travel to North Cape (Nordkapp) in Norway, ever since my schooldays. I'd put the idea firmly on the backburner until a couple of years ago, when I decided I wanted to do something pretty spectacular to celebrate my 50th birthday and revived the idea. To add some spice to the trip, what better mode of transport than my trusty old FXRS.
Those who had known me long enough thought that this sounded about as sensible as making tea in a chocolate teapot, my bike not having been that reliable in the past. However, since it was given a new wiring loom a few years ago, a complete engine rebuild by Riders of Bristol two years ago, and a completely rebuilt front end last year, I thought that it was probably up to the challenge.
Nadia rather reluctantly agreed to accompany me on the trip, and so was dutifully kitted out with a new set of waterproof, cold-proof and (hopefully) crash-proof biking gear from Hein Gericke. She was in two minds about taking the trip because for the past 6 or 7 years she had been suffering from a chronic hip injury that prevented her from riding in comfort for any length of time. However, at 5:00am on June 23, with a new oil filter, some fresh oil and a slightly hesitant Mrs Smith wearing her new gear for the first time, off we set for Newcastle and the ferry to Kristiansand.
Kristiansand is at the most southerly end of Norway, and we travelled up over the Hardanger Plateau, stopping for our first night in a very posh hotel on the shores of Hardanger Fjord. From there we rode towards the west coast, taking in such exotic tourist attractions as the Viking stave church at Vik, the Atlantic Road and Voss Festival of Extreme Sports.
The weather got progressively worse as we headed north towards Trondheim (as did the pain in Nadia's hip) and we heard tales from fellow travellers about bikers that had been turned back only the week before by snow blizzards to the north. We had a couple of grim nights before we left Trondheim but took heart in the constant reassurance from the Norwegians that 'Summer will start on Wednesday'. Well, they were wrong, summer actually started on the Thursday.
We took nine days to get up to Nordkapp covering between 150 and 350 miles a day depending on the riding conditions. The speed limits in Norway are much lower than here, and most roads have limits of between 40 and 50 mph. The roads are so twisty and up and downy that you really can't go much faster even if you wanted to (on a fully loaded Harley at least!) There are speed cameras everywhere, even far up in the Arctic and police speed traps as well. The fines are high, instant, and they take credit cards!
Once we'd crossed the Arctic Circle the summer set in good and proper, and we were riding along in temperatures between 26C-30C every day. Added to this of course is the fact that the sun is shining 24 hours a day. It's quite odd to be woken up by the sun streaming in through your bedroom window at 2 in the morning.
From the Arctic Circle it took us another 3 days to get up to Nordkapp, stopping south of Narvik, Tromso and Alta on the way. We spent a long and leisurely lunchtime at Nordkapp (and boy do they screw the money out of you before you get there! I asked at the entrance if we could get a cup of coffee, and the guy said 'Sure, if you've got any money left!')
From Nordkapp we headed southeast through Lapland, crossing into northern Finland and the shores of Lake Inari near the Russian border. From there we travelled south to the Baltic and around it's western shore into Sweden and then onto Oslo, where we rested with friends for a few days before taking the final leg down to Kristiansand again and the ferry back to Newcastle, arriving in Newcastle on the July11.
The longest part of the journey was from Sundsvall in Sweden to Greåker in Norway, a distance of just over 500 miles, which we did in one 13 hour ride, earning Nadia instant membership of the 'Iron Butt' club. Not too impressive a distance until you remember that there were less than 100 miles of motorway, the rest all being on 'A' roads with their 50 mph limit.
We stopped at the Harley dealers in Trondheim for oil and again up in the Arctic Circle near Narvik to get some brake pads, but those were the only mechanical problems we had. The bike burbled along effortlessly.
We saw the midnight sun, ate Reindeer (stewed, smoked, sautéed and fried), nearly collided with Reindeer, saw Killer Whales, Elk and Red Squirrels. We saw 6,000 year old rock carvings, and the fiord where the battleship Tirpitz was hidden (and sunk). We slept in every type of accommodation, 5 star hotels, fisherman's huts, guesthouses and what we are sure was a garden shed!
I would recommend this journey to anyone (except perhaps real novices). There is no shortage of petrol stations and plenty of places to stay. The further north we went the more populated it seemed to get! We didn't book anything ahead, but we found that if we hadn't found somewhere to stay by 6:30 then most places were taken. If you want to see the midnight sun you will have to plan to make the journey between June 1 and July 12. The scenery is constantly magnificent, and you will need a camera with plenty of memory (or film, if you're old fashioned).
Norway wasn't as expensive as everyone tells you it's going to be. Fuel is about the same price as here (OK, so that's expensive!) and if you can keep off the demon drink while you're travelling, then the £4.50 pint of beer / glass of wine won't put you off.
As soon as we were home Nadia bit the bullet and got her hip sorted out. She is now the proud recipient of a titanium hip joint, and I'm hoping that she'll be able to get her leg over in the very near future!
By the way, Hell is a fairly uninteresting little town just to the north of Trondheim. We'd driven right through it before we'd even realised where we were!