Friday, 21 June 2013

Day 6 - Middle of nowhere (before Pello) to Tornio 131km (kolari to tornio)

Woke up on time despite a poor nights' sleep - this was as much a case of wanting to get up and out of the horrible bumpy field we had chosen to camp in as anything else. It was raining outside which did nothing for motivation levels - the only good thing being that there were no mosquitos around. I was up before the others and remember having a bottle of cider that I had bought in the supermarket last night along with some food. Chris and Tom had fared worse than the rest of us, choosing an especially poor patch of ground when pitching their tents last night and having flooded tents. Packing up was a case of struggling to put everything away into the pannier bags within the very confined space that was our one-man tents before braving the rain, dismantling the tents and slagging it all onto the bikes as quickly as possible. Everyone except me and Mark made fast work of this and were up and away within half an hour. Eventually probably 20 minutes or so after the others me and Mark finally got going sharing a bottle of cider before pedalling. It wasn't long before we got to a town called Pello. At this point I was totally reliant on Mark as didn't know where we were going or supposed to be meeting. I also didn't have any credit on my phone (this was the case for the entire trip - I foolishly thought before leaving the UK that I would not need credit as would be with the others all the time eliminating the need to make any calls). Mark did have a phone so was our only way of contacting the others. Having said this Mark tried to call the others at Pello and couldn't get through. We stopped for a toilet/food break at a petrol station taking it in turns to go in and out. After the break we got back on the bikes and I followed Mark out of Pello towards the Arctic Circle line. We were pedalling at a decent pace and managed to catch up with the girls before getting there. Soon after that we had reached it. Chris and Tom were there waiting for us. There was a large car park area with a continuous white line running across the tarmac marking the Arctic Circle. This was a pretty big milestone in the trip, so we took several photos. We had left the early morning rain behind in Pello and it was now cold and windy. We went inside the Arctic Circle shop to escape the elements and buy souvenirs/postcards. I was after a troll as wanted something fun to represent Finland to attach on the bike. Unfortunately there were no decent/reasonably priced trolls there so I just got a postcard. I remember Kinza buying a little white cuddly reindeer that was named Sami. After getting the souvenir/postcards out of the way we pushed on. Soon after leaving I had my first extrawheel issue - one of the bolts had come loose so I screwed this back in and continued. The others were waiting for me at a junction a bit further ahead. We did a right at the junction, taking us over the bridge over a river and into Sweden. There were no big signs marking the crossing. Anyway once over the bridge we turned left along a road that followed the river and would eventually lead us to Tornio (our destination for the end of the day). About 10 or 15 minutes after turning onto this road Chris got his first broken spoke. Sensing that this could be a lengthy delay the girls cycled on. Off came the wheel. The broken spoke was easy enough to take off and replace. However replacing this one spoke had caused the wheel to spin horribly and it was unrideable. Chris was now getting frustrated. After some considerable time tweaking this spoke and the other spokes the wheel was rideable but far from perfect. We were probably by the side of the road for an hour or so - thankfully the road was quiet. I was very eager to get pedalling again to warm up more than anything else. It was a long, flat and boring ride to Tornio with the only thing noticeable being all the road signs and arrows being in yellow and blue to represent the colours of the Swedish flag. I was starting to struggle about halfway along this neverending road so Chris and Mark went off ahead and Tom stayed with me. We found them sitting at a bus shelter waiting for us further along. Mark had managed to get red paint all over his hi-viz jacket (he failed to see the 'wet paint' sign at the bus shelter) making him look like he had been in a RTC. Eventually we got to the outskirts of Tornio and got a hot dog at a petrol station. We managed to get in touch with Kinza and find out where we were supposed to be going (tonight was our first nights' Couchsurfing). We soon got going again. One of the first things we saw after leaving the petrol station was a massive Ikea - apparently being the furthest north Ikea in the world. We crossed a bridge back into Finland and the main bit of Tornio. After the standard difficulty navigating in a foreign town we eventually found where we were staying and reunited with the girls. We didn't arrive until late in the evening - it was a good job the girls went ahead earlier so they could get to our host at a reasonable time. Anyway we introduced ourselves to our hosts Juan and his girlfriend. Juan had allocated an annex for us all to sleep in. There was a choice of various mattresses and a hammock. Kinza shotgunned the hammock. Nobody cared. I managed to get a decent mattress :) . Juan very kindly brought us in some tea and snacks - this was soon gone. Next was the sauna. We were all very keen for this. I didn't have any trunks so had to make do with boxers. We went in the sauna and relaxed in the intense heat with a beer. We had cups to pour water small amounts of the cold water over ourselves to stay cool/toss in the furnace every now and again. There was also a large container filled with water and some buckets. Juan joined us for a while before leaving. A bit later Tom came in. He had no idea what you were meant to do in the sauna with the water so we thought it would be funny to get him to pour an entire bucket of the cold water over himself. He was a bit unsure about this but we convinced him to go ahead trying not to laugh. He went ahead and did it and screamed like a girl. We were all crying with laughter. He saw the funny side. Anyway I ended up staying in the sauna for a few hours feeling properly relaxed. I had a wash in there just before leaving to save having to get in the shower after. I went back our annex, had some more food, chatted for a bit before finally going to bed in the early hours.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Day 5 - Katkasuvan to middle of nowhere (approx. 161km - 100 MILES!!!)

The group was divided last night whether or not we should leave early and avoid the angry farmer potential or stay and risk it. Mother Kinza had spoken so we stayed. I as always was up first (i defo should have used my nemo sleeping mat instead of the uncomfortable reindeer hyde for a matress) and made use of the lovely hole-in-the-ground toilet facility i found in another hut outside. I was expecting someone to come in our hut at any time as it was now mid morning. Eventually the others got up and we heard a man with a chainsaw outside and started to get a bit worried. We needn't have worried as there were a few people outside that had blatently seen us and didn't care. After packing the sleeping stuff up we walked over to the souvenir place (they also did a coffee and a doghnut for 0.50 cents!!!). We offered to give them some money for sleeping in our hut but they weren't bothered so we didn't have to pay. We of course had to have the coffeee/doghnut deal (they even had hot chocolate as a coffee alternative which I was very happy about). I also got a reindeer sandwich )tasted like salami). I then went and got another hot chocolate/doghnut before having a mooch around the souvenir shop. Some of us ended up getting stickers for the bikes. We then posed for some silly photos with a stuffed brown bear and giant cuddly reindeer before setting off at maybe 11 or 11.30am. The next town was only 30k away but involved another eating session (including me eating about 0.6 litres out of a 0.9 litre tub of ice cream and sharing the remainder with the others). The next bit of the ride involved a heavy downpour (luckily I was able to take shelter in an outbuilding for this) and a few lighter showers.I had the ipod/rave tunes going at this stage which helped morale in the wet. We stopped at a lovely spot by a lake a bit later and had more food (since depriving ourselves in Norway of the quantity/quality of food we would have liked due to extortionate Norweigan prices we were endulging). It was probably a few more hours to the next town which involved yet another supermarket eating session. I had a cider to try and give me a bit of a boost to cover the last 40k+ slog. It didn't help. Like yesterday evening it was another glorious end to the day with quality roads and weather. We seperated into 3 groups of 2 with Chris and Tom being the lead group. I was with Mark. The plan was to stop somewhere around the 150k to Tornio mark. Me and Mark approached this so started looking out for Tom and Chris expecting to see them setting up camp somewhere within sight of the side of the road soon. We passed the 150k to Tornio sign and rode for another few km - still no sign of them. We were both very fatigued at this point so decided we would get to the 100 mile mark and camp there regardless of whether we found them or not. There was still no sign of them after 100 miles so we opted to set up our tents in a grassy area within vision of the road. This was mosquito central and was a very unpleasant experience putting the tents up. The girls found us very shortly after. Kinza had spoken to Chris and Tom and they had pushed on a few more km's as wanted to try and reach the next town of Pello. This typical breakdown of communication caused friction in the group and we agreed that in future we would make it clearer where we would stop and stop more often to reunite as the full group. Anyway Chris and Tom came back to the mosquito field with us and we set up camp reunited before going to sleep. Highlights - 0.50 cent hot chocolate/doghnuts, silly photos at the souvenir shop, the several over endulgant supermarket eating sessions.

Day 4 - Kautokeino to Katkasuvan (approx. 122km)

I ended up going to bed very late the previous night in order to make use of Michelle's ipad after everyone else had finished with it. Therefore when my alarm went off about 5 hours later and it was raining heavily outside I opted to stay in my cocoon and wait for the rain to stop (especially given the fact I could hear Mark still i his tent). 11am, then midday - still raining. I tentatively unzipped the tent door to see that the others had already taken their tents down and were seeking refuge in the kitchen area. They then urged me to start packing up so I began the awkward, cramped process of deflating and packing the sleeping mat, rolling up and packing the blue kazoo (my sleeping bag that all the others are well jealous of) and slagging all the clothes and random posessions into the pannier bags. After the packing it was a quick dash to the dry kitchen area with all my stuff. My breakfast eating session began with a generous bowl of corn flakes with condensed milk )at least that's what I think it was - more like cream than milk), peanut butter baguette with virtually a whole jar of peanut butter, peanut butter bourbons (a layer of peanut butter that I sanwiched between 2 leftover rich tea-style biscuits) along with the standard crisps and chocolate. At one point Chris needed a carrier bag to cover his handlebar bag to act as a waterproof cover and there weren't any around. Then Kinza spotted a bag next to the toilet with discarded toilet paper in and suggested he used this. This resulted in Chris spending about 5 minutes gradually emptying the contents of the bag down the toilet and flushing so he could have the bag much to everyone's amusement. The girls then had to get food from the petrol station in town (they had to go back the way we came for 1 or 2 km to get there) as they arrived after the supermarket shut the previous evening so had run out of food. Tom went with them as well as he had eaten all of his supermarket food from yesterday. When Tom and the girls got back we finally left at 2.20pm with a 128km day ahead of us. The rain had significantly eased and the heavy rain had faded into a drizzle. Initially I felt good having had the spaghetti last night and a good eating session before leaving. We were crossing the border into Finland soon so this helped with motivation. There were a few more rain showers during the earlier section of the day which made for rather unpleasant riding for a bit. Thankfully these were short lived and by the time we crossed into Finland the rain had gone. We stopped at a 'Roadside Grill' for another eating session at around 8 or 9pm and got burgers, kebabs and chips. This was also when I discovered the delicious strawberry cider they seem to have everywhere have up here. Despite feeling fatigued the cycle from the roadside grill to our destination was wonderful (long, smooth, reletively flat roads) and it had turned into a beautiful sunny evening. We were wild camping so as we approached the designated daily mileage the lookout for potential places to crash began. Soon we came across this souvenir place which also had cabins to rent. Nobody was up for camping so mother Kinza along with her son Tom went knocking looking around for someone to ask about renting a cabin. Inevitably nobody was around as it had gone midnight. There were several outbuildings dotted around so we had a look at these for potential sanctuary, finding an empty teepee-style wooden hut with a reindeer-hyde bench around the perimeter indide with reindeer hyde's for cushions and a massive stove/chimney in the middle. This warm, dry, mosquito free area would definitely do. We set to work shotgunning spaces on the perimeter bench/reindeer hydes/getting sleeping arrangements in order. The girls wrote a note to the owners as were worried about the possibility of an angry Finnish farmer coming in at 5am wondering what on earth 6 cyclists were doing sprawled across his hut. After a smallish eating session we went to bed. Highlights: Chris's toliet paper bag, the evening ride after the roadside grill, mother Kinza and son Tom.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Day 3 - Karasjok to Kautokeino (approx. 128km)

Woke up early and decided to go for a run before the day's ride. After about 5 minuted of running I had to take my thirst off as it was very hot. I ran around the town's streets and went down a couple of tracks leading into the forests which were nice and my iPod helped me along. I was back at the campsite in just over an hour having covered a very leisurely 7 miles. The others were up by now so I whacked out the speaker and got the morning music session going as I packed up the tent. I then went into the lounge area and joined the others for breakfast. Chris managed to spill the bag of corn flakes all over the floor so proceeded to scoop them into his bowl with his hands before eating. He'd had a better nights sleep in the room he room adjoining the lounge area than any of us did in the camp field. We were all a bit jealous of this. We ended up setting off for the supermarket eating session in town at around 10.30. After maybe an hour we made our way out of town towards today's destination of Kautokeino. It was yet another hot and sunny start (a little cooler than yesterday but still pretty hot). The road was long and not very exciting and I was slacking a bit. At one stage a reindeer ran ahead of me in the middle of the road for about 3km until a car passed causing it to run into the bushes. The sunny weather turned cloudy as the earlier part of the ride went on and there were a few rain showers. These were a welcome bit of rest bite from the in need constant sun. I was riding with the girls now and had a good chat with Kinza about the summer project which was a welcome distraction from focussing solely on cycling. The terrain was a mixture of flat and up and down which was nice. We had a nice first lunch by a stream at the side of the deserted road in the middle of nowhere and Kinza gave me an energy tablet as i was in need of a boost. After a few more hours and after the energy tablet had well and truly kicked in I decided to up the pace as wanted to get to Kautokeino before the supermarket closed. The last 20k into Kautokeino seemed never ending and the km's really dragged Made worse by the fact that I was running very low on energy. I found myself spontaneously bursting into spouts of laughter at random silly things as i had also been on several the previous few days. Eventually I made it to Kautokeino and thankfully about 10 minutes before the supermarket closed. I was running very low on krone so the shopping had to go on the card. I bought a bit more than normal on this occasion due to the fact it was all going on the card and got a massive baguette, jar of peanut butter, ice cream, milk and chocolate. The milk turned out to be thick condensed stuff more like cream (a classic case of trying to guess what an item is by looking at the packaging due to not being able to understand the writing on the label) but tasted alright. After a short ride to the campsite the hysteria kicked in and we were all in silly moods especially Tom who was running around as we'll as doing the standard impersonations (David Brent and 'The Colonel' spring to mind). We sorted the tents out after more snacking and then came the highlight - Tom had cooked a load of spaghetti and beans which was the first cooked meal I had since leaving home so was very welcome. After this I went to check out the shower hoping it would be free as spent the last of my krone on the tent pitch. The showers were the standard 10 krone so i resorted to having a slaggy splash with some showergel by the sinks where the toilets/showres were.The campsite unlike the previous two we stayed in had free wifi so I was able to borrow Michelle's iPad and finally make a start on this blog :) . As ever the blog writing took ages and I was sitting on the sofa outside the campsite reception until probably 2.30am before going to bed. Highlights: the morning run, the spaghetti and beans, finally getting to start the blog.

Day 2 - Rusennes to Karasjok (approx. 139km)

Woke up at around 7am to another hot and sunny day. Chris was up unusually early and had been talking to one of the other campers - he was a dutch man who had come here for several years and said he'd never seen weather like this here before - good karma. I Was very hungry so after getting the majority of the packing out the way I ran down the road hoping to find e supermarket that the woman in the Campsite reception said there was. Couldn't find it so had to resort to an expensive baguette from the cafe. As the campsite was next to a lake I was toying with the idea of going for a swim. Kinza gave me a few encouraging words so decided to go for it. The swim was amazing (the water surprisingly not uncomfortably cold, the water crystal clear, clean and calm). After probably about half an hour in the water I came back and saw that others had packed up and gone to the cafe to get some breakfast. By the time I'd dried off and put the rest of my stuff on the bike they had gone and we arranged to meet in Lakselv (our lunchtime destination). The morning got very warm and the cycling was again amazing with quality roads and scenery. I even saw a girl ski training (skiing along the road with wheels on the bottom of the skis at one point). Eventually I met up with the others at Lakselv and we sat down to the first of what would become many supermarket eating sessions. We knew the budget was tight so went for pretty basic stuff (my star buy was a 750g box of cornflakes that cost 9 krone (approx £1) that lasted about 4 days. After the eating we cycled through a very tough (hilly and very hot) afternoon. Tom managed to fall off and graze his elbow (thankfully nothing too severe). This resulted in a few tweaks being needed to realign the wheel and handlebar which I helped with. The ride was taking us inland so we now didn't have the coastal breeze or views to help us along so it was very testing. after consuming several litres of water each throughout the afternoon we finally made it to our campsite in Karasjok at around 8.30pm. Mosquitos were rife so the first thing to do was throw everything out of the bags in order to find our mosquito repellent sprays. We (everyone except Chris) set up their tents as quickly as possible to escape the Mosquitos and seek refuge in the lounge/tv area. I was as usual slowest to sort out the tent and by the time I'd finished Chris had fallen asleep on the sofa in the lounge area, Tom and Mark were watching TV and the girls were busy on their iPhones/iPad taking full advantage of the campsite's Wi-fi. Dinner for me consisted of some salami baguette leftover from earlier, banana and corn flakes. I went to bed pretty soon after the corn flakes. Highlights: Swimming in the lake. also Kinza coming over to the lad's table at lunch and asking if any of us knew if there was a toilet in the supermarket to which Tom replied 'yeah I just had a big one' - a clear sign that any normal standards of etiquette had already gone out the window and it was only day 2 lol.

Day 1 (first full day) - Nordkapp to Rusennes (approx. 125km)

Woke up at around 6am felt fairly tired. Had a wander around the car park and surrounding area we were camping in - it was another beautiful warm and sunny day). Then had a bit of pasta and a few other things leftover from yesterday's massive day-long eating session. I then set to work on slaggily arranging all my stuff on the bike with cable-tie's and bungee's. This was horrendously long even by my standards and even though I woke up a good hour before everyone else by the time I had arranged everything to my satisfaction everyone else bar Tom (who kindly waited with me) had left an hour and a half ago. So I eventually set off at around midday and the bike although still carrying the same weight was a bit easier to ride due to the weight being better distributed. After a fair few stops to adjust bungees and make some slaggy bits of packing a bit more secure me and Tom finally made it to Honnigsvag and the supermarket to meet the others. They were of course wanting to leave by the time me and Tom arrived so we had 10 minutes to quickly buy what we needed. I bought an ice cream and pack of biscuits and wanted minimal additional weight. So after shovelling down the ice cream we made our way towards Rusennes (our destination for the end of e day). En route were a selection of tunnels including the infamous Nordkapp tunnel with it's massive descent followed by massive ascent. The descent was horrible as I'd opted not to put anything on over the tank top I was wearing so got very cold. On top of that my brakes were making a horrible grinding noise virtually the whole way down (I was having to squeeze the brakes the whole time due to the severity of the decline). I was glad to see the lowest point of the tunnel and loved the challenge of cycling up the other side (definitely the longest continuous climb I'd ever done) especially with the weight I was carrying. We all met up at the end of the tunnel and carried on through more breathtaking scenery eventually making it to our campsite at Rusennes. I was knackered and realised even with Chris's reduced daily mile ages this was gonna be really testing. I was looking forward to Wi-fi and a meal but instead had to make do with a pack of Oreos for dinner as the cafe had closed by the time we got there and no free Wi-fi. It was here that we realised that Norway was going to be financially as we'll as physically challenging (we had to fork out 80 krone each for camping plus 10 krone for the shower) as we were hoping to spend around 120 krone per day. After my poor dinner I went to bed. Highlights: Cycling up The Nordkapp tunnel, the scenery

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Getting to Nordkapp

As usual with me it was a last minute rush getting everything ready for the trip - I had absolutely no sleep the night before my flight to Norway. So inevitably it was a rushed slaggy packing session and packed too much. Anyway I met Kinza and Michelle at Heathrow OK and the flight to Oslo and our second flight from Oslo to Alta went fine. Me and the girls then met Chris, Tom and Mark at Alta fine. We were greeted with very hot and sunny weather surprisingly none of us complained of course (better hot and sunny than freezing cold like it normally is in northern Norway). shortly later we boarded our coach to Honningsvag. The views were awesome and we could see that the cycling would be amazing if the weather stayed the same. We arrived at approx 6.30pm and immediately set to work assembling the bikes (we had to dismantle them and pack them into boxes for the flights). This went fine and we were on our way in a few hours me of course being the last one to finish assembling the bike. I hadn't given the fully loaded bike a test ride before leaving which was a mistake as it was FAR to heavy and unbalanced. After a few hundred wobbly metres I had to rearrange my stuff for better weight distribution -this helped slightly. It was only 24k to Nordkapp but it was a very long, tough going especially with the horrendous weight on the bike (mine must be at least a third heavier than everyone else's). Shortly after heading off from Honningsvag we bumped into a rather rugged looking bearded bloke with an impressive beard and an even more impressively loaded bike. We got chatting to him and found out his name was Benjy and he's been cycling around the world for 6 years and still has 6 years to go!!! We found him very inspirational and he killed any doubt about cycling to Western Sahara that we had. This gave me a real lift and me and Tom then spent the next half hour or so talking about how we should sack off any conventional career paths in England and just work so we can earn enough to be like  Benjy - watch this space!!! Getting back to our ride Chris, Mark and Tom went off ahead as they were able to go significantly quicker than me, Kinza and Michelle - a theme that has continued. I really didn't mind the slower pace though as the scenery was stunning the whole way up to the top. Michelle was really struggling With the massive hills (having not cycled more than 54 miles in a day before doing this and certainly no hill training as severe as this)so I decided to stay with her. Eventually we made it to Nordkapp at about 11.30pm (Thankfully it is 24 hour daylight in May here). We met the others and went over to check out the most amazing view I have ever seen in my life - The midnight sun outlook from the Nordkapp cliff edge over the arctic sea. After several photos we pitched our tents in the car park as other people had already done so and eventually went to sleep at what must have been around 1.30am.

Highlights: Arriving to hot and sunny weather in Alta, The Norwegian airports and their amazing women (fingers crossed there will be plenty of eye candy throughout Scandanavia ;) ), the scenic views from the coach but above all the Nordkapp outlook.