Into the Arctic - May 2014

Saturday, May 24

The rain is slashing against my bedroom window this morning - that doesn't sound like a promising start into this years spring journey. However, I know that this is just a small sprinkling that will soon die out. More important is the fact that all next week the weather in western and central Europe will be awful.
There are two areas I could reach while the small weather window that should keep my part of the world dry until the deluge begins on Sunday night; the easy option would be Italy - just a quick ride over the Alps and I should be out in the sun for the next few days.
Or I could go north - Scandinavia seems to be heading for a good week, too. Given the 60 million Italians that squeeze themselves into those 330000 square kilometres compared to those 9 million Swedes populating their 450000 square kilometres makes that an easy decision.

So I am off at just before 0900 hours - in the drizzle. But the drizzle stops as anticipated after a couple of miles and then the sun comes out. I know that getting all the way up into Scandinavia in just two days will be a tough ride - so I skip the first few hundred kilometres to Würzburg (the area I know rather well from my weekend rides) by riding on the famed German Autobahn. I ride at about 110 kph, while on the fast lane high-powered Mercs, Audis and beamers race each other at incredible speeds.

When I reach the former Iron Curtain in Thuringia the weather gets unstable with rain showers spoiling the fun. After 620 km I call it a day in the town of Eschwege.

Sunday, May 25

A deceptively blue sky and comfortable 13 degrees greet me when I set out this morning before 0900 hours. This will be the last nice day in this part of the world for a while, so I waste no time (except for giving Tigger a wash after yesterdays ride on often wet roads - I suppose I have lived too long in Switzerland to enjoy riding a dirty motorbike).
I zoom along the Old Iron curtain - it is amazing to what extend these Germans have managed to completely erase this infamous strip. Then a quick dash over the Harz mountain range and into the North German lowlands. I am so busy making miles that I do not even take any pictures. By 5 pm I am at the coast of the Baltic Sea. Shall I cross from Fehmarn, Germany to Lolland, Denmark today? The ferry leaves every 30 minutes, but takes 45 minutes to cross. By the time I have found some digs in Denmark it will be 8 pm. So I stay in the village of Grossenbrode, a town where I stayed for a couple of days during my last visit to Scandinavia in 2009 - you can read all about it here.

Monday, May 26

It's just a few miles this morning to the ferry terminal at Puttgarden - and the harbour is the most soporific one I have ever seen:

The most peaceful ferry port on earth...

I arrive at 0915 hours and have to pay 46 Euros for the one-way ticket to Denmark. A few years back I crossed the Cook Strait in New Zealand. The 160 Kiwi dollars I had to pay for that 3 hours ride in a 30 year old reject from the French Nice-Bastia route was up to now absolute tops for ferry rip-off. 46 Euros for a 45 minutes hop however must be a close runner-up. The boat is newish, I give you that, but the conditions for motorbikers are hilarious; there are plenty of large signs informing the hapless biker that you have to tie down the bike all by yourself and that the ferry operator accepts no liability whatsoever for any damages. Next to those signs the biker finds the tools provided by the ferry operator (Scandlines) for the purpose; a single, slippery strap without hooks or any ratchet - even my best efforts can't prevent the bike from slipping to either side underneath that strap in any kind of rough sea. Luckily I have two proper, strong tie-downs in my luggage that would do the trick - but as the sea is as flat as a pool table today, I can do without them.
Dear fellow biker, if you have to cross these waters during a gale, I suggest you might want to come prepared. Scandlines certainly don't care if your bike gets damaged due to their shoddy kit. Bring two good ratchet-type tie-downs plus a strong cable tie to lock the front brake.

By 1030 hours I am riding north through Lolland. I had all but forgotten how similar Denmark and Switzerland are; very clean, very expensive, very restrictive and very overcrowded. Those 200 km to reach Helsingør take nearly five hours on country roads. I suppose in Hamlet's times that distance didn't take that much longer... Here is a view over the Øresund near Helsingør. The land on the far side of the water is Sweden:

The Øresund near Helsingør

Due to the slow progress in Denmark it is 1430 hours when I arrive at the second ferry terminal for today. However, the short crossing is fast and before 1500 hours I am biking through Skåne County in Sweden. After a quick stop at a cash machine in Ängelholm to get some Swedish Kronors I am heading east on highway 114. I had also all but forgotten what a bliss this country is for motorbikes. The road is virtually empty and those few Swedes who are heading this way take the nearby motorway E4.
All too soon is my watch showing 1800 hours - time to look for a place for the night. The next town down the road is Ljungby. I have a close look at the available hotels in town. None does look overly inviting. I even ask an elderly guy about the nicest place in town. Supposedly that is the 'Terraza' hotel. I have a look at that, too.
In 1953 the town centre burned down in a big fire. The place was then rebuild in the then-fashionable way; with lots of concrete. In the end I stay outside of the ugly town centre in a roadside motel instead.
For tomorrow I am looking forward to much more of this great Swedish road system.

Tuesday, May 27

I wake up at 0600 hours this morning - because the guy in the next room is moving about. The walls in this place are as thin as paper. I make a mental note; prices in Sweden are as high as in Switzerland, but some things are certainly not up to Swiss standards...
A cold front is moving through while I load the bike. From those cosy 26 degrees Celsius we had yesterday evening, only 13 degrees remain when I set out at 0800 hours.
What I did not realize is that this cold front isn't through yet. While I ride northwards the temperature continues to drop. By 1000 hours it has dropped below 10 degrees - I have to stop and put on another layer of warm clothes. But luckily the sun is shining again all day. By the way, you haven't seen a pic of Tigger yet, so here it is, from today at about noon:

Tigger in Viking-Land

The cold front also brought with it a biting easterly wind. But at least the visibility is good, the sun is shining and I am biking along empty Swedish roads, well knowing that is is raining from Lisbon to Moscow and everywhere in between - in Germany where I was two days ago they are suffering from heavy flooding. What shall I therefore complain about a cold easterly breeze?

I am approaching Dalarna province in the afternoon. You know that you are in the Swedish hinterland when a pizza the size of a wagon wheel goes for 60 Kronors and the local copper drives around in this contraption (seen in Lesjöfors):

Robbers have a fair chance if the cops have to use this thing...

After another 560 km I end the day in Mora, a much nicer place than Ljungby.

Wednesday, May 28

It is overcast this morning at Mora, the temperature is around seven degrees when I have a late start at 0930 hours. But I am wearing my cold climate kit, an ice-bear may have a marginally better protection against the cold than me, but alas, I feel quite comfortable. Aside from myself just a few artics and LHV's are on the road.

Just before Östersund the first moose for this journey crosses the road about 100 yards ahead of Tigger and me. These animals crossing the main highway 5 km outside a major urban centre gives you an idea about how busy these roads are. Me parking Tigger should give you another:

Rush hour...

I continue northwards on the E45 route, deeper into Lapland. The weather is improving all the time and during the afternoon I bike under a vast blue sky and at 16 degrees Celsius.
Tomorrow is a bank holiday, so I take a break at Dorotea and phone ahead to Vilhelmina for accommodation, fearing that maybe all hotels might be booked solid with hikers, hunters, fishermen and other weekend warriors.
Quite the contrary is the case, and most hotels are closed tomorrow and I have to call three of them before finding one that is open for business. Clearly the Swedes have quite some different habits when it comes to spending a bank holiday weekend...

I end the day at Vilhelmina at the hotel Vilhelmina, where 1000 Kronors buys me diner, room and breakfast - for Sweden this must be the cheapest digs far and around. I'll leave you for today with a view out of my hotel room - at 2130 hours in the evening:

A room with a view

Thursday, May 29

I leave Vilhelmina at 0900 hours, heading further north towards Storuman. The weather is very unlikely for this area, and I'm not saying that because it is nice and warm - no, the strange thing is that the wind is still blowing from the east and is about to blow in a low pressure ridge from the Baltic sea. Normally these ridges are blown in from the west, from the Atlantic ocean, and then rain themselves off on the mountain ridges of Norway.
This time it will rain on the Swedish side instead, and that by tomorrow evening at the latest. So I have to ride over towards the other side of the mountains. I do that by leaving the E45 trunk road at Storuman and head north-westwards on the E12. I see plenty of moose on the roadside, as well as a lot of reindeer, usually crossing the road in small herds when you least expect them. I am now biking the 66th parallel, i. e. I am on the Polar Circle. Late May means nothing up here, the few birch trees that grow here are hardly three metres high, don't carry any leaves at this time of the year and all lakes are still covered by winter ice:

A wintry lake in Umasjö, Västerbotten, Sweden

I then cross into Norway and initially head for the town of Mo i Rana, where I stock up on fuel and the essential Norwegian Krones from a cash machine. Then I turn south on the E6 main road. On this side of the mountains the warm Foehn wind comes downhill and brings the temperature up to 20 degrees - this is motor-biker’s heaven, even more so as mother nature produces some spectacular scenes along the way:

Waterfall near Trofors, Nordland, Norway

The E6 in this part of Norway is much narrower, less well maintained and much more curvy and dangerous than the roads I biked in Sweden - in a sentence, the road is great fun to bike and finally my tyres get some wear and tear off the centre...
The day ends after 600 km just south of the village of Grong.

Friday, May 30

Sorry, no pictures today. This has to do with the way the E6 main road turns out today once I reach Trondheim. From that place onwards that rather smallish road simply has to carry too much traffic to be a real competitor to the Swedish E45 road I used on my way north. While the scenery was still mostly better than the relative monotonous forests that line the E45, that was definitely not sufficient for offsetting the sometimes dense traffic. Add to that the fact that the speed limit in vast parts of the road is just 70 kph (while it is 90 to 100 kph in Sweden) and you understand my reluctance to take any pictures.
When I saw "Lilyhammer" on the telly a while back, I thought: "Well, here are the Norwegians taking the mickey out of themselves". Now, after three days in the country I wonder if that TV series shouldn't be re-classified as a documentary - and I am not saying that because today I passed by the town of Lillehammer...
I end this not-so-spectacular day in the town of Hamar on the shores of lake Mjøsa.

Saturday, May 31

I had a good look at the weather this morning; the high pressure over Scandinavia is breaking down after this weekend. And the weather in mainland Europe is the same it was ten days ago; unstable, rainy - the same kind of rubbish weather that lasted all summer in 2012. Unless something very seriously changes, this summer looks like it's in danger of becoming another write-off.
I set off just after 0800 hours. On my way out of Hamar I pass the local police headquarters; the local cops obviously have humour, as they have parked this vehicle and its furry occupant right in front of the building:

Norwegian police car and copper...

Again I am riding south on the E6 - which you might find weird, given yesterdays comments I made about this road. The explanation is rather simple; Norway is running out. A few miles past Oslo I am re-entering Sweden again. As expected, all traffic dwindles to a trickle and the road is wide, fast and empty again.
This mornings precipitation forecast indicated the chance of a shower along the coast of the Baltic Sea around Gothenburg. And bang on time the sky overcasts and it starts to drizzle a bit, but hardly enough to get the tarmac wet. Beyond Gothenburg the sun comes out again and the temperature climbs to a biker-friendly 19 degrees.
I can't get enough of this biking, in spite of the mileage I have done already. After 650 km I reach the harbour town of Helsingborg again - and can drive directly on the 1645 hours ferry without any delay. So by 1700 hours I am in Denmark. After a few miles I stop to call around for some lodging. It becomes obvious that Danes treat a long bank holiday weekend in the same way the Swiss do; the hotels in the vicinity are fully booked with weekend warriors. But the solution to that problem is quite simple; if everyone is out of town occupying hotels in the countryside, then I must go into town and try my luck with an inner city place. So I ride on to Copenhagen and finally manage to find a room at a place called Glostrup, about ten km outside the city centre. The place is quite refined compared to the often simple places found further north - probably a confirmation of the proverb that Denmark is the Italy of the North.

Sunday, June 1

After all those miles yesterday I set out rather late at 0900 hours this morning. The weather is overcast, but should remain dry and actually improve on my way south. After 150 km I am back at the ferry port of Rødby, where (thanks again to the non-existing wind) I have an uneventful sailing to Fehmarn in Germany.
I take a more easterly route than on my way out last week, mainly because the weather is supposed to remain more stable in the east. On the last few miles I have to cross the Elbe river by ferry near the town of Rogätz. Her is a picture of it:

Crossing the Elbe river

I end the day at the town of Burg. If you are a military person, then you probably had to learn your "Clausewitz" during officer training. The man was born in this town, and befitting to the history I spend the night in a Prussian barrack building from 1905, now converted to a hotel.

Monday, June 2

I am off at 0900 hours heading south by south-west along the Elbe river. At least that is the plan. However, there are so many road closures and diversions that I find it difficult to stick to my GPS route. It is so bad that I ask myself; the Berlin wall has been torn down for such a long time, it nearly matches the time it was actually up - is this all the Germans managed to do roadwise in 25 years?
Then of course I remember how atrocious the roads were before the Iron Curtain fell and must admire the extraordinary progress that in fact has been made. Nonetheless, crossing that now invisible "border" again into Bavaria (which of course is part of former West-Germany) gives me some much needed relief from those traffic obstacles.
The first drops of rain I get at 1330 hours in the Thuringian forest - it is that ruddy unstable air mass again. For the rest of the afternoon however I am extremely lucky and manage to ride until 1800 hours without encountering any rain worth that name. I end the day at a motorway motel just outside Feuchtwangen, a mere 300 km from home. With a bit more luck I may manage that distance tomorrow in the dry.

Tuesday, June 3

The air mass is even more unstable than yesterday, so I don't waste any time this morning and hit the road before 0800 hours. By 1000 hours mighty cumulonimbus clouds are sprouting everywhere around me and I can see the heavy downpours everywhere over the ridges of the surrounding mountains. I have of course plotted my route through the valleys and manage to escape those heavy storms. By noon I have reached the Rhine and cross into Switzerland. By 1400 hours Tigger is safely back in my garage after a thorough wash that got the accumulated grime of the past 5900 km (and 20 degrees latitude) off - my Scandinavian journey 2014 is over.

Here is the altitude profile of the journey:

The altitude profile of the journey

Below is the usual map with my GPS tracklog.

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