Posted on June 10, 2015
The next moto hobo initiative is a trek to the other coastline of Eurasia, but before heading east, I aimed north. While cooking in the hot hot heat of Africa, images of tubing waves in front of snowcapped mountains at the mouths of gaping fjords had captured my imagination. Jamie was headed back to California for a few weeks and I was headed towards the Arctic Circle. No one told me that this was the coldest and wettest May that Norway has seen in the last 20 years. Suppose I could have looked that up. Instead, I just started riding.
I didn’t make it very far out of Belgium on the first day. I tagged along with our Belgian friends to a gathering of behemoth-truck-loving overlanders. The guy who owned the place builds these incredible earth-crossing machines from scratch, with comfy living quarters built upon beastly, Congo capable 4×4 bodies. They are impressive to say the least, but not really my cup of tea. I like a vehicle that fits in a dugout canoe.
The guy also happened to have the coolest Harley Davidson motorcycle collection I’ve ever seen.
With travel costs growing as I headed north, I was relegated to wild camping wherever I could find a spot in the woods. In the north of Germany I found a great spot and got ready to cook up some rice when I realized I didn’t have any water. I’ve gone into the woods for the night, with no water. Without Jamie along it seems I can no longer be trusted to basic tasks to ensure survival.
A good friend from graduate school called Lauren had moved to Copenhagen 5 years ago and we’d since lost touch. I tracked her down and let her know I was headed her way. I severely underestimated the time it would take to get there. To save 50 Euros, I rode the long way around rather than taking the more direct ferry. This seemed like a good plan before it started raining. After 3 hours on the highway in the rain it seemed like a less good plan. Before long it became clear that the rain was not the type of passing storm that we had become used to in Africa and Turkey. This storm system was planted over top of Denmark and making itself comfortable.
My boots are now about as waterproof as a spaghetti strainer and eventually, the rain soaks through everything else as well. My trapezius muscles kept winding themselves up painfully tight as my body retreated into itself trying to recoil from the biting cold that never abated for a second. When going slowly through a roundabout I noticed a new vibration in the front end of the bike transmitting to the bars. Then I realized that the it was not the bike vibrating the bars, it was me. I’d been shivering for hours now on the motorway, but when I slowed down I became aware just how hard my body was working to stay warm. I had nothing to do but keep riding.
The pinnacle of the trial came near to Copenhagen in the form of the longest bridge I’d ever seen. It surely must be one of the longest in the world. It was a steely, cold apparition that emerged from the gray void I was hurtling through. The bridge shot up from the white capped ocean surface below. To me it seemed that the bridge and the storm and the ocean below were all part of the same cold spikey creature. I did not want to cross that thing. I’d been riding for 7 hours in the driving rain and Lauren’s warm apartment with a warm dinner was across that bridge.
I managed to not get blown from the bridge and arrived to the center of Copenhagen to enjoy the best hot shower in memory and a great dinner courtesy of Lauren and her boyfriend Jacob. We drank wine and talked old times, when we were new graduate students. We were so excited about what we were working on back then. We used to drive to San Diego State together every day and Lauren would constantly refer to me as ‘Carpool Gary’ just to be sure no one got the wrong idea that we were dating and I would mess up her action. It was funny. The next morning Lauren showed me around the super bicycle friendly and bakery blessed city of Copenhagen.
When the rain took a break I left the cozy Copenhagen apartment and rode for Gothenburg in Sweden. I’d had some nagging issues with the bike that seemed to just be getting worse – a clanky noise at idle, and a kind of stuttery power delivery. I’d replaced everything in the drive train except for the chain. I met a couple of great guys at Johan’s MC in Gothenburg who had a listen and took a ride and gave me their opinion. They reckoned it was a clutch basket issue, as you could make the noise go away while idling by pulling in the clutch. Now comes the fun part.
Sweden is expensive. Not exactly a top moto hobo destination. I can’t actually pay for the gurus here to do anything, and the boss of the garage didn’t want me exploding my scene in front of the shop.
So now here’s the bike, fully loaded, laid over on its side in a parking lot, trying to keep as much oil in it as possible with the clutch cover off. Oh, and the best part was that it was going to rain any second. I needed to inspect the clutch basket for wear and check to see if the bit nut that holds it on was torqued properly. The only problem was that I don’t have a torque wrench. The last time I reinstalled the clutch without a torque wrench, I no longer had a functioning clutch. The guys at Johan’s MC have a torque wrench. But it’s about to rain and I’m a full scene in this parking lot across the street trying to soak up excess oil with the last of Jamie’s passport photocopies (sorry Jamie, Dyna says thanks). I put my jacket over Dyna’s exposed entrails to block the rain and ran back across the street to beg these guys for a torque wrench. They smuggled me out the wrench and some big sockets, no problem. Phil and company, you guys are legends.
Back across the street, and I now realized that I need to try to keep the rear wheel from turning to properly tighten the clutch basket nut (not so easy with the bike on its side and the rear wheel rolling free). I end up doing this contortionist routine, jamming the toe of my boot between the tire and the swingarm, while leaning over to yank on the torque wrench, all the while waiting for the first rain drops to fall. I tightened the clutch basket nut another 5 N-m within the specified range and managed to get her buttoned up and back together in the next hour before too much rain hit the ground. I managed to save the current gasket and reuse it (very good, since I’ve only got 1 spare). When I took off for a test ride I had the same stuttery power delivery as before and the same clattery noise from the gear box. God dammit. I was too tired to care too much. At least I didn’t break anything new, loose anything, or fill the gearbox with rain. I’m gonna call it a win.
I never seemed to learn the lesson very well that my Dad tried to teach me a long time ago in basic mechanics – exhaust the simple solutions first before you jump to ideas about bigger, more costly things that may be wrong. I’d mistakenly conflated the noise at idle with the stutter in the drive, but they were separate problems. My chain had run 22,000 miles from South Africa and it must have developed a stiff link. When I replaced it, the stutter in the drive disappeared. There’s still bit of rattle in the clutch basket but at her age, I suppose she’s allowed a few moans and groans.
I rode north and camped in the park in Oslo and no one seemed to mind. From there I was headed for the fjordlands in the far west of Norway. The great thing about Scandinavia is that you can camp just about anywhere without hassle. In fact I only paid for two nights of campsite accommodation during two weeks in Scandinavia. The carte blanche camping would actually be far more attractive if it weren’t raining and freezing and I wasn’t on a motorcycle. Arriving at camp cold and wet and unpacking a wet tent to crawl into for the night just wears me down after some time. I had two equipment boons to help me through it though: I now had both Jamie’s and my sleeping bags, and I’d bought a $23 tent at the discount camping store in Belgium (Jamie brought ours back to REI in California for exchange). I never dreamed that this wonky-designed tent would be completely waterproof, but it never let in a drop.
My route choices were less good than my equipment choices. I took a road that climbed over a high mountain pass where the rain soon turned to snow and the lakes were frozen solid. I continued riding, the snow got heavier and my visor began to fog badly, a crust covered my windshield, and I was flying blind through the white haze. The route went through rough-hewn tunnels with very little or no lights and I felt just about snow blind every time I entered one. For the first time in a long time, I felt as though I’d gotten myself in over my head. When some cabins appeared, abandoned for the season, I started thinking about breaking into one of them to wait this mess out. The only options available seemed like bad options.
I’ve never been so happy to see rain on my visor than I was after a few hundred meters of decent from that pass. I found a campsite, unrolled my soggy tent, lay down and tried to unwind myself inside. Spring is feeling decidedly un-sprung at this latitude.
Once near the west coast, I began to trace outlines of fjords for hours on end and enjoyed the gift of a sunny morning. For the most part it was an awesome day of riding, filled with stunning ice-carved vistas. After the previous day of riding, a few hours of sun on my back felt absolutely fantastic. It was some of the most dramatic landscape I’ve ever ridden through. With very little traffic, you can really ride the roads that meander the fjord margins.
The Norwegian road system in the fjord lands is an engineering marvel. This is some of the most rugged terrain you could imagine traversing with a road and they’ve opted to blast through the peaks and ridges more often than not. I must have ridden through hundreds of miles of tunnels. One of them was 16 miles long! It was actually very nice with all the rain I got to spend a substantial amount of time riding indoors.
Though the roads are fantastic, riding out to the Stad peninsula still feels like heading off the edge of the map. I’d seen some awesome looking photos of the waves in this labyrinthine region in the far west of Norway. A couple of days delay in Sweden due to the bike trouble along with the dropping temperatures and constant rain had convinced me to stop short of the Arctic. As usual, travel took longer than expected and I was exhausted when I got to the top of the ridge, but stoked on what I saw below. There were waves. And surfers.
It was a long weekend and there were a bunch of Norwegian surfers up from Oslo and other places camping out at the surf spot. It was a comforting sight. I rode down and immediately got to talking with a few of the guys. I quickly had a beer in hand and was offered a board and suit to use from the hospitable local crew as we watched the surf in the dim twilight that seemed to last forever.
The rain started that night and pretty much didn’t stop for 2 days. I spent most of the time in the two square meter space of my tent waiting for a break to jump out and cook some food or have a look at the surf. I’m not sure I’ve ever appreciated the importance of shelter than I did during those two days. And this was nearly June! The Viking peoples that historically inhabited this region must have been some tough characters. I’d say surfers that brave these elements for a wave are a pretty hearty breed as well.
The landscape is stark, the water is frigid and the storms never seem to abate, but there are some really good waves that the local surfers have been riding for decades now. Only recently has the larger surfing world begun to pay attention to Norway and the hidden gems at the end of these fjords. The biggest and most consistent swells arrive in winter, but there isn’t much daylight to surf by. Further north from here above the Arctic Circle, the days pass in nearly total darkness in the winter, but that’s where some of the best waves are.
After a few days surfing in Hoddevik, I continued north through the fjordlands toward Trondheim, hopstotching islands along the ‘Atlantic Road.’
Now, the amount of daylight was just becoming silly. The sun would set around 2 AM, and kind of hover in a sunset/sunrise mode for a few hours, then appear once again above the horizon.
As I turned east, I knew that I’d be moving into higher country, and the memory of my last mountain pass made me apprehensive. Sure enough, I started to climb. It was evening already, but I figured that I would reach the top of a pass and descend again, but once reaching the snow line, the road just kept undulating along right above it. At around 11 PM, the light that crept in through the trees began to attenuate. Looking off to the side of the road at the snow banks I just couldn’t bring myself to find a spot to set up my tent in that snow after riding all day in the cold, so I just kept riding. I was cold and tired, but the decent to lower elevation I was hoping for just wasn’t coming.
Again I wondered if I were getting myself in too deep. A huge figure loomed in the middle of the road in the dusky light. It was a moose. I’d never seen one before in the wild. I stopped the bike about 15 meters away and it stood there looking stately in a shaggy brown coat surrounded by a calm that mirrored the silence of the landscape. The anxiety that had started to build in me a moment before floated out of my mind and was lost in the forest. The moose had a look at me, then slowly lumbered off the road. From the snow bank, he looked back in my direction and in my exhausted imagination, with a slow, drooly moose drawl he mouthed the words ‘You’re gonna make it’ and trotted off into the brown tangle of trees. I must have looked silly sitting on the bike in the middle of the road grinning, but with the endorsement of my moose I was sure the decent to lower terrain wasn’t far ahead.