Passing six roller bladers

Passing six roller bladers with ski sticks pumping their way along the gloomy two mile long tunnel, no lights, take their lives in their hands. Practice for winter.

Plump fox crosses the single lane road further on. Not the scrawny London foxes but more like a toy fox with fat furry arms, I hoot at him, he looks back, almost smiling at me. The body clock is utterly confused up here. Driving all day through under and over mountains, the sun hardly changing height, hugging the coast. The road surface, absent in large sections as we climb ever northwards, getting worse, the scenery and conditions, getting even better. The intense blue of the skies, rapidly changing clouds. Tomorrow is the longest day of the year, I am be a tankful of petrol away from the northernmost point in Europe.

Pulled over, into a campsite outside Alta, last largish town on the northern coast, cold and exhausted. Rented a little Hutte, basically a wooden chalet with heating, four bunks, fridge,table by the little window with curtains. It reminded me of the cedar wood cabin we rented in Big Sur, California many years ago. It smelt of dusty library, like the entomology library, top room in the corner tower of the Natural History museum, where I hid to find peace, studying at university. I lay on the lower bunk, leaned over and it collapsed under me. It was broken already, Anton, the previous obese biker had scratched his name on the wooden boards above me had deceitfully reassembled the underneath supports to trap the next occupant. I chuckled, levering myself up off the floor of the dolls house.

Several bikes parked outside each Hutte, no British bikes seen -at all, in fact along the way. The German bikers paused chomping on their food at the picnic table outside. I grin at them inanely and they carry on their chomping in silence. This, to many of us travelling are in fact on a pilgrimage. In silence. No one speaks, like on a retreat, avoiding eye contact. This was not apparent at the outset, over a week ago. The huge bonfire, prepared on the beach, includes a wooden bed frame, ready for tomorrow night’s celebrations. Couples walk holding hands, soppy as my wife might say.

I wrap my sweater over my eyes and instantly fall into unsettling, vivid dreams.

Packing up from the night before

is getting easier; less food, no water – I am wearing a lot of the clothes I packed… Beyond the thermal underwear, my legs have uniqulo long johns,jeans, thick winter padded overtrousers, three pairs of thin socks and my old lace up timberland boots. These boots are completely unsuitable if it rains badly but the plan is to stick plastic bags over my socks and put them back on. The weather has been kind to me so I hope I won’t have to take that option too often. On the top half is thermal vest, uniqulo long sleeved heattech vest, an old red and black flannel shirt, an occasional thick jumper to wear inside the tent and when riding, my Hein Gericke double lined cordura jacket and if cold or wet on the road my new rain jacket which was a birthday present along with the hiking tent from my dear wife.

I calmly assembled stowed and arranged everything neatly,with no hurry. Breakfast, a cheese roll and half a carton of grapefruit juice and off. The choice for the route was either the nearer and prettier road over the mountains into Norway via Sweden or a little further up via Finland. Sweden won and I didn’t regret it as it was the most stunningly beautiful day of the journey, punctuated with long stretches of stones to ride over as the roads are constantly damaged by the winter, summer the only time they can be repaired. The long days promote obscenely fast growth here, freshly unravel so fat you can almost see it happen. Tiny tree seedlings pushing through the soft sphagnum mossy cushions in unbelievably high density. I saw a water vole, or he spotted me first and shot into his nest in the icy stream.


Three hundred miles that day, two petrol stops looking for WiFi as well, no joy. Statoil offer WiFi, not free as I was led to believe… I buy some food at the Coop, a Scandinavian variant of our beloved institution. The town is busy strip mining a mountain, on the other side a newly installed ski lift, pinned onto the freshly mined surface. Little of nature remains here, neat traffic speed bumps and tower blocks with tiny square windows. A young Norwegian coos at the infant he left tucked into the back seat of his porsche and roars away from the Coop. The disgruntled pensioner kicks his leg, almost hitting the saddle and rides out of this last Swedish town.

Lunch, pull over on the mountain, sit on a warm rock next to a thick slab of dirty snow, watching the steady flow of camper vans hissing past me. Some wave at me, I wave back. Waving happens away from cities, bikers do it as a matter of genuine courtesy. It happens all over the world, like graffiti…. I suppose to reassure the originator that he or she actually exists.

The train with three carriages passes in the other direction, the snow above and below us,the frozen lakes below that, the dwindling trees now little bushes and spindles of silver birch poking up through the moss, the snow covered mountains and the high cloud crowning it all… this happening all at once in the intense low sunlight, all without any of us making it happen.

Time to stop, a slow day, three hundred and sixty miles to Nordkapp, I need a shower badly and pull into a campsite high on a hillside, paying the lady her little wooden hut.

It’s still bright at eleven o’clock so I take a stroll up the mountain, return to watch two episodes of the twilight zone and some of Tarkovsky’s film Stalker, a puzzling work, only a third seen so far.

I didn’t know what to expect

coming here. I am now well over the Arctic circle. It’s actually warmer than 400 miles south, where I started this morning. Passing small curtains of rain hanging over a field in mid air, twenty or thirty feet above ground… I nearly hit a group of reindeer ambling out onto the road, the road still wet. Heart in mouth, but plenty of room to stop. The roads suffer from the lorries and deep frosts and they have deteriorated significantly the further north I travel. Great sections of rubble, the whole road surface ripped right off, to wobble over on my un-off-road tyres. More adrenaline.

I bought some nifty gloves, a quarter of the price in London, fur lined with Thinsulate and black with white leather palms and fingertips. The petrol station stocked everything a survivalist or mass murderer might want as well, paracord, axes…

I want to head north, I had to decide whether to turn north west in to Norway or a little further and on into Finland. Norway won as it’s the prettier route. It will be wetter, I am sure, another spot found to pitch my tent. This time, it’s near the road and littered with loo paper. Too tired, I find a quiet spot and prepare dinner.

What did I see? Beauty? Yes, more than I can describe… I have passed by places that resembled Vermont with identical farm houses with the 120 degree roofs and places like Trumpton or Twin Peaks or like in a Pippi Longstocking story… A woman roller blades past with ski helmet, goggles and ski sticks uphill. Weird, brown, not red squirrels dash suicidally, reindeer amble across homicidally, one town full of fancy American classic cars slumber pointlessly, even a 60’s cadillac towing a huge caravan rumbles past expensively. All those rushing rivers, snow capped mountains, hours of them, until it didn’t matter any more. It’s ten and bright as can be. The aquamarine sky glows behind the horizon for ever.

When did I first get the idea about motorcycling? Fifty years ago, in a convent. In a little back street in Kensington where I lived as a boy, down a little mews called Southend, I wandered in regularly through the little door into the convent gardens. The church was, and still is on Kensington square, my parents sometimes took me there when it was not to the Note Dame church in Leicester Place. I wandered around a lot as a child, invisible until I was older. A little Honda 50 was parked next to one of the convent dormitory buildings. The keys were still in the ignition – I kicked it over and jumped on, to my delight we sped round the gardens, behind the walls overlooking the underground lines and High St Kensington station platform. I could hear shouting behind me, an angry nun, who I can only presume was the owner of the little bike was charging behind me shaking her fists. I decided it was enough fun and left the bike for her. She didn’t catch me but I was hooked.

On Bob Dylan:

is the reason he keeps on touring because he himself does not believe in his ability as a performer/poet/comedy actor/dj/painter/writer/movie actor/prophet he keeps touring? He never quite measures up to himself, yet he is brilliant and erratic, flawed and keeps us all delighted the rest who don’t appreciate him, clearly identified.

Getting up late today, finished breakfast coffee and nuts. Grandpa arrives nearby with his grandson. The car is modest and clean. He asks me in Swedish and changes language, he tells me that he had gone to Nordkapp by car two years ago by car. It was very nice and told me of a place to stop but I have forgotten it. The weather was very nice…. have a nice day we both said and waved as I pack my belongings. I admired their half-hearted attempt to fish together from that still and vibrating lake.


Notes on defecation

Germans pay for it. Either by tip, expect to pay one euro. I didn’t have change, two euro. Sweden has clean, free lavatories with auto sensor to switch on light hot water and paper, hot air dryers. I blocked a German toilet, the old lady in her white overalls dozing as I went in had gone for a break. Good! Run! Blocked toilet no tip, run!

In the woods? Find a branch or tree trunk, place a sock or flannel to protect your testicles if you’re a bloke and go! Definitely no one around. I never did that before. Yes, cover it all up with moss twigs earth rubble. I had tissues and Wet Ones baby wipes as well. No tip that time.


270 miles northwards

16:45 pull over, in a forest 20 miles north of Mora. Approximately 1300 miles since London.

I was kidding myself. I have another half of Sweden or Norway to cover before turning round. The night spent by stream and graveyard was very cold, I woke up several times. The light never went away, even at midnight. I wished I had brought my fleece blanket, eventually gave way and put on my thick pullover. Today has been testing. In the afternoon I tried turning left into Norway, getting past the frontier over the mountains, the higher I climbed the fewer the trees until no trees, sleet, beige tiny reindeer and a derelict cafe at the top. I forgave myself as I cold see the weather – black clouds hanging over Sony mountains as far as I could see. I dodged a steamroller laying asphalt over the deserted car park.

Down back to the E45, the next test was about to unfold at five o’clock. I pulled over and turned into a gap in the forest and gingerly paddled down the steep slope. It’s OK, it’s gravel I thought as the gravel turned into softer plants. I kicked the sidestand down and it disappeared into the ground or should I say quicksand… Panic. Move forward turn.. No good, the front wheel dug deeper into the soft ground, nature had finally got her own back on me. Evil spirits. Stupid me… Shove twigs under kickstand get off bike, dump luggage. Not easy unlocking the luggage balancing the bike with one hand, whoops. She’s over. Panic. Haul her up. At this point I remembered how to lift a heavy bike, you lean with your back to it in the middle and walk backward. Fuck that I thought, got her up. Luggage off. Haul her backwards out of deep rut we had made. The bike spoke to me soothing words, she and I puffed and grunted, fired her up and we were round and back up the hill. She toppled twice more at the top. Two Swedish women stopped and asked if I was OK, I thanked them, by which time I had the bike on the road safe and sound. Luggage up hill, heart beating. Muddy and embarrassed we plodded on at the modest speed limit that seems to be everywhere. A lake. A big lake, a metalled Road, loose but wide, leads me to my spot tonight. Wind and lapping water.

15th June

In the middle of a forest down a track, off a tiny road off the E45. 4th night. Second night was in Germany, uneventful not memorable apart from a staggering enclosed garden next to a static caravan, water gushes down into the pool, water irises in bloom. But that was two nights ago. When I packed up, I decided to avoid the E7 and follow the sat nav. It led me across Denmark to a ferry that skipped a corner of Denmark and dropped me off 100 miles from Copenhagen, over the bridge, 25 EUR and I’m in Sweden. The bridge terrified me,looming off the horizon, impossibly tall.the first quarter was quite stimulating as we rose high over the sea, however things got a bit stressful when I drove past each cable support hung from the central arches. Whoosh whoosh as I passed each cable, it held back the wind and gusts knocked me left as I passed each one.
Getting overcast, another 100 miles… A dog show with tents. I stop and it’s the end of the day, dogs being walked around after their evening meal. The Scandinavians love their dogs. The ferry, full of dogs, fat people sweating, bumping into each other with porters trolleys full of weak Danish supermarket lager.
5:30. I wake early to pee. Early. Dress, pack, away, on further. Mist clears. High cloud. Blue sky. Macdonalds clean hand good breakfast, WiFi.

On To Gothenburg then on the twistiest back Road, past purple blankets lupins in bloom, purple, pink, white after Mellrud on up to Dals Langred Coop, open from 8 to 22:00. Nephew Sandy, made a great vindaloo we drank beers after he showed me round the college. A lake, a rickety single track railway still used once a day to haul logs from the forest. This was running outside the back of the house. Mini student accommodation in wooden buildings resting on stilts above the ground.

I slept in a little converted shack there is no water or electricity, with a huge chimney and wood burning stove. The chimney installed by a student to work metal with. A plastic bucket with sawdust behind the house. hand made key to aprimitive lock under a brick, I lay my bed roll on the bare wooden boards, freshly installed. The Dutch girl who renovated the derelict wash house texted us the OK for me to sleep there. By the lake, the pumps outside hum constantly , in the paper factory below on the lakeside. Still light at 23:30.

I have a long look at the map, the Norwegian weather forecast site showed rain up half of Norway, I am going the west route through Sweden. I want to enjoy this trip, not show how brave I am.

12 June

See no evil / Television follows an outtake of Nowadays a Woman’s Got To Hit a Man / Captain Beefheart turned up loud at 5.30. Outside the tent door, spilt macaroni cheese, scooped that up. I was hungry last night, barely able to stand after ten hours and six hundred miles from Hook of Holland, this included a solid hours u turns amid terraformed wilderness of the obedient rows of Dutch homes. I was about twenty miles north of Hamburg in a non nondescript camp site near a non nondescript town.

That morning, the girl goddesses floated by on bicycles with their identical hair cuts to beautiful length like the tidy gardens and hedges. “Relaxed or stoned?” the coffee shop girl asks… “er, relaxed please…” The same familiar street I return to each time in Amsterdam with its coffee shops, occasional guilty students in the back, so many replaced by anodyne side salad/white wine bars, businesswomen outside ignoring the passers by.
I drink my second coffee and tuck the bubble gum and papers into a pocket of my tank bag, kicking my arthritic hip over the gap in the saddle between the tank and my luggage and follow the tramlines out up onto the E1 heading north. I undo the zips in my forearms and armpits open as I follow the traffic… the vents in my helmet are open, it’s getting hot now. I leave the fifty or so English scooterists behind at eight thirty, scattered outside breakfast stalls near the boat. They were dressed in clothes that would soak up the tiniest shower of rain. Many them wearing green Harrington bomber jackets, their backs covered with an even arrangement of four inch square patches, each denoting a run they had been on. They faced each other chattering like children on a school trip.
I don’t know when I can upload this; there is no WiFi here. There are cuckoos in the oak tree above me, waking me at 4:30. I watched Shutter Island last night on my tablet, falling asleep while worrying about being actually mad and not realising it, like Leonardo de Caprio in the film. An excellent film I missed when it was released.
A word about German car drivers. Fast. 140 mph fast, I ended the afternoon at over a hundred, lorries spinning backward. The bike never better, after a few hours it was like flying, urged on by the superb German 102 octane fuel. The Metzlers are nicely worn in now – alas, I have to pack again and push on into Denmark.


I am off in a few days on a trip that will take me up to and possibly beyond the Arctic circle. I want to get there in 10 days before the summer solstice, lets just see. The bike I will be riding on is a 1995 R1100RS; I have owned this one for the last ten years after the previous R1100RS slammed into a lorry in the City of London. I am not getting any younger, I am in my 43rd year of riding motorcycles and to be honest, I feel somewhat nervous that I will be able to do it, let alone enjoy it. Let’s see.

Preparation is not my favourite activity, this time I dont intend to curse myself for not having thought through as much as I can. With this intention, I have done my best – given that it has all been carried out with sensible choices, not throwing money at every step. I designed and printed (on my 3D printer) – nearly finished a satnav holder to mount on the forks – this particular model of bike has ‘clip-ons’ in the BMW style and no conventional handlebars. I printed off the parts to hold the metal broom handle to which the satnav mount would bite onto. However on printing the lower part that bolted onto the forks – after 2 solid years of use, the hot end which extrudes the plastic jammed constantly and I eventually broke off the thermistor and the whole hotend overheated and melted. I have ordered parts to make my own all metal hotend, this will have to wait until I get back.

I picked out a new ultra light hiking tent and a new thermal mat. Both had to be chucked; the air mat leaked and the tent zips were worn out. I bought a new waterproof bag and with the hard luggage, everything fits, including food, mini canteen, cooker and propane. I do not intend to eat out as I read recently steak and chips and a beer (in Stavenger) costs £85. I am giving up sugar too as a recent check up at the GP shows me to be just into the risk zone with my blood sugar. I also bought a new rain over jacket to replace the Dutch police jacket that is 14 years old and worn out. Boots are a concern as I did not buy any and I will use the thick lace up boots I have had for the last 20 years, I will put my feet into plastic bags and put the boots over them if it rains. When its rains. It will rain. I don’t want to go now. I leave tomorrow (Thursday) to catch the overnight boat to The Hook of Holland.