Author Topic: To 66°33′46.5″North (and beyond)  (Read 15308 times)

Salvatore

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Re: To 66°33′46.5″North (and beyond)
« Reply #50 on: January 22, 2017, 07:27:13 pm »
Nordkapp to Kirkenes

The End of the Road II



After Nordkapp, the next destination was Kirkenes. To get there I could retrace 130km or so to Olderfjord (including the tunnel), continue to Lachselv, then take the E6 or the E69 eastwards. Our I could take the Hurtigruten to the next peninsula along and avoid retracing.

Whichever I chose, I had to retrace to Honningsvåg. Going back seemed a lot easier. Perhaps starting at 300m and ending at sea level had something to do with it. Not long after leaving the visitor centre I came to a small car park. This was for purists who wished to walk to Knivskelodden, the nearby point which is the northernmost point of Norway if you don't count Svalbard. From his blog I found that Oriol had done this.  Here I met a French cyclist, Michel, who was also planning to hike there, having been thwarted by the fog and wind of the previous two days. He gave me the tip that the hostel at Honningsvåg was not much more expensive than the campsite, and included breakfast and use of washing machine.

The road back to Honningsvåg:









A bit further on I passed a campsite advertising itself as the world's most northerly, and then met a young German cyclist, Ole. He wanted to know if I thought the campsite had a TV, because he wanted to watch that night's Euro 16 match involving Germany.


Ole on the horizon

Just before Honningsvåg there is a long descent, but from the top there is a layby with a super view.




Traditional Sea Same houses near Honningsvåg

Honningsvåg

I reached Honningsvåg and booked into the hostel for a bargain 330kr. Ole had told me that the Rema2000 (a big supermarket chain) was open, despite it being Sunday and there being no hint of it being open on Sundays on the opening times, so I stocked up on the basis that you never ever ignore an open supermarket. I also booked a ticket for the next day's Hurtigruten ferry/cruise liner to the next port at Kjøllefjord.

In the hostel I met a New Zealander who intended to book a taxi to get back through the tunnel, and a Dutch motorcyclist who that evening gave up his hostel bed and rode up towards Nordkapp, pitching his tent on the tundra to enjoy the 24-hour sunshine. I was somewhat envious, and the following morning at breakfast he was enthusiastically showing everyone his photos.

I didn't sleep that much that night in the hostel, partly because of the bright sunshine all night, and partly because I stayed up late chatting with my German roommate. He had met a French cyclist called Jerome who had fishing tackle with him, and had caught a big fish of some sort, and distributed chunks of it to everyone he met. My roommate had a big piece which he went off to fry eventually, and was considering getting hold of a rod and line himself. In fact several of the cyclists I met had angling equipment with them, not something I myself had considered when packing.

The Hurtigruten wouldn't be leaving until the afternoon, so I had plenty of time the next morning. A little group of us sat outside the hostel in the warm sunshine, nearly all cyclists, but also including James, an Englishman, who had a bike but was just using it to get between hostels and airbnb bookings. He said he was spending a lot of time and effort finding accommodation and making bookings, and envied those of us with tents and our freedom to camp when and where we wanted.

I had a leisurely stroll round the town, very pretty in the bright sunshine, had a snack, and made my way to the quai. The Hurtigruten stays a few hours in Honningsvåg to allow cruise passengers to be ferried by coach to Nordkapp. Today the departure was further delayed by a very leisurely practice evacuation.








Some of the crew enjoying a jolly round the harbour

Hurtigruten

Once on board I made my way to the sun deck. Despite us being further north than pretty much all of Siberia and Alaska, cruise passengers were sunbathing and frolicking in the pool. A word of explanation of Hurtigruten - firstly it's a line of luxury cruise liners which go up and down the Norwegian coast between Bergen and Kirkenes, calling in at many ports in between and offering excursions. It can also be used as local transport so oiks like me can get on at one port and get off at the next.

Just as we were finally due to leave I saw a cyclist boarding, and recognised Ole, the young German I’d met on my way back from Nordkapp. It was a very relaxing couple of hours  observing how the other half spent their holidays before we reached our destination at Kjøllefjord. I don't know how it compares with other cruise liners, but it was the poshest boat I've ever been on.




Kjøllefjord

Across the Tundra.

From Kjøllefjord we took the only road out, which immediately climbed to over 300m. Soon we were crossing a vast desolate landscape of arctic tundra. Just rocks, streams, boggy grass and patches of midsummer snow. No trees, no bushes, no buildings except one house near the only junction in 110km, no animals except small herds of reindeer. The sun was still out, but there was a fierce wind from the south, and at the junction with the road to Mehamn and the cape which is actually Norway/Europe’s most northerly mainland (which we declined to visit), we turned right into the teeth of the wind. We were making very slow progress, but the views and the sense of isolation were magnificent.









Ole

Riding with Ole was very refreshing. Only 18, he was taking advantage of the time between school and university. He wanted to study medicine, or failing that marine biology. It all depended on his exam results which would be published on June 30th. Today was the 27th. He kept mentioning different things he wanted to achieve in life, always wanting to stretch himself. In Tromsø he had run a marathon. When I was 18, I did my first multi day tour, four days from Lincolnshire to Galloway. I would have considered cycling to northern Norway much as I would have thought about riding to the moon.


Ole

Being a stripling less than a third of my age, eventually he found the going too slow, excused himself and rode off into the distance.


Ole disappearing into the distance

After slogging into the wind for 35km the road dropped back to sea level to cross Hopseidet,  the isthmus which connects the northern half of the peninsula to the rest of the mainland. I was hoping to find somewhere to camp here - there had been no shelter on the high plateau. It was only when I had already begun the climb from the isthmus up towards the continuation of the plateau, that I heard someone shouting down below.

Hopseidet:





Jungle

Ole had found a perfect spot for camping. I couldn't make out what he was shouting, but he was pointing back down the road, so I turned round. As I said, perfect, with one drawback. It was only reachable by fighting through about 30 metres of low, stunted but dense jungle. I unloaded my bike and we manhandled it over the barrier. Leaving my bike we carried my bags down to where he had pitched his tent. Apart from some small twisted trees and bushes, the undergrowth came up above my knees. Underfoot but invisible were jumbled rocks - my biggest fear was stumbling and twisting or breaking an ankle.

It really was a super place to camp. The ground was covered with some sort of low springy plant, there was a river flowing into the fjord for bathing and drinking water, and there was not a breath of wind. Incidentally the water in the river wasn’t too cold for bathing despite being recently melted snow. We guessed that on the plateau it flows through a series of shallow pools which would have been warmed in the sun.



After two nights with limited sleep, I slept like a log. The following morning I got up at my normal time about 7 a.m., made good use of the river and had my morning coffee. Ole stuck his head out of his tent and said he was going to sleep longer, so I packed everything up and started lugging my tent and bags up the slope to my bike. It took two return trips through the jungle. I hadn’t realised the previous evening that the jungle was home to evil biting insects. With both hands full I was unable to brush them off my bare legs, and by the time I’d got everything back to the road and on my bike, my lower legs were covered in blood. But my ankles weren’t broken.


The road was opened in 1989

The climb took me back up over 300m to the plateau and an identical landscape to the previous evening. (BTW I see that I’m in the top 10 for the strava segment on this climb - 5th out of 5 at 6.2km/h.) And there was an identical headwind, made worse by the road being on an embankment, presumably so that snow pushed off the road doesn't pile up at the side but falls down the embankment. Next to the lake Reinoksvannan was a shelter, cunningly constructed so you could find shelter from the wind whichever way it was blowing. Just to show how remote this was, there was no mobile phone signal here (only the second time for me in Norway).


Strava segment “RV888 16 climb”



After 35 km the road dropped back down to sea level at Bekkarfjord, and the first human habitation I’d seen that day. In winter you can only use the road to Kjøllefjord by travelling in convoy, and Bekkarfjord is the place where vehicles assemble to form convoys which depart according to the published timetable.




Convoy times



Supermarket!  and Cafe!

Another 20 km round the coast and I came to Lebesby, a fishing village with a church, a population of 85, and a small supermarket and a cafe. After stocking up I was stowing my purchases when Ole turned up. We went into the cafe and were the only customers. There were no staff, just a pot of coffee and some mugs, so I helped myself and left the money on the counter.

Often I pass through a remote place and wonder what life is like there. Here is an article on some of the problems facing Lebesby. The Changes in an Indigenous Society

After about an hour we set off again, and reached the junction at Ifjord and turned east on route 98 before Ole shot off again. The road crosses the base of Nordkinn peninsula and rises to over 350m (another strava top 10 - 7/7 on the strava segment at 6.2km/h). Another very bleak road, but without the sunshine.




Reindeer herding pens

George

On this stretch of road I met George from Romania and swapped camping info. He had ridden from Romania via Ukraine, Poland and Finland, and was heading for Nordkapp. I rooted around in the dustiest corners of my memory of my 2005 trip to Romania and wished him “Drum bun” (Romanian for “bon voyage”) before we continued our journeys.


George

Before the road dropped all the way back to sea level I pulled off the road and put up my tent among some stunted birches. Mosquitoes taking full advantage of the short summer were soon all over me, so I put up my tent as quickly as possible, dived inside and zipped it up. The only time I timed myself putting up my tent it was just over 3½ minutes - I'm sure this time was quicker. Once inside I examined my lower legs. The skin had a yellowish bruised look and my ankles were swollen - no doubt the work of the evil biting flies in the jungle at Hopseidet.


At about the limit of where trees can grow. Only birches have a hope.

At Lebesby they’d told us that the next supermarket was at Tana Bru, and that was still another 60km. I rode for a time with Ole. He had stopped further on than I had but had slept longer. After some ups and downs it was nice to follow the road south next to the broad River Tana. The low sheltered valley was forested, which made a change after the last few days. Tana Bru did indeed have a supermarket, so I stocked up and snacked before carrying on. The sun came out for an hour or so in the evening before I stopped once again amongst  mosquito-infested birches. My ankles had swelled up again during the day, but were no worse than the previous evening.

Next day would take me to within a short distance of Kirkenes and I’d earmarked a campsite about 10km from the town. Again Ole came up behind me but unusually didn't want to talk, but zoomed off after up the road after only the briefest of greetings. I remembered this was the 30th, the day he was due to get his exam results.

Ilya

At a picnic table I met cyclist Ilya from St Petersburg who had arrived that morning from Murmansk by bus. He’d had no difficulty at the border getting into Norway, nor had the rest of the passengers, but the one person whose papers were not in order was the bus driver.  He was tickled at the sight of tourists taking photos of the border post. He was going first to Inari in Finland then north to Nordkapp.


Ilya

At Neiden is the junction with the road to Finland. I’d need to come this way later. I didn't stop at the cafe but noted it for future reference. The day had started rainy but turned into a scorcher. According to Mrs Campsite it was 23°. That counts as a scorcher in these parts.

I checked in to the campsite and was lying in my tent resting when I heard shouting outside. “John! John!” It was a delighted Ole. He'd been into Kirkenes and read the email which told him he’d got the grades to study medicine. That evening he celebrated in the campsite kitchen/dining room with a huge meal of pasta, onion, fish paste and goodness knows what else he had found in Kirkenes.

Kirkenes

The following day I went to Kirkenes and had a look round. I went to the Hurtigruten quai, which is the very end of the E6. I also went to the tourist office, and realised that by far the biggest tourist attraction is the Russian border. There are bus trips, guided quadbike trips and boat trips to catch king crabs (which take you to within metres of the actual border). Many signs, especially on shops, are both in Norwegian and Russian, and many of the vehicles are Russian (mostly with Murmansk registrations).




Kirkenes is a long way from anywhere


The end of the E6, and the last port on the Hurtigruten route

From Kirkenes I carried on east about 10 km to the Russian border.


The Russian border. The “No pedestrians” sign was significant in the winter of 2015/16, but didn’t stop Syrian refugees without motorised transport.
Arctic route to Europe



This really was the end of the first part of my trip. I’d gone as far as I could, from now on I’d be on my way home.

Next: Finland (and a little bit of Sweden)







Quote
et avec John, excellent lecteur de road-book, on s'en est sortis sans erreur

mmmmartin

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Re: To 66°33′46.5″North (and beyond)
« Reply #51 on: January 22, 2017, 08:18:02 pm »
Great to see how well you are doing on Strava John.
Besides, it wouldn't be audacious if success were guaranteed.

Salvatore

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Re: To 66°33′46.5″North (and beyond)
« Reply #52 on: January 22, 2017, 09:40:35 pm »
Great to see how well you are doing on Strava John.
I suppose that in the interests of balance I ought to point out who is at the top of the Veloviewer explorer(tiles) worldwide leaderboard , both for 2016 (ahead of a certain Kajsa T) and all time. But modesty forbids.
Quote
et avec John, excellent lecteur de road-book, on s'en est sortis sans erreur

Re: To 66°33′46.5″North (and beyond)
« Reply #53 on: January 24, 2017, 09:33:32 pm »
I'm well away from the end, but loving this. With added interest as I learnt to ski at Valdres (near Fagernes, back on page 1).

Salvatore

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Re: To 66°33′46.5″North (and beyond)
« Reply #54 on: February 02, 2017, 12:11:30 am »
Finland

(but first the last bit of Norway)




That's Russia over there, that is.

From the Russian border I rode back to the campsite, and spent an entertaining evening with the assembled international melange in the campsite’s kitchen/dining room/common room. They included the obligatory Dutch couple (if there are no Dutch on a campsite, there's something wrong) and Luca a motorcyclist from Milan.





The next day I retraced to Neiden, and spent much of my remaining Norwegian krona on a cup of coffee and a piece of cake. That left enough for another piece of cake and a 1 kr tip.



There was a salmon fishing competition at Neiden with crowds of spectators on the bridge. Perhaps not crowds, but probably a large percentage of the population of Neiden.





Narvik is quite far north in Norway, but this sign reminded me how remote Kirkenes is from the rest of Norway. FACT: Kirkenes is further east than Istanbul.



After 43 days in Norway I was about to leave by very much the back door.

Finland



First of all, I'll declare that I have a soft spot for Finland and the Finns. This was the third time I've cycled there, and I hope it isn't the last. It’s a land of big forests, thousands of lakes (78% forest and 10% lake according to Wikipedia, and I’m not going to argue).

There are big distances between towns, especially in the north. From time to time while pedaling day after day along the same road through the same forest into the same headwind I have wondered if it's not so much Finland which I like, but the idea of Finland. I get excited by the thought that if I went eastwards, ignoring inconveniences such as oceans and borders, I could travel round the world in the same forest and end up back where I started. The taiga, as it is called, really is vast. The only similar sense of scale I’ve experienced was on a walking holiday in the western end of the Sahara and wondering how long it would take to walk to Cairo.

Anyway, Finland. I’ll spare you a day-by-day account and describe the more memorable towns which punctuated my ride, and anything else occurs to me. Between the towns was invariably very little but long roads. And trees. Lots of trees. So this account will probably give a false impression - the towns were brief punctuations on a 1000+ km forest ride.

While cycling through Lapland, the top layers of  Maslow's hierarchy of needs are stripped away and thoughts of food and water (where are the shops?) and shelter (where can I camp?) dominate daily life on the road, but I'll try to restrict my ramblings about supermarkets and campsites, wild or otherwise.

So here's a vaguely chronological account, punctuated by towns.



First stop was just off the road, at the top of a slope leading down to the river. A bit early, but too nice a spot to ignore.

Some pictures of roads in Finnish Lapland








See below


Inari


When traveling from the Norwegian border in the extreme north, Inari, after 150 km, is the first place you come to which could be called a town, although there is a small settlement with 2 shops near the border.  Inari has a couple of supermarkets, a cafe or two, and a Neste petrol station with a restaurant offering reindeer pizza, which I’ve now had on both my visits.




No camping here ...


… or here in the myr (bog)

In Inari there's also a campsite where I stayed in 2014 and  saw a magnificent non-sunset across a lake which lasted several hours before the sun started to rise again. But this time I pressed on to a wild camp I had noted in 2014, but hadn't used then because it was mid-morning. It was a bit further down the road to Pokka than I remembered, but it was worth it. Equal best wild camp ever.



Pokka

I don't think anyone would call Pokka - population about 50 (a guess) - a town. There is no village street, just a few scattered houses. But it is the biggest settlement in the 195km between Inari and Kittilä, so it seems like an important milestone. There's no shop, but there is a cafe which serves coffee and a small selection of cakes. Pokka’s main claim to fame is that in 1999 the lowest ever temperature in Finland was recorded there.



I'd forgotten that the tarmac runs out just after Pokka, and I was toying with going to Kittilä via the ski resort Levi, but the decision was taken out of my hands. We all know that to a ‘road closed’ sign can be added ‘but try your luck with a bike’, but i knew that ‘silta’ means bridge, so ‘sillankorjaustyön’ was probably bridge repairs. Trying my luck might mean fording a river or retracing 21 stony kilometres, so I followed my 2014 route.







Kittilä
Kittilä  is a proper town. With a big main street, supermarkets, pharmacies, cafes, and a campsite, it's the administrative centre for the huge Kittilä municipality (sort of equivalent to county). Like everywhere else I've been in Finland, if it's big enough for one supermarket, it's big enough for two. And those two will probably be an S-Market and a K-Market, probably on either side of the road. And almost indistinguishable. Their logos are similar, and so are their prices and merchandise. It's not like having a Waitrose and a Lidl, it's more like having two Tescos. I arrived early in Kittilä with the intention of doing some laundry and bike maintenance, but there was an almighty thunderstorm which went on and on and on, so my clothes stayed dirty and my bike stayed unfettled, as I sat in my tent and read.

Next day I set off towards the Swedish border. In mid morning I came to a wooden house with the picture of a coffee cup outside, and an “Auki" (open) sign. I was sure that I hadn't been this way two years ago, and yet it looked familiar. The owner interrupted her handiwork to serve me, it also being a craft shop, and that convinced me it was my second visit there (later confirmed by checking the visitors’ book). I can only think that I approached the village from a different direction.



Pajala

Pajala isn't in Finland, it's in Sweden (just) and I went there because it's the setting for Mikael Niemi's semi-autobiographical comic novel Popular Music from Vittula .  It's about a boy growing up in this thinly-disguised town north of the arctic circle, and the characters he encounters, both among his family and the townsfolk. The town portrayed doesn't match most people's idea of Sweden. Most of the people speak a form of Finnish rather than Swedish, the main industry is forestry and that's been mechanised so unemployment is high, and the repressive Laestadian form of Lutheranism had a big influence. It’s the back of beyond, ignored by Stockholm, and southern Sweden might as well be another country.  The town has cashed in on the fame and notoriety resulting from the book (and the film of the book) - there are signs pointing to places which are the scenes for various episodes in the book.

I spent the early evening sitting in the sunshine in the town's main square watching the world go by, and wondering how much the childhood portrayed by the book is still typical for the town.

Rovaniemi (south of 66º33'46.5"N)

Further south (a tittle too south) and bigger. It sells itself heavily on its position in the North. It is, according to its tourist office, the “official" home town of Santa Claus, the best place to see the northern lights and it has its big new Arcticum museum. It is a much bigger town than other towns further north. It is, however, south of the arctic circle, and there's barely a mention of it. I get the feeling that it secretly wishes it was 10 km further north. Other places, such as Jokkmokk and Juoksengi in Sweden have areas with lines on the ground and flags of all nations the circle passes through, and you can buy a certificate to say you've crossed the circle. But Rovaniemi is a few kilometres south of the line, and there's nothing to mark it when you’re crossing. Due to the wobble in the earth’s axis, the arctic circle is not fixed, so one day Rovaniemi will be north of the arctic circle, but it won't be soon because currently the line is moving 15m a year in the wrong direction.

So after 26 days I was now once again south of the arctic circle, back in the weird part of the earth where the sun sets every single day of the year. It was still more or less light all night, but soon I would have to get used to darkness.

Rovaniemi to Helsinki

South of Rovaniemi there was a bigger choice of routes, and I tended to use smaller roads, which usually took me through smaller towns (which nevertheless all had the regulation two supermarkets - I made it my business to check). I was now making for Helsinki.


South of Rovaniemi I met Eero, who had been on a tour of Ireland and was cycling home.


Memorial to a battle in the Lapland War of 1944–1945, when Finland fought against the retreating German forces in northern Finland.





At a farm which specialised in highland cattle, coffee was being served, and lettu (pancakes) with homemade mansikka (strawberry) and/or karpalo (cranberry) jams.







I stopped for coffee in Leppävirta and saw from the What's On brochure that I'd missed the Boot Throwing World Championships, held there the previous month.

The rights which allow you to camp anywhere within reason also allow you to pick flowers and swim in lakes, but this lake had its own facilities (including changing cabin).



Laavu

About 2 days from Helsinki I slept in a laavu. These are provided for outdoorsy people to sleep in, especially hikers and canoeists, so are not often near roads. This one required a trek along a forest path, but I had exclusive use. This one provided:
  • A shelter for sleeping
  • Firewood
  • Cooking facilities (using firewood)
  • A toilet
  • Lake swimming
  • A solar panel and a range of cables for phone and gadget charging (it didn’t work)














Yes, I did have an early-morning dip.

A the campsite in Juankoski I met Cezary, a forester from Poland. Something of a busman’s holiday for him, I guess.




A war cemetery


I’ve nothing against bilingual signage, but which is which?


In the south there are some Swedish-speaking areas, reflected in the placenames. For someone like me brought up in Lincolnshire, seeing  village names ending -by makes me feel almost home.

Helsinki

I thought I'd have a rest day and do some touristy things, so I booked for two nights at the big campsite in the suburbs of Helsinki. Next day I bought a €8 go-where-you-please ticket and took the metro to the centre. I strolled round a bit, went round the national museum and visited a big outdoor market, but wasn’t used to walking and my legs fancied a rest. So I got on the next tram I saw and spent a relaxing hour touring round the inner suburbs of Helsinki before the tram deposited me back where I’d started.















And with that, the Finnish leg of my jaunt was just about over.

Next: Estonia.




Quote
et avec John, excellent lecteur de road-book, on s'en est sortis sans erreur

mmmmartin

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Re: To 66°33′46.5″North (and beyond)
« Reply #55 on: February 02, 2017, 09:45:10 am »
Ah. Great read. Looking forward to reading about Estonia as for some time I've fancied going there, probably on a weekend trip.
Thanks for all this John.
Besides, it wouldn't be audacious if success were guaranteed.

Re: To 66°33′46.5″North (and beyond)
« Reply #56 on: February 03, 2017, 07:43:47 am »
Thanks indeed - I love this tread.  :thumbsup:

Re: To 66°33′46.5″North (and beyond)
« Reply #57 on: February 03, 2017, 09:45:07 am »
I like the idea of the ad-hoc multinational network of odd (I use the word advisedly) cyclists, doing their own things across the vast northern lands but regularly encountering each other and sharing plans, travel advice, life stories, updates on others, before possibly riding together awhile or carrying on with their own journeys. What's missing is a secret system of symbols to indicate, for example, 'good wild camping spot 40km north of here', 'you might get a free coffee here', 'at all costs avoid the mad Englishman on the ridiculously overloaded bike'.

mmmmartin

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Re: To 66°33′46.5″North (and beyond)
« Reply #58 on: February 03, 2017, 10:00:54 am »
But Nuncio, all those points could be made about every single kilometre of road in the Scandi-wegian areas. Esp your last phrase.....
Besides, it wouldn't be audacious if success were guaranteed.

Salvatore

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Re: To 66°33′46.5″North (and beyond)
« Reply #59 on: February 03, 2017, 11:01:28 am »
So Martin, what symbols do you suggest for

'at all costs avoid the mad Englishman* on the ridiculously overloaded bike. *the one without the ridiculous sandals/socks combo'
and
'at all costs avoid the mad Englishman* on the ridiculously overloaded bike. *the one with the ridiculous sandals/socks combo'

?

BTW I'm still in contact with several of the cyclists I met.

Some hadn't met each other when I met them  but had when I met them the second time. (i.e. I met A then B, but A didn't know B. By the time I met A the second time, A had met B).  A simple Venn diagram wouldn't suffice. It would have to be animated.
Quote
et avec John, excellent lecteur de road-book, on s'en est sortis sans erreur

mmmmartin

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Re: To 66°33′46.5″North (and beyond)
« Reply #60 on: February 03, 2017, 11:12:03 am »
Hmm, that's a tricky one. How about a sign with a union flag at the top and a bicycle underneath, and a black cross superimposed over both? After all, you wouldn't need to distinguish between those with or without socks/sandals because surely ALL Brits on bikes wear them?
Besides, it wouldn't be audacious if success were guaranteed.

Salvatore

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Re: To 66°33′46.5″North (and beyond)
« Reply #61 on: February 15, 2017, 04:22:12 pm »
Estonia

Where next? And after that?

Now I’d reached Helsinki, I had to decide where to go next. As I saw it my options boiled down to 3,
  • A ferry to Travemünde in N Germany and ride home from there.
  • A Ferry to Tallinn them home via the Baltic States and Poland.
  • Explore SW Finland, ride to Turku then ferry to Stockholm, then what?.
After due consideration I realised that all three implied rather more planning ahead than I like, and after all I’d done the first two before (and the third in reverse) so I came up with a fourth, which better suited my philosophy of aimless drifting.
  • Ferry to Tallinn and see what happens.

So that's what I did.



There's a choice of ferries for the trip across the Baltic to Tallinn, and it's about 2½ the distance of Dover-Calais. In 2014 I’d paid € 57 to cross on what was more or less a big speedboat, but  this time I thought I’d save money and take a big slow car ferry. It was packed, there was hardly anywhere to sit down, it takes nearly twice as long and it still cost me €44. I wish I’d splashed out for a speedboat trip.


How I crossed the Baltic in 2014

The Baltic. I had heard of the Baltic long before I had any idea of where it was. My grandfather used to tell his grandchildren tales of his childhood, which included the tales told to him by his grandfather. One in particular was that he (my GG grandfather Thomas Wilkin) had been taken to sea as a boy by his father (my 5' 3½" dark-complexioned brown-haired blue-eyed literate seafaring GGG grandfather John Wilkin). Young Thomas evidently didn't take to life at sea, and matters came to a head when he disobeyed his father and was thrown overboard into the Baltic. The moral of the story, I was told, was that I shouldn't disobey my father lest I be thrown into the Baltic. Thomas went on to spend his working life on dry land as a blacksmith.


John Wilkin’s 1844 merchant seaman registration.

I did as I was told and reached Tallinn without getting wet.



Tallinn looks like a lovely city for a visit, but the old city isn't ideal for cycling round  (cobbles and crammed with tourists), and the campsite in Tallinn is by all accounts an expensive and noisy dump, so I headed west along the coast, aiming for the RMK campsite at Leetse near Paldiski.

RMK campsite

In 2014 I'd stumbled across this campsite almost by accident, after failing to find anything in 50km or so and then following a rough stony track for ages. It’s right next to the sea, has firewood, toilets, picnic table and firepits, and costs nothing. Just turn up and pitch your tent.







The peninsula was until 1994 a nuclear submarine training base.

This is one of a network of basic campsites run by RMK, the Estonian Forestry Authority. Wild camping is not allowed in Estonia, so these sites are the next best thing. Details can be found in English on the RMK website. And there's an app.

Paldiski

The following morning I looked round Paldiski and the rest of the peninsula.

It may be 26 years since Estonia split from the Soviet Union, but there are still plenty of reminders of those days. This is especially the case once you leave Tallinn, and even more so in and near Paldiski. From 1962 until 1994 Paldiski was a Soviet Navy nuclear submarine training centre, and the town was closed off with barbed wire. The town has been spruced up a bit since the Russians left, but you can still find derelict buildings without having to look too hard.











Out of town towards the end of the peninsula are further examples of military buildings.





The cliffs at the end of the peninsula feature a dangerous overhang. The danger didn’t seem to worry some fellow sightseers









The port has been developed, and most freight seems to be imported Mercedes which are then transported by road to Russia. I saw several Russian car transporters loaded with shrinkwrapped Mercedes at the port, and a huge compound outside the town filled with brand new cars.

There is a ferry service from Paldiski to Sweden, but I wanted to spend more time in Estonia and headed inland. Since I’d decided not to repeat the Baltic States route, it meant getting a ferry from Tallinn once I'd had my fill of Estonia.

Enno and Eva

I ended up at an RMK site in a small clearing near Keila. I had done shopping in Keila with a view to making use of the fire pit there, albeit with a disappointing lack of imagination - toast bread, butter and sardines. I was joined by Enno and Eva, who had left their 2 small sons with friends and were on a 3-day hike between RMK sites. They had bigger culinary ambitions and a bigger pan. I improvised a toasting fork from some bamboo kebab skewers and we sat round the campfire putting the world to rights. Enno confirmed something I had suspected 2 years earlier - there had been an economic boom in Estonia, but the wealth is concentrated in Tallinn, and the countryside, especially the south, is being depopulated as young people leave for study or work in the big city. I remember in 2014 riding on a Sunday evening through Lihula, a small town in the west of the country. There were long queues of mostly young people waiting for buses. I assume they had come home to visit for the weekend and were returning to Tallinn for work. One word of Estonian which I could still recall was müüa - ‘for sale’, I had seen it so often on boards outside houses in small country towns. Everyone selling, no-one buying.

RMK campsite near Keila:








RMK long distance footpath

Cheap as Chips

Next day was an easy day heading vaguely east. Estonia is pretty flat, and without a specific goal, it was rather an aimless day. I stopped at a small supermarket and bought some provisions - 750g apples, an ice cream, a big tub of yogurt and a chocolate bar. Total: €2.86. A fraction of what it would have cost me in the previous couple of months.


Village shops don’t do a great deal to advertise their presence


No picnic is complete without some smut.

I stopped at another RMK site just off the road. This one was not as well maintained as the others. There was no firewood, and the grass hadn't been cut. There was barely room for me to pitch my tent. Still, I got a good night’s sleep and it didn't cost me anything.


Swords into ploughshares, and ploughshares into roadside benches


Warren safety?


A balti spoon is handy if your curry is too runny.




Traditional wooden house. Variations of such houses occur all round the baltic.

Koen

Next day I intended to make for an RMK site on the coast about 50 km east of Tallinn. Lack of direct roads meant I had to take something of a roundabout route, but I wanted to keep to tarmac.

 I got there in the afternoon, and started following the stony track to the sea. Soon I spotted a loaded cyclist coming from the camp. A bit odd to be coming from the camp so late in the day. As we approached each other to our great surprise we recognised each other. It was Koen from Antwerp. We had last seen each other when I was leaving Tromsø, several weeks and a few thousand kilometres ago. He warned me that the camp wasn’t any good. According to his blog
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Two big groups of Estonians were playing volleyball, car stereos at maximum volume, beer all around. Further down a group of Hells Angels was making loud noises with their Harley Davidsons, a group of girls was sitting in front of a tent smoking water pipes (idiots), a family with dogs on the beach....


Koen

We must have have spent about an hour catching up. I told him about riding with Ole; he had met up with Joke in Tromsø and they'd ridden together for a day; we worked out that Koen had been a day behind me on Nordkinn peninsula where he met George from Romania; Koen was going to ride home to Belgium then head off to Spain. He also tipped me off about a hostel on the coast in the direction. I was going towards Tallinn, he was going east, so we went our separate ways to look for somewhere to sleep.

The hostel was friendly and I got a comfy room for €27. That meant my accommodation budget for Estonia had been blown by €27. The lawn led right down to the Baltic, and I fancied a swim before sunset (following the family tradition), but the water near the shore was covered in scum, and when I found a scum-free bit the water was no more than a foot deep so a paddle had to suffice.


Baltic scum

Next day was a shortish day to Tallinn. From seeing placenames on signposts I had noticed some obvious lexical similarities between Finnish and its Finno-Uralic cousin Estonian. Lake in Finnish is järvi, in Estonian it is järv; likewise river is joki/jõgi. While pondering these particular similarities I wondered if, with Estonia being so flat, they actually had a word for waterfall.

It happened that my question was answered within 5 minutes.







Tallinn

On the outskirts of Tallinn I came across a road race in progress.



I stocked up on the road into Tallinn



I booked my ticket on that evening's overnight ferry to Stockholm and waited in the sunshine. Also waiting were three Swedish cycle couriers who had been on a tour through Poland and the Baltic states. One of them said he'd met an Englishman called Stuart while touring in New Zealand several years ago. I immediately thought of this thread. Subsequent descriptions of this Englishman and his antics convinced me that it was indeed Stuart Lee, aka tuggo formerly otp.

So I left cheap as chips Estonia to go to Sweden. I think I may be back sometime.

¹²
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et avec John, excellent lecteur de road-book, on s'en est sortis sans erreur

Salvatore

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Re: To 66°33′46.5″North (and beyond)
« Reply #62 on: November 30, 2017, 05:14:57 pm »
Lofoten Islands (and beyond)
 But they don't convey everything. You'll just have to imagine the smell of rotting fish.



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cold-adapted bacteria matures the fish, similar to the maturing process of cheese
I think that conveys the potential smell. I can't imagine much worse!


I learnt this week from a BBC radio documentary available on iPlayer that most of the stockfish produced on the Lofotens is exported to (you'd never guess)
(click to show/hide)
. One of the exporters asked if she minded the smell. "No. To me it smells of money."

[BTW I still intend to finish this - Only Sweden, Germany, Low countries & France to go.]
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et avec John, excellent lecteur de road-book, on s'en est sortis sans erreur

Re: To 66°33′46.5″North (and beyond)
« Reply #63 on: November 30, 2017, 09:19:50 pm »
There's a report on a Cycling UK trip around the Lofotens in the latest Cycling magazine.

mmmmartin

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Re: To 66°33′46.5″North (and beyond)
« Reply #64 on: November 30, 2017, 10:44:45 pm »
Norway is great cycling, esp the coastal road with all its ferries. I had seven weeks there last year, up to Nord Kapp. No language problems, great tarmac. Beware of the "allemans rett" rule - you are allowed to camp anywhere at all (everyman's right) that is 100 metres from a house, uncultivated land and for one night. But I hardly ever found anywhere flat enough to put a tent on.

oh- you'll need waterproofs. I was there for seven weeks and for the first five weeks its rained everyday except for three.
Besides, it wouldn't be audacious if success were guaranteed.

Salvatore

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Re: To 66°33′46.5″North (and beyond)
« Reply #65 on: December 01, 2017, 02:25:22 pm »
Norway is great cycling, esp the coastal road with all its ferries. I had seven weeks there last year, up to Nord Kapp. No language problems, great tarmac. Beware of the "allemans rett" rule - you are allowed to camp anywhere at all (everyman's right) that is 100 metres from a house, uncultivated land and for one night. But I hardly ever found anywhere flat enough to put a tent on.
I always found somewhere eventually. Just keep riding and something will turn up before it gets dark.
oh- you'll need waterproofs. I was there for seven weeks and for the first five weeks its rained everyday except for three.
In 43 days in Norway I had two rainy days and one when it was a bit drizzly. It's all a matter of timing.
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et avec John, excellent lecteur de road-book, on s'en est sortis sans erreur

mmmmartin

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Re: To 66°33′46.5″North (and beyond)
« Reply #66 on: December 01, 2017, 03:28:13 pm »
In 43 days in Norway I had two rainy days and one when it was a bit drizzly. It's all a matter of timing.
Good point. And although it rained, it wasn't cold. Wore shorts all the time. Only chilly near Nord Kapp. My next trip is three weeks Seville-Santiago, a week with the FNRttC in northern France in July, and possibly two weeks Narvik-Lulea that will be a recce for a winter arctic circle crossing of Scandinavia. Keep being drawn back to Norway. Great cycling. Wild camping good also I do like the campsites with their heated kitchens to get out of the weather.
Besides, it wouldn't be audacious if success were guaranteed.

Re: To 66°33′46.5″North (and beyond)
« Reply #67 on: December 02, 2017, 02:09:23 pm »
Well been laid up with a cold all week and only been out of the house twice but just spent a very enjoyable few hours reading your trip report from start to finish and what a great read it is as well. Thanks very much for posting.

Salvatore

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Re: To 66°33′46.5″North (and beyond)
« Reply #68 on: December 02, 2017, 02:11:24 pm »
Well been laid up with a cold all week and only been out of the house twice but just spent a very enjoyable few hours reading your trip report from start to finish and what a great read it is as well. Thanks very much for posting.

Thank you. Not quite finished, I'm just polishing the Swedish bit.
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et avec John, excellent lecteur de road-book, on s'en est sortis sans erreur

Salvatore

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Re: To 66°33′46.5″North (and beyond)
« Reply #69 on: December 02, 2017, 02:48:03 pm »



By now there was very much a feeling of being on the the way home. My vague plan was to ride from Stockholm to the south coast where I could get a ferry to Germany, then use  familiar roads to northern France, and then a ferry back to Blighty. But I wasn't in any hurry, and I'd allow myself to be drawn down any detours I fancied.

New Friends
While waiting for the ferry in Tallinn, I’d met three Swedes who were cycle-messengers in Stockholm who had just done a 2-week tour through Poland and the Baltic states. Before we docked in Stockholm I had breakfast with my new courier friends. They recounted tales of bizarre consignments, nightmare journeys and eccentric customers. But they were agreed that theirs was a model employer. We also established that Johannes had encountered Stuart Lee (formery tuggo in these parts) on a tour of New Zealand many years ago. For their Baltic tour, their boss had paid for their ferry tickets to Poland and back from Estonia, all on condition that they post on n the company's Instagram account once a day.


My chums about to disembark, looking uncharacteristically glum.


Company HQ coffee bar


Essential cycle-camping equipment

Although I'd been to that ferry terminal in Stockholm before, that was going the other way to Finland three years previously with Els. All I knew was that I'd have to go through the centre of Stockholm to continue on the direction I wanted. I started off following my new friends, when Johannes dropped back and said if I went with them to their office, they'd give me a “little souvenir”. It wasn't far, and they were greeted with high fives by their colleagues in their gleaming office. Then Erik disappeared into what turned out to be a stock cupboard, asking “What size are you? Try this”, and tossed me a brand new short-sleeve full-zip red jersey with the company name and logo across the front.  It fitted perfectly. Then “Red or black?”  and before I could answer,  “have both” and a black jersey flew out of the cupboard, followed by a pair of touring shorts.

Commercial break
I realise that blatantl advertising is frowned on here, but I feel honour-bound to point out that Ryska Posten are the people to go to for all your delivery needs in Stockholm, Sweden or worldwide.
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Do you need to send a laptop from Söder to Östermalm? An agreement to New York? Nothing is impossible. The easiest way to get something from A to B is to use Russian Post whether it's by bike, car or worldwide. You may not need to send anything, but feel for a spontaneous change in the office or have to clean up after yesterday's staff party? Lucky we also have our doers who are always ready and can help you with everything and then we really mean everything. We simply do our utmost to deliver the best service of the city, no matter when you call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year

Guided Tour
The trio had only called in to their office to see their chums (and raid the stock cupboard on my behalf) before going home, so we left the office and I got a guided tour through central Stockholm on a beautifully sunny morning, with first Johannes then [insert name here - I can’t remember his name] peeling off before Erich took his leave of me and pointed me in the right direction.

I started off on a cyclepath next to a what looked like a major dual carriageway, but it wasn't long before I turned off onto smaller roads and tracks. Even though I was on my way home, I was in no hurry, so just took whichever road took my fancy, as long as it was more or less in the right direction.


On the outskirts of Stockholm.








First tunnel since Norway


I’m all for a bit of encouragement, but I was going as farst as I could.

Camping
The rest of my trip through Sweden was largely uneventful. I stayed in a couple of forgettable and overpiced commercial campsites, some wonderful wild sites and one uncared-for and overgrown laavu. Some of the best wild camps were in openings in the forest where glacial action 10,000 years ago had ground away any lumps in the bedrock and left a smooth surface where only moss and lichen could grow. Before I had left home I made sure I got my hands on a tent which would stand up on a hard surface without tent pegs. On my last wild camp I was woken by the sound of a hooved animal running past. I pushed my head out of the tent to see an elk disappearing into the forest.






Improvised tent peg






I don’t know the Swedish, but in Finnish this is a laavu

Postman’s knock
My new jerseys caused some comment. One village shopkeeper told me that Ryska Posten was not only a courier company, but also the name of a children’s game. She didn't elaborate on the rules. Nor did an elderly gent I met on a cyclepath a couple of days later. By the use of Swedish Wikipedia and google translate I have since found out that it is a version of “postman's knock”.

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The boys or girls enter a room at a point and choose a "pointer". The first one in the sex chooses either handles, famts, claws or kisses. If, for example, the first-sex person chooses famntag, the pointer points to a person and asks "do you choose him / him?", Then the person can choose yes or, in this example, no. The pointer points to a new person, and if the first person in the queue says "yes" then these two people must be hugged.

Sandal repair
In Sweden my other sandal gave up the ghost, which arguably meant my footwear wasn’t odd any more.


Which is the fairest of them all?
I had to make an emergency detour to Sjöbo to replace my rear tyre. I’d found a nice bench in the town centre as a handy fettling shelf, and was putting everything back together when I was accosted by a woman returning home with her shopping. She asked all the familiar questions, and when I reeled off the countries I'd been through, she asked me which was the most beautiful “Sweden, it's Sweden, isn’t it? Go on, Sweden, it must be Sweden. Sweden’s the prettiest, isn't it? Must be Sweden. Say Sweden.” I thought long and hard (with my best 'thinking hard' face)  then answered “Norway”. “Ah, I knew you'd say that” she said with an air or resignation.

Some random photos from my week or so in Sweden:






Dry-stone walls





I was making for Trelleborg in the deep South West. I arrived there on a dull afternoon, made my way to the ferry terminal and asked about a ticket for that night's crossing. The only ones left were shockingly expensive outside cabins with windows, but (a) the shock was mostly but not wholly because the price was quoted in krona and (b) I didn't want to hang around for another day, so I stumped up for the most expensive ferry ticket I've ever bought.

There was some time before the ferry left, so I took a went back into the town. I managed to coincide with a torrential downpour (which flooded parts of the town), so I speedily took refuge in a handy pizzeria and waited out the storm there.


After the downpour


The most expensive ferry ticket ever, but my cabin’s window gave me a nice view of the sunset.

As it happens, Trelleborg (specifically the ferry terminal) is the southern end of the E6, the Scandinavian superhighway which goes through Sweden and Norway all the way to the Hurtigruten ferry terminal in Kirkenes in the far north of Norway near the Russian border, where I'd been several weeks previously.

I can’t remember anything of the crossing - I must have slept like a log. Next morning I was in Germany.



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et avec John, excellent lecteur de road-book, on s'en est sortis sans erreur

Salvatore

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Re: To 66°33′46.5″North (and beyond)
« Reply #70 on: January 08, 2018, 01:52:55 pm »
It looks as if the organisers of the 2018 Arctic Tour of Norway have been reading this thread. Apart from the excursion to and from Hammerfest and the first bit of the stage from Vadsø, they are the roads I rode, and the ferry I took.



mmmmmmmmmmmmmartin will be relieved that my top-10 strava placings on the segments on the stretch from Kjøllefjord to Tana are safe, the race goes in the opposite direction.
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et avec John, excellent lecteur de road-book, on s'en est sortis sans erreur

mmmmartin

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Re: To 66°33′46.5″North (and beyond)
« Reply #71 on: January 08, 2018, 02:11:15 pm »
An interesting route, I see them be going through the long tunnel, which was blooming cold when I did it, and they're avoiding that tundra road by heading south from Hammerfest.
Good publicity for the area, should be some good times as well because those roads, like everywhere in the Arctic, have no real hills and the condition of the tarmac, as everywhere in Norway, is uniformly excellent.
My abiding memory of riding south from Hammerfest was waving my arms to get those herds of reindeer out of the way. That might provide some photo opportunities....
Besides, it wouldn't be audacious if success were guaranteed.

Re: To 66°33′46.5″North (and beyond)
« Reply #72 on: January 08, 2019, 08:49:13 pm »
I always knew there was a lot on this forum I didn't read, but, to my shame, I never realized there was this much I hadn't come across!!

What a fantastic trip John....great write-up and beautiful photos...I had no idea you were out there!

Chapeau my good man, you're a true hard man of the road :-)
Garry Broad

Salvatore

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Re: To 66°33′46.5″North (and beyond)
« Reply #73 on: January 09, 2019, 11:26:14 am »
Bugger. I was alerted to your post and then spent the rest of the evening re-reading the thread. And watching the Kjøllefjord web cam (you can control where the camera is pointing, and it looks fairly light this morning even though sunrise isn't until 22nd January).  Now I'm pining for the fjords. And the tundra.

And it's reminded me that I really should get around to writing up my 2018 trip. Here's a taster


Koen, by the way, hasn't stopped cycling. He spent several months last year riding north from Tierra del Fuego. The latest news is that he's planning to spend some months in Australia. His blog.
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et avec John, excellent lecteur de road-book, on s'en est sortis sans erreur

Cudzoziemiec

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Re: To 66°33′46.5″North (and beyond)
« Reply #74 on: January 10, 2019, 11:42:43 am »
...as I’d ridden only about 20km that day and the sun was shining, and it wouldn't get dark for several weeks,
I've been belatedly catching up on these reports. It's all very well written and gorgeously illustrated, but this phrase in particular made me laugh.
sideways bounding monkey lounging under fruit tree