Midges, mozzies and mahoosive bugs

Oh to be insectivorous! You would survive well at these latitudes.  The diversity and quantity of our six legged cousins is truly astounding.  I first noticed the issue on the road to Hedesunda.  This highway took us alongside a lake that went on for ten minutes and Big Blue was holding a steady 100kmh.  Then all of a sudden her aluminium panelling to the front was hit by a volley of something that I hadn’t seen, her metalwork resounding in strike bursts of noise.  My instinct was to duck, thinking there was a maverick Swedish hunter with a semi-automatic reindeer-slayer taking pot shots at passing tourists lurking in the dense roadside vegetation.  But Big Blue doesn’t take too kindly to sudden shifts of position, pitching and yawing in protest.  So I put my foot down and checked the boy for bullet holes and pressed on.

Then panic as a piercing alarm ripped through the cab as Big Blue started to protest about something.  I now had visions of a direct hit on the fuel tank and this was the warning to bale out.  As I started to slow her down Oli said “Parking sensors.  You are driving too close to the car in front”.  This sent me in to double panic mode: there wasn’t a car in front.  In fact we hadn’t seen a car for ten minutes.  The heat in my brain told me that each and every vehicle had been picked off, one by one, by Mad Sven of the Woods.  And now, pulled up next to his domain we were sitting ducks.  Or rather, sitting elk.

My head was pounding, my heart was racing.  And it is true: the colour of fear is brown.  We were under attack and I had to conceal my fear, be brave and get us out of this dangerous situation.  There was nothing else to do except summon up all the courage I had. “OK Oli, I want you to go outside and check all round Big Blue for damage” I said, concealing the terror in my wavering voice by offering him a barley sugar from the ration tin.  Oblivious to the magnitude of the situation Oli stepped down from the passenger and and did a slow, lazy circuit of Big Blue.  I was willing him to hurry up and report back that we were riddled with bullet holes and that we had been extremely lucky to escape with our lives.  But no, Oli insisted on doing the full check, even kicking the tyres like a car salesman looking to knock you down your part exchange.  “Looks alright to me,” he said, pulling himself back up and in to the passenger seat; “can I have another barley sugar?”.

To be honest, I was relieved Oli had made it back alive, but now it was my turn.  I decided I would do a quick recce round the front, as that was where the main attack emanated from.  I slid out of the cab, stooping low to keep my hat beneath Big Blue’s roof line; a head shot now would be game over.  I got down on my haunches and shuffled round to the headlights, using Big Blue’s vast expanse of bonnet as cover.  I looked down to bumper level and then I saw it.  The carnage is indelibly imprinted in my memory and will resurface at every nightmare opportunity.  There, spread across her bumper was a browny red layer of sludge with exoskeletal appendages poking through at varying intervals.  We had hit a huge swarm of gargantuan flies; flies that had breached the anomaly; prehistoric flies of mahoosive proportions.  For us Brits, the biggest we get is probably the horse fly, or the hornet.  But these things were as big as stag beetles! I swear they were.  And they had left a yucky, gooey mess across the front of Big Blue.

To remove the offending articles now required the second act of outstanding bravery for the day.  This would require a tactical deployment involving stealth, guile and a strong stomach.  “Oli! Get yourself the pack of wet wipes and come down here!”.  My little trooper obliged and I had him cleaning the gunge from the parking sensors.

Back in the cab and back on the road we reflected on the ordeal we had just undergone.  I am amazed that an insect strike can wipe out your parking sensors and part of the daily routine now is to wash them off.  That’s after we’ve ladled on the insect repellant.  Apparently, it is a bad year for mosquitos. Even the locals are complaining.  The early warm spell and the current damp spell is the perfect combination.  The reindeer headed north ages ago.

An intrepid adventurer

P1030762After arriving at Pajala and setting up camp, Oli and I explored the campsite.  We were mulling over the difficulty of the crazy golf course when the cyclist we passed on the way in to town arrived at reception.  He looked slightly bemused as the guy running the camp site was nowhere to be seen.  He wasn’t around either when we arrived, appearing out of thin air  like a latter day Mr Ben to check us in. I waved to him and pointed to reception to let him know he had another visitor and gave the cyclist the thumbs up, to let him know assistance was on its way.

We continued our exploration, discovering a tributary of the Toureålven through the woods at the bottom of the site.  There was a suspended walk way crossing this smaller river on which we had ten minutes of scary, bouncy fun, trying to tip each other in to the river some   ten meters below.  When we got back to camp the cyclist had pitched nearby to us.  He struck up conversation, in English; he must have seen Big Blue’s number plate.  He was from the UK himself, from the north of Scotland.  His name was Paul and I guessed he was in his late fifties.

We talked about our journeys, me feeling quite proud of the fact that I managed to get myself and my eleven year-old son to the Arctic in and eight year old Land Rover.  I assumed that Paul had flown to Sweden and then hired his bicycle to tour the region.  Then he told me had cycled all the way.  Again, I assumed that he meant from Scotland and began thinking what an amazing achievement that was.  It had taken us four days to get here by car, god knows how long Paul had taken!  So I asked him when he had set off.  He said that his journey began in March.  From Cape St Vincent.  In Portugal.  And he had cycled every inch of the way!  I don’t even know how far that is, but it is a huge distance.

Then Paul explained his route.  Not only had he set off from the most south-westerly point of mainland Europe, he decided to go the long way!  He came up through Portugal and Spain, telling me how fabulous the city of Cordoba was and also the small town in Spain where the roads are made of sand because there are no cars, only horses.  He told me of his struggle through the south of France, cycling in to the Mistral and only managing 20k a day.  Not only had Paul crossed the Pyranees, he had crossed the Alps in to Switzerland, where he spent some time in the mountains with his wife.

His journey then took him through Germany, at the time of the torrential rains and flooding, and then on through Luxembourg, Belgium and Holland and back to Germany to get the ferry to Denmark and on to Sweden.  His destination, like ours, is Nordkapp, the most northerly point on mainland Europe; the end of the continent.  Where the midnight sun gives way to winter ice and the raw power of nature.

Paul, you are a true adventurer. You have dreams and you make them happen.  You have made me realise that this is how life is meant to be.  Dreams are OK, but no matter how big or small they are, you have to make them live.  I hope I meet you on the road again and we can tell each other what happened with our dreams.

I salute you, intrepid adventurer. Travel safely, dream big. And do it!

Day 4 – Where the four winds meet the water

En route to the Arctic

En route to the Arctic

We both slept well at Skelleftea and woke early.  We only had a shortish drive today so we decided to have a lie-in and eventually got up at 06:30.  We were filled with excitement as we would touch our crazy dream today.  The only down side was that the bright sunshine  we had experienced throughout the trip so far had given way to cloud and there was more than a hint of rain in the air.

We broke camp quickly and managed to get the tent and all the kit packed in to Big Blue just as the first shower started.  We snatched a quick breakfast – cereal for Oli and bread and coffee for me and then we were on the road again.  The route was relatively straight forward; continue up the E4 and then the E10 and then a back road, the 392 to Pajala.  I reckoned on four hours in the car, tops.

Swedish roads are of a terrific standard.  The major routes are only ever two lanes each way and even then they go down to three, alternating the two lanes in each direction to allow for overtaking.  And you need to overtake the endless convoy of lorries, campervans and caravans.  Boy, do the Swedes love a trailer!  The lorries have trailers, the cars tow caravans as well as trailers of all shapes and sizes, carrying all manner of stuff.  We even saw a trailer on a trailer!  The only thing without a trailer was the cyclist we passed about 10k from the campsite.

Progress was good, but it rained most of the way.  The scenery was still magnificent, mainly pine forest with logging trucks thundering along the road.  And we were never far from water with the frequency and scale of lakes and rivers like nothing we had ever seen.

Then at 13:00hrs we passed a parking place with a massive sign.  We drove on past and it wasn’t until we were about a kilometer down the road that I realised what that was all about.  This was the understated Swedish way of welcoming you to the Arctic Circle!  I threw Big Blue round in  U-turn and headed back for the lay-by, pulling up next to the sign. Sure enough, we had got here, the Arctic Circle; land of the midnight sun.  We took a few photos and some video and had a hug under the sign.  In a strange kind of way it didn’t feel like a massive achievement, but looking back now it has taken us four days to get here nearly two thousand miles.

Our destination for the day was Pajala, a mining settlement in Swedish Lapland, a town a bit smaller than the one we left at the weekend and eighty kilometers further inside the Circle. We arrived around 14:00 and immediately sensed that the pace of life here was south of gentle.  The campsite is situated just out of town and we pitched above the Tourneålven river just above a bend, giving us a wide, watery view.  We waited an hour for the rain to stop before pitching the tent and getting the camp ready.  There was definitely no need to hurry.

We chilled in the late afternoon and in to the evening, hoping that the sun would break through eventually.  We stayed up past midnight, willing the clouds to lift, but it was not to be.  We were in the land of the midnight sun and there was no sun.  But we experienced twenty four hours of daylight; behind the clouds the sun did not set.

Day 3 – Driving Headache

We left Hedesunda early with memories of a very beautiful place and about ten mozzie bites.  The site owners had been up early making preparations for midsummer’s day celebrations.  They were making a may pole and garlanding it with greenery.  The sun certainly shines on this place.

Our journey now takes us further north to Skelleftea, about two thirds of the way up the Gulf of Bothnia.  We new it was going to be at least seven hours on the road, not including breaks.  It was a better driving day, but I had awoken with a headache from an uncomfortable nights sleep, and it only got worse the longer the journey went on.  Fortunately, the drive was stress free but the sheer energy involved in keeping going just wiped me out.

There were some interesting changes of scenery, starting with the lush and fertile open spaces that merged in to thick forests of birch and pine and rocky slopes.  And everywhere there were lakes and rivers; we were never that far from water.  The Swedes love a good bridge too.  So much so that in several places there were two at the same crossing point, but most of them are awesome structures.

We got to our campsite at 18:00hrs and set up in record time.  Oli cooked a magnificent spaghetti bolognese, which we ate al fresco. Then it was wash and bed, after a quick game of cards.  We both slept soundly.

Big Blue has been generous with her favours today, returning best ever economy figures.  Before setting off I had her serviced and switched from Scorpion Zeros to Grabber GTs.  Thanks to the guys at More 4×4 for the work you put in ahead of our trip.

PIT STOP

Distance traveled:  408.3 miles

Average speed:  50.5 MPH

31.3 MPG

Roadkill count: 1 (small bird who didn’t look left before crossing)

Day 2 – long journey, stressful day.

We where up early but didn’t manage to break camp till 8:30 that ment all our plans where about a 1h and a 1/2 behind. This leg of the trip involved the longest drive, almost 450 miles so we had to get moving early, but it was not to be. We aimed to drive across Sweden from west to east, Halmstad to Hedesunda, which is near Gävle.

I wasn’t prepared for how tiring the driving would be. We got lost a couple of times before lunch, by taking a rong turning. This added another 40 minuets on to our journey time. So, instead of arriving at around 3:30 it would now be about 6:00. This was a bit disappointing
because from our research this was going to be the pick of the camp sites we would be staying at over the course of the trip. Hedesunda is on a island on a massive lake and we where to get a spot of fishing in but, alas we where too late. Never mind, te camp is beautiful, verry peceful and idyllic.

Tomorrow we head north for the Arctic Circle!

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Day 1 – the sleepy navigator

Off we go! Finally the time has come to go to the Arctic circle. We have all the gear packed, the GB and head lights stuck on BigBlue, she is ready. It took us 2 and 1/2 hours to get to the ferry. Now we are just chilling out. Tomorrow, we have a 5 hour drive to a camp that we will be camping there for one night. Oils job is to navigate so he will be able to get us there quickly, fingers crossed!

Unfortunately, he fell asleep barely 20 minutes in to the journey. Dad was the driver navigator, good job he wasn’t flying a bomber! We arrived in Harwich at 3:30 in plenty of time to catch the ferry. We used that time to make last minute adjustments to our technical equipment. We are now fully equipped for video and still and with a last minute diesel to up we are ready to embark.

PIT STOP

Distance traveled: 163.9 miles
Time taken: 2h 28 mins
Average speed: 39.5 MPH
MPG: 30.9

At 4:30 we commence boarding DFDS Sea Ways ‘Sirena’. She is not a big boat but very comfortable we had a nice cabin on deck 8 but we weren’t lucky enough to have a sea view. We explored for a bit and then decided to have something to eat. Dad had 1/2 a lobster for starters and we both had rib eye steak – yum yum. We also watched a movie and then it was off to sleep, lulled away by the distant throbbing of the engines and the gentle rhythm of the ships progress as she chugged across a calm North Sea.

Good bye Sexy Cat, hello Big Blue

She had to go.  But it wasn’t as if the love affair was over. I still yearn for the rounded curves of her rear; high set, poised, dominant.  Her frontage still resides as a memory in my eye line, swelling deliciously beneath her silvery décolletage, the promise of energy unleashed within.  And when we merged she throbbed and purred beneath my every touch, embracing me in subtle yet demanding passion, asking ever the more of me, always taking the most that I could ever give.  Her raw beauty had beguiled me for three years and then she was gone.  Forsaken in a cold and calculating decision, replaced in my affection by an older model:  a high maintenance harlot; slow, deliberate and tetchy, but willing to accept my weakness and hold me in firm and comforting approval of my masculinity.  Good bye Sexy Cat, you shall dwell in my heart forever.  Hello Big Blue, be good to me, carry me forth in lumbering anticipation that we arrive at the same place, together and in one piece.

I had been talking about it for a couple of years, but I finally got rid of the XF back in February to replace her with a big blue Discovery 3.  The Jag is a fabulous vehicle and just made me smile continuously, but she was just too impractical.  What we needed was a vehicle that would endlessly lug around kids, dogs, bikes, trailers, fishing kit, camping gear and the kitchen sink.  And it had to have a fair bit of comfort to nudge my ageing bones along the highways and byways.  My heart had been set on a Defender, but they are overpriced and make my back ache on long trips.  And boy, did we have a long ‘un planned.  So Big Blue it was, and she makes me smile in a different way.  I haven’t fallen in love with her yet, not like I did with the Cat, but we respect each other and who knows?  Love may blossom in northern latitudes.  I think we suit each other.