To the Arctic on a 1948 Panther

The Route

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...

Arctic map, Panther Publishing 

 JUNE 5

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! 

1948 Panther Motorcycles

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 Karlstad - at least by my standards. On the way I noticed that my forks were squeaking for no good reason. So bouncing them up and down to see what, if anything was wrong, it seemed as if they were locked solid after only a bit of movement. Blind panic set in for about 30 secs until I realised I had the side stand down! Anyhow mere mention of squeaking forks and my friend Gunnar was noble enough to suggest that he drive the 200 miles down, pick me up and take me to his place on his trailer. Incredible generosity. I rode up all the same and we put a bit more grease in and oil in the legs and after a day or two the squeaking has now gone away. Thanks to Gunnar and Ana for their generous hospitality and a really great bbq! Gunnar has helped a lot with the route planning and I am largely following his suggestions and indebted to them both for their hospitality.

The next day I set off heading for Sveg and a long ride through the endless birch forests and a million lakes of central Sweden. The bike is thumping along quite nicely and I just keep going. That night I try a hut in a Swedish campsite. This gives you a real roof, bed, cooker etc and is rather a good way of camping though not cheap at about £30 a night. But then the charge for a tent can be anything up to £25 so viewed on those terms good value!

Leaving Sveg the next morning I have a go at a short cut Gunnar and I have discussed. Seems to be no problem and I confidently set off. Some 15 or more miles later and it is becoming clear I have the wrong road. Sat Nav Girl (SNG) is brought out and agrees (and refuses to wipe the grin off her face). So we hasten back to Sveg and look for the right road. It starts to rain as well. A few minutes of charging around the town has SNG and me in complete agreement for at least 5 miles when the rain gets heavier and SNG changes her mind!

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 Arctic Circle. Up here the forest has begun to thin out at times and there are more fir trees than birch. I see some ‘Elk’ on the road, (now known to be Reindeer, Elk are enormous these were only deer sized!) and manage to avoid hitting them. Its difficult keeping your eye on three animals at once all running in different directions. But due to my stately pace the reindeer outrun the bike into the woods. Tonight though I am in a building site. There doesn’t seem to be a campsite and after another 300 miles I am feeling tired. So I try the local hotel and some negotiation takes place. As a result I have wifi, hence this update and a room for much the same price as a hut. It’s just that my wing of the hotel is not yet finished so I expect a Swedish bricky for breakfast tomorrow.

 

 

A Swedish Hut. Roof, heat, cooker, bed....beats a tent!

Arctic by Panther Motorcycle

Typical Swedish landscape - forest and lakes

Arctic by Panther motorcycle

 

 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 Arctic Circle! For me this is the high point - I have made it to the arctic and I take the obligatory picture or two, which of course I still cannot upload. The circle occurs here at a place called Jokkmokk which I think is rather a nice name. As if to reassure me this really is the arctic it starts getting colder if anything as I head up towards Finland. The journey is uneventful apart from the bumps in the road which make for very tiring riding as I can’t go fast or something is sure to break. Up here you can travel for 50 miles without seeing anything other than the landscape (boulders, thinnish forest and lakes) and the occasional wild animal - mainly strange birds and one more ‘Elk’ which I have discovered were actually Reindeer! Just as good though

I arrive at the end of Sweden and get another hut for the night where I meet two Germans, not travelling together but both going to NordKapp! I had just met a car driver in the garage who had overtaken me on the road and stopped me to say how impressive he thought my journey was. So I was full of myself when I met these two, who rather brought me back to earth as cycling from Germany to NordKapp beats taking the bike every time, and then some! The great thing about huts is that they are WARM because they have electrical heaters! Makes them well worth every penny on days like today!

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 Finland now and down the long valley to Norway. Here it is mountainous and as you come through the pass the landscape changes - from there being just scrub trees and a few firs suddenly as you go down the mountain into Norway there are all sorts of different trees and greenery and as you get lower even a farm!

I trundle on round the coast and stop for petrol, Norwegian dosh and a bite to eat. It takes me about five laps of the place to find the bank even though it is a sort of car park (empty) with buildings which are shops, petrol station, bank etc seemingly scattered at random around this one flat piece of land amongst the beautiful snow covered mountains. I get off the bike by swinging my leg over the luggage bungeed onto the back and promptly get stuck on my bungee cord. I can’t move on or off and am reduced to shouting in a sort of squeaky and embarrassed way ‘help…’ to some teenage girls sitting around chatting on the wall. One of them comes over to see what the poor fool wants, sees the problem unclips me and with just the hint of a ‘poor idiot’ look goes back to her friend. As I leave I wave goodbye and could swear I could here them giggling above my exhaust!

 

 

The panther has reached the Arctic

Arctic by Panther motorcycle

Into Finland with the snow on the mountains

Arctic by Panther motorcycle

JUNE 16

So 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 Arctic Circle. Anyhow the sight is dramatic: incredible light, absolutely dazzling sunlight as the sun hangs about 10 degrees above the horizon and, astronomy being nothing if not predictable, it does not set. A great site and the highpoint of the trip.

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!

 

 Arctic by Panther motorcycle

Arctic by Panther Motorcycle

Strange landscape on the way to Kiruna,

below detail from above picture

Arctic by Panther motorcycle

 

JUNE 19

It 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 Sweden has seen enough rain for a few days - enough at least to see me home!

 

 Arctic by Panther motorcycle

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 Esbjerg, what happens? The bloody boat crashes into Harwich! Now as I have not been able to alter my ferry booking by phone (Incompetence with mobiles is the cause) I realise I am really stuffed. There is no crossing on Tuesday and may not be one the whole week the ferry office informs my Danish assistant. Oh drat, Calais it is then. So on Sunday I set off for Calais trusting to luck and motorways to take me the 7-800 miles in quickish time. And does it ever rain. Konrad you are the world’s most wonderful person - not a drop gets past the Swedish army attire. I may look a bit silly but I am DRY!! In the rain it has to be said that Swedish roads are a bit on the boring side. The same is also true for Danish and for that matter German roads.

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 Calais after that.

 Arctic by Panther motorcycle

JUNE 25

Not too surprisingly it is grey and cloudy the next morning as I start the long bash to Holland. A very uneventful ride but at least it stayed dry. Motorways are incredibly tedious but they do eat miles. As I come up to the Dutch border darker clouds gather and then the rain starts. The sort of rain that is never really hard but seems to be absolutely continuous and seeps into just about anything. Thinking ity is just a passing shower I press on until it dawns on me that this rain isn’t stopping so I turn off the motorway looking for a place for the night and one preferably with a roof attached. The first place I small town I try has nothing I can see but all the excitement of having the town centre completely dug up. I turn back and ask a couple of ladies loading their cars up with shopping a few miles out of town and in a car park with no visible shops or even buildings around. Why they were there and why the car park is going to remain a mystery. They tell me there is a b&b just up the road so damp and wet I go as directed and a bit to my surprise there is a B&B  but it seems to be closed and there is no answer to the bell.

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 Eindhoven and look for shelter there. Again nothing seemingly in sight so I ask at the local bar who tell me the building opposite is in fact a cheap hotel. I squelch to the door and ring furiously but nothing happens. That’s because they demand you ring them first. Now this means almost completely disrobing to get at the mobile which I keep in a plastic bag deep within my bike gear. With the rain still tumbling down I think I will preserve the life of the mobile and look elsewhere. Eventually, after much looking, I am directed to a rather more plush hotel than I would normally frequent but that just serves me right for being too lazy to get out the mobile. Still its dry and puts on a good breakfast!

Once again the next morning starts grey, but this time brightens up and I head for Calais. The bike has other ideas and insists I tighten chains, alternator belt and such like, but eventually I make it to Calais where I meet a fellow motorcyclist Raymond from the Netherlands and we while away the time chatting about our various adventures. He is good company and the boring crossing goes quickly. Then, this time in the sun and warmth(!) it is just the slog up the M20, M25, and M40 weaving between the lanes in the rush hour like the good London commuter I used to be, until I finally reach home. 4,500 miles about with hardly a moment’s trouble and the bike never even missed a beat.