Western Norway and Russia
The ocean crossing from the Scottish Highlands to Norway has taken 22 hours. Waiting for the okay to progress ashore, I sit astride my BMW GS on the ferry's worn polished deck and do my best to ignore the cold, gnawing wind. My thoughts drift back to countless warm evenings over the past three years, nights that Lisa and I had spent in preparation, excitedly devouring the contents of hundreds of different maps, books and travel guides in the planning of our around-the-world motorcycle adventure.
We would exist on the road, track and jungle path, carrying only what we needed to live and explore. We sold all we owned in the UK, swapped our cozy house for a tent, and dive-bombed into the diverse pool of life. We're on our way to riding all seven continents, from the most northerly point to the most southerly on each. In the process, 122 different countries will become 'home' for a short while. Our imaginations, roving the next ridge beyond the horizon, will keep us on the move.
Ahead of us in the land of the Vikings and the Midnight Sun: 1,700 miles of one of the most rugged coastlines in the world. With ice-age glaciers and ancient fjords to be traversed, pushing deeper into the frozen Arctic, our first goal is Nordkapp, the northernmost point in Europe, only 1,100 miles from the North Pole.
The rumbling growl of the ship's hull, straining against its moorings, snaps me back to the present, and with engines humming, we launch ourselves from the ferry's mouth. This is it. Our dreams have aligned with reality! Let the adventure begin.
Ride underway, we snake over ice-capped mountains and plummet into deep, stunning valleys. Black walls of granite, many millennia in the making, tower beside us, and glacier-fed cascades fall near the road from unseen pools high above.
Into the Arctic
Four days' ride north and just five hours from the Arctic Circle, we crawl out, grumbling as we once again stuff our wet and ice-burdened tent into its compression sack. The steam of our breath is lit by an unexpected dart of early-morning sunshine.
Norway has us under its spell. We've swapped the thick pine-forested valleys for the windswept bleakness of snow-covered plains. In the barren Saltfjellet plateau, the temperatures drop to -11 degrees Fahrenheit, and thick snowfall makes visibility difficult, the riding treacherous.
In the car park of the Arctic Circle Center, we kick down the side stands of our bikes and comically peel ourselves free. A gaggle of tourists tumble from their heated coach and, with a few fingers pointing in our direction, begin discussing the sanity of the frozen bikers. It's Lisa's 41st birthday and one to remember as we play tourist, standing astride the Arctic's line of demarcation at exactly 66° 33° N.
We push on, and in the afternoon with six hours of riding already under our belts, we pull into the Statoil station outside the small village of Lyngseidet (pop. 821), as much for gas as for the chance to warm up. "You are too cold, no?" asks Anna-Sigrid Lofstrom in broken English. A young woman of 20, with a brilliant shock of red hair and a warm, open face, she quizzes us about our journey, wondering why in particular we chose to ride so far north. Expressing support and enthusiasm for our endeavor, Anna insists on paying for the chocolate bars that Lisa and I are clutching. We gratefully accept and thank her profusely. This is generosity in its simplest form and given purely for the thrill of participating in some way.