July 11, 2019
We set off on our adventure to Norway and the Arctic Circle from the UK in mid June with a tight timeframe of 2.5 weeks to go up and back, fitting into work holidays. Round trip the distance was estimated to be 8,000km with some of the most rugged and beautiful coastlines in the world. This journey along the Norwegian coast would take us well into the Arctic Circle where the snow capped mountains were illuminated by sunlight 24 hours a day. The weather however, was far from on our side with heavy rain and strong winds becoming part of our daily struggle.
We set off from the UK early afternoon on Wednesday. We’d booked a late train to take us under the English Channel to France and the ride should have been an easy 4 hours. However, the rain had set in and the traffic was building on the M25, we were crawling along and starting to stress about making the train. Our goal for that first day was to reach the Netherlands but it quickly became apparent that we’d set our goals too high. We knew that we could arrive late to the train and be put on the first available train but weren’t sure how late exactly, so we aimed to be no more than 1 hour. We arrived at the gate 50 minutes after our scheduled departure time and quickly entered our booking numbers. The computer told us we were late, “thanks”, and asked if we’d like to be booked on the first available train which just happened to be the next train. Two hours late but still travelling without penalty isn’t too bad. It would be a late arrival in France but we knew the Formula 1 Hotel in Calais from previous trips and could check in for the night and play catchup tomorrow.
Drama’s from the first day put us a little behind, but we had 2 days to make it up. We’d booked our ferry from Denmark to Norway based on our tight schedule and couldn’t afford to miss it. If we could make Hamburg that night we’d be fine. It was a bit of an ask being nearly 800km but even if we feel 100km short it would somewhat catch us up and the second day wouldn’t be as bad. The weather was good but it had been a while since we’d travelled and we were well out of practise. We’d ride for half an hour and stop for a break, then maybe 45 minutes and break. We were coming up with all kinds of excuses; the dogs are misbehaving, break, my bike feels funny, break, look a rest stop, break.
By late afternoon we’d arrived at Duisburg and we stopped at a fuel station to fill up and have afternoon tea. We decided that we could do the next 400 km to Hamburg with just 1 more stop, no excuses, just get the riding done and have it easy tomorrow. So off we rode, but it wasn’t a simple case of riding back onto the motorway. We had a few turns to negotiate and a bit of urban riding before getting back on the fast road. The moment we left the fuel station Stu’s clutch was not feeling right, it didn’t take long and the cable snapped. We pulled over. It was a bit of a stressful situation, it was after 5pm and we had a deadline. A car pulled over to help, we couldn’t communicate but he showed us a number for ADAC (the German roadside assistance company) and started dialling. We didn’t have cover with ADAC but it reminded us that we did have cover in the UK so we called our own assistance. We weren’t sure if they’d be able to assist with us being in Europe, but they were very helpful and told us that someone would be with us within the hour.
Then the rain started as we waited and waited for roadside assistance. We pulled out our tarp and covered the bikes, creating a sheltered area between the bikes where we could sit. More waiting for about 2 hours with multiple phone calls and finally a tow truck arrived. A broken clutch cable is a pretty easy repair on the side of the road if you have a clutch cable repair kit, we were actually hoping for a bike mechanic to turn up with the parts but no. It was late and we decided to just go with it. The bike was loaded on the tow truck and he took us to the local BMW car dealer (not Motorrad) and dropped us off outside. It was now about 9pm and the shop was very much closed. He suggested it would be open in the morning but again we couldn’t communicate so it was hard to know. We called our roadside assistance in the UK and they were not impressed. There wasn’t much more they could do over the phone, we told them we’d tow the bike to a hotel nearby and sort it out ourselves in the morning. What we actually did was ride the bike clutchless to a hotel 2 km away along quiet roads.
The next morning we pulled the clutch cable out and Stu rode to the local Motorrad dealer to get a replacement. They didn’t have the exact part in stock, but having the cable in hand allowed them to find a close match which was only millimetres out. It would do. 10 minutes to put the cable in place and we were ready to ride. Bearing in mind shops didn’t open until 9:30 am, we had nearly 900 km to the ferry so there’d be no time for silly breaks today. In fact, it was looking pretty impossible to make it to the ferry at that point but we had to try.
We rode consistently, the weather had improved but we still kept below 100 km/h for the dogs comfort. We only took scheduled breaks and kept them short. Our bums were hurting and we were tired, the sleep we’d had was good but it wouldn’t have been more than 5 hours. We rode around Hamburg, a city notorious for bad traffic, although we did hit a traffic jam or two it was better than expected and before long we were heading north to the Danish border. One hour into Denmark and we made the safe decision to stop and find a hotel. Our ferry was at 9am the next morning and we’d need to hit the road at 5:30am but at least we’d be fresh. Any more riding now and it would be dangerous for all of us.
We were devastated to be forfeiting the included breakfast at our lovely hotel in Denmark but we needed to get out. A quick coffee at the fuel station would have to do. We were just north of the turn off for Copenhagen on the way to Hirtshals at the top of Denmark. The roads were excellent quality and we had them all to ourselves at that time in the morning. We were down to 250 km from the ferry port and we’d given ourselves 3 hours, as long as nothing went wrong we were going to be fine. We took a quick stop as Janell’s odometer reached 99,999 miles and then reset to 0 and we celebrated her bike completing its first 100,000 miles. A short and sweet celebration then back to riding. We both gave a massive sigh of relief as we arrived at the ferry check in lane on time for boarding.
The short 4 hour ferry ride allowed us time for a quick sleep before spending time with the girls on the upper deck. The ferry provided kennels for the voyage and were among the better sized kennels we’d seen but there didn’t seem to be a problem with pet owners keeping their dogs with them so that's what we did.
We arrived in Norway still very tired but with plenty of daylight left. We set off to meet up with Mikael, a Swedish friend from school in Australia, and his sons. Mikael had agreed to provide his local knowledge of Scandinavia and share the road with us, a concept we learnt early on in our travels where you agree to meet at points and mostly stay together but have the freedom to do your own thing and not be tied to the other members of the group. We took another day to meet Mikael, not long after getting off the ferry we found a campsite and stopped for the day, another good decision after 2 consecutive nights of less than 5 hours sleep.
Surely in the middle of summer we wouldn’t see snow until the very top of Norway. We even considered taking only summer gloves on the trip, a thought that quickly amused us. We met up with Mikael and his boys near Trollstigen (Trolls Path), the road was a magnificent set of switchbacks to climb up into the mountains to a highest point of 850m but we were now riding right next to snow, albeit melting and creating a large array of scenic waterfalls everywhere we looked. It was cold, we had a walk around and took some photos then were very happy to get back down to sea level.
Just before leaving the UK, we purchased a 12v car seat heater which plugged into a car accessory plug. We also bought a 3 way accessory adapter and wired it through a 30amp fuse and relay to only be drawing power when the bike was on. The heater was placed in the Pillion Pooch on top of the bedding. We hoped not to need it but wanted to be prepared to use it should the weather be too cold for Weeti and Shadow. It turned out we used the heater for the majority of the trip and the girls really appreciated it as they travelled together on the heater staying toasty warm and protected inside their little house.
Our first real day in Norway had us riding along fjords and ferry hopping between islands to reach the Atlantic Ocean Road. A rural and scenic part of the Norwegian coastline with beautifully engineered bridges and deep tunnels connecting sections of land. The winds were constant but in no way posed a challenge or made the riding uncomfortable.
Our tight timeline continued up the Norwegian coast and gave us little time to stop for long. The sights were so enthralling and we consistently found ourselves riding late in the afternoon with a couple of hundred kms to go to our planned destination. The daylight certainly helped, but we were still exhausted and so day one ended about 100km premature.
As day two came to a close, we had almost caught up. We’d stopped for a quick snack at around 5pm knowing that we had about 200 km to go and that with the 80 km/hr speed limit and the twisty roads we’d be travelling for at least another 3 hours. We met a couple of young German bikers making their way to Nordkapp and stopped for a chat. They were of course fascinated by the Pillion Pooch and our dogs and needed to take their own photos and as always we were happy to oblige.
We’d been warned that roadworks were ahead slowing the traffic a lot and we thought it best to travel later in the day with less traffic rather than sit behind countless campers. This certainly was a good decision since the campers really did disappear from the roads after 5. We hit one set of roadworks and quickly moved through, then another, and another and it seemed like we wouldn’t be held up much at all at the rate we were going. Then, just as we were coming out of a one-way traffic system, Stu’s overheated lamp lights up. He quickly cuts the engine and rolls to a stop. Oh no.
Luckily we stopped in a nice clearing and pulled off the road. Mikael was a fair way back having spent time at a water park with his kids but had been closing on us. What to do, what was the problem, could we fix it before Mikael arrived or would we need his help? We felt the radiator, it was cold but the engine certainly was not. Maybe the thermostat or maybe the pump was busted? We checked the coolant, it was filthy, a brown milky colour in appearance but not oily to touch. We pulled the thermostat out and it too was covered in brown sludge. Opening up the water pump housing also revealed more brown sludge but all parts were in tact and seemed operational. We left the thermostat out and put everything else back together. Our new German friends had now stopped to lend a hand, luckily they were mechanical engineers and able to confirm our thoughts and provide valuable guidance. They also gave us some water to fill the radiator with now that it had been drained.
With everything back together and Mikael caught up we all decided to aim for our initially planned camping spot, which would have us back on schedule, an amazing feat given our 2 breakdowns to date. We still had to cover 150 km but everyone was keen to get there so we just pushed through. As shattered as we were arriving at the campsite, we still needed to eat so Stu made a feast of 2 minute noodles and canned veg in the campsite kitchen and all the adults sat, ate and drank until 2:30 in the morning before deciding it was a good idea to get some sleep or catching up just wouldn’t have been worth it.
The next day we tried to sleep in but for Stu at least it wasn’t happening. He woke and rode out to pick up some breakfast for everyone, eggs and bread. FYI, Norway does not make good bread, but when you are hungry it does the job. He also needed to change out the water in his radiator for coolant before setting off, a fairly quick job but an important one.
With everyone’s bellies full and about 2 dozen extra boiled eggs as snacks ready to go we were all but ready to set off. Stu had put the coolant in his radiator and was letting his bike warm up. After a while he noticed the coolant was leaking onto his exhaust, it was originating from the water pump weep hole. Damn. One of the German’s said that maybe it's just due to the pressure after filling it up and could go away after riding a little. This sounded very positive so we would ride but keep an eye on it.
The Germans had decided they would be taking a different route to us so we parted ways before leaving the campground. This was a good decision. As we continued along the E6 towards Mo I Rana, a relatively large town a little over halfway to the top of Norway, Mikael noticed the coolant leak seemed to be getting worse. With the coolant dripping onto the exhaust it was obvious to someone following but not so obvious to the rider. The rate of dripping was relative to the engine speed. OKay we needed a new water pump, how on earth were we going to organise this in time? If we had the part we would be able to do the job ourselves, it wouldn’t be ideal doing such a job at a campsite or on the side of the road but we had everything we needed to do it. We spent the next few hours trying to locate a BMW dealer who might have the part in stock. Everyone we called didn’t hold the part and the best result was having it in around 4 to 5 days and then they’d need to get it to us in a rural part of the country at least 300 km from any major city.
We decided that the best thing to do would be to rest and think it through in the morning, so we found a campground and set up for the night. In a more relaxed environment it became clear to us that we needed to push on with the leak towards Bojø, the nearest major city and the closest BMW mechanic. We’d just keep topping up the coolant, although the steam dripping on the exhaust looked bad, there was only a very small amount of liquid at each drip. Our backup was always roadside assistance.
The next morning however, the dripping seemed worse. We urged Mikael to go ahead and not be held up by our problems. There was a car garage across the road from the campsite and thought we’d try radiator stop leak, we didn’t expect it to work but thought it couldn’t hurt. The mechanic came and had a look and agreed. We followed the instructions and waited a while, it actually seemed to work, there was no more leak. But then all of a sudden the overheated lamp came on again. Aghhhh! We didn’t want to risk any more damage to the engine, we needed a new water pump and shouldn’t move on until then. It was then that we called roadside assistance. Because of the distances, they said it would be unlikely we’d get a tow to Bodø and that they’d probably locate a local bike mechanic and have us wait for the part. They did agree to let us hire a van and self move the bike to Bodø but the claimable limit was restrictive and we couldn’t find a van large enough to move the bike. So that was it, we were stuck waiting for the part to come to us.
The garage mechanic told us that he would be able to do the job once the part arrived which was reassuring. We’d have to change our ferry booked from Helsinki to Germany but that wouldn’t be too difficult and we were assured that our travel insurance would pay the difference. So we settled into a motel near the garage with the expectation we’d be there for a few nights. Luckily our roadside assistance covered this expense also. It was definitely a little piece of luxury compared to how we’d been sleeping and to be honest we could totally do with the rest.
Our heads hardly hit the pillow before we fell asleep that night and with breakfast not going on until 9:30 in the morning and having blackout blinds, we really had a proper sleep in. In the morning we leisurely woke and had coffee with no plans whatsoever. We did want to use the time we had to see the local area but to start with we wanted to rest as much as possible, especially for the dogs. We enjoyed our hot cooked breakfast and contemplated what we’d do. Being a Friday we expected we’d have at least the whole weekend before anything arrived even to Bodø and then an estimated 2 days to where we were plus the time to fit it.
However, just after breakfast we each got a friend request through Facebook from the mechanic. We accepted it thinking that he just wanted to have contact with us for when the part arrived. He then shared a YouTube video showing a quick fix for the water pump seals as a temporary fix for the leaking weep hole. We couldn’t believe it, it actually looked like a really good fix, provided the shaft which runs through the seals wasn’t in too bad a shape. What did we have to lose, it needed to be opened up anyway? We found the part numbers for the seals and the mechanic was able to purchase them locally, we had everything we needed. We rode the bike back around to his garage and about an hour later the job was done. The coolant was flush out two times to make sure it was clean and then filled with fresh coolant. We couldn’t believe it, we were ready to go, our only decision was whether to leave that day or first thing in the morning. We wanted to catch Mikael and the boys so we packed up the bikes and hit the road, forfeiting another breakfast!
It was 3pm when we departed the motel and we’d contacted a Tentspace host to put us up for the night. Actually we’d contacted him a couple of times over the previous few days and kept changing our arrival because of the breakdowns.His name was Kim and he was very accommodating and seemed genuinely excited about hosting us so we made the effort to get to him. The only issue was he was over 300 km away. We were well rested so it was possible but we’d be arriving late which he said was fine and he was well aware of all the motorbike dramas.
The Arctic Circle was on route and we couldn’t ride past without stopping and giving it the necessary acknowledgement that such an achievement required. Only a third of the way into our ride and already 5pm but to be honest it just didn’t feel late. We took the girls into the coffee shop to warm up for a while, we took plenty of photo’s and walked around and then after about an hour we set off again, quite relaxed. The sun was not going to set tonight so what was the rush. Our host Kim was on leave and had told us to take our time.
The Arctic Circle cut the E6 at a location situated about 500m above sea level, it was chilly. But until now it had been dry. That was all going to change. The next 200 km was amongst the wettest riding we’ve done to date, coupled with the arctic winds and you’ve got some pretty miserable riding conditions. The girls, well they were toasty warm and dry, closed away together in their Pillion Pooch with their heated mat on and layers of doggy jumpers. Meanwhile we put on every layer we had and still struggled to keep warm or watertight. As much as we wanted to stop for the night, we knew that stopping would mean putting up a tent in the rain, while Kim had hot soup and warm beds waiting for us. Regular stops were called for. We could ride 50km and then stop, take a moment to warm up and have something small to eat. For the last 20km, Janell was having issues with visibility and having to ride with her visor up, with the heavy rain we couldn’t travel any faster than 30km/hr. What should have taken us 15 minutes ended up taking three quarters of an hour and our bodies were aching so badly.
Kim’s home was the light at the end of the tunnel, we arrived absolutely soaked through but safe. Kim was so understanding and provided towels for us to dry off and took all our wet gear and hung it up for us. And once we were feeling human again, we sat down to some of the most amazing soup we’d ever eaten, cracked a few beers and sat around talking travel until 2 in the morning. We were now well into the land of the Midnight Sun and at this time of year, night just didn’t exist.
The next morning the sun made a real appearance, we hoped we’d have sunshine for the rest of the journey, but it didn’t even last until we set off. Kim rode out with us until our first ferry. Our route had us heading to Lofoten and taking the E10 with a few deviations to see some of the most scenic riding Norway has to offer. For the next 2 days we hopped around on ferries following advice given to us. When the sun did come out we took the opportunity for a photoshoot and captured some spectacular shots, but for the most part all we saw was rain, mist and clouds. We imagined what it would be like in good weather.
We’d met up with Mikael and his kids again and started to make our way to Nordkapp. The landscape started to change as we made our way further north, the forests gave way to plains and reindeer were everywhere. The weather wasn't too bad the day we arrived, but this was the only “clear” day scheduled for the week, if we’d missed that day we’d not see the Midnight Sun, all the more reason for pushing on.
Thanks to technology, we were able to calculate the exact time of Solar Midnight, the time when the sun is at its lowest point before starting to rise again. This occurred at 12:21am and had the sun sitting 4.5˚ above the horizon. It was very special to be there for that moment, especially with our friends. There was a real sense of achievement and given all the drama we'd faced on the way up it was a real possibility that we might not have made it and had to turn around early. All the more reason to celebrate and Mikael had prepared adult and kids champagne to pop at 12:21am. We didn’t pay the exorbitant price to enter the Nordkapp park but instead, snuck in once the security gate staff went home for the night. That allowed us to get the much anticipated photos with the globe.
Stu had been promising to go for a swim when he got to Nordkapp and although it wasn’t possible to swim right at Nordkapp given that its a cliff edge, swimming in the Arctic Ocean was considered sufficient. He had been hyping the entire convey up for this swim for the past week and everyone was actually getting pretty excited about it including the kids. The fishing village of Skarsvåg, only 15 km from Nordkapp, is well setup for those wanting to go for a quick dip. You can have a hot shower after your swim or you can use the sauna before and after. These facilities are available at the tourist information center which also houses a coffee shop for those who want to watch the crazies and for the crazies to relax after their plunge. The day we jumped in the water temperature was 6.4˚C, you certainly knew about it but if we hadn’t done it we’d of regretted it.
Our route back we had planned to be quicker. We’d booked a 30 hour ferry from Helsinki in Finland to Travemunde in Germany, this would save us days on the road and would give us and the girls a well deserved break from riding. We booked a pet friendly cabin so we could have the girls in bed with us where they belong. But first we’d need to ride over 1,500 km.
The day we rode out from Nordkapp we were again running late. The sauna, swim and coffee experience went on until 4pm, which coincided with the end of the good weather. Off we headed again in the drizzle, but it didn’t last long. Instead it was replaced with winds, much stronger than we’d witnessed on the way up. The bikes really weren’t copping, all bikes on the road were having to lean into the strong winds, trying to anticipate the gusts became a real skill. These winds continued throughout the day, certainly worse at times but fairly consistent.They gave us cause to give the Pillion Pooch mountings a thorough check at the end of the day. All clear, nothing needed tightening and nothing was loose. Other bikers were amazed at the fact we’d ridden through those winds with the motorcycle dog carriers, but as we’d experienced in the past, the curves of the Pillion Pooch allows the wind to blow over and not catch the sides, it doesn’t react significantly more than any other bike. This was a good proof of this theory with separate riders.
The roads in both Finland and Sweden were as advertised; straight, fast and boring. We continued to see Reindeer well into Finland, you need to be on the lookout because they are big animals and very dangerous to bikers. Upon reaching the Gulf of Bothnia, we changed directions to ride through Sweden and then take a ferry back to Finland from Umea. This option was shorter by distance but had us taking another ferry, something we weren’t opposed to at all. This ferry however, had a Pet Saloon which was just an indoor seated area with different size cages. It wasn’t necessary for your dog to be in one of the cages but you could sit right next to them in either case.
Just prior to leaving Sweden, Janell had noticed her clutch feeling odd. We investigated straight away and noticed the cable was only held together by about 5 strands. We’d stopped at a couple of bike shops but none were able to help, no cable similar in stock or a cable repair kit. With mostly motorway ahead and Janell getting good at riding clutchless we’d go for the ferry and worry about it later. Later in Finland we looked up a few bike shops on route to Helsinki, the first place we stopped at was a BMW Motorrad dealer but they didn’t stock cables or repair kits, they were very helpful in directing us to a shop that would help and only a short distance away. Off we went to Storm Motor, more of a motorcycle accessories store but probably the best place to find a repair kit. Not only did they have a repair kit but they had options, at least 3 or 4 different kinds and a whole heap of each. 15 minutes later Janell had a new, albeit much thinner, clutch cable and was good to go. It would at least see us back to the UK.
We arrived at the ferry with plenty of time and they boarded us fairly quickly. It was nice to settle into our room, shower, dress and get up to the bar well before the ferry departed. We continued our celebrations now feeling a whole new sense of achievement, all while having the girls safely and happily tucked up in bed in our cabin.
Other than continued terrible weather and difficulties finding hotels late at night, the trip through Continental Europe back to the UK was pretty uneventful. We were tired and covered a lot of ground but took the rest stops we needed to stay safe. It was odd when it started getting dark, we were taken by surprise a couple of times because we weren’t expecting it. In the early afternoon of Wednesday the 10 July, just over 3 weeks after we departed, we arrived back at our UK home. Back to work the next day and back to planning the next leg of our journey.
Comments will be approved before showing up.
March 30, 2022
March 30, 2022
January 12, 2022