As I returned from my last Big Trip in July 2011 I was asking myself about the next one. Poorly I definitely was, but it wasn’t stopping me from dreaming about the next long ride.
I was significantly ill with the Giardia parasite as I rode back from doing 23 countries in 25 days, the result of not taking proper precautions about ‘wild’ water. My tent was pitched beneath a huge wind turbine in Austria when my body decided to do everything possible to remove the parasite from my system. Fortunately I carry all the appropriate medication for such eventualities and got back to a pharmacy in a nearby town to renew my supplies and enjoy the luxury of a flush loo in a little coffee shop – pristine clean in Austria thankfully. (Solo riding means there is no one to mop your brow or call a doctor when you get ill. Or pack the tent up and load the bike come to that!)
But solo riding can be so addictive. Cast upon the people I meet for conversation, friendship and help when things don’t go according to plan, I develop an assumption that they will like me and help if they can.
And they do and do. Like the guys at Vromos in Bulgaria who turned up within 20 minutes of me phoning them for help, and fixed a stripped alternator belt, and got a tyre repaired at their expense, and checked the bike over. And when I asked Yavor for the bill he looked at me and said, ‘But you bought the beers!’ I’d show you a picture of them, brilliant blokes, but my camera dropped off the bike going down into Greece and with it the memories therein of 60% of my trip. (I was gutted.)
I’ll get to the Arctic in a minute. I must tell you about the guys in Thessaloniki who saw me waiting
by the White Tower and said “Are you coming to the meeting tonight?” “What meeting?” “The Thessaloniki GS Riders Club.” Of course I turned up. It was 200 metres away in a cafe in a pretty little park. I asked them if there was a floor I could sleep on somewhere, and a muscular tattoo artist with a big smile and an even bigger heart raised his hand and said “My place” and bought me a drink. The fact I kept up with him at the end of the evening as we zipped to this little village 40km in the opposite direction to the one I planned was a mark of my riding skills on unfamiliar roads in the dark!
A fantastic evening with brilliant guys unfazed by the catastrophic state of their country’s finances. I left Greece on an old ‘tramp’ ferry, sleeping on the open car deck, sheltering from the sea spray.
Ok. I left for the Arctic on 13th July 2012. It had been waiting for me since 2009 when I visited
Norway the first time and hadn’t had the time to ride so far north. It was unfinished business and had to be done. The last day of undiminished 24hour daylight (Daylight not sunlight, as a lady on the ferry wisely reminded me!) was on the 17th. I had four days to get from Thakeham to above the Arctic Circle. I decided that the Puttegarten ferry was the route I’d take, up the west coast of Sweden. I got within 30 miles of the said ferry on Day 1, camping in a field overnight and waking to the sound of a car stopping near my tent. A German lady presented me with her good wishes for my trip and a bag of freshly baked bread rolls – still warm from the oven. Brilliant.
The next day and I was up near Oslo. The day after it was Trondheim. Then across the
mountains. (Cold. Snow. Rain. Sharp wind.) A few miles further on from the empty car park I stopped in to admire the mountains I came to the official Arctic Circle. It was still the 17th. Fantastic. Some photos and on to Skutvik to catch the ferry to Lofoten. It arrived at Svolvaer at half past midnight. In broad daylight. It wasn’t going to get much darker for a few weeks, and the sun was shining in the morning when I
awoke to my first rest day at a free camping site dedicated to the climbing fraternity. It had a tap and a ‘drop loo’ (use your imagination) and a view of the sea in front, and a view of the mountains behind.
Two thousand miles in just a few days. I was in the Lofoten, a spectacular group of islands spilling out into the Norwegian Sea.
I had 12 days to get home.