Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Northern Light Route

The nights are slowly getting longer, colder too! It's the end of August as I'm writing this and that means the summer temperatures and long evenings are definitely over. Packing up in the morning is slowly but surely becoming an ever colder affair, especially for the fingers (not helped by soaking wet tents). As we were heading in the northern direction, it was only going to be colder and wetter. The forecast had been cold but dry, which is about the best we could have hoped for. Let's hope they are right.

The route north is known as The Northern Lights Route. As I remembered it, there wasn't much spectacular scenery to be found. Riding north I realised I was wrong. The landscape in Finnmarken is impressive. The long winters clearly leave their mark in the shape of small trees and at times little, if any, vegetation. The 'lovely-ness' from the south has now definitely disappeared. 

This is much more desolate, rugged and awe inspiring. The further north we went the more impressive it became. I couldn't understand why I thought there wasn't much to see here. I had been this far north 3 times before, surely I couldn't have missed this 3 times? Then I realised it was by car… I made a small 'envelope' with my gloves, giving me the same view as from a car and realised that was the issue. On a motorbike you see 360 degrees of landscape, in a car about 10…

Despite the clouds setting in and rain coming down several times it was still impressive. What wasn't are the ridiculous speed limits. I don't mind speed limits as such, not even when they are 80 km/hr country wide like in Norway (except some highways which are a whopping 90!). What drives me absolute bonkers is the totally random 60 km/hr zones. Riding along a quiet road with wide swooping curves and not a 'danger' in sight, there are suddenly 60 km/hr zones. No apparent reason is given, non can be found and they are all over the place. Having just heard the quite severe fines from our Romanian friends, we decided to stick to the speed limits. At the end of the day I wondered if the increased brake pad wear weighs up to the speeding fines.

Jeanette stopped for some 'authentic' Lappland souvenirs. I noticed a sign which said 'we accept Euros' which sort of said it all. Anyway, there were better things to see: a rental motorhome was being towed away… It had spectacularly destroyed itself, dumping 5 litres of oil in the process. The poor sods in it had been waiting since 10 am that morning and still didn't know when, or if, they would get a replacement. Talking to the towtruck driver this sort of thing appeared to be quite normal. 'Small engine, big turbo, lots of power… they all go Bang!' The slightly worrying bit was that the camper was towed onto the truck with the occupants in it, strapped down and drive away. For their sake I hope he strapped it properly!

We stayed at a campground that was more setup for seasonal residents. The only place we could camp was in between solid annexes. The owner asked 250 nok… 'You have to be kidding me' I though. We payed 110 last night for a better spot in a tourist location… The price came down quickly to 150 when we hesitated… As the showers were free and there was a heated kitchen, we agreed. We shouldn't have as next morning we found better spots just 2 km away, the kitchen didn't have anything to sit on and the showers were without any form of door or a dry spot to hang your clothes.

Waking up, my nose told me it was below 5°C. Laugh about it if you must but when the tip of my nose start to be painful it's 5°C or below. My nose was right, always is :-) The tent was even more wet than the days before and feeling the need to go to the toilet was actually welcomed… as the toilet had a heater in it!
Packing up went slowly. Cold fingers don't work fast and being wrapped in motorcycle gear kept us warm but didn't make us agile.

The random and decisively boring pattern of random and ridiculous speed limits from yesterday continued. A couple of roadworks were chucked in to make sure our bikes looked like crap within an hour and rain set in when we were at the highest point of today's route. It didn't matter though as the landscapes kept impressing me. After about two hours we stopped to put the liner in my Rukka jacket. It was still in 'summer mode' and now getting a bit nippy. Looking at the thin thermal liner I wondered how much difference that could possibly make… It did make a big difference! These modern fibres do work… well, these from Rukka do.

That it's the end of the season was also evident in the number of souvenir shops that were closed. The clouds made the landscape into an every changing spectacular show. Low hanging clouds made for almost surreal images. We tried to photograph it but they fail to convey the impressiveness of riding above the clouds. Having had enough of the Norwegian absurd campground prices we took a free spot for the night. Right along a Fjord! Beautiful spot with a beautiful sunset!

The last leg to the Nordkapp was literally one in 'the last mile is the longest' category. Cold miserable weather, strong headwind and lots of rain, rain and more rain. After several hours Mike said through the intercom 'It feels a bit like an expedition now, like we have to pass a test or something.' Minutes later he said 'my bike feels funny, it pulls to the right and wallows…' He had a flat front tyre… of course right at the top of a windswept hill with dark clouds setting in behind us…! Fixing the tyre was easy enough, but it took 2 attempts and a good 20 minutes to set the tyre properly on the rim… I really hate those rims by now. Every time we needed new tyres, setting them to the rim was a problem, even for the tyre places where we went. With the last tyre change we needed 80 psi again to make the tyre set… try that along the road somewhere when you have a flat! I hope we will be in a position to change those rims someday!

With all the delays we had, it was a matter of pressing on to reach Kirkeporten before the day was up. The Reindeer had other ideas… we never saw so many of them! They must be related to the good old Aussie Kangaroo as they are just as suicidal! Jeanette hit one that decided to cross just as she went past. She only just 'nipped' him and no damage was done on either side. They are amazing animals, with a funny sort of walk. 

The scenery kept impressing, although I seriously cannot understand why anyone would want to live here. The summer is ultra-short, yet big new luxury houses were being built everywhere. While we were taking a break from the cold and wet weather, a group of German bus tourists were having a break too. Theirs was somewhat more luxurious than ours: hot chocolate and cake too!

Mike enjoyed the roadworks along the way. 'These are proper road works he said. Explosives all over the place, big rocks and heaps of heavy equipment… bring it on!' They were monster jobs too. Especially the ones where we saw tunnels being built! With the day quickly coming to an end, it became colder and colder. The Nordkapp used to be accessible via a ferry only but that has now been replaced with a 6 km long tunnel. A tunnel that drops to 215 metres below sea level. So we rode 215 metres below sea level!

Thinking the 'test' was now over, we were wrong. One thing we hadn't seen yet… fog! Thick, cold and wet fog. With our view reduced to 10 mtr at times we soldiered on to the most northern campground in the world. Luckily the Icon Variant windscreen didn't fog up as well, which is nothing short of amazing. Arriving at the campground, which has more cabins now than camping spots, we parked the tent at N71 06.466 E25 48.683 which is roughly 85 km higher than Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.