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Old 11-02-2014, 12:01 PM   #1
raggedyruss OP
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Life on the Road

Hi,

Three years ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had 6 months of chemotherapy and then before getting back to work I took a month off to travel around Scandinavia on my motorcycle. When I returned I set about making some big changes in my life. In May 2014 I quit my job, sold my house, packed up the motorcycle again and began a more permanent life on the road.

Iíve spent the last 6 months travelling around South-Eastern Europe. Iíll need some more treatment at some point, probably this time next year. For now Iím travelling and writing about my experiences in my blog. I only just found out about this forum but it seems like a great place to share. I'm gonna repeat some of the blog stuff here to bring the story up to date. I'll add some bike-related details too, the sort of stuff I never bothered to put in the blog. So here goes... hope you like it...

Regards,
Russ
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Old 11-02-2014, 12:29 PM   #2
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First up - the kit list

The machine: I only learnt to ride 5 years ago. My first bike was a GS 800. A very capable all-rounder. I took it around northern Europe a little and on some gravel tracks. But I wasnít impressed with comfort or build quality. When I thought about the month-long trip around Scandinavia I decided to try something different and ended up going for a 2012 Triumph Scrambler. Itís been excellent.

Luggage: It was a bit difficult to find tough, large panniers for the Scrambler. I selected Metal Mule and I canít be more pleased. Around Scandinavia I had a big box on the left and a smaller one on the right because of the high exhaust. This turned out to be a pain in the arse. It made the bike very wide so zipping through traffic was an issue, and it was difficult to string a bag across the seat. So after that trip I switched the exhaust for a low Zard Cross pipe and went with two evenly sized smaller panniers. This setup works really well.

The only other mod was the addition of hand guards. Triumph supply some bar end extensions which mean they can fit the guards from the Tiger.
The panniers and the hand guards have taken a beating but seem to be holding up well.

Here's the original setup:



And this is how it looks fully packed now:



Clothing: When I first learnt to ride I wore the typical big-pockets-and-goretex BMW gear. It was functional, warm and 100% waterproof. But after a few weekends away I found some problems: itís bulky, uncomfortable in hot weather, and the outer layer soaks up water which means it drips inside the tent. So for these longer trips I used a completely different approach. I went for some light protective gear: a Belstaff jacket and kevlar armoured jeans from Maple Jeans. For the rain I have Nitro jacket and pants from Revit which go over the top. And when itís really cold I use a gilet from Rab which is meant for hikers but is exceptionally warm, and a thin base layer from Lowe Alpine.

The massive advantage with this approach is that itís flexible: I can add and remove layers as necessary, and what Iím not wearing packs down real small into the panniers. Also, when Iím camping in wet weather, I can just shake off and roll up the Revit waterproof layer so thereís no water in the tent. This gear has served me well for 18000 miles and still has a lot of life left in it yet.

Camping: I camp in countries where the hotels are expensive. The tent is an Alpinist 2-person tent from Marmot. Itís single skin and has an amazingly easy pole and hook system for setting up. Slightly bigger than some of the ultra-light 1-person tents on the market but the ease of use and sturdiness are a good trade off. My stove is from MSR Ė one of those that has the red fuel bottle that can take anything from kerosene to petrol. A single cook pot and a mug, both also from MSR. Sleeping bag is a fairly cheap 3-season bag from Deuter. Itís ok. The sleeping mat is a cheap army surplus thing.



Tools: I only have the sockets and spanners needed to take the wheels off and do some small maintenance stuff. I found a hand+CO2 pump from ďMoskitoĒ. A review online suggested that a few minutes of hand pumping (ooer!) followed by a single CO2 cartridge would get a tire up to operating pressure. So I have the pump and a few cartridges stashed in the bottom of a pannier.

Laptop, Camera, paperwork etc: This all goes in a Kriega US20 tailpack which is very convenient. Itís so easy to clip on and remove from the seat straps that itís no trouble to take it with me even if Iím only leaving the bike for a few minutes. This means all my critical stuff is safe with me even if Iím just popping into a gas station for a pee.

Iíve also added some Wolfman tank panniers for some odds and ends that I donít need to secure. This gives me a bit more room in the panniers.
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Old 11-02-2014, 12:30 PM   #3
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Hope all goes well for you.
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Old 11-02-2014, 12:47 PM   #4
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Scandinavia 2012 - Part 1

Catching Up with an Old Friend

My first night away from home was spent catching up with an old school friend. After college he moved to London and for reasons that I still canít fathom we never kept in touch. Odd, considering we were such good friends at school. I think this is maybe the third time Iíve spoken to him in 23 years. We always seem to strike up conversation like weíve never been apart.

I like this picture. Smiles all round!



The Long Ride North

The next day I took an overnight ferry from Harwich to Esbjerg, Denmark. Then rode north to Frederikshavn where I stayed overnight before taking a short Ferry to Gothenburg, Sweden. Found a beautiful old hotel near the port.



I only spent a little time in Gothenburg. Just wanted to get out of the cities and onto the open road. I spent three days riding North through the forests of central and eastern Sweden. Long, straight roads lined either side by Norwegian Spruce and Scots Pine. Relaxing but after a while it gets a bit repetitive.



North of Ostersund the trees gave way to lakes and rolling hills. Suddenly it dawned on me how far from home I was. I was a bit anxious at first, but riding always chills me out. I feel so content on the bike. I think itís because it forces me to pay attention so my mind doesnít wander Ė Iím just focused on the road ahead and all the little details. As the miles passed by and the views opened up I felt really relaxed and full of happiness Ė giggling away to myself inside my helmet.



I used a combination of cabins and hotels throughout Sweden. I regret not camping more often but during that first week away I wasn't confident enough to just pull off the road and camp even though I'd read it's perfectly acceptable throughout Scandinavia.

The wildlife in these areas is a joy. At a cabin in Anaset a massive brown owl swooped past while I sat drinking my tea. And on the road through northern Finland I spotted my first reindeer. The road was dotted with a few gift shops and cafes. Obviously a tourist route. It would have to be Ė itís the only main road in northern Finland. At the higher elevations the landscape can seem quite bleak. But I like it. Reminds me of Dartmoor.

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Old 11-02-2014, 12:57 PM   #5
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Scandinavia 2012 - Part 2

Inari, Finland

My final night in Finland was in Inari, an important town for the Sami communities in the area.

Inari has a community center called Siida which serves as a meeting place for the local Sami as well as a museum of Sami culture and a visitor center for the area. I found it a fascinating place.

The Sami people are considered to be the indigenous population in the area, with archaeological evidence dating back to 10000BC. Throughout modern history their race has been the subject of much discrimination by governments of Scandinavian countries.

This state-sponsored racial discrimination continues to this day although things do seem to be getting better. Until 1980 Norwegian law made it illegal to speak Sami languages or to practice traditional Sami crafts Ė policies which had a massive detrimental effect on Sami culture. It was only in 2007 that laws were changed to give Sami workable legal rights over their own reindeer herds and fishing industries. And still today the UN is working with Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish governments to address ongoing problems with their constitutions, laws, education policies and other areas.

On a more positive note, the museum was excellent Ė presenting a huge amount of detail and a rich exposition of Sami art, craft and history. Iíd been intrigued by this remote culture for many years and appreciated the chance to see it up close. My route through the Arctic Circle was going to take me through some Sami towns so with this fabulous introduction to set the scene for me, I was really looking forward to it.

Hereís the web site: http://www.siida.fi/contents

I did take a few photos but canít really do it justice. Hereís a couple of the outdoor exhibition:





And a couple from their web site which gives a better idea of the quality and range of the exhibition:





One of the wonderful things Iíve discovered about traveling by motorcycle is that it always seems to attract interest and I meet friendly people. In the hotel car park a German traveler approached. He spoke no English. I spoke no German. Yet we managed to have a good chat about the machine. Reaching an agreement on how many cylinders the engine had involved miming the movement of pistons with fists vigorously pumping up and down while he made impressive engine noises. I imagine it was a comical sight. It certainly made us both smile.

The hotel in Inari was pretty basic, but the dining room was long and had windows all along one wall providing a panoramic view of the lake. I was able to watch some young reindeer running around at the waterís edge. Reindeer move as if each leg has a separate brain and they all want to go in different directions. I can tell you itís a little scary approaching them on the road: a quarter ton of furry unpredictability could cause one heck of a mess if it decided to bolt in front of the bike.

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Old 11-02-2014, 01:15 PM   #6
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Thumb Beautiful Trip

It looks like a brilliant ride you are experiencing......Are you posting real time or was your adventure during the warmer months? I would just expect Finland to be chilly this time of year....and I guess I am a bit of a fair weather rider at heart.
I am not very familiar with the modern Triumphs although I see quite a few here in the USA. They seem to be pretty sweet machines though and perhaps one day I will have to take one for a spin.
Enjoy your trip........be safe........and I look forward to vicariously experiencing your travels here
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Old 11-02-2014, 02:21 PM   #7
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Hi. My travels have been in two parts.

My first trip was in June 2012. That took me all the way up to the north of Norway, along the Arctic Highway and back down through the fjords. I kept a diary of my trip and then wrote 6 articles when I got back to the UK. These articles I'm posting here in this thread right now are from that period. I'm just repeating them here because this is where the story started.

After that trip to Scandinavia I was eager to get back out on the road on a more permanent basis. It took me a while to get my affairs in order, but finally in May this year (2014) I did it. I gave up my job, packed the motorcycle, and I've now been on the road for 6 months. I've been keeping a detailed journal. So my intention is to post all the articles here and get you all up to date - then continue to post in real time thereafter.

Sorry if that wasn't clear. Hope it makes sense now.

Regards,
Russ
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Old 11-02-2014, 03:58 PM   #8
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Sounds like a great adventure. Hope all goes well for you.
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Old 11-02-2014, 04:12 PM   #9
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Thanks for posting! Great ride report and am looking forward to more!
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Old 11-03-2014, 07:15 AM   #10
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Scandinavia 2012 - Part 3

Mountain Road to Kirkenes

Kirkenes would be the furthest I could go without crossing into Russia, and it marked the completion of the first leg of my journey. It would also be a symbolic day for me Ė the end of a different kind of journey Iíd begun 9 months earlier when I was diagnosed with leukemia.

The main road out of Inari went north and took a circuitous route. But on the map I could see a small road running a more direct eastern route around the edge of a lake and then up over a high plateau. I knew it was one of the remotest areas Iíd travel through and figured there wouldnít be any fuel stops along the way, so I filled up the tank and the spare canister.

I had thought that the road may be nothing more than a deserted gravel track but it turned out to be well maintained with a few odd houses here and there. There was a sign at the start saying that during winter months travel was only permitted in an organised convoy and at specified times (at least thatís what I guessed Ė I donít speak Finnish).



It wasnít long before I really started to feel the remoteness of the place. The sky was overcast and grey, and as I rode up onto the plateau it got really cold.



I didnít pass another vehicle all day. It was just me and the road and my thoughts. It was my 8th day on the road and I was 2000 miles away from home. Iíd set off on this particular section not knowing what the conditions would be like, or whether I had enough fuel to get to my destination, or whether I would be able to get help if I had an accident. But I felt comfortable. Just making myself vulnerable to whatever came along and accepting that I would have to rely on my own resources.

Truck Stop On Top of the World

On top of the plateau, nearing the border between Finland and Norway there was a truck stop. It's little orange sign was the only splash of colour in an otherwise grey landscape.

There was a big BMW GS parked outside. I pulled up and went in to warm up.

It was a small supermarket. There were a couple of locals doing their shopping and now two motorcyclists trying desperately to warm up their fingers! I find bikers are almost always friendly and talkative. I think thereís a mutual respect, perhaps born out of the recognition that it takes a certain level of commitment to choose a cold, dangerous bike instead of a warm, safe car. Or maybe we just like talking about our bikes.

We had coffee and soup and sat chatting for a while.

I thought to myself Ė this is the way things should be. Just one person talking to another. Uncomplicated.

Kirkenes

I crossed into Norway and the road descended toward the coast. The sun came out and I had my first view of the legendary Norwegian scenery. It did not disappoint. Kirkenes itself came across as a bit run-down and industrial. Probably just the time of year. Most of the tourism happens during Winter. I wasn't bothered. I just felt happy to be there.

After a week on the road I finally felt as if I was breaking old habits and routines, and able to take stock of my situation without the usual daily distractions and demands. Kirkenes was as far north and east as I could go, and I began to find some separation from what had been a physically and emotionally exhausting period of my life.

I spent the night at a hostel just out of town, next to a beautiful lake.

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Old 11-03-2014, 07:34 AM   #11
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Scandinavia 2012 - Part 4

The Arctic Highway

The Arctic Highway runs for 1000 miles entirely within the Arctic Circle, from Kirkenes in the far North East to Mo-i-Rana in the West. It's also known as The Blood Road because significant parts of it were built by slaves of the German occupying forces during World War II. Until the 1980's there were still sections missing and towns only accessible from the sea. It's now complete and is essentially the only main road running through Arctic Norway.

My first stop on the Arctic Highway was Karosjok, home of the Sami Parliament building. The Sami Parliament was formed in 1989 when the Norwegian Government handed over certain responsibilities for looking after Sami affairs. The parliament building is designed to reflect Sami tipis.



Karosjok is also home to an over-priced hotel, a fine underground restaurant and an outdoor museum of Sami buildings which seems to have taken more care of it's gift shop than it has of the exhibits.

Kautokeino

Kautokeino is a Sami town situated in the middle of a plateau south of the main highway. It turned out to be one of the highlights of the entire trip.

I left the highway and started making my way up to the plateau. Half way there, the road abruptly ended and turned into a gravel track.





Several times I was able to see White-Tailed Eagles flying high overhead. I couldn't get any good pictures but I was thankful that I'd packed my binoculars. They're impressive birds.

Kautokeino is a sprawling loose collection of multi-coloured wooden houses. The original settlement was just a stopover for the nomadic Sami as their reindeer herds migrated to the coast and back in spring and autumn. With the introduction of motorised transport and the forced restrictions on Sami movement by successive governments, the Sami found it easier to make this a winter base from which to manage the herd. In the spring the reindeer naturally move across the plateau and out to the northern coast, and many of the residents move out with them to their summer homes. The migration had already happened this year so the town was quiet.



There's a fairly large hotel, a few shops and some impressive silver workshops which make the distinctive jewelry of the traditional Sami dress.



I spent a couple of hours exploring the town and had lunch of reindeer at a roadside cafe. And then... I came across possibly the most bizarre and curious place in all of Norway... all the more bizarre for being located in Kautokeino...

Fascinating. Heartbreaking. Wonderland.

It's almost unbelievable. A couple of German artists fell in love with the community and decided to settle here after the war and help the Sami maintain their traditional art and craft skills. Gradually they built a rambling and seemingly ramshackle building which today is a maze filled with endless works of art and curiosities akin to a real life Wonderland - you wouldn't be surprised to see a white rabbit running past in a hurry.



As I entered the building I was faced with a 5 foot sculpture of a thumb with the fingerprint recreated in intricate mosaic. I stood there marvelling at it and a young woman appeared from nowhere like the shopkeeper would for "Mr. Ben" and asked if I wanted a tour of the building. She then proceeded, for the next hour and a half to be my personal guide to the building, its contents, the people who work there and Sami history. To say she was an expert guide would be a galactic understatement. I noticed the same thing happen to other guests as they arrived, each one allocated a personal tour guide. We walked around and room by room she explained the meaning behind the shape of the room, its decoration, the materials it was built from, and the collection of artwork or items present. It was utterly engrossing.

Here's a link to the photo gallery of the place over on my blog: http://www.raggedyruss.com/kautokeino

I spoke to my guide about how they felt about the changes forced upon them. Before long we were joined by an older lady in traditional dress. We sat and talked for ages. Nothing was too much trouble for them and they spoke about the oppression of Sami culture and the bitterness felt by the older people. Their feeling was that even though the governments are turning things around now, the continuity between older and younger generations has been broken. It was a fascinating and heartbreaking story told with real feeling by those still living it.

I had been a bit hesitant about raising this subject in case it just came across as another tourist poking around in their private business. But she said:

"If people come here with an open mind and to learn about us and share what they learn then we welcome them, but if they arrive with closed minds thinking they are better than us then we don't like that"

As I rode away from Kautokeino I felt angry and upset, but overwhelmingly grateful to have had this opportunity. I was sad to leave.

Across the Plateau

To re-join the highway I decided to go off-road across the plateau. The Scrambler had to live up to it's name and did very well indeed. I'm convinced that Triumph should have made a proper off-road version of this bike and pitched it as a true alternative to the BMW GS. It's extremely well balanced with a low center of gravity and is very comfortable in both seated and standing positions. It just needs a stronger frame, more travel in the suspension, and some little details here and there (such as moving the under-slung rear brake caliper so it's positioned above the brake disc). But still it felt rock solid over bumpy mud and gravel. And even coped with a few short stints on some snow.









On the way I came across an abandoned Sami camp complete with reindeer sorting pens.



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Old 11-03-2014, 11:52 AM   #12
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absolutely amazing stuff .... will check in again for sure
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Old 11-03-2014, 01:43 PM   #13
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Thanks for your feedback. I'm really pleased you're enjoying it. There is lots more to come!

Russ
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Old 11-03-2014, 02:33 PM   #14
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Excellent RR

Enjoying it all the way, great pics and easy reading - will be with for the rest.
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Old 11-03-2014, 07:30 PM   #15
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Great RR so far.



Enjoying your writing and pics.

Looking forward to the rest.

Thanks + all the best,

JM.
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