Finland is Finnished

We rolled out of Hannukainen on the 23rd, drove 300 m to the Queen of Winter’s house for a last coffee, drop off some more stuff and bid our farewells. Ram will return in a month or so. I may not return at all. It was a poignant farewell.

Spent a couple of nights in Holmajärvi, in northern Sweden. Another poignant farewell.

Then we headed south to Piteå and the Fantastic Family Jonsson, who I will sorely and dearly miss. Thank the Technological Lords for Skype Facebook and the Other Social Media marvels we are all addicted to. We shall remain in touch. No doubt.

Piteå is the southern limit to Our World. It’s a good 200 km or so below the Arctic Circle. We rarely descended below Piteå.

One night later we pointed the Buss towards Östersund along the magnificent and woefully under-appreciated E45 and rolled south, the (in)famous Inlandsvägen. I love this road. Few towns, little traffic and a L O T of forest.

First though we need to get to the E45. Piteå is on the coast and the Inlandsvägen is, as the name implies, inland.

The no-name brand roads had numbers like 373 and 365 and they cut more or less diagonally from Piteå to the E45 just north of Östersund. They were bumpy and lumpy and kinda small and rolled past an endless forest that really looked primeval. Only it’s not. It’s managed. Huge chunks of it clear-felled, the rest ‘managed’ to maximise the growth potential of the trees. That said for tens of even hundreds of kilometres it truly looked primeval and my fantasies were free to drift unabashedly with trolls, fairies, ancient woodfolk, trees that talk and ground that feels.

The mists, the blizzards, the long slow twilight, the sporadic cluster of houses hidden in strange corners in that endless forest.

Despite a decade in the far north of Europe I’ve never adequately answered the question of what the fine people in these sparse cluster of houses actually do. For a living’n’all. I’ve only ever managed to get to the possibility that they are heavily involved in forestry. There are no farms, no towns, no factories, nothing but forest.

But that’s where there are forests.

Them clusters on the plateaus in the far north where there aren’t any trees remain a complete mystery to me.

Back to that forest … it is dark and impervious. Yet it is oozing with the sense of impending life as the first buds attempt to break out of the chrysalises and begin the summer frenzy of growth flower seed.

Migratory birds abound: swans, cranes, warblers, tiits, and Lord knows what else. Spectacular.

Kilometre after kilometre the North receded.

I will truly ruly honestly miss it.

Maybe I really should plan to return.

We cross Norrbotten, Västerbotten and most of Jämtland and it is all forest. A vast unyielding wall of tree getting ever taller yet ever thinner. No way a tree from the far north gets that tall and no way it get tall at all being that thin.

The farms begin to win the fight against the forest just short of Östrsund and really take over between Östersund and Malung.

The farms too ooze that sense of impending life. The grass, the stubble, the turned soil are various shades of brown. Give it a week or so am sure it’ll all be green and getting greener …

Sheep and cows appear. And then we got the chickens. I kid you not … chickens running around. Outside. No WAY we get chickens outside. We knew then … we are a long long way from home.

Every brook creek stream river was raging with water tinted by the tannins being washed out as the snow melts.

As I watch Sweden slide by me I wonder if I’ll ever watch this landscape slide past again with the forest the mountains the cute red houses.

Norwegian mountains
Norwegian mountains

Despite the hint of summer to come winter is not yet ready to give up. The Norwegian Mountains are still under full winter and the road to Turtagrø from the north is still closed. The southern route through Mora (S), Hammer (N) and Sogndal adds a kool 500 km to our trip. And 500 km in Norway is a long drive given the tiny twisted roads and speed limits rarely above 50 km per hour.

We camp in a barren spot on edge of a fjord, ignoring the ‘No Camping’ sign. Too tired to care.

Norwegian fjord
Norwegian fjord

Turtagrø (www.turtagro.no) is truly in the middle of nowhere.

It’s at the end of a long narrow and very twisting road that starts in Sogndal. The road does continue but it’s closed since winter has too much of hold on the high mountains still.

The whole landscape is pure white with smatterings of exposed rock. Amazing view. Amazing place.

Clear to me that to live here one is gonna have to master Telemark skiing. There’s no ski lifts and no other way than walking to make it to the top of the hills and mountains. And then ski down. And there are limitless skiing opportunities here.

Ram, my partner, shall live and work here for the summer.

There’s a heavy snowfall and thick layer of snow on the road when two days later I point the Buss South and start for Oslo and Trygve.

For the first 9 km I crawl down the hill in second gear out of respect for the conditions. Steep road, falling snow, sharp corners and a risk of ice demands respect.

Below the snow line its gray and overcast but still spectacular.

Oslo re-introduced me to that most clear indicator of civilisation: the Traffic.

A long weekend, good weather and the last chance to ski meant the traffic began to thicken well north-west of Oslo, from whence I came, to well south-east of Oslo, where I was headed. And it got really thick in the city itself. It took over an hour to go 10 km through the centre. My first traffic jam in years.

As I crawled along I considered that Oslo and Norway is a very advanced, developed country with very well behaved and sensible people, with excellent infrastructure and no shortage of money to invest in improvements. I also considered that the entire population of Norway is but a suburb or part of another city like London. And still there was a traffic jam that stretched in both directions from on end of Oslo to the other.

I have to admit it: I got hammered at Trygve’s place. A small group of friends, entertaining conversation, liquor and cigarettes (yeah, I smoked!) and hours of it.

It wouldn’t have been so bad if I had a day to sleep and rest it off.

But I had to travel 3 ½ hours to Örebrö in Sweden.

Trygve and I hid in his man-cave watched Unbroken, and generally vegetated for the morning before I crawled tenderly and cautiously onto Norway’s finest roads and pointed the Buss in the direction of Sweden.

I am not proud to suggest that I am fortunate Mr Policeman didn’t do a control that day.

3 ½ hours on Swedish roads is a dream in comparison to Norwegian roads: broad, well made, higher speed limit, fewer towns & urban areas. Nice day, light traffic, and easy driving saw me arrive safely early evening in the centre of Örebrö and Albin. And Nils, Albin & Marlin’s 13 month old.

Albin is a healthy living young outdoor enthusiast. A couple of beers maybe and no cigarettes. Phew!

Marlin was on a dudette weekend in Germany leaving Albin in control. So we had a ‘boys’ weekend.

Very enjoyable.

Then, on the 4th I pointed the Buss south and arguably began lining the dots on The Trip. My first destination was Värnamo and Cyklorama and Ziflex The Trailer.

An easy 3 hour drive later I enter Värnamo looking for Korslidvägen.

I take a wrong turn, crawl up another road, do another turn and are promptly stopped by a police car. I have a take a breathalyser test, provide proof I am capable to drive the Buss and find suitable answers to the “Why are you here?” and “What are you doing?” questions police love to ask.

After I am neither arrested nor forbidden to continue to drive I ask “Why me?”

“You have a funny car that’s not from around here, were driving oddly, and the owner does not have a driver’s licence. You are not the owner are you, this is not your car?”

“Err, no. It’s my partners. Used to be mine. She does have a driver’s licence, but not a Swedish one”

Since there are no such thing as coincidence I leap at the chance to get Värnamo’s good-looking Proud Protectors of the Peace to help me find where I need to go.

A map and a bit of arm-waving later I am again looking for Korslidvägen and Cyklorama. This time successfully directed by the Police.

Mathias, engaging and supportive to my venture, runs me through the design and details of the Ziflex. I am offered to carry some spares but agree that should I need them but cannot get them in Australia I’ll contact him and wait it out wherever I’m stuck.

Mathias laughs when I tell him of my encounter with the police.

“There’s a traffic-police school here in Värnamo. So they are always stopping people. Training” he shrugs and laughs with a twinkle in his eye.

Half an hour later the SBB and I roll South and we make for the border at Helsingborg and the ferry for Denmark.

A shaggy-haired rather colourfully dressed English dude called Jazz joins me at the ferry terminal. Jazz is an example of perpetual motion, reeling off an impressive list of countries and activities he’s recently and not so recently enjoyed. I daren’t ask where he gets his funds from since he never mentions work. His modus-operandii is hitch-hiking and I am his latest ride.

Rather inconveniently since I’ve a good 1400 km to Den Haag it seems that Jazz is a perpetual hitch and never a driver. He has no driver’s licence.

Undeniably though his stories, thoughts, experiences and general ability to hold a conversation see us do a massive 1200 km in one day, which for a single driver in the Buss is pretty damned good. We camp just short of the Dutch border and Enschede, he in his tent and I in Ram’s Buss.

I drop him in Utrecht, and ride roads so empty of what I expected of Dutch traffic that I am not surprised when Claus, holder of the keys to where I am staying, confirms it is a public holiday.

I stand outside Joel’s impressive house in the Vogelwijk in Den Haag by 0930.

I am the Back in the Netherlands. Again. And the next phase of my Epic begins: packing and sorting life here so I don’t have to worry about anything for a year; finalising the Santos Travelmaster 29; sourcing the last bits for the trip that I want to get in Europe; enjoy a decent Sushi and Chinese meal; enjoy an evening a bar; catch up with friends and finally … leave.

Max

9 May 2015, Vogelwijk, Den Haag.

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