To the Arctic on a 1948 Panther
There is a planned route, shown on the map, and then there is the actual route which will doubtless change due to mechanical mayhem, interesting places on the way and my natural ability to get lost. This time I have technology on my side in the shape of a Sat Nav, but only if I can fathom out how to make it go where I want. We shall see who wins this lengthy duel!
I digress, back to the route. This is, as shown in the nice little picture and enough said really. The hope is to reduce costs by camping most days but I suspect that the lure of a B&B or even a hotel, every now and then will be strong. And as I am going through central Sweden I suspect campsites may not be very common. Probably true of B&Bs too!
Anyhow I hope to get to Tromso at some point in time to meet up with Elaine. Tromso isnear the top left, on the coast) So thats about 1,600 miles or so, or put it another way over 100 miles a day on a 65 year rigid motorcycle with a cruising speed of about 50-55mph but with a little time for detours on the way. Theoretically that is simple, practically all it takes is a breakdown (man or machine as we are as decrepit as each other) and it becomes rather more challenging! After that it is a jog along the top edge of Europe before heading south through Finland, the Baltics, Poland and ferry to Sweden and Denmark before hitting the social highs of Harwich on the way home.
People ask me 'why?'. There isnt really an answer to that question, except I like the riding, and would like to see the sun never set for days at a time. And thats it. No reason really. Next stop denmark...
Lovely weather, boat crossing OK and smooth, sunshine in Denmark all the way to my friend Olle in S. Sweden. Lovely last 20 miles through beautiful sunshine and forest on deserted roads. Great welcome too - thanks Olle! - and to Mayliss for the wonderful hospitality. No photos yet as camera buried in the luggage and website playing up! Bike going well and so far no problems apart from losing the cooker fuel on the way! Oh and the main electrical on off switch replaced with a connector in the battery earth lead which I manually disconnect to turn everything off.
My Panther M100, all ready for the off!
|JUNE 10 Here I am sitting not quite on top of the world having had a fairly uneventful run up from Olle's to Gunnar’s place north of |
The next day I set off heading for Sveg and a long ride through the endless birch forests and a million lakes of central
A long day in the saddle has me at Ostersund where I bump into a couple at the garage filling up. He recognises a Panther, knows it is a 600cc single and turns out to be a classic bike enthusiast himself with a rare Ariel in his garage. We have a long chat and I even start the bike for his girl friend as I would do most things for a pretty face! Luckily the bike saves mine by starting first kick. Then it is on to Stromsund and another hut. Pretty location this by a lake near the centre of the small town. I have long ago passed the point at which there is any real night, it is light all the time.The next day seems a long one. I set off at 8 with the aim of making Arvidsjaur - 100 miles or so south of the
A Swedish Hut. Roof, heat, cooker, bed....beats a tent!
Typical Swedish landscape - forest and lakes
| JUNE 13 |
Today is the big excitement - I will cross the arctic circle! And don’t I know it. If it was cold yesterday it is even colder and greyer this morning, as I rumble my way North. On the road out of nowhere springs a baker, café, b&b, little shop and just about everything else besides run by a lady in her summer shorts and halter top. I ask if she thinks it warm today but apparently she always works stripped practically naked in the morning to bake the bread. It really is a proper bakery and thank goodness, it is hot! Good coffee and cinnamon roll.
An hour or so later I find the
The next morning it is just as cold, if not more so and it is all I can do to kick the bike over as the oil is now the consistency of porridge in the cold. After endless kicking it eventually breaks into life and I travel on through
The panther has reached the Arctic
Into Finland with the snow on the mountains
JUNE 16So here I am up in Tromso waiting to meet up with Elaine at the airport tomorrow. I have a Norwegian hut, not the cheapest by a long shot, and the weather is now clear and fairly warm. Several other bikers on the site come and say hello and I stroll over to my neighbors on a GS and Yam FJR. They have been to NordKapp so we chat about the roads, weather and my going up that way - and how cold it is getting up there! Then I check my emails - amazingly the campsite has wifi, quite how I don’t know. Unfortunately this gives me a nasty shock as there is a problem with my business and it looks as if I will have to get back earlier than I was planning. This means Tromso will be as far north as it goes but in view of the cold I was not that keen - it is the midnight sun I have come to see not the expensive tourist trap of Nordkapp.
Meeting up with Elaine means riding through Tromso to the airport. This means a surprising trip under the town (I was actually trying to go to the centre to take a quick look round). They seem to have hollowed out Tromso and put in a subterranean road system, complete with roundabouts. Bizarre and rather confusing: I need several attempts but eventually make the airport, link up with Elaine and find our place to stay which is part of a large house on an island about 25 miles from Tromso. It is very quiet, no need to lock up the landlord tells us (so we don’t) and in the bright sunshine pretty well idyllic. We spend a few days here watching birds, Ruff, Scua, short eared Owl and Ptarmigan amongst many others. The Ruff are truly bizarre as they do their mating thing involving holding themselves very still at odd angles with heaps of fluffy feathers festooned around them! This has involved getting up at the ‘crack of dawn’ but here there is no such thing as dawn. I don’t know if we are going early or very late!
On the one clear night we drive over to the far side of the island to see the midnight sun. This has been the first night when I could do this as every other night has been cloudy since crossing the
Leaving here I have to start heading south now in a roundabout sort of way so go to Narvik which I don’t visit, but the views from the mountains are good if not spectacular in the drizzle. Pouring past me and heading north are literally 100s of bikes. My left arm gets tired of waving. I am told they are all going to NordKapp. They are overwhelmingly large touring machines - Gold Wings, Harleys, BMW GSs etc. They mostly manage to ignore my elderly Panther completely. I can’t find any mention of a large rally on at Nordkap and am a little glad I am not heading up there today as large gatherings like this are not my taste.
Then I turn left and head for a mining town called Kiruna which, I am told they are going to move - every building - to a news site where the minerals have not yet been exhausted. Should be interesting! On the way the landscape is really fantastic. From precipitous mountainsides it has turned, in the blink of an eye into rounded mountain tops, full of jumbles of boulders and small lakes with a vast assortment of small wooden houses dotted around. It is quite a site and I try and take a few pictures, but I doubt anything gives a true impression of the scale. I decide to quit for the day, book into a place and go for a lengthy hour walk in this area. It is sort of strange to realize you can’t get lost in the dark up here as dark will not be happening.
The midnight sun!
Strange landscape on the way to Kiruna,
below detail from above picture
JUNE 19It is cold (again) the next morning which is not too surprising really as it was cold last night, I am well above the tree-line and there is still snow on the ground outside. The bike takes a little coaxing into activity but then fires up and off I go into the drizzle. Kiruna may not be far down the road but it certainly feels it in the damp and the cold. It also sort of smashes you in the face when you arrive because the town is just dwarfed by the mine works. They are several orders of magnitude it seems larger than the town which houses 20,000 people.
By Midday I am in the town centre dripping water over the immaculate tourist info centre trying to find a place to stay and something about the wholesale moving of the entire town. They recommend the youth hostel (!) to me and sure enough the nice young woman lets me in. I think I am the youngest as well as the oldest inhabitant today!The mine is just awesome. At first coming in you think it is an open cast mines where they are just chewing their way through a mountain of ore. In fact it is not quite like that at all - it is a deep mine but not at all like anything I have ever heard of before. They are mining Magnetite which is more or less solid iron. And there is a vast slab of this stuff hanging like a curtain more or less vertically into the earth. It is 4 km long (and so is the mine), goes down 2km into the earth and maybe much, much further nobody knows, and it is about 100 metres thick. As they munch another metre or two off the top, they are working one Km down at the moment; they back fill vertically behind them. But even so the land around the mine subsides a little each year and this land, of course, is where they built the town.
The mine is vast. All the mining equipment, ore processing and so on actually takes place about 1000m below ground on the main working level. This moves down every now and then and is shortly to move to 1300metres deep! Quite how they do it I don’t know, the scale is simply incomprehensible.So now they need to move the town. All the good bits like the 100 year old wooden church they are moving to a new site about 3 kms away, plank by plank. The same with a lot of the more modern building, any useful infrastructure is either picked up and move or junked and they will start again. The company is paying and say they will spend £1.3 billion or so. Peanuts really when there is £60 billions pounds of iron there.
Anyhow I retire to my nest in the Youth Hostel and prepare to go early and take a scenic route involving few main roads and an elk ‘museum’.***
Having planned my route and got all prepared I am up, again, with the larks. Or it could be owls both share the same hours really. Unfortunately it is once again cold, getting damp and there is a bit of a wind blowing too. I hastily revise my plans about small twisty roads as doing a couple of hundred miles with gravel washed all over the place seems like not much fun, so I do the next four hours in the pelting rain and wind wearing just about all the clothes I have brought trying to head for warmer climes where it doesn’t rain so often.. By early afternoon though I seem to be through the worst and gradually things brighten up and it becomes a pleasure to ride.*** Tomorrow dawns bright if a bit chilly but soon warms up and I set off down minor roads which turn out to be no different from the major ones. Stopping for lunch in Lycksele I have a good and relatively cheap Pizza. Dark clouds loom the moment I am back on the bike of course and it starts to rain. I plod on for an hour or more in the rain gradually realizing the front end of the bike is behaving a little strangely. Stopping for petrol I find that when I push it the brakes go on and off by themselves. Luckily there is a real star over the road, Tony Gahlin of Leverad AV, Dorotea Motor and Allservice, who lets me use his garage, loans me his hoist which lifts the front of the bike off the ground by the simple means of putting a loop under the steering head attaching to his hook and pressing a button. Absolute doddle. I remove the front wheel, take out the brake and absolutely nothing wrong. After a bit of head scratching I reckon one of the two inner nuts must somehow have worked a bit loose allowing the brake plate to twist. Tightening everything up really tight I spin the wheel. Everything seems fine; Tony will not take a penny for the loan of the hoist and is a real pro. I agree to mention him in these despatches, he fits a .sticker to my tank bag and off I go. As I get close to Stromsund it starts to rain and its then that I realise I have left my wets behind. Too late now. I hope
The mine at Kiruna - it is bigger below ground they say!
|JUNE 23 Well the rest of that afternoon was fine but always with the hint of heavy rain somewhere else. But at the end of the day I find myself back at Stromsund and take a hut for the night. Beats putting the tent up every time. That night I listen to the rain hammering down and regret the absence of the waterproofs. I decide that there should be a walkers/fishermans shop who might do some wets and head off to return the hut key and look around. As I get to the camp office there is a very excited Swede clearly wanting a chat. So we do and he owns a Panther 350 from 1952! Konrad is a really great guy and immediately say s he will give me some waterproofs as the club has some. The clubhouse is half the size of a football field, contains any number of bikes and cars and the Panther 350 - and one pair of Swedish army issue waterproofs - one size fits all - from 1961 about. A bit voluminous might be an exaggeration but they look as if they will work. So a really big thanks to Konrad who says they are a gift - but I plan to return them because that is just too generous. That day they do their job well and the rain holds off. The next day it doesn’t, and the next as I beat a rapid path - or at least same speed, 50mph, but long in the saddle. And just as I am getting close to |
I think I have averaged about 300 miles a day for the last three, one was undoubtedly more but I never measure such things. The rear tyre is definitely on the more exciting side of legal, but at Panther speed not exactly a danger. And so I sit here in a small and relatively inexpensive German hotel, enjoying an affordable beer watching the rain come down as it has almost all day, leaving wounds on any unprotected flesh before moving on for a while only to return. Hope the weather is better tomorrow!Bike though is still plodding along. Starts Ok, is seemingly unaffected by rain, and has only developed one rattle which I cant place but as it is fine under load and rattles on the overun I reckon it cant be too serious. Gave the old bike an extra glug of oil tonight and parked up out of the worst of the storms. Tomorrow I head for Duisberg and Gent I think and all being well
JUNE 25Not too surprisingly it is grey and cloudy the next morning as I start the long bash to
I climb into the Swedish army wet suit having finally acknowledged that this is now a lot more than a passing shower. The damage of course has been done and I am fairly wet around the nether regions by now. I head on towards